Sages of ancient India divined or saw the eternal Vedas by the power of their penance. Vedas have been handed down to us through the generation of teacher-disciple mode of ‘Shruti’ and ‘Smriti’. The very word ‘Veda’ signifies ‘knowledge’ which is pristine, eternal and without contradiction. Vedas contain eternal wisdom, beneficial for all aspects of a society. In the Vedas, the end portion is popular as the ‘Upanishads’. The word “Upanishad” signifies knowledge that one gains by the legacy of sages-mentors (Upa = near, Ni =sitting and Shad = Knowledge). Although, there are scholastic references to thousands of Upanishads, 108 Upanishads are termed meritorious. Even among them, ten Upanishads have been commented upon by Acharyas and hence are major Upanishads.
The ten major Upanishads are Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya.
Even in the contemporary times, the message of the Upanishads are quite relevant and useful. In the Isha Upanishad, it has been said:
kurvannEvEha karmani jijIvisecchatam samah |
Evam tvayi nAnyathEto’sti na karma lipyate nare ||
Every human being has to perform Karma, or one’s duty as a worship to Lord. Only then can the life of an individual be meaningful even for a hundred years. At any point of time, one should not be negligent towards his duties. Normally, every person demands his rights but forgets he has duties as well to the society and nation. The above-stated Upanishad verse reminds to us that we have no way to shun our duties. Thus, the message given here regulates the good working of the society by motivating all to execute their duties.
The Kena Upanishad begins with philosophical questions. It takes up the concept that it is God alone who gives power to our senses to work in a proper way. Hence, he should indeed indulge in meaningful pursuits in life and not just gratify our senses. The Kena Upanishad remarks:
Tasyai tapO damah karmEti pratisThA vEdah sarvAngANi SatyamAyatanam|
The passage here gives a thumb-rule for an ideal life. We should follow three ideals in our life. ”Penance, Control over the senses and Duties”.
Penance refers to not only meditation but always thinking about the right things and thereby developing an aura of positive energy around us. Dama is the control of the senses. Our senses tend naturally to pleasurable things. However, what we need is not mere enjoyment, but that which is lasting good. Hence, restraint of the sense-organs have to be practiced. Karma refers to duties in all our walks of life. It is not proper to shun the duties assigned to us. By following these three ideals, the Upanishad remarks, that we would have achieved all that is taught in the Vedas. All these lead to the ultimate truth.
The Katha Upanishad is in the form of dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa. It gives a message that we should always make a choice of the good and not just of the pleasurable. The pleasurable makes us to move towards it, but the good always protects us and the society too. The Katha Upanishad remarks:
SrEyascha prEyascha manuShyamEtastau sam -pareetya vivinakti dheerAh |
SrEyO hi dhIrO abhi prEyasO vruNIte prEyO mandO yogakshemAd vruNIte ||
According to this verse, we all encounter the good and the pleasant in all walks of life, always and at all places. However, in order to gain success, we need to have the discrimination between the two, which is nothing but ‘Viveka’. Thus, a meaningful choice has to be made. One who chooses the Good attains happiness in all walks of life and one who opts only for the pleasant is doomed, though he may enjoy temporary gratification.
The Upanishads give innumerable messages to us so that we inculcate the values and ideals spoken of by them. They bring about an ideal society and an ideal individual as well.