Spiritual Realisation and Life in the World

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter Nine:  “Righteousness with the study and teaching of Veda; Truth with the study and teaching of Veda; askesis with the study and teaching of Veda; self-mastery with the study and teaching of Veda.  Peace of soul with the study and teaching of Veda.  The household fires with the study and teaching of Veda.  The burnt offering with the study and teaching of Veda.  Progeny with the study and teaching of Veda.  Act of procreation (Or, Joy of the child’s mother) with the study and teaching of Veda.  Children of thy children with the study and teaching of Veda — these duties. ‘Truth is first,’ said the truth-speaker, the Rishi, son of Rathitara.  ‘Askesis is first,’ said the constant in austerity, the Rishi, son of Purushishta.  ‘Study and teaching of Veda is first,’ said Naka, son of Mudgala.  For this too is austerity and this too is askesis.”

The Upanishad does not counsel abandonment of the life in the world; rather it seeks to achieve a balance that includes self-discipline, the development of peace and harmony within oneself, and a constant focus on attaining and communicating knowledge in the form of the study of the Veda, while at the same time, expressing support for works, not just religious sacrifices, but the perpetuation of the ongoing life through children and grandchildren, with all that implies.  Clearly this is not a scripture of utter renunciation of the world.  The consistent point here is that just undertaking either the inner disciplines, or the outer activities is insufficient in and of itself, without the acquisition of knowledge.  We see here a harmonising of knowledge and works.

Various Rishis prioritize these activities somewhat differently depending on their specific viewpoints and capacities.  The Upanishad does not declare one better than the other.  Any way that guides the seeker to spiritual fulfillment is acceptable.  Nor is the affirmation of one aspect intended to deny the validity of any of the others, nor the role of the others in the ultimate perfection.  It is a matter of focus, balance and adjustment of that balance rather than an extreme “either/or” type of reasoning that we see here.  What becomes clear is that a focus on Truth, a focus on Tapasya, concentration of conscious force, and a focus on knowledge in the form of study and teaching of Veda appear to be preeminently important activities for the spiritual seeker.

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, pp.255-264, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182