Mysticism in the Upanisads

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From the Jacket: The direct experience of Reality, expressed through various appellations like God, Brahman etc. and the endeavour there of is known as Mysticism. The Upanisads are the earliest literature of mysticism not only of India but also of the whole world. They are vivacious with the highest mystic truths and experiences that man could ever achieve. All aspects of mysticism find abundant expression in the Upanisads. The book MYSTICISM AND THE UPANISADS is based on a...

From the Jacket:

The direct experience of Reality, expressed through various appellations like God, Brahman etc. and the endeavour there of is known as Mysticism. The Upanisads are the earliest literature of mysticism not only of India but also of the whole world. They are vivacious with the highest mystic truths and experiences that man could ever achieve. All aspects of mysticism find abundant expression in the Upanisads. The book MYSTICISM AND THE UPANISADS is based on an extensive survey of Upanisadic mysticism and that of other prominent religious of the world. The work highlights the varieties of mystic experiences and expressions manifest in Upanisads and elsewhere, in addition to methods for achieving the mystic goal. The comparative analysis of Upanisadic mysticism with that of other important world religions not only reflects the scholarly depth of the author but also makes the work a unique contribution to the literature on mysticism.

About The Author

Dr. Indulata Das, born in 1956 in Balasore, Orissa, has the distinction of being the best graduate with Sanskrit Honours, Sambalpur University, Orissa in 1976. She did her MA (Sanskrit) from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 1978. With a brilliant academic career, she joined the Orissa Education Service as a Lecturer in Sanskrit in the year 1979. She was awarded the degree of Ph. D. by BHU in 1995. Having taught in various Government Colleges, she is now serving the State Council of Educational Research and Training.


Dr Das is a well-known creative writer in Oriya. Apart form contributing about two hundred article in various daily papers and literary magazines, her published works include one novel, four story books, one book on Oriya language and grammar and translation of Sanskrit drama (Swapnavasavadattam). Beside, she has a number of research articles to her credit, published in various research journals. Her commentaries on Sankhya Karika and Patanjal Yoga Sutra are in print.


Since the dawn of creation, man has been incessantly craving for happiness. The material world has failed miserably to pacify the conflagration of human desire to enjoy a boundless bliss. The objects of pleasure, instead of extinguishing the desires, have manifolded them. Man is yet to overcome his sorrows with the help of the objects of the material world.

Having realised the insufficiency of the outer world, we the venerable sages of the past had turned the direction of their expedition from the outer world to the inner one and discovered the ever-coveted treasure of treasures, the peace, the respite of the soul, the happiness eternal. The exploration of man ended fruitfully. The sages did succeed in discovering the path to endless bliss.

Without consuming the results selfishly, the kind- hearted, magnanimous, benevolent sages wanted to transmit the secrets of their adventures to the world through deserving posterity, who could successfully pass on the same to others, without causing it to perish on the way.

For the careful protection and transmission of this precious knowledge, it was unavoidable to impart it to the deserving, the reliable person, who could, not only acquire it, but also preserve it and carefully pass it yet to another person, for further transmission. Since the deserving disciple received the serious knowledge from the competent master in an intimate atmosphere, the knowledge has been significantly named UPANISAD which literally means "sitting near" signifying the intimacy of the disciple and the teacher which further signifies the gravity and seriousness of the knowledge.

The Word Upanisad The word "Upanisad" has been derived from the root "sad" by prefixing "upa" and "ni" and suffixing "kvip" to it. The root "sad" stands for three meanings', viz. split up, go and loosen.

In accordance with the triplicity of the rootal meaning, Sankara presents threefold definition to the term Upanisad. First, it is the knowledge which destroys the seeds of worldly existence like ignorance etc. Secondly, it is the Brahmavidya or the knowledge of Brahman, which leads the aspirants to Brahman. Thirdly it also signifies the knowledge, which loosens or weakens the miseries of hovering in a womb, birth and old age etc’. Upanisad, according to Sankara, can also mean the valuable scriptures, which contain the mentioned knowledge just as ghee is called longevity indirectly.

Sayana defines it as Brahmavidya or theosophy. The prefix according to him, means "near", and nothing other than one's own self (which is Brahman) is nearer to a being.

Max Muller takes the word to mean an assembly. Says he, "The history and the genius of the Sanskrit language leave little doubt that Upanisad meant originally session, particularly a session consisting of pupils, assembled at a respectable distance round their teacher".

According to Deussen, "Certain mysterious words, expressions and formulas which are only intelligible to the initiated, are described as Upanisads".

Oldenberg tries to derive the word Upanisad from "Upasana"

Being the last and the most essential part of Vedas, it is called Vedanta. Svetasvatara Upanisad" views that "Brahman" rests in the Upanisads, which are the essential parts of the Vedas.

Number of the Upanisads

It is hard to determine the actual number of Upanisads. The Muktikopanisad considers 108 Upanisads to be the most important of them, remaining silent about the total numbers. Darasikoh has translated 50 Upanisads to Persian. Paul Deussen has translated 60 Upanisads but accepts 14 as authentic. Max Muller translated 11 Upanisads whereas Hume translated l3 of them.

According to Gargyayana, the actual number of the original Upanisads is 16, four belonging to each Veda. In accordance with the need of the time, they were subsequently elaborated into one hundred and eight and two hundred and fifty by Brahmanas and Rsis respectively. So the Upanisads amounted to three hundred and fifty six, which are only commentaries on the original sixteen’.

It shows that there are a number of Upanisads counting at least more than 108. Sankara has commented on 11 Upanisads viz. Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka. Mandukya, Taittiriya. Aitareya, Chandogya, Brhadaranyaka and Svetasvatara, which are regarded as the most important ones. But it is yet to be decided whether the commentary on Svetasvatara is by Adi Sankara or not.

Source and Subject Matter

The Upanisads form generally the last chapters of Bhahmanas related to the Samhitas of different Vedas and mainly deal with the knowledge of Brahman, the immanence of Brahman in the world and the identity of the individual self with Brahman. Occasional discussions are also found on the exposition of the knowledge of Om and other matters, like different -Vidyas, meditation and the practice of Yoga. A brief description of the sources and the subject matters of the major Upanisads is as follows:

Isa Upanisad

The Isa Upanisad, which is otherwise known as the Isavasyopanisad, because it starts with the same words; forms the last and the fortieth chapter of the Vajaseneya Samhita of the Vajaseneya School of Yajurveda. The essential theme of the Upanisad is the immanence of the Supreme Reality in the world. It attaches immense importance on right living in the world by realising the truth that the world is but pervaded by God. It does not find it impossible to lead a divine life in the world.

It is the only Upanisad, which forms the part of a Samhita. It is a very small one with no division of chapters.

Kena Upanisad

The Kena Upanisad belongs to the Samaveda and is a part of the Talavakara Brahmana. Like lsopanisad, it also derives its name from the opening words of the text'. It has four chapters of which the first two are in verses and the latter o11es in prose. The poetry section deals with the Nirguna Brahman, whereas the prose section discusses the Saguna Brahman.

Katha Upanisad

The Katha Upanisad, otherwise known as the Kathaka Upanisad, belongs to the Taittiriya school of Yajurveda. It has the famous story of the child prodigy Naciketa and Yama, the god of death. Having won the heart of Yama, with his sincerity and dispassion, the brilliant child acquires the knowledge of self from the death god.

The Upanisad mainly deals with the above—mentioned knowledge by which one becomes free from the cycle of birth and death. It also hints at the Yogic path for the realisation of Brahman.

Prasna Upanisad

The Prasna Upanisad belongs to the Atharvaveda. It derives its name fron1 the six questions put to the preceptor by the disciples, which form the six sections of the Upanisad. The Upanisad deals with the ultimate cause, discusses about Om and exposes the relation of the Supreme Reality to the world.

Mundaka Upanisad

The Mundaka Upanisad, which is derived from the root "Munda" to shave (the hair of the head), may be taken to hint towards the shaven Sannyasins who deserve the knowledge of the Upanisad. It belongs to the Atharvaveda, and has three chapters, which have two sections each. It distinguishes between the higher and the lower knowledge, which refers to the knowledge of Brahman and that of the world respectively.

Mandukya Upanisad

The Mandukya Upanisad, which is very important but very small in size, contains twelve sentences only. It belongs to the Atharvaveda. It divides —the human psychological states and exposes the mystery of Om. It identifies the three quarters of Atman with the three letters of Om viz. A, U and M. It identifies the fourth quarter of Brahman with the partless Om. The first commentary, written on the Upanisad is the Mandukya Karika, composed by Gaudapada who is said to be the teacher of Sankara’s teacher.

Taittiriya Upanisad

The Taittiriya Upanisad belongs to the Taittiriya school of Yajurveda. It is divided into three Vallis. The first Valli, known as Siksavalli, deals with the science of phonetics and pronunciation and the duties of an ideal man. The second and third, known as Brahmanandavalli and Bhrguvalli respectively deal with the knowledge of the Supreme Self.

Aitareya Upanisad

The Aitareya Upanisad belongs to the Rgveda and comprises of the iv, v and vi chapters of the Aitareya Aranyaka. It aims at leading the mind of the sacrificer from the outer to the inner meaning of sacrifices, because the true sacrifice is always internal. According to Sankara, there are three kinds of people, of which one group cares only for the material possessions, the second wants liberation gradually by attaining the world of Hiranyagarbha, and the third category is eager to get liberated at the earliest. The Aitareya Aranyaka (iii) is meant for the first category, whereas the second chapter of the same is meant for the second category. The Aitareya Upanised is meant for the third category.

Chandogya Upanisad

The Chandogya Upanisad belongs to the Samaveda. It has eight chapters, out of which the first and the second chapters discuss the liturgy, the doctrine of creation, the significance of Om and the meaning and names of Saman. The remaining chapters deal with the knowledge of the Ultimate Reality.

Brhadaranyaka Upanisad

Brhadaranyaka forms a part of Satapatha Brahmana of the Yajurveda. It consists of three Kandas or sections. The first Kanda expounds the identity of the individual self with the universal self. The second Kanda deals with the methods of worship and meditation, and the stages of self-realisation viz. the Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana. The third is Khila Kanda, which deals with certain methods of worship, meditation etc.

Of the two recensions of the Satapatha Brahmana viz Kanva and Madhyandina, the former has been commented upon by Sankara.

Svetasvatara Upanisad

The Svetasvatara Upanisad belongs to the Taittiriya school of Yajurveda. It derives its name most probably from the sage who taught it first'. The main theme of the Upanisad is that it holds Rudra (Brahman) as the material and efficient cause of the world. It is the Upanisad, which uses the word Maya for the first time in the same sense as is used in the Advaita Vedanta. It gives a few details about Yogic practice.

Dates of the Upanisads

It is a difficult task to guess the dates of the Upanisads precisely. It has been a traditional belief that the Vedas (which comprehend Upanisads as well) are without beginning. which suggests nascence of the Upanisads simultaneous to the creation of the Universe!

A minute analysis reveals that the composition of various Upanisads may be safely attributed to various centuries, not excluding even the Moghul period. Ranade fixes the upper and the lower limits of composition of the major Upanisads between 1200 and 600 BC and "the later Upanisads of the above canon", according to him "may be seen to be dovetailed into that next period of Indian thought when Buddhism was germinating" ‘Radhakrishnan fixes the date of the early Upanisads as 1000 B.C. Kat hopanisad, according to him is not very antique. "We find in it" says Radhakrisnan, "elements of the Samkhya and Yoga system. It also quotes freely from the other Upanisads and Bhagavad-Gita".

Thus, the earliest and the authentic Upanisads are certainly pre—Buddhistic, although the minor ones have been composed in the later centuries. The period after the composition of Vedic hymns and before the advent of Buddhism is thus the period of composition of the major Upanisads.

The theory of the modernity of Kathopanisad does not stand adverse criticism. It is more logical to think that Gita, which is called the milk-of the Upanisadic cows, has borrowed from the Kathopanisad instead of holding that the latter has done so from the former. Secondly, the elements of Samkhya and Yoga are not sufficient to disprove the antiquity of the Upanisad, since like all other schools of philosophy. The said schools could have taken their basic ideas from the Upanisads, particularly from the Katha itself.

Seers of the Upanisads

It is a misfortune but a pride at the same time that the ancestors, who actually brought the sublime ideas of Upanisads to existence, have in almost all the places, not cared to express their identity. As a result, the Upanisads come down to us mostly as dialogues between mythical characters like Narada, Sanatkumar, Yama, Naciketa, Prajapati and Indra etc. Of course, it is difficult to say that these names are mythological and hence fictitious. Mythology, which has a later date to its credit than the Upanisads, could possibly have borrowed the names from the Upanisads.

Apart from the above-mentioned - names, other personalities like Uddalaka, Svetaketu, Jaivali, Satyakama, Pratardana, Ajatsatru, Varuna, Yajnavalkya, Gargi, Maitreyi, Mahidasa, Sandilya etc. find place in the Upanisads. But, there is no clue to prove that the names mentioned are mere characters and have nothing to do with the actual seers, responsible for the great literature.

The present work concerns the mystic portion of the Upanisads. Which is the essence of these, and for which the Upanisads, have become the crowning glory of the mystic world. Says Zaehner, "no treatment of mysticism that claims to be serious can afford to ignore the all important Indian contribution"'.

A humble attempt, therefore, has been made in the ensuing chapters, to explore into the mystic depth of the Upanisads devoting, of course, the first chapter to the meaning and matter of mysticism. In the last chapter, a study has been made about the various important non- Indian mysticisms of the world and a comparison has been done with the Upanisadic mysticism.





  Number of Upanisads iii
  Source and Subject Matter iv
  Isa Upanisad iv
  Katha Upanisad v
  Prasana Upanisad v
  Mundaka Upanisad vi
  Mundukya Upanisad vi
  Taittiriya Upanisad vi
  Aitareya Upanisad vii
  Chandogya Upanisad vii
  Brhadaranyaka Upanisad vii
  Svetasvatara Upanisad viii
  Dates of the Upanisad viii
  Seers of the Upanisad


  What it is not 4
  An Experience of Definitions 5
  An Experience Uunique 8
  Categories of Mystic Experience 10
      (i) Spontaneous Mystic Experience 11
      (ii) Acquired Mystic Experience 13
      (iii) Extrovertive Mystic Experience 14
      (iv) Introvertive Mystic Experience


  The Two Aspects 20
      (i) The Nirguna Brahman 21
      (ii) The Saguna Brahman Maya 30
  Maya 42
      (i) Indefinability of Maya 43
      (ii) Maya and Avidya 45
      (iii) Two Traits 45
      (iv) The Three States 46
  The Status of the World 48
  Iswara and the Individual soul


  The Arduous Path 54
  The Preceptor 56
  The Disciple 59
      i. Introversion 60
      ii. Cessation from doing wrong 60
      iii. Faith and Interest (Sraddha) 60
      iv. Austerity 61
  Categories of Disciples 63
  The Ant's Way 64
  The Eight steps of Yoga 64
  Yama 64
  Niyama 65
  Asanas (Postures) 65
  Pranayama 67
  The Nadis 67
  The Kundalini and the Cakras 68
  Time and Place of Pranayama 68
  Division of Pranayama 69
      i. Suryabhendana Kumbhaka 70
      ii. Ujjayi 70
      iii. Sitkari 70
      iv. Bhastrika 70
      v. Bhramari 71
      vi. Murcha 71
      vii. Plavini 71
  The four Stages of Pranayama 71
  Pratyahara 72
  Dharana 73
  Kind of Dharana 73
  Dhyana 74
  Place of Dhyana 75
  Kind of Dhyana 75
  Meditation on Om 77
  Samadhi 80
  Savikalpaka 80
  Nirvikalpaka 80
  Samadhi and deep sleep 82
  Obstacles of Samadhi 82
  Removal of Obstacles 83
  The Bird's Way 84
  The Audition (Sravana) 84
  The Great Sentences (Mahavakyas) 85
  Prajnanam Brahma 85
  Ayamatma Brahma 85
  Tattvamasi 86
  Aham Brahmasmi 88
  The Six Methods (Lingas) of Audition 89
      i. Upakrama and Upasamhara (Introduction and conclusion) 89
      ii. Abhyasa (Repetition) 89
      iii. Apurvata (Uniqueness) 89
      iv. Phala 89
      v. Arthavada 90
      vi.Upapatti (Supporting activities) 91
  Manana (Contemplation) 91
  Nididhyasana (Meditation)


  Ignorance, the Cause 93
  Knowledge 94
  Process of Liberation 98
  Prarabdha Karma 101
  Characteristics of a Liberated Man 104
      i. Identity with Everything 104
      ii. Loses Sorrow and Delusion 106
      iii. Bustles with Bliss 107
      iv. Desireless 108
      v. Fearless 109
      vi. Bustles with Self-confidence 109
      vii. Unmoved and Equanimous 111
      viii. Surpasses Time 112
      ix. Sovereign and Adorable 114
      x. Purifies the Posterity 115
  Behaviour of the Liberated Man


  Taoism 122
  Jewish Mysticism 126
      i. Merkabah Mysticism 126
      ii. Hasidism 128
      iii. Kabbalism 128
  Greek Mysticism 131
      i. Orphic Mysticism 132
      ii. Hermetic Mysticism 131
      iii. Plato and Aristotle 133
      iv. Plotinus 135
  Christian Mysticism 138
      i. God 139
      ii. Deification 141
      iii. Way of Deification 142
      iv. The Divine Light 143
      v. The Dark Night of the Soul 144
      vi. Spiritual Marriage 145
  Sufism (Islamic Mysticism) 147
      i. God 148
      ii. Fana 149
      iii. Stages of Sufi Mysticism 150
      Upanisad and other Mysticism: A Comparison 152
  Similarities 152
      i. Supreme Reality 153
      ii. Negative Definition 155
      iii. God and Godhead 156
      iv. Transcendence and Immanence of the Ultimate Reality 157
      v. Universal and Individual Soul 157
      vi. God, in the Individual 159
      vii. Narrow Path 159
      viii. Worldly Duties 160
      ix. Yogic Methods 161
      x. Non-violence 162
      xi. Mystic Meditation 162
      xii. The World and Maya 162
  Differences 162
      i. Grace 163
      ii. Love of God 164
      iii. Vision, Union and Realisation 166
    a. Vision
    b. Union (Apparent)
    c. Union (Actual)
    d. Realisation
    e. An Analysis


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Item Code: IDE064 Author: Dr. Indulata Das Cover: Hardcover Edition: 2002 Publisher: Nag Publisher ISBN: 8170815509 Language: English Size: 8.8" X 6.0" Pages: 226
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