Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Eastern Mysticism

In this rambling post, I am simply citing some verses from the  Upanishads, dating from somewhere in the middle of the second millennium BC, the Bhagavad Gita and the Tao Te Ching, that wonderful book of verses from ancient China which I recently happened to pick up, dating from somewhere in the seventh century BC, without a single word of commentary of my own. For these verses all have come from truly illumined souls and have been contemplated upon by millions of seekers over the centuries. 

There are 108 Upanishads, and all of them contain verses and discourses, fables and parables on the nature of the Supreme Being or the Ultimate Reality. I have included only a few verses from the Kena Upanishad  and Katha Upanishad because they sound exactly the same as several verses of the Tao Te Ching and this common ground is the very reason for this post. 

Citations from Tao Te Ching are from a translation by Jonathan Star.
Citations from the Kena Upanishad are from a translation by Swami Paramananda
Citations from the Bhagavad Gita are from a translation by Swami Swarupananda

Verse 1, Tao Te Ching

A way that can be walked
is not the Way
A name that can be named
Is not the Name

Tao is both Named and Nameless
As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
As Named, it is the mother of all things

Verse 14, Tao Te Ching

Eyes look, but cannot see it
Ears listen but cannot hear it
Hands grasp but cannot touch it
Beyond the senses lies the great Unity -
invisible, inaudible, intangible

Verse 25, Tao Te Ching

Something formless, complete in itself
There before Heaven and Earth
Tranquil, vast, standing alone, unchanging
It provides for all things yet cannot be exhausted
It is the mother of the universe
I do not know it's name
so I call it "Tao"
Forced to name it further
I call it
"That which is beyond the beyond"
"That to which all things return"

Verse 37, Tao Te Ching

Tao does not act
yet it is the root of all action
Tao does not move
yet it is the source of all creation

Kena Upanishad, First Part 

Verse IV
That which speech does not illumine, but which illumines speech: know that alone to be the Brahman ( the Supreme Being), not this which people worship here.

Verse V
That which cannot be thought by mind, but by which, they say, mind is able to think: know that alone to be the Brahman, not that which people worship here.

Verse VI
That which is not seen by the eye, but by which the eye is able to see: know that alone to be the Brahman, not that which people worship here.

Verse VII
That which cannot be heard by the ear, but by which the ear is able to hear: know that alone to be the Brahman, not that which people worship here. 

Katha Upanishad

Verse 18
“This Supreme Knower, vipashchit, is not born, never comes into being at any time, and so has no death.” 

Verse 23
“Not by speech can He be known; not by the intellect, not even by hearing.” 

Verse 9, Chapter 8, The Bhagavad Gita

The Omniscient, the Ancient,
the Overlord, minuter than an atom,
of form inconceivable,
self luminous like the sun,
beyond the darkness of Maya

Verse 21, Chapter 8, The Bhagavad Gita

What has been called Unmanifested and Imperishable,
has been described as the Goal Supreme.
My highest state, having attained which,
there is no return.

Verse 10 - 11, Chapter 9, The Bhagavad Gita

By reason of My proximity,
Nature produces all this,
the moving and the unmoving,
the world wheels round and round

Unaware of My higher state,
as the great Lord of beings,
fools disregard Me,
dwelling in human form

Verse 16, Chapter 9, The Bhagavad Gita

I am the rite
I the worship,
I the offering,
the fire,
and I the oblation

There are also huge similarities between certain verses of the Bhagavad Gita and the words of Jesus as retold by his disciples in the Holy Bible and some of these have also been commented upon by Paramhansa Yogananda in his book, Autobiography of a Yogi. 

The following passage occurs in the Brihadaranyak Upanishad - 

Om purnam adah, purnam idam,
purnat purnam udachyate;
purnasya purnam adaya
purnam evavasisyate.
Om Santih! Santih! Santih!

That is full, this is also full
From infinity, infinity comes forth
After the coming of the full
from the full
The fullness remains as before
Let there be peace!


  1. Lovely to revisit these beautiful verses. The first one especially speaks to me. Always a joy to see you posting, my friend.

    1. Thank you Sherry, it was indeed good to revisit these verses. It's the inevitable turn in the season once again, another turn in the wheel of life. And as the clouds rush here and there but finally come to rest against the blue sky, I should like to hope the blue sky feeling the contentment and peace within :)

  2. Years ago I took a university Tai Chi class and our instructor loved to quote the Tao Te Ching. Reading your chosen verses from that book I'm reminded again of what a profound and inspiring work it is.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. This book of verses, Rita, is so essentially rooted in mysticism that is uniquely an Indian heritage. Thanks for coming a rambling!