Philosophy Of The Upanishad And The BhagavadGita

Philosophy of the Upanishad and the Bhagavad Gita –Yoga Philosophy of Pathanjali

Philosophy of the Upanishad

What are Upanishads?

  • The Upanishads are ancient texts, which record the foundation of Hindu thought.
  • They are the final part of the Vedas, the part that is concerned with pure knowledge. The word ‘veda’ means ‘knowledge’; and the Upanishads are sometimes described as ‘vedanta’, which means the ‘culmination of knowledge’.
  • The Vedas start out as mythical and ritual texts. They tell stories about various gods; and they prescribe rituals for making use of the gods’ divine powers, to attain prosperity and other objectives in the world. But, at the end of the Vedas, the Upanishads leave all cosmology and all applied knowledge behind.
  • It is not their basic concern to describe the world, nor to achieve the various objects that people desire. Their basic concern is philosophical.

THE NATURE OF REALITY –A Philosophical view of Upanishads

  • Brahman and Atman are the terms used in the upanisads to stand for the ultimate reality.
  • It manifests itself as the subject as well as the object and transcends them both.
  • The same reality is called from the subjective side as ‘Atman’ and from the objective side as ‘Brahman’.
  • The two terms are used as synonyms.
  • The transcendent conception of god held in the Rig-Veda is here transformed into an immanent one. The true self has been the main topic of investigation in the Upanisads.


  • There are two currents of thought in the upanisads one aimed at discovering the primacy principle of the cosmos and the other searching for the innermost essence of man. This is found in the eternal principle behind the body and mind. It is termed ‘Atman’.
  • The etymology of this word is observe. In the Rig-Veda it means breath or the vital essence.
  • Gradually it acquired the meaning of soul or self and spirit. Sankaracarya quotes the verse giving the different connotations of the word ‘Atman’.
  • The verse says that ‘Atman’ means that which pervades all, which is the subject and which knows, experiences and illuminates the objects, and which remains immortal and always the same.


  • The ultimate reality from the objective side, when it is called Brahman. The word is derived from the root ‘Brh’ which means to grow or to evolve. In the beginning it meant sacrifice, then prayer and then it acquired its present meaning of ultimate reality which evolves itself as this world.
  • Brahman is that which spontaneously bursts forth as nature and soul. It is the ultimate cause of this universe. In the chandogya, it is cryptically described as Tajjalan,- as that(tat) which the world arises(ja), into which it returns (la), and by which it is supported and it lives(an).
  • In the taittiriya upanisad in chapter iii the Brahman is defined as “that from which these beings are born, that in which when born they live, and that into which they enter at their death, that is Brahman”.
  • The evolution of the elements is given in this order. From Brahman arises ether, from ether air, from air fire, from fire water and from water earth.
  • But the real theory of evolution is given in the doctrine of five sheaths (koshas) in the Taittiriya. The lowest level is that of matter.
  • Annam Brahma(annamaya) matter is unconscious and dead and cannot account for life. It is purely on the physical plane. Brahman cannot rest content with matter. The purpose of matter is fulfilled only when life is evolved. The highest state of matter is therefore life. Though matter cannot account for life, yet there can be no life without matter. The inorganic matter must be transformed into organic life. Hence the second state of evolution is life. Prana is Brahma(pranamaya).
  • Now we are on the biological plane. The vegetable life emerges first but the vegetable life must lead to the animal life. The vegetable products must be transformed into living animal cells.
  • Life provides the universe and binds man with the rest of creation. But the destiny of life is fulfilled only when consciousness is evolved.
  • Hence the third state of evolution is mind or perceptual consciousness. Manas is Brahma(manomaya). Here we are on the mental or psychological plane. This state is shared by lower animals with man.
  • Even this will not suffice, for there are intellectual facts which mere perceptual consciousness does not take into account.
  • Hence the fourth state of evolution is self-conscious reason. Vijnana or intelligence is Brahma(vijnanamaya). Here we are on the metaphysical plane. This state is the sole monopoly of human beings. Reason becomes self-conscious only at this state and this fact distinguishes human beings from lower animals.
  • The empirical trinity of knower, knowledge and known has been evolved. But even this will not suffice. There must be something higher than mere intellect, where existence is no longer formulated in terms of knowledge.
  • The unity of existence requires that we must transcend the intellectual level. Reality is different from thought, and can be reached in the turiya state of highest immediacy, which trcenscends thought and its distinctions, where the individual coincides with the central reality.
  • The fifth and the highest state of evolution, therefore, is the non-dual bliss. Ananada is Brahma(anandamaya).
  • Here we are on the mystic plane. The empirical trinity of knower, known and knowledge has been fused into a transcendental unity. Here philosophy terminates, the suggestion being that there is nothing higher than ananda. From it all things flow.
  • By it all things are sustained, and into it all things are dissolved. As all spokes are contained in the axle and the wheel, so all beings, all gods, all world, all organs are contained in the universal self the Brahman.


Philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita

  • The Bhagavad-Gita is one of the most ancient religious scriptures of the world. It contains the direct message of God.
  • It is a dialogue between God and his closest devotee. The discourse was delivered originally in Sanskrit, but today its translations are available almost in every language.
  • The antiquity of the Bhagavad-Gita is hidden in tradition, ancient scriptures, myths and legends. Its history, content and personality are intimately connected to the life of Lord Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the Yadava hero, who played a crucial role in the war of the epic Mahabharata.
  • Lord Vishnu incarnated in the form of Lord Krishna to root out evil and establish dharma or righteous living upon earth. He participated in the drama of human life and left behind his discourse in the form of the Bhagavad-Gita for the benefit of future generations.
  • The scripture is truly an icon of the Sanatana-dharma, an ageless and valuable ancient discourse that has the potential to play a significant role in the alleviation of suffering in all branches of human life, in a world that has been increasingly becoming more complex and unstable.
  • The central philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita characterizes in many ways the central theme of Hinduism even in today’s context.
  • It contains the message of divine centered living based upon right knowledge, faith, devotion, self-surrender, detachment and dispassionate performance of tasks as opposed to the ego centered living, which is characterized by incessant striving, self-centered thinking, egoism, and suffering arising out of non-attainment of desires, or union with the undesired objects or separation from the desired objects. The book is a discourse of immense spiritual value, for people who are engaged in the daily battles of life, symbolically or even truly reflected by the episode of Arjuna, who was stricken with sorrow and confusion, being taught and assisted by God himself, in the middle of the battlefield of Kurukshetra where good and evil forces stood in confrontation with each other.
  • The Bhagavad-Gita reveals how anyone can perform ordinary duties in the world and yet remain free from the consequences of one’s actions.
  • It is not by inaction, not even by doing only the so called good deeds, one attains liberation, but by doing deeds without the sense of doer-ship as a sacrificial offering to God in the true spirit of renunciation and without shunning the responsibility, which comes with birth.
  • The scripture deals with such basic concepts as the nature of our existence, the nature of the true self, our true relationship with God, the truth about action and inaction, the correct meaning of knowledge and ignorance, the inborn qualities of man and how the actions bind him to the mortal world, the meaning of true devotion, the right attitude towards the external world, the meaning and purpose of Maya and so on.
  • According to the Bhagavad-Gita the external world is unreal, not because it does not exist, but because it is unstable and ever changing. Since it is based upon impermanence, it cannot be relied upon as a vehicle of truth, and it should not become the purpose of our existence.
  • He who clings to such an unstable phenomenon is bound to suffer since he is compelled by his own desires to engage in desperate actions to retain his unstable possessions, which cause him constant anxiety, anger, fear and envy.

The three secrets of the Bhagavad-Gita

  • Great scholars of the Bhagavad-Gita say that the scripture fundamentally deals with three primary teachings, which are called the three secrets.
  • The first secret is about duty. A person must do his duty according to his nature (swadharmacharana). The second truth is about the hidden Self.
  • In everyone there is a real and hidden Self, which is different from the external false self. A seeker of liberation must realize this difference between the outer self and the inner self.
  • The third secret is about the omnipresence of God, who pervades all and envelops all. One must live in this world with the awareness that all that exists in this world is but Vasudeva
  • These three secrets are known as guhya (secret), guhyatara (more secret) and guhyatma (most secret).
  • The Bhagavad-Gita has profoundly influenced the Indian way of life for millenniums. Its teachings have been at the core of the Hindu fundamental beliefs from time immemorial. They are ageless and relevant even today.
  • Originally written in Sanskrit, the scripture has been translated into many languages all over the world and is now easily available to interested readers in most parts of the world. It attracted the attention of many scholars for centuries.

Yoga Philosophy of Pathanjali

  • The Word Yoga means union, or that merging of mind and soul in the Divine element within us which is otherwise called concentration.
  • Yoga (or concentration) is therefore that realisation of our oneness with the Supreme that has been the aim of mystics of all ages and all creeds.
  • To reach this highest point of spiritual development, it is obvious that the whole of the threefold nature of man must be developed upon its various lines; that is, the physical, the mental, and the spiritual elements must receive an appropriate and simultaneous training, or we have a want of that harmony which is a necessary concomitant of perfection.
  • A chain can be no stronger than its weakest link, and if any link in the triple chain of our being be imperfect, the whole must suffer the consequences.
  • Concentration is used in two senses, as Yoga, or union with the Divine and as the employment of the means to that union.
  • The one is the result, the other is the method leading towards that result.
  • There are two systems of Yoga, the Hatha (or Physical) and the Raja (or mental Yoga). The first is said to be derived from Ha the sun, and Tha the moon, used as symbols for the regulated breathing supposed to produce the desired condition.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

  • The tradition of Patañjali in the oral and textual tradition of the Yoga Sūtras is accepted by traditional Vedic schools as the authoritative source on Yoga, and it retains this status in Hindu circles into the present day.
  • In contrast to its modern Western transplanted forms, Yoga essentially consists of meditative practices culminating in attaining a state of consciousness free from all modes of active or discursive thought, and of eventually attaining a state where consciousness is unaware of any object external to itself, that is, is only aware of its own nature as consciousness unmixed with any other object.
  • This state is not only desirable in its own right, but its attainment guarantees the practitioner freedom from every kind of material pain or suffering, and, indeed, is the primary classical means of attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death in the Indic soteriological traditions, that is, in the theological study of salvation in India.
  • The Yoga Sūtras were thus seen by all schools, not only as the orthodox manual for guidance in the techniques and practices of meditation, but also for the classical Indian position on the nature and function of mind and consciousness, for the mechanisms of action in the world and consequent rebirth, and for the metaphysical underpinnings and description of the attainment of mystical powers.

Eight components of yoga


Yamas are ethical rules in Hinduism and can be thought of as moral imperatives. The five yamas

  • Ahiṃsa -Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings
  • Satya -truthfulness, non-falsehood
  • Asteya -non-stealing
  • Brahmacarya –chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint
  • Aparigraha -non-avarice, non-possessiveness


The second component of Patanjali’s Yoga path is called niyama, which includes virtuous habits, behaviors and observances.

  1. Śauca: purity, clearness of mind, speech and body
  2. Santoṣa: contentment, acceptance of others, acceptance of one’s circumstances as they are in order to get past or change them, optimism for self
  3. Tapas: persistence, perseverance, austerity
  4. Svadhyaya: study of Vedas (see Sabda in epistemology section), study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speeches and actions
  5. Īśvarapraṇidhana: contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality


  • Asana is thus a posture that one can hold for a period of time, staying relaxed, steady, comfortable and motionless.
  • Patanjali does not list any specific asana, except the terse suggestion, “posture one can hold with comfort and motionlessness.
  • The posture that causes pain or restlessness is not a yogic posture. Other secondary texts studying Patanjali’s sutra state that one requirement of correct posture is to keep breast, neck and head erect (proper spinal posture).
  • Later yoga school scholars developed, described and commented on numerous postures. Vyasa, for example, in his Bhasya (commentary) on Patanjali’s treatise suggests twelve:
  1. Padmasana (lotus),
  2. Veerasana (heroic),
  3. Bhadrasana (decent),
  4. Svastikasana (like the mystical sign),
  5. Dandasana (staff),
  6. Sopasrayasana (supported),
  7. Paryankasana (bedstead),
  8. Krauncha-nishadasana (seated heron),
  9. Hastanishadasana (seated elephant),
  10. Ushtranishadasana (seated camel),
  11. Samasansthanasana (evenly balanced)
  12. Sthirasukhasana (any motionless posture that is in accordance with one’s pleasure)



  • Praṇayama is made out of two Sanskrit words praṇa breath) and ayama restraining, extending, stretching).
  • After a desired posture has been achieved, verses  through recommend the next limb of yoga, praṇayama, which is the practice of consciously regulating breath (inhalation and exhalation).
  • This is done in several ways, inhaling and then suspending exhalation for a period, exhaling and then suspending inhalation for a period, slowing the inhalation and exhalation, consciously changing the time/length of breath (deep, short breathing)



  • Pratyahara is a combination of two Sanskrit words prati and ahara.
  • Pratyahara is fetching and bringing near one’s awareness and one’s thoughts to within.
  • It is a process of withdrawing one’s thoughts from external objects, things, person, situation.
  • It is turning one’s attention to one’s true Self, one’s inner world, experiencing and examining self. 
  • It is a step of self extraction and abstraction. Pratyahara is not consciously closing one’s eyes to the sensory world, it is consciously closing one’s mind processes to the sensory world.
  • Pratyahara empowers one to stop being controlled by the external world, fetch one’s attention to seek self-knowledge and experience the freedom innate in one’s inner world.
  • Pratyahara marks the transition of yoga experience from first four limbs that perfect external forms to last three limbs that perfect inner state, from outside to inside, from outer sphere of body to inner sphere of spirit



  • Dharana means concentration, introspective focus and one-pointedness of mind. The root of word is dhṛ, which has a meaning of “to hold, maintain, keep”.
  • Dharana as the sixth limb of yoga, is holding one’s mind onto a particular inner state, subject or topic of one’s mind.
  • The mind (not sensory organ) is fixed on a mantra, or one’s breath/navel/tip of tongue/any place, or an object one wants to observe, or a concept/idea in one’s mind. 
  • Fixing the mind means one-pointed focus, without drifting of mind, and without jumping from one topic to another


  • Dhyana literally means “contemplation, reflection” and “profound, abstract meditation”.
  • Dhyana is contemplating, reflecting on whatever Dharana has focused on. If in the sixth limb of yoga one focused on a personal deity, Dhyana is its contemplation.
  • If the concentration was on one object, Dhyana is non-judgmental, non-presumptuous observation of that object. If the focus was on a concept/idea, Dhyana is contemplating that concept/idea in all its aspects, forms and consequences. Dhyana is uninterrupted train of thought, current of cognition, flow of awareness.
  • Dhyana is integrally related to Dharana, one leads to other. Dharana is a state of mind, Dhyana the process of mind. Dhyana is distinct from Dharana in that the meditator becomes actively engaged with its focus.
  • Patanjali defines contemplation (Dhyana) as the mind process, where the mind is fixed on something, and then there is “a course of uniform modification of knowledge”.
  • Adi Shankara, in his commentary on Yoga Sutras, distinguishes Dhyana from Dharana, by explaining Dhyana as the yoga state when there is only the “stream of continuous thought about the object, uninterrupted by other thoughts of different kind for the same object”; Dharana, states Shankara, is focussed on one object, but aware of its many aspects and ideas about the same object.
  • Shankara gives the example of a yogin in a state of dharana on morning sun may be aware of its brilliance, color and orbit; the yogin in dhyana state contemplates on sun’s orbit alone for example, without being interrupted by its color, brilliance or other related ideas.


  • Samadhi literally means “putting together, joining, combining with, union, harmonious whole, trance”.
  • Samadhi is oneness with the subject of meditation.
  • There is no distinction, during the eighth limb of yoga, between the actor of meditation, the act of meditation and the subject of meditation.
  • Samadhi is that spiritual state when one’s mind is so absorbed in whatever it is contemplating on, that the mind loses the sense of its own identity.



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