India has an ancient heritage of education. The ancestry of Vedic teaching and learning is a superb example of this. The type and extent of education that had taken place in India is astounding. Variety and vastness are both wedded to Indian education. This is easily experienced by glancing through the Vedic literature. Above this, its greatest uniqueness is that it is not lopsided or partial but it is all-round and complete. It is not fruitless or only fruitful to some extent, but it bears eternal fruits. This is because it is alive, alive with adhyãtmavidyã, alive with brahmavidyã.
Let us take a glimpse at this interesting Vedic education by pondering over the Taittireeya Upanishad.
The Taittireeya Upanishad:
This Upanishad is encompassed in the Krishna Yajur Veda. This Upanishad is recited as part of the Taittireeya Aranyaka in the Taittireeya shãkhã (branch). Hence this Upanishad is also called the Taittireeya Upanishad. The Taittireeya Upanishad is split into three sections, each called a ‘valli’. The first of these is the Shikshãvalli, the second the Ãnandvalli, and the third the Bhruguvalli. Let us see the precepts and essence of all of these three vallis.
May Everything Be Blissful
The Taittireeya Upanishad commences trumpeting the words of the Shikshãvalli – ‘शन्नो मित्रः शं वरुणः। शन्नो भवत्वर्यमा। शन्न इन्द्रो बृहस्पतिः। शन्नो विष्णुरुरुक्रमः।’ – ‘Shanno mitraha sham Varunaha, shanno bhavatvaryamã, shanna Indro Brushaspitihi, shanno Vishnururukramaha’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 1/1). These are the words of the preceptors praying for peace before giving their precepts. It is a request for bliss and peace everywhere. Let the devas, like Mitra, Varuna, Aryamã, Bruhaspati and others, who have been appointed by Paramãtmã to manage creation, be a source of happiness for us and shower peace everywhere. This prayer to Paramãtmã at the onset of this Upanishad asks for the good of the whole of creation. This is the great and unique quality of Indian spiritual thought. The elimination of everyone’s every misery, the experience of utmost bliss, the attainment of utmost peace – this has been the direction of Hindu Sanatan thinking.
Now let us see another message of this mantra.
I Bow to Aksharbrahman and Parbrahman
‘नमो ब्रह्मणे’ – ‘Namo Brahmane’ – ‘I bow to Brahman’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 1/1). Using just the one word, ‘Brahmane’, the preceptor rishi bows to the two divine entities Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman. The reason for this is that later in this Upanishad statements like ‘Brahmavidãpnoti Param’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 2/1) and ‘Satyam jnãnam anantam Brahma’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 2/1) refer to Aksharbrahman using the word ‘Brahman’, whereas statements like ‘Ãnando Brahmeti vyajãnãt’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 3/6) refer to Parabrahman using the word ‘Brahman’. Thus using the common word ‘Brahman’ for both Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman, the rishi bows with both these divine entities in mind using the words ‘Namo Brahmane’ – ‘I bow to Akshar-Purushottam’.
The reason for this bow is understandable. Upanishads are the shastras for brahmavidyã. The Upanishads themselves define brahmavidyã – ‘येनाऽक्षरं पुरुषं वेद सत्यं प्रोवाच तां तत्त्वतो ब्रह्मविद्याम्।’ – ‘Yenã’ksharam purusham veda satyam provãcha tãm tattvato brahmavidyãm’ – ‘That by which Akshar, i.e., Aksharbrahman, and Purush, i.e., Parabrahman, are known in their essence is called brahmavidyã’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/2/13). For this reason, in the Taittireeya Upanishad, both these divine entities of brahmavidyã have been remembered and offered obeisance before precepts on brahmavidyã commence.
Homage to the Manifest
After bowing, homage is now paid. ‘त्वमेव प्रत्यक्षं ब्रह्मासि’ – ‘Tvameva pratyaksham Brahmãsi’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 1/1). The manifestation of both Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman is indicated here. This feeling of manifestation should be developed towards the Gunãtit guru, and be repeatedly strengthened. The guru himself is Aksharbrahman, and Parabrahman continuously resides within him. Thus, this sentence implies that we should serve the manifest guru with supreme divinity, for he is the manifest form of Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman.
In this prayer for peace, we also experience the noble conduct of the teaching rishi.
The Teacher's Vow of Truth
To speak the truth is the first necessity of a preceptor, tutor or teacher. ‘ऋतं वदिष्यामि। सत्यं वदिष्यामि।’ – ‘Rutam vadishyãmi; Satyam vadishyãmi’ – ‘I will only speak eternal principles. I will speak the truth (i.e., I will not teach false principles)’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 1/1). With these words the rishi has vowed to speak the truth. Here, the rishi is a preceptor, a tutor, a teacher and it is his duty to teach. To lie is a sin, but to teach a lie would be a grave sin. This is a special feature of Vedic guru-shishya dialogues. The teacher understands his responsibility to the disciple and to society. He understands his duty. He is fully aware of how much a defiled education can ravage a disciple’s life, and affect the whole of society.
Moreover, an honest person must be tolerant. He knows that he must bear the occasional hostile reactions of speaking the truth. For this very reason, knowing the continual necessity of such honest and tolerant preceptors in society, the tutoring rishi prays, ‘तन्मामवतु। तद्वक्तारमवतु। अवतु माम्। अवतु वक्तारम्।’ ‘Tanmãmavatu; tadvaktãramavatu; avatu mãm; avatu vaktãram;’ – ‘O Lord! Save me. Save the orator, the teacher’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 1/1). Thus, the reason for praying for one’s safety is ultimately just to keep society well educated.
Thus, this mantra shows the ideal approach a teacher should have before commencing his lesson.
A Special Meaning of the word 'Shiksha'
Here, ‘shikshã’ doesn’t mean punishment, but education, and even in that, a special type of education – education that is useful in the study of the Vedas. Our Vedas are an ocean of special knowledge. To be a true scientist, one must study them in detail. To study them, they must first be looked after.
As per our ancient traditions, a special method for preserving the Vedas as they are has been practiced. This method is one of systematic pronunciation and repetition. Thousands of years ago, when writing was not well established, our Vedas were preserved by this pronounce and repeat method of recitation. The fruits of this ancient tradition are the immense collection of authentic mantras we find in the Vedas today. The science that thoroughly explains this method of pronunciation and repetition is ‘shikshã’. This is explained in this Upanishad. ‘शीक्षां व्याख्यास्यामः’ – ‘Sheekshãm vyãkhyãsyãmaha’ – ‘Now we will explain shikshã’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 1/2). With this proposition, the rishi lists the main topics of shikshã: ‘वर्णः स्वरः। मात्रा बलम्। साम सन्तानः। इत्युक्तः शीक्षाध्यायः।’ ‘Varnaha svaraha; matrã balam; sãma santãnaha; ityuktaha sheekshãdhyãyaha’ (Taittireeya Upanishad: 1/2). Varnaha means letters. This includes vowels such as ‘अ - a’, ‘इ - i’, ‘उ - u’, ‘ऋ - ru’, etc. and consonants such as ‘क - ka’, ‘ख - kha’, ‘ग - ga’, ‘घ - gha’, etc. So that the mantras of the Vedas can be pronounced properly, the shikshã texts first explain which part of the mouth or throat the vowels and consonants originate, as well as how they originate, and what their true pronunciation really is.
Svaraha means tone. Along with the pronunciation of the mantras, there is an amazing system of tones to enable the singing of the mantras.
Mãtrã means duration. Here, the duration for which the vowels in the Vedic mantras should be sounded is explained. Durations such as hrasva (short) and deergha (long) indicate the length of pronunciation.
Balam means the force with which the letters in the mantra should be said.
Sãma means the similarity of the pronunciation of the letters.
Santãnaha means the system for pronouncing the words according to their order. This is also known as sanhitã.
In this way, the Vedic shikshã texts give a detailed explanation of the aspects of pronunciation of the Vedic mantras that should be taken into consideration.
Naturally, one may question the necessity of this entire system for just the pronunciation of the Vedas. The answer is simple. Our Vedas are not ordinary books, they are divine shastras. We will find the answer to our question if we think back to thousands of years ago when there was no method of preserving or protecting knowledge by writing it down. The Vedas are an ocean of eternal principles. Each sentence is an eternal principle. In order to preserve these principles, our ancestors felt it necessary to first pronounce them properly, since the Vedas are recited as mantras. Vedic mantras are composed from words. And words are composed from letters. If the pronunciation or order of the words of the mantras is changed, then principles may be changed or lost. For this reason, the Vedic schools first taught their students about shikshã.
Thus, in the Taittireeya Upanishad, a proper explanation of shikshã, which is useful for studying the Vedas, has been given. That is why this part of the Upanishad is called the Shikshãvalli.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas