Category

Shankara

Swarupananda Saraswati and Shirdi Sai Baba

By | Dashanami Sannyasins, Naga Sadhus, Shankara, Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj
Swami Swarupananda Saraswati
In June 2014, Swami Swarupananda Saraswati  commenced an ideological campaign against the deceased Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918) and his living devotees. Many television newsreels and national newspapers profiled the relevant events.  
The Swami is a figurehead of the monastic Shankara Order, whose leaders are known as Shankaracharyas and jagadgurus (Cenkner 1983). In 1973, he became Shankaracharya of the monastery known as Jyotir Math, at Badrinath. In 1982, he also became the Shankaracharya of Dwaraka Math, located in Gujarat. These two monasteries have a high repute, being amongst the five major mathas of the Shankara (or Dashanami) Order. That organisation has strong traditional ballast, reputedly being a continuation of the activity of Shankara, the famous exponent of Advaita Vedanta who lived over a thousand years ago (Pande 1994).
Shirdi Sai Baba
Shirdi Sai Baba was a faqir who lived at a rural mosque in Maharashtra. He gained an inter-religious following of Hindus, Muslims, and Zoroastrians. This saint often resorted to allusive speech; he was not in any way doctrinaire. Some hagiology does attend his profile; careful investigation of background details is important in such instances. Sai Baba of Shirdi  is sometimes confused with Sathya Sai Baba (d.2011), a very different entity who lived in Andhra, claiming to be a reincarnation of the Shirdi mystic. 
After the death of Shirdi Sai, temple worship of his image was introduced at Shirdi. Other Sai temples also appeared. Swami Swarupananda insisted that Shirdi Sai was a Muslim faqir, not a god or a guru, and therefore could not be worshipped in the manner of a Hindu deity. He declared that images of Shirdi Sai were to be removed from temples. Swarupananda described his campaign in terms of protecting Hindu religion. He urged that Shirdi Sai temples should not be constructed. The critic also described the worship of Shirdi Sai in terms of a conspiracy to divide Hindus. The assertions of this Swami were strongly repudiated by Shirdi Sai devotees. Complaints were already being made against him, in June 2014, at Shirdi, Indore, and Hyderabad.
The disapproving Swami enjoined Shirdi Sai devotees to ensure their purification by fasting on Ekadashi day and bathing in the Ganges. He condemned the government minister Uma Bharti, alleging that she was not a true Rama bhakta after she spoke publicly in support of Sai Baba. Swarupananda demanded an apology from Bharti, on the grounds that Shirdi Sai was a meat-eater and did not bathe in the Ganges. He also urged that Sai devotees should not worship Rama.
In July 2014, a local court in Indore issued a summons to the Swami, requesting him to appear in court because of a complaint filed against him for making controversial statements. The Swami was able to postpone a legal confrontation for some time thereafter. He meanwhile urged the government to probe an alleged flow of foreign funding into the bank accounts of Sai devotees. Swarupanand insinuated that a foreign power was attempting, in this manner, to distort the sanatana dharma (true religion, i,e, Hinduism). There was no proof or confirmation for that contention.
A degree of conflict occurred between followers of the Swami and devotees of Shirdi Sai. Supporters of Swami Swarupananda notably included Dashanami ascetics or sannyasins, strongly associated with the Shankara monasteries (Clark 2006). The Dashanamis are divided into ten sub-groupings, including the Giris, the Puris, the Bharatis, and Saraswatis. The format has proved complicated for many Westerners to understand, involving different historical phases, and various other ascetic identities. For instance, the Naga (naked) sannyasins, or sadhus, gained a strong militant complexion in former centuries, becoming organised into akharas or “regiments.” They fought in diverse battles, a military scenario which sometimes astonishes readers (Pinch 2006). “The Nagas were also involved in warfare between rival princely states, usually fighting on opposite sides. Moreover, they fought for control of religious centres, since these constituted ever-flowing sources of revenue and solid bases of power” (Hartsuiker 1993:35).
Many of the Nagas cultivated ascetic feats and Yogic practices. Nagas still display weapons, especially the trident (trishul), at religious festivals such as the famous Kumbh Mela. “The Akharas attribute their origin to the great Shankara, an attempt no doubt to gain more respect and credibility” (Hartsuiker 1993:33). 
The Baghambari monastery (matha) was strongly influenced by Swami Swarupananda. The leader (mahant) of that monastery was Swami Narendra Giri, who “vowed to deface Shirdi Sai Baba’s temples, and let loose Naga Sadhus on the sect’s followers” (Chandan Nandy, Let Dialogue Prevail, 2014). Many observers in North India feared that the conflict between Nagas and Shirdi Sai devotees could get out of control. Fortunately, this did not happen. However, the tensions were dramatic enough. Indignant Sai devotees responded to the threats by burning effigies of Swarupananda in the holy city of Varanasi (Benares).
Swami Swarupananda verbally attacked the Shirdi Sai Baba Trust, based in Shirdi, accusing this body of regarding Sai as superior to Hindu deities like Hanuman. In October 2015, the Hindustan Times reported that Swarupananda “also claimed that there were no followers of Sai Baba in the country,” a theme which contradicted facts. The critic is reported to have described visitors to Shirdi as “mean, selfish and only want their wishes to come true.” The Swami expressed his belief that Hanuman had instructed his followers to build a Hanuman temple near every Shirdi Sai temple, with the intention of driving “the spirit of Sai” out of India.
Shirdi Sai devotees countered the opponent with legal petitions, emphasising his “deliberate intent to hurt religious sentiments.” As a consequence, in September 2015, Swami Swarupananda prudently tendered an apology for controversial statements he had made. He requested Madhya Pradesh High Court to dispose of a petition made against him. 
While staying in Bhopal during 2015, the Swami created a poster portraying Lord Hanuman attacking Shirdi Sai with a tree trunk. This pictorial gesture was considered by some Hindu observers to be extremist. A disciple of Swarupananda was reported, on the media, as saying that the influence of Shirdi Sai would be driven out of India in the next three years by the grace of Hanuman.
In April 2016, The Hindu reported reactions of Sai devotees to the orthodox critique. Swarupananda had interpreted the temple worship of Shirdi Sai in terms of creating a drought in Maharashtra. Officials of the Shirdi Sai Baba Trust countered that the Shankaracharya appeared to be suffering from a feeling of insecurity, because so many devotees were visiting Shirdi, instead of going for the darshan of Swami Swarupananda. 
The Swami is reported to have said, while staying at Hardwar: “The unworthy Sai is being worshipped while the real Gods are ignored. This is happening in Maharashtra, and particularly in Shirdi. Hence, Maharashtra is facing drought.” Sai devotees responded that Swarupananda only wanted publicity. They pointed out that drought was also prevalent in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and the Punjab. A social worker, active at Shirdi, informed the press that the Sai Baba Trust had donated crores of rupees as charity aid whenever floods, earthquakes, and other calamities had struck Maharashtra and surrounding regions (The Hindu, “Sai Baba devotees fume over Shankaracharya’s remarks,” 2016).
Another pronouncement of the Swami, not relating to Shirdi Sai, was strongly resisted. In April 2016, he complained against the termination of a four hundred year ban on the entry of women to the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra. Feminists were very indignant at his verdict. A human rights lawyer said that Swami Swarupananda should be charged with contempt of court. (Shriya Mohan, “Shankaracharya is a misogynist,” 2016). Swarupananda was contradicting a judgement of the Bombay High Court. 
The depiction of Sai Baba, as a Muslim outsider to Hinduism, neglects due context of a very liberal attitude on the part of this faqir towards Hindus, and also to the members of other religions (Shepherd 2015). Shirdi Sai was not a preacher or political agitator. He lacked any sectarian bias. In this respect, his eccentricities may be considered refreshing. Shirdi Sai has been described as a Sufi mystic (Warren 1999). However, he did not project any separatist attitude in his predominant encounters with Hindus. His origins are obscure. An influential theory of his Hindu birth at Pathri remains unconfirmed (Kher 2001:1-14).
An account of Shirdi Sai’s devotional following, during the past century since his death, relays that the pilgrims to Shirdi are primarily Hindus, but also include Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians (McLain 2016). 
Very much neglected in the recent orthodox Hindu version of events is the instance of Upasani Maharaj (d.1941). This entity was a major disciple of Shirdi Sai, subsequently establishing an ashram at nearby Sakori. Upasani is still largely obscure in the abbreviated and distorted reports commonly known. A paradigmatic Hindu ascetic, and a learned shastri, he was completely unwesternised. 
During an evocative episode occurring at Benares in 1920, Upasani strongly defended Shirdi Sai, while in bold confrontation with an assembly of orthodox brahman priests and pundits. “He did not deny that Sai Baba was a Muslim, but maintained that the deceased saint was above religious distinctions, existing as much for brahmans as for Muslims” (Shepherd 2005:79). Upasani would not defer to the biases of that prestigious assembly, who were sustaining habitual religious discrimination against Muslims.
Moving to more general matters, some Indian intellectuals have expressed concern at national trends. For instance, the British-Indian sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor referred to a recent development in which “dozens of Indian writers handed back their literary awards in protest, following communal violence against Muslims and attacks on intellectuals” (Anish Kapoor, India is being ruled by a Hindu Taliban, 2015). The “militant Hinduism” of the Indian government was here seen as being at risk of “marginalising other faiths” (ibid). This issue is controversial. Certainly, the population statistics in India comprise about 965 million Hindus and 170 million Muslims.
Some Indian writers emphasise the extremely shocking 2002 attack on Muslims (by Hindus) in Gujarat, a tragedy in which “more than 2,000 Muslims were murdered, and tens of thousands rendered homeless in carefully planned and coordinated attacks of unprecedented savagery” (Pankaj Mishra, Gujarat Massacre, 2012).
The long-standing friction between Hinduism and Islam is a disconcerting drawback to Indian cultural unity and the history of religions.
Bibliography:
Cenkner, William, A Tradition of Teachers: Sankara and the Jagadgurus Today (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983). 
Clark, Matthew, The Dasanami Samnyasis: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages into an Order (Leiden: Brill, 2006). 
Hartsuiker, Dolf, Sadhus: Holy Men of India (London: Thames and Hudson, 1993). 
Kher, V. B., Sai Baba: His Divine Glimpses (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2001).
McLain, Karline, The Afterlife of Sai Baba: Competing Visions of a Global Saint (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016). 
Pande, G. C., Life and Thought of Sankaracarya (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994). 
Pinch, William R., Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires (Cambridge University Press, 2006). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005). 
——-Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999; revised edn, 2004).

Kevin R. D. Shepherd 

ENTRY no. 71 

Copyright © 2017 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Shankara and Advaita

By | Advaita Vedanta, Brahma Sutra Bhashya, Dashanami Sannyasins, Gaudapada, Shankara, Upanishads
Shankara with disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904)
Advaita Vedanta signifies an Indian philosophy of “non-dualism.” A major exponent was Shankara, of whom very little is reliably known. The investigator has to negotiate hagiographies composed many centuries after the death of this figure. His life is not easy to chart, to say the least, despite conventional depictions that do not question details. The dates of Shankara are sometimes given as 788-820 CE, but this is not definitive. One alternative has been suggested in terms of ranging between 650 and 775 CE (Pande 1994:52). The subject was reputedly born at a village in Kerala, and belonged to the brahman caste.
We may believe that Shankara became a renunciate at an early age. Tradition credits him with establishing a monastic organisation.  This became known as the Shankara Order. Over the centuries,  major monasteries featured abbots bearing the title of Shankaracharya. The Shringeri monastery (in Karnataka) is one of these far-flung centres, and gained the repute of being the first monastery founded by Shankara. This claim has been contradicted by the historical evidence for Shringeri as a centre of Jainism until the fourteenth century (Kulke 1985). At this juncture, Hindu patronage from the kingdom of Vijayanagara was influential. Shringeri emerged as a centre of Shaivism, and land was donated by Hindu monarchs to attract brahmans to that location. 
In the traditional version of his life, Shankara is said to have established the group of Shaiva renouncers known as Dashanami sannyasins (and nagas). This contingent is strongly associated with the Shankara Order, but gained a militant complexion. A counter-suggestion argues for the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century as a much more probable date of their formation (Clark 2006 and 2016). Mercenary armies of naga (naked) sannyasins  were generally recruited from the lower castes.
Traditional ascriptions are reflected in such coverages as: “During his lifetime he [Shankara] managed to compose more than 400 works of various genres and to travel throughout nearly all of South India, edifying disciples and disputing opponents. It is Shankara’s preaching and philosophic activity that, in the eyes of orthodox tradition, accounts for the ultimate ousting of Buddhism from India” (Isayeva 1993:2).
Legendary biographies of Shankara date from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. “Although they have certain broad similarities, they have numerous contradictions in detail, and they are full of miracles and exaggerations” (Pande 1994:4). The accounts vary markedly in relation to diverse journeys, pilgrimages, debates, and the founding of monastic centres (ibid:32). Shankara became celebrated as an incarnation of Shiva, a development of uncertain date. Shankara hagiography involved “the mythical pattern of divine incarnation, disputation with rival sects and schools, the establishment of new temples and monastic centres of worship, and the synthesis of Smarta-Puranic cults under the aegis of Advaita” (ibid:19-20).
Hundreds of works are attributed to Shankara, but most of these are now thought to have been composed by much later monastic leaders bearing the title of Shankaracharya. Paul Hacker and other scholars have taken a duly critical approach. The fact is that only a small number of Advaita texts can safely be regarded as the output of Shankara himself. In this respect, the basic work is a lengthy commentary (bhashya) on the Vedantic  Brahma Sutra. Famous later compositions (even Vivekachudamani) have been rejected by some analysts as spurious. Such popular texts were influential in shaping the Advaita doctrine, which developed over a long period of time. Canonical components are not necessarily of an early date.
In his commentary known as Brahma Sutra Bhashya, Shankara was in strong opposition to Buddhism and the Purva Mimamsa tradition of Hinduism. He was concerned with the correct interpretation of Vedic scripture, in which direction he sought to reveal opposing views as errors.
Shankara argued against the ritualism of Mimamsaka exponents. He supported a version of religion associated with the Upanishads or jnana-kanda. An Advaita priority was discrimination (viveka) between the real and the false. Whereas ritual priests elaborated a belief system based on merits derived from Vedic ceremonies, which supposedly led to heaven. Shankara emphasised the attainment of self-knowledge, meaning knowledge (jnana) of the atman.
The Vedantic doctrine of maya (illusion) has excited varying responses, including denial. Renouncers or sannyasins viewed the householder ritualist lifestyle as being bound by maya. The sannyasin sought freedom through knowledge of the atman (a term variously translated). The various texts do not satisfactorily explain how the self-knowledge is achieved. The mere affirmation of Upanishadic slogans like Tat tvam asi (You are That) is not the most convincing rationale, but can be found in some Shankara texts, along with modifications.
Absolute liberation does not arise when one is told, ‘Thou art That.’ One should, therefore, have recourse to the reiteration (of the idea, ‘I am Brahman’) and support it with reasoning. (Upadeshasahasri, trans. Jagadananda 1961:207)
“The Brahma Sutra has actually become the basis upon which we learn the philosophical thought of the early Vedanta school. Since, however, the style of this work is concise to a fault, omissions in it are many and to interpret the text is not at all easy” (Nakamura 1983:425). The brevity is pronounced. “Each sutra usually consists of two to ten words at the most, and it is rare to find one that is longer” (ibid:440).
Shankara contributed an Advaitic interpretation of the Brahma Sutra. A discrepancy requires attention. “The theory of absolute identity of the individual self and Brahman, taught by Shankara, is contrary to the thought of the Brahma-sutra itself” (ibid:427). Paul Deussen and other scholars tended to conflate the two interpretations, leading to some confusion (e.g., Deussen 1912).
The early Vedanta was not a unified tradition of exegesis. “Scholars have frequently asserted that the thought of Shankara has the closest connection with the atman theory of Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad” (Nakamura 1983:430). The Brihadaranyaka is one of the earliest Upanishads, and substantially antedated the Brahma Sutra, which may date to the fifth century CE in the extant form of that terse treatise.
The obscure author, or authors, of the Brahma Sutra, were defending the old Vedic religion against the Buddhists, Jainas, Sankhya rationalists, and others. “The evident preference of the authors of the Brahma Sutra was for the daily performance of the Vedic ritual to be maintained along with the meditations on more symbolic aspects of etiquette” (Shepherd 1995:642).
Shankara likewise sustained a contest with rival religious doctrines, but differed from the Brahma Sutra in contesting the ritualist mentality evident in that version of early Vedanta. He awarded a secondary status to Vedic texts depicting meditation on rituals (and which referred to deities presiding over specific ceremonies).
Shankara’s classic Brahma Sutra Bhashya includes a critique of the Yoga and Sankhya systems of philosophy. However, Shankara is traditionally credited with a commentary on the Yoga Sutra. The anomaly has aroused differing explanations, including one which suggests that Shankara transited from the standpoint of a Yoga expositor to Advaita comprehension. Another interpretation denies the authorship of Shankara in relation to that commentary (Rukmani 2001).
“In his commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad (8.12.1) he refers to the Paramahamsa monks who transcended caste and ashrama in their pursuit of the non-dual knowledge. These ascetics are identified with the ‘true tradition’ which he says Gaudapada followed. For Shankara, they alone represented the ultimate level of truth” (Shepherd 1995:666). Shankara’s monastic ideal of the Paramahamsa involved criteria of “actual spiritual attainment, not his formal membership of a social group” (Pande 1994:247).
The name of Gaudapada is inseparably associated with Shankara, and as a predecessor. Gaudapada was a distinctive early Advaitin, who may have lived during the sixth century CE. He composed an unusual commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, exhibiting a familiarity with Mahayana thought associated with exponents like Nagarjuna and Asanga (Nakamura 1983:51). The fourth chapter is rich in Madhyamaka and Yogacara terminology, and has prompted a suggestion of authorship by another writer (King 1995).
Unlike the authors of the Brahma Sutras, Gaudapada insists very strongly on the illusory or phenomenal character of the world, and claims that in this he is only following an earlier tradition for the interpretation of the Upanishadic texts. The existence of earlier followers of the Upanishads who held this view is confirmed by Bhartrhari, late fifth century…. Gaudapada says: ‘Those who are experts in the Upanishadic wisdom look upon this world as if it were a cloud-city seen in a dream.’ The sages who have gone beyond fear, attachment and anger have the direct experience of the truth of non-duality, in which all plurality and illusion vanishes. (Alston 1980:24-25) 

Bibliography:

Alston, A. J., Samkara on the Absolute (London: Shanti Sadan, 1980).
Cenkner, William, A Tradition of Teachers: Sankara and the Jagadgurus Today (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983). 
Clark, Matthew, The Dasanami Samnyasis: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages into an Order (Leiden: Brill, 2006).
——-“Religious Sects, Syncretism, and Claims of Antiquity: The Dashanami-Sannyasis and South Asian Sufis” in Raziuddin Aquil and David L. Curley, eds., Literary and Religious Practices in Medieval and Early Modern India (New York: Routledge 2016).
Cole, Colin A., Asparsa Yoga: A Study of Gaudapada’s mandukya karika (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2004).
Deussen, Paul, Das System des Vedanta, 1883; The System of the Vedanta, trans. Charles Johnston (Chicago: Open Court, 1912).
Gambhirananda, Swami, trans., Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Shankaracharya (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1965).
Halbfass, Wilhelm, ed., Philology and Confrontation: Paul Hacker on Traditional and Modern Vedanta (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995). 
Isayeva, Natalia, Shankara and Indian Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993). 
Jagadananda, Swami, trans., Upadeshasahasri of Sri Sankaracharya (third edn, Madras: Ramakrishna Math, 1961).
King, Richard, Early Advaita Vedanta: The Mahayana Context of the Gaudapadiya Karikas (State University of New York Press, 1995).
Kulke, Hermann, “Maharajas, Mahants and Historians: Reflections on the Historiography of Early Vijayanagara and Sringeri” (120-143) in A. L. Dallapiccola and S. Zingel-Ave Lallemant, eds., Vijayanagara, City and Empire: New Currents of Research (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1985). 
Nakamura, Hajime, A History of Early Vedanta Philosophy, Parts 1 and 2 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983-2004).
Nikhilananda, Swami, trans., The Mandukyopanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Sankara’s Commentary (third edn, Mysore: Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, 1949).
Pande, G. C., Life and Thought of Sankaracarya (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994).
Potter, K. H., ed., Advaita Vedanta Up to Samkara and his Pupils (Princeton University Press, 1981).
Rukmani, T. S., text and trans., Yogasutrabhasyavivarana of Sankara (2 vols, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995).

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

ENTRY no. 70

Copyright © 2016 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Upanishads and Vedanta

By | Jnana-Marga, Katha Upanishad, Maha-Narayana Upanishad, Sannyasa Upanishads, Shankara
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 are much earlier than the monastic organisations created by medieval Vedanta. Those texts are difficult to date, and assessments of chronology have varied markedly. The oldest Upanishads were pre-Buddhist, but many 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. 
Jnana-marga is often distinguished from karma-marga, meaning the path of ritual action, represented by earlier texts of the Vedic corpus. All these texts were composed in North India, and preserved by the brahmanical caste. However, different influences and temperaments are represented. The early Upanishads feature monism, and also refer to transmigration. 
The Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya are prose Upanishads, and are thought to be the earliest in the series. These texts were edited, and some components employed may be considerably older. As with later Upanishads, they are not books presenting any philosophical system. A flexibility in approach to the materials is necessary. 
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. Different angles can be followed here. According to Louis Renou, “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 diverse categories of Vedic text can easily cause confusion. The early Samhitas are collections of verses, including the famous Rig Veda corpus of over a thousand hymns (Gonda 1963). The authors of these hymns are often known as rishis, a word denoting seers. “The Rig Veda is a prime case of an anthology. Some of the hymns in this anthology were accessory to the priestly liturgy, but some are entirely secular in tone” (Shepherd 1995:494). The Rig Veda is not a ritual text, despite some strong associations with brahmanical ceremony. The contrasting Brahmanas are prose texts featuring explanations of the liturgy.
The Brahmanas include “esoteric material explaining the hidden meanings of ritual actions and words; some of these esoteric sections… came to be called Aranyakas (texts that were to be recited in the wilderness outside the village), while others came to be called Upanishads” (Olivelle 1996:xxxii). 
“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” (ibid). The Upanishads were not written down “for perhaps a thousand years” (ibid). Meanwhile, many cultural and social transitions occurred, including an increased rigidity of the caste system (Jha 1975). The competition with Buddhism became pronounced. 
According to the Sanskrit scholar Jan Gonda, 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 dating for the formation of Rig components has varied considerably. 
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 group of early verse Upanishads include the Katha, dating to the late first millennium BC. These works are noted for featuring strong theistic tendencies, and thus anticipating the Bhagavad Gita, claimed by the Vedanta as a basic scripture. 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 has been 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, and may count as further distractions. 
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 can be interpreted as an attempt to harmonise the ascetic and ritual lifestyles, and thereby facilitating the tendency in brahmanical society to assimilate the numerous ascetics and hermits (Gonda 1970:29). 
A number of the texts in this corpus are known as Sannyasa Upanishads, indicative of their background context in renunciation. Some of these were apparently composed before the third century CE, but 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 that were subsequently conflated into the institution of sannyasa by brahmanical theology (Olivelle 1992:98,100).

The Sannyasa Upanishads convey a graphic picture of ascetic tendencies from an early period. A life in the wilderness contrasted strongly with the ritual lifestyle of the householder maintained in the villages. 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, and nudity was 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 this tendency to conflation. A favoured number in North India was 52, reflected in the corpus translated into Persian at the instruction of the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh during the seventeenth century (Hasrat 1982). That collection underwent exegetical changes in the interpretation of Schopenhauer (d.1860).
Bibliography: 
Gambhirananda, Swami, trans., Eight Upanishads, with the commentary of Sankaracharya (2 vols, 1957; second edn, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1989). 
Gonda, Jan, The Vision of the Vedic Poets (The Hague: Mouton, 1963). 
——–Visnuism and Sivaism (London: Athlone Press, 1970). 
——–Vedic Literature (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1975).  
Hasrat, Bikrama Jit, Dara Shikuh: Life and Works (second edn, New Delhi: Manoharlal, 1982).
Jha, V., “Stages in the History of Untouchables,” Indian Historical Review (1975) 2:14-31. 
Olivelle, Patrick, Samnyasa Upanishads: Hindu Scriptures on Asceticism and Renunciation (Oxford University Press, 1992).
——–trans., Upanishads (Oxford University Press, 1996). 
Prabhavananda, Swami, and Manchester, Frederick, trans., The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 1957).
Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli, The Principal Upanishads (London: Allen and Unwin, 1953). 
Renou, Louis, Religions of Ancient India (London: Athlone Press, 1953). 
——-Vedic India, trans. P. Spratt (Calcutta: Susil Gupta, 1957). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995). 
Varenne, Jean, trans., La Maha Narayana Upanishad (2 vols, Paris: Editions De Boccard, 1960). 
 Kevin R. D. Shepherd 

 ENTRY no. 69 

 Copyright © 2016 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.
sdfgdsfgsdfgs