What are Upanishads?
On the tree of Indian wisdom, there is no fairer flower than the Upanishads and no finer fruit than the Vedanta philosophy.
It is said that each Upanishad contains at least one hidden doctrine. Most of the Upanishads are in the form of the dialogue between a disciple and Guru or God. On request of the disciple, Guru clears the doubts of the disciple by way of discourse on a specific religious dogma. Hence Upanishads are the spiritual teachings by the enlightened.
The Vedas have four sections: Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads. Upanishads are called as Vedanta, the concluding part of Vedas as the name suggests.
There are more than two hundred Upanishads available today. Of them, ten Upanishads are the most important ones. They are called Mukhya Upanishads and Adi Sankara wrote commentaries for eight of them. They are the earliest of the Upanishads composed well before 3rd Century BCE. Most of the other Upanishads were composed during the later periods.
In Muktika Upanishad, a tutelage of Lord Rama to Lord Hanuman, an index of 108 Upanishads is given. It is believed that the composing period of Upanishads ranges from 10th Century BCE to 14th century CE. In 18th Century CE, Sri Ramachandrendra Sarasvati by his cognomen name Brahma Yogi wrote commentaries for all 108 Upanishads.
Upanishads are grouped under different categories as Saiva Upanishads, Vaisnava Upanishads, Sakta Upanishads, Samanya Upanishad, Sanyasa Upanishads, Yoga Upanishads and the like.
Yoga Upanishads are Upanishads that deal with yoga. The primary subject of these Upanishads is yoga, unlike other Upanishads which talk about yoga here and there.
Yoga Upanishads are twenty in number. Different types of yoga like Raja Yoga, Laya Yoga, Mantra Yoga, and Hatha Yoga are expounded in each of them. Hamsa Vidya and Brahma Vidya are the important yoga techniques explained in detail.
Of the twenty Upanishads, only Nada Bindu Upanishad is attached to Rig Veda. Ten Upanishads are attached to Krishna Yajur Veda. Four Upanishads are attached to Sukla Yajur Veda. Two are attached to Sama Veda and three are Atharva Veda Upanishads.
Based on the commentaries of Brahma Yogi, Pundit T.R. Srinivasa Ayyangar translated the Yoga Upanishads which was published by The Adayar Library in 1938 CE.
The following are the list of Yoga Upanishads and the respective links to the translations.
It is attached to Atharva Veda. It contains three chapters. The first chapter is about Ashtanga Yoga of eight limbs and divided into eleven sections. The first three sections explain Yama, Niyama, and Asana respectively. The fourth section is about Nadis, Vayus, and Kundalini. The fifth one deals in Nadi Shuddhi or purification of Nadis. The next section is dedicated to Pranayama using Pranava. The seventh one explains Mudras and Bandhas. The last four sections elucidate Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi respectively.
The second chapter is fully dedicated to the glory of Brahman. The last chapter gives the forms of Brahman.
It is a minor Upanishad of Krishna Yajur Veda and contains only twenty-two verses. It is one of the five Bindu Upanishads. It gives meditation techniques for liberation. The core technique involves the meditation upon Om as Brahman wherein the Om dissolves and Brahman remains.
It is also a major Upanishad of Krishna Yajur Veda. It contains five chapters. The first chapter deals with the Tattvas of different philosophies. The second chapter is about Brahma Vidya, the knowledge of Brahman. The third one is about Atma Vidya, the knowledge of Atman. The four-chapter describes Jivan Mukti and the methods of attaining. The method of bird and the method of an ant for attaining liberation are discussed. The last chapter vivifies the practice of yoga.
It belongs to Krishna Yajur Veda and contains 38 verses only. It expounds the yoga of six limbs or Sadangayoga. From the typical Ashtanga yoga of eight limbs, Yama, Niyama, and Asana are excluded in Sadangayoga explained here and Tarka or inference is added as a limb. It describes Omkara Dhyana in detail. The impediments to the yoga and benefits of the meditation are listed.
It is a minor Upanishad of Krishna Yajur Veda. It contains 24 verses. It is the thirty-first Upanishad of 108 Upanishads as enumerated in Muktika Upanishadic order. Ksurika means knife. It means to cut asunder the bondage of Atman and rebirth. It gives a technique of Marmasthana contemplation that is similar to Yoga-Nidra. Om is the knife that cuts the bondage which can be sharpened by the practice of Pranayama.
It is the only Yoga Upanishad of Rig Veda. It describes the technique of Nada Yoga. It gives Vairaja Vidya, Vairaja Pranava Vidya, and Maha Vairaja Vidya. All of these doctrines involve Pranava Dhyana in a specific way that results in Nada Yoga. The technique for the cessation of Karma is also explained.
It affiliates to Krishna Yajur Veda. It describes the nature of Brahman, Atman, Guru, Pranava Mantra Japa, Soham Mantra Japa, and Hamsa mantra. It gives a secret doctrine that involves Hamsa Vidya and Hamsa meditation.
It belongs to Sukla Yajur Veda. It describes the concept of creation with reference to Pancha Bhutas. The types of yoga are explained. Ashtanga yoga is explained in a different context. The limbs of yoga are explained in detail along with Nadis and Vayus.
It also belongs to Sukla Yajur Veda. It contains five chapters. The first chapter explains the eight limbs of yoga but in a different context. It explains the three types of Lakhsya (Focus) and two type Taraka. The second chapter describes Shanmukhi Mudra, Shambhavi Mudra and the five states of consciousness. The third chapter is about the state of mindlessness. The fourth one explains the five types of ether. The last chapter talks about Samadhi through non-mindedness.
It belongs to Sukla Yajur Veda. It talks about the three types of Focuses and two types of Taraka. It describes Shambhavi Mudra. It gives the definitions of Guru and Taraka.
It is affiliated to Atharva Veda. It contains two parts. The first part describes Hamsa Vidya. The second chapter explains the Hamsarka-Pranava-Dhyana and the nature of Atman and Paramatman.
It is often called as Jabala Dharsana Upanishad. It contains ten chapters. It mainly deals in Ashtanga Yoga together with Vayus, Nadis, Kundalini, Mudras, and Bandhas.
It belongs to Atharva Veda and contains just twelve verses. Hamsa Vidya or Chit Aditya Vidya is described. It describes Atman, Anatman and Paramatman or Brahman.
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