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 2

श्रोत्रस्य श्रोत्रं मनसो मनो यद्वाचो ह वाचं स उ प्राणस्य प्राणश्चक्षुषश्चक्षुः ।
अतिमुच्य धीराः प्रेत्यास्माल्लोकादमृता भवन्ति ॥ २ ॥

śrotrasya śrotraṃ manaso mano yadvāco ha vācaṃ sa u prāṇasya prāṇaścakṣuṣaścakṣuḥ |
atimucya dhīrāḥ pretyāsmāllokādamṛtā bhavanti || 2 ||

2. It is the ear of the ear, mind of the mind, tongue of the tongue, and also life of the life and eye of the eye. Being disabused of the false notion, the wise, having left this body, become immortal.


Shankara’s Commentary:

Com.—To the worthy (disciple) who had thus questioned him, the preceptor in reply says: “Hear what you ask for—what intelligent Being directs the mind and the other senses towards their respective objects, and how it directs them.” Ear is that by which one hears, i.e., the sense whose function is to hear sounds and distinguish them. He, you asked for, is the ear of that.

May it not be objected that while the reply ought to run in the form, ‘So-and-so, with such-and-such attributes, directs the ear, etc.,’ the reply in the form ‘He is the ear of the ear, etc.,’ is inappropriate? This is no objection; for he (the director) cannot otherwise be particularized. If the director of the ear, etc., can be known by any activity of his own, independent of the activity of the ear, etc., as a person who directs another to give, then, indeed, would this form of answer become inappropriate. But we do not here understand a director of the ear, etc., having any activity of his own, like a mower. The director is inferred by logical necessity from the activity manifested by the ear and others combined, such as deliberation, volition, determination enuring for the benefit of something distinct from them all (the ear, etc.). As things combined necessarily exist for the use of some other thing not so combined, we argue that there is a director of the ear, etc., distinct from the ear, etc., and for whose use the whole lot—the ear, etc.,—exists in the same manner as a house exists for somebody’s use. Hence the reply ‘It is the ear of the ear, etc.,’ is certainly appropriate.

Again it is asked what is the meaning of the expression: “It is the ear of the ear, etc.” And it is said that one ear does not want another, just as one light needs not another. This objection has no force. The meaning here is this. The ear has been found capable of perceiving objects and this capability of the ear depends upon the intelligence of the Atman, bright, eternal, intact, all-pervading. Therefore the expression ‘It is the ear of the ear, etc.,’ is correct. To the same effect also, the Srutis say, “He shines by his own brightness.” “By his light is all this Universe illumined.” “By that light illumined, does the sun shine, etc.,” and so on. The Bhagavad Gita says “As the light in the sun illumines the whole world, so does the Atman (Kshetri) O Bharata! illumine all the body (Kshetrum).” The Katha also says, “He is the eternal among the non-eternal and the intelligence among the intelligent.” The ‘ear, etc.,’ have been by all confounded with the Atman and this false notion is here dispelled. The reply of the precepter: there is something indescribable, cognisable only by the intelligence of the wise, occupying the deepest interior of all, unchangeable, undecaying, immortal, fearless, unborn and ‘the ear of the ear, etc.’—the source of all their functional capacity, is appropriate and the meaning also. Similarly it is the mind of the mind. It is evident that the mind, if not illumined by the bright intelligence within, will he incapable of performing its functions of volition, determination, etc. It is, therefore, said that it is the mind of the mind. Both the conditioned intelligence and mind are together contemplated by the word ‘mind’ in the text. The word yat in ‘Yadvachohavacham’ means ‘because’ and should he read along with the words Srotra (ear), manah (mind), etc., thus: ‘because it is the ear of the ear,’ ‘because it is the mind of the mind,’ etc. The objective case (vacham) in ‘Vachohavacham'’ should he converted into the nominative case, for we next read ‘Pranasyapranah.’ It may be said that conformably to the expression ‘Vachohavacham’ the following ‘Pranasya-pranah may as well be read as ‘Pranasyapranam.’ It cannot be, for conformity to the majority is desirable. So ‘vacham, should be read as ‘vak’ in conformity to ‘Sah’ and ‘Pranah,’ in ‘Sa?u?pranasya-pranah.’ because it then conforms with two words and conformity to the majority is preferred. Besides, the substance asked about can be best denoted by a noun in the nominative case. The substance asked about by you is the prana of prana, i.e., it is that substance which endows prana, with the capacity to discharge its functions, i.e., to infuse activity; for there can possibly be no activity where the Atman does not preside. “Who could live and breathe if there were not the self-luminous Brahman and “He leads Prana up and Apana down” say the Srutis. It will also be said in this Upanishad, “You know that to be the Brahman which infuses activity into Prana.” It may lie said that, in a context speaking of the ear and other senses, the mention of Breath would be more appropriate than that of Prana. Truly so; but in the use of the word Prana. breath is meant to be included.

The Sruti thinks thus:—the gist of this portion is that that is Brahman for whose use the aggregation of the senses exerts its combined activity. Similarly it is the eye of the eye, &c. The capacity of the eye to perceive form is found only where the intelligence of the Atman directs it. Therefore it is the eye of the eye. After this expression in the text, the expression ‘having understood the Brahman as above defined, i.e., as the ear of the ear, &c.,’ must he supplied by the reader, as the questioner should be supposed to be anxious to know what he asked about. Another reason why the expression should be supplied is the enunciation of the result ‘they become immortal;’ for it is only by wisdom that immortality is attained and it is only by knowledge one can attain emancipation. Having given up all the sensory organs; (It is by confounding the ear and other sensory organs with the Atman that man is born subject to these conditions, dies and thus rotates) means ‘having learnt that the Atman is the Brahman defined as the ear of the ear, &c.’ Atimuchya means ‘having given up the false notion that the ear, &c., is the Atman; for, without the aid of the highest intelligence, it is impossible for one to give up the notion that the ear, &c., is the Atman.Pretya’ means ‘having turned away’, ‘Asmallokat’ means ‘from this world’, where the talk is always of ‘my son,’ ‘my wife,’ ‘my kith and kin.’ The drift is ‘having renounced all desires.’ ‘Become immortal’ means ‘enjoy immunity from death.’ The Srutis also say “Not by deeds, not by offspring, not by wealth, but by renunciation did some attain immortality”; “The senses were made to perceive only external objects;” “Having turned his senses inwards for desire of immortality”; “When all desires are driven forth, here they attain the Brahman” &c. Or, seeing that the word Atimuchya necessarily implies ‘renunciation of all desires,’ the expression ‘Asmallokat pretya” may be interpreted as ‘having left this mortal body.’

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