An effort in which the intensity is so great that everything else is sacrificed, such a one pointed effort for the sake of knowledge; this is the second characteristic of Indian history at every turn of Indian history, if you read the pages of Indian history, you'll find this fundamental theme everywhere. And whenever there was a fixation, a bondage, barriers, saying: Oh! Shudras should not learn, (Shudras means those who are menial workers) they should not be given the knowledge. There was a time in India, when it was said that Shudras should not be given the knowledge and great reformers came and said break, break these barriers. Let everybody receive the knowledge, like Buddha challenged this restriction and opened the gates of knowledge to all.
There was a time, when it was said that knowledge should not be given to women, constantly this idea was broken in India and today you can see in the world and in India particularly, a tremendous emphasis on the liberation of women. Everyone should have the same rights, same knowledge, − tremendous force today. For the last 200 years the greatest leaders of India have fought against binding women to the kitchen, this has been a great effort of India for the last 200 years. These three aspects constitute the speciality of Indian history. You do not find the same kind of movement in other countries. I was just explaining all this to point out the importance of the Upanishads.
So now I sum up, the importance of the Upanishads lies in the fact that the kind of effort, which was made by the leaders of the Upanishads is not paralleled anywhere in the world. Nowhere there was a group of people, sections of people outspread, who came forward where the secret knowledge was attempted to be unveiled and recovered this is the only history in the world, where this happened.
The second important point is that as a result the Vedic knowledge was not lost, it was recovered. And from where there flowed hundreds of Ganges as it were, from that store of knowledge, which was captured by the Upanishads. Going beyond words and symbolism from there flow hundreds and thousands of currents of philosophy, thoughts, codes, sciences, thousands of them developed in India.
And thirdly in this cultural movement of India, knowledge was laid down as of supreme importance. If you ask, what is the speciality of Indian history, speciality of Indian soul, it is to lay down that knowledge is of supreme importance. And for that sake, in pursuit of knowledge all other things should be sacrificed, if need be, you may not, but if need be you should be able to sacrifice everything else for the sake of knowledge. This is the soul of India.
Now having said and summarised basically the importance of the Upanishads, I shall invite you to enter into the threshold and then into the hall of the Upanishads. Imagine that there is exhibition in which we are going to witness, and I am a door–keeper of this exhibition and before entering, I'm only telling you, look the importance of what is going to be seen inside. So, I wanted to prepare you, to enter into the hall of the exhibition. I'll get you some text, so that you have something with you for this kind of an exhibition. This is the text of the exhibition you should always have, something with you, it is always useful to have some text.
As you enter into this exhibition hall, you will find at least ten important books, there is comfort in this matter, usually books are very big. Like Veda for example, is a very big book, 10,000 verses in Rig Veda alone. If you take all the Vedic hymns in total, there are 20,000 hymns or mantras of the Vedas. It's a huge literature but Upanishads are very short. The longest would be about 20–30 pages, the shortest are those which have only 8 to 9 verses, it's like a small poem. The one that I'm going to deal with is short; it is called the Isha Upanishad that is the first book, which will come in your exhibition.
I won't deal with all the books because that is a very big task. I will mainly deal with only four of five Upanishads and that is enough for your introduction. All the other Upanishads you can study for the whole life, it is a lesson for the whole life. It'll be a continuous effort of yours to learn the Upanishads again and again, as I've been doing it all my life and still I have not read all the Upanishads myself but it doesn't matter. If you know a few of them and a few of them very well that itself is enough and that is the greatness of the Upanishads. I'm not going to give you the words, although all of them are words. All Upanishads are written in words but if you follow the method of the Upanishads, the words are taken only in the beginning and then you break the veil of the words, enter into the ideas and then you enter into the experience. So, you don't need to study everything, words have to be transcended. Let us first to all come to this Upanishad called Isha Upanishad.