Meaning of the word Upa-ni-ṣad
The word ‘Upaniṣad’ has been variously explained by old Indian commentators, but their explanations cannot be regarded as historically or philologically accurate, since what the commentators have done is merely to read into the word, the meaning of which as a result of long use, it had come to possess by that time. Thus the commentators give us no help, we fortunately find the word used in the Upaniṣads themselves, and there it generally appears as synonymous with rahasya or secret. That should have been its original meaning.
i) Etymologically the word is equivalent to sitting (sad), nearby (upa), devotedly (ni) – meaning that vidyā which is obtained by going near (upa) the knowledge, and learning with commitment (ni = niścayena). In course of time, it came to signify the secret instruction imparted at such private sittings. That the teaching of Upaniṣads was regarded as a mystery, and that much care and anxiety were bestowed upon keeping it from the uneligible, lest it should be misunderstood, come out in several Upaniṣads. (Muṇdaka – III.2.10, III.2.11, Śvetāśvatara – VI.22 and Bhagavadgītā – XVIII.67
ii) The meaning of the word upa-ni-ṣad is explained elaborately by Ācārya Śaṅkara, in his sambandha-bhāṣya in Kaṭhopaniṣad (and casually in Bṛhadāraṇyaka) He defines the word upa-ni-ṣad in his introduction to this commentary as – ‘leading to acquisition of the knowledge of Brahman.’ The word upa-ni-ṣad is derived from the root √ṣadḷ of first conjugation (bhvādi-gaṇa), as well as sixth conjugation (tudādi-gaṇa) in the text Dhātupāṭha. The meaning of the root √ṣadḷ however is same in both the places, as viśaraṇa-gati-avasādaneṣu. There are two prefixes upa and ni, before the root. Viśaraṇa means destruction, here meaning destruction of ignorance (avidyā), the root cause of saṃsāra. Avasāna means putting an end to avidyā-kāma-karma. The above two meanings are in the negative sense. The positive meaning is denoted by the word gati, meaning the knowledge that takes one to Brahman. Hence, the meaning is, that knowledge which takes one to Brahman. The kvip affix, which is a zero-affix, is added after the root, bringing in the meaning of the agent.
= (upa) + (ni) + sad
= (upa) + (ni) + sad + kvip (kartari kvip, zero suffix that changes
the meaning to that of an agent)
= (upa) + (ni) + ṣad
= upaniṣad (iṇ koḥ)
iii) Another meaning of Upanishad by Swāmī Dayānanda Saraswatī (b.1930-), founder of ‘Ārsha Vidyā’ tradition is – upa (sāmipyena) ni (nitarām) sat (sthitam) – always there, as oneself alone is that mokṣa in the form of brahma-svarūpa. One can take upaniṣat as parama-rahasya-brahmavidyā, that is given to one by śāstra, or one can say it is the phalam, mokṣa, paraṃ śryeyaḥ, that is always there, non-separate from the individual jīva. Thus ni+sad becomes ni+ṣad after certain grammatical rules. ‘Sat’ is there in the sense of sthiti – a different dhātu altogether. Both meanings are satyam.
Number of Upaniṣads:
There are several works that have been given the name Upaniṣads – over two hundred being reckoned. A great majority of them in fact appear to be of comparatively recent times, and do not deserve the lofty status of the Upaniṣads given to them. Hardly more than a dozen belong to antiquity. Even among the classical Upaniṣads, chronological differences are traceable; but generally speaking, they all exhibit a familiarity both in their thoughts and in the language. According to Muktikopaniṣad, Upaniṣads are 1,180, one of each ṣākhā of the Vedas (The Viṣṇu Purāṇa mentions the number of śākhās to be 1,180, out of which; the Sāmaveda had the largest number of śākhās i.e. 1,000. In Ṛgveda there were 21, in the Yajus 109 (Śukla-Yajurveda 15, and Kṛṣṇa-Yajurveda 94), and in the Atharvaveda). However only 200 have bee brought to light by the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar until now, many of which clearly bear the stamp of modernity. Of these, a complete text of 108 Upaniṣads is available with commentary by Śrī Upaniṣad Brahmendra Yogin (whose original name is Śri Rāmachandrendra Saraswatī, belonging to Śrī Śaṅkarācārya Maṭha, Kānchi), a disciple of Swāmi Vāsudevendra. The entire group is divided into six categories, namely i) Sāmānya Vedānta ii) Yoga Vedānta iii) Sannyāsa Vedānta iv) Śaiva Vedānta v) Vaiṣṇava Vedānta vi) Śākta Vedānta. All these 108 Upaniṣads in the six categories are available as separate books with original texts, the commentary of Upaniṣad Brahmendra Yogin, and the English translation of some of them published by Adyar Library and Research Centre, Adyar, Chennai – 600 020.
The Muktikopaniṣad associates each one of them with one Veda or the other, although only five are seen as part of the Veda in its existing form. However, there is evidence to believe that some more might have been part of some Saṃhitā or Brāhmaṇa in the past, from which they have been separated and became detached subsequently. The ten major Upaniṣads belonging to the four Vedas on which Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda wrote commentaries are:
Ṛgveda – Aitareya
Kṛṣṇa-Yajurveda – Taittirīya, Kaṭha
Śukla-Yajurveda – Īśa, Bṛhadāraṇyaka
Sāmaveda – Kena, Chāndogya
Atharvaveda – Muṇḍaka, Māṇḍūkya, Praśna
Each of the four Vedas contains Upaniṣads that are taught in the Advaita tradition to show the ekavākyatā of all the four Vedas. Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda selected the above ten out of the numerous Upaniṣads (available to him then) to comment upon them, being careful enough to select from all the four Vedas. The reason was to show the ekavākyatā of the Vedas i.e. the non-difference between the Brahman-Ātmā. Secondly, it is considered adequate to study these ten Upaniṣads. After completing these ten Upaniṣads, one can study the others independently with the help of whatever commentary is available and arrive at the purport of the Upaniṣads.
aitareyaṃ ca chāndogyaṃ bṛhadāraṇyakaṃ tathā ||
– Muk.Up.- I.1.20
Of the above ten Upaniṣads, Īśāvāsya is in Śukla-Yajurveda-Saṃhitā, and Muṇḍaka, Māṇḍūkya and Praśna are in Gopatha Brāhmaṇa.
|Saṃhitā||in the Saṃhitā section, 40th chapter of Śukla-Yajurveda-
Saṃhitā – both Kānva and Mādhyandina Śākhā, with minor variation.
is in prose form.
is in prose form.
|7||Taittirīya||Kṛṣna-Yajurveda- Taittirīya-Śākhā||Āranyaka||The seventh, eighth and ninth chapters of the Taittirīya- Āranyaka|
|10||Bṛhadāranyaka||Śukla-Yajurveda||Āranyaka||is part of Śukla-Yajurveda-Vājasaneya-Brāhmana of Kānva-Śākhā. It is an Āranyaka, and Upaniṣad as well.|