The most ancient living teachings on spirituality

Upanishads contain the most ancient living teachings on spirituality

author_img Gaurav Yadav Published :  12th June 2022 08:38 PM   |   Published :   |  12th June 2022 08:38 PM
Representational image

Representational image

Readers of the previous article will surely remember that each Veda consists of four parts. These parts are divided into two groups. The first is called ‘Karma Kanda’ and deals with rituals and yagyas and the mantras that are to be recited during those yagyas. This forms about 95 percent of the content of the Vedas. The sections Samhita and Brahmana fall under this group.

The second is called ‘Gyana Kanda’ and deals with philosophy and the knowledge that liberates. The Upanishads fall under the second group. They are also called Vedanta—the end of Vedas. There are two reasons for this. The Upanishads are included towards the end of the Vedas and were taught to pupils after they had mastered the rest of the Veda. Also, they represent the highest teachings of the Vedas; the fruits borne by the tree called Vedas.

Upanishads contain the most ancient living teachings on spirituality. These teachings were considered to be secret knowledge and were referred to as Rahasya (secret) or Guhya (mystery). Some scholars have interpreted the word meaning of Upanishads as ‘sitting nearby devotedly.’ This refers to the Guru teaching the devoted disciples who are sitting around him.

It is difficult to state the exact number of Upanishads with estimates going up to more than 200. Many books have suffixed Upanishad to their names to derive the authority that the name Upanishad carries. However, popularly, the 108 Upanishads mentioned in Muktikopnishad are referred to. Even out of these, the 11 principal ones that Sri Shankaracharya commented on are considered the most important ones. These are the Aitareya, Brihadaranyaka, Isa, Taittiriya, Katha, Chandogya, Kena, Mundaka, Mandukya, Prasna, and Svetastara Upanishads.

There are so many phrases that we have heard and use in our daily life that we don’t even realise have come from the Upanishads. For example, the motto of India and the name of a popular serial (and later movie)—Satyameva Jayate (truth alone triumphs)—is from the Mundaka Upanishad. A prayer that most Indian school kids have recited is:

Asato ma sadgamaya
Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya

(Lead me from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.)

This prayer comes from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Anybody who reads the Upanishads is unlikely to be disappointed because the ideas expressed in them have not become obsolete with time. They deal with eternal truths that are as true today as they were when the Upanishads were created. The great German scholar Max Mueller said that the Upanishads maintain a place in the literature of the world, among the most astounding productions of the human mind in any age and in any country.