The Upanishads


1)    Jnanamarga – the way of knowledge.  First appears in the Upanishads

a)     Respected throughout Indian society at all levels

b)    A new form of religious life that doesn’t center on ritual and social duties

c)     Jnana implies a religion based on secret wisdom – taught by sages, based in mystical experience, esoteric sources

2)    Karma and Samsara:  two basic concepts that inform the notions of dharma and moksha.

a)     Karma: law of cause and effect by which one reaps what one sows.

i)       “karma” means “works,” “deeds”

ii)    All actions, particularly moral actions, have predictable effects – each person is responsible for every action he or she performs; every action will influence one’s future

iii)  One’s present conditions, character, circumstances are all the result of past actions

iv)  Textual and popular understandings of karma

b)    Samsara: as the cycle of rebirth / as the flux and flow of creation

i)       The cycle of birth and rebirth

ii)    One’s present life = one of a long chain of lives, countless lives in human and non-human forms (including existence as deities)

iii)  Hierarchical order of all species in existence, such as caste

iv)  Samsara as the fluid and changing universe

3)    The Upanishads = “secret teaching,”  “sitting at the feet of,” “connection or equivalence”

a)     100s of Upanishads, 13 principle Upanishads = shruti

b)    Reaction against tradition, criticism of priestly trads.

c)     A stratified caste system in place, supported by notions of karma and rebirth.

4)    Moksha

a)     Heaven is temporary, no permanent refuge

b)    Suffering pervades human existence: the endless cycles of suffering, death, rebirth:  “May the evil of death not get me” (Brh Up), “To hoary and toothless and drooling old age may I not go” (Chan Up)

c)     See Embree p.31 Mundaka Upanishad

d)    The Solution = moksha.  Liberation from the endless round. 

e)     A new concept of the ultimate reality

5)    Brahman: A single pervasive power and essence, source of all things

a)     “That from which these beings are born; on which, once born, they live; and into which they pass upon death – seek to perceive that?  That is brahman!”

b)    Totality of sacred words in the Veda; gives unlimited power to sacrifice; Essence of the entire world; the power that reside s in all beings, including the gods

c)     Svetaketu (boy) and Uddalaka (his father): Sve hasn’t heard of world soul

d)    Fleeting names and forms outside, one underlying reality [See Chandogya Upanishad, Embree p.36]

e)     Brahman is the essence and source of the whole phenomenal world

6)    Atman: the reality that is the lasting and indispensable basis of one’s being

a)     Soul as pure consciousness: four states [See Chandogya Upanishad, Embree p.33}



7)    General features

a)     Action leads to rebirth and suffering

b)    Detachment from action, or even non-action, leads to spiritual emancipation

c)     Complete detachment, and therefore spiritual emancipation can be achieved through asceticism and methods of making consciousness focused and concentrated