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 32

उपनिषदं भो ब्रूहीत्युक्ता त उपनिषद्ब्राह्मीं वाव त उपनिषदमब्रूमेति ॥ ३२ ॥

upaniṣadaṃ bho brūhītyuktā ta upaniṣadbrāhmīṃ vāva ta upaniṣadamabrūmeti || 32 ||

32. (The disciple). (O Preceptor!) “Teach me the Upanishad”. (The preceptor). “We have told thee the Upanishad.” We have certainly told thee the Upanishad about Brahman


Shankara’s Commentary:

Com.—When the disciple said “O holy one! Teach me the secret that should he thought of,” the preceptor replied “the Upanishad has been taught thee.” “What is that Upanishad?” The preceptor replied “The Upanishad treating of Brahman, the supreme Self, has been taught thee who excel in knowledge”. The latter half is introduced for decisively asserting that the knowledge of the supreme Pramatman, the Brahman already explained, is the Upanishad. Now what is the real significance of the disciple, who has already heard, explained to him, the knowledge of the Brahman, asking the preceptor to tell him the Upanishad? If the question was about what was already explained, then the question itself becomes redundant and meaningless like Pishtapeshana. If, however, the Upanishad had been only partially explained, then the concluding it by reciting its fruits: “Having turned away from this world they become immortal,” is not reasonable. Therefore, the question, if asked about the unexplained portion of the Upanishad is also unsound, because there was no portion yet to be explained. What then is the meaning of the questioner.

We answer thus: The disciple meant to say:

“Does the Upanishad already explained stand in need of anything else which should combine with it to secure the desired end, or does it not stand in need of any such thing? If it does, teach me the Upanishad about what is so required. If it does not, assert emphatically like Pippalada in the words—There is nothing beyond this—.”

The preceptor’s emphatical assertion, “The Upanishad has been told thee” is but proper. It may be said that this cannot be construed as an emphatic assertion, as already explained, for something yet had to be said by the preceptor. It is true that the preceptor adds ‘Tasyi’, etc., but that is not added as a portion combining with the Upanishad, already explained, in accomplishing the desired end, nor as a distinct aid for achieving the end with the Upanishad, but as something intended as a means to the acquisition of the knowledge of the Brahman; for, tapas, etc., are apparently of the same importance with the Vedas and their supplements, being mentioned along with them. It is well known that neither the Vedas nor the supplements are the direct complements of the knowledge of the Brahman or concomitant helps to it. It is urged that it is only reasonable to assign different offices according to merit, even to many mentioned in the same breath. Just as the mantras for invoking the gods, where more than one is named, are used to perform the function of different deities according as the god to be invoked is this or that; it is urged it is to be inferred that tapas, peace, karma, truth, etc., are either complements or concomitant helps to the knowledge of Brahman, and that the Vedas and their supplements, elucidating meanings, are only helps to the knowledge of Karma and Atma. They urge that this distribution is only reasonable from the reasonableness of the applicability of their purport to this distribution. This cannot be, for it is illogical. This distinction is impossible to bring about. It is unreasonable to think that the knowledge of the Brahman, before which all notions of distinctions of deed, doer, fruit, etc., vanish, can possibly require any extraneous tiling as its complement or concomitant aid in accomplishing it. Nor can its fruit, emancipation, require any such. It is said: “One desirous of emancipation should always renounce karma and all its aids. It is only by one that so renounces that the highest place (can he reached).

Therefore, knowledge cannot consistently with itself require karma as its concomitant help or its complement. Therefore, the distribution on the analogy of the invocation in Suktavaka is certainly unsound. Therefore, it is sound to say that the question and answer were intended only to make sure. The meaning is “what was explained is all the Upanishad, which does not require anything else for ensuring emancipation.”

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