The Upanishads
(1965 Penguin Edition)

The Upanishads
(circa 800-400 B.C.)

The Upanishads (circa 800-400 B.C.)

I first came across Juan Mascarós translation of The Upanishads in the Penguin Classics edition at Cornell around 1968. The statue on the cover showed an a multi-armed goddess with eyes closed dancing in ecstasy (9th century, Gwalior Arachaeological Museum, India). I was starting my spiritual quest for enlightenment at this time, and carried this paperback with me wherever I went on the campus. When the Cornell folk dance club had their annual picnic by Cayuga Lake one day, I brought this book along. When reading the Taittiriya Upanishad on the nature of Brahman as joy, I realized that it's the joy expressed by the goddess on the book's cover. I was simply ecstatic. A girl came up to me and asked why I was so happy. I read to her the passage on "the wonder of joy". She asked me to dance with her that whole afternoon and we became good friends. I'm including this section as well as another in the Isa Upanishad about remembrance of our true essence. Pinsky concluded his essay "Poetry and American Memory" with "Who will remember the great work of memory itself, that basic human task? Deciding to remember, and what to remember, is how we decide who we are." In reference to our numerous rebirths, Buddha told his students "You have shed more tears than the oceans that fill this earth." The Hindu sages of The Upanishads remind us to remember all the past strivings of our soul. Thus, in addition to a nation's memory, racial memory, and cultural memory, there is the memory of our true origins— the human spirit that has its roots in the cosmic spirit. Swami Chinmayananda taught me the meaning of the word Upanishad at one of his 6 am MIT lectures in Boston (1975). It's derived from the Sanskrit words upa, near, ni, below, sad, to sit. So Upanishad is a group of students sitting near and below the guru whereby their minds are awakened to spiritual knowledge. As poets, we need to pass this legacy of the sages to our future generations. When I first met the artist Nancy Dean Mercury (May 5, 2000), she asked me "Am I carving mystery out of matter or carving matter out of mystery?" I sent her this poem "Matter & Mystery", recalling from the "Taittiriya Upanishads" that this universe was born from joy. (Peter Y. Chou)

Taittiriya Upanishad (circa 500 B.C.)

So Bhrigu went and practised tapas, spiritual prayer. Then he saw that
Brahman is joy: for From Joy all beings have come, by Joy they all live,
and unto Joy they all return. This was the vision of Bhrigu Varuni which
came from the Highest; and he who sees this vision lives in the Highest.

Oh, the wonder of joy!
I am the food of life,
and I am he who eats the food of life:
I am the two in One.
I am the first-born of the world of truth,
born before the gods,
born in the centre of immortality.
I have gone beyond the universe,
and the light of the sun is my light.

(The Upanishads, translated from the Sanskrit
by Juan Mascaró, Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1965, pp. 111-112)


Isa Upanishad (circa 600 B.C.)

Behold the universe in the glory of God: and all that lives and moves
on earth. Leaving the transient, find joy in the Eternal: set not
your heart on another's possession.

The Spirit moves and moves not. He is far, and he is near.
He is within all, and he is outside all.

Who sees all beings in his own Self,
and his own Self in all beings loses all fear.

When a sage sees this great Unity and his Self has become all beings,
what delusion and what sorrow can ever be near him?

The Spirit filled all with his radiance. He is incorporeal and invulnerable,
pure and untouched by evil. He is the Supreme seer and thinker,
immanent and transcendent. He placed all things in the path of Eternity.

He who knows both the transcendent and the immanent, with the immanent
overcomes death and with the transcendent reaches immortality.

The face of truth remains hidden behind a circle of gold.
Unveil it, O god of light, that I who love the true may see!

O life-giving sun, off-spring of the Lord of creation,
solitary seer of heaven! Spread thy light and withdraw
thy blinding splendour that I may behold my radiant form:
that Spirit far away within thee is my own inmost Spirit.

May life go to immortal life, and the body go to ashes,
OM. O my soul, remember past strivings, remember!
O my soul, remember past strivings, remember!

(The Upanishads, translated from the Sanskrit
by Juan Mascaró, Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1965, pp. 50-51)

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P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (2-18-2007)