Taittiriya Upanishad

by A. Mahadeva Sastri | 1903 | 206,351 words | ISBN-10: 8185208115

The Taittiriya Upanishad is one of the older, "primary" Upanishads, part of the Yajur Veda. It says that the highest goal is to know the Brahman, for that is truth. It is divided into three sections, 1) the Siksha Valli, 2) the Brahmananda Valli and 3) the Bhrigu Valli. 1) The Siksha Valli deals with the discipline of Shiksha (which is ...

Śaṅkarāchārya’s Introduction

From whom is born the whole universe, in whom alone it is dissolved, and by whom alone is this upheld,— to that Self who is Consciousness be this bow!

I bow ever to those Gurus by whom all these Upaniṣads have been explained heretofore, who have explained all words and sentences as well as all kinds of proof.

For the benefit of those who wish to have a clear view of the essence of the Taittirīyaka, has the following commentary been got up by me by the grace of the Teacher.[1]


Brahmavidyā the specific theme of the Upaniṣad.

In the former section[2] were made known the obligatory acts, nityāni karmāṇi, intended for the eradication of sins already incurred, as well as kāmyāni karmāṇi, those acts by which to secure some specific objects, and which are intended for the benefit of those who seek those objects.

Now the Śruti commences Brahma-vidyā with a view to remove the cause which leads one to have recourse to works (karma.) Desire (kāma) must be the cause of works, because it is desire that urges one to work. In fact, activity is there where desire is. Indeed, no activity arises in those who have attained all desires, inasmuch as they rest in their own Self when there is no desire. When one seeks for Ātman, the Self, then one has attained all desires. And the Self is Brahman. The Śruti, indeed, speaks of the knower of Brahman attaining the Supreme End. Wherefore, one is said to attain the supreme end when one abides in one’s own Self, on the removal of avidyā or ignorance of the nature of Brahman, as the Śruti declares in such passages as the following:

“He attains the Fearless, the firm abode”[3]
“He unites with this blissful Self.”[4]

The Upaniṣad imparts knowledge concerning the Thing in Itself; for, that knowledge alone can put an end to the desires which lead one to have recourse to works. Bondage is caused by desire, and liberation by absence of desire, as taught by the Śruti with particular care in the following passages:

“As his desire, so is his resolve; as his resolve, so his work; as his work, so his reward............But he who does not desire, who has no desires, who is beyond desire, whose desires have been attained, whose object of desire is Ātman, his sense-organs do not depart. Being the very Brahman, he attains to Brahman.”[5]

False conception regarding the Thing in Itself,—which is in fact devoid of all duality, which is ever none other than Ātman, our own Self,—is due to ignorance of Its real nature. False conception gives rise to desires, and these lead to action. How can action, which thus arises from ignorance of Ātman, ever co-exist with the knowledge of Ātman. Therefore, knowledge of Ātman is quite an effective antidote to all activities.


Doctrine of Salvation by works alone.

(Mīmāmsaka’s objection:)—Interested (kāmya) and forbidden (pratishiddha) acts being avoided, the fruits of ārabdha—the karma whose fruits are being reaped in the present birth—being exhausted by enjoyment, all sins of omission being warded off by the performance of obligatory duties, without any effort[6] at all one can attain mokṣa, which consists in dwelling in one’s own Self.[7]

Or, it may be that, karma (vedic ritual) being the means to the unsurpassed pleasure spoke of as svarga,[8] mokṣa is secured by means of karma alone.

Thus, the soi-disant Mīmāmsakas hold that he who seeks mokṣa should resort to karma, and that for him no such thing as knowledge of Ātman is necessary.


No Salvation by works alone.

(Brahmavādin’s answer:)—Not so. It is indeed quite possible that innumerable karmas generated in the innumerable past births and productive of opposite effects exist, those which have already begun their effects as well as those which have not. Wherefore, since such of the karmas as have not yet begun their effects cannot be exhausted in this one birth by way of enjoying their fruits, there cannot but be another birth brought about by the residual karma. The existence of such residual karma is declared in hundreds of passages in the śruti and the smṛti, such as the following:

“Among them, those of good conduct here soon attain to a good womb.”[9]

“Then, on returning to this world, he obtains, by virtue of the remainder of merit, birth in a distinguished family.........”[10]

Moreover, the fruits of brāhmanicide and of the Aśvamedha or horse-sacrifice are so opposed to each other that the fruits of both cannot be reaped in one and the same birth. On the other hand, they have to be reaped in two different bodies, one quite Tāmasic and other quite Sāttvic. Further, in the Dharmaśāstras,— in the treatises on civil and religious law,—it is said that the effect of even one karma done here runs through at least seven births. It needs no saying that innumerable karmas must give rise to innumerable births.

(Mīmāmsaka.)—Nitya or obligatory rites are intended to destroy good and evil karmas which have not yet begun their effects.[11]

(Brahmavādin:)—No, because sin (pratyavāya) is said to accrue from their omission. Sin (pratyavāya) indeed means something evil;[12] and it being admitted that the obligatory rites are intended to avoid the coming evil,—  i.e., the sin of omitting the obligatory duties,—they are not intended for the destruction of the anārabdha-karma, that portion of the past karma which has not yet begun its effect. Even granting that the nitya or obligatory rites are intended for the destruction of anārabdha-karma, even then they can destroy the impure deed alone, but not the pure one, which is unopposed to it. Indeed, since the karma which is productive of good is a pure one, it cannot be opposed to the nitya or obligatory acts. Properly speaking, it is a pure act and an impure one which are opposed to each other.

Moreover, in the absence of knowledge, karma in its entirety can never be exhausted, since then, in the absence of knowledge, those desires which give rise to karma cannot cease. In fact desires spring up in him who knows not Ātman, the Self, inasmuch as they aim at results which are external to the Self. Desire can never arise with reference to one’s own Self, as He is ever present; and it has been said that Ātman Himself is the Supreme Brahman.

Further, omission of nitya-karma is purely negative; and no sin, which is a positive effect, can ever arise from a mere negative circumstance. Wherefore, omission of obligatory duties is a mere sign indicative of the existence of an evil tendency resulting from sins accumulated in the past. Thus we are not at a loss to explain the force of the present participle in the following passage:

Omitting the prescribed act, or performing the forbidden act, or being addicted to sensual enjoyments, man will have a fall.”[13]

Otherwise we would be led to conclude that a positive effect springs out of a mere negative fact,—a conclusion which is opposed to all evidence. Wherefore it does not stand to reason that, without any special effort, one will abide in one’s own Self.

As to the contention that,—the unsurpassed pleasure termed svarga being caused by karma,—mokṣa is produced by karma, (we reply) it cannot be; for, mokṣa is eternal. Indeed, what is eternal cannot be produced. In our ordinary experience we find that what is produced is impermanent. Therefore mokṣa is not a thing produced by karma.


No Salvation by works associated with Contemplation.

(Objection:)—Karma associated with Vidyā (contemplation) has the power of producing what is eternal.

(Answer:)—No, because of a contradiction. It is a contradiction in terms to say that what is eternal is produced.

By induction we infer the general law that what is produced is impermanent. It having been thus ascertained that impermanency is in the nature of all born things, Vidyā can never alter it.

(Objection:)—What has been destroyed is not itself again born. Thus, like the pradhvamsābhāva—nonexistence of a thing, known as destruction,—mokṣa is eternal and is yet produced.

(Answer:)—No; because mokṣa is positive.

To explain: we mean that no positive result of an act, such as a pot,—unlike the mere negative result, such as the destruction of a thing,—is ever found eternal in our experience. If mokṣa be a positive result of an act, it must also be impermanent.

We have so far assumed that the result of an act can be purely negative, such as the destruction of a thing. Properly speaking, the result of an act cannot be merely negative. When a pot is said to have been destroyed, we have potshreds produced,—which is a positive result; and these potshreds are no doubt as impermanent as the pot itself. No mere abhāva or absence of a thing being ever the result of an act, if is a mere play upon words to say that it is produced by an act. All effects, such as the pot, ever inhere in clay etc., either manifested or latent, as attributes of the substances, but never in the mere non-existence (abhāva). Mere non-existence (abhāva) cannot be related to an act or a quality. Imaginary in itself, it can never be related to any other thing. It is therefore a mere verbal quibble to speak of abhāva as if it were a thing in itself, just as it is a verbal quibble to speak of the body of a stone-image. So the Bhāṣyakāra says:

To say that pradhvaṃsābhāva,—non-existence of a thing known as destruction,—is produced is only a verbal quibble, inasmuch as nothing specific can be predicated of non-existence. Non-existence is indeed only the negative of existence.[14] Just as existence, though one and the same throughout, is yet distinguished by cloth, pot, and so on,— e.g., we speak of the existence of a cloth, the existence of a pot, and so on,—so also, though abhāva or non-existence is in itself devoid of all distinctions, yet it is spoken of as different and in association with different acts or qualities as though it were a substance etc.[15] Non-existence cannot, indeed,[16] co-exist with attributes as the blue lotus co-exists with its attributes. If it were possessed of attributes, then it would come under the category of bhāva or being.

(Objection:)—The agent concerned in Vidyā and karma, wisdom and works, being eternal, mokṣa which is the result of a continuous current of Vidyā and Karma is also eternal like the Gangetic current.

(Answer:)—No; for, agency is painful. On the cessation of agency, mokṣa ceases.[17]

Wherefore[18] mokṣa consists in dwelling in one’s own Self on the cessation of avidyā and kāma, on account of which one resorts to karma. Ātman, the Self, is Brahman; and since a knowledge of Him leads to the cessation of avidyā, the Upaniṣad which treats of Brahma-vidyā forms a subject of special study.

No cessation of avidyā can ever be brought about except by Brahma-vidyā, knowledge of Brahman. Accordingly we should understand that, for the attainment of this knowledge, the Upaniṣad should be studied. This vidyā alone serves to destroy avidyā or ignorance, and it concerns none other than Ātman, our own Self.


Etymology of Upaniṣad.

Vidyā (knowledge of Brahman) is called Upaniṣad because, in the case of those who devote themselves to it, the (bonds of) conception, birth, decay, etc., become  unloosed, or because it destroys (those bonds) altogether, or because it leads (the devotee) very near to Brahman, or because therein the Highest Good is seated. As intended to produce this knowledge, the treatise is also called Upaniṣad.


Footnotes and references:


This verse occurs also in the published edition of Sureśvarāchārya’s Vārtika; and Ānandagiri gives different glosses under the Bhaṣya and the Vārtika.


i.e., the section termed Brāhmaṇa, and which enjoins works. The works here enjoined are not intended to secure mokṣa; for, the Śruti “By Dharma one wards off sin,” declares that they are intended to destroy sins already incurred. Even Jaimini, who commences his Karma-mīmāmsā with the aphorism “Now then commences an enquiry into Dharma” excludes all inquiry into the Thing in Itself; so that this specific theme of the Upaniṣad has not been dealt with in the section which treats of works, i. e., of things that are to be brought into existence by effort.

The ritualistic section of the Veda treats not only of the works above referred to, which one is bound to do so long as one lives, but also of those which are intended to secure objects of desire pertaining to this world or the next. Neither among these acts are there any intended to secure mokṣa, inasmuch as the Śruti does not enjoin any of them as a means thereto; whereas it expressly enjoins them as a means of securing worldly ends. The works enjoined in the ritualistic section of the Veda thus serve to secure such things as fall within the limits of samsāra or mundane existence.


Taittirīya-Upaniṣad 2-7-1.


Ibid. 2-8-1. The two passages here quoted occur in a section which treats of the Self in the Ānandamaya-kosa.


Bṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad, 4-4-5, 6.


There existing no cause which can give rise to another birth.


This theory assumes that all past karma combines together and gives rise to one birth, and that the fruits of the whole of that past karma can be exhausted in that one birth alone without any residual karma being left which may give rise to more births in the future.


According to the Mīmāmsaka, ‘svarga’ means unsurpassed pleasure; and this unsurpassed pleasure can accrue in no other state than that of mokṣa or disembodied state. Therefore according to the Mīmāmsaka, the Śruti teaches that the vedic ritual such as jyotiṣṭoma, which is said to be the means of attaining svarga, is the only means to mokṣa, the state of disembodied spirit.


Chhāndogya-Upaniṣad 5-10-7.


Āpastamba-Dharmasūtra, 2-2-3.


Now the Mīmāmsaka argues, admitting the existence of sanchita-karma, that portion of the past karma which has not yet begun its fruits.


i.e., the effect of sinful acts,—(Sur); the coming evil.—(A.)


Manu XI. 44. The last line has been rendered according to Ānandagiri’s reading. According to some of the published editions it must be rendered as follows; “Man must perform a penance.”


Abhāva is nothing distinct from the particular thing which is said to be absent. It being opposed to bhāva or being, nothing positive can be predicated of it.—(A.)


As to the contention that there are many kinds of abhāva all of which—except prāgabhāva, non-existence of a thing prior to its birth—are said to be eternal, we reply that, though of one sort in itself, it is yet spoken of as many owing to the multiplicity of acts or qualities attributed to it. In point of fact, there are not many distinct abhāvas.—(A)


It cannot be disputed that attributes co-exist with substances. So, if ghaṭa-pradhvaṃsābhāva—non-existence of a pot known as destruction—be eternal in its specific character as such, thè concept of pot which enters into that specific concept must also be eternal. If the concept of pot be thus eternal, how is a conception of its non-existence possible? Existence and non-existence of a pot cannot indeed co-exist.


So long as agency which is painful does not cease, there can be no mokṣa. Neither can there be mokṣa when agency ceases or then no action is possible which is said to produce mokṣa.


i. e. because the highest good cannot be attained except by knowledge of Brahman.

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