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Upanishads? What are these texts?

Literally, the word Upanishadsin Sanskrit means “sitting down near” or “sitting down at the feet”. So this is the basic building block of the “Guru Shishya” tradition where the revered guru teaches and shares secret knowledge with his students in an ashrama or hermitage. Modern-day science acknowledges that reality is partly visible and mostly invisible. Upanishads were the first scriptures which confirmed this truth many centuries ago. Hence the Upanishads use human personalities to depict the idea of the ‘Supreme Self’ or "Brahman" and "Individual Self" or "Aatman". Apart from these, it also contains precious information on “Karma” or right action and “Moksha” or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Thus these are the Vedic doctrines that explain “Self-realization” through yoga and meditative practices.

Most of the stories in Upanishads are a dialogue between two or three characters, either between a guru or his disciples or between the pupils of a hermitage or between two enemies. So this is an enchanting world of stories entangled with inner meanings of life, time and space. These provide us with an intelligible body of verified and verifiable spiritual insights along with a mixture of mythology and legends and cosmological speculations relating to nature and the origin of the universe.

Adi Shankaracharya
Adi Shankaracharya

Most scholars are divided as to date the composition of these great texts. However, many of these agree that the principal Upanishads were composed before Gautama Buddha in the 7th century BCE.

There are over 200 Upanishads, and many of them are sectarian in character and are evidently written in the post-Buddhist era and also some of them are composed after Adi Shankaracharya’s era.

These were written over a huge period and the principal Upanishads are accepted to be those which were commented on by none other than Adi Shankaracharya. He commented on 10 Upanishads namely Isā, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Muņdaka, Māņdūkya, Taittirīya, Aitareya, Chāndogya and Bŗhadāraņyanka. Some scholars also believe that Adi Shankaracharya also commented on the 11th Upanishad named Śvetāśvatara.

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