By Shivani V
The Upaniṣads are treasure-houses of wisdom. They are religious treatises of Ancient India as practised and found by its great seers and sages. The term Upaniṣad is derived from the root ‘sad’ (ṣadṛ) meaning to sit, with the prepositions ‘upa’ and ‘ni’ in the sense of sitting down of the disciple near his teacher in a devoted manner to receive instruction about highest reality which loosens all doubts and destroys all ignorance. The Upaniṣads are the final and most important parts of the Vedas. They contain the philosophical thoughts of ancient Indians and form the bedrock of many systems of Indian philosophy. They are the end and aim of the Vedas and are found at the end of each of the four Vedas and hence they are termed Vedanta. The Mantras constitute the first phase, the Brāhmaṇas the second, the raṇyakas the third, and the Upaniṣads at the end of the Veda.
The Vedas had many branches (śākhas). Each branch had probably one Upaniṣad at the end. The Upaniṣads consider the rigorous rituals as only a means to purify the mind. That purification helps one to receive the real teaching about Brahman, the highest reality. One has to know the tman (self), the Brahman (highest Reality or Absolute) and their relation. Only that knowledge and the direct experience of the Brahman are the goals of human existence. All other achievements are meaningless unless man knows his own real nature. The number of Upaniṣads cannot be fixed exactly. One of the Upaniṣads, viz. Muktikopaniṣad gives a list of 108 Upaniṣads. Many more are available. Śaṅkara (c.8th Century A.D.) has written commentaries on ten Upaniṣads which are universally accepted as ancient Upaniṣads. The ten Upaniṣads on which Śaṅkara wrote the commentaries are:
Due to the tremendous progress in the field of material sciences which resulted in coming of age of archeology, epigraphy, carbon dating and others as viable scientific methods. The impact of this transformation resulted in the emphasis that valid history can only be based on material artifacts like pottery, inscriptions and other tangible material evidences and not tradition, folk lore etc.
Hence the modern historians relegated all that was oral history into mythology. For them mythology was an art from for cultural entertainment rather than to be considered as serious history of a culture or civilization. Hence history became, instead of a robust lively narration of the story of cultures of our forefathers, a mere skeleton of facts and figures with very little possibility of a valid impact on the psyche of the society. Hence in modern time’s, history lost its prime position of importance as a guide to formulate the opinions of the people in order to preserve the culture and traditions that are unique to each civilization.
Bharata was no exception. Even though it was acknowledged as the repository of the most ancient poetical creation namely the Vedas and was acknowledged to be one of the most ancient civilizations of the world all Its oral records were relegated as pure mythology – a figment of imagination of the ancients.
So was the fate of the history of the river Sarasvati. Even though the traditional texts of Bharata from the Vedas on wards spoke about a mighty river called Sarasvati, by the time the modern historians tried to look at the history of Bharata sarasavati had disappeared. So all information associated with river Sarasvati was relegated to the background. It had scant attention of the academic world for a long time. She became a myth.
But river Sarasvati continued to be a reality in the minds of the masses of Bharata as a sacred river who had gone underground. Fairs, melas were celebrated at places of pilgrimage believed to be on the banks of river Sarasvati during the rainy season. People believed that river Sarasvati would appear in the tanks and ponds during the rainy season at the places of pilgrimage to bless them and would throng to take bath and feel sanctified by the waters of river Sarasvati.
Īśāvāsyopaniṣat or Īśopaniṣad is always regarded as first among Upaniṣads. It occupies a prominent place in Vedanta Philosophy. This Upaniṣad is part of the śukla Yajurveda of Vājasaneyi school (white branch of the Yajurveda). It is named as Iśa or Īśāvāsya as the opening word of the Upaniṣad bears that expression:
ईशावास्यिमदंसवर् यत्कञ् जगत्यांजगत्।
तेन त्यक्ेन भूञ्ीथ मा गृथ कस्यस्वद्नम्।।
īśāvāsyamidaṃ sarvaṃ yatkiñca jagatyāṃ jagat,
tena tyaktena bhūñjītha mā gṛtha kasyasviddhanam.
The whole moving world of moveables is pervaded by God. Renouncing like that enjoy or be satisfied; covet not the wealth of anyone.
Īśopaniṣad is quite small containing only 18 mantras. In eighteen mantras it gives a very good account of the tman. The Īśopaniṣad embodies in its very opening verse the central theme of all the Upaniṣads, namely, the spiritual unity and solidarity of all existence. It brings about the reconciliation between action and inaction or pravṛtti and nivṛtti as they are otherwise called. It advises that every being is pervaded by the Lord or Master and so one should enjoy the pleasures of life with utmost detachment and with a sense of sharing and covetedness or avarice should be eschewed. Briefly stated, the first two hymns emphasise the all-pervasive character of the Supreme Being, Brahman and the need of performance of karma in a disinterested way as subsidiary to the spiritual discipline sādhana for attaining God. The next six hymns (3-8) expound the true nature of the Paramātman and also that of the upāsaka or the one who embarks on meditation. The subsequent six hymns (9-14) teach the nature of sādhana or means of attainment of mokṣa and in particular, the place of karma or the performance of prescribed deeds in the spiritual discipline. The last four hymns (15-18) are in the form of prayers intended for the meditation upon paramātman by the aspirant seeking mokṣa. This Upaniṣad also emphasises the importance of doing one’s duty and exhorts the people to wish to live for a hundred years doing their duty.
कुवर्न्ेवेह कमार्िण जजीिवषेच्छतंसमाः।
एवंत्विय नान्यथेतोऽस्त न कमर् लप्यते नरे॥२॥
kurvanneveha karmāṇi jijīviṣecchataṃ samāḥ
evaṃ tvayi nānyatheto’sti na karma lipyate nare 2
(By performing karma in this world (as enjoined by the scriptures) should one yearn to live a hundred years. Thus action does not bind thee, the doer. There is no other way than this.)
It teaches that a person who does his duty without selfish ends is not bound by Karman. One who sees the whole world, will never loath the existence according to this Upaniṣad.
Like the Īśāvāsyopaniṣad, the Kenopaniṣad too derives its name from the first word, namely, Kena which means ‘by whom’?. This Upaniṣad is also known as Talavakāropaniṣad. It encompassed in the Sāmaveda. It is also short, starts with the dialogue:
केनेिषतंपतित पर्ेिषतंमनः, केन पर्ाणः पर्थमः पर्ैित युक्ः। केनेिषतांवाचिममांवदन्त, चक्षुः शर्ोतर्ंक उ देवो युनिक्।
keneṣitaṃ patati preṣitaṃ manaḥ, kena prāṇaḥ prathamaḥ praiti yuktaḥ keneṣitāṃ vācamimāṃ vadanti, cakṣuḥ śrotraṃ ka u devo yunakti.1.
(The disciple asks : who impels the mind to alight on its objects? Enjoined by whom does the chief prāṇa (life) proceed to function? At whose behest do men utter speech? What intelligence, indeed, directs the eyes and the ears?)
This Upaniṣad is in the form of a guru-disciple dialogue, is spread over four parts or khaṇḍas with a total of 35 mantras Kena in Sanskrit implies a question, by whom? The Kena illumines the nature of knowledge by pointing out the eternal knower behind all acts of knowing, and purifies man’s concept of ultimate reality of all touch of finitude and relativity by revealing its character as the eternal Self of man and the Self of universe.
The Upaniṣad is divided into four parts. The first two parts are in the form of dialogue, and explain how one can arrive at the ātman through the analysis of perception. They suggest that the ātman or the absolute consciousness can be intuited by detaching it from the functions of mind and senses. It can be done only by intuitive faculty of the ātman itself, for the senses are utterly incapable of perceiving it.
न ततर् चक्षुगर्च्छित न वाग्गच्छित नो मनः ।
न िवद्ो न िवजानीमो यथैतदनुिशष्यात्॥ १.३ ॥
na tatra cakṣurgacchati na vāggacchati no manaḥ,
na vidmo na vijānīmo yathaitadanuśiṣyāt .. 1.3 ..
That subtle cause, that eye of the eye is not seen, because our eye has no jurisdiction there.
Neither the mind or the speech has the ability to reach it. This Upaniṣad asks the student to try to find the inner cause of all abilities which is neither known or unknown,which the language cannot explain, but which creates language and so on with other faculties. According to this Upaniṣad, reality is not cognised by those who think they know it, still it is known to those who think they do not know it.
यस्यामतंतस्य मतंमतंयस्य न वेद सः ।
अिवज्ञातंिवजानतांिवज्ञातमिवजानताम्॥ २.३ ॥
yasyāmataṃ tasya mataṃ mataṃ yasya na veda saḥ,
avijñātaṃ vijānatāṃ vijñātamavijānatām .. 2.3 ..
In the third part, the principles of the two earlier parts are described in an allegorical form.
There the devas stand for the senses. In the fourth part, the Upaniṣad speaks of the subjective and objective ways of meditating on Brahman and of the results of such meditation. The final section of this Upaniṣad has a story. The absolute (Brahman) brought victory to the gods.
The gods became arrogant thinking that the victory was theirs. There appeared one Yakṣa, which they could not comprehend. They sent god of fire, Agni, to learn about. Agni went there and boasted about his own power. The Yakṣa asked Agni to burn a straw of grass. Agni tried 2Kenopaniṣad, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 1953, p. 5 his best, but could not burn it. Indra sent the god of wind, Vāyu. He also could not burn the straw. Finally Indra goes there to find out what the Yakṣa was. Indra saw a beautiful woman, Umā, in the place of Yakṣa. She told him that the Yakṣa was the brahman.
This Upaniṣad teaches us that the eye of the eye, ear of the ear, power of all powers is the Brahman. Without that Ablolute’s grace, everything is powerless and meaningless.
The Kaṭha has six vallīs (sections). It holds a special fascination for all students of the Upaniṣads for its happy blend of charming poetry, deep mysticism and profound philosphy.
This Upaniṣad is a dialogue by the two characters of its dialogue, namely, Yama, the teacher, and Naciketa, the student. It contains the story of Naciketas who learns brahmavidyā from the god of death.
Once Naciketa’s father performed a yajña and gave away all his possessions. The boy asked his father “whom are you going to give me to”? Father ignored the question. When the boy persisted in questioning, his father became angry and exclaimed “I am giving you to the god of death”. Naciketa took the word seriously and himself went to the abode of Death. The god of Death, called Yama by name, granted three boons to the boy as compensation for waiting at the door for three nights. First, the boy asks that his father should become calm and give up anger. From the second boon, he wishes to know how ordinary people can reach heaven. The god of Death describes a yajña in detail which is according to him, a sure path to heaven. For the third and final boon, the boy wishes to know the secret of Death i.e., what happens to the soul after death of the body. Yama does not answer immediately. He offers wealth, kingdom, long life and beautiful maidens in lieu of the secret of Death.
शतायुषः पुतर्पौतर्ान्वृणीष्व बहन्पशून्हस्तिहरण्यमश्वान्।
भूमेमर्हदायतनंवृणीष्व स्वयंच जीव शरदो याविदच्छस ॥ १.२३ ।।
śatāyuṣaḥ putrapautrān vṛṇīṣva bahūn paśūn hastihiraṇyamaśvān,
bhūmermahadāyatanaṃ vṛṇīṣva svayaṃ ca jīva śarado yāvadicchasi.. 1.23 ..
(Choose sons and grandsons who would live a hundred years, many cattle, elephants, gold, and horses. Choose the great sovereignty over earth. And thou thyself live as many years as thou wilt.)
The Naciketas does not succumb to any temptation. Knowing that the boy was a fit student to receive the knowledge of the soul, Yama teaches him the ātmavidyā and reveals the secret of Death.
The Kaṭhopaniṣad teaches that the good and the pleasant present themselves before every man and woman. If one chooses the good, one will attain permanent bliss. If the pleasant, which appears very attractive, is chosen, it leads to disaster. A wise man chooses the good and ignores the pleasant.
शर्ेयश्च पर्ेयश्च मनुष्यमेतः तौ सम्परीत्य िविवनिक् धीरः ।
शर्ेयो िह धीरोऽिभ पर्ेयसो वृणीते पर्ेयो मन्दो योगक्षेमाद्ृणीते ॥ २.२ ॥
śreyaśca preyaśca manuṣyametaḥ tau samparītya vivinakti dhīraḥ,
śreyo hi dhīro’bhi preyaso vṛṇīte preyo mando yogakṣemādvṛṇīte .. 2.2 ..
(The good and the pleasant approach man; the wise examines both and discriminates between them; the wise prefers the good to the pleasant, but the foolish man chooses the pleasant through love of bodily pleasure.)
This Upaniṣad also tells that the soul is a permanent entity and takes numerous bodies in birth according to its own karmas. When the physical body dies, nothing happens to the soul.
The Upaniṣad emphasises the importance of moral life and says one cannot reach the ātman without a moral life. The body is compared to the chariot, intellect to the charioteer, mind to the rein, senses to the horses and the soul to the occupier of the chariot.
आत्मानंरथनंिविद् शरीरंरथमेव तु।
बुिद्ंतुसारथंिविद् मनः पर्गर्हमेव च ॥ ३.१ ।।
ātmānaṃ rathinaṃ viddhi śarīraṃ rathameva tu,
buddhiṃ tu sārathiṃ viddhi manaḥ pragrahameva ca .. 3.1 ..
(Know the self as the lord of the chariot and the body as verily the chariot; know the intellect as the charioteer and the mind as verily the reins.)
If the horses are under control, one can reach the destination. Otherwise, they may lead him to disaster. Thus the god of death teaches Naciketas the way to immortality.
Praśnopaniṣad belongs to Atharvaveda. The Praśna, as its name implies, is an Upaniṣad of questions; each of its six chapters comprises a question asked by each of a group of six inquiring students on various aspects of Vedantā, and the answers given by their teacher, the sage Pippalāda.
सुकेशा च भारद्ाजः शैब्यश्च सत्यकामः सौयार्यणी च गाग्यर्ः कौसल्यश्चाश्वलायनो भागर्वो वैदिभर्ः कबन्धी
कात्यायनस्ते हैते बर्ह्परा बर्ह्िनष्ाः परं बर्ह्ान्वेषमाणा एष ह वै तत्सवर् वक्षयतीित ते ह सिमत्पाणयो भगवन्तं
sukeśā ca bhāradvājaḥ śaibyaśca satyakāmaḥ sauryāyaṇī ca gārgyaḥ kauśa lyaścāśvalāyano
bhārgavo vaidarbhiḥ kabandhī kātyāyanaste haite brahmaparā brahma niṣṭhāḥ paraṃ
brāhmānveṣamāṇā eṣa ha vai tatsarvaṃ vakṣyatīti te ha samitpāṇya bhagavantaṃ
Sukesa, son (of Bharadvaja), Satyakama (Son of Sibi), Gargya (grandson of Surya), Kausalya (son of Asvala), Bhargava (of Vidarbha), and Kabandhi (son of Katya) – all these, intent on
Brahman, devoted to Brahman, and seeking the highest Brahman, approached the revered Pippalada with sacrificial fuel in their hands, thinking that he would explain all that to them.
The six questions are about
1. the origin of prāṇa and matter 2. superiority of prāṇa above the other vital airs,
3. nature and divisions of vital power
4. dreaming and dreamless states
6. sixteen parts of man.
The Praśnopaniṣad asserts that all tmans finally enter into the universal soul (puruṣa) and merge there like the rivers that enter into the ocean and merge.
Maṇḍūkopaniṣad also belong to the Atharvaveda. It is divided into three parts each comprising two sections or khaṇḍas. There are sixty four verses or mantras. The first part deals with the preparations for the knowledge of Brāhman. The second portion portrays the doctrine of Brāhman. The third part treats the way to Brahman.
The whole book as well as each chapter is called Muṇḍaka, a word etymologically denoting a shaving razor and a person with a shaven head, namely, a sanyāsin or a monk. A study of this shaves and gets rid of ignorance and paves the path for knowledge. The contents of this Upaniṣad were taught to Śaunaka by Aṅgiras, who in his turn had learned it from Bhāradvāja Satyavaha, the disciple of Atharvan, the eldest son and pupil of Brahmā. Śaunaka approaches a seer Aṅgiras and asks him question – What is that, which being known, makes all other things known? The seer replies there are two vidyās –
(1) parāvidyā or the higher wisdom so lucidly and directly taught herein removes the superimposed veil of ignorance obscuring the tman just as a razor shaves off the hair covering the head; and 2. aparāvidyā or the lower
तस्मैस होवाच द्ेिवद्ेवेिदतव्ये इित ह स्म ।
यद्बर्ह्िवदो वदन्त परा च एव अपरा च ॥ ४ ॥
tasmai sa hovāca dve vidye veditavye iti ha sma,
yad brahmavido vadanti parā ca eva aparā ca .. 4 ..
This Upaniṣad stresses the importance of the guru. One cannot attain the knowledge of brahman without the help of a guru. So a seeker should approach a proper guru with humility.
The Muṇḍakopaniṣad gives the image of an archer. Upaniṣad is a bow. Upāsanā (meditation) is the arrow. The mind is the string of the bow. The seeker should hit the target, which is akṣara, the immutable. Absolute. Or, the praṇava (the sound oM) is the bow, the soul is the arrow. Brahman is the target. The seeker should hit the target.
This Upaniṣad gives another beautiful image. Two birds, friends and similar, sit on the same tree. One of them keeps eating the tree’s fruits while the other does not eat, but looks on.
द्ा सुपणौर् सयुजौ सखायौ समानंवृक्षंपरषस्वजाते।
तयोरन्यः िपप्पलंस्वादुअत् अनश्नन्न्योऽिभचाकशीित।।
dvā suparṇau sayujau sakhāyau samānaṃ vṛkṣaṃ pariṣasvajāte,
tayoranyaḥ pippalaṃ svādu atti anaśnannanyo’bhicākaśīti.
(Two birds, ever united companions, cling to the self-same tree. Of these two, one eats the sweet berry (is immersed in the joys and and sorrows of this world) . The other one looks on without eating (He remains as the witness only).)
The tree is the body. The individual soul and the universal soul are both present in the body. The former enjoys the pleasant and sorrowful fruits of the karmas, while the latter remains an onlooker. He does not care for the fruit, but remains aloof.
The absolute cannot be realised by expertise in discoursing, not by a sharp intellect. One should gain the love of the Universal soul in order to realise it.
There is thus a logical development and unity in this clear-cut, beautiful, short Upaniṣad. Along with the Kaṭha and the Śvetāśvatara it forms a soul-stirring Mantropaniśad (the word mantra here denotes a sacred verse) varied and charming in metre and diction, exalted in its spiritual strain and uniform in its sublimity.
Māṇḍūkyopaniṣad also belongs to the Atharvaveda. It is the shortest Upaniṣad with twelve mantras. In the brief compass of its twelve verses of condensed thought, the Māṇḍūkya surveys the whole of experience through a study of the four states of jāgrat (waking), svapna (dream), suṣupti (deep sleep) and turīya (fourth) and reveals the tman, the true self of man, the turīya or the fourth, as it puts it, as pure consciousness, eternal and non-dual. In the waking state, the soul is aware of external world and called Vaiśvanara or viśva. In the dream state, the soul is turned towards the internal world and called Taijasa. In the deep sleep, the soul is blissful and called prājña. In the fourth state he is beyond the reach of words. He cannot be described.
This Upaniṣad propounds that the OM is the entire universe, the past the present and the future.
ओिमत्येतदक्षरिमदंसवर् तस्योपव्याख्यानं। भूतंभवद्िवष्यिदित सवर्मोङ्ार एव । यच्चान्यत्ितर्कालातीतंतदप्योङ्ार
एव ॥ १ ॥
omityetadakṣaramidaṃ sarvaṃ tasyopavyākhyānaṃ bhūtaṃ bhavadbhaviṣyaditi sarvamoṅkāra
eva yaccānyat trikālātītaṃ tadapyoṅkāra eva 1
(Om, the word, is all this. Its further explanation is this. All that is past, present and future is verily Om. That which is beyond the triple conception of time, is verily Om.)
Thus the importance and significance of OM is emphasised in this Upaniṣad.
It belongs to the Krshnayajurveda (black Yajurveda) begins with the śāntimantra ‘śam no mitraḥ śam varuṇaḥ’. The seventh, eighth and the ninth chapters of the Taittirīyāraṇyaka are known as the Taittirīyopaniṣad. It consists of three vallīs (parts). The first vallī is called Śikṣā-vallī, starts with a propitiatory chant and adoration of the powers of Mitra and Varuṇa.
A brief account of the principles of Vedic phonetics, accent, quality, rhythm, sequences, exact form of sounds follows. It also tells about the procedure of Vedic education. It is a mine of noble ideas. The most important part of this vallī is the snātakopadeśa which is of Universal appeal. It begins thus:
सत्यंवद धमर् चर स्वाध्यायान्मा पर्मदः ।
आचारस्य िपर्यंधनमाहृत्य पर्जातन्तुंमा व्यवच्छेत्सीः ॥
satyaṃ vada dharmaṃ cara svādhyāyānmā pramadaḥ,
ācārasya priyaṃ dhanamāhṛtya prajātantuṃ mā vyavacchetsīḥ.
(Always speak the truth, Live by the code (Dharma), Never stop to self learning, Pay appropriate fees to the teacher and do not abstain from the next phase of life (which involves setting up a family and sustaining the race))
The second vallī called Brahmavallī starts with the statements that the knower of Brahman attains the Supreme (Brahmavadāpnoti param). This sentence reveals what, why and how of all Vedānta.
The third vallī called Bhṛguvallī is continuation of the second vallī. Bhṛgu, son of Varuṇa, learns the Brahmavidyā from Varuṇa. Bhṛgu is instructed to conduct penance and to know that to be Brahman from which all living things come into being, by which they are sustained and into which they merge. Bhṛgu thinks it to be food, breath, mind, intellect and finally bliss.
Bliss or ānanda is Brahman.
यतो वा इमािन भूतािन जायन्ते। येन जातािन जीवन्त । यत्पर्यन्त्यिभसंिवशन्त। तिद्जज्ञासस्व तद्बर्ह् – इित ॥
Yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante yena jātāni jeīvanti yat prayantyabhisamviśanti tadvijijñāsasva.
Tadbrahma – iti.
(That, verily, from which all the five major elements like the sky are born, by which all that were born are sustained and into which all those sustained finally enter and unify with it, is Brahman.)
The famous Pañcakośavidyā is the ultimate teaching in this vallī. So everything starting from the gross up to the subtlest is the manifestation of the Brahman.
The Aitareyopaniṣad, also called Bahvṛcopaniṣad, belongs to the Ṛgveda and is part of the Aitareyāraṇyaka. The author of this raṇyaka was Mahīdāsa Aitareya. This is a short Upaniṣad consisting of three chapters. This Upaniṣad begins with an account that there was ātman alone before creation and it desired to create the worlds.
आत्मा वा इदमेक एवागर् आसीन्ान्यत्कञ्न िमषत्स ईक्षत लोकान्ुसृजा इित।
ātmā vā idameka evāgra āsīnnānyatkiñcana miṣat sa īkṣata lokānnu sṛjā iti.
(This Atman alone was there in the beginning. There was nothing other than Atman. Then the creation began. That Atman thought to create the world.)
This Upaniṣad narrates the legend of Vāmadeva who knew the secret of birth and death even while he was in his mother’s womb. It tells that the power which sees, hears, smells, speaks and understands speech and tastes is tman. Consciousness is Brahman and Brahman is everything. Prajñānam brahma is the main teaching of this Upaniṣad. This Upaniṣad teaches concisely the core of Brahmavidyā to all seekers after freedom from samsāra and attainment of immortal Bliss.
The Chāndogyopaniṣat belongs to the Sāmaveda. This is in prose. There are eight chapters in this Upaniṣad, which contain six hundred and twenty-eight mantras which are called Kandikas.
There are many upāsanas in this Upaniṣat. The stories of Raikva, Satyakāma, Jābala, Śvetaketu and others are found in this Upaniṣad.
The first two chapters of this Upaniṣad deals with the mystical interpretation of Sāman and its chief part called Udgīta. A supplement to the second chapter deals with mainly the origin of the syllable ’OM’ and the three stages of religious life, Brahmacarya, garhasthya and vanaprastha. The third chapter treats of Brahman as the sun of the Universe. The natural sun is regarded as its manifestation. The infinite brahman is described as living in the heart of men. The way of attaining Brahman is then described. Then comes the fundamental doctrine of identity of Brahma and Atman.
The fourth chapter discusses about wind, breath (prāṇa), and other phenomena connected with Brahman. It also teaches how the soul makes its way to Brahman after death. The first half of the fifth chapter is almost similar to the beginning of the chapter six of the Brhadaranyaka.
It deals with the theory of transmigration. The second half of the chapter contains the doctrine that the manifold world is real. The sixth chapter introduces the story of Śvetaketu and his father. Śvetaketu asked his father Uddālaka, How can this vast universe with its multitudinous variety be produced in this simple way? Uddālaka was instructing us to how the entire world has been evolved out of the Sat.
न्यगर्ोधफलमत आहरेतीदंभगव इित, ………….. तथा सौम्येित होवाच।
nyagrodhaphalamata āharetīdaṃ bhagava iti, ………….. tathā saumyeti hovāca.
Yet in the subtle substance inside that little seed, which your eye does not even perceive existed all this big branching nyagrodha tree. Do you wonder at it? Likewise all that exists, this universe, was in that Sat which thou too art. Believe it, dear child, thou art that.6 6Upanishads, Bharatiya Vidyabhavan, Bombay, P. 49
The great statement Tat tvam asi (That thou art) is found in the seventh chapter of Chāndogya. This is an assurance to every soul that it is divine and everyone has the potential to rise to the highest spiritual level and to experience pure, unsullied bliss. The seventh chapter enumerates sixteen forms in which Brahman may be adored. The first half of the eighth chapter discusses the ātman in the heart and the Universe. Further it discusses as to how the ātman should be attained. The concluding portion of the eighth chapter distinguishes the false from the true ātman.
The Chandogya describes meditation on the Absolute as well as on the qualified aspect of Brahman. This Upaniṣad is a mine of information to those that are interested in the evolution of Indian culture because many geographical and social data are available in it.
It belongs to the Śuklayajurveda (white yajurveda). It is an integral part of the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa. The longest of the Upaniṣads, is, as its name implies, a big (bṛhat) forest (araṇya) of philosophical thought and spiritual inspiration. This Upaniṣad consisting of six chapters is called raṇyaka as it was taught in the forest. They are subdivided into kandikas (small sections) which are 435 in number. The first two adhyayas are called Madhukāṇḍa, the third and the fourth are together called Munikāṇḍa and the last two are called Khilakāṇḍa.
The madhukāḍa is devoted to upadeśa (instruction), the Munikāṇḍa to upapatti (reasoning) and the Khilakāṇḍa to Upāsanā (meditation).
Four outstanding personalities illumine its pages – two men and two women – Janaka – the philosopher king, Yājñavalkya – the philosopher sage, Maitreyī – the deeply spiritual wife of Yājñavalkya, and Gārgi, the vācaknavī, the gifted woman speaker and philosopher, who is foremost among questioners of Yājñavalkya in philosophical debate. Yājñavalkya is the chief personality that appears gloriously in this Upaniṣad. His thoughts on Brahman and Atman are deep and subtle. He goes to a yajña performed by king Janaka, where the king offers one thousand cows to the most learned person. Nobody except Yājñavalkya comes forward to receive the cows, claiming to be the most learned. Yājñavalkya steps forward fearlessly and unhesitatingly asks one of his disciples to drive the herd of the one thousand cattle to his hermitage. He is challenged by the other Brāhmaṇas who pose many questions. Yājñavalkya
gives convincing answers to all the questions. It is interesting to note that one of the questioners is a woman called Gārgi.
Analysis of dream is also available in this Upaniṣat. According to the Upaniṣad, the objects seen in dreams are created by the mind itself. The self creates a body for itself in the dream state and enjoys the dream phenomena. The Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad has a cultural and social significance because it shows that women had access to the highest knowledge and also that they participated in assemblies of scholars. A mantra which represents the desire of parents to have a learned daughter shows that the society did not discriminate between a male and female child.
The teachings of the Upaniṣads are very profound. Though the language s simple, the thoughts are very subtle. Many western thinkers have been deeply influenced by the Upaniṣads. German philosopher Schopenhauer declared “In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating. The study of upaniṣads has been the solace of my life and it will be the solace of my death”. Deussen has translated thirteen principal Upaniṣads into English.
There is difference of opinion among scholars about the essence of the Upaniṣads. Some scholars (Śaṅkara etc.) maintain that all the Upaniṣads uphold the oneness of the man (individual self) and the Brahman (Absolute or Universal self). Madhva says the opposite.
According to him, the Upaniṣads declare that the tman and the Brahman are different from each other and they can never be one. He is of the opinion that knowledge leads to devotion which brings liberation through the grace of the Brahman. Between these two diametrically opposite schools, there are numerous other doctrines propounded by famous philosophers. All accept the authority of the same Upaniṣads, but differ in their interpretation.
The Upaniṣads are written mostly in a conversational style. Some of them have a story for attracting the attention of the readers (or listeners) and the main teaching is embedded within it. For instance, the Kaṭhopaniṣad tells the story of a lad called Naciketas. Upaniśads have many lofty ideas. They declare that every soul is essentially divine. ‘Aham brahmāsmi’ (I am
the absolute), ‘Tat tvam asi’ (That thou art), ‘Ayam ātmā brahma’ (This ātman is Brahman) are some of the bold statements of the Upaniṣads. They encourage the students to question and tell to accept a statement only after experiencing its truth. They also tell that good conduct and morality are absolute necessities to acquire the higher knowledge. Ignorance is the enemy and knowledge is the friend according to all the Upaniṣads.
1. Aitareyopaniṣad, Sri Ramakrishnamath, Madras, 1955
2. Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad, Advaita Ashrama, Almora, Himalayas, 1950
3. Dasopanishads, Adyar Library and Research Centre
4. Upanishads, C. Rajagopalachari, Bharatiya Vidyabhavan, Bombay, 1991
5. The Māṇḍūkyopaniṣad, Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore, 1968
6. The thirteen Principal Upaniṣads, Robert Ernest Hume, Humprey Milford, Oxford
7. The Upanishads, Anthony Elenjimattam, Aquirus Publications, Bombay, 1977
8. The Upanishads, Swami Prabhavananda, Sri Ramakrishna Printing Press, Mylapore, Madras