Popular Themes of the Upanishads

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

The Upanishads deal with various subjects randomly. There is no coherence or continuity in their presentation of the subjects. Their central theme is liberation of the souls and their return to the world of Brahman. The Upanishads are part of the Vedas. However, they view the ritual practices of the Vedas with certain skepticism and consider their knowledge inferior. At the same time, they do not prohibit people from performing them since they are the means by which creation is nourished. The Upanishads take the model of sacrifice and internalize it as yoga and meditation in which the mind and the body become the sacrificial altar, thoughts and actions the offerings, and soul the witness and final recipient of all the offerings. Thus, the Upanishads elevate the Vedic rituals as spiritual practice to purify the mind and body and facilitate the liberation of the soul.

It is difficult to say whether Brahman or Atman which are held in greater importance in the Upanishads. Since, the Vedas are all about Brahman, we may consider Brahman as the most important subject of the Upanishads and Atman as the next most important. Many Upanishads do not see any distinction between the two and hold them in equal esteem. Liberation of souls comes next. All other ideas and concepts are centered around these three subjects.

The Upanishads, especially the older ones also contain a number of verses about Vedic rituals and their importance in rebirth, liberation, and ensuring peace and harmony in this life. Apart from what we have discussed so far, the following also frequently appear in the Upanishads, aspects of Brahman, organs in the body, Death as the lord of the mortal world, importance of food, deities in the body, cosmic structure of the human personality, journey of souls after death, superiority of breath, creation, separation of the worlds, functions of Prakriti, impurities of the mind and body, rebirth of souls,  types of intelligence, the role of sense organs, mind, the triple worlds, the causes and consequences of karma, deities of the cosmos, nature and importance of sacrifices, speech, reproduction, Aum, yoga, seers and teachers, states of consciousness, gunas, knowledge, delusion and so on. << >>

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