Kena Upanishad with Shankara’s Commentary

by S. Sitarama Sastri | 1905 | 13,003 words

The Kena Upanishad is a collection of philosophical poems discussing the attributes of Brahman: the unchanging, infinite universal spirit. Brahman is further proposed as the cause for all the forces of nature, symbolized as Gods. This commentary by Shankara focuses on ‘Advaita Vedanta’, or non-dualism: one of the classical orthodox philosophies o...

Verse 1

ओं केनेषितं पतति प्रेषितं मनः केन प्राणः प्रथमः प्रैति युक्तः ।
केनेषितां वाचमिमां वदन्ति चक्षुः श्रोत्रं क उ देवो युनक्ति ॥ १ ॥

oṃ keneṣitaṃ patati preṣitaṃ manaḥ kena prāṇaḥ prathamaḥ praiti yuktaḥ |
keneṣitāṃ vācamimāṃ vadanti cakṣuḥ śrotraṃ ka u devo yunakti || 1 ||

1. By whom willed and directed does the mind light on its subjects? By whom commanded does prana, the first, move? By whose will do men speak this speech? What Intelligence directs the eye and the ear?


Shankara’s Commentary:

Com.—‘Kena,’ ‘by what agent ‘Ishitam,’ ‘desired or directed.’ ‘Patati,’ ‘goes,’ i.e., ‘goes towards its objects.’ As the root Ish cannot he here taken in the sense of ‘repeat’ or ‘go,’ it must be understood to he used in the sense of ‘wish.’ The It suffix in Ishitam is a case of Vedic license. The word Preshitam is derived from the same root, with pra before it, when it means ‘direct.’ If the word Preshitam were alone used without the word Ishitam, questions as to the nature of the director and direction might arise, such as, by what sort of a director and by what sort of direction. But the use of the word Ishitam sets these two questions at rest, for then the meaning clearly is: “By whose mere wish is it directed, etc.” It may be objected, that if this meaning were what was intended to ho conveyed, the use of the word Preshitam is rendered superfluous, as the meaning intended is conveyed by Ishitam alone. It may he also objected that as the use of more words should convey more meaning, it is only reasonable to interpret the text as meaning ‘By what is it directed, by mere will, by act or by word?’ Both these objections are unsound. From the mere fact of the question having been asked, it is apparent that the question is asked by one who is disgusted with the ephemeral conglomeration of causes and effects, such as the body, etc., and who seeks to know something other than that—something unchangeable and eternal. Were it otherwise, the question itself, seeing how notorious in the world is the fact that the body directs by means of will, act or word, would be meaningless. If it be objected that even on this view there is nothing gained in the sense, by the use of the word Preshitam, we say no. The word Preshitam adds to the sense when we think that a questioner really entertains a doubt. To show that the question is prompted by a doubt in the questioner’s mind, as to whether, as is notorious, the body—the collection of causes and effects—directs the mind, etc., or whether the mind, etc., is directed by the mere will of anything other than these combinations of causes and effects and acting independently, the use of both the words Ishitam and Preshitam is justifiable. If. however, it lie urged that the mind itself, as every body knows, independently lights on its own object, and that the question is itself irrelevant, the argument is untenable. If the mind were independent in the pursuit of its objects or in desisting from pursuit, then it is not possible for any one to contemplate evil; but man, conscious of evil results, wills evil, and the mind though dissuaded, attempts deeds of serious evil consequences. Therefore the question Keneshitam, etc., is certainly appropriate.

By whom directed does Prana go, i.e., about its own business? Prathama is an appropriate adjective of Prana, as the activity of all the sensory organs presupposes it. By whom prompted is the speech which men in the world make use of? And what Intelligence directs the eye and the ear towards their respective objects?

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