Upanishads (book)

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Chandogya Upanishad, copied ca 1849 CE

Upanishads refers to a collection of ancient Indian texts that provide the philosophical grounding of Hinduism, along with the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutras. They were written over a period of centuries beginning in the 7th century BCE.

The Upanishads are texts found at the end of each Veda, discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge. They are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought, and have profoundly influenced diverse traditions. There are 108 Muktikā Upanishads in Hinduism, of which between 10 and 13 are variously counted by scholars as Principal Upanishads.

Blavatsky on the Upanishads

In her book The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky wrote at length about her view of this collection of books as esoteric texts:

The UpanishadsUpa-ni-shad being a compound word meaning “the conquest of ignorance by the revelation of secret, spiritual knowledge”—require now the additional possession of a Master-key to enable the student to get at their full meaning. The reason for this I venture to state here as I learned it from a Master. The name, “Upanishads,” is usually translated “esoteric doctrine.” These treatises form part of the Sruti or “revealed knowledge,” Revelation, in short, and are generally attached to the Brahmana portion of the Vedas, as their third division. There are over 150 Upanishads enumerated by, and known to, Orientalists, who credit the oldest with being written probably about 600 years b.c.; but of genuine texts there does not exist a fifth of the number. The Upanishads are to the Vedas what the Kabala is to the Jewish Bible. They treat of and expound the secret and mystic meaning of the Vedic texts. They speak of the origin of the Universe, the nature of Deity, and of Spirit and Soul, as also of the metaphysical connection of mind and matter. In a few words: They CONTAIN the beginning and the end of all human knowledge, but they have now ceased to REVEAL it, since the day of Buddha. If it were otherwise, the Upanishads could not be called esoteric, since they are now openly attached to the Sacred Brahmanical books, which have, in our present age, become accessible even to the Mlechchhas (out-castes) and the European Orientalists. One thing in them—and this in all the Upanishads—invariably and constantly points to their ancient origin, and proves (a) that they were written, in some of their portions, before the caste system became the tyrannical institution which it still is; and (b) that half of their contents have been eliminated, while some of them were rewritten and abridged.[1]

Principal texts of Mukhya Upanishads

The Mukhya Upanishads, also known as Principal Upanishads, are associated with the Vedic tradition. They are accepted by all Hindus ad the most important scriptures of Hinduism. These are listed alphabetically.

Aitareya Upanishad

This text is associated with the Rigveda.

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Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

This text is associated with Yajurveda.

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Chandogya Upanishad

The Chandogya Upanishad is the second oldest of known Upanishads, dated to between 900 to 600 BCE, in the pre-Buddhist era.It is associated with Samaveda.

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Isha Upanishad

This text is associated with Yajurveda.

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Katha Upanishad

This text is associated with Yajurveda. It was regarded highly by Charles Johnston, William Butler Yeats, George William Russell, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Kena Upanishad

This text is associated with Samaveda.

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Mandukya Upanishad

This text is associated with Atharvaveda.

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Mundaka Upanishad

This text is associated with Atharvaveda.

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Prasna Upanishad

This text is associated with Atharvaveda.

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Taittiriya Upanishad

This text is associated with Yajurveda.

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Other texts

These are some of the other significant texts from the 200+ surviving Upanishads. Three or four of these are considered by some authors to be of major importance – Kausitaki, Mahanarayana, Maitri, and Shwetasvatara.

Amritabindhu Upanishad

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Atma Upanishad

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Kausitaki Upanishad

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Mahanarayana Upanishad

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Maitri Upanishad

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Nadabindu Upanishad

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Paramahansa Upanishad

This text is associated with the Atharvaveda.

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Shwetasvatara Upanishad

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Tejabindu Upanishad

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Additional resources

The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists over 300 articles in Theosophical periodicals that are about the Upanishads or reviews of books about the Upanishads. Here is a list of the articles.

Digital versions

Artistic representations

Artist Joma Sipe has illustrated the Twelve Principal Upanishads, "as considered in a book by Doctor E. Roer, in 1906." The art works have been published by Theosophy Forward in Upanishads.

Commentaries and guides

Audio

Print resources

  • Q. [author unknown], "Mr. Johnston and the Upanishads", The Theosophical Quarterly 29.3 (January, 1932), 214-222.

Notes

  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 269-270.