Upanishads: An analysis

Written by Ibn Muhammad

In the Vedic literature, Upanishads are commonly ranked after the four Vedas. As a matter of fact Upanishads are themselves contained in the Vedas. The 40th chapter of Shukla (White) Yajurveda is called Isavasya Upanishad, and it is considered to be the first Upanishad.

Later Hindu scholars considered the Upanishads to be superior to the Vedas. This is the reason that the maximum number of quotations in their books are from the Upanishads while Vedic mantras are rarely quoted. Upanishads are considered as the primary source of Hindu theology.

More than 200 Upanishads are known, of which a dozen are variously referred to as the principal, (mukhya) main or old Upanishads. They are:

1. Isavasya 2. Aitareya 3. Chandogya 4. Kena 5. Taittiriya 6. Katha 7. Shvetashvatara 8. Brihadaranyak 9. Prasna 10. Mundak 11. Maandukya 12. Kaushtaki  Upanishad.

Scholars disagree about the exact dates of the composition of the Upanishads. According to Dr. Radhakrishnan, they were composed between 800 B.C to 600 B.C.

Many Upanishads are collections of mutually unrelated and mutually contradictory statements. Every Upanishads is self refuting. Also, one Upanishad says one thing about a certain theme while another Upanishad says something entirely different. It appears that Upanishad writers were not intending to write a book. May be these were their personal notes which they expanded over time without any connection to earlier notes. This is the reason that many mutually contradictory schools like Advaita (Monism), Vishishtadvaita (qualified Monism) and Dvaita (Dualism) are derived from the Upanishads.

Opposition to the Vedas

The Upanishads reject the Karmakaanda or Salvation by means of sacrifices and other rituals taught in the four Vedas and Brahmanas, and advocate the Gnana-Kanda or the theory of Salvation by knowledge. For example, Mundaka Upanishad 1/1/5 calls the four Vedas as ‘lower knowledge’  (Apra) and says,

“The lower knowledge (Apara) is the Rig-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda, Atharva-veda, Siksha (phonetics), Kalpa (ceremonial), Vyakarana (grammar), Nirukta (etymology), Khandas (metre), Jyotisha (astronomy);”

Explaning the word ‘Apara’ Shankaracharya has written in his commentary on verse 4,

Apara Vidya is ignorance and that ought to be dispelled. When what is known is Apara Vidya, i.e., the subject of ignorance, nothing can be known as it is.

Condemning the Karma-kanda of the four Vedas, the same Upanishad says,

“But frail, in truth, are those boats, the sacrifices (Yagyas), the eighteen (consisting of the sixteen Ritviks, the sacrificer and his wife), in which this lower ceremonial has been told. Fools who praise this as the highest good, are subject again and again to old age and death.”

(Mundaka Upanishad 1/2/7)

Believers in Karma-kaanda are being insulted as fools. This condemnation of ritualism continues in verses 8 and 9.

Mythical Teachings

In contrast to the above condemnation of Vedic rituals, other Upanishads themselves give strange unscientific rituals to obtain various blessings. For example consider the following recipes.

If a man wishes that a son with a fair complexion should be born to him, that he should study one Veda and that he should attain a full term of life, then they (husband and wife) should have rice cooked in milk and eat it with clarified butter. Thus they should be able to beget such a son.

(Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad 6/4/14)

Here, the recipe given to produce a white son is white milk and white rice. Will this recipe work for an African kid? Let us not go far away. Will it work for the indigenous dark races of India? Will it make them white? Further how is this recipe supposed to make the born chlid a scholar of one Veda? Will the missionaries of Upanishads kindly explain this amazing scientific (?) verse to us?

Notice one more thing. Contrary to the condemnation of the Vedas by Mundaka Upanishad, this verse is giving a recipe to make the child a scholar of one Veda.

Verse 15

If a man wishes that a son with a tawny or brown complexion should be born to him, that he should study two Vedas and that he should attain a full term of life, then they should have rice cooked in curds and eat it with clarified butter. Thus they should be able to beget such a son.

This is also an amazing technique of producing colourful children. Additionally, just with a slight change of recipe the child will become a scholar of two Vedas.

Verse 16

If a man wishes that a son with a dark complexion and red eyes should be born to him, that he should study three Vedas and that he should attain a full term of life, then they should have rice cooked in water and eat it with clarified butter. Thus they should be able to beget such a son.

Are all Trivedis and Tripathis in India born by this recipe?

Verse 17

After a long search I was finally able to find a recipe for producing a girl child in Hindu texts. This verse gives that recipe.

If a man wishes that a daughter should be born to him who will be a scholar and attain a full term of life, then they should have rice cooked with sesamum and eat it with clarified butter. Thus they should be able to beget such a daughter.

I will not comment on this par excellence scientific (?) recipe mentioned in this verse. My primary concern here is about the word scholar (Panditaa in Sanskrit), for which we see the next topic ‘Upanishads and Women’ below.

Verse 18

If a man wishes that a son should be born to him who will be a famous scholar, frequenting assemblies and speaking delightful words, a student of all the Vedas and an enjoyer of the full term of life, he should have rice cooked with the meat of a young bull or of one more advanced in years and he and his wife should eat it with clarified butter. Then they should be able to beget such a son.

Since the time this recipe has been abandoned in India, true Vedic scholars are not taking birth. Hindus should start eating this diet to know the Vedas properly. Commenting on this recipe, Shankaracharya writes,

“The meat is restricted to that of a vigorous bull,  able to breed, or one more advanced in years.”

Let me share one last recipe with you.

verse 12 of the same chapter says,

Now, if a man’s wife has a lover whom he detests, he should perform the following rite in order to cast an evil spell upon him: Let him put fire in an unbaked earthen vessel, spread stalks of reed and kusa grass inversely and offer in the sacrificial fire the reed tips, soaked in clarified butter, inversely, repeating the following mantra: “You have made a libation in my kindled fire! I take away your prana and apana, you, (**HERE THE NAME OF THE LOVER SHOULD BE UTTERED**)! You have made a libation in my kindled fire! I take away your sons and cattle, you, (**NAME OF THE LOVER**)! You have made a libation in my kindled fire! I take away your Vedic rites and those done according to the Smritis, you, (**NAME OF THE LOVER**)! You have made a libation in my kindled fire! I take away your hopes and expectations, you, (**NAME OF THE LOVER**)! He whom a brahmin who knows this rite curses, departs from this world impotent and shorn of merit. Therefore let no one even joke with the wife of a Vedic scholar who knows this rite; for he who has this knowledge is a dangerous enemy.

I feel this is nothing but a fraudulent way of looting the innocent folk who are afraid of mantra-tantra. How will burning the fire in a vessel cause the death of someone else? And why is this formula not taught to a wife whose husband has a lover whom she detests? This clearly shows a sanction of polygamy in Hindu texts.

Upanishads and Women

I was initially glad to see that even a girl in Hinduism can become a scholar as per Briahadaranyak Upanishad 6/4/17 quoted above. However, when I read the oldest commentary of the leading scholar of Hinduism, Adi Shankaracharya, on this verse, I was disappointed. He writes,

दुहितुः पांडित्यं गृहतंत्रविषयमेव वेदे अनधिकारात

“The scholarship of the daughter is regarding domestic affairs only, for she is not entitled to read the Vedas.”

Women as objects of lust

Chandogya Upanishad 5/8/1 mentions,

“Woman, O Gautama, is the fire, her sexual organ is the fuel, what invites is the smoke, the vagina is the flame, what is done inside is the embers, the pleasures are the sparks.”

A simlar verse is found in Brihadaranyak Upanishad 6/12/13.

Chandogya Upanishad 2/13/1-2 mentions,

1. A man’s beckoning to a woman is the syllable Him; his gratifying her is the Prastava; his lying with her is the Pratihara; his spending time with her is the Nidhana; and the finishing of the sexual act is also the Nidhana. This is the Vamadevya Saman as interwoven in sexual intercourse.

2. He who thus knows the Vamadevya Saman as interwoven in sexual intercourse does not suffer from the pang of separation and procreates from every intercourse; he reaches the full length of life, lives brightly, becomes great in children and cattle, great in fame. For him the injunction is: “Do not reject a woman who comes to you seeking intercourse”.

This is the Upanishadic version of Kamasutra, so much that many scholars prefer not to comment on them. Scholar Ganganath Jha has translated Chandogya Upanishad into English but he has left these verses untranslated.

Why and How woman was created?

Brihadaranyak Upanishad 6/4/2-3 mentions,

“Prajapati said to Himself: “Well, let Me make a firm basis for it (semen).” So He created woman. Having created her, He worshipped her bottom portion. Therefore one should worship the bottom portion of a woman. He (Prajapati) extended His organ that projects and with it impregnated her.”

Her lap is the sacrificial altar, her hair the sacrificial grass, her skin within the organ the lighted fire; the two labia of the vulva are the two stones of the soma—press. He who, knowing this, practises sexual intercourse wins as great a world as is won through the Vijapeya sacrifice; he acquires for himself the fruit of the good deeds of the woman. But he who, without knowing this, practises sexual intercourse turns over to the woman his own good deeds.

Let me bring to your notice that the English translation of Brihadaranyak Upanishad published by Swami Maadhavananda does not translate verses 3, 4 and 5 and even the Shankar bhashya is not translated. I have reproduced the translation of Swami Nikhilananda  which can be found here


Now let me quote the Brihadaranyak Upanishad 6/4/4-5

4) Having known this, Uddalaka the son of Aruna, Naka the son of Mudgala and Kumara—harita said: “Many mortals, brahmins only in name, perform the sexual act without knowledge of what has been said and depart from this world impotent and without merit.” Even if this much semen—of one asleep or of one awake—is spilled,

5) He should touch it and repeat the following mantra: “Whatever semen of mine has spilt on earth, whatever has flowed to plants, whatever to water, I reclaim it.” With these words he should take the semen with his ring finger and thumb and rub it between his breasts or eyebrows, repeating the following mantra: “Let the semen return to me, let Vigour come to me again, let glow and good fortune come to me again. May the deities who dwell in the sacrificial fire put the semen back in its proper place.”

Readers can themselves judge these words.

Beat your wife?

Brihadranyak Upanishad 6/4/7 says,

If she (the wife) does not willingly yield her body to him (her husband), he should buy her with presents. If she is still unyielding, he should beat her with a stick or with his hand and overcome her, repeating the following mantra: “With power and glory I take away your glory.” Thus she becomes discredited.

What kind of teaching is this? These are only productions of imbalanced minds.

I would suggest that you read the remaining portion of the chapter (i.e. Brihad. Upanishad Part 6, Chapter 4) from the above link yourself because it is too obscene to be posted here.


Throughout the Upanishads there are evidences of polygyny being sanctioned. The Rishis of the Upanishads used to have several wives. For example, Yajnavalkya has two wives as is mentioned in Brihadaranyak Upanishad 4/5/1.

अथ ह याज्ञवल्क्यस्य द्वे भार्ये बभूवतुर्मैत्रेयी च कात्यायनी च

“Yajnavalkya had two wives: Maitreyi and Katyayani”

Unscientific concepts

In addition to the above mentioned mythical teachings, the Upanishads contain many factually unscientific errors.

1. Chandogya Upanishad 8/13/1 says

From the dark I come to the variegated; from the variegated I come to the Dark. Shaking off evil as a horse shakes dust from its hair, freeing myself from the body as the moon frees itself from the mouth of Rahu, I fulfil all ends and obtain the uncreated World of Brahman.

The lunar eclipse is thus thought to be the work of Rahu, an Asura (demon), who eats the moon.

2. Brihadaranyak Upanishad 3/3/2 mentions the dimensions of the place where those people go who have performed the Horse Sacrifice (Ashwamedh)? It says,

“Thirty—two times the space traversed by the sun’s chariot in a day makes this plane (loka); around it, covering twice the area, is the world (prithivi); around the world, covering twice the area, is the ocean. Now, as is the edge of a razor or the wing of a fly, so is there just that much space between the two halves of the cosmic shell. Through that opening they go out. “Fire, in the form of a falcon, delivered them to Vayu. Vayu, placing them in itself, took them where previous performers of the Horse Sacrifice were.”

Even a primary pass child today knows that there is no such meeting point of the sky and earth and no opening. They also know that there is no chariot pulling the Sun.

3. Brihadaranyak Upanishad 2/1/19 says,

“seventy two thousand (72,000) nerves called hita, which extend from the heart throughout the whole body.”

I would like to see the scientific confirmation of this statement. There are millions of nerves and blood vessels extending throught the body from the heart and not just 72,000. Another erroneous figure given in the Upanishads.

These are only few of the unscientific teachings of the ‘world renowned’ Upanishads.

The roots of caste based discrimination

Upanishads clearly spell out that caste is based on birth due to the deeds of previous lives. This is the reason for this idea taking such root in the Hindu society that it continues to divide Indian society even today.

Chandogya Upanishad 5/10/7 says,

“Those whose conduct here on earth has been good will quickly attain some good birth—birth as a brahmin, birth as a kshatriya, or birth as a vaisya. But those whose conduct here has been evil will quickly attain some evil birth—birth as a dog, birth as a pig, or birth as a chandala.”

On one hand Upanishads talk of one Soul permeating all; only Brahma being real and the world being an illusion, while on the other hand they sanction this cruel birth based caste system. It seems that even the Rishis bent of proving that the world is an illusion, used  to keep personal gains in mind. This idea becomes clear when we observe the lifestyle of Rishi Yajnavalkya, who in trying to prove the world to be an illusion, extracted huge fee (Dakshina) from others. When he was unable to respond to some questions he used to threaten the questioner with dire consequences, which turned the questioner silent out of fear.

Brihadaranyak Upanishad 3/1/1-2 says,

“Janaka, Emperor of Videha, performed a sacrifice in which gifts were freely distributed among the priests. Brahmin scholars from the countries of Kuru and Panchala were assembled there. Emperor Tanaka of Videha wished to know which of these brahmins was the most erudite Vedic scholar. So he confined a thousand cows in a pen and fastened on the horns of each ten padas of gold.

He said to them: “Venerable brahmins, let him among you who is the best Vedic scholar drive these cows home.” None of the brahmins dared. Then Yajnavalkya said to one of his pupils: “Dear Samsrava, drive these cows home.” He drove them away. The brahmins were furious and said: “How does he dare to call himself the best Vedic scholar among us?” Now among them there was Asvala, the hotri priest of Emperor Janaka of Videha. He asked Yajnavalkya: “Are you indeed the best Vedic scholar among us, O Yajnavalkya?” He replied: “I bow to the best Vedic scholar, but I just wish to have these cows.” Thereupon the hotri Asvala determined to question him.”

The Yajnavalkya started answering the questions. Interestingly, Shankaracharya mentions in the preface of his commentary of Brihadaranyak Upanishad 3/9/27,

“One should take away catlle of Vedic scholars who do not truly know Brahma.”

Similarly, when Balaki proposes to speak about God to Ajatashatru, King of Kashi, Ajatasatru offers him, for this proposal, a thousand cows as his fee. (See Brihadaranyak Upanishad 2/1/1)

When King Janaka asked Rishi Yajnavalkya a questions about Brahma, he immediately offered the fee of thousand cows with a bull as large as an elephant (See Brihadaranyak Upanishad 4/1/4).

All of these examples prove that imparting the mythical and highly philosophized knowledge of Brahma was a good profession to earn money. However, if someone used to ask difficult questions about God refuting the Rishis conjectures, they were threatened and silenced, as they feared loosing their profession. Two glaring examples can be given.

Gargi, the daughter of Vachaknu, questioned Yajnavalkya. When she cornered Yajnavalkya with her final quetion, all she got was a threat. This is mentioned in Brihadaranyak Upanishad 3/6/1

“Yajnavalkya ,” said she, “if all this is pervaded by water, by what, is water pervaded?” “By air, O Gargi.” “By what,is air pervaded?” “By the sky, O Gargi.” “By what is the sky pervaded?” “By the world of the gandharvas, O Gargi.” “By what is the world of the gandharvas pervaded?” “By the world of the sun, O Gargi. “By what is the world of the sun pervaded?” “By the world of the moon, O Gargi.” “By what is the world of the moon pervaded?” “By the world of the stars, O Gargi.” “By what is the world of the stars pervaded?” “By the world of the gods, O Gargi.” “By what is the world of the gods pervaded?” “By the world of Indra, O Gargi. “By what is the world of Indra pervaded?” “By the World of Virij, O Gargi. “By what is the World of Virij pervaded?” “By the World of Hiranyagarbha, O Gargi.” “By what is the World of Hiranyagarbha pervaded?” “Do not, O Gargi,” said he, “question too much, lest your head should fall off. You are questioning too much about a deity about whom we should not ask too much. Do not ask too much, O Gargi.” Thereupon Gargi, the daughter of Vachaknu, kept silent.

The freedom of thought of Gargi was curbed by Yajnavalkya by threatening her of death. Is this not a ploy to hide the truth? Thinking people can judge for themselves.

Gargi was fortunate to not die but Shakalya was not so fortunate after disputing with Yajnavalkya. That is mentioned in Brihadaranyak Upanishad 3/9/26-27.

“Now I ask you about that Person who is to be known only from the Upanishads, who definitely projects those beings and again withdraws them into Himself and who is at the same time transcendental. “If you cannot clearly explain Him to me, your head shall fall off?’ Sakalya did not know Him; his head fell off; and robbers snatched away his bones, mistaking them for something else.

Then Yajnavalkya said: “Venerable brahmins, whosoever among you wishes to question me may now do so, or all of you may. Or whosoever among you desires it, I shall question him, or I shall question all of you. But the brahmins did not dare.”

The ultimate effect of Upanishads

The above mentioned curbs on free thinking are nothing compared to that effect where all distinction of good and evil is erased from the Knower of Brahma (Brahmagyani).  Kaushitaki Upanishad 3/1/ records Lord Indra as saying the following,

“He who knows me thus, by no deed of his is his life harmed, not by the murder of his mother, not by the murder of his father, not by theft, not by the killing of a Brahman. If he is going to commit a sin, the bloom does not depart from his face!

The theoretical commandment is exemplified by Lord Indra himself who brags about his murders in this very verse.

“I slew the three-headed son of Tvashtri; I delivered the Arunmukhas, the devotees, to the wolves (salavrika); breaking many treaties, I killed the people of Prahlada in heaven, the people of Puloma in the sky, the people of Kalakanga on earth. And not one hair of me was harmed there.”

Thus the people who allow Upanishads to influence them are least bothered about right and wrong. That is why M. N Roy, in his book Fascism; its philosophy, profession and practice traced the influence of Upanishads on Fascism through people like Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. Roy was the first to point out the fact that the roots of fascism lie in the ancient Brahminical religion, and he showed how European, particularly German, fascist philosophers borrowed concepts from Brahminical scholars and scriptures, concepts such as the Aryan race theory, the supremacy of the strong over the weak, the concept of the tyrannical superman and so on. In fact, M.N. Roy issued a’ sharp warning to Indians not to fall prey to Hindu revivalism because he saw that it was nothing but fascism in a different garb. You can see that for yourself. What was the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the mass slaughter of the Muslims but naked fascism? Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, wrote in one of his books, ‘The state must have the power to break its own laws’. That is precisely what happened on 6 December, 1992. The state was actively involved in the breaking of the mosque. Goebbels also remarked, ‘Repeat a lie- a hundred times and it becomes a truth’. You can see this Chanakyan tactic in all the false Hindutva propaganda about Muslims, Christians and Communists. We all know what horrendous and baseless things they are writing about Muslims in the school textbooks now. They have attributed all the ills of India to the Muslims, painting all of them as immoral.

Hindutva fascism has to be fought at the ideological level, by a superior ideology based on rationalism, and not just on the political plane. Islam is the alternative and hope for those weak humans in India who are discriminated by the cruel divisions of Caste System whose roots lie in the ancient Hindu texts.