When our minds are purified through
karma (selfless action) and made single-pointed through up-asana
(worship), we cannot remain satisfied with the small achievements in worldly
We begin to
questions, such as: "What is
the purpose of
life? What is my true nature?
What is the source and origin of this entire creation?"
When questions of this kind arise in a person's
mind, his or her quest for
knowledge begins. The
quest can be satisfied only when the student approaches a spiritual master and
learns from him his highest knowledge of the Self.
This knowledge is the subject matter of the third
and the last portion of the Vedas, which we call the Upanishads, otherwise known
as Vedanta. When we say 'Vedanta' philosophy, we refer to the knowledge revealed
in the Upanishads.
Upanishad is a combination
of three words:
upa, ni, and
sad. Upa means near; ni means
below and determination, and sad means, to sit down. Thus the simple
meaning of Upanishad is "near below sitting".
The indicative meaning is that a student, having
developed sufficiently good qualities of heart and mind, with burning desire for
knowledge, approaches a
teacher; sits at his feet, tunes his mind to the
teachings given by the master; and tries his best to absorb and practice the
teachings. In short, the Upanishads contain that knowledge which can be gained
be a seeker of Truth when he is sitting at the feet of his master.
Why is it said that the student must sit at the
teacher's feet? Just as the flow of water is natural and effortless from an
upper to a lower level, sitting at the feet of the teacher is symbolic of the
student looking up to the teacher: With this
the knowledge of the teacher flows easily to him.
The other meanings of the word sad are to
destroy and to lead. When the student receives this knowledge from the teacher,
his ignorance of the real nature of the world and of his own Self is destroyed.
Therefore, the purpose of the Upanishad is
(the destruction of ignorance.) The most important point is that the word
Upanishad does not, essentially, refer to a book, but to the
The word ni, in Sanskrit, also means
determination. This indicates that the student must approach the teacher with a
firm determination to gain knowledge.
A Sanskrit verse says beautifully: Deham va
patayami karyam va sadayami. "Either this body will fall down dead or I will
accomplish my goal". This is the firm determination with which the student has
to approach the teacher.