There is joy only in the Infinite, say Upanishads

Eknath Easwaran

Eknath Easwaran

Take the example of a man who has everything,” I read with a start of recognition: “young, healthy, strong, good, and cultured, with all the wealth that earth can offer; let us take this as one measure of joy.” The comparison was right from my life. “One hundred times that joy is the joy of the gandharvas; but no less joy have those who are illumined.”

Gandharvas were pure mythology to me, and what illumination meant I had no idea. But the sublime confidence of this voice, the certitude of something vastly greater than the world offers, poured like sunlight into a long-dark room:

“Hear, O children of immortal bliss! You are born to be united with the Lord. Follow the path of the illumined ones, And be united with the Lord of Life.”

I read on. Image after image arrested me: awe-inspiring images, scarcely understood but pregnant with promised meaning, which caught at my heart as a familiar voice tugs at the edge of awareness when you are struggling to wake up:

“As a great fish swims between the banks of a river as it likes, so does the shining Self move between the states of dreaming and waking. As an eagle, weary after soaring in the sky, folds its wings and flies down to rest in its nest, so does the shining Self enter the state of dreamless sleep, where one is free from all desires. The Self is free from desire, free from evil, free from fear.”

“Like strangers in an unfamiliar country walking every day over a buried treasure, day by day we enter that Self while in deep sleep but never know it, carried away by what is false. Day and night cannot cross that bridge, nor old age, nor death, nor grief, nor evil or good deeds. All evils turn back there, unable to cross; evil comes not into this world of Brahman. One who crosses by this bridge, if blind, is blind no more; if hurt, ceases to be hurt; if in sorrow, ceases sorrowing. At this boundary night itself becomes day:

And, finally, simple words that exploded in my consciousness, throwing light around them like a flare:

“There is no joy in the finite; there is joy only in the Infinite.”

I too had been walking every day over buried treasure and never guessed. Like the man in the Hasidic fable, I had been seeking everywhere what lay in my own home. In this way I discovered the Upanishads.

Today, after more than forty years of study, these texts are written on my heart; I am familiar with every word. Yet they never fail to surprise me. With each reading I feel I am setting out on a sea so deep and vast that one can never reach its end.

Excerpted from ‘The Upanishads.’ The 108th birth anniversary of Eknath Easwaran was observed on December 17