Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
The Upanisads come at the close of the Aranyakas. If the Samhita is the
tree, the Brahmana the flower and the Aranyaka the fruit (i. e. in its
unripe stage), the Upanishads are the mellow fruit - the final fruit or
"phala". The Upanisads are to the seeker the direct means of realising
non-difference between the jivatman (individual self) and the
Paramatman. The purpose of the Samhita and the Aranyaka is to take us
to this path of knowledge. Though a number of deities are mentioned
here and there in the Upanisads, the chief objective of these texts is
inquiry into the Ultimate Reality and the attainment of the stage in
one becomes wise enough and mature enough to sever oneself from all
karma. It is on this basis that the Vedas are divided into the
and the jnanakanda, the part dealing with works and the part dealing
with knowledge [enlightenment]. The two are also spoken of as the
Purvamimamsa and the Uttaramimamsa respectively.
The great sage Jaimini's sastra based on his inquiry into the karmakanda
is called Purvamimamsa. His teaching is that the karmakanda,
constituting the Vedic rites and duties, is itself the final fruit of
scripture. Similiarly, Vyasa has in his work, the Brahmasutra, inquired
the jnanakanda and come to the conclusion that it represents the
ultimate purpose of the Vedas. The Upanisadic jnanakanda is small
compared to the karmakanda. The Jaiminisutra has a thousand sections
("sahasradhikarani"), while Vyasa's Brahmasutra has only 192 sections.
Just as the leaves of a tree far outnumber its flowers and fruits, in
case of the Vedic tree the karmakanda is far bigger than the jnanakanda.
In other countries philosophers try to apprehend the Truth on an
intellectual plane. The Upanisadic inquiry is differnt, its purpose
realise inwardly the Truth perceived by the mind or the intellect. Is it
enough to know that halva is sweet? You must ecperience its sweetness
by eating it. How are the Upanisads different from other philosophical
systems? They (the Upanisads) consist of mantras, sacred syllables, and
their sound is instinct with power. This power transforms the truths
propounded by them into an inward reality. The philosophical systems of
other countries do not go beyond making an intellectual inquiry. Here,
-in the karmakanda - a way of life is prescribed for the seeker with
and duties calculated to discipline and purify him. After leading such a
and eventually forsaking all action, all Vedic karma, he meditates on
truths of the Upanisads. Instead of being mere ideas of intellectual
perception, these truths will then become a living reality. The highest
these truths is that there is no differnce between the individual self
It is to attain this highest of states in which the individual self
inseperably in the Brahman that a man becomes a sannyasin after
forsaking the very karma that gives him inward maturity. When he is
initiated into sannyasa he is taught four mantras, the four [principal]
mahakavyas. The four proclaim the identity of the individual self
(jivatman) with the Brahman. When these mahavakyas are reflected upon
through the method known as "nididhyasana", the seeker will arrive at
the stage of realising the oneness of the individual self and the
The four mahavakyas occur in four differnt Upanisads. Many are the rites
that you have to perform, many are the prayers you have to recite and
many are the ways of life you are enjoined to follow - all these
to the Samhitas and Brahmanas. But, when it comes to achieving the
highest ideal, the supreme goal of man, you have no alternative to the
Upanisads and their mahavakyas.
"The Brahman means realising the jnana that is the highest" (Prajnanam
Brahma): this mahavakya occurs in the Aitareya Upanisad of the Rgveda.
"I am the Brahman" (Aham Brahmasmi) is the mahavakya belonging to
the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad of the Yajurveda. "That thou art" or "the
Paramatman and you are the one and the same" (Tat tvam asi) is from
the Chandogya Upanisad of the samaveda. THe fourth mahavakya, "This
Self is the Brahman" (Ayam Atma Brahma), is from the Mandukya
Upanisad of the Atharvaveda.
In his Sopana Pancaka, which contains the sum and the substance of his
teachings, the Acharya urges us to chant the Samhitas (of the Vedas),
perform the duties laid down in the Brahmanas and, finally, to meditate
on the mahavakyas after recieving initiation into them, the purpose
our oneing with the Brahman.
The Vedas find their final expression in the Upanisads. Indeed, the
Upanisads are called "Vedanta". They form the final part of the Vedas in
two ways. In each recension we have first the Samhita, then the
Brahmana which is followed by the Aranyaka, the Upanisad coming at the
close of the last-mentioned. The Upanisads throw light on the meaning
and the purpose of the Vedas and represent the end of the scripture in
more than one sense: while their text forms the concluding part of the
Vedas, their meaning represents the Ultimmate Truth of the same. A
village or town has a temple; the temple has its gopuram; and the
gopuram has a sikhara over it. The Upanisads are the sikhara, the
of our philosophical [and metaphysical] system.
"Upa-ni-sad" means to "sit near by". The Upanisads are the teachings
imparted by a guru to his student sitting by his side [sitting at his
You could also take the term to mean "that which takes one to the
Brahman". "Upanayana" may be interpreted in two ways: leading a child
to his guru; or leading him to the Brahman. Similiarly, the term
could also be understood in the above two senses.
If a student sits close to the teacher when he is recieving instruction
means that a "rahasya" (a secret or a mystery) is being conveyed to him.
Such teachings are not meant to be imparted to those who are not
sufficiently mature and who are not capable of cherishing their value.
That is why in the Upanisads themselves these words occur where subtle
and esoteric truths are expounded:"This is Upanisat. This is Upanisat".
What is held to be a secret in the Vedas is called a "rahasya". In the
Upanisads the term "Upanisat" is itself used to mean the same.
(See Chapter 33 of this part, entitled "The Ten Upanisads")