Kena Upanishad Verse 5

That which makes you talk
But which cannot be described by you
Know that to be the real.
The real is not revealed
Through anything you might do.

Yat vacanabhyuditam yena vagabhyudyate
tadeva brahma tvam viddhi nedam yadidamupasate.

Commentary by Vimala Thakar

This next verse is extremely beautiful. In the previous verse the rishi said that the speech cannot reach there. Now he explores the nature of speech. Speech is the explosion or emanation of sound energy. The human being has engineered the sound energy and organized it and so there is speech. But speech, being those words uttered through the manipulation of sound energy cannot take you to the source of sound itself.

The truth or the real is concealed in the source of the sound and the word cannot reach the source of sound. The tree can bear a fruit and within the fruit there can be the seed but the tree itself cannot become the seed again. It has grown out of the seed and become a tree. It can produce fruit and in the fruit which is the consummation of its growth you find seeds. But that seed and the seed out of which the tree was born are different. In the same way, you can have beautiful descriptions through speech like these contained in the Upanishad.

You may create electricity out of water but electricity cannot again be converted into water. See the difference between the source and that which emerges from the source. Sound energy has one quality and when you utter the word, the word has a different energy because the word has a meaning. It has a sound, it has a meaning and the word is uttered by a person, therefore the prana energy of the person, the chemical or the emotional side of the person accompanies the word.

You can separate the word from the emotions that lie behind them. You cannot separate the words from the meaning that the society has given them. Words are limited but the words have their own beauty. At least they can tell you what the truth is not. They may not take you directly to the real but negatively they can help you to eliminate the ignorance.

So, words have their own beauty. Knowledge has its own beauty. It has its utility where you are dealing with objects separate from you. Where the sense organs and their movement put you in relationship with that which is different from you, the cosmos, the earth, the skies, the trees, the fields, the birds, the other human beings and so on. They are different from you in space, in time, in form, in qualities, in conditionings. So there, in that arena of living, knowledge becomes very important to deal with machines, to deal with nature, to deal with other human beings and social and political structures. But the real is different says the rishi. The real is something which no speech and no words have been able to reveal or uncover.

Sound is contained in the pit of the stomach and with the help of your breathing that sound travels upward. The sound travels with the breath. Then, when it comes up to your throat, here the sound becomes word and then you utter it through your mouth. So it is an upward journey. Through this ascending movement of the sound to become the word in the mouth, the real which is contained at the centre of your being allows for expression. The expression carries with it the feel of what is being spoken but it is not the real in itself that can be conveyed.

When the sound rises in your body with the help of prana, it is a holistic ascendance and then there is expression through the words. The sound or the speech travels upwards through your body and reveals something, some meaning. The sound can reveal itself through your mouth becoming a word. Now what the rishi is pointing out is that all this can take place because the Brahman as the real is there. The real is called Brahman. It is the existential essence of life. Alternatively we can call it the real. Brahman it is not a deity which you will find in any of the temples of India or South Asia. It is a term for the divinity which is the existential essence which has ever been and which ever shall be, because it is inexhaustible potentiality. It has been unwinding, uncovering, revealing its wealth and glory through billions of years and yet endlessly the process of emergence, ascendance, emergence and uncovering of its contents and the contents merging back into it, goes on. It is the cycle of birth and death which is not other than this continual emergence and merging back.

So the rishi is saying, “Look here my son, the speech has not uncovered or revealed it. The speech itself exists because of it.”  It is rooted in the Brahman and as the roots of the tree are under the earth, you see the tree but you cannot see the roots unless you dig. In the same way the roots of speech are in Brahman.

So why can’t the speech uncover the real? Because speech itself depends upon the Brahman. So the rishi is emphasising that Brahman cannot be reached through any psycho-physical activity. Tadeva Brahma tvam vidhi na idam yadidamupasate. The rishi is saying that you may well be doing your sadhana and all the rituals and the sacrificial rites. You may well be doing all that, and the yadnyas, the hatha yoga exercises, dharana (concentration), pratyahar, mantras, tantras, yantras but what you get as the result of those psycho-physical activities is not Brahman. Brahman is not the result of any movement, any action, any effort on your part. So the rishi says, my son, please understand that, that which you get through any action or movement, that which you get through any words is not Brahman. Brahman or the real is different from what you achieve, obtain or arrive at through any activities you perform.

Kena Upanishad Verse 6

That which makes you think
But which cannot be thought of,
Know that to be the real.
The real is not captured
Through anything you may think. 

Yan manasa na manute yenahur mano matam.
Tadeva brahma tvam viddhi nedam yadidam upasate.

Commentary by Vimala Thakar

At this point, the student must have felt as we might feel, “Alright then, we won’t go in for all that mantra, yantra and tantra. We won’t go for any sacrificial rites, rituals or devotional activities. We won’t do any of that chanting, reciting and dancing if we’re not going to get anything out of them. We’ll leave them aside. But what about the thought structure, what about our mind, what about the mental movement? Can this thing not be reached through the thought?”

This notion is especially applicable to modern human beings who are so engaged in the conceptual world of thought. So across the world, the instinctive almost subconscious idea is that this transformation, liberation, samadhi, divinity, call it what you will, is something that ultimately is attained through mental or cerebral activity.

We instinctively feel that if the brain has given us so much technology, if the cerebral activity has enriched us with so much of civilization then there’s nothing it can’t do. There’s nothing that’s out of its reach. You see we can go to the moon and even go to Mars. We are very clever. We can reach the other end of the earth through electronic media almost instantly. All this has been achieved through the power of thought, so why not too this elusive thing that is called the real, that is the Brahman?

So why shouldn’t this cerebral activity which has given us science and technology, and enabled us to do genetic engineering, why shouldn’t that cerebral activity enable us to capture the divinity in a thought, in an experience?

But the rishi says, yanmanasa na manute, “My son, the mind cannot conceive of it – thought cannot even imagine it.” He says, yena ahur mano matam. That means that the very energy of perception or conception or imagination or memorization is only an emanation of the Brahman. It is only the shadow of the real. So just as a ray of the sun cannot be equated to the sun itself, in the same way this mental movement cannot be equated with Brahman itself.

The ray of the sun illumines for you an object that is lying on the earth. In the darkness you could not perceive it but with the sun the rays illumine the object. The rays don’t illuminate the sun. In the same way the mental movement which is thought can give you light about an object which is different from you. It can show you the house as a house. It can allow you to see piece of cloth as a cloth which you can differentiate from other cloth.

The mind works with the word, because mental movement requires words. Thought cannot move without a word. Emotion cannot be awakened without a word. So it is a cerebral movement. It is a movement of sound. The word as sound works with the neurological and the chemical system of the body. So, the mind can illuminate and can give us information about an object which is independent of us and separate from us. The eyes will see the object, and the memory will bring up the name of the object. The brain will accept it and then you will respond to it in a certain way. That’s how it works.

Whenever there are objects apart from us, they have their own existence which is a relative existence apart from us. That relative existence does not depend on us. So the conceiving and thinking of the mind or the brain gives us some information. When you interact with an object or another individual, it gives you some experience. That interaction and that generation is possible when the objects are apart from us. So the interaction gives you an experience. Then the cerebral interaction with the help of the word enables you to reflect on the experience and gives you knowledge. But the rishi says, tadeva Brahma tvam viddhi na idam yadidamupasate, “Whatever has been thought of, whatever has been experienced, that is not the essence of Brahman.” He says, “Understand, my son, that the Brahman as the real cannot be captured in thought or as an experience.”

Kena Upanishad Verse 7

That which causes you to see
But which cannot be seen by the eye
That is the real.
It is not other than you.

Yat caksusa na pasyati yena caksumsi pasyati
tad eva brahma tvam viddhi nedam yadidam upasate.

Commentary by Vimala Thakar

In this verse the rishi talks about sight and seeing. We are gifted with different types of seeing. There is the outward seeing through the eyes. There is also the inner sight contained in consciousness which contains the power of the imagination. There is also another kind of sight contained in consciousness which gives you premonition before the phenomenon and the events have happened. It is a kind of long distance perception, it transcends time. It can transcend time in what you call the future and it can transcend time in what you call the past. The inner-perception of the past and perception of the future is also a kind of sight. So there is premonition and also the sensitivity of intuition.  

There is a kind of perception contained in the instincts incorporated the biological organism. We share that instinctive perception with our non-human fellow beings. I wonder if you have noticed the sight that birds have. Birds instinctively have a feel for the rain. If they are to come say forty eight hours afterwards, the birds move in a particular way. They communicate their instinctive perception to one another and their behaviour changes. Other animals also have this ability. And I feel that the trees and the plants also have this perception.

The rishi says you may have five or ten varieties of sight and their energies, and yet that sight is not going to reveal to you, to show to you the Brahman, because it is not different from you. The eyes can show you an object, the eyes can show you an event, the sight can show you or point out an event to you which is apart, which has existence apart from you. But Brahman is the essence of your being. How can any manner of sight convert it into an object?

Brahman cannot be the object of the intellect. Brahman cannot be an object of your brain. As the eyes have sight, the brain has buddhi or the intellect as the faculty of the brain. So, the Upanishads agree that buddhi as the intellect cannot convert the source of life into an object of thinking. It cannot be thought about. The mind can conceive only of an idea. It can convert something into an object of thinking which is not its own substance, but the mind itself exists because it is rooted in Brahman. Therefore Brahman cannot be converted into an object of knowledge, into an object of perception, or into an object of audition. It cannot be heard. It cannot be seen. It cannot be thought of. It cannot be touched through the gross or the subtle sense organs.

Kena Upanishad Verse 8

That which causes you to hear
But which cannot be heard by the ear
That is the real.
It is not other than you.

Yat srotrena na sroti yena srotramidam srutam
tadeva brahma tvam viddhi nedam yadidam upasate.

Commentary by Vimala Thakar

As the root energy behind all cerebration, as the root energy behind all perception is the real or Brahman and not that which is arrived at through the cerebral or the optical activity, the rishi now explains that that which cannot be heard by your ear but that which enables your ear to hear is Brahman.

In the Mandukya Upanishad it is explained that even if one has heard and attended many talks, and listened to the scholars, and those who have realized, still the mere hearing of it, or reading of it, doesn’t take us to the real, to Brahman. So whatever you have heard may have eliminated the mental ignorance, it may have eliminated misconceptions, it may have given you some idea of what Brahman might be, but that is still not it.

Knowledge doesn’t put you in direct living touch with the real. It doesn’t give you the living feel of the real. It doesn’t soak you in that energy. It gives an idea. It is an indirect activity and it leaves you there. The idol as an image remains there in the temple and you remain here. And with the idea of it you get a temporary feeling of elation, excitement or intoxication. If you are tired of the mundane worldly life you may be living, that gives you some respite or something to get excited about, but the dimensional transformation in the very quality of your consciousness remains elusive. The permeation of your consciousness with the nectar of that reality does not come about.

The rishi says, “Brahman is not what you have heard, it’s not what you have read, it’s not what you have thought and it’s even not what you may have experienced as some sort of psychic phenomena. Brahman is quite independent of all that.”

So first a spontaneous ending of all the outgoing sensory activities is required. Meditation only begins where the outgoing activity at the sensory level of knowing, feeling and experiencing subsides. When there is a totally natural and unforced unconditional stoppage of all outgoing activities. And this won’t occur and there can be no peace as long as there are all these different subconscious desires remaining in the backstreets of your consciousness. Do you see? As long as there is this desire to acquire, to obtain, to arrive at the real, at Brahman, through some kind of psycho-physical activity whether it be prayer or reciting a mantra or whatever, there just cannot be silence.

When we sit quietly we are inducing that silence in us allowing the dimension of silence to get activated. But it cannot get activated because on the subconscious level there is the feeling, probably due to traditional beliefs or perhaps all that hearsay material you have ingested through your reading and what you have heard from others, that you can only obtain it through some psycho-physical activity that you undertake. The Kena Upanishad is the most insightful Upanishad because it focuses all its attention on the ending of this misguided notion that the real is something that is attained or obtained, achieved through your ascetic exertions or earned as a reward for your piousness or religiousity. It is all entirely misconceived.

The rishi points out that Brahman or the essence of life cannot be reached through the movement of knowing, thinking and imagining. It cannot be reached with the movement of sight contained in the eyes. It cannot be reached with the movement of hearing contained in the ears. He says, tad viddhi Brahma, “When all the activities of movement subside what remains in you and with you is the real.” Brahman as the real will be felt by you where there is no desire to move through the sense organs for obtaining or acquiring something. As long as that ambition is there to attain, to get something, to understand something through dividing, to reach some elevated state, to reach or arrive somewhere, one is moving in the opposite direction. One is in fact moving away from the essence of one’s being as the real.

When you allow this whole psycho-physical movement to subside unconditionally then the mind becomes still of its own accord. Then the mind or the brain is naturally absolutely alert but it is not active. The energy is there but the brain does not move in any direction. The sight is there, the eyes may be open or they may be closed, but the mind is not engaged actively in trying to seek out any objects. The hearing is there and yet it is neither active, nor inactive.

So all the faculties are all fully intact. But the mind neither indulges in the inertia of inactivity nor is it excited and seeking out any diversions. So the faculties simply stay put at the source in the body. The rishi then says, tadeva Brahma tvam viddhi na idam yadidamupasate, “Then what is felt within you, what vibrates within you, what sustains your life without the movement of the mind or the brain, understand that to be Brahman, to be the real.”

Whatever is obtained or acquired through effort, is not Brahman. You may get some rewards if you learn and practice the various yogas. Latent powers in your body might develop and give you some wonderful experiences. If the sensory world can give you marvellous experiences and pleasure, the extra-sensory experiences promise even more excitement. Their momentum is different from the pleasure at the sensual level. So that which is the result of any activity or movement at the physical or mental level is not the real or Brahman. No one can say that I have had an experience of the real or Brahman. No one can say, “I have realized the divinity, I have arrived there.” This language cannot be used.

So the rishi says, “Understand my son, that that which is a result or effect of a cause, a result or reward of an activity or action, that is not the flavour of the real. Brahman it is not found there. The essence, the perfume is not there, the substance is not to be found there.”

You know, the sensory, the extra-sensory, the mystic, the esoteric, the transcendental experiences you may acquire through shaktipat or kundalini, they have their own specific mysteries and fascinations. But when your being is not divided into the observer and the observed, the seer and the seen, the doer and the activity, the experiencer and the experience; when your being is not divided as subject and object then in that undivided unity of your being, the mystery, the secret gets revealed to you. You cannot know it, you cannot measure it but it gets revealed to you.

The rishi says, tad viddhi tadeva Brahma tvam viddhi. He says that only when all the movements of your mind trying to capture this or that have spontaneously gone into abeyance, the residue, that which remains with you, in you, and of you, there the recognition can occur. It can happen. When all the movements of the mind go into abeyance towards the known and the unknown, even towards the unknowable, then in that non-motion of your being, the vibration or breath of the divinity, is felt. It has an awareness which you feel. Its presence is felt or made known to you.

The five koshas

Before we proceed with the next verse I’d like to draw your attention to the implications of the first six verses for our daily living. The Upanishads all agree upon one fact and is that human life is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. These dimensions are called koshas.

Kosha could perhaps be translated into the English language as “layers of being”. Generally the Upanishads talk about five koshas or panca koshas. Our life, our being is constituted, or composed of five layers or pancha koshas. The different Upanishads use different terms for describing these koshas. The Kena Upanishad refers to these koshas in a figurative way, in a poetic and indirect way.

The first kosha consists of the external sense organs and they include the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth etc. They are referred to as the bahir indriyas.

The second kosha consists of the corresponding internal faculties referred to as the antra indriyas. If the eyes are the external organs, the sight experienced through the eyes is called the internal. The mouth is the external and is called vani and the internal is called speech which is vak. The ear as is the external organ is called srotram and the corresponding internal faculty is called sruti which is hearing or sound. And so on.

The third kosha is composed of the five energies or principles which are contained in the first two koshas. For example, the eyes can manifest the sight because there is the principle of fire or agni in our body. The ears and the hearing function because of the principle of akasha or space. The nose and the faculty of smell function because of the principle of earth or prithvi. There would not be the faculty of smell contained in the sense organ called the nose unless the body was permeated by the principle of earth or prithvi. The Upanishads refer to the prithvi as gandhavati. Gandha means perfume. They say that prithvi, the earth contains in its womb innumerable kinds of perfumes, scents and fragrances which get manifested in the crops, the vegetables, the fruits, the flowers etc. It is a beautiful poetic description for the source of all perfume and scents. I am indicating to you the different layers of the phenomenon that is called the human being and human life. So then there is jalam which is water. Speech becomes possible because of the principle of water. Hearing becomes possible because there is the principle of akasha or the emptiness of space and so on. It’s important to understand this so that you get the sense of the inter-relationships that exist within this phenomenon that we call life.

The fourth kosha consists of prana as the vital force and mind which is the consciousness. If prana, the vital force was not permeating the three koshas that we have looked at just now and if there were not the consciousness conditioned in our normal daily living, then all the energies contained in the internal faculties and the outer sense organs would not function.

In particular the prana causes the nose to smell. The faculty of smelling through the instrument of nose derives its existence due to the principle of earth or prithvi which contains and vibrates with prana. Prana is the source of all creativity in our lives – all creative energies expressing themselves in and through any of our sense organs including the mind. They are based on prithvi, the principle of earth. So the prana moving through the body activates the principles of the third kosha and especially it provides the faculty of smelling to the nose.

The mobilization of the energies contained in various organs is due to prana the vital force and mind the consciousness. This is the analysis and the description given to us by the Kena Upanishad. The koshas have different names and are described differently in different Upanishads as well as in the different schools of Indian philosophy.

Behind the fourth kosha is the cosmic or the universal energy of intelligence which is called pradnya or the supreme intelligence. This is the fifth kosha. The Kena Upanishad uses the word Brahman for this all permeating, all pervading, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent energy. If the Brahman, the essence of existence, were not in the body, then the pranas – the vital force would not be able to move in the body. It would not be possible for the pranas to activate the internal sense faculties or the external sense organs and enable them to function. It only becomes possible because the prana receives its dynamism from Brahman.

It is the consciousness which provides the motivation for every movement of the sensory organs and for the ingoing movements like introspection, reflection, contemplation etc. That movement of individuated consciousness limited by the body would not be possible unless Brahman as the unlimited and unconditioned supreme intelligence existed. That is the root of your being. The ground of our existence is Brahman.

Prana and consciousness are rooted in Brahman and then the pancha tatvas – the five principles, prithvi, jala, agni, vayu, akasha are rooted in the prana and the consciousness. Then the internal faculties are rooted in these so that the external sense organs as the instruments can function. Unless we understand this analysis of the human phenomenon suggested by and contained in the Kena Upanishad, we will not be able to appreciate what the rishi is trying to help the student to understand.

Kena Upanishad Verse 9

That which allows you to breathe
But which cannot be known through the breath.
That is the real.
It is not other than you.

Yat pra’ ena na praniti yena pranah praniyate; tadeva
Brahman tvam viddhi na idam yadidamupasate

Commentary by Vimala Thakar

The prana which is the vital force is analysed into five types of pranas: prana, apana, vyana, samana, udana. That prana again has five ways of functioning in different parts of the body. Some move in the upper direction. Some naturally function in the lower direction. Some function horizontally, some vertically and some permeate the whole body. That is the movement of the vital force. The five-fold movement of the vital force enables the internal organs and the energies contained in the five principles to manifest themselves through the outer organs or instruments of perception.

So in this verse the rishi explains that the prana or the vital force will not be able to take you there because the prana itself can only function because it gets its dynamism from the Brahman.

The rishi explains, pranena na praniti yen a pranah praniyate, “That which provides the substance to the vital force, that which provides the substance to prana is Brahman.” But what these five pranas moving in your body achieve or produce through the instruments of the sense organs, that is not Brahman.

So you may learn the various forms of pranayama: samanya pranayam, vishesha pranayama, deergha pranayama, bhasrika, sheetali etc. etc. and then you will get experiences. If you learn to prolong the duration of the kumbhaka, the inner or the outer kumbhaka, the various dormant latent energies contained in your muscular, nervous and glandular systems begin to manifest themselves. But the rishi says, they are not going to take you nearer to Brahman. They are the manifestations of the substance of the prana which comes from Brahman as the source.

Brahman is the prime cause, Brahman is the source. You think that the mind is providing motivations, Yes the mind provides motivation for the faculty and the sense organ to operate. But the consciousness itself, the mind itself, can function only as long as Brahman is in the body and the essence of life is there.

There is nothing like matter separately existing from Brahman or the primal energy of intelligence. The outer forms of existence themselves point to the existence of Brahman. The outer forms of existence in their innumerable shapes, sizes, colours, perfumes, qualities and attributes have their own beauty and utility but they are not the essence of existence. The essence of existence is the Brahman.

So the rishi says, it is not the movement of the prana or the movement of the mind as thought that is going to reveal the nature of the Brahman. It is only when that movement can subside or go into abeyance even for a fraction of a second, then in that interval between two thoughts, between two wishes, between two desires, between two breaths that the Brahman gets revealed to us.

So when you allow an interval between the in going and the outgoing breath or the ingoing and outgoing thought, when you allow that interval some duration, then in that duration only the Brahman or the real which lies behind the other four koshas or layers of being gets revealed. Otherwise that source as the ground is covered up as the clouds in the sky cover up the sun. The clouds prevent our perception of the real. In the same way, the movement of the outer sense organs, the movement of the inner faculties, the movement of the prana and the mind hide and conceal the foundation of existence. If we want to perceive, to feel, to be aware, of the source of our existence then these clouds of movement, the movement of thinking and the movement of desire need to go into abeyance. We are the containers of the light of life. We are the containers of the light of intelligence, but the movement of the mind and intellect conceals the real. So it is only when the activities of the four koshas go into abeyance that the glory of the Brahman as the life source illumines the whole being. Otherwise we live our lives amidst cloudy days with no sunshine.

The rishi is pointing towards the dimension of non-motion, non-action and non-perception. The rishis are pointing out that movement is one dimension of life but it cannot be equated with the wholeness. The whole of conditional existence is moving. It can give you beautiful experiences and even ecstatic experiences. But the rishi is saying, let these movements go into abeyance so that the Brahman can be felt by every pore of your being. The all-permeating nature of that Brahman, the real, will be felt by you only in the dimension of silence.