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 12

प्रतिबोधविदितं मतममृतत्वं हि विन्दते ।
आत्मना विन्दते वीर्यं विद्यया विन्दतेऽमृतम् ॥ १२ ॥

pratibodhaviditaṃ matamamṛtatvaṃ hi vindate |
ātmanā vindate vīryaṃ vidyayā vindate'mṛtam || 12 ||

12. (The Brahman) is known well, when it is known as the witness of every state of consciousness; for (by such knowledge) one attains immortality. By his Self he attains strength and by knowledge, immortality.


Shankara’s Commentary:

Com.—It has been settled that it is unknown to those who know. If Brahman he not known at all, it will then come to this, that there is no difference between the worldly-minded and those who know the Brahman. To say that It is unknown to those who know is also a contradiction, flow then could that Brahman he well-known? This is explained in this text, ‘Pratibodhaviditam’ means ‘known in respect of every state of consciousness.’ By the word ‘bodha’ is meant ‘mental perception.’ That by which all states of consciousness are perceived like objects is the Atman. He knows and sees all states of consciousness, being by nature nothing hut intelligence and is indicated by these states of consciousness, as blended with every one of them. There is no other way by which the inner Atman could be known. Therefore when the Brahman is known as the witness of all states of consciousness, then it is known well. Being the witness of all states of consciousness, it will he clear that it is intelligence in its essence, subject to neither birth nor death, eternal, pure, unconditioned, and one in all things, because there is no difference in its essence, just as in the essence of the Akas, in a vessel or mountain cave, etc. The drift of the passage from the Agamas [traditions] is that the Brahman is other than both the known and the unknown. It is this pure Atman that will be described at the close of the Upanishad. Another Sruti says “He is the seer of the eye, the hearer of the ear, the thinker of thought, and the knower of knowledge.” But some explain the expression Pratibodhaviditam’ in the text as meaning ‘known by its defining attribute of knowledge,’ on the view that Brahman is the author of the act of knowing and that Brahman as such author is known by its activity in knowing,’ just as the wind is known as that which shakes the branches of the trees. In this view the Atman is an unintelligent substance having the power to know and not intelligence itself. Consciousness is produced and is destroyed. When consciousness is produced, then the Atman is associated with it; but when it is destroyed, the Atman, dissociated from consciousness, becomes a mere unintelligent substance. Such being the case, it is not possible to get over the objection that the Atman is rendered changeable in its nature, composed of parts, transient, impure, etc. Again according to the followers of Kanada consciousness is said to be produced by the combination of the Atman and the mind and to adhere to the Atman. Therefore, the Atman possesses the attribute of knowledge but is not subject to modifications. It simply becomes a substance just like a pot made red. Even on this theory the Brahman is reduced to an unintelligent substance and therefore, the SrutisBrahman is knowledge and bliss, etc.,’ would be set at naught. Moreover the Atman having no parts and being omnipresent and, therefore, ever connected (with the mind), the impossibility of laying down a law regulating the origin of recollection is an insurmountable objection.

Again that the Atman can be connected with any thing is itself repugnant to the Srutis, Smritis and logic. ‘The Atman is not connected with anything else; ‘The Atman unconnected with anything supports everything; so say both the Sruti and the Smriti. According to logic, too, a thing having attributes may be connected with another having attributes and not with one dissimilar in class. To say, therefore, that a thing having no attribute, undifferentiated and having nothing in common with anything else, combines with another unequal in class is illogical. Therefore, the meaning that the Atman is, by nature, knowledge and light, eternal and undecaying, can be arrived at, only if the Atman be the witness of all states of consciousness, and not otherwise. Hence the meaning of the expression ‘Pratibodhaviditam matam’ is just what we explained it to be. Some, however, explain that the drift of this portion of the text is that the Atman is knowable by itself. There the Atman is thought of as conditioned and people talk of knowing the Atman by the Atman, distinguishing as it were, the unconditioned Atman from the Atman conditioned by intelligence, etc. Thus it has been said “He sees the Atman by the Atman” and “O Best of men! know the Atman by the Atman, thyself.” It is clear that the unconditioned Atman, being one, is not capable of being known either by itself or by others. Being itself the knowing principle, it cannot stand in need of another knowing principle; just as one light cannot possibly require another light. So here. On the theory of the followers of Buddha that the Atman is known by itself, knowledge becomes momentary and no Atman as its knower is possible. It is well known that the knowledge of the knower knows no destruction, being-indestructible. Again the Srutis: ‘Him who is eternal, omnipresent and all-pervading,’ ‘This is He, great, unborn, Atman, undecaying, deathless, immortal and fearless,’ etc., would be set at naught. Some, however, construe the word ‘Pratibodha’ to mean ‘causeless perception’ as that of one who sleeps. Others yet say that the word ‘Pratibodha’ means ‘knowledge of the moment.’ (We answer) whether it has or has not a cause, whether it occurs once or is often repeated, it is still Pratibodha itself or knowledge itself. The drift is that the Brahman known as the witness of all states of consciousness is well-known, because by such knowledge, one attains immortality, i.e., being centred in one’s self, i.e., emancipation. The knowledge that the Atman is the witness of all states of consciousness is the reason for immortality. Immortality cannot possibly be the fact of the Atman becoming something other than itself. The immortality of the Atman, consisting in being Atman, is causeless; thus the mortality of the Atman consists in the mistaken belief of no ‘Atman’ induced by ignorance. How again, it may be asked, does one attain immortality by the knowledge of the Atman as already explained? It is therefore, said as follows: ‘Atmana’ means ‘by one’s own nature;’ ‘Vindate’ means ‘attains;’ ‘Viryam’ means ‘strength or capacity.’ The strength gained by wealth, retinue, mantras, medicinal herbs, devotion and yoga cannot overcome mortality, because that is produced by things themselves mortal. The strength gained by the knowledge of the Atman can be acquired by the Atman alone and not by any other means. Because the strength produced by the knowledge of the Atman does not require any other aid, that strength alone can overcome death. And because one acquires by bis Atman alone the strength produced by the knowledge of the Atman, therefore he attains immortality by the knowledge of the Atman. The Atharvana Upanishad says “This Atman cannot be attained by one devoid of strength.”

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: