Knowledge of the Self is called upanishad vidya and the scriptural texts, in which it is revealed, are called the Upanishads.
The Upanishads, in the form of granthas or books, may be many; but the Self knowledge revealed by them is one and the same. Only that knowledge which is revealed in the Vedas, and not written by anyone, is Upanishad.
Vedas – Authentic Means of Knowledge
The Upanishad texts are found in the Vedas. The word Veda comes from the root vid – knowledge.
The Vedas are not written by any rishi; they contain truths that were revealed to the great rishis in their seat of meditation. These mantras are the Lord’s revelations and, therefore, the rishis are called the Seers of these mantras – mantra drstaraha, na tu mantra kartaraha.
Truly speaking all knowledge is always revealed. Thereafter, it is expressed in words and put in writing by the person to whom it is revealed. Irrespective of the field, Truth is always revealed. For example, Newton’s Law of Gravitation was not something original conceived by him. This law of nature was revealed to him; it was discovered by him. Subsequently, he explained it in detail and many others also carried out experiments to substantiate his findings.
Why Study the Vedas?
In today’s scientific world and modern temper, people question the need of studying the Vedas. Here two things have been pointed out. Firstly it is said ,Vedas are required for those who want to know what is dharma and adharma. Secondly, the Vedas are the means of knowledge for those who want to know what is Brahman, what is the Absolute Truth, which cannot be directly perceived or experimented upon in a laboratory.
The Vedas are not needed to study astronomy or physiology, though that knowledge also may be found in them. They are the authentic and valid means of knowing the Supreme Truth. They can also be regarded as a treasure of knowledge.
Two Categories of Upanishads
It is said that there are 108 Upanishads, but they are not all available to us. There are eleven important Upanishads which are considered the major Upanishads, while some others are categorised as minor Upanishads.
As far as the content is concerned, there is no difference between them. Both reveal the same Truth. So how do they differ? The major Upanishads are those on which great acharyas of different traditions have written bhasyas (commentaries). Having studied them, it becomes possible to understand the others as well.
One Mirror is Enough
Often, people wonder how many Upanishads one needs to study in order to gain Self-Knowledge.
Once, a mahatma was asked this frequent question. He replied, ‘How many mirrors do you need to see your face? One mirror is enough. Of course, there is no harm if you wish to see it in many mirrors. Every mirror will only show a reflection of your own self.’
Similarly, to gain the Self knowledge, the study of one Upanishad is sufficient; but if one wishes to revel in it and enjoy it, one may study many more.
When a Realised Master was asked why he still continued to read the Upanishads, he replied that he was just reading about his own glories! ‘Anorniyan mahato mahiyan – I (the Self) am greater than the greatest and subtler than the subtlest.’
That is why we love to see images of ourselves because we see, unconsciously, the reflection of our true nature, our blissful and lovable Self.
The Author is the Head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide. This is Blog 4 in the Upanishads series.