There is a light that shines beyond all things on earth, beyond us all, beyond the heavens, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart. ‘Chandogya Upanishad’ 3.13.7 (1)
This ‘light’ has many names and is perceived by different Hindu practitioners in a variety of ways. The two prominent and
broadest categories are the Monist and the Theist conceptions of the divine. The monist sees the divine in impersonal terms,
whereas the theist regards the divine as a loving personal god. Perception of the divine can be a crucial factor in
determining the individuals prime method of approach, of which there are traditionally three;
The path of devotion (Bhakti Marga); the path of knowledge (Jnana Marga); and the path of ritual/action (Karma Marga).
Although these three paths are not mutually exclusive, one may tend to take precedence over the others. For example, the monist philosopher Sankara of the ninth century A.D taught that the divine was best approached via knowledge, yet he wrote devotional songs. An the theist philosopher Ramanuja, who lived some 200 years later, taught that the divine was ultimately encountered through devotion, while recognizing the value of correct knowledge. Monism and Theism present contrasting views of the ‘light’ that dwells within and shines beyond. Monism, as the name suggests, views the light as ‘all-God’, while Theism makes a distinction between the lights ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ designations.
The inner light is that of the individual, which is a distinct entity from the outer light which is the intelligent creator God. Both ‘lights’, however, share a unified commonality. Both ‘ lights’ shine as one. The following extract from the Upanishads can be understood from both Monist and Theist perspectives;
‘Put this chunk of salt in a container of water and come back tomorrow.’ The son did as he was told, and the father said to
him: ‘The chunk of salt you put in the water last evening bring it here.’ He groped for it but could not find it, as it had
‘Now take a sip from this corner’, said the father ‘how does it taste?’
‘Take a sip from the center – how does it taste?’
‘take a sip from that corner -how does it taste?’
‘Throw it out and come back later.’ He did as told and found the salt was always there.
The father Told him: ‘You of course, did not see it there, son; yet is always was right there.’
‘The finest essence here – that constitutes the self of this whole world; that is the truth; that is the self (Atman), and
that’s how you are Svetaketu.’ ‘Chandogya Upanishad’ (2)
Here, the unified commonality of divine essence is explained, by way of a practical demonstration, given by a father to his son. The salt, when dissolved in the water, is both immanent and transcendent simultaneously. The father explains that it is like the ‘Self of the whole world’, the universal Atman, otherwise known as Brahman. As the salt is present in every drop of water, similarly, so is the Atman omnipresent in reality. And as the father points out to his son; ‘That’s how you are’ (TAT TVAM ASI) too. And so, the universal Atman, or Brahman, is said to be ‘at one’ with the Atman, or self, within.
Moksha can be said to be realization of this inner Atman, or self, while still alive in this present body. This is known as’Jivanmukti, the living freedom'(3). According to the theists perspective it is achieving ‘unity’ or ‘conscious conformity with God’ (4). According to the monist’s perspective it is realizing ‘ that is how you are’ (TAT TVAM ASI) all along, and recognizes no distinction what so ever. Yet, to the unenlightened, the Atman, like the salt in the water remains invisible. and when the son ‘groped for it’ he ‘could not find it’. As the Isa Upanishad explains; ‘The senses do not reach it, for it is always one step ahead’ (5). So it would appear that the Atman is beyond the senses, which presents the seeker with a further obstacle to be overcome. In order to penetrate the inner Atman the constant barrage of sensory input needs to be bypassed. We are told in the Upanishads that the Atman, or self, is like the driver of a chariot; the body is like the chariot itself;
the mind like the reins of the chariot; while the senses are like the horses that pull the chariot. The upanishad continues;
He who has not right understanding and whose mind is never steady is not the ruler of his life, like a bad driver with wild horses.
But he who has right understanding and whose mind is ever steady is the ruler of his life, like a good driver with well trained horses.
He who has not right understanding, is careless and never pure, reaches not the end of his journey; but wonders on from death to death.
But he who has right understanding, is careful and ever pure, reaches the end of the journey, from which he never returns.
‘Katha upanishad’ (6)
Here we have a clear contrast between the individual who is caught in the wheel of Samsara, described here as wandering ‘from death to death’, and the one who has achieved Mosksha, ‘From which he never returns’. Control of the senses is achieved through the various Hindu spiritual practices such as meditation, the performance of rigorous physical austerities and devotion. These approaches are known collectively as yoga. The Sanskrit root meaning of yoga is ‘to join’ and it is the method by which an individual becomes joined with the divine. The vedantist Scholar Sri Aurobino (1872 – 1950) described the aim of yoga as the liberation and perfection of the inner ‘Atman’. It is to advance beyond the mind and unite with the divine source (7). So, command of the senses is an imperative step to wards the final release from the cycle of rebirth, but the inner quest does not end there. Yoga is not the end, it is the method, or vehicle, by which the Atman is reached, beyond the senses. It is the process that still the turbulent waters of perception in order to see a clear unbroken reflection of the true self. A further aspect of Monism is Advaita or non-dualism. In contrast to the dualistic theory of the cosmos, which views spirit and matter in direct opposition with one another, Advaita sees no such conflict. All is God and all is one, therefore everything exists in complete harmony. All else is ‘Maya’ or illusion, and release from the cycle of Samasara is comparable to waking up from a dream. Maya was a vital component of Sankara’s philosophy. Also, around a thousand years before Sankara, Krishna, the leading character in the ‘Bhagavad-gita’ Proclaimed;
I am not revealed to every one,
being veiled by my magic trick-of-illusion;
’tis deluded and does not recognize
me the unborn, imperishable – this world. 7.25 (8)
In the Bhagavad – gita Krishna is portrayed as the absolute Brahmin (7.29), who dwells in the heart of all living beings and
supports the cosmos (18.61). He is the supreme unity of Sankara’s philosophy (7.4-7; 11.10-32) that transcends the illusion of opposites (7.28). He is also the personal God of Ramanuja (11.3) who waits at the end of the path of devotion with open arms and a loving smile (7.21; 11.54). Krishna tells us, concerning samsara, that it is a misconception (2.17-22,30), if only we would withdraw our senses, and detach ourselves from wrong desires (2.55-58), and make him our true desire (7.11), through yoga (2.47-72), then we would achieve release (2.51) ‘from the dubious and vulnerable character of human existence.'(9).
When the wise rests his mind in contemplation
on our God beyond time, who invisibly dwells
in the mystery of things and in the heart of
man, then he rises above pleasures and sorrow. ‘Katha Upanishad’ (10)
When the senses are brought under control, the mind is at rest, and the inner light has dawn, then the individual is filled with the warmth of that inner flame and finds contentment. The unbend-ed joy of life is untouched by momentary delights and the blackest heartaches (bhagavad-gita 2.15). not unlike St. Paul, the individual who has calmed his inner ocean and crossed over to the other side into ‘the mystery of things’ has learned the secret of being content in any and every situation’ (Philippians 4:12). And having found his inner Atman he is ready to cross the cosmic ocean to ‘Our God beyond time’, never to return.
(1) Mascaro, Juan (trans), 1965 ‘The Upanishads’, p.113 (Penguin classics)
(2) Beckerlegge, Gwilym (ed), 2001 ‘The World Religions Reader. 2nd edition’, p.252 (Routledge)
(3) Swami Vivekananda, Beckerlegge, Gwilym (ed), 2001 ‘The World Religions Reader. 2nd edition’, p.297 (Routledge)
(4) Swaman, K., Beckerlegge, Gwilym (ed), 2001 ‘The World Religions Reader. 2nd edition’, p.293 (Routledge)
(5) ‘Hinduism. Units 7-10’ 2000 (Open university)
(6) Mascaro, Juan (trans), 1965 ‘The Upanishads’, p.60-61 (Penguin classics)
(7) Beckerlegge, Gwilym (ed), 2001 ‘The World Religions Reader. 2nd edition’, p.298 (Routledge)
(8) Egerton ‘trans’, Beckerlegge, Gwilym (ed), 2001 ‘The World Religions Reader. 2nd edition’, p.269 (Routledge)
(9) Sivaraman, K., Beckerlegge, Gwilym (ed), 2001 ‘The World Religions Reader. 2nd edition’, p.291 (Routledge)
(10) Mascaro, Juan (trans), 1965 ‘The Upanishads’, p.59 (Penguin classics)