The philosophical basis of Hinduism and Advaita: What are the Upanishads?
After the Vedas the Upanishads are the most revered texts in Hinduism.
The Upanishads are texts which contain the basis of the later philosophy of the Hindus. Vedanta especially is based on the Upanishads.
On this blogpost I illustrate the basic thought in the Upanishads with quotes from the principle Upanishads.
Tradition about the Upanishads
Also spelled: upanisad, upanisads
The Upanishads were said to be the reflection of teachings given by the teacher (or guru) to the student. The word Upanishad can be said to mean ‘sitting near’.
Key concepts discussed in the Upanishads include: the soul, reincarnation, karma, Brahman and liberation.
The insights in the Upanishads were later put into systematic form by the Vedanta (which means “end of the veda’s”). In other words: the most famous of Indian philosophies – Advaita Vedanta – goes back to these teachings.
Aum in the Upanishads
Many of the key ideas and religious concepts were first formulated in the Upanishads. For instance:
Chandogya Upanishad 1:1:1 quote:
Aum. One should meditate on this syllable, the udgitha, for one sings the loud chant beginning with Aum.
Self Realisation and Health Upanishad Quotes
The basic Hindu concept or deliverance (moksha) is also introduced in the Upanishads:
Isha Upanishad Verse 2 quote
Every person should live a complete life span of hundred years. And he should constantly strive to fulfill the purpose of life i.e. Self-Realization.
Katha Upanishad 1:2:1
There is a path of joy and there is the path of pleasure. Pondering on them, the wise (one) chooses the of joy; the fool takes the path of pleasure.
Katha Upanishad 1:2:2
Both the good and the pleasant approach a man. The wise man, pondering over them, discriminates. The wise chooses the good in preference to the pleasant. The simple-minded, for the sake of worldly well-being, prefers the pleasant.
Mundaka Upanishad 2:2:8
One who meditates, all his knots of his heart, the bondages are opened; all the doubts are eliminated and one becomes gradually free from the fetters of action with ego.
The Self (Atman) is the All (Brahman)
The famous central insight in most of Hinduism is that Atman (the highest Self) is identical to the essence of the universe (Brahman), as is illustrated by these quotes.
Mundaka Upanishad 2
All this is, verily, Brahman. This self is Brahman. This same self has four quarters.
And to make the meaning of this Brahman clear:
Narashimha Upanishad 7:3
“Everything is God”
Get the Upanishads
I can’t rave about Penguin Classics enough. In this case they did the job again. They gathered the most important Upanishads together, had them translated by a real professional and made the result affordable as well.
What more can you ask for?
Of all the upanishads the Bhagavad Gita is the most famous. It sums them all up and it is also in modern times become a kind of Bible to Hinduism.
The Penguin Classics are always excellent translations of classic texts. This text is no exception. Juan Mascaro is a poet who loves the Gita and learned Sanskrit to be able to read it. This doesn’t mean he stopped there: he studied Sanskrit for years and years before finally finishing this translation.
Anyone interested in Hindu Spirituality or even just alternative spirituality should have a copy of the Gita at home, within reach.
And if you are going to have a Bhagavad Gita – this is truly one of the best translations to have. Why settle for less?