Introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s The Upanishads

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The Upanishads clearly rank with the greatest spiritual and philosophical writings of mankind.  They have been revered for their beauty of expression and for the philosophical issues they address in a way that can benefit all, regardless of the particular religious or spiritual tradition one follows.  They are considered to be a universal body of expression of mankind’s highest aspirations and seeking for truth.

While many have undertaken to translate the Upanishads, Sri Aurobindo’s work deserves a special place.  Sri Aurobindo brought more than just scholarly efforts to this work.  It is informed with experience and spiritual practice, which allows him to enter into the spirit of the Upanishads and communicate it to us.

Sri Aurobindo has also added his own extensive commentaries to several of the key Upanishads, the Isha and the Kena, which together provide deep insight into the philosophy expressed in the Upanishads.

The Upanishads were not originally written as “philosophy”.  Rather they were intended to aid the teacher in communicating certain spiritual truths and practices to the chosen disciples.  With the right openness of spirit, it is possible for us to re-create these truths within our own lives.  This book provides a key to that effort and thereby justifies “yet another” translation of, and commentary on, the Upanishads.

The Upanishads provide a bridge from the symbolic age that gave birth to the Vedas, and refer to themselves in various places to be “the secret of the Veda”.  Deep study of the Upanishads can help unlock the tremendous spiritual force that has lain hidden in the ancient Vedic tradition under its veil of symbol and double-meanings, intended to communicate to the initiated while keeping the inner meaning secret from those not prepared to understand and apply that meaning in a positive way in their lives.  In today’s world, where ancient knowledge is so critically needed to address the challenges of modern-day life, we now have an opportunity to truly appreciate and apply “the secret of the Veda” as developed in the Upanishads.

For this study, we intend to take the approach of bringing together translation and commentary systematically for each Upanishad treated, rather than following a page-by-page approach as set forth in the volume at hand.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads

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Sri Aurobindo’s and Related Writings on Apple iTunes for IPhone and IPad:

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Sri Aurobindo’s and Related Writings on Apple iTunes for IPhone and IPad:

We continue to add more titles to this list on an ongoing basis, so please check back regularly for additional titles.  We also supply a large number of titles for Amazon Kindle and Google Play which are listed separately.  Below find the links to the e-book versions available at this time on Apple iTunes:

By Sri Aurobindo:

Bases of Yoga                                      Bases of Yoga

 Essays on the Gita                              Essays on the Gita

 The Mother                                        The Mother

 Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol         Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol

 By The Mother:

 Commentaries on the Dhammapada  Commentaries on the Dhammapada

 By Sri M. P. Pandit:

 An Early Chapter in The Mother’s Life   Early Chapter in The Mother’s Life

 Art of Living                                        Art of Living

 Bases of Tantra Sadhana                   Bases of Tantra Sadhana

 Commentaries on Sri Aurobindo’s Thought, V. 1  Commentaries Sri Aurobindo’s Thought, V. 1

 Dhyana                                               Dhyana

 Heart of Sadhana                               Heart of Sadhana

 How Do I Proceed?                             How Do I Proceed?

 Introducing The Life Divine               Introducing The Life Divine

 Introducing Savitri                             Introducing Savitri

 Japa                                                    Japa

Kundalini Yoga                                   Kundalini Yoga

Readings in Savitri, V. 1                     Readings in Savitri, V. 1

 Readings in Savitri, V. 2                     Readings in Savitri, V. 2

 Readings in Savitri, V. 3                     Readings in Savitri, V. 3

 Readings in Savitri, V. 4                     Readings in Savitri, V. 4

 Readings in Savitri, V. 5                     Readings in Savitri, V. 5

 Readings in Savitri, V. 7                     Readings in Savitri, V. 7

 Readings in Savitri, V. 8                     Readings in Savitri, V. 8

Readings in Savitri, V. 9                     Readings in Savitri, V. 9

 Sri Aurobindo and His Yoga               Sri Aurobindo and His Yoga

 A Summary of Savitri                         A Summary of Savitri

 Talks on The Life Divine, V. 1             Talks on The Life Divine, V. 1

 Teachings of Sri Aurobindo               Teachings of Sri Aurobindo

Thoughts on the Gita                         Thoughts on the Gita

 By Santosh Krinsky:

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, Vol. 1  Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine,V. 1

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, Vol. 2 Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine, V. 2

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, Vol. 3 Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine, V. 3

Readings in The Mother by Sri Aurobindo:               Readings in The Mother by Sri Aurobindo

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Rebirth and Karma:   Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Rebirth &  Karma

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita,V.1 Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita, V.1

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita, V. 2 Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita, V.2

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga, V. 1  Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga, V. 1

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga, V. 2  Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga, V. 2

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga, V. 3  Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga, V. 3

 By Rand Hicks:

A Savitri Dictionary                            A Savitri Dictionary

Rev. 6/11/17

Sri Aurobindo’s Writings Available as E-Books for Amazon Kindle Readers or App

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The Amazon Kindle is perhaps the most popular e-book reader in the world, and the APP works on desktop computers, laptops, android phones, tablets etc. The APP can be downloaded free from Amazon.com We are systematically making Sri Aurobindo’s writings available for the Kindle App and Readers. Here are a few of them, with more links to be provided soon:

Bhagavad Gita and Its Message Bhagavad Gita and Its Message
Dictionary of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga (compiled by M P Pandit) Dictionary of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga
Essays on the Gita Essays on the Gita
The Future Evolution of Man The Future Evolution of Man
Hidden Forces of Life (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Hidden Forces of Life
The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development
The Ideal of Human Unity The Ideal of Human Unity
Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice Integral Yoga
The Life Divine The Life Divine
Looking from Within (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Looking from Within
The Mind of Light The Mind of Light (The Supramental Manifestation on Earth)
The Mother The Mother
Our Many Selves (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Our Many Selves
Powers Within (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Powers Within
The Psychic Being (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Psychic Being
Rebirth and Karma Rebirth and Karma
Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol
Secret of the Veda Secret of the Veda
Sri Aurobindo on the Tantra (compiled by M P Pandit) Sri Aurobindo on the Tantra
The Synthesis of Yoga The Synthesis of Yoga
The Upanishads The Upanishads
Vedic Symbolism (compiled by M P Pandit) Vedic Symbolism
Yoga of Sleep and Dreams (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Yoga of Sleep and Dreams

By Sri M P Pandit:
Sri Aurobindo and His Yoga Sri Aurobindo and His Yoga
Teaching of Sri Aurobindo Teaching of Sri Aurobindo

SRI AUROBINDO’S BOOKS NOW AVAILABLE ON GOOGLE PLAY AS E-BOOKS:

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The Mother THE MOTHER
Bases of Yoga BASES OF YOGA
Essays on the Gita ESSAYS ON THE GITA
The Human Cycle: Psychology of Social Development The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development
Ideal of Human Unity IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY
The Life Divine THE LIFE DIVINE
The Mind of Light THE MIND OF LIGHT
Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol  Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol
Sri Aurobindo on the Tantra SRI AUROBINDO ON THE TANTRA
The Synthesis of Yoga THE SYNTHESIS OF YOGA

For Android Phones, Tablets, and E-Readers

Sri Aurobindo Studies

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Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga has enormous implications for the time we find ourselves in.  As we systematically destroy the basis of life on the planet, and wall off one another through ultimate fragmentation, we are left with the stark contrast of choosing between survival and destruction, life and death, growth or decline.  Sri Aurobindo recognizes the necessity of the individual within the context of the collectivity, universality and the transcendent consciousness of Oneness.  The individual is the nexus or hub of the evolutionary urge, but not separate from nor at the expense of the life of the cosmic whole.

We post the daily blog entries also to our facebook page:  www.facebook.com/sriaurobindoswritings

We also have a daily twitter feed on Sri Aurobindo’s studies at www.twitter.com/santoshk1

We have systematically worked our way through The Life Divine as well as The Mother , Essays on the Gita and Rebirth and Karma, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Ideal of Human Unity and The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development  The newest posts appear near the top.  If you want to start at the beginning, go to the oldest post and roll forward until you reach the final posts as of today.

Another option is to “search” for the chapter you would like to study and see all posts relating to that chapter. You may have to ask for “older posts” once you have the search results if you are looking for one of the earlier chapters.

We have separated the posts relating to each book into their own folder as an additional organisational tool.

Similarly you can use the search box to find specific concepts, terms or issues you are interested in. The results will show all posts that address those concepts or terms. You may have to click on “older posts” to find all the references here as well.

The next book we are taking up is The Upanshads by Sri Aurobindo, following a similar format to that we have utilised for The Life Divine , The Mother, Essays on the Gita and Rebirth and Karma, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Ideal of Human Unity and The Human Cycle: Psychology of Social Development.

You may also want to visit our information site for Sri Aurobindo at Sri-Aurobindo.Com

Sri Aurobindo’s major writings are published in the US by Lotus Press.

The systematic studies on this blog have also been published as self-standing books by Lotus Press and are available in both printed formats and as e-books. There are 3 volumes encompassing Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, 2 volumes encompassing Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita, as well as 1 volume for Readings in The Mother by Sri Aurobindo, and Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Rebirth and Karma., and 4 volumes  for the Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga as well as Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Ideal of Human Unity and Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Human Cycle.  You can find the Readings series at Lotus Press

Many of the major writings of Sri Aurobindo are now also accessible on the Amazon Kindle Platform as well as Apple itunes, google play, kobo, and Barnes & Noble nook as well.  Kindle e-book reader program is also available for PC, Laptop, iPad, Blackberry, Android, iPhone and many other platforms from Amazon without charge. You can find the current list of titles available by going to http://www.amazon.com , go to the “kindle store” and type in “Aurobindo” New titles are being added as they can be made ready. Many of the major books are already accessible by the Kindle Reader.  You can follow a similar procedure for the other platforms we now support for Sri Aurobindo’s writings, I-tunes, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and KOBO.

The Knowledge Concerning the Immutable Brahman

The higher knowledge relates to the Immutable Brahman, as noted in verses 6 and 7 of the 1st section of chapter 1 of the Manduka Upanishad, as translated by Sri Aurobindo:

“That the invisible, that the unseizable, without connections, without hue, without eye or ear, that which is without hands or feet, eternal, pervading, which is in all things and impalpable, that which is Imperishable, that which is the womb of creatures sages behold everywhere.  As the spider puts out and gathers in, as herbs spring up upon the earth, as hair of head and body grow from a living man, so here all is born from the Immutable.”

The Upanishads use a lot of “negative” attributes to describe the Immutable Brahman, in order to avoid the mind fixing on a specific characteristic and thereby trying to limit the Brahman by that characteristic.  The positive characteristics that express the unlimited nature of the Brahman are immediately associated.  The Brahman transcends all created objects and forces, it acts as their container, their womb, and their content.

The images of the spider, the herbs and the hair all illustrate how the  manifested universe is based on and is created by, and from, the Immutable Brahman.  They are not separate or independent, but actually embody the Brahman in form, without thereby limiting the Brahman in its all-pervasive, infinite and Immutable form.

The Upanishads make it clear that we cannot grasp the Immutable with our minds or our words.  They also make it clear that there is no duality: “one without a second” and that the names, forms, and energies that go into the world we live in are manifestations of that sole Existent:  “all this is the Brahman.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

The Lower and the Higher Knowledge As Described by the Mundaka Upanishad

The Mundaka Upanishad first describes for Saunaka the elements of the lower knowledge and then contrasts this with the higher knowledge.  The lower knowledge represents the means of action and success in the outer world.  One can attain all one’s desires and achieve states of heavenly enjoyment through proper understanding of the Vedas and related sciences.  Yet all of these results are transitory and to some degree illusory as they come, and then they go.  The higher knowledge is permanent and is the knowledge of the Supreme, the Absolute, the Unchanging.

Verse 5 of Chapter 1, Section 1 of the Mundaka Upanishad:  “Of which the lower, the Rig-Veda and the Yajur-Veda, and the Sama-veda and the Atharva-veda, chanting, ritual, grammar, etymological interpretations, and prosody and astronomy.  And then the higher by which is known the Immutable.”

The Vedic knowledge and the various other sciences are essential for worldly action, and to some degree, the concentration or focus involved develops the faculties and prepares them for the next step of human development.  The seeking after the higher knowledge of the Immutable requires deep concentration and the tools developed in what is known as Jnana Yoga are based initially on powers developed through the concentration on the Vedic texts and their application in action, including chanting, rituals, and various sacrificial forms which are not to be taken solely in the restricted sense of religious rituals, but in the sense of the dedication of one’s time, energy, and focus on spiritual truths of existence, and the implementation of these principles in outer action of all kinds.  It is true that in certain phases of development, Vedantic practitioners and scholars have limited the scope to observance of religious rituals, but apparently the intended scope was wider and encompassed all of the life activities.  This is one significance of the teaching being given to a “house lord” in this Upanishad, to remind the seekers that this knowledge is not restricted solely to those who have dedicated themselves to a religious life of abstention and one-pointed exclusive concentration.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

The Key Question Raised by the Upanishad: By Knowing What Is All This Known?

The great question posed by the Upanishads is “by knowing what does all this that is become known?”  The Upanishads in general focus on finding the key to our life and purpose, the core knowledge which illuminates everything we think, we feel, we do and we experience.  The Mundaka Upanishad raises this question in the 3rd verse and provides the basis for the answer in the 4th verse.

Chapter One: Section 1, Verses 3-4:  “Shaunaka, the great house-lord, came to Angiras in the due way of the disciple and asked of him, ‘Lord, by knowing what does all this that is become known?’  To him thus spoke Angiras:  Twofold is the knowledge that must be known of which the knowers of the Brahman tell, the higher and the lower knowledge.”

There are several things to note in these verses.  First, the Upanishad clearly indicates that the knowledge is not to be restricted to renunciates or scholars by bringing it to a wealthy householder, someone clearly immersed in the dealings of the external world.  Second, there is obviously a respectful poise taken by this man of the world to the teacher, as he approaches “in the due way of the disciple”.  This implies an open-minded and sincere seeking on his part, and acknowledges that knowledge is passed on through the guru-disciple relationship.  This householder then raises the timeless question as to the core knowledge that is at the heart of the Upanishadic teaching.  Interesting to note is the fact that the sage responds by describing both a higher and a lower knowledge.  The higher knowledge represents the knowledge of Brahman; the lower, the knowledge of the world and its manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

The God-Knowledge Which Encompasses Both a Higher and a Lower Knowledge

Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter One: Section I, Verses 1 and 2:  “Brahma first of the Gods was born, the creator of all, the world’s protector; he to Atharvan, his eldest son, declared the God-knowledge in which all sciences have their foundation.  The God-knowledge by Brahma declared to Atharvan, Atharvan of old declared to Angir; he to Satyavaha the Bharadwaja told it, the Bharadwaja to Angiras, both the higher and the lower knowledge.”

The creation of the universe is described in the Rig Veda, X.129.1-5:  “Then existence was not nor non-existence, the mid-world was not nor the Ether nor what is beyond. … That One lived without breath by his self-law, there was nothing else nor aught beyond it.  In the beginning Darkness was hidden by darkness, all this was an ocean of inconscience.  When universal being was concealed by fragmentation, then by the greatness of its energy That One was born.  That moved at first as desire within, which was the primal seed of mind.  … There were casters of the seed, there were Greatnesses; there was self-law below, there was Will above.”  (translated by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine, pg.240)

Within the context of this Vedic cosmology, we place Brahma, “the first of the Gods” who then created the rest of the universal manifestation.  The Gods, as described by Sri Aurobindo, are the cosmic powers of existence that manifest all things in the universe.

The Upanishad describes both a “higher and a lower knowledge”.  The higher knowledge is the knowledge of Brahman.  The lower knowledge is the knowledge of the powers, forms and forces that exist in the created universe.  God-knowledge encompasses “all sciences”, embracing both the knowledge that can only be known by identity, and the knowledge which can be organized and transmitted through the reasoning intellect of the mind, as well as the knowledge which is involved in Matter and Life and is known as “instinct”.  Instinct is the term we use for an inherent knowledge of a life-way of a being who does not have an organized mental system for communication, and education of the next generation to that life way.  For instance, monarch butterflies undertake a multi-thousand mile journey from Mexico to Canada and back, encompassing 4 successive generations of butterflies, and yet they reach the right destination and return to the right destination despite the 4th generation never having known through education what the 1st generation knew.  This is a simple example of involved knowledge.  Another is the encoded information in a seed that becomes a specific type of tree.  Simply reviewing all the organized facts and deducing principles, the mental processing that takes place in the world, cannot explain these things.  It takes the knowledge of Brahman and an understanding of the principles and significance of the creation to truly comprehend these things.

The knowledge is communicated from the Creator of all, Brahman, directly to his eldest son, who is called elsewhere “manas putra” or “mind-born” son.  The knowledge is communicated through a lineage.  The names recited are in some cases included in the lists of the “sapta rishis’, the 7 great sages who have both the higher and lower knowledge and whose role it is to intermediate this knowledge to humanity.  This is not something that can be written down in a book.  The Upanishad itself is meant to provide notes along the way, not a comprehensive step by step analysis.  The role of the Guru is thereby set forth, and the God-realised soul is able to touch other souls and thereby communicate the knowledge.

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

Introduction to the Mundaka Upanishad

The Mundaka Upanishad is complex and seems somewhat obscure to our modern understanding.  It appears in the Atharva Veda, and thus represents one of the older streams of thought as presented by the Rishis to their posterity.  Much of the obscurity is due to its treatment of various practices and sacrifices and its use of symbolic language to convey a meaning to those who had an existing familiarity with the specifics referred to.  Yet within the Mundaka Upanishad one may still extract very substantial guidance for the seeker of knowledge of Brahman.

Sri Aurobindo has provided a translation on this Upanishad which helps to clarify otherwise difficult passages, but he has declined to provide any extensive commentary on the Upanishad itself.

Certain sections of this Upanishad contain passages that are important and rightfully famous in their explanations, such as the role of the syllable OM, or the passage about two birds sitting on a common tree.  Both of these will be taken up in due course as the review of this Upanishad proceeds.

Given the obscurity of some passages related to specifics of various sacrificial practices of an ancient time, and their symbolic representations in terms of the spiritual practices of the aspirant, there is a certain range of interpretation possible, from those that exclusively dwell on the external aspects of the sacrifice, for instance, and those that relate them to inner spiritual experience.  As with every text or scripture, there are elements which are temporary and temporal in nature, and others which remain true and valuable without regard to the temporal elements.  It is these latter which we intend to highlight as our focus here.

The Mundaka Upanishad focuses attain on attaining to the Supreme Brahman and distinguishes the higher knowledge of the Supreme from the lower knowledge related to actions in the world.  Its primary role is to focus the mind of the seeker on the Supreme in an exclusive concentration.  In a world fixated on transitory things, such a focus is needed to break out of the bounds of body, life and mind.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

To Be a Human Centre of the Divine Manifestation on Earth

In his major work The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo starts from an understanding that the basic aspirations that arise in the human soul from time immemorial, the seeking for “God, Light, Freedom, Immortality” represent a secret motive force that impels our evolution and action in this world.  His conclusion there was that the future of humanity holds out the promise of a divine life on earth, based on the manifestation of the next level of consciousness that can solve the contradictions that arise from the limits of the mental consciousness and its attempt to control and direct the vital and physical aspects of life.

If we follow the guidance provided by the Isha and Kena Upanishads, and do not abandon earthly life in pursuit of the Absolute, but accept it and work to integrate the awareness of the Supreme with the perceptions and actions that accompany daily life, then we accept that the manifestation has a significance and a purpose that is not opposed to the supreme Brahman, but rather, is part of the Existence that is the Brahman.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “To assist in the lesser victories of the gods which must prepare the supreme victory of the Brahman may well be and must be in some way or other a part of our task; but the greatest helpfulness of all is this, to be a human centre of the Light, the Glory, the Bliss, the Strength, the Knowledge of the Divine Existence, one through whom it shall communicate itself lavishly to other men and attract by its magnet of delight their souls to that which is the Highest.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 189-190

The Seeker’s Commitment to the External Manifestation

The Buddhist conception of the Bodhisattva, the enlightened soul who refuses to enter into the dissolution of Nirvana “until all other beings attain enlightenment” sets forth a high ideal for the spiritual seeker which acknowledges the Absolute, while at the same time, recognizing the need for the realized soul to remain active in the world of manifestation “for the good of all creatures”.  The idea of individual salvation represents in its deepest sense a “duality”, a separation between the Eternal and the created universe; but the ultimate Oneness implies that the Eternal Absolute and the world of forms, forces and actions, are unified and thus, there is a purpose or significance to this world that all those that abide in it have a role to carry out.  The attainment of Oneness with Brahman, therefore, does not either imply nor necessitate a withdrawal entirely from the actions of the world; rather it implies the opposite, the need to remain engaged and act for the “good of all creatures”.

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “Fortunately, there is no need to go to such lengths and deny one side of the truth in order to establish another.  The Upanishad itself suggests the door of escape from any over-emphasis in its own statement of the truth.  For the man who knows and possesses the supreme Brahman as the transcendent Beatitude becomes a centre of that delight to which all his fellows shall come, a well from which they can draw the divine waters.  Here is the clue that we need.  The connection with the universe is preserved for the one reason which supremely justifies that connection; it must subsist not from the desire of personal earthly joy, as with those who are still bound, but for help to all creatures.  Two then are the objects of the high-reaching soul, to attain the Supreme and to be for ever for the good of all the world, — even as Brahman Himself; whether here or elsewhere, does not essentially matter.  Still where the struggle is thickest, there should be the hero of the spirit, that is surely the highest choice of the son of Immortality; the earth calls most, because it has most need of him, to the sol that has become one with the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 189