What are Upanishads?
Before knowing Yoga Upanishads, Let us see what are Upanishads. They 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 a common belief 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 the 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. Hence the term refers to Sitting near or under the enlightened for getting wisdom.
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 the concluding part of Vedas or simply Vedanta.
Number of Upanishads
There are more than two hundred Upanishads available today. Of them, ten Upanishads are the most important ones. They are Mukhya (important) Upanishads and Adi Sankara wrote commentaries for eight of them. They are the earliest of the Upanishads pertains to a period well before 3rd Century BCE. Other Upanishads belong to the later periods.
In Muktika Upanishad is a tutelage of Lord Rama to Lord Hanuman. It gives an index of 108 Upanishads. 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.
Classification of Upanishads
The following is the classification of Upanishads into different groups.
- Saiva Upanishads
- Vaisnava Upanishads
- Sakta Upanishads
- Samanya Upanishads
- Sanyasa Upanishads
- Yoga Upanishads
The Upanishads that deal with yoga are Yoga Upanishads. The primary subject of these Upanishads is yoga, unlike other Upanishads which talk about yoga here and there.
Yoga Upanishads are twenty in number. They describe different types of yogas, like Raja Yoga, Laya Yoga, Mantra Yoga, and Hatha Yoga. Also they explain techniques like Hamsa Vidya and Brahma Vidya.
Of the twenty Upanishads, only Nada Bindu Upanishad belongs to Rig Veda. Ten Upanishads belong to Krishna Yajur Veda. Four Upanishads are of Sukla Yajur Veda. There are two Sama Veda Upanishads and three 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 the Upanishad of Krishna Yajur Veda. It contains 106 verses. In some manuscripts, a smaller version is found attached to Atharva Veda. Besides, it gives a detailed account of Pranava Dhyana, Meditation, Sadanga Yoga, or the yoga of six limbs and Ajapa Hamsa Vidya. It describes Chakras, Nadis, and Vayus. Kundalini awakening along with Mudras and Bandhas. It expounds on the nature of Atman.
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. Besides, we could find detailed descriptions of Practices like Pranava Japa and Ajapa Gayatri. Also, it highlights the importance of Pranayama and the precautionary steps for avoiding diseases. The subjects covered are similar to Dhyana Bind Upanishad. Furthermore, we could find a brief outline of the nature of Atman and Brahman.
It is attached to Krishna Yajur Veda. It contains three chapters. The first chapter deals with postures, breath control, yogic locks, seals, and Samadhi. It also lists the obstacles to yoga practice. Then, 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.
It belongs to Krishna Yajur Veda. This Upanishad gives the details of four kinds of yoga along with four stages. Also, it enumerates the obstacles and Siddhis (psychic powers). Eightfold yoga is expounded in the perspective of Hatha Yoga It enumerates twelve important Hatha yoga practices of yogic locks and seals. In the Dharana section, we could find the practice of five-fold Dharana on Pancha-Bhutas along with Bija mantras. It highlights the importance of Pranava worship.
It also belongs to Krishna Yajur Veda. It is a big Upanishad and contains six chapters. The first chapter explains the nature of the Self, Supreme Self, 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 Upanishad describes Sushumna Yoga and its benefits. It gives details regarding psychic powers, and the Chakras and their presiding deities.
In the second Chapter, it widely discusses Pranava Mantra and also the kinds of Brahman.
The third chapter expounds on the nature of Nada and Bindu. The subject of the fourth chapter is the Supreme Self and the empirical world.
In the sixth chapter, we could find the process of kundalini awakening and Psychic Powers. It also gives a detailed account of Sushumna Yoga.
It is one of the major Upanishads 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, we could find the details of Raja yoga of fifteen limbs. In addition to 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. Likewise, Aham Brahma Asmi is one of the Mahavakyas of Vedas.
The third chapter is about Aham Brahma Asmi. In the fourth chapter, it describes Jivan Mukti and Videha Mukti. The fifth chapter explains the nature of Atman and Anatman. In the last chapter, it expounds the nature of Brahman and its state of Sat-Chit-Ananda.
It belongs to Atharva Veda. It contains three chapters. The first chapter is about Eightfold Yoga and divided into eleven sections. The first three sections explain Yama, Niyama, and yoga poses respectively. The fourth section is about Nadis, Vayus, and Kundalini. The fifth one deals with Nadi Shuddhi or the purification of Nadis. The next section is about breath control using Pranava. The seventh one explains Mudras and Bandhas. The last four sections elucidate Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi respectively.
The second chapter glorifies Brahman. The last chapter gives the forms of Brahman.
It is a minor Upanishad of Sukla Yajur Veda. It expounds the doctrine of Hamsa Vidya and Nada Yoga through the Ajapa Gayatri Mantra. This Upanishad is in the form of tutelage by Sage Sanat Kumara to Sage Gautama. Hamsa Vidya is explained in detail. It gives a detailed account of Chakras. Also, it elucidates Ajapa-Hamsa-Mantra and Nada Yoga.
It is a minor Upanishad of Krishna Yajur Veda and contains only 22 verses. Besides, 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 the knowledge of Brahman. The third one is about the knowledge of Self. The fourth 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 on the yoga of six limbs. From the typical Ashtanga yoga of eight limbs, we could not find Yama, Niyama, and postures. Instead, it adds inference as a limb. It describes Omkara Dhyana in detail. It enumerates the impediments to the yoga and benefits of meditation as well.
It is a minor Upanishad of Krishna Yajur Veda. It contains 24 verses. Moreover, it is the thirty-first Upanishad of 108 Upanishads as enumerated in Muktika Upanishadic order. Ksurika means a 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 breath control.
It is the only Yoga Upanishad of Rig Veda. It describes the technique of Nada Yoga. Also, 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 with Krishna Yajur Veda. It describes the nature of Brahman, Atman, Guru, Pranava Mantra Japa, Soham Mantra Japa, and Hamsa mantra. Besides, 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 five basic elements. The types of yoga are explained. Moreover, Eightfold yoga is explained in a different context. Also, 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 Focus and two types of 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. Also, it describes the Shambhavi Mudra. It gives the definitions of Guru and Taraka.
It is affiliated to Atharva Veda. It contains two parts. The first part describes the Hamsa Vidya. The second chapter explains the Hamsarka-Pranava-Dhyana and also the nature of Atman and Paramatman.
It is often called as Jabala Dharsana Upanishad and contains ten chapters. It mainly deals in Eightfold Yoga together with Vayus, Nadis, Kundalini, Yogic locks and seals.
It belongs to Atharva Veda and contains just twelve verses. Hamsa Vidya or Chit Aditya Vidya is described. Also, it describes Atman, Anatman, and Paramatman or Brahman