In the Upanishads
we can study the graceful conflict of thought with thought,
the emergence of more satisfactory thought and the rejection of inadequate ideas.
Hypotheses were advanced and rejected on the touchstone of experience and not
at the dictate of a creed. Thus thought forged ahead to unravel the mystery
of the world in which we live. Let's have a quick look at the 13 principal Upanishads:
The Chandogya Upanishad is the Upanishad that belongs to the followers of
the Sama Veda. It is actually the last eight chapters of the ten-chapter Chandogya
, and it emphasizes the importance of chanting the sacred Aum
and recommends a religious life, which constitutes sacrifice, austerity, charity,
and the study of the Vedas, while living in the house of a guru. This Upanishad
contains the doctrine of reincarnation as an ethical consequence of karma
It also lists and explains the value of human attributes like speech, will,
strength memory and hope.
Read the full text of the Chandogya Upanishad
The Kena Upanishad derives its name from the word 'Kena', meaning
'by whom'. It has four sections, the first two in verse and the other
two in prose. The metrical portion deals with the Supreme Unqualified Brahman,
the absolute principle underlying the world of phenomenon, and the prose part
deals with the Supreme as God, 'Isvara'. The Kena Upanishad concludes,
as Sandersen Beck puts it, that austerity, restraint, and work are the foundation
of the mystical doctrine; the Vedas are its limbs, and truth is its home. The
one who knows it strikes off evil and becomes established in the most excellent,
infinite, heavenly world.
Read the full text of the Kena Upanishad
The Aitareya Upanishad belongs to the Rig Veda. It is the purpose of this
Upanishad to lead the mind of the sacrificer away from the outer ceremonial
to its inner meaning. It deals with the genesis of the universe and the creation
of life, the senses, the organs and the organisms. It also tries to delve into
the identity of the intelligence that allows us to see, speak, smell, hear and
Read the full text of the Aitareya Upanishad
The Kaushitaki Upanishad explores the question whether there is an end to
the cycle of reincarnation
, and upholds
the supremacy of the soul ('atman'), which is ultimately responsible
for everything it experiences.
Read the full text of the Kaushitaki Upanishad
Katha Upanishad, which belongs to the Yajur Veda, consists of two chapters,
each of which has three sections. It employs an ancient story from the Rig Veda
about a father who gives his son to death (Yama), while bringing out some of
the highest teachings of mystical spirituality. There are some passages common
to the Gita
and Katha Upanishad. Psychology
is explained here by using the analogy of a chariot. The soul is the lord of
the chariot, which is the body; the intuition is the chariot-driver, the mind
the reins, the senses the horses, and the objects of the senses the paths. Those
whose minds are undisciplined never reach their goal, and go on to reincarnate.
The wise and the disciplined, it says, obtain their goal and are freed from
the cycle of rebirth.
Read the full text of the Katha Upanishad
The Mundaka Upanishad belongs to the Atharva Veda and has three chapters,
each of which has two sections. The name is derived from the root 'mund'
(to shave) as he that comprehends the teaching of the Upanishad is shaved or
liberated from error and ignorance. The Upanishad clearly states the distinction
between the higher knowledge of the Supreme Brahman and the lower knowledge
of the empirical world — the six 'Vedangas' of phonetics, ritual,
grammar, definition, metrics, and astrology. It is by this higher wisdom and
not by sacrifices or worship, which are here considered 'unsafe boats',
that one can reach the Brahman. Like the Katha, the Mundaka Upanishad warns
against "the ignorance of thinking oneself learned and going around deluded
like the blind leading the blind". Only an ascetic ('sanyasi')
who has given up everything can obtain the highest knowledge.
Read the full text of the Mundaka Upanishad
The Taittiriya Upanishad is also part of the Yajur Veda. It is divided into
three sections: The first deals with the science of phonetics and pronunciation,
the second and the third deal with the knowledge of the Supreme Self ('Paramatmajnana').
Once again, here, Aum
is emphasized as peace of the
soul, and the prayers end with Aum and the chanting of peace ('Shanti')
thrice, often preceded by the thought, "May we never hate." There
is a debate regarding the relative importance of seeking the truth, going through
austerity and studying the Vedas. One teacher says truth is first, another austerity,
and a third claims that study and teaching of the Veda is first, because it
includes austerity and discipline. Finally, it says that the highest goal is
to know the Brahman, for that is truth.
Read the full text of the Taittiriya Upanishad
Next Page: Brihadaranyaka, Svetasvatara, Isavasya, Prashna, Mandukya, Maitri Upanishads