The upanishads are an important work of Hindu philosophy. They were written down later after originally being transmitted orally. Aurobindo called them “the supreme work of the Indian mind”. The upanishads contain the fundamental teachings of Hinduism such as “Brahman” (absolute almighty), “atman” (soul), “moksha” (nirvana), “samsara” (reincarnation) and “karma” (action).
The Meaning of Upanishad
The term literally means “sitting near”. It connotes sitting at the feet of the guru to hear his teachings. This is a reference to the “gurukula” era, when gurus and sages taught pupils in forest hermitages. Another meaning of the term is knowledge that annihilates ignorance.
Time of Composition
There is a wide degree of disparity in ascertaining the period of the upanishads’ composition. In fact, they were not written at one go, but over a long period of time. Despite this disparity, there is commonality and coherence in the content, approach and thought of the upanishads.
The Main Books
Thirteen upanishads convey the core teachings of this philosophy. These are: Maitri, Mandukya, Prasna, Isa, Svetasvatara, Brihadaranyaka, Taittriyaka, Mundaka, Katha, Kaushitaki, Aitareya, Kena and Chandogya upanishads.
Author of the Upanishads
There is no single author, but many contributors. All the writers did not belong to the priestly caste. Some were inspired poets who revealed spiritual wisdom and guided readers to attain liberation. An important figure in the upanishads is sage Yajnavalkya. Other important sages are Sanat Kumara, Pippalada, Aitareya, Shandilya, Shwetaketu and Uddalaka Aruni. Vedic teachers found in the upanishads include Narada, Ayasya, Brihaspati and Manu.