Kena Upanishad Part IV
Kena Upanishad Verse 1
Uma replied, “That was Brahman
from whom your achievements all come.”
And so the deities realized
That it was Brahman that was the cause
Of their victory over the asuras.
Sa brahmeti hovaca; brahmanano va etad viaye mahiy’ adhvam
iti; tato haiva vidancakara brahmeti.
Commentary by Vimala Thakar
At the end of the third part of the Kena Upanishad, we had arrived at a point where the mind had relinquished all activity, all effort and had relaxed into non-action and non-movement. Due to the discontinuity of mental movement there was space or emptiness and in that emptiness or space came a flash of awareness dazzlingly brilliant like lightning manifesting itself through the clouds. The mind was illumined by the flash of that brilliant awareness.
I wonder if some of you have been in a tropical country in the rainy season. The skies get filled by very heavy dark grey clouds, sometimes jet black clouds and one feels that one can’t see anything. Darkness envelopes you and then suddenly dazzlingly brilliant lightning shines through that darkness and illumines everything. The rishis must have witnessed the beauty and the brilliance of that manifestation of nature many times. He is describing the energy of awareness. He uses the analogy of a superbly beautiful woman to describe it. He describes this awareness as Uma Haimavati, born of the purity of snows, as if that energy was a flame of condensed purity.
The poetic description expresses the idea that intelligence is not born of any conditioning. It is not a physiological activity. It is not a faculty of the brain. This awareness or intelligence shines brilliantly in the emptiness of the space of your consciousness in the state of meditation.
The first verse of the fourth part of the Upanishad expresses this. It is for the sake of illustration that the analogy is used. There is the word uvaca. Uvaca in English could be translated as “she spoke” or “energy spoke”. You should note that vak does not mean literally “to speak”. The original Sanskrit root means to communicate. Speech is just one way of communication. The spoken word is not the only channel of communication or faculty of communication. We have to distinguish the faculty of communication from the limited and conditioned channel of the spoken or the written word. Here we have to understand the phrase sa hovaca which means that the energy communicated.
Human beings are inclined to believe that the spoken word or the measurements that they have created are the only way of communication. It should not be difficult for the students of yoga to realize that existence has its own essence. There is a form and there is the content. As the water contains electricity so the earth contains gravity. Solidity is the form and gravity is the essence. Fluidity of the water is the form and electricity is the essence. Light is the form but the essence of the sun’s rays and the sun is nutrition and healing. In the same way the whole cosmic existence has an essence and that essence communicates with us through its presence. There is nothing inherently mysterious about this.
Supposing you have certain tensions or conflicts within you then your whole being becomes tense. Then the presence of the individual communicates that tension without any words being spoken. The presence communicates it. Suppose you are very happy and joy is bubbling out of you, without anything spoken, your presence communicates that inner elation and joy.
Now suppose your whole being is harmonized then there is a harmony within you of the physical, the verbal, the mental and the subtle dimensions. The pancha koshas or the five layers of your being are in balance then even though you do not say a word, the subtle vibrations of peace emanate from your being. I hope you understand my point. Communication does not have to depend upon the spoken word. The presence communicates itself directly and if you have the receptivity and sensitivity to feel that communication then there is a reciprocity with that essence. Communication is the channel. The presence is eloquent.
Sa Brahmeti hovaca – that flash of awareness communicated to the mind that was totally relaxed in non-action, that it was Brahman and that the victory was due to Brahman.
Brahmanah eva etad vijaye mahiyadhvam – you were all elated in the victory of your achievements, attributing the glory to yourselves, your powers, your qualities, your excellences, but all the powers residing in you, all the excellent qualities in your form are due to the real as the essence of existence. They are due to the Brahman as the divinity of life.
Now let’s recall what was said about the deities being the energy centres contained in us. Agni is the energy contained in the sight resulting in perception. Also Agni is the principle, the energy occupying your vocal organs. So Agni is the deity of speech and of perception. Prana-vayu, is the deity behind all movements and actions in your body. Now awareness is saying to these deities Agni, Prana, Vayu and also lndra as the mind, that all your powers residing in you are due to the existence of Brahman as the divine.
According to the ancient Vedas and the Upanishads, life itself is divinity. Divinity is the existential essence of life. It is not apart from life. It does not reside somewhere in an abode of separation conducting, regulating and modulating life from outside. It is within life. Life is not only divine, life is the divinity. If you say life is divine then you consider that divinity as the attribute of life. But the rishi is trying to teach us that divinity is the essence and the substance of life, of every expression, not only of human life, but of every expression of life.
To feel the divinity contained in the mountains, their majesty, their steadiness, the fertility contained in them is to experience the divine. To feel the divinity in the flowing streams and rivers, and the majestic oceans is to experience the divine. To feel the divinity in the grass, the saplings, the trees and plants is to experience the divine. To feel the divinity in the birds and all living creatures is to experience the divine. If you have sensitivity then all of them will communicate to you through their presence. They will teach and they will reveal the divinity.
So that energy of intelligence or cosmic consciousness was in that flash of awareness telling the deities that the victory is not theirs. The glory that they attributed to themselves was a misconception. All of the energies exist because of the divinity itself.
So then what is the role of the deities? What is the role of the human being? It is left to us to exercise those energies in a harmonious way, to manifest the inner harmony – the principle of harmony in life. It is our privilege to exercise them in harmony. First you must become a whole human being by harmonizing the physical, the verbal, the emotional, the mental and the intellectual. There should be no inner conflicts, no incompatibilities, no contradictions and no tensions. Then you become a wholeness just as the cosmic life is a wholeness. Your being also becomes an expression of that wholeness.
So exercising our energies, organizing them so that they manifest reciprocity and not confrontation and mutuality and not contradiction, that is left to us. But if we attribute to ourselves some sort of importance when we utilize the energies then that is mistaken. Then we can never find that inner wholeness that comes when there is harmony between inner and outer.
The good in life, both the goodness in life with ourselves and with others, with nature comes from the harmonization of all the energies. Goodness is not an abstraction. It is the result of harmonious organization of the energies and exercising them without fragmentation.
In the depth of its teachings the Kena Upanishad is one of the most important Upanishads. I would say that it is second only to the lshavasya which reveals the secret of life.
Bramanah eva vijaye mahiyadhvam – it is the victory or achievement of Brahman. So the question will arise in your mind what is the achievement or the victory that is being talked about? Who is the victory over? It is the victory of the good as the positive in us over the potential of evil as the negative (the asuras) contained in us. I don’t like to use the words good and evil. It is preferable to say it is the victory of the positive forces of order and harmony over the negative forces of disorder and disharmony. So what is being referred to is our victory over the negativities we carry within ourselves.
When the energies are not harmonious, when there is conflict and contradiction within, then it is easy to misuse the energies. Then through the inner disorder and lack of clarity the energies becomes distorted. And so you become an instrument of fragmentation and disorder. In other words through your own imbalance you create harm both within and without. Evil does not exist independently and is not recognized as an independent force in its own right. The Vedas and the Upanishads do not recognize a satanic force or being. That duality is not accepted.
The Upanishads and the Vedas proclaim the non-duality of life in every possible way. They proclaim the unity and the non-duality of life as advaita. So it is a victory of the good and the positive over the potential negativity of disorder and disharmony. Good and evil are within us. As human beings we are privileged to have both potentialities. It is called choice.
Sa Brahmeti hovaca tasyah Brahmano vijaye mahiyadhvam iti – when this truth was revealed through the eloquence of that flash of awareness, then the mind saw that it is the Brahman which is the source of the energies and is the cause of every good that results from the movement of the energies.
The Upanishad doesn’t say, “the mind came to know what Brahman was”. The divinity of life defies human conception and human articulation. So the rishi says, tate ha eva – “only then” when the conscious efforts were relinquished was there understanding. When you let go the conscious effort at knowing or experiencing or doing, then only the truth is revealed to you in a flash of understanding. So what we are talking about is revelation or insight or gnosis. Some call it the grace descending. Some call it revelation dawning upon the consciousness. Some call it realization. The point is that truth is revealed. It is not conquered, not obtained, not acquired, not achieved and not attained.
Kena Upanishad Verses 2-3
The three Agni, Vayu and Indra
Excel among the deities
Because they have come near
Tasmad va ete deva atitaramivanyan devan,
yadagnirvayurindraste hyenan nedistham pasparsuste
hyenat prathamo vidancakara brahmeti.
Tasmad va indro atitaramivanyan devan; sa hyenannedistham
pasparsa, sa hyenat prathamo vidancakara
Commentary by Vimala Thakar
When the conditioned consciousness operates through the brain the Upanishads use the term buddhi. When it does not require the operation of the cerebral organ then it is called pradnya or intelligence. Awareness- intelligence or pradnya as the essence of life does not have to depend upon any human sense organ. Buddhi is the consciousness which you call the mind-consciousness and functions through the brain. If the brain gets damaged then all the knowledge that you had acquired cannot manifest itself. So it depends upon a sense organ. Pradnya does not have to depend upon the brain.
The deities Agni, Vayu and Indra refer to the fire of perception, the prana as energy, and the intellect as conditioned consciousness functioning through the brain.
Tasmat ete devah – These deities, which deities? Agni, Vayu, and Indra.
Anyan devan – They are superior to the other energies at our disposal.
Yat anyat agnih vayuh indrah – Why are they superior to the others?
Te hyenat nedistham pasparsuh – Because these three deities or energies could get into the proximity of the Brahman. They could get near. Now, what does this mean, Agni and Vayu getting nearer to the Brahman or the real than other energies or deities?
To illustrate the point, let’s consider what other energies are available to us? There is hearing which is srotram. There is the spoken word heard or read by you. But hearing does not carry you into the close proximity of the real.
In the Bruhadaranyak Upanishad it is stated: Nayamatma balahinena labhyah na medhaya nabahunasrutena. The atma or the real cannot be reached by a scholar, by a well-read person, by a well-educated and sophisticated person. The word that you hear cannot reveal its meaning to the extent that when you perceive it directly, the real is revealed to you. In order to realize, to have a personal first hand discovery of a thing, merely reading about it won’t take you there.
The word that is read or heard hasn’t got that dynamism which the direct perception through an intimate encounter with the thing itself gives you. So Agni as the principle of perception, is superior to hearing about something because it is more direct.
Ete devah anyat devat means “more than the other deities or energies at our disposal, they are superior.” They have more excellence not in the sense of hierarchy but in the sense of quality, the discrimination, distinguishing, discriminating one from the other. You must have experienced in your life too that direct experience of a thing is quite different from reading about or hearing about it. The word written in a book or spoken by someone gives you information. Information is not knowledge. Information does not constitute knowledge. Information cannot and does not result in understanding. The living encounter with a thing teaches you much more than hundreds of books can ever do.
The rishis of ancient India throw a challenge at us to directly encounter life. What they are talking about is the experience of direct communion with life. That is not the reliance on the on the hearsay descriptions of others. So that is why Agni the principle of perception is described as being superior or more excellent than hearing.
Let’s take another example. There is the earth element in us. It is prithvi that allows us to smell, that allows us to touch other objects and to some extent you get knowledge out of touching a thing using the external senses. You can experience the hardness, the softness, the heat, the coldness, the bitterness and the sweetness of a thing. You experience all this through the senses of tasting, touching and through smelling. What the rishi is explaining is that reality is much more intensely or intimately experienced when you experience through perception agni or the energetic prana in your body. When you engage with something concrete such as when you touch an idol or worship it, garland it, through ritual or pooja you are more remote from the real. So the vayu tatva – the prana principle takes you nearer to the reality than the prithvi tatva.
Let’s go a little deeper and now look at the word pasparsuh which means “touched it” or “felt it”. Even if we have never formally studied or read books on philosophy or the scriptures, what is our common experience? We know or have the direct sense that I have a body and I have a mind and that there is a “me”. There is a vague feeling born with us, in us that there is something more to us because when you say, “this is my body”, the principle that is able to say, “this is my body” must have an independent existence of the body itself.
When you say, “my mind” or “me” what is the principle that is a witness to all this? There is a principle. You may not know what it is. You may not be able to define it. You may not be able to describe it, but there is a vague feeling or a sense of something. The body grows older yet there is a feeling that your body has become old, not you. There is a feel of a certain agelessness to that witness.
As another example, you get angry and then you say “I was angry”, but who perceived the anger? What was the principle that was witnessing the movement of the mind getting angry or the speech getting heated? We may not know the essence of that but there is a certain feeling there if you look at it. It does not depend upon education, reading or writing. Everyone is born with this and there seems to be a certain unconditioned energy or something which is ever vigilant even when you go to sleep. There is this ageless presence of that thing – that witness which is protecting you like a guiding, guarding angel, while you are sleeping.
In the moments of love, when the “me” does not function, that something operates and you don’t mind being in full abandonment to the object of your love. Usually you are so preoccupied with yourself and all the things you have to attend to but in those rare moments of love all this gets brushed aside. How is that possible?
So what the rishi is explaining is that there is a vague feeling like a mist hanging between that reality and what we consider to be ourselves and some energies in us take us nearer to that. The mist becomes thinner. So you read books, you listen to talks, you move with the nature and you feel proximity to that something which is ageless, timeless and nameless. You may not know what it is but it is always there. It transcends all limitations and transcends all divisions and descriptions but it is only a vague feeling.
Because it is vague it does not become a source of energy for us. What the rishi is explaining is that Agni and Vayu as perception and prana bring us into proximity with this thing. They reduce the vagueness or the distance between it and us. But then when the mind relaxes into non-action, when it gives up all that striving and effort then in that relaxed effortlessness, there is even closer proximity than the perception of Agni or the prana of Vayu and the energies that may be released through pranayama.
All the outgoing energies, the external sensory organs, the internal senses, the thought energy when thought is moving, all this takes you away from your essence. But when all those outgoing energies are contained within themselves and are grounded in their source then the division between the divinity and the material and the physical diminishes to minimum. So the rishi says, Agni, Vayu, and Indra nedistham pasparsuh, felt the proximity of that divinity which was vague to other deities. Therefore through that proximity Prathama vidancakara Brahmeti, that is how they could open to understanding. And so the revelation or recognition took place. These three deities Agni, Vayu and Indra therefore excelled. They surpassed the other deities in that they felt the proximity. They felt the presence before the other deities could feel it.
Understanding prathamah is important. First of all, the mind must become silent and receptive and so it is able to feel the proximity to the divinity.
Kena Upanishad Verse 4
Just as lightning flashes across the sky instantly
So the real is revealed in the blinking of an eye.
Tasyaisa adeso yadetad vidyuto vyadyutada iti
nnyami misada ityadhidaivam.
Commentary by Vimala Thakar
Tasya esaisa adesah – Just like the blinking of the eye lightning flashes across the skies instantaneously. The Kena Upanishad says the revelation of the divinity or the Brahman takes place in this way.
Adhidaivatam – means in reference to cosmic happenings. Everything that happens in the body has a cosmic parallel and everything that happens in the cosmos has a parallel in ourselves since we are the condensed cosmos. The science of the energies contained in the cosmos and their relationship to the energies contained in the human body, is called adhidaivatam. So as in the cosmos the flash of lightning takes place, so in your human bodies in the blinking of an eye that revelation of the secret of life happens and occurs timelessly.
We come to the word adhyatma which means the individuated or differentiated unit of cosmic life in the human body. In the translations available in Indian you will find the word translated as the “me” or “ego”. However adhyatma, whilst it definitely it refers to the revelation of truth taking place in the human body it does not refer to the “I” or the conceptual “me” entity.