Upanishads and Indian Ethos: A Self-Study Course on India's Distinguishing Character

(This is an updated version of the course that was taught to full-time MBA students for 15 years)

Course Designed by: Venkat R. Krishnan


There is widespread ignorance about India and Indians. Many people see India as merely a geographical entity, and are unaware of her ethos or distinguishing character. Ignorance about the distinguishing character is the root cause of all problems. To understand something, one has to study what distinguishes it from others and not just what is common between it and everything else.

Radhakrishnan ("Indian philosophy: Vol 1" p. 23) wrote: Each nation has its own characteristic mentality, its particular intellectual bent. In all the fleeting centuries of history, in all the vicissitudes through which India has passed, a certain marked identity is visible. She has held fast to certain psychological traits which constitute her special heritage, and they will be the characteristic mark of the Indian people so long as they are privileged to have a separate existence.

Dasgupta ("A history of Indian philosophy: Vol 1" page viii) wrote: "It is not in the history of foreign invasions, in the rise of independent kingdoms at different times, in the empires of this or that great monarch that the unity of India is to be sought. It is essentially one of spiritual aspirations and obedience to the law of the spirit, which were regarded as superior to everything else, and it has outlived all the political changes through which India passed."

Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works Vol 3: 288) said in his lecture on ‘The future of India’: "When the life-blood is strong and pure, no disease germ can live in that body. Our life-blood is spirituality. If it flows clear, if it flows strong and pure and vigorous, everything is right; political, social, any other material defects, even the poverty of the land, will all be cured if that blood is pure."

Spirituality and self-inquiry comprise the innermost core of India and they permeate all aspects of Indian life. It is because of this core remaining intact, that Indian civilization has survived several onslaughts and continues its march as the oldest surviving civilization in the world. Upanishads comprise the foundations of Indian culture.

Learning Process

This is a self-study course. The sequence of readings is important for those doing this course for the first time. No prior reading should be skipped before going to a subsequent reading.

Skimming through the readings in a superficial manner will not help. The material should not be read in passive mode, akin to watching television. Each piece should be read at least thrice and notes should be taken. Each and every sentence may not be clearly understood, but the gist of every piece of reading should be clear before proceeding to the next piece of reading.

The readings are divided into 16 units. It is suggested that one unit be studied every week, and the entire course be completed over 16 weeks. Most people may also benefit by again doing this course once every year.



Swami Ranganathananda. (2010). Our cultural heritage. Science and Culture, 76(11-12), 502–509. [cultural.pdf]

Swami Vivekananda. First public lecture in the east. [completeworks3.pdf pages 94-104].



Swami Ranganathananda. (2001). Our spiritual heritage. Pages 46-61. In “The message of the Upanishads: An exposition of the Upanishads in the light of modern thought and modern needs (eighth edition)”. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. [spiritual.pdf]

Swami Vivekananda. The necessity of religion. [completeworks2.pdf pages 54-63].


Swami Ranganathananda. (2005). Introduction: Relevance of the Upanisads in the age of science . Pages 11-34. In "The message of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad: An exposition of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad in the light of modern thought and modern needs (eighth edition).” Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama. [relevance.pdf]

Swami Vivekananda. The way to the realisation of a universal religion. [completeworks2.pdf pages 291-302].

Swami Vivekananda. The ideal of a universal religion: How it must embrace different types of minds and methods. [completeworks2.pdf pages 303-318].


Swami Ranganathananda. (1990). The charm and power of the Upanisads (second edition). Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama. [charm.pdf]

Swami Vivekananda. Vedantism. [completeworks3.pdf pages 105-119].


Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 3-25]

Swami Vivekananda. The absolute and manifestation. [completeworks2.pdf pages 113-123].

Swami Vivekananda. Practical Vedanta: Part 1. [completeworks2.pdf pages 238-251].



Swami Vivekananda. Practical Vedanta: Part 2. [completeworks2.pdf pages 252-266].

Swami Vivekananda. The freedom of the soul. [completeworks2.pdf pages 160-170].

Chandogya Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 26-39].



Kena Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 40-43].

Swami Vivekananda. Maya and illusion. [completeworks2.pdf pages 80-92].

Swami Vivekananda. Maya and the evolution of the conception of God. [completeworks2.pdf pages 93-103].

Swami Vivekananda. Maya and freedom. [completeworks2.pdf pages 104-112].



Taittiriya Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 44-51].

Swami Vivekananda. The cosmos: the macrocosm. [completeworks2.pdf pages 171-177].

Swami Vivekananda. The cosmos: the microcosm. [completeworks2.pdf pages 178-188].



Aitareya Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 52-55].

Swami Vivekananda. Immortality. [completeworks2.pdf pages 189-197].

Swami Vivekananda. The Vedanta in all its phases. [completeworks3.pdf pages 265-287].



Swami Vivekananda. Realisation. [completeworks2.pdf pages 133-148].

Swami Vivekananda. Unity in diversity. [completeworks2.pdf pages 149-159].

Katha Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 56-64].



Swami Vivekananda. The real nature of man. [completeworks2.pdf pages 66-79].

Swami Vivekananda. God in everything. [completeworks2.pdf pages 124-132].

Isa Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 65-66].


Prasna Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 67-73].

Swami Vivekananda. The Atman. [completeworks2.pdf pages 198-209].

Swami Vivekananda. The Atman: Its bondage and freedom. [completeworks2.pdf pages 210-216].


Mundaka Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 74-79].

Swami Vivekananda. The real and the apparent man. [completeworks2.pdf pages 217-236].


Mandukya Upanishad. [10upanishads.pdf pages 80-81].

Swami Vivekananda. The Vedanta. [completeworks3.pdf pages 322-353].



Bhagavad-Gita. [bhagavadgita.pdf]



Swami Vivekananda. Reply to the address of welcome at Ramnad. [completeworks3.pdf pages 126-134].

Swami Vivekananda. The sages of India. [completeworks3.pdf pages 208-223].

Swami Vivekananda. Vedanta in its application to Indian life. [completeworks3.pdf pages 193-207].

(Updated 15 Aug 2018)

The eight files that include all the above readings may be downloaded using the links below:

Venkat R. Krishnan,
Aug 14, 2018, 6:15 PM
Venkat R. Krishnan,
Aug 14, 2018, 6:15 PM
Venkat R. Krishnan,
Aug 14, 2018, 6:15 PM
Venkat R. Krishnan,
Aug 14, 2018, 6:15 PM
Venkat R. Krishnan,
Aug 14, 2018, 6:14 PM
Venkat R. Krishnan,
Aug 14, 2018, 6:13 PM
Venkat R. Krishnan,
Aug 14, 2018, 6:15 PM
Venkat R. Krishnan,
Aug 14, 2018, 6:15 PM