Brihadaranyaka Upanishada


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Introduction - The Brihadaranyaka Upanishada is an integral part of the Vajaseneya Brahmana of the Kaanva branch of the Yajurveda. With respect to the size, this Upanishad is biggest among all the Upanishads hence its name Brihat, and because it is worth reading in the forest (Aranya), it is known as Aranyaka. Along with it huge size, the comprehensiveness of the meanings also is noticeable. The knowledge of self-realization is the theme of this Upanishad covered over a length of six chapters.

Once upon a time, the gods decided to defeat the Asuras by Udgeetha. Udgeetha is a segment of the Karma performed during a religious sacrifice. They decided to suppress all the evil impulses with the aid of Udgeetha. They told the proud gods of the speech, nose, ears, eyes and skin to sing the praises. Every god, through his action, sang the praises so as to enhance the strength of goodness but they were selfish. They wanted to enjoy immediately the fruits of what they had done.

This selfishness itself is a evil or demonic quality. That is why their work went in vain. At the end the prime 'prana' was told to perform this karma. On this, prana started contemplating. 'Prana' itself does not enjoy any material pleasures and it is his blessings that the senses do enjoy the pleasures. All the other senses are awake at times and sleep at others, but the prana is always awakened. When 'prana' was praised the demons were absolutely defeated and the gods were victorious. We construe from this story that the root of all evil deeds and thoughts lie in selfishness. Till the Jiva is attached and locked in the shackles of evil, he cannot be liberated from this vicious cycle of misery. The persons who surrender all attachments cannot be affected by any temptation.

The second chapter begins with the conversation between Drupta bala Gargya and Ajaatashatru. The emperor of Kashi. Ajaatashatru was a great thinker and a philosopher, while Drupta Gargya was self-conceited. When he said to Ajaatashatru that- " I will give the knowledge of the Divine Cosmic Spirit." Ajaatashatru immediately gave him one thousand gold coins. This Shruti thus opines the fact that the king was indeed a noble soul, he would not see other's weaknesses and shortcomings, rather he would respect one and all. Along with this the greatness of the Cosmic Divine knowledge is also enumerated. After this whoever (who had pride on the Aditya) was taught Divine knowledge by Gargya was proclaimed as non-venerable. Ajaatashatru went to the extent of stating the benefits of their propitiation also.

As a result of this, Gargya was confused and his ego ceased to exist. He sought the refuge of the king at last so that he could understand the Divine cosmic Spirit. Listening to this, the king, holding his hand took him to his palace to a sleeping person and called out to Moon who was self-conceited because of prana, by different names i.e. Brihat, Pandakhaasa, Soma, Rajan etc.

But despite this, the sleeping person did not get up. The King gradually went near him and pressed his hand. As soon as this happened the person woke up.

Through this incident, the Shruti opines that all the gods, who are proud of their name and beauty, are not in reality the Vignamaya souls. The Vignamaya souls are devoid of name and form. Although the divine God is omnipresent the Supreme God resides in the heart of each and every creature.

In the real sense, He is the real inspirer and the one who really bears. The other gods who are proud of their senses are also expressions of that divine god. Without His reign, all their independent energies are useless and futile. Because they control the senses they are prana (breath) but the divine soul, because He is the controller and inspirer of the prana, is the prana of the pranas i.e. Mahaprana.

In the fourth Brahmana of this chapter itself is the conversation of Yagyavalkya and Maitreyi. Yagyavalkya had two wives- Maitreyi and Katyayani. Amongst them Maitreyi had realized the divine cosmic spirit while Katyayani was a woman with ordinary intellect. When Yagyavalkya decided to renounce the world, he decided to divide the property between his two wives. On this Katyayani did not say anything as she was desirous only of physical or material pleasures. Maitreyi commented- "If this entire earth filled with wealth and riches becomes mine, Shall I become immortal?" Listening to this Yagyavalkya replied- "One cannot expect to attain immortality by wealth. But one can enjoy all the physical pleasures like a desirous person." Maitreyi became all the more curious, she asked- "What shall I do by taking that which cannot make me immortal? Tell me something by which I will become immortal?"

"In reality this is the real form of detachment and judgement. He who does not see the birth of these aforesaid things within himself cannot realize God", seeing the curiosity of Maitreyi, Yagyavalkya gave her the sermon of the Divine cosmic spirit. He told her that the soul and the cosmic spirit are in reality one and self-realization is a way to realize this entire world. It is defeat to see anything or realize anything other than the soul. All humans take birth from that cosmic soul and that all creatures devoid of the realization of that soul reside in final dissolution and the ignorance. In this way everything is pervaded by the divine cosmic soul. For that person everything is devoid of the doer, the act and the effect. It is not easy to realize the element of the divine soul as that divine cosmic soul is omniscient.

After this comes the 'Madhubrahman'. The nectar is the essence of many types of flowers. The flowers are for the nectars. The flower is the benefactor and the nectar is the beneficent. This relation of the benefactor and the beneficent is referred to 'Madhu' in this Brahmana. It is opined that- All the things/ elements i.e. earth, water, fire, air, space, moon, lightning and directions are the motives of the four elements and the humans or creatures created are emerged from these four elements. But this is the practical view -point. In reality all these four elements reside in and are protected by the Divine cosmic soul. This is the real and divine form. In this way the Madhubrahman speaks of the all pervasive nature of the divine cosmic soul and that each and every atom of this universe contains that divine cosmic element.


This Shruti states that it is that divine energy who with the aid of the Mayashakti (divine play of delusion) that assumes all forms.

The second chapters following the Madhu kanda is the Yagyavalkya Kanda.

The chapter begins with the narration of king Janak who performed a religious yagya and gave plenty of money in Dakshina. All the scholars, Brahmins of the Panchal region were present on the occasion. The king proclaimed: "scholar, who is the most intelligent and has realized Brahma, can take from my cowshed ten thousand cows on each of whose horns twenty gold coins are tied." There was not even one scholar who had the courage to come before the king and assertively state that he was the most noble and greatest scholar. At that time, Yagyavalkya got up and told his Brahmacharis to take away all the ten thousand cows. Seeing this, all the Brahmins present were unnerved. One of them asked- "Do you think you are the greatest scholar to have realized the supreme God?" Yagyavalkya's reply was indeed of a sublime noble soul. He replied: "We respect that person who is incessantly meditating upon the Brahma but we are desirous of the cows. After this all the Brahmins present asked one question each to Yagyavalkya and were satisfied with the answers."

In the end, Gargi asked him what is the cause for the evolution of the different Lokas (worlds). When she asked the cause of the evolution of the Brahmaloka, Yagyavalkya stopped her. He told her: "the Brahmaloka and its evolution is devoid of doubt and to question its evolution itself is a crime." Therefore he refuted and repudiated the question.

After this Yagyavalkya himself asked a question to the Brahmins present. No one could dare to answer that question.

The first Brahmana of the fourth chapter comprises of the conversation between Janak and Yagyavalkya. Janak had heard from different sources that the speech, the prana, the eyes etc. are basically embodiments of Brahma. Yagyavalkya asked Janak about the purview and the greatness of these embodiments. He also told him how each of them can be propitiated and the attainment of the Devaloka. Listening to this Janak considered these things as the greatest attainments and wanted to give one thousand cows to Yagyavalkya. But Yagyavalkya told him that taking wealth from a disciple who is not satisfied is against his father's principles and refused to accept Dakshina (gifts/fees).

In the second Brahmana considering Janak as the authority, Yagyavalkya narrated to him the gigantic form of that cosmic soul that is all pervasive and immovable. On this, the king Janak was thoroughly satisfied and he surrendered all the riches and wealth at the feet of Yagyavalkya.

The third and the fourth Brahmanas of the fourth chapter speak of the conversation between Janak and Yagyavalkya. Although Yagyavalkya had taken a resolution that 'I won't say anything to Janak', but he had agreed to answer all the questions Janak asked. That is why he asked- "Whose effulgence is the cause of purush's radiance?"


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This incepts the debate and conversation between both of them which assumes a comprehensive form and is explained and narrated in both the Brahmanas. Finally both come to a conclusion that Atman (soul) is the sublime radiance or flame that is enkindled. They themselves are light. He can see these things in the dream state. Although he is desirous of enjoying everything, he is absolutely detached and isolated. In the state of Sushupti, the material world ceases to exist and finally he goes and resides in the Anandmaya swaroop (a form embellished with divine happiness). As he is the vision of the person seeing, breath of the person breathing, taste of the person tasting, the speach of the person speaking, the sound of the person listening, the intelligence of the intellectual and the realization of the person striving to realize, he is devoid of any shortcoming as the real form of whatever is there is the atma (soul) itself. Therefore whatever we listen or speak is the expression of the divine cosmic soul. So that divine cosmic soul who is unpercievable is all pervasive.

He, who realizes this, become selfless and Aapta-kama. The soul does not undergo transmigration but the soul is nothing but the Divine cosmic soul and eventually the soul becomes one after merging with the divine cosmic spirit.

After this the fifth Brahmana speaks of the conversation between Maitreyi and Yagyavalkya. The sixth Brahmana speaks of the tradition and lineage of the principal teachers and with that the Madhukanda ends.

The fifth Brahmana of the Upanishad begisn with the Khilakanda. Different types of propitiation are mentioned here. There is also a very interesting story in the beginning. The son of Prajapati, the gods, humans and the demons celibate while staying at their father's place and requested Prajapati to give them a sermon. Prajapati pronounces the word 'Da' thrice and this syllable 'Da' encompasses the sermon to be given. The gods who are desirous assume the meaning to be Daman (suppression)- suppression of the senses or control or restraint. The cruel asuras assume the meaning to be Daya or pity towards all creatures. Humans who desire wealth assume the meaning to be 'Daan' or 'donation'.

In this way according to their nature all of them were satisfied and contented.

Other than this, many types of propitiation are also explained. The first Brahmana of the sixth chapter narrates the acrimonious debate of the senses amongst themselves who at the end realize that 'prana' is the noblest of them. The second Brahmana speaks of the conversation between Shwetaketu and Pravahana. Shwetaketu assumed himself to be scholar just by studying all the texts. To display his knowledge he came to the court of Pravahana, the king of Panchal. The king realized that he was proud and asked him five questions which were related to the concept of life and death. Shwetaketu could not answer even one of them properly.

He sought the help of his father, his Guru Aruni. He also failed to find an answer to the question put by the king. Both the father and son went to Pravahana and asked him about the answer. Pravahana gave them the sermon of Panchagni Vidya.

After this the third and fourth Brahmana of the Brihadaranyak Upanishad opines the concept of Shrimanth and Putramantha actions. Both these karmas are interrelated. This speaks the methods of begetting a good progeny. The fifth Brahmana of the Khilakanda speak of the lineage and tradition of the principal teachers. In this way the Upanishad concludes.




The first chapter of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad comprises of six Brahmanas. The first chapter speaks of the presence of time in the body of the horse. Next comes the Ashwamedha and its glory along with the positioning of the planets etc. Emergence of the Ashwamedha Agni and emergence of the gigantic form Agni from water and the resolution of Prajapati to perform the religious sacrifice and death has been represented as the one who enjoys the material happiness.


Prajapati expressed a desire that may anybody be a religious sacrifice. " May I the one embellished with the soul be embellished with a body" and saying this he entered it. As a result of estrangement the body assumed a shape of a horse and got bloated. In this way Prajapati is literally referred to as a horse and he is praised in a similar way. When he entered, he was devoid of perseverance and conviction and was impregnable but finally became pregnable. This is the quality or the merit of the Ashwamedha Yagya.

Thus Ashwamedha represents Prajapati himself and is praised in a similar fashion. Prajapati contemplated on the Ashwa (horse) with putting the reins on the horse. In this way he kept the horse for himself considering himself to be the God of the horse and sent the other animals to the other gods.

Thus all the people who perform the religious rites acquire the Prajapatya animal (accepted by all the gods) through mantras and recitation of incantations.


Now they tell us the fruits or benefits of the propitiation of the Ashwamedha. This sun which is radiant and gives light to the entire universe. The benefit in form of the sun's years is the body itself.

These both Agni and Aditya are basically Arka and Ashwamedha but both these forms of deaths are in one and only one form of God. A person who realizes this conquers death and becomes immortal. Death becomes a part of his soul.


The third Brahmana of the first chapter speaks about the strife between the Gods and the Asuras and thoughts related to Udgeetha are analyzed in depth. Amongst all the senses the greatness of Prana is explained in detail. A person who propitiates the 'prana' transcends death. The concluding chapter speaks of the methods of name recitation. A person who realizes the glory of the prana should recite the Saama i.e. one should recite all these three mantras.


Lead me from Asat (evil) towards Sat (Good), lead me from the darkness towards light, and lead me from death towards immortality

In this way the Sadhaka, one who propitiates the prana contemplates on the mantras and merges into prana. He should ask whatever he desires. The Udgeetha realizes the prana, that is why, like the prana he is successful in accomplishing all his desires. In this way propitiation of the prana helps us beget all the material pleasures.


The fourth Brahmana of the first chapter narrates how Prajapati created this world out of union and copulation. The evolution of the universe and its description follows. This universe before becoming conspicuous was intangible but it assumed a name and form afterwards. There can be no effect without a cause. In this way the preserver and protector of this universe, the Supreme God assumed a form and the senses to perform the necessary actions and duties. In this way the divinity of that Supreme God is present in an intangible form in each and every creature. Just as the fire is concealed in the Kashtha (wood), similarly this atman (soul) is hidden in the body. People cannot see the soul because it is not perceivable or decipherable.


This tangible and palpable universe is incomplete. The body develops a relation with the Jeevatma (unredeemed soul). The prana assumes different names because of the actions performed i.e. speech, sight, hearing, thinking, smelling etc. But it remains incomplete.

Hence, we should propitiate the atma (soul) as it is the soul where all, the mind, the prana become one. The ultimate thing in this world is the Atma. The person who realizes the entire universe eventually attains bliss.


The fifth Brahmana of the first chapter speaks of the creation of food for the soul and also the spiritual analysis of it. The other things mentioned are the method to realize the three worlds, the philosophy of Adhidaiva, Adhyatma prana darshan, the glory of the Devaloka (abode of the gods).

This prana itself is god. The sun rises and sets in from this prana itself. This dharma has been created by those gods. It is there today and shall remain tomorrow.
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