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The Self in All Brahman, The Lord of LoveThe One Becomes ManyControl, Compassion, Generosity

Upanishads/Control, Compassion, Generosity

Meditation and Reading taken from The Upanishads, translated by Eknath Easwaran
All other text is by Cynthia Stewart

For a historical introduction to this sacred text, see Leader Resource 1 - Historical Introduction -
Today's Themes

The thought of spiritual practices in Hinduism might call to mind ascetics lying on beds of nails or of bodies twisted into almost unthinkable yogic poses. While these are part of Hindu practice, they are not the practices that we find mentioned most often in the Upanishads. Instead, we are told of the necessity of meditation, the importance of the OM syllable and its recitation, and the duty of right action, among other practices. While the Upanishads do delve into more advanced techniques at times, it is these other devotions that can be practiced by all people every day that are most often lauded.

The practices only have merit, of course, as long as they are done for the end and purpose of moving toward greater mystical unity with Unseen Reality, and not as magic charms to fulfill one’s wishes. In fact, the Mundaka Upanishad refers to the rituals and sacrifices described in the earlier Vedas as “unsafe rafts for crossing/The sea of samsara, of birth and death” (I.2.7). Ritual, we are told, can only take you so far; devotion and discipline are the key.

Meditation is a practice familiar to many Westerners, although it is more commonly associated with Buddhism in the popular imagination than with Hinduism. The chanting of OM is a practice that is likewise becoming more widely known, although too often presented as a somewhat laughable practice. In the Upanishads, by contrast, OM is presented as the sound through which everything in the universe was created. In fact, the short Mandukya Upanishad is devoted in its entirety to explaining the meaning of OM and its importance in the spiritual life.

Our reading might require a bit of explanation for Western audiences. Prajapati is another name for Brahma, the creator god, who is not to be confused with Brahman, the changeless Reality of which everything is a manifestation. The asuras are divine beings understood to preside over moral and social phenomena such as marriage; in later writings they take on a negative connotation, with “asuras” often being translated as demons. The importance of the three understandings of “Da” is that each group recognizes it as a call to what most balances their nature: the gods, who live always in pleasure and bliss, hear it as a command to be self-controlled; humans, with their tendency to greed, hear it as the requirement to give; and the asuras, with their propensity for causing pain, hear it as a call to be compassionate. T.S. Eliot took this section as inspiration for the famous “What the Thunder Said” section of the The Wasteland.

Words used in this session:
Om – the sacred syllable considerd to be the sound of the universe
shanti – peace and tranquility
Together these two are often used at the end of Hindu scriptures as an invocation of peace.

Call To Worship

How shall we be called together when we seem to stand so far from our source?
How shall we move into beloved community when we come celebrating our individuality?
What draws us and binds us? What makes each of us remember the other?

It is our daily practices of remembrance that tell us how we can never be far from our source.
It is our sense of belonging in community that reminds us of what underlies our individuality.
What we move toward, what draws us and binds us, is the Unseen Reality behind the individuality and the community.
What we move toward is what we already are, here together today.


When all desires that surge in the heart
Are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.
When all the knots that strangle the heart
Are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.
This sums up the teaching of the scriptures.

          Katha Upanishad II.3.14-15
          (Eknath Easwaran translation)


The children of Prajapati, the Creator – gods, human beings, the asuras… – lived with their father as students. When they had completed the allotted period the gods said, “Venerable One, please teach us.”
Prajapati answered with one syllable: “Da.”
     “Have you understood?” he asked.
     “Yes,” they said. “You have told us damyata, be self-controlled.”
     “You have understood,” he said.
Then the human beings approached. “Venerable One, please teach us.”
Prajapati answered with one syllable: “Da.”
     “Have you understood?” he asked.
     “Yes,” they said. “You have told us datta, give.”
     “You have understood,” he said.
Then the [asuras] approached. “Venerable One, please teach us.”
Prajapati answered with the same syllable: “Da.”
     “Have you understood?” he asked.
     “Yes,” they said. “You have told us dayadhvam, be compassionate.”
     “You have understood,” he said.
The heavenly voice of the thunder repeats this teaching. Da-da-da! Be self-controlled! Give! Be compassionate!
Om shanti shanti shanti

          Brihadaranyaka Upanishad V.2
          (Eknath Easwaran translation)


Scripture tells us that OM is the sound that created the universe, the sound that reverberates in the heartbeat of every human.

What, I wonder, is the sound that creates your world? The silence of a sunrise? The laughter of a child? A strain of music, the words of a poem, the whisper of a loved one?

Whatever it may be, may you listen today to the sound of your world being created anew and know it as the sound of Spirit.

OM shanti shanti shanti