WHAT DOES THE WORD UPANISAD MEAN ?
The word Upanisad comes from the Sanskrit root upa=near, ni=below, sad=sitting; thus one meaning of the word Upanisad is “sitting near the feet of the master”. The Upanisads are the footnotes to the Vedas. The Vedas are a compilation during a long period of time, followed by its elaboration through periods of Brahmanas and further condensation and summarizing through the period of Aranyakas (Aranya means forest in Sanskrit) and finally extracting the essence through the Upanisads.
There are many Upanisads, some say as many as 200; among them 11 are considered classic. They date back several centuries before the Christian era and at the end we have Yoga Upanisads.
The Upanisads are not systematic didactic or pedagogic texts. They are the illumined utterances of sages and mystics. While sitting by some fire place and absorbed in the light of the wood-fire the sage would enter into unseen realms and opening his eyes gently he would tell the students in brief insightful sentences about the reality hidden beyond this normal day to day reality of our life. They would lead the students into a transcendental and spiritual philosophy. These utterances later formed the base, the structure, the model and the paradigm for an emerging spirituality leading to mystic experiences. Those times of the sages were the golden age of Indian mysticism – lasting centuries.
WHAT RELEVANCE DOES IT HAVE WITH OUR MODERN LIFE ?
If someone asks you who are you, you might give your name, “I am John”. But john is just a word, and in the course of your life, you may be called by different variations of the name. Your parents might call you by a nickname. Your siblings by another, your friends by yet another. Your girl friend or wife may also call you by another name. Therefore you are not the name only. You are something more.
You might point out to your body and say that is “I ”. The majority of people live with this notion that they are a body. But some know that driving this body is an energy :body”. Through the practice of yoga and similar techniques some people do manage to separate the physical from the pranic body and thus know that they are more than this physical body.
If you are psychologist you know that you have feelings, sensations, emotions and so forth and these come from another body, the mental body.
Further on those who work with ideas, thoughtful people, original thinkers, pioneers, scientists, poets and so forth connect themselves to a still finer body- the body of the intellect.
Those who have deep meditative experiences come to contact a deathless part of themselves – and enjoy a state of bliss or Ananda as it is called in the Indian spiritual traditions.
These are the sheaths/Kosas – or layers of one body behind the other. And yet we feel, behave and think, as we are the physical body only.
This is the composition of “man” according to the Upanisads.
WHERE DO I COME FROM ?
Many thoughtful persons have this question in their mind: “Where do I come from? What is this life?” Many would like to know about the inner world, which we cannot see because of the obscurity within us. Many of us are confused, others have infatuations that bind them to the world of illusions.
The Upanisads do not require great reading time; the sayings of the sages or the dialogues with them are brief but breathtaking in their sweep and grandeur of the ideas and insights full of wisdom. These wisdom insights can help us as guideposts in our own search of spirituality.
They point out that through yoga (from practices of Hatha, Tantra, etc) to center oneself in between the eyes and enter the inner world where eventually one encounters the inner resident, the Self, residing as if it were in a deep hidden cave.
The destiny of all human beings is to seek and know their real Self and not the surface personality only. The Upanisads in deep meditaion open a dialogue with the soul, wherein they say the deep meaningful answers to the questions we ask, can be found.