The Science of Upaniṣads – Conclusion

It is now time for us to conclude. We studied all the eleven most important Upaniṣads belonging to the corpus of spiritual thoughts of India, spanning over many centuries or even millennia. Innumerable studies and interpretations of the Upaniṣads had already taken place in different periods, in the past.

Our study, however, is different from all these conventional ones in that our focus was on unraveling the rational thoughts which are presented in the Upaniṣads with mythological encryption. We decoded all such encryptions and reached the pure rational conceptions within. And, what did we see? The finest and the most sublime discovery that mankind has ever made on the existence of universe; it is the concept of Ātmā, the ultimate of all that exists. We found that Ātmā is only a principle, the constitution of which is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA. This principle is the driving force and the ruler of the whole universe. Any movement occurring anywhere in the universe is in furtherance of the urge impelled by this principle. In fact, SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA is only an abstraction of the manifold activities in the universe into three basic urges namely, (i) to exist, (ii) to know and express and (iii) to derive happiness; these urges are respectively SAT, CHIT and ĀNANDA, which when merged together, like various colours in sunlight, are known as SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA or Ātmā. We further saw that this Ātmā is the only God and Lord of all, pervading all, and without any sign or idol. Ātmā projects the phenomenal world by invoking its power of Prakṛti or Māyā. With Prakṛti invoked, Ātmā is called Puruṣa; the Prakṛti-Puruṣa combine is Brahma, which, on expansion, projects the universe.

To put specifically, our study identified i) the precise nature of Ātmā, Puruṣa, Prakṛti and Brahma, (ii) the subtle difference between Ātmā and Brahma, (iii) the fact that the principle of SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA is only an abstraction of all activities in the universe, (iv) the fact that Thalamus, the centre of consciousness within, is the Heart revealed in scriptures as location of Ātmā in beings, and above all, (v) the existence of consistency and mutual corroboration of thoughts in all the eleven Upaniṣads. It is these findings that make our study distinct from conventional interpretations done in the past by enlightened Sannyasins and learned scholars. We have unfailingly conformed to these findings, all through our study. We also took particular care in presenting the study in a logical format so as to facilitate easy understanding.

Perception of Ātmā as the only God and the only Lord is the fundamental spiritual philosophy of the Upaniṣads. It is not another spiritual philosophy, but the ultimate one. It is the science of spirituality; for, it is purely rational, not based on unfounded beliefs or blind faith. All other spiritual philosophies, moral codes, social laws and all are derivatives of this philosophy, often expressed with varying degrees of adulteration effected by dogmas.

If the rational spiritual philosophy of the Upaniṣads also finds practical expression as a religion, as is usual with any other spiritual philosophy, it must be known as the ‘Religion of the Upaniṣads’. What is now being practiced as the Hindu religion is only a highly corrupted version of this religion. Hindu religious practices have to undergo thorough reformation to live up to the most scientific spiritual philosophy of the world which constitutes their essence.

The religion of the Upaniṣads is the religion of ultimate freedom, a religion that promotes personal liberty. It does not require anybody to invariably follow a particular faith or to uphold any specified belief or to observe any prescribed rite or discipline; it is absolutely devoid of such demands and dictates. You are at liberty to ponder over whatever is preached to you and then accept only that which is felt reasonable; no dogmatism and no authoritarianism. This religion does not recognize the services of priests and mediators; it also does not recognize any differentiation between the God and the worshipper or between the leader and the follower. All is One; there is only ‘I’, all in One.

The religion of the Upaniṣads asserts the unity of origin and unity of essence of all beings. It is all about transcending the diversity of external appearances and characteristics and attaining to the unity of inner essence. The spirit of this inner equality makes it devoid of all kinds of discrimination and hatred. It is the universal religion. What it presently lacks is the proper dissemination of its principles. The effort to inculcate these principles in the minds of all has to start at the very stage of childhood. This is essential to illumine their future lives with positive values and broader vision of universal oneness.

All known religions possess various sets of prescriptions on rites and observances as a means to practice their distinct spiritual philosophy. These prescriptions mostly aim at appeasing the God of their perception, for favors of physical well-being. This appeasement is made by singing praises to that God, visualized in human form, and by offering presents in the form of money, gold, and other valuables; this is akin to bribing some power-wielding, greedy mortals for securing protection and favors. In contrast, Religion of the Upaniṣads does not approve of this notion of appeasement. For, it does not consider God as a glorified being in human form, amenable to appeasement and inclined to deliver favors in return; moreover, it does not recognize acquisition and arrogation of physical possessions as a goal of spiritual pursuit. The religion of the Upaniṣads, on the other hand, holds that durable happiness is obtained only by living the life in conformity with the principle of Ātmā. An action that is in conformity with this principle is known as puṇya karma and the opposite as pāpa karma. When a puṇya karma is done, the doer feels contented and enriched, since it resonates well with his inherent essence which is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA. On the other hand, when a pāpa karma is done, the doer is upset internally as it is repugnant to his very essence. This contradiction between the inner essence and the outer expression throws him into a chaos which diminishes his strength and culminates in his total ruin. In the social front, when pāpa karmas become rampant threatening the peace and well-being of the society, the ultimate ruling principle, SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA, intervenes by churning out sufficient opposite forces to contain the adverse impacts and to finally assert itself. This is what Gīta says ‘saṃbhavāmi yuge yuge’ (4.8). Pāpa karmas are like obstructions to the natural flow of water in a river; when they reach an intolerable level, water musters sufficient force and thrashes away all the obstructions with a violent sweep.
All self-centered pursuits for physical yields will end up in retaliation and entanglements. Only by abiding by the principle of Ātmā that one can secure hassle-free, durable happiness. We should, therefore, get enlightened about that principle. That is why Upaniṣads say that only by knowing the Ātmā one can attain bliss. Gīta prescribes this knowing as the only one goal deserving to be pursued, not too many, as would be the case with physical benefits (Gīta 2.41 to 2.44).

Everybody knows that we are not isolated beings here; we are part of a magnificent whole. We consist of all that is here; we together constitute the whole. Therefore, our happiness is the happiness of the whole; we have no separate happiness. As such, we have to work for the happiness of the whole; our happiness is involved in that happiness. All our actions should comply with this understanding. This is the practical implication of being in conformity with the principle of Ātmā.

We have already seen that ‘knowing’ Ātmā, according to Upaniṣads, is not simply understanding; it is but experiencing also. Then, the question is how to experience it. Actually, we are always experiencing Ātmā; but we don’t recognize that fact. We enjoy pudding, laddu, etc. Sugar is the main constituent in them; without sugar, there is no pudding and no laddu. Because of ignorance of this truth, we don’t recognize that we are enjoying the sweetness of sugar. We simply say, “O, the pudding is good” or “laddu is good”. We don’t say that we have known the sweetness of sugar. Experiencing sugar is achieved by recognizing its presence and consciously feeling it. Like this, experiencing Ātmā is achieved by recognizing it in everything and consciously feeling it. This state of conscious feeling is achieved by meditation.

Having already known what Ātmā is, we are now concerned with meditation. It is really the lone spiritual practice under the Religion of Upaniṣads, apart from gaining simple knowledge about Ātmā. We shall see here how it can be done; this is only a model, not an inviolable prescription.

In a peaceful place and time, sit erect on a firm seat with the legs folded and hands placed on the thighs. The intention is to sit in a very comfortable posture. Close the eyes; concentrate on the upper tip of the nose between eye-brows; slowly move the attention backward horizontally to touch the cross line that passes through the head at level with the ears. It is approximately at this point the Thalamus or the Heart which is the center of consciousness within the body is situated. Thalamus has two halves of bulb-shaped masses, each half having a length of about 3 cm. Praśna says that to this Heart, 101 main nerves are connected, out of which one projects upward. Each of these 101 nerves branches into 7.2 million secondary and tertiary nerves. The heart is the center of consciousness, the light of Ātmā; from the Heart consciousness spreads to all parts of the body through nerves. Concentrate attention on the Heart and feel the flow of consciousness from the Heart to all parts of the body, like water from a perennial spring. Contemplate that every cell of the body is filled with the splendor of pure consciousness and that the whole body is drenched in it. Feel as being inundated with that splendor. Remain in this position as long as possible; it will refresh you with new energy. By constant practice, you will feel like being in that splendor constantly. While being in that position you will have no more prayers to be made to any external agent; for, in this state, there is no ‘another’ to pray to. Your prayers will, therefore, be converted into wills. You may anything to be done.

What we saw here is only a beginning. Constant practice will stabilize you in the splendor of consciousness. This is the highest goal of the Religion of Upaniṣads; such identification with Ātmā makes one immortal. Though the instances of reaching that goal are very rare, we should not abstain or discontinue. Any effort, however small it may be, will be helpful in bringing about inner enrichment to a proportionate level; it takes us closer and closer to the ultimate principle. Moreover, such efforts never produce an opposite effect; there is also nothing to lose by discontinuance (Gīta 2.40).

What we have seen above is the two facets of spiritual enlightenment, social and individual. That means, spirituality guides man to live a meaningful and ideal social life, on the one hand, and on the other, it enriches him to attain to the highest state of being.

Transformation of prayers into wills is exemplified by the Peace Invocations (Śānti Mantras) of Upaniṣads; no Deva or Lord is addressed therein for securing anything. The only exception is the Upaniṣads under Atharva Veda, namely Praśna, Muṇḍaka and Māṇḍūkya; note that Atharva is a later compilation. Śānti Mantras appear at the beginning and end of the Upaniṣads. The same Śānti Mantra appears in all the Upaniṣads under a particular Veda. Since Yajerveda has two branches, namely the Kṛṣṇa and Śukla Yajurvedas, separate Śānti Mantras are used in each of them. Thus there are five important Śānti Mantras; we shall have a look at them all.

Let us first see the Śānti Mantra of Aitareya Upaniṣad, the only Principal Upaniṣad under Ṛgveda.

ॐ वाङ्मे मनसि प्रतिष्ठिता | मनो मे वाचि प्रतिष्ठितम् | आविराविर्म एधि | वेदस्य म आणीस्थः| श्रुतं मे मा प्रहासीरनेनाधीतेनाहोरात्रान् संदधामि | ऋतं वदिष्यामि सत्यं वदिष्यामि | तन्मामवतु तद्वक्तारमवतु | अवतु मां अवतु वक्तारं अवतु वक्तारम् ||

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

vāṅme manasi pratiṣṭhitā; mano me vāci pratiṣṭhitaṃ; āvirāvirma edhi; vedasya ma
āṇīsthaḥ; śrutaṃ me mā prahāsīranenādhītenāhorātrān saṃdadhāmi; ṛtaṃ vadiṣyāmi satyaṃ vadiṣyāmi; tanmāmavatu tadvaktāramavatu; avatu māṃ avatu vaktāraṃ avatu vaktāram.

om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

Word Meaning: vāk- speech (utterance); me- my; manasi- in mind; pratiṣṭhitā- established; manaḥ- mind; vāci- in speech; pratiṣṭhitaṃ- established; āvis- evident, manifest; āvirāvis- more and more evident; ma- to me; edhi- enlarged, more clarified or apparent; vedasya- of Veda, of learning; ma- to me, my; āṇī- instruments, means, agents; sthaḥ- (you two) are; śrutaṃ- whatever learned; me- to me; mā- not; prahāsīḥ- be lost; anenādhītena- by that learning; ahorātrān- day and night; saṃdadhāmi- I shall unite; ṛtaṃ- SAT, the ruling principle of the world; vadiṣyāmi – I shall speak of; satyaṃ Satyam; tat- that; mām- me; avatu- may protect; vaktāram- the expounder, teacher; avatu māṃ – may I be protected; avatu vaktāraṃ – may the teacher be protected.
śāntiḥ- peace, calmness.

Mantra Meaning: My speech (utterance) is established in my mind; my mind is established in my speech. (May everything) be more and more evident and clarified to me. (O, speech, and mind), you two are my instruments for learning. May what I have learned to be never lost. I shall unite day and night by that learning. I shall speak of SAT and Satyam; May that protect me and the teacher. May I be protected; may the teacher be protected.

The Mantra states that the mind and the speech are established in each other. What one speaks is what there is in his mind; what there is in one’s mind is what he learned by repeated recitation (by speech). This is the implication of the statement. It is obvious here that mind and speech are the instruments of learning. It is through them that one acquires correct and clarified knowledge. The prayer seeks that the acquired knowledge is never lost. The phrase ‘uniting day and night by the learning’ implies perseverance and constant effort throughout day and night. Ṛtaṃ is SAT which indicates Ātmā, the ruling principle of the universe; Satyam indicates, as we know, Brahma. ‘I shall speak of Ṛtaṃ and Satyam’ means ‘I shall study Ātmā and Brahma’. ‘May that protects’ implies ‘may such study’ protect. Upaniṣads repeatedly declare that knowing Ātmā and Brahma makes one immortal. This declaration relies in this Mantra.

Śānti is peace or calmness of mind obtained by alleviation of miseries; the word is repeated three times aiming to alleviate all the three kinds of miseries affecting humans.

The next Mantra is seen in Upaniṣads belonging to Śukla Yajurveda; Īśa and Bṛhadāraṇyaka are the two Principal Upaniṣads which use this Mantra.

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते | पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते||

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

om pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidaṃ pūrṇātpūrṇamudacyate; pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate.

om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

Word Meaning: pūrṇam- Pūrṇam, that which is full, complete, absolute, saturated, whole, ultimate; adaḥ- that; idaṃ- this; pūrṇāt- from Pūrṇam; udacyate- emitted out; pūrṇasya- to the Pūrṇam; ādāya- having taken, having merged; pūrṇameva- Pūrṇam alone; avaśiṣyate- be left out, remains.

Mantra Meaning: That is Pūrṇam, this is Pūrṇam. Pūrṇam emerges from Pūrṇam. Pūrṇam on having merged to Pūrṇam, remains as Pūrṇam alone.

This Mantra, though short in size, actually presents one of the important basic tenets of Upaniṣadic philosophy. Upaniṣads say that this universe emerged from the ultimate principle, Ātmā and that it will finally merge into Ātmā. In other words, the universe is only an expression of Ātmā. It is well settled that Ātmā is absolute, ultimate and the whole; that means it is Pūrṇam. The words ‘that’ and ‘this’ in the Mantra indicate worldly objects there and here or far and near. All worldly objects are said to be body parts of Ātmā; they are manifestations of Ātmā. They are pervaded by Ātmā; they are actually Ātmā itself appearing in those forms. So, both are Pūrṇam; ‘that’ and ‘this’ are Pūrṇam. They emerged from Ātmā, the Pūrṇam; from Pūrṇam, only Pūrṇam can come out. So, it is said: ‘pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate’. What happens if all these merge into Ātmā? It will remain as such, as Pūrṇam only. Hence the Mantra declaration, “pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate” (Pūrṇam on having merged to Pūrṇam, remains as Pūrṇam alone).
Now we go to the next Mantra which is seen in Upaniṣads belonging to Samaveda (Kena and Chāndogya). This Mantra is an expression of an earnest wish to become one with Brahma.

ॐ आप्यायन्तु ममाङ्गानि वाक्प्राणश्चक्षुःश्रोत्रमथो बलमिन्द्रियाणि च सर्वाणि।

सर्वं ब्रह्मोपनिषदं माऽहं ब्रह्म निराकुर्यां मा मा ब्रह्म निराकरोद् अनिराकरणमस्तु अनिराकरणं मेऽस्तु। तदात्मनि निरते य उपनिषत्सु धर्मास्ते मयि सन्तु ते मयि सन्तु।

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥

Oṃ āpyāyantu mamāṅgāni vākprāṇaścakṣuḥ śrotramatho balamindriyāṇi ca sarvāṇi;

sarvam brahmaupaniṣadam mā’haṃ brahma nirākuryāṃ mā mā brahma nirākarodanirākaraṇamastvanirākaraṇam me’stu. tadātmani nirate ya upaniṣatsu dharmāste mayi santu te mayi santu.

oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ.

Word Meaning: āpyāyantu- may be(come) strong, powerful; mama- my; aṅgāni- body parts; vāk- speech; prāṇa- breath; cakṣuḥ- eyes; śrotram- ears; athaḥ- and, further; balam-stamina; indriyāṇi- senses; ca- and; sarvāṇi- all; sarvam- all this; brahma- Brahma; upaniṣadam- declared in the Upaniṣads; ma- not; aham- I; nirākaroti- negate, separate off; mā’haṃ brahma nirākuryāṃ – may I not negate Brahma; mā mā brahma nirākarot – may Brahma not separate me off; anirākaraṇam- non-negation; astu- may there be; me- to me; tat- that; ātmani- within; nirate- attached, linger; ya- ye- which; upaniṣatsu- in Upaniṣads; dharmaḥ- ordinances, principles; te- they; mayi- in me; santu- may there be.

Mantra Meaning: May my body parts are strong; may my speech, breath, eyes, ears, stamina and all senses be powerful. All this (present here) is Brahma declared in the Upaniṣads. May I do not negate (defy) Brahma; may Brahma not negate me. May there be non-negation; may there be non-negation to me; may that (non-negation) linger within (me). May the ordinances of Upaniṣads be always present in me.

The first yearning in this Mantra is for a strong body; this is because, without a strong and healthy body, a sustained pursuit of the ultimate knowledge is not feasible. The second yearning is that there may not be any mutual negation of Brahma and the current seeker. This implies his earnest desire to be one with Brahma; he wants that this desire must constantly reverberate within him. Finally, he wants to bear in mind all the ordinances of the Upaniṣads; for, these ordinances are leading lights in the pursuit of spiritual realization.

We shall now see the Mantra that is found in Upaniṣads of Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda. It expresses a wish jointly made by the disciple and the master. They want the process of learning and teaching to be a smooth one without room for any prejudices. See the Mantra below:

ॐ सह नाववतु | सह नौ भुनक्तु | सह वीर्यं करवावहै | तेजस्विनावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥

Oṃ saha nāvavatu; saha nau bhunaktu; saha vīryaṃ karavāvahai; tejasvi nāvadhītamastu mā vidviṣāvahai.

Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ.

Word Meaning: saha- together; nāvavatu – nau + avatu; nau- both of us; avatu- may be impelled, promoted, protected; bhunaktu- may be hungry; vīryaṃ- energy; karavāvahai- may we utilise; tejasvi- brilliant; adhītam- learning; astu- may it be; mā- not; vidviṣāvahai- may we cause to dislike each other.

Mantra Meaning: May both of us be impelled together; may we be hungry together. May we utilize our energy together. May our learning be brilliant; may we both not cause any dislike to each other.

The teacher and the student pray for being motivated together and for being hungry together. Motivation is for study; hunger is for imparting/receiving knowledge. To achieve this goal, they have to utilize their energy together. Such united effort is essential to ensure a brilliant output. Finally, the process of learning should not result in mutual dislike. There is a possibility of dislike in the absence of simultaneous inspiration and joint effort; that justifies the beginning part of the Mantra.

The last of the popular Śānti Mantras in the Upaniṣads is given below; it is found in Upaniṣads belonging to Atharva Veda. This Mantra is different from those given above, in that the prayers here are directed to various Devas.

ॐ भद्रं कर्णेभिः श्रुणुयाम देवाः भद्रं पश्येमाक्षभिर्यजत्राः|
स्थिरैरङ्गैस्तुष्टुवांसस्तनूभिः व्यशेम देवहितं यदायुः।
स्वस्ति न इन्द्रो वृद्धश्रवाः स्वस्ति नः पूषा विश्ववेदाः।
स्वस्ति नस्तार्क्ष्यो अरिष्टनेमिः स्वस्ति नो बृहस्पतिर्दधातु |
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥

auṃ bhadraṃ karṇebhiḥ śruṇuyāma devāḥ bhadraṃ paśyemākṣabhiryajatrāḥ;
sthirairaṅgaistuṣṭuvāṃsastanūbhiḥ vyaśema devahitam yadāyuḥ;
svasti na indro vṛddhaśravāḥ svasti naḥ pūṣā viśvavedāḥ;
svasti nastārkṣyo ariṣṭanemiḥ svasti no bṛhaspatirdadhātu.
auṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ.

Word Meaning: bhadraṃ- auspicious, excellent; karṇebhiḥ- by ears; śruṇuyāma- may we hear; devāḥ- Devas; paśyema- may we see; akṣabhiḥ- by the eyes; yajatrāḥ- worshipful ones; sthirairaṅgaiḥ- (sthiraiḥ + aṅgaiḥ) with determined mind; tuṣṭuvāṃsastanūbhiḥ- with a satisfied or healthy body; vyaśema- spend, consume; devahitam- allotted or assigned by Devas; yadāyuḥ- life as (alloted); svasti- blessing, prosperity; naḥ- to us; indraḥ- Indra; vṛddhaśravāḥ- ancient glory; pūṣā- Pūṣa (the great nourisher); viśvavedāḥ- all-knowing; tārkṣyaḥ- Garuda; ariṣṭanemiḥ- one who wards off evils; bṛhaspatiḥ- Bṛhaspati (Lord of prayer); dadhātu- bestow.

Mantra Meaning: O Devas, may we hear the auspicious with our ears. O worshipful ones, may we see the auspicious with our eyes. May we spend our lifetime allotted by Devas, with a determined mind and healthy body. May Indra, the ancient glory and Pūṣa the all-knowing, Garuda, the one who wards of evils, and Bṛhaspati bestow blessings on us.

Finally, we shall look into a comment made by some readers regarding the oldness of Upaniṣads mentioned in the introduction to this series. They objected to specifying the period of the ten most ancient Upaniṣads to be between 1500 BC and 600 BC. Their reason was that Upaniṣads are divine (apauruṣeya) and their age cannot be so specified. In this regard, it is to be clarified that all knowledge is apauruṣeya; even the simple arithmetic “2 + 2 = 4” is so. This is because such knowledge is not the invention of any particular individual; it is only a discovery by some person at some point in time. The time of such discovery is what we give as the date of that piece of knowledge. It may be seen that each sukta in the Veda Samhita is known in the name of some renowned Sage. Upaniṣads also are mostly presented as expounded by some Ṛsis. As such, there is nothing wrong in mentioning the period of the revelation of the Upaniṣads. The dispute exists only in respect of the correctness of the period assigned.

It is clear from the above facts that nobody has any proprietary or tenancy right over any knowledge. Spiritual knowledge, like any other knowledge, is a universal property and every person has the right of access to and utilization of that property. Let everybody realize this fact and come forward to get enriched in the exercise of that right. It is everybody’s right and duty to acquire knowledge and rise up to the ultimate awakening. For, peaceful co-existence demands it.

The Science of Upaniṣads

Brihadaranyaka Upaniṣad

Chāndogya Upaniṣad

Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad

Kaṭha Upaniṣad

Kena Upaniṣad

Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad

Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad

Aitareya Upaniṣad

Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad

Praśna Upaniṣad

Taittirīya Upaniṣad, author Karthikeyan Sreedharan

Taittirīya Upaniṣad

Taittirīya Upaniṣad consists of three discourses of Taittirīya Āraṇyaka which belongs to Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda. The focal areas in this Upaniṣad are rules of conduct and nature of Brahma. Popular instructions like ‘Satyaṃ vada, dharmaṃ cara; mātṛdevo bhava, pitṛdevo bhava; etc. are contributions of this Upaniṣad.

In this article which is ninth in the series ‘The Science of Upaniṣads’, we study the explications on these two topics, namely, the nature of Brahma and the instructions on the rules of conduct. The text of this Upaniṣad is divided into three chapters (Valli) which are again divided into passages (Anuvāka) and verses. A verse is identified by the chapter number, passage, number and verse number. For example, the third verse of second passage in the first chapter is written as 1.2.3.

As you know, we are concerned with only the rational thoughts which bear consistency with the spiritual philosophy universally propounded in the Upaniṣads. This takes us directly to verse 1.6.1 which contains a very decisive exposition of the seating of the Puruṣa in the inner Heart. See the extract from the verse below:

स य एषोഽन्तर्हृदय आकाशः तस्मिन्नयं पुरुषो मनोमयः अमृतो हिरण्मयः अन्तरेण तालुके य एष स्तन इवावलंबते सेन्द्रयोनिः यत्रासौ केशान्तो विवर्तते व्यपोह्य शीर्षकपाले …… || 1.6.1 ||

sa ya eṣontarhṛdaya ākāśaḥ tasminnayaṃ puruṣo manomayaḥ amṛto hiraṇmayaḥ antareṇa tāluke ya eṣa stana ivāvalaṃbate sendrayoniḥ yatrāsau keśānto vivartate vyapohya śīrṣakapāle …….. (1.6.1)

Word meaning: sa ya eṣa ākāśaḥ – that which is the Ākāśaḥ (one of the five fundamental elements); antarhṛdaya- antarhṛdaye – within the Heart; tasmin- in it; ayaṃ- that; puruṣaḥ- Puruṣa; manomayaḥ- consisting of mind (not material), incorporeal; amṛtaḥ- immortal; hiraṇmayaḥ- of golden effulgence; antareṇa- within, amidst, in the middle of; tāluke– palate; ya eṣa stana avalaṃbate – that which hangs down as a nipple (Uvula); iva- like, resembling; sa- it; indrayoniḥ- seat of Indra or seat of the Supreme Being; yatra- where; asau- that; keśānto- tuft of hair; vivartate- expand, come forth from; vyapohya- keeping off, not crossing; śīrṣakapāle- in the skull.

Verse meaning: That Puruṣa is in the Ākāśaḥ within the Heart; he is incorporeal, immortal and effulgent. That which resembles ‘palate with Uvula hanging down in the middle’ is the seat of the Supreme Being; from this seat, a tuft of hairs comes forth and extends to the skull (without crossing it).

We are familiar with the assertion that Puruṣa is in the Heart and that he is incorporeal, immortal and effulgent. The second part explains what that Heart looks like. The seat of the Supreme Being (or the Heart) is compared here with ‘palate with hanging Uvula’. We have previously seen that the Heart depicted as the seat of Puruṣa is not the heart of blood circulation, but the Thalamus. The comparison made here fits very well with Thalamus which consists of two symmetrical halves joined in the middle by a median. This median is the Uvula in the comparison and the two halves are two parts of the palate on either side of Uvula. Further, the tuft of hairs spreading out to the skull indicates ‘nerve fibers projecting out to the cerebral cortex in all directions’. We have already studied about the main nerve originating from the Heart, going upwards and spreading in all directions (vide 8.6.6 of Chāndogya, 6.16 of Kaṭha, 3.7 of Praśna and 2.1.19 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka). Now, this verse of Taittirīya takes our understanding of the inner Heart to further precision.

Let us now move on to the most popular part of this Upaniṣad. It is in the eleventh Anuvāka of the first chapter. Please see the first verse of the Anuvāka below:

वेदमनूच्य आचार्योഽन्तेवासिनं अनुशास्ति | सत्यं वद | धर्मं चर | स्वाध्यायान्मा प्रमदः | आचार्याय प्रियं धनमाहृत्य प्रजातन्तुं मा व्यवच्छेत्सीः | सत्यान्न प्रमदितव्यम् | धर्मान्न प्रमदितव्यम् | कुशलान्न प्रमदितव्यम् | भूत्यै न प्रमदितव्यम् | स्वाध्यायप्रवचनाभ्यां न प्रमदितव्यं || 1.11.1 ||

vedamanūcya ācāryoഽntevāsinaṃ anuśāsti. satyaṃ vada. dharmaṃ cara. svādhyāyānmā pramadaḥ. acāryāya priyaṃ hanamāhṛtya prajātantuṃ mā vyavacchetsīḥ. satyānna pramaditavyam. dharmānna pramaditavyam, kuśalānna pramaditavyam. bhūtyai na pramaditavyam. svādhyāyapravacanābhyāṃ na pramaditavyam (1.11.1).

Word meaning: vedamanūcya= well-versed in Veda (Scriptures); ācārya- Ācārya, teacher, preceptor; antevāsinaṃ- pupil (who dwells with the teacher for education); anuśāsti- instructs; satyaṃ- Satyam; vada- speak; dharmaṃ- Dharma; cara- adhere to, observe; svādhyāyāt= from self-study (of Scriptures); mā- not; pramadaḥ- stay away; acāryāya- for the teacher; priyaṃ- as desired; dhanam- wealth; āhṛtya- having fetched; prajātantuṃ- succession of progeny; mā- not; vyavacchetsīḥ- cut off; satyāt- from Satyam; na- not; pramaditavyam- to be swerved; dharmāt- from Dharma; kuśalāt- from welfare; bhūtyai- from wealth; svādhyāyapravacanābhyāṃ- from self-study and teaching.

Verse meaning: The Ācārya, who is well-versed in Scriptures, instructs his pupil, “Speak Satyam (that which has Sat – truth), adhere to Dharma, never stay away from self-study (of Scriptures). After securing and presenting the money desired by the Ācārya, engage in ensuring the continuance of your race (don’t swerve from having wife and children). Never swerve from Satyam, from Dharma, from welfare, from wealth and also from self-study and teaching”.

The entire Anuvāka, 1.11, constitutes instructions given by the Ācārya to his pupils, probably at the conclusion of the studies; this must, therefore, be a convocation address. The Ācārya instructs his pupils about how their future conduct should be. The first instruction is to speak Satyam and follow Dharma. We have already seen what Satyam is. It is that which is supported by Sat; this is why Satyam survives (Satyameva jayate – Muṇḍaka 3.1.6). Along with its own survival, Satyam saves its speaker and the person who stands by it from ruin; for, such persons get enriched in internal strength which is an essential factor for successful life. The others naturally face degeneration. Accordingly, Satyam is regarded as an act of Dharma.

What is Dharma? The word Dharma indicates that which maintains, preserves, supports, upholds or possesses. So, any Karma that caters to maintaining, preserving or supporting the universe as a whole is referred to as Dharma. We know that the ultimate energy that maintains, preserves and supports the universe is the Ātmā. So, Dharma must be that Karma which conforms to the principle of Ātmā, namely SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA. Consequently, Dharma is that Karma that ensures existence, knowing & expression and happiness. A blanket classification of Karmas into Dharma and Adharma is not advisable. We cannot classify Karmas like charity, speaking the truth, respecting elders, abstention from stealing, killing and other violence, etc. as Dharma; similarly, karmas like killing, wounding, saying lies etc. cannot be classified as Adharma. Sometimes, these Karmas may happen to be Dharma. For example, a soldier’s killing of an enemy is Dharma and a doctor operating upon a patient to save his life is also an act of Dharma, though it involves causing pain. A golden rule in this regard is this: ‘whatever we do should bring good to the world’.

In Gīta verses 1.28 to 1.46 we see Arjuna lamenting about infringement of various kinds of Dharma that, he fears, he would commit to the impending war. Citing this apprehension as a reason, this mighty, formidable warrior decides to withdraw from the war. The throne and the pleasures attendant to it lure him no more if securing them involves the killing of own relatives, Gurus and patriarchs. Instead of killing them, he prefers to be killed by them, even while being unarmed. Such is his concern for the protection of various types of Dharma of his understanding, according to which, killing of relatives, Gurus and patriarchs is an absolute breach of Dharma. Arjuna fears that divine retribution for breach of Dharma would befall on him, if, in the course of the war, he kills them. But Kṛṣṇa advises him against this understanding of Dharma. Expostulating against all such misunderstandings, Kṛṣṇa exhorts Arjuna to comply with only his instructions, which would assuredly ward off all feared retributions (Gīta 18.66). And what was the core of Kṛṣṇa’s instructions? One must do Karma for the good of the world, without any attachment, without any selfish designs and without any concern about the nature of the result. A Karma that brings good to the world is what Dharma really is. We cannot therefore blindly brand some acts as Dharma and others as Adharma; all depends upon the context and purpose.

Another important advice is that one should not refrain from having a family, from earning wealth and from securing welfare. Renouncing these things is not seen a virtue here; even the Ācārya wants money. The instruction here is that one may engage in these things, but while doing so, he should not breach Dharma and Satyam.

Now, let us move on to the next verse:

देवपितृकार्याभ्यां न प्रमदितव्यम् | मातृदेवो भव | पितृदेवो भव | अचार्यदेवो भव | अतिथिदेवो भव | यान्यनवद्यानि कर्माणि | तानि सेवितव्यानि | नो इतराणि | यान्यस्माकं सुचरितानि | तानि त्वयोपास्यानि | नो इतराणि || 1.11.2 ||

devapitṛkāryābhyāṃ na pramaditavyam. mātṛdevo bhava. pitṛdevo bhava. ācāryadevo bhava. atithidevo bhava. yānyanavadyāni karmāṇi. tāni sevitavyāni. no itarāṇi. yānyasmākaṃ sucaritāni. tāni tvayopāsyāni. no itarāṇi (1.11.2).

Word meaning: devapitṛkāryābhyāṃ- from the duties to devas and parents; na- not; pramaditavyam- to be swerved; mātṛ- mother; devaḥ- deva; bhava- be (to you); pitṛ- father; ācārya- Ācārya, preceptor; atithi- guest, visitor (to your residence); yānyanavadyāni- whatever faultless, unobjectionable; karmāṇi- Karmas; tāni- they; sevitavyāni- to be practised; no- na u – not on the other hand; itarāṇi- others; yāni- whatever; asmākaṃ- our, ours; sucaritāni- good, virtuous; tāni- they; tvayā- by you; upāsyāni- to be resorted to, to be observed.

Verse meaning: Don’t swerve away from the duties to devas and parents. To you, may your mother, father, Ācārya, and guest be devas. You must do only unobjectionable Karmas, not others. You follow only the virtuous acts of ours, not vicious ones.

Devas here are to be understood as beings bestowed with effulgence by way of their superior characteristics and qualities which command adoration. The present advice is to see mother, father, teacher and guest as devas. Another important instruction is that one should not follow his teacher blindly; he has to discern the good deeds of the teacher and consider only such deeds as a model to follow, not others.

The next two verses are connected with each other, in content, and therefore we shall study them together.

ये के चास्मच्छ्रेयांसो ब्राह्मणाः | तेषाम् त्वया आसनेन प्रश्वसितव्यम् | श्रद्धया देयम् | अश्रद्धयाഽदेयम् | श्रिया देयम् | ह्रिया देयम् | भिया देयम् | संविदा देयम् | अथ यदि ते कर्मविचिकित्सा वा | वृत्तविचिकित्सा वा स्यात् || 1.11.3 ||

ye ke cāsmacchreyāṃso brāhmaṇāḥ. teṣām tvayā āsanena praśvasitavyam. śraddhayā deyam. aśraddhayāഽdeyam. śriyā deyam. hriyā deyam. bhiyā deyam. saṃvidā deyam. atha yadi te karmavicikitsā vā. vṛttavicikitsā vā syāt (1.11.3).

Word meaning: ye ke ca – whoever; asmat- from among us; śreyāṃsaḥ- superior, more distinguished; brāhmaṇāḥ- brāhmaṇas, learned ones, scholars; teṣām- of them; tvayā- by you; āsanena- by (giving) seats; praśvasitavyam- breath to be recovered, fatigue to be removed; śraddhayā- willingly; deyam- to be given (by way of charity); aśraddhayā adeyam – not to be given unwillingly; śriyā- according to wealth; hriyā- with modesty, without any pretension; bhiyā- with fear (of being recognised), secretly, in privacy; saṃvidā- from own possession or acquisition; atha- now; yadi- if; te- to you; karmavicikitsā- doubt or uncertainty about Karma; vā- or; vṛttavicikitsā- doubt about conduct; syāt- be

Verse meaning: You should provide for the relaxation of the more distinguished scholars among us, by offering seats (and other services). When you give in charity, give it willingly, not unwillingly; give according to your wealth; give without any pretension; give in privacy and from own acquisition. If any doubt about Karma or conduct occurs to you, then, (continued in the next verse)

ये तत्र ब्राह्मणाः संमर्शिनः | युक्ता आयुक्ताः | अलूक्षा धर्मकामाः स्युः | यथा ते तत्र वर्तेरन् | तथा तत्र वर्तेथाः | अथाभ्याख्यातेषु | ये तत्र ब्राह्मणाः संमर्शिनः | युक्ता आयुक्ताः | अलूक्षा धर्मकामाः स्युः | यथा ते तत्र वर्तेरन् | तथा तत्र वर्तेथाः | एष आदेशः | एष उपदेशः | एषा वेदोपनिषत् | एतदनुशासनम् | एवमुपासितव्यम् | एवमु चैतदुपास्यम् || 1.11.4 ||

ye tatra brāhmaṇāḥ saṃmarśinaḥ. yuktā āyuktāḥ. alūkṣā dharmakāmāḥ syuḥ. yathā te tatra varteran. tathā tatra vartethāḥ. athābhyākhyāteṣu. ye tatra brāhmaṇāḥ saṃmarśinaḥ. yuktā āyuktāḥ. alūkṣā dharmakāmāḥ syuḥ. yathā te tatra varteran. tathā tatra vartethāḥ. eṣa ādeśaḥ. eṣa upadeśaḥ. eṣā vedopaniṣat. etadanuśāsanam. evamupāsitavyam. evamu caitadupāsyam (1.11.4).

Word meaning: ye- whoever; tatra- there; brāhmaṇāḥ- learned men; saṃmarśinaḥ- able to judge; yuktā- experienced; āyuktāḥ- connected (with the matter); alūkṣā- soft (easily approachable); dharmakāmāḥ- inclined to follow Dharma, with a disposition for it; syuḥ- be; yathā- how; te- they; tatra- there (in that context) varteran- behave, act; tathā- so, in that manner; tatra- there; vartethāḥ- behave, act; atha- now; abhyākhyāteṣu- in the case of false accusations; eṣa- this; ādeśaḥ- instruction; upadeśaḥ- advice; vedopaniṣat- secret of Vedas; etad- this; anuśāsanam- command; evam- thus; upāsitavyam- to be attended to; to be complied with; evam- thus; u- verily; ca- and; upāsyam- to be performed.

Verse meaning: (continued from the previous verse), If some learned men who are able to judge, experienced and well-versed in the matter and who are easily approachable and with a disposition to follow Dharma are present there, you must act in the way they act in similar context. In the case of false accusations also, you must act in the same way as those learned men act. This is the advice, the secret of Vedas; this is the command and it should be complied with. Perform your acts in accordance with this.

Here, in verses 1.11.3 & 1.11.4, the Ācārya continues his pieces of advice on the rules of conduct that his pupils should follow in life. Firstly, he impresses upon them to respect and serve learned men of esteem. Then, he tells them how Dāna (दान – giving charity) should be performed. When we give, we have to do it willingly and according to our resources. We should not give with a sense of self-importance or with much publicity. Most importantly, we should give from what we have earned by our own efforts. These are very important instructions on charity, which are very relevant for all ages. We have, in the present world, umpteen instances wherein charity is given with much fanfare, from ill-earned wealth which is secured from extraneous sources and for publicising own importance. There are also instances wherein the spending on publicity far exceeds the actual value of charity. In this context, we may also refer to Gīta verses 17.20 to 17.22 wherein Dāna is classified in accordance with the Guṇas.

Here ends the first chapter which is predominantly instructive in content; it is verily called Śikṣāvalli (शिक्षावल्लि). The next chapter is similarly known as Brahmavalli, as it deals with the nature of Brahma. Let us go to the first verse of the second chapter. The first part of this verse contains a very important declaration which stands out from the rest; therefore we take it separately.

ब्रह्मविदाप्नोति परम् | तदेषाഽभ्युक्ता | सत्यं ज्ञानं अनन्तं ब्रह्म | यो वेद निहितं गुहायां परमे व्योमन् | सोഽश्नुते सर्वान् कामान् सह ब्रह्मणा विपश्चितेति …… || 2.1.1 ||

brahmavidāpnoti param. tadeṣāഽbhyuktā. satyaṃ jñānaṃ anantaṃ brahma. yo veda nihitaṃ guhāyāṃ parame vyoman. soഽśnute sarvān kāmān saha brahmaṇā vipaściteti. (2.1.1)

Word meaning: brahmavid- the knower of Brahma; āpnoti- attains to; param- the Ultimate; tad- that; eṣā- thus; abhyuktā- declared with reference to; satyaṃ- Satyam; jñānaṃ- knowledge; anantaṃ- infinity; brahma- Brahma; yo- whoever; veda- knows; nihitaṃ- situated, located; parame guhāyāṃ- deep in the cavity; in the depth of the Heart; vyoman- space; saḥ- he; aśnute- realises, attains; sarvān- all; kāmān-desires; saha brahmaṇā – along with Brahma; vipaścit- the Omniscient; eti- approaches.

Verse meaning: The knower of Brahma attains to the Ultimate. With reference to that, it is declared thus: ‘Brahma is Satyam-Jñānam-Anantam. He, who knows the space situated in the depth of the Heart, attains all his desires; further, along with Brahma, he attains to the Omniscient.

In Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 3.2.9 we saw that he who knows Brahma becomes Brahma itself. Here it is stated that the knower of Brahma attains to the Ultimate. We know that the Ultimate is Ātmā; so the assertion here is that the knower of Brahma finally attains to Ātmā. The differentiation between the two is explained in the remaining part. It is stated that Brahma is Satyam-Jñānam-Anantam; in contrast to this, Ātmā is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA. There is a clear difference between the two. Satyam is the manifested form or derivative of SAT, as it is Asat sustained by SAT; similarly, Jñānam (Knowledge) is that of CHIT, since it is the result of the application of CHIT; and Anandam (infinity) is that of ĀNANDA vide Chāndogya 7.23.1 & 7.24.1. Chāndogya also says in 8.1.1 that in the Brahmapura (city of Brahma, which is simply the Heart) there is a small lotus chamber wherein there is a small space (Ākāśa) and what is there in that Ākāśa is to be sought after and realized. The expression ‘what is there in that Ākāśa’ evidently refers to
Ātmā. This small Ākāśa is such that all that exists outside exists therein too, obviously in an abstract form. This inner Ākāśa and the contents thereof constitute the Brahma. One who knows this Ākāśa goes further and attains to the Ultimate within; thus, after knowing Brahma he proceeds further and attains to the Omniscient Ātmā. This is what Taittirīya says here. We can see the same idea in Gīta 18.54 & 18.55, which assert that one who is absorbed in Brahma gets endowed with devotion to me (Ātmā) and with that devotion he knows Ātmā and finally attains to Ātmā.

Please note the statement that whatever exists in the outer Ākāśa exists in the inner Ākāśa also; it is further stated that the entity within the inner Ākāśa (which is nothing but Ātmā) is to be sought after and realized. The first statement implies the uninterrupted pervasion of the Ākāśa inside and outside, while the second implies the same of Ātmā.

In the remaining part of the verse, it is stated that from this Ātmā originated all the five basic elements, from which food got generated; from food, a man came into being. The phrase, ‘from this Ātmā’ is a sufficient indication that what was implied by ‘Ultimate’ and ‘Omniscient’ in the first part was definitely the Ātmā. Now see the second part of the verse below:

तस्माद्वा एतस्मादात्मन आकाशः संभूतः | आकाशाद्वायुः | वायोरग्निः | अग्नेरापः | अद्भ्यः पृथिवी | पृथिव्या ओषधयः | ओषधीभ्योഽन्नम् | अन्नात् पुरुषः | स वा एष पुरुषोഽन्नरसमयः ……. || 2.1.1 ||

tasmādvā etasmādātmana ākāśaḥ saṃbhūtaḥ; ākāśādvāyuḥ; vāyoragniḥ; agnerāpaḥ; adbhyaḥ pṛthivī; pṛthivyā oṣadhayaḥ; oṣadhībhyoഽnnam; annāt puruṣaḥ; sa vā eṣa puruṣoഽnnarasamayaḥ ……. (2.1.1)

Word meaning: tasmādvā etasmātdātmanaḥ – surely, from that which is this Ātmā; ākāśaḥ- Ākāśa; saṃbhūtaḥ- arose; ākāśāt- from Ākāśa; vāyuḥ- Vāyu; vāyoḥ- from Vāyu; agniḥ- Agni; agneḥ- from Agni; āpaḥ- Water; adbhyaḥ- from Water; pṛthivī- Earth; pṛthivyā- from Earth; oṣadhayaḥ- herbs; oṣadhībhyaḥ- from herbs; annam- food; annāt- from food; puruṣaḥ- Man; sa vā eṣa puruṣo – surely, he who is this Man; annarasamayaḥ- consists of the essence of food.

Verse meaning: Surely, from this Ātmā arose the Ākāśa; then Vāyu arose from Ākāśa and subsequently Agni from Vāyu, Water from Agni, Earth from Water, herbs from Earth and food from herbs. From food arose Man and so, Man consists of the essence of food (Annarasamaya).

The idea is very clear; no further explanation is deemed necessary. But, the expression ‘From food arose Man’ requires some clarification to facilitate easy grasping of the true spirit of the verse. It implies the nature of physical constitution of Man. The subtlest form of physical constitution of Man is admittedly a cell and it is from this he evolves into a full-fledged being. This subtlest form and also the grossest form that evolves therefrom are the essence of food only; the change in the physical constitution, from the subtle to the gross, comes from the essence of food consumed. This is why it is said that Man arose from food.

The cumulative assertion of this verse is that Annarasamaya Puruṣa is the physical expression of Ātmā. In the next verse (2.1.2) it is declared that within this physical expression, there is another expression of Ātmā, subtler than the physical and it is verily Prāṇamaya (consisting of Prāṇa). It pervades the Annarasamaya Puruṣa and therefore, it is Puruṣavidha (in the form of Puruṣa). See the relevant portion of the verse below:

… तस्माद्वा एतस्मादन्नरसमयात् | अन्योഽन्तर आत्मा प्राणमयः | तेनैष पूर्णः | स वा एष पुरुषविध एव ….|| 2.1.2||

… tasmādvā etasmādannarasamayāt; anyaoഽntara ātmā prāṇamayaḥ; tenaiṣa pūrṇaḥ; sa vā eṣa puruṣavidha eva

Word meaning: tasmādvā etasmādannarasamayāt – from this Annarasamaya (expression); anyaḥ- other; antara- within (subtler); ātmā- Ātmā; prāṇamayaḥ- Prāṇamaya (expression); tena- by that (by Prāṇamaya); eṣa- this (Annarasamaya); pūrṇaḥ- is filled; sa- he; vā- indeed; eṣa- this; puruṣavidha- in the form of Puruṣa; eva- surely.

Verse meaning: As given above.

It is a fact that Prāṇa acts in all parts of the body constituting Annarasamaya and is subtler in nature. Therefore Prāṇamaya expression is said to pervade Annarasamaya.

Within the Prāṇamaya expression, there exists another expression of Ātmā called Monomaya (consisting of Manas), vide verse 2.1.3. Manomaya expression is said to be subtler than Prāṇamaya, since Manas acts within the domain provided by the activity of Prāṇa. Similarly, since the activity of Manas extends to the entire expanse of that domain, Manomaya expression is said to pervade Prāṇamaya. For the same reason, Manomaya expression too is Puruṣavidha (in the form of Puruṣa) like Prāṇamaya expression. The next verse (2.1.4) similarly says about Vijñānamaya expression of Ātmā, which is subtler than Manomaya; it pervades the Manomaya expression and is consequently Puruṣavidha too. Vijñāna refers to Buddhi which is said to hold the rein of Manas. Obviously, its activity extends to areas where Manas is active. These are the reasons why Vijñānamaya expression is said to pervade Manomaya and to be subtler than it.

The subtlest expression of Ātmā is Ānandamaya (consisting of Ānanda or Bliss) (verse 2.1.5). It pervades the Vijñānamaya expression. Consequently, this expression too is declared to be Puruṣavidha. Buddhi is the discerning faculty of Antaḥkaraṇa; without it, pain or pleasure is not distinguished. That means Ānanda is experienced, exclusively where Buddhi is active. It is for this reason that Ānandamaya expression is said to pervade Vijñānamaya; for the same reason, it is subtler also.

It may be noted that only the Annarasamaya expression, which is purely physical in nature, is called Puruṣa here. All other expressions, progressively increasing in subtlety, are Puruṣavidha (in the form of Puruṣa) only. This is because all these subsequent expressions of Ātmā are confined within the physical expression of Annarasamaya, that is, within Puruṣa. This implies that the physical expression (the Annarasamaya expression) of Ātmā determines the basic individuality of a being; all others constitute a build-up thereon. When the physical expression is withdrawn, all the subtler ones existing thereupon are dissolved into their common source, the Ātmā. This is what has declared in Chāndogya 6.8.6 also. Bṛhadāraṇyaka verse 2.4.12 asserts that individuality is lost on the dissolution of the body.

It may be noted that, in the present verse, even if each of the subtle expressions is said to be within the previous ones, its area of expression is in no way reduced progressively on account of it, since it pervades all the previous ones. Each of these various expressions of Ātmā is known as sheath or kośa (कोश). Remember that each subtler kośa pervades the previous one; therefore kośas are not exclusive layers, not one interior or exterior to the other, contrary to what is conventionally understood by interpreters and depicted by means of concentric circles or ovals. The word ‘antara’ in the verse only indicates subtlety, not interiority, since it is specifically stated, in the case of each subtler kośa, that it pervades the previous one (tenaiṣa pūrṇaḥ).

Verse 2.6.1 opens with the declaration that he who knows Brahma as Asat (not existing), becomes so himself. The implication is that he goes after the physical pleasures and possessions. On the other hand, he who knows Brahma as SAT (existing) becomes known as SAT. But, to both of them, Brahma is the same; there is no difference except in the perception of individuals. Since Brahma is thus declared as the same for both of them, a question naturally arises as to where each of them goes after leaving from here. Do they go to different destinations? The answer is an indirect one; see it below:

… सोഽकामयत | बहु स्यां प्रजायेयेति | स तपोഽतप्यत | स तपस्तप्त्वा | इदं सर्वमसृजत | यदिदं किंच | तत्सृष्ट्वा तदेवानुप्रविशत् | तदनुप्रविश्य | सच्च त्यच्चाभवत् | निरुक्तं चानिरुक्तं च | निलयनं चानिलयनं च | विज्ञानं चाविज्ञानं च | सत्यं चानृतं च | सत्यमभवत् यदिदं किंच| तत् सत्यमित्याचक्षते | …… || 2.6.1 ||

… soഽkāmayata; bahu syāṃ prajāyeyeti, sa tapoഽtapyata; sa tapastaptvā; idaṃ sarvamasṛjata; yadidaṃ kiṃca; tatsṛṣṭvā tadevānupraviśat; tadanupraviśya; sacca tyaccābhavat; niruktaṃ cāniruktaṃ ca; nilayanaṃ cānilayanaṃ ca; vijñānaṃ cāvijñānaṃ ca; satyaṃ cānṛtaṃ ca; satyamabhavat yadidaṃ kiṃca; tat satyamityācakṣate ……. (2.6.1)

Word meaning: saḥ- he (Ātmā); akāmayata- willed; bahu syāṃ prajāyeyeti – may I become many through prajas; tapotapyata – did tapas; tapastaptvā by doing tapas; idaṃ sarvamasṛjata – brought forth all that is here; yadidaṃ kiṃca – whatever is here; tat- that; sṛṣṭvā- having brought forth; eva- verily; ānupraviśat- entered; tadanupraviśya – having entered that; sat- SAT; ca- and; tyat; Asat; abhavat- became; niruktaṃ- defined; aniruktaṃ- undefined; nilayanaṃ- abode; anilayanaṃ- abiding; vijñānaṃ- knowledge; avijñānaṃ- nescience; satyaṃ- virtuous; anṛtaṃ- vicious; satyam- Satyam; abhavat- became; yadidaṃ kiṃca – whatever here; tat satyamityācakṣate – it is called Satyam.

Verse meaning: He (Ātmā) willed to become many by having prajas. He did tapas and by tapas he brought forth all that is here. Then he entered them all; thus everything became consisted of SAT and Asat, defined and undefined, abode and abiding, knowledge and nescience and virtuous and vicious. Whatever exists here thus became Satyam and therefore it is called Satyam.

Note that this is the answer to the question where those who really know Brahma and those who do not know so, go after leaving from here. It is clarified here that knowledge and nescience come from the same source and therefore, both should go to that very same source, the Ātmā. The ‘going’ mentioned here happens only when one gets rid of his body at the end (ie. after leaving here). But, while still being in the body, only those who know Brahma can attain to Brahma. Such an enlightened person gives up his body-consciousness, so says Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (5.14).

In verse 2.3.1 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka, we saw that Brahma has two forms and they are same as stated in the present verse above. Moreover, Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad says in verses 1.1.8 and 1.1.9 how Brahma evolved from Ātmā and how the universe consequently came into being, through the tapas of Ātmā. It is the same thing now being described above. Why Brahma and, vicariously, the whole universe is called Satyam is explained in Chāndogya 8.3.4 & 8.3.5 and also in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 5.5.1, which we have already seen.

The next verse (2.7.1) states that it was verily Asat which existed in the beginning. This may seem confusing. But, it must be understood as a reference to the invoking of Prakṛti by Ātmā, made in tune with the narration of manifestation in the previous verse; therein it was stated that Ātmā brought forth everything first and then he entered them all. This implies the existence of Asat in the beginning, which we see here. But, such presentation of seemingly objectionable ideas is only a tool to facilitate easy comprehension; actually, Ātmā and Prakṛti are inseparable.

Verse 2.8.1 declares that it is out of fear of Ātmā that wind blows, sunrises and Agni, Indra and Mṛtyu act. The idea is that all devas function under his control. The same idea is seen in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 3.8.9 and Kaṭha 6.3, which we have already studied.

This verse also gives an interesting description of the measure of bliss (Ānanda) that a person well-versed in Vedas and unaffected by Kāma would attain. Let there be a noble youth with wisdom and good learning who is resolute and strong; the happiness he would feel if the whole world and wealth therein belongs to him is the measure of human bliss. Hundred times of this measure of human bliss is the bliss of human Gandharvas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of celestial Gandharvas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of the manes who belong to the eternal world; hundred times thereof is the bliss of devas born in the world of devas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of karmadevas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Devas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Indra; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Bṛhaspati; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Prajāpati; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Brahma. This is same as the bliss of an enlightened person who is not felled by Kāma. We need not break our heads on the mythological characters mentioned here; the aim of the description is to glorify the bliss that would accrue to a man who is enlightened and who has got rid of all Kāma.

The verse continues to say that he who is in man is same as he who is in the sun. The implication is that this whole universe is ruled by one and only one power. A person who knows thus transcends all the expressions of Ātmā starting from Annamaya kośa. His final destination must obviously be Ātmā, the state described in verse 7 of Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad.

Thus ends the second chapter. Now, we may move on to the last chapter, the third one, named Bhṛguvalli. Bhṛgu, son of Varuṇa, requested his father to teach him about Brahma. Varuṇa enlightens his son with what we have learned in Brahmavalli about kośas. As a prelude thereto, he says that food, Prāṇa, eyes, ears, Manas, and speech are all Brahma. Then he elaborates thus:

… यतो वा इमानि भूतानि जायन्ते | येन जातानि जीवन्ति | यत्प्रयन्त्यभिसंविशन्ति | तद्विजिज्ञासस्व तद्ब्रह्मेति ….. || 3.1.1 ||

… yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante; yena jātāni jīvanti; yatprayantyabhisaṃviśanti; tadvijijñāsasva tadbrahmeti …. (3.1.1)

Word meaning: yataḥ- from which; vā- vai-verily; imāni- these; bhūtāni- beings; jāyante- originate; yena- by which; jātāni- those which thus originated; jīvanti- live; yat- to which; prayanti- strive to; abhisaṃviśanti- dissolve in; tat- that; vijijñāsasva- aspire to know; brahma- Brahma; iti- thus.

Verse meaning: From which these beings originate, by which they live and to which they strive to dissolve in, you should aspire to know that; that is Brahma.

Varuṇa thus tells his son that all beings emerge from, live in and, at the end, dissolve in Brahma and asks him to know it by own effort. ‘Knowing’ is not simply understanding, it is but experiencing also. When we say sugar is sweet, everybody will understand it; but experiencing that sweetness is what real knowledge is. This is what Varuṇa asks his son to do and this is what the scriptures mean by ‘knowing’. This is the real implication of the declarations like ‘one who knows Brahma becomes Brahma’ and ‘one who knows Brahma attains to the Ultimate’.

In obedience to his father’s instructions, Bhṛgu does tapas; but, what he first knows is the Annarasamaya kośa only, which is the grossest and easily attainable expression of the Ultimate. He saw that his father’s definition matches with what he found. But, the father was not satisfied; he sends him back to do tapas again. This time, Bhṛgu came back with his new finding, Prāṇamaya kośa, as Brahma. There was surely progress in his enlightenment, as he could go subtler than earlier. But, his father’s response was the same as before. Bhṛgu again set out for tapas. He gradually crossed over into Manomaya, Vijñānamaya and finally Ānandamaya kośas, to the satisfaction of his father.

At the end, Varuṇa cautions his son against despising or rejecting annam; this is presumably in view of his sending back the son when he reported his first finding of Brahma as Annarasamaya. His intention is to impress upon his son that Annarasamaya kośa is not to be despised of; for, without it, other kośas are irrelevant. Varuṇa tells his son that annam is Prāṇa; this is because, in the absence of annam, Prāṇa cannot be sustained. So far is the philosophy of Varuṇa and his son Bhṛgu.

With this, the Upaniṣad concludes the philosophical discourse.

The Science of Upaniṣads

Brihadaranyaka Upaniṣad

Chāndogya Upaniṣad

Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad

Kaṭha Upaniṣad

Kena Upaniṣad

Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad

Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad

Aitareya Upaniṣad

Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad

Praśna Upaniṣad

Taittirīya Upaniṣad

The Science of Upaniṣads – Conclusion, author Karthikeyan Sreedharan

Praśna Upaniṣad

Praśna Upaniṣad is one of the three Principal Upaniṣads belonging to Atharva Veda; we have already seen two, Māṇḍūkya and Muṇḍaka. Praśna in Sanskrit means question; this Upaniṣad is fully set in question-answer format and hence the name. In this Upaniṣad six seekers ask one question each and Ṛṣi Pippalāda (पिप्पलाद) answers them all. We discuss these answers in this article, which is the eighth in the series. Unique features of this Upaniṣad are, first, its precision in the postulations on the origin and existence of beings and second, its psycho-spiritual expositions on the power of human willpower in attaining desired objectives.

Six seekers who approached Ṛṣi Pippalāda for instructions on the nature of Brahma were Kabandhī Kātyāyana, Bhārgava Vaidarbhi, Kauśalya Aśvalāyana, Gārgya Saurāyaṇī, Satyakāma Śaibya and Sukeśā Bhāradvāja. Pippalāda asked them to wait for one more year in penance, abstinence and faith and then ask questions as they like; he assured to answer them all, so far as his knowledge permits. Accordingly, they came after one year and asked one question each, which the Ṛṣi duly answered. The verses in the Upaniṣad are identified by the question number and the verse number; for example, ‘2.4’ refers to verse four of the second question. Now let us see what the questions were and what the Ṛṣi said in reply.

The first question was asked by Kabandhī; he asked, “Esteemed Sir, whence are these beings brought forth?” (“भगवन्, कुतो ह वा इमाः प्रजाः प्रजायन्ते – Bhagavan, kuto ha vā imāḥ prajāḥ prajāyante?). Pippalāda answers thus:

“प्रजाकामो वै प्रजापतिः स तपोഽतप्यत स तपस्तप्त्वा स मिथुनमुत्पादयते, रयिं च प्राणं च इति, एतौ मे बहुधा प्रजाः करिष्यत इति || 1.4 ||

prajākāmo vai prajāpatiḥ sa tapoഽtapyata sa tapastaptvā sa mithunamutpādayate rayiṃ ca prāṇaṃ ca iti; etau me bahudhā prajāḥ kariṣyata iti. (1.4)

Word meaning: prajākāmaḥ- desirous of prajās (subjects, beings); vai- indeed; prajāpatiḥ- Prajāpati; sa- he; tapoഽtapyata- did Tapas; tapastaptvā- having done Tapas; mithunam- pair; utpādayate- produced; rayi- Rayi (physical energy or matter); ca- and; prāṇa- Prāṇa (the sustaining vital energy); iti- namely; etau- these two; me- to me; bahudhā- variously; prajāḥ kariṣyata- will produce prajās; iti- (thinking) that.

Verse meaning: Being desirous of prajās, Prajāpati did Tapas; through Tapas he produced the pair consisting of Rayi and Prāṇa. He wished that they would produce for him various prajās.

The verse says about the origin of beings. It is stated that beings were not directly produced by Prajāpati; instead, only a pair consisting of Rayi and Prāṇa, was produced by him. From this pair, all beings evolved. Prajāpati produced the pair through Tapas, which is only intense and persevering exercise of willpower. Prajāpati is the personified masculine form of the principle of Brahma. We know that Brahma is Puruṣa – Prakṛti combine, which according to Bṛhadāraṇyaka 1.4.4 and Muṇḍaka 1.1.8, is the source of all beings. In the pair produced, Rayi is physical energy or matter; it should evidently come from Prakṛti only. The other is Prāṇa which is the vital force that sustains the matter and therefore it should come from Puruṣa whose principle is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss) (vide also 3.3 below, wherein it is stated that Prāṇa originated from Ātmā). Being the sustaining force, Prāṇa must be a contribution of the SAT part of Puruṣa. In living beings which have a working respiratory system, Prāṇa facilitates the activity of CHIT (Consciousness) also. We will see its details in the discussions that follow other questions.

It was an ancient practice of spiritual thinkers to relate spiritual lessons with objects and phenomena in the world, often personifying principles and attributes. Lord Brahmā is verily the personification of the principle of Brahma (Brahman in English). Lord Śiva represents auspiciousness achieved by elimination of Kāma. His third eye is the eye of knowledge; the opening of the third eye indicates attainment of knowledge, in the light of which all Kāma(s) are destroyed and peace and immortality are achieved. Following this practice, Prāṇa is related with sun and Rayi with the moon in verse 1.5. It is also stated therein that everything here, whether gross or subtle, comprises of Rayi only. We see the same idea in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 1.4.3 (अयं आकाशः स्त्रिया पूर्यत – ayaṃ ākāśaḥ striyā pūryata; the ether is filled by the woman- woman here indicates Prakṛti). We can find a further elaboration of this idea in verses 1.6 to 1.8.

In a similar manner, Prajāpati is related to Year; Rayi and Prāṇa that emerged from him are presented as Dakṣiṇāyana and Uttarāyaṇa respectively. Dakṣiṇāyana is the southern movement of the sun from its northern-most point of reach and Uttarāyaṇa is the reverse northern movement to the northern-most point. Dakṣiṇāyana thus represents a descent and Uttarāyaṇa an ascent. Uttarāyaṇa is considered auspicious in India for the reason that the country gets maximum sunlight during the period; remember that sun represents Prāṇa as mentioned above and is, therefore, the symbol of sustenance and enlightenment. In the subsequent verses, Prajāpati is related with Month and also Day and Night (ahorātra); in the case of Month, Prāṇa is the white fortnight and Rayi the dark fortnight and in the other case, Day is Prāṇa and Night is Rayi. In all these, the message is that Prāṇa is brilliance and Rayi is the opposite.

Now let us come to the second question. Bhārgava Vaidarbhi is the questioner here. He wants to know: how many gods (Devas) support the prajās; which among these illumine (prakāśayati – प्रकाशयति) them and which of these is the most excellent one (variṣṭha – वरिष्ठ)? See Pippalāda’s answer below:

“आकाशो वा एष देवो वायुरग्निरापः पृथिवी वाङ्मनश्चक्षुः श्रोत्रम् च ते प्रकाश्याभिवदन्ति वयमेतद्बाणमवष्टभ्य विधारयामः” || 2.2 ||

ākāśo vā eṣa devo vāyuragnirāpaḥ pṛthivī vāṅmanaścakṣuḥ śrotram ca te prakāśyābhivadanti vayametadbāṇamavaṣṭabhya vidhārayāmaḥ (2.2)

Word meaning: ākāśaḥ- Ākāśa (ether); vā- verily; eṣa- this; devaḥ- Deva; vāyuḥ- Vāyu, air; agni- Agni, fire; āpaḥ- Jalam (water); pṛthivī- Bhūmi (earth); vāk – Vāk (speech); manaḥ- Manas; cakṣuḥ- eyes; śrotram- ears; ca- and; te- they; prakāśya- having illumined; abhivadanti- declare boastfully; vayam- we; etad- this; bāṇam- body; avaṣṭabhya- having seized, having entered; vidhārayāmaḥ- support, maintain.

Verse meaning: These Devas are Ākāśa, Vāyu, Agni, Jalam, Bhūmi (these are Panchabhūtas or the five basic elements constituting the universe) and also Vāk, Manas, eyes, and ears. Having illumined the body, they boastfully declared thus: we maintain the body from within.

The Devas enumerated here boast that they maintain the body, but their claim is false. To know the truth, we have to read the next verse also. See it below:

“तान् वरिष्ठः प्राण उवाच मा मोहमापद्यथ अहमेव एतत् पञ्चधा आत्मानं प्रविभज्य एतद्बाणमवष्टभ्य विधारयामीति तेഽश्रद्दधाना बभूवुः” || 2.3 ||

tān variṣṭhaḥ prāṇa uvāca mā mohamāpadyatha ahameva etat pañcadhā ātmānaṃ pravibhajya etadbāṇamavaṣṭabhya vidhārayāmīti teഽśraddadhānā babhūvuḥ (2.3).

Word meaning: tān- to them; variṣṭhaḥ prāṇa- Chief Prāṇa; iti uvāca- said thus; mā- don’t; mohamāpadyatha- get deluded; aham- I; eva- alone; etat- this; pañcadhā- in five parts; ātmānaṃ pravibhajya- dividing myself; etadbāṇamavaṣṭabhya- having entered this body; vidhārayāmi- maintain; te- they; aśraddadhānā- unbelieving, doubting, incredulous; babhūvuḥ- became.

Verse meaning: To them the Chief Prāṇa said thus: ‘Don’t get deluded; I alone maintain this body, having entered it and dividing myself into five parts’. Hearing this, they became doubtful (they didn’t believe it).

Thus, in verses 2.2 and 2.3 two conflicting claims are presented, one by Prāṇa and the other by the remaining Devas. The ensuing portion of the answer (verses 2.4 to 2.13) is devoted to establish the superiority of Prāṇa. It is said in 2.4 that when Prāṇa prepared to leave the body, others also felt like leaving the body, just as bees following their queen. Thus Prāṇa showed them all that he was superior. Having the doubts dispelled they praised him a lot and requested him not to go out. They also requested him to protect them as a mother would protect her child. This description about establishing the superiority of Prāṇa and about other Devas praising him is seen in verses 5.7 to 5.15 of Chāndogya Upaniṣad also. The purpose of this description is only to assert that Prāṇa is the lone sustainer of the physical existence represented by Rayi.

The third question was asked by Kauśalya Aśvalāyana; he wanted to know: “Where does this Prāṇa originate from? How does he come to this body? How does he perform there, having divided himself (into five parts)? How does he go out? How does he support the body and also the world outside?”

Pippalāda answered thus:

आत्मन एष प्राणो जायते यथैषा पुरुषे छाया एतस्मिन् एतदाततं मनोकृतेन आयाति अस्मिन् शरीरे || 3.3 ||

ātmana eṣa prāṇo jāyate yathaiṣā puruṣe chāyā etasmin etadātataṃ manokṛtena āyāti asmin śarīre. (3.3)

Word meaning: ātmanaḥ- from Ātmā; eṣa prāṇo- this Prāṇa; jāyate- originate; yathā- just as; eṣā- this; etasmin puruṣe- on this person; chāyā- reflection; etad- that; ātataṃ- spread out; manokṛtena- by an act of mind, as willed, by thought; āyāti- comes; asmin śarīre- on this body.

Verse meaning: Prāṇa originates from Ātmā. On a person, it spreads like a shadow. It comes to this body by the will (of Brahma).

It is said that Prāṇa originates from Ātmā. We saw in verse 1.4 that Prāṇa originated from Brahma. Further, we know that Brahma is Puruṣa-Prakṛti combine, wherein Puruṣa is Ātmā himself and Prakṛti is his power to manifest variously; for Ātmā is called Puruṣa when Prakṛti is invoked. Thus, the present statement is only a clarification of verse 1.4. The significance, however, is that it specifically relates Prāṇa with Puruṣa whereas Rayi is related with Prakṛti by default. In question 1, Prāṇa has been presented as the power that sustains the physical existence. Prāṇa is, therefore, to be understood as the sustaining power of Puruṣa. Secondly, it is said that Prāṇa spreads all over the body like a shadow. This must be understood as pervading of the sustaining power of Puruṣa in the bodies.

In the next three verses how this shadow (Prāṇa) spreads in the body is described. But, before going to those verses, we may consider the statement in this verse that Prāṇa entered the body in the exercise of willpower. This exercising of will must have been made by Brahma as it was Brahma’s desire to have praja(s).

Now, we may see how Prāṇa distributes itself in the body. The Chief Prāṇa assigns different parts of the body among the other four other Prāṇas to manage, just like an emperor entrusts territories under him with various officials to govern (verse 3.4). Verses 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 give us the details; see them, one by one, below:

पायूपस्थेഽपानं चक्षुः श्रोत्रे मुखनासिकाभ्यां प्राणः स्वयं प्रातिष्ठते मध्ये तु समानः एष ह्येतद् हुतमन्नं समं नयति तस्मादेताः सप्तार्चिषो भवन्ति || 3.5 ||

pāyūpastheഽpānaṃ cakṣuḥ śrotre mukhanāsikābhyāṃ prāṇaḥ svayaṃ prātiṣṭhate madhye tu samānaḥ eṣa hyetad hutamannaṃ samaṃ nayati tasmādetāḥ saptārciṣo bhavanti. (3.5)

Word meaning: pāyu- organ of excretion; upastha- organ of reproduction; apānaṃ- the Apāna; cakṣuḥ- eyes; śrotam- ears; mukha- mouth; nāsikā- nose; prāṇaḥ- Prāṇa; svayaṃ- himself; prātiṣṭhate- dwells, stays; madhye- in the middle; tu- but; samānaḥ- the Samāna; eṣa- he; hi- indeed, etad- this; hutam- digested; annaṃ- food; samaṃ- equally; nayati- distributes, leads; tasmāt- from it; etāḥ saptārciṣaḥ- these seven flames; bhavanti- originate; arise.

Verse meaning: In the organs of excretion and reproduction, the Apāna dwells, whereas the Chief Prāṇa himself is in charge of eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. In the middle is Samāna which distributes the digested food equally to all parts of the body. It is because of this that the seven flames arise.

We have seen that Prāṇa exists in the body, having divided itself into five. These five divisions are the Chief Prāṇa, Apāna, Samāna, Vyāna and Udāna. These are only nominal, functional divisions of Prāṇa, each of which supports the existence of the part of the body under its charge. This verse says about the first three divisions. Apāna is in charge of the organs of excretion and reproduction. The Chief Prāṇa looks after eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. Going by the description, Samāna must be in control of the cardio-vascular system. The seven flames arising out of the distribution of food are the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth; these are called flames because they glow only when food is burnt (हुत) or digested and also they are instrumental in grasping things.

The next verse says about Vyāna. See the verse below:

हृदि ह्येष आत्मा अत्रैतदेकशतं नाडीनां तासां शतं शतं एकैकस्यां द्वासप्तति द्वासप्तति प्रतिशाखानाडीसहस्राणि भवन्त्यासु व्यानश्चरति || 3.6 ||

hṛdi hyeṣa ātmā atraitadekaśataṃ nāḍīnāṃ tāsāṃ śataṃ śataṃ ekaikasyāṃ dvāsaptati dvāsaptati pratiśākhānāḍīsahasrāṇi bhavantyāsu vyānaścarati (3.6)

Word meaning: hṛdi- in the Heart; hi- indeed; eṣa- this; ātmā- Ātmā; atra- there; etad- this; ekaśataṃ- one hundred and one; nāḍīnāṃ- nerves; tāsāṃ ekaikasyāṃ- to each of them; śataṃ śataṃ- hundred each; dvāsaptati dvāsaptati pratiśākhānāḍīsahasrāṇi- seventy two thousand branch nerves for each; bhavanti- exist; āsu- in them; vyāna- Vyāna; carati- moves.

Verse meaning: Ātmā is indeed in the Heart, wherein there are one hundred and one nerves; to each of them there are one hundred branch nerves. Each of these branch nerves has seventy-two thousand further branches. Vyāna moves in these nerves and branches.

The fact of Ātmā being in the Heart (or in the inner-most chamber) is seen repeatedly asserted by the Upaniṣads (Chāndogya 3.14.3 & 8.3.3, Kaṭha 2.20, Muṇḍaka 3.1.7, Śvetāśvatara 3.11, 3.13 & 4.17) and also by Gīta (verses 13.17, 15.15 & 18.61). In the study of verse 8.3.3 of Chāndogya we have seen an explanation for the phrase ‘Ātmā is in the Heart’. It was required in that article to understand the phrase thus: ‘The subtlest physical form of a living being is a cell. It contains some physical features and also the coded information on genetic qualities and on hereditary traits. It also contains the energy of consciousness which reads and interprets this information and also motivates physical functions in furtherance thereof. This pure consciousness is the CHIT part of the Ātmā and the physical part wherein it is situated in the Heart. As the cell multiplies and grows into a full-fledged being, this Heart also develops into its matured form and along with it a network of nerves is also established, through which Ātmā pervades the entire physique of the being. Therefore, Ātmā is not exclusively located in the Heart, though it is stated, ‘Ātmā is in the Heart’. Even otherwise, the SAT part of Ātmā is already there pervading throughout the being, supporting its physical existence’.

The present verse gives an indication of what the Upaniṣads consider as Heart; it is where the nerves are connected. This according to human anatomy is Thalamus which is described as a switchboard of information. The word Thalamus has a Greek/Latin origin and it means inner chamber. The Sanskrit word ‘hṛd’ (हृद्) also means interior chest. So, when we say Ātmā is in the Heart, we should understand the Heart as indicating the inner chest where nerves are connected, which is Thalamus, not the heart of blood circulation. This Heart is thus the information exchange for receiving and disseminating information all over the body. The location of this Heart of consciousness or Thalamus is such that it is in line with the middle point between eye-brows (भ्रूमध्य – bhrūmadhya) and also with the upper-most point of nose (नासिकाग्र – nāsikāgra). (nāsikāgra is not the lower tip of the nose as many wrongly understand). The common point of bhrūmadhya and nāsikāgra is where we are required to concentrate our attention during meditation. This requirement is because of the realisation that the centre of consciousness, of the light within us, lies just behind it. Further, this point is apparently the location of the mythological ‘Third Eye’, the eye of knowledge or enlightenment. Opening of this eye means attainment of the true knowledge resulting in quelling all Kāma. This is what Lord Śiva did to Kāmadeva who is considered as the embodiment of Kāma; Śiva opened his third eye and then, Kāmadeva was reduced to ashes.

The presence of 101 nerves in the Heart is also seen mentioned in Chāndogya 8.6.6 and Kaṭha 6.16. Here it is stated that for each of these 101 nerves there are 100 branches, each of which in turn has 72000 sub-branches. The total number of nerves thus come to 72,72,00,000 or 727.2 million. Each nerve naturally consists of many nerve cells or neurons. According to modern Neurology, the number of neurons in a human body is about 100 billion.

Imagine a small tree, uprooted and held upside down, with its root system facing upward. Then imagine the nervous system of a human being. Do you see any similarity between the two? Yes, they are similar in appearance. The tuft of nerves going upwards from Thalamus can be compared with the root system of the tree and the nerves spreading downwards to the body represent the trunk and branches of the tree. Please recall verse 6.1 of Kaṭha Upaniṣad wherein Brahma is visualized as such a tree.

Now, we may see what Udāna is. Let us go to verse 3.7.

अथैकयोर्ध्व उदानः पुण्येन पुण्यं लोकं नयति पापेन पापं उभाभ्यामेव मनुष्यलोकम् || 3.7 ||

athaikayordhva udānaḥ puṇyena puṇyaṃ lokaṃ nayati pāpena pāpaṃ ubhābhyāmeva manuṣyalokam. (3.7)

Word meaning: atha- now, ekayā- by or through one (of them); ūrdhva udānaḥ- the upwardly oriented Udāna; puṇyena- by good deeds; puṇyaṃ lokaṃ- virtuous world; nayati- leads to; pāpena- by bad deeds; pāpaṃ lokaṃ nayati – leads to evil world; ubhābhyām- by both; eva- indeed; manuṣyalokam- human world.

Verse meaning: The upwardly oriented Udāna works through one (of the hundred and one nerves). It leads to the virtuous world if the deeds are done is good and to the evil world if the deeds are bad; if the deeds include both good and bad, then it leads to the human world.

The implication is that one of the main nerves going upwards is controlled by Udāna; it is through this nerve that the information, which guides beings in accordance with their deeds, passes through. Therefore, it is evident that this nerve connects the Heart with the Antaḥkaraṇa; it is a hotline between the two, presumably in addition to those maintained by Vyāna. One ancillary indication in this verse is that the human world consists of good and bad; the other two worlds, the virtuous and the evil, are included in it and we experience either of the two depending upon our deeds. Good and bad deeds are distinguished by the nature of impact they make on the existence of the world; the deed that makes a positive impact is good, otherwise bad. In other words, a good deed is that which is in conformity with the eternal principle of SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA and the opposite is a bad one. This eternal principle is all-pervading and inviolable; therefore, any attempt to infringe it will meet with repression of such magnitude as would be sufficient to resist the infringement and make up for the damage already done. Therefore, when we do a bad deed, the first and the definite strike occurs within ourselves, making us weak. In contrast, when we do a good deed, we feel the strength within. More conclusive assertions in this regard can be seen in verse 3.10 below.

In the meanwhile, let us see what is said in verses 3.8 and 3.9. Following the practice of relating internal phenomena with outer world, it is stated in verse 3.8 that sun is the external Prāṇa and the Deva in the earth is the Apāna. In 3.9, Udāna is said to be the radiance (Tejas) of sun. The verse is here in full:

तेजो ह वा उदानः तस्मादुपशान्ततेजाः पुनर्भवमिन्द्रियैर्मनसि सम्पद्यमानैः || 3.9 ||

tejo ha vā udānaḥ tasmādupaśāntatejāḥ punarbhavamindriyairmanasi sampadyamānaiḥ. (3.9)

Word meaning: tejas- radiance (of sun), (sun)light; ha vā- indeed; udānaḥ- Udāna tasmāt- therefore; upaśāntatejāḥ- those with weakened radiance; punarbhavam- rebirth; indriyairmanasi sampadyamānaiḥ- owing to senses being united with mind.

Verse meaning: Udāna is the radiance of the sun, the Prāṇa; therefore, those with weakened radiance meet with rebirth owing to their senses being united with the mind.

If the sun is Prāṇa, then sunlight is Udāna; those in whom Udāna is weak will meet with death because their mind follows the senses. This death or subsequent rebirth is obviously not the physical one; it is, as indicated in the verse itself, the result of being carried away by the senses, which is verily capitulation to Kāma. This verse is effectively explained in Gīta verses 2.60 to 2.63. Verse 2.60 says that the tormenting senses forcibly carry away the mind of even a wise man in spite of his attempts to resist it. According to verse 2.61 one’s perception becomes stable only when he succeeds in controlling the senses. Verses 2.62 and 2.63 describe what happens otherwise; he meets with death. This is the message here.

Next verse carries a very important message; see the verse below:

यच्चित्तस्तेनैष प्राणमायाति प्राणस्तेजसा युक्तः सहात्मना यथा सङ्कल्पितं लोकं नयति || 3.10 ||

yaccittastenaiṣa prāṇamāyāti prāṇastejasā yuktaḥ sahātmanā yathā saṅkalpitaṃ lokaṃ nayati. (3.10)

Word meaning: yaccittaḥ- whatever is there in one’s Chitta; tena- by that; eṣa- he prāṇamāyāti- reaches Prāṇa; prāṇastejasā yuktaḥ – Prāṇa gets connected to (its) Tejas (which is Udāna); sahātmanā- (which) along with Ātmā (consciousness); nayati- leads to; yathā saṅkalpitaṃ lokaṃ – that world which he desires;.

Verse meaning: Whatever there is in one’s Chitta, with that he comes to Prāṇa. Prāṇa then gets connected to Udāna which, along with Ātmā, leads him to the world he desires.

We know what Chitta is; it is the store-house of all information both saved and inherited, all thoughts, perceptions, resolves and all. This verse says that we are led forward as dictated by and in conformity with what our Chitta contains. A person is defined by the contents of his Chitta; for, the stock in Chitta is the source from which a person draws the substance and inspiration for all what he does. The Chief Prāṇa is the one that senses the current thoughts in Chitta; we feel the reflections thereof by the variation in breath modulation. The Prāṇa then conveys what it sensed to Udāna which in turn activates the hotline leading to other components of Antaḥkaraṇa, namely Manas, Buddhi, and Ahaṃkāra. As a result of this, the flow of consciousness, the real energy of life, and conveyance of information to these components is toned up, initiating sustained action by them. Manas, being involuntary, follows up with suitable action, even without our periodical interventions conveying specific dictates or consent. Thus, all our faculties are tuned up to function in furtherance of what the contents of Chitta demand. For example, if we love somebody seriously, then the Manas accesses all information from our Chitta as well as from outside which is in favor of such love; it also orients our actions to those directions and materials which would foster such love. Similarly, when we hate, the orientation changes to the opposite direction. Further, when we take a resolve to pursue the path of spiritual enlightenment, the Manas, without our specific instruction or active involvement at every turn, takes us to those sources and actions which further such pursuit. This is how one’s intense will takes him to the accomplishment of the objectives. Such involuntary activity of Manas is known in the ordinary parlance as the inner guidance. The same thing happens in the case of habitual actions also; our active participation is not needed in fulfilling them. For example, take the case of driving a vehicle; in the beginning, we need to attend to each action, the acceleration, braking, gear changing, etc. But when the details thereof are firmly registered in the Chitta, all these actions are getting done without our active involvement; the Mind takes over it all. This, in short, is what the verse conveys.

In the place of this psycho-spiritual message, conventional interpretations opt to say that the verse is about leading Ātmā to various worlds after one’s death. This interpretation is foolish in the light of the consistent teachings of Upaniṣads which say that Ātmā is all-pervading and free from attachment and smear; these teachings, therefore, rule out the question of Ātmā moving from one place to another or retaining impressions of any actions to be carried over, after the loss of body. There is absolutely no hint in the verse making such interpretations tenable or warranted. The reason for such misinterpretations is the resort to mythology for understanding the sublime thoughts of the philosophy of Upaniṣads. This approach has over the ages made much havoc in conveying India’s ancient rational philosophy to the aspiring people all over the world in its true spirit. At the core of this unenviable situation is the fact that successive generations of disciples following a common guru simply disseminate the views and understandings of the guru without any change; they don’t burden themselves with the task of original thinking and independent evaluation. These disciples thus precipitate a standstill in terms of time and thought and tether generations of aspirants to the trite and flawed understanding of yore.

Now, let us come to the fourth question. It was the turn of Gārgya Saurāyaṇī. He asked, “Who among the Devas, in this body, sleep, who remains awake, who sees dreams, whose is happiness and on whom all are established?”

We have already seen above in verses 2.2 and 2.3, who the Devas in the body are. The question here is about their functions in the case of sleeping, waking and dreaming states and also in causing happiness and in supporting all. The answer of Pippalāda is given below in brief:

While we sleep, all the Devas in the body become merged into Manas; the meaning is that they all become dormant. Only the fires of Prāṇa are awake then. It is in this state that Manas causes dreams; it causes seeing what has been seen and not seen before, hearing what has been heard and not heard before, enjoying what has been enjoyed and not enjoyed before and experiencing what is real and unreal. When Udāna causes Manas also to become dormant and to be absorbed into pure consciousness, no more dreams are seen; as a result, the body enters into the deep sleep state, wherein bliss is enjoyed. In this state, everything rests in the Ātmā – the Pancabhūtas, senses, sense-objects, Antaḥkaraṇas and all. The Ātmā with all these included is obviously known as Puruṣa; we have seen it already. This Puruṣa is the knowing Ātmā in all beings; he too is established in the pure, supreme, immortal Ātmā. He who knows it attains to it and becomes omniscient (verses 4.9 & 4.10).

These teachings in greater details can be seen in Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad.

The fifth question was asked by Satyakāma Śaibya; he wanted to know what world a man who meditates upon the syllable ‘Om’ until death would attain. Pippalāda replied thus:

एतद्वै सत्यकाम परं चापरं च ब्रह्म यदोंकारः तस्माद्विद्वान् एतेनैवायतनेन एकतरमन्वेति || 5.2 ||

etadvai satyakāma paraṃ cāparaṃ ca brahma yadoṃkāraḥ tasmādvidvān etenaivāyatanena ekataramanveti. (5.2)

Word meaning: etat- this; vai- verily; satyakāma- O, Satyakāma; paraṃ- superior; ca- and; aparaṃ- inferior; brahma- Brahma; yat- what; oṃkāraḥ- Om; tasmāt- therefore; vidvān- the learned; eva- surely; etena āyatanena – by this means; ekataram- one of the two; anveti- attain to.

Verse meaning: O, Satyakāma, this ‘Om’ is verily both superior and inferior Brahma. Therefore, the learned attains to either of the two by this means (ie. by meditating upon ‘Om”).

We already know the mutual relationship among Ātmā, Brahma and Om; we studied the details thereof in Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. We have seen what each of the three constituent sounds of Om represent and what a seeker attains by knowing anyone of these sounds and by altogether. This verse, together with the remaining verses in answer to the fifth question, presents the same idea in a manner which is rather less in precision and more in a mythological coating.

What is referred to as superior Brahma is the undifferentiated Brahma and the inferior is differentiated.

The last question, the sixth one, was asked by Sukeśā Bhāradvāja; he wanted to know about the 16-part Puruṣa. The Sage answered thus:

‘इहैवान्तःशरीरे स पुरुषो यस्मिन् एताः षोडशकलाः प्रभवन्ति’ || 6.2 ||

‘ihaivāntaḥśarīre sa puruṣo yasmin etāḥ ṣoḍaśakalāḥ prabhavanti’. (6.2)

Word meaning: iha- here; eva- indeed; antaḥśarīre- within the body; saḥ puruṣaḥ – that Puruṣa; yasmin- in whom; etāḥ- these; ṣoḍaśakalāḥ- sixteen parts or kala(s); prabhavanti- originate.

Verse meaning: Here, within the body, indeed is that Puruṣa from whom these sixteen parts originate.

In verse 6.4, the Sage enumerates these 16 parts thus: Prāṇa, faith, ether, air, fire, water, earth, senses, mind, food, vigor, Tapas, Mantra, Karma, worlds and names. The idea is that these parts contributing to physical existence have their origin in the Puruṣa; so this Puruṣa is called ‘Puruṣa with sixteen parts’. It is further stated in verse 6.5 that these sixteen parts of the seer merge with the Puruṣa shedding their names and forms and become Puruṣa only, like rivers become verily the ocean, on merging therein.

Having all their doubts thus cleared, the six seekers honored the Ṛṣi with high esteem and took leave of him. The Upaniṣad concludes by paying obeisance to the great Ṛṣis. When we part with this Upaniṣad, we should retain in mind what Ṛṣi Pippalāda said about the pair of Prāṇa and Rayi, from which the universe evolved; we should also bear in mind his words about how the contents of Chitta dictate and regulate the actions of beings.

The Science of Upaniṣads

Brihadaranyaka Upaniṣad

Chāndogya Upaniṣad

Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad

Kaṭha Upaniṣad

Kena Upaniṣad

Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad

Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad

Aitareya Upaniṣad

Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad

Praśna Upaniṣad

Taittirīya Upaniṣad

The Science of Upaniṣads – Conclusion, author Karthikeyan Sreedharan

Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad

We have already studied the science of all the ten Principal Upaniṣads (Daśopaniṣads). Now, in this article, we take up for study the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad which does not belong to those ten but is considered at par with them in view of the significance of its spiritual expositions.

The stream of thoughts therein, however, appears to have a deflection from that of the Daśopaniṣads, in respect of the mode of conception and style of presentation. Nevertheless, this Upaniṣad takes the ancient spiritual postulations further forward by adducing clarifications and making a few new assertions. We will see the details in the course of our study.

This Upaniṣad belongs to Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda and was expounded by Ṛsi Śvetāśvatara. It has got six chapters; a verse is identified by the chapter number followed by the verse number. The Upaniṣad opens with an inquiry into the ultimate cause of all, presented as being made by a group of Brahmavādins who are already Brahmavits. Brahmavādin is a person who asserts that all things are to be identified with Brahma and Brahmavit is a knower of Brahma. A group of such people raises a doubt whether Brahma is really the ultimate principle. They start an inquiry to settle the doubt. The first chapter deals with this inquiry and its findings. Let us see the first verse:

ब्रह्मवादिनो वदन्ति
किं कारणं ब्रहम कुतः स्म जाता केन जीवाम क्व च संप्रतिष्ठाः |
अधिष्ठिताः केन सुखेतरेषु वर्तामहे ब्रह्मविदो व्यवस्थाम् || 1.1 ||

brahmavādino vadanti
kiṃ kāraṇaṃ brahama kutaḥ sma jātā kena jīvāma kva ca saṃpratiṣṭhāḥ;
adhiṣṭhitāḥ kena sukhetareṣu vartāmahe brahmavido vyavasthām. (1.1)

Word meaning: brahmavādinaḥ- Brahmavādins; vadanti- say:

kiṃ kāraṇaṃ – by what cause; brahama – (is) Brahma? kutaḥ- from where; sma jātā – we are born; kena- by what; jīvāma- live; kva ca – and where; saṃpratiṣṭhāḥ- supported, established; adhiṣṭhitāḥ kena – regulated by or depending upon whom; sukhetareṣu- in pleasure and pain; vartāmahe- we get along, live on; brahmavidaḥ- knowers of Brahma; vyavasthām- in steadiness, composure.

Verse meaning: Brahmavādins say thus:

By what cause is Brahma? Whence are we born? By what do we live? Where are we established? Depending upon whose power, do we, the knowers of Brahman, remain in composure during the dual experiences of pleasure and pain?

It is very important that these questions are raised by Brahmavits. They know what Brahma is and are Brahmavādins too. So, their questions carry much philosophical importance. Even though they know Brahma and abide by that knowledge in their lives, they still doubt the extent of the status of Brahma as a cause. To them, it is not the ultimate cause from which beings arise, by which they are sustained and on which they are established. They feel that there is some ultimate principle beyond Brahma facilitating all these things; their inquiry is to know that principle, the knowledge of which, according to them, enables the Brahmavits to maintain equanimity in the face of both pleasure and pain. Thus, they start the inquiry. The progress of their thoughts is given in the next verse:

कालः स्वभावो नियतिर्यदृच्छा भूतानि योनिः पुरुष इति चिन्त्या |
संयोग एषां न त्वात्मभावात् आत्माप्यनीशः सुखदुःखहेतोः || 1.2 ||

kālaḥ svabhāvo niyatiryadṛcchā bhūtāni yoniḥ puruṣa iti cintyā;
saṃyoga eṣāṃ na tvātmabhāvāt ātmāpyanīśaḥ sukhaduḥkhahetoḥ. (1.2)

Word meaning: kālaḥ- Time; svabhāvaḥ- Nature; niyatiḥ- destiny; yadṛcchā- chance; bhūtāni- the five fundamental elements (Pañcabhūtas); yoniḥ- the source of birth; puruṣa- the source of seed (germ); iti cintyā – these are to be considered;

saṃyoga- combination; eṣāṃ- of these; na tu – if not; ātmabhāvāt- by the appearance of Ātmā; ātmāpi (Ātmā api) – though Ātmā is; anīśaḥ- not the ruler of; sukhaduḥkhahetoḥ- of the cause of happiness and misery.

Verse meaning: Time, Nature, destiny, chance, Pañcabhūtas, the source of birth, the source of seed – these are all to be considered (in the inquiry into the cause). It (the origin, etc. mentioned in verse 1.1) may be due to a combination of all these. If not, it must be by the appearance of Ātmā, though Ātmā is not the ruler administering the cause of happiness and misery.

Evidently, Brahmavādins are considering many possible options. The final suggestion, however, is regarding the appearance of Ātmā; but, at the same time, they recognize that Ātmā is not the dispenser of happiness and misery which are mere outputs of wavering perceptions (which do not affect sthitaprajñas – men with composure). Yoni and Puruṣa here represent the female and male counterparts in the couple giving birth to new beings.

The pondering of the Brahmavādins culminates in a valuable finding which we can see in verse 1.3:

ते ध्यानयोगानुगता अपश्यन् देवात्मशक्तिं स्वगुणैर्निगूढाम् |
यः कारणानि निखिलानि तानि कालात्मयुक्तान्यधितिष्ठत्येकः || 1.3 ||

te dhyānayogānugatā apaśyan devātmaśaktiṃ svaguṇairnigūḍhām;
yaḥ kāraṇāni nikhilāni tāni kālātmayuktānyadhitiṣṭhatyekaḥ. (1.3)

Word meanings: te- they; dhyānayoga- profound meditation; anugatā- being absorbed in; apaśyan- recognised, realised; devātmaśaktiṃ- the divine power of Ātmā; svaguṇaiḥ- by own Guṇas; rnigūḍhām- veiled; yaḥ- who; kāraṇāni- the causes; nikhilāni- entire; tāni- those; kālātmayuktāni- conditioned by time; adhitiṣṭhati- control, superintend; ekaḥ- the one (without a second).

Verse meaning: Through the path of profound meditation they recognized the divine power of Ātmā, veiled by the Guṇas of its own projection; He, the only one without a second, encompasses and superintends all those causes which are conditioned by time.

The Brahmavādins finally found what they sought for; they realized that everything here is a projection of Ātmā and He is veiled by this projection consisting of Guṇas. It is because of this veil that He is not conspicuous. Bṛhadāraṇyaka says that this veil is like a sheath which covers the entire sword within (1.4.7). Gīta says in verse 7.13 that because of the three Guṇas, people are deluded and are unable to comprehend the imperishable power of Ātmā. Being the ultimate principle of existence, Ātmā is the source and sustainer of all that exists including time, nature, etc. It is therefore stated that Ātmā encompasses and superintends all these causes.

In the next two verses, an ever-moving wheel is introduced; it is called Brahmacakra (ब्रह्मचक्र). This wheel consists of all that exists as the manifested phenomenal universe which is subject to continuous changes featuring manifold characteristics and attributes. The wheel is said to be spinning because of these continuous changes including expansion or contraction. This may be rightly presumed as the aggregate of all the existing galaxies. Ātmā is the impelling force in this wheel. Verse 1.6 says that by knowing the Ātmā to be distinct from the appearance and by attaining to Him, one becomes immortal. See the verse below:

सर्वाजीवे सर्वसंस्थे बृहन्ते अस्मिन्हंसो भ्राम्यते ब्रह्मचक्रे |
पृथगात्मानं प्रेरितारं च मत्वा जुष्टस्ततस्तेनामृतत्वमेति || 1.6 ||

sarvājīve sarvasaṃsthe bṛhante asminhaṃso bhrāmyate brahmacakre;
pṛthagātmānaṃ preritāraṃ ca matvā juṣṭastatastenāmṛtatvameti. (1.6)

Verse meaning: sarvājīve- providing livelihood (or means of existence) for all; sarvasaṃsthe- omnipresent; bṛhante- infinite; asmin- upon this; haṃsaḥ- individual being; bhrāmyate- is moved around; brahmacakre- in Brahmacakra; pṛthak- to be distinct; ātmānaṃ- Ātmā; preritāraṃ- driving force; ca- and; matvā- having known; juṣṭaḥ-attained; tataḥ- thereupon; tena- by that; āmṛtatvameti- become immortal.

Verse meaning: Every individual being is moved around in this omnipresent, infinite Brahmacakra which supports the existence of all. By knowing Ātmā to be distinct from and as the driving force of this Brahmacakra and by attaining to it, one becomes immortal.

Brahmacakra indicates Brahma differentiated into forms and names, as per descriptions already given. We know that Ātmā is the force behind this differentiation (Muṇḍaka 1.1.8 & 1.1.9). This verse says that by so distinguishing the Ātmā as distinct from the differentiated Brahma and by attaining to Him, one becomes immortal.

In the ensuing verses, the Upaniṣad describes how Ātmā rules over the dual constituents of Brahma, which we studied in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 2.3.1 to be the perceptible and imperceptible, mortal and immortal, etc. Let us first see verse 1.8.

संयुक्तमेतत् क्षरमक्षरं च व्यक्ताव्यक्तं भरते विश्वमीशः |
अनीशश्चात्मा बध्यते भोक्तृभावात् ज्ञात्वा देवं मुच्यते सर्वपाशैः|| 1.8 ||

saṃyuktametat kṣaramakṣaraṃ ca vyaktāvyaktaṃ bharate viśvamīśaḥ;
anīśaścātmā badhyate bhoktṛbhāvāt jñātvā devaṃ mucyate sarvapāśaiḥ. (1.8)

Word meaning: saṃyuktam- combined; etat- this; kṣaramakṣaraṃ ca – perishable and imperishable; vyaktāvyaktaṃ- perceptible and imperceptible; bharate- supports; viśvam- universe; īśaḥ- Ruler; anīśaścātmā – and on Ātmā not being the Ruler, (when Ātmā is not heeded as the Ruler); badhyate- gets bonded; bhoktṛbhāvāt – due to one’s being assumed as the enjoyer; jñātvā- on knowing; devaṃ- Deva (Ātmā); mucyate- freed; sarvapāśaiḥ- from all bondages.

Verse meaning: This universe is a combination of the perishable and imperishable, of the perceptible and imperceptible; it is supported by the Ruler (Ātmā). When one does not comply with the dictates of Ātmā, he gets bonded due to his being assumed as the enjoyer. On knowing the Ātmā he is freed from all bondages.

The main theme here is the dual nature of the universe, which we are familiar with. The verse also says that when one denies Ātmā as the ruler, he gets bonded. This denial implies that he is without ruler, anīśa. He himself becomes the ruler and the enjoyer. Thus he strays away from the ruling principle of Ātmā and therefore gets bonded; but, a person who does actions in conformity with the principle of Ātmā, does not get bonded like him. Conformity with the principle of Ātmā is what we know as Dharma.

In the next verse, this dual nature is taken to a higher level, explaining the agent who joins them together. It is verily Māyā. This Upaniṣad itself says in verse 4.10 that Māyā is Prakṛti herself. We have already studied that Māyā or Prakṛti is the power of Ātmā for appearing in various forms and names. The two names Māyā and Prakṛti veritably indicate two functions of the same entity, the power of illusion and the ability to express physical energy, respectively. We have already learned about this two-pronged activity of Prakṛti. Let us see what the present verse says.

ज्ञाज्ञौ द्वावजावीशनीशावजा ह्येका भोक्तृभोग्यार्थयुक्ता |
अनन्तश्चात्मा विश्वरूपो ह्यकर्ता त्रयं यदा विन्दते ब्रह्ममेतत् || 1.9 ||

jñājñau dvāvajāvīśanīśāvajā hyekā bhoktṛbhogyārthayuktā;
anantaścātmā viśvarūpo hyakartā trayaṃ yadā vindate brahmametat. (1.9)

Word meaning: jña- the knower; ajña- the known; dvau- two; ajau- (both are) unborn; īśaḥ- ruler; anīśaḥ- the ruled; ajā- (she is) unborn; hi- indeed; ekā- (she is) one; bhoktṛbhogyārthayuktā – (she) who joins the enjoyer and the enjoyed;
anantaḥ- infinite; ca- and; ātmā- Ātmā; viśvarūpaḥ- appearing in all forms; akartā- not active, non-doer; trayaṃ- three; yadā- when; vindate- knows; brahma- Brahma; etat- this.

Verse meaning: The knower and the known, the ruler and the ruled are both unborn. She who joins these two, the enjoyer and the enjoyed, is also unborn. When one knows these three as (constituting) the Brahma, he realizes Ātmā to be infinite and inactive and also appearing in all forms.

In this triad, that which is known and that which joins it with the knower are two facets of Prakṛti. The knower is Puruṣa who is Ātmā Himself when Prakṛti is invoked. All these three constitute Ātmā appearing in infinite forms and names; this is what Brahma is, which we have seen repeatedly in other Upaniṣads. In this combination, Ātmā remains inactive, though he presides over all actions. He is the inner urge, but the expression of this urge is done through Prakṛti only. Whatever is expressed through Prakṛti is tinted by its limitations and hues. Those who understand the urge and also the identity of its source are not carried away by the vagaries and temptations of the said expression. Such understanding is called Vidya or knowledge and the absence thereof is Avidya.

The inactivity of Ātmā mentioned in this verse is a recurrent idea in Gīta. In verses 3.27, 13.29, 14.19 and 18.16 it is said that Ātmā is not the doer; Gīta asserts that all actions are done because of the Guṇas of Prakṛti.

In the combination mentioned above, two parts are distinguishable, perishable and imperishable (as already stated in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 2.3.1 also). The mortal part is Prakṛti and the immortal part is Puruṣa; Ātmā is the ruler of both. It is stated in the next verse that, on attaining to him, all illusions by Prakṛti, come to an end. See the verse below:

क्षरं प्रधानममृताक्षरं हरः क्षरात्मानावीशते देव एकः |
तस्याभिध्यानाद्योजनात्तत्त्वभावात् भूयश्चान्ते विश्वमायानिवृत्तिः || 1.10 ||

kṣaraṃ pradhānamamṛtākṣaraṃ haraḥ kṣarātmānāvīśate deva ekaḥ; tasyābhidhyānādyojanāttattvabhāvāt bhūyaścānte viśvamāyānivṛttiḥ. (1.10)

Word meaning: kṣaraṃ- perishable; pradhānam- primary un-evolved matter (this is a reference to Prakṛti since it is the cause of this matter); amṛtākṣaraṃ- imperishable and immortal; haraḥ- one who carries or bears (means Puruṣa who is Ātmā himself); kṣarātmānau- the perishable and the Puruṣa; īśate- rules over; deva- Deva; ekaḥ- one (without a second); tasya- his; abhidhyānāt- by meditation; yojanāt- by merging with; tattvabhāvāt- by true nature; bhūyaḥ- thereafter; ca- and; ante- at the end; viśvamāyānivṛttiḥ- cessation of all illusions.

Verse meaning: Prakṛti is perishable and Puruṣa is imperishable and immortal. The Deva who rules over both of them is only one (without a second). By merging with His true nature through meditation, all illusions cease at the end.

The Deva mentioned here is verily Ātmā. The same idea as in verses 1.9 & 1.10 is explained in verses 1.11 and 1.12 also. Verse 1.13 says that Ātmā exists in beings like fire exists in its source (twin pieces of Araṇi wood) – unperceived, but not absent. The fire appears only when the pieces of wood are stuck with each other; like this, Ātmā becomes known when the body is kindled by Praṇava (Om). Suggesting meditation as the method of this kindling, the next verse (1.14) urges to practice this method continuously and perceive the concealed Ātmā.

Verses 1.15 and 1.16 say about the nature and pervasion of this Ātmā. See the verse 1.15 first:

तिलेषु तैलं दधिनीव सर्पिरापः स्रोतःस्वरणीषु चाग्निः |
एवमात्मात्मनि गृह्यतेऽसौ सत्येनैनं तपसा योऽनुपश्यति || 1.15 ||

tileṣu tailaṃ dadhinīva sarpirāpaḥ srotaḥsvaraṇīṣu cāgniḥ;
evamātmātmani gṛhyate’sau satyenainaṃ tapasā yo’nupaśyati. (1.15)

Word meaning: tileṣu- in sesame seeds; tailaṃ- oil; dadhini- in curd; iva- just as, like that; sarpiḥ- butter; āpaḥ- water; srotaḥsu- in spring; araṇīṣu- in pieces of Araṇi wood; ca- and; agniḥ- fire; evam- in this way; ātmā- Ātmā; ātmani- within oneself, in own self; gṛhyate- is grasped; asau- this; satyena tapasā – by sincere tapas (by unflagging dedication and relentless effort); enaṃ- him; yaḥ- who; anupaśyati- reflect upon ….

Verse meaning: Just as oil in sesame seeds, butter in curd, water in spring and fire in pieces of Araṇi wood, this Ātmā remains imperceptible within everything. One who reflects upon Him by sincere tapas (perceives Him as such).

The phrase ‘this Ātmā’ is a reference to what is mentioned in the verses 1.13 & 1.14. It is declared in the next verse that the Ātmā which thus pervades everywhere is the Brahma. See the verse below:

सर्वव्यापिनमात्मानं क्षीरे सर्पिरिवार्पितम् |
आत्मविद्यातपोमूलं तद्ब्रह्मोपनिषत्परं || 1.16 ||

sarvavyāpinamātmānaṃ kṣīre sarpirivārpitam;
ātmavidyātapomūlaṃ tadbrahmopaniṣatparaṃ. (1.16)

Word meaning: sarvavyāpinam- pervading all; ātmānaṃ- Ātmā; kṣīre- in milk; sarpiḥ- butter; iva- like, as; arpitam- infixed; ātmavidyātapomūlaṃ- the basis of Ātmavidyā and tapas (Ātmavidyā is the instruction on Ātmā); tat- (perceive) that (as instructed in verse 1.14); brahmopaniṣatparaṃ – Brahma beyond Upaniṣads (Brahma taught by Upaniṣads).

Verse meaning: Ātmā is pervading all, like butter is infixed in milk and He is the basis of Ātmavidyā and tapas; know that Ātmā to be Brahma taught by Upaniṣads.

Kaṭha Upaniṣad says in 2.15 that the basis of all tapas, the study of Vedas and observance of chastity is the syllable ‘Om’, which represents Ātmā. This is what the word ‘ātmavidyātapomūlaṃ’ expresses here. The verse says that Ātmā which pervades everything is Brahma. The clause that qualifies Ātmā here is not a mere adjectival clause, but it states a condition. Its implication is that Ātmā is Brahma when He is in the state of pervading all; when Ātmā remains within Himself, with all the manifestations withdrawn, He is not Brahma. This is what the verse conveys.

Chapter 2 opens with some prescriptions of physical disciplines that may help in attaining to the ultimate principle. These disciplines consist of controlling the mind and senses. Verse 2.14 says that like a mirror with dust shines brilliantly when cleaned, one gets devoid of miseries and becomes fully contented when he knows the ultimate principle.

It is declared in verse 2.15 that like a lamp helps in sighting objects, the principle of Ātmā helps in getting the true knowledge of Brahma. When one knows Ātmā as unborn, eternal and free from modifications, he gets relieved from all bondages. Verse 2.16 affirms that Ātmā is all-pervading; He is the manifesting principle and exists in all beings as the subtle entity.

In chapter 3 we see a detailed description of the nature of Ātmā. Verse 3.1 says that those who know the one and only one Ātmā ruling the entire world with His power of Māyā, become immortal; Ātmā is the one from whom, in the beginning, the worlds emerged and to whom, in the end, the worlds will merge. This idea is further discussed in various dimensions in the next few verses and the discussion concludes in verses 3.9 and 3.10. We may consider these verses now.

यस्मात्परं नापरमस्ति किंचित् यस्मान्नाणीयो न ज्यायोऽस्ति कश्चित् |
वृक्ष इव स्तब्धो दिवि तिष्ठत्येकः तेनेदं पूर्णं पुरुषेण सर्वम् || 3.9 ||

yasmātparaṃ nāparamasti kiṃcit yasmānnāṇīyo na jyāyo’sti kaścit;
vṛkṣa iva stabdho divi tiṣṭhatyekaḥ tenedaṃ pūrṇaṃ puruṣeṇa sarvam. (3.9)

Word meaning: yasmāt- than whom; paraṃ- beyond; na- not; aparam- any other; asti- exists; kiṃcit- anything; aṇīyaḥ- subtler; jyāyaḥ- grosser; kaścit- anyone;
vṛkṣa- tree; iva- just as; stabdhaḥ- unmoving; divi- in resplendence; tiṣṭhati- dwells; ekaḥ- only one; tena- by Him; idaṃ- this, here; pūrṇaṃ- full; puruṣeṇa- by Puruṣa; sarvam- all.

Verse meaning: All this (the entire universe) is full with the one and only one Puruṣa who dwells in resplendence and is unmoving like a tree; there is nothing beyond him and none subtler or grosser than him.

We already know that Puruṣa is Ātmā with Prakṛti invoked. The phrase ‘dwells in resplendence’ means that Puruṣa is pure resplendence. He is unmoving since he fills everywhere; no space is left for him to move about. Regarding subtlety and grossness, we have already discussed them in Chāndogya 3.14.2 & 3.14.3, Kaṭha 2.20 and Muṇḍaka 3.1.7.

Now we may see verse 3.10. It says that those who know the said Puruṣa become immortal, while others get grieved.

ततो यदुत्तरतरं तदरूपमनामयम् |
य एतद्विदुरमृतास्ते भवन्ति अथेतरे दुःखमेवापियन्ति || 3.10 ||

tato yaduttarataraṃ tadarūpamanāmayam;
ya etadviduramṛtāste bhavanti athetare duḥkhamevāpiyanti. (3.10)

Word meaning: tataḥ- than that (than the visible universe referred to in the previous verse); yat- what, that which; uttarataraṃ- far higher; tat- that; arūpam- formless; anāmayam- free from afflictions; yaḥ- who; etat- this; viduḥ- know; amṛtāḥ- immortal; te- they; bhavanti- become; atha- but; itare- the others; duḥkham- misery; eva- indeed, only; apiyanti- go into, suffer.

Verse meaning: That which is far higher than the visible universe is formless and free from afflictions. Those who know this become immortal and others suffer misery.

The reference here is obviously to Puruṣa who is Ātmā. It is a sustained message in Upaniṣads that knowledge of Ātmā leads to immortality. The phrase ‘far higher than’ indicates subtlety.

In the next three verses, the Upaniṣad elaborates on the pervasion of Puruṣa in the universe. It is said that Puruṣa dwells in the inner-most part of beings sustaining them all. He is said to be of thumb-size; this is a reference to the Heart (Thalamus), the center of consciousness within the body, the size of which approximates to a thumb. It is also reiterated that those who know him become immortal.

The next two verses (3.14 and 3.15) are the first two hymns of Puruṣa Sukta of Ṛgveda (10.90). The importance of Puruṣa Sukta is that it contains some sparks of the basic thoughts constituting the foundation on which spiritual philosophy of India evolved in course of later ages. Ṛsi Narāyaṇa is its revealer and Puruṣa is the Devatā. See the verses below:

सहस्रशीर्षा पुरुषः सहस्राक्षः सहस्रपात् |
स भूमिं विश्वतो वृत्वा अत्यतिष्ठद्दशाङ्गुलम् || 3.14 ||

sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ sahasrākṣaḥ sahasrapāt;
sa bhūmiṃ viśvato vṛtvā atyatiṭhaddaśāṅgulam. (3.14)

Word meaning: sahasraśīrṣā- with thousand heads; puruṣaḥ- Puruṣa; sahasrākṣaḥ- with thousand eyes; sahasrapāt- with thousand feet; saḥ- He; bhūmiṃ- the world; viśvato- from all sides; vṛtvā- having enveloped; atyatiṣṭhat- extends by, transcends; daśāṅgulam- by ten fingers.

Verse meaning: The Puruṣa is with thousand heads, thousand eyes and thousand feet. Having enveloped the world from all sides He extends further by ten fingers.

The word ‘thousand’ indicates innumerability; the reference of thousand heads, eyes and feet is an allusion to the all-pervasive nature of Puruṣa. Extending by ten fingers means that Puruṣa is not contained within the world, but the world is located within Him; He holds the world. Gīta 9.4 declares thus: ‘all beings abide in Me: and I do not dwell in them’. Gīta further says in 9.5 thus: ‘I hold the beings and I am not within them’.

पुरुष एवेदं सर्वं यद्भूतं यच्च भव्यम् |
उतामृतत्वस्येशानो यदन्नेनातिरोहति || 3.15 ||

puruṣa evedaṃ sarvaṃ yadbhūtaṃ yacca bhavyam;
utāmṛtatvasyeśāno yadannenātirohati. (3.15)

Word meaning: puruṣa- Puruṣa; eva- indeed, certainly; idaṃ sarvaṃ – this all; yadbhūtaṃ- that which existed in the past; yacca bhavyam – and that which will come to exist in future; uta- and; amṛtatvasyeśāno- dispenser of immortality, the sustainer; yadannenātirohati – that which grows by food (living beings).

Verse meaning: Puruṣa indeed is all that exists at present, that existed in the past and that will exist in future; He is the dispenser of immortality to all that grows by food.

Dispenser of immortality means the provider of the immortal part of beings. We know that all beings have a mortal part and an immortal part; for, Brahma has two forms (Bṛhadāraṇyaka 2.3.1) and therefore, beings originated by its expansion also must have two forms, namely mortal and immortal. The mortal part comes from Prakṛti and the immortal part from Puruṣa. This is the idea.

The next two verses are explanations to the Vedic hymns quoted above. Verse 3.16 says that Puruṣa has hands, feet, eyes, heads, mouths, and ears everywhere; He exists enclosing everything. This verse is same as verse 13.13 of Gīta. Verse 3.17 also is seen partially reproduced in Gīta as verse 13.14. It says that He is without senses, but He is the light of all senses; He is the Ruler and refuge of all. Combining these two verses together, we have to understand that Puruṣa is inherently devoid of senses and other organs, but he possesses all the organs of all the beings belonging to the manifestation.

In continuation of the above idea, the next verse asserts the greatness of Puruṣa in precise terms. See the verse below:

अपाणिपादो जवनो ग्रहीता पश्यत्यचक्षुः स शृणोत्यकर्णः |
स वेत्ति वेद्यं न च तस्यास्ति वेत्ता तमाहुरग्र्यं पुरुषं महान्तम् || 3.19 ||

apāṇipādo javano grahītā paśyatyacakṣuḥ sa śṛṇotyakarṇaḥ;
sa vetti vedyaṃ na ca tasyāsti vettā tamāhuragryaṃ puruṣaṃ mahāntam. (3.19)

Word meaning: apāṇipādaḥ- without hands and feet; javanaḥ- moving quickly; grahītā- grasping; paśyati- sees; acakṣuḥ- without eyes; saḥ- He; śṛṇoti- hears; akarṇaḥ- without ears; vetti- knows; vedyaṃ- that which is to be known; na- not; ca- and; tasya- His; asti- exists; vettā- knower; tamāhuragryaṃ – He is said to be primal; puruṣaṃ- Puruṣa; mahāntam- great.

Verse meaning: He moves quickly without feet, grasps without hands, sees without eyes and hears without ears. He knows all that is to be known; but, there is none who knows Him. He is said to be the great primal Puruṣa.

The verse implies that Puruṣa is the facilitator of all the actions done with the ten senses; all those actions become possible because of Him only.

The next verse (3.20) is same as verse 2.20 of Kaṭha, except a minor difference in arrangement of words. The verse says about subtlety and grossness of Puruṣa, which we have seen many a time.

The fourth chapter discourses on the manifestation and pervasion of Puruṣa. The first verse therein says that Puruṣa, who is One without a second and devoid of ‘covering’ (envelope), projects many coverings out of unknown intentions. The word used here to mean ‘covering’ is varṇa (वर्ण) which has got many meanings like color, type, etc. Here, the context takes the meaning, ‘covering’; for, manifestations are like coverings (envelopes) of Puruṣa. His original state is devoid of coverings.

In the next few verses, Puruṣa is described as the ruling force of the entire universe. Then, in verses 4.6 and 4.7, the two roles of Puruṣa in every being are presented by means of an allegory of two birds, which we have studied in great detail in verses 3.1.1 and 3.1.2 of Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad.

Turning to verse 4.10 we find an important declaration which is not seen in any Principal Upaniṣad. Here is the verse:

मायां तु प्रकृतिं विद्यात् मायिनं तु महेश्वरम् |
तस्यावयव भूतैस्तु व्याप्तं सर्वमिदं जगत् || 4.10 ||

māyāṃ tu prakṛtiṃ vidyāt māyinaṃ tu maheśvaram;
tasyāvayava bhūtaistu vyāptaṃ sarvamidaṃ jagat. (4.10)

Word meaning: māyāṃ- Māyā (illusion); tu- (an expletive); prakṛtiṃ- Prakṛti; vidyāt- know; māyinaṃ- the Lord of Māyā (Illusionist); maheśvaram- the Great Īśa (Puruṣa);
tasya- His; avayava- body parts; bhūtaiḥ- by beings; vyāptaṃ- filled; sarvamidaṃ jagat – all this world.

Verse meaning: Know that Māyā is Prakṛti and the Lord of Māyā is Puruṣa. The entire world is filled with beings which are His body parts.

This verse declares that Māyā and Prakṛti are same; the difference in names indicates only the diverse functions. As already mentioned above, Māyā causes illusion and Prakṛti provides the material for it. Both these functions are done by the same power of Ātmā that is used to appear variously.

The main message in the verses that follow is that by knowing Puruṣa, one gets immortality; nature of Puruṣa is also dealt with in them. It is stated in these verses that Puruṣa is the entity from whom the universe emerges and to whom it merges; He is the origin of all Devas; He encompasses the entire universe; He dwells in the Hearts of beings; He bestows the knowing power (Prañā – प्रज्ञा); His name is great glory; He has no creator; and He is not perceivable by the senses. These are all characteristics which we have already studied in other Upaniṣads and therefore, no detailed study is warranted here.

Now we move on to chapter 5. The subject of discussion therein is how Ātmā projects beings and how He sustains and withdraws them. In verse 5.1 a new concept is introduced connecting Vidyā (knowledge – enlightenment) and Avidyā (ignorance) with immortality and mortality respectively. The verse is given below:

द्वे अक्षरे ब्रह्मपरे त्वनन्ते विद्याविद्ये निहिते यत्र गूढे |
क्षरं त्वविद्या ह्यमृतं तु विद्या विद्याविद्ये ईशते यस्तु सोऽन्यः || 5.1 ||

dve akṣare brahmapare tvanante vidyāvidye nihite yatra gūḍhe;
kṣaraṃ tvavidyā hyamṛtaṃ tu vidyā vidyāvidye īśate yastu so’nyaḥ. (5.1)

Word meaning: dve- two, both; akṣare- in immortal; brahmapare- in Brahmapara, in the subtlety of Brahma; anante- in the infinite; vidyāvidye- Vidyā and Avidyā; nihite- lie deposited or hidden; yatra- where; gūḍhe- secretly; kṣaraṃ- mortal, perishable; tu- but; avidyā- Avidyā; hi-indeed; amṛtaṃ- immortal; vidyā- Vidyā; īśate- rules; yaḥ- who; saḥ- He; anyaḥ- another, different person.

Verse meaning: Both Vidyā and Avidyā lie hidden secretly in the immortal, infinite, subtle Brahma. Of these, Avidyā is mortal and Vidyā is immortal. But, the One who rules over both is another (different from both).

Vidyā implies knowledge of the supreme principle, the Ātmā. We know from many declarations of the Upaniṣads, already studied by us, that this knowledge leads to immortality. We have had sufficient discussions on immortality too. Avidyā is the opposite of Vidyā and therefore it obviously implies absence of the knowledge of Ātmā. This verse says that both of them are hidden in the subtlety of Brahma; subtlety denotes the undifferentiated state of Brahma. We know that mortality and immortality are two facets of Brahma (vide Bṛhadāraṇyaka 2.3.1). The verse here further says that He who rules over both is entirely different from them. He is the One who rules over the whole of Brahma; He is Ātmā.

In the next three verses the Upaniṣad reiterates that Puruṣa superintends all sources of birth and all forms of beings; He projects and withdraws beings again and again and through that process exercises full control over them.

Verses 5.5 and 5.6 examine the relation between Ātmā and Brahma. Let us consider them together.

यच्च स्वभावं पचति विश्वयोनिः पाच्यांश्च सर्वान् परिणामयेद्यः |
सर्वमेतद्विश्वमधितिष्ठत्येको गुणांश्च सर्वान् विनियोजयेद्यः || 5.5

yacca svabhāvaṃ pacati viśvayoniḥ pācyāṃśca sarvān pariṇāmayedyaḥ; sarvametadviśvamadhitiṣṭhatyeko guṇāṃśca sarvān viniyojayedyaḥ. (5.5)

Word meaning: yat- which; ca- and; svabhāvaṃ- inherent nature; pacati- makes evident, manifest; viśvayoniḥ- the source of universe; pācyān- those made evident; sarvān- all; pariṇāmayet- bring to an end; yaḥ- who; sarvametadviśvam- all this world; adhitiṣṭhati- superintends; ekaḥ- the One; guṇān- Guṇas; sarvān- all; viniyojayet- employ.

तद्वेदगुह्योपनिषत्सु गूढं तद्ब्रह्मा वेदते ब्रह्मयोनिम् |
ये पूर्वं देवा ऋषयश्च तद्विदुः ते तन्मया अमृता वै बभूवुः || 5.6 ||

tadvedaguhyopaniṣatsu gūḍhaṃ tadbrahmā vedate brahmayonim;
ye pūrvaṃ devā ṛṣayaśca tadviduḥ te tanmayā amṛtā vai babhūvuḥ. (5.6)

Word meaning: tat- that; vedaguhyopaniṣatsu- in the Upaniṣads which are the essence of Vedas; gūḍhaṃ- hidden; brahmā- the Lord Brahmā; vedate- knows; brahmayonim- source of Brahma; ye- who; pūrvaṃ- in the past; devāḥ- Devas; ṛṣayaḥ- Ṛsis; tat- that viduḥ- knew; te- they; tanmayā- absorbed in it; amṛtā- immortal; vai- verily, indeed; babhūvuḥ- became.

Verse meaning (of both the verses): That One who, being the source of the universe, manifests (his own) inherent nature and (in due course) withdraws all those thus manifested; who is the only One superintending the whole world; and who employs the Guṇas (for manifestation) – He is the hidden principle in Upaniṣads which are the essence of Vedas. Lord Brahmā knows Him to be the source of Brahma. Those Devas and Ṛsis who knew Him in the past verily became immortal.

In the first of the two verses, the nature of the entity is described variously (i) as the source of the universe, (ii) as the principle that manifests himself and later withdraws all that is so manifested, (iii) as the only One who superintends the whole world, and (iv) as the Ruler who employs Guṇas (for manifestation). In the second, it is said that Brahma originated from Him. All these are known facts for us. It is said here that Lord Brahmā knew Him to be the source of Brahma. Lord Brahmā is renowned as the Lord of speech (Vāgīśa) and therefore, He is mentioned to add credibility to the declaration.

We see two other outstanding declarations in verses 5.10 and 5.14; they are not seen in any Principal Upaniṣad. Let us first see verse 5.10.

नैव स्त्री न पुमानेष न चैवायं नपुंसकः |
यद्यच्छरीरमादत्ते तेन तेन स युज्यते || 5.10 ||

naiva strī na pumāneṣa na caivāyaṃ napuṃsakaḥ;
yadyaccharīramādatte tena tena sa yujyate. (5.10)

Word meaning: naiva strī – na eva strī – neither female; na pumān – nor male; eṣa- He; na caivāyaṃ napuṃsakaḥ – He is not neuter either; yadyat- whatever; śarīram- body; ādatte- assumes; tena tena – with each one of that; sa- He; yujyate- be identified accordingly.

Verse meaning: He is neither female, nor male; He is not neuter either. Whatever body is assumed, He becomes identified with it accordingly.

The declaration is important in that it categorically asserts Ātmā to be genderless. Now, we shall see verse 5.14:

भावग्राह्यमनीडाख्यं भावाभावकरं शिवम् |
कलासर्गकरं देवं ये विदुस्ते जहुस्तनुम् || 5.14 ||

bhāvagrāhyamanīḍākhyaṃ bhāvābhāvakaraṃ śivam;
kalāsargakaraṃ devaṃ ye viduste jahustanum. (5.14)

Word meaning: bhāvagrāhyam- conceived by the Heart; anīḍākhyaṃ- known to be incorporeal; bhāvābhāvakaraṃ- projecting and withdrawing; śivam- blissful;
kalāsargakaraṃ- integrating and disintegrating; devaṃ- Deva (Ātmā); ye- who; viduḥ- know; te- they; jahuḥ- give up; tanum- body, body consciousness.

Verse meaning: Ātmā can be conceived only by the Heart; He is known to be incorporeal; He projects and withdraws (beings); He integrates parts (to project beings) and disintegrates them, and He is blissful. Those who know Him give up body consciousness.

The verse says about giving up the body. This does not mean committing suicide; it indicates only the giving up of body consciousness. This, in turn, implies relief from all bondages; it is mokṣa or perfect freedom. Such a person never gets affected by worldly concerns and never capitulates to Kāma. So, on knowing Ātmā one gets mokṣa and he becomes immortal too.

Chapter 6 deals with the supremacy and uniqueness of Ātmā. The verses in the chapter describe Ātmā as the One without a second who projects, sustains and withdraws the phenomenal world. We, however, concentrate on those verses which possess comparatively higher philosophical importance and on those which are generally believed to be very difficult to understand. Let us begin with verse 1.

स्वभावमेके कवयो वदन्ति कालं तथान्ये परिमुह्यमानाः |
देवस्येष महिमा तु लोके येनेदं भ्राम्यते ब्रह्मचक्रम् || 6.1 ||

svabhāvameke kavayo vadanti kālaṃ tathānye parimuhyamānāḥ;
devasyeṣa mahimā tu loke yenedaṃ bhrāmyate brahmacakram. (6.1)

Word meaning: svabhāvam- nature; eke- some; kavayo- scholars; vadanti- say; kālaṃ- Time; tathā- thus; anye- others; parimuhyamānāḥ- confused; devasya- of the Deva; eṣa- this; mahimā- power of manifestation (power to appear variously at will); tu- but; loke- in the world; yena- by whom; idaṃ- this; bhrāmyate- revolves; brahmacakram- Wheel of Brahma.

Verse meaning: Some scholars say that the Wheel of Brahma revolves because of its own nature, but some others say that it is because of Time. Both are confused. What we see in the world is the power of Deva (Puruṣa – Ātmā) to appear variously; the Wheel of Brahma revolves because of this power.

We have discussed the Wheel of Brahma in the introduction to verse 1.6. Further details can be seen in the study of verse 1.6 itself. The message here is that the phenomenal world does not exist on its own. There is a subtle transcending power which is the energy behind it. Kaṭha 2.6 declares that those, who see nothing beyond the phenomenal world, are susceptible to recurring miseries.

Verse 6.2 clarifies the contention in 6.1 by elaborating the concept. See the verse below:

येनावृतं नित्यमिदं हि सर्वं ज्ञः कालकारो गुणी सर्वविद्यः |
तेनेशितं कर्म विवर्तते ह पृथिव्यप्तेप्तेजोऽनिलखानि चिन्त्यम् || 6.2 ||

yenāvṛtaṃ nityamidaṃ hi sarvaṃ jñaḥ kālakāro guṇī sarvavidyaḥ;
teneśitaṃ karma vivartate ha pṛthivyaptejo’nilakhāni cintyam. (6.2)

Word meaning: yena- by whom; āvṛtaṃ- enveloped; nityam- for ever; idaṃ- this; hi- indeed; sarvaṃ- all; jñaḥ- the knowing entity; kālakāraḥ- the initiator of time; guṇī- the Lord of Guṇas; sarvavid- omniscient; yaḥ- who; tena- by Him; īśitaṃ- ruled; karma- Karma; (tena- by Him); vivartate- come forth; ha- indeed; pṛthivyaptejo’nilakhāni- earth, water, fire, air and space (Pañcabhūtas); cintyam- to be conceived.

Verse meaning: It is because of the omniscient and knowing entity, the initiator of time and the Lord of Guṇas, that Karma gets actualized and Pañcabhūtas emerge; this is to be borne in mind.

The reference to ‘omniscient’, etc. obviously relates to Ātmā. This verse says that Ātmā is instrumental in the performance of Karma and that He stimulates the emergence of Pañcabhūtas. Therefore the Wheel of Brahma evidently revolves by this power.

The next two verses say about the connection between time and the continued existence of manifestation and why Ātmā is not affected by Karmas. Incidentally, these two verses are considered to be a hard nut for interpreters. Let us, therefore, approach them with caution. The two verses are connected with each other and therefore we are to consider them together.

तत्कर्म कृत्वा विनिवर्त्य भूयः तत्त्वस्य तत्त्वेन समेत्य योगम् |
एकेन द्वाभ्यां त्रिभिरष्टभिर्वा कालेन चैवात्मगुणैश्च सूक्ष्मैः || 6.3 ||

tatkarma kṛtvā vinivartya bhūyaḥ tattvasya tattvena sametya yogam;
ekena dvābhyāṃ tribhiraṣṭabhirvā kālena caivātmaguṇaiśca sūkṣmaiḥ. (6.3)

Word meaning: tat- that; karma- Karma; kṛtvā- having done; vinivartya- ceasing, taking a break; bhūyaḥ- again; tattvasya- to the element (to each of the Pañcabhūtas); tattvena- by the element; sametya yogam – joining together; ekena dvābhyāṃ tribhiraṣṭabhirvā- by one, twos or by threes and eights; kālena- by time; caiva- and surely; ātmaguṇaiśca sūkṣmaiḥ – by own subtle Guṇas.

आरभ्य कर्माणि गुणान्वितानि भावांश्च सर्वान्विनियोजयेद्यः |
तेषामभावे कृतकर्मनाशः कर्मक्षये याति स तत्त्वतोऽन्यः || 6.4 ||

ārabhya karmāṇi guṇānvitāni bhāvāṃśca sarvānviniyojayedyaḥ;
teṣāmabhāve kṛtakarmanāśaḥ karmakṣaye yāti sa tattvato’nyaḥ. (6.4)

Word meaning: ārabhya- having begun; karmāṇi- Karmas; guṇānvitāni- with Guṇas; bhāvān- various mental states of beings; ca- and; sarvān- all (beings); viniyojayet- assign to or employ; yaḥ- who; teṣāmabhāve- in the absence of or being devoid of them (the bhāvāḥ); kṛtakarmanāśaḥ- dissolution of performed karma; karmakṣaye- on dissolution of karma; yāti- proceed to be, achieve; sa- He; tattvato’nyaḥ- different from tattva (from element).

Verse meaning (both verses together): Having done that Karma (the projection of Pañcabhūtas) He effects a pause; then He joins together elements with elements by employing their own subtle Guṇas and by connecting time in ones, twos, or threes and eights.

Having thus initiated Karmas employing Guṇas, He assigns various bhāvās to all beings. Being devoid of such bhāvās, all these Karmas performed by Him stand dissolved (He is not affected by them). As such, He remains in the state of being different from tattva (different from elements).

The first verse (6.3) says about the mode of projection of the phenomenal world. This takes place in two stages. The initial stage is a projection of Pañcabhūtas. There is a break after the first stage; this implies that projection of new elements is discontinued. The second stage is a projection of beings from Pañcabhūtas by their combination on the basis of subtle Guṇas and by linking with time. The measure of time is given here as one, two, or threes and eights. All are to be understood as units of time. One refers to one day or its multiples; ‘two’ refers to day and night; threes and eights are references to eight divisions of a day consisting of three hours each (Prahara or प्रहर is the name of each such division of time with a duration of three hours; that is why 3 x 8).

Verse 2.4.12 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad states that Pañcabhūtas are verily vijñānaghana (विज्ञानघन – mass of knowledge); it also states that all beings originate from them and on expiry of a given time merge into them. This revelation matches well with the teaching in verse 6.3 here.

The emergence of beings from Pañcabhūtas is by employing Guṇas and invoking time. According to the second verse (6.4), by initiating the emergence of beings the Puruṣa or Ātmā assigns bhāvās to beings. This simply means that with the assumption of bodies made of Pañcabhūtas, beings assume bhāvās on account thereof. Bhāvās are, as we have seen above, mental states of beings, the basis of which is the ‘I’ and ‘Mine’ consciousness. It is these bhāvās which cause attachment and bondage. In the absence of such bhāvās, the performed Karmas are incapable of causing attachment and bondage; this is mentioned in the verse as the dissolution of Karmas. Since Puruṣa has no such bhāva, He is described in the verse to be different from or beyond the basic elements of projection of beings, the Pañcabhūtas.

In the next three verses, the Upaniṣad urges to realize the said Ātmā by constant meditation. Verses 8 and 9 contain an important declaration which is the leading theme of spiritual knowledge in some other religion originated outside India. Let us look at the verses one by one.

न तस्य कार्यं करणं च विद्यते न तत्समश्चाभ्यधिकश्च दृश्यते |
परास्य शक्तिर्विविधैव श्रूयते स्वाभाविकी ज्ञानबलक्रिया च || 6.8 ||

na tasya kāryaṃ karaṇaṃ ca vidyate na tatsamaścābhyadhikaśca dṛśyate;
parāsya śaktirvividhaiva śrūyate svābhāvikī jñānabalakriyā ca. (6.8)

Word meaning: na- not; tasya- His; kāryaṃ- to be done; karaṇaṃ- doing, activity; ca- and; vidyate- exist; tatsamaḥ- His equal; abhyadhikaḥ- superior; na dṛśyate- not seen, does not exist; asya- His; parāśaktiḥ- great power; vividhā- various; eva- surely; śrūyate- heard; svābhāvikī- natural, inherent; jñānabala- strength of knowledge; kriyā- composition.

Verse meaning: There exists nothing for Him to do; nor does He have any activity. None is equal or superior to Him. What is declared (in Vedas and all) is only about the various expressions of his great power and also about the strength and composition of his inherent knowledge.

The ‘He’ mentioned here is the ‘Lord of all lords, the God of all gods and the Ruler of all rulers’ (vide verse 6.7). The declaration about Him here is that none is equal or superior to Him, which is the keyword of some other religious philosophy. This very same philosophy has been an established thought all through the spiritual literature of India, especially in the higher texts of Upaniṣad which originated in this land in very ancient times when the whole world was tottering with infantile conceptions. This verily is the message conveyed by the declarations in Upaniṣads about Ātmā being one without a second, His pervading the world, His being the origin and support of all, His being not surpassable, etc.; we have studied them all. Gīta says in verse 7.7 that there is nothing superior to Kṛṣṇa who is Ātmā. Apart from stating categorically that the Supreme God has no equal or superior, the Upaniṣads further declare that this God is simply a principle, Ātmā who is without body and who pervades all.

Regarding the absence of actions, Gīta says in verse 3.22 that no duty exists anywhere for Kṛṣṇa to do and nothing is there for Him to achieve. If He is still engaged in duties, it is because of His being currently in a human body.

Now see verse 6.9 below:

न तस्य कश्चित् पतिरस्ति लोके न चेशिता नैव च तस्य लिङ्गम् |
स कारणं करणाधिपाधिपो न चास्य कश्चित् जनिता न चाधिपः || 6.9 ||

na tasya kaścit patirasti loke na ceśitā naiva ca tasya liṅgam;
sa kāraṇaṃ karaṇādhipādhipo na cāsya kaścit janitā na cādhipaḥ. (6.9)

Word meaning: na- not; tasya- His; kaścit- anyone; patiḥ- master; asti-exists; loke- in the world; ca- and; īśitā- superior; naiva- nor even; liṅgam- sign, idol; sa- He; kāraṇaṃ- cause; karaṇādhipādhipaḥ- master of the mind (mind being the master of karaṇās, the organs of action); asya- His; janitā- originator; adhipaḥ- lord.

Verse meaning: He has no master in the world; nor any superior or idol. He is the cause (of all) and master of the mind; He has no father (originator) or lord.

Put in purely theological terms, this verse means that God has no father and no idol. He is without origin and is the Supreme Ruler of the world. This God, according to the previous verses, is the Lord of all lords; He is Ātmā.

Thus, the superiority and unity of Ātmā, the Supreme God who is only a bodiless principle, is unequivocally and unambiguously asserted in these two verses. But, in spite of being the land of origin of this supreme thought, that too, hundreds of years before the whole world had any glimpse of anything like it, India, as a people, has not lived up to that greatness, but instead, chose to continue with the primitive practices of yore in the name of religion. It is a matter of great pity that darkness is preferred to sublime light and mythology to rational philosophy. If religion is anything concerned with the practice of spiritual principles, its ultimate is the religion of Upaniṣads. But, in this land of Upaniṣads, even after thousands of years since the culminating thoughts of rational spiritual philosophy were revealed, the religion of Upaniṣads still remains a mere ideal. Upaniṣads contain the ultimate of spiritual philosophy beyond which no speculative enterprise can ever go. Indians are not utilizing the strength of this supreme philosophy, even to a small extent. Resultantly, they remain vulnerable to the attacks of external ideals with lesser philosophic merit.

The message in the above two verses is taken further to new heights in the ensuing verses. See verse 6.11.

एको देवः सर्वभूतेषु गूढः सर्वव्यापी सर्वभूतान्तरात्मा |
कर्माध्यक्षः सर्वभूताधिवासः साक्षी चेता केवलो निर्गुणश्च || 6.11 ||

eko devaḥ sarvabhūteṣu gūḍhaḥ sarvavyāpī sarvabhūtāntarātmā;
karmādhyakṣaḥ sarvabhūtādhivāsaḥ sākṣī cetā kevalo nirguṇaśca. (6.11)

Word meaning: ekaḥ- the one without a second; devaḥ- Deva; sarvabhūteṣu- in all beings; gūḍhaḥ- hidden; sarvavyāpī- all-pervading; sarvabhūtāntarātmā- the Ātmā within all beings; karmādhyakṣaḥ- the one who presides over all Karma, the impeller of Karma; sarvabhūtādhivāsaḥ- the abode of all beings; sākṣī- witness; cetā- consciousness; kevalaḥ- absolute; nirguṇaḥ- devoid of Guṇas; ca- and.

Verse meaning: There is only one Deva; He is the Ātmā within all; He is hidden in all beings, pervading them, impelling and witnessing all their Karma; He is the abode of all beings, pure consciousness and the absolute; He is also devoid of Guṇas.

This is the paramount revelation of Indian spiritual philosophy. The Deva or Īśwara or God is only one and He is the Ātmā within all. He is revealed as pure consciousness and the absolute. The phrase ‘hidden in all beings’ indicates the impossibility of grasping Him by the sense organs as well as His pervasion. Gīta verse 18.61 also declares that Īśwara is within everyone’s Heart. So, one need not look outwards in search of Īśwara; He is in every iota of all. As such, those who are in search of Īśwara should look inwards; all prayers are to be directed inwards. Prayers are nothing but intense willing; their fulfillment is determined by the intensity and perseverance with which they are made. We studied about it in the Science of Praśna Upaniṣad (verse 3.10).

We know that Ātmā is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA and also that all Karmas of all beings result from the urge either to exist, or to know and express, or to derive happiness. These three urges originate directly from SAT, CHIT, and ĀNANDA respectively. It is because of this fact that Ātmā is stated as the impeller of Karma. Since He is without any organs of actions and He has nothing to be achieved, no action is executed by Him; he is said to be a witness only. He is without Guṇa since Prakṛti is the repository of Guṇas. Verse 6.11 thus encompasses all important features of what we understand as Ātmā and also states that this Ātmā is the Īśwara or God.

In the next verse, the Deva is said to be the one who controls the multitude of beings which are inherently incapable of self-movement. As stated above, it is the urge derived from Ātmā that makes the beings act in various ways; this is the way Ātmā controls all. The verse also says that Ātmā makes a single seed manifest as many; the seed is Himself and by invoking the manifesting power, the Prakṛti, He makes Himself many. Verses 6.12 and 6.13 declare that those who know Ātmā attain eternal bliss.

Verse 6.14 states that Ātmā is the only shining light and all beings shine because of His light. We saw the same verse in Kaṭha 5.15 and Muṇḍaka 2.2.10.

Another important declaration comes in verses 6.18 and 6.19. It asserts that Brahma was projected by Ātmā in the beginning.

यो ब्रह्माणं विदधाति पूर्वं यो वै वेदांश्च प्रहिणोति तस्मै |
तं ह देवमात्मबुद्धिप्रकाशं मुमुक्षुर्वै शरणमहं प्रपद्ये || 6.18 ||

yo brahmāṇaṃ vidadhāti pūrvaṃ yo vai vedāṃśca prahiṇoti tasmai;
taṃ ha devamātmabuddhiprakāśaṃ mumukṣurvai śaraṇamahaṃ prapadye. (6.18)

Word meaning: yaḥ- who; brahmāṇaṃ vidadhāti – projected Brahma; pūrvaṃ- previously, in the past; vai- indeed; vedān prahiṇoti – revealed Vedas; tasmai- to it;
Taṃ devam- in that Deva; ha- indeed; ātmabuddhiprakāśaṃ- brightening one’s buddhi; mumukṣuḥ- desirous of freedom from bondage; vai- indeed; ahaṃ – I; śaraṇam prapadye- seek refuge.

Verse meaning: Being desirous of freeing myself from worldly bondage, I seek refuge in that Deva who brightens up my Buddhi and who projected Brahma in the past and revealed Vedas to it.

The message of the verse is that those who realize Ātmā become free from bondage. Conversely, those, who eliminate all the bondages from inside, realize Ātmā. We have seen this message again and again previously. Two things specially mentioned in the verse are the brightening of Buddhi and projection of Brahma. It is the consciousness that makes Buddhi shine; consciousness is a constituent of Ātmā and therefore brightening of Buddhi is truly done by Ātmā. When Ātmā invokes its power Prakṛti, He is known as Puruṣa; we know that this Prakṛti-Puruṣa combine is Brahma. So Brahma is verily projected by Ātmā. Brahma on expansion appears as the phenomenal world. The Vedas occurred to the meditative minds of the world, in the past. This is what the verse describes as revealing the Vedas to Brahma.

Verse 6.19 is a description of various characteristics of Ātmā. It is stated that Ātmā is without parts and activity, faultless, untainted, etc. He is like a mighty fire that burnt down all fuel and He is the supreme link that connects one to immortality. In the reference of ‘mighty fire burning all fuel,’ the fire is pure knowledge and fuel is the world of sensual experiences. The implication is that pure knowledge burns down all attachments to the sensual world.

The next verse (6.20) declares in definite terms that without knowing Ātmā there cannot be any relief from misery.

यदा चर्मवदाकाशं वेष्टयिष्यन्ति मानवाः |
तदा देवमविज्ञाय दुःखस्यान्तो भविष्यति || 6.20 ||

yadā carmavadākāśaṃ veṣṭayiṣyanti mānavāḥ;
tadā devamavijñāya duḥkhasyānto bhaviṣyati. (6.20)

Word meaning: yadā- when; carmavadākāśaṃ- sky as a piece of hiding; veṣṭayiṣyanti- will wrap up or envelop; mānavāḥ- men; tadā- then; devamavijñāya- without knowing Deva; duḥkhasya- of misery; antaḥ- end; bhaviṣyati- will occur

Verse meaning: End of miseries without knowing Deva will be possible, only when it is possible for men to envelop themselves with the sky as a piece of hiding.

The message is that miseries will not expire till one realizes the Ātmā; no amount of prayers to Devas, no method of propitiation of deities and no number of pilgrimages to holy places will be effective in eliminating one’s miseries of worldly life. They can only be ended by realizing the ultimate principle of Ātmā. That is why Muṇḍaka states in verse 1.2.7 that Yajñas (यज्ञ) with inferior Karmas prescribed in Purāṇas are fragile rafts to cross the ocean of worldly miseries.

Ṛsi Śvetāśvatara propounded this knowledge in the past, to Sannyāsins of the highest order. The Upaniṣad ends by an instruction that these teachings should be given, only to those sons and disciples who are well composed; such teachings will shine, only in those who have a supreme devotion to the Deva (Ātmā) and the Guru.

The Science of Upaniṣads

Brihadaranyaka Upaniṣad

Chāndogya Upaniṣad

Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad

Kaṭha Upaniṣad

Kena Upaniṣad

Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad

Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad

Aitareya Upaniṣad

Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad

Praśna Upaniṣad

Taittirīya Upaniṣad

The Science of Upaniṣads – Conclusion

Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad

“SATYAMEVA JAYATE (सत्यमेव जयते)” is the national motto of India. All Indians do know it; but, most of them may not know that this is part of an Upanishadic mantra. Yes, it forms part of verse 3.1.6 of Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, which is the subject of discussion in this article; this is the seventh in the series ‘The Science of Upaniṣads’.

Muṇḍaka belongs to Atharva Veda and consists of six parts (Khaṇḍas) arranged in three sections which are known as Muṇḍaka(s). Each verse is numbered by the section, part and serial numbers; accordingly 1.2.3 indicates verse 3 of part 2 of Muṇḍaka 1.

As usual, this Upaniṣad also speaks about Ātmā and Brahma and also about the paths for attaining thereto; but the exposition herein is rather direct and precise. The postulations in the Upaniṣad are presented in the form of instructions imparted to one Śaunaka (शौनक), a great householder, by Sage Angiras. Śaunaka approaches and asks Angiras, “Lord, what having known does all this become known?” (Bhagavo, kasmin vijñāte sarvamidaṃ vijñātaṃ bhavati – भगवो, कस्मिन् विज्ञाते सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवति). It may be recalled that this is the same question which Sage Uddālaka Āruṇi asked his son Śvetaketu to test whether the son had got proper instruction (6.1.2 of Chāndogya Upaniṣad). Śvetaketu failed in the test, in spite of his being proficient in Vedas through twelve years of Veda studies. Implied therein is the declaration that mere knowledge of Vedas is not adequate to elevate man to higher levels of awareness culminating in immortality. We see the same sight here also; Angiras asserts that knowledge of Vedas and Vedangas (texts subsidiary to Vedas) is verily inferior to the knowledge by which the imperishable is known (1.1.4 & 1.1.5). Gīta verses 2.42, 2.45 and 2.46 reflect the same view. Particularly, Gīta verse 2.45 indicates that Vedas are concerned with physical aspects of life and in contrast, the desirable pursuit is detachment from them. Vedas here obviously refer to the Samhitas and other texts dealing with physical accomplishments (karmakāṇḍa).

Angiras follows up by explaining the superior knowledge that leads to attainment of immortality. His explication is about the transcendent entity, knowing which one attains immortality. Please see below what he says:

यत्तदद्रेश्यमग्राह्यमगोत्रमवर्णंमचक्षुःश्रोत्रं तदपाणिपादम् |
नित्यं विभुं सर्वगतं सुसूक्ष्मं तदव्ययं यद्भूतयोनिं परिपश्यन्ति धीराः || 1.1.6 ||

yattadadreśyamagrāhyamagotramavarṇamacakṣuḥśrotraṃ tadapāṇipādam;
nityaṃ vibhuṃ sarvagataṃ susūkṣmaṃ tadavyayaṃ yadbhūtayoniṃ paripaśyanti dhīrāḥ. (1.1.6)

Word meaning: yat tat- that which; adreśyam- invisible; agrāhyam- inconceivable; agotram- without lineage or origin; avarṇam- without Varṇa; acakṣuḥśrotraṃ- without eyes and ears; tat- that; apāṇipādam- without hands and feet; nityaṃ- eternal; vibhum- pervasive; sarvagatam- omni-present; susūkṣmam- extremely subtle; avyayam- undecaying; yat- which; bhūtayoniṃ- the source of beings; paripaśyanti- perceive, behold, see; dhīrāḥ- the wise, the intelligent.

Verse meaning: That which is invisible, inconceivable, without lineage, without Varṇa, without eyes and ears, without hands and feet, and that which is eternal, all-pervasive, omnipresent, extremely subtle and undecaying – that is what the wise behold as the source of all beings.

The entity described here is obviously transcendent; it is beyond the phenomenal existence, but at the same time the cause thereof. We have already seen these descriptions of the transcendent entity in the study of other Upaniṣads; see Bṛhadāraṇyaka 1.4.7 (unseen, unknown), 1.4.10 (origin); Chāndogya 3.14.3 (pervasive, subtle), 8.1.1 to 8.1.5 (pervasive, undecaying); Īśa 4, 5 & 8 (unseen, pervasive); Kaṭha 2.20 (subtle), 6.9 (unseen); etc. etc. All these descriptions relate to Ātmā. Here it is added that Ātmā is without lineage and Varṇa. Since it is the ultimate entity, it must be without lineage; it should not have descended from anything else. Kaṭha Upaniṣad says the same thing in 2.18 (नायं कुतश्चित् – nāyaṃ kutaścit); it is seen expressed in Gīta 2.20 also (नायं भूत्वा भवित – nāyaṃ bhūtvā bhavita). Now, what does the phrase ‘without Varṇa’ mean? Varṇa is not caste, as many usually understand; it indicates the four classes into which the entire mankind is distributed. The Varṇa classification is primarily based on the proportion of Guṇas occurring in individual beings and then on the Karmas done under the influence of such Guṇas. Guṇa is the inherent proclivity in beings, instrumental in performance of Karma; there are three Guṇas, namely, Sattva, Rajas & Tamas (सत्त्व, रजस्, तमस्). The Varṇa classification has nothing to do with castes. There are thousands of castes in India, which are confined within the believers of Hinduism; but Varṇas are only four in number and, as per the scriptures, cover the entire mankind. Moreover, there is no scriptural prescription classifying various castes into particular Varṇas. Details of Varṇa classification are available in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 1.4.11 to 1.4.14. Further clarifications can be seen in Gīta 4.13, 18.42 to 18.44, etc. Since Ātmā is beyond Guṇas and Karma, it is naturally without Varṇa; it is Avarṇa. In this context, it may be noted that ignorant people use the word ‘Avarṇa’ to indicate certain castes, which they consider lower in status; this only betrays their ignorance and foolishness.

How can physical beings come out from such an entity that is beyond physical attributes? The next three verses explain:

यथोर्णनाभिः सृजते गृह्णते च यथा पृथिव्यामोषधयः संभवन्ति |
यथा सतः पुरुषात् केशलोमानि तथाक्षरात्संभवतीह विश्वम् || 1.1.7 ||

yathorṇanābhiḥ sṛjate gṛhṇate ca yathā pṛthivyāmoṣadhayaḥ saṃbhavanti;
yathā sataḥ puruṣāt keśalomāni tathākṣarātsaṃbhavatīha viśvam. (1.1.7)

Word meaning: yathā- as, just like; ūrṇanābhi- spider; sṛjate- emits; gṛhṇate- take back; ca- and; pṛthivyām- on the earth; oṣadhayaḥ- herbs; saṃbhavanti- spring up; sataḥ puruṣāt – from living person; keśalomāni- hairs (on head and body); tathā- so, in that manner; akṣarāt- from the imperishable; saṃbhavati- arises, happens; iha- here, this; viśvam- universe.

Verse meaning: As a spider emits threads (and makes its web) and takes them back (at his will), as herbs spring up on earth and as hairs grow from living persons, so does the universe arise from the Imperishable (entity).

Here, it is the factor of comparison that is important. What is that? In the example of spider and thread, the spider is unaffected by the emission of thread and also outlives the thread; moreover, it also sustains the thread and also withdraws it at its will. In the other two cases also, the sources remain unaffected and outlive the things sprung up from them. In this way the verse relates the universe to the Imperishable using the said factors of comparison. Now verse 1.1.8:

तपसा चीयते ब्रह्म ततोഽन्नमभिजायते |
अन्नात् प्राणो मनः सत्यम् लोकाः कर्मसु चामृतम् || 1.1.8 ||

tapasā cīyate brahma tatoഽnnamabhijāyate
annāt prāṇo manaḥ satyam lokāḥ karmasu cāmṛtam. (1.1.8)

Word meaning: tapasā- by tapas; cīyate- augment, expand, flourish; brahma- Brahma (this is not the Lord of Creation among Trimurtis, who is really Brahmā in Sanskrit; Brahma here is what usually get translated as Brahman; we have opted to go by the Sanskrit word as such, like Ātmā); tataḥ- from that; annam- food; abhijāyate- be produced, arise; annāt- from food, next to food; prāṇaḥ- Prāṇa; manaḥ- Manas; satyam- Satyam; lokāḥ- worlds; karmasu- in Karma; ca- and; amṛtam- eternity, never ending.

Verse Meaning: Brahma expands through tapas, from which food is produced; it is followed by Prāṇa, Manas and the worlds, which are only Satyam; together with these arises unending Karma also.

We know that Brahma is Ātmā with Prakṛti invoked; in other words, it is the Puruṣa-Prakṛti combine, since Ātmā is Puruṣa when Prakṛti is invoked. It is stated here that Brahma expands and produces food. Puruṣa is Ātmā only and therefore, it is not subject to any change; so, in the said combine, the expansion and production of food must apply to Prakṛti only. Food here means the material used/consumed for emergence of beings. It is physical energy; so, expansion of Brahma implies release of physical energy by Prakṛti. Praśna Upaniṣad says in verse 1.4 that Rayi (matter or energy) and Prāṇa were produced through Tapas at first, from which all the beings came forth. Here we find the same thing. This Muṇḍaka verse also says that energy was released through Tapas. What is that Tapas? Tapas is heating; the next verse will tell us what kind of heating is intended here. Following the production of ‘food’, Prāṇa, Manas and the worlds arise. The word ‘annāt’ cannot be construed as ‘from food’; it only means that production of food is followed by coming into existence of Prāṇa and all. For, without physical energy (or matter), existence of Prāṇa and Manas is out of question; similarly, physical energy by itself cannot produce Prāṇa.

The verse also says that the worlds are Satyam. We are aware what Satyam means; it is Asat supported by Sat (Chāndogya 8.3.5). The worlds are verily that. Karma is an entailment of worldly life; so Karma never ends as long as worlds are there and hence the reference to unending Karma in this verse. Gīta also says that Guṇas of Prakṛti are the cause of Karma (3.27, 13.29 & 14.19); since differentiation of Brahma into names and forms occurs on upsetting the mutual proportion of the three Guṇas from their natural state of uniformity in Prakṛti, Karma is an essential part of the phenomenal world.

Now let us see the nature of Tapas mentioned:

यः सर्वज्ञः सर्वविद्यस्य ज्ञानमयं तपः |
तस्मादेतद्ब्रह्म नाम रुपमन्नं च जायते || 1.1.9 ||

yaḥ sarvajñaḥ sarvavidyasya jñānamayaṃ tapaḥ
tasmādetadbrahma nāma rupamannaṃ ca jāyate. (1.1.9)

Word meaning: yaḥ- who; sarvajñaḥ- omniscient; sarvavid- perceiving all; yasya- whose; jñānamayaṃ- consisting of knowledge; tapaḥ- Tapas; tasmāt- from him; etat- this; brahma- Brahma; nāma- name; rupam- form; annaṃ- food; ca- and; jāyate; come into existence.

Verse meaning: The one who is omniscient and all-perceiving and whose Tapas consists of knowledge only – from him have come into existence this Brahma, names and forms and also food.

We know who this omniscient and all-perceiving is – it is Ātmā (Māṇḍūkya 6). It is stated that his Tapas consists of knowledge only; it means that he exerts heat by knowledge. The cumulative implication is that his Tapas consists in intense exercise of his will. He willed intensely and as a result the Brahma, names and forms and also food came out. Bṛhadāraṇyaka says in verses 1.4.3 and 1.4.7 that Puruṣa along with his Prakṛti differentiated into names and forms.

Thus we come to the end of the first part of the first Muṇḍaka. In the second part, we see the futility of Yajñas consisting of inferior Karma. The opening verse of this part (1.2.1) says thus: ‘All that is here is Satyam (तदेतत् सत्यम् – tadetat satyam). The Karmas prescribed in the Mantras of holy texts are to be done by those who wish Satyam (ie. सत्यकामाः – satyakāmāḥ which indicate those who aspire for enjoyment of the phenomenal world). They will reach only the world attainable by good works (सुकृतस्य लोकः – sukṛtasya lokaḥ). In the next five verses the Upaniṣad deals with some aspects of such Karmas. At the end, it points out the futility of these Karmas in attaining to the ultimate principle, thus underlining the teachings in 1.1.4 and 1.1.5. See the verse below:

प्लवा ह्येते अदृढा यज्ञरूपा अष्टादशोक्तमवरं येषु कर्म |
एतच्छ्रेयो येഽभिनन्तन्ति मूढा जरामृत्युं ते पुनरेवापि यन्ति || 1.2.7 ||

plavā hyete adṛḍhā yajñarūpā aṣṭādaśoktamavaraṃ yeṣu karma;
etacchreyo yeഽbhinantanti mūḍhā jarāmṛtyuṃ te punarevāpi yanti. (1.2.7)

Word meaning: plava- that which floats, a boat or raft; hi- surely; adṛḍha- weak, frail; yajñarūpa- in the form of yajña; aṣṭādaśoktam- prescribed in the Eighteen (Purāṇas); avaraṃ- inferior; etat- this; śreyaḥ- auspiciousness, welfare, benefit; ye- who; abhinantanti- hail, rejoice at; mūḍhā- fools; jarāmṛtyuṃ- old age and death; te- they; punaḥ:- again; eva api- indeed; yanti- reach.

Verse meaning: Frail indeed are these rafts in the form of Yajñas wherein the Karmas are the inferior ones prescribed in the Eighteen (Purāṇas); the fools, who (continue to) hail them as śreyas, indeed reach old age and death again and again.

What is Yajña? It is sacrifice; a Karma in which something is wilfully given up, ultimately benefitting others. The Yajña which is done as a ritual by offering something in fire is only a namesake one. It is an inferior Yajña, as the Karma therein involves giving up of nominal things (offerings into fire) and the claim of benefits therefrom is not reasonably substantiated. Such Yajñas are done as per prescriptions in the eighteen Purāṇas. (Actually the verse uses the word ‘eighteen’ only. Purāṇas are eighteen in number and prescribe Yajñas; that is why the presumption of eighteen Purāṇas is made here). In contrast to these, a Yajña is seen mentioned in Gīta 3.14 wherein it is said that rain occurs due to Yajña. Ritualists go by the letters and do Yajña by offering ghee, etc into fire; they declare that this Yajña will bring rain. Actually, the Yajña mentioned in the Gīta verse is something else; it can be understood by observing the process of raining. In that Yajña Sun, Sea, Wind and Atmosphere are the participants. Sun gives heat and Sea gives water; as a result, water vapour is produced. Wind carries this vapour to the high regions of Atmosphere and the cooling provided by Atmosphere in that high regions precipitate rain. It is evident that the participants part with what they have, but do not obtain anything in return. This is the Yajña intended in the said Gīta verse. Look at India’s struggle for independence. Lakhs of people offered themselves for that noble cause, expecting nothing in return. They secured independence for all the Indians. Such are true Yajñas.

Now, returning to the Upaniṣadic verse under study, we may understand its implication thus: Through the Yajñas of inferior Karma, one would not be able to cross the sea of sorrows in this mortal world; these Yajña rafts are incapable of taking the performer beyond the mortal world of dualities. For attaining immortality one would require the superior Brahmavidya. Fools do not recognise this fact; they think themselves to be wise and learned, but wander about miserably like the blinds led by the blind (1.2.8 – this is same as Kaṭha 2.5).

The idea in 1.2.7 is further asserted in the following verse:

इष्टापूर्तं मन्यमाना वरिष्ठं नान्यच्छ्रेयो वेदयन्ते प्रमूढाः |
नाकस्य पृष्ठे ते सुकृतेഽनुभूत्वेमं लोकं हीनतरं वा विशन्ति || 1.2.10 ||

iṣṭāpūrtaṃ manyamānā variṣṭhaṃ nānyacchreyo vedayante pramūḍhāḥ;
nākasya pṛṣṭhe te sukṛteഽnubhūtvemaṃ lokaṃ hīnataraṃ vā viśanti. (1.2.10)

Word meaning: iṣṭāpūrtaṃ- credits of accomplished sacrificial rites; manyamānā- thinking; variṣṭhaṃ- supreme; na- not; anyat- others; śreyaḥ- beneficial, auspicious; vedayante- know; pramūḍhāḥ- fools; nākasya- heaven’s; pṛṣṭhe- in the regions; te- they; sukṛte- merits of good deeds; anubhūtvā- having enjoyed; imaṃ- this; lokaṃ- world; hīnataraṃ- inferior; vā- or; viśanti- enter.

Verse meaning: The fools who consider the credits of accomplished sacrificial rites as supreme and know nothing else as auspicious, do come again to this or even inferior world, after having enjoyed the merits of their good deeds.

The idea is that sacrificial rites do not provide permanent escape from the entanglements of the worldly life. Thus, the supremacy as well as uniqueness of Brahmavidya is once again asserted. In the remaining three verses of this part, the same topic is further explained. In verse 1.2.12 it is stated that a Brāhmaṇa (an aspirant for Brahmavidya) gets dispassionate towards the worlds attainable through Karmas and then approaches a Guru for guidance. Verse 1.2.13 directs that such Guru should tell the aspirant the truth of Brahmavidya by which the imperishable Puruṣa is known.

In the second Muṇḍaka, the first part is almost entirely devoted to assert that the universe emerged from immortal Puruṣa. The first verse takes us to the truth that verse 1.2.13 directs the Guru to impart. See the verse below:

तदेतत् सत्यं यथा सुदीप्तात् पावकाद्विस्फुलिङ्गाः सहस्रशः प्रभवन्ते सरूपाः |
तथाक्षराद्विविधाः सोम्य भावाः प्रजायन्ते तत्र चैवापि यन्ति || 2.1.1 ||

tadetat satyaṃ yathā sudīptāt pāvakādvisphuliṅgāḥ sahasraśaḥ prabhavante sarūpāḥ;
tathākṣarādvividhāḥ somya bhāvāḥ prajāyante tatra caivāpi yanti. (2.1.1)

Word meaning: tat- that; etat- this; satyam- truth (which verse 1.2.13 mentioned about); yathā- just as; sudīptāt pāvakāt- from blazing fire; visphuliṅgāḥ- sparks; sahasraśaḥ- in thousands; prabhavante- spring up, come forth, originate; sarūpāḥ- having shape or form; tathā- in the same way; akṣarāt- from the imperishable; vividhāḥ- of several kinds; somya- O, dear; bhāvāḥ- beings; prajāyante- be produced, come forth; tatra caiva- and there itself; āpi- also, again; yanti- go.

Verse meaning: That truth (which the previous verse mentioned about) is this: like sparks, having (various) shapes/forms, spring up in thousands from a blazing fire, several kinds of beings come forth from the Imperishable (Puruṣa) and also return to it.

We have seen the same idea in verse 1.1.7 above and in 2.1.20 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka. Here, it is further stated that the beings at the end merge with the Imperishable. Thus, it is declared that all beings emerge from and merge with the Imperishable entity, which is Puruṣa (Ātmā). This fact is seen asserted in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 2.4.12 & 2.4.13 and Chāndogya 6.9.1 to 6.9.4 & 6.10.1, 6.10.2. Gīta also presents the concept of origination and dissolution of beings, on the same lines in chapters 7 (verses 4 to 7), 8 (verses 18 & 19) and 9 (verses 4 to 10).

Verses 2.1.2 to 2.1.9 elaborate the concept further by enumerating various beings and asserting that they all originate from and dissolve into the Puruṣa. At the end, in verse 2.1.10 the matter is concluded and an additional declaration is made to the effect that those who know the Puruṣa cast off all the entanglements of ignorance here itself. See that verse below:

पुरुष एवेदं विश्वं कर्म तपो ब्रह्म परामृतम् |
एतद्यो वेद निहितं गुहायां सोഽविद्याग्रन्थिं विकिरतीह सोम्य || 2.1.10 ||

puruṣa evedaṃ viśvaṃ karma tapo brahma parāmṛtam;
etadyo veda nihitaṃ guhāyāṃ soഽvidyāgranthiṃ vikiratīha somya. (2.1.10)

Word meaning: puruṣa- Puruṣa; eva- verily; idaṃ- this; viśvaṃ- universe; karma- Karma; tapaḥ- Tapas; brahma- Brahma; parāmṛtam- immortal; etat- this; yo- who; veda- know; nihitaṃ- seated; guhāyāṃ- in the inner part; saḥ- he; avidyāgranthiṃ- knot of ignorance; vikirati- tear away; īha- here; somya- dear!

Verse meaning: This universe, the Karma, Tapas and the immortal Brahma are verily Puruṣa. Whoever recognizes this (Puruṣa) as seated in his heart, my dear, tears away the knots of ignorance here (itself).

The meaning is very clear and the intended conclusion is appropriate too. Now let us move on to part 2 of this Muṇḍaka. Verse 2.1.10 above stated that everything here is Puruṣa only and that he is seated in the subtlest regions of beings. In continuation, verse 2.2.1 says that he is to be known and the knowledge about him is the highest and the greatest knowledge for man. Further, in the next verse (2.2.2), it is reiterated that he being the support of all is the one to be known. How can he be known? This is the topic of next two verses 2.2.3 and 2.2.4. Verse 2.2.4 says thus:

प्रणवो धनुः शरो ह्यात्मा ब्रह्म तल्लक्ष्यमुच्यते |
अप्रमत्तेन वेद्धव्यं शरवत्तन्मयो भवेत् || 2.2.4 ||

praṇavo dhanuḥ śaro hyātmā brahma tallakṣyamucyate;
apramattena veddhavyaṃ śaravattanmayo bhavet. (2.2.4)

Word meaning: praṇavaḥ- the syllable ‘Om’; dhanuḥ- bow; śaraḥ- arrow; hi- indeed; Ātmā- the aspirant himself; tat- that; lakṣyam- goal; ucyate- is said; apramattena- carefully, veddhavyaṃ- to be penetrated, to be entered; śaravat- like the arrow; tanmayaḥ- identified with it; bhavet- should become.

Verse meaning: Be an arrow yourself and make ‘Om’ the bow and Brahma the goal. Then carefully enter into the goal like an arrow and become identified with it.

The implication is that ‘Om’ should be made a base and from that base, through unswerving meditation, get catapulted into the goal of Brahma and enter into it. Meditation on ‘Om’ is stressed in verse 2.2.6 also, as a means to accomplish well-being. The Ātmā, which is thus meditated upon as ‘Om’, manifests as the phenomenal world and is seated in the heart of all. Knowing him, the wise attains to immortality (2.2.7). When one succeeds in recognising Ātmā in all, in the high and low alike, he is freed from all bondages and ignorance (2.2.8); for, he overcomes all dualities of life then and thus acquires a composed state of mind.

In the next two verses, the Upaniṣad says about the pure, serene and undivided Brahma, which is the Brahma before undergoing the expansion mentioned in 1.1.8. This Brahma is positioned in the ultimate effulgent sheath of existence; it is the ultimate light (2.2.9). The sun, moon, stars and all are nothing to it; all of them actually shine because of it (2.2.10). (This verse is same as verse 5.15 of Kaṭha Upaniṣad). The implication is that the serene, undivided Brahma is the substratum from which the phenomenal world evolved.

In contrast to this description of the serene, undivided Brahma, verse 2.2.11 says about the Brahma after its expansion. It is stated that everything everywhere is Brahma only. See the verse:

ब्रह्मैवेदममृतं पुरस्ताद्ब्रह्म पश्चाद्ब्रह्म दक्षिणतश्चोत्तरेण|
अधश्चोर्ध्वं च प्रसृतं ब्रह्मैवेदं विश्वमिदं वरिष्ठम् || 2.2.11 ||

brahmaivedamamṛtaṃ purastādbrahma paścādbrahma dakṣiṇataścottareṇa; adhaścordhvaṃ ca prasṛtaṃ brahmaivedaṃ viśvamidaṃ variṣṭham. (2.2.11)

Word meaning: brahma- Brahma; eva- verily; idam- here; amṛtaṃ- immortal; purastāt- in the front; paścād- in the back, behind; dakṣiṇataścottareṇa- on right and on left; ca- and; adhaścordhvaṃ ca- below and above; prasṛtaṃ- wide-spread; idaṃ- this; viśvam- universe; variṣṭham- the greatest.

Verse meaning: Here, the immortal Brahma extends all over; it alone is in existence everywhere — in the front, in the back, on the right and on the left and also below and above. The universe is verily Brahma which is the greatest.

Thus, in verses 2.2.9 and 2.2.10 we have been told about the undifferentiated Brahma and in verse 2.2.11 about the Brahma differentiated into names and forms. In the next two verses, we see how both these states of Brahma exist in individual beings. We know that Brahma is Ātmā with Prakṛti invoked, in other words, the combine of Puruṣa and Prakṛti. In this combine, the agent of differentiation is evidently Prakṛti, since Puruṣa is changeless. We have seen in the ‘Science of Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad’ that the serene Puruṣa represents the deep-sleep state, wherein exists only the consciousness of ‘I am’ which is devoid of attributes. The deep-sleep state is the serene, effulgent state of — being ‘I am’ and it represents the experience provided by the undifferentiated state of Brahma mentioned above. Contrary to this, in the differentiated state of Brahma, the consciousness of ‘I am’ includes the individual physical body also, in each being. This is a constraint of individuality occurring due to differentiation into individuals which in turn is caused by the power of Prakṛti. Since Prakṛti is also known as Māyā, this constraint in consciousness is attributed to Māyā. It may be noted that the said constraint works on the base stock of serene, effulgent, pure ‘I am’ and that it works by veiling the base stock and producing the illusive image of body conscious ‘I am’. Both of them, the serene ‘I am’ and the illusive ‘I am’, are present in the same being at the same time, so long as the veil on base stock is not removed. The illusive ‘I am’ is experienced in the waking and dream states whereas the serene ‘I am’ is experienced in deep sleep state (Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad verses 3, 4, 5 & 6). The simultaneous existence of both the states of consciousness in the same body is the subject matter of the next two verses, 3.1.1 and 3.1.2. Let us see the verses.

द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षम् परिषस्वजाते |
तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्ति अनश्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति || 3.1.1 ||

dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṃ vṛkṣam pariṣasvajāte;
tayoranyaḥ pippalaṃ svādvatti anaśnannanyo abhicākaśīti. (3.1.1)

Word meaning: dvā- two; suparṇā- birds with beautiful wings; sayujā- united; sakhāyā- in friendship; samānaṃ- same; vṛkṣam- tree; pariṣasvajāte- embrace, occupy; tayoranyaḥ- one of the two; pippalaṃ- berry; svādu- delicious, tasty; atti-eats; anaśnan- not eating; anyaḥ- the other; abhicākaśīti- looks on.

Verse meaning: Two birds with beautiful wings occupy the same tree, united in friendship. Of them, one eats tasty berries (of the tree) while the other looks on without eating.

समाने वृक्षे पुरुषो निमग्नः अनीशया शोचति मुह्य्मानः |
जुष्टं यदा पश्यत्यन्यमीशं अस्यमहिमानमिति वीतशोकः || 3.1.2 ||

samāne vṛkṣe puruṣo nimagnaḥ anīśayā śocati muhymānaḥ;
juṣṭaṃ yadā paśyatyanyamīśaṃ asyamahimānamiti vītaśokaḥ. (3.1.2)

Word meaning: samāne vṛkṣe- on the same tree, in the same body; puruṣo- Puruṣa; nimagnaḥ- immersed or absorbed in, indulged in; anīśayā- in the absence of proper guidance, being powerless, helpless; śocati- grieves, be afflicted; muhymānaḥ- be confused, stupefied, deluded; juṣṭaṃ- inhabited, pervaded; yadā- when; paśyati- sees; anyam- the other; īśaṃ- the ruler; asya- his; mahimānam- glory; iti- then; vītaśokaḥ- free from grief.

Verse meaning: (Just as the berry eating bird mentioned above) the Puruṣa, who is deluded due to lack of proper guidance, gets indulged in the body where he is seated (samāne vṛkṣe nimagnaḥ) and becomes grieved. But, when he sees the other who is the ruler pervading the tree and also his glory, he becomes free from grief.

In this verse, two Puruṣas are mentioned just as two birds in the previous verse. One of the birds enjoys the berries that are products of the tree where it lives. In the same way, one of the Puruṣas here enjoys the worldly life which his seat, the body, facilitates; the tree here represents the body and the berry is worldly life it facilitates. Resultantly, he is bonded to the worldly life and thus suffers all its afflictions. He is the Puruṣa of the expanded Brahma; he is usually referred to as Jīvātmā. The other Puruṣa is of the undivided, effulgent, serene Brahma; he is verily the serene Ātmā or Paramātmā. When the afflicted Puruṣa realizes his true identity and gets identified with it, he becomes absolutely free. That is what the verse asserts.

These two verses together dispel all the doubts about ‘how the serene, effulgent Ātmā gets a consciousness of being a separate individual in a particular being’; they also clarify how on realizing the true nature of Ātmā, the individual consciousness gets liberated from the infatuations of having a separate identity. We know that Ātmā is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA, wherein SAT is that which sustains, CHIT is that which causes knowing and expressing and ĀNANDA is pure bliss that causes the urge to be happy. Ātmā has these three aspects inseparably integrated into a unity like seven colors are inherent in sunlight. This Ātmā is an unbroken continuum pervading the entire universe, sustaining each and every being. In non-living beings the knowing faculty is absent and therefore the activity of CHIT is limited in them to mere expression; they express their physical attributes. This expression is confined to the physical boundaries of the being. In living beings, knowing faculty is present and therefore, both knowing and expressing occur in them. Knowing is done using the nerves through which consciousness (CHIT) extends its presence all over the body. In this case, too, the activity of CHIT is confined within the physical limits of the being, since it is conditioned by the presence of nerves. The cumulative implication is that the aspect of CHIT in Ātmā gets expressed in beings within their physical limits only and not beyond that. This means that the continuity of expression of CHIT registers a break at the periphery of each individual being, beyond which the mode of expression changes in accordance with the adjoining being or element. For example, when a thing is submerged in water, within the physical periphery of the thing, CHIT expresses the attributes of that thing, beyond which the attributes of water get expressed. It is this change in mode of expression of CHIT that defines the individual identity of beings. A person knows himself and other individual beings, primarily on this basis. It needs higher knowledge to view individuals at a wider perspective and realize the identity as one with the whole.

In 3.1.2, the Ruler (Īśa) was mentioned. We have found that he is the effulgent Puruṣa or the Ātmā itself. Verse 3.1.3 says about the realisation of this Ruler. See the verse below:

यदा पश्यः पश्यते रुक्मवर्णं कर्तारमीशं पुरुषं ब्रह्मयोनिम् |
तदा विद्वान् पुण्यपापे विधूय निरञ्जनः परमं साम्यमुपैति || 3.1.3 ||

yadā paśyaḥ paśyate rukmavarṇaṃ kartāramīśaṃ puruṣaṃ brahmayonim;
tadā vidvān puṇyapāpe vidhūya nirañjanaḥ paramaṃ sāmyamupaiti. (3.1.3)

Word meaning: yadā- when; paśyaḥ- the faculty of sight, vision; paśyate- sees; rukmavarṇaṃ- golden-coloured, effulgent; kartāram- the agent or energy of all deeds; īśaṃ- the Ruler; puruṣaṃ- Puruṣa; brahmayonim- the source of Brahma; tadā- then; vidvān- the learned; puṇyapāpe- the virtue and vice; vidhūya- having shaken off; nirañjanaḥ- spotless, passionless; paramaṃ- the supreme; sāmyam- sameness, unity; upaiti- attains.

Verse meaning: When the vision of a learned person grasps the effulgent Puruṣa who is the Ruler of all, the energy of all deeds and also the source of Brahma, then he, having shaken off both virtues and vices and having become passionless, attain unity with that Supreme Entity.

The verse simply says that when one knows the effulgent Puruṣa, who is verily the Ātmā, he becomes identified with it. We have already seen this idea in Kaṭha 4.15.

Verse 3.1.4 says that this Puruṣa is the Prāṇa in beings; the one who knows him gets detached from unnecessary dealings and rejoices in his own self. It is asserted in the next (3.1.5) that he is attained through Tapas, accurate knowledge and continence which are all pursued through the medium of Satyam. The word Satyam here indicates the physical faculties of a person. We know that Satyam is ASAT supported by SAT (8.3.5 of Chāndogya); we also know that SAT is that which never ceases to exist and ASAT is that which never comes to existence on its own (Gīta 2.16).

In line with the above, the next verse (3.1.6) asserts that only Satyam subsists, not Asat and that the path to divine existence is spread out by Satyam.

सत्यमेव जयते नानृतं सत्येन पन्था विततो देवयानः |
येनाक्रमन्त्यृषयो ह्याप्तकामा यत्र तत्सत्यस्य परमं निधानम् || 3.1.6 ||

satyameva jayate nānṛtaṃ satyena panthā vitato devayānaḥ;
yenākramantyṛṣayo hyāptakāmā yatra tatsatyasya paramaṃ nidhānam. (3.1.6)

Word meaning: satyam- Satyam; eva- alone; jayate- subsists, survives, gets sustained; na- not; anṛtaṃ- Asat; satyena- by Satyam; panthā- path; vitataḥ- spread out; devayānaḥ- divine carriage, divine existence; yena- by which; ākramanti- approach, go near to; ṛṣayaḥ- the Rṣis; hi- verily; āpta- overtaken; kāmā- Kāmas; yatra- where; tat- that; satyasya- of Satyam; paramaṃ- ultimate; nidhānam- abode.

Verse meaning: Satyam alone subsists, not Asat. The path to divine existence is spread out by means of Satyam; The Rṣis who have overtaken the Kāmas go by this path to that entity which is the ultimate abode of Satyam.

Divine existence here means the freedom from all bondages of worldly life. The path to this goal is spread out by Satyam. This implies that the efforts to attain divine existence are done through the physical faculties of beings, as mentioned above. The ultimate abode of Satyam is undoubtedly Ātmā, since Satyam originates when SAT (Ātmā) supports ASAT. So, what the verse means is that those who have given up all Kāmas make use of their body for doing sādhana to get established in the ultimate principle of Ātmā.

Satyam is evidently that which has SAT; therefore it will always survive. That is why “Satyameva jayate – Truth alone will triumph”. The phenomenal world is also Satyam. It never gets destroyed; it gets only transformed. It only merges into and emerges from Ātmā periodically (see the verses 1.1.7 and 2.1.1, together with the references thereunder, above; see also Gīta 2.12).

In the next three verses, the nature of the ultimate abode of Satyam, which is Ātmā, and the techniques to attain to it are discussed in detail. Verse 3.1.7 says that Ātmā is the grossest and at the same time the subtlest; it is everywhere, near and far and it is inside everyone. The concept of grossness and subtleness of Ātmā can be seen in Chāndogya 3.14.3, Kaṭha 2.20, Śvetāśvatara 3.9 & 3.20. Ātmā’s presence near and far is mentioned in Īśa Upaniṣad (5) and Gīta (13.15) also. In the next verse it is asserted that Ātmā is not graspable by the senses, but is attained by a spotless inner constitution (by viśuddhasattva). The verse is quoted below:

न चक्षुषा गृह्यते नापि वाचा नान्यैर्देवैस्तपसा कर्मणा वा |
ज्ञानप्रसादेन विशुद्धसत्त्वः ततस्तु तं पश्यते निष्कलं ध्यायमानः || 3.1.8 ||

na cakṣuṣā gṛhyate nāpi vācā nānyairdevaistapasā karmaṇā vā;
jñānaprasādena viśuddhasattvaḥ tatastu taṃ paśyate niṣkalaṃ dhyāyamānaḥ. (3.1.8)

Word meaning: na- not; cakṣuṣā- by eyes; gṛhyate- grasped; na api- not even; vācā- by speech; na anyaiḥ devaiḥ – not by other senses; tapasā- by Tapas; karmaṇā- by rituals; vā- or; jñānaprasādena- by purity or brightness of knowledge; viśuddhasattvaḥ- spotless inner constitution; tataḥ- then; tu- but; taṃ- him; paśyate- realises; niṣkalaṃ- undivided; dhyāyamānaḥ- the meditative (one who is engaged in meditation).

Verse meaning: The undivided Puruṣa (mentioned in the previous verse as present everywhere and residing in every being) is not graspable by eyes, speech or by any other senses, or by Tapas or rituals. But, He is realized by a meditative person upon his acquiring a spotless inner constitution through the brightness of knowledge.

We have already seen who the undivided Puruṣa is. He is Ātmā. This verse says that Ātmā is not graspable by the senses and not attainable by Tapas or rituals; it is only reached by the brightness of knowledge which enlightens and purifies the inner constitution of a meditative person. The inability of the senses to grasp Ātmā is seen repeatedly declared by Upaniṣads (Bṛhadāraṇyaka 3.7.23, Īśa 4, Kena 1.3, Kaṭha 6.9 & 6.12, Śvetāśvatara 4.17, 4.20). The purity of inner constitution mentioned in this verse is determined by what one is internally composed of, which in turn indicates the stock of convictions and ideas in his Chitta. You may know that Chitta is the exclusive storage chamber of all our knowledge and perceptions.

It may be seen in verse 3.1.9 that Ātmā reveals itself in a purified Chitta. See the verse below:

एषोഽणुरात्मा चेतसा वेदितव्यो यस्मिन् प्राणः पञ्चधा संविवेश |
प्राणैस्चित्तं सर्वमोतं प्रजानां यस्मिन् विशुद्धे विभवत्येष आत्मा || 3.1.9 ||

eṣoഽṇurātmā cetasā veditavyo yasmin prāṇaḥ pañcadhā saṃviveśa;
prāṇaiscittaṃ sarvamotaṃ prajānāṃ yasmin viśuddhe vibhavatyeṣa ātmā. (3.1.9)

Word meaning: eṣaḥ- This; aṇu- subtle; ātmā- Ātmā; cetasā- by consciousness; veditavyaḥ- able to be realised; yasmin- in which; prāṇaḥ- Prāṇa; pañcadhā- in five modes/parts; saṃviveśa- has entered; prāṇaiḥ- by Prāṇa; cittaṃ- Chitta; sarvam- all; otaṃ- activated, invoked, interwoven; prajānāṃ- of beings; yasmin- in which; viśuddhe- (in) purified; vibhavati- appears, reveals; eṣa- this; ātmā- Ātmā.

Verse meaning: This Ātmā is very subtle; it is realizable by the inner consciousness, in which Prāṇa has entered in five different modes/parts. The Chittas of all beings are sustained by Prāṇas; Ātmā reveals itself in purified Chittas.

We have seen above that Ātmā is not graspable by the senses. Therefore, it is to be realized by something beyond the senses; that something is consciousness which is the energy behind the senses. Hence the assertion that Ātmā is realizable only by consciousness. Nobody can invoke the inner consciousness at his will; it is to be done through a process and this is described by narrating the Consciousness – Prāṇa – Chitta relation in the verse. Consciousness is the cause of Prāṇa and Prāṇa works within the body in five different modes (we will see these modes in detail in the Praśna Upaniṣad). It is the Prāṇas that activate Chitta, one of the four Antaḥkaraṇas, which is the storage of all perceptions and knowledge. When harmful perceptions and knowledge that create bondage are eliminated from Chitta it becomes purified. It is in such a purified Chitta that the Ātmā reveals itself. This is the message of the verse.

Next verse (3.1.10) is the last verse of the first part of third Muṇḍaka. As a corollary to the previous verse, it says that a person with spotless inner constitution accomplishes all that he desires; therefore, those who desire such supreme power (bhūtikāma) have to honor (अर्चयेत्) the knowledge of Ātmā (आत्मज्ञं). The explanation is this: One who honours the knowledge of Ātmā will surely pursue such knowledge. He will finally attain to the ultimate principle of Ātmā and thus will attain the said power.

The first verse of the next part endorses this view. Please see the verse below:

स वेदैतत्परमं ब्रह्मधाम यत्र विश्वं निहितं भाति शुभ्रम् |
उपासते पुरुषं ये ह्यकामाः ते शुक्रमेतदतिवर्तन्ति धीराः || 3.2.1 ||

sa vedaitat paramaṃ brahmadhāma yatra viśvaṃ nihitaṃ bhāti śubhram;
upāsate puruṣaṃ ye hyakāmāḥ te śukrametadativartanti dhīrāḥ. (3.2.1)

Word meaning: sa- he (the one who pursues knowing the Ātmā as mentioned in verse 3.1.10); veda- knows; etat- that; paramaṃ- supreme; brahmadhāma- the abode of Brahma; yatra- where; viśvaṃ- universe; nihitaṃ- be fixed, be held; (ca- and); bhāti- shines, appears; śubhram- brightly, clearly; upāsate- worship, aspire to; puruṣaṃ- Puruṣa; ye- who; hi- surely; akāmāḥ- without Kāma; te- they; śukram- seed of animals (implies the worldly life); etat- this; ativartanti- transcend; dhīrāḥ- the wise.

Verse meaning: The one who is in pursuit of the knowledge of Ātmā knows (at the end) that supreme abode of Brahma, wherein the universe is held and does shine clearly. Those wise persons who have been devoid of Kāma, aspire to attain to Puruṣa, will surely transcend the worldly life.

Two things are correlated here; one, those who pursue knowledge attains to Ātmā; the second, those who are devoid of Kāma attains to Ātmā. When one acquires knowledge he gives up Kāma in consequence thereof. We have already seen in Kaṭha 6.14 that one attains immortality when all the Kāmas are eliminated from the heart.

In contrast to this, verse 3.2.2 says, those who always think about Kāma remain bonded forever; only those, whose Kāmas are allayed or who are well-composed, get released from the bondage. The Upaniṣad goes on to say in the next verse (3.2.3) that only perseverance and dedication lead one to the ultimate goal. See the verse below:

नायमात्मा प्रवचनेन लभ्यः न मेधया न बहुना श्रुतेन |
यमेवेष वृणुते तेन लभ्यः तस्येष आत्मा विवृणुते तनूं स्वाम् || 3.2.3 |

nāyamātmā pravacanena labhyaḥ na medhayā na bahunā śrutena;
yameveṣa vṛṇute tena labhyaḥ tasyeṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanūṃ svām. (3.2.3)

Word meaning: na- not; ayamātmā- this Ātmā; pravacanena- by oral intructions, labhyaḥ- attained; na medhayā- by mere intelligence; na bahunā śrutena- by much hearing (of the scriptures); yameva- Him (Ātmā) alone; eṣa- he (the seeker); vṛṇute- prefer; tena- by him; labhyaḥ- attained; tasya- to him; eṣa ātmā- this Ātmā; vivṛṇute- reveals; tanūṃ- body, form, real nature; svām- (His) own.

Verse meaning: This Ātmā is not attained by oral instructions, or by mere intelligence, or by much hearing of the scriptures. He is attained by one who prefers only Him; to such a person He reveals His real nature.

The same verse is seen in Kaṭha 2.23.

In the next four verses the issue of attainment to Ātmā is probed further, which culminates at the following conclusion.

यथा नद्यः स्यन्दमानाः समुद्रेഽस्तं गच्छन्ति नामरूपे विहाय |
तथा विद्वान् नामरुपाद्विमुक्तः परात्परं पुरुषमुपैति दिव्यम् || 3.2.8 ||

yathā nadyaḥ syandamānāḥ samudreഽstaṃ gacchanti nāmarūpe vihāya;
tathā vidvān nāmarupādvimuktaḥ parātparaṃ puruṣamupaiti divyam. (3.2.8)

Word meaning: yathā- as, in which manner; nadyaḥ- rivers; syandamānāḥ- flowing; samudre- in the ocean; astaṃ gacchanti- get dissolved; nāmarūpe- names and forms; vihāya- having relinquished; tathā- so, in that manner; vidvān- the learned; nāmarupād- from name and form; vimuktaḥ- being freed; parātparaṃ- the most supreme; puruṣam- Puruṣa; upaiti- attain to; divyam- effulgent.

Verse meaning: As the flowing rivers get dissolved in the ocean, having relinquished names and forms, so does the learned, being freed from name and form, attain to the most supreme effulgent Puruṣa.

The important message in this verse is that through knowledge one loses attachment to worldly life and thus becomes disinterested in his physical identity; this disinterest is the implication of the phrase ‘being freed from name and form’. (It is such freedom from name and form that is often termed as Mokṣa). We can see the same idea in verse 5.14 of Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad. The identity of the learned with Ātmā is asserted in verse 4.15 of Kaṭha Upaniṣad.

In the case of the learned, this merging with the ultimate happens while they are still in their physical body, since they become free from attachment to the body, while still holding the body. In the case of others, the attachment to body ends only when they lose their physical body; then only they attain to Ātmā, just as rivers terminate their flow in the ocean (as mentioned in Chāndogya 6.10.1 and 6.10.2).

While verse 3.2.8 says about attaining to Puruṣa, the next verse (3.2.9) says that he who knows Brahma becomes Brahma itself; shedding all the sorrow and vices and consequently being liberated from all bondages, he becomes immortal. We know that Brahma is Puruṣa-Prakṛti combine; so knowing Brahma is same as knowing Puruṣa. Verse 3.2.9 is therefore only an elaboration of the previous verse. See the verse below:

स यो ह वै तत्परमं ब्रह्म वेद ब्रह्मैव भवति नास्याब्रह्मवित्कुले भवति |
तरति शोकं तरति पाप्मानं गुहाग्रन्थिभ्यो विमुक्तोഽमृतो भवति || 3.2.9 ||

sa yo ha vai tatparamaṃ brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati nāsyābrahmavitkule bhavati; tarati śokaṃ tarati pāpmānaṃ guhāgranthibhyo vimuktoഽmṛto bhavati. (3.2.9)

Word meaning: sa- he; yo- who; ha vai- verily; tat- that; paramaṃ brahma- Supreme Brahma; veda- knows; brahma- Brahma; eva- surely; bhavati- becomes; na- not; asya- his; abrahmavit- one who does not know Brahma; kule- family, clan; bhavati- be, happens; tarati- overcomes; śokaṃ- sorrow; pāpmānaṃ- vices; guhāgranthibhyo- knots in the heart; vimukta- being free; amṛta- immortal; bhavati- becomes.

Verse meaning: He who knows that Supreme Brahma becomes Brahma itself; nobody will be there in his family who is ignorant of Brahma. He overcomes all sorrows and vices and having been free from all knots in the heart, he becomes immortal.

Māṇḍūkya says in verse 10 that one who raises his level of knowledge from the perceptions about phenomenal world overcomes the dualities of worldly experiences and becomes aware of Brahma; and because of him, following his footsteps, all his family members too become so aware. This is the idea expressed here in more definite terms.

The Upaniṣad ends with the instruction that this sacred Brahmavidya is to be imparted exclusively to those who are firmly devoted to the knowledge of Brahma.


The Science of Upaniṣads

Brihadaranyaka Upaniṣad

Chāndogya Upaniṣad

Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad

Kaṭha Upaniṣad

Kena Upaniṣad

Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad

Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad

Aitareya Upaniṣad

Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad

Praśna Upaniṣad

Taittirīya Upaniṣad

The Science of Upaniṣads – Conclusion

Author Karthikeyan Sreedharan, via