Upadhi (devanāgarī: उपाधि upādhi) is a Sanskrit word used in Hinduism, which consists of upa and dha. Upa means "in the sense of" an dha means "to place". Hence upādhi means "that which places its own attributes to something that is nearby". The word term is used with different meanings depending on the context, such as title, degree, quality, peculiarity, appearance, attribute, nickname, etc. In Vedanta philosophy, it is used for "conditioning," as in the case of an object that transfers its property onto something else by staying near, e.g., a crystal kept on a blue cloth appears blue.
In his book Atmabodha (v. 11) Shankaracharya says:
- Because of its association with different conditionings (upādhi-s), the idea of caste, color, position and so on, are superimposed upon the ātman, just as flavor, color, and so on, are superimposed on water.
In Theosophical literature, upādhi is seen as a vehicle of expression for a higher reality on a lower plane, both limiting and defining its expression. H. P. Blavatsky wrote it as follows:
Upâdhi (Sk.). Basis; the vehicle, carrier or bearer of something less material than itself: as the human body is the upâdhi of its spirit, ether the upâdhi of light, etc., etc.; a mould; a defining or limiting substance.
- Upādhi at Theosophy World.
- Definitions of Some Vedāntic Terms by Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 353.