Upanishads are philosophical and spiritual sermons, forming a part of the Vedas. Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Munda, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka are the ten most famous Upanishads.
Taittiriya Upanishad belongs to the Krishna Yajurved. It is the most widely studied Upanishad of all. It is named after ‘Taittiriya’, one of the branches of Krishna Yajurveda. It includes 31 sections which are divided into three chapters- shikshavalli, aanandavalli/brahmanandavalli and bhriguvalli. ‘Valli’ means a creeper. Shikshavalli deals with the many aspects of imparting education. It teaches the restraints involved in celibacy, the order in which Vedas should be studied, the worship of pranava i.e. Omkaara etc. Famous precepts such as ‘satyam vada’ i.e. speak the truth, ‘dharmam chara’ i.e. follow righteousness, ‘matru devo bhava’ i.e. consider the mother as God etc. are found in this Upanishad. The Anandavalli contains the ascending order of bliss which finally culminates in brahmananda or supreme bliss. It deals with the nature of Brahman and also contains the reference to the five sheaths out of which a human being is made. Bhriguvalli is what Varuna taught to his son, Bhrigu. It defines Brahman as that from which the universe comes into being, that by which it is sustained, and that into which it is finally merged.
Due to lack of adequate evidence for chronological orientation, the exact date of the composition of the Upanishads cannot be determined. The Upanishadic age has been placed somewhere between 1200 B.C. and 600 B.C. (R.D. Ranade “A constructive study of Upanishadic philosophy”). The chronological order of the Upanishads as estimated by R.D. Ranade is as follows-
- Chandogya, Bruhadaranyaka
- Isha, Kena
- Aitareya, Taittiriya
- Katha, Mundaka
Generally, it is regarded as a work during pre-Buddhistic period i.e. around the 600 century B.C. Opinions, regarding this however, vary. On the other hand, tradition says that the Vedas have come from the mouth of the creator of the world- Lord Brahma at the beginning of the Satya Yuga (the Golden Age). According to this belief, the Vedas (including the Taittiriya Upanishad) would be more than thirty-five lakh years old.
The Upanishads have a Shanti Pada or a peace invocation at the beginning of the verses. The Upanishads belonging to the same Veda have the same invocation. This invocation or prayer is to be recited prior to the study of the Upanishad. This is done with an intention to avert all the evils which may fall on the person reading it. The invocation of the Taittiriya Upanishad is as follows-
हरिः ॐ | शं नो मित्रः शं वरुणः | शं नो भवत्वर्यमा | शं नो इन्द्र बृहस्पतिः | शं नो विष्णुरुरुक्रमः | नमो ब्रह्मणे | नमस्ते वायो | त्वमेव प्रत्यक्षं ब्रह्मासि | त्वमेव प्रत्यक्षं ब्रह्म वदिष्यामि | ऋतं वदिष्यामि | सत्यं वदिष्यामि | तन्मामवतु | तद्वक्तरमवतु | अवतु माम् | अवतु वक्तारम् | ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः |
Harih om. Sham no mitrah sham varunah. Sham no bhavatvaryamaa. Sham no indra bruhaspatih. Sham no vishnururukramah. Namo brahmane. Namaste vaayo. Tvameva pratyaksham brahmaasi. Tvameva pratyaksham brahma vadishyaami. Rutam vadishyaami. Satyam vadishyaami. Tanmaamavatu. Tadvaktaramavatu. Avatu maam. Avatu vaktaaram. Om. Shaantih shaantih shaantih.
“Om. May Mitra (the sun) be benevolent to us; may Varun be propitious to us. May Aryamaan (a form of sun) be favorable to us; may Indra and Bruhaspati be propitious to us. May Vishnu of wide strides be benevolent to us. Salutations to Brahmaa. Salutation to you, O Vaayu. You, indeed, are the perceptible Brahman. Indeed, I will speak of the perceptible Brahman. I will speak what is right. I will speak the truth; may that protect me; may that protect the speaker. Let that protect me; let that protect the speaker. Om. Peace, peace, peace.”
ॐ सः नाववतु | सः नौ भुनक्तु | सह वीर्यं करवावहै | तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै | ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः |
Om. Saha naavavatu. Saha nau bhunaktu. Saha veeryam karavaavahai. Tejasvi naavadheetamastu. Maa vidvishaavahai. Om. Shaantih shaantih shaantih.
“May He protect us both (the preceptor and the disciple). May He be pleased with us both. May we work together with vigor. May our knowledge make us illumined. Let there be no animosity between us. Om. Peace, peace, peace.”
Philosophy of the Upanishad
As stated before, the Taittiriya Upanishad consists of three chapters called vallis- Shikshaavalli, Brahmaanandavalli and Bhruguvalli.
The Shikshaa Valli deals with the discipline of Shikshaa i.e. the study of phonetics and pronunciation. Following are some of the extracts from the valli-
It deals with pronunciation, letters, sounds, pitch, stress, articulation, combination etc. which are related to language. Precision of language was very important as all the Vedas were preserved orally.
It explains the relation between, or combination in regard to world, which includes heaven and earth; luminaries, which include fire and sun; knowledge, which includes teacher and pupil; progeny, which includes mother and father; self, which includes upper jaw and lower jaw, used for uttering speech.
The deity Indra is saluted and requested to bestow intelligence, immortality, prosperity, food and fame.
भूः (bhooh), भुवः (bhuvah), सुवः (suvah) and महः(mahah) are the fourfold mystic utterances. There are three different meanings of each of these words. Bhooh means fire, bhuvah means air, suvah means sun and mahah means moon; it is said that all luminaries become great because of the moon. Bhooh means the Rigved, bhuvah means the Yajurved. Suvah means Samved and mahah means Brahman; it is because of Brahman that all the Vedas become great. Bhooh means inhalation, bhuvah means exhalation, suvah means diffused breath and mahah means food; it is because of food do all the vital breaths become great.
The Upanishad speaks about the nature of the world and the individual. The world consists of fire, air, sun, moon, stars, water, plants, trees, ether and body. The individual consists of the five vital breaths- praan, vyaan, apaan, udaan and samaan; sight, hearing, taste, speech and touch; skin, flesh, muscle, bone and marrow.
This Upanishad states the importance of the syllable ॐ (AUM). Aum is nothing but Brahman. It is the essence of everything. Reciting Aum is equivalent to reciting sacred Vedic chants. By meditating or reciting this sacred syllable, one can attain Brahman.
At the end of this valli, a preceptor enlightens his disciples, who have completed their education. He preaches to them how to behave in the world. He advises them to follow truthfulness, to practice virtuous conduct, to perform their daily righteous duties etc.
This part deals with the nature of Brahman and explains how the world was created by and from Brahman.
In the beginning, there was only one Brahman. It resolved to multiply itself manifold. Therefore, it performed austerities and created the universe. Brahman entered the universe and was born as varied creatures. The Brahman inside these beings is the embodied self. The soul of human beings is covered by the five sheaths (pancha kosha)- annamaya kosha (the gross, physical body), praanamaya kosha (the life giving vital force), manomaya kosha (made up of mind), vijnyaanamaya kosha (made up of intelligence or wisdom), anandamaya kosha (innermost covering of pure bliss). Brahman is that which is perceived by the sense organs as well as that which is beyond. Everything is nothing but Brahman, full of bliss.
A person who understands Brahman as the highest knowledge, real and infinite becomes free from all desires and reaches Brahman. He who is well versed in the Vedas, who has understood its essence and who is free from all desires experiences the highest bliss. When a person experiences oneness with Brahman, all mundane thoughts disappear.
Bhrugu, a seer, approached his father Varuna and requested him to enlighten him about Brahman. To this, Varun replied- Brahman is that from which the world is born; it is that because of which it survives and that into which the world will merge after its dissolution. Everything is nothing but Brahman- matter, life, mind, intelligence etc.
All the three vallis also stress on the importance of food as the survival and the growth of an organism is possible only because of food.
- A Constructive Survey Of Upanishadic Philosophy; Dr. R.D. Ranade
- The Principle Upanishads; S. Radhakrishnan
- Eight Upanishads (with the commentary of Shankaracharya); Swami Gambhirananda
- A glimpse On Sruthi; E.T. Sankaran Kutty