Sunday, September 16, 2012


WILLIAMS IN SPIRITUAL ODYSSEY IN SPACE - NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who holds the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, took charge of the International Space Station Saturday (Sept. 15), becoming only the second female commander in the orbiting lab's 14-year history. While Sunita is thousands of miles above the earth taking a bird's eye view of the universe from her space shuttle window, she tries to understand universal truths of the Upanishads. The Indian American astronaut - who is spending six months in space is carrying with her an English translation of one of the most important Hindu scriptures. Her father, Deepak Pandya, is hoping that the farther she goes from earth, the closer she will come to understanding her Indian roots. It was his idea that she carry a copy of the Upanishads with her. “The last time she went into space, I had given her a copy of the Bhagavad Gita,” Pandya told TOI. “She was full of questions when she came back. She wanted to know why it became necessary for Krishna to narrate the Gita, what were its eternal teachings, was it not possible to gain similar knowledge from other works, and many such questions. I feel that she will find some of the answers in the Upanishads.”

Pandya, himself a Shiv bhakt, says that up in space his daughter will perhaps be able to better chart her spiritual journey with the Upanishads assisting her. “All the same, we don't discuss space when she calls amid her preparations,” Pandya adds. “We have normal father-daughter conversations.” Williams last worked aboard the International Space Station for six months in 2006. She took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with two other astronauts, a Russian and a Japanese. Dr Pandya used a colloquial term to express that Sunita was doing fine in the space. “Khadhe pidhe sukhi che”, he said. Dr Pandya said that Sunita is currently busy with carrying out different experiments which are part of her space mission and puts in 15-17 hours at work. “She is keeping extremely busy with her work. I had given her an Upanishad while she embarked on her mission. She told me that she has been able to read a few pages but there is very little time. They also have to sleep for a minimum number of mandatory hours. I pray for her as it is a challenging mission where anything can go wrong any second. My prayers are with her”, the father said.

Astronaut Sunita Williams who took off on July 14 for her second six-month-long space expedition from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan received from her father, Dr Deepak Pandya, a copy of the Upanishads to help her during her stay at the space station. In her previous voyage into space, Sunita took with her a statue of Lord Ganesha and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita for company. She had never read the Gita with any depth before her space journey though her father had narrated to her the epics - the Ramayan and the Mahabharat - when she was young. “In a little spacecraft zipping around the earth, you are doing a lot of things, sometimes it feels like work ... maybe you are taking for granted where you are, what you are doing ... things like Ganesha, the Gita bring you back home. It is nice to read about Arjuna's trials and tribulations and it puts your life in perspective,” said Sunita in her India Today interview in 2007. Among the 108 Upanishads available, the most important ones are Mundaka, Isha, Kena, Katha, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Chhandogya, Prashna, Shvetashvatara, and Brihadaranyaka.

The Upanishads or Vedanta (the end of the Vedas) are the scriptures that contain the essence of the Vedic philosophy. “Upanishad” literally means “learning at the feet of,” meaning “at the feet of a Master.” Thus was born the ancient guru system in Hindu society. In each of the Vedas, there are two main divisions: the Karma Kanda deals with the rituals, and the Jnana Kanda, deals with knowledge or wisdom. The Upanishads are part of the Jnana Kanda. ... The Vedas taught worship of the gods of nature, such as the sun, sky, wind, and fire. The Upanishads emphasized that behind the fa├žade of these many gods, there is but one Supreme God. ... In the Upanishads, this ancient philosophical thought came to the forefront, overshadowing the idea of multiple gods, who were considered simply as the manifestation of the transcendental Supreme Divine. ... The universality of the Upanishads has attracted spiritual seekers around the world.

“Hinduism - Path of the Ancient Wisdom”
“Upanishads: Culmination of the Vedas”

Published by dasavatara das - "Vedic Views on World News"

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