Self-Study: Upanishad - 3
In-Flight Magazine: History
Now that we’ve packed, we can read the in-flight magazine, which always gives a bit of history of the place. With any history, it’s just sort of background information that you don’t need to memorize, but you tuck it away and perhaps it comes in handy, perhaps not.
The Upanishads are part of the Vedic literature. The word Veda, which is on your glossary, literally means knowledge of the sacred. It is power or knowledge which can transform someone. The word also means Visionary Knowledge, to know by seeing. To see things in a way others don’t see and put in into language. Those who could see in this way were called Visionaries, seers, or in Sanskrit, Rishis. What they saw were the light and power behind the universe, manifesting in their vision as deities. And they heard mantras from inside. All this was put into words and called the Vedas.
These oral texts, dating to 1500 BC, are divided into four categories: Songs (Rig Veda); Chants & Tones (Sama Veda); Formulas & Rituals (Yajur Veda) and Magical Chants (Atharva Veda). Each Veda contains one or more Upanishad.
In contrast to the other parts of the Vedas, the Upanishads are philosophical in nature. They are often presented as teachings between a guru and a disciple, and the word Upanishad, indicates as much. It breaks down into Upa –ni- shad, which means, in Sanskrit, Sitting near by, that is, sitting at the feet of the Guru. There are differing opinions as to how many Upanishads exists. Twelve are considered primary, and their names are on the glossary; however there are about 108 in circulation. The reason for the disparity is that in later years, in order to make something seem important, it was often called an Upanishad.
The fact that the Upanishads come out of the Vedas is an important point, as it explains one of the main defects of the Upanishads. They do not present a systematic or coherent philosophy, mainly because they come from different Vedas, and the composers were still influenced by the deity worship. It isn’t until hundreds of years later that systematized philosophies arose, like the luxury hotels on the coast of the Island, each with its own unique claims, and each competing with the others for clientele. With all due respect, I would include Buddhism as one of these luxury spas, since the Buddha arose out of the field that was strewn with the Vedic teachings at the time.
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