Taittiriya Upanishad - Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad


In my search for the Indian systems of education which have dealt with the centrality of education for spiritual development, I found the relevance of the text of the Taittiriya Upanishad, which has a special section (with several chapters) on education titled Śikṣāvalli.

In this paper I have tried to study the aspect of education for spiritual development as can be discerned in this section of the Taittiriya Upanishad and draw out those points which are relevant to education for spiritual development in liberal and democratic societies in contemporary times.


At the outset, I would like to point out that ancient Vedic texts have been variously interpreted as having ritualistic (Cf. Sayana), naturalistic, philological (Cf. Muller) and more recently, psychological and spiritual meanings. We shall concern ourselves with the psychological and spiritual interpretation, which is relevant to our purpose.

It is to be noted that the dates of the ancient history of India are uncertain, but at a conservative level, Vedas can be

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

said to belong to 2000 B.C.E., and Upanishads to 1000 B.C.E.. The oldest Upanishads like the Taittiriya Upanishad and the Isha Upanishad may be even older than 1000 B.C.E.. (Between the Vedas and the Upanishads there had intervened a period during which Brahmanas were composed. Brahmanas advocated the view that the Vedic system was principally ritualistic and it contained rules and regulations of conducting ritualistic sacrifices. The Vedic system was thus reduced to karma kānda, and thus the Vedic content which consisted of a vast body of spiritual knowledge came to be disregarded and even obliterated. It was in opposition to this obliteration that a number of sages revolted, and by means of fresh spiritual practices rediscovered the system of knowledge that was contained in the Veda. Their compositions have been called the Upanishads. (Since the Upanishads uphold the inner core of knowledge of the Vedas I have referred to the Vedic and Upanishadic systems interchangeably.)

As I studied the Upanishads, I found them not to be easily comprehensible. After I studied some literature about the Vedic and Upanishadic texts and consulted some scholars, I realised that there are certain aspects of the language, style and symbolism of the Vedic and Upanishadic texts which make them very difficult to understand. The texts are written in Sanskrit, a language which is far removed from the modern languages. The turn and style of exposition belong to a climate of spiritual experience, and therefore, not easily comparable to the modes of expression with which we are normally familiar. Since the tradition of communication at that time was primarily oral, the texts were highly brief and compact, even aphoristic. The texts were often written in verse to impose brevity (Sareen and Paranjape, 2004, p. 12). Thus the Upanishads may be regarded as short notes, without detailed explanations of their meanings; these notes were meant to be communicated and explained by the living teacher to the pupil. The symbolism of the Upanishads has lost much of its comprehensibility because of long passage of time. It is only in recent scholarship that this

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

symbolism is being uncovered. But even when the symbolism is unveiled, there are certain ideas which are incomprehensible. Moreover, the Upanishads are not intellectual statements and therefore there are no transitions easily obtained as there would be in intellectual expositions. In an intellectual exposition, one would go step by step, starting with a premise, middle terms and intermediate argument and conclusion, and so on. But the Upanishads are not intellectual expositions; they may more fitly be called expressions of illumination, "of intuition and spiritual experience" (Joshi, 2001, pp. 99-100) and they are somewhat like giant steps in which the middle steps between one and the other are crossed over very rapidly. Despite these limitations, my discussions with scholars and study of Sri Aurobindo's Vedic interpretation, I could derive from the Taittiriya Upanishad some relevant insights.

Taittiriya Upanishad

The following is a brief exposition of the Śikṣāvalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad, and the endeavour is to underline those aspects which are relevant to education for spiritual development.

Chapter One: The Starting Point

The starting point of the Śikṣāvalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad is a prayer. This prayer is addressed to several  gods. In order to answer the question as to who are these gods or what these gods represent, we may note that Upanishadic wisdom held that the Ultimate Reality is one, but it manifests itself in its various aspects which are primarily cosmic, and each one of them represents the Supreme Being of the Ultimate Reality or God; these cosmic beings are described as gods. The prayer starts with an address to Mitra, Varuna, Aryaman, and then to Indra, Brihaspati, Vishnu, Brahman and Vayu. These cosmic

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

beings are considered (in the psychological interpretation) to be the manifestations of those powers and qualities which are directly related to the aims and processes of knowledge that facilitate widening of consciousness and discipline and austerity as also through progressive harmonisation of various trends of consciousness. Mitra stands for harmony, Varuna for wideness, and Aryaman for austerity or tapasya (Sri Aurobindo, 1971, pp. 438-464). Again, as the aim of education is to sharpen and clarify the intellect and lead it to the state of illumination, and since illumined consciousness manifests itself in expressions of revelatory word, the prayer is addressed to Indra who is considered to be the cosmic being of the illumined intelligence (Ibid., pp. 241-262), and to Brihaspati who is considered the master of the revelatory word, the word which emanates from the depth of the soul (Ibid., pp. 303-313). The three other gods  who are objects of the prayer are Vayu, Vishnu and Brahman. According to the Vedic and Upanishadic symbolism, Vayu represents the cosmic being that dynamises the inertia of matter and leads consciousness to higher realms of knowledge and power (Ibid., pp. 294-302). Vishnu has been described as the supreme comprehensive eye of divine knowledge (Ibid., pp. 331-338); and Brahman symbolises the essence of the being and also the stuff of the universe, and therefore the ultimate object of all the cognitive, affective, and conative processes (Ibid., pp. 303- 313). It will be observed that the prayer of the Taittiriya Upanishad is a symbolic expression of those powers and processes which are directly relevant to the aims of education.

We also need to note that prayer in the Upanishad was regarded as a process by which the individual is facilitated in connecting himself or herself with the objects that are to be attained. The prayer in the Upanishad was not considered a mechanical process or a ritualistic process, but a process by which consciousness is psychologically awakened and put into an operation by which the individual and the object of realisation can be linked. The linking process, when effectively accomplished, brings about the state of peace. It is also important to

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

note that both in the Veda and the Upanishad, the word "OM" has been considered as an effective sound that vibrates with the consciousness which is creative and which is comprehensive. The word "Hari" is a word that symbolised the Supreme Reality which is the Object of Knowledge. Hence the prayer with which the Taittiriya Upanishad commences, reads as follows: "Hari OM. Be Peace to us Mitra. Be peace to us Varuna. Be peace to us Aryaman. Be Peace to us Indra and Brihaspati. May far-striding Vishnu be peace to us. Adoration to the Eternal. Adoration to thee, O Vayu.ˮ (Chapter One)¹

After addressing the prayer to the gods, the teacher speaks to the pupil. He says, "Thou, thou art the visible Eternal and as the visible Eternal I will declare thee. I will declare Righteousness! I will declare Truth!ˮ (Chapter One). That is to say, the teacher tells the student that he or she is in essence the Eternal or the Ultimate Reality and that the teacher perceives the student as the visible form of the Eternal. This attitude of the teacher towards the pupil underlines the sense of reverence that the teacher should have towards the pupil, so that the pupil is treated as a closed bud of the lotus of knowledge, which can unfold petal by petal, under the uplifting influence of the teacher. And while the pupil is expected to manifest inner enthusiasm to learn, the teacher is seen only as an aid in providing the necessary elements by means of which the lotus of knowledge which is enclosed in the bud can flower into its fullness. The teacher then declares that he² shall speak to the student of the truth, satyaṃ vadiśyāmi, and he shall speak to the student of righteousness, ṛtaṃ vadiśyāmi. These two words which have been used, ṛtaṃ and satyaṃ, are central in the process of education.

¹. All passages from the Taittiriya and Katha Upanishad which are cited here are taken from Sri Aurobindo's translations which are to be found in his book titled The Upanishads, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, volume 12.

². While referring to the ancient texts, I have used the pronoun 'he' to refer the teacher, since instructors were usually men, and their wives, who were also revered as teachers, were in charge of the material care of the disciples.

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

The emphasis on the truth and on righteousness in the Upanishads and their connection are similar to what we find in the Famous doctrine of Socrates, "Virtue is Knowledge". While virtue can be equated to ṛtaṃ, knowledge may be equated with satyaṃ. Some scholars even believe that the Socratic doctrine was derived from Upanishadic knowledge, but it is not in the scope of our discussion to enter into that debate. We are aware that in the Platonic system of education, education of the Guardian can be seen to emphasize both ṛtaṃ and satyaṃ. The Guardian is supposed to be the wisest, and therefore capable of guiding and controlling and also harmonising the entire society in order to secure the ends of justice. This concept of the guardian corresponds very well with the Vedic concept of kavikratu (RigVeda 1.1.5), of one who combines within oneself wisdom and the will which is guided by wisdom, one who has attained to  ṛtaṃ and satyaṃ. According to Plato, the education of the guardian is supposed to be of the nature that leads one to the vision of the truth, beauty and goodness. The underlying idea is that, one who has the vision of the truth will voluntarily do the right thing. Right action will follow from the right knowledge. And this is precisely the idea of the Vedic concept of kavikratu, and in this idea, the two key principles of  ṛtaṃ and satyaṃ are interrelated, —  ṛtaṃ flowing automatically from satyaṃ. The entire Śikṣāvalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad is centred on the declaration of the teacher that he will teach the student what is righteousness and what is the truth.

It is also significant that towards the end of the Śikṣāvalli, when the educational process conducted by the teacher ends, the teacher declares and summarises the principles which should guide the life of the disciples: "Speak truth, walk in the way of thy duty, neglect not the study of Vedaˮ (Chapter Eleven). This is the climax of the educational process. In other words, the final fruit of educational process is presented in the ideal formulation of satyaṃ and ṛtaṃ are emphasised at the beginning of the process of education; they are also underlined in the final message.

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Chapters Two and Three: Contents of Knowledge

Next, let us take a look at the contents of knowledge which are given in the Taittiriya Upanishad.

The first lesson is devoted to mastery over speech. Indeed, sound, language and speech can be considered to be mysterious and inexplicable vehicles of communication. How sounds and words are able to convey a meaning that refers to an object or the truth of the object seems to be a mystery, and in modern times increasing attention is being paid to the importance of language and the study of linguistics has gained greater and greater significance in contemporary philosophical thought. Wittgenstein's theory of language, Chomsky's theory of language and similar other theories seem to acknowledge that objectivity of knowledge can be measured through language which is shared in common by a number of people. These theories constitute the evidence of the contemporary interest in the mystery of language. Philology has also gained prominence in recent decades. It may therefore not be surprising that both in the Vedas and the Upanishads, the study of language was given primary importance. The underlying idea was that, if well developed, a language would be found to consist of root sounds, which are not arbitrary but which are expressions of subjective apprehension of the truth. At a deeper level, sound or vāk was perceived as the cry of the soul and carried with it the apprehension of an objective truth. Language was therefore considered to be a vehicle of an expression of the spirit, and perfection in the pronunciation, in the tone, in the pitch, in chanting, was considered to be a part of sacredness of life and an expression of spirituality. It is for this reason that the very first lesson that has been described in the Taittiriya Upanishad refers to the speech. The teacher says, "We will expound Shiksha [education], the elements. Syllable and Accent, Pitch and Effort, Even Tone and Continuity; in these six we have declared

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

the chapter of the elementsˮ (Chapter Two).

Next to the language, the Upanishads speaks of the main contents of knowledge. These are: "Concerning the Worlds:

Concerning the Shining Fires: Concerning the Knowledge: Concerning Progeny: Concerning Self ˮ (Chapter Three).

The teacher further explains these five but it must be acknowledged that the symbolic meanings of these five have been greatly lost. Let us, first of all, make a general exploration, based on our limited understanding, of the knowledge concerning the worlds.

Concerning the Worlds, we are told in chapter three itself that the "Earth is the first form, the heavens are the second form; ether is the linking; air is the joint of the linking.ˮ If these lines are to be taken in a purely literal form, it explains the fact that in the ancient Indian system of education a great emphasis was given to the study of astronomy. However, since we have accepted that the Vedas and the Upanishads have not only literal but psychological symbolisms, let us explore further.

The earth was understood to include all that is physical in character, and it included even the stars and suns and farthest galaxies and the totality of the physical universe' which was called Brahmānḍa. The sky or the heaven symbolised the principle of the mind and the mental world, since according to the Upanishadic knowledge, the physical world is not the sole existing reality. In fact, according to the Upanishadic system of knowledge, there are seven worlds, — the physical, the vital, the mental, the supramental, and three still higher worlds of bliss, consciousness, and ultimate essence. But the Upanishad, in the first place, begins with the knowledge of three worlds, the physical, the vital, and the mental, and while the word "heaven" refers to the mental world, the word "antariksaˮ or "ether" refers to the vital world, and which is intermediate between the physical and the mental and therefore it is called the world that links to other worlds.

In a subsequent chapter, chapter five, we find a further exposition of these three worlds, and here these three worlds

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

have been designated as Bhur, Bhuvar, and Swar, which are, respectively, synonyms of prithvi, antarikṣa and dyau, or the physical, the vital, and the mental. In this fifth chapter, the Upanishad speaks of the fourth world, and points out that that fourth world was revealed by Rishi Mahachamasya, a great teacher of that time, and the fourth world was named Mahas. Hence, the Upanishad proposes the study of four worlds, — the physical, vital, mental and the supramental.

The discovery of Mahas or of the Supramental was also ascribed in the earlier Vedic period to a great Rishi named Ayasya. In the Rig Veda, in the seventh mandala and in the 76th sukta, it is pointed out that Ayasya discovered turiyam svid, the fourth plane, and that Ayasya became vishvajanya, universal in his being. According to the Vedic system of knowledge, the discovery and experience of turiyam svid, the fourth plane, which has been termed as Mahas in the Taittiriya Upanishad, is indispensable for attaining one of the highest levels of universal consciousness or cosmic consciousness. It is interesting that in our own times, the experience of cosmic consciousness is being recognised increasingly, and we find references to it in William James' Varieties of Religious Experience (2004, pp. 344-345) and in many other descriptions of spiritual experiences (Vide Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, pp. 21-22).

Apart from the knowledge of the four worlds, which was an important part of the contents of the curriculum of the Upanishadic system of education, there are several other subjects to which reference has been made in chapter three, namely, Shining Fires, Knowledge, Progeny, and the Self. The words "Shining Fires" seems to refer to three forms of fire, the fire that we see in the physical world, which is jaḍa agni, the fire that is blazing flame which imparts heat and light. The second form is that of electricity, vidyut agni and the third form is the solar fire, saura agni, the fire which is ignited in the sun by means of atomic fusion, as has been discovered in contemporary science.

As far as the word "Knowledge" is concerned, the Vedic

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

and Upanishadic systems refer to jnāna, which is. knowledge by identity of the subject and the object (Isha Upanishad verse 7). To use the modern terminology, jnāna is the subject matter of epistemology, which discusses various modes of knowledge, namely, knowledge by description, knowledge by acquaintance or as in the epistemology of Sri Aurobindo, "knowledge by identity, a knowledge by intimate direct contact, a knowledge by separative direct contact, a wholly separative knowledge by indirect contact" (Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 525). There is in the Vedic and Upanishadic literature, a good deal of reference to the theme of knowledge, and there are words like vidyā and avidyā or knowledge and ignorance, citti and acitti or consciousness and unconsciousness and samudra or the ocean of consciousness.

Next, the subject concerning progeny appears to have been greatly developed in the ancient Indian systems that govern the problems connected with the science of reproduction, care of the child in the womb and prenatal education, and transmission to the new generations the lessons learnt from the cultural experience of the past, and also studies that would enhance advancement of culture in the future.

Finally, the study of the self was considered the culmination of the curriculum. It is well known that the dictum "know thyself" was not merely the motto of the ancient Greek civilisation, but the message of that motto was greatly emphasised in the ancient Indian civilisation also. The Taittiriya Upanishad itself analyses different levels of self-consciousness {Brahmānandavalli, Chapters 1-5), and based on the knowledge of the relationship between Puruṣa consciousness (the consciousness which refers to originating consciousness, controlling consciousness and witnessing consciousness) and Prakrit! consciousness (the consciousness which tends to execute and accomplish the will and command of Puruṣa consciousness), it speaks of three levels of the lower self and two levels of the higher and highest consciousness of the self. The three lower levels of consciousness of the self are described as those

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

of annamaya Puruṣa (Puruṣa consciousness that controls the physical consciousness), prāṇamaya Puruṣa (Puruṣa consciousness that controls the vital consciousness), and manomaya Puruṣa (Puruṣa consciousness that controls the mental consciousness). A transition needs to be made, according to the Taittiriya Upanishad, from the lower self to the higher self, and this transition is the main subject of the discipline that involves cultivation of truth-consciousness and consciousness of right action, (kavikratu). As a result, one is able to attain to the consciousness of vijnānamaya Puruṣa, the consciousness of the Puruṣa that governs Supramental consciousness. This is followed by the highest state of self-realisation, the realisation of the ānaṇdamaya Puruṣa, the description of which is to be found in the eighth chapter of the section titled Brahmānandavalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad.

In the remaining chapters of the Śikṣāvalli  of the Taittiriya Upanishad (5-10), details have been expounded which reiterate the account of the three worlds of matter, life and mind, and of the fourth world, the Supramental or Mahas, or the Vast, and reveal the knowledge of the presence of the golden Immortal who is seated within the cave or inner heart. There is also an exposition of the meaning of the sacred syllable "OM" and a list of duties which include askesis, self-mastery, and the study and teaching of the knowledge contained in the Veda. The culminating point of the contents of knowledge is reached when the supreme status of consciousness is described in the words of Trishanku, a sage of the Upanishadic times. In the concluding portions, the Upanishad contains the commandments of the teacher to the disciples after the completion of the program of studies. The Upanishad ends with a prayer to Mitra, the cosmic being of harmony and others to whom prayer was offered at the beginning of the Upanishad.

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Chapter Four: The Aspiration of the Teacher

There is also an instructive statement describing the aspiration that should constantly be kept alive by the teacher. In this connection, the teacher is counselled to connect himself with "the bull of the hymns of the Vedaˮ, who symbolises the Supreme Reality. The teacher is also to aspire to immortality and for swiftness in all works in the body. Finally, the teacher aspires to share his knowledge with pupils, and prays for the coming of pupils to him from all quarters.

This important section concerning the teacher's aspiration, his prayer and his call to the pupils throws considerable light on the qualities which teachers of the Upanishadic times were , required to cultivate. The prayer of the teacher is stated as follows: "The bull of the hymns of Veda whose visible form is all this Universe, he above the Vedas who sprang from that which is deathless, may Indra increase unto me intellect for my strengthening. O God, may I become a vessel of immortality. May my body be swift to all works, may my tongue drop pure honey. May I hear vast and manifold lore with my ears. O Indra, thou art the sheath of the Eternal and the veil that the workings of brain have drawn over Him; preserve whole unto me the sacred lore that I have studiedˮ (Chapter Four).

As pointed out above, "the bull of the hymns of the Veda" refers to the Supreme Reality. According to the Vedic knowledge, the whole world or the universe originates from the Supreme Reality which is itself above the whole universe and which is also the stuff and form of the universe. Hence, the teacher has to understand the bull or the Supreme Reality of whom the whole universe is a visible form. This knowledge is facilitated by Indra, since Indra is supposed to be, as we said earlier, the lord of illumined intellect, or gomat, meaning, possessor of light.

The teacher says next: "O God, may I become a vessel of immortalityˮ To become one with the Supreme is the great task

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

to be done by the teacher. In ancient India, teachership was not assigned to someone who has not aspired for this and who has not worked for it. It may be understood from these lines that for the purpose of education for spiritual development in ancient India, this was considered to be the qualification cut the teacher. The pupils contact with the teacher who is seated so high, who has aspired so high in his life was a part of spiritual education. Not merely through any scriptures.

Next the teacher prays, "May my body be swift to all worksˮ. It may be understood that immortality can only be attained when one accomplishes one's works and when works are; performed through the instrumentality of the body.

Next the teacher prays: "may my tongue drop pure honey.ˮ Honey is symbolic of the energy that flows from the bliss generated from the consciousness of the truth, the right and the vast (satyaṃ, ṛtaṃ, bṛhat). The cosmic being that symbolises the bliss of the Reality is named in the Veda, Soma, which is compared to the intoxicating wine of the realisation of the Supreme. The Vedic knowledge points out that when one reaches ;Soma or bliss, then one is able to manifest sweetness. One's tongue becomes sweet, one's relations become sweet, one's speech becomes sweet. And one can be considered truly sweet when one's whole being drips with sweetness.

The teacher further prays: "May I hear vast and manifold lore with my earsˮ. This prayer celebrates the faculty of inspiration through which vast and multisided knowledge is heard, just as the great poets in their state of inspiration seem to hear the words that are vibrant with knowledge and right expressions of the knowledge.

This entire prayer, which speaks of accomplishment of works, attainment of sweetness, and revelation through inspiration of the vast knowledge can be clearly seen as the composite result of a synthesis of yoga (that is, karma yoga or the yoga of works, jnāna yoga or the yoga of knowledge, and bhakti  yoga or the yoga of love) or Integral yoga. The underlying message is that the teacher can arrive at the "Bull" when these three

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

yogas are practiced in a synthetic manner and are united.

The teacher further addresses a prayer to Indra, who, as mentioned earlier, represents illumined mind and whose help is necessary for the attainment of the Eternal: "O Indra, thou art the sheath of the Eternal and the veil that the workings of brain have drawn over Him; preserve whole unto me the sacred lore that I have studied.ˮ

According to the Upanishadic teaching, the Eternal is one and is the unity of all manifestation. However, unity is not seen clearly because we are ruled by the brain. Our brain is actually engaged in multiplicity. And there is a veil drawn over our brain which can be uncovered only by Indra who is the keeper of the veil or the sheath. It is only when Indra takes away the veil that the totality and unity of the knowledge becomes attainable.

It is only when the teacher has been able to attain all this that he now invites the Brahmacharins, or the pupils. To invite pupils was considered a very responsible task and the teacher should possess the necessary qualifications of various attainments or at least the aspiration for the highest attainments. It is at this stage that the teacher addresses to the students and he invites them: "May the Brahmacharins come unto me. Swaha! From here and there may the Brahmacharins come unto me. Swaha! May the Brahmacharins set forth unto me. Swaha! May the Brahmacharins attain self-mastery. Swaha! May the Brahmacharins attain to peace of souls. Swaha!ˮ

It is only after the teacher has imparted the knowledge which he has to the students that he prays that he may become one with the Supreme Reality. He prays: "O Glorious Lord, into that which is thou may I enter. Swaha!ˮ It was understood that a good teacher is not allowed to enter into the Supreme unless he has paid the price of giving his knowledge to the pupils. Once he has done that, then he can enter into the Supreme.

There is a dialogue in the Rig Veda, between Indra and the sage Agastya which is very instructive. In this dialogue, Agastya aspires too impatiently to reach the Supreme Lord. It is at this point that Indra comes to stop him. Agastya complains, and says

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

to Indra, that he being the power of pure Intelligence should help him in effecting the perfection towards which he is striving instead of obstructing him. But Indra says to Agastya, "Why, O brother Agastya, art thou my friend, yet softest thy thought beyond me?" (Rig Veda 1.170.3). He explains that he intends no obstruction to Agastya but being his friend and brother he wants to help him in achieving his goal, namely, the realisation of the Eternal. He points out to Agastya that he mistakenly believes that he can attain his goal only by thought powers (Maruts), but the object of his attainment can be facilitated only by the powers of the illumined mind, which is the special domain of Indra. He, therefore, invites Agastya to receive his help for the attainment of his goal. In giving this message to Agastya, Indra also counsels him that in his journey to the ultimate goal, he should share his thought powers so as to enrich humanity. This message also indicates that, according to the secret processes of expansion of faculties and attainment of the goal, one should not be centred on oneself but should impart the gains of one's efforts with pupils and with humanity. According to the colloquy between Indra and Agastya, on receiving the instruction from Indra, Agastya agrees to fulfil the message of Indra and to spread his knowledge with humanity. It was only then that Agastya was able to enter into unity with the Supreme Lord.


What is given here is an extremely brief statement, but it will be seen that the Taittiriya Upanishad contains valuable insights into the ancient Indian system of education. As we reflect upon these insights, we may gain some useful hints from this ancient text, certain points which may be considered relevant to education for spiritual development in our own times.

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Introductory Remarks

1) The Relevance of the Upanishads

There are three reasons why the Taittiriya Upanishad is relevant to the purpose I have in view. Although the Vedas and Upanishads belong to a great antiquity, they have continued to influence various domains of Indian culture, and, when examined through the psychological and spiritual interpretation, they appear to be storehouses of knowledge concerning various domains, and in any case, to the domain of spiritual knowledge. Even when the Vedic knowledge came to be lost under the heavy burden of ritualism, Upanishads have continuously been looked upon right from the early stages of their growth and development as Books of Knowledge (jnāna kānda).

The living influence of the Upanishads can be evidenced by the fact that the greatest leaders of Indian renaissance have attempted to study the Upanishads and have declared their contemporary relevance to the needs of developing modern India, and particularly in developing a new system of education in India. The writings of Maharishi Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo have underlined the importance of the Upanishads, and have even advocated the redesigning of contemporary Indian system of education in the light of the Upanishads.

The second reason of relevance is that Upanishads have made a clear distinction between religion with its emphasis on rituals, ceremonies and prescribed acts, on the one hand, and spirituality with its emphasis on the cultivation of psychological faculties through the science of yoga, on the other. The concepts, methods and goals advocated in the Upanishads are not based on any dogma but on the basis of repeatable and verifiable knowledge. This aspect of the Upanishads is extremely relevant to any educational researcher who seeks guidance from the past experiences, so that relevant insights can be found which can be applicable to the theme of education for spiritual development or education in spiritual values, which are not

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

tied up with dogmatism and which can lift up proposals for the relevant education from the conflict of religions, which is a dominant factor in the contemporary pluralistic society.

The third point of relevance is that the Upanishads provide us not only with suggestions as to what should be the contents and themes of education, but they also indicate methods and practices of discipline which can be useful even today. They also underline the importance of atmosphere as well as the attitudes and qualities that teachers should possess. The relationship between the rishi and the brahmacharin has been so deeply imprinted in the Indian culture that there has been a constant effort and practice in India to resurrect that image, and therefore the study of that image is indispensable to the educational researcher of today who wants to serve the highest interests of educational innovations.

ii) Other Considerations or Contemporary Demands

There are two aspects in respect of which the model of the Upanishadic system of education may not seem to be applicable to the demands of our contemporary situation. This is not surprising, considering that the Upanishadic system was a very ancient system, and we cannot legitimately expect from that ancient system all that we need today. But even then, it may be said that our contemporary society is largely democratic, and the model of education that we are looking for needs to be relevant to education in democratic societies. But, apart from the democratic form of government, democracy implies also democratic way of life. Essentially, democratic way of life upholds individual freedom. In this context, it is to be emphasised, that in the Upanishadic age, freedom of thought and freedom of experimentation designed towards individual growth was greatly stressed, although, as in modern times, freedom, in order that it may not degenerate into injurious license, was subjected to the prescriptions of law of dharma.

Finally, it may be remarked that in the Vedic and the Upanishadic age, there was probably a general consensus in the

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

society in respect of the acceptance of the system of education that we find depicted in the pages of the Upanishads. This consensus  was a favourable condition in that ancient society for developing a common system of education.

iii) The Methods of Teaching and Learning

The methods of teaching and learning are not expounded in the Śikṣāvalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad, but there is another section in the same Upanishad which is entitled Bhṛguvalli in which we get some indication of the method of teaching and learning. This section deals with the dialogue between Bhrigu, and his father, Varuna. Bhrigu approaches his father as his pupil, and addresses his father as his teacher. The question concerns the Eternal. The teacher does not answer the question directly or in fullness. He pronounces a few words, which appear to be enigmatic, namely, "Food and Prāṇa and Eye and Ear and Mind.ˮ But he adds the following "Seek thou to know that from which these creatures are born, whereby being born they live and to which they go hence and enter again; for that is the Eternal.ˮ (Bhṛguvalli, Chapter One)

The method by which the pupil proceeds to find the answer is stated in the following words: "And Bhrigu concentrated himself in thought and by the askesis of his brooding he knew food for the Eternalˮ (Bhṛguvalli, Chapter One-two). Bhrigu reports to his teacher his finding and asks his teacher once again to teach him the Eternal. The teacher asks him to meditate again and explains that meditation or concentration in thought is itself the Eternal and that it is by concentration in thought that the knowledge of the Eternal can be attained. The pupil continues the process of concentration from stage to stage and he discovers, successively, that breath or life-force is the Eternal, that mind is the Eternal, that the supermind is the Eternal and that bliss is the Eternal. At the end of the culmination of his discovery, the teacher asks his pupil to pursue the Self which, when discovered to be the bliss, brings about the perfection and one attains to the very heart of immortality.

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

The secret of learning lies in the power of concentration in thought. This secret of concentration was discovered and underlined in the Veda, and it can be seen in the celebrated prayer of Vishwamitra (a prominent sage of the Vedic period), which singles out the faculty of intelligence and of thought to be of supreme importance, and which enjoins that faculty of intelligence and thought to be concentrated on the highest Object of Knowledge, namely, the Sun, which symbolises the Supermind. This prayer of Vishwamitra is the famous Gayatri mantra, which reads as follows: "tat savitur vareṇyaṃ bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayaātˮ Or "We meditate on the supreme light of the Sun so that our intelligence is activated and directed by it.ˮ in fact, the entire science of yoga, which is found to be vastly expounded in the Veda, is based on the secret knowledge of the process of concentration and the methods by which concentration can be achieved on the object of knowledge in order that the contents, powers and states of knowledge concerning that object become manifest and can be possessed or realised by the seeker.

In a later exposition of yoga (Yoga Sutra), in that of Patanjali, the process of concentration which is identified with yoga, is defined as that state of consciousness in which all the vibrations of the stuff of consciousness attain to cessation (cittavṛ̣tti nirodhaḥ̣). In a still later development of the system of jnāna yoga (yoga of knowledge) the process of realisation of the Object of Knowledge consists of four steps: śravaṇa, hearing the word that discloses the Object of Knowledge, manana, cogitation and reflection on the Object of Knowledge, nididhyāsana, dwelling in concentration on the Object of Knowledge, and sākṣātkāra, realisation of the Object of Knowledge.

Indian literature on yoga has described various methods by which concentration can be attained. Speaking of the application of the powers of concentration in the processes of education, Swami Vivekananda once said that if he knew early enough the secret of concentration, he would have first attempted to master concentration rather than to read a number of books,

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

since, by the employment of concentration, knowledge can be gained more easily and readily. In his book The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo lays central importance on concentration and speaks of four principal methods by which concentration can be attained, namely, meditation, contemplation, witnessing the passage of thoughts as they pass through the mind, and quieting and silencing the mind. There are also dynamic methods of meditation, in which the light of higher knowledge is introduced into lower states of consciousness and even of impulses and vibrations of desires, so that the latter can be enlightened and transformed.

An important point to be noted is that the process of concentration is a psychological process; it involves no rituals or ceremonies, and it is free from any doctrines of religion. Hence, the cultivation of the powers of concentration is independent of any religious activity necessitating faith, belief or religious prescriptions. Hence, the process of concentration can be scientifically experimented with, and if the Object of Knowledge on which concentration is employed is that which transcends the body, life and mind and is thus spiritual in character, the spiritual reality can be realised independent of any religious activity, purely by a process of concentration, ending in knowledge and illumination. It can be said that it is on account of the method of concentration which has been emphasised in the Upanishad as a process of education that today, when we are looking for methods of spiritual education, which are free from various prescriptions of religious practices, the relevance of the Upanishads becomes more direct.

iv) The Contents of Knowledge

There are, it seems, four important domains to which the educational system described in the Taittiriya Upanishad appear to refer prominently. First is the language; second is the universe including details of various worlds, and topics such as those of the principle of light and heat, the processes and ends of knowledge, generation and continuation of the human

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

species, and the self; the third is the subject relating to immortality; and the fourth is the normative aspiration and conduct towards the ideals of the truth and righteousness. The goals of education are the attainment of self-realisation, and cultivation of the capacity for truth and righteousness which can lead to immortality, which requires the synthesis of the powers of harmony, vastness, and austerity through the instrumentality of the illumined mind and the power of the expression of the soul. The role of the teacher is accomplished when he has led the pupils to the discovery of the truth and righteousness and when he has been able to communicate to the pupil the essential principle of the Eternal and spoken to them of the Eternal and of the path to immortality. The teacher is expected to aspire to become himself a vessel of immortality and to attain to a state in which the honey of the highest delight is manifested.

The Vedic system of education aims at comprehending the entire universe of knowledge. It aims at the knowledge of the physical world (bhur), the vital world (bhuvar), and the mental world (swar); it also aims at covering the knowledge of the fourth world (mahas). Underlying these four worlds, the Upanishads affirms the knowledge of the Brahman, the Reality, which is at once transcendental and universal, and which is also the self of the individual. The Brahman is also described as the self of all the cosmic beings, the gods, who manifest as aspects of the universal consciousness. The Brahman is also described as Ānanda, the Supreme Bliss, — since Ānaṇda contains within itself the union of Cit (Consciousness Force), and Sat, the essential being. Taittiriya Upanishad gives a vivid description of ānaṇda in one of its chapters.

But based on the knowledge of these various domains, the Upanishad aims at the study of right action. It speaks of the teaching of Veda and this study is related to righteousness, truth, askesis, self-mastery, discovery of the soul and the peace of the soul, the secret of sacrifice and secret of all the duties related to oneself and the others, including the wife and children. The concluding portion of the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

underlines the values of the truth and of right action and the duties in regard to welfare and relationships with the universe, society and the family. The question of conflict resolution is also addressed, and the Upanishad counsels that when there is a doubt in regard to the right course of action, one should be guided by those learned people who are "careful thinkers, devout, not moved by others, lovers of virtue, not severe or cruelˮ (Chapter Eleven).

The contents of knowledge seem to be derived from the discoveries which have been recorded in the Veda. The Vedic knowledge speaks of sevenfold reality. This sevenfold reality has been described variously, and we find references to seven rivers, seven-headed thought, and in a striking image, the reality is described as one having four horns and three feet (Rig Veda, IV.58.3). The Vedic knowledge is not confined to the knowledge of Matter alone; it speaks of the discovery of the three oceans of consciousness: the inconscient, conscient, and the superconscient (Vide Rig Veda, Fourth mandala, 58th sukta, 11th verse: "Dhāman te viśvam bhuvanam adhiśritam, antaḥ samudre hṛdyantar āyuṣiˮ or "the superconscient, the sea of the subconscient, the life of the living being between the twoˮ). The famous Nāsadīya sukta, which describes the development of the inconscient (described as darkness covered by darkness), and it traces the development of Matter, which is followed by the development of Life and Mind. Vishwamitra, one of the greatest sages of the Rig Veda, describes this process of development in the Rig Veda, Third mandala, first sukta, verses 2-14, and he traces the force of development from the working of the cosmic power of heat and light (agni), and he further explains how higher levels of consciousness can even transcend the limitations of the mind and enter into the manifestation of the Supermind. Considering that the process of evolution has only recently been expounded and confirmed in modern science since 1850 when Darwin in his book Origin of Species put forth the data concerning evolution, the Vedic description of the process of development seems truly astonishing. There

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

are also several instances in the Vedic verses where one finds discoveries concerning the nature of physical fire, electrical fire and solar fire and their inner connections. In one of the verses attributed to Bharadwaja the speed of  light  has been described as the limit in terms of which all the physical speeds can be measured (Rig Veda, VI.6.6). The fact that knowledge of the physical world was vigorously pursued is underlined by the development of astronomy in India right from the Vedic times In fact, Vedic literature is normally appended by six bodies of knowledge, which are called vedangas, namely śikṣā (science of education), kalpa (which relates to the procedures and mathematics of the rituals and ceremonies of Vedic sacrifices) vyākaraṇa (a systematic body of knowledge of grammar connected with Vedic Sanskrit), nirukta (a systematic body of the vocabulary of Vedic terms and their etymology), chanda (which is a body of knowledge connected with Vedic prosody, science of meters which are to be found in Vedic poetry), jyotiṣa (which is connected with astronomy and astrology).

Apart from the vedangas, we find in the Vedic literature four other sciences and arts which have come to be known as upavedas. The Upaveda of Rig Veda is Ayurveda, the famous medical science of India; the upaveda of Yajurveda is Dhanurveda, the ancient science of archery and warfare; the upaveda of Samaveda is Gandharvaveda, the science and art of music; the upaveda of Atharvaveda is Arthaveda, which deals with social, economic and political systems. Arthaveda also deals with architecture and various arts.

That the Upanishadic system of education was fairly comprehensive is evidenced in a dialogue between Narada, the pupil and Sanatkumar, the teacher in Chāndogaya Upanishad, where Narada points out that in spite of his having knowledge of a number of sciences and texts related to vedas, vedangas, upavedas and several other systems of knowledge, he was still not free from sorrow and that he was in search of that knowledge  by which sorrow can be removed. In the Upanishadic   literature, we find a distinction made between knowledge and

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

ignorance (vidyÄ and avidyÄ). In the Katha Upanishad, Yama, the teacher, expounds to Nachiketas, the pupil, in the following words:

"For far apart are these, opposite, divergent, the one that is known as the Ignorance and the other the Knowledge. But Nachiketas I deem truly desirous of the knowledge whom so many desirable things could not make to lust after them.

"They who dwell in the ignorance, within it, wise in their own wit and deeming themselves very learned, men bewildered are they who wander about stumbling round and round helplessly like blind men led by the blind.Ë® (First Cycle, Second Chapter, Verses 4-5).

In the Isha Upanishad, it is laid down that that man of knowledge should also have the knowledge of ignorance, for then only one can cross over the ocean of ignorance and the consequences of ignorance and attain to the supreme knowledge by which immortality is attained. The aim of the Vedic education was to prepare the pupil to pursue the paths of that spiritual attainment by which immortality is gained. And by immortality was meant not only the discovery of the immortal Spirit but also the widening and stabilisation of the physical consciousness in the awareness and consciousness of the immortal spirit.

It can thus be seen that the Vedic system of education was an integral system of education; it covered the pursuit of sciences and arts and possession of knowledge that was discovered in that ancient time, and it wove in various threads of studies the message of values of truth and the right and the knowledge and practice by means of which the immortal spirit can be discovered and ultimately realised through a life-long education.

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Review of Education in the Taittiriya Upanishad

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