philosophy reading question

The Katha Upanishad (page 63-92) is a dialogue between a young man and Death (known as “Yama”). 

Why do you think the personification of Death would make for an appropriate “teacher” for this young man, given the type of wisdom he is looking for (and which is emblematic of the wisdom found in the Upanishads); in other words, what does death have to teach us about the Self (Atman)?

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D :
You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.
[ B R I H A D A R A N Y A K A I V .4 .5 ]
D !

Also in This Series

The Upanishads
Introduced &
Translated by
Afterword by
Michael N. Nagler

© 1987, 2007 by The Blue Mountain Center o f Meditation
All rights reserved. Printed in Canada
Second edition. Second printing February 2008
i S B N – 1 3 : 9 78 -1-58638-021-2
I S B N – 1 0 : 1-58638-021-4
Library o f Congress Control Number: 2007927661
Printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper
Eknath Easwaran founded the Blue Mountain Center of
Meditation in Berkeley, California, in 1961. The Center
is a nonprofit organization chartered with carrying on
Easwaran’s legacy and work. Nilgiri Press, a department
o f the Center, publishes books on how to lead a spiritual
life in the home and community. The Center also teaches
Easwaran’s program o f Passage Meditation at retreats
For information please visit,
call us at 800 475 2369 (US) or 707 878 2369
(international and local), or write to us at
The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation,
Box 256, Tomales, CA 94971-0256, USA.

m Table of Contents
Foreword 7
Introduction 13
i s h a 51
The Inner Ruler
k a t h a 6 1
Death as Teacher
B R I H A D A R A N Y A K A 93
The Forest o f Wisdom
C H A N D O G Y A 119
Sacred Song
S H V E T A S H V A T A R A 1 5 3
The Faces o f God
M U N D A K A 1 7 9
Modes o f Knowing
M A N D U K Y A 1 9 7
Consciousness & Its Phases

K E N A 207
Who Moves the World?
P R A S H N A 2 1 9
The Breath o f Life
T A I T T I R I Y A 2 3 9
Ascent to Joy
A I T A R E Y A 2 6 3
The Unity o f Life
m i n o r u p a n i s h a d s Beads of Wisdom
T E J O B I N D U 2 8 3
A T M A 286
A M R I T A B I N D U 2 8 8
p a r a m a h a m s a 2 9 1
Afterword 295
by Michael N. Nagler
Glossary 337
Notes 345
Index 377

D! The Classics of Indian
I m a g i n e a v a s t h a l l i n a n g l o –
Saxon England, not long after the passing of King Arthur. It is
the dead of winter and a fierce snowstorm rages outside, but a
great fire fills the space within the hall with warmth and light.
Now and then, a sparrow darts in for refuge from the weather.
It appears as if from nowhere, flits about joyfully in the light,
and then disappears again, and where it comes from and
where it goes next in that stormy darkness, we do not know.
Our lives are like that, suggests an old story in Bede’s medi­
eval history of England. We spend our days in the familiar
world of our five senses, but what lies beyond that, if anything,
we have no idea. Those sparrows are hints of something more
outside – a vast world, perhaps, waiting to be explored. But
most of us are happy to stay where we are. We may even be
a bit afraid to venture into the unknown. What would be the
point, we wonder. Why should we leave the world we know?
Yet there are always a few who are not content to spend
their lives indoors. Simply knowing there is something un­

known beyond their reach makes them acutely restless. They
have to see what lies outside – if only, as Mallory said of
Everest, “because it’s there.”
This is true of adventurers of every kind, but especially of
those who seek to explore not mountains or jungles but con­
sciousness itself: whose real drive, we might say, is not so
much to know the unknown as to know the knower. Such
men and women can be found in every age and every culture.
While the rest of us stay put, they quietly slip out to see what
lies beyond.
Then, so far as we can tell, they disappear. We have no idea
where they have gone; we can’t even imagine. But every now
and then, like friends who have run off to some exotic land,
they send back reports: breathless messages describing fan­
tastic adventures, rambling letters about a world beyond ordi­
nary experience, urgent telegrams begging us to come and
see. “Look at this view! Isn’t it breathtaking? Wish you could
see this. Wish you were here.”
The works in this set of translations – the Upanishads, the
Bhagavad Gita, and the Dhammapada – are among the earli­
est and most universal of messages like these, sent to inform
us that there is more to life than the everyday experience of
our senses. The Upanishads are the oldest, so varied that we
feel some unknown collectors must have tossed into a jumble
all the photos, postcards, and letters from this world that they
could find, without any regard for source or circumstance.
D! 8

Thrown together like this, they form a kind of ecstatic slide
show – snapshots of towering peaks of consciousness taken at
various times by different observers and dispatched with just
the barest kind of explanation. But those who have traveled
those heights will recognize the views: “Oh, yes, that’s Ever­
est from the northwest – must be late spring. And here we’re
south, in the full snows of winter.”
The Dhammapada, too, is a collection – traditionally, say­
ings of the Buddha, one of the very greatest of these explorers
of consciousness. In this case the messages have been sorted,
but not by a scheme that makes sense to us today. Instead of
being grouped by theme or topic, they are gathered according
to some dominant characteristic like a symbol or metaphor –
flowers, birds, a river, the sky – that makes them easy to com­
mit to memory. If the Upanishads are like slides, the Dham­
mapada seems more like a field guide. This is lore picked up
by someone who knows every step of the way through these
strange lands. He can’t take us there, he explains, but he can
show us the way: tell us what to look for, warn about missteps,
advise us about detours, tell us what to avoid. Most important,
he urges us that it is our destiny as human beings to make this
journey ourselves. Everything else is secondary.
And the third of these classics, the Bhagavad Gita, gives us
a map and guidebook. It gives a systematic overview of the
territory, shows various approaches to the summit with their
benefits and pitfalls, offers recommendations, tells us what to

pack and what to leave behind. More than either of the oth­
ers, it gives the sense of a personal guide. It asks and answers
the questions that you or I might ask – questions not about
philosophy or mysticism, but about how to live effectively
in a world o f challenge and change. O f these three, it is the
Gita that has been my own personal guidebook, just as it was
Mahatma Gandhis.
These three texts are very personal records of a land­
scape that is both real and universal. Their voices, passion­
ately human, speak directly to you and,me. They describe the
topography of consciousness itself, which belongs as much
to us today as to these largely anonymous seers thousands of
years ago. If the landscape seems dark in the light of sense
perception, they tell us, it has an illumination of its own, and
once our eyes adjust we can see in what Western mystics call
this “divine dark” and verify their descriptions for ourselves.
And this world, they insist, is where we belong. This wider
field of consciousness is our native land. We are not cabin-
dwellers, born to a life cramped and confined; we are meant to
explore, to seek, to push the limits of our potential as human
beings. The world o f the senses is just a base camp: we are
meant to be as much at home in consciousness as in the world
o f physical reality.
This is a message that thrills men and women in every age
and culture. It is for such kindred spirits that these texts were
originally composed, and it is for them in our own time that
D! 10

I undertook these translations, in the conviction that they
deserve an audience today as much as ever. If these books
speak to even a handful of such readers, they will have served
their purpose.

Di The Upanishads
“ t o w a r d t h e m i d p o i n t o f l i f e ’ s
way,” as Dante says, I reached what proved a crisis. Everything
I had lived for – literature, music, writing, good friends, the
joys of teaching – had ceased to satisfy. Not that my enjoy­
ment of these things was less; in fact, I had every innocent
source of joy the world offered. But I found myself thirsting
for something more, much more, without knowing what or
I was on a college campus at that time, well trained in the
world of books. When I wanted to know what human beings
had learned about life and death, I naturally went to the
library. There I found myself systematically mining the stacks
in areas I had never been interested in before: philosophy,
psychology, religion, even the sciences. India was still Brit­
ish in those days, and the books available confirmed what my
education had taken for granted: anything worth pursuing
was best represented in the records of Western civilization.
A colleague in the psychology department found my name
13 ID

on the checkout card of a volume by William James and
grew suspicious. Everyone likes a chance to play Sherlock
Holmes; he did some sleuthing and confronted me. “See
here,” he said, “you’re in English literature, but I find you’ve
been taking home every significant contribution to my field.
Just what are you up to?”
How could I tell a distinguished professor that I was search­
ing for meaning in life? I gave him a conspiratorial wink
and replied simply, “Something big!” But nothing I found
appeased the hunger in my heart.
About this time – I no longer remember how – I came
across a copy of the Upanishads. I had known they existed,
of course, but it had never even occurred to me to look into
them. My field was Victorian literature; I expected no more
relevance from four-thousand-year-old texts than from Alice
in Wonderland.
“Take the example of a man who has everything,” I read
with a start o f recognition: “young, healthy, strong, good, and
cultured, with all the wealth that earth can offer; let us take
this as one measure of joy.” The comparison was right from
my life. “One hundred times that j oy is the j oy of the gandhar-
vas; but no less joy have those who are illumined.”
Gandharvas were pure mythology to me, and what illumi­
nation meant I had no idea. But the sublime confidence of
this voice, the certitude of something vastly greater than the
world offers, poured like sunlight into a long-dark room:

Hear, O children of immortal bliss!
You are born to be united with the Lord.
Follow the path of the illumined ones,
And be united with the Lord of Life.
I read on. Image after image arrested me: awe-inspiring
images, scarcely understood but pregnant with promised
meaning, which caught at my heart as a familiar voice tugs at
the edge of awareness when you are struggling to wake up:
As a great fish swims between the banks of a river as it
likes, so does the shining Self move between the states of
dreaming and waking.
As an eagle, weary after soaring in the sky, folds its wings
and flies down to rest in its nest, so does the shining Self
enter the state of dreamless sleep, where one is free from
all desires. The Self is free from desire, free from evil, free
from fear. . .
Like strangers in an unfamiliar country walking every day
over a buried treasure, day by day we enter that Self while
in deep sleep but never know it, carried away by what is
Day and night cannot cross that bridge, nor old age, nor
death, nor grief, nor evil or good deeds. All evils turn back
there, unable to cross; evil comes not into this world of
Brahman. One who crosses by this bridge, if blind, is blind
no more; if hurt, ceases to be hurt; if in sorrow, ceases sor­
rowing. At this boundary night itself becomes day: night
comes not into the world of Reality.. . .

And, finally, simple words that exploded in my conscious­
ness, throwing light around them like a flare: “There is no joy
in the finite; there is joy only in the Infinite.”
I too had been walking every day over buried treasure and
never guessed. Like the man in the Hasidic fable, I had been
seeking everywhere what lay in my own home.
In this way I discovered the Upanishads, and quickly found
myself committed to the practice of meditation.
Today, after more than forty years of study, these texts are
written on my heart; I am familiar with every word. Yet they
never fail to surprise me. With each reading I feel I am setting
out on a sea so deep and vast that one can never reach its end.
In the years since then I have read widely in world mysticism,
and often found the ideas of the Upanishads repeated in the idi­
oms of other religions. I found, too, more practical guides; my
own, following the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi, became
the Bhagavad Gita. But nowhere else have I seen such a pure,
lofty, heady distillation of spiritual wisdom as in the Upani­
shads, which seem to come to us from the very dawn of time.
Around 2 0 0 0 B .C ., scholars believe, groups of
Indo-European-speaking peoples calling themselves arya,
or noble, began to enter the Indian subcontinent through

the Hindu Kush. There, in the Indus river valley, they found
a civilization already a thousand years old, thriving and
advanced in technology and trade. From the fusion of these
two cultures, the Aryan and the Indus Valley, Indian civiliza­
tion was born.
The Aryans brought their gods and a religion based on
ritual sacrifice, with lyrical, life-affirming hymns meant for
incantation in an ancient form of Sanskrit. These hymns, dat­
ing from perhaps 1500 B.C., reveal an intimate, almost mys­
tical bond between worshipper and environment, a simulta­
neous sense of awe and kinship with the spirit that dwells in
all things. Even in translation they have a compelling beauty.
They worship natural forces and the elemental powers of life:
sun and wind, storm and rain, dawn and night, earth and
heaven, fire and offering.
These powers are the devas, gods and goddesses sometimes
recognizable in other religions of Aryan origin. In the hymns
they seem very near, present before us in the forms and forces
of the natural world. Fire is Agni, worshipped as the actual
fire on the hearth or altar and as the divine priest who carries
offerings to the gods. The storm is Indra, leader o f the gods
and lord of war and thunder, who rides into battle on his swift
chariot to fight the dragon-demon of the sky or the enemies
of the Aryan hosts. The wind is Vayu. Night is Ratri and the
dawn is Usha, loveliest and most luminous of the goddesses.

The sun is Surya, who rides his chariot across the sky, or Sav-
itri, the giver o f life. And death is Yama, the first being to die
and thereby first in the underworld.
Throughout the hymns of this early age there is little or
no trace of fear. The forces of life are approached with lov­
ing reverence and awe, as allies of humanity in a world that
is essentially friendly so long as its secrets are understood.
And although the devas must once have been a pantheon of
separate deities, it seems clear even in the earliest hymns that
one Supreme Being is being worshipped in different aspects.
“Truth is one,” one hymn proclaims, “though the wise call it
by many names.”
These poetic outpourings of worship served as liturgy in
a complicated ritual religion centering around symbolic sac­
rifice: the holy words of the hymns were chanted as offerings
were poured into the fire. Such ceremonies were performed
for the kshatriyas, the warriors and rulers of the clans, by
priests called brahmins, whose function in society was to pre­
serve rites already too ancient to be understood.
As time passed, brahmins produced commentaries to
explain the meaning o f these ancient rites. Hymns and com­
mentaries together became a sacred heritage passed from
generation to generation. These are the Vedas, India’s scrip­
tures. Veda comes from the root vid, “to know” : the Vedas
are revealed knowledge, given to humanity, according to the

orthodox view, at the very dawn of time. They exist in four
collections, each associated with its own family tradition: Rig,
Sama, Yajur, and Atharva, with the Rig Veda easily the old­
est. The first and largest part o f each collection, called karma
kanda, preserves the hymns and philosophical interpreta­
tions of rituals used in Hindu worship to this day.
Yet this is only a part o f Hinduism, and the least univer­
sal. The second part of each Veda, called jnana kanda, con­
cerns not ritual but wisdom: what life is about; what death
means; what the human being is, and the nature of the God­
head that sustains us; in a word, the burning questions that
men and women have asked in every age. The ritual sections
of the Vedas define the religion of a particular culture; but the
second part, the Upanishads, is universal, as relevant to the
world today as it was to India five thousand years ago.
What is an Upanishad? Etymologically the word suggests
“sitting down near” : that is, at the feet of an illumined teacher
in an intimate session of spiritual instruction, as aspirants still
do in India today. Often the teacher is one who has retired
from worldly life to an ashram or “forest academy” along the
banks of the upper Ganges, to live with students as a family,
teaching in question-and-answer sessions and by example in
daily living. Other settings are explicitly dramatic: a wife asks
her husband about immortality, a king seeks instruction from
an illumined sage; one teenage boy is taught by Death himself,

another by fire, beasts, and birds. Sometimes these sages are
women, and some of the men who come for spiritual instruc­
tion are kings.
The Upanishads record such sessions, but they have lit­
tle in common with philosophical dialogue like Plato’s. They
record the inspired teachings of men and women for whom
the transcendent Reality called God was more real than the
world reported to them by their senses. Their purpose is
not so much instruction as inspiration: they are meant to be
expounded by an illumined teacher from the basis of per­
sonal experience. And although we speak of them together as
a body, the Upanishads are not parts of a whole like chapters
in a book. Each is complete in itself, an ecstatic snapshot of
transcendent Reality.
When these texts were composed, or who composed
them, no one knows. The sages who gave them to us did not
care to leave their names: the truths they set down were eter­
nal, and the identity of those who arranged the words irrel­
evant. We do not even know how many once existed. For
the last thousand years, however, ten have been considered
the “principal Upanishads” on the authority of Shankara,
a towering eighth-century mystic who reawakened India
to its spiritual heritage. These ten Upanishads are offered
in this book, along with one other of equal importance and
great beauty, the Shvetashvatara. Four of the so-called Yoga

Upanishads have been added to represent later traditions.
Fascinatingly, although the Upanishads are attached to the
Vedas, they seem to come from an altogether different world.
Though harmonious enough in their Vedic setting, they have
no need of it and make surprisingly little reference to it; they
stand on their own authority. Rituals, the basis of Vedic reli­
gion, are all but ignored. And although the Vedic gods appear
throughout, they are not so much numinous beings as aspects
of a single underlying power called Brahman, which pervades
creation yet transcends it completely. This idea of a supreme
Godhead is the very essence of the Upanishads; yet, remark­
ably, the word brahman in this sense does not appear in the
hymn portion of the Rig Veda at all.
These are signs of a crucial difference in perspective. The
rest of the Vedas, like other great scriptures, look outward in
reverence and awe of the phenomenal world. The Upanishads
look inward, finding the powers of nature only an expression
of the more awe-inspiring powers of human consciousness.
If mysticism can arise in any age, there is no reason to
suppose that the Upanishads are a late flowering of Vedic
thought. They may represent an independent tributary into
the broad river of the Vedas. Some age-old elements of Hindu
faith can be traced more easily to the pre-Aryan Indus Val­
ley civilization than to Vedic ritual, and archaeologists have
uncovered there a striking stone image which a Hindu vil­

lager today would identify without hesitation as Shiva, Lord
of Yoga, seated in meditation, suggesting that the disciplines
of mysticism might have been practiced in India before the
Aryans arrived.
All this is speculation, of course. But the fact remains that
the Upanishads, while fully at home in the Vedas, offer a very
different vision of what religion means. They tell us that there
is a Reality underlying life which rituals cannot reach, next to
which the things we see and touch in everyday life are shad­
ows. They teach that this Reality is the essence of every cre­
ated thing, and the same Reality is our real Self, so that each
of us is one with the power that created and sustains the uni­
verse. And, finally, they testify that this oneness can be real­
ized directly, without the mediation of priests or rituals or any
of the structures of organized religion, not after death but in
this life, and that this is the purpose for which each of us has
been born and the goal toward which evolution moves. They
teach, in sum, the basic principles of what Aldous Huxley has
called the Perennial Philosophy, which is the wellspring of all
religious faith.
Yet the Upanishads are not philosophy. They do
not explain or develop a line of argument. They are darshana,

“something seen,” and the student to whom they were taught
was expected not only to listen to the words but to realize
them: that is, to make their truths an integral part of charac­
ter, conduct, and consciousness.
Despite their idyllic setting, then, these intimate sessions
were not casual Ivy League seminars on the commons green.
Students were there because they were prepared to devote a
good measure of their lives – the traditional period was twelve
years – to this unique kind of higher education, where study
meant not reading books but a complete, strenuous reorder­
ing of one’s life, training the mind and senses with the dedica­
tion required of an Olympic athlete.
In this context, it is clear that the questions the Upanishads
record – “What happens at death? What makes my hand
move, my eyes see, my mind think? Does life have a purpose,
or is it governed by chance?” – were not asked out of mere
curiosity. They show a burning desire to know, to find central
principles which make sense of the world we live in. The stu­
dents gathered in these forest academies were engaged in a
colossal gamble: that they could learn to apprehend directly
a Reality beyond ordinary knowing, of whose very existence
they had no assurance except the example o f their teacher and
the promise of the scriptures. It is no wonder that such stu­
dents were rigorously tested before being accepted – tested
not merely for intelligence but for singleness of purpose and

strength o f will. What is remarkable is that candidates were
found at all. As the Katha Upanishad says, only a few even
hear these truths; of those who hear, only a few understand,
and of those only a handful attain the goal.
This fervent desire to know is the motivation behind all sci­
ence, so we should not be surprised to find in Vedic India the
beginnings of a potent scientific tradition. By the Christian
era it would be in full flower: Indian mathematicians would
have developed modern numerals, the decimal place system,
zero, and basic algebra and trigonometry; surgeons would be
performing operations as sophisticated as cataract surgery
and caesarian section. But the roots of this scientific spirit are
in the Vedas. “All science,” Aldous Huxley wrote, “. . . is the
reduction of multiplicities to unities.” Nothing is more char­
acteristic of Indian thought. The Vedic hymns are steeped in
the conviction of rita, an order that pervades creation and is
reflected in each part – a oneness to which all diversity can be
From this conviction follows a highly sophisticated notion:
a law of nature must apply uniformly and universally. In renais­
sance Europe, this realization led to the birth of classical phys­
ics. In ancient India it had equally profound consequences.
While the rest of Vedic India was studying the natural world,
more or less in line with other scientifically precocious civili­
zations such as Greece and China, the forest civilization of the

Upanishads took a turn unparalleled in the history of science.
It focused on the medium of knowing: the mind.
The sages of the Upanishads show a unique preoccupation
with states of consciousness. They observed dreams and the
state of dreamless sleep and asked what is “known” in each,
and what faculty could be said to be the knower. What exactly
is the difference between a dream and waking experience?
What happens to the sense of “I” in dreamless sleep? And they
sought invariants: in the constantly changing flow of human
experience, is there anything that remains the same? In the
constantly changing flow of thought, is there an observer who
remains the same? Is there any thread of continuity, some
level of reality higher than waking, in which these states of
mind cohere?
These are the kinds of questions the sages asked, but for
some reason they did not stop with debating them. They
became absorbed in the discovery that as concentration deep­
ens, the mind actually passes through the states of conscious­
ness being inquired about. And in concentrating on con­
sciousness itself – “Who is the knower?” – they found they
could separate strata of the mind and observe its workings as
objectively as a botanist observes a flower.
The significance of this discovery cannot be exaggerated.
Since consciousness is the field of all human activity, outward
as well as inner – experience, action, imagination, knowledge,

love – a science of consciousness holds out the promise of cen­
tral principles that unify all of life. “By knowing one piece of
gold,” the Upanishads observed, “all things made out of gold
are known: they differ only in name and form, while the stuff
of which all are made is gold.” And they asked, “What is that
one by knowing which we can know the nature of everything
else?” They found the answer in consciousness. Its study was
called brahmavidya, which means both “the supreme science”
and “the science of the Supreme.”
It is important to understand that brahmavidya is not intel­
lectual study. The intellect was given full training in these for­
est academies, but brahmavidya is not psychology or philoso­
phy. It is, in a sense, a lab science: the mind is both object and
laboratory. Attention is trained inward, on itself, through a
discipline the Upanishads call nididhyasana: meditation.
The word meditation is used in so many different ways that
I want to be clear before going further. Meditation here is not
reflection or any other kind of discursive thinking. It is pure
concentration: training the mind to dwell on an interior focus
without wandering, until it becomes absorbed in the object
of its contemplation. But absorption does not mean uncon­
sciousness. The outside world may be forgotten, but medita­
tion is a state of intense inner wakefulness.
This is not an exotic experience. Even at the university I had
students whose concentration was so good that when they

were studying, they would be oblivious to what was going on
around them. If I called them by name, they might not even
hear. Meditation is closely related to this kind of absorption,
but the focus is not something external that one looks at or lis­
tens to, such as a microscope slide or lecture. It is conscious­
ness itself, which means that all the senses close down.
Similarly, although meditation is not discursive think­
ing, it is not the same as intuition or imagination. We read
about the concentration of great artists, writers, and poets
who, by focusing on the impressions the world presents, or
on a block of formless stone, seize what fits a unifying vision
in their mind and fashion some way to share it. Brahmavidya
has affinities with this way o f knowing also, which is not so
different from the intuition o f a great scientist. But brahma­
vidya is not concerned with the insights that come from con­
centrating on a particular part of life; it is concerned with how
concentration yields insight at all. Observing what happens as
concentration deepens, the sages of the Upanishads learned
to make a science and art and craft of insight – something that
could be mastered and then taught to others, as a painting
master in the Renaissance might take a gifted student to live as
part of his family and absorb his art.
Recently I read a penetrating remark by William James, the
great American psychologist, which spells out the significance
of this skill: “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wan­

dering attention over and over again is the very root of judg­
ment, character and will. An education which should include
this faculty would be the education par excellence” James was
not guessing. He tried to teach himself this skill, at least as it
applies to everyday affairs, and he succeeded well enough to
lift himself out of a life-threatening depression. In this pivotal
achievement he grasped the connection between training the
mind and mastering life. He would have acclaimed the forest
universities of the Upanishads, which built their curricula on
this connection: “education par excellence” is almost a literal
translation of brahmavidya.
Brahmavidya and conventional science both begin when a
person finds that the world of sense impressions, so transient
and superficial, is not enough in itself to satisfy the desire for
meaning. Then one begins to stand back a little from the senses
and look below the surface show of life in search of underlying
connections. But the sages of the Upanishads wanted more
than explanations of the outside world. They sought princi­
ples that would unify and explain the whole of human experi­
ence: including, at the same time, the world within the mind.
If the observer observes through the medium of conscious­
ness, and the world too is observed in consciousness, should
not the same laws apply to both?
In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad there is a long, haunt­
ing exposition of the states of mind the sages explored. They

called them waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep, but
somehow they had made the brilliant observation that these
are not merely alternate states which a person slips in and out
of every day. They also represent layers o f awareness, con­
current strata lying at different depths in the conscious and
unconscious mind.
In dreaming, the Upanishad observes, we leave one world
and enter another. “In that dream world there are no chariots,
no animals to draw them, no roads to ride on, but one makes
chariots and animals and roads oneself from the impressions
of past experience.” And then the leap of insight: “Everyone
experiences this, but no one knows the experiencer.” What is
the same in both worlds, the observer both of waking expe­
rience and of dreams? It cannot be the body, for in dreams it
detaches itself from the body and senses and creates its own
experiences – experiences which can be as real, in terms of
physiological reactions, as those of waking life. “When a man
dreams that he is being killed or chased by an elephant, or that
he is falling into a well, he experiences the same fear that he
would in the waking state”: his heart races, blood pressure
rises, stress hormones pour into the body, just as if the event
were real. Dream and waking are made of the same stuff, and
as far as the nervous system is concerned, both kinds of expe­
rience are real.
When we wake up from a dream, then, we do not pass from

unreality to reality; we pass from a lower level of reality to a
higher one. Havelock Ellis, the psychologist who devoted his
life to the study of sex, observed, “Dreams are real as long as
they last. Can we say more of life?”
If waking experience is impermanent, should there not be
something abiding, something real, to support it? Might it
not be possible to wake up into a higher state, a level of real­
ity above this world of constantly changing sensory impres­
sions? The sages found a clue: in dreamless sleep, the observ­
ing self detaches itself not only from the body but from the
mind. “As a tethered bird grows tired of flying about in vain
to find a place of rest and settles down at last on its own perch,
so the mind,” like the body, “settles down to rest” in dream­
less sleep – an observation in harmony with current research,
which suggests that in this state the autonomic nervous sys­
tem is repaired.
This still world is always present in the depths of the mind.
It is the deepest, most universal layer of the unconscious.
Wake up in this state, the Upanishads say, and you will be who
you truly are, free from the conditioning of body and mind in
a world unbounded by the limitations of time, space, and cau­
Wake up in the very depths of the unconscious, when
thought itself has ceased? The language makes no more sense
than a map of some other dimension. Here the Upanishads

are like pages from ancient logbooks, recording journeys of
exploration into the uncharted waters of the world within.
If Freud’s limited glimpses of the unconscious can have had
such an impact on civilization, the sages who mapped the
mind three thousand years earlier must rank with the greatest
explorers in history.
Yet this is dangerous territory. We know what forces can
buffet us in the dream world, and that is only the foothills of
the dark ranges of the mind, where fear, passion, egotism, and
desire so easily sweep aside the will. One o f Hopkins’ “dark
sonnets” hints at the dangers of these realms:
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May, who never hung there . . .
The Katha Upanishad would agree. In famous words it
warns that the ascent to the summit of consciousness is not
for the timid: “Sharp like a razor’s edge, the sages say, is the
path to Reality, difficult to traverse.” Nothing in the Upani­
shads is more vital than the relationship between student and
guide. The spiritual teacher must know every inch of the way,
every danger and pitfall, and not from books or maps or hear­
say. He must have traveled it himself, from the foothills to the
highest peaks. And he must have managed to get back down
again, to be able to relate to students with humanity and com­
passion. Not everyone who attains Self-realization can make a

reliable guide. I have been saying “he,” but this is not a role for
men alone. My own teacher is my mother’s mother.
This spiritual ascent is so fraught with challenge that we
can see why the sages took their students young. Exploring
the unconscious requires the daring of the years between
twelve and twenty, when if someone says “Don’t try to climb
that peak, you’ll get hurt,” you immediately go and start climb­
ing. As we grow older, something changes; we start listening
to those cautionary voices and say we are learning prudence.
So it is no accident that the hero of the Katha Upanishad is a
teenager. The message of the Katha, which echoes through­
out the Upanishads, is to dare like a teenager: to reach for the
highest you can conceive with everything you have, and never
count the cost.
What makes a human being dare the impossible? What
fires the will when we glimpse something never done before
and a wild urge surges up to cry, “Then let’s do it” ? Here in
San Francisco a young woman blind from birth decides to sail
alone across the Pacific and succeeds; I can’t imagine getting
as far as Alcatraz. Mountaineers decide that it is not enough
merely to climb Mount Everest; they have to climb it alone,
take no oxygen, and choose the most difficult ascent. And just
a few months ago a man and woman mortgaged their future
to put together a fragile plane with a cockpit smaller than a
phone booth, so they could fly around the world without a

stop. We ask, “Why did you do it?” And the pilot of the Voy­
ager can only reply with a shrug, “Just for the hell o f it.” He can
give no better reason, yet everyone understands.
The sages would say similarly, “Just for the heaven of it.”
Just to reach for the highest. Human beings cannot live with­
out challenge. We cannot live without meaning. Everything
ever achieved we owe to this inexplicable urge to reach beyond
our grasp, do the impossible, know the unknown. The Upani­
shads would say this urge is part o f our evolutionary heritage,
given to us for the ultimate adventure: to discover for certain
who we are, what the universe is, and what is the significance
of the brief drama of life and death we play out against the
backdrop of eternity.
In haunting words, the Brihadaranyaka declares:
You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.
(Brihadaranyaka iv.4.5)
In the end, all achievement is powered by desire. Each of us
has millions of desires, from big to trivial, packed with a cer­
tain measure of will to get that desire fulfilled. Imagine how
mych power is latent in the human personality! With just a
fraction of that potential, young Alexander conquered conti­
nents, Rutan and Yaeger flew Voyager around the world, Ein-
33 sn

stein penetrated the heart of the universe. If a person could
fuse all human desires, direct them like a laser, what would be
beyond reach?
This stupendous aim is the basis of brahmavidya. Every
desire for fulfillment in the world outside is recalled – not sti­
fled or repressed, but consolidated in one overriding desire
for Self-realization. Contrary to a common misunderstand­
ing, there is nothing drab or life-denying about this apparent
reversal of human nature. The passion it requires is not dif­
ferent from what a great ballet dancer or gymnast or musi­
cian demands. In Sanskrit this ardent, one-pointed, self-tran­
scending passion is called tapas, and the Vedas revere it as an
unsurpassable creative force. From the tapas of God, the Rig
Veda says, the cosmos itself was born.
What daring the sages of the Upanishads conceal in their
anonymity! It is no wonder that so many came from the war­
rior caste. There was nothing world-denying when these
sages-to-be left their courts and cities for the Ganges for­
ests. World-weariness cannot generate tapas. They yearned to
know life at its core, to know it and master it, and that meant
to master every current of the mind.
Sex, of course, is the most powerful desire most people
have, and therefore the richest source of personal energy.
Brahmacharya, self-control in thought and action, was a pre­
requisite in these forest academies. But this was not suppres­

sion or repression. Sexual desire, like everything else in the
Upanishads, is only partly physical. Essentially it is a spiritual
force – pure, high-octane creative energy – and brahmacha-
rya means its transformation. Tapas, the sages say, becomes
tejas: the radiant splendor of personality that shows itself in
love, compassion, creative action, and a melting tenderness
which draws all hearts.
Nothing is lost in this transformation. It is clear in the Upa­
nishads that sex is sacred, and ashram graduates often went
back into the world to take up the responsibilities of fam­
ily life. But they did so in freedom. Free from conditioning,
they had a choice in everything they did, even in what they
thought. Their ideal was not to retire from the world but to
live in it selflessly, with senses and passions completely under
control. This freedom is the hallmark of the Upanishads, and
nothing better suits the life-affirming spirit of the Vedas.
A T M A N & B R A H M A N
In meditation, as the mind settles down to dwell
on a single focus, attention begins to flow in a smooth, unbro­
ken stream, like oil poured from one container to another. As
this happens, attention naturally retreats from other chan­
nels. The ears, for example, still function, but you do not hear;
attention is no longer connected with the organs of hearing.

When concentration is profound, there are moments when
you forget the body entirely. This experience quietly dissolves
physical identification. The body becomes like a comfortable
jacket: you wear it easily, and in meditation you can unbutton
and loosen it until it scarcely weighs on you at all.
Eventually there comes a time when you get up from medi­
tation and know that your body is not you. This is not an intel­
lectual understanding. Even in the unconscious the nexus is
cut, which means there are sure signs in health and behav­
ior: no physical craving will be able to dictate to you, and any
compulsion to fulfill emotional needs through physical activ­
ities will vanish. Most important, you lose your fear of death.
You know with certitude that death is not the end, and that
you will not die when the body dies.
The Taittiriya Upanishad says that the body is the first of
many layers that surround the human personality, each less
physical than the one before. These are, roughly, components
of what we call “mind” : the senses, emotions, intellect, will.
As awareness is withdrawn from these layers of consciousness
one by one, the sages gradually made another astonishing dis­
covery: the powers of the mind have no life of their own. The
mind is not conscious; it is only an instrument of conscious­
ness – or, in different metaphors, a process, a complex field of
forces. Yet when awareness is withdrawn from the mind, you
remain aware. When this happens you realize you are not the
mind, any more than you are the physical body.

When awareness has.been consolidated even beyond the
mind, little remains except the awareness o f “I.” Concentra­
tion is so profound that the mind-process has almost come
to a standstill. Space is gone, and time so attenuated that it
scarcely seems real. This is a taste o f shanti, “the peace that
passeth understanding,” invoked at the end o f every Upani-
shad as a reminder of this sublime state. You rest in medita­
tion in what the Taittiriya Upanishad calls the “body o f joy,” a
silent, ethereal inner realm at the threshold of pure being.
For a long while it may seem that there is nothing stirring
in this still world, so deep in consciousness that the phenom­
ena of the surface seem as remote as a childhood dream. But
gradually you become aware of the presence o f something
vast, intimately your own but not at all the finite, limited self
you had been calling “I.”
All that divides us from the sea of infinite consciousness at
this point is a thin envelope of personal identity. That enve­
lope cannot be removed by any amount of will; the “I” cannot
erase itself. Yet, abruptly, it does vanish. In the climax of medi­
tation the barrier of individuality disappears, dissolving in a
sea of pure, undifferentiated awareness.
This state the Upanishads call turiya – literally “the fourth,”
for it lies beyond waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.
Turiya, the Upanishads say, is waking up in dreamless sleep: in
the very depths of the unconscious, where one is aware of nei­
ther body nor mind. In later Hindu thought this awakening

will receive more familiar names: samadhi, “complete absorp­
tion” ; moksha, “liberation” or “release,” for it brings freedom
from all conditioning and the limitations of time and space.
What remains when every trace of individuality is re­
moved? We can call it pure being, for it is in differentiating
this unity that created things acquire their name and form.
The sages called it Brahman, from the root brih, “to expand.”
Brahman is the irreducible ground of existence, the essence
o f every thing – of the earth and sun and all creatures, of gods
and human beings, of every power of life.
Simultaneous with this discovery comes another: this uni­
tary awareness is also the ground of one’s own being, the core
of personality. This divine ground the Upanishads call simply
Atman, “the Self” – spelled with a capital to distinguish it from
the individual personality. In the unitive state the Self is seen
to be one, the same in everyone. This is not a reasoned con­
clusion; it is something experienced at the very center of one’s
being, an inalienable fact. In all persons, all creatures, the Self
is the innermost essence. And it is identical with Brahman:
our real Self is not different from the ultimate Reality called
This tremendous equation – “the Self is Brahman” – is the
central discovery of the Upanishads. Its most famous for­
mulation is one of the mahavakyas or “great formulae”: Tat
tvam asi, “You are That.” “That” is the characteristic way the

Upanishads point to a Reality that cannot be described; and
“you,” of course, is not the petty, finite personality, but that
pure consciousness “which makes the eye see and the mind
think”: the Self.
In this absorption there is no time, no space, no causality.
These are forms imposed by the mind, and the mind is still.
Nor is there awareness of any object; even the thought o f “I”
has dissolved. Yet awareness remains: chit, pure, undifferen­
tiated consciousness, beyond the division of observer and
observed. When the mind-process starts up again, as it must,
and we slip back into body and personality, the multiplicity of
the perceptual world will unfold as a seed bursts into a tree.
Astrophysicists use similar language when they talk about
creation. All the matter in the universe must have been present
in that “primeval atom,” supercondensed to an unbelievable
degree. In such a state, matter would no longer be possible as
matter. It would be stripped down to pure energy, and energy
itself would be raw and undifferentiated; variations like grav­
ity and light would not have emerged. Time would not yet be
real, for there can be no time before zero; neither would space
make sense in the context of a question like, “What was there
before the Big Bang?” Physicists reply, with Gertrude Stein,
“There’s no ‘there’ there. There’s no ‘then then.” Space and
time, matter and energy, sprung into existence at the moment
of creation; “before” that moment the concepts do not apply.

The sages would find all this a perfect metaphor for the uni-
tive state. In samadhi, reality is condensed into pure potential,
without dimensions, without time, without any differentia­
tion. Physicists do not say there was nothing before the Big
Bang; they say everything came from that, and nothing more
can be said. Similarly, samadhi is not emptiness but purnata:
plenitude, complete fullness. The whole of reality is there,
inner as well as outer: not only matter and energy but all time,
space, causality, and states of consciousness.
That fullness the Upanishads call sat: absolute reality, in
which all o f creation is implicit as an organism is implicit in
DNA, or a tree in a tiny seed.
The joy of this state cannot be described. This is ananda:
pure, limitless, unconditioned joy. The individual personal­
ity dissolves like salt in a sea of joy, merges in it like a river,
rejoices like a fish in an ocean of bliss. “As a man in the arms of
his beloved,” says the Brihadaranyaka daringly, “is not aware
of what is without and what within, so one in union with the
Self is not aware of what is without and what within, for in that
state all desires are fulfilled.” And what other scripture would
cap such an image with a pun? “Apta-kamam atma-kamam
akamam rupam: That is his real form, where he is free from
all desires because all his desires are fulfilled; for the Self is all
our desire.”
Nothing less can satisfy the human heart. “There is no joy
in the finite; there is joy only in the infinite.” That is the mes­

sage of the Upanishads. The infinite – free, unbounded, full
of joy – is our native state. We have fallen from that state and
seek it everywhere: every human activity is an attempt to fill
this void. But as long as we try to fill it from outside ourselves,
we are making demands on life which life cannot fulfill. Finite
things can never appease an infinite hunger. Nothing can
satisfy us but reunion with our real Self, which the Upani­
shads say is sat-chit-ananda-. absolute reality, pure awareness,
unconditioned joy.
What can be said of a state of being in which
even the separate observer disappears? “Words turn back
frightened,” the Upanishads say: every attempt to explain pro­
duces contradictions and inconsistencies. But the sages of
the Upanishads must have longed so ardently to communi­
cate that they had to try, even if the picture was doomed to be
Some time ago I remember watching footage of how the
Titanic was discovered – two and a half miles below the sur­
face of the ocean, far beyond depths that light can penetrate,
where the sheer weight of the sea would crush a human being.
Scientists designed a twelve-foot robot called Argo and low­
ered it little by little through those black waters right to the
ocean floor. At those blind depths, probing with cameras

and sonar, they began to piece together a vivid picture of a
world no one could have seen before. The video seemed to
take us through doors that had not been opened for seventy
years, down that famous staircase into a silent crystal ball­
room uncorrupted by time – eerie, disjointed shots of a light-
less landscape. That is how I think of the Upanishads, prob­
ing depths where individuality itself dissolves and sending up
pictures of treasures sunk in the seabed of the unconscious.
What do they report? They tell us, first, that whatever we
are, whatever we may have done, there is in each of us an
inalienable Self that is divine:
As the sun, who is the eye of the world,
Cannot be tainted by the defects in our eyes
Nor by the objects it looks on,
So the one Self, dwelling in all, cannot
Be tainted by the evils of the world.
For this Self transcends all!
(Katha 11.2.11)
They remind us that love is the first and last commandment
of this realization, for the same Self dwells in all:
As the same fire assumes different shapes
When it consumes objects differing in shape,
So does the one Self take the shape
Of every creature in whom he is present.
(Katha 11.2.9)

They call us to the discovery o f a realm deep within our­
selves which is our native state:
In the city of Brahman is a secret dwelling, the lotus of the
heart. Within this dwelling is a space, and within that space
is the fulfillment of our desires___
Never fear that old age will invade that city; never fear that
this inner treasure of all reality will wither and decay. This
knows no aging when the body ages; this knows no dying
when the body dies.
(Chandogya vm.1.1.5)
They place us at home in a compassionate universe, where
nothing is “other” than ourselves – and they urge us to treat
that universe with reverence, for there is nothing in the world
but God:
The Self is the sun shining in the sky,
The wind blowing in space; he is the fire
At the altar and in the home the guest;
He dwells in human beings, in gods, in truth,
And in the vast firmament; he is the fish
Born in water, the plant growing in the earth,
The river flowing down from the mountain.
For this Self is supreme!
(Katha 11.2.2)
What does it mean to say that nothing is separate and God
alone is real? Certainly not that the everyday world is an illu­

sion. Hie illusion is simply that we appear separate; the under­
lying reality is that all o f life is one. The Upanishads view the
world in grades of significance: as waking is a higher reality
than dreaming, so there is a level of reality higher than that.
All experience is real. Confusion arises only when a dream
experience is treated as reality after one awakes – or when life
is viewed as nothing but sensation, without wholeness, mean­
ing, or goal. The ideal of the Upanishads is to live in the world
in full awareness of life’s unity, giving and enjoying, partici­
pating in others’ sorrows and joys, but never unaware even
for a moment that the world comes from God and returns to
Last, most significantly, the Upanishads tell us that our
native state is a realm where death cannot reach, which can be
attained here in this life by those willing to devote their lives
to the necessary purification of consciousness:
When all desires that surge in the heart
Are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.
When all the knots that strangle the heart
Are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.
This sums up the teaching of the scriptures.
(Katha 11.3.14-15)
We should pause to understand the significance of such
words, for nowhere do the Upanishads reach loftier heights.
In the Vedic hymns, death meant roughly what other religions
promise: transport of the soul, the “bright body,” to everlast­

ing life in a heaven of bliss. The sages understood this “bright
body”; they knew firsthand that when the Self withdraws con­
sciousness from the body, the continuity of personality is not
broken. Death would not be different:
As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade of
grass, draws itself together and reaches out for the next,
so the Self, having come to the end of one life and shed all
ignorance, gathers in its faculties and reaches out from the
old body to a new.
(Brihadaranyaka m.4.3)
But they also knew that ultimately body and mind are made
of the same primal energy, called prana, and that everything
created must someday be dissolved. I f personality returns life
after life, then heaven too must be only a state of conscious­
ness, part of the created world. It might last longer and be
more blissful than bodily existence, but heaven too had to be
transitory: a kind of interregnum in another loka or “world,”
in which the Self can look back and learn from past mistakes.
In this compassionate view life becomes a kind o f school in
which the individual self is constantly evolving, growing life
after life toward a fully human stature. The goal is realization
of one’s true nature: not matter, embodied or disembodied,
but the uncreated Self:
The world is the wheel of God, turning round
And round with all living creatures upon its rim.
The world is the river of God,

Flowing from him and flowing back to him.
On this ever-revolving wheel of being
The individual self goes round and round
Through life after life, believing itself
To be a separate creature, until
It sees its identity with the Lord of Love
And attains immortality in the indivisible whole.
(Shvetashvatara 1.4-6)
Thus Self-realization is immortality in an entirely new
sense: not “everlasting life” but beyond death and life alike.
In this state, when death comes, one sheds the body with no
more rupture in consciousness than we feel in taking off a
jacket at the end o f the day.
In all of this, we need to remember that the Upanishads
present no system. When, much later, India’s mystics and phi­
losophers did build coherent structures on these foundations,
they found they had produced points of logical disagreement.
But all understood that in practice such systems come to the
same thing; they simply appeal in different ways to the head
and heart.
No one has explained this better than Sri Ramakrishna,
the towering mystic of nineteenth-century Bengal who fol­
lowed each path to the same goal: these are simply views from
different vantage points, not higher or lower and not in con­
flict. From one point of view the world is God; from another,
there will always be a veil of difference between an embodied

human person and the Godhead. Both are true, and neither
is the whole truth. Reality is beyond all limitations, and there
are paths to it to accommodate every heart.
In the end, then, the Upanishads belong not just to Hindu­
ism/They are India’s most precious legacy to humanity, and in
that spirit they are offered here.

Translated by Eknath Easwaran
Chapter Introductions & Afterword
by Michael N. Nagler

m Isha Upanishad
The Self is everywhere. Bright is the Self
Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise,
Immanent and transcendent. He it is
Who holds the cosmos together.
[8 ]

D? The Inner Ruler
the other scriptures happened all of a sudden to be reduced
to ashes, and if only the first verse in the Ishopanishad were
left in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would live for­
With these words Mahatma Gandhi paid tribute to the
remarkable Upanishad that traditionally stands at the begin­
ning of most Indian collections. It owes this priority to the
poetic grandeur and sustained profundity o f its language,
which in only eighteen verses establish the fundamental
building blocks of spiritual awareness.
What Gandhi had in mind with his great tribute he made
clear in his reply to a journalist who wanted the secret of his
life in three words: “Renounce and enjoy!” (tena tyaktena
bhunjitah), from the first verse of the Isha.
The fifth-century Greek writer we know as Dionysius
the Areopagite once said that as he grew older and wiser his
books got shorter and shorter. He would have envied the sage

of this Upanishad. In its intensity he does not mince words.
The central section, verses 9-14, is what scholars call a “crux,”
or famously difficult passage. The translation brings out its
practical significance: materialism leads us to lose awareness
of our inner life, which is bad enough; but to be hypnotized by
our own feelings and sensations and forget about others and
the world around us is worse. By living in awareness of both
these worlds, we can rise above them toward the one Reality.
With the last four verses we emerge onto that lofty plane, and
the Upanishad takes on a tone of intense devotion that is rare
even in later, God-centered mystical literature.
Each Upanishad comes with an invocation drawn from a
traditional set. The invocation to the Isha is especially strik­
ing. Consistent with the condensed meaning of the Upani­
shad itself, it rings changes on a simple household word, “full”
(purnam): in the inexhaustible Reality, the infinite of “that”
world, the unseen, sends forth “this” world of infinite variety
in which we live, without ever being diminished. The Ameri­
can poet Anne Sexton may have been thinking of this haunt­
ing invocation when she wrote:
Then the well spoke to me.
It said: Abundance is scooped from abundance
yet abundance remains.
This is a very Gandhian idea. Materialism reinforces a
“paradigm of scarcity” : there is not enough to go around, so
we are doomed to fight one another for ever-diminishing

resources. Spiritual economics begins not from the assumed
scarcity of matter but from the verifiable infinitude of con­
sciousness. “Think of this One original source,” Plotinus said,
“as a spring, self-generating, feeding all o f itself to the rivers
and yet not used up by them, ever at rest.” Or, as Gandhi put
it, “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need; there is
not enough for everyone’s greed.” The appearance of scarcity
overcomes those for whom, as the Upanishad says, “the world
without alone is real.” There is no scarcity of love, respect,
meaning – the resources of consciousness. Such is the time­
less wisdom of the Upanishads.
– M . N .

All this is full. All that is full.
From fullness, fullness comes.
When fullness is taken from fullness,
Fullness still remains.
o m shanti shanti shanti

D: The Isha Upanishad
’ The Lord is enshrined in the hearts of all.
The Lord is the supreme Reality.
Rejoice in him through renunciation.
Covet nothing. All belongs to the Lord.
2 Thus working may you live a hundred years.
Thus alone will you work in real freedom.
J Those who deny the Self are born again
Blind to the Self, enveloped in darkness,
Utterly devoid of love for the Lord.
4 The Self is one. Ever still, the Self is
Swifter than thought, swifter than the senses.
Though motionless, he outruns all pursuit.
Without the Self, never could life exist.
5 The Self seems to move, but is ever still.
He seems far away, but is ever near.
He is within all, and he transcends all.

6 Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no fear.
7 Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no grief.
How can the multiplicity of life
Delude the one who sees its unity?
8 The Self is everywhere. Bright is the Self,
Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise,
Immanent and transcendent. He it is
Who holds the cosmos together.
911 In dark night live those for whom
The world without alone is real; in night
Darker still, for whom the world within
Alone is real. The first leads to a life
O f action, the second to a life of meditation.
But those who combine action with meditation
Cross the sea o f death through action
And enter into immortality
Through the practice of meditation.
So have we heard from the wise.
1214 In dark night live those for whom the Lord
Is transcendent only; in night darker still,
For whom he is immanent only.
But those for whom he is transcendent

And immanent cross the sea of death
With the immanent and enter into
Immortality with the transcendent.
So have we heard from the wise.
15 The face of truth is hidden by your orb
Of gold, O sun. May you remove your orb
So that I, who adore the true, may see
The glory of truth.16 O nourishing sun,
Solitary traveler, controller,
Source of life for all creatures, spread your light
And subdue your dazzling splendor
So that I may see your blessed Self.
Even that very Self am I!
17 May my life merge in the Immortal
When my body is reduced to ashes.
O mind, meditate on the eternal Brahman.
Remember the deeds of the past.
Remember, O mind, remember.
18 O god of fire, lead us by the good path
To eternal joy. You know all our deeds.
Deliver us from evil, we who bow
And pray again and again.
o M shanti shanti shanti

Di The Katha Upanishad
When a person dies, there arises this doubt:
“He still exists,’’ say some; “he does not”
Say others. I want you to teach me the truth.
[ 1 . 1 . 2 0 ]

d i Death as Teacher
I f t h e r e i s o n e u p a n i s h a d t h a t
can be called a favorite in all ages, it is the Katha. It is not hard
to see why. Its theme, broadly, is the same as that of all the
Upanishads: the deathless Self, the need for and the way to
its realization; but the Katha is more successful than other
Upanishads at describing this, in several ways.
As the Upanishads illustrate, the right questions are half
the battle in life. In the Katha we have the right question in
highly dramatic form; in fact we have a highly imaginative
confrontation of the ideal teacher (1.1 .2 2 ) and the ideal stu­
dent (11.1.4), and their identity is surprising: the latter is a
teenager, and his teacher is death.
We must consider why.
Nothing places the question “Who am I?” in such stark
relief as the fact of death. What dies? What is left? Are we here
merely to be torn away from everyone, and everyone from us?
And what, if anything, can we do about death – now, while we
are still alive?

Most social life seems a conspiracy to discourage us from
thinking of these questions. But there is a rare type for whom
death is present every moment, putting his grim question
mark to every aspect of life, and that person cannot rest with­
out some answers. It can happen to anyone: in the “fall of a
sparrow,” a dead animal on the freeway, news reports of some
faraway natural disaster, the passing of an old friend, or a
new one; in some chance reminder of the violence that is not
far from any o f us, in all these that unwelcome Presence can
make itself briefly but urgently known.
Nachiketa represents that rare type of awakened person
in whom this presence, once glimpsed, can never go away.
“Now that I have seen your face,” he says to Death, “what can
I enjoy?” Yet, rare as he is, he represents the capacity latent
in all o f us to face that grim awareness and use it as a drive to
deepening consciousness.
In other Upanishads and throughout Indian literature
allegory is a favorite device, but rarely is it more dynamic
and successful than in the Katha. The opening narrative is
an extended allegory which keeps spiritual depth and dra­
matic vividness in high suspense: the story never becomes
unreal and its archetypal significance never becomes invis­
ible; neither is mere vehicle or signifier for the other. Every
detail has both immediate and transcendent reality (in some
cases making translation unusually inadequate). Nachiketa,
who has more personality than most Upanishadic figures,

asks, as an abstraction could not, “What is death going to do
with me, today?” But at the same time he immediately uni­
versalizes his condition, which is in fact the most universal
of human destinies: “I shall go to death, at the head of many
more to follow.. . . ” That Nachiketa is consigned to death by
his own father cries out for allegorical interpretation, and it
is not hard to supply. As Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-cen­
tury English anchoress and mystic, wrote, “We wot that our
parents do but bear us into death. A strange thing, that.” Birth
is but the beginning of a trajectory to death; for all their love,
parents cannot halt it and in a sense have “given us to death”
merely by giving us birth.
As for the student, we can only pause in admiration of this
ancient civilization whose hero is a teenager who has not
learned the rudimentary grace of civilized existence – to hold
his peace in the presence of hypocrisy. Nachiketa is an attrac­
tive character who cannot go along with sham; but he is not
an obstreperous rebel: he is more sincere about convention
than his father (including the convention of obedience to a
father even when the latter has lost his temper) and his first
wish is for reconciliation with him. At no time does he lack
respect. But that is just the point; he forces the issue by tak­
ing the demands of religion seriously when the majority have
long since allowed external observance to paper it over, mak­
ing of it a dead letter that no longer communicates anything
about personal struggle. But by poking holes in society’s

shroud of complacency he represents, again, what it would
take to awaken any and all of us. The text sums it up in the sin­
gle trait it tells us about the lad. He has shraddha: determined
seriousness, a deep, abiding, confident faith.
In structure and content, the Katha is more of an organic
whole than any but the briefest Upanishads. It begins with
a prose narrative of the “once upon a time” variety, sound­
ing very much like its source story in the Brahmanas, but it
quickly enters a gripping dramatic situation with the charac­
ters’ speeches in verse.
Then follows the encounter of Nachiketa with Death, and
its dramatic reversal when he passes Death’s severe test and
changes him from gruff and off-putting deity to delighted
teacher. Though this interpersonal drama falls into the back­
ground during the subsequent teaching, it comes back as it
were triumphantly at the end of the Upanishad, along with
several key words and the major themes of the question for
which Nachiketa had gone to the king of death to find some
The Katha consistently lays stress on several practical
themes of the spiritual life: that a spiritual teacher is essen­
tial; that in all human experience it is really only the Self, pure
consciousness, that is the enjoyer, so that when one realizes
the Self “there is nothing else to be known” and “all the knots
that strangle the heart are loosened” ; and of course that death

occurs only to that part of us which was born and launched
into separate existence. This Upanishad thus speaks to a long­
ing which could not be deeper or more universal: that some
day, somehow, as Donne put it, “Death shall be no more:
Death, thou shalt die!”
The Katha is also distinctive in explaining with the use
of two very practical terms that every moment we live, even
theoretically while we sleep, we face a steep choice between
what will move us closer to that day and what will only post­
pone it – that is, between what is good and what is merely
pleasant; in Sanskrit, between shreya and preya. While there
are no dualities and no compartments in reality, as long as
there are dualities and compartments in personality, we have
to pay careful attention to this distinction at every moment.
But that makes life very much worth living; and perhaps in
this sense, as Wallace Stevens wrote in “Sunday Morning” :
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires.
– M . N .

May the Lord o f Love protect us.
May the Lord o f Love nourish us.
May the Lord o f Love strengthen us.
May we realize the Lord o f Love.
May we live with love for all;
May we live in peace with all.
o m shanti shanti shanti

Di The Katha Upanishad
[ l ]
1 Once, long ago, Vajasravasa gave away his
possessions to gain religious merit. He had a son
named Nachiketa who,2 though only a boy, was full
of faith in the scriptures. Nachiketa thought when the
offerings were m ade:3 “What merit can one obtain by
giving away cows that are too old to give milk?”
4 To help his father understand this, Nachiketa said:
“To whom will you offer me?” He asked this again and
again. “To death I give you!” said his father in anger.
s The son thought: “I go, the first o f many who will die,
in the midst of many who are dying, on a mission to
Yama, king of death.
6 See how it was with those who came before,
How it will be with those who are living.

Like corn mortals ripen and fall; like corn
They come up again.”
Nachiketa went to Yama’s abode, but the king of death
was not there. He waited three days. When Yama
returned, he heard a voice say:
7 “When a spiritual guest enters the house,
Like a bright flame, he must be received well,
With water to wash his feet. 8 Far from wise
Are those who are not hospitable
To such a guest. They will lose all their hopes,
The religious merit they have acquired,
Their sons and their cattle.”
9 O spiritual guest, I grant you three boons
To atone for the three inhospitable nights
You have spent in my abode.
Ask for three boons, one for each night.
10 O king o f death, as the first of these boons
Grant that my fathers anger be appeased,
So he may recognize me when I return
And receive me with love.

111 grant that your father, the son of Uddalaka
and Aruna,
Will love you as in the past. When he sees you
Released from the jaws o f death, he will sleep
Again with a mind at peace.
12 There is no fear at all in heaven; for you
Are not there, neither old age nor death.
Passing beyond hunger and thirst and pain,
All rejoice in the kingdom of heaven.
1J You know the fire sacrifice that leads to heaven,
O king of death. I have full faith
In you and ask for instruction. Let this
Be your second boon to me.
14 Yes, I do know, Nachiketa, and shall
Teach you the fire sacrifice that leads
To heaven and sustains the world, that knowledge
Concealed in the heart. Now listen.
15 Then the king of death taught Nachiketa how to
perform the fire sacrifice, how to erect the altar for
worshipping the fire from which the universe evolves.

When the boy repeated his instruction, the dread king
of death was well pleased and said:
16 Let me give you a special boon: this sacrifice
Shall be called by your name, Nachiketa.
Accept from me this many-hued chain too.
17 Those who have thrice performed this sacrifice,
Realized their unity with father, mother,
And teacher, and discharged the three duties
O f studying the scriptures, ritual worship,
And giving alms to those in need, rise above
Birth and death. Knowing the god of fire
Born of Brahman, they attain perfect peace.
18 Those who carry out this triple duty
Conscious of its full meaning will shake off
The dread noose of death and transcend sorrow
To enjoy the world of heaven.
19 Thus have I granted you the second boon,
Nachiketa, the secret of the fire
That leads to heaven. It will have your name.
Ask now, Nachiketa, for the third boon.
20 When a person dies, there arises this doubt:
“He still exists,” say some; “he does not,”

Say others. I want you to teach me the truth.
This is my third boon.
21 This doubt haunted even the gods of old,
For the secret of death is hard to know.
Nachiketa, ask for some other boon
And release me from my promise.
22 This doubt haunted even the gods of old;
For it is hard to know, O Death, as you say.
I can have no greater teacher than you,
And there is no boon equal to this.
23 Ask for sons and grandsons who will live
A hundred years. Ask for herds of cattle,
Elephants and horses, gold and vast land,
And ask to live as long as you desire.
24 Or, if you can think of anything more
Desirable, ask for that, with wealth and
Long life as well. Nachiketa, be the ruler
Of a great kingdom, and I will give you
The utmost capacity to enjoy
The pleasures of life.2S Ask for beautiful
Women of loveliness rarely seen on earth,

Riding in chariots, skilled in music,
To attend on you. But Nachiketa,
Don’t ask me about the secret of death.
26 These pleasures last but until tomorrow,
And they wear out the vital powers of life.
How fleeting is all life on earth! Therefore
Keep your horses and chariots, dancing
And music, for yourself.27 Never can mortals
Be made happy by wealth. How can we be
Desirous of wealth when we see your face
And know we cannot live while you are here?
This is the boon I choose and ask you for.
28 Having approached an immortal like you,
How can I, subject to old age and death,
Ever try to rejoice in a long life
For the sake of the senses’ fleeting pleasures?
29 Dispel this doubt of mine, O king of death:
Does a person live after death or does he not?
Nachiketa asks for no other boon
Than the secret of this great mystery.

1 The joy of the spirit ever abides,
But not what seems pleasant to the senses.
Both these, differing in their purpose, prompt
Us to action. All is well for those who choose
The joy of the spirit, but they miss
The goal of life who prefer the pleasant.
2 Perennial joy or passing pleasure?
This is the choice one is to make always.
Those who are wise recognize this, but not
The ignorant. The first welcome what leads
To abiding joy, though painful at the time.
The latter run, goaded by their senses,
After what seems immediate pleasure.
3 Well have you renounced these passing pleasures
So dear to the senses, Nachiketa,
And turned your back on the way of the world
That makes mankind forget the goal of life.
4 Far apart are wisdom and ignorance.
The first leads one to Self-realization;
The second makes one more and more
Estranged from ones real Self. I regard you,
Nachiketa, as worthy of instruction,
For passing pleasures tempt you not at all.

5 Ignorant of their ignorance, yet wise
In their own esteem, those deluded men
Proud of their vain learning go round and round
Like the blind led by the blind.6 Far beyond
Their eyes, hypnotized by the world of sense,
Opens the way to immortality.
“I am my body; when my body dies,
I die.” Living in this superstition,
They fall life after life under my sway.
7 It is but few who hear about the Self.
Fewer still dedicate their lives to its
Realization. Wonderful is the one
Who speaks about the Self. Rare are they
Who make it the supreme goal of their lives.
Blessed are they who, through an illumined
Teacher, attain to Self-realization.
8 The truth of the Self cannot come through one
Who has not realized that he is the Self.
The intellect cannot reveal the Self,
Beyond its duality of subject
And object. Those who see themselves in all
And all in them help others through spiritual
Osmosis to realize the Self themselves.
9 This awakening you have known comes not
Through logic and scholarship, but from

Close association with a realized teacher.
Wise are you, Nachiketa, because you
Seek the Self eternal. May we have more
Seekers like you!
10 I know that earthly treasures are transient,
And never can I reach the eternal through them.
Hence have I renounced all my desires for earthly
To win the eternal through your instruction.
11 I spread before your eyes, Nachiketa,
The fulfillment of all worldly desires:
Power to dominate the earth, delights
Celestial gained through religious rites,
Miraculous powers beyond time and space.
These with will and wisdom have you renounced.
12 The wise, realizing through meditation
The timeless Self, beyond all perception,
Hidden in the cave of the heart,
Leave pain and pleasure far behind.
13 Those who know they are neither body nor mind
But the immemorial Self, the divine
Principle of existence, find the source

O f all joy and live in joy abiding.
I see the gates of joy are opening
For you, Nachiketa.
14 Teach me of That you see as beyond right
And wrong, cause and effect, past and future.
151 will give you the Word all the scriptures
Glorify, all spiritual disciplines
Express, to attain which aspirants lead
A life of sense-restraint and self-naughting.
16 It is O M . This symbol of the Godhead
Is the highest. Realizing it one finds
Complete fulfillment of all ones longings.17
It is of the greatest support to all seekers.
When o M reverberates unceasingly
Within the heart, that one is indeed blessed
And deeply loved as one who is the Self.
18 The all-knowing Self was never born,
Nor will it die. Beyond cause and effect,
This Self is eternal and immutable.
When the body dies, the Self does not die.
19 If the slayer believes that he can kill
Or the slain believes that he can be kill,

Neither knows the truth. The eternal Self
Slays not, nor is ever slain.
20 Hidden in the heart of every creature
Exists the Self, subtler than the subtlest,
Greater than the greatest. They go beyond
All sorrow who extinguish their self-will
And behold the glory of the Self
Through the grace of the Lord o f Love.
21 Though one sits in meditation in a
Particular place, the Self within
Can exercise his influence far away.
Though still, he moves everything everywhere.
22 When the wise realize the Self,
Formless in the midst of forms, changeless
In the midst of change, omnipresent
And supreme, they go beyond sorrow.
23 The Self cannot be known through study
Of the scriptures, nor through the intellect,
Nor through hearing discourses about it.
The Self can be attained only by those
Whom the Self chooses. Verily unto them
Does the Self reveal himself.

24 The Self cannot be known by anyone
Who desists not from unrighteous ways,
Controls not the senses, stills not the mind,
And practices not meditation.
25 None else can know the omnipresent Self,
Whose glory sweeps away the rituals
O f the priest and the prowess of the warrior
And puts death itself to death.
[ 3 ]
1 In the secret cave of the heart, two are
Seated by life’s fountain. The separate ego
Drinks of the sweet and bitter stuff,
Liking the sweet, disliking the bitter,
While the supreme Self drinks sweet and bitter
Neither liking this nor disliking that.
The ego gropes in darkness, while the Self
Lives in light. So declare the illumined sages
And the householders who worship
The sacred fire in the name of the Lord.
2 May we light the fire of Nachiketa
That burns out the ego and enables us
To pass from fearful fragmentation
To fearless fullness in the changeless whole.

3 Know the Self as lord of the chariot,
The body as the chariot itself,
The discriminating intellect as
The charioteer, and the mind as reins.
4 The senses, say the wise, are the horses;
Selfish desires are the roads they travel.
When the Self is confused with the body,
Mind, and senses, they point out, he seems
To enjoy pleasure and suffer sorrow.
s When a person lacks discrimination
And his mind is undisciplined, the senses
Run hither and thither like wild horses.
6 But they obey the rein like trained horses
When one has discrimination and
Has made the mind one-pointed.7 Those who lack
Discrimination, with little control
Over their thoughts and far from pure,
Reach not the pure state of immortality
But wander from death to death;8 but those
Who have discrimination, with a still mind
And a pure heart, reach journeys end,
Never again to fall into the jaws of death.
9 With a discriminating intellect
As charioteer and a trained mind as reins,

They attain the supreme goal of life,
To be united with the Lord of Love.
10 The senses derive from objects of sense-perception,
Sense objects from mind, mind from intellect,
And intellect from ego;11 ego from undifferentiated
Consciousness, and consciousness from Brahman.
Brahman is the First Cause and last refuge.
12 Brahman, the hidden Self in everyone,
Does not shine forth. He is revealed only
To those who keep their minds one-pointed
On the Lord of Love and thus develop
A superconscious manner of knowing.
13 Meditation enables them to go
Deeper and deeper into consciousness,
From the world o f words to the world of thoughts,
Then beyond thoughts to wisdom in the Self.
14 Get up! Wake up! Seek the guidance of an
Illumined teacher and realize the Self.
Sharp like a razor’s edge, the sages say,
Is the path, difficult to traverse.
15 The supreme Self is beyond name and form,
Beyond the senses, inexhaustible,
Without beginning, without end, beyond
Time, space, and causality, eternal,

Immutable. Those who realize the Self
Are forever free from the jaws of death.
16 The wise, who gain experiential knowledge
Of this timeless tale of Nachiketa,
Narrated by Death, attain the glory
Of living in spiritual awareness.
Those who, full of devotion, recite this
Supreme mystery at a spiritual
Gathering are fit for eternal life.
They are indeed fit for eternal life.
P A R T I I •
1 The self-existent Lord pierced the senses
To turn outward. Thus we look to the world
Without and see not the Self within us.
A sage withdrew his senses from the world
Of change and, seeking immortality,
Looked within and beheld the deathless Self.
2 The immature run after sense pleasures
And fall into the widespread net of death.
But the wise, knowing the Self as deathless,
Seek not the changeless in the world of change.

3 That through which one enjoys form, taste,
smell, sound,
Touch, and sexual union is the Self.
Can there be anything not known to That
Who is the One in all? Know One, know all.
4 That through which one enjoys the waking
And sleeping states is the Self. To know That
As consciousness is to go beyond sorrow.
5 Those who know the Self as enjoyer
O f the honey from the flowers of the senses,
Ever present within, ruler of time,
Go beyond fear. For this Self is supreme!
6 The god o f creation, Brahma,
Born of the Godhead through meditation
Before the waters of life were created,
Who stands in the heart of every creature,
Is the Self indeed. For this Self is supreme!
7 The goddess of energy, Aditi,
Born of the Godhead through vitality,
Mother of all the cosmic forces,
Who stands in the heart of every creature,
Is the Self indeed. For this Self is supreme!
8 The god of fire, Agni, hidden between
Two firesticks like a child well protected

In the mother s womb, whom we adore
Every day in the depths of meditation,
Is the Self indeed. For this Self is supreme!
9 That which is the source of the sun
And of every power in the cosmos, beyond which
There is neither going nor coming,
Is the Self indeed. For this Self is supreme!
10 What is here is also there; what is there,
Also here. Who sees multiplicity
But not the one indivisible Self
Must wander on and on from death to death.
11 Only the one-pointed mind attains
This state of unity. There is no one
But the Self. Who sees multiplicity
But not the one indivisible Self
Must wander on and on from death to death.
12 That thumb-sized being enshrined in the heart,
Ruler of time, past and future,
To see whom is to go beyond all fear,
Is the Self indeed. For this Self is supreme!
13 That thumb-sized being, a flame without smoke,
Ruler of time, past and future,

The same on this day as on tomorrow,
Is the Self indeed. For this Self is supreme!
14 As the rain on a mountain peak runs off
The slopes on all sides, so those who see
Only the seeming multiplicity of life
Run after things on every side.
15 As pure water poured into pure water
Becomes the very same, so does the Self
O f the illumined man or woman, Nachiketa,
Verily become one with the Godhead.
[2 ]
1 There is a city with eleven gates
O f which the ruler is the unborn Self,
Whose light forever shines. They go beyond
Sorrow who meditate on the Self and
Are freed from the cycle of birth and death.
For this Self is supreme!
2 The Self is the sun shining in the sky,
The wind blowing in space; he is the fire
At the altar and in the home the guest;
He dwells in human beings, in gods, in truth,
And in the vast firmament; he is the fish
Born in water, the plant growing in the earth,

The river flowing down from the mountain.
For this Self is supreme!
3 The adorable one who is seated
In the heart rules the breath of life.
Unto him all the senses pay their homage.
4 When the dweller in the body breaks out
In freedom from the bonds of flesh,
What remains? For this Self is supreme!
5 We live not by the breath that flows in
And flows out, but by him who causes the breath
To flow in and flow out.
6 Now, O Nachiketa, I will tell you
Of this unseen, eternal Brahman, and
What befalls the Self after death.7 O f those
Unaware of the Self, some are born as
Embodied creatures while others remain
In a lower stage of evolution,
As determined by their own need for growth.
8 That which is awake even in our sleep,
Giving form in dreams to the objects of
Sense craving, that indeed is pure light,
Brahman the immortal, who contains all
The cosmos, and beyond whom none can go.
For this Self is supreme!

9 As the same fire assumes different shapes
When it consumes objects differing in shape,
So does the one Self take the shape
O f every creature in whom he is present.
10 As the same air assumes different shapes
When it enters objects differing in shape,
So does the one Self take the shape
O f every creature in whom he is present.
11 As the sun, who is the eye of the world,
Cannot be tainted by the defects in our eyes
Or by the objects it looks on,
So the one Self, dwelling in all, cannot
Be tainted by the evils of the world.
For this Self transcends all!
12 The ruler supreme, inner Self of all,
Multiplies his oneness into many.
Eternal joy is theirs who see the Self
In their own hearts. To none else does it come!
13 Changeless amidst the things that pass away,
Pure consciousness in all who are conscious,
The One answers the prayers of many.
Eternal peace is theirs who see the Self
In their own hearts. To none else does it come!

14 How can I know that blissful Self, supreme,
Inexpressible, realized by the wise?
Is he the light, or does he reflect light?
15 There shines not the sun, neither moon nor star,
Nor flash of lightning, nor fire lit on earth.
The Self is the light reflected by all.
He shining, everything shines after him.
[ 3 ]
1 The Tree of Eternity has it.s roots above
And its branches on earth below.
Its pure root is Brahman the immortal,
From whom all the worlds draw their life, and whom
None can transcend. For this Self is supreme!
2 The cosmos comes forth from Brahman and moves
In him. With his power it reverberates,
Like thunder crashing in the sky. Those who
Realize him pass beyond the sway of death.
3 In fear of him fire burns; in fear o f him
The sun shines, the clouds rain, and the winds blow.
In fear of him death stalks about to kill.

4 If one fails to realize Brahman in this life
Before the physical sheath is shed,
He must again put on a body
In the world of embodied creatures.
5 Brahman can be seen, as in a mirror,
In a pure heart; in the world of the ancestors
As in a dream; in the gandharva world
As the reflections in trembling waters;
And clear as light in the realm of Brahma.
6 Knowing the senses to be separate
From the Self, and the sense experience
To be fleeting, the wise grieve no more.
7 Above the senses is the mind, above
The mind is the intellect, above that
Is the ego, and above the ego
Is the unmanifested Cause.
8 And beyond is Brahman, omnipresent,
Attributeless. Realizing him one is released
From the cycle of birth and death.
9 He is formless, and can never be seen
With these two eyes. But he reveals himself
In the heart made pure through meditation
And sense-restraint. Realizing him, one is
Released from the cycle of birth and death.

10 When the five senses are stilled, when the mind
Is stilled, when the intellect is stilled,
That is called the highest state by the wise.
11 They say yoga is this complete stillness
In which one enters the unitive state,
Never to become separate again.
If one is not established in this state,
The sense of unity will come and go.
12 The unitive state cannot be attained
Through words or thoughts or through the eye.
How can it be attained except through one
Who is established in this state oneself?
13 There are two selves, the separate ego
And the indivisible Atman. When
One rises above I and me and mine,
The Atman is revealed as one’s real Self.
14 When all desires that surge in the heart
Are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.
15 When all the knots that strangle the heart
Are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.
This sums up the teaching of the scriptures.
16 From the heart there radiate a hundred
And one vital tracks. One of them rises

To the crown of the head. This way leads
To immortality, the others to death.
17 The Lord of Love, not larger than the thumb,
Is ever enshrined in the hearts of all.
Draw him clear out of the physical sheath,
As one draws the stalk from the munja grass.
Know thyself to be pure and immortal!
Know thyself to be pure and immortal!
Nachiketa learned from the king of death
The whole discipline o f meditation.
Freeing himself from all separateness,
He won immortality in Brahman.
So blessed is everyone who knows the Self!
om shanti shanti shanti

ni The Brihadaranyaka
As a caterpillar, having come to the end of
one blade o f grass, draws itself together and
reaches out for the next, so the Self, having
come to the end o f one life and dispelled
all ignorance, gathers in his faculties and
reaches out from the old body to a new.
[ i v . 4 . 3 ]

Di The Forest of Wisdom
B r i h a d – a r a n y a k a m e a n s “ o f t h e
great forest,” and that is an apt name for this Upanishad, which
is by far the longest and one of the most revered of these mag­
nificent documents. To read it is like walking through a great
forest with paths leading off in unpredictable but somehow
meaningful directions; we keep coming across gems of wis­
The opening selection illustrates this, being one o f the most
poignant and illuminating discussions in the wisdom of any
tradition. It is the dialogue between a great sage, Yajnavalkya,
and his wife Maitreyi. Yajnavalkya has just reached a criti­
cal juncture in his life: he is about to leave home in the pur­
suit of truth, or Self-realization. Maitreyi shares his yearning
for immortality, and so the parting dialogue between them
turns into a deep session of “spiritual instruction” – one of the
meanings of the word upanishad.
What Yajnavalkya wants to teach is the greatest discovery
of the Upanishads: the Self, which is identical in all o f us, the

Life of all that lives. Whenever we love, he tells his wife, we
are really responding to the Self within that person. There­
fore – and this is the underlying theme of all mysticism – if we
discover this Self in our own consciousness, there will be no
more parting, no more sorrow ever. Shankara once declared
that two words from the Upanishads give us the essence of
all their teachings: “meditate on the Self,” that is, become one
with – realize – this underlying Reality.
Often, it is this anguish of parting – the death of a loved
one, the breaking apart of a deep relationship, even the grow­
ing up of our children – that propels us into the search for
a reality that will never let us down; so this opening passage
illustrates, through the experience of Maitreyi, the state of
seriousness, of being shocked into alertness, that makes one
ready to absorb spiritual insight. The only real source of such
insight is almost always, in Indian tradition, a living teacher
who is equally ready to impart it; that is why almost all the
Upanishads are in the form of dialogues.
In the next two sections-we again meet Yajnavalkya, now
playing the important role of spiritual adviser to a famous
king, Janaka, who himself was destined to achieve illumina­
tion. Illustrating the wry humor of the Upanishads and the
very human way they see even the most august sages at 111.7
Yajnavalkya perks up on hearing that King Janaka will give
a thousand cows to the wisest among the gathered pundits
and casually tells his disciple, “Son, drive them home.” Then,

when the outraged brahmins ask how he dares declare him­
self the wisest among them, he disarms them by saying, “I
bow down to the wisest, but I want those cows!” Challenged
by Gargi, another of those women of spiritual authority who
appear in the Upanishads, the sage explains how all exis­
tence – everything in the phenomenal world – is “woven” in
the Imperishable. To bring across this great truth he relies on
wonderfully vivid images. The human being moves between
two main states of consciousness as a great fish, master of its
world, swims back and forth between the banks of a river; like
a tired eagle returning to its nest at last, we find our true home
in the eternal Self, the source of all awareness. Or, boldly, “as
one in the arms of his beloved is not aware o f what is without
or what is within, so one in union with the Self is not aware of
what is without or what is within,” for all desires are fulfilled.
When we encounter this daring vision of reality, we want to
know what to do. If this tremendous vision is to have any ulti­
mate meaning for us, there must be some way we can at least
partly realize it ourselves. Appropriately, then, this selection
ends with a passage that, while lightly disguised as mythol­
ogy, highlights three potent practices: damyata datta dayad-
hvam, “Be self-controlled, give, be compassionate.” This pas­
sage, boiled down as it is to three potent syllables, da – da –
da, caught the imagination of T. S. Eliot; more to the point,
it has helped countless seekers down the ages to orient their
lives to the supreme goal. – M . N .

All this is full. All that is full.
From fullness, fullness comes.
When fullness is taken from fullness,
Fullness still remains.
o m shanti shanti shanti

Bi The Brihadaranyaka
The Path to Immortality
41 “Maitreyi,” Yajnavalkya said to his wife one day, “the
time has come for me to go forth from the worldly life.
Come, my dear, let me divide my property between
you and Katyayani.”
4 2 My lord, if I could get all the wealth in the world,
would it help me to go beyond death?
Not at all. You would live and die like any other rich
person. No one can buy immortality with money.
4 3 O f what use then are money and material
possessions to me? Please tell me, my lord, of the way
that leads to immortality.

44 You have always been dear to me, Maitreyi, and I
love you even more now that you have asked me about
immortality. Sit here by my side and reflect deeply on
what I say.
4 5 A wife loves her husband not for his own sake, dear,
but because the Self lives in him.
A husband loves his wife not for her own sake, dear,
but because the Self lives in her.
Children are loved not for their own sake, but because
the Self lives in them.
Wealth is loved not for its own sake, but because the
Self lives in it.
Brahmins are loved not for their own sake, but
because the Self lives in them.
Kshatriyas are loved not for their own sake, but
because the Self lives in them.
The universe is loved not for its own sake, but because
the Self lives in it.
The gods are loved not for their own sake, but because
the Self lives in them.

Creatures are loved not for their own sake, but because
the Self lives in them.
Everything is loved not for its own sake, but because
the Self lives in it.
This Self has to be realized. Hear about this Self and
meditate upon him, Maitreyi. When you hear about
the Self, meditate upon the Self, and finally realize the
Self, you come to understand everything in life.
4 6 For brahmins confuse those who regard them as
separate from the Self. Kshatriyas confuse those who
regard them as separate from the Self. The universe
confuses those who regard it as separate from the Self.
Gods and creatures confuse those who regard them as
separate from the Self. Everything confuses those who
regard things as separate from the Self.
Brahmins, kshatriyas, creatures, the universe, the
gods, everything: these are the Self.
4 7 No one can understand the sounds of a drum
without understanding both drum and drummer;
4 8 nor the sounds of a conch without understanding
both the conch and its blower;49 nor the sounds of a
vina without understanding both vina and musician.
4-10 As clouds of smoke arise from a fire laid with damp
i o i SO

fuel, even so from the Supreme have issued forth all the
Vedas, history, arts, sciences, poetry, aphorisms, and
commentaries. All these are the breath of the Supreme.
411 As there can be no water without the sea, no touch
without the skin, no smell without the nose, no taste
without the tongue, no form without the eye, no
sound without the ear, no thought without the mind,
no wisdom without the heart, no work without hands,
no walking without feet, no scriptures without the
word, so there can be nothing without the Self.
412 As a lump of salt thrown in water dissolves and
cannot be taken out again, though wherever we taste
the water it is salty, even so, beloved, the separate self
dissolves in the sea of pure consciousness, infinite and
immortal. Separateness arises from identifying the
Self with the body, which is made up of the elements;
when this physical identification dissolves, there can
be no more separate self. This is what I want to tell
you, beloved.
4131 am bewildered, Blessed One, when you say there
is then no separate self.

Reflect on what I have said, beloved, and you will not
be confused.
414 As long as there is separateness, one sees another
as separate from oneself, hears another as separate
from oneself, smells another as separate from oneself,
speaks to another as separate from oneself, thinks of
another as separate from oneself, knows another as
separate from oneself. But when the Self is realized as
the indivisible unity of life, who can be seen by whom,
who can be heard by whom, who can be smelled by
whom, who can be spoken to by whom, who can be
thought of by whom, who can be known by whom?
Maitreyi, my beloved, how can the knower ever be
The Imperishable
1 King Janaka of Videha once performed a lavish
sacrifice and distributed many gifts. Many wise men
from Kuru and Panchala attended the ceremony, and
Janaka wanted to know who was the wisest among
them. So he drove a thousand cows into a pen, and
between the horns of each cow he fastened ten gold

coins.2 Then he said: “Venerable brahmins, these cows
are for the wisest one among you. Let him take them
None of the other brahmins dared to speak, but
Yajnavalkya said to his pupil Samashrava: “Son, you
can drive these cows home.” “Hero of seers!” his pupil
exclaimed joyfully, and he drove them home.
The other brahmins were furious. “How
presumptuous!” they shouted. And Ashvala, the royal
priest, asked: “Yajnavalkya, do you really believe you
are the wisest of those assembled here?”
Yajnavalkya replied: “I salute the wisest, but I want
those cows.”
1 Then Gargi, daughter of Vachaknu, said: “Venerable
brahmins, I shall ask Yajnavalkya only two questions.
I f he answers them well, no one here can defeat him in
a spiritual debate.”
“Ask, Gargi,” the sage replied.
2 Yajnavalkya, as a warrior from Kashi or Videha rises
with bow and arrow to fell his opponent, I rise to fell
you with two questions.

Ask them, Gargi.
3 That which is above heaven and below the earth,
which is also between heaven and earth, which is the
same through past, present, and future, in what is that
woven, warp and woof? Tell me, Yajnavalkya.
y a j n a v a l k y a
4 That which is above heaven and below earth, which
is also between heaven and earth, which is the same
through the past, present, and future – that is woven,
warp and woof, in space.
s My first question is answered well. Now for my
second question.
Ask, Gargi.
6 In what is space itself woven, warp and woof? Tell
me, Yajnavalkya.
7-8 The sages call it Akshara, the Imperishable. It is
neither big nor small, neither long nor short, neither

hot nor cold, neither bright nor dark, neither air nor
space. It is without attachment, without taste, smell,
or touch, without eyes, ears, tongue, mouth, breath, or
mind, without movement, without limitation, without
inside or outside. It consumes nothing, and nothing
consumes it.
9 In perfect accord with the will of the Imperishable,
sun and moon make their orbits; heaven and earth
remain in place; moments, hours, days, nights,
fortnights, months, and seasons become years; rivers
starting from the snow-clad mountains flow east and
west, north and south, to the sea.
10 Without knowing the Imperishable, Gargi, whoever
performs rites and ceremonies and undergoes
austerities, even for many years, reaps little benefit,
because rites, ceremonies, and austerities are all
perishable. Whosoever dies without knowing the
Imperishable dies in a pitiable state; but those who
know the Imperishable attain immortality when the
body is shed at death.
11 The Imperishable is the seer, Gargi, though unseen;
the hearer, though unheard; the thinker, though
unthought; the knower, though unknown. Nothing
other than the Imperishable can see, hear, think, or

know. It is in the Imperishable that space is woven,
warp and woof.
12 Venerable brahmins, count yourselves fortunate if
you get away with merely paying this man homage. No
one can defeat Yajnavalkya in debate about Brahman.
With these words Gargi ended her questions.
The States of Consciousness
1 Yajnavalkya came to Janaka, king o f Videha, saying
to himself, “I will not talk today.” But earlier, while
they were discussing the fire ceremony, Yajnavalkya
had promised him any boon he wanted. Now the king
asked the sage permission to question him.
2 Yajnavalkya, what is the light of man?
The sun is our light, for by that light we sit, work, go
out, and come back.
3 When the sun sets, what is the light of man?

The moon is our light, for by that light we sit, work, go
out, and come back.
4 When the sun sets,Yajnavalkya, and the moon sets,
what is the light of man?
Fire is our light, for by that we sit, work, go out, and
come back.
5 When the sun sets, Yajnavalkya, and the moon sets,
and the fire goes out, what is the light of man?
Then speech is our light, for by that we sit, work, go
out, and come back. Even though we cannot see our
own hand in the dark, we can hear what is said and
move toward the person speaking.
6 When the sun sets,Yajnavalkya, and the moon sets,
and the fire goes out and no one speaks, what is the
light of man?

The Self indeed is the light of man, your majesty, for
by that we sit, work, go out, and come back.
7 Who is that Self?
The Self, pure awareness, shines as the light within
the heart, surrounded by the senses. Only seeming
to think, seeming to move, the Self neither sleeps nor
wakes nor dreams.
8 When the Self takes on a body, he seems to assume
the body’s frailties and limitations; but when he sheds
the body at the time of death, the Self leaves all these
9 The human being has two states of consciousness:
one in this world, the other in the next. But there is
a third state between them, not unlike the world of
dreams, in which we are aware of both worlds, with
their sorrows and joys. When a person dies, it is only
the physical body that dies; that person lives on in a
nonphysical body, which carries the impressions of his
past life. It is these impressions that determine his next
life. In this intermediate state he makes and dissolves
impressions by the light of the Self.

10 In that third state of consciousness there are no
chariots, no horses drawing them or roads on which to
travel, but he makes up his own chariots, horses, and
roads. In that state there are no joys or pleasures, but
he makes up his own joys and pleasures. In that state
there are no lotus ponds, no lakes, no rivers, but he
makes up his own lotus ponds, lakes, and rivers. It is
he who makes up all these from the impressions of his
past or waking life.
” – 13 It is said of these states of consciousness that in
the dreaming state, when one is sleeping, the shining
Self, who never dreams, who is ever awake, watches
by his own light the dreams woven out of past deeds
and present desires. In the dreaming state, when one is
sleeping, the shining Self keeps the body alive with the
vital force of prana, and wanders wherever he wills. In
the dreaming state, when one is sleeping, the shining
Self assumes many forms, eats with friends, indulges
in sex, sees fearsome spectacles.
i6-’ 7 g U( he js not affected by anything because he is
detached and free; and after wandering here and there
in the state of dreaming, enjoying pleasures and seeing
good and evil, he returns to the state from which he

18 As a great fish swims between the banks o f a river
as it likes, so does the shining Self move between the
states of dreaming and waking.
19 As an eagle, weary after soaring in the sky, folds its
wings and flies down to rest in its nest, so does the
shining Self enter the state of dreamless sleep, where
one is freed from all desires.
21 The Self is free from desire, free from evil, free
from fear.
As a man in the arms of his beloved is not aware of
what is without and what is within, so a person in
union with the Self is not aware of what is without and
what is within, for in that unitive state all desires find
their perfect fulfillment. There is no other desire that
needs to be fulfilled, and one goes beyond sorrow.
22 In that unitive state there is neither father nor
mother, neither worlds nor gods nor even scriptures.
In that state there is neither thief nor slayer, neither
low caste nor high, neither monk nor ascetic. The Self
is beyond good and evil, beyond all the suffering of the
human heart.
23-30 In that unitive state one sees without seeing, for
there is nothing separate from him; smells without

smelling, for there is nothing separate from him; tastes
without tasting, for there is nothing separate from
him; speaks without speaking, for there is nothing
separate from him; hears without hearing, for there is
nothing separate from him; touches without touching,
for there is nothing separate from him; thinks without
thinking, for there is nothing separate from him;
knows without knowing, for there is nothing separate
from him.
31 Where there is separateness, one sees another,
smells another, tastes another, speaks to another, hears
another, touches another, thinks of another, knows
32 But where there is unity, one without a second, that
is the world of Brahman. This is the supreme goal of
life, the supreme treasure, the supreme joy. Those who
do not seek this supreme goal live on but a fraction of
this joy.
331 give you another thousand cows! Please teach me
more of the way to Self-realization.
35 As a heavily laden cart creaks as it moves along, the
body groans under its burden when a person is about

to d ie.36 When the body grows weak through old age
or illness, the Self separates himself as a mango or fig
or banyan fruit frees itself from the stalk, and returns
the way he came to begin another life.
37 Just as when a king is expected to visit a village, the
mayor and all the other officials turn out to welcome
him with food and drink, all creation awaits the
person who sheds his body having realized Brahman.
“Here he comes!” they say. “Here comes Brahman
himself!” 38 But the senses, while that man lies dying,
gather around and mourn the Self s departure, as
courtiers mourn when their king is about to leave.
[ 4 ]
1 When body and mind grow weak, the Self gathers in
all the powers of life and descends with them into the
heart. As prana leaves the eye, it ceases to see.2 “He
is becoming one,” say the wise; “he does not see. He
is becoming one; he no longer hears. He is becoming
one; he no longer speaks, or tastes, or smells, or
thinks, or knows.” By the light of the heart the Self
leaves the body by one of its gates; and when he leaves,
prana follows, and with it all the vital powers of the
body. He who is dying merges in consciousness, and
thus consciousness accompanies him when he departs,

along with the impressions of all that he has done,
experienced, and known.
J As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade
of grass, draws itself together and reaches out for the
next, so the Self, having come to the end of one life
and dispelled all ignorance, gathers in his faculties and
reaches out from the old body to a new.
4 As a goldsmith fashions an old ornament into a new
and more beautiful one, so the Self, having reached the
end of the last life and dispelled all ignorance, makes
for himself a new, more beautiful shape, like that of
the devas or other celestial beings.
5 The Self is indeed Brahman, but through ignorance
people identify it with intellect, mind, senses, passions,
and the elements of earth, water, air, space, and fire.
This is why the Self is said to consist of this and that,
and appears to be everything.
As a person acts, so he becomes in life. Those who
do good become good; those who do harm become
bad. Good deeds make one pure; bad deeds make one
impure. You are what your deep, driving desire is. As
your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your
deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.

6 We live in accordance with our deep, driving desire.
It is this desire at the time of death that determines
what our next life will be. We will come back to earth
to work out the satisfaction of that desire.
But not those who are free from desire; they are free
because all their desires have found fulfillment in
the Self. They do not die like the others; but realizing
Brahman, they merge in Brahman. 7 So it is said:
When all the desires that surge in the heart
Are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.
When all the knots that strangle the heart
Are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal,
Here in this very life.
As the skin of a snake is sloughed onto an anthill, so
does the mortal body fall; but the Self, freed from the
body, merges in Brahman, infinite life, eternal light.
I give you another thousand cows! Please teach me
more o f the way to Self-realization.
2i Those who realize the Self enter into the peace that
brings complete self-control and perfect patience.
They see themselves in everyone and everyone in

themselves. Evil cannot overcome them because they
overcome all evil. Sin cannot consume them because
they consume all sin. Free from evil, free from sin and
doubt, they live in the kingdom of Brahman. Your
majesty, this kingdom is yours!
Venerable One, I offer myself and my kingdom in your
What the Thunder Said
[ 2 ]
The children of Prajapati, the Creator – gods, human
beings, and asuras, the godless – lived with their father
as students. When they had completed the allotted
period the gods said, “Venerable One, please teach us.”
Prajapati answered with one syllable: “D a”
“Have you understood?” he asked.
“Yes,” they said. “You have told us damyata, be
“You have understood,” he said.

2 Then the human beings approached. “Venerable One,
please teach us.”
Prajapati answered with one syllable: “D a”
“Have you understood?” he asked.
“Yes,” they said. “You have told us datta, give.”
“You have understood,” he said.
Then the godless approached. “Venerable One,
please teach us.”
Prajapati answered with the same syllable: “Da!’
“Have you understood?” he asked.
“Yes,” they said. “You have told us dayadhvam,
be compassionate.”
“You have understood,” he said.
The heavenly voice of the thunder repeats this
teaching. Da-da-da! Be self-controlled! Give!
Be compassionate!
o M shanti shanti shanti

m The Chandogya Upanishad
Those who depart from this world without
knowing who they are or what they truly
desire have no freedom here or hereafter.
But those who leave here knowing who they
are and what they truly desire have freedom
everywhere, both in this world and in the
[v i i i .1.6 ]

m Sacred Song
I n T H E W I S D O M OF A N C I E N T I N D I A ,
the universe came forth from the invisible and unchang­
ing Reality like the uttering of a meaningful sound: mystical
speech (which is why the Vedas are thought of as existing long
before human beings or anything else). It was not a Big Bang
but a big Om; and it is with this image that the Upanishad
named Chandogya, “the uprising of sacred song,” begins. Just
as Western scientists seek the laws of the physical universe
in a kind of echo of that primordial explosion, the sages who
predated them by so many centuries “heard” Om, the primor­
dial sound, and discovered deep laws governing all existence.
The universe is founded on two principles, they discov­
ered. One is rita, law, order, or regularity. Without it no scien­
tific discovery would be possible; more importantly, no moral
discovery would be possible. Human experience would have
no meaning, for we would have no way to learn from our
The second principle is yajna, sacrifice. The universe, they

tell us, runs on renunciation. The most significant human
action is the sacrifice of personal gain for the sake of some­
thing higher and holier.
If rita is the moral law, yajna is the human response to live
in accordance with that law, taking nothing from life for one­
self but everywhere seeking to give of oneself to life. Jesus was
essentially describing rita when he said, “By the same mea­
sure you mete out to others, by that measure shall it be meted
out to you,” and yajna when he said, “Lay not up for your­
selves treasures upon earth.. . . But seek first the kingdom of
God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added
unto you.” We can use things, but to be in harmony with the
underlying laws of life we should never feel that they are really
ours: as the Isha Upanishad so simply puts it, “Everything
belongs to the Lord.”
This awareness leads to a profound peace, which the Chan-
dogya conveys in one o f the Upanishads’ most poignant
images: “As a tethered bird flies this way and that, and comes
to rest at last on its own perch, so the mind, tired of wander­
ing about. . . settles down in the Self” (v i.8 .2). This Upani­
shad charts in inward course back to speech, breath, and vital
energy (prana), and ultimately to the Self, or Brahman. Prana
tends to become the focus of attention whenever it comes up,
and that is what happens in the sections that follow contain­
ing the famous stories of Satyakama (iv.4) and Shvetaketu
(vn ). These two spiritual students are a striking contrast, as

Satyakama breaks social convention: born out o f wedlock, he
has the courage to admit as much to his teacher, who honors
that courage and accepts him. This episode is one of the most
imaginative frame stories for teaching in all the Upanishads
(which is saying a lot), as various odd birds and animals teach
him “one foot of Brahman” at a time until he is illumined.
Prana also provides an explanation for the process we
call death, as prana, life-energy, is withdrawn by progressive
steps – the same kind of steps by which the universe itself was
manifested and will be withdrawn – into its ultimate source
(v i.15). This prepares us for the triumphant declaration of
Chapter v 111, the “City of Brahman,” a moving description of
Brahmaloka, the “Land of No Change” beyond all death and
suffering. While we actually visit this state without knowing
it while in deep sleep (v 1.8 .1 and v 111.3 .2 ), we can possess it
in full awareness through the heroic spiritual disciplines the
Upanishads are always leading us to. We can live in this very
world free from sorrow, ill health, perturbation, distress of
any kind; and then for us death, while it claims the body, will
never touch us because we are identified completely with the
Self, which is a “bridge” or “bulwark” (v 111.4 ) none of these
can cross.
– M . N .

Lead me from the unreal to the Real.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
o m shanti shanti shanti

ni The Chandogya Upanishad
The Word
11 Let us meditate on o m the imperishable, the
beginning of prayer.
2 For as the earth comes from the waters, plants from
earth, and man from plants, so man is speech, and
speech is o M. O f all speech the essence is the Rig
Veda; but Sama is the essence of Rig, and o f Sama the
essence is o M, the Udgitha.
3 This is the essence of essences, the highest, the
eighth rung, venerated above all that human beings
hold holy, o M is the Self o f all.
4 What is rig, what is sama, at the heart of prayer?5 As
rig is speech, so sama is song, and the imperishable
OM is the Udgitha. Speech and breath, Sama and Rig,
are couples,6 and in the imperishable o M they come

together to fulfill each others desire.7 For those who,
knowing this, meditate on the imperishable o M, all
desires are fulfilled.8 With the word o M we say, “I
agree,” and fulfill desires.9 With o M we recite, we give
direction, we sing aloud the honor of that Word, the
key to the three kinds of knowledge.10 Side by side,
those who know the Self and those who know it not
do the same thing; but it is not the same: the act done
with knowledge, with inner awareness and faith, grows
in power. That, in a word, tells the significance of O M ,
the indivisible.
The Wisdom ofShandilya
14-1 This universe comes forth from Brahman, exists
in Brahman, and will return to Brahman. Verily, all is
A person is what his deep desire is. It is our deepest
desire in this life that shapes the life to come. So let us
direct our deepest desires to realize the Self.
14 2 The Self, who can be realized by the pure in heart,
who is life, light, truth, space, who gives rise to all
works, all desires, all odors, all tastes, who is beyond

words, who is joy abiding – 14 3 this is the Self dwelling
in my heart.
Smaller than a grain of rice, smaller than a grain of
barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than
a grain of millet, smaller even than the kernel of a
grain of millet is the Self. This is the Self dwelling in
my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky,
greater than all the worlds.
14 4 This Self who gives rise to all works, all desires, all
odors, all tastes, who pervades the universe, who is
beyond words, who is joy abiding, who is ever present
in my heart, is Brahman indeed. To him I shall attain
when my ego dies.
So said Shandilya; so said Shandilya.
The Story o f Satyakama
4-’ “Mother,” Satyakama said, “I feel the time has come
for me to go to the home of a spiritual teacher. From
whom does our family come, so that I may tell him
when he asks my lineage?”
4 2 “I do not know, dear,” she replied. “You were born
when I was young and going from place to place as

a servant. Your name is Satyakama and my name is
Jabala; why not call yourself Satyakama Jabala?”
4 3 Satyakama went to Haridrumata Gautama and said
to him, “Sir, I want to become your disciple.”
44 “What family are you from, bright one?”
“Sir, I don’t know. My mother says she bore me in
her youth and doesn’t know my ancestry. She says
that since my name is Satyakama and hers is Jabala I
should call myself Satyakama Jabala.”
4 S “None but a true brahmin could have said that.
Fetch the firewood, my boy; I will initiate you. You
have not flinched from the truth.”
He selected four hundred lean and sickly cows and
gave them to Satyakama to care for. “I shall not
return,” the boy said to himself, “until they become a
5-’ For years Satyakama dwelt in the forest, tending the
herd. Then one day the bull of the herd said to him:
“Sir?” he replied.
“We have become a thousand. Let us now rejoin our

teachers family,52 and I will tell you one of the four
feet of Brahman.”
“Please tell me, revered sir,” the boy said.
“There are four quarters: east, west, south, and north.
This is one foot of Brahman, called the Shining.
To meditate on these four is to become full of light
and master the resplendent regions of the cosmos,
knowing this portion of the truth. 61 Agni, fire, will
tell you more.”
The next day Satyakama set out for his teacher s house
with the herd. Toward evening he made a fire, penned
the cows, and sat by the fire facing east. 6 2 The fire
spoke: “Satyakama!”
6 3 “Friend, I can teach you another foot of Brahman.”
“Please do, revered sir.”
“There are four quarters: earth, sky, heaven, and
ocean. This is one foot of Brahman, called Without
End. Know this, meditate on this reality, and your life
will be without end on this earth.71 A swan will tell
you more.”

The next day Satyakama drove the cows onward.
Toward evening he lit a fire, penned the cows, and sat
by the fire facing east.7 2 Then a swan flew near and
said: “Satyakama!”
7 3 “Friend, I can teach you another foot of Brahman.”
“Please do, revered sir.”
“There are four quarters: fire, the sun, the moon, and
lightning. These make one foot of Brahman, called
Full of Light.7 4 To meditate on this fourfold foot of
truth is to be filled with light in this world and master
the world of light. ®-1 A diver bird will tell you more.”
The next day Satyakama drove the cows onward.
Toward evening he lit a fire, penned the cows, and sat
by the fire facing east.8 2 Then a diver bird flew near
and spoke to him: “Satyakama!”
8 3 “Friend, I can teach you another foot of Brahman.”
“Please do, revered sir.”
“There are four parts: breath, eye, ear, and mind.
This is one foot of Brahman, called Established. 8 4 To

meditate on this fourfold foot of Brahman is to be at
home in this world and master space. Whoever knows
this fourfold foot of Brahman is called established.”
91 So Satyakama returned to his teachers home.
“Satyakama,” his teacher called,92 “you glow like one
who has known the truth. Tell me, who has taught
Satyakama replied, “No human, sir. But I wish to hear
the truth from you alone. 9 3 For I have heard that only
the teacher s wisdom comes to fruition for us.”
Then his teacher taught Satyakama that same wisdom.
Nothing was left out from it; nothing was left out.
The Story ofShvetaketu
11 Shvetaketu was Uddalaka’s son.
When he was twelve, his father said to him:
“It is time for you to find a teacher,
Dear one, for no one in our family
Is a stranger to the spiritual life.”
12 So Shvetaketu went to a teacher
And studied all the Vedas for twelve years.

At the end of this time he returned home,
Proud of his intellectual knowledge.
“You seem to be proud of all this learning,”
Said Uddalaka. “But did you ask
Your teacher for that spiritual wisdom
13 Which enables you to hear the unheard,
Think the unthought, and know the unknown?”
“What is that wisdom, Father?” asked the son.
Uddalaka said to Shvetaketu:
14 “As by knowing one lump of clay, dear one,
We come to know all things made out of clay
That they differ only in name and form,
While the stuff of which all are made is clay;
15 As by knowing one gold nugget, dear one,
We come to know all things made out of gold:
That they differ only in name and form,
While the stuff of which all are made is gold;
16 As by knowing one tool of iron, dear one,
We come to know all things made out of iron:
That they differ only in name and form,
While the stuff of which all are made is iron –
So through that spiritual wisdom, dear one,
We come to know that all of life is one.”

17 “My teachers must not have known this wisdom,”
Said Shvetaketu, “for if they had known,
How could they have failed to teach it to me? Please
instruct me in this wisdom, Father.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” replied his father.
2 2 “In the beginning was only Being,
One without a second.
2 5 Out of himself he brought forth the cosmos
And entered into everything in it.
There is nothing that does not come from him.
Of everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”
“Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.
81 “Let us start with sleep. What happens in it?
When one is absorbed in dreamless sleep,
He is one with the Self, though he knows it not.
We say he sleeps, but he sleeps in the Self.
8 2 As a tethered bird grows tired of flying
About in vain to find a place of rest
And settles down at last on its own perch,
So the mind, tired of wandering about

Hither and thither, settles down at last
In the Self, dear one, to which it is bound.
8 4 All creatures, dear one, have their source in him.
He is their home; he is their strength.”
8 6 “When a person departs from this world, dear one,
His speech merges in mind, his mind in prana,
Prana in fire, and fire in pure Being.
8 7 There is nothing that does not come from him.
O f everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”
“Please tell me, Father, more about this Self.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.
91 “As bees suck nectar from many a flower
And make their honey one, 92 so that no drop
Can say, “I am from this flower or that,”
All creatures, though one, know not they are that One.
9 3 There is nothing that does not come from him.
O f everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”
“Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.

10-1 “As the rivers flowing east and west
Merge in the sea and become one with it,
Forgetting they were ever separate rivers,
10-2 So do all creatures lose their separateness
When they merge at last into pure Being.
10 3 There is nothing that does not come from him.
Of everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”
“Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.
111 “Strike at the root of a tree; it would bleed
But still live. Strike at the trunk; it would bleed
But still live. Strike again at the top;
It would bleed but still live. The Self as life
Supports the tree, which stands firm and enjoys
The nourishment it receives.
112 If the Self leaves one branch, that branch withers.
If it leaves a second, that too withers.
If it leaves a third, that again withers.
Let it leave the whole tree, the whole tree dies.
113 Just so, dear one, when death comes and the Self
Departs from the body, the body dies.
But the Self dies not.”

“There is nothing that does not come from him.
Of everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”
“Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.
121 “Bring me a fruit from the nyagrodha tree.”
“Here it is, sir.”
“Break it. What do you see?”
“These seeds, Father, all exceedingly small.”
“Break one. What do you see?”
“Nothing at all.”
12 2 “That hidden essence you do not see, dear one,
From that a whole nyagrodha tree will grow.
12 5 There is nothing that does not come from him.
O f everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”
“Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.
131 “Place this salt in water and bring it here

Tomorrow morning.” The boy did.
’’Where is that salt?” his father asked.
“I do not see it.”
13 2 “Sip here. How does it taste?”
“Salty, Father.”
“And here? And there?”
“I taste salt everywhere.”
“It is everywhere, though we see it not.
Just so, dear one, the Self is everywhere,
Within all things, although we see him not.
13 3 There is nothing that does not come from him.
Of everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”
“Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.
,41 “As a man from Gandhara, blindfolded,
Led away and left in a lonely place,
Turns to the east and west and north and south
And shouts, ‘I am left here and cannot see!’
14 2 Until one removes his blindfold and says,

‘There lies Gandhara; follow that path,’
And thus informed, able to see for himself,
The man inquires from village to village
And reaches his homeland at last – just so,
My son, one who finds an illumined teacher
Attains to spiritual wisdom in the Self.
14 3 There is nothing that does not come from him.
O f everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”
“Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.”
“Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.
151 “When a man is dying, his family
All gather round and ask, ‘Do you know me?
Do you know me?’ And so long as his speech
Has not merged in mind, his mind in prana,
Prana in fire, and fire in pure Being,
15 2 He knows them all. But there is no more knowing
When speech merges in mind, mind in prana,
Prana in fire, and fire in pure Being,
15 3 There is nothing that does not come from him.
O f everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”

16 3 Then Shvetaketu understood this teaching;
Truly he understood it all.
Narada’s Education
’ -1 Narada approached the sage Sanatkumara and said,
“Please teach me, Venerable One.”
“Tell me what you know,” replied the sage, “and then I
will teach you what is beyond that.”
12 “I know the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva
– and the epics, called the fifth. I have studied
grammar, rituals, mathematics, astronomy, logic,
economics, physics, psychology, the fine arts, and
even snake-charming.13 But all this knowledge has
not helped me to know the Self. I have heard from
spiritual teachers like you that one who realizes the
Self goes beyond sorrow. I am lost in sorrow. Please
teach me how to go beyond.”
“Whatever you know is just words,” said Sanatkumara,
“names of finite phenomena.231 It is the Infinite that
is the source of abiding joy because it is not subject to
change. Therefore seek to know the Infinite.”
“I seek to know the Infinite, Venerable One.”

2 4 .i “w here one realizes the indivisible unity of life,
sees nothing else, hears nothing else, knows nothing
else, that is the Infinite. Where one sees separateness,
hears separateness, knows separateness, that is the
finite. The Infinite is beyond death, but the finite
cannot escape death.”
“On what does the Infinite depend, Venerable One?”
“On its own glory – no, not even on that. 24 2 In the
world people think they can attain glory by having
cows and horses, elephants and gold, family and
servants, fields and mansions. But I do not call that
glory, for here one thing depends on another. Utterly
independent is the Infinite.
251 “The Infinite is above and below, before and
behind, to the right and to the left. I am all this. The
Self is above and below, before and behind, to the right
and to the’left. I am all this. 25 2 One who meditates
upon the Self and realizes the Self sees the Self
everywhere, and rejoices in the Self. Such a one lives
in freedom and is at home wherever he goes. But those
who pursue the finite are blind to the Self and live in
261 “One who meditates upon and realizes the Self
discovers that everything in the cosmos – energy

and space, fire and water, name and form, birth and
death, mind and will, word and deed, mantram and
meditation – all come from the Self.
26.2 “The Self is one, though it appears to be many.
Those who meditate upon the Self and realize the Self
go beyond decay and death, beyond separateness and
sorrow. They see the Self in everyone and obtain all
“Control the senses and purify the mind. In a pure
mind there is constant awareness o f the Self. Where
there is constant awareness of the Self, freedom ends
bondage and joy ends sorrow.”
Thus the sage Sanatkumara taught the pure Narada to
go beyond bondage, beyond sbrrow, beyond darkness,
to the light of the Self.
The City of Brahman
11 In the city of Brahman is a secret dwelling, the
lotus of the heart. Within this dwelling is a space,
and within that space is the fulfillment of our desires.
What is within that space should be longed for and

01 S A C R E D S O N G
13 As great as the infinite space beyond is the space
within the lotus of the heart. Both heaven and earth
are contained in that inner space, both fire and air, sun
and moon, lightning and stars. Whether we know it in
this world or know it not, everything is contained in
that inner space.
15 Never fear that old age will invade that city; never
fear that this inner treasure of all reality will wither
and decay. This knows no age when the body ages;
this knows no dying when the body dies. This is the
real city of Brahman; this is the Self, free from old age,
from death and grief, hunger and thirst. In the Self all
desires are fulfilled.
The Self desires only what is real, thinks nothing
but what is true. Here people do what they are told,
becoming dependent on their country, or their piece
of land, or the desires of another,16 so their desires
are not fulfilled and their works come to nothing, both
in this world and in the next. Those who depart from
this world without knowing who they are or what they
truly desire have no freedom here or hereafter.
But those who leave here knowing who they are and
what they truly desire have freedom everywhere, both
in this world and in the next.

1 , 2 Would they see their departed mother or father?
Lo, they see them and are happy.1 3-* Would they see
their family and friends? Lo, they see them and are
happy. Would they enjoy the world of music, of spring
flowers, of elegance? Lo, by their mere will they enjoy
these things. 110 Whatever they desire, the object
of that desire arises from the power of their own
thoughts; they have it and are happy.
31 Here our selfless desires are hidden by selfish ones.
They are real, but they are covered by what is false.
Therefore whoever of our own departs from this life,
not one can ever be brought back before our eyes.
3 2 But all those we love, alive or departed, and all
things we desire but do not have, are found when we
enter that space within the heart; for there abide all
desires that are true, though covered by what is false.
Like strangers in an unfamiliar country walking over
a hidden treasure, day by day we enter the world of
Brahman while in deep sleep but never find it, carried
away by what is false.
33 The Self is hidden in the lotus of the heart.
Those who see themselves in all creatures go day
by day into the world of Brahman hidden in the
heart.4 Established in peace, they rise above body-

consciousness to the supreme light of the Self.
Immortal, free from fear, this Self is Brahman, called
the True.s Beyond the mortal and the immortal, he
binds both worlds together. Those who know this live
day after day in heaven in this very life.
“-1 The Self is a bulwark against the confounding of
these worlds and a bridge between them. Day and
night cannot cross that bridge, nor old age, nor death,
nor grief, nor evil nor good deeds. All evils turn back
there, unable to cross; evil comes not into this world of
4 2 One who crosses by this bridge, if blind, is blind
no more; if hurt, ceases to be hurt; i f in sorrow, ceases
sorrowing. At this boundary night itself becomes day:
night comes not into this world of Brahman.
41 Only those who are pure and self-controlled can
find this world of Brahman. That world is theirs alone.
In that world, in all the worlds, they live in perfect
The Gods and the Godless
71 The great teacher Prajapati said: “The Self is pure,
free from decay and death, free from hunger and
thirst, and free from sorrow. The Self desires nothing

that is not good, wills nothing that is not good. Seek
and realize the Self! Those who seek and realize the
Self fulfill all their desires and attain the goal supreme.”
72 The devas and the asuras, the gods and the godless,
heard this truth and said: “Let us seek and realize the
Self so that we may fulfill all our desires.” So Indra
from among the gods and Virochana from among
the godless approached Prajapati, carrying fuel in
their hands as a sign that they wanted to become his
disciples.7 3 They dwelt with him for thirty-two years,
and at the end of that time Prajapati asked why they
had stayed with him so long.
Indra and Virochana replied, “We have heard o f your
inspiring words: ‘The Self is pure, free from decay
and death, free from hunger and thirst, and free from
sorrow. The Self desires nothing that is not good, wills
nothing that is not good. Seek and realize the Self!
Those who seek and realize the Self fulfill all their
desires and attain the goal supreme.’ We have been
living here as your disciples because we want to realize
the Self.”
7 4 Prajapati said to them: “When you look into
another’s eyes, what you see is the Self, fearless and
deathless. That is Brahman, the supreme.”

“Venerable One,” asked the two disciples, “what is it
we see reflected in the water or in a mirror?”
“It is the Self you see in all these,” he said to them.
81 “Now look at yourself in a bowl of water, and ask
me anything you want to learn about the Self.”
They looked at themselves in a bowl of water.
“What did you see in the water?”
“We have seen the Self, even the hair and the nails.”
8 2 “Put on your best clothes, adorn your body, and
look again in the water.”
They did so, and came back to Prajapati.
“What did you see in the water?” he asked.
8 3 “We have seen the Self, well dressed and well
adorned,” they replied.
“That is the Self, fearless and deathless. That is
Brahman, the supreme.”
Indra and Virochana went away satisfied.8 4 But
Prajapati said to himself: “They have seen the Self, but
they have not recognized the Self. They mistake the
Self to be the body. Those who think the Self is the
body will lose their way in life.”

Virochana, quite sure that the Self is the body, went
back to the godless and began to teach them that
the body alone is to be saved, the body alone is to
be adored. He taught them that whoever lives for
indulging the senses will find joy in this world and the
next. ® s Even today people are called godless when
they lack faith, love, and charity, because that is the
way of the godless. They dress even dead bodies in fine
clothes and adorn them with ornaments so that they
may enjoy their life in the next world.
91 But Indra, as he was on his way home to the
gathering of the gods, began to question this
knowledge. “If the Self is the same as the body, well
dressed when the body is well dressed, well adorned
when the body is well adorned, then the Self will be
blind when the body is blind, lame when the body
is lame, paralyzed when the body is paralyzed. And
when the body dies, the Self too will die. In such
knowledge I see no value.”
9 2 Again Indra went back to Prajapati with fuel in hand.
“Why have you returned, Indra?” his teacher asked.
“Did you not go away quite satisfied?”
“Venerable One,” replied Indra, “ if the Self is well
dressed when the body is well dressed, well adorned

when the body is well adorned, then the Self will be
blind when the body is blind, lame when the body
is lame, paralyzed when the body is paralyzed. And
when the body dies, the Self too will die. In such
knowledge I see no value.”
9 3 “You are thinking clearly, Indra,” said Prajapati.
“Live with me for another thirty-two years and I will
teach you more of the Self.”
So Indra lived with Prajapati for another thirty-two
years. Then Prajapati said to h im :10-1 “That which
moves about in joy in the dreaming state is the Self,
fearless and deathless. That is Brahman, the supreme.”
Indra went away satisfied, but on his way home to
the gathering of the gods he began to question this
knowledge. “In the dreaming state, it is true, the Self
is not blind when the body is blind, nor lame when
the body is lame, nor paralyzed when the body is
paralyzed,10 2 nor slain when the body is slain. Yet in
dreams the Self may appear to suffer and to be slain; it
may become conscious of pain and even weep. In such
knowledge I see no value.”
10 3 Again Indra went back to Prajapati with fuel in

“Why have you returned, Indra?” his teacher asked.
“Did you not go away quite satisfied?”
“Venerable One,” replied Indra, “in the dreaming state,
it is true, the Self is not blind when the body is blind,
nor lame when the body is lame; yet in this state the
Self may still suffer and even weep. In such knowledge
I see no value.”
10 4 “You are thinking clearly, Indra,” said Prajapati.
“Live with me for another thirty-two years and I will
teach you more of the Self.”
Indra lived with Prajapati for another thirty-two years.
Then his teacher Said:
111 “When a person is sleeping soundly, free from
dreams, with a still mind, that is the Self, fearless and
deathless. That is Brahman, the supreme.”
Indra went away satisfied, but on his way home to
the gathering of the gods he began to question this
knowledge. “In the state of dreamless sleep one is not
aware of oneself or any other. The state of dreamless
sleep is very close to extinction. In this knowledge I
see no value.”
112 Again Indra went back to Prajapati with fuel in

“Why have you returned, Indra?” his teacher asked.
“Did you not go away quite satisfied?”
“Venerable One”, replied Indra, “ in the state of
dreamless sleep one is not aware of oneself or of any
other. The state of dreamless sleep is very close to
extinction. In this knowledge I see no value.”
113 “You are thinking clearly, Indra,” said Prajapati.
“Live with me for another five years and I will teach
you to realize the Self.”
Indra lived with Prajapati for another five years.
Altogether he lived with his teacher for one hundred
and one years, which is why people say, “Even Indra
had to live with his teacher for one hundred and one
years.” After that time, Prajapati revealed the highest
truth of the Self to Indra:
121 “It is true the body is perishable, but within it
dwells the imperishable Self. This body is subject to
pleasure and pain; no one who identifies with the body
can escape from pleasure and pain. But those who
know they are not the body pass beyond pleasure and
pain to live in abiding joy.

12 2 “Like the wind, like clouds, like thunder and
lightning, which rise from space without physical
shape and reach the transcendent light in their own
form, those who rise above body-consciousness ascend
to the transcendent light in their real form, the Self.
“In that state, free from attachment, they move at will,
laughing, playing, and rejoicing. They know the Self
is not this body, but only tied to it for a time as an ox
is tied to its cart. Whenever one sees, smells, speaks,
hears, or thinks, they know it is the Self that sees,
smells, speaks, hears, and thinks; the senses are but his
“Worshipping this Self in the world of Brahman, the
gods obtained all worlds and all desires. Those who
know this Self and realize this Self obtain all worlds
and all desires.” So said Prajapati; so taught Prajapati.
A Paean o f Illumination
1 J 1 From the Divine Dark to the manifest
To the Divine Dark I pass again.
As a horse shakes free its mane, I have
Shaken off all evil. Freeing myself
From the bonds of birth and death as the moon

Escapes from Rahils mouth, I have attained
The pure realm of Brahman; I have attained
The pure realm of Brahman.
151 Brahman is my home. I shall not lose it.
Truly I shall not be lost again.
o m shanti shanti shanti

hi The Shvetashvatara
The Lord dwells in the womb o f the cosmos,
The creator who is in all creatures.
He is that which is born and to be born;
His face is everywhere.
[ 1 1 . 1 6]

Di 1 5 4

D ! The Faces of God
Reality become the myriad phenomena that make up the
observable world? This question could be asked by a contem­
porary physicist; but here it is posed by an ancient seeker after
wisdom, which gives it a slightly different “take” and a differ­
ent answer.
Like the Isha, the Shvetashvatara is unusual among Upa­
nishads in the emphasis – let us say the loving attention – it
places on a personal God. In this respect, in fact, it goes
one step further than the Isha. It begins by addressing the
Supreme Being with the Vedic terms Rudra and Isha or Ish-
vara, but soon enough introduces the actual name of Shiva,
who has been for so many centuries the focus of intense per­
sonal devotion throughout India.
The impressive fact is how little difference it makes in the
Upanishadic approach whether the emphasis falls on per­
sonal or impersonal. The personal note struck by the Shveta­
shvatara does nothing to jar the Upanishadic spirit. Sri

Ramakrishna used to say that just as water congeals into ice,
the Ocean of Reality can be frozen into a provisional form by
the devotees needs, but it is still the same substance.
This devotional character, and the fact that it is entirely a
verse Upanishad, marks the Shvetashvatara as relatively late.
Another mark is the inclusion of certain concepts and nomen­
clature that we associate with later philosophical schools like
classical Sankhya. Some see in this an attempt to reconcile
early Sankhya with other philosophical and religious ten­
dencies of the time; but it does show how the lofty vision of
the Upanishads was a kind of mother lode from which the
philosophical schools took off on their respective intellectual
Like all the Upanishads, the Shvetashvatara is a paean
of ecstasy to the Self, the Reality “hidden behind the gunas”
but seen by sages in the depths of their meditation. To be
grounded in this experience is the only reliable ground in a
universe which is so confusing, as we can sense in the intense
opening questions – questions that have resounded through­
out human history. The Upanishads are never interested in
such matters from a merely objective standpoint. The thrust
of these questions is intensely personal: how does this world
of separateness, with its inescapable forces of pain and plea­
sure, so intricately entangle us? The Upanishads answer
is maya. The objective world is neither real nor unreal; it is
appearance – specifically, the appearance of separateness, the

illusion that happiness comes from the world outside rather
than from within us. The Shvetashvatara is an early witness
to this powerful concept (1.9). Maya was the cornerstone of
Shankara’s system, and he wrote a special commentary on
this Upanishad. It remains a concept that, when grasped, can
be liberating to the spirit and satisfying to the mind of any
earnest puzzler over reality.
– M . N .

All this is full. All that is full.
From fullness, fullness comes.
When fullness is taken from fullness,
Fullness still remains.
o m shanti shanti shanti

ni The Shvetashvatara
1 What is the cause of the cosmos? Is it Brahman?
From where do we come? By what live?
Where shall we find peace at last?
What power governs the duality
Of pleasure and pain by which we are driven?
2 Time, nature, necessity, accident,
Elements, energy, intelligence –
None of these can be the First Cause.
They are effects, whose only purpose is
To help the self rise above pleasure and pain.
3 In the depths of meditation, sages
Saw within themselves the Lord of Love,
Who dwells in the heart of every creature.
Deep in the hearts of all he dwells, hidden
Behind the gunas of law, energy,

And inertia. He is One. He it is
Who rules over time, space, and causality.
4 The world is the wheel of God, turning round
And round with all living creatures upon its rim.
5 The world is the river of God,
Flowing from him and flowing back to him.
6 On this ever-revolving wheel of life
The individual self goes round and round
Through life after life, believing itself
To be a separate creature, until
It sees its identity with the Lord of Love
And attains immortality in the indivisible whole.
7 He is the eternal reality, sing
The scriptures, and the ground of existence.
Those who perceive him in every creature
Merge in him and are released from the wheel
O f birth and death.
8 The Lord of Love holds in his hand the world,
Composed of the changing and the changeless,
The manifest and the unmanifest.
The separate self, not yet aware of the Lord,
Goes after pleasure, only to become
Bound more and more. When it sees the Lord,
There comes an end to its bondage.

9 Conscious spirit and unconscious matter
Both have existed since the dawn of time,
With maya appearing to connect them,
Misrepresenting joy as outside us.
When all these three are seen as one, the Self
Reveals his universal form and serves
As an instrument of the divine will.
10 All is change in the world of the senses,
But changeless is the supreme Lord of Love.
Meditate on him, be absorbed in him,
Wake up from this dream of separateness.
11 Know God and all fetters will fall away.
No longer identifying yourself
With the body, go beyond birth and death.
All your desires will be fulfilled in him
Who is One without a second.
12 Know him to be enshrined in your heart always.
Truly there is nothing more in life to know.
Meditate and realize that this world
Is filled with the presence o f God.
” Fire is not seen until one firestick rubs
Against another, though the fire remains
Hidden in the firestick. So does the Lord

Remain hidden in the body until
He is revealed through the mystic mantram.
14 Let your body be the lower firestick;
Let the mantram be the upper. Rub them
Against each other in meditation
And realize the Lord.
15 Like oil in sesame seeds, like butter
In cream, like water in springs, like fire
In firesticks, so dwells the Lord of Love,
The Self, in the very depths of consciousness.
Realize him through truth and meditation.
16 The Self is hidden in the hearts of all,
As butter lies hidden in cream. Realize
The Self in the depths of meditation,
The Lord of Love, supreme reality,
Who is the goal of all knowledge.
This is the highest mystical teaching;
This is the highest mystical teaching.
[ n ]
1 May we harness body and mind to see
The Lord of Life, who dwells in everyone.
2 May we ever with a one-pointed mind

Strive for blissful union with the Lord.
3 May we train our senses to serve the Lord
Through the practice of meditation.
4 Great is the glory of the Lord o f Life,
Infinite, omnipresent, all-knowing.
He is known by the wise who meditate
And conserve their vital energy.
s Hear, O children of immortal bliss!
You are born to be united with the Lord.
Follow the path of the illumined ones
And be united with the Lord of Life.
6 Kindle the fire of kundalini deep
In meditation. Bring your mind and breath
Under control. Drink deep of divine love,
And you will attain the unitive state.
7 Dedicate yourself to the Lord o f Life,
Who is the cause of the cosmos. He will
Remove the cause of all your suffering
And free you from the bondage o f karma.
8 Be seated with spinal column erect
And turn your mind and senses deep within.
With the mantram echoing in your heart,
Cross over the dread sea of birth and death.

9 Train your senses to be obedient.
Regulate your activities to lead you
To the goal. Hold the reins of your mind
As you hold the reins of restive horses.
10 Choose a place for meditation that is
Clean, quiet, and cool, a cave with a smooth floor
Without stones and dust, protected against
Wind and rain and pleasing to the eye.
11 In deep meditation aspirants may
See forms like snow or smoke. They may feel
A strong wind blowing or a wave of heat.
They may see within them more and more light:
Fireflies, lightning, sun, or moon. These are signs
That they are well on their way to Brahman.
1213 Health, a light body, freedom from cravings,
A glowing skin, sonorous voice, fragrance
O f body: these signs indicate progress
In the practice of meditation.
14 As a dusty mirror shines bright when cleansed,
So shine those who realize the Self,
Attain life’s goal, and pass beyond all sorrow.
15 In the supreme climax of samadhi
They realize the presence o f the Lord

Within their heart. Freed from impurities,
They pass forever beyond birth and death.
16 The Lord dwells in the womb of the cosmos,
The Creator who is in all creatures.
He is that which is born and to be born;
His face is everywhere.
17 Let us adore the Lord of Life, who is
Present in fire and water, plants and trees.
Let us adore the Lord of Life!
Let us adore the Lord of Life!
[ i n ]
1 Brahman, attributeless Reality,
Becomes the Lord of Love who casts his net
Of appearance over the cosmos and rules
It from within through his divine power.
He was before creation; he will be
After dissolution. He alone is.
Those who know him become immortal.
2 The Lord of Love is one. There is indeed
No other. He is the inner ruler
In all beings. He projects the cosmos
From himself, maintains and withdraws it
Back into himself at the end of time.

3 His eyes, mouths, arms, and feet are everywhere.
Projecting the cosmos out o f himself,
He holds it all together.
4 He is the source of all the powers of life.
He is the lord of all, the great seer
Who dwells forever in the cosmic womb.
May he purify our consciousness!
5 O Lord, in whom alone we can find peace,
May we see your divine Self and be freed
From all impure thoughts and all fear.
6 O Lord, from whom we receive the mantram
As a weapon to destroy our self-will,
Reveal yourself, protector of all.
7 You are the supreme Brahman, infinite,
Yet hidden in the hearts of all creatures.
You pervade everything. Realizing you,
We attain immortality.
81 have realized the Lord of Love,
Who is the sun that dispels our darkness.
Those who realize him go beyond death;
No other way is there to immortality.
9 There is nothing higher than him, nothing other
Than him. His infinity is beyond great

And small In his own glory rooted,
He stands and fills the cosmos.
10 He fills the cosmos, yet he transcends it.
Those who know him leave all separateness,
Sorrow, and death behind. Those who know him not
Live but to suffer.
11 The Lord of Love, omnipresent, dwelling
In the heart of every living creature,
All mercy, turns every face to himself.
12 He is the supreme Lord, who through his grace
Moves us to seek him in our own hearts.
He is the light that shines forever.
13 He is the inner Self of all,
Hidden like a little flame in the heart.
Only by the stilled mind can he be known.
Those who realize him become immortal.
14 He has thousands of heads, thousands of eyes,
Thousands of feet; he surrounds the cosmos
,s On every side. This infinite being
Is ever present in the hearts of all.
He has become the cosmos. He is what was
And what will be. Yet he is unchanging,
The lord of immortality.

16 His hands and feet are everywhere; his heads
And mouths everywhere. He sees everything,
Hears everything, and pervades everything.
17 Without organs of sense, he shines through them.
He is the lord of all, inner ruler,
Protector and friend of all.
18 He resides in the city with nine gates,
Which is the body. He moves in the world
Enjoying the play of his countless forms.
He is the master of the universe,
Of animate and inanimate.
19 He runs without feet and holds without hands.
He sees without eyes and hears without ears.
He knows everyone, but no one knows him.
He is called the First, the Great, the Supreme.
20 The Lord o f Love is hidden in the heart
Of every creature, subtler than the subtlest,
Greater than the greatest. Through his grace
One sheds all selfish desires and sorrow
And becomes united with the Self.
211 know this Self, sage Shvetashvatara said,
To be immortal and infinite.

I know this Self who is the Self of all,
Whom the sages call the Eternal One.
[ i v ]
1 May the Lord o f Love, who projects himself
Into this universe of myriad forms,
From whom all beings come and to whom all
Return – may he grant us the grace of wisdom.
2 He is fire and the sun, and the moon
And the stars. He is the air and the sea,
And the Creator, Prajapati.
3 He is this boy, he is that girl, he is
This man, he is that woman, and he is
This old man, too, tottering on his staff.
His face is everywhere.
4 He is the blue bird; he is the green bird
With red eyes; he is the thundercloud,
And he is the seasons and the seas.
He has no beginning; he has no end.
He is the source from whom the worlds evolve.
s From his divine power comes forth all this
Magical show of name and form, of you
And me, which casts the spell of pain and pleasure.

Only when we pierce through this magic veil
Do we see the One who appears as many.
6 Two birds of beautiful plumage, comrades
Inseparable, live on the selfsame tree.
One bird eats the fruit o f pleasure and pain;
The other looks on without eating.
7 Forgetting our divine origin,
We become ensnared in the world o f change
And bewail our helplessness. But when
We see the Lord of Love in all his glory,
Adored by all, we go beyond sorrow.
8 What use are the scriptures to anyone
Who knows not the one source from whom they come,
In whom all gods and worlds abide?
Only those who realize him as ever present
Within the heart attain abiding joy.
9 The Lord, who is the supreme magician,
Brings forth out of himself all the scriptures,
Oblations, sacrifices, spiritual disciplines,
Past and present, and the whole universe.
Invisible through the magic of maya,
He remains hidden in the hearts of all.

10 Know him to be the supreme magician
Who has brought all the worlds out of himself.
Know that all beings in the universe
Partake of his divine splendor.
11 Know him to be the supreme magician
Who has become boy and girl, bird and beast.
He is the bestower of all blessings*
And his grace fills the heart with peace profound.
12 Know him to be the supreme source of all
The gods, sole support of the universe,
The sower of the golden seed of life.
May he grant us the grace of wisdom.
13 Know him to be the supreme God of gods
From whom all the worlds draw the breath of life.
He rules every creature from within.
May he be worshipped by everyone.
14 Know him to be the supreme pervader,
In whom the whole universe is smaller
Than the smallest atom. May he, Shiva,
Fill our hearts with infinite peace.
15 Know him to be the supreme guardian
Of the cosmos, protecting all creatures

From within. May he, Shiva, in whom all
Are one, free us from the bonds of death.
16 Know him to be the Supreme One, hidden
Within the hearts of all like cream in milk
And yet encompassing the universe.
May he, Shiva, free us from all bondage.
17 Know him to be the supreme architect
Who is enshrined within the hearts of all.
Know him in the depths of meditation.
May he grant us immortality.
18 Know him to be the supreme source of all
Religions, ruler of the world of light,
Where there is neither day nor night,
Neither what is nor what is not, but only Shiva.
19 He is far beyond the reach of the mind.
He alone is. His glory fills all worlds.
20 He is far beyond the reach of the eye.
He alone is. May he, Shiva, reveal
Himself in the depths of meditation
And grant us immortality.
21-221 live in fear of death, O Lord of Love;
I seek refuge at your feet. Protect me;
Protect us man and woman, cow and horse.

May the brave ones who seek you be released
From the bondage of death.
[v ]
1 To know the unity of all life leads
To deathlessness; to know not leads to death.
Both are hidden in the infinity
Of Brahman, who is beyond both.
2 He is the One who presides over all
And rules over everyone from within.
He sows the golden seed of life when time begins
And helps us know its unity.
3 He is the Lord who casts the net of birth
And death and withdraws it again,
The supreme Self who governs the forces o f life.
4 As the sun shines and fills all space with light,
Above, below, across, so shines the Lord
Of Love and fills the hearts of all created beings.
5 From him the cosmos comes, he who teaches
Each living creature to attain perfection
According to its own nature. He is
The Lord of Love who reigns over all life.
6 He is the supreme creator, hidden

Deep in the mystery of the scriptures.
By realizing him the gods and sages
Attained immortality.
7 Under the hypnotic spell of pleasure
And pain, we live for ourselves and are bound.
Though master of ourselves, we roam about
From birth to birth, driven by our own deeds.
8 The Self, small as the thumb, dwelling in the heart,
Is like the sun shining in the sky.
But when identified with the ego,
The Self appears other than what it is.
9 It may appear smaller than a hair’s breadth.
But know the Self to be infinite.
10 Not female, male, nor neuter is the Self.
As is the body, so is the gender.
11 The Self takes on a body with desires,
Attachments, and delusions, and is
Born again and again in new bodies
To work out the karma of former lives.
12 The embodied self assumes many forms,
Heavy or light, according to its needs
For growth and the deeds of previous lives.
This evolution is a divine law.

13 Love the Lord and be free. He is the One
Who appears as many, enveloping
The cosmos, without beginning or end.
None but the pure in heart can realize him.
14 May Lord Shiva, creator, destroyer,
The abode of all beauty and wisdom,
Free us from the cycle of birth and death.
[ v i ]
1 The learned say life is self-created;
Others say life evolved from time. In truth
The Lord brought the cosmos out of himself.
2 He is pure consciousness, omnipresent,
Omnipotent, omniscient, creator
Of time and master of the three gunas.
Evolution takes place at his command.
3 Those who act without thought of personal
Profit and lead a well-disciplined life
Discover in course of time the divine
Principle that all forms of life are one.
4 They work in the service of the Lord and
Are freed from the law of karma.
5 Know him to be the primal source of life

Whose glory permeates the universe,
Who is beyond time and space, yet can be
Seen within the heart in meditation.
6 Know him to be beyond the tree of life,
Whose power makes all the planets revolve:
Who is both law and mercy, yet can be
Seen within the heart in meditation.
7 Know him to be the supreme Lord of lords,
King o f kings, God of gods, ruler of all,
8 Without action or organs of action,
Whose power is seen in myriad ways.
9 Know him to be the cause without a cause,
Without a second, parent or master.
10 May he, Lord of Love, who hides himself
In his creatures like a spider in its web,
Grant us illumination.
11 The Lord is hidden in the hearts of all.
The eternal witness, pure consciousness,
He watches our work from within, beyond
The reach of the gunas.
12 The Lord is the operator; we are
But his innumerable instruments.
May we realize him in our consciousness

And find the bliss he alone can give us.
13 Changeless amidst the changing, consciousness
Of the conscious, he grants all our prayers.
May we realize him in our consciousness
And find the freedom he alone can give us.
14 There shines not the sun, neither moon nor star,
Nor flash of lightning, nor fire lit on earth.
Everything reflects the light of the Lord.
15 May we realize him in our consciousness;
There is no other way to conquer death.
16 He is the maker of the universe,
Self-existent, omniscient, destroyer
Of death, the source and inmost Self of all,
Ruler of the cycle of birth and death.
May we realize him in our consciousness;
There is no other way to conquer death.
17 He is the protector of the cosmos,
All glory, all-knowing, omnipresent.
How could there be any ruler but he?
May we realize him in our consciousness;
There is no other way to conquer death.
,8-19 Lord Shiva is my refuge, he who grants
Freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

Lord Shiva is my refuge, he who gave
The sacred scriptures at the dawn of time.
Lord Shiva is my refuge, he who is
The source of purity and perfection.
Lord Shiva is my refuge, he who is
The bridge from death to immortality.
Lord Shiva is my refuge, he whose grace
Has made me long for his lotus feet.
20 How can we roll up the sky like a piece
O f deerskin? How can we end our misery
Without realizing the Lord of Love who
Is enshrined in our heart of hearts?
21 Sage Shvetashvatara realized the Lord
In meditation through infinite grace
And imparted this highest wisdom
To devoted disciples.
22 This highest mystical experience,
Revealed at the dawn of time, must be shared
Only with one whose heart is pure
Or with a disciple or one’s own child.
23 If you have deep love for the Lord of Love
And for your teacher, the light of this teaching
Will shine in your heart. It will shine indeed!
O M shanti shanti shanti

ni TheMundaka Upanishad
As the web issues out o f the spider
And is withdrawn, as plants sprout
from the earth,
As hair grows from the body, even so,
The sages say, this universe springs from
The deathless Self, the source o f life.
[1-7 ]

D ! 180

m Modes of Knowing
T h e f a i t h t h a t h a s s u s t a i n e d
Indian civilization, and that could be said to constitute the
greatest gift of that civilization to the world today, is encap­
sulated in the four words o f the Mundaka Upanishad which
furnished the motto o f the modern Indian nation: Satyam
eva jay ate, nanritam, “Truth alone prevails, not unreality”
(h i .1 .6).
What the text goes on to say is equally inspiring: that there
is a path to this Truth and it has been taken by saints and
sages who went before us. We do not have to invent it, or go
it alone.
When Gandhi took this path in modern times, he found
that it opened not only to the liberation o f India but to the lib­
eration of the modern world from the prison house of its own
violence. For that pregnant concept o f sat, or satya, means
“truth,” “the Real,” and “the Good.” In the Upanishads these
three great qualities are the same, and Gandhi verified that in

his own long experience. These are his own words, in his clas­
sic account of his discoveries in Satyagraha in South Africa:
The world rests upon the bedrock o f satya or truth. Asatya,
meaning untruth, also means non-existent, and satya or
truth also means that which is. If untruth does not so much
as exist, its victory is out o f the question. A n d truth being
that which is can never be destroyed. This is the doctrine of
Satyagraha in a nutshell.
It is hard to imagine anything the modern world more
needs to hear. We have surrounded ourselves with such a
bleak picture of who we are and what the world is that unless
we ourselves get on – or back on – this path pretty soon we
hardly stand much chance of surviving our own culture. Only
by turning away from unreality – from negativity and separ­
ateness – will we begin to see and build a world that’s not only
sustainable but nourishes and helps us realize our deepest
longings for peace.
In the Mundaka Upanishad this pregnant phrase about
truth and unreality is only one of many gems that have
become treasured images of Hindu tradition: the two birds
that represent the higher and lower selves within each of us
( m .i . i) , the river of individual existence merging into the
sea of Reality (111.2 .8), the seeker firing himself like an arrow
into the heart of God (11.2.3), and others (see 1.1.7 , 1 1 .1 .1 ,
11 .2 .10 ) . The Mundaka is in that sense a bit like the Bible or
Hamlet: in reading it you keep on running across treasures

of poetry and wisdom you’ve heard before; they have entered
public domain.
Probably this is one reason why the Mundaka has been
popular down the ages; no collection of the Upanishads fails
to include it. Another reason is its well-balanced exposition
of spiritual reality. All the major themes of the Upanishadic
vision are integrated in this text: O M , prana, creation, sage
and student, the nature of the Self and Brahman. The story that
frames all this imagery, and the leading question of Shaunaka
to the great sage Angiras that launches this Upanishad, con­
cern appropriately the fundamental topic of truth and learn­
ing. Here once again we meet the distinction between “lower”
knowledge and the “higher” knowledge that is better called
realization, which draws us out o f the world of appearance to
a realm where knowing, being, and acting are the same.
– M . N .

May we hear only what is good for all.
May we see only what is good for all.
May we serve you, Lord o f Love, all our life.
May we be used to spread your peace
on earth.
o m shanti shanti shanti

ni The Mundaka Upanishad
[ l ]
1 From infinite Godhead came forth Brahma,
First among gods, from whom sprang the cosmos.
Brahma gave the vision of the Godhead,
The true source of wisdom that life demands,
2 To his eldest son, Atharva, who gave it
To Angi. In turn Angi gave it
To Satyavaha. In this tradition
Satyavaha gave it to Angiras.
3 A great householder named Shaunaka once came
To Angiras and reverently asked:
“What is that by knowing which all is known?”
4 He replied: “The illumined sages say
Knowledge is twofold, higher and lower.
s The study of the Vedas, linguistics,
Rituals, astronomy, and all the arts

Can be called lower knowledge. The higher
Is that which leads to Self-realization.
6 “The eye cannot see it; mind cannot grasp it.
The deathless Self has neither caste nor race,
Neither eyes nor ears nor hands nor feet.
Sages say this Self is infinite in the great
And in the small, everlasting and changeless,
The source of life.
7 “As the web issues out of the spider
And is withdrawn, as plants sprout from the earth,
As hair grows from the body, even so,
The sages say, this universe springs from
The deathless Self, the source of life.
8 “The deathless Self meditated upon
Himself and projected the universe
As evolutionary energy.
From this energy developed life, mind,
The elements, and the world of karma,
Which is enchained by cause and effect.
9 “The deathless Self sees all, knows all. From him
Springs Brahma, who embodies the process
O f evolution into name and form
By which the One appears to be many.”

[2 ]
I The rituals and the sacrifices described
In the Vedas deal with lower knowledge.
The sages ignored these rituals
And went in search of higher knowledge.
2-5 Look at these rituals: When the fire is lit,
Pour butter into the fire in two spots;
Then place the offering between these two.
These oblations will take the worshipper
6 On the sun’s rays to the world of Brahma,
Where he can have his fill of enjoyment.
7 Such rituals are unsafe rafts for crossing
The sea of samsara, of birth and death.
Doomed to shipwreck are those who try to cross
The sea of samsara on these poor rafts.
8 Ignorant of their ignorance, yet wise
In their own esteem, these deluded men
Proud of their vain learning go round and round
Like the blind led by the blind.
910 Living in darkness, immature, unaware
Of any higher good or goal, they fall
Again and again into the sea.
II But those who are pure in heart, who practice
Meditation and conquer their senses

And passions, shall attain the immortal Self,
Source of all light and source of all life.
12 Action prompted by pleasure or profit
Cannot help anyone to cross this sea.
Seek a teacher who has realized the Self.
13 To a student whose heart is full of love,
Who has conquered his senses and passions,
The teacher will reveal the Lord of Love.
[ l ]
1 1mperishable is the Lord of Love.
As from a blazing fire thousands of sparks
Leap forth, so millions of beings arise
From the Lord o f Love and return to him.
2 The Lord of Love is above name and form.
He is present in all and transcends all.
Unborn, without body and without mind,
From him comes every body and mind.
3 He is the source of space, air, fire, water,
And the earth that holds us all.
4 Fire is his head, the sun and moon his eyes,
The heavens his ears, the scriptures his voice,
The air his breath, the universe his heart,

And the earth his footrest. The Lord of Love
Is the innermost Self of all.
s From him comes the fire that burns in the sun;
From the sky lit by sun and moon comes rain;
From rain comes food, from food the sexual seed;
All finally come from the Lord of Love.
6 From him come the scriptures, chants, and prayers,
Religious rites and sacrificial gifts;
From him come work, time, and givers of gifts,
And all things under the sun and moon.
7 From him come the gods of the natural world,
Men, beasts, and birds, and food to nourish them;
From him come all spiritual disciplines,
Meditation, truth, faith, and purity.
8 From him come the seven organs of sense,
Seven hot desires and their sevenfold objects,
And the seven levels of consciousness
In the cavern of the heart.
9 From him come all the seas and the mountains,
The rivers and the plants that support life.
As the innermost Self o f all, he dwells
Within the cavern of the heart.

10 The Lord of Love is the one Self of all.
He is detached work, spiritual wisdom,
And immortality. Realize the Self
Hidden in the heart, and cut asunder
The knot of ignorance here and now.
[ 2 ]
1 Bright but hidden, the Self dwells in the heart.
Everything that moves, breathes, opens, and closes
Lives in the Self. He is the source of love
And may be known through love but not through
He is the goal o f life. Attain this goal!
2 The shining Self dwells hidden in the heart.
Everything in the cosmos, great and small,
Lives in the Self. He is the source of life,
Truth beyond the transience of this world.
He is the goal of life. Attain this goal!
3 Take the great bow of the sacred scriptures,
Place on it the arrow of devotion;
Then draw the bowstring of meditation
And aim at the target, the Lord of Love.
4 The mantram is the bow, the aspirant
Is the arrow, and the Lord the target.

Now draw the bowstring of meditation,
And hitting the target be one with him.
5 In his robe are woven heaven and earth,
Mind and body. Realize him as the One
Behind the many and stop all vain talk.
He is the bridge from death to deathless life.
6 Where all the nerves meet like spokes in a wheel,
There he dwells, the One behind the many.
Meditate upon him in the mantram.
May he guide us from death to deathless life!
7 He knows everyone and sees everything.
It is his glory that fills the cosmos.
He resides in the city of the heart.
8 It is his power that moves body and mind.
May he guide us from death to deathless life!
9 When he is seen within us and without,
He sets right all doubts and dispels the pain
Of wrong actions committed in the past.
10 In the golden city of the heart dwells
The Lord of Love, without parts, without stain.
Know him as the radiant light of lights.
11 There shines not the sun, neither moon nor star,
Nor flash of lightning, nor fire lit on earth.

The Lord is the light reflected by all.
He shining, everything shines after him.
12 The Lord o f Love is before and behind.
He extends to the right and to the left.
He extends above; he extends below.
There is no one here but the Lord of Love.
He alone is; in truth, he alone is.
[ l ]
1 Like two golden birds perched on the selfsame tree,
Intimate friends, the ego and the Self
Dwell in the same body. The former eats
The sweet and sour fruits of the tree of life
While the latter looks on in detachment.
2 As long as we think we are the ego,
We feel attached and fall into sorrow.
But realize that you are the Self, the Lord
O f life, and you will be freed from sorrow.
3 When you realize that you are the Self,
Supreme source o f light, supreme source of love,
You transcend the duality of life
And enter into the unitive state.

4 The Lord of Love shines in the hearts of all.
Seeing him in all creatures, the wise
Forget themselves in the service o f all.
The Lord is their joy, the Lord is their rest;
Such as they are the lovers of the Lord.
5 By truth, meditation, and self-control
One can enter into this state of joy
And see the Self shining in a pure heart.
6 Truth is victorious, never untruth.
Truth is the way; truth is the goal of life,
Reached by sages who are free from self-will.
7 The effulgent Self, who is beyond thought,
Shines in the greatest, shines in the smallest,
Shines in the farthest, shines in the nearest,
Shines in the secret chamber of the heart.
8 Beyond the reach of the senses is he,
But not beyond the reach of a mind stilled
Through the practice of deep meditation.
9 Beyond the reach of words and works is he,
But not beyond the reach of a pure heart
Freed from the sway of the senses.
10 Sages are granted all the help they need
In everything they do to serve the Lord.

Let all those who seek their own fulfillment
Love and honor the illumined sage.
[ 2 ]
1 The wise have attained the unitive state,
And see only the resplendent Lord of Love.
Desiring nothing in the physical world,
They have become one with the Lord of Love.
2 Those who dwell on and long for sense-pleasure
Are born in a world of separateness.
But let them realize they are the Self
And all separateness will fall away.
3 Not through discourse, not through the intellect,
Not even through study of the scriptures
Can the Self be realized. The Self reveals
Himself to the one who longs for the Self.
Those who long for the Self with all their heart
Are chosen by the Self as his own.
4 Not by the weak, not by the unearnest,
Not by those who practice wrong disciplines
Can the Self be realized. The Self reveals
Himself as the Lord of Love to the one
Who practices right disciplines.

s What the sages sought they have found at last.
No more questions have they to ask of life.
With self-will extinguished, they are at peace.
Seeing the Lord of Love in all around,
Serving the Lord of Love in all around,
They are united with him forever.
6 They have attained the summit o f wisdom
By the steep path of renunciation.
They have attained to immortality
And are united with the Lord of Love.
7 When they leave the body, the vital force
Returns to the cosmic womb, but their work
Becomes a beneficial force in life
To bring others together in the Self.
8 The flowing river is lost in the sea;
The illumined sage is lost in the Self.
The flowing river has become the sea;
The illumined sage has become the Self.
9 Those who know the Self become the Self.
None in their family forgets the Self.
Freed from the fetters of separateness,
They attain to immortality.
10 Let this wisdom be taught only to those
Who obey the law of life’s unity.

Let this wisdom be taught only to those
Who offer their lives to the Lord of Love.
11 This is the great truth taught in ancient times
By the sage Angiras to Shaunaka.
Let us adore the illumined sages!
Let us adore the illumined sages!
O M shanti shanti shanti

oi The Mandukya Upanishad
a u m stands fo r the supreme Reality.
It is a symbol fo r what was, what is,
And what shall be. a u m represents also
What lies beyond past, present, and future.

in Consciousness & Its Phases
T h e m a n d u k y a i s t h e b r i e f e s t
of the major Upanishads. Shankara declared that if one could
only study a single Upanishad it should be this one, and we can
see why: in its succinctness the Mandukya captures the essen­
tials of mystical insight. One of the four Upanishadic maha-
vakyas, “great sayings” that are packed into a brief formulaic
utterance, occurs in the second verse: ayam atma brahma,
“the Self is Brahman.” This is probably why, in a much later
text, Rama tells a devotee that “the Mandukya alone is suffi­
cient for deliverance,” though less advanced seekers will have
to read the ten principal Upanishads, or thirty-two, or all one
hundred and eight.
The twelve verses of the Mandukya revolve around a fun­
damental proposition underlying the entire Vedantic world­
view and mysticism generally: that one Reality (called Brah­
man in the Upanishads) has become the infinite variety of
shifting things that we experience around us in the universe
or within us as the various states of our own consciousness.

The latter field of investigation forms the first of two passes
through this basic idea that make up this text. In this pass
we are walked through the four states of consciousness that
we all experience: the waking state, dreaming sleep, dream­
less sleep, in which the autonomic nervous system rests, and
finally an indescribable state of consciousness the text calls
simply turiya, “the fourth.” Like many such series in the Upa­
nishads, these stages are steps from the everyday reality to the
supreme experience. In this final state the sense of “I” is tem­
porarily suspended. Surprisingly, the Upanishad tells us that
we enter this state regularly, i f we could only be aware of it:
every night we are “like someone unknowingly walking back
and forth over a buried treasure” (Chandogya v m .3 .2 ) . So
near and yet so far.
But we have already been told, in the opening verse, that
the supreme reality into which we merge in the “fourth” state
is also represented by the sacred syllable A um . So the sage
takes another pass through the stages of being where the
three “worlds” or orders of reality are seen in the sounds of
this sacred syllable – a, u, and m – as it is manifested in the
phenomenal world.
It is very common for an Upanishad to present us with
multiple passes like this through levels o f reality reminis­
cent of what in the Middle Ages was called the Great Chain
of Being. What is different here is that the Mandukya hints
that there is a way to climb that chain, a u M stands for the

mantram – a form of sacred utterance, like the repetition of
a name of God, used in every major spiritual tradition to still
the mind and become aware of the divine Reality to which it
refers. All mantrams, according to the Mandukya, go back to
A U M , and then beyond even that primordial energy to Brah­
man, the ultimate goal o f spiritual progress.
So the Upanishad first gives us an inspiring picture of
“that which is,” reassuring us that reality is not limited to the
world of changing phenomena, and then hints at an everyday,
doable way to reascend the orders o f being and regain our
spiritual home in the changeless. Shankara did well to praise
the condensed power of this Upanishad.
– M . N .

May we hear only what is good for all.
May we see only what is good for all.
May we serve you, Lord of Love, all our
May we be used to spread your peace
on earth.
o m shanti shanti shanti

Di The Mandukya Upanishad
1 A U M stands for the supreme Reality.
It is a symbol for what was, what is,
And what shall be. A U M represents also
What lies beyond past, present, and future.
2 Brahman is all, and the Self is Brahman.
This Self has four states of consciousness.
3 The first is called Vaishvanara, in which
One lives with all the senses turned outward,
Aware only of the external world.
4 Taijasa is the name of the second,
The dreaming state in which, with the senses
Turned inward, one enacts the impressions
Of past deeds and present desires.
5 The third state is called Prajna, of deep sleep,
In which one neither dreams nor desires.
There is no mind in Prajna, there is no

Separateness; but the sleeper is not
Conscious o f this. Let him become conscious
In Prajna and it will open the door
To the state of abiding joy.
* Prajna, all-powerful and all-knowing,
Dwells in the hearts of all as the ruler.
Prajna is the source and end of all.
7 The fourth is the superconscious state called
Turiya, neither inward nor outward,
Beyond the senses and the intellect,
In which there is none other than the Lord.
He is the supreme goal of life. He is
Infinite peace and love. Realize him!
8 Turiya is represented by AU M .
Though indivisible, it has three sounds.
9 A stands for Vaishvanara. Those who know this,
Through mastery of the senses, obtain
The fruit of their desires and attain greatness.
10 U indicates Taijasa. Those who know this,
By mastering even their dreams, become
Established in wisdom. In their family
Everyone leads the spiritual life.

11 M corresponds to Prajna. Those who know this,
By stilling the mind, find their true stature
And inspire everyone around to grow.
12 The mantram a u m stands for the supreme state
Of turiya, without parts, beyond birth
And death, symbol of everlasting joy.
Those who know a u m as the Self become the Self;
Truly they become the Self.
O M shanti shanti shanti

di The Kena Upanishad
The light o f Brahman flashes in lightning;
The light of Brahman flashes in our eyes.
It is the power of Brahman that makes
The mind to think, desire, and will. Therefore
Use this power to meditate on Brahman.

D i 2 0 8

Di Who Moves the World?
A t A C O N F E R E N C E H E L D I N N E W
Orleans some years ago, physicists were challenged to
explain why there were no pioneers on the order o f Ein­
stein, Bohr, and Heisenberg any more. One young physi­
cist pointed out that the comparison was a bit unfair. Those
bold visionaries had been exploring the world outside,
while his generation was faced with the infinitely harder
task o f querying, Who is the investigator? How is the mind,
our instrument o f knowing, supposed to turn around and
know itself?
In India it seems that this point had been reached and
crossed very early. Fundamental questions about reality
are found even as early as the Rig Veda:
What was all this before creation?
Was there water?
Only God knows, or perhaps he knows n o t . . . (x.129)
By the time we reach the Upanishads this kind o f
questioning is no longer speculative but has become a

systematic and relentless pursuit o f truth, and it embraced
the realization that to know truth we have to come to
grips with the medium of knowing and the identity o f the
This is the realization that turns mere knowing into
realization, objective science into mystical awareness.
There is a Sufi story about a seeker who calls on Allah day
in and day out for years and finally throws himself down
and sobs, “How long have I been calling and you do not
answer!” Then he hears a voice: “Who do you think has
been making you call me?”
Kena, the title and opening word o f the present
Upanishad, means “by whom?” – that is, impelled by whom
do all the motions o f life stir? Or in Shankara’s brilliant
paraphrase, “By whose mere presence does that desire arise
which moves the universe?”
The text s answer is clear. The first thirteen verses declare,
“He is the ear o f the ear” : that is, that which moves the
world is consciousness, which in the human being becomes
cognition, among other vital functions. Note that among
the powers that operate our senses we meet “that which
makes the mind think.” M ind was a sense, in the Vedantic
worldview, in fact, the chief sense. This is a little easier to
understand when we take into account that the word we
translate as “sense” is actually indriya, “power, faculty.”
Then comes a parable. Am ong the gods (the faculties

of perception) only Indra has the staying power to merit
instruction from the goddess o f wisdom, Uma, the divine
consort o f Shiva. She teaches that the victory o f the Vedic
gods over their adversaries (the creative triumph o f order
over chaos) has not been theirs but that o f the supreme
power working through them. This is an allegory o f the
message which sent the Isha Upanishad so deeply into
Gandhis consciousness, about acting without attachment
to the results. The victory o f good over evil is guaranteed
– but not by the doer. We cannot win that victory, but we
can make ourselves instruments o f it, precisely by not
thinking o f ourselves as the doers but by “making ourselves
zero,” in Gandhis phrase. This is an immediate, practical
consequence o f the realization that we are not really the
ultimate doer o f any o f “our” actions, including the act
o f knowing: “It is the power o f Brahman that makes the
mind to th in k . . .Therefore, use this power to meditate on
Brahman” ( iv .5 -6 ).
W ith an assurance that this truth is all the seeker need
discover, the Kena ends.
– M . N .

Lead me from the unreal to the Real.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
o m shanti shanti shanti

D! The Kena Upanishad
[i ]
1 Who makes my mind think?
Who fills my body with vitality?
Who causes my tongue to speak? Who is that
Invisible one who sees through my eyes
And hears through my ears?
2 The Self is the ear of the ear,
The eye of the eye, the mind of the mind,
The word o f words, and the life o f life.
Rising above the senses and the mind
And renouncing separate existence,
The wise realize the deathless Self.
1 Him our eyes cannot see, nor words express;
He cannot be grasped even by the mind.

We do not know, we cannot understand,
4 Because he is different from the known
And he is different from the unknown.
Thus have we heard from the illumined ones.
s That which makes the tongue speak but cannot be
Spoken by the tongue, know that as the Self.
This Self is not someone other than you.
6 That which makes the mind think but cannot be
Thought by the mind, that is the Self indeed.
This Self is not someone other than you.
7 That which makes the eye see but cannot be
Seen by the eye, that is the Self indeed.
This Self is not someone other than you.
8 That which makes the ear hear but cannot be
Heard by the ear, that is the Self indeed.
This Self is not someone other than you.
9 That which makes you draw breath but cannot be
Drawn by your breath, that is the Self indeed.
This Self is not someone other than you.

1 If you think, “I know the Self,” you know not.
All you can see is his external form.
Continue, therefore, your meditation.
21 do not think I know the Self, nor can
I say I know him not.
There is only one way to know the Self,
And that is to realize him yourself.
3 The ignorant think the Self can be known
By the intellect, but the illumined
Know he is beyond the duality
O f the knower and the known.
4 The Self is realized in a higher state
Of consciousness when you have broken through
The wrong identification that you are
The body, subject to birth and death.
To be the Self is to go beyond death.
5 Realize the Self, the shining goal of life!
If you do not, there is only darkness.
See the Self in all, and go beyond death.

[ H I ]
1 Once upon a time the gods defeated
The demons; and though the victory
Was brought about through the power of Brahman,
The gods boasted, “Ours is the victory,
And ours the power and glory.”
2 Brahman saw their foolish pride and appeared
Before them. But they recognized him not.
1 They said to Agni, god of fire, “Find out
Who this mysterious being is.” “I will,”
4 Promised Agni and approached the being.
“Who are you?” asked the mysterious one.
“I am Agni, god of fire, known to all.”
5 “Are you powerful?” “I can burn all on earth.”
6 “Burn this:” and Brahman placed a straw in front.
The god o f fire attacked the straw, but failed
To burn it. Then he ran back to the gods
And confessed, “I have failed to discover
Who this mysterious being is.”
7 They said to Vayu, god of air, “Find out
Who this mysterious being is.” “I will,”
8 Promised Vayu and approached the being.
“Who are you?” asked the mysterious one.
“I am Vayu, god of air, king of space.”
9 “Are you powerful?” “I can blow all away.”

10 “Blow this away.” Brahman placed a straw in front.
The god of air attacked the straw, but failed
To move it. Then he ran back to the gods
And confessed, “I have failed to discover
Who this mysterious being is ”
11 They begged Indra, leader o f gods, “Find out
Who this mysterious being is.” “I will,”
Promised Indra and approached the being,
12 Who disappeared instantly. In his place
Appeared the lovely goddess of wisdom,
Uma, daughter of the Himalayas;
And Indra asked her, “Who was that being?”
[ i v ]
1 Uma replied, “That was Brahman, from whom
Comes all your power and glory.” The gods
Realized at last the Self is Brahman.
2 3 Agni, Vayu, Indra – these three excel
Among the gods because they realized Brahman.
4 The light of Brahman flashes in lightning;
The light of Brahman flashes in our eyes.
5 It is the power of Brahman that makes
6 The mind to think, desire, and will. Therefore
Use this power to meditate on Brahman.

He is the inmost Self o f everyone;
He alone is worthy of all our love.
Meditate upon him in all. Those who
Meditate upon him are dear to all.
7 Teach me more of this spiritual wisdom.
I shall share with you fully what I know.
8 Meditation, control of the senses
And passions, and selfless service of all
Are the body, the scriptures are the limbs,
And truth is the heart of this wisdom.
9 Those who realize Brahman shall conquer
All evil and attain the supreme state.
Truly they shall attain the supreme state!
o M shanti shanti shanti

Di The Prashna Upanishad
Prana burns as fire; he shines as the sun;
He rains as the cloud; he blows as the wind;
He crashes as the thunder in the sky.
He is the earth; he has form and no form;
Prana is immortality.
[ H-5 ]

D ! 2 2 0

Di The Breath of Life
Upanishad is quite simple: six illustrious seekers approach
the sage Pippalada in turn and ask him a basic question about
Reality. This allows the sage to begin with the process o f cre­
ation, or the emanation of the worlds innumerable forms
from the divine, as many Upanishads do. Then the questions
probe progressively deeper into the practical mysteries of
human existence.
In his first answer Pippalada invokes the law of duality
by which the One becomes many through complementary
opposites like consciousness and matter, giving rise to the
various orders of reality down to the sensible world in which
we consciously operate. Pippalada names the primary polar­
ity prana and rayi, roughly consciousness and matter, and his
answer to the second question – “What power quickens life?”
– begins with a thought-experiment on the primacy of prana
over all vital functions. This becomes a hymn to prana, the
distinctive theme of this Upanishad.

Prana is one of those precise but broad-ranging terms
in the lexicon of Vedanta which we will say more about in
the afterword. We can call it a technical term for the energy
which fuels evolution, powers the vital processes in all forms
of life, and ultimately becomes thoughts and desires in the
mind, where it becomes most readily accessible for us to con­
serve or redirect. Around the concept of prana the Upani­
shads develop a comprehensive theory of life which accounts
for everything from health to morality. Thus the questions
and answers can become more penetrating, and the sweep of
reality to be explained more ample, as this great concept is
Answer 3 begins with the striking image (partly also at
Brihadaranyaka 1 1 . 1 . 12 and 111.9 .14 ) of the Self casting prana
into the world of multiplicity as its shadow. Our real self is, of
course, closer to energy or consciousness (prana) than to a
form or name (rayi). Pippalada’s answer goes on to categorize
the five pranas known in vital functioning, with their macro-
cosmic equivalents (e.g., 3.8,4.8). The Self of the Upanishads
is both deeper and less circumscribed from the outside world
than the usual Western conception of the self (if indeed we
have one: Huston Smith has pointed out that “there is no con­
sistent view of human nature in the West today” ).
Answer 4, delving deeper into the question of human
identity, brings in another set of inner-outer equivalents dis­
cussed in the introduction to the Chandogya Upanishad, that

of the sacrifice. Answer 5 brings in the cosmic syllable o M .
And 6 closes by underscoring, if we needed further empha­
sis, that prana is prior to and has given rise to “name and
form” (nama-rupa)\ in other words, to all conditioned real­
ity. “Name and form,” roughly, is the Indian equivalent of the
Kantian categories of time and space, as the givens which
make possible but also set limits around what the mind can
– M . N .

May we hear only what is good fo r all.
May we see only what is good fo r all.
May we serve you, Lord o f Love, all our
May we be used to spread your peace
on earth.
o M shanti shanti shanti

ni The Prashna Upanishad
1 Sukesha, Satyakama, and Gargya,
Kausalya, Bhargava, and Kabandhi,
Who were all seeking Self-realization,
Approached with love sage Pippalada
For his guidance on the spiritual path.
2 The sage told them: “Live with me for one year,
Practicing sense-restraint and complete trust.
Ask me questions at the end of the year,
And I will answer them if I can.”
3 After a year Kabandhi asked the sage:
“Master, who created the universe?”
4 The sage replied:
“The Lord meditated and brought forth prana
With rayi, the giver of name and form:

Male and female, so that they would bring forth
Innumerable creatures for him.
5 “Prana is the sun; rayi is the moon.
Matter is solid, matter is subtle;
Rayi therefore is present everywhere.
6-7 “The sun gives light and life to all who live,
East and west, north and south, above, below;
It is the prana of the universe.
8 “The wise see the Lord of Love in the sun,
Rising in all its golden radiance
To give its warmth and light and life to all.
9 “The wise see the Lord of Love in the year,
Which has two paths, the northern and the southern.
Those who observe outward forms of worship
And are content with personal pleasures
Travel after death by the southern path,
The path of the ancestors and of rayi,
To the lunar world, and are born again.
10 “But those who seek the Self through meditation,
Self-discipline, wisdom, and faith in God
Travel after death by the northern path,
The path o f prana, to the solar world,

Supreme refuge, beyond the reach of fear
And free from the cycle of birth and death.
11 “Some look upon the sun as our father
Who makes life possible with heat and rain
And divides time into months and seasons.
Others have seen him riding in wisdom
On his chariot, with seven colors
As horses and six wheels to represent
The whirling spokes of time.
12 “The wise see the Lord of Love in the month;
Rayi is the dark half, prana the bright.
The wise worship in the light of wisdom,
Others in the darkness of ignorance.
1J “The wise see the Lord of Love in the day;
Rayi is the dark night, prana daylight.
Those who use their days for sexual pleasure
Consume prana, the very stuff of life;
But mastered, sex becomes a spiritual force.
14 “The wise see the Lord of Love in all food;
From food comes seed, and from seed all creatures.
15 They take the lunar path who live for sex;
But those who are self-controlled and truthful
Will go to the bright regions of the sun.

16 “The bright world of Brahman can be attained
Only by those who are pure and true,
Only by those who are pure and true.”
1 Then Bhargava approached the sage and asked:
“Master, what powers support this body?
Which of them are manifested in it?
And among them all, which is the greatest?”
2 The sage replied: “The powers are space, air, fire,
Water, earth, speech, mind, vision, and hearing.
All these boasted, ‘We support this body.’
3 But prana, vital energy, supreme
Over them all, said, ‘Don’t deceive yourselves.
It is I, dividing myself fourfold,
Who hold this body together.’
4 “But they would not believe these words of prana.
To demonstrate the truth, prana arose
And left the body, and all the powers
Knew they had to leave as well. When prana
Returned to the body, they too were back.
As when the queen bee goes out, all the bees
Go out, and when she returns all return,
So returned speech, mind, vision, and hearing.
Then the powers understood and sang this song:

s ‘Prana burns as fire; he shines as the sun;
He rains as the cloud; he blows as the wind;
He crashes as the thunder in the sky.
He is the earth; he has form and no form;
Prana is immortality.
6 ‘Everything rests in prana, as spokes rest
In the hub of the wheel: all the Vedas,
All the rituals, all the warriors and kings.
7 ‘O prana, you move in the mother s womb
As life to be manifested again.
All creatures pay their homage to you.
8 ‘You carry offerings to gods and ancestors
And help sages to master their senses,
Which depend upon you for their function.
9 ‘You are the creator and destroyer,
And our protector. You shine as the sun
In the sky; you are the source of all light.
10 ‘When you pour yourself down as rain on earth,
Every living creature is filled with joy
And knows food will be abundant for all.
11 ‘You are pure and master of everything.
As fire you receive our oblations;
It is you who gives us the breath o f life.

12 ‘Be kind to us with your invisible form,
Which dwells in the voice, the eye, and the ear,
And pervades the mind. Abandon us not.
13 ‘O prana, all the world depends on you.
As a mother looks after her children,
Look after us. Grant us wealth and wisdom.’ ”
1 Then Kausalya approached the sage and asked:
“Master, from what source does this prana come?
How does he enter the body, how live
After dividing himself into five,
How leave the body at the time of death?
How does he support all that is without
And all that is within?”
2 The sage replied: “You ask searching questions.
Since you are a devoted aspirant
Seeking Brahman, I shall answer them.
3 “Prana is born of the Self. As a man
Casts a shadow, the Self casts prana
Into the body at the time of birth
So that the mind’s desires may be fulfilled.
4 “As a king appoints officers
To do his work in all the villages,

So prana works with four other pranas,
Each a part of himself, to carry out
Different functions in the body.
5 “The main prana dwells in eye, ear, mouth, and nose;
Apana, the downward force, in the organs
Of sex and of excretion. Samana,
The equalizing force in the middle,
Digests food and kindles the seven fires.
6 “Vyana, distributor of energy,
Moves through the myriad vital currents
Radiating from the heart, where lives the Self.
7 At the time of death, through the subtle track
That runs upward through the spinal channel,
Udana, the fifth force, leads the selfless
Up the long ladder of evolution,
And the selfish down. But those who are both
Selfless and selfish come back to this earth.
8 “The sun is the prana of the universe,
And it rises to bring light to our eyes.
The earth draws the lower fire of apana;
The space between sun and earth is samana,
And the moving air is vyana.
9 “Fire is udana. When that fire goes out,
The senses are drawn back into the mind

And the person is ready for rebirth,
10 Whatever the content of consciousness
At the time of death, that is what unites us
To prana, udana, and the Self,
To be reborn in the plane we have earned.
11 “Those who realize this go beyond death.
Their children too follow in their footsteps.
12 Those who perceive how prana rises,
Enters the body, and becomes fivefold
To serve the Self, they die not; they die not.”
1 Then Gargya approached the sage and asked him:
“Sir, when a man is sleeping, who is it
That sleeps in him? Who sees the dreams he sees?
When he wakes up, who in him is awake?
When he enjoys, who is enjoying?
In whom do all these faculties rest?”
2 The sage replied: “As the rays of the sun,
When night comes, become all one in his disk
Until they spread out again at sunrise,
Even so the senses are gathered up
In the mind, which is master of them all.

Therefore when a person neither hears, sees, smells,
Tastes, touches, speaks, nor enjoys, we say he sleeps.
3 “Only the fires of prana are burning.
Apana is like the holy hearth-fire
Ever burning in the householder s shrine;
Vyana is like the fire that faces south
For carrying offerings to our ancestors;
And prana is the fire that faces eastward.
4 Samana is the equalizing fire
That balances inward and outward breath,
The offerings made by the mind.
Udana is the fruit of dreamless sleep,
In which the mind is led close to the Self.
5 “The dreaming mind recalls past impressions.
It sees again what has been seen; it hears
Again what has been heard, enjoys again
What has been enjoyed in many places.
Seen and unseen, heard and unheard, enjoyed
And unenjoyed, the real and the unreal,
The mind sees all; the mind sees all.
6 “When the mind is stilled in dreamless sleep,
It brings rest and repose to the body.
7 Just as birds fly to the tree for rest,
All things in life find their rest in the Self.

8 Earth, water, fire, air, space, and their subtle
Elements, the eyes and what can be seen,
The ears and what can be heard, the nostrils
And what can be smelled, the palate and what
Can be tasted, the skin and what can be touched,
The tongue and what can be spoken,
The hands and what can be held, the organ
Of sex and its object of enjoyment,
The organ of excretion and what is
Excreted, the feet and what they walk on,
The mind and what it thinks, the intellect
And what it knows, the ego and what
It grasps, the heart and what it loves, the light
And what it reveals: all things in life
Find their rest in the Self in dreamless sleep.”
9 “It is the Self who sees, hears, smells, touches,
And tastes, who thinks, acts, and is pure
The Self is Brahman, changeless and supreme.”
10 “Those who know the supreme Self as formless,
Without shadow, without impurity,
Know all, gentle friend, and live in all.
11 Those who know the Self, the seat of consciousness,
In whom the breath and all the senses live,
Know all, gentle friend, and live in all.”

1 Satyakama approached the sage and asked:
“Those who have become established in a u m ,
What happens to them after death?”
2 The sage replied: “ a u m is both immanent
And transcendent. Through it one can attain
The personal and the impersonal.”
1 “ a u M has three sounds. Those who meditate on a
Come back to earth, led by the Rig Veda,
To lead a pure life, full of faith and love.
4 Those who meditate on the first two sounds,
A and u, led by the Yajur Veda,
Go to the lunar world, full of pleasure,
From which they come back cloyed to earth again.
5 But those who meditate on a, u, and m
Are led by the Sama chants to the sun,
Where freed from sin, as a snake sheds its skin,
They see the supreme Lord, who lives in all.”
6 “These three sounds when they are separated
Cannot lead one beyond mortality;
But when the whole mantram, a, u, and m,
Indivisible, interdependent,
Goes on reverberating in the mind,
One is freed from fear, awake or asleep.

7 “The Rig Veda brings one to earth; the Yajur
Escorts one to the region of the moon;
The Sama leads one to the solar world,
To which the sage attains through the mantram.
Established in this cosmic vibration,
The sage goes beyond fear, decay, and death
To enter into infinite peace.”
1 Then Sukesha approached the sage and said:
“Master, the prince of Kosala asked me
This question once: ‘Sukesha, do you know the Self
With his sixteen forms?’ ‘I don’t,’ I replied.
‘If I did, I would certainly tell you;
For he who speaks an untruth perishes
Like a tree without roots’ The prince mounted
His chariot and went away silent.
Now may I ask you, where is that Self?”
2 The sage replied: “Within this body dwells
The Self with his sixteen forms, gentle friend.
3 The Self asked himself, ‘What is it that makes
Me go if it goes and stay if it stays?’
4 So he created prana, and from it
Desire; and from desire he made space, air,
Fire, water, the earth, the senses, the mind,

And food; from food came strength, austerity,
The scriptures, sacrifice, and all the worlds;
And everything was given name and form.
s “As rivers lose their private name and form
When they reach the sea, so that people speak
Of the sea alone, so all these sixteen
Forms disappear when the Self is realized.
Then there is no more name and form for us,
And we attain immortality.
6 “The Self is the hub of the wheel of life,
And the sixteen forms are only the spokes.
The Self is the paramount goal o f life.
Attain this goal and go beyond death!”
7 The sage concluded: “There is nothing more
To be said of the Self, nothing more.”
8 The students adored their teacher and said:
“You are our father; you have taken us
Across the sea to the other shore.”
Let us adore the illumined sages!
Let us adore the illumined sages!
o M shanti shanti shanti

d i The Taittiriya Upanishad
The Self is the source o f abiding joy.
Our hearts are filled with joy in seeing him
Enshrined in the depths o f our consciousness.
I f he were not there, who would breathe,
who live?
He it is who fills every heart with joy.
[ n . 7 . 1 ]

D i 2 4 0

m Ascent to Joy
T h e u p a n i s h a d s m a k e a c a r e f u l
distinction between the terms pleasure and joy. Pleasure,
which mainly comes from sense experience, is transitory and
actually quite limited. Joy comes from being in harmony with
the creative forces of the universe, with one’s own destiny, and
is permanent – one of the main reasons we can tell it apart
from pleasure – and has no limits at all. This is an important
distinction in mysticism, and in a striking passage, the Tait-
tiriya Upanishad builds on this idea and tries to give us some
sense of the magnitude of the joy that is our legacy, building
up systematically, in expansions of a hundred, a comparison
with the limited experience that we have now to the inex­
pressible joy of unity with the supreme.
That alone wbuld be an outstanding contribution, but the
Taittiriya has other distinctive features. One is the model of
the human being as the Self encased in five wrappings like
a Chinese puzzle, starting from the material body (the first
self we are generally aware of) and progressing inward to the

“sheaths” of vitality (prana), mind, intuition (buddhi), and
finally joy. Along with the quantum leaps in joy are simi­
lar qualitative steps in awareness for those who push deeper
through these layers of condensation, as it were, that cover
our real Self.
How is this to be done? Here the text gives one of those
practical insights that startle us with their contemporary bear­
ing: “Respect food. . . Waste not food . . . The earth can yield
much more. . . . Refuse not food to those who are hungry.”
(i 1 1 .8 – 1 o ). Passages like these should give final proof that the
religion of the Upanishads is not world-denying. The layered
models that they develop in so many forms make us feel more
respect for the things of this world. Food, for example, is life-
energy, or prana, condensed into matter. When we respect
that energy on the physical level, we gain easier passage to the
level beyond. O f course, this is even more true of our fellow
creatures; alienation from them blocks spiritual growth. By
realizing the unity from which each created thing has come
and in which it is sustained, we can live rightly in the world of
change in order to ascend through it to the eternal.
Section 1 . 1 1 is a famous passage in this same spirit, a kind
of “convocation address” to spiritual students who have fin­
ished their course of study, the phase of life called brahma-
charya (see p. 250); it follows naturally on section 9, here tided
“To the Householder.” The Upanishads are intended not only
for renunciates in Himalayan caves or forest solitude; they are

also very much for those who wish to carry out the dharmas
of social life in the world.
Like the Kena, this Upanishad ends rather than begins with
a narrative. The story of Bhrigu addresses how we can make
our own life part of the upward drive o f spiritual evolution by
“serving the Self” in everything we do. Than that, the Upani­
shad asserts, there can be no greater joy.
– M . N .

May the Lord o f day grant us peace.
May the Lord o f night grant us peace.
May the Lord of sight grant us peace.
May the Lord o f might grant us peace.
May the Lord o f speech grant us peace.
May the Lord of space grant us peace.
I bow down to Brahman, source o f all power.
I will speak the truth and follow the law.
Guard me and my teacher against all harm.
Guard me and my teacher against all harm.
om shanti shanti shanti

ni The Taittiriya Upanishad
[ l ]
1 May the Lord of day grant us peace.
May the Lord of night grant us peace.
May the Lord of sight grant us peace.
May the Lord of might grant us peace.
May the Lord of speech grant us peace.
May the Lord of space grant us peace.
I bow down to Brahman, source of all power.
1 will speak the truth and follow the law.
Guard me and my teacher against all harm.
Guard me and my teacher against all harm.
[2 ]
2 Let us learn the art of recitation,
Which calls for knowledge of letters, accent,
Measure, emphasis, sequence, and rhythm.

[ 3 ]
1 May the light of wisdom illumine us.
May we become united with the Lord.
Let us contemplate five categories:
This world and luminous worlds in the sky,
Education, progeny, and speech.
What is this world? Earth below, sky above,
Air between, and space connecting them.
2 What are the luminous worlds in the sky?
Fire on one side and sun on the other,
Water between, lightning connecting them.
5 What is education? Teacher speaking
To the disciple seated by his side,
Wisdom between, discourse connecting them.
4 What is progeny? Mother on one side,
Father on the other, the child between,
The sexual organ connecting them.
5 What is speech? The lower jaw and the upper,
Words between, and the tongue connecting them.
6 Those who contemplate these categories
Will have children, cattle, food, and wisdom.
[ 4 ]
1 O Lord of Love, revealed in the scriptures,
Who have assumed the forms of all creatures,
Grant me wisdom to choose the path

That can lead me to immortality.
May my body be strong, my tongue be sweet;
May my ears hear always the sound of O M,
The supreme symbol of the Lord of Love,
And may my love for him grow more and more.
2 Lord, may I grow in spiritual wisdom,
And may I have food and clothes and cattle.
May students come to me from far and near,
Like a flowing river all the year;
May I be enabled to guide them all
To train their senses and still their minds;
J May this be my wealth, may this be my fame.
0 Lord of Love, may I enter into you,
And may you reveal yourself unto me,
The pure One masquerading as many.
You are the refuge of all devotees.
1 am your devotee. Make me your own.
[ 5 ]
1 Bhur, bhuvas, suvar are three vibrations.
Mahachamasya taught a fourth, maha,
To stand for the Self. The rest are his limbs.
When bhur is the earth, bhuvas space between,
And suvar the world above, maha is the sun
That nourishes life everywhere.

2 When bhur is fire, bhuvas air, and suvar
The sun, maha is the moon that supports
All the planets and celestial bodies.
3 When bhur is the Rig, bhuvas the Sama,
And suvar the Yajur, maha is Brahman,
Wisdom that nourishes all the four Vedas.
4 When bhur is prana upward, bhuvas
Downward, and suvar is prana widespread,
Maha is food that nourishes vital forces
In everyone.s Thus these vibrations
Are four times four. Those who understand them
Realize the Self and are loved by all.
[6 ]
1 The Lord of Love dwells in the hearts of all.
To realize him is to go beyond death.
Between the parietal bones of the skull
Swings the sagittal door, as the lobe swings
Behind the palate. Through that one goes out
Chanting bhur, to become one with fire;
Chanting bhuvas, to become one with air;
Chanting suvar, to be one with the sun;
Chanting maha, to be one with the Lord.
Thus one becomes king of his own life, ruler
O f his passions, senses, and intellect.

He is united with the Lord of Love,
Who is truth, peace, and immortality,
The source of joy, the supreme goal of life.
Meditate always on the Lord o f Love.
[ 7 ]
1 Earth, sky, worlds above, quarters and their halves;
Fire, air, sun, moon, and stars; water, herbs, trees,
Space, and entity are the elements.
Eye, ear, mind, tongue, and touch; skin, flesh, muscle,
Marrow, and skeleton; and the five
Vital forces constitute the body.
The sage, contemplating these sets of five,
Discovered that everything is holy.
Man can complete the inner with the outer.
[ 8 ]
1 o M is the supreme symbol of the Lord.
O M is the whole. O M affirms; O M signals
The chanting of the hymns from the Vedas.
The priest begins with o M; spiritual teachers
And their students commence with o M .
The student who is established in o M
Becomes united with the Lord of Love.

[ 9 ]
To the Householder
1 Practice right conduct, learning and teaching;
Be truthful always, learning and teaching;
Master the passions, learning and teaching;
Control the senses, learning and teaching;
Strive for peace always, learning and teaching;
Rouse kundalini, learning and teaching;
Serve humanity, learning and teaching;
Beget progeny, learning and teaching.
Satyavacha says: “Be truthful always.”
Taponitya says: “Master the passions.”
Naka declares: “Learning and teaching are
Necessary for spiritual progress.”
[ 1 0 ]
1 “I have become one with the tree of life.
My glory rises like the mountain peak.
I have realized the Self, who is ever
Pure, all-knowing, radiant, and immortal.”
Thus spoke sage Trishanku when he became
United with the Lord of Love.
1 Having taught the Vedas, the teacher says:
“Speak the truth. Do your duty. Neglect not
The scriptures. Give your best to your teacher.

Do not cut off the line o f progeny. Swerve not
From the truth. Swerve not from the good.
Protect your spiritual progress always.
Give your best in learning and teaching.
Never fail in respect to the sages.
2 See the divine in your mother, father,
Teacher, and guest. Never do what is wrong.
3 Honor those who are worthy of honor.
Give with faith. Give with love. Give with joy.
4 If you are in doubt about right conduct,
Follow the example of the sages,
Who know what is best for spiritual growth.
5 This is the instruction of the Vedas;
This is the secret; this is the message.”
11 They have attained the goal who realize
Brahman as the supreme reality,
The source of truth, wisdom, and boundless joy.
They see the Lord in the cave o f the heart
And are granted all the blessings of life.
From Brahman came space; from space, air;
From air, fire; from fire, water; from water,
Earth; from earth, plants; from plants, food;
and from food,

The human body, head, arms, legs, and heart.
21 From food are made all bodies, which become
Food again for others after their death.
Food is the most important of all things
For the body; therefore it is the best
Medicine for all the body’s ailments.
They who look upon food as the Lord’s gift
Shall never lack life’s physical comforts.
From food are made all bodies. All bodies
Feed on food, and it feeds on all bodies.
The physical sheath is made up of food.
Within it is contained the vital sheath,
Which has the same form, with prana as head,
Vyana as right arm, apana as left,
Space as heart, and earth as foundation.
31 Man and woman, beast and bird live by breath.
Breath is therefore called the true sign of life.
It is the vital force in everyone
That determines how long we are to live.
Those who look upon breath as the Lord’s gift
Shall live to complete the full span of life.
The vital sheath is made of living breath.
Within it is contained the mental sheath,
Which has the same form, with Yajur as head,

Rig as right arm, Sama as left. The heart
Is the wisdom of the Upanishads,
And the Atharva is the foundation.
4-1 Realizing That from which all words turn back
And thoughts can never reach, one knows
The bliss of Brahman and fears no more.
Within the mental sheath, made up of waves
Of thought, there is contained the sheath of wisdom.
It has the same form, with faith as the head,
Righteousness as right arm and truth as left.
Practice of meditation is its heart,
And discrimination its foundation.
s 1 Wisdom means a life of selfless service.
Even the gods seek spiritual wisdom.
Those who attain wisdom are freed from sin,
And find all their selfless desires granted.
The wisdom sheath is made o f detachment.
Within it is contained the sheath of bliss,
Which has the same form, with joy as the head,
Contentment as right arm, and delight the left.
Bliss is the heart, and Brahman the foundation.
61 Those who deny the Lord deny themselves;
Those who affirm the Lord affirm themselves.
The wise, not the unwise, realize the Lord.

The Lord of Love willed: “Let me be many!”
And in the depths of his meditation
He created everything that exists.
Meditating, he entered into everything.
He who has no form assumed many forms;
He who is infinite appeared finite;
He who is everywhere assumed a place;
He who is.all wisdom caused ignorance;
He who is real caused unreality.
It is he who has become everything.
It is he who gives reality to all.
71 Before the universe was created,
Brahman existed as unmanifest.
Brahman brought the Lord out of himself;
Therefore he is called the Self-existent.
The Self is the source of abiding joy.
Our hearts are filled with joy in seeing him
Enshrined in the depths o f our consciousness.
If he were not there, who would breathe, who live?
He it is who fills every heart with joy.
When one realizes the Self, in whom
All life is one, changeless, nameless, formless,
Then one fears no more. Until we realize
The unity o f life, we live in fear.

For the mere scholar who knows not the Self,
His separateness becomes fear itself.
81 Through fear of Brahman the wind blows,
sun shines,
Fire burns, rain falls, and death snatches all away.
What is the joy of realizing the Self?
Take a young man, healthy, strong, good, and cultured,
Who has all the wealth that earth can offer;
Let us take this as one measure of joy.
One hundred times that joy is one measure
Of the gandharvas’ joy; but no less joy
Has one illumined, free from self-will.
One hundred times that joy is one measure
Of the joy o f pitris; but no less joy
Has one illumined, free from self-will.
One hundred times that joy is one measure
Of the joy of devas; but no less joy
Has one illumined, free from self-will.
One hundred times that joy is one measure
Of the karmadevas joy; but no less joy
Has one illumined, free from self-will.
One hundred times that joy is one measure
Of the joy of Indra; but no less joy
Has one illumined, free from self-will.
One hundred times that joy is one measure

O f Brihaspati’s joy; but no less joy
Has one illumined, free from self-will.
One hundred times that joy is one measure
O f the joy o f Virat; but no less joy
Has one illumined, free from self-will.
One hundred times that joy is one measure
O f Prajapati s joy; but no less joy
Has one illumined, free from self-will.
The Self in man and in the sun are one.
Those who understand this see through the world
And go beyond the various sheaths of being
To realize the unity of life.
91 Realizing That from which all words turn back
And thoughts can never reach, they know
The bliss o f Brahman and fear no more.
No more are they oppressed by the question,
“How did I fail to perform what is right?
And how did I perform what is not right?”
Those who realize the joy of Brahman,
Having known what is right and what is wrong,
Are delivered forever from this duality.

11 Bhrigu went to his father, Varuna,
and asked respectfully: “What is Brahman?”
Varuna replied: “First learn about food,
Breath, eye, ear, speech, and mind; then seek to know
That from which these are born, by which they live,
For which they search, and to which they return.
That is Brahman.”
21 Bhrigu meditated and found that food
Is Brahman. From food are born all creatures,
By food they grow, and to food they return.
Not fully satisfied with his knowledge,
Bhrigu went to his father, Varuna,
And appealed: “Please teach me more o f Brahman.”
“Seek it through meditation,” replied Varuna,
“For meditation is Brahman.”
31 Bhrigu meditated and found that life
Is Brahman. From life are born all creatures,
By life they grow, and to life they return.
Not fully satisfied with his knowledge,
Bhrigu went to his father, Varuna,
And appealed: “Please teach me more o f Brahman.”

“Seek it through meditation,” replied Varuna,
“For meditation is Brahman.”
41 Bhrigu meditated and found that mind
Is Brahman. From mind are born all creatures,
By mind they grow, and to mind they return.
Not fully satisfied with his knowledge,
Bhrigu went to his father, Varuna,
And appealed: “Please teach me more of Brahman.”
“Seek it through meditation,” replied Varuna,
“For meditation is Brahman.”
51 Bhrigu meditated and found that wisdom
Is Brahman. From wisdom come all creatures,
By wisdom they grow, to wisdom return.
Not fully satisfied with his knowledge,
Bhrigu went to his father, Varuna,
And appealed: “Please teach me more of Brahman.”
“Seek it through meditation,” replied Varuna,
“For meditation is Brahman.”
61 Bhrigu meditated and found that joy
Is Brahman. From joy are born all creatures,
By joy they grow, and to joy they return.
Bhrigu, Varuna’s son, realized this Self
In the very depths of meditation.

Those who realize the Self within the heart
Stand firm, grow rich, gather a family
Around them, and receive the love of all.
71 Respect food: the body is made o f food;
Food and body exist to serve the Self.
Those who realize the Self within the heart
Stand firm, grow rich, gather a family
Around them, and receive the love o f all.
*■’ Waste not food, waste not water, waste not fire;
Fire and water exist to serve the Self.
Those who realize the Self within the heart
Stand firm, grow rich, gather a family
Around them, and receive the love o f all.
91 Increase food. The earth can yield much more.
Earth and space exist to serve the Self.
Those who realize the Self within the heart
Stand firm, grow rich, gather a family
Around them, and receive the love of all.
101 Refuse not food to those who are hungry.
When you feed the hungry, you serve the Lord,
From whom is born every living creature.
Those who realize the Self within the heart
Stand firm, grow rich, gather a family
Around them, and receive the love of all.

10 2 Realizing this makes our words pleasing,
Our breathing deep, our arms ready to serve
The Lord in all around, our feet ready
To go to the help of everyone in need.
i°.3-4 Realizing this we see the Lord of Love
In beast and bird, in starlight and in joy,
In sex energy and in the grateful rain,
In everything the universe contains.
Drawing on the Lord’s resources within,
Security, wisdom, and love in action,
We conquer every enemy within
To be united with the Lord o f Love.
The Self in man and in the sun are one.
10 5 Those who understand this see through the world
And go beyond the various sheaths
O f being to realize the unity of life.
Those who realize that all life is one
Are at home everywhere and see themselves
In all beings. They sing in wonder:
“I am the food of life, I am, I am;
I eat the food of life, I eat, I eat.
I link food and water, I link, I link.
I am the first-born in the universe;
Older than the gods, I am immortal.
Who shares food with the hungry protects me;

Who shares not with them is consumed by me.
I am this world and I consume this world.
They who understand this understand life.”
This is the Upanishad, the secret teaching.
o M shanti shanti shanti

D! TheAitareya Upanishad
The Self is in all.
He is all the gods, the five elements,
Earth, air, fire, water, and space;
all creatures,
Great or small, born o f eggs, o f wombs,
o f heat,
O f shoots, horses, cows, elephants, men,
and women;
All beings that walk, all beings that fly,
And all that neither walk nor f ly . .
[ h i .1.3 ]

Di The Unity of Life
P e r h a p s t h e g r e a t e s t c o n t r i b u –
tion of the Upanishads is to open our eyes to what it really
means to be a human being. The constant concern of the
sages is to reawaken us to the sacred nature of the environ­
ment, of living creatures, of one another, and finally o f our
own inner reality. This exalted vision of the human person has
been echoed by the anonymous monk of fourteenth-century
England who has left us one of the worlds greatest mystical
documents, the Cloud of Unknowing:
Beneath you and external to you lies the entire created uni­
verse. Yes, even the sun, the moon, and the stars. They are
fixed above you, splendid in the firmament, yet they cannot
be compared to your exalted dignity as a human being___
There is nothing above you in nature except God himself.
How can this be? How can this miniscule, fragile body
whose size in the Universe is beyond ludicrous be, or con­
tain, such importance? Because, the Upanishads and all the
world s great mystics insist, we are not that fragile body but

that which causes it to move, breathe, and be alive: conscious­
ness. In this Upanishad we have one of the four mahavakyas
or “great utterances” that later tradition teased out as the sum
and substance of their teaching: prajham brahma, “All reality
is consciousness.” And the same consciousness is the life of
all: thus we have the explanation for both the sanctity and the
unity of life.
The Aitareya lays out this explanation by telling the story of
evolution in the form of a creation myth. To us today it seems
very Lamarckian because it sees the driving force of evolution
as desire; but if we bear in mind that the sages understood
desire to be precisely that – a force, rather than simply crav­
ings or emotions – the myth is not so implausible. The titanic
energy of evolution suggests some kind of drive; when the
sages (or the early Greek thinkers) called it “desire,” they were
connecting life in the here-and-now to that awesome cosmic
process by which the One manifested itself as, and still sus­
tains, the many.
A great sage of modern India who was most Upanishadic
in his exalted vision of this process, Sri Ramana Maharshi,
replied to the urgent questions of a distinguished philosopher
in words that always haunt me:
Happiness is the very nature o f the Self; happiness and the
Self are not different. There is no happiness in any object
o f the world. W e imagine through our ignorance that we
derive happiness from objects. W hen the mind goes out, it

experiences misery. In truth, when its desires are fulfilled, it
returns to its own place and enjoys the happiness that is the
– M . N .

May my word be one with my thought,
and my thought
Be one with my word. O Lord o f Love,
Let me realize you in my consciousness.
May I realize the truth o f the scriptures
And translate it into my daily life.
May I proclaim the truth o f the scriptures.
May I speak the truth. May it protect me,
And may it protect my teacher.
o m shanti shanti shanti

ni TheAitareya Upanishad
1 Before the world was created, the Self
Alone existed; nothing whatever stirred.
Then the Self thought: “Let me create the world.”
2 He brought forth all the worlds out o f him self:
Am bhas, high above the sky; M arichi,
The sky; M ara, the m iddle region that is earth;
A nd Apa, the realm o f waters below.
3 The Self thought: “I have created these worlds.
Let me now create guardians for these worlds.”
From the waters he drew forth Purusha
A nd gave him a form . 4 A s the Self brooded
O ver the form , a m outh opened, as does
A n egg, giving forth speech and fire; nostrils
Opened with the power o f breathing the air;
Eyes opened, giving rise to sight and sun;

A nd ears opened to hear the sound in space.
Skin appeared and from it hair; from hair came
Plants and trees. The heart gushed forth;
from the heart
Cam e the m ind, and from the m ind came the moon.
The navel opened w ith the downward force,
Apana, w hich gave rise to death. The sex organ rose
W ith liv in g water w hich gave rise to birth.
1 Thus came these guardians into the m ighty
Ocean o f existence. The Self caused them
To hunger and thirst. They said to the Self:
“Give us a place where we can live and eat.”
2 He brought them the form o f a cow. They said:
“This is not what we desire.” H e brought them
The form o f a horse. But they said again:
3 “This is not what we desire.” He brought them
A hum an form . They said in joy: “Just right!
A hum an body is just right for us.”
The Self asked them to enter the body
A n d take up their places. 4 Fire, becom ing
Speech, entered the mouth; air, becom ing smell,
Entered the nose; the sun, becom ing sight,
Entered the eyes; sounds in space, becom ing
Hearing, entered the ears; plants, herbs, and trees,

Becom ing hair, entered the skin; the m oon,
Becom ing m ind, entered the heart. The god
O f death, becom ing downward force, entered
The navel; the god o f liv in g water,
Becom ing sperm, entered the sex organ.
5 Hunger and thirst said to the Self: “G ive us
A place.” He told them: “Enter into these
Guardians and share their life w ith them.”
Thus hunger and thirst for food, drink, and pleasure
Attend us, whatever we do in life.
[ 3 ]
1 The Self, Creator, thought: “Here are the worlds
And their guardians. Let me now bring forth food
For them .” 2 He brooded over the waters,
A nd food appeared in the form o f matter.
3 It tried to run away in fear, and man,
The first embodied being, tried to catch
It with his speech. But he could not catch it
W ith words. M erely by repeating the name
O f food one cannot satisfy hunger.
4 He tried to catch it with his breath, but he
Could not. Just by sm elling food one cannot
Satisfy hunger.s He tried to catch it
W ith his eyes, but he could not. By looking
At food one cannot satisfy hunger.

6 He tried to catch it with h is ears, but he
C o u ld not. By m erely hearing about food
One cannot satisfy hunger. 7 He tried
To catch it w ith his skin, but he could not.
B y touching food one cannot satisfy
Hunger. 8 H e tried to catch it with his m ind,
But he could not. By thinking about food
One cannot satisfy hunger. 9 He tried
To catch it w ith his genital organ,
But he could not. By sexual union
One cannot satisfy hunger. 10 He tried
To catch it w ith apana, the downward prana
O f digestion, and at last he caught it.
Thus it is apana that takes in food;
Thus it is apana that lives on food.
11 The Self thought, “How can this be without me?
I f speaking is done by speech, breathing by
Breath, seeing by eyes, hearing by ears, sm elling
By nose, and m editation by the m ind,
12 Then who am I?” Entering the body
Through the gateway at the crown o f the head,
He passed into the three states o f consciousness
In w hich the Self resides.
13 Filled with wonder, we sing: “I see the Lord.”
14 So his name is Idam dra, “He who sees.”

The name Indra stands for Idam dra.
The gods do like to sit behind a veil;
Indeed they like to sit behind a veil.
[ i ]
1 Life begins in man as sexual fluid,
W hich has the strength gathered from all h is lim bs.
Man holds this quintessence in his body,
A nd it becomes child in woman. This is
The first b irth . 2 C h ild and m other are one.
She protects the child, and needs protection.
3 The m other carries the child in her womb,
A nd the father bestows his loving care
Before and after birth. The child is their
Atm an, their very Self, and continues
Their line without break as the second birth.
4 He discharges all their holy duties
A nd sheds his body, too, when it grows old,
To be born again. This is the third birth.
The sage Vamadeva declared o f old:
5 “W hile dw elling in the womb I understood
The birth o f all the gods. A hundred form s,
Strong as steel, held me prisoner. But I
Broke loose from them, like a hawk from the cage,
273 in

A nd came out swiftly.” W hile still in the womb,
Vamadeva made this declaration.
6 He emerged from his m other’s womb, fully
Illum ined, to live in abiding joy,
A n d went beyond death. Indeed
He went beyond death.
1 W ho is this Self on whom we meditate?
Is it the Self by w hich we see, hear, sm ell, and taste,
2 Through w hich we speak in words? Is Self the m ind
By w hich we perceive, direct, understand,
Know, remember, think, w ill, desire, and love?
These are but servants o f the Self, who is
Pure consciousness.
This Self is all in all.
He is all the gods, the five elements,
3 Earth, air, fire, water, and space; all creatures,
Great or sm all, born o f eggs, o f wombs, o f heat,
O f shoots; horses, cows, elephants, men, and women;
A ll beings that walk, all beings that fly,
A n d all that neither w alk nor fly. Prajna
Is pure consciousness, guiding all. The world
Rests on prajna, and prajna is Brahman.

4 Those who realize Brahman live in joy
And go beyond death. Indeed
They go beyond death.
o M shanti shanti shanti

Di Four Minor Upanishads
The supreme Self is neither born nor dies.
He cannot be burned, moved, pierced, cut,
nor dried.
Beyond all attributes, the supreme Self
Is the eternal witness, ever pure,
Indivisible, and uncompounded,
Far beyond the senses and the ego.
In him conflicts and expectations cease.
[ A T M A I I I ]

Di Beads of Wisdom
A “ m i n o r ” u p a n i s h a d , b y D E F I N I –
tion, is one that has not been commented upon or extensively
cited by Shankara, not necessarily one that is minor in wis­
dom or expressive power. Shankaras commentaries elevated
the principal Upanishads into a kind of canon; but it should
be noted that the list is not fixed – various authorities, ancient
and modern, have reshaped it – and there may in any case
have been other commentaries of Shankara which have not
survived. Some of the so-called minor texts convey insights
of the same magnitude as those singled out by Shankara, usu­
ally in much the same style and often with the same force.
The first of the four minor Upanishads in this collection,
the Tejobindu, stresses the “beyondness” o f Reality and how
the aspirant must rise beyond ordinary experience and ordi­
nary responses to be one with it: even – for Hindu tradition
does not shrink from this – beyond the guidance o f the sacred
texts themselves. It is a testimony to the value Hindu mys­
ticism placed on independence that the Upanishads and

other texts exhort aspirants to transcend scripture itself in the
search for one’s own destiny.
The second text, Atma Upanishad, offers a very simple and
effective tripartite model of this transcendence. The human
being exists in an outer world and an inner one, that is, in the
physical body and environment and in the realms of mind;
yet there is something beyond both. In describing the world
within, the Atma does what all Upanishads do best: describe
consciousness with subtlety, profundity, and humor. The
realm beyond cannot be described at all, but the effects of
knowing it are extolled.
The next text in this selection, Amritabindu, is one of four
or five Upanishads whose names end in bindu or “drop,” indi­
cating their succinct distillation of wisdom. Amrita, “immor­
tality,” like its Greek cousin Ambrosia, was thought of in ritu­
alistic and mythic contexts as a kind of liquid. This is not the
Upanishads conception. It concentrates on the mind as the
seat of spiritual struggle. The mind is a “wondrous power,” as
Sri Ramana Maharshi said, and our destiny in life is deter­
mined by what we do with that power. The opening line of
the Dhammapada, a central text of Theravada Buddhism, is
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought” (more
literally, of mind). I f we neglect mind, the senses and lower
forces in our inherited consciousness take control of it; if we
train it carefully, we can utilize its power to liberation – to

The Paramahamsa Upanishad, last in our selection, stresses
that the insignia of the religious pilgrim or mendicant are
symbolic. Like the rituals observed by householders, they are
at best aids to the conditions of freedom, love, and wisdom
the seeker must establish within. In this regard the Parama­
hamsa resembles descriptions of true spirituality found, for
example, in the last chapter of the Dhammapada (“ The Brah­
min”) and still later in the poems o f Kabir.
– M . N .

Lead me from the unreal to the Real.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
O M shanti shanti shanti

m Four Minor Upanishads
1 Let us meditate on the shining Self,
Changeless, underlying the world of change,
And realized in the heart in samadhi.
2 Hard to reach is the supreme goal o f life,
Hard to describe and hard to abide in.
J They alone attain samadhi who have
Mastered their senses and are free from anger,
Free from self-will and from likes and dislikes,
Without selfish bonds to people and things.
4 They alone attain samadhi who are
Prepared to face challenge after challenge
In the three stages of meditation.
Under an illumined teacher s guidance
They become united with the Lord of Love,
5-6 Called Vishnu, who is present everywhere.

Though the three gunas emanate from him,
He is infinite and invisible.
Though all the galaxies emerge from him,
He is without form and unconditioned.
To be united with the Lord of Love
Is to be freed from all conditioning.
This is the state of Self-realization,
Far beyond the reach of words and thoughts.
To be united with the Lord of Love,
Imperishable, changeless, beyond cause
And effect, is to find infinite joy.
Brahman is beyond all duality,
Beyond the reach of thinker and of thought.
Let us meditate on the shining Self,
The ultimate reality, who is
Realized by the sages in samadhi.
Brahman cannot be realized by those
Who are subject to greed, fear, and anger.
Brahman cannot be realized by those
Who are subject to the pride of name and fame
Or to the vanity of scholarship.
Brahman cannot be realized by those
Who are enmeshed in life’s duality.

But to all those who pierce this duality,
Whose hearts are given to the Lord of Love,
He gives himself through his infinite grace;
He gives himself through his infinite grace.
o M shanti shanti shanti

1 This is the teaching of sage Angiras:
Purusha manifests itself three ways:
As outer, inner, and the supreme Self.
Skin, flesh, vertebral column, hair, fingers,
Toes, nails, ankles, stomach, navel, hips, thighs,
Cheeks, eyebrows, forehead, head, eyes, ears,
arms, sides,
Blood vessels, nerves: these make up the outer self,
The body, subject to birth and death.
2 The inner self perceives the outside world,
Made up of earth, water, fire, air, and space.
It is the victim of likes and dislikes,
Pleasure and pain, and delusion and doubt.
It knows all the subtleties of language,
Enjoys dance, music, and all the fine arts;
Delights in the senses, recalls the past,
Reads the scriptures, and is able to act.
This is the mind, the inner person.
3 The supreme Self, adored in the scriptures,
Can be realized through the path of yoga.
Subtler than the banyan seed, subtler
Than the tiniest grain, even subtler

Than the hundred-thousandth part of a hair,
This Self cannot be grasped, cannot be seen.
The supreme Self is neither born nor dies.
He cannot be burned, moved, pierced, cut, nor dried.
Beyond all attributes, the supreme Self
Is the eternal witness, ever pure,
Indivisible, and uncompounded,
Far beyond the senses and the ego.
In him conflicts and expectations cease.
He is omnipresent, beyond all thought,
Without action in the external world,
Without action in the internal world.
Detached from the outer and the inner,
This supreme Self purifies the impure.
o M shanti shanti shanti

1 The mind may be said to be of two kinds,
Pure and impure. Driven by the senses
It becomes impure; but with the senses
Under control, the mind becomes pure.
2 It is the mind that frees us or enslaves.
Driven by the senses we become bound;
Master of the senses-we become free.
3 Those who seek freedom must master their senses.
4 When the mind is detached from the senses
One reaches the summit of consciousness.
5 Mastery of the mind leads to wisdom.
Practice meditation. Stop all vain talk.
6 The highest state is beyond reach of thought,
For it lies beyond all duality.
7 Keep repeating the ancient mantram o M
Until it reverberates in your heart.
8 Brahman is indivisible and pure;
Realize Brahman and go beyond all change.
9 He is immanent and transcendent.
Realizing him, sages attain freedom
10 And declare there are no separate minds.
They have but realized what they always are.

,l Waking, sleeping, dreaming, the Self is one.
Transcend these three and go beyond rebirth.
12 There is only one Self in all creatures.
The One appears many, just as the moon
Appears many, reflected in water.
13 The Self appears to change its location
But does not, just as the air in a jar
Changes not when the jar is moved about.
14 When the jar is broken, the air knows not;
But the Self knows well when the body is shed.
15 We see not the Self, concealed by maya;
When the veil falls, we see we are the Self.
16 The mantram is the symbol of Brahman;
Repeating it can bring peace to the mind.
17 Knowledge is twofold, lower and higher.
Realize the Self; for all else is lower.
18 Realization is rice; all else is chaff.
19 The milk of cows of any hue is white.
The sages say that wisdom is the milk
And the sacred scriptures are the cows.
20 As butter lies hidden within milk,
The Self is hidden in the hearts of all.

Churn the mind through meditation on it;
21 Light your fire through meditation on it:
The Self, all whole, all peace, all certitude.
22 “I have realized the Self,” declares the sage,
“Who is present in all beings.
I am united with the Lord of Love;
I am united with the Lord of Love.”
O M shanti shanti shanti

The Paramahamsa Upanishad !0
1 Narada enquired of the Lord of Love:
“What is the state of the illumined one?”
The Lord replied: “Hard to reach is the state
Of the illumined one. Only a few
Attain it. But even one is enough.
For he is the pure Self of the scriptures;
He is truly great because he serves me,
And I reveal myself through him always.”
He has renounced all selfish attachments
And observes no rites and ceremonies.
He has only minimum possessions,
And lives his life for the welfare of all.
2 He has no staff nor tuft nor sacred thread.
He faces heat and cold, pleasure and pain,
Honor and dishonor with equal calm.
He is not affected by calumny,
Pride, jealousy, status, joy, or sorrow,
Greed, anger, or infatuation,
Excitement, egoism, or other goads;
For he knows he is neither body nor mind.
Free from the sway of doubt and false knowledge
He lives united with the Lord of Love,

Who is ever serene, immutable,
Indivisible, the source of all joy
And wisdom. The Lord is his true home,
His pilgrims tuft of hair, his sacred thread;
For he has entered the unitive state.
3 Having renounced every selfish desire,
He has found his rest in the Lord of Love.
Wisdom is the staff that supports him now.
Those who take a mendicants staff while they
Are still at the mercy of their senses
Cannot escape enormous suffering.
The illumined man knows this truth of life.
4 For him the universe is his garment
And the Lord not separate from himself.
He offers no ancestral oblations;
He praises nobody, blames nobody,
Is never dependent on anyone.
He has no need to repeat the mantram,
No more need to practice meditation.
The world of change and changeless Reality
Are one to him, for he sees all in God.
The aspirant who is seeking the Lord
Must free himself from selfish attachments
To people, money, and possessions.

When his mind sheds every selfish desire,
He becomes free from the duality
Of pleasure and pain and rules his senses.
No more is he capable of ill will;
No more is he subject to elation,
For his senses come to rest in the Self.
Entering into the unitive state,
He attains the goal of evolution.
Truly he attains the goal of evolution.
O M shanti shanti shanti

m A Religion for Modern Times
B Y M I C H A E L N . N A G L E R
T h e u p a n i s h a d s h a v e o f t e n b e e n
called the purest source o f India’s spiritual tradition. If we take the
word pure to mean that they consist o f essentials and are not tan­
gled up in the changing circumstances o f the culture that produced
and recorded them, we will see w hy they are not only still revered
in India but have been discovered by individuals throughout the
world as treasures o f needed wisdom – even though they are not
particularly easy to read.
Our age seems to need this kind o f guidance more than ever. We
are passing through a spiritual crisis that has been brought about
by a wrong message about human nature and human happiness – a
message so pervasive that it makes up a global culture o f its own.
We need to turn to sources o f wisdom wherever we can find them.
Against this backdrop the wisdom tradition in general is indispens­
able, and the Upanishads in particular have some attractive features
recommending them as a w ay to mine that tradition and integrate
the best it has to offer into our modern lives.
First, the Upanishads offer a noble, exalted vision o f human
nature. To hear sages say, “Hear, O children o f immortal bliss, you

are born to be united with the Lord,” or to read the many “ladder”
images in the texts that show us that our awareness o f ourselves
as physical bodies is a mere shadow o f what we really are, brings a
shock o f recognition, a great relief.
Second, while the Upanishads are wrapped in a good bit of
m ythology and ritual, that wrapping comes off pretty easily. What
we are left with is pure mysticism: a penetrating and remarkably
comprehensive vision o f Truth that can give us inspiration and a
direction – a beckoning goal and a way to reach it.
Third, the Upanishads are scientific and experiential. They don’t
say, “believe this” ; they say, “ This we have seen: if you do x, y, and z,
you can confirm it for yourself.” They offend neither our sense o f logic
nor our sense o f responsibility for discovering truth for ourselves.
More: their outlook is nonjudgmental. They speak with fervor about
darkness and ignorance, not with indignation about sin. They give us
their glorious testimony about reality and let us decide whether we
want to realize it for ourselves. Their universe is rigorously unforgiv­
ing in the sense that ignorance is its own punishment, and rigorously
redemptive in the sense that wisdom is its own reward.
A ll this being said about the Upanishad’s universality, the fact
remains that these conversations (as they seem to have been) were
recorded very far back in time in a world that was very different
from our own. They do require some getting used to. M y familiarity
with them grew as I learned more about the world from which they
had come; and this is what I will now try to share.

I . S O N G S O F T R U T H :
W H A T I S A N U P A N I S H A D ?
A n Upanishad is an utterance o f mystical truth that
has come down to us as an attachment to the Vedas, the ancient and
extremely sacred hym n collections or Samhitas o f the In d o -A ry­
ans. These collections are four in number – Rig, Yajur, Sama, and
Atharva, in order o f their age and their predominant interest in
gods, ritual formula, chant, or magic spells. They and their adjuncts
o f almost equally ancient material form the textual basis to this day
o f India’s major religious system. To be Hindu means in some sense
to accept their authority, and since Hinduism is a decentralized sys­
tem with diffuse institutional controls, there is almost no other cri­
terion. A s one studies the Upanishads today it is useful to keep in
view this seeming paradox o f decentralized authority and unwrit­
ten stability.
Veda (etymologically “sacred knowledge,” or wisdom ) means
in the first instance these four Samhitas or collections o f inspired
hymns directed to the gods o f the Indo-Aryan pantheon and divin­
ized aspects o f the Vedic religious ideology, such as fire, as well as
some hymns so elusive we can no longer tell what exactly they are
celebrating. A second meaning of the word includes three classes of
texts which were soon attached to, and preserved with, their respec­
tive Samhitas. The first are the Brahmanas, lengthy descriptions o f
the Vedic rituals in a prose which is nearly that o f classical Sanskrit,
containing a vast amount o f lore and narrative from innumerable
family traditions. These texts were basically manuals for the priests

(also brahmanas, “brahmins” ) responsible for the increasingly com ­
plex family and com m unity rites. Second is a smaller and more in­
triguing group o f texts known as Aranyakas or “forest manuals,”
continuations o f the Brahmanas but “dealing with the speculations
and spirituality o f forest dwellers . . . , those who have renounced
the world.” 1 A n d third are the earliest Upanishads or “confiden­
tial sessions.”2 The Upanishads thus consummate a line o f develop­
ment which begins with the official hymns o f the extended family
that were recited at their public rituals and ends with utterances of
universal import that a remarkable class o f forest sages had given
to their intimate disciples. For this reason, and because they are
handed down at the end o f the Vedic collections and are meant to be
learned and recited last by Vedic students, the Upanishads are clas­
sified as vedanta, “the end o f the Vedas.”
Indian tradition makes a distinction between the Samhitas
and Brahmanas, which deal m ainly with ritual performance, and
the Aranyakas and Upanishads, especially the latter, which deal
with interpretation: what the rituals, and then what things in gen­
eral, mean. The technical terms for these two divisions were karma
kanda and jnana kanda, the portions dealing respectively with (rit­
ual) action and spiritual knowledge. In the Upanishads themselves
the former often serves as foil for the latter; that is, rituals become
symbols o f Self-realization, always an elusive state to describe in
However they began, there are today about two hundred texts
which go by the name o f Upanishad – or, according to another

classification, one hundred and eight, an auspicious number in
Hinduism. Looked at as a genre, these texts vary as drastically in
content and spirituality as they do in age, ranging from the oldest
prose Upanishads to some which are obviously medieval. The tran­
scendent authority o f the older texts rises above sectarian forms o f
religion to represent the religion that Hindus originally called not
“Hinduism” but the sanatana dharma or “eternal law.”
Early in the eighth century a . d . , in a period when Hinduism
was losing its bearings, the great mystic and philosopher Shankara,
knowing that only mystical experience could reinvigorate the tra­
dition, composed remarkable commentaries on ten o f the U pa­
nishads, giving them as it were a secondary canonization by his
authority, labor, and vast intellectual achievement – and renewing
Hinduism in the process. These ten Upanishads are listed by Indian
tradition in the following order: Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, M un-
daka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka.
The Shvetashvatara is no less treasured today, and some scholars say
that Shankara wrote a com mentary on it which has not survived.
These eleven are com m only considered the principal Upanishads.
The class o f people who taught in the forest ashrams o f ancient
India were “apparently engaged,” as D. S. Sarm a points out, “ in the
mighty task o f transforming a rather low type o f sacrificial religion
prevalent at the time into a great mystical religion true for all time.” 3
It would be misleading to say there was no trace o f mysticism in the
Samhitas; wherever there is a real love o f life there is a groundwork
o f mystical devotion, and the exuberance o f the hymns, their total

faith in the order o f the universe (rita) and in man’s place in nature,
seen and unseen, their sense o f the seriousness o f human action –
all these belong to a spirit o f mysticism. Besides, the Samhitas and
especially the oldest, the Rig Veda Samhita, contain impressive pro­
fundity in speculation about the nature o f being, time, and the uni­
verse, as in the famous Nasadiya Sukta (.129.1.4), sometimes called a
“basis o f the Upanishads” :4
A t first there was neither Being nor Nonbeing.
There was not air nor yet sky beyond.
W hat was its wrapping? W here? In whose protection?
Was water there, unfathomable and deep?
In the beginning Love arose,
W hich was the primal germ cell o f the mind.
The seers, searching in their hearts with wisdom,
Discovered the connection o f Being in Nonbeing.
W ho really knows? W h o can presume to tell it?
W hence was it born? W hence issued this creation?
Even the gods came after its emergence.
Then who can tell from whence it came to be?
The Vedas give us glimpses into a mythological world which
looks like that o f Greece, Rome, and the rest o f Europe, but dif­
ferent. The Upanishadic universe also contains “three worlds,” but
these are not the underworld, “middle-earth,” and heaven as in
the West, but the visible world, heaven (or the sky), and another
plane that is far beyond phenomenal reality. The human being is
not a puny speck in this cosmos, as we m ay appear physically. By
virtue o f a power called tapas (“heat” ) generated by extreme auster­

ity (also called tapas) or in deep stages of meditation, ordinary men
or women can compel profound changes in the universe. The hard
line between mortality and immortality, between mankind and the
gods, which Greek and Roman religion hammer home, is blurred
and crossable.
When we get to the Upanishads themselves there is a new ele­
ment, something almost disconcertingly different. It can be brought
out in an image which appears in the Rig Veda (I.164.20) and is
repeated, sometimes verbatim, in several Upanishads:
Two birds of beautiful plumage, comrades
Inseparable, live on the selfsame tree.
One bird eats the fruit of pleasure and pain;
The other looks on without eating.
When this image occurs in the Vedic context it’s pretty clear that
the bird that does partake – that is, the person who enjoys the fruits
of life – is being held up for praise. In the Upanishadic contexts it is
just the other way around: he or she who is not hypnotized by the
ever-changing stream of phenomena but observes it in detachment
is heading for the supreme human destiny.
Sometimes the Upanishads draw attention to this discontinuity
with a boldness of thought few cultures – not to say religions – have
ventured, as when they openly state that the Vedas themselves are
only aids to realization which an already realized person no longer
needs (Mundaka 1.2.7). One way of looking at the decisive differ­
ence is that the religion of the Samhitas centers on the gods, and the
direct, enthusiastic invocation and worship of them at the sacrifice.

In the Brahmanas, however, the intense power o f the sacrifice itself
(the original meaning o f brahman) becomes the focus, and the sac­
rifice which moves the gods is several times said to be more power­
ful than they are. Then, finally, in the Aranyakas, power is seen to
rest in man himself. There is a ground for mysticism in the Sam-
hitas, but only the Aranyakas and then decisively the Upanishads
plant in that ground and cultivate it systematically.
It is because o f this fundamental commitment to spiritual val­
ues and the focus on human consciousness that the Upanishads
m ay be regarded as the source, insofar as texts are the source, of
India’s civilization. There is a mystical element at the heart o f all
great religious systems; but in India that mysticism has been estab­
lished and systematically developed, to become – to use a phrase of
Schopenhauer’s – “the faith o f the people.”
However this happened, mysticism and the intense devotion that
is always a part o f mysticism have become the heart o f India’s civili­
zation, and if it survives the current corrosion o f values by material­
ism the w ay it survived, in centuries past, the successive attacks of
Mongols, Muslims, and British, the spiritual culture o f India will be
a precious resource for a world reawakening to the need for spiritual
values. But for this to happen, some difficulties that lie in the path
o f our understanding this culture must be cleared. Perhaps the most
serious is simply the rarity o f the experience they are attempting to
describe. To this day, only a rare few human beings have actually
had the experience o f “seeing” reality from the perspective taken

by these remarkable documents. The Self is “hidden in the deep­
est cave o f the heart.” It cannot be perceived by the senses, like phe­
nomena we can measure or describe. W e have to build a road into
the regions o f consciousness where we can “see” what lies there; we
need an appropriate and sufficiently powerful organ o f perception,
what the Bhagavad Gita (11.8) calls the “divine eye.” It is for this rea­
son that the author o f the Kena exclaims, “W e do not know, we do
not understand.” (1.3).
I I . I N D I A N C U L T U R E & T R A D I T I O N
Rabindranath Tagore once pointed out that while
the Greeks and Romans built great cities, India’s was a “forest civ­
ilization.” 5 Not that there were no great cities in ancient India –
Harappa and Mohenjo Daro rose and fell before Mycenaean palaces
were erected on the Greek mainland – but the essential continu­
ity o f the culture was developed and preserved by families living in
small communities close to nature long after splendid palaces and
universities rose in those cities. This had profound consequences,
as Tagore explains, for the Hindu worldview. Like the Hebrews, the
ancient Indians distrusted the pace and pom p o f urbandom, and
distrusted it enough to resist central authority and conform ism for
thousands o f years. Their trust in oral creativity and preservation
paid off, for India’s is an extremely well-documented civilization.
More survives o f classical Sanskrit than o f ancient Greek and per­

haps Latin literature put together: the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the
Aeneid would fit into one vast Indian epic, the Mahabharata, with
room to spare for Lucian and some others.
These choices help to explain what meets us in the Upanishads:
their intimacy, the bewildering variety o f their outer form, the fact
that they are creative utterances o f gifted individuals, even the way
they were preserved as a precious inheritance in family traditions.
It is this closeness to the individual person that makes them, behind
an austere facade, deeply devotional.
The Upanishads are in some ways the archetype for other forms
o f Indian culture, most importantly perhaps in their grounding
in the teacher-student relationship. Not only in mysticism, but in
Indian music and other arts it is this reliance on person-to-person
communication, both for teaching the individual student and for
perpetuating the parampara or “succession” that keeps the art alive
for the whole culture.
Indian aesthetics holds that the essence o f every moment in an
artistic performance is its rasa, which corresponds to one o f nine
m oods or dispositions, such as fear, erotic love, or devotion. If the
Upanishads are an archetypal art form in that sense, what is their
rasa? That question occupied Indian aestheticians a great deal, and
their answer was skillful: the Upanishads come from the disposi­
tion o f shanta, “peace,” which is not really a disposition or mood
but what happens when all mental dispositions are brought to rest:
again the Upanishads are an “end o f the Vedas.”
The rasa theory also allowed Indian theorists to get a grip on

what an Upanishad was essentially, rather than formally: when­
ever you have a truth-utterance (a profound statement by someone
in a higher state of consciousness) you have an Upanishad. In this
sense the Bhagavad Gita is an Upanishad, and the epic in which it is
embedded, the Mahabharata, however violent on the surface, itself
teaches detachment from worldly gain and communicates the pre­
disposition of inner calm (shama) leading also to spiritual peace
This attention to theory and classification bring us to the fact that
India’s was a highly scientific spirit, and this combination o f science
and devotion, o f detached observation and mystical ecstasy, is one
o f the most arresting – and useful – aspects o f the Upanishads. It did
not stop with them. W hen Gandhi told the world that he had been
instructed to undertake his “epic fast” in 1932 by “the voice o f God,”
many asked how he knew he was not having a hallucination. He
calmly told them, “ The claim that I have made is neither extraordi­
nary nor exclusive. G od will rule the lives o f all those who surrender
themselves without reservation to him.” A n d he added, “Here is no
question o f hallucination. I have stated a simple, scientific law that
can be verified by anyone who will carry out the necessary prepara­
tions. . . . ” We are used to considering religion and science at odds
– a divorce that many consider very harmful. Gandhi’s confident
claim is an arresting revelation, entirely in the spirit o f the Upani­
If we judge a theory by its explanatory power, one of the most
successful in the Upanishads is the theory of prana. The word may

come from the prefix pra- “ forth” (possibly used here as an inten-
sifier) and the important root an “to breathe.” A s generally used,
prana means “ (living) energy” : all the “vital signs” by which we try
to identify the presence o f life are tokens o f the capacity o f a body
to direct, conserve, and employ energy at a high level o f complex­
ity. The Upanishadic sages worked out the prim acy o f prana over its
various functions in the body by what we call thought-experiments.
One might imagine, for example, what would happen if the indi­
vidual faculties (in Sanskrit, indriyas) leave a person one by one: as
sight leaves, the person would go blind, and so forth, but still live.
This is exactly what we find in the Brihadaranyaka (v i.1.7 -13) and
other Upanishads. But when prana itself makes ready to leave, “like
a great stallion pulling up the stakes by which he was tethered,” all
the faculties gather round and beg it to remain, declaring they have
learned their lesson: they all derive their existence from prana. Or
one might imagine what would happen if all the faculties left and
came back to the inert body one by one: how would sight function
by itself if one were not conscious? This is the Aitareya experiment,
and there are others in the Prashna and elsewhere. The sages are
saying, as it were, “ If our theory is correct, death should only occur
when prana itself goes, and conversely life should resume when it
The sages testify that they have confirmed all this by direct obser­
vation – but that observation requires a highly trained observer.
This is a principle known in Western medieval philosophy as adae-
quatio rei et intellectu, the “suitability o f the cognitive equipment

to its task” : the senses and the mind (which Indians considered
the chief sense) must be brought to a stillness, usually by assidu­
ous training, in order for us to become aware o f prana and what lies
beyond even that.
In giving us these thought-experiments the sages probably had
three things in mind. First and foremost, they wanted to guide the
cognitive growth o f others who could be inspired to undertake the
training required to perceive the life-process in this direct way. Sec­
ond, they simply wanted to explain life with the most powerful the­
ory, which is w hy they are so rigorously logical. A n d finally they
meant to put a science o f health on a firm basis – in other words, to
say something true and useful about the process and the systems we
call life. From this scientific basis the sages were also able to explain,
again drawing on their incredible skill at directing attention inward,
the fivefold distribution o f the body’s energy, which is elaborated,
including its relationship to other realities, in the Prashna and sev­
eral other Upanishads.
I hope I have illustrated that with a little getting used to, one can
move around handily enough in the Indian system, which was quite
scientific and rational in its own terms. Diversity is not disharmony.
Without formal rules, Hindus organized a vast collection o f texts
into categories and canonized them in a system that was authorita­
tive throughout Hindu culture. In this respect India invites com ­
parison with another ancient people with intense spiritual longings
who remained decentralized, not by choice but by the destruction
o f their political integrity: the Jews. In this description o f the M ish-

naic inheritance we might almost be reading a description o f the
, Upanishads:7
The Talmud is the repository o f thousands o f years o f Jewish
wisdom, and the oral law, which is as ancient and significant
as the written law (the Torah), finds expression therein. It
is a conglomerate o f law, legend, and philosophy, a blend
o f unique logic and shrewd pragmatism, o f history and sci­
ence, anecdotes and humor. It is a collection o f paradoxes:
its framework is orderly and logical, every word and term
subjected to meticulous editing, completed centuries after
the actual work o f composition came to an end; yet it is
still based on free association, on a harnessing together of
diverse ideas reminiscent o f the modern stream-of-con-
sciousness novel.
Even more than diaspora Jewish tradition, the survival strat­
egy o f Indian culture was cumulative. This is a particularly useful
generalization to bear in mind. India was probably the only coun­
try where three in m any ways contradictory systems o f medicine,
Indian, Arabic, and Greek, flourished side by side; a similar tolera­
tion extended to the successive stages o f evolution in religious con­
sciousness through which India passed. Outworn forms o f religious
worship were virtually never discarded – as Professor Sarma points
out, the sages did their job o f moving people beyond their “rather
low type o f sacrificial religion . . . without in any explicit manner
breaking away from the traditions o f the past.”8
The resulting accumulation can be confusing because most tra­
ditions have not been cumulative; they reject a “creed outworn”

when they move on to a new stage. The ability to accommodate
rather than reject older beliefs has a very practical outcome. India
has had its share o f religious intolerance, but thanks to its paradigm
o f unity-in-diversity and its cumulative strategy for preserving cul­
ture, those individuals and communities who respond to outward
forms o f worship have kept their place and dignity in the system,
while at the other extreme individuals who have really had mysti­
cal experience have been unusually free to transcend all religious
forms and not only follow their own path but become beacons for
the culture as a whole. “A s men approach me, so I receive them,” Sri
Krishna says in the Gita. “A ll paths, Arjuna, lead to me” (Gita 4.11).
This too helps explain the mixtures, or more properly layers, o f reli­
gious consciousness displayed in the Upanishads.
I I I . T H E L I T E R A R Y V E H I C L E
Although not many of the Upanishadic passages
dealing with ritual and sacrifice are included in this or most other
modern collections, the texts’ concern with that aspect of religion
went beyond the fact that technically the Upanishads are commen­
taries on the Vedas. Ritual stood for all human action; sacrifice,
once internalized, was the key idea of mysticism and thus became a
perfect vehicle of continuity between the Brahmanas and the texts’
own interiorizing mystical vision. In the Upanishads’ treatment of
sacrifice we can learn many things about how they work as literary,
philosophical, and religious texts.
Many Upanishadic passages have to be interpreted by two or

more “codes” (as literary critics say today), since a new set o f mean­
ings is mapped onto an older set o f symbols.9 The gods or devas of
the natural world are dramatizations o f phenomena like rain and
wind, but they also stand for parallel faculties in the human being.
W hen Krishna says in the Gita, “ Those who worship the gods go to
the gods, but m y devotees come to me” (Gita 7. 23), he means that
those who live in the sense-world end up stuck in the sense-world;
but those who try to reach awareness o f their inner Self become
completely realized.
At all stages o f Indian civilization the world-process itself was
considered a sacrifice. Even the gods carry out sacrifice, playing,
just as human beings must, their role in the continuation of the
cosmic cycle. But as we have seen, devas can stand for the sensory
and motor faculties, divine energy as experienced in the m icro­
cosm; Shankara elsewhere comments, “It is a fact established on
the strength o f the scriptures that speech and the other faculties are
conscious through being presided over by conscious deities.” 10 So
in this image o f the gods offering sacrifice for the continuity o f the
cosmic process (or as that process) we also can see the beginnings of
one o f the most important principles o f mysticism, the principle of
yajna or spiritual sacrifice: in order to reach the highest fulfillment,
the human being returns vital energy to the process rather than
clinging to it. In practical terms, he br she works for the well-being
o f the world rather than for the gratification o f personal desires, and
therefore even eating is ideally a sacrifice meant to empower a self­
less contribution to the world process. We encounter this repeat –

edly in the Upanishads; the Fourth Question o f the Prashna con­
tains just this allegory o f human life as sacrifice, and the spiritual
principle o f yajna is, as Gandhi said, the essence o f the Isha, indeed
of India’s civilization.
Likewise, when the Upanishads describe the soul as travel­
ing through various realms after death, they are really referring
to realms o f psychic experience we can have in this life. The U pa­
nishads do not suppress but reuse the complex layers o f symbolic
thought they have inherited. I f their interest in sacrifices was a debt
owed to their Vedic and Brahmanic home in the literary tradition, it
was a debt they paid cheerfully, for it gave them a perfect vehicle for
their new message.
In the Katha and some other Upanishads we come across an
expression that means literally “eating up the good works” (karma)
o f someone or other. Karma means prim arily the spiritual or ethi­
cally operational residue o f every act. Thus not only a ritual act but
every act is symbolic, in the sense that beyond its external, visible
effects are the far more important, deep-residing effects o f every
thought, word, and deed on our spiritual relationships.
These effects entangle us in further relationships, making up our
network – or net – o f karma. Yet, as the Gita so eloquently says (3 .4 –
6), it is absurd to think we have a choice not to act; even if we sit qui­
etly our thoughts and desires will go on driving through the world o f
karmic influence. H ow can we ever be free of such a tangle? Precisely
by learning more and more day by day to act in a spirit o f yajna.
It was Gandhi who really brought this abstruse doctrine back

to vibrant life: act, by all means, but make your act, in the m od­
ern sense o f the word, a sacrifice. That is, he explained, choose a
selfless goal, use right means (nonviolence), and never be pushed
into action for your own benefit – a tall order. Gandhi was not wax­
ing metaphorical when he called his programs for the deliverance of
India – and o f the individual activist – yajna. By drawing upon the
not-to-be-denied need in all o f us to work for a selfless goal he ele­
vated even his political campaigns to the level o f models for every
action we might want to take today.
W hat Professor Sarma called the sages’ “m ighty task” o f making
the Hindu system valid for all time could be expressed in a single
word: interiorization. Interiorization does not mean giving up on
external struggles and satisfactions but rather reaching the center of
the field where all satisfaction is ultimately achieved for us human
beings. It does not mean losing life; it means the sacrificer gets eter­
nal life. The Upanishads share with all sages the same high vision of
what the human being can become: without sacrifice, we stop short
o f something that is essentially human.
Several things about the Vedic sacrificial (and, more generally,
ritual) belief system made it relatively easy to develop that system
mystically – that is, to interiorize it. A t an early stage, for example,
a certain type o f priest was designated who officiated at the ritu­
als mentally, not participating in the acts or recitations but going
through them in his m ind.11 His role originally was the important
one o f protecting the performance against errors, which were felt
to be dangerous and required elaborate purification; but that prec­

edent o f an interior run-through led to the provision that one could
actually perform the rituals mentally if the necessary implements
or personnel were not available – for example, in the forest. It was a
relatively short step from this provision to the position that as far as
the true purpose o f religion goes, external rites – however suitable
for the short-term resolution o f social problems – are unnecessary,
or at best symbolic. The real sacrifice could then be done directly,
not just attempted by symbolic manipulations.
At the beginning o f the Katha Upanishad we seem to have a reca­
pitulation of this historic process. Everything it describes has more
than one meaning. Nachiketa, a forthright youth who takes life seri­
ously, is taken aback by his father s sham sacrifice, but underneath
he is actually frustrated with the unreality o f the world. His long­
ing and his sincerity bring him face to face with the power o f death.
Given three boons, he chooses first o f all to be reconciled with his
father and to escape the immediate danger o f death he is facing.
Then – his relationship to death is becom ing that o f spiritual aspi­
rant before the supreme teacher – he asks and receives the knowl­
edge o f the fire sacrifice that “leads to heaven.” Then with the third
boon comes the point: “O Death, having seen your face, how can I
enjoy anything again? Teach me the real secret: W hat are you? W hat
happens when we die, and how can we not?” He does not want to
die and come back to life; he does not want to die and be rem em ­
bered; finally he just does not want to die.
A nd he does not have to. Desire focused and unified at that
depth opens for him “the entire secret o f meditation” (Katha 11.3.18)

by which one leaves all separate individuality – and consequently
all that is created and must die – behind. These stages of the story
reflect rather well the development of India’s rich, complex, and
cumulative religious history, driven always by the quenchless desire
for life that caused it to evolve into one of the most highly developed
– and inspiring – systems of mysticism in the world.
We think o f the Upanishads first and foremost as a well o f deep
meaning – their practical use to and effect upon us. But Indian pun­
dits and scholars o f old considered them also as a source o f poetic
beauty, and this beauty is not entirely secondary. The Upanishads
inherit from the Vedas a capacity for inspired poetry. They speak,
usually, in a less lyrical voice; on the other hand, they have even
deeper access to the basic resource o f all poetry, which is vision.
Vision often produces poetry even when the Upanishads speak in
their most dogged prose; for example in highly imaginative imag­
ery that can suddenly light up an elusive concept with deceptive
simplicity (see the introduction, p. 15). These images stay in the
mind; once we hear them, we will carry them around like a torch,
throwing light on life wherever we live it. W hen we understand the
purpose o f the Upanishads and have grown used to their aesthetic,
reading them can be what it was meant to be: a deeply enjoyable,
moving, and even transformative experience.
I V . T H E P H I L O S O P H Y
To modern ears the word philosophy connotes a
kind of dry, theoretical learning which would be almost a travesty

o f the Upanishads’ passion for experiential realization. A s the sages
used the term, knowing is not a separate activity from other aspects
o f being – courage, endurance, concentration, will. There is such
a thing as mere intellectual knowing, o f course, but the Mundaka
Upanishad, for example, begins by setting aside this kind o f know ­
ing as apara, “nontranscendent” – that is, not dealing with transfor­
mative experience. The Upanishads are concerned with para, “tran­
scendent” knowledge, “by knowing which, all things are known”
(I.3) in a way that our being and our actions are transformed. For
this kind o f knowledge there were four nonintellectual prerequi­
sites: discrimination, detachment, self-control, and an “ irrepress­
ible hankering after the realization o f truth.” 12
Ordinary knowledge is either subjective or objective; transcen­
dent knowing is neither. W hen a student in the Upanishads says,
for example, “ I did not know that such-and-such is Brahman,”
he means he has not yet realized the identity o f that thing with its
source, precisely because he has been seeing it as a separate object.
But according to mysticism – and to modern physics – we cannot
know anything objectively; it does not really exist independently o f
an observer, where both observer and observed are participating in
On the other hand, neither can we know things subjectively as
yet, because that would only be superimposing our own precon­
ceived ideas on things. The only w ay we can truly know something
is to become identified with it. We can become what we would
know. “If [one] loves a stone, he becomes a stone; if he loves a man,

he is a man; if he loves God – I dare not say more, for if I said that
he would then be God, you might stone me.”13 This, minus the final
hesitation, is precisely the position of the sages.
The higher mode o f knowing induced by intense selfless love and
identification produces powerful changes in the knower: “Whatever
they [knowers o f Brahman] desire, the object o f that desire arises
from the power o f their own thoughts; they have it and are happy”
(Chandogya v i i i . 2 .1-10 ). If these claims overdraw on the credulity
o f the m odern reader, it is because we think naturally o f the nor­
mal mode o f knowing with which we are familiar. Earlier transla­
tors used to think the Upanishads were talking about magic, espe­
cially when the symbolic code o f the text happens to concern rit­
ual: “He who performs this rite knowing goes beyond death.” What
the sages mean is that if one sees through the symbolism of the rit­
ual to its meaning and identifies with that inner core o f meaning
through spiritual union, rites become superfluous. For that knower
they have fulfilled their purpose; they have lifted the performer’s
vision to the world beyond death. Spiritual identification is caught
from rather than taught by an illumined teacher. “Knowing” in the
Upanishads is a code for that realization.
Tradition has isolated four powerful formulaic utterances
(mahavakyas) embedded in the early Upanishads. One is sarvam
idam brahma, “All is Brahman” (Chandogya m .14.1), which states
the foundation o f mysticism: that everything is ultimately one. In
the Vedic period, that belief had taken the form o f a great myth in
which Purusha, or the prototypical “ Person,” was made into our

world by the primordial sacrifice; his head became the Brahmin
class, his arms the Kshatriyas or ruler-warriors, and so forth. We
can say two things about the purport of this myth: it affirms the
unity of life in a common source (Christian writers would make the
same point about our common ancestor, Adam), and it affirms the
order, or meaning, in the Universe: there is rita – harmony, regular­
ity – underlying all seemingly random change. And that harmony
or order prevails not only in the material order, making science pos­
sible; it is also seen in the laws that govern the conscious or moral
dimensions of existence.14
What the myth does not tell us, being a myth, is the most impor­
tant consequence of these beliefs: that a human being can reverse
the process of creation which proceeded from singularity to diver­
sity: not just retrace it, for example, in science or philosophy, but
reverse it, so that one withdraws from the world of change and fol­
lows what St. Augustine called the “hidden footprint of unity” that is
there, perhaps covered but never eradicated in our consciousness.15
The Upanishads never stray far from this purpose. Take the epi­
sode of Uddalaka and his son Shvetaketu (Chandogya vi.1-16).
The latter has come home from his traditional twelve years’ study
under a brahmin teacher “proud of his learning in the scriptures”
but unaware of the purpose of that learning. In this case the father
must be his real teacher. Uddalaka first shakes him out of his com­
placency with a spiritual version of “What did you learn at school”:
“Did they teach you That by which everything else is known?” Then,
as soon as the boy is ready to grasp that truth of truths, he has him

dissolve salt in water, dissect a mustard seed, and perform other
experiments that by analog or induction yield insights into the one
Reality underlying all phenomena. These are not chemistry or biol­
ogy lessons: each time Shvetaketu has such a flash of insight Uddal­
aka tells him, “Shvetaketu, you are That.”
This is one of the central passages in the Upanishads, and its
teaching that the supreme Reality can be found in the humblest
and most ordinary objects “as fire lies hidden in firestick, butter in
cream, water in springs” (Shvetashvatara 1.15) is fundamental in the
Upanishadic worldview. Not surprisingly, “You are That” (tat tvam
asi) is one of the mahavakyas.16
Shvetaketu s sudden awakening is uncharacteristic; in most ana-
gogic passages of the Upanishads the process is by gradual stages.
When King Janaka asks Yajnavalkya, “What is the light of man?”
(Brihadaranyaka iv.3.11 ff), the sage first cites the sources of visible
light – sun, moon, fire – in diminishing order of brightness. Then
he moves on to speech, by which we can “see” in the sense we can
orient ourselves and carry out actions even in darkness. Finally he
comes to the Self. That Self, Reality, or the divine ground of exis­
tence, does indeed exist in all things, or they would not exist; but to
discover it we must slowly learn to peel back layers of reality like an
There is an endless variety of such hierarchies in the Upanishads,
all with a common pattern. They move from the inanimate world
to some forms of consciousness (seeing, speech) to consciousness
itself, or from outer things to our awareness of things – or feelings,

or thoughts – to our Self, the ultimate witness. We are always being
led back to that center from whatever perimeter to which the end­
less outward migrations of the mind have carried us.
This can be sometimes put, at least at first, in objective terms,
because stacked up behind everything we perceive is the series of
causes that brought it into existence, beginning with the First Cause
of phenomenal existence itself (Katha 1.3.10). At the heart of any
apparently separate thing lurks its essence – its rasa, literally “sap”
– that brought that thing into being. When we see the essence, the
thing itself has served its purpose: in the earthy language of the Upa­
nishads, “the subtle eats the gross.”17 The rasa of anything is subtler
than it; it is its cause, its explanation, and the key to its significance;
it is more real – more long-lasting – and the next step closer to the
ultimate reality beyond both the knower and the known.
But it is more illuminating to look at the theory in subjective
terms. Behind the act lies the motive; the former in the world of
material interaction, the latter in the world of thought and desire. In
one sense the “cause” of the light in my study is electricity; in a more
important sense it is my wish to have it there. If I fall asleep, there
will be no “light” in the room: it’s a participatory study, in this par­
ticipatory universe.
All search for essences and for the ultimate relationship ends
with Atman, the Self. This concept is the glory of the Upanishads.
The etymology of the word is not entirely certain, but most likely it
is derived from an, “to breathe,” and thus shares an important lin­
guistic as well as philosophical connection with prana. This rich­

ness of meaning is testimony to the very simplicity of the concept.
Atman just means “self”; in Sanskrit it was used as the reflexive pro­
noun. Yet so much is contained within that simple concept: untold
energy and devotion, the explanatory power of a scientific formula,
the evocative power of poetry, and finally the sheer drama of the
tremendous discovery made by the sages over and over again – one
of the most authoritatively verified hypotheses in the universe – that
the Self is God.
This Self cannot possibly be subject to any change, not even
death. This is perhaps why belief in reincarnation died hard even
in the West. It was a cherished belief not only in pagan but in vari­
ous Jewish and Christian groups in the early centuries of our era,
but was brusquely rejected by the emerging orthodoxy and seems
an unsettling and unverifiable hypothesis to most of us today. Yet
it differs only slightly, almost by a question of semantics, from the
modern concept of evolution, which holds that the individual dies
with the death of the physical body. Indian religious systems hold
as a core belief that the individual is not that which dies: it is more
accurate to think of ourselves as the forces which brought our body
and personality into existence – forces that will continue shaping
our destiny beyond what we call death, “as the wind takes on the
fragrance from the flower” (Gita 15.8).
The ultimate Self, however, never entered into any of these pro­
cesses but somehow governs them all. It is neither that which dies
nor those shaping forces, but the Witness of all this evolution. The
Self is untouched by the turmoil of the world, “observing without

partaking” (the two birds’ image), a bulwark that sorrow cannot
broach (Chandogya vm.4.1-2). Only because we think the Self is
yoked to its temporary instruments, the body, mind, and senses, do
we think it enjoys or dislikes anything in one little corner of the cos­
mic process (Katha 1.3.4). But it is present everywhere. The Self has
“entered into everything like a razor fitted into its case” or (Augus­
tine and St. Teresa use the same image) into every creature “up to
the nails” (Brihadaranyaka 1.4.7). The Self alone has no essence, no
cause, being the cause and essence of everything and everyone.
One might expect on the basis of such a revolutionary theory
of being, or metaphysics, an equally well-developed theory of our
relationship to things and people and how, if we have happiness in
view, we ought to behave towards them. This expectation is not dis­
appointed by the Upanishads, in which metaphysics and ethics are
The central value of Hinduism, declared in a formula known
mostly from later narrative literature, is ahimsd paramo dharma:
“The highest religion, the ultimate law of our being, is nonviolence.”
This value is implicit, and sometimes explicit (Chandogya iv.17.4)
in the Upanishadic teaching of unity. Before we explore it, however,
let us look at a complementary teaching which is equally surprising
and perhaps even less easily understood.
One of the critical “secrets” of the Upanishads is that renuncia­
tion is the opposite of deprivation. When the senses (indriyas) are
untrained they run wild, leading to a state of conditioning that is the
opposite of freedom (Katha 1.2.5-6). Joy comes from putting these

faculties back on track under the guidance of the Self. This is pre­
cisely why the Upanishads teach renunciation. Not only are joy and
renunciation not contradictory; they positively require each other.
Taken together they form the key value of Hinduism, as Mahatma
Gandhi taught when he took for his own mahavakya those three
opening words of the Isha Upanishad: tena tyaktena bhunjltah,
“Renounce and enjoy.”
In the Gita, desire is referred to once as the rasa of objects, i.e., the
objects of sense experience (11.59, a verse which meant a very great
deal to Gandhi). Since a thing’s essence is more permanent than its
material embodiment, it stands to reason that if we could somehow
enjoy that essence directly, our enjoyment would be more perma­
nent than sensory contact with the thing itself. A sense of joy and
happiness within is longer-lasting than the sensation of pleasure,
which is notoriously short-lived. One of the boldest treatments of
this theory of satisfaction occurs in the Katha:
That through which one enjoys form, sound, smell, taste,
touch, and sexual union is the Self. Can there be anything
not known to one who is the One in all? . . . That which
enjoys the honey [rasa] from the flowers of the senses is the
Self. (Katha 11.1.3)
We lose nothing in this process; in St. Francis de Sales’s fortu­
itous image, when the sun rises the light of a star does not go out,
but “is ravished into and absorbed in the sun’s sovereign light,
within which it is happily mingled and allied.”18 Nor do the senses
or the body generally suffer when we control them voluntarily. Free

from the popular misconception about self-tormenting “yogis,”
Upanishadic students pray, “May my senses wax clear and strong.”
That is why they trained them.
This whole question is so important that I would like to make
another pass through this logic, as the Upanishads would, from
a slightly different point of view. If we could trace where a desire
arises from – and the Upanishads do, repeatedly – we would find
that in most cases something – a thought, an external event – has
stirred up some wisp of the vague sense of incompleteness we har­
bor beneath the floor of surface consciousness as long as we are not
identified with our Self. We immediately misinterpret this stirring
as a desire for something outside us. This is maya: misinterpreting
the longing for union within as a call from something outside the
The Upanishads go a step further. When we have the sensation
“I want such-and-such,” what we really mean is that we want the
relative tranquility that follows when that desire subsides. As a great
sage of modern India, Sri Ramana Maharshi, who was very close
to the Upanishads in spirit, once declared, “There is no happiness
in any object of the world.” The Self is pure happiness, which we
mistake as coming from outside; so the closer we come to the Self
within, the more we are aware of – the more we feel already – what
•we were looking for outside us. This is what the Upanishads mean
by joy. “Renunciation” refers simply to dropping the outside reflec­
tion for the reality which is within.
Freedom is one of the most passionate concerns of the Upa-

nishads, and a name of one of the oldest, Kaivalya.19 But another
Sanskrit word for freedom, swaraj, appears in the Chandogya as well
as the Kaivalya, and this word was the rallying cry Mahatma Gandhi
used in the successful Indian struggle for independence from Brit­
ish rule. Of course, what the Upanishads meant by swaraj was inner,
personal freedom; but that is exactly what Gandhi meant by it too.
“The word swaraj is a sacred word,” he said, “a Vedic word, mean­
ing self-rule and self-restraint, and not freedom from all restraint
which ‘independence’ often means.”
It is typical of the Upanishads’ approach to life not to check or
negate passions but to channel them, reconnecting them with their
original source in deeper consciousness. In Upanishadic psychol­
ogy, the inner demand all human beings feel for freedom is ulti­
mately a drive to free ourselves from the inherited and acquired
compulsions in our own psychic makeup. The Upanishads do not
deny the need for political freedom; they simply claim that inner
freedom comes first, and is really the only reliable guarantee of all
other forms. The more freedom one wins within, through control
over one’s own thoughts and passions, the less one will be manipu­
late by others, and the more one will be able to seek political free­
dom – without going on to manipulate others oneself.
Thus we see that whereas the Upanishads were not nitishastra,
textbooks of political counsel, they contained germs of profound
richness for the alleviation of political and other relations. The
imaginative setting of the Upanishads is a stable and perhaps ideal­
ized world of kings and brahmins (and birds and beasts, and gods),

and the sages do not say much about how that world, much less one
like ours, should be organized. Yet their feelings about those aspects
of life also come through, sometimes in the most unexpected con­
texts. This passage is in the profoundly mystical eighth chapter of
the Chandogya Upanishad:
Here [in this world] people do what they are told, becoming
dependent on their country, or their piece of land, or the
desires of another, so their desires are not fulfilled and their
works come to nothing, both in this world and in the next
. . . but those who leave here knowing who they are and
what they truly desire have freedom everywhere, both in
this world and in the next. (Chandogya vm.1.5-6)
This modern-sounding scorn for “doing what you are told”
comes as a bit of a shock in this stable world presided over by reli­
gious, family, and royal authority; but a closer look reveals that while
the social structure of that world is stable, the sages don’t hesitate to
take this structure apart and show us where the underlying sources
of authority are, or should be: more than one proud brahmin has
to take lessons from a king who turns out to enjoy deeper spiritual
experience (cp. Brihadaranyaka n.1.1-15); more than one teenager
like Nachiketa pulls the wraps off a sham sacrifice or flings sham
rewards back at the delighted king of death (cp. Katha). In this view
freedom and authority come together, like renunciation and joy.
The truly free man or woman is svamin, literally “in full possession
of self.” He or she exercises a spontaneous authority over others: not
the authority that debases others but that ennobles them, not the

authority that distances but that draws to intimacy, not the author­
ity of birth or social advantage but of the ability to forget oneself
in the welfare of others, which anyone can learn. “Real Swaraj will
come,” Gandhi said, “not by the acquisition of authority by a few,
but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when
it is abused.” Gandhi’s last phrase shows how he had internalized the
vision of the sages that in the ideal world, while there would have to
be authority of each over himself, there could also be structures of
authority among others, so long as these were exercised selflessly.
The issue of authority is not, as often in our polarized world, yes or
no, but what kind.
These basic principles lead naturally to two other “political” con­
siderations, one of which we have touched on. Gandhi’s “discov­
ery” of nonviolence was Upanishadic to the core. It was an innate
response to the at-homeness in the world that breathes through
every line of those texts. And we find some principles of nonvio­
lence well articulated: If one is socially or by personality weak with
regard to another (that is, not yet svamin oneself), one still need not
be exploited: “for by dharma even the weak man can hope to prevail
against a king” (Brihadaranyaka 1.4.14, with Shankara’s comment).20
This dharma is nothing other than nonviolence; as we have seen,
ahimsa paramo dharma, “There is no higher dharma than nonvio­
lence.” It is a fact not to be glossed over that Gandhi, one small man,
prevailed against the British Empire in the height of its historic maj­
esty with that secret. Can there be a secret more necessary to learn?
While various thinkers today have remarked how modern phys­

ics seems to reflect the vision of the forest sages, few have noticed
how another significant discovery of ours was long anticipated
by them: the concept of unity in diversity. Originally popular­
ized by Hegel, this mildly paradoxical theme is becoming central
in discussions of how a nation or even the world should be orga­
nized, for a very simple reason: the world needs, as Richard Falk
has put it, “the maximum degree of spontaneous solidarity.” But
what kind of solidarity? A megagovernment? If this is to be world
order, one may be excused for preferring chaos. When he begins to
specify the requirements for true solidarity Professor Falk sounds
almost Upanishadic: the goal must be “the maintenance of living
systems at all levels of complexity. . . the exploration of space and
the planetary character of economic, ecological, and cybernetic
complexity are building the foundations of an inevitable global
consciousness.”21 We want a new principle of political order which
does not depend upon or induce uniformity among peoples, but
which, tolerant of complexity, promotes the fullest unfolding of
their individual potential – which happens to be a definition of
The Upanishads of course specialize in diversity; in fact they
revel in it as the essential character of life:
He is this boy, he is that girl, he is this man, he is that
woman, and he is this old man, too, tottering on his staff.
His face is everywhere. He is the blue bird, he is the green
bird with red eyes, he is the thundercloud, and he is the
seasons and the sea. (Shvetashvatara iv.3-4)

But the forest vision of life balances this love of diversity in living
beings with an unwavering focus on the unity which is life’s center.
The concept of dharma, though not as developed in the Upa­
nishads as in the narrative and sutra texts that followed, shows the
same apparent tension between a universal Law unchanging in any
time or circumstance – the dharma, properly speaking – and the
less well known concept of svadharma, each individual’s own law or
way.23 The Gita sternly describes how each must discover and ear­
nestly follow his or her own path or perish spiritually; “competition
in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity” (Gita 3.35).
In the end, unity in diversity is not a paradox at all. Unity is the
center – in Upanishadic terms, “in the cave of the heart” – of con­
scious beings, while diversity flourishes on the surface of life. It is as
necessary to foster diversity there at the outside as it is to hold unity
on the inside. Gandhi made this notion of inside and outside con­
crete for us: there must be “heart unity” among all, meaning sponta­
neous concern for the welfare of others, and that very concern must
lead to complete toleration of natural differences and even differ­
ences of wealth and station (which did not please his Marxist crit­
ics) as long as they are not abused. Class, family, and regional group­
ings are a sort of bridge between the unity toward which all must
be allowed to work and the individuality from which we start. The
more the heart can be opened in spontaneous concern for the other,
the less of an obstacle and more of a vehicle for social coherence –
and in the end spiritual unity – intermediate unities become.24

Unity in diversity formed the cornerstone of India’s national
consciousness from ages past; it may yet form her contribution to
a global consciousness which, as S. Radhakrishnan has said, the
world has no choice but to develop.
V. T H E C U R V E O F H I S T O R Y
Since the discovery of the Upanishads by the West,
not a few Westerners have gone to them as a source of the “peren­
nial philosophy,” a fascinating witness to an ancient civilization and
its unique religious system; others, like Yeats, have been drawn by
their poetic beauty. But the first Western philosopher to stumble on
them, Arthur Schopenhauer, was looking for much, much more.
And they did not disappoint him. In his oft-quoted words: “They
have been the consolation of my life, and will be the consolation of
my death.”2’
It is not hard to appreciate his reaction. One of the closing state­
ments in the first book of the Chandogya reads, “Whoever med­
itates and gains this wisdom here in this life lives at his highest
and his best” (1.9.4), and Shankara comments, “People may think,
‘Though such rewards might have accrued for the blessed ancients,
they cannot be possible for people in this age.’ The text proceeds to
set aside this notion.”
We too can set aside the notion that the Upanishads are irrelevant
curiosities. Because of the intense problems of our times, problems
that seem to be created by specifically modern conditions, we natu­

rally tend to think we have broken the thread o f history: Shankara
did not have to face ecological degradation, terrorism, and nuclear
war. But these problems arise from unresolved human difficulties
that have been the same throughout recorded history. Ecologi­
cal degradation is ultimately caused by human greed, as greed and
alienation lie behind all forms o f crime; war arises, as the U N E SC O
constitution says, “ in the minds o f men,” and persists when men
and wom en shrink from the age-old task o f learning to resolve their
conflicts. W hether we live in a forest ashram or in downtown Los
Angeles, the job o f being human means learning to convert our
inherited tendencies from problems into positive forces. Ours is not
therefore a predicament on which the experience o f the past falls
Schopenhauer predicted that others would soon react to the U pa­
nishads as he had; that, in fact, the sole advantage his own enlight­
ened century could claim over the benighted seventeenth would be
its possession o f those wonderful documents, which would cause
a revolution in human civilization. In this, it would appear, the old
pessimist was wrong. The nineteenth century and the twentieth
have come and gone, and have brought neither enlightenment nor
even – unless we are beginning to see it just now – the kind o f open-
mindedness Schopenhauer could have toward the achievements of
a very different culture.
It is not that there has never been mysticism in the West. In
fact, when the Western experiment with rationalism and scien­

tific thinking began more than twenty-five hundred years ago and
Greek thinkers, mainly in Asia Minor, struggled to free themselves
from the mental universe o f myth and symbol, the paradigm or sys­
tem o f thought they came up with was very like that o f their Indian
counterparts who had laid the basis o f the Vedanta some centuries
earlier. One thinks particularly o f Heraclitus o f Ephesus (ca. 540-
475 B.C.). We remember Heraclitus for the saying “all is in flux,” but
he was much more excited about his discovery that underneath the
flux o f the phenomenal world exists aiezoon pyr, “everliving fire”
(probably a symbol o f consciousness, for which the Greeks had as
yet had no single term), which ordinary human beings do not per­
ceive but to which they owe such knowledge as they possess. This
living fire that becomes all things reminds us forcibly o f prana.
In a supremely important fragment Heraclitus declares, “You
may search the limits of the soul without ever finding them, go down
any road you will; such a profound reality it has” (Fr. 45). It would
not be unfair to suggest that we have taken the scientific worldview
he made possible to its very limits in the opposite direction: happi­
ness is caused by endorphans, mother love is programmed by genes
and triggered by chemicals; a full-page ad in my university’s maga­
zine recently boasted a picture of a chromosome with the heading,
“This is your life.” The soul has so shrunken from view that far from
standing awestruck by its infinitude we have difficulty remember­
ing that it exists: indeed, why speak of soul; mind or consciousness
play no role in the electrochemical image of the human being which

popular imagination and some scientists today present unchal­
But the time has come to challenge them. It is curious to look
back from this vantage point and observe that the similarities
between the founders o f Western thought and the scientist-sages
o f the forest are so striking that from time to time Western schol­
ars keep trying to find out whether the latter somehow influenced
these “Ionian physicists” who awakened Western philosophy and
science in the generation before Socrates directly.26 Such an influ­
ence would not be unlikely. Yet at no time has the “Upanishadic”
vision o f a Heraclitus or an Augustine really become our own. Here
the Upanishads challenge us to put in place fundamentally different
concepts o f who we are, and to build a life o f thoughts, o f personal
habits, o f lifestyle, o f relationships, o f institutions and values, and
finally even o f foreign policy based on the unity o f consciousness
rather than on the separateness o f biochemical fragments.
Cultural and historical prejudices are loosening now, and that
m ay mean we have an unparalleled opportunity to forge the kind
o f shift in paradigm we need to survive and grow as a united world
– and perhaps Schopenhauer after all had seen this coming. In the
full text o f his oft-quoted remarks on the Upanishads we meet a bit
o f a surprise:
From every sentence deep original and sublime thoughts
arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and
earnest spirit. In the whole w o rld . . . there is no study

. . . so beneficial and so elevating as that o f the Upanishads.
They are destined sooner or later to become the faith of the
Schopenhauer foresaw not one but two major revolutions: first,
that the barrier between East and West would fall, permitting a
more helpful cross-cultural borrowing than had ever been the case
– which, as I say, we are already beginning to see happen. But sec­
ond, and even more daring, he predicted that a profound, visionary
way o f seeing, willing, and seeking fulfillment will become not just
the thought-experiment o f philosophers, as had happened at the
beginning o f Western scientific history, but “the faith o f the people.”
O f all the sources o f India’s vision, Schopenhauer was drawn
by unerring instinct to the Upanishads. He was trying to draw
our attention not to Hinduism or India, but to a habit o f looking
beneath the surface o f life to its underlying causes, to an at-home-
ness in the world with its infinite variety o f creatures and natural
beauty – our home and the only laboratory o f our destiny – to tre­
mendous insights into the nature o f power, to a plan for world unity
that seems to be embedded in every particle o f reality, to a reminder
that, as the Maitri Upanishad states, “One becomes like that which
is in one’s mind – this is the everlasting secret” ;28 and most o f all to
the courage to discover in ourselves a higher image o f the human
being. These are the gifts and the challenge o f the Upanishads.

1 Raimundo Panikkar, The Vedic Experience: Mantramanjari (Berkeley
and Los Angeles: University of California, 1977), p. 32 .
2 This fortuitous translation is that of Max Muller; more on the meanings
of the word upanisad below.
3 The Upanishads: An Anthology (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1970),
p. 2.
4 The translation is Panikkars, p. 58. It should be mentioned here both
that Panikkar is one of those who tends to see mysticism in the Samhi­
tas and that book 10 of the Rig Veda, from which this hymn comes, is
considered late.
5 Rabindranath Tagore, Sadhana (Tucson: Omen, 1972; original ed. 1913),
PP- 3- 5-
6 V. Raghavan, The Number of Rasas (Madras: Adyar Library, 1967), p. 34.
7 Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud (New York: Basic Books, 1967),
p. 4. It is interesting to note that talmud means “study,” not unlike veda
in the sense of “rage to know.”
8 D. S. Sarma, The Upanishads: An Anthology (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan, 1970), p. 2.
9 E.g., Aitareya Aranyaka II.2.3.4; cp. F. Max Muller, The Upanisads (Sa­
cred Books of the East: Oxford, 1879; Dover, 1962), vol. 1, p. 219. Early
Indian commentators on Vedic texts were quite well aware of this cod­
ing and spoke of three distinct frames of reference in which the same
text had often to be read: adhibhautika, or cosmological; adhidaivika, or
relating to the gods, religious; and adhyatmika, relating to the Self.
10 Ganganatha Jha, The Chandogyopanisad (Poona: Poona Oriental Series,
Oriental Book Agency, 1942), p. 226.
11 Cp. Muller, p. 69. This priest was said to be doing japam, which means
reciting the sacred formulas to oneself – the same word for repetition of
a name of God, or mantram as practiced today.
12 Swami Nikhilananda, The Mandukyopanisad (Mysore: Sri Ramakrisha
Ashrama, 1959),p. xxxiii.
13 R. A. Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam (New York: Schocken, 1975),
p. 118.
14 “We are only geometricians in regard to matter; the Greeks were first
of all geometricians in the apprenticeship of virtue.” Simone Weil, The

Iliad, A Poem of Might, in George Panichas, ed., The Simone Weil Reader
(New York: McKay, 1977), p. 164.
15 “Meditate on the Self, for in it all are known, as one may track an ani­
mal by its footprint” (Brihad. I.4.7; cp. also Rawson, p. 30). As Shankara
states, “the only fact intended to be conveyed [by myths of creation] is
realization of Atman”: that is, as Gaudapada had said, the unity of exis­
tence ; cp. Swami Nikhilananda, Mandukyopanisad pp. xxviif.
16 The others are ayam atma brahma, “The Self is Brahman,” prajnanam
brahma, “Consciousness is Brahman,” and aham brahmasmi, “I am
17 On this image of food and eating, which Panikkar calls the “main image
of the East,” see R. Geib, “Food and Eater in Natural Philosophy of Early
India,” journal of the Oriental Institute (Baroda) 25(i976):223-235, which
cites numerous passages.
18 Quoted in Eknath Easwaran, Dialogue with Death: A Journey through
Consciousness. (Tomales, Calif.: Nilgiri Press, 1981,1992) p.207.
19 See also the later Upanishad called Muktika, “Deliverance.”
20 Note the Gita’s personal version (7.11; Krishna speaking): “I am the
strength in those strong ones who have dropped passion and selfish de­
sire”; Krishna adds, “I am desire which is not contrary to dharma.”
21 Richard Falk, “Liberation from Military Logic,” Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists 41(7)1139 (August 1985).
22 Johan Galtung, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research,” Journal of Peace
Research 6(i969):i67-i9i.
23 The same is true diachronically: the Eternal Law or sanatana dharma,
the Hindus’ original name for their own religion, is expressed through
moving time as the dharma of an age, and finally as nimisha dharma, the
“law of the instant.” (Cp. Plato: chronos, observed time, is the moving
picture of aion, eternity.)
24 He saw the ideal world order as a structure of “ever-widening, never-
ascending circles. Life will be . . . an oceanic circle whose center will
be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready
to perish for the circle of villages, till at last the whole becomes one life
composed of individuals, never aggressive in their arrogance, but ever
humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are inte­
gral units.” (Prabhu and Rao, op. cit., p. 252.)
25 Parerga II.185.

26 Cp. Martin West, Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (Oxford: Clar­
endon, 1971), and Aurobindo, Heraclitus (10.5).
27 Radhakrishnan, op. cit., p. 17. (Emphasis added.)
28 Mait. VI. 34.3; the translation is Panikkar’s, p. 422. Note the striking simi­
larity to the opening verse of the Buddhas Dhammapada: “All that we
are is the result of what we have thought,” which continues, “This is an
eternal law.”

o! Glossary
T h i s b r i e f g l o s s a r y i s a g u i d e
o n ly to San skrit term s used in this vo lu m e. W o rd s u sed on ce
and explain ed in con text are n o t in clu d ed . A s a ro u g h guide,
Sanskrit vo w els m a y be p ro n o u n ce d as in Italian o r S p a n ­
ish. The com bin ation s kh, gh, th, dh, ph, an d bh are alw ays
p ro n ou n ced as the co n so n an t plus a slight h so u n d : th as in
hothead (not as in th ing);ph as in haphazard (n o t as in ph one).
P ron ou n ce h as in home; g as in g old;j as in ]une e xcep t in the
com bin ation jn (jn), w h ich can be p ro n o u n ce d like gn in Ital­
ian compagna. Th e oth er con so n an ts are ap p ro xim ately as in
E v e ry San skrit v o w e l h as a sh o rt an d a lo n g fo rm , the lo n g
pro n ou n ced fo r tw ice as lo n g as the short. In E n g lish tran s­
literation the lo n g vo w els are m ark ed w ith a b a r (_ ). Th e d ip h ­
thongs – e, ai, o, au – are also long.
The San skrit alphabet h as 48 characters, each represen tin g
a precisely defined sound. Sch o lars represent these ch aracters
in ou r R o m an alphabet b y ad d in g m a rk s to letters as n ece s­

sary, creating a system of spelling that is precise but confus­
ing to the general reader. For simplicity, these differentiating
marks have been omitted in this book, except in the intro­
duction and the afterword when a word is used in a strictly
linguistic context or within a quoted Sanskrit phrase. In all
other settings s’ and s both appear as sh, the sound ch is so
spelled, and the semivowel r is written as ri – thus, for exam­
ple, we write Shiva and Krishna instead of Siva and Krsna.
Scholarly transliterations are given in brackets after the glos­
sary entries.
Agni [Agni] G od o f fire in the Vedic pantheon, who consumes the
sacrificial offering and carries it to the gods, enabling ritual
communication with the divine.
ahimsa [ahimsa, from a ‘not’ + himsa ‘violence’]: Nonviolence;
doing no injury, wishing no harm in thought, word, or
akasha [dkasa] Space; the subtle substrate o f phenomenal reality.
ananda [ananda] Pure joy, beyond the duality o f pleasure and pain.
apana [apana] One o f the five pranas active in biologic function­
ing; controls “downward” processes such as elimination
and the expenditure o f sexual energy.
Aranyaka [aranyaka o f the forest’] Third portion o f each Veda,
emphasizing spiritual interpretation o f the Vedic rituals for
those in forest retreats.
ashrama [asrama] (1) Ashram , spiritual com munity where stu­
dents live with an illumined teacher; (2) a stage o f life in
Hindu tradition.
asura [asura, taken as ‘godless’] “Demon”; member o f the low-

est class o f creatures, the others being devas and human
Atman [atman self’] Self; the innermost soul in every creature,
which is divine.
a u m SeeOM
Bhagavad Gita [Bhagavat ‘Lord’, git a ‘song’] The best known o f the
Hindu scriptures, preserved as part o f the Mahabharata
epic. It is a spiritual dialogue between Arjuna, representing
the human soul, and Sri Krishna, the supreme Self.
Bhrigu [Bh rgu] Ancient sage whose legends and fam ily line figure
prominently in the Mahabharata tradition.
Brahma [Brahma] The Creator; in the Upanishads, a secondary
deity o f the Vedic pantheon. Not to be confused with Brah­
man (see below).
brahmacharya [brahmacarya conduct befitting a seeker o f Brah­
man’] Purity, complete self-control in thought, word, and
Brahman [Brahman, from brh ‘ grow, expand’: that which expands,
bursts into growth] The supreme Godhead, beyond all
distinctions or forms; ultimate Reality. Originally ‘sacred
utterance,’ and so sometimes ‘the Vedas.’
Brahmana [bramana] The second portion o f each Veda, largely
devoted to rituals; also (in this volume always written
“brahmin,” as the word has come into English) a member
o f the highest or priestly caste, responsible for preservation
o f traditional sacred knowledge and performance o f the
accompanying rites.
brahmin See under Brahmana.
chit [cit] Undifferentiated consciousness.
deva [deva, from div ‘shine’] A god; one o f the powers o f nature or
life. In the Upanishads, the devas also sometimes stand for
human faculties or powers.

gandharva [gandharva] A celestial being, associated with song and
Gita See Bhagavad Gita
guna [guna] Quality; specifically, the three qualities o f matter and
energy which make up the phenomenal world: sattva, law,
harmony, purity, goodness; rajas, energy, passion; tamas,
inertia, ignorance.
Indra [Indra] Head o f the Vedic pantheon; a sky god o f Indo-Euro­
pean origin, functionally equivalent to Zeus, lupiter, Thor.
Etym ologically indra means ‘power,’ and in the Upanishads
Indra is often connected with human faculties (indriyas,
the organs o f sense and action).
japa(m) [japa(m) ‘repeated or uttered half audibly’] The repetition
o f a mantram or H oly Name.
karma [karma ‘something done’] Action, work, behavior; also the
consequences o f action, spiritually and mentally as well as
karmadeva [karmadeva] A celestial being, said to have become a
god (deva) through right actions (karma).
Krishna [Krsna ‘dark one,’ or from krs to attract’] After the Upani­
shadic ages, an incarnation o f Vishnu and partly historical
figure whose teachings are preserved in the Bhagavad Gita.
kshatriya [ksatriya, from ksatram ‘battle prowess’] Member o f the
second highest o f the four castes, the warriors and rulers.
kundalini [kundalini ‘coiled’] Evolutionary energy; the potential
creative power o f spiritual evolution, dormant until awak­
ened by intense spiritual disciplines.
Mahabharata [mahabharata great epic o f the Bharata clan’] Vast
epic poem centered on the dynastic struggle between
two factions o f the descendants o f Bharata, a hero whose
name became that o f India. The Mahabharata contains the
Bhagavad Gita, and so much else o f wisdom that it is called
the “fifth Veda.”

mahavakya [mahavakya ‘great utterance’] Four epigrams in the
Upanishads considered to encapsulate their message: that
Atman and Brahman, the Self and the Godhead, are identi­
mantra(m) [mantra(m)] A quotation or verse from the Vedas, par­
ticularly from the Samhita or hymns; also (in this volume
spelled mantram) a spiritual formula consisting o f or con­
taining a name o f God.
maya [maya, from ma ‘measure’] Phenomenal reality; the appear­
ance or illusion (since Reality itself cannot be divided or
measured) o f a world o f separate entities; the divine power
which creates this world. Barely alluded to in the U pani­
shads, maya is a key idea in the philosophical system of
Vedanta, used to explain how the phenomenal world can be
identical with Brahman.
moksha [moksa] Liberation (from samsara, the cycle o f birth and
rebirth), illumination, Self-realization.
nadi [nadi] A track o f prana in a living creature,
o m The “unstruck sound” which can be heard in profound medita­
tion; the Holy W ord which signifies Brahman.
paramahamsa [paramahamsa ‘supreme swan’] A n illumined per­
parampara [parampara] A chain o f instruction from teacher to stu­
pitri [pitr ‘father’] A departed ancestor. The pitris inhabit, or in
a sense constitute, a blessed realm beyond this world but
below that o f the devas.
Prajapati [Prajapati ‘lord o f creatures’] Nam e o f the Creator.
prajna [prajna, from jna ‘know’] Consciousness; transcendental
awareness or wisdom, the highest mode o f knowing. In the
Mandukya Upanishad, Prajna (‘o fprajna’, with a shift in
vowel lengths) is the state o f dreamless sleep.
prana [prana] Vital energy, the power o f life; the essential sub-

strate o f all forms o f energy; also one o f five kinds o f vital
energy in living creatures: the five pranas are prana, apana,
samana, vyana, and udana.
rajas [rajas] See under Guna.
rayi [rayi] Wealth; matter.
rita(m)[rta(m)] The unifying law, order, or harmony implicit in
creation; the underlying truth o f life.
samadhi [samadhi] A state o f intense concentration in which con­
sciousness is completely unified, bringing moksha, illumi­
nation or Self-realization.
samana [samana ‘equalizing’] One o f the five pranas, responsible
for harmonizing and balancing energy in the body.
Samhita [samhita] The hym n (and most ancient) portions o f the
four Vedas; by extension, other types o f scriptural text.
samsara [samsara] ‘That which is constantly changing’: the phe­
nomenal world; the cycle o f birth, death, and rebirth.
Sankhya [sankhya counting’] One o f the six systems o f Hindu
philosophy built on the vision o f the Upanishads; the cor­
responding system o f practice is Yoga. Sankhya and Yoga
teach that there is an essential difference between Purusha,
the Self, an&prakriti, the created world.
sannyasi [sannyasi] A holy man, one who has taken the holy vows
o f sannyas or renunciation (the feminine is sannyasini).
sat [sat] Absolute being, pure reality, the ground o f existence.
sattva [sattva] See under Guna.
Shakta [Sakta] A worshipper o f the supreme creative power
(shakti) o f the Godhead in the Shiva tradition.
Shankara [Sankara ‘giver o f peace’] A name o f Shiva; a great mystic
(ca. eighth century a . d . ) who rescued the Upanishads from
centuries o f neglect, built on them the lofty philosophical
system called Vedanta, and established the monastic tradi­
tions which have since kept Hindu mysticism alive.
shanti [santi] Perfect, transcendent peace. The Upanishads and

o t h e r s a c r e d r e c i t a t i o n s o f t e n e n d w i t h t h e b e n e d i c t i o n “ o m
shanti shanti shanti!’
Shiva [Siva ‘auspicious’] A s Rudra, one o f the most important
forms o f G od in the Vedic pantheon, later widely w or­
shipped throughout Hinduism as the supreme expression
o f the Godhead.
shraddha [sraddha] One’s central, controlling belief; usually trans­
lated “faith.”
shruti [sruti ‘heard’] Revealed wisdom, as opposed to what is
“ learned” or traditional (see next entry). The Vedas, includ­
ing the Upanishads, are shruti, revelation; all the other
sacred works o f Hinduism are secondary or derivative.
smriti [smrti ‘m em ory’] W isdom that is learned, or preserved by
tradition. Everything in Hindu spirituality after the Vedas
falls into this category, including much that is regarded as
divinely inspired.
tamas [tamas] See under Guna.
tapas [tapas] Heat; in the Vedas, creative ardor; austerity, control o f
the senses, meditation.
tejas [tejas] Brightness, brilliance; spiritual radiance or splendor.
turiya [turiya ‘fourth’] Transcendent consciousness, beyond the
states o f waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.
udana [udana, from ud ‘up’ + an ‘breathe’] One o f the five pra-
nas, the five forms o f vital energy in the body; udana is the
power governing the rise o f spiritual energy, or tejas.
udgitha [udgitha, from ud ‘up’ + ga ‘sing’] Important part o f the
Vedic chant; by extension, in the Chandogya Upanishad,
‘that which is first uttered,’ i.e. o m , or the Self.
Upanishad [upanisad ‘sitting down near’] A mystical text given by
illumined seers, attached to the end o f one o f the Vedas.
Vaishnava [ Vaisnava] Pertaining to Vishnu; belonging to his sect.
Vayu [ Vayu] Vedic god o f wind and air.
Veda [ Veda, from vid ‘know’] Revealed wisdom; specifically, one

o f the four collections that comprise the Hindu scriptures
(the Rig Veda is oldest, followed by the Sama, Atharva, and
Yajur Vedas). Even more specifically, Veda often refers only
to the most ancient part o f each o f these collections; see
Vedanta [vedanta, from veda ‘wisdom’ + anta ‘end’] (1) The “end of
the Vedas” : the Upanishads, both because they follow and
because they consummate the rest o f the Vedic material; (2)
a system o f philosophy based on the Upanishads, founded
by Shankara, which holds that Brahman alone is ultimately
real; separateness and change are only apparent distinc­
tions superimposed on this ultimate unity.
Vishnu [ Visnu] A deity o f the Vedic pantheon, later one o f the most
widely worshiped forms o f G od in Hinduism, especially in
his major incarnations as Ram a and Krishna.
vyana [vyana] One o f the five pranas or forms o f vital energy in the
body, responsible for distributing energy throughout the
limbs and organs.
Vyasa [ Vyasa] Great sage who is the traditional compiler o f the
Vedas and composer o f the Mahabharata.
yajna [yajna] Sacrifice, worship; self-sacrificing action, performed
in service o f G od or as a selfless offering.
yoga [yoga, from yuj ‘unite’] Union with God, Self-realization; a
path or body o f disciplines leading to this state; specifically,
one o f the six systems o f Hindu philosophy, paired with the
theoretical system o f Sankhya.

Di Notes
References are to verse number
H! I S H A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
The Isha comes from the same Samhita (namely the White Yajur Veda)
as the Brihadaranyaka and is traditionally associated with its colorful
hero, Yajnavalkya. It is the only Upanishad to come down to us as part
of a Samhita, though it has also been handed down with minor textual
differences in other ways. As part of a Samhita it is entirely in verse and
is today recited in the Vedic style in brahmin communities. Normally
this would argue for a high antiquity for the textual form in which we
have an Upanishad, but the White Yajur Veda is relatively recent.
The name too is unusual. Isha, taken from the opening word, is a
more personal name for God than usually occurs in the Upanishads;
it is cognate with German eigen, “ (one’s) own,” and means the Inner
The language of the Isha is unusually dense and suggestive, combin­
ing mythological imagery with the most advanced mystical concepts.
These notes comment on only a few of the text’s suggested meanings.
1 The opening words are Isa vasyam idam sarvam, literally “all this [the
universe] is filled with the Lord.” Vasyam is a gerund of the root vas,
which means “enter,” “dwell with,” and perhaps “put on,” cognate
with English “wear.” The trouble is that there are five roots with
this form and a gerund can have various meanings, including im­
perative, which the translation has not tried to convey. M ax Muller
translates “is to be hidden.”

“All” : jagatyam jagat, literally “all that moves in that which is cease­
lessly moving”; i.e., in the phenomenal universe. Samsara means
the same thing.
2 The text here uses mythological symbolism: literally “Set in this [the
Self, Reality], Matarishvan distributes the functions” of life. Matar-
ishvan is a little-known, somewhat Prometheus-like figure, and this
primal distribution of offices, functions, and honors is a common
theme in creation mythology which recurs in v. 8.
6 “Know no fear” : vijugupsate is a strong word which also connotes re­
vulsion or disgust. The sage “shrinks from none” ; he or she is com­
pletely at home in the universe. As the Greeks said, “ To the wise, all
the world is home,” and Augustine adds, “There is no saneness in
those who dislike any part of creation” (Conf. v ii.14).
9-14 This section begins simply enough: “In dark night live those for
whom the world without alone is real.” Then, while the structure
of the thought remains one of simple polarities, the terms become
unusual and pregnant with suggestion. This translation seeks to
lay bare simply and clearly the basic meaning. To know Reality we
must see past its dualistic forms (as the Buddhists say, “Dharma
is not to be clung to; how much the less adharma” ). “Nearly every
chapter of the Upanishad [s],” Swami Vireswarananda points out,
“begins with dualistic teaching . . . and ends with a grand flourish
of Vedanta,” that is, of complete monism (Brahma-sutras, Mayavati:
Advaita Ashrama, 1948; p. lxvii). The Isha goes on to say that in
practice the higher form of a duality – e.g., wisdom as opposed to
ignorance, the world within as compared with the external world
– is often harder to transcend than the lower. The point applies tell­
ingly to solipsistic forms of escape such as drugs, in which one cre­
ates a private reality even more false than the apparent multiplicity
of the outside world.
14 “ Transcendent and immanent” : Sambhuti and vindsa. would seem
to be the duality of becoming and passing away, or in static terms
the manifest and the unmanifest. The language yields, however, an
intensely suggestive paradox: “Destruction carries one free from
death.” Perhaps, as the Katha expounds so dramatically, when we
see death – when we know the world of change for what it is – we
get the motivation to escape from death permanently.

16 “That very Self am I” : so’ham asmi, the last line of this verse, is one
of the mahavakyas. “Self” in this stanza is purusa, and the Sanskrit
contains a striking pun: “ That (asau) supreme Person residing in
the heart of life (asau) am I.”
0! K A T H A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
The Katha Upanishad belongs to the Black Yajur Veda, which had its
home in the heartland of Indo-Aryan civilization, the Madhyadesha
or “midland” region (today around Agra and Delhi). O f the great sage
Katha after whom the Upanishad is named we learn only that he was
the founder of this tradition (of which we can regard this Upanishad
of his as the finest product) and a student of Vaishampayana, student
As early as the Rig Veda (x.135) there is a hymn to Yama, the being
who was the first to die and thus became presider over death and the
dead. In this hymn a youth who has died is addressed, laments a father
who has gone on before him, and tries to ride some sort of chariot –
all elements which will occur in the Upanishad. Then in the Taittiriya
Brahmana (III.11.8) there is a brief myth about a boy called Nachiketa
to whom the god Yama reveals a certain sacrifice to be named after him.
It is on this brief story that our Upanishad bases its dramatic opening.
Noteworthy is that in the Brahmana, Nachiketa’s third request is for the
secret ofpunar mrityu or “redeath” : apparently the ability to come back
from death each time it occurs (which in a sense ordinary mortals do,
according to the theory of reincarnation), not to go beyond death. The
Upanishad, then, is not only an elaboration in length but a profound
spiritual enlargement of the mythic material.
The Katha seems among the earliest verse Upanishads on grounds
of meter, language, and style of thought; on the other hand it has several
verses almost verbatim in common with the Bhagavad Gita and whole
sections that are taken up into a later Upanishad, the Maitri. At all ages,
both for India’s many spiritual teachers as well as for many general
readers, the Katha has been probably the most useful and popular of
the Upanishads and has therefore enjoyed many translations and edi­
tions. That of Joseph Rawson (Oxford, 1934), while unfortunately out of
print, is a mine of information and a very sensitive treatment (from a

philosophical rather than a spiritual viewpoint). Easwaran has devoted
a book to the Katha: Dialogue With Death (Nilgiri Press, 1981).
1 . 1
2 “Full of faith” : literally “sraddha had entered him.” This crucial qual­
ity unfolds in Nachiketa in three great strides: first the seriousness
with which he takes the sacrifice, next his calm response to his fa­
ther’s outburst that he now belongs to death, and finally his capacity
to absorb Yama’s great message.
7 These words may be spoken by Yami, Vedic Yama’s consort, or by one
of his attendants; Vaivasvata is an epithet of Yama. Vaishvanara (lit­
erally “everyman”) is translated “like a bright flame” because it is an
epithet of Agni, god of fire: Nachiketa is identified here with Agni
(hence his control of the sacrifice to come) and as water placates the
anger of fire, one must placate the expectation of the firelike guest
who enters one’s home. But its literal meaning suggests that a visitor
comes as embodiment of the unity of life. “Bring water, Vaivasvata”
may have been a traditional formula for such a guest ritual, so im­
portant in Indo-European societies.
9 Underneath the humor, Nachiketa’s control over death here is quite
serious. By not eating the “fruits of death” – i.e., any material thing
in Yama’s kingdom – he overcomes death. The theme has a mytho­
logical level also in that many heroes traveling to an otherworldly
place like the land of death cannot return if they eat its food.
16-19 These are elements of folktale. The myth of the foundation of sac­
rifice, explaining how a present-day institution came about or got
its name, is a classic example of etiology.
17-18 Yama holds out a description of what Nachiketa has won which
almost makes it sound like the supreme goal. This is profound psy­
chology, for temptations always make us feel that yielding to them
will make us completely fulfilled – otherwise they would not be
tempting. But Yama’s last word tips his hand: Nachiketa will enjoy
all this svargaloke, “ in the world of heaven.” In Hindu or Buddhist
mysticism “heaven,” the reward of the righteous (and earlier of the
warrior), is a kind of cul-de-sac where we enjoy, but exhaust, the
results of our religious or worthy secular acts and then must re­
turn to the world of spiritual progress. Only release (moksha), the
reward of true spiritual struggle, is inexhaustible. Even Nachiketa’s

achievement as the founder of a great sacrifice should not, and will
not, satisfy him.
25 More literally ima ramah, “these lovelies.” Demonstrative pronouns,
like the simple term iha “here” regularly mean “this very world”
(cp. sarvam idam, “all this” or “the universe”). In this particular
context there is a sense that Yama is almost conjuring up in Na-
chiketa’s mind the vivid experience of sensory pleasure, more im­
mediate and powerful than his merely seeing or even experiencing
any external objects. That is probably what Yama means by offering
pleasures more than worldly; i.e., they are of the world within.
27 Nachiketa’s singleness of purpose, his single desire, is the trait of
the successful spiritual aspirant. As Ramakrishna says, if one fiber
is still sticking out, the thread will not pass through the eye of the
needle. Not only to desire the right thing but to unify one’s desires
on it is the key.
1 Here begins the actual teaching for which Nachiketa’s encounter
with death has prepared us. As with Angiras’s opening answer to
Shaunaka (Mundaka 1.1.4), knowledge begins with discrimination,
in this case between two very evocative terms: preya, what one is
“fond” of (priyah), often because of conditioning, and sreya, that
which conduces to real well-being (sri).
8 “Spiritual osmosis” : Beyond words, realization is not so much taught
as absorbed, as the next verse says, “from close association with a
realized teacher.”
1} This verse contains some allusive language that has been variously
interpreted, without affecting the basic meaning. “Divine principle
of existence” here is an adjectival form of dharma (it is used at the
end of Gita xii as well); and the last phrase may mean “You, Nachik­
eta, I consider an open dwelling” : i.e., open to spiritual instruction
and the joy of Self-realization.
18-19 Very similar to Gita 2 .19 -2 0 , this assurance is the basic promise
of spiritual life.
20 The last line of this verse has one of the few troublesome variant
readings in the Upanishad. Easwaran’s translation takes the text as
dhatuh prasadat, “by the grace of the Creator.” Others read dhatu

prasadat, “by the stilling of the constituents,” i.e., the senses. It
makes remarkably little difference, since divine grace consists of
stilling the senses and mind. (See also next note.)
23 Another interpretation is, “By the act of choosing the Self does one
win the Self.” This is equally suitable to Upanishadic teaching.
25 Literally, “is curry and rice to the meal o f” the Self. This is the com­
mon theme that the higher consumes the lower; as the Aitareya
Aranyaka puts it, “The eater is higher than the food” (m .1.4).
1 Literally, “ Two drink rita.” This image expressing the duality of hu­
man choice as between two ways of using energy (primarily our
own vital energy) as two birds in one tree goes back to Rig Veda
1.164.20 (where, however, it may have a different interpretation). It
occurs also in the Mundaka (111.1) and Shvetashvatara (iv.6) Upa­
3 This famous model of human life as the conduct of a chariot recurs in
the framework of the Gita, where Krishna himself drives as Arjuna’s
charioteer: to this day the main visual image of the Gita in popular
Indian devotional art. Plato also used it, less elaborated, in the Pha-
edrus. “The roads they travel” is literally gocarah, the senses’ “cow
pastures,” by which they roam the phenomenal world. The term
became common in Indian spiritual lore and a technical term in
Sankhya philosophy.
10-11 “The senses derive from objects of sense perception,” etc.: this
is precisely what the text says. As in modern physics’ vision of a
“participatory universe,” the human mind in very real ways co-cre-
ates the outer world. This does not deny the existence of the outer
world; on the other hand, as Sri Ramana Maharshi puts it without
mincing words, “The heart is the center from which everything
springs” (David Godman, ed., Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri
Ramana Maharshi [London: Arkana, 1985], p. 18). Using the mod­
ern image of the movie screen he often said, “You are the screen, the
Self has created the ego, the ego has its accretions of thoughts which
are displayed as the world___ In reality, all these are nothing but the
Self. Nothing but the Self exists” (ibid., p. 27).
14 This famous climax sums up, if any verse ever does, the message

of the Upanishads. It is, of course, the verse alluded to in the title
of Somerset Maughams novel The Razor’s Edge. The imperatives
(“get up,” etc.) are all in the plural, and in this climactic verse the
dramatic frame is allowed to slip aside, revealing that Nachiketa
has really been a listener for all of us. The word which the transla­
tion (and Shankara) interprets to mean “an illumined teacher” is
varan, “those who excel,” but it also picks up varan, “boons,” from
the opening drama: “Having attained those desires, now strive for
the lasting fulfillment of realization.”
16-17 The concluding verses give traditional closure, usually of an en­
tire text. This happens also in the Shvetashvatara, and in the loose
architecture of the Upanishads it may indicate what was at some
stage of the tradition an original ending.
I I . l
3,f- The refrain beginning with this verse is literally etad vai tat, “This
[very Self] is indeed That” – i.e., Brahman, the supreme, or “That
which you were seeking.”
12-13 This image of the Self within as “thumb-sized” is common in the
Upanishads and other mystical texts, and perhaps has some back­
ground in the Vedic description of God the Creator standing “ten
fingers’ breadth” back from the heart (Rig x .9 0 .1). It is an attempt
to draw attention inward; the size is not to be taken literally but
helps one focus all concentration within.
I I . 2
1 Anustaya, “meditates on,” can also mean “governs,” suiting the image
of the Self as Inner Ruler of the city that is the body. Here again
both meanings converge, since meditation is control, mastery.
7 The two destinations at birth cited here are probably animal (“em­
bodied”) and plant (“stationary”), the two main categories of life-
forms in Indian thought. The illumined person is an exception to
this law of rebirth, but all proceed, as is vividly expressed in the last
line, yathd karma, yatha srutam, “according to what they have done
and learned.”
9-10 The fire and air images end with the same formula as verse 11: the
Self pervades all these forms yet remains outside all of them too.

A more literal translation would be, “As the one fire, entering the
world, takes on the shape of all created things but remains outside
as well,” etc.
11 The word for “tainted” in this verse is lipyate: work done with mo­
tives of self-interest “clings to” the doer, with all the unfavorable
karmic results that implies; cp. Isha i.
15 This verse appears at Mundaka 11.2.10, Gita 15.12, and elsewhere.
H -3
2 The text has “moves in prana,” but the same source, Brahman, is un­
4 This verse again shows that the belief system of Hinduism is the op­
posite of otherworldly or fatalistic: it places the greatest emphasis
on the choices to be made in this life, in what is called karmabhumi,
the “land of action” or “world of karma.”
7-8 “Mind” (manas) is the seat of emotions and perception, the field
of desires and other mental forces which together determine how
we think and act. Its essence (here sattvam uttamam) is “intellect,”
or the highly discriminating perceptive faculty. “Ego” (here mahan
atma) means the principle of differentiation by which the jiva or
individual personality perceives itself as separate. (Later the normal
term for it will be ahamkara, “I-maker.” ) The terms used here differ
somewhat from those at 1 .3 .10 -1 1 (and commentators dispute their
exact meanings), but roughly the same series, from the individual’s
mind to cosmic Mind and beyond to universal Reality, is intended.
12-1J The Upanishad is returning to the theme about spiritual teach­
ing with which it began, that only one who has realized it can com­
municate it. The description of such a person here is literally astyiti
bhruvan, “one who says, ‘It is!” This in turn picks up the question
of Nachiketa’s which started the entire inquiry: Astyity eke; “When
someone dies, some say he is; others say he is not!’ The word for athe­
ist in Sanskrit is ndstika, “naysayer.” This affirmation acknowledges
that the Self or God is the ultimate entity, depending on no other:
Ramana Maharshi cited the biblical phrase “I am” as the best defini­
tion of the Self in all language, and Augustine coined an expression
in Christian tradition which corresponds to what Radhakrishnan

calls “rational faith in the existence of Brahman” as the first step to
its realization: Credo ut intellegam, “I believe in order to perceive.”
16 “Vital tracks” : nadis. “To death” : literally “ in every direction” other
than realization.
Ill B R I H A D A R A N Y A K A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
Both branches of the White Yajur Veda contain the best known of the
Brahmana texts, the Shatapatha Brahmana, and within this vast store­
house of religious lore is included the Brihadaranyaka (“Great Forest”
or “Great Aranyaka”) Upanishad. It is much like India itself – or like
another cumulative traditional text, the Mahabharata. We have selected
passages to give a sense of its variety, and furnished notes to only some
of them to keep within manageable size.
I I . 4
1 1n this episode, repeated at iv.5, Yajnavalkya makes ready to enter the
third traditional stage of life.
2 “My lord”: bhaga, a term of endearment, is a less usual form of
bhagavan, which, like the English “lord”, means etymologically
“sharer” or “provider.” This takes on spiritual significance in the
present context: “sharer of love, divine consciousness,” which of
course is just the role that Yajnavalkya is about to play.
3 Literally she says, “What my lord knows, let him tell.” Shankara ex­
plains that what she wants to learn is (kevalam amritavasadhanam),
“the whole body of disciplines leading to immortality.”
5 Throughout this famous passage, “for [its] own sake” (etc.) renders
kamaya, literally “for love o f” or “out of desire for.” We do not really
desire anything, but long for union with the Self which is in it.
6 “Confuse” : the word is variously translated as “oust,” “slight,” or “ ig­
nore.” The point is that to be fulfilled completely we must realize
that everything and everyone is our very own. Wherever we sense
alienation, we will not understand the universe to that extent; the
expansion of our consciousness will be checked.
7-10 The illustration of the musical instruments shows that the Self is
the single thread of meaning in the universe; the fire simile indi­

cates that the entire religious culture symbolized by the fire sacrifice
points back to its source, which is that same Self.
10 The word for breath literally means “out-breathing,” implying that
the mystic can retrace the course of evolution (as the universe does
in pralaya, the cosmic dissolution) and be “breathed back in” to the
12 Yajnavalkya’s final aphorism is indeed confusing, as Maitreyi will in­
dicate. He seems to mean that when the separate self which knows
reality as separate and composed of perishable elements is let go
of, transcended, there is no confusing knowledge (or knower) but
only pure awareness. This we can never lose – it can never perish,
so this is the immortality Maitreyi (who stands for every one of us)
was seeking.
14 “Separateness” : literally “duality, as it were” (dvitiyam iva). Cp.
Ramana Maharshi: “ There must be a duality if you are to catch hold
of something else, but what is is only the one Self, not a duality.
Hence, who is to catch hold of whom?” (David Goodman, ed., Be
As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (London: Ar-
kana, 1985), p. 172).
I I I .4
1 Janaka was proverbially king and sage, one who enjoyed both the
world and spiritual awareness. Videha means “without body,” which
may be part of the allegory of his liberation. His daughter in the
bhakti tradition is Sita, consort of Sri Rama. In the Upanishad, his
relationship with Yajnavalkya allegorizes the privileged relationship
of a spiritual teacher to temporal authority, which to some extent
still obtains in India. Their dialogues are among the most humor­
ous in the Upanishads, as well as the most illuminating.
h i . 8
1 The questions of the other brahmins, which concern details of the sacri­
fice, have been omitted. Yajnavalkya answers his questioners master­
fully, improving on whatever their previous teachers had taught them.
Last to come is Gargi, the daughter of Vachaknu, who now “makes her
move.” “Spiritual debate” : brahmodya, literally a “Brahman-contest.”
4 “Space” : akasa sometimes translated as “ether,” is the nonmate­

rial substrate o f the universe. Note the progression from akasa to
aksara, the Imperishable, in v.j.
8 At this point Yajnavalkya begins to “take o ff” and, like so many Upa­
nishadic teachers, expound upon the unspoken question o f the
questioner: the question of human choices, destiny, and the path
to immortality.
10 “Attain immortality” : literally “becomes a brahmanahwhich Shan­
kara explains as “a knower of Brahman.” A commentator, Ranga-
ramanuja, adds: “From this knowing comes the attainment o f im ­
mortality, while not knowing o f it leads [one back] to samsara
IV. 3
This incident is recorded in the Shatapatha Brahmana, x i.6 .2 .10 . The
passage is interesting in showing the protocol controlling the pre­
cious right to put questions to a spiritual teacher.
7 “Who is that Self?” It is difficult to convey the precise connotation of
this question, katama atma? It implies that there are various selves
we can identify with; which one does the sage mean? This is clearly
the “takeoff point” o f the episode. The self described from here on
is not quite the Self but what came to be called in later tradition
the jivatman or the living individual’s self: one’s personal identity,
not the absolute Self (paramatman or simply atman) but one not
attached to physical and mental forms.
9 In Hindu tradition sandhya, the “juncture” o f night and day, is con­
sidered an opportune time to meditate because being between both
zones it is caught in neither; similarly, the term used here for the
state of consciousness that is neither in this world nor beyond it
is “sandhya, the third state, the state of sleep.” Ramana Maharshi:
“On whatever plane the mind happens to act, it creates a body for
itself; in the physical world a physical body and in the dream world
a dream body which becomes wet with dream rain and sick with
dream disease” (Goodman, p. 197). The “intermediate state” can be
either between waking and dreaming or between two lives.
1,-12 The refrain which describes the Self in these verses, abbreviated
in the translation, is hiranmayah purusa eka hamsah, literally, “this
golden Person, this solitary swan.” There is a traditional pun on
hamsa (“swan”) and soham (“I am He”) and that splendid, solitary

bird symbolizes the absolute freedom of the Self. Yajnavalkya’s use
o f vivid, everyday images in this section makes it one of the most
effective passages in the Upanishads.
12 “Body:” literally avaram kulayam, the “nest below,” in keeping with
the bird imagery throughout.
21 The rare word describing freedom from desires here is aticchanda.
Shankara comments that normally one speaks o f being svacchanda,
“able to act by one’s own desire,” or paracchanda, “forced to act by
another’s desire” ; neither entails spiritual freedom, which is atic­
chanda, quite beyond desire altogether. The next verses repeat this
logic for hearing, thinking, and so on; the translation condenses
52 “But a fraction of this joy” : literally matram, a “measure” or finite
part, whereas our capacity for joy is infinite.
33 Omitting a calculation or scale o f joy very similar to Tait. II.8.
I V . 4
1 “Powers of life” : the pranas.
5 The pregnant, simple words about desire at the end of this part con­
tain the essential practical teaching o f the Upanishads. “A person
is his desire” : I f we can control our deep desire we can control our
destiny, or the state to which one “repairs” (abhisampadayate). The
next mantra extends the principle to the next life, as Plato does as
well; cp. Laws 904c and the myth o f Er, Republic 6i5b-end.
7 The quoted verse is also found at Katha v i.14 .
9-23 These verses are found almost word for word in other Upanishads
in this volume and are omitted here for simplicity.
23 “This kingdom is yours” : literally “You have achieved this” (i.e., the
world o f Brahman). To rule with detachment from selfish interest
is to live in heaven on earth.

m C H A N D O G Y A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
Chandogya comes from chandoga, the singer o f the saman part o f
the Veda, and ultimately from chandas, “ (Vedic) song.” The U pani­
shad is from the Sama Veda, in which the song aspect o f the Sam ­
hita is emphasized. It is an early prose Upanishad.
1,2 Probably rik here stands for hymn, sama for song, and udgitha for
the impulse to sing praise. On a simpler level, most hymns o f the
Sama Veda come from the Rig Veda.
110 The word for “inner awareness” is upanisad; for “faith,” sraddha.
141-4 This famous brief passage of the Upanishad is known as the
“Wisdom of Shandilya” (Sandilya vidya). It contains a basic exposi­
tion of spiritual reality, the core of which (about our “deep desire” )
is repeated at Brihadaranyaka iv.4.5.
“Comes forth,” etc.: all this, Shankara explains, is contained in the
text’s mystical word tajjalan (see also note on Kena iv.6).
4 2 “Satyakama Jabala” : as if a patronymic, lengthening the first a o f the
mother’s name to indicate “child o f” and shortening the last a to
make it masculine. Satyakama means literally “lover o f truth.”
44 Saumya literally means possessing strength and health and possibly
connotes one fit for initiation, i.e., the drinking of soma. In any case
it is not a rare address and the combination o f affection and respect
it connotes is difficult to convey in English.
A boy seeking acceptance from a teacher would offer firewood,
prostrate himself, and declare his lineage. Originally, caste gave
the individual a recognizable place in the human community (as
we would say today, a “network”); and it was not entirely rigid: the
teacher can accept Satyakama despite his uncertain lineage, and
Chandogya v.3 has a kshatriya teaching a brahmin. While the caste
system had become rigid and abusive by the modern era, its origi­
nal purpose was simply to recognize the differing attainments of

the individual and the family’s role in nurturing spiritual growth, as
well as protecting the efficiency o f certain divisions o f labor.
Commentators take the bull to represent Vayu, the swan, the sun, and
(more importantly) the diver bird for prana.
9.2-j “prom y0U alone” : this touch emphasizes that there is more to
spiritual instruction than mere picking up facts, however accurate;
as the Katha says, truth must be caught by “spiritual osmosis” from
one established in it.
The translation has been simplified, omitting some philosophical ar­
guments. As usual, what begins as a Vedic lesson becomes a plat­
form for practical mysticism, in this case a “hands-on” experiment
with energy and life. This section, with the recurring mahavakya
“You are That,” is considered one o f the most important in the Upa­
*•’ The original works with a folk-etymological pun: svapiti, “he sleeps,”
from sva “ (to him -)self” and apita “gone.”
12 The “great epic” or “traditional narrative” (itihasapuranam) is the
Mahabharata, said to be a storehouse o f all traditional lore and of­
ten called the fifth Veda. Some o f the other sciences on this inter­
esting list are not entirely clear, but obviously this is meant to be a
complete repertoire o f secular and religious knowledge. Compare
how Augustine (Conf. 1.13) complains that he was taught to “weep
for Dido’s death” and keep a dry eye for the fact that he himself
was dying spiritually; or Faust’s despair with all secular knowledge
at the beginning o f Goethe’s play (with its very different outcome
from the story o f Narada).
1.4-22.1 Omitting a long list leading upwards from speech, mind, will,
etc., to security, energetic activity, and happiness. At each step one
must want to transcend the present step; in order to escape sorrow
we must truly want happiness, or as the text says, want to know it.
25 2 The strong words used here are svaraj vs. anyaraj, freedom or “self-
rule” vs. dependency or “rule o f another” ; see the afterword.

26.2 “purify the mind” : this could also be translated “In the purity of
our nutrition (ahdra) lies the purity o f our nature (sattva); in the
purity o f our nature lies firmness of our memory (smriti, meaning
personal memory or tradition, i.e., culture).”
1-1_s Omitting alternate mantras, which restate the propositions in the
form o f questions the knower must be prepared to answer. Note the
important statement in v. 1.3 that the world within is as vast as the
external world.
21ff- In the original this catalog is much longer.
3 2 The application o f this striking image could be to our entering
dreamless sleep each night or – as translated here, more universally
– to our nonrecognition of the Self ever present within us.
4 ‘ “Bulwark” : Setur, like pons in Latin, gephyra in Greek, originally
meant an earthwork across a flooded area, and so can mean “dam”
or “barrier” as well as “bridge.” The text emphasizes the former
meaning, but the Self or God as a bridge from our present state
to infinite consciousness is also a common image (for example,
Shvetashvatara v i.20 ). Note the later and still popular name for
God, Setu Rama.
4 3 Brahmacharya, self-control or austerity, is the real bridge to the
world of Brahman.
13-1 The demon Rahu (probably meaning “seizer” ), a kind of mytho­
logical “black hole” with a habit of swallowing the sun and moon
(i.e., in eclipses), stands for asat or vinasa, the force o f nonbeing.
The freedom of the illumined man or woman is gained when he or
she is established in complete Being.
Di S H V E T A S H V A T A R A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
The full name of this text is Svetasvataranam mantropanisad, “the verse
Upanishad o f the descendants o f sage Shvetashvatara.” No particular
information is available about this family or parampara. The tradition
is in the Taittiriya school o f the Black Yajur Veda, and the Upanishad
itself, despite some latish features, has always been venerated as author­

itative. Svetasvatara, literally “he who has a white horse,” has been tra­
ditionally interpreted as “he who has pure senses,” taking asva (“horse”)
for a symbol of the senses as in the famous chariot image at Katha 1.3.4
3 “Lord o f Love” here is devatmasakti, literally “god-self-energy.” This
compound idea, characterizing the Shvetashvatara concept of Real­
ity, is usually translated “God’s own power,” but a recent commen­
tator, Swami Tyagisananda, has taken the three terms as indepen­
dently meaningful (which is just as possible from the grammatical
point o f view) and rendered them felicitously as “the God of reli­
gion, the Self o f philosophy, and the energy of science.” The under­
lying Reality separately approached by these three human modes
o f knowing is seen instantly and comprehensively in the climax of
The three gunas, roughly law (or balance, harmony), energy, and
inertia, whose interplay constitute the basic modalities of change in
the phenomenal world according to Sankhya and other philosophi­
cal systems, are widely accepted in the background philosophic
outlook of India down to the present day.
6 Here, as elsewhere, the translation simplifies a complex Sankhya-like al­
legory of numbers, colors, and so on, in order to emphasize the text’s
essentials. “Individual self?’ for example, is literally ha msa, “swan.”
13 At Katha 11.1.8, conversely, the birth/fire imagery (the word for the
lower firestick isyoni, “womb” ) stands implicitly for spiritual “birth”
or illumination. It is particularly a sacrificial fire that is thought of
behind this allegory. Since it was often difficult to start the sacrifi­
cial fire with the firesticks, the priest was allowed to change places
with his wife (who holds the yoni) if he got tired. This long, de­
termined effort to bring out hidden power is a perfect symbol for
the arduous work of spiritual progress: the word here is abhydsa,
“effort, practice,” which the Gita (6 .35 ,12 .9 ) calls the secret of all
spiritual discipline.
1-7 This is a modernized rendering o f this passage, a Vedic hymn to

’ At this point the Vedic name Rudra begins to be used for the Lord.
By v. 5 the adjective siva, “auspicious,” modifies it, and will be used
six times more. In this translation it becomes a personal name – the
Lord as Shiva – by verse 11, though Deussen and others would dis­
14 This is the first verse of Rig Veda x.90, the famous creation hymn,
containing the conundrum that the creative power remains “ten
fingers’ breadth” outside creation: the unchanged Creator is never
caught in creation; the supreme Reality is both immanent in cre­
ation and transcendent. This part o f the Upanishad similarly uses
numerous Vedic mantras.
5 A cryptic allegorical verse which the translation seeks to resolve and
simplify. The text uses the words aja and ajd, masculine and femi­
nine forms meaning both “goat” and “the unborn.” Compare the
better-known and clearer allegory o f the two birds (iv.6, and cp.
Rig Veda 1.164.20, Mundaka 111.1, Katha 1.3.1).
9 This is the verse in which maya appears as the key explanation for
phenomenal reality and mayi, “wielder of the power of illusion,” as
its “creator,” if creation it can be called.
2 This verse (like v. 1.6, below) refers to the idea that wisdom – Truth
– exists before phenomena are created: the Lord “bears in his
thoughts and sees the fiery sage [kapilam rsim] before creation” :
some have seen here a reference to Kapila, the shadowy genius who
founded Sankhya.
1J Most of the language here is identical with iv .14 and its interesting
reference to the unmoved, ordering Lord in the midst o f chaos or
our mixed reality. In this pair o f concluding verses the escape from
all aspects o f maya just described is outlined.
4 As elsewhere, the translation gives the practical interpretation o f this
verse. Another interpretation takes w . 3-4 as referring to Ishvara,
or God who appears to enter the world o f action as an agent but re­

mains aloof. In the Gita (3.22-23), Krishna says almost with divine
tongue in cheek that while he needs absolutely nothing, he works
ceaselessly to set an example to the world.
Di M U N D A K A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
The theme with which this Upanishad begins, the theme o f higher and
lower knowledge, leads to consideration o f the one Reality that has
become all phenomenal existence. Munda (which the Upanishad is
sometimes called) means “shaved,” and there m aybe some reference in
the last two verses to a particular ascetic sect for whose members alone
it was originally intended. I f that was true on one level, on another level
it means that those shorn o f attachment to the non-self and externali­
ties could understand its message; in fact a less well known Upanishad
was called Kshurika or “Razor,” and the text itself tells us that this means
an instrument to cut illusion.
1 . 1
4 The words “higher” and “lower” are para and apara, literally “be­
yond” (or “transcendent” ) and “nontranscendent.” Apara, “lower”
knowledge, consists in the skills necessary to perform all aspects
o f the Vedic rites correctly. As usual, the rites stand for all human
actions, arts, and skills. Para, transcendent knowing, is Self-realiza­
6 Literally “has neither gotra nor varna,” social categories by which
people “know” one another, and identities to which a person clings.
The words have a metaphysical sense here which applies to the Self:
“source and class” ; but the social meaning is not lost either, relating
to the personal self. Dhiras means both “brave, unflinching” and
“wise, meditating,” from the root dhr, “meditate, be firm,” and is
a common designation for the sages who are the sources of tradi­
tional authority.
8 Here and in 111.5 the word for meditation is tapas, which denotes
control of the senses and mind, or “austerity,” and “heat.” Both suit.
(See also note on Prashna 1.4.)

2-6 The translation of these verses is condensed, as the Upanishad goes
into full ritual nomenclature here.
8 This stanza is found also at Katha 1.2.5.
11 The translation renders into universal terms a fairly technical de­
scription of the renunciate life of ancient India.
I I . 1
8 More literally, this stanza consists of a complex allegory of the sacri­
fice as the act of cognition.
I I . 2
3 Upanisad here probably stands for any text o f mystical truth; thus
“sacred scriptures.”
4 The word translated here as “mantram” is, as usually in the Upani­
shads, OM.
6 “Nerves” : nadls.
9 Literally, “karma dissipates.” The idea is that to live as an individual
is to live tied to actions – and their results – by selfish motivations.
To transcend individuality is not to be inactive, but not to be self­
ishly active. This liberates one completely from cause and effect.
The commentaries take pardvare, “high and low” (our “within and
without”), as referring to cause and effect: the Self includes but is
beyond both.
11 This famous stanza repeats at Katha 11.2 .15 and elsewhere. In the
world o f the illumined there is no external source o f awareness,
nor is any needed. Likewise in the next stanza “here” (iha) as usual
means “in this world” (of our perception).
I I I . 1
6 “Unreality” : anrtam, which has the connotation of “that which is out
of the rhythm” (rita) of existence.
10 Selfless desire arises as part o f the world process; it is a cosmic force
and cannot but work its fulfillment.
I I I . 2
1 There is a pun on subhram, the “splendor” of the source of eternal

reality, and sukram, which means first “white, shining” and then, as
here, “seed” or sperm, standing for the lure o f physical life, recur­
ring but impermanent. This is the same idea we meet in the two
splendors, one a trap and one eternal, in Isha 1.6 and (with the same
word, sukram) at Brihadaranyaka iv .3.11.
10 Though the text seems to be quoting from the Rig Veda here, the
verse is not found elsewhere than the present passage. Wordplay
combines the two levels o f sacrifice: the seeker must sacrifice him­
self to ekarsi, which is either the name o f a certain sacrificial fire or
means “one seer” ; i.e., the seeker should devote himself utterly to
his teacher.
D! M A N D U K Y A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
The Mandukya is the briefest o f the surviving principal Upanishads,
yet it is no less ambitious than the Brihadaranyaka in scope, seeking
as it does to describe the whole o f reality. Extremely condensed, it was
and is considered the most difficult o f the Upanishads to understand
accurately. Although Shankara does not mention it for some reason in
his commentary on the Brahma Sutras, his teachers teacher, Gauda-
pada, had written a 215-verse commentary which was to become one of
the most influential documents o f Indian philosophy, being the earli­
est exposition o f the Vedanta we possess (and a brilliant demonstration
of its validity by intellectual methods alone, independent of scriptural
authority or dogma). In other ways also the Mandukya was consid­
ered a highly influential Upanishad. Like the others which center their
teaching on the symbol o m , it is part o f the Atharva Veda. The name
would seem to come from manduka, “frog,” as Taittiriya from a spe­
cies of bird. A charming story was made up to explain this, but it may
simply be that Mandukya was the name of the sage who composed this
remarkable text.
2 “ This Self” : Sanskrit in general uses the first person demonstrative
more often than English, and the Upanishads frequently say simply
“this” or “that” to mean the universe or the Self. The result is an
immediacy difficult to translate: “This very Self o f which the Upa­
nishads speak, this very self is speaking . . . ”

“Four states of consciousness” : literally “is four-legged,” an expres­
sion frequendy used of the macrocosm also (the universe is said
to have stood soundly on the “four legs of Brahman” at the begin­
ning of the cycle of creation, and now is tottering on one). In the
Chandogya Upanishad the student Satyakama is taught one after
the other the “four feet of Brahman.” But pada also means “quarter”
or “region,” hence “the four states” of consciousness.
3 Vaishvanara comes from vishva “all” and nara “man”; Shankara in­
terprets this as “he who leads all men to their enjoyments” or “the
Self of all embodied beings.” Literally the text refers to “the seven
limbs and nineteen mouths” (one way the organs of action and per­
ception are tallied). “Aware” is sthulabhuk, “enjoying (eating) the
external world.”
4 Taijasa derives from tejas, a special term connoting the splendor of
awareness, though here not the awareness of absolute Reality. It can
also mean “ (sex) energy.”
5 Prajna is derived from pra, an intensifying prefix, and jha, “to know”;
the meaning here is “consciousness.” In dreamless sleep we are not
conscious of forms or impressions; consciousness is undifferen­
tiated, and in fact the mind and body rest, as science can detect,
but the individual is not aware of it. In the next verse prajna is de­
scribed as a being rather than a state: all these states are merely
forms of the Self, and of the states experienced before illumination,
the Self is closest to its true nature in prajna.
6 “Source” : yoni, literally “womb.” The language of these verses seems
carefully balanced between inner (or microcosmic) and macrocos-
mic fields of reference.
7 Turiya, referring to the superconscious state, means literally “the
Fourth.” Nothing can describe it; “fourth” means only that one
comes to it fourth in this anagogical order, for it is not a state of
consciousness but consciousness itself, beyond the characterizable
three states of waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.
8 Here the text uses an interesting expression: adhyakshaam . . . adhi-
matram means “from the point o f view o f the Imperishable and the
measurable,” respectively. Ihe Upanishads frequently interpret the
same truth adhidaivikam and adhyatmikam, “from the divine and
the individual standpoints.” The text conveys a mystical identity

between the states and the sounds, but the latter are to be taken as
symbols, just as a u m is a symbol of the supreme Reality.
9 A is t h e f irs t s o u n d o f t h e a lp h a b e t , a n d w a k in g life t h e s e e k e r s firs t
f o r m o f e x p e r ie n c e . A, u , a n d m a re p r o n o u n c e d f r o m t h e t h r o a t
o u tw a r d s , a n d a s t h e c o m m e n t a t o r s say, a a n d u s e e m to m e r g e in
m, t h e c lo s u re w h ic h r o u n d s t h e u t te r a n c e off. A s a c re d r e c ita tio n
w a s a lw a y s b e g u n a n d e n d e d w ith a u m .
12 Literally “enters into the Self by the Self.” This frequent expres­
sion hints at a great practical wisdom, developed by passages like
Katha 1.2.23, “ The Self can be known only by those whom the Self
chooses.” Buddhist teachings like “Self is the lord of self” bring the
truth down to even more practical realities: self-mastery, true spiri­
tual independence, is the first step toward Self-realization.
Hi K E N A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
The Kena belongs to the Sama Veda, though a slightly different text of it
is found in the Atharva also. It is said to belong to the Talavakara school
(or shaka) and used to be called by that name rather than by the present
one, which comes from the first word of the text.
O f more interest, perhaps, the Kena contains one of the two myste­
rious Upanishadic names for God which have no (or almost no) literal
meaning – like svaha and other ritual invocations and in accordance
with the theory that Vedic mantras “have no meaning” (anartha man­
tra) other than what they are, sacred sound. The name, an answer to the
opening question o f the text, is Tadvanam, explained as coming from
tat am and vananiya, meaning “the all-pervading lover” or “beloved.”
(The other mysterious name occurs at Chand. m .14 .1.)
Unlike the Chandogya, from the same Vedic tradition, the Kena
does not devote space to song or language, though the commentaries
around verse 1.5 contain some o f the brilliant reflections on language,
especially the theory o f sphota, for which Indian philosophy is noted.
The Kena’s importance has always been recognized and Shankara is
said to have devoted two commentaries to it. Likewise it has been trans­
lated into many Western languages because o f its clarity.

s~® The refrain stresses, when taken more literally, that Brahman is not
an object, as most people seek for it; cp. Meister Eckhart: “some
people want to see God with their eyes the way they see a cow.”
[ 1 1 ]
2 Because we know reality in a partial way and that means we know
a fraction, however tiny, o f Reality; but the “I” that would say “I
know truth” has already committed the first blunder o f knowing
as a separate ego viewing reality as an object. In practical terms,
whenever we think we have known the complete truth we are of
course deluding ourselves.
[ i l l ]
4 The commentators point out that Fire and the others must have fallen
silent in Brahmans presence, since the latter speaks first.
6 It may be meant as humorous, in the sophisticated Upanishadic con­
text, that Agni does not mention having been humbled but only
that he has not found out the beings identity.
[ I V ]
4 This is a striking example o f the identity o f macrocosm and micro­
cosm the Upanishads often make; from the awesome flash of power
in the sky to living consciousness, what we see fleetingly in the eye.
Compare Augustine’s famous glimpse o f God in ictu trepidantis
aspectus, “in the striking o f a fleeting look” (Conf. v ii.17 ) .
7 “Spiritual wisdom” is upanisad.
d; p r a s h n a u p a n i s h a d n o t e s
The Prashna or “Upanishad o f the Six Questions” is one of the three
classical Upanishads of the Atharva Veda. (The others are Mundaka
and Mandukya.) All three place great emphasis on pranava, the sacred
syllable a u m or o m , which has been called their “family resemblance.”
The Prashna is also sometimes regarded as a fuller, largely prose expo­
sition of the prana teaching set out briefly in the Mundaka; but as the
introduction indicates, it has, like each o f the other Upanishads, a dis­
tinctive contribution.

Prashna, “question,” is cognate with the modern German word for
question, Frage, as well as with the German for research, Forschung.
That is an appropriate connotation for a word describing the results of
personal experience in the inner field, carried out by the mind, just as
we use it for experiences in the outer field, monitored by the senses.
2 “A year” : perhaps not to be taken too literally; this could mean a
season o f indefinite length. There are two etymological figures, in­
cidentally: samvatsaram samvatsyatha, “spend a year,” and prasnan
pricchatha, “ask questions.”
4 “Meditated” : the word used is again tapas, which means either to
perform austerities or to meditate. This has unnecessarily confused
some commentators, but meditation, restraining one’s thoughts, is
itself the most difficult austerity and the key to all the others, since
it involves the most direct and systematic control o f the will. (See
also note on Mundaka 1.1.8.)
There are two etymological figures in this mantra also: Prajapati
prajakama, “the Creator desired offspring,” and tapo atapyata, “per­
formed meditation (or other austerities).”
9 The two paths in the cycle o f time go back to the Rig Veda. One way
o f looking at this, for purposes of our Upanishad, is that the moon
shines by reflected light (as the intellect, in Indian philosophy, is
said to shine by the reflected light o f the Self); thus those who die
without having realized the Self are in a state o f reflected reality,
while those who have realized the Self merge in Reality when the
body is shed.
11 For this verse cp. Rig Veda 1.16 4 .11- 13 . This is a very Indo-European
image o f the sun god; see Katha 1.3.3 on the chariot image applied
to the human being.
13 Sex as such is not condemned by the Upanishad; rather a distinc­
tion is made in the motives, symbolized as relations at the natural
time or in the daytime (and for pleasure only). Brahmacharya, as
Radhakrishnan says, “ is not sexual abstinence but sexual control.”
When sex energy is squandered, people pratiam .. . praskandanti,
“spill their life” ; discriminatingly used, sex is brahmacharyam eva,
“continence itself.”

16 “Pure and true” : maya, which might be rendered “guile” or “dissem­
blance,” does not yet seem to connote the doctrine alluded to in the
Shvetashvatara Upanishad and developed by Shankara as a key idea
in Vedanta; but it may be here in germ.
2 “Body” is bana, literally a “reed” ; cp. Pascal’s famous image o f the
human being as un roseau pensant, a “thinking reed.”
s Here the “powers” praise prana as their macrocosmic equivalents
(though the equivalencies are not worked out exactly). Then they
go one step beyond, to Being. As the hymn progresses, its dramatic
mise-en-scene drops out of sight until 1.12 when the powers return
to view, begging prana not to leave.
5 Apana is the “downward-driving force,” samana “the equalizing.”
The “seven fires” may be the seven functions listed in this verse or
the seven orifices of the head: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, the
6 “Current” : nadi, often misunderstood in this context as a physical en­
tity and misleadingly translated as “nerve” or “vein,” both o f which
it can also mean. The meaning here is a track o f energy, to which
some ascribe a causal relationship to the physical anatomy. Vyana
is the “distributing force” and udana, discussed in the following
description, “the upward.” The same pair is taken as the ancestors
of the sages at Atharva Veda x.7.20, in the Samhita o f this Upani­
10 According to this view o f rebirth there is not a hairline crack for
chance; we go to the destiny we have shaped by our thoughts and
desires. The Gita states this same principle – that the last thoughts
at death (that is, the deepest content o f consciousness) will deter­
mine the next life – and adds, “ Therefore remember me [Krishna]
always, and struggle on” (8.7): our deepest thoughts control our
destiny (Brihad. m .9 .11, iv.4.5), but we can gradually shape our
deepest thoughts.
1 “Enjoys” : Gargya may be referring to the bliss o f dreamless sleep,

since he seems to be running through the states o f consciousness
(as in the Mandukya) to ask who it is who is conscious. Pippalada
gets the drift o f the question and answers directly.
3 An important, and complex, allegory, adumbrating the important
truth our next Upanishad deals with, that human life is a sacrifice.
The individual with the “fires” o f prana burning within is compared
to a home with its sacred hearth-fire at the center (and, in the origi­
nal, with the more common image o f a city) whose sacrificial altars
are active when the rest sleep. Strikingly, the mind is said to per­
form the life-sacrifice, or to command it: yajamana is the patron
who pays the priests to sacrifice in his behalf. The final sacrifice,
Easwaran comments, is that the mind “throws itself onto the fire”
(i.e., is stilled, resorbed into prana), so that “what begins with puri­
fied butter is carried on with a purified mind.”
There are many wordplays throughout this section of the Upanishad
which elude translation: e.g., between Sama and samana and be­
tween manas (mind) and yajamana.
6 “Awake or asleep” : literally “actions outer, inner, and middle.” The
point is that with mind centered in the Self, an individual sponta­
neously acts correctly, which implies that thought and speech are
spontaneously positive and in harmony. Another interpretation is
that the phrase refers to thought, word, and deed. In the perspec­
tive o f the Upanishads, such interpretations are not exclusive but
1 There may be some humor in Sukeshas elaborate attempt to cover his
ignorance. On the other hand, it was serious for a brahmin not to
be able to answer a rulers question about matters for which brah­
mins were responsible; and the importance given to truth-telling is
2 Prabhavanti, “dwells,” may mean that the sixteen forms “take inde­
pendent existence.” These sixteen, with some modifications, be­
come the parts o f the subtle body in Sankhya philosophy.
4 “Desire” : sraddha.
5 A verse form of this image is Mandukya i v . 2 . 8 . This version seems to

be arrived at by the addition o f some words, one o f which is impor­
tant: the rivers and the parts are called respectively samudrayanah
andpurusayanah, “sea” and “Self.” (See also Chand. v m .io .) There
is a pun throughout this section, incidentally, between kala “part”
and kala “time, death.” The words “partless” and “deathless” are ad­
jacent in the original o f this mantra.
7 Pippalada may mean “I can say no more” or “There is no more to
be said” : as the commentators point out, even incarnations o f God
such as Rama cannot know the supreme Reality totally. Pippalada’s
humility, if it is such, fittingly sets off his splendid answers.
D! T A I T T I R I Y A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
The Taittiriya tradition belongs, along with the Shvetashvatara and oth­
ers, to the Black Yajur Veda. This Upanishad, which Shankara calls the
essence of the tradition, is almost entirely in prose and was originally
part of the Taittiriya Aranyaka. The name comes from that o f a bird,
the tittiri (probably onomatopoetic), which is not unusual given Indian
reverence for all forms o f life (cp. Mandukya).
1 (Invocation). This hymn is Rig Veda 1.90.9.
2 These are the parts o f sacred and secular speech, respectively: correct
recitation of the hymns and, with that as model, any correct act
o f speech. The relationship is the same as that between ritual and
secular action.
31 “We” and “us” here mean teacher and student, as in the invocation
to the Katha. “Categories” is samhita, here meaning “juxtaposi­
tions,” or what Baudelaire might call “correspondences.”
S1 Bhur, bhuvas, suvar. these are the vyahritis, pronounced after o m by
every brahmin at the beginning o f prayers. They mean “earth, the
sky, and heaven.” Along with four other sacred divisions o f space
mentioned here (the translation slightly abbreviates some parts
of this Upanishad) they represent divisions o f manifested reality.
Maha literally is said to be the Self, but statements like these should
be taken symbolically.
6’’ This is one o f several references to the final upward passage,

through the subtle spinal pathway, of what in the Yoga system is
called kundalini, evolutionary energy. Before this system of spiri­
tual psychology evolved lay the notion of brahmarandhra, the pas­
sageway by which the jiva leaves the body at death, identified in the
physical body with the sagittal suture at the crown of the skull. (See
also Brihad. iv.42.)
7-1 All vital functions come under the control of the illumined person,
who identifies with the Self. As literally expressed here the state­
ment is more cryptic: “one gains [saves] the fivefold [i.e., the five
elements, external reality] by the fivefold [i.e., inner reality]”; five
times five categories are listed. This idea recurs, more tersely, at the
very end (n i.10 .6).
o m is used for “yes” in Sanskrit, not unlike amen in Aramaic.
91 These look like nonce names: satyavacas means “truthsayer” ; tapo-
nitya, “ incessant self-control” ; naka, “heaven.”
111-6 This famous passage is read at convocations of the Benares Hin­
du University. It offers good insights into the goals of ancient In­
dian education. As usual, it can be read on two levels; for example,
“sages” is brahmanas, i.e., brahmins or illumined ones. Some mne­
monic wordplay is used: e.g., “Give sriya, “with modesty,” hriyd,
“with sympathy,” and bhiya, “with awe.”
Though the term is not used here, the sequence of these verses fol­
lows the doctrine of the successive kosas, “sheaths” or “envelopes,”
in which the Self is encased in a human being; cp. Brihad. 1.1.2.
2 The essence of food is energy, just as the essence of the earth (below,
h i .9) is food. (Quoted verbatim by the Maitri Upanishad, vi.12.)
6 Literally “he created what is real and what is relative, wisdom and
ignorance,” etc.: that is, every duality. From the Upanishads’ point
of view, the mode we have of knowing the sense-world is ultimately
a form of ignorance.
7 Quotation of Rig Veda x .129.1, the famous creation hymn. There
is wordplay here on svayam akuruta as svakritam, “self-made,”
and sukritam, “well made.” It also makes something of a pun with
sukham, “happiness,” important for the following verses.

In one version of Shankara’s comment on this passage occurs the
terse assertion bhedadarshanam eva hi antarkaranam: “For seeing
things as separate is the sole cause of otherness.” This is perhaps the
most important application of the principle of participatory real­
ity: the cause of maya, the appearance of separateness, lies in the
8-1 Cp. Katha 11.3.3. The last phrase is literally “Death runs as the fifth” :
as it were, the Fifth Horseman of the Upanishadic apocalypse.
2 “Meditated” is conveyed strongly by an irreproducible fourfold pun
(figura etymologica) in the original: sa tapo ’tapyata, sa tapas taptva,
“he meditated, having meditated this meditation.”
,o s Like the Isha and other Upanishads, the Taittiriya ends hymnally,
on a note of intense spiritual emotion. The text is again somewhat
cryptic, the three thrice-repeated terms in the original being “food,”
“eater,” and “poet” (slokakrit). Shankara interprets this as standing
for the frequent Upanishadic hierarchy of object, subject, and con­
sciousness beyond and embracing them. In any case, as he says,
the triple repetition expresses the wonderment of illumination, a
not infrequent theme in mystical literature. For the closing idea, cp.
Jesus’ final reassurance ego nenikeka ton kosrnon, “I have conquered
the world.” Upanisad here means both “secret meaning” and “this
0! A I T A R E Y A U P A N I S H A D N O T E S
The Aitareya Upanishad is from the Rig Veda and forms three sections
of the second part of the Aitareya Aranyaka, a continuation of the Aita­
reya Brahmana. In this context it shows the classic role of the Upani­
shads as the texts of those who, as Shankara puts it, desire freedom and
thus must use the symbolism of the rites to reach a higher reality by
1 . 1
2 Ambhas and Apa both signify water. The waters above and below resem­
ble Near-Eastern creation models, and that is developed post-mythi-
cally here into something resembling the schemes of the early Ionian

philosophers, particularly Thales. In the Upanishads a further step
connects water as an image to the underlying substrate, conscious­
ness. The earthly realm is called Mara, “death,” because as Shankara
puts it, death is the most important characteristic of life on earth.
4 “Brooded”: abhyatapat, literally “performed tapas over.” The word
occurs twice in this Upanishad and several times in the Chandogya
with this meaning.
5 Literally “whatever offerings we make to whatever gods.” No earthly
u n d e r t a k i n g , n o a m b it io n , c a n b e f re e f r o m t h e c y c le o f b i r th a n d
d e a th ; b u t t h e te x t im p lie s t h a t w h a te v e r d e s ire s , h u n g e r , o r th i r s t
w e e x p e r ie n c e c a n b e t r a n s f o r m e d ( o r t r a n s f o r m e d b a c k ) in to d e ­
s ire f o r a n d d e v o t io n to t h e Self.
14 Idamdra: as though from idam “this” and dris “to see.” With the
last line one might compare Heraclitus’s “The god at Delphi nei­
ther shows nor conceals; he signs” and (since Indra may stand for
the natural world) Augustine’s “That which is beyond vision can be
seen in the visible.”
s To be supernormal before birth is a common attribute of the heroes
of myth and folktale; here the Upanishad again goes beyond myth
by (a) defining that capacity spiritually, as profound insight, and (b)
making its universal application to the potential of every human
being explicit, when it artfully repeats this language at the close of
the text ( h i . 1 . 4 ) .
3 Prajhanam brahma, “Prajna is Brahman,” is one of the maha-
vakyas. Prajna, transcendent consciousness, is sometimes (less
suitably) translated “ intelligence.” “What is moved by conscious­
ness” (prajnanetra) could also mean “what has consciousness as its
organ of vision” (netra).

Di M I N O R U P A N I S H A D S N O T E S
The Paramahamsa Upanishad belongs to the White Yajur Veda; most
other so-called minor Upanishads belong to the Atharva or have no
Vedic affiliation at all. Paramahamsa (literally “the great or supreme
swan”) denotes a rare, extremely advanced mystic capable of “flying
alone” in self-authority and complete freedom, like a majestic swan
crossing a solitary sky. The term seems to be used here in a somewhat
more technical sense than it is in the principal Upanishads. Amrita
means “nectar” ; Tejas, “divine splendor.” Atma, of course, is atman,
Tejobindu Upanishad
4 The three stages are dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. In the first, one
rises above body-consciousness; in the second, the mind is so con­
centrated that one ceases to identify with it either. Samadhi, or
“complete union,” is more a goal than a stage, though it too is a state
of consciousness in which one must learn to operate.
5 Visnu literally means “ (All-)pervading.” Rama and Krishna are his
most familiar incarnations.
Atma Upanishad
1 These stirring lines about the invulnerability of our real Self are best
known from the Bhagavad Gita (2.23-24).
Amritabindu Upanishad
2 Mana eva manusyanam is an etymological pun; manu, “human,” is
usually derived from man “to think.”
1213 Two traditional similes are condensed here, then set aside. A
jar seems to enclose something, but the same air exists within it
and without, and when the jar breaks, the air within it is released
into the air to which it belonged: similarly the Self is the same in
all, despite the “clay pot” of the body and the apparent differences
between individuals that the body imposes.
17 The distinction is between sabdabrahman, or the ultimate Reality as
it seems to cause, or exist in, names and forms, and param ca yat,
“that which is beyond” phenomenal existence entirely.

20 A pun similar to that noted above (v. 2): manthayitavyam manasa,
“to be churned by the mind.”
Paramahamsa Upanishad
1 “Even one is enough”: even one Self-realized person makes the age in
which he or she lives meaningful and becomes a link in what was,
in India, an uninterrupted tradition of spiritual awareness.
2 Literally “he puts off the sacred thread” with which a brahmin boy
is invested on coming into manhood. This meant renouncing the
authority to perform rites: no small matter in Indian society unless
one were indeed illumined.
4 “The Lord [is] not separate from himself” : literally, “His observance
of the rite of sandhya is to draw no distinction between jivatman
and paramatmanthat is, between the Self in an individual human
being and the supreme Self which is identical with Brahman. Sand­
hya here means a unifying rite, one which fulfills the ritual purpose
of connecting the here-and-now world with its sacred counterpart:
the person who sees God in all creatures has realized completely
the Unity of life to which such rituals can only point. Dawn and
dusk are another kind of sandhya, and considered propitious times
for meditation.
“He has no need to repeat the mantram”: that is, the mantram spon­
taneously and uninterruptedly repeats itself in his consciousness
(this is called ajapa japam); likewise the meditative state continues
uninterrupted even when such a person performs actions in the
changing world (the state called sahaja, or “spontaneously self-gen-

D- Index
action: an d destiny, 114; a n d G andhi,
311-12; G od w ithout, 287; as
k arm a, 311; w ith m ed itatio n , 58;
an d m otive, 319; selfless, 175
A diti, 8 4
Agni (fire), 17
ahim sa, 321,326; see also nonviolence
A itareya U panishad: in tro d u c tio n ,
2 6 5 -6 7 ; notes, 3 73-74; text,
2 6 9 – 7 5
allegory, in K atha U panishad, 6 4 – 6 5
A m ritab in d u U panishad:
in tro d u ctio n , 279; notes, 3 7 5 -7 6 ;
text, 2 8 8 – 9 0
A ranyakas, 2 9 8 ,3 0 2 ; defined, 2 9 8
A ryans, 1 7 ,2 2 ,2 9 7
asatya, 182
ashram , defined, 19; see also forest
academ ies
A tharva Veda, 1 9 ,2 9 7
A tm a U panishad: in tro d u c tio n , 279;
notes, 375; text, 2 8 6 – 8 7
A tm an, 319 -2 0 ; defined, 38; see also
attachm ent, 174,192; freedom from ,
1 5 1 ,2 1 1 ,2 9 1 ,2 9 2 -9 3
attention, train in g of, 2 6 – 2 8 ,3 5 – 3 6
A ugustine, an d in terio rizatio n , 321;
an d sacrifice, 312; a n d unity, 322
a u m , see o m
austerities, 301
authority , 3 2 5 – 2 6
B hagavad G ita, 8 ,9 ; a n d d h arm as,
328; an d d ivine eye, 303; as
E asw aran’s gu id e, 1 0 ,1 6 ; a n d
G an d h i, 16; an d k a rm a, 311; an d
rasa, 305
bird: as Self, 1 6 9 – 7 0 ; tw o bird s, 170,
1 8 2 ,1 9 2 ,3 0 1
b irth , 6 5 ,2 3 0 – 3 1 ,2 7 3 – 7 4
blind: lead in g b lin d , 7 6 ,1 8 7 ; Self is
n o t, 1 4 8 ,1 4 9
body, 3 6 ,2 4 9 ; as ch ario t, 81; d eath of,
36; a n d food, 2 5 2 ,2 5 9 ; a n d Self,
1 0 9 , n o , 1 1 2 – 1 4 ,1 2 3 ,1 4 5 -5 1
bow a n d arrow , sim ile, 1 9 0 – 9 1
B rahm a, 9 0; see also B rah m an
b rah m ach ary a, 3 4 – 3 5 ,2 4 2
B rahm aloka, 123
B rah m an , 1 5 ,4 3 ,2 1 2 ; defined, 2 1 ,3 8
B rahm anas, 6 6 ,2 9 7 – 9 8 ,3 0 2 ,3 0 9 ;
defined, 2 9 7 – 9 8
brahm avidya, 2 4 ,2 7 ,2 8 ,3 4 ; defined,
2 6
b ra h m in s, 1 8 ,9 7 ,2 8 1 ,2 9 8 ,3 1 7 ,3 2 4
b reath , 3 0 6 ,3 1 9 ; controlling, 163; see
also p ra n a

brid g e, Self as, 1 5 ,1 2 3 ,3 2 8
B rih ad aran y ak a U p an ish ad , 2 8 ,3 3 ,
4 0 ,4 5 ; in tro d u c tio n , 9 5 – 9 7 ; notes,
353 -5 6 ; o rganization of, 95; text,
9 9 -1 1 7
caste, 111,186
C h a n d o g y a U p an ish ad , 43;
in tro d u c tio n , 121-23; notes, 357—
59; text, 12 5 -5 2
c h anting, 2 3 5 – 3 6
chariot: sim ile, 81 -8 2 ; o f su n , 227
chit, 39
C hristianity: a n d re in c a rn a tio n , 320;
see also W estern th o u g h t
Cloud o f Unknowing, 265
co m m en taries, 1 8 ,2 7 9 ,2 9 9 ,3 0 9
c o n cen tratio n , 2 5 – 2 7 ,3 6 ,3 7 ,3 1 5
consciousness, 2 66; challenge o f
ex p lo ratio n , 8 – 1 0 ,3 1 – 3 2 ,4 4 ,4 5 ;
a n d d eath , 4 6 ,6 4 ,6 7 ; an d desire,
323; global, 377; a n d H eraclitus,
331; a n d m e d itatio n , 2 6 ,2 7 ,3 6 ;
relationship to m in d , 2 5 – 2 6 ,2 8 ,
3 6 -3 7 ; as Self, 39 , 66; states of, 2 5 –
2 6 ,3 6 – 3 7 ,1 9 9 – 2 0 0 ; stu d y of, 2 5 –
26; U p an ish ad s’ focus o n, 3 0 2 – 3
cosm ic cycle, 310
cosm os, 8 9 ,1 5 9 ,1 8 5 ,3 0 0 ; 163 -7 5
creation, 221; astrophysicists’ view of,
3 9 – 4 0 ; reversing, 317
creator, 1 6 5 ,1 7 4 ,1 7 5 ,2 6 9 – 7 1
cycle o f b ir th a n d d e a th , 8 6 ,9 0 ,1 7 5 ,
Da-da-da, 9 7
d arsh an a s, 22
date o f U p an ish ad s, 2 9 8
death: a n d C h a n d o g y a U p an ish ad ,
123; a n d consciousness, 4 6 ,6 4 ,6 7 ;
fear of, 36; an d K atha U p an ish ad ,
4 4 ,6 3 – 6 7 ,3 1 3 – 1 4
desire: a n d consciousness, 323; for
know ing, 24; pow er of, 33 -3 4 ; an d
sacrifice, 310; for Self-realization,
34; source of, 323
d etach m en t, 19 2 ,2 5 3 ,3 1 5
devas: as A ry an gods, 17-18; defined,
17; in U panishads, 310
devotion, 1 5 6 ,3 0 0 ,3 0 2 ,3 0 4 ,3 0 5
dharm a: in B rihadaranyaka
U p an ish ad , 326; defined, 328; as
fu n d am en tal law, 2 9 9 ,3 2 1 ,3 2 8 ; in
G ita, 328; in T aittiriya U panishad,
2 43
D ionysius, 53
d isc rim in atio n , 81,315
diversity: u n ity in , 3 2 7 -2 9 ; in
U p an ish ad s, 3 2 7 ,3 2 8
D o n n e, John, 67
d ream in g , 2 5 ,2 9 – 3 0 ,3 7 ,4 4 ,2 0 0
dream less sleep, 2 5 ,2 9 ,3 0 ,3 7 – 3 8 ,
4 4 , 2 0 0
duality, 67; law of, 221; n o n e in reality,
67; see also separateness
E asw aran, E knath: discovery of
U panishads, 14-16; view o f
U panishads, 16
ego, 8 0 ,8 2 ,9 0 ,1 7 4 ,1 9 2
elem ents, 1 1 4 ,2 4 9 ,2 7 4 ; evolution of,
E liot, T.S., 97
Ellis, H avelock, 3 0
energy, 4 5 ,2 2 2 ; see also p ran a
evil, 8 8 ,2 1 1 ,2 1 8
evolution, 3 3 ,1 7 5 ,2 6 6 ,3 2 0 ; o f
elem ents, 186; goal of, 2 2 ,2 9 3 ; of
individual, 8 7 ,1 7 4 ,2 3 1 ,2 4 3
faith, 2 2 ,6 6 ,1 8 1 ,3 0 2
Falk, R ichard , 327
fear, 2 9 – 3 0 ,7 1 ,8 9 ,2 5 4 ; o f d eath , 36;
freedom from , 1 4 2 – 4 3 ,2 5 3 – 5 4 ; as
obstacle, 2 8 4
fearlessness, 8 0
fire (A g n i), 17

fish, sim ile, n o
food, 1 8 9 ,2 2 7 ,2 4 2 ,2 5 2 ,2 5 9 ; as
B rahm an, 257; creation of, 2 7 1 – 7 2
forest academ ies, 1 9 ,2 3 ,2 9 8 ,2 9 9 ,3 0 3
fo u rth state, 3 7 – 3 8 ,2 0 0 ,2 0 4
Francis de Sales, Saint, 322
freedom , 3 5 ,3 8 ,3 2 1 ,3 2 3
gandharvas: E asw aran discovery
of, 1 4 -1 6
G andhi, M ahatm a, 55,211; an d
Bhagavad Gita, 16; a n d freedom ,
324; an d nonviolence, 326; an d
renunciation, 322; a n d sacrifice,
311-12; an d T ruth , 181-82; an d
unity in diversity, 328; view o f
Isha U panishad, 53
G argi, 97
G ita, see Bhagavad G ita
goal, 2 2 ,4 5 ,4 7 ,2 9 3 ,3 1 2 ; o f life, 7 5 ,8 2
G od, 3 8 ,4 4 ,4 7 ; o f gods, 171-76;
personal, 155; Self as, 3 2 0
G odhead, 2 1 ,4 7 ,7 8 ,8 4 ,8 6
gods an d goddesses, 17-18
G reece, ancient, 2 4 ,3 0 3 ,3 3 1
gunas, 156
happiness; see also joy
happiness, from w ithout vs. w ithin , 157
heart, 251,328; cave of, 7 7 ,8 0 ,1 8 9 ;
desires of, 4 0 ,4 4 ,9 1 ,1 1 5 ; lighted
w ithin, 109,113; lotus of, 4 3 ,1 4 1 –
43; Self w ith in , 1 7 4 ,2 5 9
heaven, as state o f consciousness, 45
Hegel, F riedrich, 327
H eraclitus, 331
H induism : central value of, 321,322;
as decentralized religion, 297,
307; an d Indian forest ashram s,
1 9 ,2 9 9 ,3 0 3 ; role o f U p anishads
in , 2 7 9 – 8 0 ,2 9 7 ; a n d W estern
thought, 3 0 8 – 9 ,3 3 1 – 3 3
Huxley, A ldous, 2 2 ,2 4
hym ns, see Sam hitas
ig n o ran ce, 7 6 ,1 8 7
illusion, 4 4
im m o rtality , 5 8 ,9 1 ,1 1 5 ,1 4 3 – 4 4 ,3 0 1 ;
p a th to, 9 2 ,9 9 ; S elf-realization
a n d , 4 6
India: d o c u m e n ta tio n o f history , 307;
a n d forest ash ram s, 1 9 ,2 9 8 ,2 9 9 ,
303; scientific th o u g h t in , 2 4 ,3 0 7 ;
significance o f m ysticism , 302;
sp iritu al diversity in , 3 0 7 ,3 0 9
in d iv id u al self, 4 5 – 4 6 ,1 6 0 ,3 2 0
individuality, 3 7 ,3 8 ,4 4 ,3 2 8
In d o -E u ro p e a n cu ltu re, 1 6 ,2 9 7
In d ra , defined, 17
In d u s Valley civilization, 1 7 ,2 1 – 2 2
intellect, 8 1 – 8 2 ,9 0 – 9 1
in terio rizatio n , 312
Ish a U panishad: in tro d u c tio n , 53-55;
n otes, 345- 47; text, 57-59
Jam es, W illiam , 28
Janaka, 318
Jesus, 122
Jews, 3 0 7 ,3 0 8 ,3 2 0
jn a n a k an d a, 1 9 ,2 9 8
joy: a ttain in g , 2 4 1 – 4 3 ; as goal, 323;
m easu res of, 1 4 ,1 6 ,4 0 – 4 1 ; an d
re n u n c ia tio n , 323
Julian o f N o rw ich , 65
k a rm a, 1 6 3 ,174 ,175 ,311; see also
k a rm a k an d a, 1 9 ,2 9 8
K atha U p an ish ad , 2 4 ,3 1 ,3 2 ,4 2 – 4 3 ,
44; allegory in , 6 4 – 6 5 ; as favorite,
6 3 -6 7 ; in tro d u c tio n , 6 3 – 6 7 ; notes,
3 4 7 -5 3 ; a n d sp iritu al process, 313-
14; text, 6 9 – 9 2
K ena U panishad: in tro d u c tio n ,
209 -1 1 ; n otes, 3 6 6 – 6 7 ; text,
know ing: desire for, 23; tra n sc e n d e n t
vs. n o n -tra n sc e n d e n t, 315; see also
m ind; tru th

know ledge, 1 8 ,2 9 7 ,2 9 8 ,3 1 5 – 1 6 ; goal
of, 162; tw ofold, 1 8 5 – 8 6
K rishna: in G ita, 310
kshatriyas, 18 ,317
lib eratio n , 38
light, 1 0 7 -1 0 ,1 1 3 ,1 2 9 ,1 3 0 ,3 1 8 ; o f
B rah m an , 217; etern al, 115; Self as,
8 6 ,8 9 ,1 5 0 ,1 9 2
L ord o f Yoga, 22
lotus o f th e h e a rt, 1 4 1 -4 3
M ahabharata: B hagavad G ita in , 305;
size of, 3 0 4
M a h arsh i, Sri R a m a n a, 2 6 6 ,3 2 3
m ahavakyas, 3 9 ,3 1 6 ,3 1 8 ; defined,
39> 316
M aitreyi, 9 5 ,9 6
M a n d u k y a U panishad: in tro d u c tio n ,
1 9 9 -2 0 1 ; n otes, 3 6 4 – 6 6 ; S hankara
view of, 201; text, 2 0 3 – 5
m a n tra m , 1 6 2 ,1 9 0 ,1 9 1 ,2 0 1 ,2 3 6
m atter, 3 9 – 4 0 ,1 6 1 ,2 2 1
m aya, 156; a n d desire, 323; an d
S h ankara, 157
m e d ita tio n , 2 6 ,2 7 ,3 6
m ind: c o m p o n en ts of, 36;
a n d co n c e n tra tio n , 2 6 – 2 7 ;
a n d dream in g , 25; a n d dream less
sleep, 25; as m e d iu m o f kno w in g ,
25; relationship to consciousness,
2 5 – 2 6 ,3 6 – 3 7 ; tra in in g of, 2 6 ,
2 8
m o k sh a, 38
M u n d a k a U panishad: in tro d u c tio n ,
181-83; a n d kno w in g , 315; n otes,
3 6 2 – 6 4 ; text, 1 8 5 – 9 6
m ysticism , 314,315; m isco n c ep tio n
ab o u t, 316; significance in India,
302; in U p an ish ad s, 302; in
W estern th o u g h t, 331
N achiketa, 6 4 – 6 6 ,3 1 3 ,3 2 5
n o nviolence, 3 2 6 ,3 2 7
old age, 1 1 2 ,1 4 2 ,1 4 4
o m , 1 2 1 ,2 0 0 – 2 0 1 ,2 2 3
P aram ah am sa U panishad:
in tro d u c tio n , 279 -8 1 ; notes, 376;
text, 2 9 1 – 9 3
p aram p ara , 3 0 4
path: to B rah m an , 164; o f illum ined
ones, 163; to K rishna, 310; like
razor, 82
p a th , tw o, after d eath , 2 2 6 – 2 7
p erso n (P u ru s h a ), 316
P ippalada, 2 2 1 ,2 2 2
Plato, 2 0
P lotinus, 55
p o etry , in U panishads, 314
prajn a, 2 0 3 -0 5
prana: a n d B rihadaranyaka
U p an ish ad , 3 0 6 ; in C handogya
U panishad, 122-23; defined,
4 5 ,2 2 1 ,3 0 5 – 6 ; an d P rashna
U p an ish ad , 2 2 1 – 2 3 ,3 0 7
P ra sh n a U panishad: in tro d u c tio n ,
221-23; notes, 367 -7 1 ; text, 2 2 5 -3 7
preya, 67
p u rn a ta , 4 0
P u ru sh a , 316
q u estio n in g , 2 0 9 – 1 0
R ad h ak rish n an , S., 329
R a m a k rish n a, Sri, 4 6 – 4 7
rasas, 304; defined, 319; in G ita, 322
R atri (n ig h t), 17
rayi, 221
Reality: in all th in g s, 318; defined, 22;
an d duality, 67; in n e r vs. outer,
156-57; in Isha U panishad, 54;
learn in g to ap p reh en d , 23; levels
of, 44; lim itlessness of, 47; role
o f teach er in im p artin g , 2 3 ,6 6 ;
in U p an ish ad s, 22; vs. appearance,
156-57; vs. m aterial w orld,

realization, 315,316; see also k n ow ing
reb irth , 2 3 2 ,2 8 9
reincarnation, 320
renunciation, 5 3 ,1 2 2 ,3 2 1 -2 3 ; an d
G andhi, 322
Rig Veda, 2 1 ,2 0 9 ,3 0 0 ; defined, 19,
rita , 121,122,317; defined, 2 4 ,1 2 1
ritual, 312-13,316
river, sim ile, 1 3 4 ,1 6 0 ,1 9 5 ,2 3 7
sacrifice, 1 2 2 ,3 1 0 -1 4 ; see also
renunciation; yajna
salt, lessons of, 1 3 6 -3 7
Sama Veda, 1 9 ,2 3 6 ,2 5 3 ,2 9 7
sam adhi, 3 8 ,4 0
Samhitas: defined, 297; differences
from U panishads, 2 9 8 ,3 0 1 – 2 ;
preservation of, 2 9 7
sanatana d h arm a, 2 9 9
Sankhya, 156
Sanskrit: Sam hitas recorded in,
297; surviving literature in , 303;
U panishads recorded in , 3 2 0
Sarm a, D.S., 2 9 9 ,3 0 8 ,3 1 2
sat, 4 0 ,1 8 1
satya, 181,182; see also T ruth
Satyakam a, 122-23
Savitri, 17
scarcity, 54 -5 5
Schopenhauer, A rth u r, 3 2 9 ,3 3 0 ,
science: in India, 2 4 ,3 0 7 ; an d
W estern th o u g h t, 331-32
Self: as g ro u n d o f being, 38; layers
encasing, 2 4 1 -4 2 ; as native state,
4 3 ,4 4 ; as p u re consciousness, 66;
realizing, 22; an d rein carn atio n ,
320; u n io n w ith, 4 0 ,4 1 ; in
U panishads, 3 8 – 3 9 ,4 1 ,4 2 – 4 3 ,4 4 ,
318,319 -21; see also a tm an
Self-realization, 31,95; desire for,
34; as guide qualification, 32; as
im m ortality , 4 6 ,1 2 3
senses: controlling, 322 -2 3 ;
rep re sen ted by devas, 310
separateness, 4 4 ,1 5 6 – 5 7 ,1 8 2
Sexton, A n n e, 54
sexual desire, 3 4 – 3 5
sexual u n io n , 8 4
S hankara, 310; defined, 20; a n d
U p an ish ad s, 2 0 ,9 6 ,1 5 7 ,2 7 9 ,
2 99> 3 2 9 ,3 3 0 ; view o f M andukya
U p an ish ad , 201
sh an ti, 37
Shiva: as p re-A ry an figure, 22; in
S hvetashvatara U p an ish ad , 155
sh ra d d h a , 6 6
shreya, 6 7
S hvetaketu, 1 2 3 ,3 1 7 -1 8
S hvetashvatara U p an ish ad , 2 0 ,2 9 9 ;
in tro d u c tio n , 155-57; n otes, 3 5 9 —
62; text, 1 5 9 – 7 8
sim iles a n d m etaphors: ch ario t,
81-82; fish, 110; river, 1 3 4 ,1 6 0 ,
195,237; Self as brid g e, 15 ,144;
snake skin , 115,235; spider, 176,
186; o f tw o birds, 1 7 0 ,1 9 2 ,
sleep, 2 5 ,1 1 0 ,1 1 1 ,1 3 3 ,2 0 0 ;
a n d B rah m an w orld , 143;
see also dream ing; dream less
snake skin , sim ile, 115,235
sorrow , 8 1 ,1 1 1 ,1 3 9 ,1 4 1 ,1 4 4 ,1 9 2
soul, 331; see also atm an; Self
speech, 2 0 0 ; see also o m
spider, sim ile, 1 7 6 ,1 8 6
spinal ch an n el, 231
spiritual econom ics, 55
Stevens, W allace, 6 7
stu d e n ts, see teach er-stu d en t
Suprem e Being, 18
sv ad h arm a, 328
sw araj, 3 2 4 ,3 2 6
Tagore, R a b in d ra n a th , 303

T aittiriya U p an ish ad , 3 6 ,3 7 ;
in tro d u c tio n , 2 4 1 -4 3 ; notes, 3 7 1 –
73; text, 2 4 5 – 6 1
tapas, 3 5 ,3 0 1
te a c h e r-stu d e n t relationship: a n d
ash ram , 1 9 – 2 0 ; as basic to
U p an ish ad s, 304; a n d forest
academ y, 23; in In d ia n culture,
304; role in im p a rtin g realization,
2 3 ,6 6 ; stu d e n t candidates, 2 3 – 2 4 ;
U p an ish ad s as reco rd of, 1 9 – 2 0
tejas, 35
T ejobindu U panishad: in tro d u c tio n ,
2 7 9 -8 1 ; n o tes, 375; text, 2 8 3 – 8 5
th o u g h t, 8 2 ,1 0 2 ,2 1 3 ,2 2 1 ,2 5 3 ; an d
k arm a, 311
tru th : p o w er of, 181-82; striv in g after,
96; vs. unreality , 181-83
turiya , 3 7 – 3 8 ,2 0 0
u n co n scio u s, 3 0 – 3 2 ,3 6 ; see also
unity, 4 4 ,3 2 1 ; a n d A ugustine , 317; in
diversity, 3 2 7 – 2 9 ; a n d G an d h i, 328
U panishads: A itareya, 2 6 9 – 7 5 ;
A m rita b in d u , 2 8 8 – 9 0 ; A tm a,
2 8 6 – 8 7 ; B rihadaranyaka,
99-117; C h a n d o g y a, 125-52;
as ch aracteristically In d ian ,
3 04; d atin g of, 298; defined,
1 9 – 2 0 ,9 5 ,2 9 7 ; differences from
Sam hitas, 2 9 8 ,3 0 1 – 2 ; differences
fro m V edas, 301; discovery by
E asw aran, 14-16; diversity in ,
327 ,328 ; E asw aran s view of, 16;
focus o n h u m a n consciousness,
3 0 2 – 3 ; freed o m in , 3 5 ,3 8 ,3 2 1 –
325; Isha, 5 7 -5 9 ; K atha, 6 9 – 9 2 ;
K ena, 213-18; as literature,
3 0 9 – 1 4 ,3 1 4 ; M an d u k y a, 2 0 3 -5 ;
m o d e rn relevance of, 3 3 0 ,3 3 2 -3 3 ;
M u n d ak a, 185 -9 6 ;
P aram ah am sa, 291-93;
as p a rt o f V edas, 1 9 ,2 1 ,2 9 7 ,2 9 8 ;
P ra sh n a, 225-37;
principal, 20; rasa theory,
3 0 4 – 5 ; ritual in , 309; ro o t o f
w ord, 19 ,2 9 7 ; sacrifice in , 310-14;
Shvetashvatara, 159-78;
Taittiriya, 245 -6 1 ;
T ejobindu, 283 -8 5 ; W estern
relevance of, 330; Yoga, 2 0
U sha (d a w n ), 17
V aishvanara, 203
Vayu (w in d ), 17
V edanta, defined, 2 9 8
Vedas: collections of, 18-19;
defined, 18 ,2 9 7 ; differences from
U panishads, 301; o rigin of, 297;
p a rts of, 18-19; U panishads as
p a rt of, 1 9 ,2 1 ,2 9 7 ,2 9 8 ; see also
Sam hitas
Voyager, 33
w aking state, 1 5 , 2 9 – 3 0 ,4 4 ,2 0 0
W estern thought: C hristianity, 122,
320; relevance o f U panishads
to, 330; a n d science, 331-32;
sim ilarities to In d ian culture,
w orlds, 1 4 4 ,1 5 1 ,2 3 6 ; creation of, 171-
7 2 ,2 6 9
yajna, 122 ,31 0 ,3 1 1 -1 2 ; defined, 122,
310; see also sacrifice
Yajnavalkya, 9 5 – 9 6 ,3 1 8
Yajur Veda, 1 9 ,2 9 7
Yama (d e a th ), 18
Yeats, W. B.: an d U panishads, 329
Yoga, L ord of, 22
Yoga U panishads, 20-21

Introduced & Translated by
“No one in modern times is more qualified – no, make that ‘as
qualified’ – to translate the epochal Classics of Indian Spirituality
than Eknath Easwaran. And the reason is clear. It is impossible to
get to the heart of those classics unless you live them, and he did live
them. My admiration of the man and his works is boundless.”
– h u s t o n s m i t h , author of
The Worlds Religions

“No one in modern times is more qualified – no, make
that ‘as qualified’ – to translate the epochal Classics
of Indian Spirituality than Eknath Easwaran. And the
reason is clear. It is impossible to get to the heart of
those classics unless you live them, and he did live them.
M y admiration o f the man and his works is boundless.”
– h u s t o n s m i t h , author of
The World’s Religions
In the ancient wisdom texts called the Upanishads, illumined
sages share flashes of insight, the results of their investigation
into consciousness itself.
In extraordinary visions, they experience directly a transcen­
dent Reality which is the essence, or Self, of each created
being. They teach that each of us, each Self, is eternal, death­
less, one with the power that created the universe.
Easwaran’s translation is reliable and readable, consistently
the bestseller in its field. It includes an overview of the cultural
and historical setting, with chapter introductions, notes, and
a Sanskrit glossary. But it is Easwaran’s understanding of the
wisdom of the Upanishads, and their relevance to the modern
reader, that makes this edition truly outstanding.
Each sage, each Upanishad, appeals in different ways to the
reader’s head and heart. In the end, Easwaran writes, “The
Upanishads belong not just to Hinduism. They are India’s pre­
cious legacy to humanity, and in that spirit they are offered


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