While most scholarship, he tells us, looks at these texts from
the margins, rather than from their narrative centre, it imposes
on the text many of its own assumptions while giving up a
sensitive reading of what is being said. Now there are many such
viewpoints, historical, anthropological, philosophical,
philological, that view the Upanishads and their doctrines.
Some, but not all of these, are committed to the truth that the
Upanishads expound, or at least to some version of such a truth.
The most prominent of these ‘readings’ is the traditional
reading, the best example of which is Sankara’s.
"Traditional reading seeks understanding of the literal
meaning of the text. Such reading avoids research into the
Upanishadic heroes’ lives and experiences."
Related to this
kind of reading is what the author calls an existentialist
reading, such as that of Tagore, which also assumes that there
is an original Vedic intention, but which replaces a scholarly
understanding with an empathic and experiential response.
"The existential reader attends to his own needs,
identifications, hopes and experiences, and in accordance with
these he interprets the Upanishads." Schopenhauer’s is
another example of such a reading. While Grinshpon does not
reject these readings outright, he would add to them another way
of looking at the texts, particularly at the stories therein,
and the contexts in which they occur, taking seriously (and with
scholarship) what is being said and who is saying it.
however, also imposes his own interpretative framework,
rudimentary as it is, on the stories as a whole. He sees them as
moving from a recognition of inferiority, brought about by some
personal crisis such as death, rejection by one’s teacher,
uncertainty about a father’s identity, separation, etc, which
provide the ground for healing Upanishadic knowledge. It is less
clear what he thinks is the content of such therapeutic
knowledge, whether it is in any way fixed (as Vedanta in its
various formulations would seek to fix it), or whether the
fluidity and contextuality of its occurrences as both text and
tradition make it permanently elusive, and so perennially
Grinshpon does not
present the reader with an exhaustive enumeration and
classification of all or even a large number of these stories
(such quantification of the textual data would be the very
opposite of what a sensitive, inclusive reading of these stories
demands). He concentrates on the principal Upanishads, and among
these on two or three stories, around which he divides his
chapters. The retelling is always informative and surprising.
Maitreyi’s quest of (Vedic) immortality makes sense in the
context of the new Upanishadic claim of liberation through
knowledge. Nachiketa’s rejection of his father’s sacrifice
is not, as most commentators have seen it, a rejection of his
father’s miserly attitude towards sacrifice (which is here the
gift rather than the slaughter of cows), but of sacrifice
itself, understandable only within a new context of Upanishadic
knowledge. Satyakama’s honesty (ignorance of the identity of
his father) is not, Grinshpon tells us, a straightforward
expression of ignorance but an untruth that points to the truth.
The possibility that Satyakama’s mother is a Sudra is not even
touched upon by Sankara, for instance, in whose version Jabala
is made to say that she does not remember her husband’s social
status as she was too busy looking after house guests, during
which time Satyakama was born! Sankara’s deliberate avoidance
of the whole question of Satyakama’s identity is at odds with
the emphasis that the text itself gives to it.
have, the author repeatedly asserts, been under-read or misread
from the margins, where a variety of different approaches have
peered into the texts of the Upanishads. There are two ways in
which such under-reading takes place, by ignoring the subtext
and details of the stories, or by discarding them as irrelevant
to the teachings of the Upanishads. By offering an inclusive
rather than an exclusive reading, Grinshpon enriches our
understanding of the Upanishads, revealing at the same time
their more humane and, therefore, complex approach to the issue