By Swami Harshananda
Upanishads are the treasure house of the spiritual knowledge. They have been accepted and venerated as the basic scriptures by most religio-philosophical schools. Every philosopher or religious reformer has taken pains to show that his views are rooted from the Upaniṣad, or at least, do not go against them. This scripture has heaped praises on its enlightened views from all over the world.
The ten Upaniṣads on which Śaṅkara wrote commentaries have universally been accepted as the more ancient, more authentic and authoritative. The Adhyātma Upanishad, though not in this list, still, breathes the spirit of the more ancient and the major Upaniṣads.
Since the printed texts give the śāntimantra as ‘purṇamadah ...’ it is to be surmised that it belongs to the Sukla Yajurveda. The last verse of the Upanishad declares that it was first revealed to the sage Apāntaratamas who taught it to Brahmā. Brahmā gave it to Ghora Aṅgiras who in turn transmitted the same to Raikva. Raikva passed it on to Rāma and Rāma revealed it to all the living beings.
The teaching itself has been designated as ‘nirvāṇānuśāsanam’ which means ‘command concerning final emancipation’. The text consists of 70 verses, all in the śloka meter, and has not been divided into sub-sections. But there is a method and order in the dealing of the subject matter. It starts with the description of the antarātman, the Innermost Self, the same as Adhyātman, (hence the name Adhyātma Upanisad) who exists in all things and beings controlling them from within, but whom none of them knows. He has also been called ‘Nārāyaṇa’ here.
After declaring that the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, with regard to the body and the senses which are anātman or non-Self, arises due to adhyāsa or super-imposition by ignorance, the Upaniṣad exhorts us to get rid of this adhyāsa by being devoted to Brahman and through discrimination. The line of arguments to be pursued in this is practically the same as in Advaita Vedānta This is followed by a description of the ātman-Brahman principle as the one without a second, and without internal distinctions. The disciple is asked to see It as his own Self.
Renunciation leads to intuitive knowledge which results into the withdrawal of the mind into itself. Resting it on the ātman, one attains infinite peace and joy or realization. Then, the identity between the jīva (individual soul) and Brahman (the Cosmic Soul) is shown by negating the accidental characteristics like association with the mind and the māyā - power followed by a delineation of the three sādhanās or practices mentioned as follows:
By practicing these three one can achieve samādhi (superconscious experience). Then, there is the description of ‘dharma-megha-samādhi,’ ‘the samādhi which results in kaivalya or liberation’. This is followed by a nice pen-picture of the jīvanmukta, one who is liberated even while living in the body. He is never affected by the vicissitudes of life and is ever in equipoise. Then the Upaniṣad says that the knowledge of the ātman destroys all the previously accumulated karmas, except the prārabdha-karma which has already begun to fructify. It can be exhausted only through experience. However, the liberated soul is unaffected by it. It ends with a poetic description of the personal experience of the jīvanmukta. This Upaniṣad is sometimes called as Turiyātita Avadhūta Upanishad.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore