Which Upanishads One Should Read?

The Wisdom of Upanishads

by Jayaram V

The Upanishads are the heart of Hinduism. I was introduced to them by chance nearly forty years ago, and ever since my interest in them only grew. It was out of my interest I translated several Upanishads twice in the past. The first attempt was several years ago, and it was meant mainly for the Internet. In my recent attempt, which took me over a year, I translated 16 major Upanishads covering over 1700 slokas. For me the exercise was more like an active meditation with an opportunity to communicate with the best of the ancient minds and making sense of their universal vision of God and existence. In this section I want to share with you the wisdom of the Upanishads, whenever I am inspired to do so. I hope to present at least a few every month until my thoughts are exhausted or my interest has waned. I hope you will find them useful. Jayaram V

Please do not look for complete answers or information in these. They are fragments of thoughts which deal with only certain aspects of the chosen subject


Which Upanishads one should read? This question becomes important, because we have many Upanishads in circulation, some composed as late as 16th century A.D. Somewhere I read that we have over 300 Upanishads. I am unable to get that list, and therefore I cannot vouch for it.

Most scholars account for 108 important Upanishads. Of them some are major and some are minor Upanishads. Historically, our knowledge of the Upanishads comes from the Vedas themselves. From them we can deduce the number, and, to some extent, the age of the principal Upanishads.

However, the Vedas are not helpful to ascertain the complete list of the Upanishads, or their age. Scholars tend to depend upon the references made by ancient scholars such as Badarayana and the commentaries written by Shankara to determine the number of traditionally recognized principal Upanishads and their authenticity.

Shankara provided commentary to the following Upanishads: Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Svetasvatara, Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukya Upanishads. In addition to them, Kausitaki and Maitrayaniya Upanishads are also considered principal because of the importance given to them by traditional teachers like Shankarananda and Madhava.

Thus, you have a total of 13 major Upanishads. Of them Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya take up near 60-70% of the total verses. If you study these 13, you will have a fairly good knowledge of the Upanishads. The existence of 13 Upanishads are also confirmed from the Mughal records when several Upanishads were translated under the patronage Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shajahan, who was assassinated by Aurangazeb to capture the Mughal throne.

If you want to do further research, you can also study the minor Upanishads, which contain a lot of derivative wisdom from the older ones. The most important minor Upanishads are said to be 30, which are available at Hinduwebsite.com. Please check the links below or use the site search. << >>

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