Spiritual Awakenings & The Upanishads
As the sun, who is the eye of the world,
Cannot be tainted by the defects in our eyes
Nor by the objects it looks on,
So the one Self, dwelling in all, cannot
Be tainted by the evils of the world.
For this Self transcends all!!
The Upanishads, are ancient philosophical-religious texts that poignantly express the wisdom of Sages from ancient India over two thousand years ago. As other civilizations in the world were exploring the natural world, these Sages took a journey inwards, exploring the mind and higher states of consciousness.
The Upanishads, translated from Sanskrit as ‘sitting down near’ are apart of the Vedas which are ancient Hindu Sanskrit scriptures. The word “Veda” translates to ‘knowledge’ thought to have been ‘heard’ from the vibrations of the Universe by Sages and passed down orally for generations before they were written down in approximately 1500 BC-500 BC. The Upanishads were authored between 800-200 BC, although the exact dates are unknown. They are considered Vedanta ‘the end of the Vedas’ as they explain and develop the Vedic concepts through narrative dialogue. Dialogues range from spiritual instruction in ashrams between a Sage and student, a husband, and wife discussing immortality, a King requesting guidance from a Sage, and the persona of Death itself sharing wisdom with a young person. While the other parts of the Vedas deal with mantras, rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices, the Upanishads focus on meditation, the realization of the Self and personal engagement on a spiritual level, without providing answers but rather provoking life-affirming questions from the reader.
The core concepts in the Upanishads are that of Brahman, (ultimate Reality, God) and the Atman (the higher self, Soul). The Sages acknowledgment of the existence of the Atman came when Sages were exploring life’s deeper meaning into what makes humans as we are. What allows us to feel emotions, what creates our thoughts, what is enabling the use of our senses? Their response was the Atman, the acknowledgment of our Higher Self that is connected to the Brahman, the divine. This realization that each individual has a piece of the divine within them, expresses that there is no separation between humans and God, and thus no separation between all individuals. The “search for God and meaning” is truly an inner journey as it already exists within the individual, we just have to rediscover it. As expressed throughout the Upanishads the goal of life is self-actualization, to become completely aware and connected to one’s Highest Self. This is expressed not from a religious perspective, but from a spiritual perspective that is realized uniquely by each individual.
There are approximately 200 Upanishads, however, about eleven are best known around the world and accompany the four Vedas: Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda.
The most known Upanishads are:
Isha Upanishad – Focusing on taking the right action in alignment with our purpose and amplifying our awareness of our internal and external worlds to strive toward a higher understanding of our transcendent reality.
Katha Upanishad – Emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment
Bhihadaranyaka Upanishad – Focused on the Atman, and the immortality of the soul.
Chandogya Upanishad –Highlights Atman & Brahman, the concept of tat tvamtsi“that thou art”, and one’s life purpose dharma.
Shvetashvatara Upanishad – Explores achieving self-actualization through our personal commitment and meditation.
Mundaka Upanishad – Explores intellectual knowledge and spiritual knowledge, stating spiritual knowledge is the ‘higher’ knowledge which is self-actualization.
Mandukya Upanishad – The sacredness of OM is addressed in this narrative and the importance of not focusing on external life distractions in the pursuit of self-actualization.
Kena Upanishad – The deeper understanding of Brahman through self-actualization.
Prashna Upanishad–The concept of devotion on the spiritual path is empathized in this piece
Taittiriya Upanishad – Discusses awareness and interconnectedness of the material world, prana life force), mind, intuition, and joy
Aitareya Upanishad – Focuses on the Atman – Brahman connection, stating all Reality is consciousness