By Jenny Park
Depending on whom you are, your yoga practice may stop or begin on your yoga mat. Some people practice once a week at the local health club, while others live, read, and breathe yoga – every day. Either way, each of us continues to practice for many different reasons.
Some yoga practitioners may find themselves inevitably exposed to the culture and history of the Indian subcontinent and the religion that spawned from it. One integral symbol, the Upanishads, has roots in Indian culture as deep as the religion it is aligned with. But what are the Upanishads and what do they say?
Basic Theology: What is Hinduism?
To many in the western world, the Abrahamic religions, are thought to be the oldest established religions. In actuality, Hinduism dates back thousands of years before the rise of Abraham, and is so old that anthropologists cannot specify one single date.
Hindus believe that there is a supreme being known as Brahman, who inhabits every aspect of the world. An individual must perform their dharma, or worldly duties, in order to balance karma in a positive favor. It is considered impossible to achieve “enlightenment” in one lifetime, and the belief in reincarnation describes that an individual is born into a status based on their karma and the accomplishment of dharma in the previous life.
Ultimately, by performing one’s dharma over several lifetimes, an individual may break the cycle of samsara or reincarnation and join Brahman which is referred to as achieving nirvana.
Scripture: What Are The Upanishads?
The Upanishads are a collection of scriptures that are thought to have had an important influence on the early development of Hinduism. Currently, there are roughly 200 scriptures that make up the collection, which have been transcribed into written form after millennia of being taught orally.
To give an example, the Upanishads describe the ways in which people seek answers: through the world around them, through others, and through deities. It is important to utilize all three in a balanced state, because together, all three work to achieve the same goal: understanding of the self. Symbolically, the trifecta is said to be reference to the three primary deities Vishnu; the preserver, Shiva; the changer, and Brahman; the wise one.
The Upanishads describe a variety of different topics, from philosophy, to sociology, the purpose and path for humanity, and more. The concepts of Brahman, the supreme one, and the Atman, the individual, are the primary focus of the majority of texts. While the Upanishads do have texts that focus on other aspects of Hinduism, such as the gods Vishnu and Shiva, and other minor beliefs, the most common topics focus on one’s path through samsara.
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