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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad



Ninth Brahmana: The Self

  1. kasmin nu tvaṁ cātmā ca pratiṣṭhitau stha iti. pkasmin nu tvaṁ cātmā ca pratiṣṭhitau stha iti. prāṇa iti. kasmin nu prāṇaḥ pratiṣṭhita iti. apāna iti. kasmin nv apānaḥ pratiṣṭhita iti. vyāna iti. kasmin nu vyānaḥ pratiṣṭhita iti. udāna iti. kasminn ῡdānaḥ pratiṣṭhita iti. samāna iti. sa eṣa, na iti. na ity ātmā, agṛhyaḥ na hi gṛhyate, aṣīryaḥ, na hi śīryate, asaṅgaḥ na hi sajyate, asito na vyathate, na riṣyati. etāny aṣṭāv āyatanāni, aṣṭau lokāḥ, aṣṭau devāḥ, aṣṭau puruṣāḥ. sa yas tān puruṣān niruhya pratyuhyātyakrāmat, taṁ tvā aupaniṣadam puruṣam pṛcchāmi. tam cen me na vivakṣyasi mῡrdhā te vipatiṣatīti. taṁ ha na mene śākalyaḥ, tasya ha mῡrdhā vipapāta, api hāsya parimoṣiṇo'sthīny apajahruḥ, anyan manyamānāḥ.

Kasmin nu tvaṁ cātmā ca pratiṣṭhitau stha iti: "Yourself and your body, where are they founded?" Prāṇa iti: The body of an individual may be said to be founded on the Prāṇa, the vital breath, because it is the vital breath that sustains the body. The Prāṇa is a particular function of the vital force by which we breathe out. When we exhale, when we expire, it is the Prāṇa functioning. And when we inhale, the Apāna functions. So, Prāṇa, in its principal form, may be said to be the foundation for the body, the personality of the individual. "Where is the Prāṇa founded?" "In the Apāna" – apānaḥ pratiṣṭhita. If the Apāna is not to work in the opposite direction, the Prāṇa would go out. It has to be held in check by the counteracting force of the Apāna. While the Prāṇa is trying to go up, the Apāna is trying to go down. If the Prāṇa is not to be filled up, the Apāna will go down, and will no longer be inside the body. It will go down by the gravity of the earth. And if the Apāna is not to go down, the Prāṇa will go up. So the two, moving up and down, are thus themselves held in position. So, "Prāṇa is founded in Apāna." Its function, its existence within the body, is due to the work of the Apāna that goes downwards in the counter direction. "Now, where is Apāna founded?" Vyāna iti: Vyāna is the force that operates throughout the body, due to which there is circulation of blood. The blood moves equally throughout the veins and arteries etc. in the body on account of the Vyāna Prāṇa, a particular function of Prāṇa known as Vyāna. The Prāṇa and Apāna work in this manner, in the upward and downward directions, on account of the controlling activity of the Vyāna which is spread throughout the body. If the Vyāna is not to be there, the Prāṇa and the Apāna will not be held in position, or harmony. Thus Vyāna is the support of Apāna itself. Kasmin nu vyānaḥ pratiṣṭhita iti: "Where is Vyāna founded?" Udāna iti: "Udāna is the support for Vyāna." Udāna is a very peculiar function of the vital energy. It is like a post to which animals are tied. The animals try to go this way and that in various directions, but are not allowed to go according to their own whim and fancy, as they are tethered to a post. Likewise, the Udāna is a principle of Prāṇa whose seat is supposed to be the throat, to which the other functions of the Prāṇa are tied as to a post, as it were. And so, Udāna is the support for the operation of the other aspects of the vital energy, namely, Prāṇa, Apāna and Vyāna. If the Udāna is not to be there as an inviolable reality of the Prāṇa, the other functions will not perform their duties as expected. Kasminn ῡdānaḥ pratiṣṭhita iti: "On what is Udāna founded?" Sāmana iti: Sāmana is the subtlest form of vital force. Its seat is in the navel. It digests food, and it is the cause of the heat that you feel inside the body. It is the subtlest form of Prāṇa, and these gross forms which are mentioned are ultimately resolvable into this subtlest form, namely, Sāmana. "So, Sāmana is the ultimate support for all these functions."

This subtle Being, which is hidden behind even the Sāmana, is your real Self, on account of whose presence these Prāṇas are operating in a systematic manner. Why should the Prāṇa move in this way, and the Apāna that way, and Vyāna and Udāna and Sāmana in different ways, as if they are following some law, or system, or order? Who is this Justice or Judge who dispenses the law in the case of the function of all these vital energies? "That is something superior to even the Sāmana, and no one can know what it is. You can only say, 'what it is not'. You cannot say, 'what it is'. It is not the body; it is not the senses; it is not any one of the Prāṇas; it is not even the mind; it is not the intellect." What else it is? You do not know. If anyone asks you, what is this essential Self in you, you can only say, 'it is not this'; 'it is not this'. But you cannot say, 'what it is', because to characterise it in any manner would be to define it in terms of qualities that are obtainable in the world of objects. The world of objects can be defined by characters perceivable to the eyes or sensible to the touch, etc. But the Ātman is the presupposition and the precondition of every kind of perception. It is the proof of all proofs. Everything requires a proof, but the Ātman does not require a proof because it is the source of all proofs. And therefore, no one can define it; no one can say, 'what it is'. It can only be inferred, because if it were not to be, nothing else could be. So, it can be said to be capable of definition only in a negative manner as 'not this, not this, neti neti ātmā'. This Ātman is defined as 'not this, not this, or not that, not that, not in this manner, nothing that is known, nothing that is sensed, nothing that is capable of being expressed by words, nothing that is definable, nothing of this sort', etc.á What it is, no one can say! It is impossible to grasp it through either the power of speech, or the power of the senses, or the power of the mind. Na ity ātmā, agṛhyaḥ na hi gṛhyate: "It is impossible to grasp it. It is ungraspable. That is the Ātman. Aṣīryaḥ, na hi śīryate: It is undiminishable." It neither grows nor does it become less in its capacity. It is, a sage says, like the immeasurable ocean. Asaṅgaḥ na hi sajyate: "It does not come in contact with anything." It is impossible to conceive of its adherence to anything. There is nothing second to it. Asito na vyathate: "It cannot be affected by anything outside it." Nothing outside it exists. So it is unmodifiable. So it has no sorrow or grief of any kind. Na riṣyati: "It never comes down in its status."

Etāny aṣṭāv āyatanāni, aṣṭau lokāḥ, aṣṭau devāḥ, aṣṭau puruṣāḥ. sa yas tān puruṣān niruhya pratyuhyātyakrāmat: Now, we have described in the earlier section the various deities, etc., the perfections, and the abodes. We have already heard all these things – the deities, their abodes, the various forms of perfection of the deities etc., divinities from earth onwards up to the last deity in the earlier section. "Now, these deities, these abodes, these perfections, and these results of sacrifice, etc., are all projected, as it were, from something and withdrawn, as it were, into something which is neither known to any of these deities, nor known to any individual, yet which must exist." It is the Supreme Being. Yāj˝avalkya questions Śākalya: "Do you know what is this Supreme Being I am referring to? The great Being that is sung in the Upaniṣhads – taṁ tvā aupaniṣadam puruṣam pṛcchāmi – I ask you, what is this great Puruṣha, the great Being sung of in the Upaniṣhads, in the sacred texts, the one Being due to whose existence itself, these deities function and perform their duties in a systematic manner? If you cannot tell me who this Being is, sung of in the Upaniṣhads, your head will fall!" And Śākalya did not know who this Puruṣha was – taṁ tvā aupaniṣadam puruṣam pṛcchāmi. tam cen me na vivakṣyasi mῡrdhā te vipatiṣatīti. taṁ ha na mene śākalyaḥ.

Śākalya the poor man who put so many questions to Yāj˝avalkya and received so many fantastic answers, could not answer this single question: 'Who is this Puruṣha that is sung of in the Upaniṣhads?' And Yāj˝avalkya had already cast an imprecation: 'You have tired me very much by querying so much. Now, I put one question only to you. You tell me, who is this Being, otherwise your head, down it would fall.' And it fell. In the presence of King Janaka, this catastrophe took place. Because of the imprecation of Yāj˝avalkya's words and the impossibility of Śākalya to answer this question, the head fell. Tasya ha mῡrdhā vipapāta, api hāsya parimoṣiṇo'sthīny apajahruḥ, anyan manyamānāḥ: His disciples were grieved. 'Oh, my Guru has fallen down,' they cried. So they took the body and wanted to cremate it. They were carrying the load. On the road, some robbers observed some load being carried, and they thought that some treasure was being taken. So they attacked these disciples and took away the load. So, even the bones were not available for the disciples. They lost the whole person. This is a pitiable tragic conclusion of the great Bahu-Dakṣiṇa Yaj˝a which Janaka performed and the seminar which he held, the conclusion of which was that many wonderful questions were raised, very interesting answers were given, and knowledge bloomed forth in the court of Janaka, but one man lost his head.

  1. atha hovāca, brāhmaṇā bhagavanto, yo vaḥ kāmayate sa mā pṛcchatu, sarve vā mā pṛcchata, yo vaḥ kāmayate, taṁ vaḥ pṛchāmi, sarvān vā vaḥ pṛcchamīti. te ha brāhmaṇā na dadhṛṣuḥ.

Now Yāj˝avalkya says: "If any one of you wants to put more questions, let him come forward." Nobody dared to open his mouth afterwards. They all wanted to know whether it could be possible for them to get away from that place, because the head is very dear. Atha hovāca, brāhmaṇā bhagavanto, yo vaḥ kāmayate sa mā pṛcchatu: "Learned men! If any one of you can stand up and ask me any more questions, I am ready to answer. Sarve vā mā pṛcchata, yo vaḥ kāmayate, taṁ vaḥ pṛchāmi, sarvān vā vaḥ pṛcchamīti: Or, all of you can put questions to me at one stroke; I am ready to answer. Or, I may question you, if you like, singly. Or, I may question all of you." When this was told by Yāj˝avalkya, everyone kept quiet. Te ha brāhmaṇā na dadhṛṣuḥ: Everyone was frightened of this consequence of Śākalya's head falling off, and so they kept their mouths closed and did not put any further questions.

  1. tān haitaiḥ ślokāiḥ papraccha:
  1. yathā vṛkṣo vanaspatiḥ, tathaiva puruṣo’mṛṣā tasya lomāni parṇāni, tvag asyotpāṭikā bahiḥ.
  2. tvaca evāsya rudhiram prasyandi, tvaca utpaṭaḥ; tasmāt, tad ātṛṇṇāt praiti, raso vṛkṣād ivāhatat.
  3. māṁsāny asya śakarāṇi, kināṭaṁ snāva, tat sthiram; asthīny antarato dārῡṇi, majjā majjopamā kṛtā.
  4. yad vṛkṣo vṛkṇo rohati mῡlān navataraḥ punaḥ, martyaḥ svin mṛtyunā vṛkṇaḥ kasmān mῡlāt prarohati.
  5. retasa iti mā vocata; jīvatas tat prajāyate; dhānāruha iva vai vṛkṣaḥ a˝jasā pretyasambhavaḥ.
  6. yat samῡlam āvṛheyuḥ vṛkṣam, na punar ābhavet, martyaḥ svin mṛtyunā vṛkṇaḥ kasmān mῡlāt prarohati.
  7. jāta eva na jāyate, konvenaṁ janayet punaḥ; vij˝ānam ānandam brahma, rātir dātuḥ parāyaṇaṁ, tiṣṭhamānasya tadvidaḥ.

Then Yāj˝avalkya speaks independently, without being put any question. Yathā vṛkṣo vanaspatiḥ, tathaiva puruṣo'mṛṣā: "Friends! The human being is something like a tree. There is some similarity between a tree and a human being. The hair on the body of a human being may be compared to the leaves on the tree. Just as leaves grow on the tree, hair grows on the body." Tasya lomāni parṇāni, tvag asyotpāṭikā bahiḥ: "The bark of a tree and the skin of the human being may be compared likewise. Just as there is bark outside the tree, there is skin on the outside of the body." Tvaca evāsya rudhiram prasyandi: "From the bark, the juice of the tree exudes. Likewise, blood can exude from the skin of a body." Tvaca utpaṭaḥ; tasmāt, tad ātṛṇṇāt praiti, raso vṛkṣād ivāhatat: "When you cut a tree, its essence exudes. Likewise, an injured person exudes blood from the body." Māṁsāny asya śakarāṇi, kināṭaṁ: "The inner bark of the tree may be compared to the flesh in the body of a human being." Kināṭaṁ snāva, tat sthiram: "The sinews inside the flesh of the human body may be compared to the innermost bark of the tree." Asthīny antarato dārῡṇi: "The bones inside the body may be compared to the pith of the wood inside the tree." Majjopamā kṛtā: "The marrow inside the bones may be compared to the marrow inside the pith of the tree."

Yad vṛkṣo vṛkṇo rohati mῡlān navataraḥ punaḥ: Now, the question of Yāj˝avalkya comes. He puts a question. "If a tree is cut, it grows again; it does not perish. A new tree, as it were, grows from the stem which remains even after the tree is cut. Now I ask you a question, my dear friends. What is the thing which enables the human being to grow even after death?" Martyaḥ svin mṛtyunā vṛkṇaḥ kasmān mῡlāt prarohati: "If death is to snatch away the body of an individual, from which root does he grow again into new birth?" You know how the tree grows even if it is cut. But, how does the human being grow? He is killed by death, and his body is no more. When there is nothing which can be called remnant of the individual after the death of the body, what is the seed out of which his new body is fashioned? What is the connection between the future birth of an individual and the present state of apparent extinction at the time of death? Retasa iti mā vocata: "Do not tell me that the man is born out of the seed of the human being. No; because the seed can be there only in a living human being. A dead person has no seed. So the man is dead. What is it that becomes the connection between the present annihilation and the future birth? It is not the seed; it is something else." Jīvatas tat prajāyate; dhānāruha iva vai vṛkṣaḥ a˝jasā pretyasambhavaḥ: "The tree grows out of the seed. If the seed is not there, how can the tree grow? Something vital must be there in the tree in order that the trunk, at least, may grow. But if nothing is there, suppose you pluck out every root of the tree itself, there would be no further growth of the tree." Yat samῡlam āvṛheyuḥ vṛkṣam, na punar ābhavet: "If the root of a tree is pulled out, the tree will not grow. So, if the root of a person is pulled out at the time of death, what is it that grows after death?" Martyaḥ svin mṛtyunā vṛkṇaḥ kasmān mῡlāt prarohati: "You cannot conceive of any root for the individual being. There is no root if everything is destroyed. The body has gone. He does not leave a seed behind him, nor is there a root left. Even the root has gone. So, what is the answer to this question?"

Jāta eva na jāyate, konvenaṁ janayet punaḥ: "You may say; he is born and he is dead." The matter is over. Where is the question of his rebirth? Who tells you that there is rebirth? So, why do we not say that the matter is very simple. Something has come; something has gone; the matter is over. So, there is no question of there being a connection between the present state of annihilation and the future birth. "No," says Yāj˝avalkya. "It is not possible because – konvenaṁ janayet punaḥ na jāyate – if there is not to be rebirth, there would be an inexplicability of the variety of experiences in the present individuals." You will find that there is no answer to the question as to why there is variety of constitutions. One can enjoy what one does not deserve, and one can suffer the consequences of actions which one has not done. If there is not going to be any connection between the past and the future, anyone's actions can bear fruit in any other individual. If I do good, you may get the reward, or I may do bad, you may suffer for it. If this is not to take place, there should be some connection between the present condition of the individual and the future condition. The impossibility or the unjustifiability of someone enjoying what he does not deserve, or another suffering that which is not the consequence of his actions, is called Akritābhyasma and Prītināṣa in Sanskrit.

Yāj˝avalkya says, there is nothing conceivably left of the individual when he perishes in his physical body, but there is something which connects him with even the remotest form of life. He can be born in the most distant regions, not necessarily in this world. After the death of the body, rebirth can take place, not necessarily in this world but in most distant regions. What is it that carries you to that distant region? Vij˝ānam ānandam brahma, rātir dātuḥ parāyaṇaṁ: "It is the Absolute that is responsible for it, ultimately. He is the bestower of the fruits of all actions." And actions yield fruit only on account of the existence of the Absolute. If it were not to be, actions will not produce any result, and no cause will be connected to any effect. So, ultimately it is the Consciousness-Bliss which is the Supreme Brahman that is the root of the individual. Vij˝ānam ānandam brahma, rātir dātuḥ parāyaṇaṁ, tiṣṭhamānasya tadvidaḥ: "It is the support of not only the individual in future birth, but also the ultimate support of one who is established in It, by knowing It." So, the Supreme Being, the Absolute, is the support not only of the individuals that transmigrate in the process of Samsāra, but also the ultimate resort of the liberated soul who knows It and becomes It by self-identification. So, it is the goal not only relative to all the Jīvas, but also absolute to the Ātman in all the Jīvas. Yāj˝avalkya closes his discourse and the audience disperses. The Supreme Brahman is the source of all. Every value, visible or perceivable in life, is due to Its Being. It functions not as individuals do. It acts not, but Its very existence is all action. Its very Being is all value, and the goal of the lives of all individuals is the realisation of this Brahman.