Regarding the Upanishads.

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann reimann at UCLINK4.BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Feb 6 22:59:17 UTC 2000

At 04:58 AM 02/06/2000 +0000, Arun Gupta wrote:
>  The Upanishads are
>not museum pieces, to be referred to linguistic and philological experts
>for precise meanings.  The Upanishads are meant to be applied to living,
>and require an illumined teacher who can add the benefit of experience.
>These are not mathematical equations, these are poetry.

Do all contemporary poets agree on the meaning of ancient poems?

>With all due respect to the scholars, you would go to learn to box
>from a boxer and not from a historian of boxing.

What you learn from a boxer is how "he" fights and, maybe, how his
teacher(s) fought.  He might be totally ignorant of how a Roman boxer
fought. For that, a historian can help.  In any case, a good historian will
also be familiar with how present-day boxers fight.

Religious and mystical texts have been in the past, are today, and will
continue to be in the future, interpreted in different ways that are
colored by the interpreter's cultural, social and personal background.
This even includes, at least to a large degree, texts that describe
mystical experiences, for although upon experiencing something one might
feel that one has "really understood" what an ancient text is describing,
there can never be absolute certainty that that is the case.
Philology and a familiarity with the context in which the text was composed
can be of great help in trying to understand what the author meant, and
also what the text meant to those who heard it from him (and even these
last two are not necessarily the same).

Often, someone is convinced that he (or she) has "really understood" what a
sacred text is saying.  This can come as a sudden "revelation" or as the
result of certain practices. This person might then start spreading the
word, and that is how a new religious movement is born.  If all of these
interpreters agreed, things would probably be a lot simpler. But that just
isn't the case.

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann
University of California, Berkeley

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