The Benefits, Power & Mystery of Long Passages


We’ve started planning for the BMCM Celebration of Easwaran’s Life and Teachings in October, and we’d like to invite you to join us in some preparation. Easwaran’s first response to anything – a question, a great need, a celebration – was often to go deeper in meditation. In that spirit, the first thing we did to prepare for October was to choose a meditation passage.

As part of this year’s month-long curriculum we’ll be focusing on the passage “The One Appearing as Many” from the Shvetashvatara Upanishad. This beautiful passage reminds us that the Divine is in every person, every creature, and the whole universe. By meditating on passages like this, we learn to see the Lord in everyone and everything around us.

When we pierce through the magic, we see the One who appears as many.”

– The Shvetashvatara Upanishad

This passage can be challenging to memorize – partly because it’s so long but also because, like many other long passages from God Makes the Rivers to Flow, it’s quite mysterious. The mystery of this passage, however, is part of its power. These passages are descriptions by the mystics of the inner world they discovered deep in consciousness. By meditating on these words we too can begin to explore that inner world. There are also practical benefits that come from tackling a longer passage, as you’ll find below.

Read on to find more from Easwaran on the Upanishads, together with some practical tips for memorization. If this passage is new to you, we hope you’ll join us in memorizing it and adding it to your meditation over the coming months.

The One Appearing as Many

Read the full text of the passage and listen to an audio recording.

Read the full text of the passage and listen to an audio recording.

The Power and Promise of the Upanishads

Easwaran was a professor of English literature at a major Indian university when he found that, as he explains, “Everything I had lived for – literature, music, writing, good friends, the joys of teaching – had ceased to satisfy. Not that my enjoyment of these things was less; in fact, I had every innocent source of joy the world offered. But I found myself thirsting for something more, much more, without knowing what or why.”

An avid reader, Easwaran turned from his beloved literature to texts on religion and philosophy. In the introduction to his translation of the Upanishads, Easwaran describes coming across this ancient spiritual text for the first time:

About this time – I no longer remember how – I came across a copy of the Upanishads. I had known they existed, of course, but it had never even occurred to me to look into them. My field was Victorian literature; I expected no more relevance from four-thousand-year-old texts than from Alice in Wonderland.

 “Take the example of a man who has everything,” I read with a start of recognition: “young, healthy, strong, good, and cultured, with all the wealth that earth can offer; let us take this as one measure of joy.” The comparison was right from my life. “One hundred times that joy is the joy of the gandharvas; but no less joy have those who are illumined.”

Gandharvas were pure mythology to me, and what illumination meant I had no idea. But the sublime confidence of this voice, the certitude of something vastly greater than the world offers, poured like sunlight into a long-dark room:

Hear, O children of immortal bliss!
You are born to be united with the Lord.
Follow the path of the illumined ones,
And be united with the Lord of Life.

I read on. Image after image arrested me: awe-inspiring images, scarcely understood but pregnant with promised meaning, which caught at my heart as a familiar voice tugs at the edge of awareness when you are struggling to wake up.

In this way I discovered the Upanishads, and quickly found myself committed to the practice of meditation.

Today, after more than forty years of study, these texts are written on my heart; I am familiar with every word. Yet they never fail to surprise me. With each reading I feel I am setting out on a sea so deep and vast that one can never reach its end. In the years since then I have read widely in world mysticism, and often found the ideas of the Upanishads repeated in the idioms of other religions. I found, too, more practical guides; my own, following the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi, became the Bhagavad Gita. But nowhere else have I seen such a pure, lofty, heady distillation of spiritual wisdom as in the Upanishads, which seem to come to us from the very dawn of time.

Memorizing Long Passages

In his selection of passages for meditation, Easwaran includes passages with lengths that vary from half a page to several pages. If you haven’t memorized a multi-page passage before it can be intimidating, but it also provides opportunities that aren’t found with shorter passages.

Staying on one long passage increases our concentration and immersion. A longer passage, such as this one, will often last for the whole of our meditation period, giving us the opportunity to go deeper into a spiritual theme, and perhaps leading to a new avenue of spiritual exploration.

We often hear from friends that although there are sections of these longer passages that they don’t understand, after meditating on those words over and over they sometimes get some new, small, spiritual insight – and this can be very rewarding. We get a glimpse of what Easwaran meant in the quote above when he describes “setting out on a sea so vast and deep that one can never reach its end.” 

Tips for Memorization

We invite you to join us in memorizing “The One Appearing as Many” over the coming months to prepare for the Celebration of Easwaran’s Life and Teachings in October. To get us started, here are some tips for memorizing passages, including some strategies specific to memorizing long ones:

  • Break the passage into parts: you can memorize a three-page passage as three one-page passages
  • Memorize in small chunks – focus on one stanza plus one line. When you’re memorizing long passages, linking stanzas in this way helps you remember the order of the stanzas
  • Read about the author and the tradition associated with the passage
  • Listen to Christine or Easwaran reading the passage
  • Write out the passage or stanza: copy it or write it from memory
  • Repeat the passage or stanza out loud
  • Write down what the stanza you are going to memorize is about
  • Reflect on the passage – which lines stand out to you, and how can the messages in the passage help you?
  • Add movement to memorization – walking outdoors with passage in hand can help
  • Incorporate newly memorized lines or stanzas into your meditation as soon as you’ve memorized them
  • Long passages often have a pattern, rhythm or theme that repeats itself and that can help you remember the flow of the passage
  • Create an environment that will help your memorization and then settle into the activity

 We would love to hear from you! Share in the comments below your own strategies for memorizing long passages, or any lines from this passage that stand out to you.