The Taittiriya Upanishad

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 ...

Lesson VIII - Contemplation of Praṇava

(Eighth Anuvāka)

The śruti has taught the contemplation of Brahman, first in the form of the Vyāhṛti (Utterance), and subsequently in the form of pāṅktas or fivefold groups. Now will be taught the contemplation of the syllable ‘Om’, which is an accessory to all kinds of worship. When contemplated as the Higher or Lower Brahman, the syllable ‘Om’, though a mere sound, forms indeed a means of attaining the Higher or Lower Brahman. It is, verily, the abode of the Higher as well as the Lower Brahman, just as an idol is the abode of Viṣṇu. So the śruti says, “By this means alone, he goes to one of Them.”[1]

Praṇava being held by all in high regard, any teaching regarding the contemplation of Brahman will not be so readily accepted by the intellect if the teaching were altogether dissociated from Praṇava. The contemplation of Brahman is therefore taught here through Praṇava. The Praṇava which is a mere sound is, no doubt, insentient in itself and cannot therefore be conscious of the worship offered to it; still, as in the case of worship offered to an idol, it is the Īśvara who in all cases takes note of the act and dispenses the fruits thereof.—(A.)

In the Seventh Lesson has been taught the contemplation of Brahman as manifested in the form of earth and other visible gross forms, for the benefit of the aspirants of low mental culture. In the Sixth Lesson was taught the contemplation of Brahman manifested in the subtler forms of manas and the like, for the benefit of the aspirants of a middling class who can grasp subtle truths to a certain extent. In the Eighth Lesson will be taught, for the benefit of the highest class of aspirants, the contemplation of pure Brahman as declared in the Vedanta and designated by Praṇava.


The Praṇava-Brahman.

The śruti first speaks of Praṇava, the object of contemplation:

ओमिति ब्रह्म । ओमितीदं सर्वम् ॥ १ ॥

omiti brahma | omitīdaṃ sarvam || 1 ||

1. ‘Om’ is Brahman. ‘Om’ is this all.

One should hold in mind— i. e., contemplate—that the sound ‘Om’ is Brahman. For, every form of sound is pervaded by the syllable ‘Om’, as declared elsewhere in the śruti, “As all leaves are fast bound in stalk”[2] etc. Inasmuch as the thing designated is dependent on its designation, all that we see is said to be the syllable ‘Om’.

One of the points of similarity, on account of which the syllable ‘Om’ may be regarded as one with Brahman, is that, like Brahman, it is the basis of all.—(A.)

The syllable ‘Om,’ and nothing else, is the designation of the Paramātman, as Patañjali says in his Yoga-sūtra already quoted: “His designation is Praṇava.” The being that has to be contemplated here is none other than that Brahman who is denoted only by the syllable ‘Om'. No such upādhi as the earth or manas should be thought of. That is to say, one should merely pronounce the syllable ‘Om’, the designation, and (while doing so) contemplate Brahman denoted by it. The śruti proceeds to explain how the syllable ‘Om’ can be the designation of Brahman, by stating that in this very syllable ‘Om’ all this universe, made up of names and forms, is comprehended. That all words are therein comprehended is declared by the śruti in the words “As all leaves are fast bound in the stalk,” etc., and “speech is his (breath’s) rope,”[3] etc. The śruti shows that all things are included in the syllable ‘Om’ through the words denoting them. All this has already been shown in the Fourth Lesson when commenting upon the phrase “of all forms.” Thus the Praṇava being present in every thing, it can be the designation of Brahman who is also present in every thing.


The Praṇava extolled.

In the sequel, the syllable ‘Om’ is extolled, since it is the thing to be contemplated:

ओमित्येतदनुकृतिर्ह स्म वा अप्यो श्रावयेत्याश्रावयन्ति । ओमिति सामानि गायन्ति । ॐ शोमिति शस्त्राणि शंसन्ति । ओमित्यध्वर्युः प्रतिगरं प्रतिगृणाति । ओमिति ब्रह्मा प्रसौति । ओमित्यग्निहोत्रमनुजानाति । ओमिति ब्राह्मणः प्रवक्ष्यन्नाह ब्रह्मोपाप्नवानीति । ब्रह्मैवोपाप्नोति ॥ २ ॥

omityetadanukṛtirha sma vā apyo śrāvayetyāśrāvayanti | omiti sāmāni gāyanti | oṃ śomiti śastrāṇi śaṃsanti | omityadhvaryuḥ pratigaraṃ pratigṛṇāti | omiti brahmā prasauti | omityagnihotramanujānāti | omiti brāhmaṇaḥ pravakṣyannāha brahmopāpnavānīti | brahmaivopāpnoti || 2 ||

2. Om!—this verily is compliance; and on uttering ‘O recite,’ they begin to recite. With Om they sing sāmans. ‘Om! Som!’—with this do they tell the prayers. ‘Om!’—thus does the Adhvaryu convey acceptance. ‘Om!’—thus assents the Brahmā (priest). ‘Om!’—thus one permits the offering of an oblation to Fire. ‘Om!’—thus says the brāhmaṇa who is about to recite. “May I obtain Brahman —thus wishing, Brahman verily does he obtain.

‘Om’ is the word of compliance. When one’s duty is declared by another, the former complies with it, by uttering ‘Om,’ thereby conveying the idea ‘I shall do so,’ or ‘I shall go there,’ and so on. Indeed, every one knows that ‘Om’ is the word of compliance. Moreover, when the direction “O recite” is given, they recite accordingly. Similarly, with ‘Om’ the Sāman-chanters sing the Sāmans. ‘Om Śom’—this being uttered, those who pray tell their prayers. So, with ‘Om,’ the Adhvaryu conveys acceptance. By ‘Om’ the Brahmā (one of the priests) expresses his assent. When a.sacrificer says that he is going to offer an oblation, by ‘Om’ verily does another give his permission. ‘Om’ indeed does a brāhmaṇa utter when about to recite the sacred texts: that is to say, with ‘Om’ does he start the recitation. Wishing to learn Brahman, the Veda, he does master the Veda. Or,—to interpret it in another way,—wishing to attain Brahman, the Paramātman, i. e., wishing to lead his self to the Paramātman, a brāhmaṇa utters ‘Om’ and ‘Om’ alone, aud by that syllable ‘Om’ he does attain Brahman.

The meaning of the whole passage is this: because all undertakings which start with the syllable ‘Om’ become fruitful, therefore one should contemplate the syllable ‘Om’ as Brahman.

[4] The śruti proceeds to show that the syllable ‘Om’ is related to all things, by citing a few instances connected with Vedic ritual. In the Darśa (New Moon), and the Pṇrṇamāsa (Full Moon) and other sacrificial rites,—when the Adhvaryus, i. e., the priests who perform the acts enjoined in the Yajur-Veda, have to address a direction to the Agnīdhra, they utter the mantra ‘śrāvayaḍ Āpastamba says that this direction may begin with ‘ā,’ or with ‘o,’ or with ‘Om’. The second alternative has been adopted by the śruti here. The ‘o’ in the mantra is intended to address the Agnīdhra. So the mantra means, “O Agnīdhra, give the Devas to know that an oblation is about to be offered.” The syllable ‘o’ in the mantra is similar to ‘Om.’ The word of direction “o śrāvaya” resembles ‘Om’ in so far as ‘o’ occurs in both, and everybody knows also that ‘o’ resembles a part of the Praṇava. Thus the Adhvaryus issue their direction by means of ‘o’ which is only a part of ‘Om.’ So the Sāman-chanters, the Udgātṛs, chant their Sāmans after uttering the Praṇava. Similarly, even the Hotṛs, the Rig-Vedic priests, recite the hymns with Praṇava, by uttering “Om Śom.’ The Hotṛs seeking the permission of the Adhvaryu for reciting the hymns, address the Adhvaryu and say “Śoṃsāvom, shall we pray?” Here ‘śom’ is the first syllable and ‘om’ the last. Putting together the first and last syllables, the śruti says that the Hotṛs pray with “Om Śom.” When the Hotṛ has recited the hymns, the Adhvaryu addresses them a word of encouragement, known as ‘pratigara.’ When uttering the word of encouragement, the Adhvaryu utters ‘Om.’ In the middle of a hymn, on the completion of the first half of a verse, the Adhvaryu utters the words of encouragement: “O Hotṛ, your chanting the first half of the verse has delighted us.” On the completion of the verse, the pratigam, or the word of encouragement, should be uttered with the Praṇava at its beginning; and the Praṇava so Uttered denotes assent to the chanting of the hymn. When the whole hymn is completed, the Praṇava alone should be uttered to convey assent. Thus even in the pratigara the Praṇava is present. The Brahmā (priest) is one who knows the conduct of the rituals as taught in the three Vedas. When he urges other priests to acts,—such as the sprinkling of Consecrated waters,—then he begins his direction with the Praṇava. In the Agnihotra-homa, when the Adhvaryu is about to take out milk by a ladle from the milk-vessel and to pour it into the Vessel named Agnihotra-havaṇī, then he asks the sacrificer’s permission in the words “Om! shall I take out the oblation for the Devas?” The sacrificer grants permission by uttering the syllable ‘Om.’ In the sahie way, when about to engage in the Brahina-yajña or sacred study of the Vedas, a brāhmaṇa commences the study by uttering the Praṇava. Thus by citing instances from the Vedic ritual, it has been shewn that the syllable ‘ Om’ pervades all.


The Contemplation of Praṇava enjoined.

Then the śruti proceeds to enjoin the upāsana of Praṇava by way of declaring the fruits of the upāsana. He who wishes to attain Brahman should contemplate Brahman as designated by the syllable ‘Om.’ By this contemplation! he will certainly attain Brahman.


The relation between Om and Brāhman.

Now we have to enquire, what does the passage “Om is Brahman” mean? Does it mean that the syllable Om is a symbol and should be deliberately looked upon as Brahman? Or does it mean that we should contemplate Brahman with the adjunct of Om, Brahman as designated by Om?

It may at first appear to mean that one shold contemplate the word ‘Om’ itself as Brahman, thus regarding it as a symbol on which the idea of Brahman should be superimposed. So interpreted, the words ‘Om’ and ‘Brahman’ are in their proper order as the subject and the predicate of the proposition.

As against the foregoing, we hold as follows: on the principle discussed in connection with the Udgītha-Vidyā, the syllable Om should be regarded as a mere adjunct of Brahman, not as the main object of contemplation. The principle referred to is discussed as follows in the Vedānta-sūtras III. iii. 9;


The meaning of “Om, the Udgītha.”

(Question):—It is said “Let him contemplate the syllable Om the Udgītha.”[5] Here the words ‘syllable’ and ‘Udgītha’ are put in apposition to each other; and this appositional use may be explained in four different ways:

(1) It may mean mere adhyāsa or superimposition of the idea of Udgītha upon ‘Om,’ like the passage “let him contemplate name as Brahman.”

(2) Or it may be intended to remove a mistaken idea; we say, for example, “the thief is a pillar” when we wish to undeceive a man who has mistaken a pillar for a thief.

(3) Or, it may imply unity as in the sentence “Jīva is Brahman.”

(4) Or, it may imply a relation of substance and attribute as in the sentence “The blue thing is a lotus.”

In which one of these four ways should the passage under discussion be explained?

(The pvima facie view):—In the absence of a determining cause we cannot construe the passage in any one particular way exclusively.

(Conclusion):—It is possible to make out that ‘Udgītha’ should be construed as a specifying adjunct of the syllable ‘ Om.’—The syllable ‘Om’ occurs in the three Vedas, the Ṛg-veda, the Yajur-veda, and the Sāma-veda. The question may therefore arise,—which one of them is to be contemplated? This question is answered by the passage thus: that particular ‘Om,’—and not any other one—should be contemplated, which forms part of the Udgītha Sāman. Thus the ‘Om’ which is to be contemplated here is specified as the one occurring in the S.āma-veda. If we construe the passage otherwise, as implying a removal of illusion, or as implying unity, we will have to make a conjecture as to the fruit of the contemplation of ‘Om’ so conceived, for it is a contemplation which is quite independent of that which has been treated of in the remaining part of the section, and as such it must produce quite a distinct result. On the other hand, if we construe the passage to mean the relation ūf substance and attribute, the contemplation enjoined here will be that of the symbol ‘Om’ viewed as ‘rasatama, the most essential element’ as taught in the sequel; so that, no injunction of a contemplation distinct from the one which is to follow is intended in this connection, and therefore no conjecture need be made as to the fruit produced separately by that contemplation.

(Objection):— The word ‘Udgītha’ denotes the whole song, of which the syllable ‘Om’ is only a part; the term ‘Udgītha’ cannot therefore be literally applied to ‘Om.’ Thus, if you interpret the passage so as to make ‘Udgītha’ a specifying adjunct of ‘Om,’ the word ‘Udgītha’ will have to be understood in a secondary sense.

(Answer):—True. But to construe ‘Udgītha’ as a specifying adjunct of ‘Om’ is preferable to construing it in any other way. To interpret the appositional use as implying superimposition, i. e., to make the śruti speak of ‘Om’ as ‘Udgītha’ which ‘Om’ is really not, is to ignore the literal meaning of ‘Udgītha’ altogether, just as to speak of an idol as Viṣṇu is to ignore the literal meaning of the word ‘Viṣṇu’ altogether as applied to something which is not Viṣṇu. To do so is to violate the literal construction altogether. If, on the other hand, we construe the śruti so as to mean that the syllable ‘Om’ is a part of the Udgītha, i. e., if we interpret the word ‘Udgītha’ to mean ‘a part of the Udgītha,’ we do not ignore the literal meaning of ‘Udgītha’ altogether. This interpretation is at least in partial accordance with the literal sense and is therefore nearer to it than the rest. In applying in this sense the epithet ‘Udgītha’ to ‘Om,’ we surrender only a portion of the denotation of the word,—namely, all the syllables in the Udgītha other than ‘Om.’ Therefore, in the passage “Let him contemplate the syllable ‘Om’ the Udgītha,” the word ‘Udgītha’ is an epithet applied to ‘Om’ in order to distinguish it from the same syllable occurring in the other Vedas,


The meaning of ‘Om is Brahman.’

To return to the present subject. In the passage “Om is Brahman,” the word ‘Brahman’ may denote any one of the three kinds of Brahman: Brahman as manifested

in the form of thought (Manomaya), or Brahman as manifested in the form of earth &c., or the pure Unconditioned Brahman. In accordance with the principle of interpretation discussed in connection with the Udgītha, the epithet ‘Om’ applied to Brahman shews that the Unconditioned Brahman is here spoken of as opposed to the Conditioned Brahman. The passage means that the Supreme Brahman denoted only by the designation ‘Om’ should be contemplated. If ‘Om’ be a mere symbol, then it is the word which has to be deliberately viewed as Brahman; and then it will be a contemplation of the word ‘Om,’ not of Brahman. In that case, the upāsaka of the symbol cannot hope to attain even the Brahma-loka, much less the Real Brahman. If Brahman cannot be attained, then the words of the śruti “Brahman verily does he obtain,” speaking of the fruits ol the contemplation, are falsified. When Brahman Himself designated by the sylladle ‘Om’ is contemplated, the upāsaka attians to the Brahma-loka; and there realising Brahman in His essential nature, he goes to Brahman Himself and thus attains Videha-mukti, Liberation from embodied existence altogether. Therefore the passage “Om is Brahman” speaks of Brahman in His essential nature as designated by the syllable ‘Om.’


Contemplation of the Unconditioned Brahman.

(Objection):—Brahman in His essential nature can be reached only by knowledge (vedana) coming from a right source (pramāṇa), not by upāsana or contemplation.[6] Hence it is that, in the Śāṇḍilya-Vidyā, Dahara-Vidyā and the like, the contemplation enjoined is that of the Saguṇa or Conditioned Brahman. In none of them is enjoined the contemplation of Brahman in His essential nature. Moreover, on ascertaining from the Vedāntic texts the Unconditioned Brahman in His essential nature, one has achieved all one’s aspirations, and can have nothing more to achieve by means of the upāsana. Further, those who.know Brahman are rid of all sense of agency; how can they engage in an upāsana?

(Answer):—These considerations do not detract from the soundness of our conclusion. For, the Vedāntic propositions are of two sorts, avāntara-vākyas and mahā-vākyas, subordinate propositions and main propositions. A subordinate proposition is that which treats of the essential nature of Brahman as the cause of the universe, while the main proposition teaches that the Ego is essentially one with Brahman. Now, for him who has realised the unity as taught in the main proposition, there is, we admit, no purpose to be served by the contemplation, as the opponent has shown; nor can he regard himself as an agent concerned in the act of contemplation. On the other hand, he who has learned from the subordinate propositions the essential nature of Brahman as the mere cause of the universe does not lose the sense of his own agency; and he can be an upāsaka. We can even imagine the contemplation serving a purpose: the upāsaka goes first to the Brahma-loka, and realising there the true nature of Brahman, he attains Videha-mukti. Such a man should, therefore, contemplate the essential nature of Brahman. Accordingly the Nṛsimha-Uttara-Tāpanīya-Upaniṣad teaches many ways of contemplating the Unconditioned Brahman. The smṛti also enjoins the contemplation of Brahman in His essential nature:

“When a man has entered the assembly of those who have committed minor sins or of those who have committed major sins, he should contemplate Brahman during a quarter of the night.”

And the contemplation of Brahman in His essential nature has been discussed in the Vedānta-sūtras I.iii. 13. as follows:

(Question):—The Praśnopaniṣad reads,

“He, again, who contemplates that Supreme Spirit (Puruṣa) by this triple syllable ‘Om’”[7] and so on.

What Brahman should be contemplated? Is it the Lower Brahman known as the Iiiraṇyagarbha, or is it the Supreme Brahman?

(The prima facie view):—It is the Lower Brahman that should be contemplated. For, the śruti declares the fruit of the contemplation in the words “he by the sāmans is carried up to Brahma-loka.”[8] The upāsaka is said to go to the region of Brahman, the “Lotus-seated,” whereas the fruit of the contemplation of the Supreme Brahman, by which man should be able to realise his highest end, cannot be said to end there. The phrase “Supreme Spirit (Pursha),” an epithet of the Supreme Brahman, can be applied to the Lower Brahman also, inasmuch as the latter is supreme with reference to others below.

(Conclusion):—It is the Supreme Brahman that should be contemplated here. For, the Upaniṣad speaks, in the sequel, of the Brahman contemplated here as identical with the Supreme Being that has to be finally realised. The passage of the Śruti referred to reads as follows:

“He sees the Puruṣa lying in the body, the Higher than that highest, than that Jīva-ghana, the aggregate Soul.”[9]

That is to say, he who, by upāsana, has attained to the Brahma-loka sees the Paramātman lying in the heart of all living beings, who is higher even than the Hiraṇyagarbha, than that Highest Being who is all Jīvas in the aggregate. The Paramātman who, in this passage, is spoken of as being realised at the end, is the very Being who at the commencement of the section is referred to as the Being who has to be contemplated. The words ‘Supreme’ and ‘Puruṣa’ occurring in both the places show that one and the same Brahman is spoken of in the two places. Neither is the Brahma-loka the only fruit attainable; for, from there liberation will be attained in due course. Therefore the passage means that the Supreme Brahman Himself should be contemplated.

Thus the contemplation of Brahman even in His pure essential nature being possible, he who wishes to attain ta Brahman should utter the Praṇava and contemplate Him in His pure essential nature as designated by the Praṇava.


Footnotes and references:


Praśna-Up. 5-2.


The passage is fully quoted on page 61.


The passages are fully quoted on pp. 60—61.


It may bo noted that Sāyaṇa’s interpretation of this passage differs from Śaṅkarāchārya’s in some particulars.


Chhā. Up. 1-1-1.


Which partakes of the peculiar colour of the mind of the individual concerned and does not therefore necessarily represent the Thing as it is.


Op. cit. 5-5.