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 ...

Section II - Description of the Prana

The preceding section has broached the topic, ‘I will tell you about Brahman’ (II. i. 15). In this connection it has been stated that that from which the universe originates, of which it consists (during continuity), and into which it dissolves is the one Brahman. Now what are the constituents of that universe which originates and dissolves? The five elements. And the elements consist of name and form. It has already been said that name and form are called truth. And Brahman is the Truth of this truth consisting of the elements.. How it is that the elements are called truth, will be explained in the (third) section, treating of the gross and subtle universes. Because the body and organs, as also the vital force, consist of these gross and subtle elements, therefore they are truth. In order to define the nature of those elements that form the body and organs, this and the following section are introduced. That will be an explanation of the secret name (‘the Truth of truth’), for Brahman, the Truth of truth, will be ascertained only by ascertaining that the body and organs are truth. It has been said, ‘The vital force is truth, and Brahman is the Truth of that’ (II. i. 20). Now, to explain what this vital force is, and how many and what its secret names are, the nature of the vital force, which is an instrument of the self, is being described in the course of describing the secret name of Brahman, just as a traveller notices wells, parks, etc., lying along the road.


Verse 2.2.1:

यो ह वै शिशं साधानं सप्रत्याधानं सस्थूणं सदामं वेद सप्त ह द्विषतो भ्रातृव्यानवरुणद्धि । अयं वाव शिशुर्योऽयं मध्यमः प्राणः, तस्यैदमेवाधानम्, इदं प्रत्याधानम्, प्राणः स्थूणा, अन्नं दाम ॥ १ ॥

yo ha vai śiśaṃ sādhānaṃ sapratyādhānaṃ sasthūṇaṃ sadāmaṃ veda sapta ha dviṣato bhrātṛvyānavaruṇaddhi | ayaṃ vāva śiśuryo'yaṃ madhyamaḥ prāṇaḥ, tasyaidamevādhānam, idaṃ pratyādhānam, prāṇaḥ sthūṇā, annaṃ dāma || 1 ||

1. He who knows the calf with its abode, its special resort, its post and its tether kills his seven envious kinsmen: The vital force in the body is indeed the calf; this body is its abode, the head its special resort, strength its post, and food its tether.

He who knows the calf with its abode, its special resort, its post and its tether gets this result. What is that? He kills his seven envious kinsmen. Kinsmen are of two kinds, those who envy and those who do not; here the former are meant. The seven organs[3]— instruments for perceiving objects—that are in the head, that is to say, the attachment to sense-objects which they cause, are called kinsmen, since they are born with a person. Because they turn his vision from the Self to the sense-objects, therefore they are envious kinsmen—since they thus hinder him from perceiving the inner Self. It is also said in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, ‘The self-born Lord injured the organs by making them outgoing in their tendencies. Therefore they perceive only external things, but not the inner Self,’ etc. (Ka. IV. I). He who knows the calf and the rest—understands their real nature—removes from view, or kills, these envious kinsmen. When the aspirant, hearing of this result, is inclined to know more about them, the Śruti says: This is indeed the calf. Which? This vital force which is in the body as the subtle body, which in its fivefold form pervades the body, and was addressed as ‘Great, White-robed, Radiant, Soma’ (II. i. 15), and on which the organs such as that of speech and the mind rest, as we know from the illustration of the post to which the horse’s feet are tethered (VI. i. 13). It is like a young calf, not being in direct touch with the sense-objects like the other organs.

Mention has been made of 'the calf with its abode.’ Now what is the abode of that calf, that instrument of the self, the vital force, which is here likened to a calf? This body, which is an effect, is its abode. An abode is that in which something is put. This body is the abode of that calf, the vital force, because it is by staying in the body that the organs come to function as channels of perception, not while they rest only on the vital force. This has been demonstrated by Ajātaśatru as follows: When the organs are withdrawn, the individual self is not noticed; it is only when they occupy their respective seats in the body that the individual self is noticed as perceiving things. This was proved by the (sleeping) man’s being roused by pushing with the hand. The head is its special resort. It is so called because the vital force is connected with particular parts of it. Strength, the power that comes out of food and drink, is its post. ‘Prāṇa’ and ‘Bala’ (strength) are synonyms, for the vital force abides in the body, being supported by strength. This is borne out by the Śruti text, ‘When this self becomes weak and senseless, as it were’ (IV. iv. i). Just as a calf is supported by a post,[1] so is the vital force by strength. Some understand that the respiratory force that works in the body is the post. And food is its tether. The food we eat is changed into three forms. That which is the grossest is excreted from the body and is absorbed into the earth. The intermediate form of chyle, passing through the stages of blood etc., nourishes its effect, the gross body, which is composed of seven ingredients.[2] The body is nourished by the accession of its cause, viz. food, because it is the product of food; and when this is reversed, it decays and falls. The finest form, called ‘nectar’ and ‘highly powerful,’ goes past the navel to the heart, and penetrating the seventy-two thousand nerves that radiate from there, generates strength, here designated as ‘post,’ and thereby helps the subtle body, which is the aggregate of the inner organs and is here called the calf, to stay in the gross body. Therefore food is the connecting link between the vital force and the body, like a calf’s tether with a loop at each end.

Now certain secret names regarding the calf living in its special resort, with reference to the eye, are being mentioned:


Verse 2.2.2:

तमेतः सप्ताक्षितय उपतिष्ठन्ते; तद्या इमा अक्षन् लोहिन्यो राजयस्ताभिरेनं रुद्रोऽन्वायत्तः, अथ या अक्षन्नापस्ताभिः पर्जन्यः, या कनीनका तयादित्यः, यत्कृष्णं, तेनाग्निः, यच्छुक्लं, तेनेन्द्रः, अधरयैनं वर्तन्या पृथिव्यन्वायत्ता, द्यौरुत्तरया; नास्यान्नं क्सीयते य एवं वेद ॥ २ ॥

tametaḥ saptākṣitaya upatiṣṭhante; tadyā imā akṣan lohinyo rājayastābhirenaṃ rudro'nvāyattaḥ, atha yā akṣannāpastābhiḥ parjanyaḥ, yā kanīnakā tayādityaḥ, yatkṛṣṇaṃ, tenāgniḥ, yacchuklaṃ, tenendraḥ, adharayainaṃ vartanyā pṛthivyanvāyattā, dyauruttarayā; nāsyānnaṃ ksīyate ya evaṃ veda || 2 ||

2. These seven gods that prevent decay worship it: Through these pink lines in the eye Rudra attends on it; through the water that is in the eye, Parjanya; through the pupil, the sun; through the dark portion, fire; through the white portion, Indra; through the lower eye-lid the earth attends on it; and through the upper eyelid, heaven. He who knows it as such never has any decrease of food.

These seven gods that prevent decay (lit. undecaying), to be presently named, worship it, this vital force, the instrument, which is tied to the body by food, and resides in the eye. The root ‘sthā’ with the prefix ‘upa’ becomes Ātmanepadin when it signifies praying with Mantras. Here too the seven names of the gods stand for Mantras instrumental to prayer; so the use of the Ātmanepada with ‘sthā’ is not out of place. Now the gods that prevent decay are being enumerated. Through these familiar pink lines in the eye as aids, Rudra attends on it, the vital force that is in the body. Through the aid of the water that is in the eye, which comes out when there is contact with smoke etc., the god Parjanya attends on, i.e. prays to the vital force; and he is the food of the vital force and the cause of its permanence. We have it in another Śruti, ‘When Parjanya causes rain, the vital force is glad.’ Through the pupil, which has the power of sight, the sun prays to the vital force. Through the dark portion of the eye fire prays to it. Through the white portion of the eye Indra prays. Through the lower eye-lid the earth attends on it, because both occupy a lower position. And through the upper eyelid, heaven, because both occupy an upper position. He who knows it as such, knows that these seven gods that are the food of the vital force constantly pray to it, gets this as a result—he never has any decrease of food.


Verse 2.2.3:

तदेष श्लोको भवति ।
अर्वाग्बिलश्चमस ऊर्ध्वबुध्नः, तस्मिन्यशो निहितं विश्वरूपम् ।
तस्यासत ऋषयः सप्त तीरे, वागष्टमी ब्रह्मणा संविदान ॥
इति ।
‘अर्वाग्बिलश्चमस ऊर्ध्वबुध्नः’ इतीदं तच्छिरः, एष ह्यर्वाग्बिलश्चमस ऊर्ध्वबुध्नः; ‘तस्मिन्यशो निहितं विश्वरूपम्’ इति प्राण वै यशो विश्वरूपम्, प्राणानेतदाह; ‘तस्यासत ऋषयः सप्त तीरे’ इति प्राणा वा ऋषयः, प्राणानेतदाह; ‘वागष्टमी ब्रह्मणा संविदाना’ इति वागष्टमी ब्रह्मणा संवित्ते ॥ ३ ॥

tadeṣa śloko bhavati |
arvāgbilaścamasa ūrdhvabudhnaḥ, tasminyaśo nihitaṃ viśvarūpam |
tasyāsata ṛṣayaḥ sapta tīre, vāgaṣṭamī brahmaṇā saṃvidāna ||
iti |
‘arvāgbilaścamasa ūrdhvabudhnaḥ’ itīdaṃ tacchiraḥ, eṣa hyarvāgbilaścamasa ūrdhvabudhnaḥ; ‘tasminyaśo nihitaṃ viśvarūpam’ iti prāṇa vai yaśo viśvarūpam, prāṇānetadāha; ‘tasyāsata ṛṣayaḥ sapta tīre’ iti prāṇā vā ṛṣayaḥ, prāṇānetadāha; ‘vāgaṣṭamī brahmaṇā saṃvidānā’ iti vāgaṣṭamī brahmaṇā saṃvitte || 3 ||

3. Regarding this there is the following verse: ‘There is a bowl that has its opening below and bulges at the top; various kinds of knowledge have been put in it; seven sages sit by its side, and the organ of speech, which has communication with the Vedas, is the eighth.’ The ‘bowl that has its opening below and bulges at the top’ is this head of ours, for it is the bowl that has its opening below and bulges at the top. ‘Various kinds of knowledge have been put in it,’ refers to the organs; these indeed represent various kinds of knowledge. ‘Seven sages sit by its side,’ refers to the organs; they indeed are the sages. ‘The organ of speech, which has communication with the Vedas, is the eighth,’ because the organ of speech is the eighth and communicates with the Vedas.

Regarding this subject there is the following verse or Mantra: ‘There is a bowl that has its opening below,’ etc. Now the Śruti explains the Mantra. What is that bowl? This head of ours, for it is shaped like a bowl. How? For it has its opening below, the mouth standing for this opening, and bulges at the top, the head because of its round shape answering to the description. ‘Various kinds of knowledge have been Put in it’: Just as the Soma juice is put in the bowl, so have various kinds of knowledge been put in the head. The organs such as the ear, and the vital force, which is distributed among them in seven forms, represent various kinds of knowledge, because they are the cause of the perception of sound etc. This is what the Mantra says. ‘Seven sages sit by its side’: This portion of the Mantra refers to the organs, which are of a vibratory nature. They alone are the sages. ‘The organ of speech, which has communication with the Vedas, is the eighth.’[4] The reason for this is given: Because the organ of speech is the eighth and communicates with (or utters) the Vedas.


Verse 2.2.4:

इमावेव गोतमभरद्वाजौ, अयमेव गोतमः, अयं भरद्वाजः; इमावेव विष्वामित्रजमदग्नी, अयमेव विश्वामित्रः, अयं जमदग्निः; इमावेव वसिष्ठकश्यपौ, अयमेव वसिष्ठः, अयं कश्यपः; वागेवात्रिः, वाचा ह्यन्नमद्यते, अत्तिर्ह वै नामैतद्यदत्रिरिति; सर्वस्यात्ता भवति, सर्वमस्यान्नं भवति य एवं वेद ॥ ४ ॥

imāveva gotamabharadvājau, ayameva gotamaḥ, ayaṃ bharadvājaḥ; imāveva viṣvāmitrajamadagnī, ayameva viśvāmitraḥ, ayaṃ jamadagniḥ; imāveva vasiṣṭhakaśyapau, ayameva vasiṣṭhaḥ, ayaṃ kaśyapaḥ; vāgevātriḥ, vācā hyannamadyate, attirha vai nāmaitadyadatririti; sarvasyāttā bhavati, sarvamasyānnaṃ bhavati ya evaṃ veda || 4 ||

4. These two (ears) are Gotama and Bharadvāja: this one is Gotama, and this one Bharadvāja: These two (eyes) are Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni: this one is Viśvāmitra, and this one Jamadagni. These two (nostrils) are Vasiṣṭha, and Kaśyapa: this one is Vasiṣṭha, and this one Kaśyapa: The tongue is Atri, for through the tongue food is eaten. ‘Atri’ is but this name Atti.’ He who knows it as such becomes the eater of all, and everything becomes his food.

Now who are the sages that sit by the side of that bowl? These two ears are Gotama and Bharadvāja this one is Gotama, and this one Bharadvāja, meaning the right and the left ear respectively, or inversely. Similarly, to instruct about the eyes the Śruti says, These two are Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni: this one, the right, is Viśvāmitra, and this one, the left, Jamadagni, or inversely. To instruct about the nostrils the Śruti says, These two are Vasiṣṭha and Kaśyapa: this one, the right nostril, is Vasiṣṭha, and this one, the left, Kaśyapa, or inversely, as before. The tongue is Atri, because of its association with eating; this is the seventh sage. For through the tongue food is eaten. Therefore that which is indirectly called ‘Atri’ is but this familiar name ‘Atti’ (eats)—on account of being the eater. Through meditation on the derivation of the word ‘Atri,’ he becomes the eater of all kinds of food belonging to the vital force. In the next world he becomes only the eater, and is never treated as food. This is expressed by the words, ‘And everything becomes his food.’ He who knows it, the true nature of the vital force, as such, as described above, becomes the vital force in this body, and is only the eater associated with the abode and the special resort, and not food. That is to say, he is entirely removed from the category of food.

Footnotes and references:


When, for instance, somebody is tugging it.


Skin, blood, flesh, fat, marrow, bone and seed.


The eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth.


The tongue counts as two: as the organ of taste it will be enumerated in the next paragraph as the seventh sage; as the organ of speech it is here spoken of as the eighth.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: