Garbha Upanishad of Krishna-Yajurveda

by K. Narayanasvami Aiyar | 1914 | 3,020 words

This is the English translation of the Garbha Upanishad (belonging to the Krishna-Yajurveda): a minor Sanskrit treatise selected amongst a collection 108 extant upanishads, dating to at least the 1st millennium BC. The Garbha-upanishad medical physiological topics and details on the formation and development of the human embryo. It further lists e...

Contents of the Garbha Upaniṣad

Om. The body is composed of the five (elements); it exists in the five (objects of sense, etc.); it has six supports: it is associated with the six guṇas; it has seven dhātus (essential ingredients) and three malas (impurities); it has three yonis (wombs) and is formed of four kinds of food.

Why is the body said to be composed of five? Because there are five elements in this body (viz.), pṛthivī, āpas, agni, vāyu, and ākāś. In this body of five elements, what is the pṛthivī element? what āpas? what agni? what vāyu? and what ākāś? Pṛthivī is said to be that which is hard; āpas is said to be that which is liquid; agni is said to be that which is hot; vāyu is that, which moves; ākāś is that which is full of holes (or tubes[1]). Of these, pṛthivī is seen in supporting (objects), āpas in cohesion, tejas (or agni) in making forms visible, vāyu in moving, ākāś chiefly in avakāśa (viz., giving space). (Then what are the five objects of sense, etc.?) The ear exists in sound, the skin in touch, the eye in forms, the tongue in taste, and the nose in odour. (Then) the mouth (exists) in speech, the hand in lifting, the feet in walking, the anus in excreting, and the genitals in enjoying. (Then) through buddhi, one knows and determines; through manas, he thinks and fancies; through citta, he recollects; through ahaṅkāra, he feels the idea of 'I'. Thus these perform their respective functions.

Whence the six supports? There are six kinds of rasas (essences or tastes)—sweet, sour, saltish, bitter, astringent, and pungent. The body depends upon them while they depend upon the body. There are six changes of state (viz.), the body exists, is born, grows, matures, decays, and dies. And there are also six chakras (wheels) depending on the dhāmāni (nerves), (viz.), mūlādhāra, svādhiṣṭhāna, maṇipūraka, anāhata, viśuddhi, and ājñā. Also the guṇas are six—kāma (passion) and others and śama (mental restraint) and others; there being properly—association (with the former) and devotion (to the latter). Then there are seven kinds of sounds, (viz.), shadja (sa), ṛṣabha (ri), gāndhāra (ga), madhyama (ma), pañcama (pa), daivata (da), and niṣāda (ni), which are stated to be seven agreeable and disagreeable ones; and there are seven kinds of dhātus having seven colours, (viz.), śukla (white), rakta (red), kṛṣṇa (dark-blue or indigo), dhūmra (blue), pīta (yellow), kapila (orange-red), and pāṇḍara (yellowish white). In whomsoever these substances arise and increase, the rasa (essence) is the cause of the one following and so on (as stated below). (These) rasas are six in number; from the rasas (probably chyme) arises blood: from blood, flesh; from flesh, fat; from fat, bones; from bones, marrow; and from marrow, śukla (the male seminal fluid). From the union of śukla and śoṇita (the female vital energy), occurs garbha (conception in the womb). Being stationed in the heart, it is led. In the heart of persons, (there is) an internal agni; in the seat of agni, there is bile; in the seat of bile, there is vāyu; in the seat of vāyu, is hṛdya (heart or Ātmā).

Through having connection at the ṛtu (season) fit for raising issues, it (the embryo formed in the womb) is like water in the first night; in seven nights, it is like a bubble; at the end of half a month, it becomes a ball. At the end of a month, it is hardened; in two months, the head is formed; in three months, the region about the feet; and in the fourth month, the region about the stomach and the loins and also ankle is formed; in the fifth month, the back (or spinal) bone; in the sixth, the face of the nose, eyes, and ears; in the seventh, it becomes united with Jīva (Ātmā); in the eighth month, it becomes full (of all organs); in the ninth, it becomes fatty. Śukla belongs to men and śoṇita to women. Each (by itself) is neutral (or is powerless). (But in their combination) a son is born when the father's seed preponderates. A daughter is born when the mother's seed preponderates. Should both be equal, a eunuch is born. Since females have more of passion, on account of their deriving more pleasure (than males from sexual union), a greater number of females are born. Action corresponds to the mental state (of the actor). Hence the child (born) takes after (the thought of) the parents. From parents with minds full of anxieties (at the time of union) are born the blind, the lame, the hunchback, the dwarf, and the limbless. (From impregnation) during the eclipses of the sun and the moon, children are born with defective limbs. Increase or decrease, similarities or dissimilarities of bodies arise (in children) through the influence of time, place, action, dravya (substance), and enjoyment. From a well-conducted intercourse (or union), the child being born with the form of the father possesses, his qualities, just as the image in a glass reflects truly the original. When śukla bursts into two through the interaction (or blowing against one another) of the vāyu of both śukla and śoṇita, then twins (of the same sex) are born. In the same manner when the retas (the seminal fluids), viz., (śukla and śoṇita) of both the parents burst into two, then mixed progeny (male and female) is the result. Among mankind, five embryos (only can be formed at a pregnancy in the womb). A womb with one embryo is common. There are some with two. Those with three are only to be found (as rarely) as one in a thousand. Where there is a frequent pouring (of seminal fluid into the womb), a greater number of limbs is produced (in the child). When the pouring (within the womb) is only once, then the child becomes dried up (or contracted). By pouring (within) more than once, couples are (sometimes) born.

Then, (viz., in the ninth month), this (in the body) made of the five elements and able to sense odour, taste, etc., through tejas (spiritual fire), etc., which is also made up of the five elements—this cognizes the indestructible Omkāra through its deep wisdom and contemplation. It cognizes as the one letter (Om). Then there arise in the body the eight prakṛtis[2] and the sixteen vikāras (changes). Through the food and drink of the mother transmitted through her nādis, the child obtains prāṇa. In the ninth month, it is full of all attributes.

It then remembers its previous births, finds out what has been done and what has not been done, and discriminates between actions, right and wrong. (Then it thinks thus:) Many thousands of wombs have been seen by me, many kinds of food have been tasted (by me), and many breasts have been suckled (by me). All parts of the world have been my place of birth, as also my burning-ground in the past. In eighty-four lakhs[3] of wombs, have I been born. I have been often born and have often died. I have been subject to the cycle of rebirths very often. I have had birth and death, again birth and death, and again birth (and so on). There is much suffering whilst living in the womb. Delusion and sorrow attend every birth. In youth are sorrow, grief, dependence on others, ignorance, the non-performance of what is beneficial) laziness, and the performance of what is unfavourable. In adult age, (the sources of sorrow are) attachment to sensual objects and the groaning under the three kinds[4] of pain. In old age anxiety, disease, fear of death, desires, love of self, passion, anger, and non-independence—all these produce very great suffering. This birth is the seed of sorrow, and being of the form of sorrow is unbearable. I have not attained the dharma of nivṛtti, (viz., the means of overcoming the cycle of re-birth) nor have I acquired the means of yoga and jñāna. Alas! I am sunk in the ocean of sorrow and find no remedy for it. Fie on ajñāna! fie on ajñāna! fie on the troubles caused by passion and anger; fie on the fetters of saṃsāra (the mundane existence)! I shall attain wisdom from a guru. If I get myself freed from the womb, then I shall practise sāṅkhya yoga which is the cause of the extinction of all evil and the bestower of the fruit of emancipation. If I get myself freed from the womb, I shall seek refuge in Maheśvara (the great Lord) who is the cause of the extinction of all evil and bestower of the (four[5]) ends of life. If I get myself freed from the womb, then I shall seek refuge in that Lord of the world who is the Cidātmā of all śaktis and the cause of all causes. If I get myself freed from the womb, then I shall seek refuge in that supreme Lord Bhargaḥ (Śiva or light) who is paśupati (the lord of paśus or souls), Rudra, Mahādeva (the great Deva) and the Guru of the world. If I get myself freed from the bondage of the womb, I shall perform great penances. If I get myself freed from the passage of the womb, I shall worship Viṣṇu in my heart who is the bestower of nectar, who is bliss, who is Nārāyaṇa, and who never decays. I am now confined in my mother's womb; and were I freed from its bonds, I shall please the divine Vāsudeva without diverting my mind from Him. I am burnt through actions, good and bad, committed by me alone before for the sake of others, whilst those who enjoyed the fruits thereof have disappeared. Through non-belief (unspirituality), I formerly gave up all fear (of sin) and committed sins. I now reap their fruits. I shall become a believer hereafter[6]."

Thus does the Jīva (Ātmā) within the (mother's womb) contemplate again and again the many kinds of miseries (it had undergone), and remembering always the miseries of the cycle of re-births, becomes disgusted (with the material enjoyments of the world), often fainting in the inmost centre (viz., heart) of all creatures at (the idea of) his avidyā, desire, and karma. Then this being, who had entered many hundreds of female wombs of beings (in the previous births), comes to the mouth of the womb wishing to obtain release. Here being pressed by the yantra (neck of the uterus), it suffers much trouble. Moreover it is much affected by prasūti (delivery) vāyu. As soon as it is born, it comes in contact with the vaiṣṇavī vāyu and ceases to remember anything of the past; it also ceases to see far and to be the cognizer of the real. Coming into contact with the earth, it becomes fierce-eyed and debased. The evil of the eye after it is rubbed with (or cleaned by) water vanishes; and with it, vanishes memory of birth and death, good and bad actions and their affinities. Then how does he understand vāyu, bile, and śleshma (phlegm)? When they are in their proper state, they produce health: with their disturbance, diseases are generated. It should be known that one becomes capable of knowing through a proper quantity of bile; through having a little more or a little less of it, he comes to know more. When the bile is changed (otherwise), he becomes changed and acts like a mad man. And that bile is agni. Agni influenced by karma is kindled by vāyu, the source (or seat) of virtue and vice, as fuel is kindled within (by fire) from without (by the wind).

And of how many kinds is that agni? It has three bodies, three retas (seeds or progeny), three puras (cities), three dhātus, and three kinds of agni threefold. Of these three, Vaiśvānara is bodiless. And that agni becomes (or is subdivided into) Jñānāgni (wisdom-fire), Darśanāgni (eye-fire), and Koshthāgni (digestive fire). Of these Jñānāgni pertains to the mind; Darśanāgni pertains to the senses; and Koshthāgni pertains to dahara and daily cooks (or digests) equally whatever is eaten, drunk, licked, or sucked through prāṇa and apāna. Darśanāgni is (in) the eye itself and is the cause of vijñāna and enables one to see all objects of form. It has three seats, the (spiritual) eye itself being the (primary) seat, and the eyeballs being the accessory seats. Dakṣiṇāgni is in the heart, Gārhapatya is in the belly, and in the face is Āhavanīya. (In this sacrifice with the three agnis), the Puruṣa is himself the sacrificer; buddhi becomes his wife; santoṣa (contentment) becomes the dīkṣā (vow) taken; the mind and the organs of the senses become the sacrificial vessels; the karmendriyas (organs of action) are the sacrificial instruments. In this sacrifice of the body, the several devas who become the ṛtvijas (sacrificial priests) perform their parts following the master of the sacrifice, (viz., the true individuality), wherever he goes. In this (sacrifice), the body is the sacrificial place, the skull of the head is the fire-pit, the hairs are the kuśa grass; the mouth is the antarvedi (raised platform in sacrifice); kāma (or passion) is the clarified butter; the period of life is the period of sacrifice; nāda (sound) produced in dahara (heart) is the sāmaveda (recited during the sacrifice); vaikharī is the yajus (or yajurveda hymns); parā, paśyanti, and madhyamā[7] are the ṛks (or ṛgveda hymns); cruel words are the atharvas (atharvaveda hymns) and khilas (supplementary texts of each veda); true words are the vyāhṛtis[8]. Life, strength, and bile are the paśus (sacrificial creatures) and death is avabhṛta (the bath which concludes the sacrifice). In this sacrifice, the (three) fires blaze up and then according to (the desires of) the worldly, the devas bless him. All who are living (in this world) are the sacrificers. There is none living who does not perform yajña (sacrifice). This body is (created) for yajña, and arises out of yajña and changes according to yajña. If this yajña is continued in a direction changed (from the right course, or is abused), then it leads to an ocean of misery.

In this body, there are sixteen side-teeth, having each a membrane (as its root) and fifteen openings. It (the body) is measured by ninety-six digits. There are in it fourteen nādi seats and 108 joints. There are seventy-two tubes seats with seventy-two nādis between them, of which three are important, viz., idā, piṅgalā, and suṣumnā, the fourth is purītati, and jivata the fifth. Above jivata is bile and near bile is Purītati. Above the navel, two digits to the left of it, is seated the source of bile. The food taken in is divided into three parts—urine, fæces, and sāra (the essence or chyme). The urine dividing itself into two, spreads to the left below the navel. The fæces is in the right side and is of seven kinds. The sāra is of five kinds and spreads itself over the body. Hence the semen and blood are produced from food and drink. In this body, vāyu which is moving as prāṇa is the Sūtrātma. Through it, one inspires and expires and moves (his limbs). Without it, no limb of the body will be animated. Through vāyu, the current of blood is driven into the midis from the chakra (plexus) of the heart, and those which can be touched (on the body) are easily discernible. The juicy essences (of food) which arise out of digestion enter the womb which is suspended in the stomach of the mother and coming near the child's head nourishes the child's prāṇa through the suṣumnā (on the head or pineal gland). Suṣumnā is the Brahma-nādi. Prāṇa and others are found there. It (prāṇa) descends lower and lower as the time of birth approaches and settles in the heart when the child is born. Through yoga, it should be brought from the middle of the eyebrows to the end of suṣumnā (viz., the pineal gland), when he becomes the cognizer of the Real like the child in the womb. In the body of this nature, Ātmā is latent and deathless, and is the witness and Puruṣa. It lives in this body, being enveloped (by māyā). Prāṇī (or the jīva having prāṇa) has abhimāna (identification with the body) on account of avidyā. Ajñāna which surrounds it is the seed; the antaḥkaraṇa (internal organ) is the sprout and the body is the tree. In this tree (of body), there are eight crores of hairs, eighty hundreds of joints, nine hundreds of tendons, eight palams of heart[9], twelve palams of tongue, one prastha (or two palams) of bile; one ādhaka of phlegm, one kudupa (or ¼ prastha) of śukla and two prasthas of marrow. One should consider everything as evanescent, like the child in the womb (with its prāṇa, etc.,) stationed in the suṣumnā (of the head). Then he becomes freed and gets no more body. If not, an ignorant man becomes subject to the cycle of re-births, etc., is exposed like a worm to the drink of urine and fæces, and undergoes in this body the sufferings of hell. Therefore knowing all this, one should be averse to worldly objects. Thus ends the mokṣa-śāstra of Pippalāda—thus ends the mokṣa-śāstra of Pippalāda. Thus ends the Upaniṣad.

Footnotes and references:


The Sanskrit word 'suṣira' means perforated or tubular.


The eight prakṛtis are mūlaprakṛti, mahat, ahaṅkāra, and the five elements; the sixteen vikāras are the five organs of sense, the five organs of action, the five prāṇas, and antaḥkaraṇa.


The Hindūs believe in so many number of wombs to be born on the earth.


Those that arise from the body, the elements, and the devas.


They are kāma (passion), ārtha (acquisition of wealth), dharma (performance of duty), and mokṣa (salvation).


The reason why it remembers them seems to be that the jīvātmā is in the pineal gland then, prior to its coming down.


Vaikharī and the three others are the different stages of nāda (sound).


Vyāhṛtis are parts of the Gāyatrī Mantra, viz., Bhūḥ, Bhuvaḥ, Suvaḥ.


Eight palams are 3/5 of a lb. (avdp.)

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