The Upanishads

Introduction

The Upanishads (/uːˈpænɪˌʃædz, uːˈpɑːnɪˌʃɑːdz/;[1] Sanskrit: उपनिषद् Upaniṣad [ˈʊpɐnɪʂɐd]) are ancient Sanskrit texts of spiritual teaching and ideas of Hinduism. [2][3][note 1][note 2] They are the part of the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, that deal with meditation, philosophy, and spiritual knowledge; other parts of the Vedas deal with mantras, benedictions, rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices.[6][7][8] Among the most important literature in the history of Indian religions and culture, the Upanishads played an important role in the development of spiritual ideas in ancient India, marking a transition from Vedic ritualism to new ideas and institutions.[9] Of all Vedic literature, the Upanishads alone are widely known, and their central ideas are at the spiritual core of Hinduism.[2][10]

The Upanishads are commonly referred to as Vedānta. Vedanta has been interpreted as the "last chapters, parts of the Veda" and alternatively as "object, the highest purpose of the Veda".[11] The concepts of Brahman (ultimate reality) and Ātman (soul, self) are central ideas in all of the Upanishads,[12][13] and "know that you are the Ātman" is their thematic focus.[13][14] Along with the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutra, the mukhya Upanishads (known collectively as the Prasthanatrayi)[15] provide a foundation for the several later schools of Vedanta, among them, two influential monistic schools of Hinduism.[note 3][note 4][note 5]

Around 108 Upanishads are known, of which the first dozen or so are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the principal or main (mukhya) Upanishads.[18][19] The mukhya Upanishads are found mostly in the concluding part of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas[20] and were, for centuries, memorized by each generation and passed down orally. The early Upanishads all predate the Common Era, five[note 6] of them are in all likelihood pre-Buddhist (6th century BCE),[21] stretching down to the Maurya period, which lasted from 322 to 185 BCE.[22] Of the remainder, 95 Upanishads are part of the Muktika canon, composed from about the last centuries of 1st-millennium BCE through about 15th-century CE.[23][24] New Upanishads, beyond the 108 in the Muktika canon, continued to be composed through the early modern and modern era,[25] though often dealing with subjects that are unconnected to the Vedas.[26]

With the translation of the Upanishads in the early 19th century they also started to attract attention from a Western audience. Arthur Schopenhauer was deeply impressed by the Upanishads and called it "the most profitable and elevating reading which... is possible in the world".[27] Modern era Indologists have discussed the similarities between the fundamental concepts in the Upanishads and major Western philosophers.[28][29][30]


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