Peter Cherry is a highly regarded yoga teacher and resident Yogaia teacher in London, widely known for his passion and extensive knowledge of yoga history, philosophy, tradition and making these topics, such as the Upanishads, approachable and interesting to all. Whether you’re a beginner yogi or an experienced guru, read on to learn how to put the Upanishad teachings into practice in the modern day.
Where do you even begin? There is much to baffle the amateur student of yoga history, a field which at the best of times requires a good deal of insider knowledge and patience. Many students feel rather deflated that their honest attempts to understand the Yoga Sutras or (god help you!) the Brahma Sutras result only in further confusion and frustration. That is what makes the Upanishads such a wonderful collection. With the exception of perhaps the Bhagavad Gita, there are few ancient Indian teachings which are as immediate and accessible as the Upanishads.
Not only this, but the texts seem to get right to the core of human suffering and understand it in a way which few others are able to do. This is not to say that they don’t also have their share of esotericism, but only that they rarely seem to exclude the reader or forget the message that they are transmitting.
Broken down below, are the two main themes which occur within the Upanishads, some of which will be familiar to those who are also joining the lecture series.
What are the Upanishads?
UPANISHAD: The word itself can be translated in a number of ways but is often used to mean “secret doctrine/teaching”. The implication here is that the wisdom contained within them is a special knowledge unlike that learnt from dry intellectualism.
Example: “For the man who knows the Upanishad (doctrine) of Brahman, the sun neither rises nor sets” (Chandogya Upanishad 18.104.22.168)
There are said to be 108 Upanishads in total but in reality there are many more documents which use the title, some of which were written as late as the modern era. The main ones, however, are called the “mukhya” Upanishads and number between 10 and 13. They are mainly written between approximately 700BC and 200 CE. What makes them “mukhya” is largely whether the great 9th century scholar Shankara wrote a commentary on them.
Upanishads Core Teachings
BRAHMAN: This is the core teaching of the Upanishads and is the term used to describe ultimate reality. Etymologically, the term means something like “to spread/grow” and it captures this notion of something vast/borderless/infinite which is, in the final reckoning, our true nature.
Commonly, we identify with the body/brain etc. and lose sight of the fact that these are temporary conditions, subject to birth and decay. The texts teach that true happiness can never be found when we seek it amongst that which changes; it can only be found in that WHICH DOES NOT CHANGE. This is Brahman. The Chandogya Upanishad makes it very clear that this Brahman is in fact our true nature, stripped of all that with which we are temporarily familiar.
Example: “Tat tvam asi (that you are)” (Chandogya 22.214.171.124)
Think of a pan of molten gold. The gold can be made into all kinds of shapes but the gold can never be separated from the shapes, NOR DOES IT LOSE/CHANGE ITS “GOLDNESS” WHEN CHANGING FORM. In the same way, we are just so many temporary forms but, that from which we are made and from which can never be separated, is Brahman. Knowledge of this relationship is the ultimate quest of the Upanishads and here it is that we begin to see certain meditation techniques which aid the practitioner in realizing this connection. Early yoga practice seems to be related to these meditation techniques all of this and more will be covered in the 6 week program “The Wisdom of The Upanishads”. Good luck!
To find out more about the Upanishads and their teachings, join our program “The Wisdom of the Upanishads” to allow you to dive in a little deeper and start to uncover more of these ancient texts.
Ready to join us on the mat?
Try us now to access free yoga classes. Anytime, anywhere.