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Encyclopedia > Upanishads
Hindu texts

The Upanishads (उपनिषद्, Upanişad) are part of the Hindu Shruti scriptures which primarily discuss meditation and philosophy and are seen as religious instructions by most schools of Hinduism.

The cedillas under some letters should be dots, but the Windows 98 HTML character set won't oblige.
A note: When -a a- come together at the join in a Sanskrit compound word, they run together to form -ā-, e.g. Vedānta is from Veda-anta = "Veda end". See sandhi.

They also contain transcripts of various spiritual debates or discussions, and of the 123 books considered to be part of the Upanishads, 12 are accepted by all Hindus as primary.

The term Upanishad derives from the Sanskrit words upa (near), ni (down) and şad (to sit) = "sitting down near" a spiritual teacher to listen to him. The Upanishads are commentaries on the Vedas, their putative end and essence, and thus known as Vedānta = "End of the Veda".


1 Origins
2 Contents

3 List of Upanishads
4 See also
5 External links

The major Upanishads

Different Upanishads serve as commentaries or extensions of each of the four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda). The oldest and longest Upanishads are the Bŗhadāraņyaka and the Chhāndogya; scholars' opinions vary on when they first were written and estimates range between the 16th to 7th century BCE. Most scholars agree that many of the early Upanishads were written before the time of Buddha. Initially there were over two hundred Upanishads, but the philosopher Shankara only considered fifteen or so to be primary. The Upanishads were not fully recorded until 1656, at the order of Dara Shakoh.

These philosophical and meditative tracts form the backbone of Hindu thought. Of the early Upanishads, the Aitareya and Kauşītāki belong to the Rig Veda, Kena and Chhāndogya to the Samaveda, Īşa and Taittirīya and Bŗhadāraņyaka to the Yajurveda, and Praşna and Muņd.aka to the Atharvaveda. (Associated Upanishad and Vedic book information taken from Radhakrishnan Indian Philosophy, Vol. 1.)

In addition, the Māņd.ukya, Katha, Şvetāşvatara are very important. Others also include Mahānārāyaņa and Maitreyi Upanishads as key.

A site that does well in summarizing the Upanishads is to be found here (http://www.indianest.com/hinduism/037.htm).


Often, critics of the Hindu/Vedic tradition will use the term Brahminical to imply a karma-kanda, or ritual-based mode of worship, a priests' word that loses sight of deeper spirituality. However, it is widely acknowledged that those who wrote the mystic verse of the Upanishads were in all likelihood Brahmins as well.

Scholarly breakdowns of the Vedic books see the four Vedas as poetic liturgy, collectively called mantras or sam.hitā-s, adoration and supplication to a sort of melded monist and henotheist notion of the Gods/Goddesses and an overarching Order (Ŗta) that transcended even the Gods and stemmed from One Ultimate Source.

The Brāhmaņas were a collection of ritual instructions, books detailing the priestly functions (which first were available to all men, and so concretized into strictly Brahmin privilege). These came after the Mantras.

Then we have the Upanishads, which consist of the Aranyakas and Upanishads. `Araņyaka' means "of the forest", and these most probably grew as a sort of subtle rejection of the Brāhmaņas: they detail meditative yogic practices, contemplations of the mystic one and the manifold manifested principles. The Upanishads basically realized all the monist and universal mystical ideas that started in earlier Vedic hymns, and have exerted an influence unprecedented on the rest of Hindu and Indian philosophy. However, by adherents they are not considered philosophy alone, and form meditations and practical teachings for those advanced enough to benefit from their wisdom.


The Taittiriya Upanishad says this in the Ninth Chapter:
"He who knows the Bliss of Brahman, whence words together with the mind turn away, unable to reach It? He is not afraid of anything whatsoever. He does not distress himself with the thought: "Why did I not do what is good? Why did I do what is evil?". Whosoever knows this regards both these as Atman; indeed he cherishes both these as Atman. Such, indeed, is the Upanishad, the secret knowledge of Brahman."

The Upanishads hold information on basic Hindu beliefs, including belief in a world soul, Brahman, and an individual soul, Atman (Smith 10). Brahman is known to be the collection of all individual souls. There are four main holy books called Vedas, meaning “knowledge.” The Yajur Veda guides followers to practice sacrifices and rituals. The Sama Veda and Atharva Veda contain selections of the Rig Veda, along with priest instructions. Although similar, the Sama Veda is mainly a sacrifice to the god Soma, while the Atharva Veda gives instructions for spells, charms, and incantations (Wangu 21). The Rig Veda is the oldest of the four, containing hymns and praises to gods. Hindus have contradictory beliefs in gods, although both are considered correct. There are three-hundred and thirty gods, as well as one. How is it possible? Hindus believe that the separate gods are all parts of Brahman. There are two major gods aside from Brahman: Shiva and Vishnu. Shiva is the god of sexual power, self-control, and regeneration. Shiva is depicted in art as “lord of the dance,” Nataraja, which can remove all evils and obstacles (Wangu 45). Vishnu is known as a powerful and kind god. He is depicted as handsome and royally dressed. As Shiva is the “lord of the dance,” Vishnu is the preserver. He performs tasks by coming to earth as an incarnation.

  • Edmonds, I.G. Hinduism. New York: Franklin Watts, 1979.
  • Embree, Ainslie T., ed. The Hindu Tradition. New York: Random House, 1966.
  • “Hindus.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. 4 vols. Gale Research, 1998.
  • Merrett, Frances, ed. The Hindu World. London: MacDonald and Co, 1985.
  • Pandit, Bansi. The Hindu Mind. Glen Ellyn, IL: B&V Enterprises, 1998.
  • Smith, Huston. The Illustrated World’s Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions. New York: Labrynth Publishing, 1995.
  • Wangu, Madhu Bazaz. Hinduism: World Religions. New York: Facts on File, 1991.

The philosophy of the Upanishads

Due to their mystic nature and intense philosophical bent that does away with all ritual and completely embraces principals of One Brahman and the inner Atman, the Upanishads have a universal feel that has led to their explication in numerous manners, giving birth to the three schools of Vedanta.

To sum up all the Upanishads in one phrase would be "Tat Twam Asi" (Thou Art That). In the end, the ultimate, formless, inconceivable Brahman is the same as our soul, Atman. We only have to realize it through discrimination and piercing through Maya.

A distinctive quotation that is indicative of the call to self-realization, one that inspired Somerset Maugham in titling a book he wrote on Christopher Isherwood, is as follows:
"Get up! Wake up! Seek the guidance of an
Illumined teacher and realize the Self.
Sharp like a razor's edge is the path,
The sages say, difficult to traverse."
--- Death Instructing Nachiketa in the Katha (Word) Upanishad

The Upanishads also contain the first and most definitive explications of aum as the divine word, the cosmic vibration that underlies all existence and contains multiple trinities of being and principles subsumed into its One Self. The Isha says of the Self:
"Whoever sees all beings in the soul
and the soul in all beings
does not shrink away from this.
In whom all beings have become one with the knowing soul
what delusion or sorrow is there for the one who sees unity?
It has filled all.
It is radiant, incorporeal, invulnerable,
without tendons, pure, untouched by evil.
Wise, intelligent, encompassing, self-existent,
it organizes objects throughout eternity."

"Aum Shanti Shanti Shanti" This, too, is found first in the Upanishads, the call for tranquility, for divine stillness, for Peace everlasting.

List of Upanishads

Īşa = Şukla Yajurveda, Mukhya Upanişad
Kena = Sāmaveda, Mukhya Upanişad
Katha = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Mukhya Upanişad : see Katha Upanişad
Praşna = Atharvaveda, Mukhya Upanişad
Muņd.aka = Atharvaveda, Mukhya Upanişad
Māņd.ukya = Atharvaveda, Mukhya Upanişad
Taittirīya = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Mukhya Upanişad : see Taittiriya Upanişad
Aitareya = Ŗgveda, Mukhya Upanişad : see Aitareya Upanişad
Chhāndogya = Sāmaveda, Mukhya Upanişad
(10) Bŗhadāraņyaka = Şukla Yajurveda, Mukhya Upanişad
Brahma = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Kaivalya = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Jābāla (Yajurveda) = Şukla Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Şvetāşvatara = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Ha.nsa = Şukla Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Āruņeya = Sāmaveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Garbha = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Nārāyaņa = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Paramahamsa = Şukla Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
(20) Amŗta-bindu = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Amŗta-nāda = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Atharva-şira = Atharvaveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Atharva-şikha = Atharvaveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Maitrāyaņi = Sāmaveda, Sāmānya Upanişad : see Maitrayaniya Upanişad
Kauşītāki = Ŗgveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Bŗhajjābāla = Atharvaveda, Şaiva Upanişad
NŗsiMhatāpanī = Atharvaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Kālāgnirudra = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Maitreyi = Sāmaveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
(30) Subāla = Şukla Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Kşurika = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Māntrika = Şukla Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Sarva-sāra = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Nirālamba = Şukla Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Şuka-rahasya = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Vajra-sūchi = Sāmaveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Tejo-bindu = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Nāda-bindu = Ŗgveda, Yoga Upanişad
Dhyānabindu = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
(40) Brahmavidyā = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Yogatattva = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Ātmabodha = Ŗgveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Parivrāt (Nāradaparivrājaka) = Atharvaveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Tri-şikhi = Şukla Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Sītā = Atharvaveda, Şākta Upanişad
Yogachūdāmaņi = Sāmaveda, Yoga Upanişad
Nirvāņa = Ŗgveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Maņd.alabrāhmaņa = Şukla Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Dakşiņāmūrti = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Şaiva Upanişad
(50) Şarabha = Atharvaveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Skanda (Tripād.vibhūţi) = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Mahānārāyaņa = Atharvaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Advayatāraka = Şukla Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Rāmarahasya = Atharvaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Rāmatāpaņi = Atharvaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Vāsudeva = Sāmaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Mudgala = Ŗgveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Şāņd.ilya = Atharvaveda, Yoga Upanişad
Pai.ngala = Şukla Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
(60) Bhikşuka = Şukla Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Mahat = Sāmaveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Şārīraka = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Yogaşikhā = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Turīyātīta = Şukla Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Sa.nnyāsa = Sāmaveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Paramahamsa-parivrājaka = Atharvaveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Akşamālika = Ŗgveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Avyakta = Sāmaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Ekākşara = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
(70) Annapūrņa = Atharvaveda, Şākta Upanişad
Sūrya = Atharvaveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Akşi = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Adhyātmā = Şukla Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Kuņd.ika = Sāmaveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Sāvitri = Sāmaveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Ātmā = Atharvaveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Pāşupata = Atharvaveda, Yoga Upanişad
Parabrahma = Atharvaveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Avadhūta = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
(80) Tripurātapani = Atharvaveda, Şākta Upanişad
Devi = Atharvaveda, Şākta Upanişad
Tripura = Ŗgveda, Şākta Upanişad
Katharudra = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Bhāvana = Atharvaveda, Şākta Upanişad
Rudra-hŗdaya = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Yoga-kuņd.alini = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Yoga Upanişad
Bhasma = Atharvaveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Rudrākşa = Sāmaveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Gaņapati = Atharvaveda, Şaiva Upanişad
(90) Darşana = Sāmaveda, Yoga Upanişad
Tārasāra = Şukla Yajurveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Mahāvākya = Atharvaveda, Yoga Upanişad
Pajņcha-brahma = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Prāņāgni-hotra = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad
Gopāla-tapaņi = Atharvaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Kŗşņa = Atharvaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Yājņyavalkya = Şukla Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Varāha = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
Şātyāyani = Şukla Yajurveda, Sa.nnyāsa Upanişad
(100) Hayagrīva = Atharvaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Dattātreya = Atharvaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Gārud.a = Atharvaveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Kali-saņţāraņa = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Vaişņava Upanişad
Jābāla (Sāmaveda) = Sāmaveda, Şaiva Upanişad
Saubhāgya = Ŗgveda, Şākta Upanişad
Sarasvatī-rahasya = Kŗşņa Yajurveda, Şākta Upanişad
Bahvŗcha = Ŗgveda, Şākta Upanişad
(108) Muktika = Şukla Yajurveda, Sāmānya Upanişad

19 Upanişads are from Shukla Yajurveda and have the Shānti beginning `pūrņamada'.
32 Upanişads are from Kŗşna Yajurveda and have the Shānti beginning `sahanāvavatu'.
16 Upanişads are from Sāmaveda and have the Shānti beginning `āpyāyantu'.
31 Upanişads are from Atharvaveda and have the Shānti beginning `bhadram-karņebhiH'.
10 Upanişads are from Ŗgveda and have the Shānti beginning `vaņme-manasi'.
The list of the 108 Upanişads can be found in Muktika 1: 30-39. Please note that the classification of each Upanişad is not give in the Muktika.

See also

External links

Topics in Hinduism
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  Results from FactBites:
Upanishad - definition of Upanishad in Encyclopedia (1019 words)
The Upanishads (उपनिषद्, Upanişad) are part of the Hindu Shruti scriptures which primarily discuss meditation and philosophy and are seen as religious instructions by most schools of Hinduism.
The oldest and longest Upanishads are the Bŗhadāraņyaka and the Chhāndogya; scholars' opinions vary on when they first were written and estimates range between the 16th to 7th century BCE.
Of the early Upanishads, the Aitareya and Kauşītāki belong to the Rig Veda, Kena and Chhāndogya to the Samaveda, Īşa and Taittirīya and Bŗhadāraņyaka to the Yajurveda, and Praşna and Muņd.aka to the Atharvaveda.
  More results at FactBites »



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