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Lecture 3: Upanisadic Orientation
-In the Upanisads, the highest form of religious karma is no longer merely propitiating the gods
or sustaining the cosmos through sacrifice, but attaining insight into or knowledge (jnana) of
the essential Brahman and realizing the unity of the individual atman and the eternal, universal
KARMA AND REINCARNATION IN THE UPANISADS
-The Upanisads retain the concept of karma but reject simple Vedic ritualism as the sole means
of reaching the absolute, i.e. brahman.
-All forms of action now becomes soteriologically meaningful.
-This new understanding of karma rests on the novel appearance of the massively important
theory of reincarnation (or “redeath”)
-Every karma undertaken by an individual has a consequence (phala, “fruit”) which must be
borne in future lifetimes.
-These consequences can be either good (punya, “meritorious”) or bad (papa, “sinful”), leading
to good or bad rebirths.
-Desire (kama) is the cause of karma, and the cause of desire is ignorance of the true nature of
“A man turns into something good by good acOon and into something bad by bad
acOon. And so people say: ‘A person here consists simply of desire.’ A man who’s
aUached goes with his acOon. […] Reaching the end of his acOon, of whatever he has
done in this world—From that world he returns back to this world, back to acOon. […]
Now, a man who does not desire—who is without desires, who is freed from desires,
whose desires are fulfilled, whose only desire is his self—his vital funcOons (prāṇa)
do not depart. Brahman he is, and to brahman he goes. When they are all banished,
those desires lurking in one’s heart; then a man becomes immortal, and aUains
brahman in this world.”
PLANES OF REBIRTH IN THE EARLY UPANISADIC ERA (7-5TH CENTURIES BCE)
-seven heavens/worlds (loka).
-The highest is called Satyaloka (“the world of truth”) or Brahmaloka (“the world of Brahman”)
-Those who obtain rebirth in these heavens are destined for immortality understood as
unification with absolute, eternal Brahman.
-Scholars have argued that in early Hindu cosmology, the realm of heaven was identified with
the Milky Way.
-The world of the ancestors of fathers. In general, those who attain rebirth in this world are