An article by
Sri Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society
A Treasure Of Wisdom
Prostrations to Satchidananda Parabrahman, who
is the prop, basis and source for everything! Salutations to all Brahmavidya-Gurus
or the preceptors of knowledge of Brahman!
There is no book in the whole world that is so
thrilling, soul-stirring and inspiring as the Upanishad. The philosophy taught
by the Upanishads has been the source of solace for many, both in the East and
the West. The human intellect has not been able to conceive of anything more
noble and sublime in the history of the world than the teachings of the
The Upanishads contain the essence of the
Vedas. They are the concluding portions of the Vedas and are the source of the
Vedanta philosophy. Profound, original, lofty and sublime thoughts arise from
every verse. They contain the direct spiritual experiences or revelations of
seers, or sages, the Rishis. They are the products of the highest wisdom,
supreme divine knowledge. Hence they stir the hearts of people and inspire them. There are 11 Upanishads which are considered as more important than others. These are the ones for which commentaries ahve been written by several great philosophers such as Shakara and Ramanuja. These are:
The glory or grandeur of the Upanishads cannot
be adequately described in words, because words are finite and language is
imperfect. The Upanishads have indeed greatly contributed to the peace and
solace of mankind. They are highly elevating and soul-stirring. Millions of
aspirants have drawn inspiration and guidance from the Upanishads. They are the
cream of the Vedas. They are treasures of incalculable value. They are rich in
profound philosophical thought. Their intrinsic value is very great. There is
immense depth of meaning in the passages and verses. The language is beautiful.
The Upanishads give a vivid description of the
nature of the Atman, the Supreme Soul, in a variety of ways, and expound
suitable methods and aids to attain the Immortal Brahman, the Highest Purusha.
Ages have passed since they were first
presented to the world. Even now they are remarkably sweet and charming. Their
freshness is unique. Their fragrance is penetrating. Many cannot live today
without the study of Upanishads daily. They give supreme food for the soul.
It is said that Schopenhauer, the renowned
philosopher of the West, had always a book of the Upanishads on his table, and
was in the habit, before going to bed, of performing his devotions from its
pages. He said, "In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so
elevating as that of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life, it will
be the solace of my death."
The Upanishads have undoubtedly exercised and
will continue to exercise a considerable influence on the religion and
philosophy of India. They present a view of reality which would certainly
satisfy the scientific, the philosophic, as well as the religious aspirations of
Origin Of The
The Upanishads are metaphysical treatises which
are replete with sublime conceptions of Vedanta and with intuitions of universal
truths. The Indian Rishis and seers of yore endeavoured to grasp the fundamental
truths of being. They tried to solve the problems of the origin, the nature and
the destiny of man and of the universe. They attempted to grasp the meaning and
value of knowing and being. They endeavoured to find a solution
for the problems of the means of life and the world and of the relation of the
individual to the ‘Unseen,’ or the Supreme Soul. They sought earnestly
satisfactory solution of these profound questions: Who am I? What is this
universe or Samsara? Whence are we born? On what do we rest? Where do we go? Is
there any such thing as immortality, freedom, perfection, eternal bliss,
everlasting peace, Atman, Brahman, or the Self, Supreme Soul, which is birthless,
deathless, changeless, self-existent? How to attain Brahman or Immortality?
They practised right living, Tapas, introspection,
self-analysis, enquiry and meditation on the pure, inner Self and attained Self-realisation.
Their intuitions of deep truths are subtle and direct. Their inner experiences,
which are direct, first-hand, intuitive and mystical, which no science can
impeach, which all philosophies declare as the ultimate goal of their endeavours,
are embodied in the sublime books called the Upanishads.
Some Western scholars have fixed the age of the
Upanishads as B.C. 600, or so. They regard that all of them belong to the pre-Buddhistic
period. This is a sad mistake indeed. The Upanishads are the knowledge portion,
or Jnana-Kanda, of the Vedas. They are eternal. They came out of the mouth of
Hiranyagarbha, or Brahman. How can one fix the date of the Upanishads? They
existed even before the creation of this world.
The Upanishads are a source of deep mystic
divine knowledge which serves as the means of freedom from this formidable
Samsara, earthly bondage. They are world-scriptures. They appeal to the lovers
of religion and truth in all races, and at all times. They contain profound
secrets of Vedanta, or Jnana-Yoga, and practical hints and clues which throw
much light on the pathway of Self-realisation.
There are four Vedas., Rik, Yajur, Sama and
Atharva. There are as many Upanishads to each Veda as there are Sakhas or
branches (subdivisions). there are 21, 109, 1000, and 50 subdivisions to Rik,
Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas respectively. Thus there are one thousand and
hundred and eighty (1,180) Upanishads.
Knowledge of the Upanishads destroys ignorance,
the seed of Samsara. 'Shad' means to 'shatter' or 'destroy'. By having knowledge
of the Upanishads one is able to sit near Brahman, i.e., to attain Self-realisation.
Hence the name 'Upanishad'. Knowledge of Brahman is called 'Upanishad', because
it leads to Brahman and helps aspirants to attain Brahman. The term 'Upanishad'
is applied to the book also in a secondary sense, by courtesy.
The following two ideas dominate the teaching
of all the Upanishads: (1) Final emancipation can be attained only by knowledge
of the Ultimate Reality, or Brahman (Brahmajnana): (2) He who is equipped with
the four means of salvation, viz., Viveka, (discrimination), Vairagya (dispassion),
Shad-Sampat (the six-fold treasure; self-control, etc.) and Mumukshutva
(yearning for liberation), can attain Brahman. The Upanishads teach the
philosophy of absolute unity.
The goal of men, according to the Upanishads,
is realisation of Brahman. Self-realisation alone can dispel ignorance and
bestow immortality, eternal bliss, and everlasting peace. Knowledge of Brahman
alone can remove all sorrows, delusion and pain.
The Upanishads are rightly called the Vedanta,
the end of the Vedas, that which is reserved for those who have freed themselves
from the bonds of formal religion.
The Upanishads are not meant for the masses, as
they contain the highest speculations of philosophy. They are meant only for the
select few, who are fit and worthy to receive the instructions. Hence the term
'Upanishad' signified at first 'secret teaching' or 'secret doctrine'. As
already stated, Sadhana-Chatushtaya (the fourfold means) is the primary
qualification of an aspirant of Jnana-Yoga, or one who seeks the knowledge of
Study the Upanishads systematically. Acquire
the four means of salvation. Meditate on the non-dual Atman or Brahman and
attain ever-lasting Bliss!