‘Upanishad’ is not (just) the name of a literature #1


Sri Gurubhyo Namaha

These are quick notes for Brahma Sutra Bhaashya (authored by Sri Shankaracharya) classes that were taught by Swami Paramasukhananda, which I was a student of during 2012-2013. What I feel like recording I record. They are not a substitute for live classes, but done as my cogitation.

For other such short notes, check – https://vairaagya.wordpress.com/tag/brahmasutranotes/

  • Prasad.


‘Upanishad’ is not (just) the name of a literature #1

The commonplace meaning of the word “Upanishad” refers to a textual portion of the Vedas, also known as Vedanta-bhaaga or Jnaana-khaanda portions of the Vedas. Each Veda has a number of Upanishads associated with it. For instance, the Mundaka Upanishad is found to be part of the Atharvana Veda and so on.

However, each Sanskrit word has at least one meaning, so the word “Upanishad” too has various meanings which are relevant to the study of Vedanta. These meanings are illustrated by Shankaracharya in some appropriate places in his Bhaashyas (commentaries).

The first way to split the Upanishad is as follows : उपनिषद् (Upanishad) = उप + नि + सद् (Upa + ni + sad).

The word Upa :  Upa means “approaching near (a Guru)” . For the sake of Atma-jnaanam, the saadhaka has to approach a qualified teacher, a Guru. The individual having understood the futility of the attainment<->struggle-to-attain cycle, having realized that this does not result in the ending of human sorrow (which is characterized by desire, greed, anger etc.) has to approach a qualified teacher to learn about that infinite nature of  himself, if such a thing does exist and how it is a fact.

Who is a teacher? He is one who is both learned in the technique of teaching Vedanta, as well as living the teaching. Thus he should be a person who has no gap between the teaching and his own self.

The sadhaka should not approach such a Guru in a casual manner. With at most humility, with a desire to learn, with the conviction to do service to the Guru for the sake of knowledge, with the intention of learning only Atma jnaanam and not any other desire, the sadhaka should approach the Guru.

The word Upa also indicates that the vairaagi saadhaka should not attempt any self-study or meditation for Atma-jnaanam, inspite of being an expert in language, meditation, etc. The Guru alone is to be approached for this, he should be prostrated to, served, and humbly requested for revealing the Atma jnaanam.

The word Ni : Ni here means “nishchaya jnaanam” or “clear knowledge”. The clear knowledge about the Atman is to be gained from the Guru who is approached. Clear knowledge means that both intellectually the individual should be convinced that “I am Brahman” without any further doubts. At the same time, this knowledge should be well assimilated into his mind and he should be free from all desires, greed, etc. which are the sign of samsaara. For such Jnaanam, the Guru is to be approached.

The word Sad :  Sad here means “avasaadayati (अवसादयति) “, which means “destroys”. What destroys what? The Atma jnaanam that is done destroys samsaara, the human problem of sorrow or suffering, which means all emotional dependency on things apart from oneself. How does it destroy? Because the jnaanam gained about the Atma destroys Atma-avidya, ignorance about the Atma. This Atma-avidya is the source of samsaara. Not knowing that one is infinite, one depends on finite things. Since Atma-jnaanam destroys samsaara, we have “avasaadayati“, and hence “sad” .

Thus “Upanishad” stands for that clear and doubtless and assimilated Atma jnaanam, knowledge about oneself, which is to be gained by going to a qualified Guru (a shrotriya and brahmanishta teacher), by which human suffering is destroyed. This is the first meaning of the word Upanishad.




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