Only when men shall roll up the sky like a hide, will there be an end to
misery; unless God has first been known
The Svetasvatara Upanishad
Upanishad Unfolds Fascinating Tale of Creation
The search for Self and the Ultimate Truth has been the Holy Grail that
man has sought after ceaselessly down the ages. Why? What? Whence?
Whither? The answers to these questions have persistently eluded man,
and perhaps that is how things were meant to be. The composition of the
Upanishads marks a significant and stride forward in the direction of
knowing and one comes tantalizingly close to the answers. Through
episodes, commentaries, stories, traditions and dialogue, the Upanishads
unfold the fascinating tale of creation, life, the essence of life and
of that beyond to the seeker of truth.
The Term Upanishad Deals With The Occult Knowledge
The term Upanishad means ('upa' near; 'ni' down; 'shad' to sit) sitting
down near; this implies the students sitting down near their Guru to
learn the big secret. In the splendid isolation of their forest abodes,
the philosophers who composed the Upanishads contemplated upon the
various mysteries whether common, or metaphysical. The answers
were however not open to all, but only for select students. A parallel
to this might be found in the secret societies of the priests of various
Egyptian Gods; the mysteries of Isis or Osiris and so on were meant only
for the ears of a very select group. The reason for this was simple: not
everyone can handle knowledge.
There is no exact date for the composition of the Upanishads. They
continued to be composed over a long period, the core being over 7th
-5th centuries BC. The Upanishads were originally
called Vedanta, which literally means the conclusion to the Vedas.
There are 18 principal Upanishads:
The Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad is widely accepted to be the most
important of all Upanishads. It has three khandas or parts. The madhu
khanda contemplates on the relationship between the individual and the
Universal self. The muni khanda or yajnavalkya is a debate which goes on
to give the philosophical backing to the earlier teaching. The khila
khanda tackles various rituals of worship and meditation.
This Upanishad is a part of the Sama-Veda (see The Vedas). The
name comes from the singer of the songs (samans) who is called Chandoga.
The initial chapters of the Upanishad, taking a cue from the Sama-Veda,
discuss the ritual of sacrifice. The others debate the origin and
profundity of the concept of Om, among other things.
This one forms part of the Rig-Veda (see The Vedas). The purpose
of this Upanishad is to make the reader understand the deeper meaning of
sacrifice and to take him away from the outer trappings of the actual
A part of the Yajur-Veda, this Upanishad is divided into three
sections or vallis. The siksa valli deals with the phonetics of the
chants, while the others, brahmananda valli and bhrgu valli deal with
Also called the Isavasya Upanishad, this book deals with the
union of God, the world, being and becoming. The stress is on the
Absolute in relation with the world (paramesvara). The gist of the
teachings is that a person's worldly and otherworldly goals need not
necessarily be opposed to each other.
The name of this Upanishad comes from the first word kena, or by
whom. It has four sections; two are prose and the others poetry. The
verses deal with the supreme spirit or the absolute principle
(brahmaana) and the prose talks of ishvara (god). The moral of the story
is that the knowledge of ishvara reveals the way to self-realization.
Also called the Kathakopanishad, this Upanishad uses a story
(katha) involving a young Brahmin boy called Nachiketa to reveal the
truths of this world and the other beyond the veil.
Prashna literally means question, and this book is part of the
Atharva-Veda (see The Vedas). It addresses questions pertaining to the
ultimate cause, the power of Om, relation of the supreme to the
constituents of the world.
This book also belongs to the Atharva-Veda. It has three
chapters which are further divided into two sections. The name is
derived from 'mund' or to shave, meaning that anyone who understands the
Upanishads is s(h)aved from ignorance. This book inscribes the
importance of knowing the supreme brahmana, only by which knowledge can
one attain self-realization.
The Mandukya is an exquisite treatise which expounds on the
principle of Om and its metaphysical significance in various states of
being, waking, dream and the dreamless sleep. The subtlest and most
profound of the Upanishads, it is said that this alone will lead one to
the path of enlightenment.
The name of this Upanishad is after its teacher. It comments on
the unity of the souls and the world in one all-encompassing reality.
The concept of there being one god is also talked about here. It is
dedicated to Rudra, the storm god, known as the 'howler'.
Upanishad:- The Upanishad has come down to us in bits here and
pieces there. The core of the text is dedicated to illustrating the fact
that the path to release is through knowledge.
This is a comparatively later Upanishad and there are two main
reasons to believe this: first of all, it has references to the Trinity
of Hindu Gods (Shiva the destroyer, Vishnu the preserver and Brahma the
creator) which is a later development, and plus references to the world
being illusory in character reflects Buddhist influence.
Belonging to the Yajur-Veda, this Upanishad puts down a dialogue
between the sage Subala and Brahma the creator of the Hindu Trinity of
Gods. It discusses the universe and the absolute.
Belonging to the Atharva-Veda this Upanishad addresses some questions
pertaining to renunciation.
The Paingala is again a dialog, this between Yajnavalkya, the
sage mentioned the Brhad-aranyaka's muni khanda and Paingala, a student
of his. It discusses meditation and its effects.
This Upanishad delves into the state of kaivalya or being alone.
Belonging to the Sama-Veda the Vajrasucika reflects on the
nature of the supreme being.
The core of the teachings of the Upanishads is summed up in three
words: tat tvam as
you are that.