A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

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

This page describes the philosophy of revival of upanishad studies in modern times: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fourth 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 4 - Revival of Upaniṣad studies in modern times

How the Upaniṣads came to be introduced into Europe is an interesting story. Dārā Shiko the eldest son of the Emperor Ṣāh Jahān heard of the Upaniṣads during his stay in Kashmir in 1640. He invited several Pandits from Benares to Delhi, who undertook the work of translating them into Persian. In 1775 Anquetil Duperron, the discoverer of the Zend-Avesta, received a manuscript of it presented to him by his friend Le Gentil, the French resident in Faizabad at the court of Shujā-uddaulah. Anquetil translated it into Latin which was published in 1801-1802. This translation though largely unintelligible was read by Schopenhauer with great enthusiasm. It had, as Schopenhauer himself admits, profoundly influenced his philosophy.

Thus he writes in the preface to his Welt als Wille und Vorstellung[1],

“And if, indeed, in addition to this he is a partaker of the benefit conferred by the Vedas, the access to which, opened to us through the Upaniṣads, is in my eyes the greatest advantage which this still young century enjoys over previous ones, because I believe that the influence of the Sanskrit literature will penetrate not less deeply than did the revival of Greek literature in the fifteenth century: if, I say, the reader has also already received and assimilated the sacred, primitive Indian wisdom, then is he best of all prepared to hear what I have to say to him.....

I might express the opinion that each one of the individual and disconnected aphorisms which make up the Upaniṣads may be deduced as a consequence from the thought I am going to impart, though the converse, that my thought is to be found in the Upaniṣads is by no means the case.”


“How does every line display its firm,definite,and throughout harmonious meaning! From every sentence deep, original, and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit....

In the whole world there is no study, except that of the originals, so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Oupanikhat. It has been the solace of my life, it will be the solace of my death![2]

Through Schopenhauer the study of the Upaniṣads attracted much attention in Germany and with the growth of a general interest in the study of Sanskrit, they found their way into other parts of Europe as well.

The study of the Upaniṣads has however gained a great impetus by the earnest attempts of our Ram Mohan Roy who not only translated them into Bengali, Hindi and English and published them at his own expense, but founded the Brahma Samaj in Bengal, the main religious doctrines of which were derived directly from the Upaniṣads.

Footnotes and references:


Translation by Haldane and Kemp, vol. I. pp. xii and xiii.


Max Miiller says in his introduction to the Upaniṣads (5 . B. E. I. p. lxii; see also pp. lx, lxi) “that Schopenhauer should have spoken of the Upaniṣads as ‘products of the highest wisdom’...that he should have placed the pantheism there taught high above the pantheism of Bruno, Malebranche, Spinoza and Scotus Erigena, as brought to light again at Oxford in 1681, may perhaps secure a more considerate reception for those relics of ancient wisdom than anything that I could say in their favour.”

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