PM gifts Biden Yeats’ ‘Ten Principal Upanishads’: What are Upanishads? Why was Yeats interested in them?

Source: The post is based on the article “PM gifts Biden Yeats’ ‘Ten Principal Upanishads’: What are Upanishads? Why was Yeats interested in them?” published in Indian Express on 23rd June 2023

What is the News?

The Indian Prime Minister has gifted several gifts to the US President which includes the first edition print of the book The Ten Principal Upanishads from 1937.

The Ten Principal Upanishads, translated from Sanskrit by Shri Purohit Swami, a scholar of Hindu scripture and Irish poet WB Yeats is considered to be one of the best translations of the Upanishads.

What are the two categories of Hindu scriptures?

There are broadly two categories of Hindu sacred texts: shruti (loosely translated as “the revealed”) and smriti (“the remembered”). 

The first category is considered to be the most authoritative and consists of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva) and accompanying texts. These include Brahmanas (ritual texts), Aranyakas (“forest” or “wilderness” texts), and Upanishads (philosophical texts).

The second category of Hindu scriptures is less authoritative – in many ways, they are considered to be derived from the first – but more popularly known. These include the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Dharmashastras, Puranas and all other post-Vedic scriptures.

What are the Upanishads?

The Upanishads date back to roughly 800-500 BC. They are also known as the Vedanta – as they signal the end of the total Veda – speculate about the ontological connection between humanity and the cosmos. 

They serve as foundational texts in many traditions of Hindu theology and have hence attracted far more attention than the Vedas themselves.

Upanishads also discuss concepts such as transmigration, which have today become central to Hindu tradition.

The Upanishads were given particular importance in Hindu theology by 8th-century Hindu scholar Adi Shankara, whose interpretations synthesized the Advaita Vedanta tradition.

Advaita Vedanta is a non-dualistic philosophy that has in modern times, under philosophers such as Swami Vivekananda and S Radhakrishnan, become the most dominant force in Hindu intellectual thought.

This philosophy emphasizes on the illusory nature of the transient phenomenal world around us, and puts forth the idea that the brahman is the only and ultimate real. 

Much of the Upanishads, in fact, are concerned with the relationship between the atman, or the distinct, unchanging self of an individual, and the brahman, the ultimate reality in the universe.

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