Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Shvetashvatara_UpanishadImagine the scene. About two and a half thousand years ago, in the forest, under the shade of a tree, a sage sits amid a small group of disciples who have gathered to hear him speak on the nature of reality. He is called Shvetashvatara.

Shvetashvatara explains that it is natural human curiosity to wonder where we come from, what we are doing here, where we are headed, and if our lives really mean anything. These are, of course profound questions, the bigger questions of life that especially interest the thinkers and spiritual seekers among us. How did the world come into existence? Why are we born? Do our lives have any meaning beyond what we do from day to day? Amid the constant changes we witness and undergo along our journey from birth to maturity, through the decline to inevitable death, do we ourselves have any permanence? As long as we live in this world, must we remain in the grip of the never-ending fluctuation between happiness and misery and everything in between? Is there something that governs life’s ups and downs?

We are little different from the people who lives thousands of years ago and asked those very questions. They too observed each new dawn and day’s inevitable fading into night. They witnessed the passing season and the ongoing cycles of life and felt all the joy and sorrow that we also feel. Beyond the natural forces of the five elements, beyond the majesty of the vaulted sky and the expansive earth, beyond their emotional and intellectual responses to the world around them, they recognized that there lay a profound mystery. The universe itself must hold a a greater meaning.

The early observers noticed that all activity appears linked in an endless chain of cause and effect. Logically, every effect has a cause, and every effect becomes the cause of something further. Beyond this seemingly unending succession, they wondered if the universe itself can be traced back to a single first cause which is itself uncaused.

1. [The sage Shvetashvatara said:] Seekers of the higher knowledge ask: What is the cause [of this universe]? Is it Brahman? From what are we born? By what do we live? In what is our permanence? O knowers of Brahman, what law governs us, whose lives run their course through happiness and all the rest?


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