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 ...

Chapter III - Knowledge and Liberation

The question as to the essential nature of Brahman will be discussed later on (in Chap IV.) We shall now proceed to discuss some points in connection with the knowledge of Brahman and the attainment of the Supreme.


Knowledge is an independent means to the end of man.

That the knowledge of Brahman referred to in the expression “the knower of Brahman” is an independent means to the summum bonum has been determined in the Vedānta-sūtras III. iv. i. as follows:

(Question):—Is the Self-knowledge an independent means to the end of man, or is it a mere accessory to sacrificial rites?

(Prima facie view):—In the absence of the knowledge that the Self (Ātman) is distinct from the body, a person is not sure that there is a soul going to the other world, and he will not therefore engage in the Jyotiṣṭoma and other sacrificial rites. Thus, as impelling one to sacrificial rites, the Self-knowledge imparted by the Upaniṣads is an accessory factor (anga) of sacrificial rites.

(Conclusion):—As against the foregoing we hold as follows: Knowledge of the Self (Ātman) as distinct from the body is of two kinds: one is the knowledge that the Self (Ātman ) is an agent and passes from this to the other world, while the other is the right knowledge that the Self is one with Brahman. Of the two, the knowledge of the Self as the agent rouses activity; but the knowledge of the truth that the Self is the non-dual Brahman does not induce action; nay, it even brings about cessation of activity by its denial of the reality of action and its various operative factors as well as of its fruits.

(Objection):—We are told that even men of right knowledge such as Janaka were engaged in action.

(Answer): —Yes; they took to that course of life for loka-sangraha, i. e., with a view to set an example to the world. If performance of works be necessary even for men of right knowledge to secure liberation, then how to explain the śruti which speaks (in their case) of the worthlessness of offspring etc., in the words “what have we with offspring to do, we to whom this here, this Self, is the world.”[1] Thus the śruti says that when the world of the True Self has been immediately realised, the offspring etc., which are the means of securing happiness in the world of nonself, turn out to be of no use. Of the same tenor are the statements “For what end are we to study Vedas?” “For what end are we to worship?” and so on. Wherefore, knowledge of the True Self is an independent means to the snmtnum bonnm, not a mere accessory factor of sacrificial rites.


The student attains knowledge in this or in a future birth.

As to when that knowledge arises, the Vedānta-sūtra (III. iv. 5.) discusses as follows:

(Question):—Does the student of Brahmavidyā attain the knowledge invariably in this birth, or does he attain it either in this birth or in a future birth?

(Prima facie view):—When the processes of śravaṇa (study), manana (reflection) and nididhyāsana (meditation) have been gone through, the knowledge does, of necessity, arise in this very birth. There is certainly no necessity for the alternative in point of time that it is attained either in this very birth or in a future birth; for, the man who engages in śravaṇa and other processes desires to attain knowledge in this very birth. A person engages in the study with the desire “may I come by wisdom in this very birth.” It should not be supposed that since sacrificial rites, etc., produce their effects in the unseen (i.e. in future births), and since the sacrificial rites, etc., are said to be the means of attaining the knowledge of Brahman, this knowledge of Brahman can, like svarga and other fruits of sacrificial rites, etc., be reaped only in a future birth. For, the sacrificial rites, etc., have served their purpose—by way of creating a desire for knowledge,—even before the student engages in śravaṇa and other processes. Wherefore, the knowledge does, of necessity, arise in. this very birth.

(Conclusion)-.—We maintain that, in the absence of obstacles, the knowledge arises in this very birth. But when there is an obstacle in the way, it arises in a future birth, in virtue of the śravaṇa and other processes gone through in this brith. That many an obstacle may exist is declared as follows:

“Of whom the many have no chance even to hear, whom many cannot know though they have heard.”[2]

Against this it should not be argued that there exists no evidence for the assertion that the knowledge arises in a future birth as a result of the śravaṇa and other processes of study gone through in former births; for, the śruti speaks of Vāmadeva having attained knowledge while yet in the womb:

“Lying still in the womb, Vāmadeva thus uttered it.”[3]

Therefore knowledge arises in this very birth or in a future birth.


Nothing is real except Brahman.

It has been said above[3] that because there exists nothing real except Brahman, the word ‘para’ here in the Upaniṣad cannot mean ‘other’. The unreality of all else has been determined as follows in the Vedānta-sūtras III. ii. 31—37:

(Question):—Does anything exist or not beyond Brahman?

(Prima facie view):—It must be admitted that, beyond Brahman who is said, in the words “not thus, not thus,”[4] to be devoid of all perceptible attributes, there exists something. The reasons are:

(1) Brahman is spoken of as a bridge in the following passage: “Then, as to the Ātman, He is the bridge, the support.”[5] Now, in common parlance, a bridge is bounded by the shore on either side and keeps the water in its place; and crossing over the bridge one reaches the dry land. Similarly, Brahman is a bridge maintaining the universe in its place; and there must be something else beyond, which one reaches after crossing over Brahman.

(2) The śruti applies a measure to Brahman in the words “Four-footed is Brahman,”[6] “The Puruṣa has sixteen phases.”[7] We find such measures applied in common parlance to a quadruped or the like beyond which there is something else, but never to a thing beyond which there is none else.

(3) The śruti speaks of Brahman’s contact with another in the words “With the Existence, my dear, he then becomes united.”[8] And that contact is possible only when something

exists beyond Brahman, the Existence.

(4) In the words “Ātman, verily, my dear, should be seen,” the śruti refers to a distinction as the seer and the seen.

For these reasons, it cannot be held that there is nothing beyond Brahman.

(Conclusion):—In the first place Brahman cannot be a bridge in the primary sense of the word; for, otherwise, it would even follow that Brahman is formed of earth and wood. If, on the other hand, Brahman is spoken of as a bridge on account of some point of agreement with it, then let the point of agreement consist merely in holding something in its place, not in regard to something else existing beyond; and the śruti, too, reads “the bridge, the support.” As to the śruti applying a measure, it is only for the purposes of contemplation; for such measures are applied in the śruti when treating of a contemplation, not when teaching as to what the Reality is. Such distinctions as the śruti refers to are due to the upādhis, like the distinction between the infinite ākāśa and the ākāśa limited by a pot. Thus, because the passages which seem to imply that there is something else beyond Brahman admits of a different explanation, and because the śruti denies all else in the words “One alone without a second,” there exists nothing beyond Brahman.

A peculiar feature of the death of the Brahmavid.

It has been said that the attainment of Brahman here spoken of is unlike that of the Brahma-loka, in that the life-principles of a Brahmavid does not, at death, depart from his body. This point has been established in the Vedānta-sūtras (IV. ii. 12-14) as follows:

(Question):—“His prāṇas do not depart;”[9] in these words the śruti denies the departure of prāṇas (i. e., the life-principles which make up the Liṅga-śarīra, comprising the prāṇamaya, manomaya, and vijñānamaya kośas) in the case of the person who has known the Reality. Is it the departure from the physical body or the departure from the jīva that is denied here?

(Prima facie view):—It is the departure from the jīva that is denied here; for otherwise, if life does not depart from the body, then there would be no death of the body.

(Conclusion):—Water sprinkled on a heated stone goes nowhere else, nor even is it seen there; on the other hand, it disappears altogether. Similarly, the life-principles of the person who has known the Reality, though not departing from the body, do not yet remain in the body; on the other hand, they become altogether dissolved. Thus, owing to absence of vitality, the body is said to be dead. It need not be urged here that, in the absence of life’s departure, the body cannot be said to die. For, from the distension (and inertness) of the body we have to infer that the life-principles which are said to have not departed from the body do not remain in the body either.

(Objection):—In preference to all this trouble, let us admit life’s departure from the body and deny its departure from the jīva.

(Answer):—We cannot say so; for, the wearing of another body being inevitable so long as the prāṇas or life-principles departing from the body cling to the jīva, there can be no mokṣa at all. Therefore it is life’s departure from the body, not from jīva, that is denied here.


To reach Brahman is to be rid of separateness.

It has been said above[10] that the reaching of the Supreme consists in the extinction of the upādhi or limitation which makes Ātman a jīva. This extinction of the upādhi has been discussed in the Vedānta-sūtras IV. ii. 15. as follows:

(Question)Do the wise man’s prāṇas or vital powers, i. e., speech and other senses, become dissolved in the Supreme Brahman or in their respective causes?

(Prima facie view):—When speech and other prāṇas (life-principles) of the wise man undergo dissolution at death they are dissolved in their respective causes, but not in the Paramātman, the Supreme Self; for, in the words “When, this person dying, speech goes to the Fire, life-breath to the Air, sight to the Sun”[11] etc., the śruti teaches that life-breath etc.,—designated as kalās (constituents of the organism) in the passage “To their bases go the fifteen kalās,”[12]—are absorbed in their respective causes referred to (in this latter passage) as the basic 'principles (pratiṣṭhās).

(Conclusion):—From the stand-point of the person who has realised Truth, they are absorbed in the Paramātman Himself, as ascertained from the śruti which elsewhere says:

“Just as the rivers onward rolling unto their setting in the ocean go, quitting both name and form; just so the sage, from name and form set free, goes to the shining Man beyond Beyond.”[13]

This passage speaks, in the illustration, of the absorption of rivers into the ocean. It may be urged that the absorption (of prāṇas) in the Paramātman,—which is the point to be established,—is not quite so explicit here. If so, there is the following passage which makes it quite clear:

“Just as these rivers rolling onward, towards ocean tending, on reaching ocean sink, their name and form (distinctive) peṛṣ—‘ocean’ they’re simply called; in just the self-same way, of that all-watchful one, these sixteen phases, Man-wards tending, on reaching Him sink in the Man, their name and form do peṛṣ—the Man they’re simply called.”[14]

This last passage represents the stand-point of the Tattva-vid himself, i.e., of the person who has realised Truth. That passage of the śruti, on the other hand, which has been quoted in support of the prima facie view represents the stand-point of the by-standers. On the death of the Tattva-vid, the persons standing near think, from their own stand-point, that even his speech and other prāṇas are absorbed in the Fire, etc. Hence no discordance between the two passages. Therefore the prāṇas of the Tattva-vid are dissolved in the Paramātman, the Supreme Self.


Jīva is ever liberated.

The nature of liberation which is attained on the extinction of the upādhi has been determined in the Vedānta-sūtras IV. iv. 1 - 3. as follows:

(Question):—The śruti says: “Serene, rising out from this body and becoming that Supreme Light, he attains to his true Self.”[15] This passage may be explained thus: On the extinction of the upādhi, jīva attains perfect serenity. Thus serene, jīva gives up all attachment for the three bodies, reaches the Supreme Brahman and dwells in the state of liberation. Now the question is: Is this state of liberation a new acquisition? or has it been inherent in jīva all along?

(Prima facie view):—The state of liberation here referred to has not already existed in jīva; it is, on the other hand, an acquired state, since the śruti declares in the words “he attains to his true Self” that the state has been newly brought into existence. If it existed before, it must have existed even in the state of samsāra and cannot therefore be a result achieved. Therefore the state of liberation is like svarga a newly acquired condition.

(Conclusion):—The state of liberation has already existed in jīva since it is spoken of as ‘the true Self’ in the passage “he attains to his true Self.” The śruti “svena rūpeṇa abhiniṣpadyate” cannot simply mean that he attains to a state or form belonging to him, (the word ‘sva’ being interpreted to mean ‘his own’); for, then, the statement would be of no purpose. The state of liberation, whatever that might be, belongs to jīva as a matter of course; and the statement, therefore, would convey no specific meaning. If, on the other hand, the expression “svena rūpeṇa abhiniṣpadyate” is interpreted to mean ‘he attains to his true Self,’ then the statement will serve to show that it is not a mere possession or belonging (i. e., something external which has been newly acquired). Nor does the word “attain” imply that the state of liberation has been produced, inasmuch as what has already existed does not admit of production. On the other hand, the attainment here consists in the manifestation of the Brahman-ṇīśś in virtue of the knowledge of Truth. It may perhaps be urged here that in that case the expressions “becoming the Supreme Light,” and “attains to his true Self” are tautological. We answer: the expression “becoming the Supreme Light” merely points to the fact of having eliminated from ‘That’ (i.e., from Brahman, the Cause) all that is foreign to His essential nature, while the expression “attains to his true Self” points to the fact of having realised the import of the whole proposition (“That Thou art”). And the fact that liberation has existed does not detract from its being an end to be aimed at; for, the liberation that has hitherto existed has not been free from ajñāna. Therefore the state of liberation is none other than the Ancient Thing Itself, (the One Reality that has always been in existence).


The Liberated Soul is identical with Brahman.

Yet another feature of the state of liberation has been discussed in the Vedānta-sūtras IV. iv. 4. is as follows:

(Question):—Is the liberated soul distinct or not distinct from the Supreme Brahman?

(Prima facie view):—The liberated soul must be distincīt from the Supreme Brahman, inasmuch as they are respectively spoken of as the agent and the object of an action. In the words “The serene one approaches (or becomes) the Supreme Light”[16] the ‘serene one,’ i. e., jīva, is spoken of as the agent of the act of approaching, and Brahman, ‘the Supreme Light,’ is spoken of as the object. Wherefore, the liberated jīva is distindt from Brahman.

(Conclusion):—It has been said that to approach or become the Supreme Light is merely to know the essential nature of ‘That’ (i. e., Brahman the Cause) eliminating therefrom all that is foreign to it.[17] So, at that stage there may yet be a sense of duality. Subsequently in the words “he attains to his true Self,” the śruti refers to that state of the liberated soul which corresponds to the import[18] of the proposition “That Thou art” taken as a whole. At this stage there can be no distinction between jīva and Brahman, since later on in the words “He is the Highest Puruṣa (spirit)”[19] the śruti refers to the liberated Soul and declares that ‘He’— i.e., the jīva who has attained to his true Self— is the same as the Highest Spirit, i.e., Brahman. Therefore, the liberated Soul is not distinct from Brahman.


How Brahman is both conditioned and unconditioned.

Yet another point in this connection is discussed in the Vedānta-sūtras IV. iv. 5 — 7.

(Question):—Brahman who is identical with the liberated Soul is spoken of in the śruti in two ways, as conditioned (sa-viśeṣa) in some places and as unconditioned (nir-viśeṣa) in some other places, as witness the following passages:

“It is the Self, free from sin, free from old age, from death and grief, from hunger and thirst, whose desires are unfailing, whose purposes are unfailing.”[20]

“As a mas 3 of salt has neither inside nor outside, but is altogether a mass of taste, thus indeed has the Self neither inside nor outside, but is altogether a mass of knowledge.”[21]

The question is, is Brahman both conditioned and unconditioned at the same moment? or, is Brahman conditioned at one time and unconditioned at another?

(Prima facie view): —Brahman, when in the state of liberation, cannot be both conditioned and unconditioned at the same moment, the two states being quite opposed to each other. It must, therefore, be that He is in the two states alternately at different moments.

(Conclusion):—As against the foregoing, we hold as follows: From two different stand-points of view, Brahman may be conditioned and unconditioned at the same time. He is unconditioned from the stand-point of the liberated one, whereas from the stand-point of one who is still held in bondage, Brahman, who is one with the liberated, appears to be the Cause of the universe endued with omniscience and other attributes. Certainly,the liberated ones are never conscious that they are possessed of omniscience, unfailing will and other such attributes, inasmuch as the avidyā which lies at the root of the idea has been destroyed. But those who are held in bondage are under the sway of avidyā and therefore imagine that Brahman who is ever unconditioned is endued with omniscience and other such attributes. It being thus possible to explain that Brahman is at the same moment conditioned or unconditioned according as the stand-point is the one or the other, it is idle to suggest that Brahman exists in these two different states alternately at different periods of time. Wherefore Brahman is both conditioned and unconditioned at the same time.


Liberation is the highest state.

One more point has been discussed in the Vedānta-sūtras III. iv. 52 as follows:

(Question):—Is there any state higher than the state of liberation here referred to?

(Prima facie view):—The Brahma-loka, the region of Brahman to which the upāsakas of Saguṇa Brahman attain as the fruit of their contemplation, is of four states: Sālokya (being in the same world as Brahman, the Four-faced), Sārūpya (being of the same form as Brahman), Sāmīpya (being very close to Brahman), and Sārṣṭi (being equal in rank to Brahman). Or thus: By the rule “more work, better results” svarga is of various sorts. Similarly, liberation here referred to, which is alike the fruit of an act may be surpassed by some other state.

(Conclusion):—What we call liberation is none other than one’s own inherent nature as Brahman, but not an acquired state like svarga. It has been taught in the śruti and even stands to reason that Brahman is of one nature. Therefore, liberation is of one sort, whether attained by Brahman, the Four-faced, or by man. The Sālokya and other specific kinds of liberation mentioned above are acquired results and therefore admit of degrees of excellence according to the quality of the upāsana; but the mukti or liberation (spoken of here), we may conclude, is not of that nature.


Footnotes and references:


Bṛ. Up. 4-4-22.


Aitareya. Up. 2-4-1.


Vide. ante p. 217.


Bṛ. Up. 2-3-6.


Chhā. 8-4-1.


Ibid. 3-18-2.


Ibid. 6-7-1.


Ibid. 6-8-1.


Bṛ. Up. 4-4-6.


Vide ante p. 219.


Bṛ. Up. 3-2-13


Muṇḍ. Up. 3-2-7.


Ibid. 3-2-8.


Prasna. Up. 6-5.


Chhā. Up. 8-12-2.




Brahman being still regarded as separate from jīva.—(Tr.)


Viz., the absolute identity of Brahman and jīva.—(Tr.)


Ibid 8-12-3.


Ibid 8-1-5.


Bri, Up. 4-5-13,

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