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The Upanishads


Brahmanism (The Way of Knowledge)
1. Meaning to sit down near, so close that the teacher could whisper in your ear the Upanishads are
often called the secret teachings of Hinduism. They are the philosophical commentaries on the Vedas.
2. They were also a reflection on the dominance of the priests for instead of turning outwardly to the
Gods, it was to look inwardly within oneself to where Brahman resides.
3. The teaching is concerned with the discovery of the real Self (that which is the same in all things). The
Self ATMAN (in Sanskrit) is Brahman and the discovery of the identity between self & Power leads to
MOSKA (liberation). It is the Gurus task to bring his SISYA pupil, to this realisation to understand who
he is (Remember the Story of the Tiger Tat Tvam Asi[That you are] folklore).
4. The Upanishads look to bring out the interconnecting relationship of the Atman & Brahman as can be
seen in the CHANDOGYA Upanishad (750 B.C) were Uddalaka is trying to teach his son, SVETAKETU:
My son, place this salt in this water and in the morning come to me, once again. Svetaketu did so. In the
morning his father said to him, That salt that you placed in the water last night, please bring it to me.
Svetaketu looked for it but could not find it, for it was totally dissolved. Then his father said to him, Please
take a sip from this end. How does it taste? Salty, Svetaketu replied. Please take a sip from the middle.
How does it taste? Salty, he replied again. Take a sip from that end. How does it taste? Salty as well
he said. Then his father told him to set it aside and then sit with him. Svetaketu said to him then, It is
everywhere the same. The father replied ,Yes my son, you do not perceive that Being here but it is truly
here, nonetheless. For that invisible essence is the finest essence of all this world, and in that invisible
essence every creature has its Self. That is Reality. That is Atman. Tat tvam asi, Svetaketu.
Brahman is everywhere, and discovering the Atman leads to liberation from Suffering (SAMSARA), and it
is the suffering that drives people to search for liberation.
5. The Liberation From Suffering in the Upanishads:

i.) The problem for Upanisadic men & women was SAMSARA which means rebirth & also suffering.
Rebirth must go on until MOSKA (liberation) is reached and therefore rebirth is the chief source of
ii.)The concept of rebirth is not in the RG veda (it may have come from the Harappans of the Indus Valley
civilisation) but it appears in the Upanishads as a well-developed concept.
iii.)One of its first appearances is in the BRHADARANYAKA Upanishad, the oldest (800 B.C). In it
Svetaketu is taking instruction from a teacher called Jaivali who says:
Do you know how people here, on dying, separate in different directions?
No, he answered.
Do you know how they return to this world?
No, he answered.
Do you know why that other world (heaven) is not filled up with the many who go there, again and again?
No, he answered.
iv.)The reason people do not fill up heaven is because they are reborn. Why are they reborn? because of
KARMA. They get the cosmic justice they deserve (Vedic concept of RTA). As stated in the
Truly, one becomes good by good actions, bad by bad action. III 2:13
i.) The self is reborn because it chooses to it is its desire (KARMA), therefore this is a major cause of
He who desires desirable things and broods upon them is born again because of that desire. Mundaka
Upanishad III 2:2
ii.)Only when desire for the world has ceased will we not be reborn.
i.)The other cause of this bondage is ignorance AVIDYA

ii.)It is ignorance and the absence of higher knowledge (of the self) which is the chief cause of bondage:
Believing falsely that the rites and sacrifices of the Vedas are the highest these fools do not understand
that other way (knowledge of the Self), so having enjoyed the temporary fruits of heaven they re-enter this
world or a lower one. Mundaka Upanishad I 2.5-10
i.) One of the consequences of AVIDYA is MAYA, originally meant the magical power through which
Brahman reveals and conceals itself in creation.
ii.) The Upanishads argued that Brahman as a creator projects itself as the world, thereby revealing itself
in the creation.
iii.) The creation is said to be MAYA or appearance to be caught in MAYA is to believe in the illusion that
the world is real.
i.) The solution to the problem of Samsara, of re-birth is MOSKA liberation.
ii.) In Hinduism MOSKA is one of the four ARTHAS (aims) in the life of a person.
iii.)They have a legitimate place within the ASRAMAS (stages) of Hindu life
i.) According to tradition these stages came into being during the Upanishadic period. A human life time
ideally should be 100 years and be split into 4 periods of 25 years:
GRHASTHA The householder stage, during which time he attendeds to which ever life he inherits from
his father i.e. priest, soldier , merchant etc.
VANAPRASH The retirement/forest dweller stage, he may go forth from the village into the forest and
reside there, controlling his senses. In order to attain complete(union with) the Self, (let him study) the
various sacred texts contained in the Upanishads..

Laws of Manu Vi 36 41-43

SANNYASA The ascetic wanderer stage. The wandering holy man moves from village to village intent
only on pursuing MOKSA.
i.) Each of the ASRAMAS has a ARTHA goal, at which it aims:
ARTHA also means wealth and the accumulation of during the householder stage helps to achieve the
other asramas.
KARMA is the goal of sensual love/sexual desire, by pursuing Karma the householder produces sons
& daughters. It is an acceptable goal of the householder.
DHARMA goal of duty, duty to follow ones vocation and obey the laws of God & man. It is a goal for
the Student, householder & forest dweller. The wanderer has already passed beyond laws and desires.
MOKSHA the goal of liberation, release or freedom from Samsara. It is the immediate goal of the
forest dweller and the wanderer, achieving the goal brings wisdom & contentment as both ignorance and
desire are destroyed and the Self is absorbed into Brahman.
i.) The ways to MOSKA are found in the practice of two yogas:
DHYANA YOGA the way of meditation
JNANA YOGA the way of knowledge
ii.)The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root yui meaning to control controlling the ego/self OR to
join being absorbed into Brahman in knowing ATMAN.
iii.)The Upanishads recognise a lower self JIVA and a higher self ATMAN.
iv.) By calming the self through DHYANA yoga, it lets the self be uncovered and known by mystical
knowledge through JNANA this leads on to MOKSHA and enlightenment.
v.) To reach the pure self you must go through three circles (the gunas).

vi.) To reach the Atman the Yogi must pass through the three Gunas, they are described in the MAITRI
Upanishad in the following terms:
Guna 1 SATTVA GUNA is the strand or quality of goodness, rightness, purity, light. Illumination,
knowledge, and wisdom, in a word brightness.
Guna 2 RAJAS GUNA is the strand or quality of inner lusting, attachment, feelings, jealousy, outer
lusting, maliciousness, hatred,envy, insatiability.ambitiousnessand gluttony, in a word, action.
Guna 3 TAMAS GUNA is the strand or quality of delusion, fear, depression, sleepiness, tiredness,
forgetfulness, old age, sorrow, hunger, thirst, anger, heterodoxy (believing false doctrines), ignorance,
stupidity.., in a word inertia.
vii.) Every object in the Universe is made up of the 3 Gunas, in some objects one Guna predominates etc.
One may be present actually whilst the other two are present potentially.
i.)Their aim is to penetrate the guna layers and reach the Atman:
Take up the great weapon, the Upanishads, as the bow, fix on it the arrow sharpened by meditation.
Draw it back with a thought directed to the very center of Reality and then penetrate to that Unchanging
Target. Mundaka Upanishad II 2.3-4
ii.)The Maitri Upanishad lists a series of stages through which the Yogi will pass in meditation:
The way to the uniting of the ATMAN and the BRAHMAN is this: The control of the breath
(PRANAYAMA); the withdrawal of the activity of the senses (PRATYAHARA); meditation (DHYANA);
concentration (DHARANA); contemplation (TARKA); and finally absorption (SAMADHI) into that ultimate
unity of Brahman and Atman. This is the sixfold way of Yoga.
i.) JNANA yoga leads to Brahman and absorption into Brahman and escape from Samsara. Once
achieved it is unalterable and the person becomes a JIVANMUKTA (a liberated-while-yet-alive-being).

ii.) DHYANA yoga leads to temporary absorption (SAMADHI) into Brahman producing states of tranquility
but it does not lead to MOKSHA. It last as long as the meditation and is part of the path on to JNANA
iii.) The Upanishads seem to show liberation for BRAHMINS, KSATRIYAS and VAISYAS, whilst previously
in the Vedas only the BRAHMINS held the key.
iv.)They do not show escape for the SUDRAS, this becomes reality in the BHAGAVAD GITA
PROBLEM Samsara as suffering in this world and the rebirth in the next.
CAUSES Ignorance (AVIDYA) of self is the chief cause of Samsara with desire (Kama) i.e lusting for
anything that is not self, as a secondary cause.
SOLUTION Liberation (Moksha) as mystical absorbtion into Brahman and release from Samsara.
WAYS JNANA yoga, the way of knowledge of the identity of the real self with Brahman, and also
DYWANA yoga the way of meditation which leads to glimpses of Moksha, i.e Samadhi.

Differences and similarities between religious forms

in the Vedic tradition and those in the later Hindu tradition

Copyright 1995 by John R. Mabry

In detailing the differences between Vedic and later Hindu religion, one inevitably
runs into the problem of trying to pin down exactly what these traditions entail, as
they are both fluid, and ever-changing systems. As Hopkins states, "The Brahmanical
system had never been static. The Vedic texts reflect a dynamic process of growth and

innovation from the early hymn collections through the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and
Upanishads."1 We cannot, in the space provided, be exhaustive in our approach to this
comparison, and must rely upon generalities which, due to their incompleteness, must
inevitably involve inaccuracies.

The Vedic tradition comes to us, according to commonly excepted Indology, from the
Aryan invaders. It is primarily a tradition of priests and priestcraft, with a sizable
pantheon of nature deities. The sacrifice, the chief act of worship, gradually
progressed from being a ritual of hospitality for the gods, to a means of propitiation,
and eventually, a means of controlling the universe.

Later Hinduism is, simplistically stated, the result of the synthesis of the Vedic
tradition of the Aryan invaders with the Dravidian, Harappic, and other Native Indian
traditions, which survived on the popular level in tandem with the Vedic system.
Stuart Piggott writes,

"the links between the Harappa religion...and contemporary Hinduism are...of course
of immense interest, providing as they do some explanation of those many features
that cannot be derived from the Aryan traditions.... The old faiths die hard: it is even
possible that early historic Hindu society owed more to Harappa than it did to the
Sanskrit-speaking invaders."2

The eventual synthesis of the two into later Hinduism was occasioned not only by
time and proximity, but also necessity. With the rise of heterodox systems (such and
Buddhism and the Jains), Brahmanical (priestly) superiority came into question. As
Hopkins writes "Brahmans still received respect, but that respect increasingly had to
be earned by proven worth."3 The mandate was clear to the Brahmans: change or die.
So it was that non-Vedic influences such as meditation, iconographic employment,
and social concern were appropriated by Brahmanical orthodoxy. Hopkins continues,

"These emphases together undercut popular support for the non-Vedic movements and
established the Brahmanical system once more at the center of the Indian religious
life, but this time with much greater openness and flexibility and with much greater
popular involvement."4

But for all of the considerable theological and cosmetic differences between Vedic
religion and later Hinduism, there is a strong thread of continuity that is often ignored
by scholars. Gonda writes,

Too often they failed to draw attention to a great variety of elements which though
chronologically Vedic and incorporated in the coprora of Vedic literature preluded
phenomena or institutions which are generally regarded as typically "Hinduist" and
disregarded what notwithstanding considerable difference points to unmistakable

As we explore more fully the specific differences between the two "religions," we
shall also attempt to point out practices and attitudes which have survived the

Vedic religion honored a pantheon of deities that were tied in function and domain to
nature, divine powers that controlled various aspects of the natural world. There was
Vayu, the wind god, Agni, the fire god, Indra, the god of thunder and king of the gods,
as well as many, many others. Through the fire sacrifice, Agni took the prayers and
oblations from the worshipers to the realm of the gods, to whom the sacrificer
appealed for practical assistance.

Eventually, however, the religious intuition of a greater power behind the devas, or
nature deities, developed. Brahman was the one power, the One in whom all reality
inhered. As Hopkins explains it,

Early Upanishadic thinkers viewed the gods of the Vedic ritual tradition as belonging
to the phenomenal world; they were "the gods" in contrast to the cosmic reality of
Brahman, "the many" in contrast to the One. Brahman was not a god or deva but the
Absolute, the Real, knowledge of which freed men from attachment to the world and
its gods. This point, once established, undercut the entire Vedic pantheon.6

This was a giant leap forward in the religious imaginations of the Vedic peoples.
Instead of being earth-bound (at least, bound to their responsibilities on earth) as were
the nature deities of the Vedas, deity took on Cosmic proportions. After this idea was
established in the Upanishads, later sectarian systems were able to claim identity
between Brahma and their deity of choice, leading to a further step forward, but
instead of an outward and expansive step in the conception of an Ultimate Reality, it
was a step back inward, in that the Ultimate reality was also intimately connected and
concerned with the individual, creating the unique (to the Vedics) concept of the
personal god, at once of cosmic proportions and indwelling the heart of each person.
According to Hopkins, "Development of Upanishadic theism occurred only when the
personal aspect of Brahman were transferred to a god already well established in both
priestly and popular religion."7

This could only have happened, initially, to deities with Vedic prerequisites. The two
major deities of later Hinduism, Siva and Visnu, are both of Vedic origin, though in
the Vedic canon they are minor devas compared with Indra, Vayu or Agni. As their
cults developed, however, they overtook not only the Vedic gods, already
overshadowed by Brahman, but Brahman himself, if not in explicit theology, then
certainly in terms of popular devotion.

As the gods of later Hinduism eclipsed the Vedic pantheon, Indra and the rest did not
disappear altogether, but were subsumed into the sectarian systems in different ways,
providing another example of Gonda's continuity. In some schools, Indra, Yama,
Varuna and Kubera remained as the Guardians of the four corners of the universe. As
Basham writes, "In late texts four further guardians of the intermediate quarters were

added--Soma, Vayu, Agni and Surya."8 At least in Hinduism, old gods never die, they
just get reappropriated.

The concept of a personal god also ushered in many changes. No longer was an
aspirant dependent upon the priests to mediate between himself and the gods, but
through the appropriation of mental disciplines such as meditation, direct contact with
Ultimate Reality was possible for everyone who was willing to submit to the yoga, or
discipline. As Hopkins writes,

"What was essential was not the specific identity of the Lord but his accessibility
through meditation. It was this that distinguished all later theism from the earlier
worship of Vedic gods and greatly influenced the way in which popular gods were
absorbed into the post-Vedic Brahmanical system."9

Meditation originally arose in the early Upanishadic period as a way of internalizing

the fire sacrifice, and achieving tapas, or heat, energy that makes the ritual practice
efficacious. This lead to many streams of asceticism outside of Brahmanical circles.
Asceticism, though having no place within orthodox Brahmanic systems, nevertheless
lent the tradition various practices used to achieve tapas, such as fasting, mortification
(to which the Buddha reacted so strongly), and meditation. Later Hinduism, however,
integrated the various streams of heterodox asceticism--influenced also by Buddhist
and Jain practice--into orthodox religious life.

One of the most significant changes was the replacement of the sacrifice with puja as
the chief form of religious practice. As Gonda puts it,

The often extremely complicated Vedic "sacrifice," the center of the aniconic Aryan
cult, involving the slaughter of animals and the participation of many (up to 16 or 17)
specialized priests contrasts markedly with the basic rite of Hinduism, the so-called
puja which generally consists of the worship of a god in the form of an icon, to which

flowers, betel quids, water for washing the feet and other--as a rule vegetarian-presents are offered. The image in which the god is believed to have in some sense
taken up his abode is honored, fed, fanned, and placed in a shrine or temple, erections
and edifices which in the Vedic cult are conspicuous by their absence."10

Although the forms are very different, there are still striking similarities between the
practices. As stated earlier, the sacrifice was originally a rite of hospitality for the
gods, very like the purpose of the puja, about which Basham says, "Though devotees
often ask for boons at the feet of the idol, puja is not so much an act of prayer as of
homage and entertainment. The god is offered water for washing the feet, flowers and
betel quids, like an honored guest."11

Also similar is the distinction between the rites of the professional clergy and the
household rites performed by everyday people, present in both systems. The lines
began to blur significantly in the Upanishadic period, however. Hopkins says,

A formal distinction was maintained between Srauta rites (rites using the Vedic
hymns), which were necessarily performed by priests, and Griha ("domestic") rites,
performed by the Aryan householder himself; but both the latter and the former were
subject to priestly influence. Some domestic rites became almost indistinguishable
from the priestly Srauta sacrifices; and, even where older ceremonies were retained,
they were usually interwoven with elements of the priestly ritual.12

Today, puja is similarly performed in the home and in the simpler temple ceremonies.

Another change wrought by the Brahmanical syntheses was a reorientation in sacred

literature on forms of behavior. In the Vedic period, scripture spoke almost exclusively
about behavior in terms of ritual action, proper procedure, etc. But after about 500
b.c.e., social concerns began to be addressed. Texts began detailing proper action in

the matters of everyday living, or "dharma," which Hopkins translates "what men
ought to do."13

The purpose of religious observance likewise evolved. In the Vedic period, the gods
were addressed chiefly to obtain "material rewards on earth and in heaven."14 The
conception of afterlife was nebulous, and at best, one expected to join ones ancestors
in the realm of the gods. However, in the Upanishads the concept of transmigration
developed, along with the doctrine of Karma. Men still made sacrifices to the gods to
obtain material boons, but it was generally accepted that "the totality of men's actions
determined the conditions of their rebirth."15 Eventually, in most sects of Hinduism,
the goal of spiritual practice became release from the cyclic pattern of death and
rebirth. Different systems were developed, all promising ultimate liberation from one's
karma, most notably Bhakti, the path of devotion (favored amongst Vaishnavites), and
Jnana, the path of knowledge (favored amongst Sivaites).

This is, of course, only a beginning; the comparisons, and continuities, are endless.
There is, however, no question that although the Vedic tradition and later Hinduism
have startling differences, the latter is in fact the tree sprung from the former, and
there is much continuity yet connecting them.