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The Upanishads Sacred Scriptures of Sanatana Dharma Sacred Scriptures of Hinduism

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Upanishad Upa- (near), ni- (down), sad (to sit): sitting near the teacher

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Composed by various seers and sages between 800-500 BCE, the Upanishads are a culmination and completion of an earlier body of Hindu sacred texts called the Vedas. Veda = knowledge Upanishads are Vedanta: End of the Vedas

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The Vedas Hymns and mantras to various deities viewed as controlling forces of nature Directions for sacred rituals, especially sacrifices to the gods Outline of moral codes

The Teachings of the Upanishads : 

The Teachings of the Upanishads

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Six Key Concepts in the Upanishads Brahman Atman Karma Samsara Moksha Avidya

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The Upanishads emphasize the impermanence of the empirical world, physical reality as we experience it through our senses. Maya “that which is not,” though it appears to be, that is, illusion.

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The Upanishads distinguish between the changing, transient nature of the empirical universe and a single ultimate transcendent reality that is unchanging and permanent.

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Brahman Ultimate Cosmic Reality

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The distinction between Maya and Brahman allows Upanishadic thinkers to affirm the unity or oneness of all things. All that is is Brahman. Reality is ultimately one and unchanging, though it appears as many and changing.

Brahman Alone is Real. Everything Else is Illusion. : 

Brahman Alone is Real. Everything Else is Illusion.

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We can speak of Brahman as “being” (sat), “consciousness” (cit), and “bliss” (ananda). However, these are merely ways of talking about the human apprehension of Brahman.

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In itself Brahman cannot be defined or positively described. Ultimately “Brahman” is a way of designating a state in which subject-object duality ceases to exist. The existence of Brahman is not proved by logic but realized in experience. Either one experiences non-duality or one doesn’t experience non-duality. To those who experience it, no proof is necessary. To those who do not experience it, no proof is possible.

Implications? : 


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In itself the Supreme being cannot be known, as the Infinite surpasses or transcends all human conception. The impersonal Supreme being is made personal through manifestations of the Infinite in finite form. Brahma, God the Creator Vishnu, God the Preserver Shiva, God the Destroyer

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The many gods of Hinduism represent different aspects of one and the same ultimate reality, Brahman. Hinduism views the cosmic activity of the Supreme Being as comprised of three tasks: creation, preservation, and dissolution and recreation. Three deities (Trimurti) represent these tasks: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Brahma Vishnu Shiva



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The True Self (Atman) The individual personality, soul, or self (jiva) belongs to the realm of maya. The jiva is conditioned by Atman. Atman is timeless, spaceless, unchanging pure consciousness, only temporarily manifested as jiva in maya. The Upanishads teach the existence of a true Self called Atman.

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Relation between Atman and Jiva

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Analogy: The Atman is to the jiva what the space around a jar is to the space within the jar. Space Within Jar Space Outside Jar Space within the jar is space bounded and limited by the edges of the jar. So the jiva is Atman bounded and limited by individuality.

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Strip away all appearances and every self is identical with the ultimate reality.



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The human perspective is characterized by ignorance (avidya) of the true nature of reality and the self.

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Analogy A rope may appear to be a snake. Likewise, the universe may appear to be many and changing, and we may appear to be individuals within the universe. This is appearance only, grounded in avidya.



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Our egocentric desires and actions create and perpetuate new physical forms or vehicles for atman. Avidya Egoism New Physical Forms Egoism Ignorance leads to egocentric desires

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From this set of Upanishadic teachings emerges the doctrine of Reincarnation or Rebirth. Humans live multiple embodied lives, experiencing a cyclical process of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara).

Samsara and Suffering : 

Samsara and Suffering Human suffering – lack of satisfaction in life - is associated with material forms of existence. As long as samsara continues a person is doomed to experience suffering.

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In the Upanishads karma designates a law of cosmic justice according to which every action has an effect that is proportioned to the moral quality of the action. Rebirth is governed by karma (literally “action”).

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Karma includes the character one has formed through one’s choices and actions. Karma determines the nature of one’s future incarnations. Right Action Bad Karma Good Karma Wrong Action

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Rebirth is not desirable. It implies that a person is still trapped in ignorance about the nature of reality. Suffering, associated with material existence, has not yet been transcended.



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This is a state of knowledge, enlightenment, or absolute consciousness in which the true nature of reality (Brahman) and the true self (Atman) is perceived. The Ultimate State (Moksha) Suffering is transcended only by release from samsara and absorption into Brahman, the one ultimate reality.

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It is also a state of freedom (moksha). The only thing that can be free is that which is one, for only that which is one has no desire. Being all that there is, there is nothing else for it to desire. There is nothing left to suffer.

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The ultimate goal is not to be reborn. The goal is to obtain moksha and be free from desire and the cycle of death and rebirth.

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