Significance of The Upanishads

“The Upanishads are metaphysical treatises which are replete with sublime conceptions of Vedanta and with intuitions of universal truths. The Indian Rishis and seers of yore endeavored to grasp the fundamental truths of being. They tried to solve the problems of the origin, the nature and the destiny of man and of the universe. They attempted to grasp the meaning and value of knowing and being. They endeavored to find a solution for the problems of the means of life and the world and of the relation of the individual to the ‘Unseen,’ or the Supreme Soul. They sought earnestly satisfactory solution of these profound questions: Who am I? What is this universe or Samsara? Whence are we born? On what do we rest? Where do we go? Is there any such thing as immortality, freedom, perfection, eternal bliss, everlasting peace, Atman, Brahman, or the Self, Supreme Soul, which is birthless, deathless, changeless, self-existent? How to attain Brahman or Immortality?

They practiced right living, Tapas, introspection, self-analysis, enquiry and meditation on the pure, inner Self and attained Self-realization. Their intuitions of deep truths are subtle and direct. Their inner experiences, which are direct, first-hand, intuitive and mystical, which no science can impeach, which all philosophies declare as the ultimate goal of their endeavors, are embodied in the sublime books called the Upanishads.

Some Western scholars have fixed the age of the Upanishads as B.C. 600, or so. They regard that all of them belong to the pre-Buddhistic period. This is a sad mistake indeed. The Upanishads are the knowledge portion, or Jnana-Kanda, of the Vedas. They are eternal. They came out of the mouth of Hiranyagarbha, or Brahman. How can one fix the date of the Upanishads? They existed even before the creation of this world.

The Upanishads are a source of deep mystic divine knowledge which serves as the means of freedom from this formidable Samsara, earthly bondage. They are world-scriptures. They appeal to the lovers of religion and truth in all races, and at all times. They contain profound secrets of Vedanta, or Jnana-Yoga, and practical hints and clues which throw much light on the pathway of Self-realization.

There are four Vedas., Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. There are as many Upanishads to each Veda as there are Sakhas or branches (subdivisions). there are 21, 109, 1000, and 50 subdivisions to Rik, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas respectively. Thus there are one thousand and hundred and eighty (1,180) Upanishads.

Significance And Ideal

Knowledge of the Upanishads destroys ignorance, the seed of Samsara. 'Shad' means to 'shatter' or 'destroy'. By having knowledge of the Upanishads one is able to sit near Brahman, i.e., to attain Self-realization. Hence the name 'Upanishad'. Knowledge of Brahman is called 'Upanishad', because it leads to Brahman and helps aspirants to attain Brahman. The term 'Upanishad' is applied to the book also in a secondary sense, by courtesy.

The following two ideas dominate the teaching of all the Upanishads: (1) Final emancipation can be attained only by knowledge of the Ultimate Reality, or Brahman (Brahmajnana): (2) He who is equipped with the four means of salvation, viz., Viveka, (discrimination), Vairagya (dispassion), Shad-Sampat (the six-fold treasure; self-control, etc.) and Mumukshutva (yearning for liberation), can attain Brahman. The Upanishads teach the philosophy of absolute unity.

The goal of men, according to the Upanishads, is realization of Brahman. Self-realization alone can dispel ignorance and bestow immortality, eternal bliss, and everlasting peace. Knowledge of Brahman alone can remove all sorrows, delusion and pain.

The Upanishads are rightly called the Vedanta, the end of the Vedas, that which is reserved for those who have freed themselves from the bonds of formal religion.

The Upanishads are not meant for the masses, as they contain the highest speculations of philosophy. They are meant only for the select few, who are fit and worthy to receive the instructions. Hence the term 'Upanishad' signified at first 'secret teaching' or 'secret doctrine'. As already stated, Sadhana-Chatushtaya (the fourfold means) is the primary qualification of an aspirant of Jnana-Yoga, or one who seeks the knowledge of the Upanishads.

Study the Upanishads systematically. Acquire the four means of salvation. Meditate on the non-dual Atman or Brahman and attain ever-lasting Bliss!”