Vedanta: The Upanisads and the Way of Mystical Knowledge

1.      The Speculative age: 800 BCE – 400 BCE

a.       Emergence of new religious voices

b.      “Vedanta” as culmination of the Vedas

c.       Critique of early Vedic religion – Brahmans and sacrifice

d.      The Upanisads

                                                   i.      Literally “sitting at the feet of” – indicating centrality of guru-disciple relationship, conveyance of secret knowledge

2.      Brahman: A single pervasive power and essence, source of all things

                                                   i.      “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!”

                                                 ii.      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

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

                                               iv.      Brahman is the essence and source of the whole phenomenal world

3.      Atman: the reality that is the lasting and indispensable basis of one’s being

a.       Relationship between Atman and Brahman

b.      Tat tvam asi

c.       Moksha as merger with Brahman or mystical knowledge (jnana) of Brahman

4.      Polytheism: belief in more than one god

a.       Monotheism: doctrine that there is one God

b.      Polytheism: doctrine that there are many gods

c.       Pantheism: doctrine that all that all beings are divine or that God is in everything. (early Upanisads)

d.      Monism: doctrines that teach that only one being exists (later Vedantic philosophy of Shankara)



  1. Vedanta
  2. Upanishads
  3. Brahman
  4. Atman
  5. Jnana
  6. Tat tvam asi
  7. Pantheism
  8. Monism