7. Eight Shakta Upanishads.
Nature of Upanishadic Thought
The Upanishads represent spiritual teachings and investigations which are a
common reference point for all subsequent Indian philosophy, including the
thinkers of nastika sects who reject the scriptural status of the Vedas. The
great philosopher Sankara wrote commentaries on eleven of the Upanishads,
and these have acquired a special status shared by few.
The Upanishadic tradition though rooted in mystical experience, seeks
rational and intelligible expression and encourages testing of its conclusions.
Upanishadic sages belonged to the Vedic tradition, not only in the obvious
sense that their teachings are preserved in texts which are part of Vedic
literature, but also in the much more important sense that they stand within
the living tradition of orthodoxy. They were frequently critical of elements in
the priestly tradition, and some denied the efficacy of rites and sacrifices as a
means to liberation. They still remain, however, within the same tradition as
sacrificing priests, and intact even made use of sacrificial imagery to interpret
human life or to depict the structure of the cosmos. Despite belonging to the
orthodox tradition, the Upanishadic sages represent a style of religious
practice and thought far removed from what we find in the other Vedic texts.
A significant shift in religious consciousness is evident.
The Upanishads represent a radical reconstruction of religious concerns.
The sages consciously linked themselves to earlier traditions in a variety of
ways, e.g. they continued the tradition of interpreting sacrificial rites, though
they were concerned with the symbolism of the rites and not with the rites
themselves. The distance the sages experienced between themselves and the
priestly ritualists is expressed in the Upanishads in a variety of ways, as
when Svetaketu’s father dismisses his son’s priestly learning; or through the
image the Chandogya offers of a procession of dogs, the tail of one in the
mouth of the other, solemnly chanting ‘Aum, let us eat! Aum let us drink!’
Sometimes the sages merely sought to relativise the importance of the
sacrificial cult and its priestly ministers but sometimes they addressed it with
The Upanishads mark a major turning point in the development of Indian