The Philosophy of the Upanishads

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The Philosophy of the Upanishads
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The book would create a great interest in the study and research of Indology. … people interested in Upanishadic studies should read this book for getting better insights into the philosophy and philosophical history of Upanishads.
Godabarisha Mishra, Indian Philosophical Annual Vol. 23, 2001-2002

Paul Deussen’s study of the Upanishads is indeed a work of very high ability and of surpassing interest. …it has been recognized as a standard on the subject and remains so till today.
Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research Vol. 19, No. 2, April-June 2002



Dr. DELJSSEN’S treatise on the Upanishads needs no formal introduction or commendation to students of Indian thought who are familiar with the German language. To others I would fain hope that the translation here presented, winch appears with the author’s sanction, may serve to make known a work of very marked ability and of surpassing interest. As far as my knowledge extends, there is no adequate exposition of the Upanishads available in English. The best was published by Messrs. Trubner more than a quarter of a century ago and is in many res1jects out of date. As traced here by the master hand of the author, the teaching of the ancient Indian seers presents itself in the clearest light and claims the sympathetic study of all lovers of truth.

For the English rendering, I am alone responsible. And where I may have failed to catch the precise meaning of the original, or adequately represent the turn of phrase, I can only ask the indulgence of the reader. Dr. Deussen’s style is not easy. And if a more capable hand than mine had been willing to essay the task of translation, I would gladly have resigned from my office. With whatsoever care I can hardly hope entirely to have escaped error. But for any indication of oversight or mistake, and any suggestion for improvement, I shall be most grateful. The work has exacted many hours that could be ill-spared from a very full life. If however it conduces in any way to a better understanding of the mind and heart of India I shall be amply repaid.


Preface to the Author

The present work forms the second part of my General History of Philosophy. It is however complete in itself; and has for its subject the Philosophy of the Upanishads, the culminating point of the Indian doctrine of the universe. This point had been already reached in Vedic, pre-Buddhist times; and in philosophical significance has been surpassed by none of the later developments of thought up to the present day. In particular, the Sankhya system has followed out lines of thought traced for it in the Upanishads, and has emphasized realistic tendencies already found there (infra, pp. 239—255). Buddhism also, though of entirely independent origin, betrays its indebtedness in essential points to the teaching of the Upanishads, when its main fundamental thought (nirv6nam, the removal of suffering by the removal of trishna) meets us expressed in other words (union with Brahmau by the removal of kama) in the passage from the Brihadaranyaka quoted below.

The thoughts of the Vedanta, therefore, became for India a permanent and characteristic spiritual atmosphere, which pervades all the products of the later literature.

To every Indian Brahman today the Upanishads are what the New Testament is to the Christian. So significant a phenomenon deserved and demanded a more comprehensive treatment than it had yet obtained. And my hope is to remove in some measure the cloud which hitherto has obscured this subject and to exhibit order and consistency in place of the confused mass of contradictory conceptions, which alone had been supposed to exist. If the result is not a uniform and unified system, there is yet found a regular historical development, the key to which is an original, abrupt, and daring idealism and this in its further progress by a twofold concession, on the one hand to traditional beliefs, and on the other to the empirical prepossessions natural to us all, was gradually developed into that which we, adopting Western phraseology if not always in a Western sense, call pantheism, cosmogonism, theism, atheism (Samkhya), and deism (Yoga). Chap. ix., “The Unreality of the Universe” (pp. 226—239), which by its paradoxical title attracts attention and provokes contradiction, or the Final survey at the close of the book (p. 396 if.), may well serve as a first introduction to these oriental teachings.

A remarkable and at, first sight perplexing feature in this entire evolution of thought is the persistence with which the original idealism holds its ground, not annulled or set aside by the pantheistic and theistic developments that have grown out of it. On the contrary, it remains a living force, the influence of which may be more or less directly traced everywhere, until it is finally abandoned by the Sankhya system. Adopted by the Vedanta it is proclaimed as the only “higher knowledge” (para vidya), and contrasted with all those realistic developments which together with the creation and transmigration doctrines are known as the “lower knowledge” (aware vidya), and are explained as accommodations of the written revelation to the weakness of human understanding. This accommodation theory of the later Vedantist teachers is not wholly baseless and needs correction only in the one point that this adjustment to the empirical capacity of the intellect (which works within the relations of time, space, and causality) was not intentional and conscious, but unconscious. In this shape, the idea of accommodation becomes a key that is fitted to unlock the secrets not only of the doctrinal developments of the Upanishads but of many analogous phenomena in Western philosophy. For the practice of clothing metaphysical intuitions in the forms of empirical knowledge is met with not only in India but also in Europe from the earliest times. And for that very reason no account would have been taken of it had not Kant demonstrated the incorrectness of the whole procedure, as I hope to show in detail in the later parts of my work.




  The Philosophy of the Upanishads:  
  The Second Period of Indian Philosophy, or the Continuance and Close of the Times of the Brahmanas  
  Introduction to the Philosophy of the Upanishads  
  1. The Place of the Upanishads in the Literature of the Veda 1-15
  II. Brief Summary of the History of the Upanisahds 16-38
  III. The Fundamental Conception of the Upanishads and Its Significance 38-50
  The System of the Upanishads  
  Introduction 51-53
  First Part: Theology, or the Doctrine of Brahman  
  1. On the Possibility of Knowing Brahman 54-85
  II. The Search for Brahman 85-99
  III. Symbolical Representations of Brahman 99-125
  IV. The Essential Brahman 126-157
  V. Brahman and the Universe 157-179
  Second Part: Cosmology, or the Doctrine of the Universe  
  VI. Brahman as Creator of the Universe 180-201
  VII. Brahman as Preserver and Ruler 202-219
  VIII. Brahman as Destroyer of the Universe 219-226
  IX. The Unreality of the Universe 226-239
  X. The Origin of the Sankhya System 239-255
  Third Part: Psychology, or the Doctrine of the Soul  
  XI. The Supreme and the Individual Souls 256-263
  XII. The Organs of the Soul 163-296
  XIII. The States of the Soul 296-312
  Fourth Part: Eschatology, or the Doctrine or Transmigration and Emancipation, Including the Way Thither (Practical Philosophy)  
  XIV. Transmigration of the Soul 312-338
  XV. Emancipation 338-361
  XVI. Practical Philosophy 361-395
  XVII. Retrospect of the Upanishads and Their Teaching 396-412
  Index I. Subjects 413
  Index II. Reference 418


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