This course is a detailed study of three of the shortest of the major Upanishads: the Kena, the Ishavasya and the Mandukya. Despite the brevity of these works, they are fundamental to the doctrines taught by Hindu Dharma. In many ways they can be regarded as foundational works for Hindu religious teachings. Because these Upanishads are so short we can undertake a verse-by-verse study, with reference to the commentary of Shankaracharya and others. As we proceed we will reflect on the significance of the teachings in relation to the contemporary practice of various forms of Hindu spirituality.
Session One: Introduction to the Kena Upanishad
The Kena Upanishad is an Upanishad of the Sama Veda and is to be found in the Talavakara or Jaiminiya branch of the Sama Veda. For this reason it is sometimes referred to as the Talavakara Upanishad. It forms a part of the Jaiminiya Brahmana of the Sama Veda (4.18-21) but is usually regarded by Hindu authorities as a separate work.
Session Two: Kena Upanishad (part two)
Chapter 2 is composed in verse form and presents a description of Brahman as the ultimate truth that lies behind all forms of existence. It also discusses the process of knowing Brahman as a means of attaining release from this world.
Session Three: Kena Upanishad (part three)
Chapters 3 and 4 adopt a narrative structure, though again the main purpose behind the discourse is the revelation of Brahman as the ultimate principle that transcends even the gods who are praised in the hymns of the Veda Samhitas. Here perhaps we get some indication of a Supreme Deity who possesses a personal identity, though this idea cannot be said to be prominent within the Kena Upanishad.
Session Four: Isha Upanishad (part one)
We move on to consider another of the most important Upanishads, the Isha or Ishavasya, and here we have full commentaries from both an Advaitic and a Vaishnava perspective, which will provide interesting parallels. Shankaracharya has left us a full commentary on all eighteen verses, whilst Swami Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON, made his own commentary from a Vaishnava or dualist perspective.
Session Five: Isha Upanishad (part two)
This Upanishad seems to be about the inner Self as the ultimate principle, which can hence be referred to as God, the Isha. It is about the absolute transcendence of the Atman over the limitations that prevail in this world. And it is about moksha as the relief from suffering attained by one who can perceive the Atman. The final four verses are included to demonstrate that these ideas are not to be regarded as non-Vedic, for if one understands them properly then one can see that the Vedic hymns themselves are saying the same thing.
Session Six: The Mandukya Upanishad (part one)
We now consider the Mandukya Upanishad, which was also very highly regarded by Shankaracharya. The Mandukya Upanishad is significant for its revelation that the syllable ‘om’ is identical with Brahman, and today the omkara is often used to represent Hindu Dharma. Furthermore, Gaudapada wrote an extensive treatise or Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad in which we find an early exposition of the principles of Advaita Vedanta.
Session Seven: Mandukya Upanishad (part two)
In this session we will look at the final four verses of the Mandukya and then briefly consider Gaudapada’s Karika on it, which was very influential for Shankara in his establishing the doctrines of the Advaita Vada.
HOW IT WORKS
Course delivery is 100% online
Seven weekly sessions
Study in your own time
Your tutor is available by email and forums
You can communicate online with your fellow students
All course materials are delivered via the web
Student forums with tutor participation
Recorded lectures available in video and mp3 format
Lecture notes available online and as pdf
Audio interviews with specialists in Hindu Studies at Oxford University
Supplementary materials taken from the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies teaching and research programme
Assessment for each course is optional and is on the basis of successful completion of a single essay of 2000 words.
Courses can be completed in as little as seven weeks. There is a final deadline for essays of twelve weeks from the beginning of the course.