Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1)

[Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (lit. 'Great Forest Upanishad')]

The Best Quotes

Prana ('vital breath', 'life force')

Next follows the edifying repetition (abhyaroha) only of the hymns called pavamanas. The priest called prastotri indeed chants the saman*. While he chants it, let the sacrificer recite these [Yajur verses]:

"Lead me from the unreal to the real.
From darkness lead me to light.
From death lead me to immortality
."

[ Sanskrit version:]
Asato ma sad gamaya;
tamaso ma jyotir gamaya;
mrtyor ma amrutam gamaya.

[ * saman: one of five vital currents ]

When the mantra (verse) says: "Lead me from the unreal to the real," "the unreal" means death, and the "real," immortality; so it says, "From death lead me to immortality," that is to say, "Make me immortal."

When it says: "From darkness lead me to light," "darkness" means death, and "light," immortality; so it says: "From death lead me to immortality," that is to say, "Make me immortal."

In the verse: "From death lead me to immortality," there is nothing that is hidden.

Then come the remaining hymns, with which, by singing them, [the chanter] should obtain food for himself. Therefore while they are being chanted let the sacrificer ask for a boon—anything that he desires. Whatever objects this chanter, endowed with such knowledge, desires for himself or for the sacrificer, he obtains by his chanting. This [meditation] by itself wins the world (Hiranyagarbha). He who thus knows the saman (the prana, or vital breath)—for him there is no fear of not being admitted into that world. (1.3.28)

Commentary:

A seeker after Knowledge must first understand that all worldly enjoyments—ranging from that experienced by a clump of grass to that enjoyed by Brahma—are transitory because they all belong to the realm of avidya.

Next he must be ready to renounce all desire for worldly enjoyment. His soul, time and again, has taken a body in the world of transmigratory existence and enjoyed the pleasures obtainable there. And his experience of the enjoyments in the higher worlds has been made possible through the grace of the deities.

After being satiated with all the experiences of the relative world, he seeks the Knowledge of Brahman, practices such virtues as

discrimination between the real and the unreal,

non-attachment to the unreal,

restraint of the organs,

control of the mind,

forbearance with regard to all physical afflictions,

and reverence for the scriptures and the teacher
.

He also cherishes a single-minded longing for liberation from the phenomenal world. And the teacher instructs him about the Knowledge of Brahman, which removes the illusory notion of the world created by ignorance.

The destruction of ignorance is concomitant with Knowledge. No other discipline is necessary. This Knowledge liberates one from the otherwise endless chain of rebirth in samsara. Thus religious rites are not repudiated by the Upanishads, but recognized as a means of creating the right mood for the practice of the higher disciplines.

These rites also help the seeker to purify his mind through the enlargement of his consciousness, and to practice concentration.

The importance of the practice of physical, mental, ethical, and spiritual disciplines for the realization of the Knowledge of Brahman cannot be overemphasized. An intelligent person may derive emotional or intellectual excitement from the reading of such statements as "I am Brahman" and "All is verily Brahman." People are not wanting in modern times who glibly say, "Samsara is Nirvana," yet at the same time are attached to worldly pleasures. But the true import of such statements can be understood only by one whose heart has been purified in the fire of spiritual discipline. The path has been described in the Katha Upanishad as being sharp as the edge of a razor.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad warns the seeker to guard against such pitfalls as passion, greed, and violence, which are inherent in the life of the world. (sn)

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The Creation and Its Cause

In the beginning, this [universe] was the self (Viraj) alone, in the shape of a person. He reflected and saw nothing else but His self. He first said: "I am He." Therefore He came to be known by the name I (Aham). Hence, even now, when a person is addressed, he first says: "It is I," and then says whatever other name he may have. And because He, before (purva) the whole group [of aspirants], burnt (aushat) all evils, therefore He is called Purusha. He who knows this verily burns up him who wishes to be [Viraj] in advance of him. (1.4.1)

He was afraid. Therefore people [still] are afraid when alone. He thought: "Since there is nothing else but Myself, what am I afraid of?" Thereupon His fears were gone; for what was there to fear? Assuredly, it is from a second [entity] that fear arises. (1.4.2)

He was not at all happy. Therefore a person [even today] is not happy when alone. He desired a mate. He became the size of a man and wife in close embrace. He divided this body into two. From that [division] arose husband (pari) and wife (patni). Therefore, as Yajnavalkya said, the body [before one accepts a wife] is one half of oneself, like the half of a split pea. Therefore this space is indeed filled by the wife. He was united with her. From that [union] human beings were born. (1.4.3)

She reflected: "How can he unite with me after having produced me from himself? Well, let me hide myself." She became a cow, the other (Manu) became a bull and was united with her; from that [union] cows were born. The one became a mare, the other became a stallion; the one became a she-ass, the other became a he-ass and was united with her; from that [union] one-hoofed animals were born. The one became a she-goat, the other became a he-goat; the one became a ewe, the other became a ram and was united with here from that [union] goats and sheep were born. Thus, indeed, he produced everything that exists in pairs, down to the ants. (1.4.4)

He (Viraj) realized: "Indeed, I am the creation, for I produced all this." Therefore He became the creation. He who knows this becomes a creator in this creation of Viraj. (1.4.5)

Now, all this [universe] was then undifferentiated. It became differentiated by name and form: it was known by such and such a name, and such and such a form. Thus to this day this [universe] is differentiated by name and form; [so it is said:] "He has such a name and such a form."

This Self has entered into these bodies up to the very tips of the nails, as a razor lies [hidden] in its case, or as fire, which sustains the world, [lies hidden] in its source. People do not see the Self, for [when viewed in parts] It is incomplete: when breathing, It is called the vital breath (prana); when speaking, the organ of speech; when seeing, the eye; when hearing, the ear; when thinking, the mind. These are merely Its names according to Its functions. He who meditates on one or another of Its aspects does not know, for It is then incomplete: the Self is separated from Its totality by being associated with a single characteristic.

The Self alone is to be meditated upon, for in It all these become unified. Of all these, this Self alone should be known, for one knows all these through It, just as one may find [an animal which is lost] through its footprints. He who thus knows the Self obtains fame and association [with dear ones]. (1.4.7)

This [Self] is dearer than a son, dearer than wealth, dearer than everything else, [because] It is innermost. If one [holding the Self dear] were to say to a person who speaks of anything other than the Self as dear, that he, the latter, will lose what he holds dear—and the former is certainly competent to do so—it will indeed come true.

One should meditate upon the Self alone as dear. He who meditates upon the Self alone as dear—what he holds dear will not perish. (1.4.8)

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That Thou Art

This [self] was indeed Brahman in the beginning. It knew itself only as "I am Brahman." Therefore it became all. And whoever among the gods had this enlightenment, also became That [Brahman]. It is the same with the seers (rishis), the same with men. The seer Vamadeva, having realized this [self] as That, came to know: "I was Manu and the sun." And to this day, whoever in a like manner knows the self as "I am Brahman," becomes all this [universe]. Even the gods cannot prevent his becoming this, for he has become their Self. [see also Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7]

[ Manu: the lawgiver and the very first king to rule this earth ]

Now, if a man worships another deity, thinking: "He is one and I am another," he does not know. He is like an animal to the gods. As many animals serve a man, so does each man serve the gods. Even if one animal is taken away, it causes anguish [to the owner]; how much more so when many [are taken away]! Therefore it is not pleasing to the gods that men should know this. (1.4.10)

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Three Aspects of the Universe

Verily, this [universe] is a triad of name, form, and work. Of those names [which are in daily use], speech (sound in general) is the source (uktha), for from it all names arise. It is their common feature (saman), for it is common to all names. It is their Brahman (self), for it supports all names.

Next, of forms, the eye is the source (uktha), for from it all forms arise. It is their common feature (saman), for it is common to all forms. It is their Brahman (self), for it supports all forms.

Next, of work, the body is the source (uktha), for from it all works arise. It is their common feature (saman), for it is common to all works. It is their Brahman (self), for it supports all works.

These three together are one—this body; and the body, although one, is these three. This immortal entity is covered by truth: the vital breath is the immortal entity, and name and form are truth, and by them the immortal entity is covered. (1.6.1-3)

As the spider moves along the thread [it produces], or as from a fire tiny sparks fly in all directions, even so from this Atman come forth all organs, all worlds, all gods, all beings. Its secret name (Upanishad) is "the Truth of truth." The vital breaths are the truth, and their truth is Atman. (2.1.20)

The form of that person is like a cloth dyed with turmeric, or like grey sheep's wool, or like the [scarlet] insect called Indragopa, or like a tongue of fire, or like a white lotus, or like a flash of lightning. He who knows this—his splendour is like a flash of lightning.

Now, therefore, the description of Brahman: "Not this, not this"; for there is no other and more appropriate description than this "Not this." Now the designation of Brahman: "The Truth of truth." The vital breath is truth, and It (Brahman) is the Truth of that. (2.3.6)

Commentary:

"NOT THIS, NOT THIS": Brahman does not possess any distinguishing marks which can be described by words. By the elimination of all differences due to limiting adjuncts, the words Not this, not this refer to some thing which has no distinguishing mark such as name, or form, or action, or heterogeneity, or species, or qualities. These two negative particles are used in an all-inclusive sense, so as to eliminate every possible specification that may occur.

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Self-Realization

Then Yajnavalkya said: "Verily, not for the sake of the husband, my dear, is the husband loved, but he is loved for the sake of the self [which, in its true nature, is one with the Supreme Self].

"Verily, not for the sake of the wife, my dear, is the wife loved, but she is loved for the sake of the self.
"Verily, not for the sake of the sons, my dear, are the sons loved, but they are loved for the sake of the self.
"Verily, not for the sake of wealth, my dear, is wealth loved, but it is loved for the sake of the self.
"Verily, not for the sake of the brahmin, my dear, is the brahmin loved, but he is loved for the sake of the self.
"Verily, not for the sake of the kshatriya, my dear, is the kshatriya loved, but he is loved for the sake of the self.
"Verily, not for the sake of the worlds, my dear, are the worlds loved, but they are loved for the sake of the self.
"Verily, not for the sake of the gods, my dear, are the gods loved, but they are loved for the sake of the self.
"Verily, not for the sake of the beings, my dear, are the beings loved, but they are loved for the sake of the self.

"Verily, not for the sake of the All, my dear, is the All loved, but it is loved for the sake of the self.

"Verily, my dear Maitreyi, it is the Self that should be realized— should be heard of, reflected on, and meditated upon. By the realization of the Self, my dear—through hearing, reflection, and meditation—all this is known. (2.4.5)

"As the various particular [kinds of] notes of a drum, when it is beaten, cannot be grasped by themselves, but are grasped only when the general note of the drum or the general sound produced by different kinds of strokes is grasped;

"And as the various particular notes of a conch, when it is blown, cannot be grasped by themselves, but are grasped only when the general note of the conch or the general sound produced by different kinds of blowing is grasped;

"And as the various particular notes of a vina, when it is played, cannot be grasped by themselves, but are grasped only when the general note of the vina or the general sound produced by different kinds of playing is grasped;

[Similarly, no particular objects are perceived in the waking and dream states apart from Pure Intelligence.] (2.4.7-9)

"As the ocean is the one goal of all waters (i.e. the place where they merge), so the skin is the one goal of all kinds of touch, the nostrils are the one goal of all smells, the tongue is the one goal of all savours, the ear is the one goal of all sounds, the mind is the one goal of all deliberations, the intellect is the one goal of all [forms of] knowledge, the hands are the one goal of all actions, the organ of generation is the one goal of all [kinds of] enjoyment, the excretory organ is the one goal of all excretions, the feet are the one goal of all [kinds of] walking, the organ of speech is the one goal of all the Vedas.

"As a lump of salt dropped into water becomes dissolved in water and cannot be taken out again, but wherever we taste [the water] it tastes salt, even so, my dear, this great, endless, infinite Reality is Pure Intelligence alone. [This self] comes out [as a separate entity] from these elements and with their destruction [this separate existence] also is destroyed. After attaining [oneness] it has no more consciousness. This is what I say, my dear." (2.4.11-12)

Commentary:

NO MORE CONSCIOUSNESS: That is to say, no more particular consciousness. "No more is there such a thought as: 'I, So-and-so, am the son of So-and-so; this is my land and wealth; I am happy or miserable.' For such particular consciousness is due to ignorance, and since ignorance is absolutely destroyed by the realization of Brahman, how can the knower of Brahman, who is established in his nature of Pure Intelligence, possibly have any particular consciousness? Even when a man is in the body, particular consciousness is impossible for him in a state of deep sleep; so how can it ever exist in a man who has been absolutely freed from the body and organs?" (Shankaracharya)

Then Maitreyi said: "Just here you have bewildered me, venerable Sir, by saying that after attaining oneness the self has no more consciousness."

Yajnavalkya replied: "Certainly I am not saying anything bewildering, my dear. This Reality is enough for knowledge, O Maitreyi." (2.4.13)

Commentary:

Yajnavalkya did not attribute Pure Consciousness and absence of consciousness to one and the same entity. Particular consciousness belongs to the individual self, which is the result of ignorance and which is connected with the body and organs. This self is destroyed by the Knowledge of Brahman, which results in the destruction of the particular consciousness. It is like the destruction of the reflection of the moon and its light when the water in which the moon is reflected is removed. The moon, however, which is the reality behind the reflection, remains as it is. Likewise, Pure Consciousness, which is the transcendent Brahman, remains unchanged even when ignorance, the cause of individual existence, is destroyed by Knowledge. The reason for Maitreyi's confusion is that what Yajnavalkya referred to as particular consciousness she regarded as Pure Consciousness. From the standpoint of Reality, the Self is Pure Consciousness, and from the standpoint of individual existence, It may be said to be endowed with particular consciousness.

"For when there is duality, as it were, then one smells another, one sees another, one hears another, one speaks to another, one thinks of another, one knows another. But when everything has become the Self, then what should one smell and through what, what should one see and through what, what should one hear and through what, what should one speak and through what, what should one think and through what, what should one know and through what? Through what should one know That owing to which all this is known—through what, my dear, should one know the Knower?" (2.4.14)

Commentary:

When to the knower of Brahman, who has discriminated the Real from the unreal, there remains only the absolute and non-dual Subject, through what instrument should one know that Knower or Subject?

This cosmic body (atman) is the honey (effect) of all beings, and all beings are the honey (effect) of this cosmic body. Likewise, the bright, immortal being who is in the cosmic body and the bright, immortal being identified with the [individual] self [are both honey]. [These four] are but this Self. [The Knowledge of] this [Self] is [the means to] Immortality; this [underlying unity] is Brahman; this [Knowledge of Brahman] is [the means of becoming] all. (2.5.14)

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What is Brahman?

Then Ushasta, the son of Chakra, questioned him.

"Yajnavalkya," said he, "explain to me the Brahman that is immediately and directly perceived—the self that is within all."

[ Brahman: ]
"This is your self that is within all."

"Which self is within all, Yajnavalkya?"

"That which breathes through the prana is your self that is within all. That which moves downward through the apana is your self that is within all. That which pervades through the vyana is your self that is within all. That which goes out with the udana is your self that is within all. This is your self that is within all." (3.4.1)

Ushasta, the son of Chakra, said: "You have explained it as one might say: 'Such is a cow,' 'Such is a horse.' Tell me precisely the Brahman that is immediate and direct—the self that is within all."

"This is your self that is within all."

"Which is within all, Yajnavalkya?"

"You cannot see the seer of seeing;

you cannot hear the hearer of hearing;

you cannot think of the thinker of thinking;

you cannot know the knower of knowing.

This is your self that is within all;
everything else but this is perishable."

Thereupon Ushasta, the son of Chakra, held his peace. (3.4.2)

Commentary by Shankara:

The self is the witness of vision etc. Vision is of two kinds: ordinary and real. Ordinary vision is a function of the mind when it is connected with the eye. It is an act and as such it is subject to change. But the vision that belongs to the self is like the heat and light of fire. Being the very essence of the seer, it is unchanging. Because real vision appears to be associated with ordinary vision, which is subject to change, it is spoken of as the witness of objects. Ordinary vision is coloured by the objects seen by the eye. It appears to be connected with the real vision of the self, though in reality it is but its reflection. Ordinary vision, moreover, has a beginning and an end, and is pervaded by real vision. Thus the real vision of the self is metaphorically spoken of as the witness, and, although eternally seeing, is described as sometimes seeing and sometimes not seeing. But, as a matter of fact, the vision of the seer never changes.

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* Excerpts translated by Swami Nikhilananda