The Rig Veda is
generally regarded as the oldest teaching in the yoga tradition (recent NASA research suggests the Rig Veda may be up to 27000
years old), dating from earliest times, along with the other three veda: Atharva, Yajur and Sama.
It is from the Rig
Veda that other developments first gave rise to the Brahmanas. These writings
date from the period 2500 - 1500BCE and are concerned with theological, and ritual aspects of worship and sacrifice which
became the prerogative of the priest class – the Brahmins. A further series
of writings, the Aranyakas were the ritual texts for the forest dwelling ascetics.
After 1500BCE the
Upanishads began to appear. The word `Upanishad` means `to sit with the guru
or teacher` when oral transmission of the teachings would take place. The Upanishadic
Age is dated from about 1500 - 1000 BCE, although some Upanishads are considered much older and others have been added in
The oldest Upanishads
include Brihad-Aranyaka (The Great Forest), Chandogya, Taittiriya, Kaushitaki and Kena Upanishads. Later ones include
the Katha, Isha, Mundaka and Mandukya Upanisahds.
In their various
groups they are concerned with explanations of Vedanta, the ideals of renunciation, Shakti (the feminine aspect of the Divine,
teachings of particular sects and religious orders, and among the more recent ones, yoga (although not as we know it today).
These writings along
with the veda, brahmanas and aranyakas are all regarded as Revelations by God to man and are called `shruti` - revealed knowledge. As such they hold particular significance
to Vedantists and even today scholars and teachers will often be able to recite
from memory huge sections of teaching.
Most of the Upanishads
are now translated into English although most popular texts include only a small proportion of the 108 – 200 plus known.
As with all translated
works students are recommended to read sections from several different translations to find a style with which they are comfortable.