Upanishads – The Upanishads Are Summits of Thought on Mankind And The Universe

The Upanishads are a collection of texts of religious and philosophical nature, written in India probably between c. 800 BCE and c. 500 BCE, during a time when Indian society started to question the traditional Vedic religious order. Some people during this time decided to engage in the pursuit of spiritual progress, living as ascetic hermits, rejecting ordinary material concerns and giving up family life.

Some of their speculations and philosophy were compiled into the Upanishads. There is an attempt in these texts to shift the focus of religious life from external rites and sacrifices to internal spiritual quests in the search for answers.

The name Upanishad is composed of Upa (near) and Shad (to sit). The word suggests “sitting down near”. The actual meaning of Upanishad is described that is, at the feet of an illuminated teacher in an intimate session of spirituals instructions, as aspirants still do in India today. The teacher is one who has retired from worldly life to an ‘ashram’ or ‘forest academy’, to live with students and sometimes with their families.

These stages of Upanishad teachers teach through question and answer sessions and by their example in daily living. The Upanishads record such sessions and the philosophies of these sages, but they have little in common with the philosophical texts from the western world such as Plato’s dialogues. Upanishads are not parts of a whole, like chapters in a book. It represents not a consistent philosophy or worldview, but rather the experience, opinions, and lessons of many different men and women.

There are over 200 Upanishads, although the more important are 14 in number, i.e. Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brhadaranyaka, Svetasvatara, Kausitaki, Mahanarayana, and Maitri. The purpose is not so much instruction as inspiration, they are meant to be expounded by an illuminated teacher from the basis of personal experience.

The first lessons of the Upanishads teach their selected students are the inadequacy of the intellect. The highest understanding, according to this view, comes from direct perception and intuition. The message of Upanishads’ is universal, as relevant to the world today as it was in India five thousand years ago.

Basic Principles in the Upanishad:

Even though it is doing not offer a comprehensive system of thought, they do develop some basic principles. Some of these principles are Samsara, Karma, Dharma, and Moksha. Samsara is the idea that after we die our soul will be reborn again in another body. Karma literally means “action”, the idea that all actions have consequences, good or bad. The law of Karma says that our actions determine the conditions of our next life.

There is no judgment of forgiveness, simply a natural and eternal law. Therefore, reincarnation does not happen randomly, if we are good, we will be reborn in better conditions while if we are bad, we will be reborn in a worse condition.

Dharma means “right behavior” or duty. Each member of a specific caste had a particular set of obligations, and dharma relates to those obligations.

Moksha means “liberation” or release. It is the liberation from this never ending the cycle of reincarnation.

The great insight of the Upanishads, possibly the most important of all is that Atman and Brahman are the same. The soul or force within us is identical with the impersonal soul of the world. The connection between Atman and Brahman is spiritual. When Moksha or liberation is achieved, Atman returns to the Brahman, to the source, like a drop of water returning to the ocean.


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