The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (with the Commentary of Śaṅkarācārya)

by Swāmī Mādhavānanda | 1950 | 272,359 words | ISBN-10: 8175051027

This Upanishad is widely known for its philosophical statements and is ascribed to Yajnavalkya. It looks at reality as being indescribable and its nature to be infinite and consciousness-bliss. Ethics revolve around the five Yajnas or sacrifices. This book includes the english translation of the Bhāṣya of Śaṅkara. The Shankara-Bhashya is the most ...


In compliance with the wishes of the learned translator of Śrī Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya on the Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad, Swāmī Śrī Mādhavānandajī of the Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa Mission, I have much pleasure in writing this short introduction to this English rendering of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-bhāṣya.

I should first congratulate the translator on the large measure of success which he has achieved in his endeavour to produce a faithful and readable English rendering of the greatest of the Upaniṣad-bhāṣyas written by Śrī Śaṅkarācārya. Such of the students of the bhāṣyas of Śrī Śaṅkara as may know English better than Sanskrit will find in this English translation a reliable help to the understanding of the contents of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-bhāṣya.

The Bṛhadāraṇyaka is the greatest of the Upaniṣads; and Śrī Śaṅkara s bhāṣya on this Upaniṣad is the greatest of his commentaries on the Upaniṣads. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka is the greatest not only in extent; but it is also the greatest in respect of its substance and theme. It is the greatest Upaniṣad in the sense that the illimitable, all-embracing, absolute, self-luminous, blissful reality—the Bṛhat or Brahman, identical with Ātman, constitutes its theme. And, according to Śrī Śaṅkara, it may be said to be the greatest Upaniṣad, ālso for the reason that it comprehends both the upadeśa or revelation of the true nature of the mystic experience of the Brahman-Ātman identity and the upapatti or logical explanations of that great doctrine of advaita through the employment of the dialectic modes of argumentation known as jalpa (arguing constructively as well as destructively for victory) and vāda (arguing for truth). Śrī Śaṅkara’s Bṛhadāraṇyaka-bhāṣya is the greatest of his commentaries on the Upaniṣads in the sense that the great Ācārya shows in this bhāṣya, in a very telling manner, how the great truth of Brahman-Ālman identity forms the main purport of all the Vedāntic texts in general and this great Upaniṣad in particular, and maintains by means of his powerful dialectics that the interpretations and views of others are unsound and untenable—those advanced by the Vedistic realists (Mīmāṃsakas), the creationistic realists (Vaiśeṣikas and Naiyāyikas) and the advocates of the doctrine of bhedābheda (difference-cum-identity) like Bhartṛprapañca. Śrī Śureśvara describes Śrī Śaṅkara’s Bṛhadāraṇyaka-bhāṣya in these terms in the second verse of his great Vārttika on his Bhāṣya:—

yām kāṇvopaniṣacchalena sakalannāyārthasaṃśodhinīṃ |
saṃcakturguravo'nutvṛtaguravo vṛttiṃ satāṃ śāntaye ||”

The older meaning of the term Upaniṣad is ‘Secret word’ or ‘Secret import’ or ‘Secret doctrine.’ As long as it was understood in this sense, the emphasis was on the mystic and ultra-rational aspect of philosophical thought. When, however, Śrī Dramiḍācārya, one of the Pre-Śaṅkara thinkers who commented upon the Upaniṣads, and Śrī Śaṅkara, following Śrī Dramiḍa, interpreted the term Upaniṣad as standing for the realisation of Brahman-Ātman identity (Brahmavidyā), which annihilates the beginningless nescience called avidyā, or as standing for the ancient text helpful in that realisation, the emphasis was shifted to the harmony between the inner mystic vision of the unity and universality of Ātman as the absolute being-spirit-bliss saccidānanda) and the philosophical conclusion that may be reached by a proper use of logic and dialectics. It is necessary to bear this in mind in endeavouring to appraise justly the philosophical and exegetic worth of Śrī śaṅkara’s commentary on the Bṛhadāraṇyaka.

This great Upaniṣad consists of three kāṇḍas—the first being called the Madhu-kāṇḍa, the second the Yājñavalkya-kāṇḍa or the Muni-kāṇḍa, and the third the Khila-kāṇḍa. The first kāṇḍa conveys the main teaching of the advaita doctrine and is of the nature of upadeśa; the second embodies the logical argument and explanation showing the soundness of the upadeśa; and the third deals with certain upāsanās or modes of meditation. The first two chapters of the Madhu - kāṇḍa deal with the Vedic rite, Pravargya, which forms a part of the ritualistic section (karma-kāṇḍa) of the Veda; and according to Śrī Śaṅkara, the Upaniṣad really begins with the third chapter of the Madhu-kāṇḍa. In this chapter, the phenomenal superimposition of the world on Brahman is set forth and its origin, its full reach and its acme are indicated; and all this is presented as adhyāropa or supposititious positing. The fourth or the concluding chapter of the Madhu-kāṇḍa exhibits in a telling manner the sublation which follows and stultifies the supposititious positing of the world in the preceding chapter, and elucidates the nature of the Brahman-Ātman realisation which is invariably and synchronously concomitant with the sublation; and all this is apavāda or sublation through the stultifying realisation of truth. According to Śrī Śaṅkara adhyā-ropa and apavāda constitute the chief means of fully realising the absolute reality called Śuddhaṃ Brahma. All the details of Vedic rituals, ail the forms of meditation associated with them, even the greatest of them— the horse-sacrifice (aśvamedha) and the meditation associated with it, and ail the results accruing from them—all these constitute the province of nescience (avidyā) and even the highest achievement of the Hiraṇyagarbha-loka or Brahma-loka is but a part, though the acme, of the immense cycle of tmsmigra-tion (saṃsāra). This is the substance of the account of adhyāropa in the third chapter of the Madhu-kāṇḍa. In the fourth Brāhmaṇa of this chapter, the great rewards of activities and meditation are described, so that a pure and disciplined mind may see their impermanence and detach itself from them; the undifferentiated Brahman (avyākṛta) representing the meaning of Tat. and the differentiated spirit (vyākṛta) representing the meaning of Tv am are then described; and after showing how, in the condition of nescience (avidyā), one sees difference in the multifarious non-spirit, the mature of the vidyā or knowledge of the absolute spirit, which is the Ātman-vidyā or Brahma-vidyā and brings about the realisation of the allness and the wholeness of Ātman, is indicated in the vidyā-sūtra—“ātmetyevopāsīta.” This is introduced at the end of the description of adhyāropa, so that one may not lose oneself in it and may find one’s way further to the stage of apavāda. Here Śrī Śaṅkara discusses the import of the vidyā-sūtra. It has to be considered whether this text should be taken as a complementarily restrictive injunction, (niyamavidhi), or as an injunction of something not got at in any other way (apūrvavidhî), or as an exclusively restrictive injunction (parīsaṃkhya-vidhi). From Śrī Śaṅkara’s discussion of the import of the vidyā-sūtra in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-bhāṣya and from his observations about the import of similar texts in the Samanvayādhikaraṇa-bhāṣya, it may be gathered that this text should be understood as setting forth the great truth that the absolute Brahman indirectly indicated by the word Ātman, and not any form of matter, gross or subtle, or any of its functions, should be realised as the only reality; and, as a matter of fact, there is no scope for any kind of injunction directly with reference to such reality. Such apparent injunctions look like injunctions at the initial stages of the quest for truth; but they ultimately turn out to be valid statements of the one great truth for which the advaita system stands. The fourth chapter of the. Madhu-kāṇḍa, or the second chapter of the bhāṣya, is devoted to apavāda and to an elucidation of the purport of the vidyā-sūtra. After describing in an elaborate manner the corporeal and incorporeal forms of the corpus of the material universe superimposed on Brahman, this chapter proceeds to convey the great teaching embodied in the words of the oft-quoted text—“athāta ādeśo neti neti” and emphatically avers that Brahman is not śūnya and can never be brought within the scope of any affirmation, but one may only glimpse it indirectly through negations of eliminable factors—“Not this, Not this” ‘iti na iti na’). The fourth Brāhmaṇa of the fourth chapter introduces Yājñavalkya as offering to divide all his earthly possessions between his two wives— Kātyāyanī and Maitreyī. Maitreyī asks if she can free herself from death by possessing the whole world filled with wealth, and Yājñavalkya says ‘no’ Maitreyī refuses all the riches of the world, saying “If I am not thereby free from death, what are these to me?” Yājñavalkya commends the spiritual fitness of his wife’s mind and proceeds to teach her the great truth of the Vedāntas. Śrī Śaṅkara draws pointed attention, here, to the value of renunciation (saṃnyāsa) as the means of true knowledge (jñānà). There are two kinds of saṃnyāsa—that which the seeker for knowledge (jijñāsu) resorts to for the sake of knowledge, and that which the person who has realised the truth (jñānin) resorts to for realising, without any hitch, the blissfulness of the condition of liberation while living (jīvanmukti). King Janaka, the greatest of Yājñavalkya’s disciples, continued to be a householder (gṛhastha) and served the world in perfect detachment as a jīvanmukta; but Yājñavalkya, who was also a jīvanmukta, after making momentous contributions to the educating and uplifting of the world in the sphere of spirituality, desired to renounce his life as a householder (gārhasthya) and to become a saṃnyāsin. The ideal of a jīvanmukta continuing to serve in society is not really opposed to the ideal of saṃnyāsa and is beautifully synthesised with it in the relation between Janaka and Yājñavalkya in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka; and similarly through the delightful liaison furnished by Maitreyī, the life of a gṛhastha is unified in the fourth Brāhmaṇa of this chapter with the life of a saṃnyāsin. Yājñavalkya conveys to Maitreyī the great truth that the pure spiritĀtman—is the ultimate object of all forms of love and is therefore to be understood as the eternal bliss: and Ātman should be realised through the duly regulated scheme of śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana—knowing the truth from the Upaniṣads, investigating and discussing it, and constant contemplation upon it (“ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyaḥ”)

The upadeśa in the Madhu-kāṇḍa is appropriately followed by the upapatti or argumentative and expository discourse in the Yājñavalkya-kānda. The latter kāṇḍa consists of the fifth and sixth chapters of the Upaniṣad. In the fifth chapter, the dialectic mode of argumentation known as jalpa, or arguing constructively as well as destructively for victory, is employed. Yājñavalkya is presented here as the stalwart dialectician in Janaka's assembly of learned philosophers and he fights his way to victory in the interest of philosophical truth. The most important Brāhmaṇa in this chapter is the eighth, in which Brahmatattva is elucidated in answer to the questions raised by Gārgī, the lady philosopher who stands out as the most outstanding personality among the philo sophical interlocutors opposing Yājñavalkya. In the sixth chapter, King Janaka plays the rôle, not of a controversialist, but of one desirous of completely knowing the truth ( tattvabubhutsu) and the discourse proceeds on the lines of argumentation for truth (vāda). In the third and fourth Brāhmaṇas of this chapter, an illustrative exposition of paraloka and mokṣa is given. The fifth Brāhmaṇa repeats the dialogue between Yājñavalkya and Maitreyī and explains the means of self-realisation in the highest sense (ātmahodha). In commenting upon the concluding sentence of this Brāhmaṇa—(“utāvadare khalvamṛtatvamiti hoktā yājñavalkyo vijahāra”) as also in commenting upon the text (“tasmādbrāhmaṇaḥ pāṇḍityaṃ nirvidya”) etc. at the end of the fifth Brāhmaṇa of the previous chapter and upon vi. iv. 22 of the sixth chapter, Śrī Śaṅkara discusses the place of saṃnyāsa and its value in the advaitic scheme of life and liberation, and emphasises the necessity for renunciation as providing special facilities for unhampered realisation; and in this connection, as elsewhere, he is not in favour of any kind of accommodation, in practice or theory, with the advocates of the karma-mārga.

The third division of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka is known as the Khila-kāṇḍa and deals with certain modes of meditation. The messages of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka ontology are conveyed in the texts—(“ahaṃ brahmāsmi”; “ātmetyevopāsīta”; “athāta ādeśo neti neti”). The pragmatic message of this Upaniṣad is embodied in the text (“abhayaṃ cai janaka prāpto'si”). The discipline of this Upaniṣad and its aim are embodied in the soul-elevating abhyārohamantra—‘From non-being, lead me to being; from darkness, lead me to light; from death, lead me to deathlessness’—(“asato mā sadgamaya; tamaso mā jyotirgamaya; mṛtyormā'mṛtaṃ gamaya”). All the teachings of this Upaniṣad are summed up in the first mantra of the Khila-kāṇḍa—‘That is the whole’ the whole is this: from the whole rises up the whole; and having seized the whole of the whole, the whole alone remains’—“oṃ pūrṇamadaḥ purṇamidaṃ pūrṇātpūrṇamudacyate | purṇasya purṇamādāya purṇamevāvaśiṣyate” Such as are able to see the defects of the holism of General Smuts may find comfort in the unimpeachable wholism embodied in this mantra at the beginning of the Khila-kāṇḍa. This holism of General Smuts may have, indeed, a chance of meeting with the approval of advaitic dialectics, only if it links itself up, as an ancillary, to the wholism of the absolute monism of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka The most striking message of this Upaniṣad on the ethical side is embodied in the lesson which every meditator is asked to read in the dental rumblings of the three da’s (da-da-da) of a thunder-clap, which are suggestive of self-restraint (dama) self-sacrifice (dāna)and merciful benevolence (dayā). This great ethical teaching is embodied in the text—“tadetatrayaṃ śikṣeddamaṃdānaṃ dayāmiti” and Prajāpati conveys it to his three classes of children—the devas, the manuṣyas, and the asuras. Such of the men as are godly in their nature and are tossed about by kāma, though otherwise good, should be understood, according to Śrī Śaṅkara, as gods (devāḥ) among men; such of them as are grasping and greedy and actuated by lobha, should be taken as men (manuṣyāḥ) among men; and cruel men, demonised by krodha, should be taken as demons (asurāḥ), All men should constantly practise- dama, dāna and dayā to exorcise the monsters of kāma lobha and krodha.

Some alien and alien-minded scholars are not inclined to see any systematic presentation of a philosophical doctrine in the Upaniṣads and believe that the Upaniṣads, including even the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, form a spiritual conglomerate of several things of varying value belonging to different stages—of thaumaturgic pebbles, dualistic and pluralistic toys and monistic gems. Those who carefully study the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, and Śrī Śaṅkaru’s great bhāṣya thereon, cannot easily resist the feeling that the Bṛhadāraṇyaka thought is an integral whole which is rooted on the advaita doctrine' and has it as its precious fruit, which uses a sound system of exposition and dialectics easily lending themselves to being expressed in the terms of the Gautamīya logic, and which refuses to accommodate itself in a satisfactory manner to any form of pluralistic realism or to any kind of the timid spiritual and metaphysical compromises involved in the bhedā-bheda (difference-cum-identity) phases of monistic thought belonging to the Pre-Śaṅkara or Post-Śaṅkara stage in the history of Vedānta

oṃ namo brahmādibhyo brahmavidyāsampradāyakartṛbhyo vaṃśaṛṣibhyo namo gurubhyaḥ

śrutismṛtipurāṇānāmālayaṃ karuṇālayam
namāmi bhagavatpādaśaṃkaraṃ lokaśaṃkaram

S. Kuppuswāmi Śāstrī

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