“The Upanishads contain the essence of the Vedas. They are the source of Vedanta philosophy. Profound, original, lofty, and sublime thoughts arise in every verse. They contain the direct spiritual revelations or revelations of seers or sages, the rishis. They are products of the highest wisdom, supreme divine knowledge. Hence, they stir the hearts of people and inspire them.” —Swami Sivananda
Upanishad literally means “sitting at the feet of a master.” During his lecture series in the Bay Area last year, Swami Ramaswarupananda explained what the Upanishads are and how they are traditionally taught—by sitting at the feet of a master and learning the essence from him over many years.
Swami Ramaswarupananda jokingly remarked that in a few evenings we can’t even begin to fathom what one Upanishad has to offer! Over the course of the lecture series, he elaborated on the first few slokas of the Isavasya Upanishad, explaining that the scripture goes from general or subtle points to more specific or elaborate points; one who understands the earlier ones fully will not need to hear the rest.
Through association with the master, one slowly assimilates the essence of the scriptures. Swami Ramaswarupananda has done just that. For nearly 30 years, he was the personal secretary of Swami Chidananda, president of the Divine Life Society, who is a very close disciple of one of India’s greatest saints, Swami Sivananda. While untiringly attending to his guru’s (Swami Chidananda’s) every need, Swami Ramaswarupananda had the unique opportunity to observe all the aspects of this great saint’s life—how he acts in public and in private, greets each day, reacts to each difficulty, connects with each person, and how he is an embodiment of love and wisdom. Although Swami Ramaswarupananda was busy almost beyond human capacity, he helped countless devotees from around the globe connect with Swami Chidananda.
Swami Ramaswarupananda now lives in a small kutir by the Ganga in the Himalayas and travels extensively, sharing his wisdom and love with one and all. Although rooted in a very traditional background, through his visits to all parts of the globe he has been exposed to many cultures and modes of thinking that have made his teachings and vision both practical and universal. He inspires and moves freely with everyone, regardless of age or background. He offers practical advice to the teenager, a ray of hope to the elderly, and new light on the subtleties of the scriptures to the pundit. He remains unruffled and personal whether addressing large crowds or small ones, and friendly and nonjudgmental when speaking with an individual.
The Vedas are the most ancient scriptures known to mankind, and their fourth and final portion is known as the Upanishads. These authoritative texts expound on Vedanta, one of the six philosophical systems of Indian mysticism. Vedanta claims that there is one consciousness underlying all of creation, known as Brahman, which is the same in every being in the universe. Thus, in essence we are all one. But owing to ignorance, attachments, and desires, we are unaware of this universal truth.
Ishavasya is one of the principal and most concise Upanishads. It opens with the awe-inspiring mantra: “ishavasyamidam sarvam” (This whole world is indwelt or pervaded by God.) This year, Swami Ramaswarupananda will comment on the deep meaning of the Ishavasya Upanishad and how this philosophy offers direction to our lives.
July 31-Aug. 3, 7:30-9 p.m.; Aug. 4, 6–8:30 p.m. Vishnu-devananda Yoga Vedanta Center, 1034 Delaware St., Berkeley. $10-$15 suggested donation per evening. (510) 273-2447.