The other day when pope held an all-religion meeting at the site of 9/11 Monument in New York City. A young Hindu woman uttered the following ancient Sūtra: Asato Ma Sat Gamaya, Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya, Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya. She interpreted this Sutra literally and inanely like everyone in India does, including great Sanskrit scholars, Swamis and Gurus, as follows: Lead me from untruth to truth, ignorance to knowledge, and death to immortality.
Unfortunately, such literal interpretation of ancient sayings is the rule rather than exception, as no one in India had thus far taken pains to do research on their historical context.
This is a classic example of how not only knowledge but also ignorance is passed on from generation to generation, and Hindus simply utter them parrot-like without knowing their true import.
To understand a given Sūtra in any ancient scripture, we need to know the doctrine of the author, what the words he used in it meant to him, and what his intent was, and not what it means to us today.
The story of the Upanishadic revolution to overthrow the corrupt Brāhmanism top to bottom is encrypted in this single Sutra.
- Upanishadists declared Brahma (Prakriti) as Asat (Unreal or Untrue), and declared Brahman as Sat (Real or True).
- They declared the Gunas of Prakriti as evil, as they were the source of attachment to sense objects (money, power, people, etc.). This, they said, was the cause of ignorance (Tamas).
- They declared the Law of Karma as evil, as it condemned one to be reborn on this miserable world, and thus perpetuated Samsāra.
- They declared the Vedas as Avidyā (ignorance), and the Upanishads as enlightenment (Vidyā)
- They declared that Yajnas and other Brāhmanic rituals were evil, as they earned one Karmaphalam. They declared Karmaphalam as evil, as they perpetuated Samsāra.
- They declared Varna Dharma, based on Guna-Karma doctrine, was a sign of ignorance of the fact that the same Brahman was equally distributed in all classes, and hence all classes were equal.
- They declared Brāhmins as vain and lying fools.
Having developed these anti-Brāhmanic doctrines, Upanishadists took up the role of the guardians of Sanātana Dharma. They were in no big hurry to overthrow decadent Brāhmanism. They realized that fundamental changes require a methodical approach.
So, they decided to recruit young children to indoctrinate them with the knowledge of Brahman/Atman and Yoga of detachment and Yoga of Nishkāma Karma so that they could wean them away from the ignorant ways of decadent Brāhmanism.
Carefully selected students seeking knowledge of Brahman moved into the home of the Upanishadic Guru, became part of Guru Kula(Guru’s Family), and went through the initiation ceremony known as Brahmopadesham(indoctrination of knowledge of Brahman).The selected student sat very close to his Self-realized Guru so that he had eye-to-eye contact (Upanayanam) and repeated after the Guru the following request in the form of a Sūtra:
Asato Ma Sat Gamaya: Lead me from Brahma (Asat) of Brāhmanism to Brahman (Sat) of Upanishadism.
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya: Lead me from ignorance of Brahman engendered by the Gunas of Prakriti (due to attachment to material things) to knowledge of Brahman gained by Yoga of detachment.
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya: Lead me from Samsāra (cycle of death, birth and death engendered by the Law of Karma) to NirvāNa (immortality) gained by renunciation of fruits of Karma.
Now that the Shishya (student) had uttered the Sūtra (Asato Ma Sat Gamaya…) the Guru put around his neck, over his shoulder and across his chest a Sūtra (Thread) as its symbol. This is why we know this ceremony as Thread Ceremony. Because this thread symbolizes new birth for the student, we call it Janhnave (a.k.a. Janhnnuve). In this compound word, Janh means being born, and Nave means new. Due to his two births, he was known as Dvija (twice born). Before the thread ceremony, he was said to be ignorant (Tamas); after it he was on the path to enlightenment (Jyoti).
After the Brahmopadesham ceremony, the Guru engaged his students in confidential discourses for several years and imparted to them knowledge of Brahman and Atman by means of simple experiments. He taught his students how Brahman pervaded the entire universe like a handful of salt pervaded the water when it is dissolved in it; and how everything was contained in it. He explained to them how Brahman resided in the heart of all people as Atman, and that Brahman and Atman were one and the same (Self): Tat Tvam Asi (That thou art). One who realized Self became aware of the fact that he himself was Brahman: Aham Brahmāsmi (I am Brahman). Since Brahman had everything and desired nothing, one who gained knowledge of Brahman experiences Bliss of Brahman. Since Brahman was equally distributed in the hearts of all people, people of all classes were equal.
The Guru taught the Shishya the art of Yoga of detachment from material things (Sanyāsa) to gain knowledge of Brahman, and Yoga of desireless Karma (Nishkāma Karma, selfless action) as the means to end Samsāra.
Simultaneously the Guru downgraded every single aspect of Brāhmanism, as we read above.
It did not take long for Brāhmanic loyalists to recognize the mortal threat the Upanishads posed to the very existence of Brāhmanism. If the Upanishadic doctrines became popular, priestly class would become unemployed. There was no money to be made from Yoga! Loyalists decided to neutralize the Upanishads once and for all.
Now let us study what Brāhmanic loyalists did to the Upanishads to deal with the existential threat they posed to decadent Brāhmanism steeped in corrupt Yajnas. They decided to neutralize the Upanishads by Brāhmanizing it:
- They declared the Upanishads as “culmination of the Vedic wisdom” and called them Shruti –that which is heard– orally transmitted scripture like the Vedas. Thus being declared sacred they came into the Brāhmanic domain. They could be heard only if a Brāhmin scribe chose to utter them. They attached them to the end part of ritual-obsessed Vedas and named them Vedānta.
- They added enormous amount of pro-Veda, pro-Yajna, pro-rituals, pro-Varna Dharma, irrelevant esoteric and nonsensical verses, and scattered the Upanishadic doctrines in the texts. Now it took detectives with “eyes of wisdom” to identify them in the avalanche of verbiage. Unfortunately, there were no such people in India.
- They declared the Vedas as Karma Kānda (Ritual Branch), and Vedānta as Jnāna Kānda (Spiritual Branch). However, they passed a diktat that to qualify to learn Jnāna Kānda one must first master Karma Kānda. They condemned those pursuing Jnāna Kānda alone to worse hell than the one Upanishadists condemned those indulging in Karma Kānda alone to.
- They declared that both these scriptural branches led to knowledge of the Supreme and attainment of immortality. Karma Kānda led to immortality by being born again here on earth; and Jnāna Kānda led to immortality by not being born again here on earth.
- They appointed their own Supreme God by the name of Purusha (Super Man) over Brahman and said that knowledge of Brahman was only the stepping-stone for knowledge of Purusha. They declared Purusha as the True One.
In the two verses below, the original Upanishadic sentences are shown in italics and the Brāhmanic additions are shown in underlined straight fonts.
Mundaka Up: 1:2: 12-13: Let a BrāhmaNa, after he has examined all these worlds, which are gained by Yajnas, acquire freedom from all desires. Nothing that is eternal (Brahman) can be gained by what is not eternal (sacrifice of material things). Let him, in order to understand this, take fuel in hand and approach a Guru who is learned and dwells entirely in Brahman. That pupil who has approached him respectfully, whose thoughts are not troubled by any desire, and who has obtained perfect peace, the wise teacher truly told that knowledge of Brahman through which he knows the Eternal and True Purusha.
- To legitimize Purusha as the Supreme Lord, they inserted into Rig Veda a whole chapter called Purusha Sūkta. They demoted Brahman to the position of “Lord of immortality and divinity of Yajna.”
Purusha Sūkta: 2-3: This Purusha is all that yet has been and all that is to be. Lord of immortality (Brahman) which waxes greater still by (sacrificial) food; so mighty is his greatness; yea, (however) greater than this is Purusha.
- They neutralized all anti-Brāhmanic Sūtras by attaching them to selfish Yajnas. For example, they attached the Upanishadic revolutionary Sūtra ‘Asato ma Sat Gamaya’ –Lead me from Prakriti to Brahman- to Pavamāna verses of Yajurveda uttered during selfish Yajna in which the ritualist attempts to reach Vedic gods (ascend to heaven), or become a god himself. Thus they succeeded in converting the ultimate Upanishadic Sūtra designed to overthrow decadent Brāhmanism indulging in selfish Yajnas into one designed to gain heaven by means of selfish Yajnas! Such was the brilliance of Brāhmins of ancient India.
- They retained the Brahmopadesham ceremony as it was an important source of income for them; but they replaced the revolutionary Sūtra ‘Asato ma Sat Gamaya’ with Gāyatri Mantra: Rig Veda: 3:62:10:
Tat Savitur VareNyam Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi DhiyoYo Nah Prachodayāt. (We meditate on the adorable glory of (sun god) Savitur. May he stimulate our intelligence.)
This Mantra invoking Savitur, one of many minor Vedic sun god, had absolutely nothing to do with gaining knowledge of Brahman. Then they endlessly embellished this Mantra in the Vedānta texts, and declared it to be the most sacred of all Mantras of Brāhmanism even though it was just another of hundreds of similar Mantras of Rig Veda.
- They continued to sacrifice animals and birds in Kāmya Karma promising dumb and greedy royals heaven after death and wealth and lordship in their next life, while collecting huge DakshiNa in the form of donation (Dana) for performing them.
Thus the original Upanishads disappeared completely, and the so-called Upanishads we have today are the Vedānta–texts that are the end part of the ritual-oriented Vedas. Brāhmanic loyalists wrote these down several centuries after Kshatriya intellectuals conceived their doctrines around 800 B.C. If you read the Vedānta texts, you will find that most of what is in them has absolutely nothing to do with the true Upanishads. Most of the materials in them promote Yajnas, the Vedas and Brāhmanic rituals, the very things the original Upanishads wanted to eliminate.
In these texts the true Upanishadic doctrines are diluted and scattered haphazardly between voluminous esoteric nonsense added to the texts by many Brāhmanic scribes of varying intellectual capacities over the ensuing centuries with reckless disregard for the texts’ integrity.
If the reader could not clearly distinguish Brāhmanic verses from the Upanishadic ones, these texts would appear to him as just a jumble of words and sentences with little coherence and making little sense.
So the texts are not only bewildering but also highly self-contradictory. Whereas one Upanishadic sentence degrades the Vedas as inferior knowledge, another Brāhmanic sentence declares the Vedas as supreme knowledge. One sentence condemns Yajnas as evil, and another praises it as sublime. One declares Brahman as the Supreme, the other declares Purusha as the Supreme. Some scribes were so ignorant of the fundamental doctrines of the Upanishads that what they wrote was utter nonsense.
By the time the latter day Brāhmanic scribes wrote them down, they had no clue as to the true intent of the original Upanishadic authors several centuries earlier, nor did they know the true spirit of the Upanishads. For example, in the BrihadāraNyaka Upanishad, the Brāhmanic scribe recorded the very ancient Upanishadic Sūtra ‘Asato Ma Sat Gamaya,’ but he could not explain its hidden meaning. So he wrote that all three lines must mean exactly the same thing: ‘Lead me from death to immortality.’ He wrote that the words Asat and Tamas meant death! Finally he admitted that the real meaning of this Sūtra was hidden, that is, he did not know what its true meaning was.
Besides all this, successive generations of scribes recklessly added whatever ignorant idea they thought fit to add to these texts.
Al-Biruni (C.1030 A.D.): “Indian scribes are careless, and do not take the pains to produce correct and well-collated copies. In consequence, the highest results of the author’s mental development are lost by their negligence, and his book becomes already in the first or second copy so full of faults that the text appears as something entirely new, which neither a scholar nor one familiar with the subject, whether Hindu or Muslim, could any longer understand. It will sufficiently illustrate the matter if we tell the reader that we have sometimes written down a word from the mouth of Hindus, taking the greatest pains to fix its pronunciation, and afterwards when we repeated it to them, they had great difficulty in recognizing it.”
To complicate matters even further, if that is possible, as Al-Biruni noted one thousand years ago, Indian scribes were careless in making handwritten copies, and so a great deal of inaccuracies crept into the copies. Successive copies became more and more corrupted, just as photocopies of photocopies of photocopies of the original document progressively become less and less like it. The same word appears in different forms in different copies resulting in different interpretations by different commentators.
Not knowing that these texts were the battlegrounds on which Brāhmanic loyalist and Upanishadic sages fought each other, both Max Mueller (who translated them) and Shankarāchārya (who wrote long-winded commentaries) were puzzled by the inherent inconsistencies and contradictions in these texts.
The question might arise: If this were the case, how do we know what the original Upanishadic doctrines were? Well, luckily, we can find them relatively well preserved in the Bhagavad Gita-Upanishad (3rd century B.C.). This time around Upanishadists made sure that they could not be gotten rid of by taking two measures:
- They inserted it into Arjuna Vishāda Gita, which, being part of Mahābhārata was Smriti (remembered scripture). Once it was in the public domain it could not be converted into Shruti (scriptures in the domain of Brāhmins).
- They made all Upanishadic shlokas come out of Lord Krishna’s mouth. Thus no one dared to destroy them.
So, to those who know the history of Brāhmanism and are able to clearly distinguish Brāhmanic doctrines (the Gunas of Prakriti and the Law of Karma) from the opposing Upanishadic doctrines (Brahman/Atman and Yoga) the Bhagavad Gita is the Rosetta Stone of Hinduism’s scriptures, by which one could decipher the secret codes and Sūtras of any Hindu scripture.
Unfortunately, none of the great Acharyas made this distinction, as none of them knew the history of Brāhmanism’s decay and the Upanishadic revolution to overthrow it. They all believed that the true Upanishads and the Vedas were one and the same, and there was no conflict between them whatsoever even though scriptures are full of clear-cut evidence to the contrary:
BG: 13:34: Those that perceive with the eye of wisdom this distinction between Prakriti (Brahmanism’s supreme divinity) and Brahman/Atman, (Upanishadism’s supreme divinity) and deliverance of beings from Prakriti, go to the Supreme (attain knowledge of Brahman).
When a commentator, indulging in massive denial, or out of ignorance, believes two diametrically opposite doctrines as one and the same, he would be forced to resort to fanciful imagination to explain glaring contradictions in them. Naturally his commentary is likely to be absolute gobbledygook. This, in fact, is the case with every single commentary on the Vedānta texts as well as the Bhagavad Gita-Upanishad.
By 400 B.C. Brāhmanism had completely neutralized the Upanishads. It was in this murky period of India’s ancient history that Buddhism, Jainism, Ajīvika, Lokāyata (Materialism) and many other heterodox Dharmas flourished like lotuses in the cesspool, and more and more people began to abandon Brāhmanism to join these heterodox Dharmas.
Royal houses also began to patronize them. Around 297 B.C. Chandragupta Maurya abandoned Brāhmanism, became a Jain monk and abdicated his throne. His son Bindusāra (ruled 297-272 B.C.) abandoned Brāhmanism, embraced Ajīvika sect. His son Ashoka the Great (ruled 272-232 B.C.), after a bloody war in Kalinga (261 B.C.), abandoned Brāhmanism, and became an ardent Buddhist. Encouraged by Ashoka thousands upon thousands of people including disillusioned Brāhmins and Kshatriyas abandoned Brāhmanism and joined Buddhism as Bhikkus. By 250 B.C. Brāhmanism was practically on deathbed. Now the stage is set for the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita.