While the hymns of the Vedas emphasize rituals and the Brahmanas serve as a liturgical manual for those Vedic rituals, the spirit of the Upanishads is inherently opposed to ritual. The older Upanishads launch attacks of increasing intensity on the ritual. Anyone who worships a divinity other than the self is called a domestic animal of the gods in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Chāndogya Upanishad parodies those, who indulge in the acts of sacrifice by comparing them with a procession of dogs chanting Om! Let's eat. Om! Let's drink.

- Page 57 of Mahadevan, T. M. P (1956), Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, ed., History of Philosophy Eastern and Western, George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Now my inquiry into this is;

  • How can a philosophy whose spirit contradicts, opposes and rejects another philosophy, be part of that philosophy?
  • And while the Upanishads contradict the Vedas, what could be the reasons for them to be appended to the Vedas? Why were they not kept as separate texts?

Any opinion regarding this will be appreciated.

I am trying to comprehend the history of the Indian religions.

Thank you

Edited: To provide citations as requested;

Which upanishad you feel contradicts Vedas? By upanishads i mean the major upaishads. (genuine one) – Rakesh Joshi

Here below is another citation apart from the one given in the comments:-

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Shankara bhashya translated by Swamy Madhavananda

1.4.8 page 141

"This Self is dearer than a son, dearer than wealth, dearer than everything else, and is innermost. Should a person (holding the Self as dear) say to one calling anything else dearer than the Self, ''(What you hold) dear will die' -he is certainly competent (to say so)-it will indeed come true. One should meditate upon the Self alone as dear. Of him who meditates upon the Self alone as dear, the dear ones are not mortal."

1.4.15 page 181

"(So) these (four castes were projected)- the Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra. He became Brahmana among the gods as Fire, and among then as the Brahmana (He became) a Kshatriya through the (divine) Kshatriya, a Vaisya through the (divine) Vaisyas and a Shudra through the (divine) Shudra. Therefore people desire to attain the results of their rites among the gods through fire, and among men as the Brahmana. For Brahman was in these two forms. If, however, anybody departs from this, world without realizing his own world (the Self), It, being unknown, does not protect him as the Vedas not studied, or any other work not under- taken (do not). Even if a man who does not know it as such performs a great many meritorious acts in the world, those acts of his are surely exhausted in the end. One should meditate only upon the world of the Self. He who meditates only upon the world called the Self never has his work exhausted. From this very Self he projects whatever he wants."

So these verses clearly suggest to the person, to look into oneself and not towards the outside world.

  • 1
    Please do not take radhakrishnan very seriously on this topic. All the vedantins have also supported vedic karmas like yajnas and samskaras. Radharishna is not saint or acharya. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 19:38
  • 1
    If Radhakrishnan is not to be taken seriously then this thread will have to be closed; because this thread is about the very Radhakrishnan's statement that; the spirit of Upanishads is opposed to ritual. And I too agree with him, because the Upanishads are about salvation and not about pleasing the gods to get riches from them. I mentioned a quote from Manduk Upanishad, earlier in your other thread that goes as . . . .
    – Anil Kagi
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 20:06
  • 1
    If Upanishads are Sruti then do u consider those dialogues between the sages were words of God and were heard by some other sages?? Upanishads were later created to explain the terse Vedas in a somewhat simpler manner so that students can assimilate the knowledge without trouble.
    – Rickross
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 4:12
  • 1
    Rickross, Max muller has put it very elaborately. The idea of revelation, and I mean more particularly book revelation, is not a modern idea, nor is it an idea peculiar to Christianity. In no country, I believe, has the theory of revelation been so minutely elaborated as in India. The name for revelation in Sanskrit is shruti, which means hearing; and this title distinguished the Vedic hymns and, at a later time, the Brahmanas also, from all other works, which however sacred and authoritative to the Hindu mind, are admitted to have been composed by human authors. . . .
    – Anil Kagi
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 5:16
  • 1
    . . . In many a hymn, the author says plainly that he made it, as a carpenter makes a chariot (Rv 1.130.6; 5.2.11), or like a beautiful vesture (Rv 5.29.15); that he fashioned it in his heart and kept it in his mind (Rv 1.171.2). — Max Muller. Unquote. Now having said that, coming to the Upanishads; the Upanishads are not simplified Vedas. The crux of Upanishads is contradictory to the Vedas. They reject the Vedic rituals and the Vedic way of life.
    – Anil Kagi
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 5:21

2 Answers 2


I am not touching the title of question much, I am providing a possible reason behind the philosophical difference between Vedas and Upanishads.

First of all talking about whether Upanishads are part of Vedas or not, there are three distinct opinions:

  1. Brahmanas including Aranyakas and Upanishads are considered to be part of Vedas. This is according to Sutrakaaras, Bhashyakaras and various Aacharyas as I've explained in this answer

  2. Brahmanas are not Vedas but rather they are commentary and explanation to the Vedas. This opinion is raised by Swami Dayananada Saraswati of Aryasamaja.

  3. Brahmans including Aranyakas and Upanishads are also Vedas as well as Samhitas. This is supported by Purva Mimansa school of Jaimini.

Now coming to the query raised in the question,

Q. How can a philosophy whose spirit contradicts, opposes and rejects another philosophy, be part of that philosophy?

You have quoted Vedas and Brahmanas to be emphasizing on rituals and Upanishads to be opposing it. So, you have already considered Brahmanas to be in alignment of Vedas and Upanishads are sounding of different philosophy.

The reason behind this difference is that the preaching of Shastras (Vedas) are of two types Pravritti and Nivritti.

According to Manusmriti:

Sukhābhyudayikaṃ caiva naiḥśreyasikaṃ eva ca । Pravṛttaṃ ca nivṛttaṃ ca dvividhaṃ karma vaidikam । । 12.88 । ।
Iha cāmutra vā kāmyaṃ pravṛttaṃ karma kīrtyate । Niṣkāmaṃ jñātapūrvaṃ tu nivṛttaṃ upadiśyate । । 12.89 । ।
Pravṛttaṃ karma saṃsevyaṃ devānāṃ eti sāmyatām । Nivṛttaṃ sevamānastu bhūtānyatyeti pañca vai । । 12.90 । ।

  1. For in the performance of the acts prescribed by the Veda all those (others) are fully comprised, (each) in its turn in the several rules for the rites.
  2. The acts prescribed by the Veda are of two kinds, such as procure an increase of happiness and cause a continuation (of mundane existence, pravritta), and such as ensure supreme bliss and cause a cessation (of mundane existence, nivritta).
  3. Acts which secure (the fulfilment of) wishes in this world or in the next are called pravritta (such as cause a continuation of mundane existence); but acts performed without any desire (for a reward), preceded by (the acquisition) of (true) knowledge, are declared to be nivritta (such as cause the cessation of mundane existence).
  4. He who sedulously performs acts leading to future births (pravritta) becomes equal to the gods; but he who is intent on the performance of those causing the cessation (of existence, nivritta) indeed, passes beyond (the reach of) the five elements.
  5. He who sacrifices to the Self (alone), equally recognising the Self in all created beings and all created beings in the Self, becomes (independent like) an autocrat and self-luminous.
  6. After giving up even the above-mentioned sacrificial rites, a Brahmana should exert himself in (acquiring) the knowledge of the Soul, in extinguishing his passions, and in studying the Veda.

The same thing is explained in Puranas.

Bhagavata 7.15.47 According to the Vedas, there are two kinds of activities — pravṛtti and nivṛtti. Pravṛtti activities involve raising oneself from a lower to a higher condition of materialistic life, whereas nivṛtti means the cessation of material desire. Through pravṛtti activities one suffers from material entanglement, but by nivṛtti activities one is purified and becomes fit to enjoy eternal, blissful life

You can find the same saying in various Puranas:

  • Bhagavata Purana 4.29.13 and 7.15.47
  • Shiva Purana: Rudra Samhita / Satikhanda / Chapter-29: i.e
  • Skanda Purana: Vaishnava Khanda / Vasudeva Mahatmayam / Chapter-3 i.e
  • Markandeya Purana 45.1
  • Narada Purana 82.32.

And because of having two fold nature of preaching, Vedas have different portions:

Vedā brahmātma-viṣayās tri-kāṇḍa-viṣayā ime ।
Parokṣa-vādā ṛṣayaḥ parokṣaṁ mama ca priyam ॥ Bhagavata Purana 11.21.35

The trikânda (Upasana, Karma and Jnana) divided Vedas have the spiritual understanding of the true self, the soul, as their subject matter, but also the seers who esoterically express themselves more indirectly [the 'other gurus'] are dear to Me.

Conclusion (Answer): So, the functional difference between Vedas and Upanishads are due to emphasize on Pravritti and Nivritti respectively. That's why it sounds that Upanishads are opposing the sacrifices and rituals of Vedas and Brahmanas.

SB 11.21.23: Those statements of scripture promising fruitive rewards do not prescribe the ultimate good for men but are merely enticements for executing beneficial religious duties, like promises of candy spoken to induce a child to take beneficial medicine.

But actually Upanishads do not oppose or contradicts Vedas, Upanishads reminds for the ultimate goal. This is further explained by Adi Shankaracharya in his commentary on Brahma Sutras.

  • "Upanishads reminds for the ultimate goal" - implicit in this assertion is that the Vedas set knowledge of the Self as the ultimate goal. Is this demonstrable via references?
    – iruvar
    Commented Mar 31, 2020 at 1:29

First, your statement that the Upanishads were 'appended' to the vedas is a misunderstanding. The Upanishads are part of and included in each veda. They are at the end of each veda. 'anta' as is vedanta means the concluding or the culmination - it does not mean append.

My answer is based upon Swami Nikhilananda's comments on pages 2-9 of his Introduction to his translation of the Upanishads, in Volume 1, The Upanishads: A New Translation.

The vedas are generally broken up into two different ways. The first is to break them between the Karmakanda and the Jnanakanda. By following the karmakanda one is able to attain material prosperity and the heavens after death. The Jnanakanda leads one to Brahman, to liberation. Not everyone wants liberation, many people want material happiness and to go to the heavens.

Each veda has two sections, the mantra (samhita) and the brahmana (dealing with the rules for worship, mantra meanings, etc.). The brahmana section has another part - called the Aranyaka. The Upanishads in general form a part of the end of each Aranyaka.

The vedas can also be broken up into 4 parts, corresponding to the 4 stages of life - the brahmacharya, garhasthya, vanaprastha, and sannyas. A brahmacharya learned the mantra and brahmana sections of the vedas. In the second stage, he performed his duties and performed sacrifices in accordance with the brahmana. After taking to the forest as a vanaprastha, he followed the Aranyakas (sacrifices by symbolic worship and meditation). Finally upon entering sannyas, he followed the Upanishads. Nikhilananda says:

In most cases the concluding portion of the Aranyaka is the Upanishad--also called the Vedanta because in it the Vedic wisdom reaches its culmination (anta). It shows the seeker the way to Liberation and the Highest Good. Usually there is a full series, from the Samhita, or Mantra, through the Brahmana and Aranyaka to the culmination in the Upanishad. For example, the Taittiriya Samhita is followed by the Taittiriya Brahmana, at the end of which comes the Taittiriya Aranyaka; and this is concluded by the Taittiriya Upanishad. But in rare instances an Upanishad may come directly at the conclusion of the Samhita, as is the case with the Isa Upanishad. The Taittiriya Upanishad forms the last three chapters of the Taittiriya Aranyaka; the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the last six chapters of the Satapatha Brahmana; the Aitareya Upanishad, the last five chapters of the Aitareya Arankaya; and the Kena Upanishad, the nineth chapter of the Talavakara Brahmana of the White Yajur-Veda.

...One hundred and eight Upanishads are enumerated in the Muktika Upanishad, which is a work belonging to to the tradition of the Yajur-Veda. Among these, the Aitareya Upanishad and Kaushitaki Upanishad belong to the Rig-Veda; the Chandogya and Kena, to the Sama-Veda; the Taittireya, Mahanarayana, Katha, Svetasvatara, and Maitrayani, to the Black Yajur-Veda; the Isa and Brihadaranyaka, to the White Yajur-Veda; and the Mundaka, Prasna, and Mandukya, to the Atharva-Veda.

FInally, remember it is generally held that it was Vyasa who collated and organized in the Vedas into their systemic different parts. The organization was meant as systemic way for a man to lead his life through its different periods.

  • muktika is not a genuine work.. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 8:20
  • If upanishad is part of vedas then to whom was it revealed? can you give information of rishis of upansihads? Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 13:11
  • The same rishis to whom the vedas were revealed, the Upanishads were revealed to them at the same time. Before Veda-Vyasa, there were no 'Upanishads'. Veda-Vyasa was the one who organized and collated the vedas into the various books and parts. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 13:16
  • I am afraid this is not correct. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 13:17
  • @RakeshJoshi see my comments in the answer below. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 13:33

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