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Known as The Upanishads, these texts are positioned within a vast 3,000-year timeframe, which we are ambitiously attempting to explore in this course. However, approaching the material of the Upanishads is comparable to being adrift at sea, attempting celestial navigation on a cloudy night. Initially, it is difficult to determine your location, but occasionally, a star emerges, giving you a glimpse of your whereabouts, albeit uncertain. Thus, feeling lost at sea is a common experience for anyone engaged in the serious or casual study of this subject.

To help you become familiar with the unfamiliar sound of Sanskrit, I will mention the names of the Upanishads I will be discussing: the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Chandogya Upanishad, the Kena Upanishad, the Isha Upanishad, the Taiittiriya Upanishad, the Aitareya Upanishad, and the Kaushitaki Upanishad. Some of these Upanishads are written in prose, while others are composed in verse. The early Upanishads, such as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, contain ancient references and allusions, serving as a platform for the exploration and testing of the ideas we have been discussing since Thursday.

The Upanishads seek to transcend the world of practicalities, tasks, and actions that constitute karma. They aim to encompass a realm that was meticulously formulated, agile, and focused on achieving success. In the most ancient understanding of Sanskrit and Vedic language, karma refers specifically to ritual actions. Rituals serve as a means to organize and comprehend events, causality, relationships, and the structure of the world. Through rituals, actions gain significance, transforming from random or meaningless acts into efficacious and meaningful endeavors. By formulating and repeating rituals, they are understood to lead to success. This notion of success is embedded in the very essence of rituals because their purpose is to create the circumstances and context for future endeavors. Without success, the world remains a collection of arbitrary events. The ancient Vedic worldview strives to demonstrate that events can be comprehensible and purposeful, asserting that failure is not the opposite of success but rather victimization or disempowerment. Success is synonymous with empowerment, providing the means to determine what comes next, where it is likely to be, and making it attainable.

Intelligibility refers to the ability to reasonably anticipate the desired outcome when performing an action. It may not precisely align with the final result, but the process of intelligibility ensures that the action contributes to the overall objective. In its oldest sense, karma represents ritual in ancient India. This alternative is essential because it addresses the spectrum from helplessness to victimization. Rituals convey that actions are empowered through an intelligible process, proclaiming that they can be understood, formulated, and repeated. This understanding of success emphasizes its formulation, comprehension, and repeatability.

Now, one might wonder if the desired outcome is always achieved. For example, when baking cookies or brewing beer, it is challenging to replicate the same results consistently. Brewing Budweiser beer, for instance, requires a level of hygiene comparable to Japanese standards to maintain consistency from one batch to another. The early Vedic worldview shares a similar perspective. They aim to reproduce a desired result, not merely through repetition but through recursion. Repetition suggests merely doing something again, whereas recursion implies that the instruction to repeat is embedded within the instruction itself. Recursion leads to identity, where repetition becomes synonymous with identity. The goal of recursion is to replace the thing with itself. This concept applies to the Vedic world because life is often tumultuous, filled with unforeseen challenges and disruptions.

In the pursuit of desired outcomes, one might question whether achieving the correct result is always guaranteed. Take, for example, the process of making cookies or brewing beer. It can be quite challenging to consistently replicate the same outcome. Budweiser serves as a notable example, as they manage to produce the same quality beer in different locations. Those familiar with beer-making understand the difficulties involved in achieving such consistency. It requires a level of hygiene akin to Japanese standards to ensure that each batch turns out identical to the previous one. Despite any criticisms directed at their product, Budweiser has mastered the art of consistency.

This concept of consistency parallels the worldview of the ancient Vedic culture. Their aim was not mere repetition but recursion. Repetition implies doing something again, while recursion embeds the instruction to repeat within the instruction itself. Recursion transforms repetition into identity, replacing the thing with itself. The Vedic culture sought to reproduce desired results through recursion, striving for identity rather than mere repetition. The goal was to create a seamless continuity where the process of replication becomes invisible, yet the new instance remains exactly the same as the previous one. This notion encapsulates the essence of recursion.

Why did the Vedic culture value this recursive approach? It is because life is akin to a storm, constantly causing disruptions, obstacles, and potential destruction. The world is a realm of possibilities where one can unexpectedly find themselves in challenging situations, akin to stepping into an unforeseen predicament. Ancient India, being part of this tumultuous world, recognized the pervasive nature of disorder. They were acutely aware of the need to restore order in a world characterized by lila, the play of constant change and chaos. However, achieving such order is an arduous task, much like the meticulous conditions required for brewing Budweiser. This is why early Upanishads still emphasize rituals and sacrifices; they mirror the Vedic culture’s desire for order and stability, rather than the chaotic reality they face.

The question arises: is the Vedic culture imposing its desired order on the world, or does it align with the inherent nature of reality? This complex question remains relevant even today. How does the world organize itself? How do we establish order in a reality governed by entropy, where things naturally tend towards disorder? The principle of entropy suggests that each subsequent disorder represents the most orderly state in the ongoing process of decay. Spilling coffee, for instance, disrupts its order within the cup, but the spilled state becomes the next most orderly state before further transformations. The Vedic cosmology recognizes the pervasive influence of entropy, which gives rise to concepts like yugas and theories of time. It explains why the world appears perpetually in a state of decay and why meticulous efforts are required to counteract this inherent disorder.

The Upanishads introduce two significant elements to this understanding. Firstly, they propose that the world’s falling apart and unraveling is not only inevitable but necessary for progress and change to occur. Similar to the concept of natural selection, accidents, mistakes, or heresies within the ritual process may lead to valuable innovations. The earlier view was that sustaining value, which represents the ultimate goal of success, required adhering to rituals and desires. In the Upanishads, desire itself becomes the problem. They challenge the notion that pursuing desires or wanting things differently than they are is the path to fulfillment. The rituals in the Upanishads aim to manifest the highest good, which extends beyond achieving personal desires. They involve relentless interventions to ensure the realization of this highest good, akin to a promise made by the Brahmins. It is similar to coming home and finding everything in perfect order, a fulfilling experience that establishes expectations and fosters a sense of stability.

The Upanishads also recognize the implications of a world devoid of mistakes or accidents. In such a perfectly tidy reality, neurosis takes hold, as the pressure to achieve perfection becomes overwhelming. The line blurs between meticulousness and obsessive-compulsive behavior, raising questions about what it means to be consistently on top of one’s game. Striking a balance between being attentive and falling into the trap of perfectionism becomes a significant challenge.

The Upanishads are poised to revolutionize our understanding. They convey the notion that words do not merely represent objects; rather, they refer to other words. This concept bears a striking resemblance to the French post-modern literary criticism. However, the Upanishads propose that words are integral to a cognitive process, which the yogis and samkhyakas refer to as the buddhi-manas-ahamkara process. Hence, according to the Upanishads, words denote the manner in which we comprehend them—they are tied to our mental processes. The Chandogya Upanishad, in particular, captivates with its exploration of this idea by guiding us through a seemingly trivial example, such as a white horse or a white cup. It adeptly leads us through the thought process involved in such observations. Allow me to elucidate. Consider this: “This is a white cup, notice. What do you perceive? Notice. You perceive a cup. Now, observe that cups are distinct from books. Notice. Not all cups are white. Observe that there are green cups.” In essence, the Upanishad invites us to recognize that our experiences entail a constant act of discernment—our consciousness is a sorting mechanism that grapples with these complexities. The Chandogya Upanishad aims to impart the realization that the richness, sweetness, and profundity of consciousness lie in comprehending that we no longer exist solely in a world of tangible objects, nor are we confined solely within our minds, as the Buddhists suggest. The Upanishads assert that when we perceive a cup, we are witnessing a intricate interplay between events and words, where words assume critical importance. They do not merely denote objects but rather encompass the events of consciousness—the process of discernment itself.

[Is this concept captivating to anyone?]

Therefore, the Chandogya Upanishad embarks on an elaborate and meticulous exposition, linking one concept to another, much like connecting a leg bone to a thigh bone. If one attempts to read it closely, intricate structures and systems become apparent. Its underlying message is that consciousness is a framework of interconnected structures that interact in a way that constructs a world, deceiving us into perceiving it as a realm of discrete entities, while in actuality, it is a world composed of relationships shaped by our mental processes.

We have become enchanted by words. Yet, without words, our very humanity would be diminished, for words are the foundation of symbolic thinking.

In our world, we encounter both facts and symbols, don’t we? Facts represent events, actions known as karmas. On the other hand, symbols, like Lila’s, present an intriguing question: Why does a particular word refer to a specific thing? The Upanishads provide an answer, revealing that the word does not solely refer to the thing itself but instead refers to another word. It points to a complex network of symbols. Therefore, what we perceive are not isolated objects but rather interconnected associations with abstract concepts.

Why is this notion significant? It holds importance because if we aim to grasp knowledge deeply, we must acknowledge that the intricate system of relationships guiding our understanding is simultaneously based on concrete and effective facts. For instance, when I hold a cup in my hand, there truly exists a cup, and when I utter the word “cup,” I engage in a rigorous cognitive process. This is where the Upanishads come into play. They seek to demonstrate that when we delve into such analysis, we begin to deconstruct consciousness. And why is this essential? Because later on, the Buddhists will assert that there are no inherent facts in the world, only words. According to them, words are mere mental constructs known as vikalpas. Now, there exists a thought-provoking argument on this matter, and I don’t intend to dismiss the brilliance of Buddhist thinkers. If religious arguments were the sole basis, we would all embrace Buddhism. The Buddhists, particularly notable figures like Dignaga and Dharmakirti, expound upon the concept that the world is a creation of the mind. We don’t see the world; we perceive our own minds. However, the Upanishads, as part of Hindu philosophy, hold a different perspective. They propose that when we observe the world, we do indeed witness tangible objects. Yet, these objects are inseparably interwoven into the fabric of language systems and how words function.

Therefore, as you delve into the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and subsequently encounter the Chandogya Upanishad, you will come across extraordinary instances of etymology. These passages break down words for us, offering insightful analogies. Allow me to provide an example from page 125 of the Chandogya Upanishad. Here, it presents a rich tapestry of allegorical and symbolic references. It states:

“Now the sacrifice, the yajna, is a man, a person referred to as purusha. His initial 24 years constitute the morning pressing of the Soma. The gayatri meter comprises 24 syllables. Hence, the morning pressing of the Soma is performed using the gayatri. In connection to this, the vasus are linked, as they represent the breaths that sustain this entire world, enabling secure dwelling.”

As you can see, these breakdowns are not merely etymological but rather analogical in nature. They provide intricate symbolic connections. The Upanishads offer a profound exploration of language, unraveling its inherent complexities and highlighting how words form an integral part of our perception and understanding.


1. All this is Brahman (n.) Let a man meditate on that (visible world) as beginning, ending, and breathing in it (the Brahman).

Now man is a creature of will. According to what his will is in this world, so will he be when he has departed this life. Let him therefore have this will and belief:

2. The intelligent, whose body is spirit, whose form is light, whose thoughts are true, whose nature is like ether (omnipresent and invisible), from whom all works, all desires, all sweet odours and tastes proceed; he who embraces all this, who never speaks, and is never surprised,

3. He is my self within the heart, smaller than a corn of rice, smaller than a corn of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed or the kernel of a canary seed. He also is my self within the heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven, greater than all these worlds.

4. He from whom all works, all desires, all sweet odours and tastes proceed, who embraces all this, who never speaks and who is never surprised, he, my self within the heart, is that Brahman (n.) When I shall have departed from hence, I shall obtain him (that Self). He who has this faith has no doubt; thus said Sandilya, yea, thus he said.


1. Man is sacrifice. His (first) twenty-four years are the morning-libation. The Gayatri has twenty-four syllables, the morning-libation is offered with Gayatri hymns. The Vasus are connected with that part of the sacrifice. The Pranas (the five senses) are the Vasus, for they make all this to abide (vasayanti).

2. If anything ails him in that (early) age, let him say: ‘Ye Pranas, ye Vasus, extend this my morning-libation unto the midday-libation, that I, the sacrificer, may not perish in the midst of the Pranas or Vasus.’ Thus he recovers from his illness, and becomes whole.

3. The next forty-four years are the midday-libation. The Trishtubh has forty-four syllables, the midday-libation is offered with Trishtubh hymns. The Rudras are connected with that part of it. The Pranas are the Rudras, for they make all this to cry (rodayanti).

4. If anything ails him in that (second) age, let him say: ‘Ye Pranas, ye Rudras, extend this my midday-libation unto the third libation, that I, the sacrificer, may not perish in the midst of the Pranas or Rudras.’ Thus he recovers from his illness, and becomes whole.

5. The next forty-eight years are the third libation. The Gagati has forty-eight syllables, the third libation is offered with Gagati hymns. The Adityas are connected with that part of it. The Pranas are the Adityas, for they take up all this (adadate).

6. If anything ails him in that (third) age, let him say: ‘Ye Pranas, ye Adityas, extend this my third libation unto the full age, that I, the sacrificer, may not perish in the midst of the Pranas or Adityas.’ Thus he recovers from his illness, and becomes whole.

7. Mahidasa Aitareya (the son of Itari), who knew this, said (addressing a disease): ‘Why dost thou afflict me, as I shall not die by it ?’ He lived a hundred and sixteen years (i.e. 24 + 44 + 48). He, too, who knows this lives on to a hundred and sixteen years.

As you continue reading this passage, you may find yourself wondering what exactly is happening. Allow me to explain the essence of the matter. The Upanishad aims to convey that the things we observe in the world are tangible entities. We encounter sacrifices, human beings, and even a plant called soma, which is pressed into an elixir and consumed or offered in fires. These elements exist in the world, a perspective deeply rooted in Hinduism. It acknowledges the reality of the world and refrains from denying its events. Realism forms a fundamental aspect of their belief system. I have chosen this particular passage to exemplify a significant point I am trying to convey. The Upanishad desires a world where genuine, interconnected things hold value and operate in harmony. To illustrate this point, let’s consider the process of making Budweiser. To create it, we need water, malt, and the preparation of soma. We require the necessary ingredients, the substances known as dravyas. The world is indeed real, and this concept holds importance because the Upanishads intend to take it further. They assert that the only way we can access the real world is by perceiving it as symbols and engaging with it through thought and language. We do not merely observe the world as it is. To draw a parallel with the 21st century, this perspective distinguishes us from schooling fish, which simply react to events without contemplation or deeper understanding. The Upanishads assert that the symbolic process immerses us in a realm of allegory, relationships, and symbolic meaning.

Let us explore the significance of the gods known as the vasus. In a conventional Hinduism class, one might learn that the vasus are part of a category called the 33 gods, consisting of eight vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve adityas, Prajapati, and Agni, totaling 33 deities. You might question the relevance of these deities and wonder why they matter. The Upanishad responds by suggesting that if all you sought was a mere list, you could use the vasus without understanding their implications. In other words, you could still achieve results without comprehending the underlying meaning. This aligns with the ancient Vedic worldview. The Upanishad acknowledges the value of producing results. To offer a modern comparison, before Charles Darwin, we lacked factual descriptions of how life unfolded. Instead, we relied on metaphors, stories, and assertions. The Upanishads assert that while you can navigate the world solely based on events, if you desire to explore what is hidden, what holds value, you must delve into the process of the mind. This is where language comes into play. The initial approach, which the Chandogya Upanishad and other early texts adopt, involves breaking into the mind by breaking into words. You may not resonate with this perspective, but it constitutes the Upanishads’ first strategy. According to them, words do not merely refer to objects; they symbolize, represent, and reflect the workings of the mind. This realization is crucial because the Upanishads aim to help us recognize that when we perceive the world, we are also perceiving our own minds. By understanding the cognitive process and embracing the symbolic nature of language, we gain the opportunity to explore the world more deeply and discover its hidden meanings.

The Upanishads present themselves as an inquiry into the self. The Chandogya and other Upanishads explore the complex and fascinating ways in which we construct our world through the application of the mind’s systems and structures. When we delve into the mind, we delve into the self, reaching the essence of the matter, metaphorically represented as honey and the heart. The honey symbolizes the savory taste and the experience of what it feels like, referred to as rasa. It captures the flavor and the essence of the subject. In a similar vein, the heart of the matter, referred to as hrdaya, encapsulates the essential core. The Upanishads recognized that we possess the capacity to conceptualize, abstract, and imagine things that we have not yet achieved. It goes beyond merely naming things based on our existing abilities. For instance, we can conceptualize flying, even if we cannot do so ourselves. This imaginative and creative aspect is the purpose of the Upanishads. By savoring the world, we delve into the heart of the matter. The honey and the heart symbolize the pursuit of uncovering hidden potential, values, and possibilities. The Upanishads encourage us to grasp that our perception of the world is intricately connected to our mind’s processes, which allow us to perceive deeper meanings and contemplate the nature of existence.

The Buddhist argument that will soon emerge is that the mind is the finger pointing to the moon. And the moon it points to is a construct of the mind. However, the Upanishads present a different perspective. They acknowledge the existence of a finger, but emphasize that it is not just a finger in isolation. It serves a purpose within a larger system, a structure of integrated pieces. This is the essence of the Upanishads, which delve into the interconnectedness and hidden potential of the world.

According to the Upanishads, the secret lies in realizing that we are not merely living in a world of things, but rather, we are imaginative beings. We possess the creative power to invent and shape the world that invented us. The world is not solely composed of physical objects; it is an imaginative construct, a system that holds immense significance. While some interpretations claim the world is entirely illusory, the Upanishads offer a more intriguing perspective. They suggest that things have their own inherent nature, but their meaning is something we create. A meaningful life is thus a creative life.

In the context of the Tantras, etymology is used to uncover hidden meanings. For example, Hatha yoga is often understood as the union of the sun (ha) and moon (tha), but the Upanishads reveal that the word “hatha” itself means to strike or coerce. It symbolically represents the sun and moon. The Tantrikas engage in similar explorations, recognizing that words and symbols hold deeper value beyond their surface appearances. By deciphering these meanings, they unravel the mysteries of existence.

The Upanishads emphasize that the world is not just a series of events and accomplishments; it is a realm of profound meaning. To understand this meaning, we must delve into the complex systems of our thoughts, language, and actions. This requires introspection, questioning the reasons behind our choices and the significance we attribute to objects and experiences. By unraveling the cognitive and emotional processes that imbue life with meaning, we can live more empowered and fulfilling lives.

Ultimately, the Upanishads invite us to recognize that the pursuit of meaning is a profound endeavor. It requires us to uncover the hidden layers and associations that give depth to our experiences. Just as honey captures the essence of its subject, savoring the honey of the matter allows us to discover the sweetness and transformative power of a life imbued with meaning.

The profound experience of finding meaning and recognizing it as a fundamental gift, understanding it as the true essence and empowerment behind the things we value, is beautifully symbolized by Soma in the Chandogya Upanishad. Soma is not merely a drink or elixir that brings about a pleasant high or refreshment; it represents a deep rejuvenation of the heart and soulfulness.

In the Upanishad, this ancient practice of preparing the Soma decoction three times a day is seen as an event, an action performed by our ancestors. They cultivated plants, underwent a specific process, and created this cocktail known as Soma, which provided a sense of refreshment. While the Vedas mention its hallucinogenic properties, the Upanishad takes a different perspective. It teaches that the true Soma is not the drink itself, but rather the act of preparing it as an expression of love and care. Just as I make coffee for Susan in the morning, sending her a text asking if she wants coffee, or simply sending a coffee emoji or the word “coffee” to avoid waking her up, and then bringing her the coffee, that is the essence of Soma. It is the act of love, something my mother would have done, a beautiful gesture that strengthens the bond between individuals.

The Upanishad explores the relationship between things and actions and highlights the significance of meaning. Meaning is not singular but rather a complex web of associations. It represents sweetness, a way of expressing love and care, a reflection of the love and care our mothers showed us. The Upanishad invites us to recognize that the things in the world matter because of their meanings, and these meanings should be explored and understood. By delving into the analysis of our actions and motivations, life becomes more fulfilling, just as a cup of coffee awakens and enlivens us.

Furthermore, the Upanishad emphasizes that our bodies lead us to the core of the matter, to the heart. In chapters three, five, and six of the Chandogya Upanishad, it is revealed that bodies guide us to the heart, the place where the essence of life resides. This metaphorical understanding suggests that the honey, the taste, the rasa, and the love of life are found in the heart. The Upanishad urges us to recognize that while the things of the world hold importance, it is their meanings that truly matter. These meanings are subjective and personal, yet they connect us with others, enabling empathy, sympathy, and a deeper understanding of the shared human experience.

According to the Upanishad, the sacrifice mentioned is not about giving up something, but rather making it sacred. It is about recognizing the sacredness in life, the lessons, opportunities, and gifts that life bestows upon us. Although circumstances and contexts may vary, and fairness may be elusive, the Upanishad suggests that we all share the same humanity, the same desires, fears, loves, and griefs. Personalizing these shared experiences is not selfish but allows us to view the macrocosm, the truths of the world, as our own and to offer them as gifts to others. The act of sacrifice, in this context, is about giving, sharing, and making the sacred aspects of life accessible to all.

It is recommended to read the passage starting on page 125 of O’s work, specifically section 3.16 of the Chandogya Upanishad. Although the text may initially appear esoteric, it holds the key to understanding how cultural symbols and shared experiences can reveal important insights about ourselves. To illustrate, consider the music you grew up with, the tunes that resonate with your generation. Reflect on what they mean to you, the memories, emotions, and aspirations they evoke. Then, invite your friends to share in that experience, offering them a glimpse into your world and attempting to convey why it holds such significance. This act of connection, of sharing a deep connection through music, mirrors the essence of Soma. The Upanishad teaches that savoring this connection and the feeling it brings is what soma truly represents. The word Upanishad itself means connection, and by immersing oneself in this text, one can truly taste and experience the profound connection it offers.

Now let’s discuss the Chandogya Upanishad, which is focused on the Upanishad of Chandas. Chandas refers to the ancient Vedic word for chant and encompasses both the content and the musical aspect of the chant. It also includes the meters and the organization of the chant. However, the ultimate purpose of the Chandogya Upanishad is to explore the emotional impact and transformative effect that the chant has on individuals. It delves into the essence of how the chant makes us feel and its significance.

The Upanishad emphasizes three key elements: content, method, and performance, along with their evocative outcome. The content refers to the essence and message conveyed by the chant, while the method focuses on the organization and memorization of the chant. Performance involves the actual act of chanting. However, the most crucial aspect lies in the evocative outcome, as it determines how the chant affects and enriches us on a personal level. It compares this process to a vaccine, where participation in the collective experience of the chant benefits everyone involved.

The Chandogya Upanishad doesn’t moralize or dictate specific codes of conduct. Instead, it invites us to engage in a shared project that contributes to the common good. The Upanishad emphasizes that the project’s goodness lies in the profound connection it creates when the content of the world is effectively brought into relationships. This connection expands our understanding and provides a shared experience that benefits the collective. It encourages us to move from a self-centered perspective to a broader understanding of our interconnected humanity.

To achieve this transition, the Upanishad suggests a process akin to Martin Buber’s philosophy in his book “I and Thou.” It involves progressing from self-awareness to acknowledging the existence of others and ultimately embracing a collective identity. The Upanishad highlights the rejection of self by demons, symbolizing an unwillingness to share and transfer the joy and essence of the chant, or Soma. Conversely, the gods advocate for the importance of sharing the Soma, as it fosters unity and cooperation.

The Upanishad underscores the need to expand our consciousness continually. It suggests that if we remain stagnant and unwilling to grow, we will contract and diminish. It urges us to embark on a journey of self-discovery, appreciating the value of music as a conduit for expanding our consciousness. Music, like Soma, holds immense value as it evokes ecstasy, wonder, and creativity, propelling us towards new and profound experiences.

In summary, the Chandogya Upanishad, belonging to the Sama Veda, comprises three essential aspects: accounting for the contents of the world, exploring their symbolic value and meaning, and experiencing the transformative and evocative power they hold. By following this three-step process, the Upanishad encourages us to engage in a collective endeavor that benefits all and fosters a deeper connection among individuals.

This represents the tripartite process of Soma, honey pressing, and the heart.

So Soma and the honey, or the essence, delve into the core of the matter, capturing its flavor, and uncovering its essence. This constitutes the second aspect. And what does it do to you? The text refers to this as ananda, describing it as pure bliss. It is not an elevated state removed from the world.

Bliss constitutes the third element of this puzzle. It is the evocative force, the sensation that arises when you recognize and embrace the essence. It signifies the profoundness and the transformative impact it has on you.

Approach this as a project, perhaps by reading chapters 3, 5, and 6 of the Chandogya Upanishad. While accounting for any cultural disparities and peculiarities that may arise, attempt to discern the meticulous exploration of the human pursuit of meaning and the outcomes of a valuable life. A life that spans a hundred years, yet remains worthwhile. It is a life that is purna, not perfect, but complete. Perfection would merely entail repetition. This life is an art form, for although the same 42 seconds may be replayed, it is understood that each encounter brings a unique experience. It is akin to standing before a work of art, where the observer’s perspective continually evolves.

There is the appreciation of the art, nurtured and refined through study, connection, and the ongoing process. It demands diligence and perseverance to comprehend and delve into its depths. Then there is the personal experience one undergoes. This is why you revisit a painting at the Musee d’Orsay and acknowledge that it will be different tomorrow.

Allow the rhythmic verses, the essence, and the chant to resonate within your heart. Let Soma be your expression and then share it generously, giving away even the personal aspects so that others can recognize that it extends beyond oneself. It encompasses everyone, akin to the appreciation of art or the love for music, transcending individual value or affection.

About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives