This Upaniṣad stands first in size among Principal Upaniṣads; content-wise also this has a unique place. It forms the end part of Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (शतपथ ब्राह्मण) belonging to Śukla Yajurveda and contains six chapters, in prose. Each chapter is further divided into sections called Brāhmaṇa(s), which in turn are again divided into sub-sections. Therefore, a reference to any part of the Upaniṣad is made by denoting the chapter, section and sub-section; for example 1.2.1 indicates chapter 1, section 2 and sub-section 1.

Chapter 1

The first chapter contains six sections. The first section describes a Sacrificial Horse, which actually is an allegoric presentation of the physical manifestation of the Ultimate Principle (1.1.1). For, in 1.2.7 it is clarified that horse is that which expands and is therefore fit to be sacrificed. The cumulative implication is that for attaining to the Ultimate Principle, the physical possessions are to be sacrificed.


From 1.2.1 to 1.2.7 we find a mystic description of how the physical world evolved from nothingness of physical existence. In the beginning there was nothing; Death (Mṛtyuḥ), acting as unquenchable hunger, devoured everything that existed until then (1.2.1). This description is akin to the concept of black hole that absorbs everything into itself and it also reminds us of the final contraction of the presently expanding universe into a single atom as the Bing Bang theory predicts. Opposite to this devouring force, a force of generation was still active, which at one point willed to have a body. It persistently invoked its brilliance for this purpose and what came out first was the element of water (Āpaḥ). From water the element of earth (Pṛthivī) was produced, from which, in turn, the element of fire (Agni) came out. From fire originated the element of gas (air – Vāyuḥ) and from Vāyu, the element of space (Ākāśaḥ) (1.2.1, 1.2.2 & 1.2.3). Thus, the full complement of five elements came into existence. But, without time there is no movement. So, Mṛtyuḥ (Death, Hunger) willed to have a further body, for the sake of future devouring. As a result Time started ticking (1.2.5). Consequently, everything that is here appeared. But, with the opposite force of expansion thus gathering momentum, the devouring force of Mṛtyuḥ suffered decline, in spite of all its efforts (1.2.7). Notwithstanding this decline Mṛtyuḥ thought that it can exist as the force of devour, since all that manifested are destined to be withdrawn at some point of time (1.2.7). Thus, Mṛtyuḥ became an accompaniment of all that come into existence.

This description gives us the idea that in every creation two opposite forces act together, one of expansion and the other of contraction. The fact of which among these two gets upper hand over the other, decides the growth or decay of the creation.

In section 1.3 it is described that physical manifestation is essentially dual in nature, divine and devilish. This duality exists in speech, smell, sight, hearing and thinking. Only when one goes beyond this duality, does he attain to his true self. It is in this section that the famous Pavamāna hymn (popularly known as ‘asato mā sadgamaya’ is discussed — 1.3.28). The hymn is given below:

“असतो मा सद्गमय, तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय, मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय”

“asato mā sadgamaya, tamaso mā jyotirgamaya, mṛtyormā amṛtaṃ gamaya”

The simple meaning is thus: “Lead me from ‘Asat’ to ‘Sat’, from darkness to light and from mortality to immortality”. Asat and Sat have specific philosophical meaning, though they are often translated as ‘unreal’ and ‘real’ respectively, which are rather misleading. ‘Asat’ is that which has no state of existence and ‘Sat’ is that which has no state of non-existence (Gīta 2.16). It is to be understood that Asat does not exist by itself; it does not have an independent existence. In contrast, Sat exists by itself. That is the specific difference between the two. The phenomenal existence is neither Sat nor Asat, since it has a beginning and an end. It is actually Asat sustained by Sat; Asat represents the physical part and Sat the eternal sustaining energy. So, the first part of the hymn means this, ‘may I be oriented towards the eternal principle of existence, instead of the transient worldly pleasures’. In the second part, darkness indicates ignorance and light represents enlightenment. It may be noted that ignorance relates to Asat and enlightenment relates to Sat; therefore this part is rather a repetition of the first part in a different form. Similarly, the word ‘mortality’ in the last part refers to Asat only and immortality to Sat, going by the imports of Asat and Sat given above.

The next section (1.4) speaks about the Sat and its projection of Asat to form this universe. Sub-section 1.4.1 states that in the beginning there was only Ātmā (Ātman) in the form of Puruṣa. That means, Ātmā is the ultimate principle of existence. Its essence is Sat-Chit-Ānanda. We have seen what Sat is. It is pure existence. Chit is pure, transcendent consciousness and it finds expression in the desire to know and express. Ānanda is abstract, transcendent bliss. Seeking happiness is its expression. These three facets of Ātmā are nothing but abstractions of all the various phenomenal activities in the universe. Inversely, all activities in the universe are motivated by the urge, (i) either to exist (ii) or to know and express (iii) or to derive happiness. The hypothesis put forward in the Principal Upaniṣads is that Ātmā periodically projects and withdraws the universe. It is the process of this withdrawal that we saw above in 1.2.1 of the Upaniṣad. Now, here in 1.4, the process of projection is allegorically described in continuation from 1.2. It starts with the declaration that in the beginning only the Ātmā existed in the form of Puruṣa. What is the meaning of Puruṣa? The process of projection of beings presupposes the power of Ātmā to appear in different forms. This power is known as Māya or Prakṛti. In the ultimate stage of withdrawal Ātmā contains this power also within himself. But, as a prelude to initiate projection, he invokes this power. With the Prakṛti invoked, he is known as Puruṣa. This explains the declaration that in the beginning there was only Ātmā in the form of Puruṣa. Making use of the power of Prakṛti he attained a dual form and then he expanded himself to grow in size. He later divided this form into two opposite halves. It is from these halves that all that is here came out in different stages. Thus, expression of opposites is the secret of projection of the universe; everything exists in opposites (1.4.3, 1.4.4, 1.4.6). Prakṛti represents the physical part and Puruṣa the supporting element. This idea is expressed in 1.4.6 saying that the universe consists in food and its eater. This means that Puruṣa is the eater (enjoyer) and Prakṛti is the food (the enjoyed); Puruṣa is the energy that hears, feels (by touch), sees, smells and tastes everything. The nameless, formless Ātmā thus manifests into names and forms constituting the universe (1.4.7). He pervades the entire universe; at the same time it is unseen just as a razor lying in its case. It is because of him only that breathing, smelling, seeing, hearing, etc are possible. He is behind each and all of these phenomena. It is because of Ātmā only that everything is known. He is dearer than anything else since he is the innermost (1.4.8); He is eternal also and therefore one should hold fast to the ultimate principle of Ātmā.

Again, in 1.4.10 it is stated that there was only Brahma (Brahman) in the beginning. We have already seen in 1.4.1 that only Ātmā existed in the beginning in the form of Puruṣa. The cumulative implication is that Brahma is equivalent to Ātmā existing in the form of Puruṣa. Ātmā is absolute Sat-Chit-Ānanda, whereas Brahma is Ātmā in the form of Puruṣa, having invoked Prakṛti. This means that Brahma has a physical element, in contrast to Ātmā. Thus there exists a subtle difference between Ātmā and Brahma, though both these words are usually used to be synonyms. We will see this aspect further in the remaining chapters.

Being without a second entity, Brahma realized itself as ‘I am Brahma’ (अहं ब्रह्मास्मि – ahaṃ brahmāsmi), which is considered as one of the four great declarations (mahāvākya-s) in the Upaniṣads. It is from mere expansion of Brahma that the entire universe originated. The very word Brahma indicates expansion. Thus Brahma corresponds to the primeval atom of the Big Bang theory. Since the universe is the expanded Brahma, everything here is Brahma only. Attaining to this consciousness, that is ‘ahaṃ brahmāsmi’, is considered as the greatest realization man can achieve. This realization makes him see everything as his own part and thus drains off all evils like passion and hatred. On the other hand, one who adores another god as different from himself, turns out to be an animal to that god, just as what an animal is to man.

From 1.4.11 to 1.4.15 we find a description about the creation of four Varṇa(s) (वर्ण). The concept of Varṇa is very ancient. It is seen mentioned in the very old Puruṣa Sūkta of Rgveda (10.90.12). There are four Varṇas, namely, Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiśya and Śūdra. It needs to be asserted here that Varṇa is not caste. There are thousands of castes, but only four Varṇas. There is no scriptural authority classifying various castes into Varṇas. Moreover, the Varṇa classification applies to the whole mankind, including those nationalities where caste differentiation is absent. Then how is one’s Varṇa determined? The answer is seen in Gīta 4.13 & 18.42 to 18.44. Varṇa is not assigned on the basis of family to which one is born. It is determined by the type of deeds one is inclined to do, under the influence of the proportion of the three Guṇas (satvam, rajas, tamas) within him (Gīta 18.42 to 18.44). The best expression of one’s Varṇa is therefore his deeds that he embarks upon with inner urge, not the deeds he takes up under external compulsion. This makes the determination of Varṇa very difficult; and there is no need to ascertain the Varṇa of each and every individual in the society.

It is stated in 1.4.11 that Brāhmaṇa is verily Brahma, implying that a Brāhmaṇa is one who has attained to the principle of Brahma, the highest state of realization. With only the Brāhmaṇa, the world would not sustain or flourish; therefore, Brahma created Kṣatriya. Even then world was unable to flourish and so the Varṇa of Vaiśya was created (1.4.12). That too was not enough to ensure a prosperous world. Brahma then created the Varṇa of Śūdra (1.4.13). Finding that the creation of the four Varṇas was not sufficient to ensure sustenance of the world, Brahma finally created Dharma. There is nothing greater than Dharma, as even the most weak becomes strong with Dharma (1.4.14). Dharma is the regulating tool that musters conformity of deeds to the ultimate principle of Sat-Chit-Ānanda, by which the continued existence of the world is ensured. In 1.4.15 it is stated that since among the humans, Brāhmaṇa is verily Brahma, people wish to become Brāhmaṇa just as gods (Devas) wish to become Agni. It is further stated that everyone should strive to attain to Brahma. In sub-section 1.4.17 it is declared that Ātmā is the one and only one principle of existence.

Chapter 2

Now we move on to the 2nd chapter, leaving behind the remaining sections 5 & 6 of chapter 1, as the contents thereof are rather theological than philosophical.

Chapter 2 opens with a reference to one Bālāki of Garga clan, well versed in Vedas, approaching Ajātaśatru, King of Kāśi to speak about Brahma. Ajātaśatru was only happy hear what Bālāki had to say. Bālāki at first said that Brahma was the Being in the sun; but Ajātaśatru rejected it. Bālāki continued in the same way, by citing moon, lightning, fire, air, etc. instead of sun, each of them being promptly rejected (2.1.1 to 2.1.13). At last, he requested Ajātaśatru for proper instruction about Brahma. Ajātaśatru took Bālāki to a sleeping person and called him several times to wake up. But he did not. At last, the king pushed him with his hands again and again; then he got up (2.1.15). Ajātaśatru asked Bālāki, “Where was the knowing being (the faculty of cognition, powered by pure consciousness within) when the person was asleep and how did it return?” Bālāki had no answer (2.1.16). Ajātaśatru explained thus: ‘when the person was asleep, the knowing being absorbed the cognitive power of all the senses and lay dormant in the inner heart of consciousness’ (2.1.17). (This inner heart is the Thalamus in modern physiology, which is the centre of information exchange in the body). He continued, “When the person is fast asleep, the cognitive functions of the inner organs of action (the four antaḥkaraṇas namely Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahaṃkāra) are also cut off” (2.1.19). In other words, when a person sleeps, his senses are shut down and when he enters deep sleep his antaḥkaraṇas also are shut down, reducing him to a state of pure consciousness shining inside.

The second part of the question is answered in a comprehensive manner in 2.1.20. It says that all senses, all worlds, all gods (devas) and all beings manifest from the Ātmā, just as a spider emits its threads, or sparks emanates from fire.

Now, skipping section 2, we move on to section 3. Sub-section 2.3.1 says that Brahma has two forms, namely the perceptible and the imperceptible; the mortal and the immortal; the unmoving and the moving; the known and the knowing.

“द्वे वाव ब्रह्मणो रूपे – मूर्तं चैवामूर्तं च, मर्त्यं चामृतं च, स्थितं च यच्च, सच्च त्यच्च” || 2.3.1 ||

(dve vāva brahmaṇo rūpe – mūrtaṃ caivāmūrtaṃ ca, martyaṃ cāmṛtaṃ ca, sthitaṃ ca yacca, sacca tyacca).

With these dual aspects in form, Brahma creates all that is experienced by the senses. Therefore whatever we experience with the senses do not constitute the Brahma proper. They are only expressions. So, nothing of them is really the Brahma; with reference to the things of experience, the appropriate description of Brahma is therefore ‘not this, not this’ (नेति, नेति – 2.3.6).

Now, we move on to section 4 of chapter 2. Here enters the most renowned, erudite and celebrated Sage of Upaniṣads, Yājñavalkya (याज्ञवल्क्य). He had two wives, Kātyāyanī (कात्यायनी) and Maitreyī (मैत्रेयी). Of these, Kātyāyanī was an ordinary housewife while Maitreyī was interested in scriptural studies too. Having decided to renounce the householder’s life for a higher life, Yājñavalkya tells Maitreyī that he is going to divide whatever wealth he has, between his two wives (2.4.1). Upon this, Maitreyī, being interested in attaining to immortality, asks her husband whether she would be immortal on her becoming the owner of the whole earth full of wealth. “No”, said Yājñavalkya, “immortality cannot be attained by wealth” (अमृतत्वस्य न आशा अस्ति वित्तेन – amṛtatvasya na āśā asti vittena – 2.4.2). Maitreyī sees no use with that which is unable to bring her immortality. So she asks Yājñavalkya to teach about the thing which would lead to immortality. Yājñavalkya clarifies that nothing in this phenomenal world is able to provide us immortality, since they are mortal by nature. The only immortal thing is Ātmā and therefore, those who seek immortality have to strive for attaining to it. Ātmā is Sat-Chit-Ānanda; we are but Ātmā holding this body. What works in us is the inner urge of existence (Sat), of knowledge and expression (Chit) and of joy (Ānanda). It is because of this inner urge that we engage in various deeds. We love things in furtherance of this urge of ours, not for the sake of the things. Love for father, mother, spouse, son, daughter, wealth and everything in this world is not for their sake but for furthering this urge only. In order to perpetuate what we want to derive from this love, we have to attain to the ultimate principle of Ātmā, as, it is Ātmā that is eternal (2.4.5). It is through knowing Ātmā that everything comes to be known properly; for, everything here is only Ātmā in essence. Consequently nothing can be known in isolation of Ātmā, just as the different notes of a drum beat cannot be known by sounds other than that of its own general note (2.4.7). That means, everything known to be separate is involved in the general, all-inclusive one. Merged with the general, there is no separate identity. Take the case of lumps of salt. They come from ocean water and in the form of salt they have separate identity. But, when they dissolve in the ocean water, this identity is lost; everything becomes ocean only. Likewise, every being or thing here comes out from the endless, boundless ocean of gross elements that is nothing but a mass of Pure Intelligence, and merges into it at the end. After such merging, there is no separate identity for individual being or thing (2.4.12). Yājñavalkya reasserts this ceasing of individual identity when Maitreyī seeks a clarification (2.4.13). He further says that the activities of smelling, hearing, knowing, etc. are necessitated, only when there exists duality. But, when everything becomes Ātmā, nothing of that sort happens; for, there is only a single identity that is Ātmā and nothing else to be known.

In the 5th section of Chapter 2, the concept of Ātmā is expounded comprehensively from 2.5.1 to 2.5.14, illustrating with phenomenal objects. See what is said in 2.5.1:

यश्चायं अस्यां पृथिव्यां तेजोमयोഽमृतमयः पुरुषः यश्चायं अध्यात्मं शारीरस्तेजोमयोഽमृतमयः पुरुषः अयमेव स योഽयमात्मा इदममृतं इदं ब्रह्म इदं सर्वम् || 2.5.1 ||

(yaścāyaṃ asyāṃ pṛthivyāṃ tejomayoഽmṛtamayaḥ puruṣaḥ, yaścāyaṃ adhyātmaṃ śārīrastejomayoഽmṛtamayaḥ puruṣaḥ ayameva sa yoഽyamātmā idamamṛtaṃ idaṃ brahma idaṃ sarvam) – 2.5.1.

Meaning: ‘That dazzling, immortal Puruṣa within the Earth, that transcendent, embodied, dazzling, immortal Puruṣa is the Ātmā; He is what is immortal here, He is Brahma and He is all’.

The verse is repeated from 2.5.2 to 2.5.14, replacing Earth with Water, Fire, Air, etc. covering everything in this phenomenal world. The implication is that Ātmā is transcendent, immortal Being which expresses and sustains the whole world. Here, the use of the word Puruṣa may be noticed. We have already seen what Puruṣa is. He is Ātmā with the power of Prakṛti invoked. It is this Puruṣa or the Ātmā with the invoked Prakṛti that is equated to Brahma here; Puruṣa is also equated to everything here. These equations are justified by the declarations in 1.4.10 that everything here originated from Brahma and in 2.3.1 that Brahma has two forms. A statement of direct equation between Ātmā and Brahma or the phenomenal world would not be so justified. In short, Ātmā and Brahma are not truly, purely identical. This will be further seen in the remaining parts of this Upaniṣad itself.

In 2.5.15 it is stated that just as the spokes of a chariot wheel are fixed to its nave and felloes, in the same way all the beings, all gods, all worlds and all organs are fixed upon the Ātmā. That means, it is Ātmā that sustains everything.

Chapter 3

This is the most important chapter of this Upaniṣad, as it deals with scriptural discussions with Yājñavalkya on the one part and Brāhmaṇa-s in the court of Janaka, the Emperor of Videha, on the other part. Janaka was an ardent seeker of Brahma and used to promote such discussions by offering valuable gifts to the participants. Now he desires to know the most erudite of all the Vedic scholars assembled in his court from Kuru and Pāñcāla countries. The prize in offer was a gift of thousand cows with 10 Pāda-s of gold (100 grams approx.) attached to the horns of each. None of the Brāhmaṇas dared to claim the cows. But, Yājñavalkya directed one of his disciples to drive home the cows. Others present were enraged at this perceived haughtiness of Yājñavalkya. They wanted to know whether he claimed to be the best Vedic scholar among them. He replied, “I bow to the best Vedic scholar; I just wanted the cows”. At this, some among them decided to question him on Vedic knowledge. Eight of them questioned him on various topics. Yājñavalkya answered them all and at the end he returned a question which none of them was able to answer. Eventually, Yājñavalkya was recognised as the best Vedic scholar.

The first question came from Aśvala, the Rgveda priest of Janaka. Being a priest he asked about sacrifices and how the institutor of a sacrifice is liberated from the bondage of the phenomenal world through the sacrificial performance. Yājñavalkya answered the question satisfactorily and therefore Aśvala withdrew from the discussion (3.1.1 to 3.1.10).

The next in turn was Ārtabhāga belonging to the line of Jaratkāru. His questions too were not centred on any serious philosophical issue (3.2.1 to 3.2.13). After Ārtabhāga, it was Bhujyu; he asked only one question relating to the whereabouts of the descendants of Parīkṣit (3.3.1 & 3.3.2). This too is not of interest to us.

Uṣasta, son of Cakra (चक्र) then asked Yājñavalkya to explain Brahma, which is the Ātmā within all, in exact and definite terms (साक्षात् अपरोक्षात् ब्रह्म, य आत्मा सर्वान्तरः). Yājñavalkya replied, “The Ātmā within all is the same Ātmā that is within you; that which energizes your breath” (3.4.1). Not being satisfied by this answer that is centred on certain characteristics like breathing, Uṣasta persisted in eliciting a specific answer as to what Brahma precisely is. Yājñavalkya clarified that Ātmā is the energy of seeing, hearing, thinking and knowing; that he cannot therefore see, hear, think and know it. For, nobody can see that which sees, hear that which hears, think that which thinks and know that which knows (3.4.2).

Kahola follows Uṣasta and repeats the same question to Yājñavalkya, who in turn throws light on another aspect of Ātmā. He says that Ātmā is that which transcends hunger, thirst, grief, delusion, decay and death; knowing this very Ātmā, Brāhmaṇas renounce desire for sons, wealth and worlds (3.5.1).

The next questioner was the famous lady of the Upaniṣads, Gārgī (गार्गी), daughter of Vācaknu (वाचक्नु). Her question related to the ultimate substance that pervaded everything. She started with water and proceeded up to the concept of the world of Brahma. At this juncture, Yājñavalkya warned against going further, as they reached the limit of explanation; for, the substance that lies beyond was not amenable to explanation.

The most important of the questions asked of Yājñavalkya in that assembly is that of Uddālaka son of Aruṇa, who is also a famous Sage and appears in other Upaniṣads also. He wants to know whether Yājñavalkya is aware of the Sūtra (सूत्र – the force that holds together everything here) and of the Antaryāmi (Inner Ruler within all); he insists that without knowing the Sūtra and Antaryāmi, Yājñavalkya is not eligible to take away the prize of thousand cows with the gold. Yājñavalkya answers him rightly that the Sūtra is air and Antaryāmi is Ātmā (3.7.2 to 3.7.23). He explains that the one who is immanent in everything, whom nobody knows; whose body is everything here, and who controls everything from within; it is the immortal Ātmā within every being. To illustrate his answer Yājñavalkya starts by taking the case of earth and goes on with the same wording replacing earth with other objects like water, fire, sky, light, stars, etc (3.7.3 to 3.7.23). See the case of earth below:

‘यः पृथिव्यां तिष्ठन् पृथिव्या अन्तरः, यं पृथिवी न वेद, यस्य पृथिवी शरीरं, यः पृथिवीमन्तरो यमयति, एष त आत्मान्तर्याम्यमृतः’ || 3.7.3 ||

(yaḥ pṛthivyāṃ tiṣṭhan pṛthivyā antaraḥ, yaṃ pṛthivī na veda, yasya pṛthivī śarīraṃ, yaḥ pṛthivīmantaro yamayati, eṣa ta ātmāntaryāmyamṛtaḥ).

This is an excellent description of the concept of Ātmā. It is declared that Ātmā pervades the entire universe and is the inner force sustaining and controlling it; universe is its body or physical expression and external appearance; Ātmā is not perceived by the beings as it is beyond the reach of their knowing faculties; it is immortal while the body is mortal. We may here recall the revelations in 1.4.7 above.

At the end, in 3.7.23, Yājñavalkya repeats what he told Uṣasta in 3.4.2. He says that Atma is not seen, heard, thought or known; but he is the seer, hearer, thinker and knower; there is no other seer, hearer, thinker or knower. He is the immortal inner controller.

Now, Gārgī intervenes again with two questions which she says if answered by Yājñavalkya he would not be defeated by anybody in his knowledge of Brahma (3.8.1). Answering her questions Yājñavalkya gives an excellent description of the ultimate entity that pervades the entire universe. It is thus:

‘अस्थूलं अनणु, अह्रस्वं अदीर्घं, अलोहितं अस्नेहं, अच्छायं अतमः, अवायु अनाकाशं, असङ्गं अरसं अगन्धं अचक्षुष्कं अश्रोत्रं अवाक् अमनः अतेजस्कं अप्राणं अमुखं अमात्रं अनन्तरं अबाह्यम्, न तदश्नाति किंचन न तदश्नाति कश्चन’|| 3.8.8 ||

(asthūlaṃ anaṇu ahrasvaṃ adīrghaṃ alohitaṃ asnehaṃ acchāyaṃ atamaḥ avāyu anākāśaṃ asaṅgaṃ arasaṃ agandhaṃ acakṣuṣkaṃ aśrotraṃ avāk amanaḥ atejaskaṃ aprāṇaṃ amukhaṃ amātraṃ anantarṃ abāhyam na tadaśnāti kiṃcana na tadaśnāti kaścana)

Meaning: ‘That entity is neither big nor minute, neither short nor long, neither red in colour nor oily, neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor ether; it is devoid of attachment; it is without taste, odour, eyes, ears, sound, mind, light, breath, mouth, measure, interior and exterior; it does not absorb anything, nor is it absorbed by anybody’.

The negation of attributes done here is not exhaustive. The implication is that this absolute entity, the Ātmā, is beyond all the attributes of the phenomenal world. The last part indicates that nothing is in existence other than Ātmā; so, there is no scope for absorbing or being absorbed.

Yājñavalkya says further in 3.8.9 that this immutable entity controls with its mighty rule every earthly and heavenly object maintains its assigned position and course and also functions properly. Whoever departs from this world without knowing this eternal entity is a miserable person (कृपण – kṛpaṇa); whoever knows it, is a Brāhmaṇa (ब्राह्मण) (3.8.10). Therefore, knowing of Brahma is the culmination point of being a Brāhmaṇa. Those, who are not even in the path of attaining this supreme knowledge, are not worth the name Brāhmaṇa.

Section 3.9 opens with a long debate between Yājñavalkya and Vidagdha (विदग्धः), son of Śakala (शकल:) on the number of gods and Śakala was defeated at the end (3.9.26). Then Yājñavalkya invited other Brāhmaṇas assembled there to ask questions, but none of them dared to take up the challenge. He in turn asked a question to all of them, “If a tree, after it is felled, springs again from its root, in a newer form, from what root does man springs forth after he is cut off by death?” (3.9.28-4). None of the Brāhmaṇas did know the answer. At last Yājñavalkya himself gives the answer:

‘जात एव, न जायते, को नु एनं जनयेत् पुनः|
विज्ञानमानन्दं ब्रह्म रातिर्दातुः परायणम्|
तिष्ठमानस्य तद्विद इति’ || 3.9.28-7 ||

(jāta eva, na jāyate, ko nu enaṃ janayet punaḥ;
vijñānamānandaṃ brahma rātirdātuḥ parāyaṇam;
tiṣṭhamānasya tadvida iti.)

Meaning: ‘He is only a manifestation (jāta eva), not born (na jāyate). Who produces him again? It is Brahma that is pure intelligence and bliss, the ultimate dispenser of grace/favour and the final resort of those who realised and stays within it’.

This does not however mean that the same person is reproduced again. When a person dies his personal identity is lost for ever as we have seen in the discussion of 2.4.12 above. The material is very well there and from it another being may appear; this is what is intended here. In the case of tree also, the particular identity is not recovered, but only the general identity is retained. The original tree with its specific physical appearance will not re-enter again. The question and the answer are therefore intended to establish the fact that nothing is lost for ever, but, only a change in appearance takes place in the process of repeated renewals.

Chapter IV

This chapter opens with a discussion between Emperor Janaka and Yājñavalkya on Brahma and related issues. At one point, in 4.3.7, Janaka asks what Ātmā is. Yājñavalkya replies that Ātmā is the Puruṣa that is the impelling force of organs and the effulgence within. Then he adds that when this Puruṣa attains a body, evils (पाप – pāpa) are let loose on to that body and when he leaves the body, the evils are discarded (4.3.8). The message is that Ātmā is unaffected by evils; they are only associated with the body. It is also to be understood that when one leaves his body, ie. when he dies, the evils also vanish with the body; they are not carried over.

Section 4.4 finds some verses that are dealt with in detail in other Upaniṣads. For example, 4.4.7 appears in Kaṭha (कठ) Upaniṣad 6.14; the verses in 4.4.10 to 4.4.12 are also found in Īśa Upaniṣad with some minor variations. We will take up these in detail while we study the said Upaniṣads. These verses discuss the impact of realisation.

In 4.4.22, we find a detailed explanation about the concept of Ātmā. It says thus:

‘स वा एष महानज आत्मा योഽयं विज्ञानमय प्राणेषु य एषोഽन्तर्हृदय आकाशः तस्मिञ्छेते, सर्वस्य वशी सर्वस्येशानः सर्वस्याधिपतिः, स न साधुना कर्मणा भूयान्नो एवासाधुना कनीयान्, एष सर्वेश्वर एष भूताधिपतिरेष भूतपाल एष सेतुर्विधरण एषाम् लोकनामसंभेदाय …. स एष नेति नेत्यात्मा, अगृह्यो न हि गृह्यते, अशीर्यो न हि शीर्यते, असङ्गो न हि सज्यते, असितो न व्यथते, न रिष्यति; एतमु हैवैते न तरत इति, अतः पापमकरवमिति, अतः कल्याणमकरवमिति, उभे उ हैवैष एते तरति, नैनं कृताकृते तपतः || 4.4.22 ||

(sa vā eṣa mahānaja ātmā yoഽyaṃ vijñānamaya prāṇeṣu ya eṣoഽntarhṛdaya ākāśaḥ tasmiñchete, sarvasya vaśī sarvasyeśānaḥ sarvasyādhipatiḥ sa na sādhunā karmaṇā bhūyānno evāsādhunā kanīyān eṣa sarveśvara eṣa bhūtādhipatireṣa bhūtapāla eṣa seturvidharaṇa eṣām lokanāmasaṃbhedāya ….. sa eṣa neti netyātmā, agṛhyo na hi gṛhyate, aśīryo na hi śīryate, asaṅgo na hi sajyate, asito na vyathate, na riṣyati; etamu haivaite na tarata iti, ataḥ pāpamakaravamiti, ataḥ kalyāṇamakaravamiti, ubhe u haivaiṣa ete tarati, nainaṃ kṛtākṛte tapataḥ)

Meaning: ‘The mighty, unoriginated Ātmā is the impelling force of organs; he pervades the subtle interiors of beings; he is the controller, ruler and lord of all; he is unaffected by good as well as bad deeds; he is the protector of all beings; he acts as a bridge connecting all the worlds (worldly/heavenly bodies) and also as a restraining force keeping all of them in proper places; ………. He is described as ‘not this, not this’ (ie. He is transcendent); he is imperceptible as he is never perceived, indestructible as he never decays, unattached as he never aspires and he is unfettered too; he never feels pain and never suffers injury; he is never overtaken by the thoughts of having done an evil or good deed and he is not troubled by what has been done or not done’.

Section 5 of this chapter is same as section 4 of the 2nd chapter and section 6 is a list of the line of teachers. We therefore move on to next chapter.

Chapter V

This chapter opens with a story that tells us about Prajāpati (प्रजापति) teaching his progenies who were of three classes, namely sura-s (devas – gods), humans and asura-s. What he taught to all of them was only the syllable ‘द’ (da). Suras understood it as ‘दाम्यत’ (dāmyata – self-control), humans as ‘दत्त’ (datta – charity) and asuras as ‘दयध्वम्’ (dayadhvam – compassion) (5.2.1 to 5.2.3). Prajāpati was satisfied, as he knew that each of them got the lesson that they needed. The concept of three classes of progenies is very meaningful. Suras and Asuras represent two opposite extremes and humans represent the middle class who possess the qualities of both the extreme classes; consequently, humans may at times be suras and asuras otherwise.

In 5.5.1 a definition of ‘satyam’ is given. The definition underlines the perception that there exists a distinction between ‘sat’ and ‘satyam’. As we have seen already, ‘sat’ is that which does not have a state of non-existence. It is defined here that ‘satyam’ is ‘asat’ (anṛtam – अनृतम्) sustained or ruled by ‘sat’. This is seen further clarified in 8.3.5 of Chāndogya Upaniṣad.

Section 15 of this chapter contains only verses 15 to 18 of Īśa Upaniṣad, which we shall take up for discussion when that Upaniṣad is studied.

Chapter 6

This chapter does not present anything relevant to our line of study of the Upaniṣad and therefore we omit it. This is the last chapter of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad. Thus we come to the close of its study.

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Prior articles in this series:

The Science of the Upanishads – Introduction
The Science of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
The Science of Chandogya Upanishad
The Science of Ishavasya Upanishad
The Science of Katha Upanishad
The Science of Kena Upanishad
The Science of Mandukya Upanishad
The Science of Mundaka Upanishad
The Science of Prashna Upanishad
The Science of Taittiriya Upanishad
The Science of Aitareya Upanishad
The Science of Shvetashvatara Upanishad
The Science of Upanishads – Conclusion