What is in the Upanishads


The ancient Indian Upanishads, highly valued by Arthur Schopenhauer, are among the most important philosophical-religious writings of Hinduism, indeed of the entire history of the mind. For a long time the texts were only passed down orally and were only revealed to a select few in ancient India. "We both have to come to an understanding about this, our knowledge does not belong in front of the people." (2) These words, spoken by the wise Yajnavalkya to one of his disciples, are characteristic of the esoteric character of the Upanishads. Already the Sanskrit word Upanishad indicates that the Upanishads are largely esoteric and therefore difficult to understand for the uninitiated. This is how the “Lexicon of Eastern Wisdom Teachings” explains: upa = "Close to", ni = "Down", sad = “Sit”, “sit down close to someone”, d. H. Sit at the feet of the spiritual master (Sanskrit: Guru) to receive the confidential, secret teaching.

The Upanishads are the final part of the Vedas (Sanskrit: Knowledge) the most important philosophical basis in Vedanta (Composition of Sanskrit words Veda and anta = “The end”, ie final consideration of the Vedas). Vedanta occupies a central position within Hinduism. Regarding Vedanta and thus the Upanishads, one of the most competent experts on Indian religions and philosophy, Helmuth von Glasenapp, stated that of the systems of Hinduism “today the Vedanta is indisputably the most important”. It could be "regarded as the philosophy of Hinduism". (3)

Hinduism has a long prehistory: The oldest parts of the Vedas probably go back to around 1500 BC. BC back. Probably all directions of Hinduism agree that the Vedas, which have been handed down orally over a long period of time, are based on knowledge that wise seers ( Rishis ) were revealed in deep meditation. From these revelations the philosophically very deep lines of thought developed Brahmanism, from which the Hinduism formed. They are the basis of the Upanishads, which probably dates from around 800-500 BC. Were created.

The oldest Upanishads, in spite of their philosophical content, are still clearly marked by magical ideas, which were then more and more replaced by a variety of philosophical considerations, which finally reached their climax with the realization that Brahman and Atman basically one are! Here is Brahman predominantly impersonal, but sometimes also personal, as it were like a god, understood as the source of all being, as the all-pervading essence of the world. Atman is the actual self, so to a certain extent the soul, which - and this is the decisive insight - is deeply identical with Brahman. The central word for the ultimate truth, quoted by Arthur Schopenhauer from the Upanishads, relates to this: Did tvam asi - "You are that!”.

In this sense, the Indologist Heinrich Zimmer interprets one of the central teachings of the Upanishads (4): “When the one inner substance of all things is recognized within, then the various masks that it takes on become transparent. Every understanding, every sympathy and every love is based on the essential identity of the 'recognizer' and the 'known'. Hatred arises only from the illusion of difference. ”(5) It is noteworthy that thousands of years later Arthur Schopenhauer in his Price writing on the basis of morality gave a metaphysical justification of ethics that agrees amazingly with this interpretation of the Upanishads (6)

Although some Indologists, probably more scientifically than spiritually oriented, consider the high esteem of the Upanishads by Schopenhauer to be exaggerated, it is not unjustified, because as the above-mentioned “Lexicon of Eastern Wisdoms” emphasizes: “What distinguishes them (the Upanishads) in particular and what makes it so valuable for the seeker of truth is its tremendous freedom of thought and expansion into transcendence. Like 'creepers' they lean on the previous parts of the respective Veda and yet retain their full independence and freedom from all rigidities of priestly dogmas. The focus is always on the meaning of Brahman and Atman, the knowledge of the identity of the two, as well as the meaning of the sacred syllable OM. "

Like no other important Western philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer is likely to have contributed to opening the gates of the West to the Upanishads. Unlike in Schopenhauer's time, the Upanishads are now easily and inexpensively accessible to everyone thanks to good translations, directly from Sanskrit. It is rather doubtful whether the difficult texts, which have not lost their esoteric character, will also be understood. Schopenhauer's philosophy can, however, be an essential aid in understanding it.

(1) Arthur Schopenhauer, Zurich edition, The world as will and imagination II, 4th book, chap. 48, p. 715, note.

(2) Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.2.13.

(3) Helmuth von Glasenapp, Hinduismus, in: Die nichtchristlichen Religionen, Das Fischer Lexikon, Frankfurt a. M. 1957, p. 160. According to von Glasenapp (loc. Cit., P. 159 f.), Vedanta is one of the six philosophical systems in Hinduism ( darshanas , d. H. Atways of viewing). For details see Helmuth von Glasenapp, Die Philosophie der Inder, 3rd edition, Stuttgart: 1974, p. 136 ff.

(4) Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.5.

(5) Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophy and Religion India, 1st edition, Zurich 1973, p. 329, note 3.

(6) Arthur Schopenhauer, Zurich edition, On the basis of morality, § 22. Metaphysical basis.