The texts known as Upanishads are traditionally described in terms of jnana-marga, the path of knowledge. Jnana is strongly associated with the ongoing tradition of Vedanta, one of the celebrated six schools of Indian philosophy. The classical Upanishads became known as Vedanta, meaning the end of the Veda. The word Vedanta “was understood to mean not just the end but also the summit and crown of the Veda” (Olivelle 1992:3). These books received later commentaries from medieval exponents like Shankara.
The classical Upanishads number 12 or 13, with many others of a minor rating. The classical or principal texts are much earlier than the monastic organisations created by medieval Vedanta. Those texts are difficult to date; assessments of chronology have varied markedly. The oldest Upanishads were apparently pre-Buddhist, but many others were later in time. Radhakrishnan favoured a date of 900-600 BC for the earliest of these texts, with Western scholarship tending to reduce the time scale to circa 700-500 BC. Some experts emphasise that all such datings are provisional.
Jnana-marga is often distinguished from karma-marga, meaning the path of ritual action, represented by earlier Vedic works of the Sanskrit corpus. All these texts, composed in North India, were preserved by the brahmanical caste. However, different influences and temperaments are represented. The early Upanishads feature monism, and also refer to transmigration.
According to the Sanskrit scholar Jan Gonda (1905-1991), the Rig Veda, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, and the earliest Upanishads must have existed (at least for the greater part) in their present form prior to the rise of Buddhism (Gonda 1975:20).
The Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya are prose Upanishads, thought to be the earliest in the series. These texts were compiled and edited; some components employed may be considerably older. As with later Upanishads, they are not books presenting any philosophical system, such as the retrospective Vedanta schools developed. A flexibility in approach to the materials is necessary.
The lengthy Brihadaranyaka is the oldest Upanishad. Various translations exist, one of the clearest being Olivelle 1996:3-94. The Upanishads are not always transparent to the modern reader. “Give me a real explanation of the brahman that is plain and not cryptic, of the self [atman] that is within all” (Olivelle 1996:39). The atman-brahman teachings are now widely celebrated, with many simplistic explanations created by commercial interests.
“The Upanishads present several different, and sometimes conflicting, teachings about the nature of the self [atman]” (Black 2007:1). This factor is significant, prompting a more critical discussion than is often the case. Mere familiarity with texts is discounted. In the Chandogya, Narada approaches Sanatkumara for instruction. The intending pupil says that he is familiar with the Vedas. Narada also discloses that he is “a knower of the mantras, but not a knower of the self (atman)” (ibid). Exactly how the atman becomes known is elusive. The saying tat vam asi (you are that) traditionally signifies knowledge of atman. Strongly associated with the Chandogya, this simple phrase has achieved widespread fluency. Western enthusiasts have been known to repeat the favoured phrase and imagine they have “realised the atman.”
The earliest Upanishads appear to be the source of a transmigration theme, regarded by some scholars as a notable Upanishadic breakthrough from Vedic ritualism. The key concepts of karman (karma), moksha (liberation), and rebirth (reincarnation) are here in profile. Terms like karman and moksha also appear in Vedic texts prior to the Upanishads. Indeed, some scholars have supported a theory of Vedic origins in this respect. However, the “return on earth” is only found in the Upanishads (Bodewitz 2019). As a broad denominator, one seems justified in separating the “ritualistic” Brahmana texts from the “philosophical” Upanishads. The format of Upanishads has been compared to Pre-Socratic philosophy (Black 2007:4).
The Aranyakas and Upanishads are also firmly rooted in ritual, but with both groups of texts there is an increasing emphasis on understanding the meaning of ritual, while some sections of the Upanishads seem to move completely away from the ritual setting into naturalistic and philosophical enquiry. (Brian Black, “The Upanishads,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
While some Western scholars discerned in the Upanishads a spirit of revolt against priestly ritualism, other Indologists (notably Renou) muted this factor in a context of priestly supplements to the earlier Brahmana literature (perhaps commencing circa 900 BC). Different angles can be followed here. According to Louis Renou (1896-1966), “Vedism became debased to the level of crude witchcraft owing to magical ideas which left their mark on the Brahmanas, to the extent that one of these texts is given up to magic, as with part of the Atharva Veda” (Shepherd 1995:552).
The Vedic samhitas are collections of verses, including the famous Rig Veda corpus of over a thousand hymns (Gonda 1963). Dating for the formation of Rig components has varied considerably. A sober estimate is 1400-1000 BC, the attendant poetic conventions being very much older (Brereton and Jamison 2014, 1:5). Rig poets are variously described as brahman, kavi, vipra, and rishi (ibid:24). The most well known of these role names is rishi, liable to be confusing in that the same term is also employed for Upanishadic sages of a later era. In a more sacerdotal context, the Rig Veda “belongs to the Hotar priest, who recites or chants the poetry” (ibid:4). The Rig contents are “primarily hymns praising various gods and ritual elements and procedures, designed to be recited during ritual performance” (ibid:3). The Upanishadic milieu was different, increasingly more removed from the rites.
“The Rgveda is first of all a liturgical text” (ibid:25). Many Rig hymns were composed for rituals, especially the soma ceremony. The identity of the soma plant is still debated. The Iranian counterpart was haoma, discussed in relation to archaic Zoroastrianism. Alcohol has been dismissed. The basic alternatives are (a) soma as stimulant, and (b) soma as hallucinogen. If a stimulant, then ephedra is likely (this plant was used in Zoroastrian ritual of recent times). The theories about soma as hallucinogen vary from suggestions of fly agaric mushroom to mountain rue (peganum harmala), likewise exercising psychoactive properties. “Neither the imagery of the poems nor the vision of the poets requires a hallucinogen to explain them” (ibid:32).
“There is no evidence in the Rgveda for an elaborate, much-subdivided, and over-arching caste system such as pertains in classical Hinduism” (ibid:57). Generally considered a late addition is Rig X.90, the Purushasukta (Hymn of the Man), referring to a fourfold system of class (varna) that subsequently dominated Hinduism (Sharma 1978).
Ashvamedha Horse Sacrifice
A form of state religion developed after the Rig era, during centuries when the Vedas were collected and codified. Animal sacrifice, though not prominent in the Rig, now emerged as a major feature of Hinduism. Vast numbers of animals were killed in royal and priestly rites attending the shrauta system. Particularly notorious is the royal ashvamedha, a horse sacrifice “performed by a king to consolidate or display his power” (Brereton and Jamison 2014, 1:33). A stallion roamed at will for a year, accompanied by warriors intending to attack the rulers of any land entered by the horse. When the stallion returned home, this animal was sacrificed alongside numerous other victims, “with almost unimaginably outlandish accompanying actions” (ibid).
The ashvamedha was one of the four most important Vedic rites (Gonda 1966:110-14), alongside the soma sacrifice, construction of the fire altar, and royal inauguration (rajasuya). The major source is the Shatapatha Brahmana (Zaroff 2005:75). In the Rig, only two animals are to be sacrificed, whereas in Shatapatha, “as many as fifteen different creatures are involved” (ibid:84). Ritual dismembering of the horse was supervised by the Hotar priest, who invoked many deities. Proper performance of the ritual was believed to ensure stability and continuity of the kingdom (ibid:78). “Ashvamedha was an important element in legitimising territorial expansion and maintaining the monarch’s prestige” (ibid:79). Both the Roman and Indian variants of this sacrifice are thought to have preserved older Indo-European concepts (an Irish parallel is also on record in twelfth century CE Ulster).
To some extent interpretable as a bizarre excuse to conquer rival kingdoms, the ashvamedha typifies the growth of caste society and bloodthirsty ritualism detested by dissident shramana philosophers like Gautama Buddha. Somewhere in between were the Hindu forest rishis commemorated by the Buddhist era Upanishads.
Some of the Upanishads imply what Shankara later emphasises so strongly: all Vedic rituals, including the ashvamedha, amount to ignorance (avidya), while even the priestly heaven or brahma-loka is but a pocket of samsara, the vast cycle of existence and transmigration.
Brahmanas and Aranyakas
Meanwhile, the more orthodox Brahmanas were composed, these being prose texts featuring diverse explanations of Vedic rituals. The Jaiminiya Brahmana, dating to circa 800 BC, is “an almost untapped treasure trove of a variety of information” (Schwerda 2017:5). During a period of extensive social and political transition, the priestly ritualism is revealed as a stridently dominant programme including sinister elements. In the Jaiminiya rationale: “Brahmins claim the first place in society for themselves, arguing that they are the only ones who possess the necessary knowledge to perform [ritual] sacrifices” (ibid:2). Those ceremonies were the means “to fulfil personal desires for more cattle or sons” (ibid). Moreover, the priests exercised a ritual cursing of opponents that was believed to be deadly.
Cursing rivals, priests, or even the sacrificer himself does not seem to have carried any stigma. Rituals are routinely modified to achieve negative outcomes for the persons cursed…. Numerous different rituals could be changed to become malevolent. Instead of long life, wealth, or offspring, the modified rituals could be performed to harm or kill an opponent, or to bereave him of his descendants. If the frequency and the distribution of these actions throughout the Jaiminiya Brahmana are anything to go by, the practice must have been rather widespread. (Schwerda 2017:121)
Any conscientious objector might have encountered strong resistance from ritualists. The lucrative arrangement between priests and kings was cemented by ritual. The façade of elitist propaganda tended to conceal a situation causing shock to some modern readers steeped in mythology, mantras, and meditation:
There were no less than seventeen types of priest officiating at royal sacrifices, though the brahman gradually gained dominance, and towards the end of the Vedic era, was able to claim half the sacrificial fee accruing to the priesthood. This fee had now become richer in content. In earlier times cattle had been the common gift, but agricultural advances meant that surplus grain was made available for payment as tax to the king, who transferred a substantial share of his wealth to the brahmans in accord with the growing etiquette in such matters. In addition to the gifts comprising cattle, horses, and women slaves, the priests were now able to acquire grain, cloth, elephants, gold, and silver. In the Aitareya Brahmana, one sacerdotal expert is reported to have received a royal coronation gift including many thousands of maidservants wearing gold necklaces. (Shepherd 1995:524)
Explanatory texts related to the Brahmanas came to be called Aranyakas (i.e., to be recited in the wilderness outside the village). These texts were apparently considered unorthodox or speculative, not strictly related to the Veda. “Cosmological and metaphysical topics generally occupy a more central position in the Upanishads, however, than in the Aranyakas, and the Upanishads are, by and large, later than the Aranyakas” (Olivelle 1996:xxxii). The Upanishads were not written down “for perhaps a thousand years” (ibid). During the oral interim, many cultural and social transitions occurred, including an increased rigidity of the caste system (Jha 1975). The competition between Hinduism and Buddhism became pronounced, with the additional complexity of Jainism.
A Kshatriya Issue
The dialogues found in the Upanishads feature members of both the brahman and kshatriya classes, meaning priests and aristocrats. In some passages, priests are worsted in debate by the royal class. This textual feature led to modern scholarly arguments about the two rival power groups. On one side, the royal class is viewed as the origin of daring new teachings. On the other, a conclusion of fictitious casting is urged.
It is naïve, therefore, to accept the literary evidence of the Upanishads regarding their Kshatriya authorship at face value and as historical fact…. There must have been political, religious, economic, and even literary reasons for including or creating these episodes…. The most we can say is that some segments of the Brahmanical community must have perceived it as advantageous to present doctrines they favoured as coming from the royal elite. (Olivelle 1996:xxxv)
Such contrasting specialist approaches encourage a critical view. What are the facts? Many priests apparently desired a successful career by means of royal patronage conferring benefits. This does not mean that they achieved enlightenment or brahmavidya. The court priests were doubtless skilled in debate. However, evocation of the atman may often have amounted to a convenient rhetorical exercise.
The Brihadaranayaka is actually the last section of the Shatapatha Brahmana. Preserved in two recensions, this Upanishad locates to North India, more specifically, the land of Videha, north of the Ganges (today in Bihar). Dialogues present the priestly sage Yajnavalkya in conversation with his patron, the monarch Janaka, a legendary figure eventually gaining repute as a “knower of Brahman.” The priest is gifted with a large number of cows for his services in brahmodya (debate). This role of court priest was apparently a new occupation superseding the Vedic routine of ritual sacrifice. Yajnavalkya defeats in theological debate visiting brahmans from the Kuru-Panchala region (Black 2007:67-100). Yajnavalkya also instructs his wife Maitreyi (he had two wives).
There was no doubt more education potential in court debates than in the ritual compound. Nevertheless, drawbacks evidently prompted the compiler of Brihadaranyaka to include the story of “proud Balaki,” alias Gargya. This priest was keen to petition the king of Kashi (Varanasi), gaining the prospect of a thousand cows for his tuition. “Now I will tell you all about Brahman.” His verbal performance did not prove convincing. As a consequence, Balaki asked the monarch to teach him (Olivelle 1996:23-5; cf. Shepherd 1995:537).
The low status of women was relieved by the instance of Gargi, daughter of Vachaknu (Black 2007:150-155). This learned lady is profiled in the Brihadaranyaka as a disputant with Yajnavalkya at Videha. She is persistent in her questioning. The male contestant is nevertheless depicted as the superior exponent. Gargi becomes silent after telling the assembly: “None of you will ever defeat him [Yajnavalkya] in a theological debate” (Olivelle 1996:46). There is no doubt of the winner in this weighted cameo. Gargi evidently came from the brahman class, unlike the maidservants and female slaves glimpsed more amorphously in the sources.
Like Yajnavalkya and other brahmodya contestants described, Gargi was also competing for the royal gift of cattle, their horns reputedly bedecked with “pieces of gold.” These debating events were recounted in a format appealing to a high class audience, meaning brahmans on the oral transmission circuit. The professed knowledge of atman obtained a lavish royal endowment. The Upanishads do not describe how the contrasting trend of renunciation occurred outside court circles. The priestly texts do not provide history, only doctrine, lore, anecdotes, and metaphor.
The “other side of the argument” is missing. One can invoke a much later instance of disparity. The two major European philosophers of the seventeenth century were very different in their orientation. Even a yokel might ask: “We know what happened to Leibniz, a polymathic genius at a baroque royal court, well paid for his services. What about Spinoza in his more remote and independent tangent?”
Many priests were typical exemplars of the householder lifestyle, accumulating wealth as ritualists, while emphasising continuation of the male line in their family. Male progeny were considered very desirable. Yajnavalkya “represents a challenge to this ideal as the priest who debates in the court and leaves his household without any male heirs” (Black 2007:173).
The Brihadaranyaka contradicts an orthodox belief that only married priests with sons can achieve salvation or knowledge of atman. This foil anticipated the Buddhist critique of Brahmanism (Black 2007:173). Moreover, both Gautama Buddha and Yajnavalkya abandoned a career of riches at court for a life of renunciation (ibid:174). Yajnavalkya employs a distinctive phraseology of atman before his reputed transition to the role of sannyasin or renouncer. His renunciate role escapes description; only court events figure in the dialogues. The atman teaching is highlighted in figurative passages of Brihadaranayaka, for example:
This very self (atman) is the lord and king of all beings. As all the spokes are fastened to the hub and the rim of a wheel, so to one’s self (atman) are fastened all beings, all the gods, all the worlds, all the breaths, and all these bodies. (Olivelle 1996:32)
In the same text are very mundane injunctions for sexual intercourse in the case of those desiring progeny. The directions include a ritual procedure designed to curse a man “whom he hates,” meaning a transgressor who flirts with the wife of a priest. The curse was intended to afflict, the recipient of the curse being “sure to depart from this world bereft of his virility and stripped of his good works” (ibid:89-90). The compromising passage is missing from an abridgment of the same Upanishad, found in a well known translation conveying the impression of a celibate vocation. “No longer desiring progeny, nor wealth, nor life in other worlds, they entered upon the path of complete renunciation” (Prabhavananda 1957:111).
The earliest Upanishads are anthologies, to some extent probably reflecting the personal taste of compilers. Householder priests desiring progeny were maintaining the caste system and gender bias. They may have been partial to the idea of an effulgent atman associated with liberation (moksha), their commitment nevertheless being in question. The Kaushitaki Upanishad is another very early text, part of the Kaushitaki Brahmana (Bodewitz 2002). This compilation includes rituals to secure the welfare of progeny, a rite to secure personal welfare, and another rite to make the subject a favourite of others (Olivelle 1996:208, 209-211). Some modern scholars have lamented such semi-magical preoccupations.
Even though the Upanishadic authors sometimes speak vehemently against the Vedic ritual, these documents are so closely connected with it [the ritual] that it is impossible to understand them without some knowledge of Vedic ritual practice and vocabulary. Just like the Brahmanas, the Upanishads seek to explain the hidden meanings and connections of ritual actions and words. (Olivelle 1996:xli)
The Brihadaranyaka commences with a description of the anatomical parts of a sacrificial horse. The text is closely related to the Yajur Veda. The horse passage is “consistent again with the fact that the Adhvaryu, the Yajurvedic priest, is in charge of butchering the sacrificial animal” (ibid:95).
Long term Plight of Dalits
While ritual priests maintained their elaborate sacrificial lifestyle, the caste system was forming over centuries. Eventually, there were vast numbers of “untouchables” (Dalits), a sector so depressed that for brahmans to encounter their shadow was a criminal offence. The celebrated pro-atman phrase tat tvam asi (You are That) did not apply to Dalits, who had no existence for the social elite. The sacred scriptures were not available to women and shudras (servants), let alone untouchables. “You are consigned to oblivion” was the effective message for a severely marginalised population.
A group of early verse Upanishads date to the late first millennium BC. These classical works are noted for featuring strong theistic tendencies, thus anticipating the Bhagavad Gita, claimed by the Vedanta as a basic scripture (Buitenen 1981). These texts are the Kena, Katha, Isha, Shvetashvatara, and Mundaka Upanishads. Shvetashvatara is an eclectic work utilising Sankhya-Yoga and other themes in the compass of 113 verses (or mantras), one of which states: “Those who know Him through the faculty of intuition as thus seated in their heart, become immortal” (Tyagishananda 1971:101).
The Katha includes a dialogue between the young brahman Nachiketas and Yama, the god of death. The former asks to be told the secret of death, in a spirit of renouncing the distractions of mortal life. Yama then gives advice concerning knowledge of the atman and Brahman. One verse is translated as: “The truth of the Self cannot be fully understood when taught by an ignorant man, for opinions regarding it, not founded in knowledge, vary one from another. Subtler than the subtlest is this Self [atman], and beyond all logic. Taught by a teacher who knows the Self and Brahman as one, a man leaves vain theory behind and attains to truth” (Prabhavananda 1957:17).
The same text emphasises the difficulty of the achievement involved. “Like the sharp edge of a razor, the sages say, is the path” (ibid:20). Numerous commercial attempts to simplify these matters have occurred during recent decades, resulting in many blunt razors and dead end paths, one may suppose.
Sannyasa or Renunciation
Many Upanishads include reference to renunciation (sannyasa). This extension included the lifestyle of a wandering mendicant (pravrajika). A forest hermit role was another option. Renunciation practices ran counter to Vedic ritualism and curses. Two key ideals were celibacy (brahmacharya) and non-violence (ahimsa). The sannyasa code may have been influenced by the earlier figure of the muni, denoting a mendicant category reported in the Rig Veda. The muni wore his hair long, one of the identifying features found long after amongst Hindu holy men. Sannyasa was eventually codified in the law books, becoming a rigid convention.
The proliferating literature of dharmashastra includes legal administration. This corpus was created during the lengthy period circa 600 BC to circa 200 AC. Some draconian punishments are imposed, remote from ahimsa. Stealing the gold of a brahman priest was a dire crime meriting death. Women were rendered strictly subservient to men. The age-based ashrama system, or “four stages of life,” was a component of some texts. The Laws of Manu decree that after grandchildren are born, the family man should retire to the forest. Then, as a sannyasin, he should walk without food or water until he dies. The horizons of high caste lawgivers leave much to be desired. Originally, the four stages were simply alternative lifestyles, not sequential stages based upon age (e.g., a 70 year old grandparent for the stage of sannyasa).
Some Westerners were subject to a mirage created by traditional Indian beliefs. The popular idea that India was unchanging does not fit the reality discernible. “Even an institution seemingly as immutable as the ashrama system has undergone drastic change over time” (Olivelle 1993:244).
The Maha-Narayana Upanishad is thought to have been composed during the third or fourth centuries BC. This is a manual for ascetics employing many quotations from older works (Varenne 1960). The text is sometimes classified as Vaishnava (denoting affiliation with the deity Vishnu). This minor but early Upanishad can be interpreted as a brahmanical attempt to harmonise the ascetic and ritual lifestyles, thereby facilitating a tendency in Hindu society to assimilate the numerous ascetics and hermits (Gonda 1970:29). Very little is known of this trend in any reliable detail. The developing Hindu ashrama system (stages of life) incorporated the sannyasin vocation in a manner that might be compared to a straitjacket. This brahmanical acceptance of renunciation does not appear to have occurred until about the second century BC (Olivelle 1993:94).
These ascetics, whose way of life may be assumed to have, at least originally, been distinctly different from the habits and practices of the sacrificial priests, prefer the mental and internal “fire-sacrifice with breath,” the so-called pranagnihotra, instead of the real [external] fire-sacrifice. (Jan Gonda, review of Varenne 1960, in Indo-Iranian Journal (1963) 6(3/4):298-301, p. 298)
“The utter reduction of sacrifice in the pranagnihotra is the end station of Vedic ritualism” (Heestermann 1985:94). The ascetic renunciates withdrew from society, shunning the daily agnihotra, a pervasive Vedic fire sacrifice, which they replaced with a meal. The substitute was dubbed the “internal fires of the breaths.” The agnihotra oblation of milk on a sacred fire was a simple rite, performed twice daily. The Hindu ascetic desire for a different lifestyle was commemorated in a minor Upanishad named Pranagnihotra (Deussen 1980, 2:645-51). The compact text urges that all the gods are within the human body via the internalised ritual. The more radical Buddhist monks argued for anatman, meaning the denial of atman.
The aphoristic nature of Upanishadic composition has caused Western analysts to complain of the lack of any systematic philosophy…. The classical Upanishads… are fond of riddles and enigmatic expressions, and the doctrines of various sages are apt to be condensed into a single sentence. Brahmavidya (knowledge of Brahman) or jnana is depicted as being vastly superior to sacrificial etiquette, and realisation of that knowledge is duly stressed. This objective is inseparable from the aid of a teacher, and is related to tapasya or ascetic discipline. A strict discipline was clearly envisaged, and in some texts it is stated that only brahmans are eligible. The prerequisite for discipleship was evidently a high moral standard, one necessary to maintain a rigorous self-discipline. Meditation is emphasised, but there are many different formats referred to…. The end product of the discipline was the jivanmukta (a standard term in the later Upanishads), i.e., the soul gaining spiritual liberation while still living in the body. (Shepherd 1995:547-548)
A number of texts are known as Sannyasa Upanishads, indicative of their background context in renunciation. Some of these works were apparently composed before the third century CE, while others are many centuries later. The term paramahamsa is employed to describe an advanced grade of renouncer. The various classifications indicate an original diversity of ascetic lifestyles, subsequently conflated into the institution of sannyasa by brahmanical theology and legalism (Olivelle 1992:98,100).
The Sannyasa Upanishads convey a graphic picture of ascetic tendencies from an early period. Existence in the forest and wilderness contrasted strongly with lifestyles of court priests and more rural ritualist householders. Ascetics spent their nights in deserted houses, in temples, on haystacks, near anthills, under trees, in the humble sheds of potters, in mountain caves, in open fields, and yet other places. Mendicancy was a basic facet of lifestyle, with nudity being highly regarded by some as a sign of renunciation. However, other ascetics preferred to wear a loincloth or an ochre garment (ibid:103,106). The outlook in this sector included a desire to be despised rather than praised; the purpose was to overcome pride (ibid:108). Some texts advocate disguise, so that the ascetic would not be recognised as a holy man (ibid:107).
In a basically copyist idiom, many texts appeared in later centuries with the title of Upanishad. Sectarian commitments are frequently in evidence, meaning primarily the division between followers of Vishnu and Shiva. “Such Upanishads continued to be produced possibly as late as the sixteenth century CE and number in the hundreds” (Olivelle 1996:xxxiii).
During the medieval period, a trend developed of forming into collections both the earlier and later Upanishads. This meant that the early Upanishads were detached from the Brahmana literature. European analysts subsequently complained that scholarly distinctions were lost in the tendency to conflation. A favoured number for collections in North India was 52 texts (although many more are extant). A similar corpus was translated into Persian as Sirr-i-Akbar, at the instruction of the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh during the seventeenth century (Hasrat 1982:254ff). That collection underwent exegetical changes in the interpretation of Schopenhauer (d.1860).
From the 1960s onward, many Hindu gurus catered for a Western consumer market, bringing notoriety to their role. The blatantly commercial approach to meditation, “renunciation,” and “self-realisation” was frequently transparent. In some cases, accusations followed of deception, economic exploitation, and even sexual abuse. The overseas problem was aggravated by Western gurus, whose pseudo-atman profile became notorious in well known instances (American Guru). There were other drawbacks in India. For instance, the Indian Rationalists proved that many “miracles” of presumed holy men were mere tricks to gain attention and funding. Now a well known deceit is sleight of hand.
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Kevin R. D. Shepherd
August 2016 (modified 2021)
ENTRY no. 69
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