What is an Upaniṣad? What do the Upaniṣads actually say? Do they have relevance today?
Join Dr. Varun Khanna for a journey into Upaniṣadic philosophy, asking the questions that are central to the Upaniṣads: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my goal in life? Is there a way to transcend death and achieve immortality? These fundamental questions and more are addressed in many fascinating ways in the Upaniṣads. In this course, we will read selections from the Īśā Upaniṣad, Praśna Upaniṣad, and Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad.
The Upaniṣads form the core primary texts for the Indian philosophical school of Vedānta. As Sadānanda Yogīndra describes it in his text Vedāntasāra (Essence of Vedānta), “Vedānta is that which takes the Upaniṣads to be its primary source of knowledge, along with all ancillary texts that help to ascertain what the Upaniṣads say, such as the Brahma Sūtras, etc.” As such, every Vedānta tradition, whether it is dualist or non-dualist, traces its ideas back to the Upaniṣads. Since “Vedānta” literally means “end of the Vedas”, many understand the Upaniṣads to occur at the linear end of the Veda texts. However, this is observably not the case — instead, “end of the Vedas” can also mean the philosophical “end” or culmination of Vedic thought. We will look deeply into the Upaniṣadic corpus to understand what exactly this philosophical culmination looks like.
In this course, we will attempt to read the aforementioned Upaniṣads on their own terms. We will read the stories as they are and discuss their historical implications, development, transmission, and philosophical import. We will read line by line, based on the original Sanskrit and Patrick Olivelle’s English translation. Students will leave the course with a better understanding of the structure and content of the Upaniṣads and a deeper appreciation for Upaniṣadic philosophy.
Module 1 — One who sees all in oneself and oneself in all
Module 2 — How to pass beyond death
Module 3 — The breath is the most superior deity!
Module 4 — Meditate on OṀ!
Module 5 — “What is that, by knowing which, a person comes to know the whole world?”
Module 6 — The story of two birds
Students Will Receive:
- 12 Pre-recorded class sessions (90 min each)
- 5 YS Credits
- 18 Hours of CE credit with YA
- Course Syllabus (PDF)
- Sanskrit-English translation of the text (PDF)
- 6 Multiple Choice Quizzes
- Yogic Studies Certificate (PDF)
- Access to the private Community Forum
Dr. Varun Khanna
Visiting Professor, Swarthmore College
As a pre-med undergrad student, Varun Khanna accidentally stumbled into Sanskrit when he tried to learn Ayurveda during a study abroad program in India. After learning to speak and becoming fluent in the language, he changed direction and became a full-time student of Sanskrit and Indian philosophy. He then traveled through various jungles and cities in India to learn from different Sanskrit gurus, specializing in Pāṇinian Sanskrit grammar. Varun later earned both his master’s degree in Sanskrit and his PhD in Hinduism (studying consciousness in the Upaniṣads) at the University of Cambridge. He has been teaching spoken Sanskrit, Pāṇinian Sanskrit grammar, and topics in Indian philosophy since 2008, and is now a Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics teaching Sanskrit at Swarthmore College.
Varun’s research interests lie in the intersection of Sanskrit grammar, Vedānta philosophy, and social justice. His latest work centers on the perspectives that ancient Sanskrit literature offers for thinking about equality, freedom, and justice. He is also working on a new Sanskrit primer that incorporates Pāṇinian grammar in order to help students learn the exact boundaries of the rules of Sanskrit.
"Varun is such an amazing and endearing storyteller. He illuminates the Upaniṣads stories with his keen insights while making his students' learning experience fun, easy and enjoyable!"
— YS 211 Student
"Varun Khanna is the finest professor I have encountered during five decades of academic life. In the Upaniṣads II course, he offered a unique experience of learning and vision. As we look forward to Upaniṣads III in the future, I am grateful for our texts and the recordings as channels for further contemplation and enhanced perception."
— Martha Sanders Brandt, retired professor of French Language and Literature, Florida USA
"Dr. Varun Khanna exhibits deep expertise of the Sanskrit language as well as the import of words of the Upaniṣads. He is dedicated and teaches with empathy to help students navigate both and be able to form their impressions and understanding of the ancient texts. He serves Sanskrit classics in convenient transparent bites that enable students to ponder on their wisdom."
— YS 211 Student
"Dr. Varun Khanna is an excellent teacher and brought a modern sensibility to interpret these ancient texts. His explanations and comments were fascinating and very enlightening. He has a way of explaining very complex and rich notions in ways that make them clear and understandable."
— YS 211 Student
"Varun's way of combining great knowledge, storytelling, open-mindedness, and a lovely sense of humor are the best ingredients to approach such elevated texts as the Upaniṣads."
— Ekaterina Machulskaya, Germany
This course is eligible for 18 hours of Continued Education (CE) credits with Yoga Alliance
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