The [I]Upanishads[/I] are one of the great wisdom books of the East. Like the Vedas of the ancient Brahmans or the [I]Tripitaka[/I] of the Buddhists, or even parts of the [I]Koran[/I] of Mohammed, the [I]Upanishads[/I] offer enlightened wisdom and insightful advice. Although these works are religious in nature, we mustn’t be tainted in our estimation of their astuteness by the religiosity of them. At their heart, all religions aim to bring out compassion, tolerance, love and brotherhood among us. If possible, we can siphon out the little gems of wisdom within this sacred book and leave the political and dogmatic aspects aside. All great works, such as this one, began with the burning desire of man to understand himself. Surely, just as some men or women have ventured into space to tell us more about the heavenly bodies in our Universe, some have dug just as deep into the human heart to find other universes therein, and lived to come back to tell us of their findings. The Upanishads is a book that offers answers to some of the deeper mysteries within.
The [I]Upanishads[/I] are a gift to the world from the Hindu culture. Sri Aurobindo describes them as the “supreme work of the Indian mind.” They were written by many different authors, from saints and sages, kings and paupers, sometimes even roaming poets with flashes of insight. Upanishad means ‘sitting down close to a guru.” They were composed between 800 and 500 BC as a furtherance of the Vedas in order to explore spirituality, and more specifically raising the mind form the depths of materialistic existence to the higher Self, a completely realized mind.
Most of the tools which the [I]Upanishads[/I] recommend are yogic in nature. Yoga is thought to have existed well before either the Vedas or Upanishads were written. It was well established on the Indian continent when these books came to be. Many think yoga to be at least four thousand years old as it is first mentioned in the [I]Vedic[/I] [I]Shatras[/I]. The [I]Upanishads[/I] cover key Hindu ideas including concepts such as karma, samsara, miksha, nirvana, the atman and Paramatman and Brahman (Absolute Almighty). Some describe the overarching teachings in this way, “When the sun rises, everyone begins his work in its light, but the sun does not make anyone act in any particular manner. The sun merely provides the light for all activity.” This is the realization of Brahma.
To expand on some of the key concepts in the [I]Upanishads[/I], we can begin by looking at karma. Karma is a concept of right action through which all endeavors we take on, including our work is given to something greater than ourselves, ideally Brahma. Another concept to expand on is called Samsara. This is the idea of a never-ending cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth that we all are trying to escape. It includes the Buddhist ideas of suffering. Our samskaras, a similar word from Sanskrit maintains that we all hold within the energy and physical body, impressions of past lives and this one that prevent us from raising our consciousness. These are ways of being stuck, which we must clear from ourselves through yoga asana, Pratyahara, and pranayama, for example. Another concept is Miksha. It is the idea of liberation from this cycle of death and rebirth. Nirvana is the state of being we obtain compared to pure bliss, pure freedom and the pure beatitude that transcends the cycles of samsara. The atman and Paramatman are the smaller self and the larger transcendent self, which lives in a state of Nirvana and Brahman is the Absolute Almighty – the creator of all.
It is explained in the [I]Maitrayaniya Upanishads[/I] thusly, “Shadanga-Yoga - The uniting discipline of the six limbs (shad-anga), as expounded in the [I]Maitrayaniya-Upanishad[/I]: (1) breath control (pranayama), (2) sensory inhibition (pratyahara), (3) meditation (dhyana), (4) concentration (dharana), (5) examination (tarka), and (6) ecstasy (samadhi).”
The [I]Upanishads[/I] are named in several manuscripts, and in two important ones, we discover a discussion of the koshas or five layers of being. This is written about extensively in the [I]Taittiriya Upanishad[/I] and the [I]Mandukya Upanishad[/I]. The five layers of consciousness are named in Sanskrit as annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, manomaya kosha, vijnanamaya kosha and anandamaya kosha. These are the five layers of objectivity which, in a gradational form, externalize consciousness. The grosser the sheath, the larger is the force of externality, so that when consciousness enters the physical body, we are completely material in our outlook, physical in our understanding and assessment of values, intensely body-conscious, and know nothing of ourselves except as this physical form. As the layers move into more subtleness, then we begin to experience the world through the larger mind. Some call it the mind of God.
There are many more yogic philosophies presented in the [I]Upanishads[/I] that have been reiterated in books like the [I]Hatha Yoga Pradipika[/I], for example. It is a treasury of Indian philosophy, but its wisdom transcends culture and geography. We may not understand Brahman as the Indian mind did, but we can begin to conceive of it through our own cultural lense. Sri S.N. Sastri explains the concept this way, “Brahman cannot be directly described by words because it has no quality, activity or relationship with anything else. A substance which has a quality, such as redness, bigness, etc, can be described by reference to that quality. A person who performs a particular activity such as cooking can be described by reference to that activity, as a cook, etc. A stranger can be identified by reference to his relationship with a known person. Because of the absence of any of these qualities, Brahman cannot be described at all by any words. The method of superimposition and subsequent negation has therefore to be resorted to.” Through our practice we can transcend words and understand the concept of Brahman from the heart. If we apply the teachings of the [I]Upanishads[/I] to our own yogic practice, we would be greatly benefited.
What are the Upanishads, and Overview http://luthar.com/what-are-the-upanishads/
Christina Sarich http://www.yogaforthenewworld.blogspot.com