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Upanishad Definition

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This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.

The Upanishads (/uːˈpænɪˌʃædz, uːˈpɑːnɪˌʃɑːdz/; singular: Sanskrit: उपनिषत्, IAST: Upaniṣat, IPA: ; plural: Sanskrit: उपनिषदः) are a collection of Vedic texts which contain the earliest emergence of some of the central religious concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. They are also known as Vedanta ("the end of the Veda"). They are regarded as the source of Vedanta and Samkhya philosophies. The Upanishads are considered by Hindus to contain revealed truths (Sruti) concerning the nature of ultimate reality (brahman) and describing the character and form of human salvation (moksha). The Upanishads are found mostly in the concluding part of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas and have been passed down in oral tradition.

More than 200 Upanishads are known, of which the first dozen or so are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the principal or main (mukhya) Upanishads. The mukhya Upanishads all predate the Common Era, possibly from the Pre-Buddhist period (6th century BC) down to the Maurya period. The remainder of the Muktika canon was mostly composed during medieval Hinduism, and new Upanishads continued being composed in the early modern and modern era, down to at least the 20th century.

With the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutra (known collectively as the Prasthanatrayi), the mukhya Upanishads provide a foundation for the several later schools of Vedanta, among them, two influential monistic schools of Hinduism.

With the translation of the Upanishads in the early 19th century they also started to attract attention from a western audience. Schopenhauer praised the Upanishads. The 19th century transcendentalists, like Emerson and Thoreau, noted similarities between the doctrine of Upanishads and those of Plato and Kant.

  • 1 Etymology
  • 2 Development
    • 2.1 Authorship
    • 2.2 Chronology
    • 2.3 Geography
  • 3 Classification
    • 3.1 Muktika canon
    • 3.2 Mukhya Upanishads
    • 3.3 New Upanishads
  • 4 Association with Vedas
  • 5 Philosophy
    • 5.1 Development of thought
    • 5.2 Brahman and Atman
    • 5.3 Aum
    • 5.4 Illusion
  • 6 Schools of Vedanta
    • 6.1 Advaita Vedanta
    • 6.2 Dvaita
    • 6.3 Vishishtadvaita
  • 7 Similarities with Platonic thought
  • 8 Translations
  • 9 Reception in the west
  • 10 See also
  • 11 Notes
  • 12 References
  • 13 Sources
  • 14 Further reading
  • 15 External links


The Sanskrit term Upaniṣad translates to "sitting down near", referring to the student sitting down near the teacher while receiving esoteric knowledge. Monier-Williams'' Sanskrit Dictionary adds that, "According to native authorities Upanishad means ''setting to rest ignorance by revealing the knowledge of the supreme spirit.''" A gloss of the term Upanishad based on Shri Adi Shankara''s commentary on the Kaṭha and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad equates it with Ātmavidyā, that is, "knowledge of the Self", or Brahmavidyā "knowledge of Brahma". Other dictionary meanings include "esoteric doctrine" and "secret doctrine". The term occurs in the name of the Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana, an early text of Vedanta, which is not counted as an Upanishad but as an Aranyaka.

Development Authorship

The Upanishads have been attributed to several authors: Yajnavalkya and Uddalaka Aruni feature prominently in the early Upanishads. Other important writers include Shvetaketu, Shandilya, Aitareya, Pippalada and Sanatkumara. Important women discussants include Yajnavalkya''s wife Maitreyi, and Gargi. Radhakrishnan considers authorship claims in the text to be unreliable, believing the supposed authors to be fictional characters. An example is Shvetaketu from Chāndogya Upaniṣad for whom there are no sources or books which mention him nor any other works attributed to him. According to Radhakrishnan most of the Upanishads were kept secret for centuries, only passed on to others orally in the form of Shloka, and that it difficult to determine how much the current texts have changed from the original.


Scholars disagree about the exact dates of the composition of the Upanishads. Different researchers have provided different dates for the Vedic and Upanashic eras. Some authors believe the oldest of these, the Brihadaranyaka, Jaiminiya Upanisadbrahmana and the Chandogya Upanishads, were composed during the pre-Buddhist era of India, while the Taittiriya, Aitareya and Kausitaki, which show similarities to Buddhism, may have been composed after the 5th century BC. The remainder of the mukhya Upanishads are dated to the last few centuries BC.

Ranade criticizes Deussen for assuming that the oldest Upanishads were written in prose, followed by those that were written in verse and the last few again in prose. He proposes a separate chronology based on a battery of six tests. The tables below summarize some of the prominent work:

Dates and chronology of the Principal Upanishads Deussen (1000 or 800 – 500 BC) Ranade (1200 – 600 BC) Radhakrishnan (800 – 600 BC)
Ancient prose Upanishads: Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Kaushitaki, Kena Poetic Upanishads: Kena, Katha, Isa, Svetasvatara, Mundaka Later prose: Prasna, Maitri, Mandukya Group I: Brihadaranyaka, Chāndogya Group II: Isa, Kena Group III: Aitareya, Taittiriya, Kaushitaki Group IV: Katha, Mundaka, Svetasvatara Group V: Prasna, Mandukya, Maitrayani Pre-Buddhist, prose: Aitareya, Kaushitaki, Taittiriya, Chāndogya, Brihadaranyaka, Kena Transitional phase: Kena (1–3), Brihadaranyaka (IV 8–21), Katha, Mandukya Elements of Samkhya and Yoga: Maitri, Svetasvatara

The general area of the composition of the early Upanishads was northern India, the region bounded on the west by the Indus valley, on the east by lower Ganges river, on the north by the Himalayan foothills, and on the south by the Vindhya mountain range. There is confidence about the early Upanishads being the product of the geographical center of ancient Brahmanism, comprising the regions of Kuru-Panchala and Kosala-Videha together with the areas immediately to the south and west of these.

While significant attempts have been made recently to identify the exact locations of the individual Upanishads, the results are tentative. Witzel identifies the center of activity in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as the area of Videha, whose king, Janaka, features prominently in the Upanishad. Yajnavalkya is another individual who features prominently, almost as the personal theologian of Janaka. Brahmins of the central region of Kuru-Panchala rightly considered their land as the place of the best theological and literary activities, since this was the heartland of Brahmanism of the late Vedic period. The setting of the third and the fourth chapters of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads were probably intended to show that Yajnavalkya of Videha defeated all the best theologians of the Kuru Panchala, thereby demonstrating the rise of Videha as a center of learning.

The Chandogya Upanishad was probably composed in a more Western than an Eastern location, possibly somewhere in the western region of the Kuru-Panchala country. The great Kuru-Panchala theologian Uddalaka Aruni who was vilified in the Brihadaranyaka features prominently in the Chandogya Upanishad. Compared to the Principal Upanishads, the new Upanishads recorded in the Muktikā belong to an entirely different region, probably southern India, and are considerably relatively recent.

Classification Muktika canon

There are more than 200 known Upanishads, one of which, Muktikā Upanishad, predates 1656 and contains a list of 108 canonical Upanishads, including itself as the last. These 108 texts span a historical period of about 2000 years, the earliest or mukhya ("primary") ones dating to the final centuries BC.), and the latest to the Mughal period. Various schools of Hinduism recognize the first 10, 11, 12 or 13 Upanishads as "principal" or Mukhya Upanishads. The remainder is further divided into Upanishads associated with Shaktism, Sannyasa (asceticism), Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Yoga, besides 21 Upanishads known as sāmānya ("common", or "general") which, while not part of the mukhya canon are still accepted as shruti by all schools of Vedanta. The newer Upanishads mentioned in the Muktikā probably originated in southern India. They are also categorized as "sectarian" since they reflect the emergence of the various Hindu sects in medieval Hinduism which sought to legitimize their texts by claiming for them the status of Śruti. The Upanishads of the Muktika canon are also all associated with a specific Brahmana and by extension with one of the four Veda.

Mukhya Upanishads Main article: Mukhya Upanishads

The Mukhya Upanishads can themselves be stratified into periods. Of the early periods are the Brihadaranyaka, Jaiminiya Upanisadbrahmana and the Chandogya, the most important and the oldest, of which the two former are the older of the two, though some parts were composed after the Chandogya.

The Aitareya, Kauṣītaki and Taittirīya Upanishads may date to as early as the mid 1st millennium BC, while the remnant date from between roughly the 4th to 1st centuries BC, roughly contemporary with the earliest portions of the Sanskrit epics. It is alleged that the Aitareya, Taittiriya, Kausitaki, Mundaka, Prasna, and Katha Upanishads show Buddha''s influence, and must have been composed after the 5th century BC, but it could just as easily have been the other way around. It is also alleged that in the first two centuries A.D., they were followed by the Kena, Mandukya and Isa Upanishads, but other scholars date these earlier. Not much is known about the authors except for those, like Yajnavalkayva and Uddalaka, mentioned in the texts. A few women discussants, such as Gargi and Maitreyi, the wife of Yajnavalkayva, also feature occasionally.

Each of the principal Upanishads can be associated with one of the schools of exegesis of the four Vedas (shakhas). Many Shakhas are said to have existed, of which only a few remain. The new Upanishads often have little relation to the Vedic corpus and have not been cited or commented upon by any great Vedanta philosopher: their language differs from that of the classic Upanishads, being less subtle and more formalized. As a result, they are not difficult to comprehend for the modern reader.

An early 19th-century manuscript of the Rigveda Veda-Shakha-Upanishad association Veda Recension Shakha Principal Upanishad
Rig Veda Only one recension Shakala Aitareya
Sama Veda Only one recension Kauthuma Chāndogya
Jaiminiya Kena
Yajur Veda Krishna Yajur Veda Katha Kaṭha
Taittiriya Taittirīya and Śvetāśvatara
Maitrayani Maitrāyaṇi
Hiranyakeshi (Kapishthala)
Shukla Yajur Veda Vajasaneyi Madhyandina Isha and Bṛhadāraṇyaka
Kanva Shakha
Atharva Two recension Shaunaka Māṇḍūkya and Muṇḍaka
Paippalada Prashna Upanishad

The Kauśītāki and Maitrāyaṇi Upanishads are sometimes added to the list of the mukhya Upanishads.

New Upanishads

There is no fixed list of the Upanishads as newer ones have continued to be discovered and composed. On many occasions, when older Upanishads have not suited the founders of new sects, they have composed new ones of their own. 1908 marked the discovery of four new Upanishads, named Bashkala, Chhagaleya, Arsheya and Saunaka, by Friedrich Schrader, who attributed them to the first prose period of the Upanishads. The text of three, the Chhagaleya, Arsheya and Saunaka, was reportedly corrupt and neglected but possibly re-constructible with the help of their Perso-Latin translations. Other texts including Devadeva-rahasya and Subakshana have also ascribed as Upanishads. Several texts under the title of "Upanishads" originated right up to the first half of the 20th century, some of which did not deal with subjects of Vedic philosophy.

The main Shakta Upanishads mostly discuss doctrinal and interpretative differences between the two principal sects of a major Tantric form of Shaktism called Shri Vidya upasana. The many extant lists of authentic Shakta Upaniṣads vary, reflecting the sect of their compilers, so that they yield no evidence of their "location" in Tantric tradition, impeding correct interpretation. The Tantra content of these texts also weaken its identity as an Upaniṣad for non-Tantrikas and therefore, its status as shruti and thus its authority.

Association with Vedas

All Upanishads are associated with one of the four Vedas—Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda (there are two primary versions or Samhitas of the Yajurveda: Shukla Yajurveda, Krishna Yajurveda), and Atharvaveda. The Muktikā Upanishad''s list of 108 Upanishads groups the first 10 as mukhya, 21 as Sāmānya Vedānta, 23 as Sannyāsa, 14 as Vaishnava, 14 as Shaiva, 9 as Shakta and 17 as Yoga. The 108 Upanishads as recorded in the Muktikā are shown in the table below. The mukhya Upanishads are highlighted.

Veda-Upanishad association Veda Mukhya Sāmānya Sannyāsa Śākta Vaiṣṇava Śaiva Yoga
Ṛigveda Aitareya Kauśītāki, Ātmabodha, Mudgala Nirvāṇa Tripura, Saubhāgya, Bahvṛca - Akṣamālika (Mālika) Nādabindu
Samaveda Chāndogya, Kena Vajrasūchi, Mahad, Sāvitrī Āruṇeya, Maitrāyaṇi, Maitreyi, Sannyāsa, Kuṇḍika - Vāsudeva, Avyakta Rudrākṣa, Jābāla Yogachūḍāmaṇi, Darśana
Krishna Yajurveda Taittirīya, Kaṭha Sarvasāra, Śukarahasya, Skanda (Tripāḍvibhūṭi), Śārīraka, Ekākṣara, Akṣi, Prāṇāgnihotra Brahma, Śvetāśvatara, Garbha, Tejobindu, Avadhūta, Kaṭharudra, Varāha Sarasvatīrahasya Nārāyaṇa (Mahānārāyaṇa), Kali-Saṇṭāraṇa (Kali) Śvetāśvatara, Kaivalya, Kālāgnirudra, Dakṣiṇāmūrti, Rudrahṛdaya, Pañcabrahma Amṛtabindu, Amṛtanāda, Kṣurika, Dhyānabindu, Brahmavidyā, Yogatattva, Yogaśikhā, Yogakuṇḍalini
Shukla Yajurveda Bṛhadāraṇyaka, Īśa Subāla, Mantrikā, Nirālamba, Paiṅgala, Adhyātmā, Muktikā Jābāla, Paramahaṃsa, Advayatāraka, Bhikṣu, Turīyātīta, Yājñavalkya, Śāṭyāyani - Tārasāra - Haṃsa, Triśikhi, Maṇḍalabrāhmaṇa
Atharvaveda Muṇḍaka, Māṇḍūkya, Praśna Sūrya, Ātmā Parivrāt (Nāradaparivrājaka), Paramahaṃsaparivrājaka, Parabrahma Sītā, Annapūrṇa, Devī, Tripurātapani, Bhāvana Nṛsiṃhatāpanī, Mahānārāyaṇa (Tripādvibhuti), Rāmarahasya, Rāmatāpaṇi, Gopālatāpani, Kṛṣṇa, Hayagrīva, Dattātreya, Gāruḍa Śira, Atharvaśikha, Bṛhajjābāla, Śarabha, Bhasma, Gaṇapati Śāṇḍilya, Pāśupata, Mahāvākya
Philosophy Main article: VedantaImpact of a drop of water, a common analogy for Brahman and the Ātman

The Upanishadic age was characterized by a pluralism of worldviews. While some Upanishads have been deemed ''monistic'', others, including the Katha Upanishad, are dualistic. The Maitri is one of the Upanishads that inclines more toward dualism, thus grounding classical Samkhya and Yoga, in contrast to the non-dualistic Upanishads eventuating in Vedanta. They contain a plurality of ideas, which only by the later Vedanta-schools were tried to reconcile.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan notes that the Upanishads are primarily presented as conversations between two persons or animals rather than expository statements of philosophy or ideology. He contends that the frog''s metaphorical speech the Mandukya Upanishad (manduka means frog in Sanskrit) is a common source of confusion.

Development of thought

While the hymns of the Vedas emphasize rituals and the Brahmanas serve as a liturgical manual for those Vedic rituals, the spirit of the Upanishads is inherently opposed to ritual. The older Upanishads launch attacks of increasing intensity on the ritual. Anyone who worships a divinity other than the Self is called a domestic animal of the gods in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Chāndogya Upanishad parodies those who indulge in the acts of sacrifice by comparing them with a procession of dogs chanting Om! Let''s eat. Om! Let''s drink. The Mundaka launches the most scathing attack on the ritual by comparing those who value sacrifice with an unsafe boat that is endlessly overtaken by old age and death.

The opposition to the ritual is not explicit all the time. On several occasions the Upanishads extend the task of the Aranyakas by making the ritual allegorical and giving it a philosophical meaning. For example, the Brihadaranyaka interprets the practice of horse-sacrifice or ashvamedha allegorically. It states that the over-lordship of the earth may be acquired by sacrificing a horse. It then goes on to say that spiritual autonomy can only be achieved by renouncing the universe which is conceived in the image of a horse.

In similar fashion, the pattern of reducing the number of gods in the Vedas becomes more emphatic in the Upanishads. When Yajnavalkaya is asked how many gods exist, he decrements the number successively by answering thirty-three, six, three, two, one and a half and finally one. Vedic gods such as the Rudras, Visnu, Brahma are gradually subordinated to the supreme, immortal and incorporeal Brahman of the Upanishads. In fact Indra and the supreme deity of the Brahmanas, Prajapati, are made door keepers to the Brahman''s residence in the Kausitaki Upanishad.

In short, the one reality or ekam sat of the Vedas becomes the ekam eva a-dvitiyam or "the one and only and sans a second" in the Upanishads.

Brahman and Atman

Two words that are of paramount importance in grasping the Upanishads are Brahman and Atman. The Brahma is the ultimate reality and the Atman is individual self. Differing opinions exist amongst scholars regarding the etymology of these words. Brahman probably comes from the root brh, which means "The Biggest ~ The Greatest ~ The ALL." Brahman is "the infinite Spirit Source and fabric and core and destiny of all existence, both manifested and unmanifested and the formless infinite substratum and from whom the universe has grown". Brahman is the ultimate, both transcendent and immanent, the absolute infinite existence, the sum total of all that ever is, was, or shall be. The word Atman means the immortal perfect Spirit of any living creature, being, including trees etc. The idea put forth by the Upanishadic seers that Atman and Brahman are One and the same is one of the greatest contributions made to the thought of the world.

The Brihadaranyaka and the Chandogya are the most important of the mukhya Upanishads. They represent two main schools of thought within the Upanishads. The Brihadaranyaka deals with acosmic or nis-prapancha, whereas the Chandogya deals with the cosmic or sa-prapancha. Between the two, the Brihadaranyaka is considered more original.


The Upanishads also contain the first and most definitive explications of the divine syllable Aum, the cosmic vibration that underlies all existence. The mantra Aum Shānti Shānti Shānti, translated as "the soundless sound, peace, peace, peace", is often found in the Upanishads. The path of bhakti or "Devotion to God" is foreshadowed in Upanishadic literature, and was later realized by texts such as the Bhagavad Gita.


Two different types of the non-dual Brahman-Atman are presented in the Upanishads:

  • The one in which the non-dual Brahman-Atman is the all inclusive ground of the universe and
  • The one in which all reality in the universe is but an illusion (Acosmism)

According to David Kalupahana the Upanishadic thinkers came to consider change as a mere illusion, because it could not be reconciled with a permanent and homogeneous reality. They were therefore led to a complete denial of plurality. According to Kalupahana reality was simply considered to be beyond space, time, change, and causality. This caused change to be a mere matter of words, nothing but a name and due to this, metaphysical speculation took the upper hand. As a result, the Upanishads fail to give any rational explanation of the experience of things. He also states that philosophy suffered a setback because of the transcendentalism resulting from the search of the essential unity of things.

Schools of Vedanta Main article: VedantaAdi Shankara, expounder of Advaita Vedanta and commentator (bhashya) on the Upanishads

The Upanishads form one of the three main sources for all schools of Vedanta, together with the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutras. Due to the wide variety of philosophical teachings contained in the Upanishads, various interpretations could be grounded on the Upanishads. The schools of Vedānta seek to answer questions about the relation between atman and Brahman, and the relation between Brahman and the world. The schools of Vedanta are named after the relation they see between atman and Brahman:

  • According to Advaita Vedanta, there is no difference.
  • According to Vishishtadvaita the jīvātman is a part of Brahman, and hence is similar, but not identical.
  • According to Dvaita, all individual souls (jīvātmans) and matter as eternal and mutually separate entities.

Other schools of Vedanta include Nimbarka''s Dvaitadvaita, Vallabha''s Suddhadvaita and Chaitanya''s Acintya Bhedabheda. The philosopher Adi Sankara has provided commentaries on 11 mukhya Upanishads.

Advaita Vedanta

Advaita literally means non-duality, and it is a monistic system of thought. It deals with the non-dual nature of Brahman and Atman. Advaita is considered the most influential sub-school of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, though whether it represents the mainstream Hindu position has been debated.

Gaudapada was the first person to expound the basic principles of the Advaita philosophy in a commentary on the conflicting statements of the Upanishads. His main work is infused with philosophical terminology of Buddhism, and uses Buddhist arguments and analogies. Gaudapada took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra) Gaudapada "wove into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara". At the same time, Gaudapada emphatically rejected the epistemic idealism of the Buddhists, arguing that there was a difference between objects seen in dreams and real objects in the world, although both were ultimately unreal. He also rejected the pluralism and momentariness of consciousnesses, which were core doctrines of the Vijnanavada school, and their techniques for achieving liberation. Gaudapada also took over the Buddhist concept of "ajāta" from Nagarjuna''s Madhyamaka philosophy, which uses the term "anutpāda".

Gaudapada''s ideas were further developed by Shankara. There are clear differences between Shankara''s writings and the Brahmasutra, and many ideas of Shankara are at odds with those in the Upanishads. The Upanishads contain four sentences, the Mahāvākyas (Great Sayings), which were used by Shankara to establish the identity of Atman and Brahman as scriptural truth:

  • "Prajñānam brahma" - "Consciousness is Brahman" (Aitareya Upanishad)
  • "Aham brahmāsmi" - "I am Brahman" (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)
  • "Tat tvam asi" - "That Thou art" (Chandogya Upanishad)
  • "Ayamātmā brahma" - "This Atman is Brahman" (Mandukya Upanishad)

Although there are a wide variety of philosophical positions propounded in the Upanishads, commentators since Adi Shankara have usually followed him in seeing idealist monism as the dominant force.


The Dvaita school was founded by Madhvacharya. Born in 1138 near Udipi, Dvaita is regarded as the best philosophic exposition of theism. Sharma points out that Dvaita, a term commonly used to designate Madhava''s system of philosophy, translates as "dualism" in English. The Western understanding of dualism equates to two independent and mutually irreducible substances. The Indian equivalent of that definition would be Samkya Dvaita. Madhva''s Dvaita differs from the Western definition of dualism in that while he agrees to two mutually irreducible substances that constitute reality, he regards only one – God, as being independent.


The third school of Vedanta is the Vishishtadvaita, which was founded by Ramanuja. Traditional dates of his birth and death are given as 1017 and 1137, though a shorter life span somewhere between these two dates has been suggested. Modern scholars conclude that on the whole, Ramanuja''s theistic views may be closer to those of the Upanishads than are Shankara''s, and Ramanuja''s interpretations are in fact representative of the general trend of Hindu thought. Ramanuja strenuously refuted Shankara''s works. Visistadvaita is a synthetic philosophy of love that tries to reconcile the extremes of the other two monistic and theistic systems of vedanta. It is called Sri-Vaisanavism in its religious aspect. Chari claims that it has been misunderstood by its followers as well as its critics. Many, including leading modern proponents of this system, forget that jiva is a substance as well as an attribute and call this system "qualified non-dualism" or the adjectival monism. While the Dvaita insists on the difference between the Brahman and the Jiva, Visistadvaita states that God is their inner-Self as well as transcendent.

Similarities with Platonic thought See also: Proto-Indo-European religion, Satya, Ṛta, Asha and Form of the Good

Several scholars have recognised parallels between the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato and that of the Upanishads, including their ideas on sources of knowledge, concept of justice and path to salvation, and Plato''s allegory of the cave. Platonic psychology with its divisions of reason, spirit and appetite, also bears resemblance to the three gunas in the Indian philosophy of Samkhya.

Based on these common features some scholars, most notably E.J. Urwick and M.L. West, have argued that the Ancient Greek philosophy was influenced by, and borrowed some core concepts from, the Upanishads. Various mechanisms for such a transmission of knowledge have been conjectured including Pythagoras traveling as far as India; Indian philosophers visiting Athens and meeting Socrates; Plato encountering the ideas when in exile in Syracuse; or, intermediated through Persia.

However other scholars, such as Arthur Berriedale Keith, J. Burnet and A.R. Wadia, believe that the two systems developed independently. They note that there is no historical evidence of the philosophers of the two schools meeting, and point out significant differences in the stage of development, orientation and goals of the two philosophical systems. Wadia writes that Plato''s metaphysics were rooted in this life and his primary aim was to develop an ideal state. In contrast, Upanishadic thinkers did not seek to build an ideal society, and regarded Earthly existence only as a "stepping-stone to something higher"; their focus was to attain moksha or deliverance from the endless cycle of birth and death.


The Upanishads have been translated into various languages including Persian, Italian, Urdu, French, Latin, German, English, Dutch, Polish, Japanese, Spanish and Russian. The Moghul Emperor Akbar''s reign (1556–1586) saw the first translations of the Upanishads into Persian, and his great-grandson, Dara Shikoh, produced a collection called Sirr-e-Akbar (The Greatest Mysteries) in 1657, with the help of Sanskrit Pandits of Varanasi. Its introduction stated that the Upanishads constitute the Qur''an''s "Kitab al-maknun" or hidden book. But Akbar''s and Sikoh''s translations remained unnoticed in the Western world until 1775.

Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron, a French Orientalist who had lived in India between 1755 and 1761, received a manuscript of the Upanishads in 1775 from M. Gentil, and translated it into French and Latin, publishing the Latin translation in two volumes in 1802–1804 as Oupneck''hat. The French translation was never published.

The first English translation of the Aitareya Upanishad was made by Colebrooke, in 1805 and the first English translation of the Kena Upanishad was made by Rammohun Roy in 1816. Colebrooke was aware of 170 Upanishads. Sadhale''s catalog from 1985, the Upaniṣad-vākya-mahā-kośa lists 223 Upanishads.

The first German translation appeared in 1832 and Roer''s English version appeared in 1853. However, Max Mueller''s 1879 and 1884 editions were the first systematic English treatment to include the 12 Principal Upanishads. After this, the Upanishads were rapidly translated into Dutch, Polish, Japanese and Russian.

Reception in the westGerman philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, impressed by the Upanishads, called the texts "the production of the highest human wisdom".

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer read the Latin translation and praised the Upanishads in his main work, The World as Will and Representation (1819), as well as in his Parerga and Paralipomena (1851). He found his own philosophy was in accord with the Upanishads, which taught that the individual is a manifestation of the one basis of reality. For Schopenhauer, that fundamentally real underlying unity is what we know in ourselves as "will". Schopenhauer used to keep a copy of the Latin Oupnekhet by his side and commented,

It has been the solace of my life, it will be the solace of my death.

Another German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, praised the mystical and spiritual aspects of the Upanishads. Schelling and other philosophers associated with German idealism were dissatisfied with Christianity as propagated by churches. They were fascinated with the Vedas and the Upanishads. In the United States, the group known as the Transcendentalists were influenced by the German idealists. These Americans, such as Emerson and Thoreau, were not satisfied with traditional Christian mythology and therefore embraced Schelling''s interpretation of Kant''s Transcendental idealism, as well as his celebration of the romantic, exotic, mystical aspect of the Upanishads. As a result of the influence of these writers, the Upanishads gained renown in Western countries.

One of the great English-language poets of the 20th century, T. S. Eliot, inspired by his reading of the Upanishads, based the final portion of his famous poem The Waste Land (1922) upon one of its verses. Erwin Schrödinger, the great quantum physicist said,

The multiplicity is only apparent. This is the doctrine of the Upanishads. And not of the Upanishads only. The mystical experience of the union with God regularly leads to this view, unless strong prejudices stand in the West.

Eknath Easwaran, in translating the Upanishads, articulates how they

...form snapshots of towering peaks of consciousness taken at various times by different observers and dispatched with just the barest kind of explanation."

According to the nineteenth century Indologist John Murray Mitchell, by suggesting that all appearance is an illusion, the Upanishads were potentially overturning ethical distinctions. German Orientalist Paul Deussen criticized the idea of unity in the Upanishads as it excluded all plurality, and therefore, all proximity in space, all succession in time, all interdependence as cause and effect, and all opposition as subject and object.

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