The Upanishads are statements of the deep spiritual experience and a collection of Hindu philosophical texts, written entirely in prose form. It largely comments on the nature of reality and the basic identity of atman (the soul). Upanishad is derived from upa (near), ni (down) and sad (to sit). The term implies the pupils, intent of learning, sitting near the teacher to acquire knowledge and truth. The history and dates are still somewhat a debated topic. Through analyzing the linguistics used in the text, philologist Max Muller speculated that the text was written between 1000-800 BCE.
The Vedas, which the Upanishads are originally a part of, generally has two portions, Karma-Kanda (portion dealing with action or rituals) and Jnana-Kanda (portion dealing with knowledge). The Rig Veda and the Yajur Veda represent mainly the Karma-Kanda, while the Upanishads chiefly represent the Jnana-Kanda by the spirit of its content being anti-ritualistic. The Upanishads, are included majorly in the final chapter of the Yajur Veda, as well as split into the rest of the Vedas. It can be said that the Upanishads are the finest bloom of the Indian metaphysical and speculative thought. There are over 200 Upanishads but the traditional number is 108. Of them, only 10 are the principal Upanishads: Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashan, Mundaka, Mandukya, Tattiriya, Aitareya, Chhandogya, and Brihadaranyaka.
The essential theme of the Upanishads is the nature of the world and God. What is this world? Who am I? What happens to me after death? Where does my soul go? – Such questions are asked and answered in these Upanishads. The Upanishads consists of dialogues between teachers and students, in an open and impartial manner. The Upanishads do not require us to convert but to understand ourselves by examining the very foundation of our own being and consciousness. They ask us to inquire in an experiential manner through introspection and meditation so that we can directly realize the truth within ourselves. They affirm that the ultimate reality is beyond speech and mind, but can be known internally when the mind is silent, detached from all thoughts and conclusions.
The Upanishads have a theistic side, recognizing a Cosmic Lord as the world creator, but that is not the summit of their views. The most used term in the Upanishads is Atman (soul), as our true Self or immortal nature, for which our bodies and minds are mere instruments. They are the first teachings that clearly explain the concepts of karma and rebirth at a rational level, which have characterized the dharmic traditions of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh, aiming at liberation from Samsara (the cycle of birth and death).
According to the Upanishad, all of us are trying to find the true Self. We are the totality of everything, but because we do not know it, we run after desires and continuously try to find a purpose and contentment. We run after desires because we do not know our eternal reality, our perfection. The goal is to know that we already are everything.