Over two thousand years ago, the sages of India embarked on an extraordinary experiment. While others were exploring the external world, they turned inward – to explore consciousness itself. In the changing flow of human thought, they asked, is there anything that remains the same?
They found that there is indeed a changeless Reality underlying the ebb and flow of life. The Upanishads are the sages’ wisdom. Their discoveries assure us that God-realization is within human reach.
The Upanishads are a collection of philosophical texts which form the theoretical basis for the Hindu religion. They are also known as Vedanta (“the end of the Veda”). The Upanishads are considered by orthodox Hindus to contain revealed truths (Shruti) concerning the nature of ultimate reality (Brahman) and describing the character and form of human salvation (moksha). They have been passed down in oral tradition.
More than 200 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. Along with the Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutra, they provide a foundation for the several later schools of Vedanta.
How do they Relate to the Vedas?
Each of the principal Upanishads can be associated with one of the schools of interpretation of the four Vedas. However, although they are associated to the Vedas, they seem to come from an altogether different world. Rituals, the basis of Vedic religion, are all but ignored. And although the Vedic gods appear throughout, they are not so much numinous beings as aspects of a single underlying power called Brahman, which pervades creation yet transcends it completely. The idea of a supreme Godhead is the very essence of the Upanishads; yet, remarkably, the word Brahman in this sense does not appear in the hymn portion of the Rigveda at all.
Vedas, look outward in reverence and awe of the phenomenal world. The Upanishads look inwards, finding the powers of nature only an expression of the more awe-inspiring powers of human consciousness.
What does “Upanishad” mean?
The Sanskrit term Upanishad translates to sitting down near, referring to the student sitting down near the teacher while receiving esoteric knowledge.
They are darshana, something seen, and the student to whom they were taught was expected not only to listen to the words but to realize them: that is, to make their truths an integral part of character, conduct, and consciousness.
Only a few even hear these truths; of those who hear, only a few understand, and of those only a handful attain the goal.
– Katha Upanishad
Who is the Author of the Upanishads?
No one knows when these texts were composed. The sages who gave them to us did not care to leave their names: the truths they set down were eternal, and the identity of those who arranged the words are irrelevant. However, scholars do believe that the main figure was Yajnavalkya, who put forth the idea of neti-neti, the view that truth can be found only through the negation of all thoughts about it.
The First Question?
What is that knowing, which all that is known?
The rest of the Upanishads seeks to answer that.
The imperishable consciousness is the answer.