The Upasana Ritual Under Change

While I find it very doubtful that the practice of dhih is still-mind-meditative, several Indologists suggest that the practices of upasana and dhyana could be early Brahmin candidates for meditation. Slightly before the notion of yoga appeared in the middle Upanishads, a new notion appeared in the earlier texts of the Brahmanans and the Aranyakas (both are Brahmin theological text-collections explaining Vedic ritual and ideas). This practice was called upasana and is translated as worship, reverence or even worship-meditation. Upasana was also mentioned extensively later on in the Upanishads – especially in the early Upanishads before yoga was mentioned.

Upasana is a practice related to the sacrifice. Instead of sacrificing something physical, like butter, some Brahmins commenced visualising the sacrifice material -so the sacrifice to them became a symbolic act. The Brahmins chose, in other words, some holy material and visualised it in reverence. This became upasana -visualised reverence. It translates as sitting/being near a object at hand. It became an act of approaching an object by means of devotion. So the Brahmins often chose holy symbols and ideas – like the mantra om, brahman or prana – as objects of their focussed worship. By ongoing contemplation of brahman, or by endlessly silently chanting om, the Brahmin worshipper would gain more and more knowledge and insight into brahman – the underlying principle of everything.

Upasana became over time increasingly internalised. As the ritual developed, the sacrifice gradually changed its focus to the internal world of body and mind. In the end, upasana became, to some Brahmins, a practice totally replacing the sacrifice – the sacrifice had become an internalised practice.

The classical authority on Indian philosophy S.N. Dasgupta termed upasana substitution-meditation, and, it seems that here, on the eve of the birth of yoga, we finally have some practice – in relation to the Vedic ritual – which has this meditative quality of being a focussed internalising act. It is a practice, which further reminds us of yoga as a ritual practice as it required prior purification and calm mind of the practitioner. This has also led scholars to conclude that yoga meditation could have developed out of Brahmin institutions in the sense of being a ritual of self-sacrifice.

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