I have always loved the Upanishads and was rereading them on my flight to India. I arrived in Kolkata on New Year’s Eve 2015 to join our group of pilgrims. That evening our Harvard professor briefed us on Rabindranath Tagore, one of India’s great secular humanists, who led the Bengal Renaissance in Calcutta with the Upanishads at its center.
Rabindranath Tagore is someone many Unitarian Universalists know well. In speaking of the importance of living life as a spiritual pilgrim, Tagore said: “The great morning which is for all appears in the East. Let its light reveal us to each other who walk on the same path on pilgrimage.” I had come to the East to more deeply discover my inner Light on pilgrimage.
There are seven selections from Tagore’s writings in our Unitarian Universalist hymnal, one more than even Ralph Waldo Emerson, and my favorite is called THE STREAM OF LIFE:
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless
blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean cradle of birth and death,
in ebb and in flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
and my pride is from the life throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
It’s the principle of the non-duality of life force which most draws me to the Upanishads. Every living thing, including human beings, co-arises and is a manifestation or emergence of life itself. As the wisdom teacher Yajnavalkya says in the Brihadaranyaka Upahishad:
A wife loves her husband not for his own sake but because the Self lives in him.
A husband loves his wife not for her own sake but because the Self lives in her.
Children are not loved for their own sake but because the Self lives in them…
The universe is loved not for its own sake but because the Self lives in it…
Everything is loved not for its own sake but because the Self lives in it.
This Self has to be realized. Hear about this Self and mediate upon Him.
I awoke early on New Year’s Day in Kolkata to find a large raven perched at my window. It was sitting among the flowers on a large window box. It was soon joined by two more. I decided to take their squawking as a positive omen. Looking further afield in the growing light I began to discern dozens of fruit bats hanging from distant trees. Even as I watched a few late ones ended their nighttime feeding and came to hang upside down on tree branches joining their mates in sleeping the day away.
But it was a New Year, and I was anxious to travel up the Ganges River and walk in the footsteps of the Buddha. So, we bid Kolkata farewell and boarded our Bengal Ganga riverboat headed upstream.