Significance of the Upanishad
The Veda and the initiates who were admitted to the secret of the Veda represented a lofty and consummate achievement secured by means of an intense and rapid cultivation of intuitive and suprarational capacities and faculties. But the general mass of people in the midst of which this great and surprising Vedic phenomenon took place were evidently primitive and infra-rational, dominated by the needs of the body and limited to the engrossing demands of the physical mind. What was important for this mass of people was the Vedic ritualism, its ceremonies and the institution of sacrifice. In due course of time, this ritualism grew and developed 'into an elaborate and complicated system. It over-burdened the inner core of the Vedic secret, and it became increasingly difficult to penetrate through the crust of the outer ceremonies and acts to reach the inner heart of the true and living Vedic knowledge.
The inner Vedic knowledge was a kind of a synthesis of the spiritual and the physical, and this provided a fine balance and a graded ladder connecting the material and spiritual poles of existence. In this scheme, the outer ritual and ceremonies reflected the sunshine of the highest and profundest spiritual knowledge, and thus they were not a mere artifice or a misleading or imprisoning super-structure. They provided, on the contrary, a meaningful gate of entry for the physical mind of man to undertake the long journey of a true and balanced spiritual-material culture. The great achievement of the Vedic period was indeed the marvellous training that it provided to the physical mentality to admit the impress upon it of the brilliant rays of the spiritual light and to look upon men and the universe as a symbol of some deeper realities intensely worthy of adoration and worship.
But there is in the constitution of man, between the two extreme poles of the spiritual and the material, a gradation of powers and faculties of the vital and mental with their multiple seekings, motivations and aspirations, and a time must come in the development
of any human social aggregate when these intermediate seekings of the vital and the mental would assert themselves and demand for themselves a larger and larger room for their activities and their rule. During this time there would naturally occur a confusion and dis-balancement in the original synthesis and organization of life. This would also cause a crisis, and in this crisis, there would occur exaggerated claims of outer ritualism creating a sharp conflict between itself and the rushing seekings and claims of the vital and mental powers. In this period of conflict, the spiritual nucleus of the old synthetic knowledge would tend to be exiled or thrown into a remoter and remoter background, with a possibility even of its being forgotten. If we study the history of the ancient periods of the early civilizations of Chaldea, Egypt, Greece, we find that there did occur during such a critical period of their history an-eclipse of the power and hold of the knowledge of the secret Mysteries of spiritual and occult knowledge. This eclipse proved there to be total, and even in Greece, where the light of the Mysteries continued for some time, through Pythagoras, Stoics, Plato and Neo-Platonists, there came about finally a cleavage between the old and the new and there arose a dominantly vital and mental civilization in which the knowledge of the old Mysteries hardly played any role.
A similar thing could have happened also in India. In fact, it almost happened. At a time it seemed as though the inner core of the Vedic knowledge would be lost for ever and that India would begin a career of an exclusive vital and mental civilization. But this loss was greatly prevented, because there arose during the transitional period a remarkable movement, the parallel of which is not to be found in the history of any other ancient civilisation. For there occurred in India at this critical period of transition an intense and pristine search among larger and larger circles of people to recover the inner core of the Vedic knowledge, not merely through the preservation of tradition but by a consuming zeal of a psychological and spiritual practice. And through some of the passages of the Upanishads, we have brief glimpses of the picture of that extraordinary stir and movement of spiritual enquiry and passion for the highest knowledge. These passages present to us the scenes of that period of transition. We find there the great sages sitting in their groves ready to test and teach the seeker. We find princes and learned Brahmins and rich nobles going about in
search of knowledge. The king's son in this chariot is in search of the spiritual secret. We have here a moving description .of the intensity of Satyakama, the illegitimate son of the servant girl, seeking any man who might carry in himself the thought of light and the word of revelation. We meet here the typical figurers and personalities like Janaka, the great king who was also accomplished in spiritual knowledge and action. We meet also Ajatashatru with a rich and subtle mind, the great teacher Raikwa, who was in his outward profession a cart-driver, and Yajnavalkya, master of worldly possessions and spiritual riches, who cast at last all his wealth behind to wander forth as a houseless ascetic. We hear of Krishna, son of Devaki, who heard a single word of the Rishi Ghora and knew at once the Eternal. We see the Ashramas, the courts of kings who were also spiritual discoverers and thinkers and the great sacrificial assemblies where the sages met and compared their knowledge. We see here how in this critical moment the soul of India was born and how arose this unparalleled stir and seeking that secured for India a new line of spiritual resurgence and provided to all the posterity an unfailing fountain of spiritual waters that have poured themselves into all lines of inquiry and expression, not only those of religion and philosophy but even of science, art, literature, architecture and polity.
If India stands as a unique spiritual civilisation and if India has been able to keep some illuminating light burning even in its darkest period of inertia and ignorance and prevented the collapse of this mighty and profound culture, it is because of the strong foundations that were laid in this remarkable period of the transition.