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[Taken from "Wisdom of the Ancient Sages: Mundak Upanishad / by Swami Rama. Honesdale, PA, The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the USA. 1990.]

What are Upanishad

Upanishad are also called "Vedaant", or the essence of Ved. Since for thousands of years these utterances were not written down, so it is difficult to say that how many Upanishad are fully authentic. To decide about the authenticity of an Upanishad is difficult. At the time of Akbar, in the 16th century, scholars composed an Upanishad called "Allaah Upanishad". Muktikaa Upanishad, originated from Yajur Ved, declares that there are 108 Upanishad. Some other claim that there 208 Upanishad, but Shankar, the great scholar and follower of A-Dwait philosophy (non-dual) has commented only on 10 Upanishad. The wisdom of Upanishad, the Brahm Sootra and Bhagvad Geetaa constitute the teachings of Vedaant.

There are three main branches of Vedaant - the dualist (Dwait Vaad), the qualified dualists, and the non-dualists (A-Dwait Vaad). Their expounders are Maadhav, Raamaanuj and Shankar (788-820 AD) - all Aachaarya. All wrote commentaries on principal Upanishad. Shankar was a Divine soul. He started his teachings at the age of five years and within a very short period of 32 years he wrote commentaries on Upanishad, Brahm Sootra and Geetaa. He composed many hymns also which are still sung by scholars.

What is true in one place, may not be true in another place at another time; that which is lawful in one time, may not be lawful at another time. The teachings that binda society into a whole and sustain it in one age, may not work for it in another age.

Fundamentally all religions are same; they differ only in non-essentials. No religion in the world can regain its past glory, prestige and dignity until it is modified for that present time.. Its principles may be eternal, but its expressions certainly need modifications. It is important to note that Krishn borrowed and modified most of the teachings from the Upanishad. Vedic Shruti impersonal, that is why the ancient called their religion Sanaatan (eternal), because Ved themselves are eternal.

Meaning of Upanishad

The word Upanishad is derived from its root "Shad" to which are added two prefixes, "Upa" and "Ni". Upa means nearness; and Ni means "Totality" and "down". The root word Shad has three meanings - (1) to loose (the bondage of attachment), (2) to attain (Mukti, or emancipation), (3) to annihilate (the Sanskaar and ignorance or A-Vidyaa exactly in the way as light annihilates darkness). Thus Upanishad means "groups of people, sitting down, near their Guru tp learn the secret doctrines. In the serenity of forest hermitages, the Upanishad thinkers pondered on the problems of deepest concerns and communicated their knowledge to the capable pupils that sat near them. Those were called Upanishad.

The etymological meaning of Shad is "knowledge or Vidyaa which is received through a competent teacher loosens the bondage, gives Mukti and completely destroys darkness of ignorance. "Shad" with "Upa" also means the humility which should be observed while approaching the preceptor. Upanishad's knowledge is condensed formulas and is considered the profound secret and Upanishad use the phrase "Neti, Neti" (means not this, not this), which means the seeker should not stop here, rather make efforts to obtain more. In ancient times preceptors were very cautious about imparting the secret Vidyaa, such as Praan Vidyaa (Kath Upanishad), or Madhya Vidyaa (Brihad Aaranyak Upanishad). They would impart it only o those who had mastered the foundation - the preliminary spiritual practices.

The knowledge of Upanishad - Brahm Vidyaa is tough. Casual readers cannot understand any Mantra or verses of Upanishad without the help of a competent preceptor. The disciples had to go through severe processes before they could obtain this knowledge. Kath Upanishad describes how Nachiketaa was tested in various ways by Yam before Yam imparted the knowledge to him. In Prashn Upanishad, the Pippalaad instructed his six disciples to practice austerities and continence for many years, then he asked them to ask any question from him. In Chhaandogya Upanishad the preceptor asked Indra and Virochan to practice spiritual discipline for 32 years. Virochan could not acquire the purity of mind so he was sent back with the idea that the real self was identical with the body. On the other hand Indra observed them for 73 more years and then realized the knowledge of Self.

The relationship of student and preceptor is the highest of all relationships (in Mahaabhaarat - relationship of Arjun and Drone, Karn and Parashuraam, Bheeshm and Parashuraam). There is no particular age or gender for being a student or a preceptor. If a life of 100 years is lived in frustration and ignorance, it is not desirable; if a life of 100 years is lived only for excitement and entertainment, it makes one insolvent. A spiritual life leads one to fearlessness, detachment, freedom from pains, miseries. The Upanishad do not deprive one of enjoyment, provided that one knows the ways of enjoyment keeping his goals straight all the time. Eesh Upanishad says, "Enjoy through renunciation. Upanishad leads one to enjoy life in Reality, both within and without. No scripture says that Truth is attained in Heaven ignoring life on Earth. Upanishad say, "Learn to be here and now;  and desire to attain the Truth in this lifetime.

"Faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are obsessed by the idea of renunciation and ignore the essential duties that are a must in daily life. Renunciation should not be used as an escape." [p 19]

The philosophy of Upanishad inspires one to gain inner strength, which expresses itself in external strength. It inspires people to be fearless and powerful. True freedom comes when one is free from the pressure of fear and awakens to the height of freedom and delight. It is the knowledge of Truth that makes a person immortal. The more spiritual one becomes, the more fearless, gentle and compassionate he becomes. One should be spiritually strong, not physically strong. This birth should not be wasted either by thinking always about past, or by imagining the future pleasures.

Prince Daaraa Shikoh has translated the Upanishad from Sanskrit into Persian. The Latin translation was based on the Persian translation. Both were Oupnekhat. Schopenhauer is said to have name read the Latin translation. He wrote - "In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of Oupnekhat. It has been the solace of my life, it will be the solace of my death.... They are the products of highest wisdom."

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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 10/04/13