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Minor Upanishads In Hinduism

The number of minor Upanishads varies from fifty to ninety eight (mentioned in Muktika Upanishad) and even more than two hundred. The Adyar Library has published all the 108 Upanishads. Some other minor Upanishads were published by Schrader under the heading Unpublished Upanishads (Adyar Library).

The Ten Main Upanishads

The 10 principal Upanishads are Isha Upanishad, Kena Upanishad, Katha Upanishad, Prashna Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Aitareya Upanishad and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Adi Shankaracharya has written commentaries on them.

The minor Upanishads find mention in Shankaracharya’s commentary on Upanishads. Svetasvatara Upanishad, Kaushtaki Upanishad, Maitri Upanishad and Nrisimha Tapaniya Upanishad are mentioned by Adi Shankaracharya but he has not written commentary on them.

Six Volumes Of Minor Upanishads

The six volumes of minor Upanishads, on the basis on the subject matter, which the Adyar Library has published are:
  1. Samanya Vedanta Upanishad
  2. Shaiva Upanishad
  3. Shakta Upanishad
  4. Vaishnava Upanishad
  5. Yoga Upanishad  
  6. Sannyasa Upanishad

Muktika Upanishad is the last among the 108 Upanishads; it gives a list of all Upanishads, classifying them under different Vedas and giving proper Shanti Mantras (peace hymns).

Samanya Vedanta Upanishads

There are 24 Upanishads under this category and were published with the Advaitic commentary of the Upanishad Brahmayogin of Kanchi Kamakoti Matha in 1921 CE (Adyar Library). An English translation by A.G. Krishna Warrier was published in 1991 CE.

Kaushitaki Brahmana Upanishad, forming the concluding portion of Kaushtaki Brahmana, is the earliest among Samanya Vedanta Upanishads. It excels in the delineation of prana (vital air) as the prime mover of the universe, which is ultimately identified with the higher subjective reality. Indra reveals this doctrine to Pratardana. As Long as breath tarries in this body, so long the life stays. Through the breath, one attains immortality in the world beyond and through knowledge, one attains fulfillment of his wish. Pure consciousness and simple consciousness filled with objective content are to be discriminated. Pure consciousness is the name as the Brahman or atman.

Many of the Upanishads included in the volume are post Vedic. Though falling in the category of Samanya Vedanta Upanishad they are heterogeneous in nature. Akshi Upanishad discusses the form of the innermost self and describes the eternal verity of Narayana.

Garbha Upanishad deals with the development of the embryo in the mother’s womb and the self within.

Vajra Suchi Upanishad discusses the question as to who is a true Brahmin. This Upanishad is sometimes ascribed to Ashvaghosha. It has a pro-Buddhist commentary on it. Maha Upanishad in six chapters describes the creation of the world with 25 categories by Narayana. Knowledge of the Brahman is praised through the dialogue between Shuka and Janaka, and the distinction between consciousness and inert objects and the nature of one who is liberated while alive in the body is explained with a dialogue between Nidagha and Ribhu.

Sannyasa Upanishad

Sannyasa Upanishads deals with the characteristics, qualifications, life and other particulars concerning the ascetic. The types of anchorites vary from the mendicant monk, who has outwardly cast away the trappings of the world, to the supremely realized, free of all sense of differences. The latter are classified into those in the stages of a hut dweller, one who is in a holy place of sacred waters, one free from all sense of difference, the realized self, even while alive, one who has transcended the fourth stage and one who has cast off all sense of ego.

There are 17 upanishads dealing with this group. Avadhuta Upanishad discusses the nature and conduct of the avadhuta ascetic.

Arunya Upanishad says that a householder who wants to be an ascetic should transform the ritual fires into a matter of internal contemplation of fire. His duties consist of celibacy, non-injury, non-possession, and truthfulness. The procedure for renunciation is also given.

Kundika Upanishad gives the duties of one prior to his renunciation of the world and the necessity of yoga for self realization and attainment of liberation.

Jabala Upanishad advocates adoration of Shiva in the form of Avimukta (the liberator). The need for renouncing all motivated action is stressed.

Turiyatita Upanishad is in the form of a dialogue between Vishnu and Brahma, expounding the way of life led by Turiyatita (one who has transcended the fourth stage) as ascetic.

Naradapari Vrajaka Upanishad discusses the six stages of asceticism, ending with the avadhuta. It is one of the long Upanishads in this group.

Nirvana Upanishad describes the progress of paramahamsa khechari mudra. Parabrahma Upanishad expounds the greatness of selfless action. Paramahamsa Parivrajaka Upanishad enjoins the qualification of renunciation. Brahma Upanishad, Maitreya Upanishad and Yajnavalkya Upanishad deal with different aspects of the ascetic life. “The mind alone is the cause of bondage and liberation,” says Satyayana Upanishad. Sannyasa Upanishad expounds the rules of renunciation and points to the sins that tempt the ascetic.

Shakta Upanishad

Shakta Upanishads devoted to the Goddess as reality, are sectarian in form like the Vaishnava and Shaiva Upanishads. Bhavana Upanishad (which has a commentary by Bhaskaracharya), Satchakra Upanishad, Tripura Tapini Upanishad and Devi Upanishad are Shakta in nature.

The Kaula school of Tantra is considered anti Vedic, and the excesses associated with it are criticized by Lakshmidhara, commentator on Saundarya Lahari, a text often ascribed to Shankara and used by both the Kaula and Samaya Schools. What is considered proper by the Samaya School is the worship of the mother and father of the Universe in the sahasrara (thousand-petalled lotus) above the ajna chakra, the mystic center between the eyebrows.

Most Shakta Upanishads seem to be later than Saundaryalahari. The commentator Lakshmidhara does not quote from them. According to Upanishad Brahma Yogin, Shakta Upanishads set forth the main doctrines of Advaita Vedanta in a colorful garb.

The Advaitic distinction between the qualified Brahman and the undifferentiated Absolute (saguna Brahman and nirguna Brahman, respectively) are found in these Upanishads. Even Gaudapada’s ajativada has been incorporated in one of the Upanishads.

Bhavana Upanishad symbolically identifies the human body with the Sri Chakra, suggesting that the human body is the temple of God. The total number of Shakta Upanishads is eight.

Yoga Upanishads

There are eighteen Upanishads under this category and the most important among them is the Varaha Upanishad.

Shaiva Upanishad

Shaiva Upanishads are fifteen in number. Akshamalika Upanishad deals with the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.

Ganapati Upanishad deals with Ganapati and his worship. Jabala Upanishad deals with the use of holy ash for realizing truth. Dakshinamurti Upanishad concentrates on the worship of Dakshinamurti.

Pancha Brahma Upanishad deals with the five forms of Shiva – Sadyojata, Aghora, Vamadeva, Tatpurusha and Ishana. Brihajjabala Upanishad deals with the vibhuti (holy ash), rudraksha (holy beads), etc.

Vaishnava Upanishad

Vaishnava Upanishad are 15 in number. The Vaishnava literature assumed to have taken the character of Upanishads. Apart from Narayana, Varaha, Narasimha, Rama, Vasudeva, Krishna and even Sita are described as various forms of Brahman in these Upanishads.
Kali Santarana Upanishad mentions the popular Hare Rama, Hare Krishna mantra.