A collection of texts composed over several centuries (the oldest from ca. 700-300 BCE) and in various regions (northern India, ranging from the upper Indus valley to the lower Ganges).

Two interpretations

  1. Upa(near)+ ni(down) + sad(sit): “to sit close beside” The secret teaching passed orally from teacher to disciple
  2. “Connection” or “equivalence” secret knowledge or hidden connections (the Upanisads being the texts containing those doctrines)

Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.3-4.4

A dialogue between

  • (Y) Yājñavalkya: a great teacher of secret doctrines. Learned, sarcastic, and irreverent
  • (K) King Janaka: a great and learned King from Videha

K asks Y “What light does a person have?” and Y responds. K keeps asking “What light does a person have when that is gone?”

The order of Y’s responses is as follows:

Interesting to note that this moves from far away to closeby in terms of spatial distance (astronomically far to the intimate self)

Then K asks, “What is the Self?“. Y answers “the inner light that is the person” (puruṣa) or consciousness as it travels through 3 states. (Map of consciousness, four aspects/“quarters” of the self)

  1. Waking: person in its physical nature, awareness of external objects, perception and thought, identification with the body
  2. Dreaming: person in its mental nature, awareness of dream images (mental impressions, memories), identification with the dream ego
  3. Deep and dreamless sleep: person beyond desire, peace and bliss, absence of identification
  4. Pure Awareness (Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad) (added in a latter Upaniṣad): ground state of consciousness

This is where the OM/AUM sound comes from. A from waking, U from dreaming, M from deep sleep, and pure awareness as a combination of all 3

Death is described as the dissolution of vital functions (prāna) of the mind and body which then culminates in pure awareness and transitioning to rebirth

Life, then, is impelled by desire which leads to rebirth according to karma. Death is liberation for those who have freed themselves from desire (and achieve nothing but brahman or pure light)