Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tao Teh Ching and Upanishads

The Tao Te Ching and the Upanishads are so similar that they seem the same to me often. I do not know whether there have been any such comparisons before in these lines, but it seems more than likely, for the likeness are so pronounced. These are the thoughts which came to mind when I recently looked into them again. To me it appears that the two systems have lot in common though they evolved at slightly different geographical regions and cultural backgrounds of the Asian mainland.
From the very first declaration of Ching the striking resemblances jumps to our eye.

“The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.”

It is not much different from “na vagachathi, no mano” (1.3) of Kena Upanishad. What the Upanishad says is this “the final truth is not reached by the words and it can not be reached by the mind.” The opening lines of Tao Te Ching almost replicate it.

There are other similar references in the Upanishads of this quality of the unqualified too. “Yato vacha nivarthanthe aprapya manasa saha.” (Taitiriyam. Anuvaka 4.1) is one such. It translates this way. “Where the words turn back, that which can not be approached by even the mind.” You can easily replace Tao with Brahma in any of the Ching verses. Such are the similarities that I often mistake some verses of Tao Te Ching to be that of the Upanishads when I see them out of context somewhere.
And again in the later verses it is said:

“Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.”

In the same manner the Upanishads presents a picture:

“Here is a picture at the base of a pepul tree.
The master looks young while all the students seem wizened.
The silence of the master is the interpretation
The students sit with their doubts removed”

Then again the Ching echoes the Nasadeeya Suktha of the Veda’s. First here is what the Ching says:

“Reach, and it can’t be grasped.
Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.
Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.”

And here comes a loose translation of the Suktha:

“There was neither reality, nor unreality
There was neither energy nor breath
Who has covered the immense space?
Who has shrouded the sky …?”

And so on. I have always felt goose pimples rise all over my body whenever I go through the Suktha. Try to get a translated version of it and if you are a sensitive human being as I take you to be, I vouch that you would also feel it. The imagery is stunning; it would propel even the most unimaginative and practical of souls towards worlds unknown to them. You would not fail to guess something is happening within the words and within yourselves.

This is the real magic of mysticism

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