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Introduction-3-How Many

How Many Upanishad

The Upanishad are found as the concluding part of the Braahman and in the Aaranyak. All Upanishad have been passed down orally. More than 200 Upanishad are known and the oldest and most important are referred to as the principal Upanishad. The Muktikaa Upanishad gives a list of 108 Upanishad (Listed below). With the Bhagavad Geetaa and the Brahm Sootra, known collectively as the Prasthaan Trayee, the main Upanishad provide the foundation for several later schools of philosophy (Vedaant). Historians believe that the chief Upanishad were composed over a wide period ranging from the Pre-Buddhist period to the early centuries BC, though minor Upanishad were still being composed in the early modern period. However, there has been considerable debate among authorities about the exact dating of individual Upanishad.

Main Upanishads
Each of the principal Upanishad can be associated with one of the Shaakhaa of the four Ved. Many Shaakhaa are said to have existed before, of which only a few remain. The new Upanishad often have little relation to the Vaidik corpus and have not been cited or commented upon by any great Vedaant philosopher: their language differs from that of the classic Upanishads, being less subtle and more formalized.

New Upanishads
There is no fixed list of the Upanishad as newer ones have continued to be composed. On many occasions, when older Upanishad have not suited the founders of new sects, they have composed new ones of their own. 1908 marked the discovery of four new Upanishads, named Baashkal, Chhagaleya, Arsheya and Shaunak, by Dr Friedrich O Schrader, who attributed them to the first prose period of the Upanishad. Texts called "Upanishad" continued to appear up to the end of British rule in 1947. The Akbar Upanishad and Allaah Upanishad are examples of this, having been written in the 17th century in praise of Islaamik ideas at the insistence of Dara Shikoh.

The Brihadaaranyak and the Chhaandogya are the most important of the Chief Upanishad. They represent two main schools of thought within the Upanishad. The Upanishads also contain the first and most definitive explications of the divine syllable Om, the cosmic vibration that underlies all existence.

The Mantra "Om Shaanti Shaanti Shaanti", translated as "the soundless sound, peace, peace, peace", is often found in the Upanishad. The path of Bhakti or "Devotion to God" is foreshadowed in Upanishadik literature, and was later realized by texts such as the Bhagavad Geetaa.

Some Mahaa Vaakya (Great Sayings) from the Upanishad
Sanskrit Quote                                          English Meaning                                           Upanishad
Pragyaanam Brahm                              Consciousness is Brahman                             Aitareya Upanishad
Aham Brahmaasmi                                     I am Brahm                                                Brihadaranyak
Tat Twam Asi                                         That Thou art                                             Chhaandogya
Ayamaatmaa Brahm                                This Aatmaa is Brahm                               Maandookya

The Upanishad are primarily presented as conversations between two persons rather than expository statements of philosophy or ideology.

Vedaant Schools
The source for all schools of Vedaant are three texts the Upanishad, the Bhagavad Geetaa and the Brahm Sootra.
Two different types of the non-dual Brahm-Aatmaa are presented in the Upanishad:
The one in which the non-dual Brahm-Aatmaa is the all inclusive ground of the universe and
The one in which all reality in the universe is but an illusion.
The three main schools of Vedaant are A-Dwait, Dwait and Vishisht A-Dwait. Other schools of Vedaant made possible by the Upanishad include Nimbark's Dwaitaadwait, Vallabh's Shuddh Dwait and Chaitanya's Achintya Bhedaabhed. A-Dwait is considered the most influential of the Vedaant schools of Hindu philosophy.

Shree Aadi Shankar has provided commentaries on 11 Chief Upanishad.

Gaudaapaad was the first person to expound the basic principles of the A-Dwait philosophy in a commentary on the apparently conflicting statements of the Upanishad. Gaudaapaad lived in a time when Buddhism was widely prevalent in India. His main work is infused with philosophical terminology of Buddhism, and uses Buddhist arguments and analogies.

A-Dwait literally means non-duality, and it is a monistic system of thought. It deals with the non-dual nature of Brahm and Aatmaa. The A-Dwait school is said to have been consolidated by Shankar. He was a pupil of Gaudaapaad's pupil Sri Govind Bhagavatpaad. Shankar's views of A-Dwait are straightforward developments of the Upanishad and the Brahm Sootra and he offered no innovations to these, while other scholars found sharp differences between Shankar's writings and the Brahm Sootra.

The Dwait school was founded by Madhwaachaarya.

The third school of Vedaantis the Vishisht A-Dwait, which was founded by Raamaanujaachaarya. Vishisht A-Dwait is a synthetic philosophy of love that tries to reconcile the extremes of the other two monistic and theistic systems of Vedaant. It is called Sri-Vaishanavism in its religious aspect. While the Dwait insists on the difference between the Brahm and the Jeev, the Vishisht A-Dwait states that God is their inner-Self as well as transcendent.

The Upanishad have been attributed to several authors: Yaagyavalkya and Uddaalak Aaruni feature prominently in the early Upanishad. Other important writers include Shwetaketu, Shaqndilya, Aitareya, Pippalaqd and Sanat Kumaqr. Important women discussers include Yaagyavalkya's wife Maitreyee, and Gaargee.

While the hymns of the Ved emphasize rituals and the Braahman serve as a liturgical manual for those Vaidik rituals, the spirit of the Upanishad is inherently opposed to rituals. The older Upanishad launch attacks of increasing intensity on the ritual. Anyone who worships a divinity other than the Self is called a domestic animal of the gods in the Brihadaranyak Upanishad.

The Chhaandogya Upanishad parodies those who indulge in the acts of sacrifice by comparing them with a procession of dogs chanting Om! Let's eat. Om! Let's drink.

The Mundak launches the most scathing attack on the ritual by comparing those who value sacrifice with an unsafe boat that is endlessly overtaken by old age and death.

The pattern of reducing the number of gods in the Ved becomes more emphatic in the Upanishad. When Yaagyavalkaya is asked how many gods exist, he decrements the number successively by answering thirty-three, six, three, two, one and a half and finally one. Vaidik gods such as the Rudra, Vishnu, Brahmaa are gradually subordinated to the supreme, immortal and incorporeal Brahm of the Upanishad. In fact Indra and the supreme deity of the Braahman, Prajaapati, are made door keepers to the Brahm's residence in the Kaushitakee Upanishad.

In short, the one reality or Ekam Sat of the Ved becomes the Ekam Eva A-Dwiteeyam or "the one and only and sans a second" in the Upanishad.

New Upanishad
The newer Upanishad are known to be imitations of the Chief Upanishad. New Upanishads were composed in the medieval and early modern period: discoveries of newer Upanishads were being reported as late as 1926. The Muktikaa Upanishad contains a list of 108 canonical Upanishad, including itself as the last. However, several texts under the title of "Upanishad" originated right up to the first half of the 20th century, some of which did not deal with subjects of Vaidik philosophy. Dara Shikoh, son of the Mughal emperor Shaah Jahaan, translated 50 Upanishads into Persian in 1657. The first written English translation came in 1805 from Colebrooke, who was aware of 170 Upanishad. Sadhale's catalog from 1985, the Upanishad-Vaakya-Mahaa-Kosh lists 223 Upanishad.



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