The Upanishads are the end part of the
Vedas which briefly expound the philosophic principles of the Vedas and
are considered the essence of the Vedas. The philosophy of the
Upanishads is sublime, profound, lofty and soul-stirring. The Upanishads
speak of the identity of the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. They
reveal the most subtle and deep spiritual truths. There are total 108
Upanishads according to the Muktika Upanishad. Of these, the following
12 are considered the principle Upanishads. They are: 1. Isa, 2. Kena, 3. Katha, 4.Taitiriya, 5. Aitareya, 6. Prashna, 7. Mundaka, 8. Mandukya, 9. Chandogya, 10. Svetasvatara, 11. Brihad-aranyaka, 12. Maha-Narayana. Another 8, called minor Upanishadas, are: 1. Kaivalya, 2. Kaushitaki, 3. Atma, 4. Amritabindu, 5. Brahma, 6. Paramahamsa, 7. Sarva & 8. Aruni (Aruneyi).
The term Upanishad
denotes the study and practice of the innate truth. The name is full of
significance. ‘Upa’ means the process of studying with ‘Nishta’ or
steadfastness; ‘shad’ means the attainment of the Ultimate Reality. The
name Upa-ni-shad arose for these reasons. The Upanishads teach not only
the principles of Atmavidya; they indicate also the practical means of
realisation. They point out not only the duties and obligations one has
to bear, but also the actions to be done and those to be avoided.
The Gita is but the essence of the Upanishads. Arjuna acquired
through the lessons of the Gita the fruit of listening to the
Upanishads. In the Upanishads, the statement, “Thath-thwam-asi”, “That
thou art”, is found. In the Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna, “I am Arjuna
among the Pandavas”, that is to say, “I and You are the same”. This is
the same as saying “Thou art That”, that Jiva and Iswara are the same.
So, whether it is the Gita or the Upanishads, the teaching is
Non-duality, not Duality, or qualified Monism. The human eye cannot
delve into the minute or the magnitudinous. It cannot read the mystery
of the virus or the atom or the stellar universe. Therefore, scientists
supplement the eye with the telescope and the microscope. Similarly,
sages are able to experience Divinity through the eye of knowledge,
gained by following the Dharma of moral conduct and spiritual
discipline. When the human eye stands in need of an extraneous
instrument to observe even the insignificant worm and virus, how can one
refuse to go through the process of manthra if he desires to see the
omnipresent transcendent Principle? It is very hard to acquire the eye
of wisdom. Concentration is essential for this. And, for concentration
to develop and stabilise itself, three things are very important: purity
of consciousness, moral awareness and spiritual discrimination. These
qualifications are difficult of attainment by ordinary folk.
Man is endowed with the special instrument of discrimination, of
judgement, of analysis and synthesis, which among all animals, he alone
possesses. He has to develop this and utilise it to the best purpose.
Through this instrument, he can realise the Immanent Divinity.
Instead, man pesters himself and others with the question: Where does
God reside? If He is real, why is He not seen? Hearing such queries,
one feels like pitying the poor questioners. For, they are announcing
their own foolishness. They are like the dullards who aspire for
university degrees without taking pains even to learn the alphabet. They
aspire to realise God without putting themselves to the trouble of
practising the Sadhana required. People who have no moral strength and
purity talk of God and His existence and decry efforts to see Him. Such
people have no right to be heard.
Spiritual Sadhana is based on the holy Sastras. They cannot be
mastered in a trice. They cannot be followed through talk. Their message
is summed up in the Upanishads; hence, they are revered as
authoritative. They are not the products of human intelligence; they are
the whisperings of God to man. They are parts of the eternal Vedas. The
Vedas shine gloriously through all their parts.
The Upanishads are authentic and authoritative, as they share the
glory of the Vedas. They are 1180 in number, but, through the centuries,
many of them disappeared from human memory and only 108 have now
survived. Of these, 13 have attained great popularity, as a result of
the depth and value of their contents.
The sage Vyasa classified the Upanishads and allotted them among the
four Vedas; The Rigveda has 21 branches and each branch has one
Upanishad allotted to it. The Yajurveda has 109 branches and 109
Upanishads. The Atharvanaveda has 50 branches and 50 Upanishads were its
share. The Samaveda has a thousand branches and the balance, namely,
1000 Upanishads were its share. Thus, the 1180 Upanishads were assigned
by Vyasa to the Four Vedas.
Sankaracharya raised the status of ten among the Upanishads by
selecting them for writing his commentaries and so they became
especially important. Humanity stands to gain or fall by these ten.
Pundits and those with faith should resolve to present before humanity
these ten Upanishads at least. They are Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna,
Mundaka, Mandukya, Thaithiriya, Aithareya, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka.
The Upanishads have also inspired other works on Geography,
Astronomy, Astrology, Economics and Political Theory, as well as the 18
Puranas comprising Skanda, Siva, Garuda and others. The Vedas and the
Upanishads are the very foundation for Sanathana Dharma.
There is one interesting feature to be noted. This religion has no
one Founder as the others have. That invisible unknown founder is God,
the source of all wisdom. He is the Prophet of this Sanathana Dharma. He
is the Founder; His Grace and His Inspiration manifested through the
pure Sages and they became the spokesmen of this Dharma. When the moral
purity of men degenerates, God takes form as grace and inspiration in
sages and teachers. He has also given through the Upanishads the
Sathya-Jnana, the Wisdom concerning the Reality.
The Lord, intent on the regeneration of the world, communicated Vedas
through Hiranyagarbha and Hiranyagarbha, in turn, passed Them on to his
ten Manasa-puthras, including Athri and Marichi. From them, the Vedas
spread among humanity, handed down from one generation to another. As
time passed, ages accumulated and continents moved, some Vedas got lost,
or were neglected as too difficult for comprehension, and only Four
have survived into modern times. These Four were taught by Vedavyasa,
the greatest among the exponents of the Vedas, to his disciples, in the
When Vyasa was thus expounding the Vedas, engaged in spreading the
sacred scripture, one disciple of his, Yajnavalkya by name, incurred his
wrath and as a punishment, he had to regurgitate the Yajurveda that he
had already learned, into the custody of his guru and leave the place,
to take refuge in Suryadeva, the treasure-house of the Vedas. Just then,
the Rishis who revere the Vedas, flew into the place in the shape of
Thiththiri birds and ate up the regurgitated Yajurveda. That particular
section of the Veda is called “Thaithiriyam”.
Meanwhile Suryadeva was pleased with the devotion and steadfastness
of the unfortunate Yajnavalkya. He assumed the form of a Vaji or Horse
and blessed the sage with renewed knowledge of the Yajurveda. The
sections thus taught by the Vaji came to be called ‘Vajasaneyi’. The
Yajurveda as promoted by Vedavyasa is called Krishna paksha Yajurveda
and that handed down by Yajnavalkya as the Sukla paksha Yajurveda. In
these, the first few chapters are Manthras connected with the Karmakanda
and the last few sections deal with Jnanakanda.
While these are the most important Upanishads, the
others also have a lot to teach us about the various aspects of Divinity