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All About the Yoga Upanishads

All About the Yoga Upanishads

 

What are Upanishads?

Before knowing Yoga Upanishads, Let us see what are Upanishads. Upanishads are the highest wisdom of mankind. They are the very essence of the Vedas. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, they are the supreme work of the Indian Mind and a record of the deepest spiritual experiences. 

On the tree of Indian wisdom, there is no fairer flower than the Upanishads and no finer fruit than the Vedanta philosophy. 

-Paul Deussen, Outline of the Vedanta System
 

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 Sanskrit term Upanishad means ‘sitting near or under’: upa=near, and shad=to sit. Sitting near or under the enlightened for getting wisdom is the most commonly accepted interpretation. Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary gives some other interpretations: ‘setting at rest ignorance by revealing the knowledge of Supreme Sprite; the mystery which rests underneath the external system of things;  esoteric or secret doctrine’.

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

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.

Dhyana Bindu Upanishad

It is the Upanishad of Krishna Yajur Veda. It contains 106 verses. In some manuscripts, a smaller version is found attached to Atharva Veda. It gives a detailed account of Pranava Dhyana, Meditation, Sadanga Yoga or yoga of six limbs and Ajapa Hamsa Vidya. It describes Chakras, Nadis, and Vayus. Kundalini awakening is also discussed along with Mudras and Bandhas. It expounds the nature of Atman.
 
 

Yoga Chudamani Upanishad

It belongs to Sama Veda. It describes the yoga of six limbs or Sadanga Yoga. In addition, the descriptions of Chakras, Vayus, and Nadis are provided. It also gives methods of practicing various Mudras and Bandhas. The Pranava Japa and Ajapa Gayatri practices are detailed. It highlights the importance of Pranayama and the precautionary steps to be taken to avoid diseases. The subjects covered are similar to Dhyana Bind Upanishad. A brief outline of the nature of Atman and Brahman is given.
 

Yoga Kundalini Upanishad

It is attached to Krishna Yajur Veda. It contains three chapters. The first chapter deals with Asanas, Pranayama, Bandhas, Mudras, and Samadhi. It lists the obstacles of yoga practice. It gives a detailed method of Kundalini awakening. The second chapter is fully dedicated to Khechari Vidya that includes Khechari Mudra, Mantra, and Philosophy. The third chapter talks about Jivan Mukti and Videha Mukti.

Yoga Tattva Upanishad

 
It belongs to Krishna Yajur Veda. Four kinds of yoga are detailed along with four stages. Obstacles and Siddhis or psychic powers are explained. Ashtanga yoga is expounded in Hatha Yogic point of view. Twelve important Hatha yoga practices of Mudra and Bandhas are described. In Dharana section, the practice of five-fold Dharana on Pancha-Bhutas along with Bija mantras is detailed. Pranava worship is highlighted.
 

Yoga Sikha Upanishad

It also belongs to Krishna Yajur Veda. It is a big Upanishad and contains six chapters. The first chapter explains the nature of Atman, Brahman, Prana, and its control. The method of awakening kundalini also mentioned. It talks about the four-fold yoga that contains Mantra, Laya, Hatha, and Raja yogas. The Sushumna Yoga and its benefits, details regarding Siddhis or psychic powers and the Chakras and their presiding deities are given. 
 
In the second Chapter, Pranava Mantra and kinds of Brahman are discussed. The third chapter expounds the nature of Nada and Bindu. The subject of the fourth chapter is Brahman and the empirical world. The process of kundalini awakening and Siddhies are discussed in detail in the sixth chapter which also gives a detailed account of Sushumna Yoga.
 

Tejo Bindu Upanishad

It is one of the major Upanishad that belongs to Krishna Yajur Veda. It deals with all important tenets of the philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga. The first chapter of the Upanishad starts with Para Vidya which explains the nature of Brahman. Next, Raja yoga of fifteen limbs is explained in detail. Apart from the eight limbs, Tyaha, Mouna, Desa, Kala, Mula-Bandha, Deha-Samya, and Drk-Sthiti are added as additional limbs. Samadhi is explained in greater length.
 
The second chapter elucidates the nature of Brahman as Chinmatra. Sarvam Chinmatra Mevahi is one of the Mahavakya found in this Upanishad. Aham Brahma Asmi is one the Mahavakyas of Vedas. The third chapter is fully dedicated to Aham Brahma Asmi.
 
In the fourth chapter, Jivan Mukti and Videha Mukti are described. The fifth chapter explains the nature of Atman and Anatman. In the last chapter, the nature of Brahman and its state of Sat-Chit-Ananda is expounded.

Shandilya Upanishad

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.

Hamsa Upanishad

It is a minor Upanishad of Sukla Yajur Veda. It expounds the doctrine of Hamsa Vidya and Nada Yoga through Ajapa Gayatri Mantra. This Upanishad is in the form of tutelage by Sage Sanat Kumara to Sage Gautama.  Hamsa Vidya is explained in detail. An account of Chakras is also given. Ajapa-Hamsa-Mantra and Nada Yoga are elucidated.
 

 

Amrita Bindu Upanishad

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.

Varaha Upanishad

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.

Amrita Nada Upanishad

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.

Ksurika Upanishad

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.

Nada Bindu Upanishad

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.

Brahma Vidya Upanishad

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.

Tri Sikhi Brahmana Upanishad

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.

Mandala Brahmana Upanishad

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.

Advaya Taraka Upanishad

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.

Pashupatabrahma Upanishad

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.

Darshana Upanishad

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.

Mahavakya Upanishad

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.


References:
1. Sanskrit Text Reference: sanskritdocuments.org
2.  Sacred Texts/Upanishads
3.  The sacred books of the east
4.  Hinduwebsite – the great source of Indian Philosophy 

Thirunavukkarasu Sivasubramaniam

He has got 40 years of experience in traditional yoga philosophy and practice. He is well versed in Classical Sanskrit and Classical Tamil texts. His other area of proficiency includes Tantra and South Indian Astrology.

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