Ethics in the Upanishads

Literature from across the world engages with ethical questions and moral quandaries, and plays a role in cultivating our moral sensibilities.  Religious literatures often present ethical teachings indirectly, such as in the form of parables, or more directly, such as moral commandments.  In the Upanishads of late Vedic India, we find both ethical and metaphysical teachings set out in contexts of lineages of teachers and students. 

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On stealing from the gods

wisdom, forbidden knowledge, and access to divinity itself.  Divine trickery may be involved.  And the theft may be followed by divine anger and punishment.  This article will briefly review and compare three such myths, that of the eating from the ‘tree of knowledge’ in the Garden of Eden, the Greek myth of the theft of fire on behalf of humanity, and a similar Vedic myth about the stealing of fire.

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The rage of the warrior in literature

I previously discussed how strong emotions such as grief and rage well up from a very deep place within the self, expressing themselves in ways which go beyond the usual range of human expression, and how, according to the Indian tradition, the first poetic verse utterance emerged as an expression of deep sorrow.  We see this particularly in the expression of rage on the battlefield, as will be described here.

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Some Indo-European thoughts on time

Our day-to-day experience of time passing can be highly non-linear and subjective, as we move from giving rapid presentations to enjoying lazy Sunday afternoons.  Science too has studied how our brains have the ability to slow down and speed up our perception of time.  In this way, our lived experience of the flow of time diverges sharply from the scientific description of this experience.

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Trysts by night in art and poetry

The painting above, by one of the great Indian artists of the late eighteenth century, Nainsukh, depicts such a scene.  Our paramour sneaks away from her home by night to a spot in the forest where she has arranged to meet her lover during the night, and she must be back before anyone awakes and misses her in the morning.

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Love, death and Sanskrit literature

In romantic literature across the world, we frequently read about lovers who would die rather than be apart.  In the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Pyramus kills himself, believing Thisbe to be dead.  When Thisbe finds the dead body of Pyramus, she also kills herself.  Romeo and Juliet, based on this story, and many other tales of world literature, follow a similar pattern.

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On craft-worker gods and heroes

For ancient as well as modern people, God has been conceived of in a bewildering variety of ways.  At one extreme, we see a wholly abstract and ineffable power, such as the Advaitic conception of Brahman, and on the other hand, we find an anthropomorphic god such as Krishna in the Mahābhārata, who is faced by the same moral dilemmas and limitations on his ability to act as the rest of us.

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