Few days back I was reading a blog on India. The author was elaborating something about Hinduism and mentioned that “it was clearly mentioned in Vedas and Upanishads”.
In general that is the impression most of the people carry around. Vedas and Upanishads, being the ancient Sanskrit texts, must be talking about similar things and taking similar stance on the religious affairs. The reality is in fact the opposite.
Upanishads, being the later of the two, are the rebellion from the Vedas in most cases. While Vedas focus on day to day life activities, prayers to Gods and rituals, Upanishads focus primarily on the processes of mind and consciousness. Vedas dictate, Upanishads question. Vedas are narration, Upanishads are conversation. The classic example is Bhagwad-Gita, the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna.
Vedas talk about how to worship God so that you will have maximum material happiness. Upanishads are more agnostic in nature and rarely advocate idol worship. They talk about disillusionment with material world and material pursuits at all. Upanishads are part of religious texts in a broader sense, however they are the first texts that do not ask you to believe anything as a precondition.
Upanishads, for the first time in human history, devoted their attention not to thought, but to the thought process itself. (That sentence sounds really nice and I would love to take credit for it. However it really belongs to Alan Watts, an expert on Eastern philosophy. Google search Alan Watts for more info.)
For the first time Upanishads devoted attention to mechanism of cognition (consciousness) rather than the product of cognition (mind and desires). They did not provide a way to gain health, wealth, power or knowledge. But they prescribed a whole new set of guidelines to achieve a state of mind, where you would not feel need of any of those.
Upanishads followed a tangent approach to steer people away from Vedas. They acknowledged authority of Vedas, however they made it clear that Vedas work well only in the context of material pursuits and prayers to demi-gods. They insisted that there comes a time in search of knowledge when one’s understanding must be elevated above the material world and Vedas are not of much help there.
Upanishads rescued the philosophy from empty metaphysical speculation and provided the insights that would be useful in real life. The later works of Eastern thoughts, like Mahayana stream of Buddhism and works of Nagarjuna carry unmistakable signature of Upanishad thoughtline.
In addition the Upanishads most likely played a big role in challenging the knowledge passing traditions. Vedas had strict stipulations regarding who , what, where, when can learn Vedas. Certainly in Vedic time, there were attempts to control knowledge and to limit it to a particular caste. However Vyadh-Gita story in Mahabharata, where a butcher teaches a Bramhin about philosophy is very much in line with Upanishad hypothesis and shows the change in attitude.
Thus Upnishads played a monumental role in challenging Vedas, liberating knowledge from the grip of faith, worship and sacrifice. They pioneered scientific inquiry of processes of mind, and laid foundation of what is described by many as the most scientific religion of all, Buddhism.
So next time if somebody tells you something is mentioned in Vedas AND Upanishads, stop them and ask “is it mentioned in Vedas OR mentioned in Upanishads?”
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