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 9

यदि मन्यसे सुवेदेति दहरमेवापि नूनम् |
त्वं वेत्थ ब्रह्मणो रूपम् यदस्य त्वं यदस्य देवेष्वथ नु मीमामँयेमेव ते मन्ये विदितम् ॥ ९ ॥

yadi manyase suvedeti daharamevāpi nūnam |
tvaṃ vettha brahmaṇo rūpam yadasya tvaṃ yadasya deveṣvatha nu mīmām̐syemeva te manye viditam ॥ 9 ॥

9. If thou thinkest ‘I know well’ it is certainly but little—the form of the Brahman thou hast known, as also the form in the Devas. Therefore I think that what thou thinkest known is still to be ascertained.


Shankara’s Commentary:

Com.—The preceptor, fearing that, the disciple persuaded to believe that lie is the Atman, i.e., the Brahman not fit to be abandoned or acquired, might think ‘I certainly am the Brahman, I know myself well,’ says for the purpose of dispelling that notion of the disciple Yadi, etc. Then, is not an accurate conviction ‘I know (Brahman) well’ desirable? Certainly it is desirable. But an accurate conviction is not of the form ‘I know (Brahman) well.’ If what should be known becomes an object of sense-perception then it is possible to know it well, just as an inflammable substance can be consumed by the consuming fire. But the essence of fire cannot itself be so consumed. The well-ascertained drift of all Vedanta is that the Self (Atman) of every knower is the Brahman. The same has been here explained in the form of question and answer by the text ‘It is the ear of the ear, etc.’ The same has been still more clearly determined by the text: “What is not enlightened by speech, etc.” The traditional theory of those who know the Brahman has also been declared by tbe text: “It is something different from both the known and the unknown.” This Upanishad will also conclude by saying “It is unknown to those who know, and known to those who do not know.” It is, therefore, certainly proper that the notion of the disciple, ‘I know Brahman well’ should be dispelled. It is evident that the knower cannot be known by tbe knower, just as fire cannot be consumed by fire. There is no knower other than th e Brahman, to whom the Brahman can be a knowable, distinct from himself. By the Sruti: “There is no knower other than that,” the existence of another knower is denied. The belief, therefore, ‘I know Brahman well’ is an illusion. Therefore well did the preceptor say ‘Yadi, etc.’

Vadi’ means ‘if perchance.’ ‘Suveda’ means ‘I know Brahman well.’ Because some one whose sins have been purged and who is really intelligent may properly understand what is taught and others not, the preceptor begins with a doubt ‘Yadi, etc.’ Such cases have also been found to occur. When he was informed ‘This purusha who is seen in the eye, this is the Atman; this is the immortal, fearless self,’ Virochana, the son of Prajapati and the lord of the Asuras, though intelligent, misinterpreted this instruction, on account of his natural defects and understood that the body was the Atman. Similarly, Indra, the lord of the Devas, not being able to comprehend the Brahman, at the first, second and third instructions, did, at the fourth, his natural faults having been removed, comprehend the very Brahman that he was first taught. It has been found in the world also, that, of disciples receiving instruction from the same preceptor, some understand him properly, some misinterpret his teaching, some interpret it into the exact contrary of the teacher’s view and some do not understand it at all. What more need we say of the knowledge of the Atman which is beyond the reach of the senses. On this point, all logicians, with their theories of Sat and Asat, are in conflict. The doubt, therefore, expressed in ‘Yadi manyase,’ etc., with which the preceptor begins his discourse is certainly appropriate, considering that the disciples, in spite of the instruction that the Brahman is unknowable, might have misunderstood him.

Dahara’ means ‘little’; ‘Vettha’ Means ‘knowest’; i.e., thou knowest surely little of Brahman’s form. Has Brahman then many forms, great and little, that it is said ‘daharam, etc.’? Quite so; many, indeed, are the forms of Brahman produced by conditions of name and form, but none in reality. By nature, as the Sruti says, it is without sound, touch, form, destruction; likewise, tasteless,odourless, and eternal. Thus with sound, etc., form is denied. But it may be said that, as that by which a thing is defined, is its rupa or form, the peculiar attribute of Brahman by which it is defined, may be said to be its form. We thus answer: Intelligence cannot be the quality of the earth, etc., either of one or all of them together, or under any modifications. Similarly, it cannot he the quality of the sensory organs, like the ear, etc., or of the mind. ‘Brahmano rupam,’ Brahman is defined by its intelligence. Hence it is said: “Brahman is knowledge and bliss;’ ‘Brahman is dense with knowledge’; ‘Brahman is existence, knowledge and infinity’; thus the form of Brahman has been defined. Truly so; but even there, the Brahman is defined by the words ‘knowledge, etc.,’ only with reference to the limitations of mind, body and senses, because of its apparent adaptations to the exapansion, contraction, extinction, etc., of the body, etc., and not on account of its own essence. According to its essence it will be concluded in the subsequent portion of this Upanishad that it is unknown to those who know, and known to those who do not know. The expression ‘Yadasya brahmano rupam’ should be read along with what precedes it. Not only dost thou know little of the form of Brahman. when thou knowest it, as conditioned in man, but also when thou knowest it as conditioned in the Devas; so I think. Even the form of Brahman as it exists in the Devas is little, because it is limited by condition. The gist is that the Brahman limited by no conditions or attributes, passive, infinite, one without a second, known as Bhuma, eternal, cannot be known well. This being so, I think that you have yet to know Brahman by enquiry.’

Atha nu,’ ‘therefore.’ ‘Mimamsyam,’ ‘worthy of enquiry.’ Thus addressed by the preceptor, the disciple sat in solitude all composed, discussed within himself the meaning of the Agama as pointed out by his Guru (preceptor), arrived at a conclusion by his reasoning, realised it in himself, approached the preceptor and exclaimed “I think I now know Brahman.”

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