The Best Upanishads Quotes by Shankara

Shankara (Adi Shankaracharya) (788 – 820 CE) —

one of the greatest saints and philosopher of India, the foremost exponent of Advaita ("non-dualism") Vedanta, that proclaim the unity of the Atman (the Self) and Nirguna Brahman, Brahman without attributes (the Whole). His works elaborate on ideas found in the Upanishads. He was instrumental in the revival of Hinduism.

'The Crest Jewel of Discrimination'
(Vivekachudamani) by Shankara

"Brahman is the only truth,
the world is unreal,
and there is ultimately no difference between
Brahman and Atman, individual self"

Brahma satyam jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva naparah

You never identify your self with the shadow cast by your body, or with its reflection, or with the body you see in a dream or in your imagination. Therefore you should not identify yourself with this living body, either.

Shankara on Brahman

We propose to write a short introduction to the Svetasvatara Upanishad in order that the treatise may he easily understood by those who inquire about Brahman.

Consciousness (Chit)
Existance (Sat)
Bliss (Ananda)

* Atman — The Self or Soul and the jiva ('individual soul')

It is one and without a second. Yet It becomes the victim of avidya*, which rests in Atman and is dependent upon It. The existence of avidya is deduced from the universal experience expressed by such statements as "I am ignorant," "I do not know myself," etc.

* The word avidya means absence of knowledge, or nescience. Avidya is the sakti, or power, of Brahman, in association with which Brahman creates, preserves, and dissolves the universe. As the power to burn inheres in fire, so avidya inheres in Brahman. The power cannot be separated from that in which it inheres. It is because avidya obscures the self-luminous Brahman that the ignorant deny Brahman's reality, saying, "Brahman does not exist; It does not shine." Under the spell of avidya, the indivisible, eternal, and ever present Brahman appears as the jiva, the embodied, living soul, and helplessly wanders from one fife to another, experiencing the bitter and sweet fruits of its own karma. The proof that the jiva is covered by nescience is its own confession, as expressed in the statements "I am ignorant" and "I do not know myself."

Falling under the spell of avidya, Atman becomes lost, as it were, to the infinite majesty and knowledge which are innate in It. It thus falls prey to unending tribulations. Under the power of avidya, the jiva considers what is not the Highest Good of life to be the Highest Good wished for by all. Hence the individual atman, being unable to experience Liberation (Moksha), which is really the Highest Good, falls into the ocean of samsara [the relative world; the unceasing round of births and deaths] and wanders about—assuming the bodies of gods (devas), men, animals, or birds—pursued by the sharks of malice, anger, and passion. In the course of this wandering, by chance it may perform some meritorious action and be born as a Brahmin or some similar human being entitled to the Knowledge of Brahman.  

Then, when it performs action, it surrenders the result to God and becomes free of attachment, hatred, and other similar blemishes.

Thus, becoming pure in heart, it realizes the transitory nature of the world and cultivates a spirit of dispassion toward the enjoyment of [material] objects, here and hereafter. [Seeking the Knowledge of Brahman,] it approaches a preceptor and hears from him the teachings of Vedanta. Afterwards it reasons about these teachings and meditates on them. At long last it realizes the oneness of Brahman and the self, as epitomized in the Vedic statement "I am Brahman," rids itself of avidya and its effect [the experience of pleasure and pain],  and becomes free from grief. This is called Liberation, which is characterized by the cessation of nescience and is attained through Knowledge alone.

Therefore it is in the fitness of things that the Upanishad should undertake to teach the Knowledge of Brahman, whose purpose is the destruction of nescience.

That the Knowledge of Brahman bestows Immortality is known from the following Sruti* and Smriti* passages. 

* The word Sruti refers to the Vedas, which are divinely revealed and of which the Upanishads form the essential part.

* The books of Smriti, which are subsidiary to the Vedas, are ascribed to human authorship.

The Vedic evidence:

"By knowing Brahman one achieves Immortality here [in this body]. There is no other way to its attainment." (Taittiriya Aranyaka VI. i. 6; Nrisimhapurvatapani Upanishad I. 6.)

"If he does not know It (Atman) here, a great destruction awaits him." (Kena Up. II. 5.)

"Those who know It (Brahman) become immortal." (Katha Up. II. Hi. 2.)

"Desiring what, and for whose sake, are you wearying out the body?" (Brihadaranyaka Up. IV. iv. 12.)

"After knowing It (Brahman) one is not stained by sinful action."

"The knower of Atman transcends grief." (Chhandogya Up. VII. i. 3.)

"Having realized Atman . . . one is freed from the jaws of death." (Katha Up. I. Hi. 15.)

"He who knows this Brahman, hidden in the cave of the heart, cuts asunder even here the knot of ignorance." (Mundaka Up. II. i. 10.)

"The fetters of the heart are broken, all doubts are resolved, and all works cease to bear fruit, when He (Brahman) is beheld who is both high and low." (Mundaka Up. II. ii. 8.)

"As flowing rivers disappear into the sea, losing their names and forms, so a wise man, freed from name and form, attains the Purusha, who is greater than the Great." (Mundaka Up. 111. ii. 8.)

He who knows
the Supreme Brahman
verily becomes Brahman.
(Mundaka Up. III. ii. 9.)

"He who knows that imperishable Being, bright, without shadow, without body, without colour, verily obtains the Supreme." (Prasna Up. IV. 10.)

"Know Him, the Purusha, who alone is to be known . . . that death may not affect you." (Prasna Up. VI. 6.)

"What delusion, what sorrow, can there be for him who beholds that oneness [of the jiva and Brahman]?" (Isa Up. 7.)

"He obtains Immortality through Knowledge." (Isa Up. 11.)

"The wise investigate all forms, and departing from this world, attain Immortality."

"He who thus knows this Upanishad shakes off all sins and becomes firmly established in the infinite and the highest Heaven." (Kena Up. IV. 9.)

"Those who are absorbed in Brahman become immortal."

"The embodied soul, having realized the truth about the Self, becomes free from grief and obtains the wished-for goal."

"By knowing Him who alone pervades the universe, men become immortal." (Svetasvatara Up. III. 7.)

"By truly realizing Him
... one attains the supreme peace."
(Svetasvatara Up. IV. 11.)

"Verily, by knowing Him one cuts asunder the fetters of death." (Svetasvatara Up. IV. 15.)

"The gods and seers of yore who knew It (Brahman) attained eternal peace—and not others."

Evidence from Smriti (Hindu Religious Scripture):

"Endued with evenness of mind, one casts off, in this very life, both good deeds and evil deeds." (Bhagavad Gita II. 50.)

"The wise, of even mind, renounce the fruit of action. Freed from the fetters of birth, they attain the state that is beyond all evil." (Bhagavad Gita II. 51.)

"By the raft of Knowledge alone will you be borne over all sin." (B. G. IV. 36.)

"The fire of Knowledge reduces all works to ashes." (B. G. IV. 37.)

"By knowing it (the teaching about Brahman) a man becomes wise, O Bharata, and fulfils all his duties." (B. G. XV. 2.0.)

"Then, having known Me in truth, he forthwith enters into Me." (B. G. XVIII. 55.)

"Self-Knowledge is the best of all forms of knowledge; it is the highest of all sciences, because through it one attains Immortality."

"The twice-born (the brahmin) obtains the fulfilment of all desires through Self-Knowledge and not by any other means."

"He who sees himself in all beings, by means of his true understanding, first attains unity with all and then realizes the eternal Brahman."

"The man endowed with perfect Self-Knowledge is not entangled by his action; but the man devoid of this Knowledge enters samsara."

"A man is bound by karma (action) and freed by Knowledge; therefore the far-seeing sannyasins do not engage in karma."

"The wise of olden times, endowed with firm resolution, spoke of Knowledge as the means to realize the Highest Good. Thus, by means of pure Knowledge, a man is liberated from all sins."

"The illumined person, having realized the power of death, attains Brahman, which is of eternal radiance, by means of Knowledge. There is no other way to realize Brahman. The seers know this and remain satisfied."

"The purity attained by the embodied being through the Knowledge of God is the supreme purity. The attainment of Self-Knowledge, by means of yoga, is the highest dharma."

"The knower of the Self passes beyond grief. He is not afraid of anything — neither of the approach of death nor of death itself. He fears nothing whatsoever."

"Atman is not born, nor does It die. It is not killed nor is It the killer. It is not bound nor does It cause anyone's bondage. It is neither liberated nor the giver of Liberation. The jiva, in reality, is the Supreme Self; all else besides is unreal."

Thus the Vedas, the Smritis, and the ltihasas (books of legends) speak of Knowledge alone as the means to Liberation.

Therefore it is in the fitness of things that the teachings of the Upanishad, whose purpose is to show the way of Knowledge, should begin.

Further, the very etymological meaning of the word Upanishad denotes that Knowledge alone is the discipline for the attainment of Liberation, which is man's Highest Good. The prefix upa means near, and ni, completely. [The Upanishad, when learnt from a qualified teacher, completely destroys ignorance, etc.] The verbal root sad means to loosen, to attain, and to destroy. By the word Upanishad is denoted the Vidya (Knowledge) regarding the Entity (Brahman) which is sought to be established in the Svetasvatara Upanishad, which we intend to explain. Since the book aims at establishing this same Knowledge, it is therefore also called Upanishad. *

* The primary meaning of the word Upanishad is Vidya, or the Knowledge of Brahman; the secondary meaning is the book that deals with that Knowledge.


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* Excerpts translated by Swami Nikhilananda