Know the Upanishads

Know the Upanishads

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Author: Ramanuj Prasad
Publisher: Pustak Mahal
Year: 2003
Language: English
Pages: 118
ISBN/UPC (if available): 81-223-0831-7


Like the proverbial fish that has heard a lot about the Great Ocean and spends an entire lifetime searching for it, not realising it has always been an inseparable part of the ocean, man spends his lifetime searching all around for God.

All man has to do, in fact, is simply turn his gaze inwards to realise that God or the Self has always been an inseparable part of him.

The Upanishads tell man that he is not a mere mortal, but a part of the Immortal One.

This book shows you just how to go about uncovering the layers of ignorance and illusion to realise your true nature – the Self.

This is the path to moksha or nirvana (liberation), which every seeker wishes to tread upon in order to break the cycle of birth and death.

With pearls of wisdom from the Upanishads, the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita, this book could transform your way of life forever, teaching you the true meaning of existence.


*A detailed account about how many Upanishads are there(Isavasya Upanishad, Kathopanishad, Mandukya Upanishad etc.), and an overview of what they contain

*Explanation of basic concepts like Ishwar, Atma, Paramatma

*To whom the Upanishads are addressed

*Brief outlines of different Upanishads

. Isavasya Upanishad: This is also known as Vajasaneyi Upanishad and has beautifully brought out the path of renunciation for sannyasis and for others with an active life-style who are not yet ready for sannyasa but want to worship Hiranyagarbha together with the unborn prakriti. Esoteric terms such as vidya, avidya, sambhuti and the like have been used at various points, which make the Upanishads not easily understandable, though apparently simple. The very first line of the first mantra is a very popular quotation Isavasyamidam Sarvam, “This whole world is covered by the Lord”, which induces a thrilling inspiration in the mind of the student.

2. Kena or Talavakra Upanishad: Kena (by whom) has the essentials for comprehension of Brahman, who is behind all the instruments of knowledge, such as eye of the eyes, ear of the ears etc, and learning under the guidance of a preceptor has been emphasised. Liberation cannot be attained by karma or knowledge combined with karma. Knowledge of Atman is antagonistic to karma and cannot, therefore, co-exist.

Karmas are to be performed without expectation of fruits to purify the mind and to gain strong desire for the final emancipation. Karma alone cannot ensure immortality. The nature of Brahman is also dealt with, as Brahman is beyond the reach of the senses and the mind.

3. Kathopanishad: The most beautiful Upanishad that answers questions like “What happens when one dies? Is everything gone with death or does something survive? What is that beyond dharma and adharma, knowledge and ignorance and birth and death etc?” It is verily the Supreme Lord.

These and many other topics have been answered in a very natural manner for an easy under-standing, through a dialogue between Lord Yama, the teacher and Nachiketas, a serious, honest and motivated student who has an understanding of the eternal and the ephemeral in full measure. He is a young boy of about 12 years, the son of Vajasrava, who once said in anger: “I will give you to death.”

The boy is very devoted to his father and society and has a strong desire for Self knowledge, which is the greatest of benefits one can imagine. When Lord Yama agreed to grant him three boons, the lad asked for (a) pacification of his father (b) a fire ritual to gain heaven and (c) knowledge of the Self.

This Upanishad is very popular not only in India but also abroad. In the elevation of thoughts, depth of expressions, and the beauty of its imagery, no Upanishad is equal to the Kathopanishad.

4. Prasnopanishad: This Upanishad is a commentary on the Mundakopanishad and the mantras dealt with in the Mundakopanishad have been dealt with more elaborately here. Six seekers of Brahman go to the teacher Pippalada and put six questions pertaining to cosmology, the devas, the nature and origin of prana, sleep and dream, Pranava or OM and Purusha of sixteen kalas or parts. One uniform idea runs through the Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukya Upanishads.

5. Mundakopanishad: The word Mundaka applies to its division (chapter) and the ritual of carrying fire on the shaven head. Its verses are in mantra form (sacred verses) meant for sannyasis (shaved head). This Upanishad makes a systematic approach to the topic of knowledge of the Self through discrimination and dispassion. The fitness of the student goes along with symbolic rituals presented before taking up the study. This ritual has significance to the disciplined body-mind complex.

6. Mandukyopanishad: Manduka means a frog. Lord Varuna assumes the form of a frog to reveal the significance and superiority of OM or Pranava or OMKARA, the only name and symbol of the Brahman. The importance of the name remains still alive though the person has gone, according to Rama, Shankara and others. The text of the Upanishad declares that OM, Brahman and Atman are all one and the same. OM is a word that stands for all sounds, words or names. The word akshara means “that which is imperishable or immortal”, which is of the same nature as the higher nirguna Brahman – Brahman without attributes, as well as saguna Brahman – the lower Brahman, that is, Brahman with attributes.

7. Aitareyopanishad: This Upanishad is attributed to Rishi Aitareya. It does not mean that this is his own philosophy, but simply that it was revealed to him by the Lord. It has three chapters.

Chapter I contains three sections dealing with Srishti Prakaranam – creation of the world, to show ultimately as mithya. The second chapter deals with various stages of Jiva, including its tenure in the womb of the mother. Adi Shankaracharya says this is to show the miseries the Jiva has to undergo so that the sadhaka gets vairagyam – total detachment. The third chapter deals fully only with Brahman, revealing the identity between the Jiva and Brahman. Out of the four important mahavakyas, prajnanam Brahma – awareness – is nothing but Brahman; the jagat karanam occurs in this Upanishad.

Just as in the Kenopanishad, this Upanishad also declares: “Who is he whom we meditate upon as Atman? That indeed is the Atman by which a living being sees form, hears sound, smells scent, articulates speech and discriminates between what is sweet and what is not. That which is the heart and the mind is the same as that. All are but names of Prajna or Consciousness. The whole world is formed in Prajna and, therefore, Prajna is Brahman.”

8. Taittiriya Upanishad: This Upanishad is famous as it preserves the traditional recitation of the verses. Even today, it is often chanted during household rituals, though not necessarily in the proper context.

The words Satyam jnanam anantam Brahma declared in this Upanishad are a revelation of the relationship between the Jiva, jagat and Ishwara – the Infinite Lord. The Sikshavalli chapter is famous for its teaching to students who are leaving for home after completing their studies. It teaches them values in life and how to conduct themselves in society and progress towards the goal of human birth.

This Upanishad has three parts under the titles Sikshavalli, Anandavalli and Bhruguvalli. The second part, Anandavalli, deals exclusively with Brahma vidya. It declares that “the Bliss perceivable on the perfection of desireless living is enjoyed by one who realises Brahman and that is the only real Bliss”.

9. Chandogya Upanishad: The singer of Sama Veda (Chandas) is a Chandoga and the beliefs and practices are set forth in the Chandogya Upanishad.

The first five chapters of the Upanishad are about worship and meditation (duality). The Upanishad emphasises udgita, the recitation of OM as the means to purify the mind. It tells many stories in simple language to drive home the profound subject matter. The initial chapters advocate rituals and meditation for all material gains for ordinary people but also warns that they will not ensure liberation or immortality.

Chapter six is about Brahman and the famous statement Tattvam asi (That thou art) is from this Upanishad. This Upanishad sets our goal as ‘Self knowledge’ and not material pleasures and enjoyment.

10. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: Brihad means ‘big’ or ‘great’ and aranyaka denotes ‘forest’, the knowledge that is taught in the forest, the Brahma vidya. A ranking Upanishad, besides being the biggest Upanishad in size, the commentary, the substance, the theme, the voluminous subject matter and the explanation of Atman in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad are all great.

There is hardly any point that cannot be found here. Many doctrines like bheda-abheda, mimamsa, visishtadvaita etc (difference-cum-identity, analysis and qualified monism) have been discussed vis-à-vis the Vedanta. The madhukhanda and yajnavalkyakhanda are divisions giving many illumining illustrations of the Advaita doctrine and nature, upadesa and upasana. The presentation of adhyaropa and apavada is in full play to explain the real and unreal (mithya) substance. Many logical explanations, such as sambandha and vidya-avidya sutras are seen displayed throughout the glory of Adi


Shanti Patha
Upanishads Explained
Whom the Upanishad Addresses
Important Verses
The Minor Upanishads
Upanishads in Vogue