A Brief Note on Ten Principal Upanishads.


One of the three basic Texts of Vedanta is “Upanishad”. Other two are Bhagavad-Gita and Brahma-Sutra. Together these three Texts constitute “Prasthana Traya”: known as Triple canon of Vedanta. Upanishads constitute the revealed Texts, known as “Sruti Prasthana”. Vedanta is the name given to them because they are End means concluding part of the Veda. Bhagavad-Gita is “Smriti-Prasthana”, which occupies an unique place in Vedantic tradition. A popular verse compares the Upanishads to the cows, The Bhagavad-Gita to the milk, Sri Krishna to the milk man, Arjuna, the Pandava Hero to the calf and the wise people to the partakers of the milk. The third of the canonical text is “Brahma-Sutra” which is regarded as “Naya-Prasthana”.


In this post we will discuss about Upanishads in brief:

Salient features on Upanishads:

  • Upanishad = Upa + Nishad: Spiritual knowledge obtained by disciples sitting near or at the feet of The Guru [ means the Teacher].
  • Scholar says that Upanishads were composed during 4000-5000 BC. Some says: 2000-14000BC.
  • Nowhere it is mentioned about any author n the Upanishads. No date of origin can be fixed.
  • Teachings were imparted in stillness, noise free environment like forests where tranquillity can not be disturbed. Those Upanishads are known as Aranyaka and these were specially intended for Vanaprastha.
  • Teachings were transmitted orally and hence called as “SRUTI”.
  • Value of Upanishad for Mankind is for all time, all places and all ages. Lessons in Scriptures are very practical and applicable for modern world as it was for Indo-Aryan period.
  • Upanishads were transported to western countries initially through Persian translation[1700 AD].
  • French scholar Anquetil Duperron brought a copy of manuscript from Persia to France. Later on it was translated in French and Latin.
  • First English translation was made by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. [1775-1833].
  • Every Upanishad begins with a Peace mantra.(shanti path).
  • There are 108 Upanishads. Among them 10 Upanishads are considered as Principal Upanishads.
  • Who Am I? What is this Universe? Whence and how we are born? What is mortality or Immortality? What is Atman or Brahman? What is liberation(from cycle of birth)? What is death?- All questions have answers in Upanishads. 

The Ten Principal Upanishads are:

1) IshaVasya Upanishad: Occurs in the Samhita portion of  Shukla Yajur Veda.

2) Kena Upanishad:  It is embedded inside the last section of the Talavakara Brahmanam of the Samaveda.

3) Katha Upanishad: Belongs to Katha Branch of Krishna Yajurveda

4) Prashna Upanishad: Comes from the Brahmana portion of the Atharva Veda, belonging to Pippalada Sakha.

5) Mundaka Upanishad: It is Part of Atharva Veda.

6) Mandukya Upanishad: The Mandukya Upanishad, belongs to Atharva Veda. It is the shortest of all the Upanishads with 12 verses and placed in the 6th position in the list of Ten Principal Upanishads.

7) Taittiriya Upanishad: It is a part of the Krishna Yajur Veda and placed in the seventh position in the list of Ten Principal Upanishad.

8) Aitareya Upanishad: Belongs to Aitareya Aranyaka**(Teachings in the forest), part of Rig-Veda.

9) ChAndogya Upanishad: It is part of ChAndogya Brahmana of the Sama Veda

10) BRRihadAraNyaka Upanishad: It forms the fourteenth Kanda of Satapatha Brahmana of “Shukla Yajurveda.” This is the biggest one.

ब्रह्म` ~ “Brahman” : The Principal word in Upanishad: What is It?

First of all, we need to know the true meaning of “Brahman” [ब्रह्म`]

Brahman: IT is That which is Absolute, fills all space, is complete in Itself, to which there is no second and which is continuously present in everything, in every being and everywhere. It is homogeneous in nature.

The word ब्रह्म` “Brahman” will be used repeatedly. Meaning of Brahman is VAST. This is to be noted here that the word “Brahman” does not refer to any Cast , Creed or Sect. According to Vedanta the word ” Brahman” has been derived from the root word “brh” which means growing or expanding and suffix “man” added to it signifies absence of limitations. In Vedanta, the word Brahman is a neuter gender and hence it is referred as pronoun ” That”. It is very difficult to describe Brahman, which is ultimately indefinable, indescribable, and utterly beyond all human comprehension. Brahman cannot be described through senses alone. Vedanta has however taught us how to realize Brahman which is “Supreme Consciousness”

 The oneness of Soul (Jiva~Atman) and GOD (Param Atman), the ultimate Truth is the principal essence of all Upanishads. 

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Pictures shown below are relevant to the Text of Upanishads.

The Four Great Vedic Statements [ Mahavakyas]


Introduction: Four “MahaVakyas”

There are four great statements (Maha Vakyas– Great sayings), one each taken from each of four Vedas by ancient scholars. These are most famous mantras and gives the core knowledge of Veda. Traditionally these well known MahaVakyas are pointers for the aspirants seeking liberation from the cycle of births. Four MahaVakyas will be discussed in this post.

Before knowing the 4 “MahaVakyas”, let us look into one sloka from Taittiriya Upanishad.

Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahma”:- 

Above sentence literarily means ‘the knower of “Brahman” attains the Supreme.” Taittiriya 2.1.1 which is the opening sentence of Taittiriya Upanishad. We will try to understand the essence of this sentence.

“Satyam jnanam Anantam Brahman” which means “The knower of “BRAHMAN” attains the Supreme”.  BRAHMAN is Truth, knowledge, and Infinity, which is our own very Self, the Atman.  Brahman is not an object of knowledge.  It is always witnessing subject. (দ্রষ্টা~The Seer).

First of all, we need to know the true meaning of “Brahman”.

Brahman: IT is That which is Absolute, fills all space, is complete in Itself, to which there is no second and which is continuously present in everything, in every being and everywhere. It is homogeneous in nature.

Brahman: It is the key word here!

The word “Brahman” will be used repeatedly. Meaning of Brahman is VAST. This is to be noted here that the word “Brahman” does not refer to any Cast , Creed or Sect. According to Vedanta the word ” Brahman” has been derived from the root word “brh” which means growing or expanding and suffix “man” added to it signifies absence of limitations. In Vedanta, the word Brahman is a neuter gender and hence it is referred as pronoun ” That”. It is very difficult to describe Brahman, which is ultimately indefinable, indescribable, and utterly beyond all human comprehension. Brahman can not be described through senses alone. Vedanta has however taught us how to realize Brahman which is “Supreme Consciousness”. In this article I will try to explain what I understood after reading different Scriptures. Hope readers will find it interesting and worth reading.

From Upanishads we can learn about “Brahman”.  Founder of Advaita Vedanta, 8th century scholar, Shri Adi Shankaracharya said: ” there Exists one Absolute Brahman, who is “Sat-Chit-Ananda” and homogeneous in nature .” Vedanta philosophy is part of the four Vedas are believed to be composed and orally transferred, goes back to 5000 years. The oneness of Soul(Jiva~Atman) and GOD(Param Atman), the ultimate Truth is the principal essence of Vedanta philosophy. 

The Four MahaVakyas are as follows:-

Above photo has been taken from “ANANDA DHAM”, the Ashram of my father’s Guruji. I used to visit ashram since my teen age. That time I did not understand above statements(written in Bengali script). Since then, it was in my mind to know the famous statements:

1) ” prajnAnaM brahma “:Consciousness is Infinite.

This means consciousness is Brahman. This has been taken from Rig Veda ( Aitareya Upanishad): The essence is that Brahman is Supreme knowledge. The absolute reality is the essence of what you really are.

2) ” tat-tvam-asi”: That-Thou-Art.

It means “You are that” which is from Sama Veda (ChAndogya Upanishad).

3) ” ayamAtma brahma”: This Self is the Truth.

Which means This Self is Brahman. It has been selected from Atharva Veda ( maNDukya Upanishad). Atman and Brahman are the same like the waves and the ocean are one.

4) ” aham brahmAsmi”:- I am the Infinite Reality.

Here it means “I am Brahman”. This has been taken from Yajur Veda (bRRihadAraNyaka Upanishad ).   “I AM” is that absolute reality.

Importance of the MahaVakyas:- MahaVakyas contain the essence of ageless Wisdom and Absolute Truth regarding ” Brahman” which is “SAT-CHIT-ANANDA”

To understand above four MahaVakyas, one has to study Vedanta . Vedanta consists of three basic Texts. Together they are referred as ” PRASTHANA TRAYA” , triple canon of Vedanta.

  1. Upanishads ( Shruti Prasthana):

  2. Bhagavad Gita( Smriti Prasthana : Quintessence of the teaching of entire Veda: “samasta-vedanta-sarasangraha-bhutam”).

  3. Brahma Sutra (Nyaya-Prasthana also known as uttarmimamsa sutra).

Those who wish to study the philosophy of Vedanta, may read ” The Ten Principal Upanishads” and the “Brahma Sutra” after reading the “Bhagavad Gita”. In the following paragraphs, I will write brief introduction about Brahma sutra. Rather I will emphasize on Brahma sutra because it is essential to understand the concept of Advaita Vedanta. While explaining Brahma sutra, some references of Upanishads obviously will follow.

There are four chapters in Brahma sutra. First chapter unifies Brahman. Second chapter shows no conflicts between Vedanta and other sastras (sacred texts). The third deals with practice to attain Brahman and the fourth one is result of attaining Brahman which is nothing but fruits of Self realization. The first topic of first chapter of Brahma sutra is “Jijnasadhikaranam” [ Topic-1/first chapter] which means ” The enquiry into Brahman and it’s prerequisites”. The first sentence of this chapter is ” Athato Brahmajijnasa” (Hence thereafter a deliberation on Brahman.1.1.1)

Now, this Text is for whom? A little explanation is essential here.

The Vedanta is for the person who is competent to understand and study sastras(Scriptures) ,has tranquil mind, full of faith, consistently engaged in good thoughts and associates with the knower of Truth. After attainment of certain preliminary qualifications which are known as ” SADHANA CHATUSHTAYA”~ four salvations ,one can progress towards the direction of knowing Brahman. Four salvations are:

  1. “Nitya-Anitya-vastuveveka” which means discrimination between the eternal and non eternal.
  2. ” IhamutrarthaphalabhogaViraga” : Indifference to the joys in this life or in in Heaven, and of the fruits of one’s action.
  3. ” Shatsampat : Six-fold virtues that are : i) Sama (Control of mind), ii) Dama ( Control of senses),iii) Uparati (Cessation from worldly enjoyments), iv) Titiksha ( Endurance of pleasure and pain, heat and cold), v) Sraddha (Faith), vi) Samadhana (Deep concentration).
  4. “Mumukshautva” (Desire for liberation).

Even without possessing the knowledge of “Karma Kanda” (Rituals, religious ceremonies), a desire for attaining the knowledge of Brahman( Brahma Gyan) will arise direct from the study of “Srutis”. Therefore, I will recall here the sentence ” A man full of revelation, but without desire has equal joy.” which is written in Sanskrit as ” श्रोत्रियस्यचअकामहतस्य “ means well versed in “Srutis”. Hence it implies that the enquiry of Brahman does not depend on the performance of any act but through study of Vedas. That is the essence of the section ” Ananda Valli” of Taittiriya Upanishad.

Why should one enquire Brahman? Why?

Most of the religions believe that life in earth or life in heaven are attained on the basis of one’s virtuous deeds(“KARMA”) which is transient. But once you know Brahman, you will enjoy everlasting bliss and immortality. Knowledge of Brahman destroys ignorance which is the root cause of all sufferings.

We will continue our study of Vedanta a little more in the following paragraphs. I admit that this will be lengthy for the readers, but it is essential part of Vedas which needs to be presented.

“Janmadyadhikaranam“: Definition of Brahman[Topic-2/First chapter of Brahma sutra]. First sentence here is ” Janmadyasya yatah” 1.1.2(2) means Brahman is that from which the origin, sustenance and dissolution of this Universe proceed. Brahman is eternally pure, wise, and free. He is Omnipotent and Omniscient. One can attain knowledge of brahman through reflection on it’s attributes. Would like to refer here Taittiriya upanishad-iii-1: Conversation between Varuna and his son Bhrigu Varuni on enquiry into Brahman. Bhrigu is asking his father- ” Sir, teach me Brahman”. Varuna said, ” that from whence these beings are born, that by which, when born they live, that into which they enter at their death, try to know that“. That is Brahman.

Here the point to be noted is that the origin, sustenance, and dissolution of the Universe are characteristic of the Universe because of changing (cyclic) in nature. They do not pertain to the eternal unchanging Brahman, yet they indicate Brahman which is the cause of this universe. Sruti has another definition of Brahman. ” Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahman” means Truth, knowledge, Infinity is Brahman.

” Sastrayonitvadhikaranam” : Brahman is realizable only through the scriptures [Topic-3/First chapter of Brahma sutra]. “Sastrayonitvat”: 1.1.3(3) means the scripter is the source of right knowledge. The scriptures illumine all things like a search light. Through scripture only we get a comprehensive understanding of the nature of Brahman. Brahman is formless, colorless, attribute less. Hence it can not be grasped by the senses alone. Brahman is ONE, infinite and without second.

The Self is infinite.

There is in fact no multiplicity or plurality in that ONE, Homogeneous Being, the Supreme Being and the Ultimate. Because of superimposition and our ignorance, we have forgotten our true nature.  It alone
exists as the illuminator. This “Atman” the Real “Self” in its glorious existence, reveals its own “Sat-Chit” nature which is Anandamaya. The eternal nature of Self is Bliss only.

Vedanta says that the study of scriptures helps in realization of truth, when one is equipped with necessary fourfold discipline:-
1. Discrimination between real (Nitya নিত্য~ eternal) and unreal (Anitya অনিত্য~transitory).
2. Renunciation of the unreal (Viraga~বৈরাগ্য)
3. Six-fold qualities.
4. Longing for liberation (Moksha ~মোক্ষ প্রাপ্তি : to escape from the cycle of births and deaths)

The word “Self” is generally meant to “Atman” (soul). But the Sanskrit word is “Atman”, which cannot be translated.  This Atman is deathless, birthless, eternal and real for every individual.  It is the unchanging reality (sat ~সৎ) behind the changing body, sense organs, mind, and ego. It is Spirit, which is pure Consciousness (চিত্) and is unaffected by time-space causality. It is infinite and it is ONE without the second.
As the unchanging reality in the individual is known as Atman, same way the unchanging reality in the Universe is known as “BRAHMAN”. Vedanta says This BRAHMAN and ATMAN are one and the same.

Three key words are repeatedly used in Vedanta. Those are to be understood which are conceptual.1.Brahman: Discussed above. Next two are 2.Maya and 3.Atman; discussed below.

What is Maya? (~ Sanskrit word) :– Manifested Universe is all due to “Maya”

The appearance of this world is due to Maya-the illusory power of Brahman. Maya is neither “Sat” (existent) nor “Asat” (not existent). This world is unreal. According to Vedanta, our real nature is divine, pure, perfect, eternal, and free.  We do not have to become Brahman, because we are That. But Maya is the veil which covers our real nature. Maya is beginning less. Time arises only with Maya. It is unthinkable, indescribable (Anirvachaniya). The word illusion is often used as meaning of Maya, but scholars says it is improper. There is no equivalent word in English to mean it. What is known to us, according to ancient sacred texts, that Maya disappears when we realize our true nature.

Atman : –

Atman includes everything and everyone. It is the Total of all created beings, and so it is called Brahman. The ultimate in us is Atman. The ultimate in the cosmos is Brahman. Atman is Brahman. There can not be anything other than this Universal Reality.

According to Vedanta, The ultimate in us is ATMAN. The ultimate in Cosmos is BRAHMAN. This is the Universal Reality. Total Substance is Brahman. The same substance, when conceived as the essence of particular being is Atman. The Universe has been manifested out of this Total Substance can be said as Brahman. This is Atman, the Self of the universe. This Brahman is without a prior or a posterior, without interior or exterior. This Atman is Brahman, the perceiver of everything.


It is believed that Four MahaVakyas were chosen by Acharya Adi Sankara, and he attached 4 Mantras to 4 “Matha”s (Pitha)” in the four corners of India. Each four MahaVakyas are taken from each Veda. 

” prajnAnaM brahma “:Consciousness is Infinite [RIG VEDA]; It is connected to Govardhana Pitha

” tat-tvam-asi”: That-Thou-Art [ SAMA VEDA]; Connected to Dwarka Pitha

” ayamAtma brahma”: This Self is the Truth [ATHARVA VEDA]; Connected to Jyotirmath Pitha.                            

” aham brahmAsmi”:- I am the Infinite Reality [YAJUR VEDA]; It is connected with Sringeri Sharada Pitha

My request to the readers: Please go through some of my blogs which are relevant and specific to know more on the subject: Links are as below. 

  1. Essence of ChAndogya Upanishad: Part-6C of 6[END OF 6TH CHAPTER]
  2. Essence of Aitareya Upanishad: Part-B: 
  3. MaNDukya Upanishad- The Nature of OM: – Part-1
  4. The Divine Art !!!

Recommended readings:

  1. Back to the Truth: 5000 years of ADVAITA by Dennis Waite. **
  2. THE TEN PRINCIPAL UPANISHADS: Translated by Shree Purohit** Swami and W.B.Yeats
  3. Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracharya: Translated by Swami Gambhirananda.**
  4. Commentary of ChAndogya Upanishad: By Swami Krishnananda.
  5. Mandukya Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  6. BRRihadAraNyaka Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  7. Aitareya Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  8. ChAndogya Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  9. EIGHT UPANISADS -VOL-1 with commentary of Sankaracharya, Translated by SWAMI GAMBHIRANANDA.
  10. THE TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD: SHIKSHAVALLI-ANANDAVALLI-BHRIGUVALLI with Sri Shankara’s Commentary By Sri Swami Satchidanandera Saraswati.
  11. A-U-M Awakening to Reality: By Dennis Waite***
  12. Panchadasi: Swami Vidyaranya:
  13. Information available on internet.

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