Understanding the Meaning of Spirituality: From the Upanishads

by Subhamoy Das

The Upanishads tell us about our roles and responsibilities in ensuring a spiritual world in order to attain our own liberation or ‘moksha’ in the end.

What is spirituality, according to Hindu philosophy? It is a divine quality and all humans should aim to attain it. The goal of spirituality in the Upanishads is the immortality of the soul and it teaches us to ‘Grow into the Truth’. As the Kena Upanishad says:

Indriyani paranyahuh indriyebhyah param manaha
Manasastu para buddhi yo buddheh paratastu saha.

This means: That which is beyond the intellect, beyond this identity, that is the thing which is worth knowing. That is Brahman, the Absolute Being, the Truth.

6 Attributes That Make You A Spiritual Being

Let’s see what the Upanishads tell us about the relation between our senses, our intellect and identity to reach spiritualism.

‘Parapancha’ or five elements: The world is made up of five elements. That is why it is called ‘parapancha’. These five elements are connected to your five senses. For example, Light is connected to the sight, Space to sound, Air to touch, Water to taste and Earth to smell. Your five senses are made to experience these sense objects by spending energy. It is important to understand this relation to know your identity which will, eventually, lead to spiritualism.

The inward journey: The sense objects reach your senses through an inward journey. Your consciousness has four inner functions namely intellect, mind, memory and identity. When your intellect becomes alive and active, you start to experience things around you. This leads you to judge, discriminate, understand and analyze. This analysis filters into your memory and then beyond that is your identity. It is important to know your identity to know Brahman.

‘Yogamaya’ or illusions: If you think you know everything very well, it’s your illusion. In the spiritual path, illusions often recur and this is called ‘yogamaya’. You should always think that “Although I know it, yet I don’t ascertain I know it.” Certain things are subconsciously located in your inner mind, somewhere deeper on an intuitive level, but on the surface you may not know it or realize that you know it at all. Therefore, you know, yet you don’t. Here, ignorance and knowledge are both mixed up somewhere together.As the Kena Upanishad says:

Yasyamatam tasya matam matam yasyana veda saha
Avijnatam vijanatam vijnatamavijanatam.

This means: One who says he doesn’t know, he knows it, and one who says he knows it, he doesn’t know.

‘Patrata’ or capability to receive and hold knowledge: Your capability of experiencing the world is very limited but your desire is unlimited. In order to create a balance between the two, you have to first come to your senses and then move beyond to reach your intellect. Once you reach your intellect, you should know how to handle knowledge. The gurus and saints ask us to expand our capability to receive and maintain knowledge, in the words: Saha veeryam karavavahai. Knowledge leads to understanding, which paves the way to spiritual bliss.

‘Sadyojata’ or a new moment that is created and known: If you know all your past, present and future, there will be nothing unknown to you and life will become mechanical. There will be no new happening. ‘Sadyojata’ means that every moment is created anew and every moment is known anew. You should go beyond the things the way they are, they are done and they are to be done or being done. There is a level deep inside you which is connected with the unknowable. Therefore you feel that you don’t know certain things. Open your intellect to all new possibilities that may happen. This is a step ahead to attain spirituality.

Attainment of immortality: Your inner aspect is immortal and you get in touch with this inner aspect only through knowledge and deeper understanding. Through your ‘Guru’ you get knowledge and with your self-effort, you gain power. Atmana vindate viryam, says the Kena Upanishad. This means: By the self, you gain the power and through knowledge the Atman or soul can attain immortality.

The Role of Guru in Making one Spiritual

The master or your ‘Guru’ cannot make you all powerful. It should come with your effort from the knowledge that you gained from your guru. This power will help you gain spirituality.