The Upanishads represent the quintessence of the Vedic revelation. All through the ages they have catered to the needs of those who want a world-view and a version of ultimate human destiny based on understandable principle.
The Upanishads number 108. The great Vedantic commentator Sri Sankara has taken only ten of them for his learned exegeses, and of them, the Brihadaranyaka has received his closet attention.
Sri Sankara’s writings, classified as Bhashyas, are mainly expositions of a technical nature, and presuppose a good knowledge of the Upanishadic Doctrines. The Upanishad series published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, including the present one, are meant to give this facility.
The Upanishadic text in Devanagari, word-for-word translation according to Sanskrit, and brief notes – those form the important features of this edition. The introduction give s a section by section summary of the Upanishad.
THE second edition of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad comes out after a long pause due to serious handicaps caused by the post-war conditions. The first edition, which was published anonymously in 1945, was prepared by Swami Jagadiswarananda. In the present edition the book has been thoroughly revised by Swami Madhavananda, translator of the same Upanisad with Sankara’s commentary. In interpreting the text, this commentary has been systematically followed, mainly in the light of its gloss by Anandagiri, and occasionally of Suresvaracarya’s Varttika on the commentary and Vidyaranya’s Varttikasara. Nityananda’s gloss on the Upanisad bas also been consulted, and a Bengali edition of the book by Swami Gambhirananda has been found say helpful.
In this revised edition the text has been judiciously punctuated, with the necessary disjoining of words in some places. In supplying word-by-word meanings, the words have been rearranged in the order of Sanskrit syntax. Diacritical marks according to the current system have been used in the transliterations of Sanskrit terms. The running translation has been kept close to the original, explanatory elaborations of the previous edition being generally transferred to the notes. Some of the old notes have been deleted, and many new ones added for elucidation. The lengthy alphabetical index to the paragraphs has also been omitted as being out of place in this Series. It is hoped that these changes will facilitate an understanding of this important but difficult book.
THE Brhadaranyaka Upanisad’ forms the final portion of the S’a1aftatha-Brahmaza, which is now available in two widely varying recensions known as Madhyandina and Kanva, after the name of two Vedic Sakhas. The Kanva recension is in seventeen Kandas or Books and the Madhyandina in fourteen. The various Kàç4as are further divided into chapters. The six chapters of the Brhadaranyaka Upan4ad are now found as chapters three to eight in the seventeenth Book of the Kanva recension, and chapters four to nine in the fourteenth Book of the Madhyandina recension. In writing his monumental commentary, Sri Sankaracarya has adopted the Kanva text, which is accepted as the basis of this publication also.
Several editions of the text and many translations of this great arid important Upanisad have been made by a number of ‘scholars within a century both n the East and in the West. Some of them bear the mark of mature and accurate scholarship and excellent editorial skill. But none of these contains word-by-word meanings to help readers who are not well up in Sanskrit, but who wish to follow the sacred text in the original. Hence this Upanisad was prepared for the Upanisad Series of the Ramakrishna Math, Madras in order to fulfill that long-felt want.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad is the greatest of the Upanisads by its size as well as substance. The whole composition is in prose, being here and there studded with a few verses. The six chapters or Adhyayas of the text are divided into forty seven sections called Brahmanas, further subdivided into paragraphs of Ka4ikas. Another division of the whole work is into three Kandas—Madhukanda, Yajnavalkyakanda or Munikaç4a and Khilakanda— each containing two chapters. These divisions deal mainly with enunciation, exposition and meditation (Upadesa, Upapatti and Upasana), respectively. This is the view of Sri Vidyaranya expressed in his Varttikasara.
The first chapter has section is called Asva-Brahmana. It describes the body of the sacrificial horse as the cosmic form of Prajapati, the presiding deity of the horse-sacrifice. Sri Sankara observes that if the ideas of time, worlds and deities, which the cosmic body of Prajapati comprises, are superimposed on the horse, it will be converted into Prajapati. It is a meditation that will enable all to derive the results of the horse- sacrifice even without the performance of it. The horse-sacrifice is the greatest of Vedic rites, and it takes its performer to Brahmaloka, the highest heaven. But this result is not ever-lasting, and it cannot annihilate our ignorance, just like other Vedic rites. The knowledge of Brahman alone is capable of destroying our ignorance and stopping transmigration. The Upanisads therefore exhaust themselves in the unfoldment of this knowledge, which once attained is never lost.
The second section of the first chapter is called Agni-Brahmana. It describes the origin and nature of Agni (fire) used in the horse-sacrifice, as also the manifestation of the universe. The fire, like the horse, is to be meditated upon as Prajapati, or Hiranyagarbha, the first-born, also called Viraj. Before the manifestation of name and form, the universe was covered by Hiranyagarbha, just as a pot is hid by clay in the shape of a lump.
The third section of this chapter is known as Udgitha-Brahmana. While narrating the Vedic allegory of the rivalry of the gods and demons, this Brahmana unfolds the highest result of rites combined with meditation, which is the attainment of Brahmaloka, i.e., identity with Hiral3yagarbha, the cosmic form of the vital force. The conclusion is reached that the whole universe of action, with its means and ends, up to Hiranyagarbha, falls within the category of ignorance, but the Supreme Self, the Paramatman, is beyond it. The knowledge of the Supreme Self, therefore, can alone annihilate our ignorance.
Let us now turn to the allegory of the gods and demons. In a Jyotistoma sacrifice, the gods successively asked the organ of speech, nose, eyes, ears and mind to chant hymns for them, to which they agreed. The demons saw that the gods would surpass them through these chanters. So they charged them one after another, and contaminated them with the evil of attachment to sense-objects. But when they tried to play the same trick on the vital force, they were crushed to pieces. So the gods won. The story teaches that the vital force is the essence of the body and organs, and is to be meditated upon instead of the latter. It is the vital force that delivered the organs from evil and restored their divinity to them. Its cosmic form is Prajapati, and it is also the Vedas. It is present in its entirety in all creatures from an ant to an elephant, and it is as large as the universe. Meditation on the vital force, even without rites, wins the world of Hiranyagarbha.
The fourth section is called Purusavidha-Brahmana. Sankara’s commentary on it is learned, and Suresevara’s Varttika on that has as many as 1853 verses. The essence of this section is this: Before menifestation, this universe of different bodies was undifferentiated from the body of Viraj. Then Viraj was alone. On account of his loneliness, he was stricken with dissatisfaction. So he desired a mate. As his desire was infallible, he became as big as a man and wife embracing together. But he did not become of this size by wiping out his original entity, as milk is transformed into curd. He remained as he was, but projected another body, which he parted into two, the male half being called Manu and the female half Satarupa. From their union men were born. Afterwards both turned into different species, and from their union in each all creatures down to ants were created. Thus the whole animate world came into being. Yet he felt that he was the whole creation, which was not over and above himself. Then he projected the gods: Fire from his mouth, Indra and others from his arms, Vasus etc. from his thighs, and Pan from his feet.
In this section is made the important statement that the Supreme Self, which is dearer than a son, dearer than wealth, dearer than everything else, is alone to be meditated upon and realised, for all these are unified in the Self. After manifesting the universe with diverse bodies, the Self entered into all of them and resides in them as a razor in its case or fire in wood. When the Self does the function of breathing in the human microcosm, It is called the vital force; when It speaks, the speaker; when It sees, the seer; when It hears, the hearer; when It thinks, the thinker; and so on. These are merely Its designations according to functions. All these differences of agent, action and end have been superimposed by primordial ignorance upon the Self, which never changes its absolute nature under any condition of time, space and causation. Just as a mother-of-pearl appears as a piece of silver, or the sky is imagined to be concave or blue through mistake, so the Self appears as an agent or conditioned entity only through ignorance. In the removal of this ignorance lies the perfection of human achievement. The knowledge of the Self leads to the cessation of transmigration and all sufferings as also to the final uprooting of ignorance.
This knowledge, however, is not an action but an immediate awareness, content less consciousness. The aim of all the Upanisads is to teach about this Self. No one can say at what time ignorance has come upon us, for time is the creation of ignorance. The knower’s of the Self, however, unhesitatingly assert that ignorance can be terminated. The individual self is at bottom identical with the Supreme Self or Brahman, but in the state of ignorance it forgets its supreme nature. Many among the gods and men realised this Self. It is said in the Rgveda (IV. XXVI. 1) that the sage Vamadeva, realising the essence of the transmigratory self as the Supreme Self declared, ‘I was Manu and the sun’. The knower’s of Brahman, whether they are gods or men become Brahman. There is no difference between them and Brahman.
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