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The Upanisads capture the quintessence of Indian spiritual wisdom unfolding deep-set, highly perceptive reflections on human existence and how it is related to the mysterious cosmos. Authored by enlightened seers over the period of 1500-200 B.C., the Upanisadic message is a magnificent vision that raises human consciousness to sublime heights.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad is one of the ten major Upanisads. A dialectical narration that unabashedly stands up to the rational scrutiny of the modern mind, it is directed towards both the individual aspirant caught up in the dark morass of confusion and the philosophic thinker in search of rare pearls of wisdom from humanity's treasury. Guru Nitya's matchless commentary will enable the reader to discover the ancient seer's timeless insights, to appreciate a fully-developed, integrated system of thought, and, most importantly, to learn to connect with what is real and enduring in his or her own essence. Schematically, the Brahadaranyaka Upanisad a brilliant discourse from the Yajur Veda is set out in three volumes, entitled: Madhu Kanda, Mani Kanda and Khila Kanda. The present volume contains the commentary on the first two chapters of the Upanisad which are known as Madhu Kanda.
In his planned three-volume thorough-going, meticulously analytical commentary. Guru Nitya distills the wisdom teaching of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, drawing on his intimate understanding of the human psyche, as well as both Eastern and Western philosophy, science, art and literature. Dwelling in turn on each of its 435 mantras, its poetic charm, myths, metaphors, image and symbols, Guru Nitya recreates and expands the Upanisadic vision of our own nature, human interaction, and the cosmos, and their relation to the unmoved essence of all.
With highly useful appendices and a comprehensive index, the commentary will hold an enduring appeal for both scholars and discerning readers.
A well-known poet, philosopher, mystic, psychologist and author, Nitya Chaitanya Yati is today one of the leading exponents of Advaita Vedanta and other systems of traditional Indian philosophy. He made his preliminary studies of India's spirituality and culture by traveling for eight years as a sannyasi-mendicant-student. He sat at the feet of the best teachers in Kasi, Haridwar, Pancavadi and the Himalayan schools, and thereafter completed formal studies at several universities. While specializing in India's inheritance of wisdom, he is fully versed in modern academic thinking as well, with special emphasis on the fields of psychology, sociology, biology and psycho-chemistry.
Guru Nita is in the spiritual hierarchy of Narayana Guru, and is the direct disciple of Nataraja Guru. Together these three have brought a modern, scientific viewpoint to India's treasury of wisdom. In interpreting the mantras of the Upanisad, he allowed himself to go into contemplative absorption, which gave him the grace of the mystical envisioning of the Upanisadic lore in the way it was originally intended to be appreciated.
We human beings are busy creatures, often narrowly focused on our activities of the day. Too often we forget that our lives are but tiny fragments of a grand drama that has been unfolding from time immemorial. Immersing ourselves in the pleasures and concerns of the moment, we often ignore and even deny our relationship to the universal. And yet there is always the need to understand the context within which our daily lives unfold. Each of us searches for ways to connect with what is real and enduring, to know the timeless essence of what we are about. This book by Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati presents the distilled wisdom of thousands of years of Eastern thought in answer to our questions.
This is the first commentary of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad which has undertaken the momentous task of digging into the hoary past in which the Upanisad was conceived, firmly taking hold of the invaluable treasures lying buried there and clearing away the dirt and debris of centuries of neglect and superstition. It reveals the wisdom of the ancient seer in a way that not only withstands critical scrutiny in the light of present-day understanding, but also sparkles with insights which help us to solve the riddles of our lives. Guru Nitya employs his comprehensive understanding of human nature. Eastern and Western philosophy, science, art and literature, to reveal the meaning of the mythical symbols and mystical dialogues in the Upanisad and their value in guiding both our everyday lives and our search for that wisdom which can carry us from untruth to truth, darkness to light and death to immortality.
This study of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad is like the painting of a great master, spread over a vast canvas, yet rich with intricate detail. Before we look at the painting itself, let us take a moment to become familiar with the frame in which it is set. In ancient India, over a period roughly estimated to stretch from 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C., the hearts of the people of that time lifted up hymns of praise to the divine which they conceived of in the form of deities like the goddesses of the dawn and water and the gods of sun, wind and fire. Sensitive to the beauties of nature and filled with a sense of awe, they gave voice to their praises and supplications in poetry which has a beauty and dynamism with a timeless appeal. Over time, these poems were written down and arranged according to meter, tone and topic. The earliest collected verses came to be called the Rg Veda (rg literally means hymn or praise and veda means knowledge. It was followed by the Sama Veda. Sama means song and the Sama Veda is the words of the Rg Veda set to music.
The Yajur Veda was written down later in history and includes some material from the Rg Veda. A yajus is a prayer or formula and Yajur Veda is a literary rendition of formulas guiding the specific performance of different types of sacrifices. It was written at a time when the priestly class in society was promoting the sacred importance of their role in the correct performance of sacrifices as the vital core of the Vedic religion and the most valuable aspect of social life. The Atharva Veda, although often listed as the last Veda, or sometimes not even accorded the status of a Veda, actually has its roots in India's pre-historic contemplative culture. As such, it provided a basis for the Vedantic revaluation of religion and philosophy. On one hand, it carried ritual to an absurd extreme with many charms and spells that were used to invoke blessings not only for every type of activity or endeavor in daily life, but also on each phase of the already very elaborate ritual sacrifices. Unlike the injunctions governing the exact performance of the rituals, however, the charms and spells were known and employed by people at all stratas of society. The Atharva Veda also includes passages which represent clear advancements in the development of the non-anthropomorphic concept of the Absolute (brahman) which includes both being and non-being.
As time passed, religious observances became ever more complex. Each of the Vedas sprouted prose appendices which gave more detailed explanation of the Vedic rituals and their performance. These texts were known as Brahmanas. Although much of their content is boring minutiae, they also include parts which illustrate the meaning of the ritual practices with myths and legends whose vitality has inspired writers and poets throughout the centuries. The foremost among the Brahmanas is the Satha-patha, which means having a hundred paths or chapters. It was attached to the Yajur Veda. The last six chapters of the Satha-patha Brahmana are what is known as the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad,
Another group of texts called Aranyakas were also appended to the Vedas. They de-emphasize the performance of the rituals and focused on the essential principals expressed by the different aspects of the rituals and ancient myths. As the centuries had passed, Indian society had become more complex and, largely at the prompting of the priestly group, more segmented. Divisions in society had hardened into castes with different social standing and functions. The priests were central in the courts of the many kingdoms and the rituals they performed were intrinsic to every aspect of life. The sense of sacredness with which life itself had been imbued in the times of the composition of the early Vedic hymns became restricted to the province of the rituals and those who performed them. The social ramifications of the caste system were often cruel and unjust, especially to those who ranked lowest in social respect and economic well-being. Many wisdom seekers and teachers decided to disengage themselves from society altogether and went to live in remote forest and wilderness areas. It is very likely that the move to revalue the religious practices of the time to a more universal perspective came from these forest dwellers, taking shape as the Aranyakas, books of the forest. Aranya means a forest, a wilderness or a foreign or distant land.
Brhad means to be great in magnitude, with the more specific connotations of having many parts and of being ever-increasing. The Brhad-Aranyaka is made up of six adhyayas (chapters). This volume contains the commentary on the first two chapters, consisting of 145 mantras or verses. These two chapters alone present an archetypal sacrifice, two creation myths, legends which elaborate the creation myths and which address the problem of evil and how to overcome it, two wisdom dialogues between human students and teachers and a mythical wisdom dialogue between deities. This work can be understood as an Aranyaka both in the sense of being one of the "books of the forest" which treat of the symbolic meaning of rituals and in the sense of itself being like a fecund rain-forest, full of many wonderous forms of life.
For our journey through the forest, Guru Nitya is not only an able and trustworthy guide who is very familiar with the territory, having a comprehensive knowledge of the whole spectrum of Indian philosophical texts and their placement in the broader context of both Eastern and Western philosophical inquiry. He is also a poet who can tune our ears to the music of the ancient bard, a mystic who can lead us to the peaks from which we can catch a glimpse of the ancient seer's breathtaking visions of reality, an artist and psychologist who can reveal the meaning of the ancient symbols in terms we can understand and apply.
In addition to representing the Vedic tradition, partaking of some of the attributes of both the Brahmana and Aranyaka type texts, this work is also an Upanisad. Collectively the Upanisads follow the Vedas, Brahmanas and Aranyakas both in historical time and in the progression of human philosophical understanding. The teachings in the Upanisads return the sense of the sacred to all of life and declare the pursuit of wisdom to be a pathway open to all. This Upanisad, perhaps more than any of the others, explicitly removes some of the traditional barriers which attributed sacredness and wisdom only to males of the highest placed (brahmin) caste. The opening dialogue of the second chapter is one in which the purported wisdom teacher, a brahmin, ends up petitioning his far wiser student, a king (of the ksatriya caste), to teach him true wisdom. The next dialogue is one in which the wisdom teacher Yajnavalkya's most attentive and uncompromising student is his wife, Maitreyi.
The wisdom dialogues of the second chapter exemplify the meaning of the word upanisad which literally means to sit down near to another to learn truth, to listen to the word of wisdom. The dialogues between the king Ajatasatru and the brahmin Gargya or between rishi Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi are examples of a student sitting together with a teacher and questioning and listening intently to the teacher's answers. The record of their dialogues and of the myths of the first chapter is also an upanisad; the book itself is a means by which one can come close to a revealer of truth and see the intimate secrets of reality unveiled.
This wonderful treasure has been virtually inaccessible for centuries, obscured by language barriers it was composed in the ancient and subtle language of Sanskrit and the even more impenetrable wall of translations and commentaries afflicted by narrow religious ideologies and archaic philosophical hair-splitting. After completing an experiential commentary on the Isavasya Upanisad, Guru Nitya decided to devote himself to exploring and unlocking the secrets of the Brhadaranyaka. He brings the poetry, myths and symbols of the Upanisad alive, helping us to deepen our understanding of our own nature, human intercourse and the cosmos. But what is even more valuable about this commentary is that Guru Nitya applies his wisdom and compassion to point to the mysterious reality which underlies all appearance, again and again leading us away from the myriad distractions and confusions to which we are subject to the side of our Self, which is the truth, light and immortality which we seek.
This commentary has been written with a much-needed missionary zeal to open up every secret of India's most logical and yet highly mystical and devotional insight to any person living anywhere in the world without any discrimination whatsoever. In order to prevent any part of wisdom from slipping into the dark dungeons of religious scruples or esotericism of any kind, it vigorously breaks down all traditional pretensions. It relies essentially on the soundness of logic (mathematical and semantic). Every statement in this book is substantiated by first-hand intuitive intimations of truth gained through incessant meditation.
The question of when the Vedic hymns came to be chanted by the Indian people is highly controversial. We have before us only shrewd guesses. Max Muller supposed the date to be 1200 B.C., Haug 2400 B.C., and Bal gangadhar Tilak 4000 B.C. Surendranath Dasgupta rightly notes that "The ancient Hindus seldom kept any historical record of their literary, religious or political achievements. All that we know is that the Vedas were handed down from mouth to mouth from a period of unknown antiquity and the Hindus generally believed that the a priori truth of supreme wisdom did not dawn in the intellectual prowess of any individuated person.
The word veda is derived from vid which means knowledge. Knowledge comes to the cognitive faculty of a knower. Without a knower there is no one to know knowledge. The question arises: "From where does knowledge come to the recipient of knowledge?" Every idea or descriptive revelation of name, form and meaning has in it an intrinsic ability to reveal a fact that was never known before its perception or conception. Hence, it can be maintained that, independent of the human cognitive faculty, there is a source from which all shades of truth come to be registered in the recipient intelligence of the individual. Out of sleep, we wake up into the all-filling, all-embracing light of awareness. That awareness being with knowledge, knowledge is prior to the knower, a priori. Considered in that sense, everything is veda, and thus not a monitored proposition of truth deliberated by any person (apauruseya).
However, both the Indian people and the scholars who have taken an interest in studying and interpreting the Vedas have recognized four recorded documents: Rg Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. There has been no adequate critical study of the historical intrigues that have cast doubt over whether the Atharva Veda should be considered as part of the traditional sacred texts or whether they are rightly known as Triveda (Three Vedas). The confusion generated by such smoke screens in the study of early Indian philosophy and mystical literature prevented a proper demarcation from being made between sruti and smrti. Smrti expresses conditional truth. Sruti indicates what is purely heard from the mouth of a wisdom teacher. It is a statement that has the distinct quality of being a universal pronouncement of truth not conditioned by time, the location and circumstance in which it is being announced, nor the personalities involved in its pronouncement and audition.
We should be very grateful to India's greatest masters who have sifted the ritualistic aspects of the Vedas from the wisdom texts. One is Jaimini who propounded the systematized aphorisms of rituals known as Dharma Mimamsa Purva Mimamsa or Karma Mimamsa. This section of the Veda stands apart as a closed chapter of esoteric revelations which guided the home life of the priestly class of people. As all the injunctions given in these Samhitas are mainly to be acted upon and experienced, the bulk of the Yajur Veda is to be considered a posteriori and thus of lesser merit than the a prioriwisdom texts which appear as poetic gleanings in the Rg Veda and consequently as rhapsodies of the Sama Veda. It is to Badarayana's credit that he wrote the Vedantic aphorisms which clearly put the mandate of sruti on the Upanisads. Sankara is probably the only philosopher who clearly cognized the ingenuity of Badarayana. Following the wisdom vision of the great sutrakara, Sankara took upon himself the almost impossible task of eliciting from the Upanisadic mantras a meaningful structure that gives logically feasible correlations between the cosmic anatomy of truth and the psychological manifestation of that truth in one's empirical life on the one hand and metaphysical visions on the other. We stand firm with Sankara on this assumption and therefore do not give any exaggerated glory to the earlier mythological conception of Vedic symbols such as Agni, Indra, Varuna, Mitra, etc. Only Sri Aurobindo was bold enough to sweep away all inflated credits given to the Veda in a language that is clear although it sounds drastic. He begins his great study, The Secret of the Veda, with the problem of the Veda and its solution:
Is there at all or is there still a secret of the Veda? According to current conceptions the heart of that ancient mystery has been plucked out and revealed to the gaze of all, or rather no real secret ever existed. The hymns of the Veda are the sacrificial compositions of a primitive and still barbarous race written around a system of ceremonial and propitiatory rites, addressed to personified Powers of Nature and replete with a confused mass of half-formed myth and crude astronomical allegories yet in the making. Only in the later hymns do we perceive the first appearance of deeper psychological and moral ideas, - borrowed, some think, from the hostile Dravidians, the "robbers" and "Veda-haters" freely cursed in the hymns themselves, - and, however acquired, the first seed of the later Vedantic speculation. This modern theory is in accord with the received idea of a rapid human evolution from the quite recent savage; it is supported by an imposing apparatus of critical research and upheld by a number of Sciences, unhappily still young and still largely conjectural in their methods and shifting in their results, - Comparative Philology, Comparative Mythology and the Science of Comparative Religion.
These words of Sri Aurobindo embolden us to uphold the vision of Yajnavalkya, the main hero of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, who was equally drastic in making a clean break with the plethora of ritualistic exaggerations in the Krsna Yajur Veda. He consequently became the artificer of the Sukla Veda. We have sufficient reason to maintain the pristine purity of the Upanisadic concepts of the creation myth, prajapati and hiranyagarbha. We stand glaringly apart from all religious speculations about the origin of the world, the installation of life in it and the occurrence of consciousness. The uncompromising boldness of our conviction makes this commentary vary greatly from all traditional studies which have been guided more by pretentious devotion than critical scrutiny.
We honour Suresvara Acarya as a fearless leader who has made a path for critical inquiry into the Upanisads and Sankara's Bhasyas. The works attributed to Suresvara are the Naiskarmyasiddhi, the Manasollasa, the Pancikaranavartika, the Taittiriyopanisadbhasyavartika, the Brhadaranyakopanisad-bhasyavartika and the Sambandhavartika. As Suresvara was an eminent Mimamsaka before being defeated by Sankara in a debate, he was not allowed to write a commentary on the Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankara. This is sad. However, he faithfully carried out his role as a continuator of Sankara by writing Vartikas on Asvamedha Brahmana, Udgitha Brahmana, Madhu Brahmana and the Yajnavalkya Maitreyi dialogue. "A vartika means a work wherein there is the consideration of what is ukta (said), anukta (what is not said) and durukta (what is improperly said) by an author whose work is under the comment of the author of the Vartika. Needless to say that as Suresvara's Vartika was on Sankara's Bhasyas, the ukta, anukta and durukta in Sankara's commentary are sympathetically corrected by Suresvara.
Suresvara was a contemporary of Sankara who lived between 720 and 770 A.D. Narayana Guru, who came in our own century, 1854-1928, considered himself a sympathetic continuator of Sankara like Suresvara. He restated Advaita Vedanta in his matchless classics, Atmopadesa Sataka, Darsana Mala, Advaita Dipika, Brahmavidya Pancakam and Arivu so that all criticisms brought against Sankara's Advaita Siddhanta and Maya Vada can be adequately contained in his revaluation in spite of the glaring deviations between Sankara's philosophy and the other major schools of Vedanta such as those of Ramanuja and Madhva. To appreciate that any philosopher who puts forward a vision of truth cannot be totally wrong and that he has a point of view to justify his philosophy, one needs a unitive vision with an overall epistemology, methodology and axiology. Each school of philosophy can be brought to the appropriate niche to which it belongs in such a scheme of correlation. This was accomplished by Narayana Guru in his presentation of ten complementary visions of truth which in their totality provide us with a comprehensive epistemological unity. This work has been commented on by this author as the Psychology of Darsana Mala, and more elaborately by Narayana Guru's direct disciple, Nataraja Guru, under the title, an Integrated Science of the Absolute in three volumes.
At this stage we do not want to go into the details of the very many intrigues which the philosophy of the Upanisads was subjected to after the monumental works of Sankara: his commentary on the ten Upanisads, Gita Bhasya and Brahma Sutra Bhasya. One hundred and eight well-known Upanisads are listed in the Muktika Upanisad and classified under the different Vedas. The Rg. Veda has ten Upanisads connected with it, the principal ones being Aitareya and Kausitaki.
Yajur Veda was split into Krsna Yajur Veda and Sukla Yajur Veda. Krsna Yajur Veda preceded Sukla Yajur Veda. There are thirty-two Upanisads associated with Krsna Yajur Veda of which the main ones are Katha, Taittiriya and Svetasvatara. Of the nineteen Upanisads connected with the Sukla Yajur Veda the most significant are Isavasya and Brhadaranyaka.
There are sixteen Upanisads associated with the Sama Veda. The most important are Kena and Chandogya.
Atharva Veda, which is often treated as a heretical Veda, not respectable enough to be counted along with the other three Vedas, has appended to it the cream of the Upanisads, which give the substance of Advaita Vedanta. They are thirty-one in number. The most significant are Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukya. In the Madhu Brahmana of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad itself, there is an attempt to cover up the identity of Atharvan to whom the Atharva Veda is attributed. We have brought to light any such sleights of hand given in the Upanisad by later intruders.
The first volume of this commentary contains the full text of all the mantras given in the first two chapters (adhyayas) of the Upanisad which are known collectively as the Madhu Kanda. They include the Asvamedha Brahmana, Udgitha Brahmana, Madhu Brahmana and the dialogue between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi. In this section, sravana, (listening to the wisdom narration of the first principles of truth) is most important. The Madhu Kanda stands apart as a comprehensive philosophy of the main Upanisads and Vedanta in general without any attempt being made to create a peg on which to hand anyone's private speculative systematization. That is why, even after Sankara's penetrating exposition of some of the most complicated mantras, Ramanuja and Madhva felt they had enough room to elaborate their theories, copiously quoting from the same Upanisad Sankara used to establish his non-dual philosophy, Advaita Vedanta.
In Sri Aurobindo's estimate of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad and Sankara's commentary on it, he says:
The Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad, at once the most obscure and the profoundest of the Upanishads, offers peculiar difficulties to the modern mind. If its ideas are remote from us, its language is still more remote. Profound, subtle, extraordinarily rich in rare philosophical suggestions and delicate psychology, it has preferred to couch its ideas in a highly figurative and symbolical language, which to its contemporaries, accustomed to this suggestive dialect, must have seemed a noble frame for its riches, but meets us rather as an obscuring veil. To draw aside this curtain, to translate the old Vedic language and figures into the form contemporary thought prefers to give to its ideas is the sole object of this commentary. The task is necessarily a little hazardous. It would have been easy merely to reproduce the thoughts and interpretations of Shankara in the modern tongue; if there were an error, one could afford to err with so supreme an authority. But it seems to me that both the demands of truth and the spiritual need of mankind in this age call for a restoration of old Vedantic truth rather than for the prolonged dominion of that single side of it systematized by the mediaeval thinker. The great Shan-karacharya need no modern praise and can be hurt by no modern disagreement. Easily the first of metaphysical, his commentary has also done an incalculable service to our race by bridging the intellectual gulf between the sages of the Upanishads and ourselves.
After giving Sankara his due praise, Sri Aurobindo makes a very pithy remark: "Nevertheless, it remains true that Shankara's commentary is interesting not so much for the light it sheds on the Upanishad as for its digressions into his own philosophy. It is exactly for this reason candidly given by Sri Aurobindo that we have taken the freedom to stand closer to the mantras of the Upanisad rather than going into any tangent to fortify a particular school of thought.
Our second volume, which contains the philosophical visions and summations of traditional knowledge so brilliantly declared by Yajnavalkya, has the solid foundation of reason. Even the most modern of books discussing the grammar and politics of truth cannot excel Yajnavalkya in the analysis of any given theme, however mythical, legendary, mystical or symbolic. Yajnavalkya has an honest way of confronting the numerous paradoxes and enigmas that are copiously presented before him. In fact, Yajnavalkiya is the heart of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad.
In the third chapter Yajnavalkya is grilled by all who are aspiring to get the daksina of a thousand cows decorated with gold. They stand up ad ask questions of Yajnavalkya in the following order.
1. Asvala, the court priest of Janaka, is the first to confront Yajnavalkya. He begins with a question about what philosophical vision (darsana) can save a sacrificer from, death. Yajnavalkya meets all the questions of Asvala by enumerating the instances of the sacrificing priest substituting for the sacrificer. In each, the priest plays a different role of identification with the transcendent factor which give an absolutist identity to the sacrificer.
2. Artabhaga, who belonged to the clan of Jaratkaru, initiates a long and elaborate discussion with Yajnavalkya about the bondage ensuing from the empiricism of the phenomenal world as graham and atigraha, and the release from these respectively as mukti and atimukti. In this dialogue we also come to know about the death of death.
3. Bhujyu, the Lahyayani, is the next contestor. He begins with the narration of an incident which can throw light on the extremely complicated life situations which can so totally transform a person that his or her faculties can be lamentably changed into pathological derangement. Bhujyu's questions take us to the most confusing subtleties of philosophical speculation. Yajnavalkya discusses threadbare the distinction between the manifested world and the unmanifested.
4. Usasta, the son of Cakra, then confronts Yajnavalkya. His questions are about the innermost self and its identity with the Absolute (brahman). Yajnavalkya gives several examples showing all shades of concepts in which the Self can be related with the Absolute.
5. Kahola, the son of Kusitaka, asks Yajnavalkya the secret of the Self that is envisioned directly by one's intuition. Yajnavalkya suggests that this is possible only by transcending the horrors of this world such as hunger and thirst, sorrow and desire, disease and death.
6. The next questioner is none other than the most illustrious woman who was revered by all seers, Gargi, the daughter of Vacaknau. She begins questioning Yajnavalkya about the foundation of the cosmic order, beginning with water. Yajnavalkya explains how the discursive is immanent in the unitive. She is satisfied for the time being.
7. Uddalaka, the son of Aruna, is the next of question Yajnavalkya. Like Bhujyu, Uddalaka also narrates the incident of a gandharva who possessed the wife of Patancala Kapya. To answer him, Yajnavalkya goes into the subtleties of the golden thread of sutratma running through every item of cognition and points out the immortal indweller (antaryami), to the satisfaction of Uddalaka.
8. Once again Gargi gets up to ask Yajnavalkya two formidable questions to clearly discern the warp and woof of the manifested world. Yajnavalkya goes into all the details of the paradoxes that lurk in the heart of the Absolute. He also introduces her to the secret of the imperishable word, aksara.
9. The last questioner in this fascinating philosophical discussion with Yajnavalkya is Sakala's son Vidagdha. He asks about the number of gods. Yajnavalkya reduces the devas from three thousand and three tone. He also explains what the Vasus, Rudras and Adityas are.
This third adhyaya closes with the tables turned in the conference hall. Yajnavalkya now questions all his rivals. This he does admirably by quoting traditionally known verses. This section gives us a full insight into the application of dialectical methodology in sorting out all the subtle philosophical questions.
The fourth adhyaya gives a deep insight into the multifarious functions, concepts and value-dynamics of the Absolute through a series of dialogues between Yajnavalkya and King Janaka of Videha. Yajnavalkya's questions to Janaka about his understanding of various points serve to clarify all aspects of the Self, the individuated person and the world of manifestation with all its cosmic and psychological details. It is not that Janaka was unaware of what Yajnavalkya was teaching. Their dialogue is a literary device to insure that no question relating to the search and realization of the Self is left unexamined. Janaka tells Yajnavalkya about his several teacher/informants and what each one had conveyed to him :
1. Jitvan, the son of Silina, told Janaka that the organ of speech is the Absolute. As a correction of that, Yajnavalkya tells Janaka that the organ of speech is the body of the Absolute, space (akasa) is its foundation, and it should be meditated upon as prajna.
2. Next Janaka mentions Udanka, the son of Sulba, who taught him that the vital breath (prana) is the Absolute. This instruction seems partial and inadequate to Yajnavalkya. So he says that the organ of smell is the body of the Absolute, space (akasa) is its foundation, and it should be meditated upon as what is dear. He elaborates on the idea of prana and how it is dear.
3. Next Janaka tells Yajnavalkya that Barku, the son of Vrsna, told him that the Absolute is the organ of visual perception. Yajnavalkya reminds Janaka of those who have no faculty of visual perception. As before, he says that the faculty of visual perception is the body of the Absolute, space (akasa) is its foundation, and it should be meditated upon as truth.
4. Next comes Gardabhivipita, a descendent of Bharadvaja. He taught Janaka that the faculty of hearing is the Absolute. As before, Yajnavalkya says that the faculty of hearing is the body of the Absolute, space (akasa) is its foundation, and it should be meditated upon as infinite.
5. Then Janaka speaks of Satyakama, the son of Jabala, who taught him that the mind is the Absolute. After proving that instruction to be inadequate, Yajnavalkya tells Janaka that the mind is the body of the Absolute, space (akasa) is its foundation, and it should be meditated upon as ananda.
6. Finally, Janaka tells Yajnavalkya that Vidagdha, the son of Sakala, taught him that the Absolute is the heart (hrdaya). This also, Yajnavalkya considers inadequate. So he says that the hrdaya is the body of the Absolute, space (akasa) is its foundation, and it should be meditated upon as existence. With this, the first brahmana of the fourth chapter comes to a close.
In the second brahmana, Janaka adopts the position of a model disciple and asks Yajnavalkya to instruct him, even though he is a fully realized person. Yajnavalkya asks Janaka, "When you leave this body, do you know where you will go?" To this, Janaka replies "No," thus providing Yajnavalkya with the opportunity to fully explicate his wisdom as a sasana (authentic instruction) for posterity. Yajnavalkya tells Janaka that the purusa in the right eye is named Indha (from which Indra is derived) and the purusa in the left eye is named Viraj. They are seen as spouses who consummate their love in the heart. Then Yajnavalkya describes the heart, blood vessels and nervous system. Then he talks about the seer who is identified with prajna (the state of the Self in deep sleep).
The third brahmana presents another encounter between Yajnavalkya and Janaka. The king asks Yajnavalkya to describe the effulgence of the purusa. Yajnavalkya reveals it to be none other than the radiance of the sun. When Janaka asks further what serves as the source of brilliance when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya answers that it is the sheen of the moon. He continues with the statement that when the sun and moon are not shining, the radiance of the purusa is fire (agni). When Janaka further questions him, he says that when the sun, moon and fire are not present, the light of awareness comes from the word and, finally, that when there is no sun, moon, fire or word, the Self shines by its own light. At this point, Janaka asks what the Self is and Yajnavalkya answers that atma is that light which has comprehensive cognition by its own light in the senses, mind and intellect.
In the eighth mantra of the third brahmana, Yajnavalkya gives the unusual revelation that when the individuated person (purusa) assumes a body, it is conjoined with evil and, at the time of death, all such accumulated evil and, at the time of death, all such accumulated evil is discarded. In the ninth mantra Yajnavalkya describes the several worlds in which we are destined to live this world, the one beyond and the world of dreams. Then he elaborates a theory of dreams which has been incorporated into the studies of dreams done by modern psychologists. The third brahmana also includes a detailed discussion of the state of deep sleep.
In the fourth brahmana a descriptive psycho-physical and psycho-physiological explanation of death is given as a reversal of the process of individuation that happens at the time of birth. In its final culmination, the Self is fully identified with the Absolute. Yajnavalkya takes this opportunity to describe the ascending path of no return and the descending path of recurrence. In the fifth brahmana we return to the dialogue between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi which is a repetition of what was given in the second brahmana of the second adhyaya. It serves as a review and additional emphasis on the instruction given in the Madhu Kanda.
The final volume of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, consisting of the fifth and sixth adhyayas, is called Khila Kanda, the supplementary appendix. Khila literally means a wasteland. It is to be understood as the all-encompassing reality of which due cognizance has not been taken. In this case it is to be regarded as a comprehensive compendium which gives detailed attention to the basic notions of Vedanta philosophy. Madhu Kanda is mainly to listen to; Muni Kanda to ponder over with intensive critical awareness and sympathetic apperception; and Khila Kanda to experience whatever has been discovered and contemplated upon in the previous two Kandas. It thus comprehends the overall essence of Vedanta. The fifth adhyaya includes fifteen brahmanas and the sixth chapter five brahmanas. The sixth adhyaya concludes with a guru-disciple hierarchy. The lineage given at the end of the second adhyaya refers to the father of each guru while the one given at the end of the sixth adhyaya refers to their mothers. Each enumeration involves certain intricacies which we discuss.
The Peace Invocation with which the Upanisad begins is repeated at the beginning of the fifth chapter:
This serves the purpose of showing that the Khila Kanda is a recapitulation of the first two kandas. The rishi's own interpretation of the mantra is also given. AUM is specifically mentioned as the akasa identified with the Absolute. In the third verse of his Atmopadesa Satakam, Narayana Guru adopts the Upanisadic rishi's teaching which identifies the unmanifested akasa with the Absolute that can be both causal and consequential:
Seemingly outside and yet immanent in the Absolute as specific modes, seen here as the five elements, like sky, when contemplated, should become like waves rising in rows from the treasury of the watery deep, without any separate reality whatsoever.
The archetypal model of the first manifestation of life, prajapati, which was presented in the second brahmana of the first chapter, is remembered in the second brahmana of the fifth chapter. It shows a more active and continuous intimacy of prajapati with the shining ones, human beings and the dark ones. The present age is considered to be the fag end of a cosmic cycle and the modus operandi of the contemplation that suits this age is given in the subsequent brahmanas up to the thirteenth. The full implication of the gayatri chant is given in the fourteenth brahmana. The Isavasya Upanisad, which is also part of the Sukla Yajur Veda, is accepted as an epitomization of the Brhadaranyaka. The fifteenth brahmana gives four of the essential mantras of the Isavasya.
In the Yoga Vasistha Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita there is a descending dialectics in which the fully informed seer of realization is ultimately brought back to the here and now to live as a purna prajna to set an example to his contemporaries. The sixth adhyaya of the Brhadaranyaka is essentially used to complete the arch of the ascending and descending scheme of dialectics.
The author, being a direct disciple of Nataraja Guru and a grand-disciple of Narayana Guru, has taken all the guidelines they have given to write this fairly exhaustive commentary: firstly, to make the wisdom of the rishis available to all who care to know and live the word-wisdom of the Upanisads; and secondly, to give Advaita Vedanta its rightful place in the systems of Indian philosophy. Narayana Guru took upon himself the great task of steering the unitive philosophy of India past the confusion and sectarian exaggerations that have periodically arrested the progress of the Indian vision of truth. In this connection, we progress of the Indian vision of truth. In this connection, we think it is appropriate to summarize his life and teachings as retold by Swami Ranganathananda of the Sri Ramakrisha Mission:
Sri Narayana Guru came of a section of India's population which possessed no rights and privileges and which consequently received the name of depressed classes in modern times. Totally neglected and often oppressed and suppressed for a thousand years by the higher classes, the seventy million depressed classes of India, as of other parts of the world, constituted the basis of economic prosperity and social well-being of the country, as they formed the entire labour front. Continued slavery for generations had produced in these classes, as it is bound to produce in any class of men, an oppressive sense of its own littleness and helplessness a sense of despair,. Slavery is bad enough; but a situation in which the slave beings to accept his position as part of a natural social order a position in which there is dictated duty without any inherent right and privilege is something which reduces man to the level of cattle and robs him of his human prerogatives. This was precisely the condition of the Indian masses at the beginning of the nineteenth century when India was thrown open to the play of world forces. The mingling of the age-old idealism of India with the thought-forms and forces of the modern world has ushered in a new epoch in Indian history [which] does not exhaust itself in a mere political upheaval but assumes more enduring forms of a religious awakening and social transformation.
Social progress in India has always been on the lines of sharing the benefits of culture and of higher Hindu thought by larger and larger sections of the population. Democratization of knowledge and opportunity meant also elevation of the people. The best genius of Hinduism lay in this direction in a special sense. If there had been stagnation due to the dead weight of meaningless custom and oppressive tradition, it meant only that society had forgotten the larger plan and purpose of the ancient leaders. Society is then in need of a new dynamism. In India this urge to progress has always come from great saints and sages and not from mere political thinkers. A new passion for dharma has supplied the necessary revolutionary urge
But the awakening of the conscience of the privileged is only one act in the drama of enfranchisement. The other equally, if not more, important part is the process of self-discovery on the part of the oppressed themselves. This period of awakening of the masses to a sense of their own worth and importance is a critical period in the history of a people. It may be either explosive and destructive or gentle and constructive, but the effect is revolutionary in both cases. The most serious criticism against a violent revolution is that it rarely achieves its original purpose. The second type is more permanent and far-reaching in its effects.
That these recent changes in Hindu society are of a peaceful and constructive character is as much due to the good sense of the Indian masses as to the soundness of Hindu social philosophy and ideals. The movement of reform associated with Sri Narayana Guru is unique is one important respect: it is entirely constructive and devoid of any bitterness against the higher classes This is the meaning and significance of the Indian conception of dharma a conception which seeks the unity of social endeavour through harmony and co-operation. It is to the eternal glory of Sri Narayana Guru to have inaugurated a movement which embodies in itself this unique genius of Hinduism and to have released the forces of the Spirit for the solution of the many pressing problems of even the mundane life of his people In this, he takes rank with saints and reformers of earlier centuries and, more especially, with Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh fraternity. Except in one respect, there is striking similarity between the life and work of these two masters who are separated by about five centuries. Nanak belonged to the higher classes but fraternized with and reformed the lowly and the lost in Hindu society. Narayana Guru was born with the social stigma of an untouchable among those with whom he worked and whose life he transformed. The so-called lowness of his birth could in no way hide or smother the richness of his native endowment. It is this wealth of native genius that enabled him to raise himself and his people above the depressing circumstances of an unjust social order. He imparted life to the almost dead bones and muscles of his people and made them conscious of their human worth and dignity. Rightly is he called the Guru whose breath is hope and whose touch is life.
World events are compelling us to the view that the best legislative authority in the world is character. The rsi or sage has always been recognized as the law-giver in India. His knowledge and his detachment constitute valid sanctions for the equity of his legislation. In Sri Narayana Guru the people found such a law-giver. Himself a monk and a man of God, in virtue of which he rose above all social conventions and obligations, he yet descended to the level of his fellow-men in an attitude to compassion, and lent his loving hand to drag them out of their misery. And he had the supreme satisfaction to witness, even in his own lifetime, the ample reward of his labours in the improved tone of the moral and material well-being of his people.
In all that he was and in all that he did, Sri Narayana Guru stands as the supreme symbol of hope and redemption to the depressed classes of India.
As this commentary is being written in both English and Malayalam, and each mantra is given time for insightful spiritual experience, it is a time-consuming work. The commentator is given only very little freedom by the Upanisadic rishi. As each mantra is commented upon after deep meditation, the heaviness of the work load is mitigated by the great joy of listening to the golden whispering of the rishi. It fills the mind of the commentator and his associates, the disciples and students of Narayana Gurukula, Fernhill, with some much joy that the work can be called a tapasya in sananda Samadhi. It is our hope that our readers will be equally benefited by the freshness of the ideas and the categorical certitude that each word brings to the listener and the reader.
Before undertaking this commentary, the commentator prepared himself with forty years of discipline and study. It is therefore almost a spontaneous recording of the three kandas consisting of six adhyayas that is being made over the course of three years. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the rishis of the past, the gurus and acaryas both of the East and the West, among whom I should mention by name Sri Sankaracarya, Narayana Guru and Nataraja Guru and Nataraja Guru, for having showered their grace on me all through this work. I am beholden to four other pilgrims on the path of the Upanisad, Swami Madhavananda, Swami Nikhilananda and Swami Nikhilananda and Swami Mridananda, all of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission, and my most beloved comrade in learning, Dr. T.N.N. Bhattathiripad.
Before the commentary comes to the reader, many processes, both of the editorial mind and the technicalities of the computer, must harmonize. In editing and preparing the English manuscript of all three volumes, Nancy Yeilding, disciple, friend, and Registrar of the East-West University of Brahmavidya, acted as a devoted friend in need. She also carried out the word processing both in India and the United States. In India, she was aided by M.D. sanal and Peter Moras, and, at the Western Headquarters of the East-West University in the United States, by Sraddha Durand and Swami Vyasa Prasad. Another friend who was a great aid in the US was Brain Berman.
Finally, I feel very grateful to our publishers, D.K. Printworld, (P) Ltd., and I should especially mention K. Rai Mittal who has been enthusiastic from the very beginning to make this a book of aesthetic excellence. The drawing for the cover of this volume was made by the Gurukula's youngest disciple and artist, Sapna Balakrishnan. To all our associates and to the reader, I wish un-diminishing happiness.
Back of the Book
Indisputably one of the world's best-known books, the Bhagavad Gita embodies the quintessence of classical Upanisadic philosophy, presented in the form of a dialogue between Krsna, the archetypal teacher, and Arjuna, the archetypal human being caught in the grip of a monumental crisis. For anyone like Arjuna who has ever paused to ponder the meaning of life, the work is as relevant today as it was when it was written.
By stripping away the manifold biases both subtle and obvious that have colored other commentaries, Guru Nitya has uncovered the perennial philosophy at the heart of this great classic. In an original, easy to understand format, his commentary divides each of the Gita's eighteen chapters into three sections: the first elucidating the basic concepts involved; the second including Sanskrit text in Roman script along with the English meaning of each word or phrase and Nataraja Guru's lucid and revolutionary English translation: and the third carrying explanatory notes and comments in the form of a dialogue between a teacher and student.
The breakthrough of this interpretation of the Gita is in its transcendence of sectarian dogma to reveal the work as a fully developed scientific psychology, whose keen insights and vivid reasoning can be readily appreciated by the 21st Century mind.
|Guide to Sanskrit Pronunciation||xii|
|Guide to Sanskrit Pronunciation||xii|
|Guide to Sanskrit Pronunciation||xii|
|Appendix I: Madhu Kanda||351|
|Appendix II: Muni Kanda||405|