The Passion of the Upanishads:

Inspiration for a Yogic Life

For over 30 years yogic scriptures have helped me understand and respond to the suffering that occurs in this life. Their passionate expression of a soulful, spiritual consciousness turns my attention to the unlimited vastness of my true nature, giving me relief from my usual identification with the pressing weight of a world heavy with problems. Like a slowly turning prism they catch clear, concentrated rays of wisdom, spreading them into a rainbow light. As I read the display of words, my usual stream of gray thoughts begins to sparkle with color. This spectrum of ideas and images not only stimulates my mind to play, it causes my attention to flow back through the prism into the original, pure, undivided light.

here is the truth!
Just as from a cauldron’s fire
showers of sparks
are scattered to the winds,
so also,
from an invisible universe
burning with creativity
embers of light,
living beings in unimaginable numbers,
endlessly stream into creation
to create,
and eventually return
over and over again
into their original
core of flame. [1]

The lightness and wisdom of these teachings has helped me realize who I am, and what I need to do as I continue on through this often difficult life. Although at times it seems like I am bushwhacking on the spiritual path, stumbling and groping through the many dark nights of the soul, nonetheless by trial and error I have found these teachings invaluable - they help nurture in me a deep and abiding trust in the unseen hand of the divine moving through my life. By letting these teachings enter and mingle with my own intuitive wisdom, a unique and totally natural path through life has slowly unfolded in me.

This is the way spirit lives:
essence without form,
alive yet unborn
in deepest stillness
silently moving within us,
while holding us
and all of who we are
in an embrace
of radiant, affectionate light. [2]

Radically different from the usual construct of likes and dislikes, fears and fantasies, opinions and beliefs that are the habitual sense of self-guidance, ancient yogic scriptures can provide an urgently needed view of the timeless path; one that supports and nourishes a change of consciousness by expanding our focus from a personal view to a universal vision.

The voice of their realizations resonate like an ancient bell slowly tolling in a hidden valley; their words a stream of quiet sounds, pouring into a river of stillness - and like all great rivers their final destination is the ocean of universal oneness. The wisdom of the teachings, experientially realized through regular practice, are a north star, re-orienting us to our life’s purpose.

From this unborn
and unburdened essence
oceans, mountains and rivers
are birthed,
and all foods, flowers and medicines grow,
to create a home within their forms
for the formless one.
To live free,
while you are still alive in this body
of human size and shape,
untie the knots of your heart,
by finding and following
the secret threads of breath,
by which your soul is woven
into the oneness. [3]

Upanishad can be translated from the sanskrit as upa-ni-shad, coming from the verb sad - to sit with, and upa - at the feet of a master. They describe to us the hidden path of life - from creation, through sustenance and into dissolution. There are at least 108 Upanishads, each of different length. If collected in one volume, they would be approximately the combined size of the Judaic and Christian Testaments. Composed over a span of more than 1500 years, the oldest is dated between 800 and 400 b.c.e., the youngest from the Middle Ages.

Being as they evolved slowly, their core ideas have had time to mature. Read aloud, their beauty is borne on the breath, the message resonating in our very bones. Like the fragrance of jasmine, their verses lightly waft into the deeper recesses of the mind, lifting our imagination to realms of truth, beauty and love. Like never forgotten scents, they bring us home by an invisible trail that winds its’ way through the psyche. Neither explanations, techniques, rationalizations, or dogmas, their insights help us breathe into the eternal, triggering ancient memories and unshakeable knowing.

Imagine this for a body:
your head is cosmic fire,
suns and moons are your eyes,
and your ears, the far flung heavens,
listen to the silence
that begins and ends all scripture.
Your in-breath and out-breath
are an endless wind,
stirring this entire universe,
entraining it to the rhythm
of your heartbeat,
while your feet rest easily on this cushion
of earth. [4]

First articulated many thousands of years ago, yogic teachings have weathered the test of time. They ring with a power that can penetrate the armor of indifference, and whisper with an eerie familiarity that can send chills of recognition up the spine.

Like a choir, these teachings blend many contrasting voices into a harmonic whole, giving expression to an inner spirit that has been held captive, silent and forgotten. Like a monk chanting mantras, each teaching resounds with its’ own unique power, yet their unified song resonates as a chorus, sounding the eternal song of universal oneness.

is the essence of life,
living in all things.
From this body of oneness
the sun rises, first of all fires.
By the embrace of that light
the moon is held
firmly bound to the sky,
where she can lift the oceans into rain
for the delight of nature,
and to grow an earth
from which we can emerge,
and merge again man into woman,
an infinity of beautiful beings
upon a world alive,
with green fire. [5]

The energy of scriptures can be a warming radiance that illuminates our inner landscape with bright, healing colors even when cold shadows of doubt, denial, fear and ignorance darken the heart. Enter the realm of inspired language and the soul begins to reappear, subtly at first, then with more definition and variety.

a being of light,
invisible, indivisible and unimaginable;
are not yet seen
even in the innermost chambers of your heart.
in your eternal home,
where spirit dances creation into being
with songs of liberation,
and silence opens your inner eye
to infinity. [6]

Cultivated by unknown ancestral gardeners, the seed thoughts of the Upanishads have a mysterious life of their own. If planted in the fresh soil of open consciousness, at the right moment an unseen fire ignites them, and a power within them awakens. Splitting the shell of words, new shoots of consciousness burst forth. Springing from darkness into light, fresh roots push aside obsolete ideals and borrowed beliefs as old ways end up recycled - more compost for the garden.

Sometimes bitter and other times sweet, the fruit of these potent seeds are a healing medicine to calm the frantic mind, soothe the troubled heart, and relax deeply held tensions. A gentle, powerful tonic infuses the lyrical words with a hidden potency, enabling our inner listening to hear a wordless message, one that redirects our attention back to spirit and into the source of this immanent moment.

When we can again feel this present moment finely flowing through the body, we experience a greater spaciousness in the mind and a stronger connection with soul. Occasionally, we can even be rocked by the waves of the breath, and lightly rest - reunited with the deep stillness that is the soul’s eternal home.

Know this:
the presence of emptiness is the fulfillment
of your deepest unknown longing.
For what is beyond the end of thinking,
after all doing is done,
is the essence of stillness,
an unending spaciousness
within which all the heavens
are vigorously flung,
while the earth herself is safely held,
wrapped in a translucent cloak of air and sky.
Allow your mind to rest in this vision,
you will know it one day
as your way back
into the eternal. [7]


End Part 1.
All verses here are my impressions, stimulated and inspired by reading and meditating on verses in the Upanishads. I do not present these as literal translations.

Inspired by the Mundaka Upanishad:
Part 2, Chapter 1: Poems [1], [2], [3], [4] & [5]
Part 2, Chapter 2: Poems [6], [9], [10], [11] & [12]
Part 3, Chapter 1: Poem [14]
Inspired by the Mandukya Upanishad: Poem [13]
Inspired by the Svetasvatara Upanishad:
Part 2: Poems [8], [16] & [17]
Part 3: Poems [7] & [15]

For my source material and literal translations I used Juan Mascaro (Penguin Books, ISBN 0 -14 -044163 -8) and Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiri Press, ISBN 0 -915132 -39 -7). I am greatly indebted to them for their passionate scholarship and highly recommend these editions for their inspired translation and commentary.

My heartfelt thanks and namaste to Karen Landrum, whose transcriptions of my original seminar and generous support of my heart and work made this possible, Joan Halpern (Phalini), whose insightful editing revealed my real possibilities and Amy Weintraub, whose articulate comments revealed the core.

 2003 Christopher Baxter
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