The Upanishads arelike the guidelines for Jnana Yoga. The word Upanishad broken down “upa” near “ni” down, and “shad” to sit means to be sit near the teacher. They are the final part of the Vedas and the basis for the philosophy of Vedanta, which means the end of the Vedas. The Vedas are the most ancient and sacred scripture of India; the name signifies wisdom. Upanishads focus on the discovery of wisdom beyond words and thoughts. The gods referred to in these Upanishads are Agni the god of fire, Vayu the god of air or wind, Indra the god of heroic power and storms, Rudra a god of destruction and of healing, Savitri a sun god or goddess, Brahma the creator, and Vishnu the preserver. In the Katha Upanishad 5 the city of eleven gates refers to the nine openings in the body, the navel, and the sagittal suture on top of the head, and in the Shvetashvatara Upanishap 3 the nine-gated city refers merely to the body's nine openings. The triad in Mundak 1 refers to the first three Vedas, while the triad in Shvetashvatara Upanishad 1 seems to refer to three aspects of God. In Mundak 3 Vedanta means the end of the Vedas. There are Eight Upanishads:
Isa and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
I will talk about each one of them individually.
Isa and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
Isa Upanishad focuses on reality. Isha is Lord. This Upanishad speaks on man vs God; perfection vs imperfect; what is real and what is not. The first part of this approach is negative: whatever is unreal—that is, impermanent, imperfect, subject to change—is rejected. The second part is positive: whatever is understood to be perfect, eternal, unchanging—is accepted as real in the highest sense. As humans we do not always know whether something is impermanent and imperfect or not since 1. We are not around long enough to find out if something is permanent, and 2. We are too imperfect ourselves to know another’s imperfections.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad speaks on creation.
Mandukya Upanishad focuses on OM (“aum”).
Om the is the sound made to represent all of the noise in the world reduced to one vibration. AUM encompasses within itself the complete alphabet, since its utterance proceeds from the back of the mouth (A), travelling in between (U), and finally reaching the lips (M). It is the sound that can also be heard by deep meditation practitioners as they become in tune with everything around them. Om is the root of the universe and everything that exists and it continues to hold everything together. This Upanishad talks about exploring the world around you.
Kena Upanishad; who moves the world. Kena means “by whom”. This Upanishad asks you to dig deeper into yourself, and answer the question “by whom”? When you think, who is allowing you to think, who is making you think the way you do or choosing the thoughts you decided to verbalize? Kena Upanishad wants you to see that in the end it is you. You are your own God in a sense. You have a higher self, and that higher self is your leader, your God, your Higher Power. Among the Upanishads this is one of the most analytical and metaphysical, its purpose being to lead the mind from the gross to the subtle, from effect to cause. By a series of profound questions and answers, it seeks to locate the source of man’s being; and to expand his self–consciousness until it has become identical with God–Consciousness.
Katha Upanishad narrates a conversation between a sage by the name of Naciketas and Yama, the god of death, in which much of the nature of the Inner Nature of Man is presented. It is know as the Death as a teacher, to learn the roots of a disciplined yoga program via the Chariot metaphore.The first section of this article deals with the presentation of this Nature of the Inner man as being like the arrangement of a horse-drawn chariot, while the second section of the article provides the background text of the Katha Upanishad from which this instruction is drawn. This story ties into the Bhagavad Gita with the chariot metaphor. “Know that the Self is the rider, and the body the chariot, that the intellect is the charioteer, and the mind the reins. The senses say the wise, and are the horses; the roads they travel are the maxes of desire. The wise call the Self the enjoyer when he is united with the body, the senses are the mind.” The intellect can guide one spiritually, however when a person identifies with the senses or desires that to lead to pleasure, one loses the spiritual way because the senses pull the body off the spiritual course.
Taittiriya Upanishad is one of the older Upanishads. It brings a few concepts into play. First of all this Upanishad belongs to Krishna. It examens cosmology and shows how yoga seeks to intergrate each facet of the human being with all of reality by attuning one’s self with increasiling subtler experiences of reality. It talks about the Koshas, the five sheaths, starting with the outer most sheath and working its way to more to the more subtle: Annamaya (physical/body/food), Pranamaya (breath), Manomaya (mind/mental states), Vijanamaya (wisdom/intellect), Anandamaya (bliss/spiritual inspiration). They describe how yoga should feel, that mind body spirit connection. They are also a great guidline for taking your meditation a step further by balancing each one into the ultimate reality (Brahman) creating a deep contentment; allowing wisdom to lead one to the truth of joy. This is very much like the pose attitudes that Bob talks about in the Pure Heart of Yoga.
Prashna Upanishad. The word prashna literally means, in modern usage, "question, query, inquiry". In ancient and medieval era Indian texts, the word had two additional context-dependent meanings: "task, lesson" and "short section or paragraph", with former common in Vedic recitations. In Prashna Upanishad, all these contextual roots are relevant. What I really like is that it starts off in the way of asking the students to look internally and find their own questions to ask, rather than posing a question to the students regardless of their understanding the question or material. The students then ask the following six questions: How did life begin? What is a living being? What is the nature of man, and how is it so? What establishes man? What is meditation, and why meditate? What is immortal in man? They receive answers which talk a lot about breath (pranayama). Prana though is more than just breathing, it is the subtles unit of energy in our bodies. It can be broken don into five categoies: Prana (the inhalation), Apana (downward movement of energy throughout the body), Samana (The stomach and digestion functions), Vyana (circulating energy throughout the musculature), and Udana (energy rising from base of the spine to the brain).
Chandogya Upanishad. Hari Om! May my limbs, speech, Prana, eye, ear, strength and all my senses grow vigorous. All (everything) is the Brahman of the Upanishads. May I never deny Brahman. May Brahman never spurn me. May there be no denial of Brahman. May there be no spurning by the Brahman. Let all the virtues recited by the Upanishads repose in me, delighting in the Atman! May they in me repose! Om Peace! Peace!! Peace!!!
This is the student-teacher relationship. Understand what student you are. Understand that you may study and misinterpret, study and misunderstand, study and master. It is a process, and truly only the most advanced of students will fully understand the Upanishads. This makes life a little easier for me because as I study these, they start off making sense and then get cloudier and murkier as I read on and study more. If anyone else runs into this understand that you are not alone, and that with time, and learning, comes understanding. It takes time though.
Shvetashvatara Upanishad is about the purification of the sense organs. Shvetashvatara means “whitest horse” and symbolizes the yogi who is adept in meditation. This Upanishad helps you to gain clarity on how one wishes to pursue the nameless, to the know the unknowable. This Upanishad talks about how we are all enlightened already, but we may not know it or accept it due to our klesas (afflictions) and karma (actions). “Fire is not seen until one firestick rubs against another, though fire is still there, hidden in the firestick. So does the Lord remain hidden in the body until He is revealed through mystic mantram. Let your body be the lower firestick; let the mantram be the upper. Rub them against each other in meditation, and realize the lord.” This Upanishad gives a few steps and tips on how to find the realization of the highest truth: First, harness the mind and body; second, sit straight; third, control the breath; fourth, train the senses; fifth, meditate; sixth, samadhi (union with the divine is reached). Good news is that if you do not reach a point of Samadhi before death, death in its own way is Samadhi (a little morbid I know, but it gives hope to those who may not have reached it while living here and now).