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Excerpt from "The Sacred Jewels of Yoga"

The Upanishads

by Dave DeLuca

The word yoga comes from the root word yuj, meaning to "yoke" or "unite." The earliest yoga teachings are found in the Upanishads, which are the final portions of the Vedas, India’s most ancient and venerated scriptures. The Upanishads contain the oldest extant teachings of the spiritual wisdom, ideals, and practices of yoga: the Oneness of existence, the divinity of each human soul, meditation, karma, rebirth, maya, spiritual psychology, Self-realization, and so on.

The wisdom of the Upanishads is known as the Vedanta, meaning the culmination of the Vedas. The Upanishads are the ecstatic expressions of unknown sages who lived thousands of years ago regarding the nature of reality and our relationship to that reality, and they contain the first teachings of the various spiritual disciplines and practices that would come to define the four main mystical yoga pathways in future scriptures.

There have been many subdefinitions of the word yoga in the thousands of years of its teachings and practice, with many modern Western definitions reducing its meaning to a series of physical postures, or asanas, but the oldest, truest, and highest meaning of yoga is the union of our spirit with the Infinite Spirit, and the many paths and practices that lead to that union. Swami Nikhilananda put it beautifully: "The word ‘yoga’ denotes the union of individual soul with Universal Soul, and also the means to such union. Hence yoga is the goal of all religions and the basis of all religious practices."

The Upanishads contain the original seeds of all the yoga wisdom from which the vast library of yoga practices would subsequently be fashioned and perfected by countless generations of anonymous spiritual masters devoted to these incredible wisdom pathways.

The first of the great Upanishadic revelations is that the true nature of reality is Oneness. The Upanishads call the Eternal Oneness Brahman, the "great breath" or "expanse." Everything in the universe is a temporary expression of the One: everything comes from the One, has its being in the One, and returns to the One. There is nothing in the universe that is not a manifestation of Brahman. According to the Taittiriya Upanishad,

He who has no form assumed many forms;

He who is infinite appeared finite;

He who is everywhere assumed a place;

He who is all wisdom caused ignorance;

He who is real caused unreality.

It is He who has become everything.

It is He who gives reality to all.

Before the universe was created,

Brahman existed as unmanifest.

This is not mere pantheism, which equates God with nature. According to the Upanishadic seers, even the vast, unimaginable expanse of the known physical universe is absolutely insignificant in scope when compared to the totality of Existence that is Brahman. As the Isha Upanishad proclaims,

Filled with Brahman are the things

we see,

Filled with Brahman are the things

we see not,

From out of Brahman floweth all that is:

From Brahman all

Yet He remains the same.

The next monumental revelation of the Upanishads is of the divinity of each human soul. The Upanishads teach that the true essence of each human being is the Atman, the sacred Self, Brahman indwelling. Atman is Brahman, Brahman within, and this is the reality of who we are. We are not our bodies, we are not our minds, we are not our thoughts, we are not our ego. We have a body, we have a mind, we have thoughts, and we have an ego, but our highest truth is the Ever-Blessed Atman, the fountainhead of all joy and light and love that is the core and fundamental truth of our being.

One of the most beloved spiritual affirmations, or mahavakyas, of the Upanishads is "Tat Tvam Asi," "Thou Art That." It is the supreme teaching that each of us is actually the Divinity in expression, and it is beautifully expressed in the Chandogya Upanishad by Uddalaka as he teaches his son Shvetaketu about his and about our relationship with the Infinite:

"In the beginning was only Being,
One without a second. Out of Himself He brought forth the cosmos, and entered into everything in it. There is nothing that does not come from Him. Of everything He is the inmost Self. He is the truth; He is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that."

The next great spiritual teaching of the Upanishads is that the highest purpose of life is realizing and manifesting the Divinity within us, uniting with It and allowing It to flow unhindered through us in all Its glory. As the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad so eloquently expresses, union with Brahman is the supreme goal and the supreme treasure of life:

Where there is unity,

One without a second,

That is the world of Brahman.

This is the supreme goal of life,

The supreme treasure,

the supreme joy.

Those who do not seek this Supreme goal

Live on but a fraction of this joy.

The scriptures teach us that not only is it our sacred duty, our dharma, to uphold the highest in us, but it is the only way to abiding joy and peace. They tell us that by dedicating ourselves to the sacred goal of uniting with the highest within us, we will eventually reach the goal, the bliss of union with the Supreme Soul.

Dave DeLuca is one of the West’s most passionate and highly regarded teachers of India’s ancient Vedanta yoga wisdom and the editor of Sacred Jewels of Yoga and Pathways to Joy. He speaks and presents workshops on spiritual growth at temples, churches, conferences and learning centers all over the United States. He lives in Irvine, California. Visit him online at http://www.davedeluca.com.  

Excerpted from the book Sacred Jewels of Yoga Copyright 2011 Edited by Dave DeLuca. Printed with permission from New World Library.

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