upa (near) - ni (down) - shad (to sit); so lit. "to sit down near [a guru]"--close so as not to divulge the secret doctrine. Over 200 of them written between 800 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E.

Traditionally, there are 108 Upanishads (major), which are as follows:

  1. Twelve Major Upanishads:

Aitareya and the Kauhsitaki which belong to Rig Veda

Chandogya and Kena to Samaveda

Taittiriya, Katha, Shvetashvatara, Brihadaranyaka and Isha to Yajur Veda

Prashna, Mundaka and Mandukya to Atharvaveda.

  1. Twenty—three samanayayuvedanta Upanishads
  2. Twenty Yoga Upanishads
  3. Seventeen samnyasa Upanishads
  4. Fourteen vaishnava Upanishads: i.e., devoted to the God Vishnu
  5. Fourteen shaiva Upanishads, i.e., devoted to Shiva
  6. Eight shakta Upanishads, i.e., devoted to the Goddess

Five Upanishadic Themes

  • 1. Inward turning - introspective vs. more external perspective of Vedas. Rejection of priestly sacrifice.
  • 2. Yoga - spiritual discipline, whose "yoke" is "yoga". Internal spiritual liberation vs. gaining favor and power of the gods in Vedic religion.
  • 3. Spiritualization of the Varnas (Lit. color, castes). He with a right heart is a brahmin. A king teaches a brahmin priest--this "goes against the grain."
  • 4. Tension between impersonal monism (Brahman = Atman = universe) and personal theism. Note: not clear that there is the absolute monism of Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta, a much later movement that claims that the absolute unity of Brahman and Atman precludes any plurality or change--any sensible world whatsoever.
  • 5. Law of Karma, Samsara, and reincarnation, all pre-Aryan ideas, reappear.
  • 6. Maya (lit. "measure" or "magic") Brahman's "uncanny" creative powers of creation. Maya is later the creative mother of the Buddha and becomes a name of the Goddess in later Hindu traditions. Its meaning as total illusion also comes later with Advaita Vedanta. The Advaitins read back into the Upanishads their view that the sensible world is a total illusion.
  • 7. Brahman: a new God or Godhead. An adaptation of the Vedic brahman, meaning sacred power of the sacrifice or the mantra. In the Upanishads, even the gods don't know of the existence of Brahman (Brihadaranyaka 1.4.10). Is this a humanistic appropriation of the Vedic religion--viz., taking away the divine power of the gods?
  • Saguna Brahman (sa=with + guna=quality). A form of Brahman with qualities. Connected to personal theism in the Hindu tradition.

    Nirguna Brahman (nir=no) Brahman without qualities, i.e., an undifferentited unity. This is the Brahman stressed by Advaita Vedanta.

    Tat twam asi =that thou art. Thou art Brahman, because Brahman=Atman? Please read about Herman's various interpretations of this phrase (Herman [2], pp. 116-124). Questions to ask are which Brahman is referred to? Which self? self, Self, jiva (sinful, sensible soul)? And which "art"? Will it be the "is" of existence? E.g. you exist, I exist, Brahman exists? Or the "is" of predication? The sun is red, or Christ is divine? Or, finally, the "is" of identity. God is God, Brahman is Atman (because Brahman and Atman are identical). Which view do you think Advaita Vedanta takes? Which "is" is it if we say that Atman is Brahman in us, but Atman is not identical with Brahman?


    Jnana Yoga - The Yoga of Knowledge (jnana) very strong in Upanishads. The yoga of the philosopher.

    Karma Yoga - The Yoga of Action (deeds, works)

    Bhakti Yoga - The Yoga of Devotion--personal theism and doctrine of grace. Faith and Doctrine of Election, i.e., a personal God chooses you for salvation. Strong in Bhagavad-gita and parts of the Upanishads.

    Dhyana Yoga - The Yoga of Meditation. Dhyana was translated into the Chinese Ch'an and the Japanese Zen.

    The Yoga of Renunciation - The Yoga of the ascetic and the devotee. Could possibly call this "Tapas" yoga, a yoga with austerities but not necessarily meditation.

    Tantric Yoga - The Way of Experience. A later movement in Hinduism and Buddhism. Called a short-cut way. Involves a total immersion in all experience, doing all that is prohibited while still remaining immune and pure, and "coming out the other side" totally liberated.

    One of the main teachings of the Upanishads is pantheism. Brahman is everywhere and is in everything. A more accurate designation could be "panentheism."