A discussion has come up somewhere regarding the Upanishads.
First a few notes.
MY BLOG POSTS THAT TOUCH UPON THE UPANISHADS
The Metaphysics of the Upanishads (Vichar Sagar) by Nischal Das #1
The Metaphysics of the Upanishads (Vichar Sagar) by Nischal Das #2
The Metaphysics of the Upanishads (Vichar Sagar) by Nischal Das #3 – in this third note I discard the claim (sometimes made) that the Upanishads are rational or somehow superior in their critical thinking process. They are NOT rational.
In addition, I’ve written extensively on the advaita/ vedanta – particularly in the context of Vivekananda’s research.
There are 108 Upanishads: Details on Wikipedia
The Brhadaranyaka and the Chandogya are the two earliest Upanishads. They are edited texts, some of whose sources are much older than others. The two texts are pre-Buddhist; they may be placed in the 7th to 6th centuries BCE, give or take a century or so.
The three other early prose Upanisads—Taittiriya, Aitareya, and Kausitaki come next; all are probably pre-Buddhist and can be assigned to the 6th to 5th centuries BCE.
The Kena is the oldest of the verse Upanisads followed by probably the Katha, Isa, Svetasvatara, and Mundaka. All these Upanisads were composed probably in the last few centuries BCE.
The two late prose Upanisads, the Prasna and the Mandukya, cannot be much older than the beginning of the common era.” [Source]
NOW FOR THE DISCUSSION – ON TRANSMIGRATION
I have claimed that the Upanishads are fictitious imagination. I cited two examples: (a) transmigration of the soul and (b) cosmology.
A commentator disputes that the Upanishads refer to transmigration. According to him, “my understanding is that Upanishads don’t talk about death n afterlife.”
It appears that the idea of transmigration started with the Upanishads. It had no (or very limited) basis in the Vedas:
The most fully articulated doctrine of transmigration is found in Hinduism. It does not appear in the earliest Hindu scriptures (the Rig Veda) but was developed at a later period in the Upanishads (c. 600 BC). [Source]
In The Vedas, translated by Ralph Griffith, we have this:
This is also the view expressed in The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads – By A. B. Keith (I’ve OCRd and uploaded here. The document is available in PDF on google)
10. The Doctrine of Transmigration
The origin of the doctrine of transmigration is one of the most difficult problems of Indian philosophy: its extraordinarily firm hold on the mind of part at least of India, which is shown by the fact that Buddhism rests on the doctrine as an essential presupposition, makes it natural to seek the view in the earliest period of Indian religion, and this desire to find metempsychosis in the beginnings of Indian belief takes two forms. On the one hand there have been seen direct references to metempsychosis in the Rigveda, and on the other there have been traced there ideas which explain the genesis of the conception.
The references to transmigration which have been seen in the Rigveda are all of the most improbable character: it is to ignore the nature of poetry to press the wish that there may be long life for man among the gods into the view that it contemplates rebirth: the attempt to find references to it in two of the verses of the riddle hymn of Dirghatamas is bold, but not very plausible : the allusion, in which Vasistha is made to refer to his previous birth, is quite impossible, and the same criticism can be applied in every other case.
The effort to find such views is naturally not modern merely : the commentaries on the Upanisads themselves seek to trace the idea, and the fact that they can adduce nothing worthy of consideration is surely conclusive proof that there was nothing.
In the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad it is sought by Cankara, without any good ground, and not in accord with the Upanisad, to show that Vamadeva, the reputed author of a hymn beginning, “I was aforetime Manu, I the sun”, refers to his former births, and in another passage of that text, in the exposition of the doctrine of transmigration, a verse celebrating the two ways of the Fathers and of the gods, on which everything meets which moves between father and mother, is pressed by the Upanisad itself into service, though the reference is merely to day and night. A third passage in the Aitareya Aranyaka, which refers to a third birth after death, beside that from the father and by initiation, makes also use of a verse of Vamadeva, in which lying in the womb the speaker learned all the births of the gods, but it is not proved or even plausible that the Upanisad itself refers to transmigration at all : the third birth may most probably have been in the next world, and in any case the quotation had nothing whatever to do with the subject.
The effort to find suggestions of the origin of transmigration in Vedic beliefs is worthy of more consideration. The ideas that the birds are the forms of the Fathers, and that the Fathers creep about the roots of the plants, and the practice of using an insect or other animal, which alighted on a garment spread out with an invocation to the soul of the dead, when his bones cannot be found, to serve in place of his mortal relics, are points adduced by Oldenberg as suggesting the groundwork on which the Indian belief developed. It is not necessary to brush these ideas lightly aside, or even to point out that the evidence for them is late, and not of value as proof for the early Vedic religion. What is necessary is to point out that, while the ideas thus recorded are of some value as showing the presence in Indian religion of the belief of the incorporation of the souls of the dead now and then in animals or plants— of the latter there is even a hint in the Rigveda itself—the importance of transmigration lies precisely in the fact that the doctrine is an ethical system, and that it has, therefore, not merely a value totally distinct from the mere belief suggested by the evidence above adduced, but is thereby referred for its real origin to something quite other than popular belief. That it should have been so fully accepted by the people in course of time was doubtless aided by such views as that mentioned : but no such view could create metempsychosis as a system of the marked character of the Indian view.
There is an ongoing debate. This article is helpful (but it claims that the Gita is part of the Vedas – a highly questionable claim). Quora has a discussion of this issue.
Regardless of whether the Vedas had a clear and explicit moral theory of transmigration, we know that the Upanishads went all out to explain transmigration in PHYSICAL and MORAL detail:
The first reference to transmigration occurs in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad which is believed to be the oldest and the longest of the Upanishads. It was associated with the sage Yajnavalkya.Another key text that proves the origin of the doctrine of transmigration is in a later portion of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. It is also repeated in the second-oldest of the Upanishads, the Chandogya Upanishad which has been proposed by another famous sage, Uddalaka Aruni. [Source]
What Becomes Of The Soul After Death
This is the title of an extensive interpretation of the Upanishads.
Paraloka-Vidya or the science about the departed souls and their planes of living is a subject of absorbing interest. It has intimate connection with Panchagni-Vidya or the science of transmigration propounded in the Chhandogya Upanishad.
This book contains abundant information on this subject. It will give you a wealth of facts on this topic. It contains the essence of the Upanishadic teachings.
The writings in this book are far more extensive than the ones I’ve cited here (Vichar Sagar). They talk about the same or similar things, e.g.
Now, there might be some sense in the Upanishads (nothing written by humans is entirely bereft of sense) but it would be false to suggest that these have anything to do with reason. These remain the wild speculative assertions of ignorant humans.
We can learn nothing useful from them. There was an extraordinarily fertile period of free thought in India around 2500 years ago. One branch was Upanishadic thought (as well) – which I don’t value as highly as I do many other strands of Indian thought from that period.
The Upanishads don’t tell us about the origin of Indians from Africa – for instance. The Upanishads (along with all other religious literature) are an early work of human imagination, like ancient cave paintings.
I’ll comment a bit further on the Upanishads and their alleged relationship with critical thinking. time permitting.