Kena Upanishad

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Brahman Alone Exists

The disciple asked: Om. By whose will directed does the mind proceed to its object? At whose command does the prana, the foremost, do its duty? At whose will do men utter speech? Who is the god that directs the eyes and ears? (1:1)

The teacher replied: It is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Speech of speech, the Life of life and the Eye of the eye. Having detached the Self from the sense—organs and renounced the world, the Wise attain to Immortality. (1.2)

The eye does not go thither, nor speech, nor the mind. We do not know It; we do not understand how anyone can teach It. It is different from the known; It is above the unknown. Thus we have heard from the preceptors of old who taught It to us. (1.3-4)

That which cannot be expressed by speech, but by which speech is expressed—That alone know as Brahman and not that which people here worship.

That which cannot be apprehended by the mind, but by which, they say, the mind is apprehended—That alone know as Brahman and not that which people here worship.

That which cannot be perceived by the eye, but by which the eye is perceived—That alone know as Brahman and not that which people here worship.

That which cannot he heard by the ear, but by which the hearing is perceived—That alone know as Brahman and not that which people here worship. (1.5-8)


Brahman alone exists.

All other objects, such as the body, the senses, and the mind, are falsely superimposed upon It, like an illusory snake upon a rope. As the rope is the true essence and self of the illusory snake, so Brahman is the essence and self of the eye, speech, the mind, and the rest.

This essence, or Brahman, is Consciousness, the eternal and infinite Subject; It cannot be made an object of the material and finite senses.

The tongue defines an object by means of words. The words are said to meet the object. But Brahman is the very essence and self of all, including both the words and the tongue that utters them. Therefore speech cannot define Brahman.

Fire, which burns and illumines other objects, cannot burn or illumine itself.

Brahman (the Ultimate Reality; the Universe; the Absolute) is Pure Consciousness and cannot be know by man because it is not an object.

Brahman is the essence of the eye (' Eye of the eye'), the ear, the mind etc. Brahman — Eternal, Infinite, Unconditioned — cannot be made an object of material, limited and finite senses.

He by whom Brahman is not known, knows It;
he by whom It is known, knows It not.
It is not known by those who know It;
It is known by those who do not know It. (2.3)


If a thing is endowed with a form or attributes, it can be expressed by words or comprehended by thought. But if it is devoid of these, all efforts of the mind and the sense-organs to understand it are futile.

Brahman is devoid of form, name, and qualities. Further, the mind itself is non-luminous: its apparent luminosity is derived from the light of Atman. Lastly, the power of the mind is limited. The more it contemplates Brahman and realizes Its true greatness and glories, the more it understands that it can never grasp Its full nature.

To the illumined soul, therefore, Brahman remains, as it were, unknown. But the unillumined person, unable to comprehend Brahman, regards one of Its upadhis as Brahman and thus concludes that he has known Brahman. What he has known is in reality the mind, the buddhi, or some other upadhi of Brahman.

Brahman is known
when It is realized
in every state of mind,
for by such Knowledge
one attains Immortality.
By Atman
one obtains strength,
by Knowledge, Immortality. (2.4)

pratibodha viditaṃ matamamṛtatvaṃ hi vindate |
ātmanā vindate vīryaṃ vidyayā vindate'mṛtam || 4 ||

Alternative translation:

Understanding (thinking and realising) Him according to one’s intelligence, as a direct object of intuition, verily he obtains immortality. By one’s own (exertion in the performance of duties even after attaining wisdom) he obtains intense joy, through the grace of the Supreme SELF; and by direct knowledge of Brahman, he obtains immortality.



EVERY STATE OF MIND... : The word bodha in the text means mental experience. That by which all states of the mind are illumined and also perceived like objects is Atman. Though Itself pure intelligence and the witness, Atman shines through each and every experience of the mind. He who knows Atman as the illuminer and the witness of all mental states knows It well indeed. Atman is free from birth and death, unconditioned and non-dual, though dwelling in all beings.

IMMORTALITY... : Immortality is the very nature of Atman. It is not something which Atman acquires from outside. If Atman is regarded as mortal, this is because It is identified, through ignorance, with such perishable objects as the body or the sense-organs.

STRENGTH...: That is to say, the power which enables one to attain Immortality. The strength gained through wealth, health, mantras (magical words), medicine, austerities, or yoga cannot overcome death, because such strength is derived from causes which are themselves impermanent. The Knowledge of Atman is strength itself.

BY KNOWLEDGE... : The Knowledge of Atman is itself Immortality. Death results from ignorance. Knowledge destroys the veil of ignorance and reveals the deathless nature of Atman. The knower of Atman may assume or discard bodies as he would garments, but he always remains conscious of his immortality.

According to Vedanta, the mind itself is a material entity devoid of consciousness; but like a mirror, it can reflect consciousness. With the help of the light of Atman it is able to apprehend objects. There cannot be any experience—any internal or external perception—without the light of Atman. When a pot is placed before the eyes, the mind takes its form. Then the light of Atman reflected in the mind manifests the pot. This mental state illumined by the light of Atman is called bodha in the text. The illumined soul sees in every mental state or experience Brahman alone, which is Consciousness, Existence, and Bliss Absolute. A Vedantic text states that when the aspirant does not identify himself with the body and when he knows the Supreme Truth, then in every state of mind he experiences communion with Brahman.

According to the Nyaya system of philosophy, consciousness is not inherent in Atman. It is produced only when Atman comes in contact with the mind. Free from this contact Atman is devoid of consciousness and luminosity. This view is in conflict with the one expressed in the Upanishads: that Atman is Knowledge and Consciousness. According to a school of Buddhist idealists, consciousness is self-luminous but momentary; therefore it is non-eternal. This view contradicts the scriptures, which speak of Brahman as eternal and self-luminous Consciousness.

If a man knows Atman here, he then attains the true goal of life. If he does not know It here, a great destruction awaits him. Having realized the Self in every being, the wise relinquish the world and become immortal. (2.5)

That Brahman is called Tadvana, the Adorable of all; It should be worshipped by the name of Tadvana. All creatures desire him who worships Brahman thus. (4.6)

The disciple said; 'Teach me, sir, the Upanishad." The preceptor replied: "I have already told you the Upanishad. I have certainly told you the Upanishad about Brahman." (4.7)

Austerities, self-restraint and sacrificial rites are Its feet and he Vedas are all Its limbs. Truth is Its abode. (4.8)

He who thus knows this Upanishad shakes off all sins and becomes firmly established in the infinite and the highest Heaven, yea, the highest Heaven. (4.9)


* Commentary by Swami Nikhilananda

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