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(o͞opăn`ĭshădz), speculative and mystical scriptures of HinduismHinduism
, Western term for the religious beliefs and practices of the vast majority of the people of India. One of the oldest living religions in the world, Hinduism is unique among the world religions in that it had no single founder but grew over a period of 4,000 years in
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, regarded as the wellspring of Hindu religious and speculative thought. The Upanishads, which form the last section of the literature of the VedaVeda
[Sanskrit,=knowledge, cognate with English wit, from a root meaning know], oldest scriptures of Hinduism and the most ancient religious texts in an Indo-European language.
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, were composed beginning c.900 B.C. Of the 112 extant Upanishads, about 13 date from the Vedic period and the remainder are later, sectarian works. The principal early Upanishads develop answers to questions posed in the Rig-Veda and the Brahmanas regarding the real significance of the Vedic sacrifice and the source and controlling power of the world and the individual. They are best known for their doctrine of brahman, the ultimate and universal reality of pure being and consciousness, and the identity of brahman with the inner essence, or atman, of the human being. This equation is expressed in the famous utterances "That art thou" and "All this is brahman." The Upanishads are not a systematic exposition of concepts but a heterogeneous compilation of material from different sources. In addition to brahman-atman teachings, they contain information about allegorical interpretation of the sacrifice, death and rebirth processes, and yogic practice and experience. They are the basis for the later philosophical schools of VedantaVedanta
, one of the six classical systems of Indian philosophy. The term "Vedanta" has the literal meaning "the end of the Veda" and refers both to the teaching of the Upanishads, which constitute the last section of the Veda, and to the knowledge of its ultimate meaning.
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For bibliography see VedaVeda
[Sanskrit,=knowledge, cognate with English wit, from a root meaning know], oldest scriptures of Hinduism and the most ancient religious texts in an Indo-European language.
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(Upanisads), Indian religious and philosophical treatises in prose and verse that form part of the Vedic literature. In India, the term “upanishads” is understood to mean occult knowledge accessible only to the initiated.

The Upanishads originated in approximately the seventh to third centuries B.C. The chief Upanishads, which are directly linked with the various Vedic schools, have considerable philosophical and artistic value. The Upanishads are concerned with philosophical problems of the Vedic religion and with man’s understanding of himself and the surrounding world; interpretations of priestly ritual occupy only a secondary place.

The chief doctrine of the Upanishads is the unity of brahman, the absolute and objective principle of the universe, and atman, the subjective and individual principle. Abstract ideas are elucidated by means of parables and allegories. An artistic device specific to the Upanishads is the equation of phenomena and concepts of different levels, representing a “play of concepts” that has its justification and meaning in the philosophical conception of the unity of the world as found in the Upanishads.

The significance of the Upanishads has not been limited to India. It is believed that in antiquity and the Middle Ages, an acquaintance with the treatises enriched the teachings of Persian Sufis, Neoplatonists, and Christian theologians. In modern times, they have influenced many European and American philosophers, such as A. Schopenhauer and R. W. Emerson.


Upanishads: The Principal Upanishads. Edited with introduction, text, translation, and notes by S. Radhakrishnan. London, 1953.
In Russian translation:
Brikhadaran’iaka Upanishada. Foreword and commentary by A. Ia. Syrkin. Moscow, 1964.
Chkhandog’ia Upanishada. Foreword and commentary by A. Ia. Syrkin. Moscow, 1965.
Upanishady. [Foreword and commentary by A. Ia. Syrkin.] Moscow, 1967.


Syrkin, A. Ia. Nekotorye problemy izucheniia upanishad. Moscow, 1971.
Keith, A. B. The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads, vols. 1–2. Cambridge, Mass., 1925.


Upanishads (or Upanishadic Hinduism)


Around 1000 to 1500 B.C.E., a group of aggressive pastoral peoples from central Asia invaded India through the northern mountain passes, conquered the aboriginal peoples, and destroyed whatever records might have remained from the original civilization. These peoples, who called themselves Aryans (“nobles”), originated from around the Caspian Sea. The worldview of the Aryan invaders of India was preserved in the Vedas. The religious vision set forth in the Vedas, unlike that of classical Hinduism, focused very much on this world. The gods were ritually invoked to improve one’s situation in this life, so priests became something approaching magicians.

Around 800 B.C.E. and afterward, Vedic Hinduism, with its heavy dependence on ritualistically knowledgeable priests, was challenged by a more individualistic form of spiritual expression that rejected many of the basic views and values of Vedism. This emergent view was expressed in a set of religious texts collectively referred to as the Upanishads. The Upanishads postulated an eternal, changeless core of the self that was referred to as the Atman. This soul or deep self was viewed as being identical to the unchanging godhead, referred to as Brahma (the unitary ground of being that transcends particular gods and goddesses). Untouched by the variations of time and circumstance, the Atman was nevertheless entrapped in this world, the constantly changing world of our everyday experiences. This unstable, fluctuating world is contrasted with the spiritual realm of the Atman/Brahma, which is stable and unchanging. Because of reincarnation, even death does not release the Atman from this world.

In the southern Asian religious tradition, release or liberation from the endless chain of deaths and rebirths represents the supreme goal of human striving. Reflecting the diversity of Hinduism, liberation can be attained in a variety of different ways, from the proper performance of certain rituals to highly disciplined forms of yoga. In the Upanishads, it is proper knowledge, in the sense of insight into the nature of reality, that enables the aspiring seeker to achieve liberation from the wheel of rebirth. Certain of the Upanishads analyze the self in terms of the waking state, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. The Atman represents a fourth aspect of the self, beyond the facets of the self accessed by these three states of consciousness.

The Upanishads also discuss dreaming as a kind of halfway house between this world and the next, as cited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty in her Dreams, Illusions, and Other Realities (p. 16—see Sources):

A man has two conditions: in this world and in the world beyond. But there is also a twilight juncture: the condition of sleep. In this twilight juncture one sees both of the other conditions, this world and the other world…. When someone falls asleep, he takes the stuff of the entire world, and he himself takes it apart, and he himself builds it up, and by his own bright light he dreams…. There are no chariots there, no harnessings, no roads; but he emits chariots, harnessings, and roads. There are no joys, happinesses, or delights there; but he emits joys, happiness, and delights. There are no ponds, lotus pools, and flowing streams, but he emits ponds, lotus pools, and flowing streams. For he is the Maker.

In this passage one can also perceive the kernel of an idea that would become prominent in later Hinduism, namely, the notion that the world we experience in our waking state is ultimately unreal and, like our dreamworld, simply a projection of consciousness.

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