Upnishad means “to sit near the teacher and learn from him the secret doctrine”

Author S Radhakrishnan
The word ‘Upnishad’ is derived from upa (near), ni (down) and sad (to sit), i.e sitting down near. Groups of pupils sit near the teacher to learn from him the secret doctrine.

In the quietude of forest hermitages the Upanishad thinkers pondered on the problems of the deepest concern and communicated their knowledge to fit pupils near them. The seers adopt a certain reticence in communicating the truth. They wish to be satisfied that their pupils are spiritually and not carnally minded. To respond to spiritual teaching, we require the spiritual disposition.

The Upanishads contain accounts of the mystic significance of the syllable “Aum”, explanations of mystic words like “Tajjalan”, which are intelligible only to the initiated, and secret texts and esoteric doctrines. Upanishad became a name for a mystery, a secret, “rahasyam” communicated only to the tested few. When the question of man’s final destiny was raised, Yajnavalkya took his pupil aside and whispered to him the truth.

According to the Chhandogya Upanishad, the doctrine of may be imparted by a father to his elder son or to a trusted pupil, but not to another, whoever he may be, even if the latter should give him the whole earth surrounded by the waters and filled with treasures. In many cases it is said that the teacher communicates the secret knowledge only after repeated entreaty and severe testing.

derives the word Upanishad as a substantive from the root “sad”, to loosen, to reach, or to destroy with “upa” and “ni” as prefixes and “kvip” as termination. If this derivation is accepted, Upanishad means brahma-knowledge by which ignorance is loosened or destroyed. The treatises that deal with Brahma knowledge are called the Upanishads and so pass for the Vedanta.

The different derivations together make out that the Upanishads give us both spiritual vision and philosophical argument. There is a core of certainty which is essentially incommunicable except by a way of life. It is by a strictly personal effort that one can reach the truth.

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