Upanishads

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Definition
Genre of Vedic texts that were the last to be added (and thus also known as Vedanta, "the end of the Vedas), written between 1000 and 500 BCE. The Upanishads are much less concerned with Vedic gods and rituals than other Vedic texts, and focus on philosophical and mystical questions about reality. The Upanishads contain the teaching that atman (the self) is Brahman (ultimate reality), and that knowledge of Brahman brings release (moksa) from the suffering of rebirth (samsara). The later Upanishads are less philosophical and more sectarian.

The word "Upanishad" means "to sit down near," bringing to mind pupils gathering around their teacher for philosophical instruction. The Upanishads are philosophical works that introduce the now-central ideas of self-realization, yoga, meditation, karma and reincarnation.

The theme of the Upanishads is the escape from rebirth through knowledge of the underlying reality of the universe. The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains how this change in perspective came about:

Throughout the later Vedic period, the idea that the world of heaven was not the end — and that even in heaven death was inevitable — had been growing. For Vedic thinkers, the fear of the impermanence of religious merit and its loss in the hereafter, as well as the fear-provoking anticipation of the transience of any form of existence after death, culminating in the much-feared repeated death (punarmrtyu), assumed the character of an obsession. The older Upanishads are affixed to a particular Veda, but more recent ones are not. The most important Upanishads are generally considered to be the Brhadaranyaka ("Great Forest Text") and the Chandogya (pertaining to the Chandoga priests). Both record the traditions of sages (rishis) of the period, most notably Yajñavalkya, who was a pioneer of new religious ideas.

Also significant are:

  • Mandukya Upanishad
  • Kena/Talavakara Upanishad
  • Katha Upanishad
  • Mundaka Upanishad
  • Aitareya Upanishad
  • Taittiriya Upanishad
  • Prashna Upanishad
  • Isha Upanishad
  • Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Sources

  1. Olivelle, Patrick. “Upanishad.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. 20 Jul. 2009.

Article Info

Title Upanishads
Published
Last UpdatedJanuary 28, 2021
URL religionfacts.com/upanishads
Short URLrlft.co/250
MLA Citation “Upanishads.” ReligionFacts.com. 28 Jan. 2021. Web. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021. <religionfacts.com/upanishads>