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Middle Upanishadic Theism: The Katha Upanishad

Although a consistent Emanationist Monism is found in the early Chandogya and Taittiriya Upanishads, in the somewhat later Katha Upanishad, which, as perhaps the oldest of the "middle Upanishads", dates to around the fourth century B.C.E., there is a shift of emphasis to dualistic Theism.  But still, as with the Taittiriya Upanishad, there is an ascent to the Absolute through a consideration of the various levels of being.  Katha Upanishad II 3. 10-11 reads:

"10. Beyond [or "higher then"] the senses (indriyas) are the objects; beyond the objects is the mind (manas); beyond the mind is the intellect (buddhi); beyond the intellect is the great self (mahan atman).
 "11. Beyond the great self is the unmanifest (avyakta); beyond the unmanifest is the Person (Purusha).  Beyond the Person is nothing.  That is the end; that is the final goal"
[transl. S. Radhakrishnan; The Principle Upanishads, p.625]

Here there is a shift of metaphysics; from cosmology to psychology and theology.  Instead of the emanation of elements we have here a succession of higher and higher faculties of consciousness.  Rather than a process of emanation we have a yogic ascent of consciousness.  Withdrawing from the senses and the objects the senses experience - i.e., from the external world - one enters the subjective world of the mind.  Beyond this is the principle of higher consciousness, or buddhi, then there is the "great self" or atman which is not the same as the Atman of earlier Monism, because it does not represent the supreme principle.  Then there is the shift to theology, to principles outside the self; first the "unmanifest" and then, finally, the Godhead, conceived theistically in the form of the Supreme Person or Purusha.  For plemical reasons, these two non-self principles are placed above the "self" or "Atman" principle.  Clearly, the represents a rival school to the Monistic emanationist school of the Chandogya and Taittiriya Upanishads

Ironically, this Yogic-Theistic sequence, further developed and combined with the five elements idea, became the basis for the Atheistic and emanationist Samkhyan cosmology, which in its classical form was probably developed around the first century C.E. [Larson, Classical Samkhya, p.134], as well as to the contemporary and rather agnostically Theistic Yoga system of Patanjali.


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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 30 June 1999