A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the place of the upanishads in vedic literature: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the first part in the series called the “the earlier upanishads (700 b.c.— 600 b.c.)”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 1 - The place of the Upaniṣads in Vedic literature


Though it is generally held that the Upaniṣads are usually attached as appendices to the Aranyakas which are again attached to the Brāhmanas, yet it cannot be said that their distinction as separate treatises is always observed. Thus we find in some cases that subjects which we should expect to be discussed inaBrāhmaṇa are introduced into the Aranyakas and the Araṇyaka materials are sometimes fused into the great bulk of Upaniṣad teaching. This shows that these three literatures gradually grew up in one process of development and they were probably regarded as parts of one literature, in spite of the differences in their subject-matter. Deussen supposes that the principle of this division was to be found in this, that the Brāhmanas were intended for the householders, the Aranyakas for those who in their old age withdrew into the solitude of the forests and the Upaniṣads for those who renounced the world to attain ultimate salvation by meditation. Whatever might be said about these literary classifications the ancient philosophers of India looked upon the Upaniṣads as being of an entirely different type from the rest of the Vedic literature as dictating the path of knowledge (jñāna-mārga) as opposed to the path of works (karma-mārga) which forms the content of the latter.

It is not out of place here to mention that the orthodox Hindu view holds that whatever may be written in the Veda is to be interpreted as commandments to perform certain actions (vidhi) or prohibitions against committing certain others (niṣedha). Even the stories or episodes are to be so interpreted that the real objects of their insertion might appear as only to praise the performance of the commandments and to blame the commission of the prohibitions. No person has any right to argue why any particular Vedic commandment is to be followed, for no reason can ever discover that, and it is only because reason fails to find out why a certain Vedic act leads to a certain effect that the Vedas have been revealed as commandments and prohibitions to show the true path of happiness. The Vedic teaching belongs therefore to that of the Karma-mārga or the performance of Vedic duties of sacrifice, etc.

The Upaniṣads however do not require the performance of any action, but only reveal the ultimate truth and reality, a knowledge of which at once emancipates a man. Readers of Hindu philosophy are aware that there is a very strong controversy on this point between the adherents of the Vedānta (Upaniṣads) and those of the Veda. For the latter seek in analogy to the other parts of the Vedic literature to establish the principle that the Upaniṣads should not be regarded as an exception, but that they should also be so interpreted that they might also be held out as commending the performance of duties; but the former dissociate the Upaniṣads from the rest of the Vedic literature and assert that they do not make the slightest reference to any Vedic duties, but only delineate the ultimate reality which reveals the highest knowledge in the minds of the deserving.

Śaṅkara the most eminent exponent of the Upaniṣads holds that they are meant for such superior men who are already above worldly or heavenly prosperities, and for whom the Vedic duties have ceased to have any attraction. Wheresoever there may be such a deserving person, be he a student, a householder or an ascetic, for him the Upaniṣads have been revealed for his ultimate emancipation and the true knowledge. Those who perform the Vedic duties belong to a stage inferior to those who no longer care for the fruits of the Vedic duties but are eager for final emancipation, and it is the latter who alone are fit to hear the Upaniṣads[2].

Footnotes and references:


There are about 112 Upanisads which have been published by the “Nirnaya-Sāgara” Press, Bombay, 1917. These are

  1. Iśā,
  2. Kena,
  3. Katha,
  4. Praśna,
  5. Mun-daka,
  6. Māndūkya,
  7. Taittirlya,
  8. Aitareya,
  9. Chāndogya,
  10. Brhadāranyaka,
  11. Śvetāśvatara,
  12. Kausītaki,
  13. Maitreyī,
  14. Kaivalya,
  15. Jābāla,
  16. Brahma-bindu,
  17. Hamsa,
  18. Ārunika,
  19. Garbha,
  20. Nārāyaṇa,
  21. Nārāyaṇa,
  22. Paramahaṃsa,
  23. Brahma,
  24. Amrtanāda,
  25. Atharvaśiras,
  26. Atharvaśikhā,
  27. Maitrāyanī,
  28. Bṛhajjābāla,
  29. Nrsimhapūrvatāpinī,
  30. Nrsimhottaratāpinī,
  31. Kālāgnirudra,
  32. Subāla,
  33. Ksurikā,
  34. Yantrikā,
  35. Sarvasāra,
  36. Nirālamba,
  37. Śukarahasya,
  38. Vajrasūcikā,
  39. Tejobindu,
  40. Nādabindu,
  41. Dhyānabindu,
  42. Brahmavidyā,
  43. Yogatattva,
  44. Ātmabodha,
  45. Nāradaparivrājaka,
  46. Triśikhibrāhmana,
  47. Sītā,
  48. Yogacūdāmani,
  49. Nirvana,
  50. Mandalabrāhmana,
  51. Daksināmurtti,
  52. Śarabha,
  53. Skanda,
  54. Tripādvibhūtimahānārāyana,
  55. Advayatāraka,
  56. Rāma-rahasya,
  57. Rāmapūrvatāpinī,
  58. Rāmottaratāpinī,
  59. Vāsudeva,
  60. Mudgala,
  61. Sāndilya,
  62. Paiiigala,
  63. Bhiksuka,
  64. Mahā,
  65. Śārīraka,
  66. Yogaśikhā,
  67. Turīyātita,
  68. Samnyāsa,
  69. Paramahamsaparivrājaka,
  70. Aksamālā,
  71. Avyakta,
  72. Ekāksara,
  73. Annapūrnā,
  74. Sūrya,
  75. Aksi,
  76. Adhyātma,
  77. Kundika,
  78. Sā-vitrī,
  79. Atman,
  80. Pāśupatabrahma,
  81. Parabrahma,
  82. Avadhūta,
  83. Tripurātāpinī,
  84. Devī,
  85. Tripurā,
  86. Katharudra,
  87. Bhāvanā,
  88. Rudrahrdaya,
  89. Yogakundalī,
  90. Bhasmajābāla,
  91. Rudrāksajābāla,
  92. Ganapati,
  93. Jābāladarśana,
  94. Tārasāra,
  95. Mahāvākya,
  96. Pañcabrahma,
  97. Prānāgnihotra,
  98. Gopālapūrvatāpinī,
  99. Gopā-Iottaratāpinī,
  100. Krsna,
  101. Yājñavalkya,
  102. Varāha,
  103. Śāthyāyanīya,
  104. Hayagrīva,
  105. Dattātreya,
  106. Garuda,
  107. Kalisantarana,
  108. Jābāli,
  109. Saubhāgyalaksmī,
  110. Sarasvatīrahasya,
  111. Bahvṛca,
  112. Muktika.

The collection of Upanisads translated by Dara shiko, Aurangzeb’s brother, contained 50 Upanisads. The Muktika Upanisad gives a list of 108 Upanisads. With theexception of the first 13 Upanisads most of them are of more or less later date. The Upanisads dealt with in this chapter are the earlier ones. Amongst the later ones there are some which repeat the purport of these, there are others which deal with the Śaiva, Śākta, the Yoga and the Vaisnava doctrines. These will be referred to in connection with the consideration of those systems in Volume II. The later Upanisads which only repeat the purport of those dealt with in this chapter do not require further mention. Some of the later U panisads were composed even as late as the fourteenth or the fifteenth century.


This is what is called the difference of fitness (adhikāribheda). Those who perform the sacrifices are not fit to hear the Upaniṣads and those who are fit to hear the Upaniṣads have no longer any necessity to perform the sacrificial duties.

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