Reading The Upanishads

I am trying to read the Upanishads but it is more difficult than any religious texts, as spirituality and religion are two different aspects altogether. I would have read two or three novels in the time I took to read just 40 pages so far. But it is certainly intriguing and inspiring!

Reading about metaphysical phenomena and getting initiated philosophically is more difficult than I had perceived, as it requires acute concentration and dedication to decipher the real meanings! But you don’t need to be sceptical and resolutely reserve it to be read only by retirement, because there is no point chest beating about our spiritual heritage without once trying to read them. So for the beginners here is a brief about what really are Upanishads.

The Upanishads have represented philosophy, spirituality and life for thousands of years and have influenced in the past many nations far beyond the boundaries of India, Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, Ceylon, Malay and even the westerners as many ancient Indian texts were found buried under the sands of the west.

The Upanishads are a philosophical quest that inspires and helps one to understand life in the right perspective without any rigidity and rise above the glamour of fleshly life, by aiding philosophical answers to the material problems and spiritual questions of life.

The connotation Upa(near) ni(down) shad(sit)  means sitting down near knowledge. (In ancient times, pupils sat down by the river banks to seek knowledge from their Gurus).

The root sadh means ‘to loosen’, ‘to destroy’, ‘to reach’

Essentially Upanishads are Bramhagyan or Bramha knowledge by which ignorance is loosened or destroyed and it is intelligible only to the initiated. In short it is a spiritual vision with philosophical arguments.

Gordon Milburn, an evangelist who studied Upanishads said “Christianity in India needs Vedantha. A very useful step would be recognition of certain books or passages in the Vedantha as constituting what might be called Ethnic Old Testament”.

Popularly there are 108 Upanishads, the Latin version of Upanishads_ Oupnekhat has 50 Upanishads but of all, the principal ones are:

Eesha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Maitreyaneya, Taithreya, Aithreya, Chandogya, Bhrad Aranyaka and Svethasvatara.

The Upanishads were not written by any one person or with any one philosophy, they were teachings that developed over parishads or spiritual retreats where teachers and students discussed and defined different views.

The Upanishads are Sanaathana _timeless!

Some of the sages who wrote the Upanishads are Aaruni, Yaghnavaalkhya, Baalakhi, Svethakethu and Shandilya…..

108 chapters to give solutions to the problems of life, maybe this is the reason we have 108 as the emergency number.

The Vedas and Upanishads are the history of the world and India in particular. They hold the authoritarian influence the world over, because of their inspirational values as they are vehicles of spiritual illumination and a treasure-trove of wisdom and knowledge. Earlier they were orally passed on from generation to generation but with time people found it difficult to comprehend and remember hence it was written down.

The Rig-Veda is the oldest literary monument of the world which reveals the high civilization that existed in pre-historic India whose borders extended far beyond today’s geographical boundaries.

The Rig Veda deals with hymns and prayers of praise,

The Yajur Veda deals with sacrificial formalities,

The Saama Veda deals with melodies,

The Atharva Veda deals with magic formulas.

Each Veda consists of

  1. Samhithas are a collection of mantras or hymns, prayers, benedictions, sacrificial formulas and litanies.
  2. Brahmanaas are the prose essays that explain mantras from Samhitas in simpler ways, for better understanding and discuss the significance of sacrificial rituals and ceremonies.
  3. Aranyakaas or forest texts were evolved when hermits did not have enough resources to follow conventional sacrifices or rituals, the Aranyakaas focus on meditative thinking. The word Aranya originates from Arana, in Vedic age those who continued their studies without marrying were called Aranas or Aranamaanas, they lived in hermitages or forests. The forests where the aranas lived were called Aranya.
  4. Upanishads deals with solutions to the problems in life, they are difficult to comprehend hence they are taught in the end of the Vedas, hence the word Vedantha meaning Vedasya Antha _ that which is taught at the end of the Vedas. Some scholars use Vedantha and Upanishads interchangeably while some argue that they are different.The Vedic civilization extended far beyond the middle east, when Iran was known as Iriya, Palestine was known as Pali sthan(the land where Paali was spoken).Ahura Mazda is the fire god of Zoroastrians, Avesta is their scripture and Avestan is an Iranian religion pre-dating the Islam. The lines “despised and persecuted remnants moved to Yezd and Kirman” reveal that the Yezidis have a Vedic past and worship many Hindu symbols like the peacock which is the vehicle of Murugan, it is perhaps for this reason that they are being exterminated today.

The Samhitas and the Brahmanas represent the Karma-Kanda or ritual portion of the Vedas while the Upanishads represent the Gnana-Kanda or knowledge portion of the Vedas.

The Vedic civilization extended far beyond the middle east, when Iran was known as Iriya, Palestine was known as Pali sthan(the land where Paali was spoken).

Prof.E.G.Browne writes “when in the 7th century, the warlike followers of the Arabian prophet swept across Iran overwhelming in their tumultuous onslaught, an ancient dynasty and a venerable religion, a change apparently almost unparalleled in history was in the course of a few years brought over the land where for centuries the ancient hymns of Avesta were chanted and sacred fires had burned, the cry of the Mu ezzin summoning the faithful to prayers rang from minarets reared on the ruins of temples at Ahura Mazda. The priests of Zoroaster fell by swords, the ancient books perished in the flames and soon none were left to represent a once mighty faith but a handful of exiles flying towards the shores of India and a despised and persecuted remnant in solitary Yezd and remote Kirman”.

But in spite of centuries of Islam, the Vedic thoughts are not totally effaced from some passages of the Quran as it still has mystic interpretations echoing their past religious beliefs.

Ahura Mazda is the fire god of Zoroastrians, Avesta is their scripture and Avestan is an Iranian religion pre-dating the Islam.

The lines “a handful of exiles flying towards India” does not reiterate any Aryan invasion theory because the Vedic civilization was not limited to the boundaries of today’s India alone, it extended wide across the middle east and far west as well. The Zoroastrians who fled to India are today called Paarsees.

Some astounding similarities between the Indo-Iran(Persian) terminologies are:

In India, we refer to Varuna as the water god and lord of rta In Iran, Ahura is the water god and lord of aasa
Varuna is allied with Mitra, the Sun God Ahura is allied with Mithra, the Sun God, in fact Iran had a religion called Mithraism that pre-dated Christianity and was in rivalry with Christianity.
Dyaus means sky in Sanskrit Zeus is the sky god in Greek and Avesta.
Vrthrahan is slayer of Vrthra, sometimes regarded Vishn. Verethragna is an Zoroastran god in the Avestan times
Apamnaapat is a deity which in Sanskrit means ‘sons of cosmic water’ which is a form of Agni. Apa means water and Napat means grandson Apam Napat, in Avestan means sons of water. Apa means water, napat means grandson.
Yajna or Yagnya means worship or oblation through fire Yasna means worship or oblation through water.
Gandharvas are celestial beings in Vedic beliefs. Gandharewa are celestial beings in Zoroastrianism.
Yama is the God of death Yima is the God of death
Hotr or Atharva, is a priest Zoatr or Athravan, is the priest
Vaayu is wind Vayu is wind
Krsaanu Keresaani

Both the Zoroastrians and Hindus revere the Sun and involve use of fire in their oblations but while Hindus revere and worship the Devas, the Zoroastrians regard them as demons and vice versa, perhaps the Zoroastrianism was established rebelling against its predecessor, that has unmistakable similarities with Vedic systems.

Zoroastrianism was founded by the prince Zarathusthra, which sounds very similar to “Dhritharasthra” to me, maybe their race continued somewhere in the AryaVartha or Airiya or Iriya or Iran but there is no evidence anywhere whatsoever.

But the larger point is that most beliefs that exist today are offshoots of the Vedic practices, where some got corroded while some colluded and rebelled against its roots forming newer faiths and followers. And it is in this context that some faiths follow the stark opposite of the other, just to prove its upmanship over the other.

And it is in this scenario of the society that spirituality outdoes religion, to enlighten and inspire us for the everyday obligations of life.

References from “The Principal Upanishads” by S.Radhakrishnan.

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