Glorious Heritage of Bharat (Part 16)
Dr. Gauri Shankar Gupta
In the whole world…there is no study…so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They are products of the highest wisdom. They are destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people.”
The Upanishads are at once profound religious scriptures, – for they are a record of the deepest spiritual experiences, – documents of revelatory and intuitive philosophy of an inexhaustible light, power and largeness and, whether written in verse or cadenced prose, spiritual poems of an absolute, an unfailing inspiration inevitable in phrase, wonderful in rhythm and expression.
What is this universe? Does it have a beginning? If so then when and how did it originate? What existed before its origin? Is the universe finite and measurable? If so, what lies beyond it? Was it created by somebody? If so, who created the creator? What is the source of life? How does it manifest itself in so many different varieties? Who am I? What happens to me after death? These are the fundamental primeval questions that have been agitating human mind since times immemorial. Indian sages engaged themselves to find answers to these riddles of our existence. This fundamental knowledge is enshrined in the Upanishads. They address these riddles of our existence directly in the best scientific way possible. These are therefore the most profound scientific documents ever written in the history of mankind. The principal theme of the Upanishads is to explain the nature of this world and that of the Supreme Being (ब्रह्म विद्या).
In terms of chronology, the Upanishads are the concluding sections of the Vedas. Since they represent the culmination of knowledge, they are also known as ‘Vedanta’. As Upanishads contain the deepest scientific revelations of the ultimate truth, they were taught to the pupils at about the end of their studies. Hence, they represent the central aim of the Vedas and contain the highest and the ultimate goal of the Vedas as they deal with Moksha or Supreme Bliss. The Vedas are generally considered to have two portions viz., Karma-Kanda (portion dealing with action or rituals) and Jnana-Kanda (portion dealing with knowledge). The Samhita and the Brahmanas represent mainly the Karma-Kanda or the ritual portion, while the Upanishads represent the Jnana-Kanda or the knowledge portion. The Upanishads, are at present, the most popular and extensively read Vedic texts in the world. Authorship of most Upanishads is unknown because it is believed that without the union of the individual with the Supreme such knowledge cannot be attained and therefore the knowledge enshrined in the Upanishads comes directly from the Supreme. Thus, the individual authorship is irrelevant.
The word ‘Upanishad’ has been derived from the root सद् (to sit), to which are added two prefixes: Upa and Ni. The prefix Upa denotes nearness and Ni totality. Thus, this word means ‘sitting near with total attention’. This implies the most secret or the highest knowledge passed on to the pupil sitting close to the teacher with complete attention/devotion. Since the highest knowledge passed on to the pupil was written down much later, the Upanishads were added to the Vedas at the end or in the concluding sections. Thus, chronologically they came at the end of the Vedic period. This is another reason they are called ‘Vedanta’.
Number of Upanishads:
There are a total of 108 Upanishads. According to the Muktikopanishad these 108 Upanishads are divided among the four Vedas as follows:
- 10 Upanishads from the Rigveda –
Aitareya, Atmabodha, Kaushitaki, Mudgala, Nirvana, Nadabindu, Akshamaya, Tripura, Bahvruka, and Saubhagyalakshmi.
- 50 Upanishads from the Yajurveda (Shukla and Krishna Yajurveda) –
Katha, Taittiriya, Isavasya,Brihadaranyaka, Akshi, Ekakshara, Garbha, Prnagnihotra, Svetasvatara, Sariraka, Sukarahasya, Skanda, Sarvasara, Adhyatma, Niralamba, Paingala, Mantrika, Muktika, Subala, Avadhuta, Katharudra, Brahma, Jabala, Turiyatita, Paramahamsa, Bhikshuka, Yajnavalkya, Satyayani, Amrtanada, Amrtabindu, Kshurika, Tejobindu, Dhyanabindu, Brahmavidya. Yogakundalini, Yogatattva, Yogasikha, Varaha, Advayataraka, Trisikhibrahmana, Mandalabrahmana, Hamsa, Kalisantara, Narayana, Tarasara, Kalagnirudra, Dakshinamurti,Pancabrahma, Rudrahrdaya, and SarasvatIrahasya.
- 16 Upanishads from the Samaveda –
- 32 Upanishads from the Atharvaveda –
Prasna, Mandukya, Mundaka, Atma, Surya, Narada-Parivrajakas, Parabrahma, Paramahamsa-Parivrajakas, Pasupatha-Brahma,Mahavakya, Sandilya, Krishna, Garuda, Gopalatapani, Tripadavibhuti-Mahnarayana, Dattatreya, Kaivalya, Nrsimhatapani, Ramatapani,Ramarahasya, Hayagriva,Atharvasikha, Atharvasira, Ganapati, Brhajjabala, Bhasmajabala, Sarabha, Annapurna, Tripuratapani, Devi, Bhavana, and Sita.
The Principal thirteen Upanishads, are spread over the Vedas as follows:
Upanishads of the Rigveda:
- Aitareya Upanishad,
- Kaushitaki Upanishad
Upanishads of the Shukla-Yajurveda:
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad,
- Isha Upanishad
Upanishads of the Krishna-Yajurveda:
- Taittiriya Upanishad,
- Katha Upanishad,
- Shvetashvatara Upanishad,
- Maitrayaniya Upanishad
Upanishads of the Samaveda:
- Chandogya Upanishad,
- Kena Upanishad
Upanishads of the Atharvaveda:
- Mundaka Upanishad,
- Mandukya Upanishad,
- Prashna Upanishad.
Source of the Supreme Knowledge:
There is no book in the whole world that is so thrilling, soul-stirring and inspiring as the Upanishad. The Upanishads teach us to discern the reality that surrounds amidst the glamour and glitter of the physical objects. The physical objects can be grasped by our five sense organs of perception and the intellect. The Upanishads go beyond the obvious and reveal to us the power of the insensible and unintelligible. They unravel the secrets that are hidden deep within our consciousness and introduce us to ourselves in a different light, equating us with the universal self, Brahman. Profound, original, lofty and sublime thoughts arise from every verse. They contain the direct spiritual experiences or revelations of seers, the sages and the Rishis. They are the products of the highest wisdom and the direct revelations and stir the hearts of people and inspire them. The glory and grandeur of the Upanishads cannot be adequately described as explain the infinite and the perfect transcending the limitations of language. This knowledge can only be felt and realised thorough constant meditation (मनन एवम् मंथन). Thus the Upanishads naturally occupy a unique place in the development of Indian philosophical thought. They contain the highest authority on which the various systems of philosophy in India rest. Vedanta Philosophy emanates directly from the Upanishads. The Sankhya, the Vaisheshika, the Nyaya and the Yoga philosophies also find their roots in the Upanishads. They spell out the non-duality of the individual soul (जीव) and the Brahman (ब्रह्म). They explain the deepest science of the existence and relationship between the Self and the Cosmos. They combine, physics, biology, chemistry, genetics, mathematics and logic all in one. The purpose of this science is to bring out the divine power hidden in each one of us and to explain the working of the Universe surrounding us. Each of the Vedas has many Mahavakyas or great sayings. But the following four Mahavakyas found in the Upanishads related to four Vedas are very important, thought-provoking and powerful
Prajnanam Brahm– –Rigveda
Aham Brahmasmi – Yajurveda
Tattvamasi –- Samveda
Ayamatma Brahm –Aharvaveda
I conclude this article with the following verse which appears in the preamble of three important Upanishads explaining the infinite and all-pervasive nature of the power of the Almighty.
ओउम पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते।।
Om that is infinite, this is infinite;
Infinite has come out of infinite;
After taking away infinite from infinite;
What remains is also infinite.
(Writer is Former Ambassador/High Commissioner of Bharat)