We are used to decoding meanings from anything we see, read or hear. What does it mean to, and for, us ?That is the question which pops up within, in respect of the thing that comes to hover in our attention.
Yet, however profound the meaning we are capable of forming or extracting, that is not the intended end of statements compiled in the Upanishads. They each state the truth, or fact when it is less fundamental to our reality.
We are free to think and contemplate over the meaning of a particular expression in an Upanishad. Indeed, the book encourages us to do so. But that isn’t the accomplishment they ask us to rest on. It is “nidhidhyasan,” realisation of the truth, real and palpable, here and now.
Let me illustrate with an instance :
Mundaka Up. Verse 3.1.1
द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षं परिषस्वजाते ।
तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्त्यनश्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति ॥ १ ॥
Freely translated, it states :
Two identical birds, companions inseparable and eternal, perch on the very same tree.
One hops successively, partaking the differently flavoured fruits sour, bitter or sweet.
The other sits unmoved, witnessing, and eats not.
That is what forms as we read the verse. Now, the literal must lead to what it means to us, in accord with the context. The vivid imagery allows us to think of the individual self and the supreme self as two birds, a duo inseparable and eternal, it is impressed on the reading and contemplating self. The self couple are described as perched to the same world particular to the individual being.
As a statement not encountered elsewhere or otherwise, the pondering self has not only found it but has also arrived at its correct, literal and consistent meaning. Under the circumstance, then, it is easy to understand how we would feel flooded with this sense of profundity, upon the rise of the discovered meaning of the verse.
But that profound sense of the Upanishad statement, though correct and encouraged, is only a mirage reflecting in the intellect of the person compared to the transcendent, transforming truth embedded in the Upanishad verse. It states the real, the self as it actually is in the mind-body complex devolved in its world. It is that — the self duo — which is to be known first hand and be perceived directly by us, palpably, within this very individual being — the tree — we are.
In other words, the intellectual, profoundly seeming meaning is a trap. It is the truth, expressed in the verse, that must be witnessed, must become real.