greatness and the sublimity of the Upanishads are well known to all the
students of philosophy. There have been attempts to approach the books through
various standpoints. Much has been written over the knotty problems of
interpretation, by the Eastern and Western scholars. And yet the lay reader has
not understood the central teachings fully well. Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji
Maharaj, in his comprehensive volume ‘The Principal Upanishads’ has given
exhaustive commentary on Nine Upanishads and stressed such points clearly and
truly, explaining the abstruse ideas in his own inimitable style, thus laying
bare the sacred doctrine not only before the eligible pupil but also the lay
convenience of the readers, we are bringing out each Upanishad in a separate
book. The present volume contains the text, translation, notes and commentary
on Isavasya Upanishad.
May the abundant blessings of Gurudev Sri Swami
Sivanandaji Maharaj be upon all the readers.
to Lord Yama, son of Vivasvan (Surya)!
Kathopanishad is divided into six Vallis. Valli literally means a creeper. A
Valli, like a creeper, is attached to the Sakhas or Branches of the Veda. Valli
is used in the same sense as Parvam, joint, shoot, branch, i.e., a division.
This Upanishad is also divided into two Adhyayas (chapters) of three Vallis
one of the most beautiful Upanishads in which the eternal truths are given in
the form of a narrative. The narrative is taken from Taittiriya Brahmana
(3-11-8) with some variation. The same story is told in the Taittiriya
Brahmana, only with this difference, that in the Brahmana, freedom from death
and birth is obtained by a peculiar performance of a sacrifice, while in the
Upanishad, it is obtained by knowledge only. The story is as follows:
wishing for reward, sacrificed all his wealth. He had a son, called Nachiketas.
While he was still a boy, faith entered into him at the time when the cows,
that were to be given by his father as presents to the priests, were brought
in. He said: “Father, to whom wilt thou give me?” He said so a second and a
third time. But father turned round and said to him: “To Death I give thee.”
voice said to young Nachiketas as he stood up: “He (thy father) said, ‘Go away
to the house of Death, I give thee to Death’. Go therefore to Death, when he is
not at home, and dwell in his house for three nights without eating. If he
should ask thee ‘Boy, how many nights hast thou been here?’, say, Three’. When
he asks thee, ‘What didst thou eat the first night?’, say, ‘Thy offspring’;
‘What didst thou eat the second night?’, say, Thy cattle’; ‘What didst thou eat
the third night?’, say, Thy good works’.”
to Death, while he was away from home, and he dwelt in his house for three
nights without eating. When Death returned, the following took place: ‘Boy, how
many nights hast thou been here?’ He answered, Three’. ‘What didst thou eat the
first night?’-’Thy offspring’. ‘What didst thou eat the second night?’-’Thy
cattle’. ‘What didst thou eat the third night?’-Thy good works’.
Death said: ‘My respect to thee, 0 venerable sir, choose a boon’. ‘May I return
living to my father?’-said Nachiketas. ‘Choose a second boon’, said Death. The
boy replied: Tell me how my good works may never perish’. Death then explained
to him the Nachiketa fire (sacrifice), and hence his good works do not perish.
third boon’, said Death. Nachiketas said: Tell me how to conquer death’.
Death explained to him this (chief) Nachiketa fire (sacrifice), and hence he
conquered death. This Upanishad has become very popular not only in India but
everywhere in the world. It has been translated into many languages. It is a
branch or recension of the Krishna Yajurveda. It forms part of the Katha-Sakha
Brahmana of the Krishna Yajurveda. A few verses from this Upanishad occur in
the Bhagavad Gita. It deserves the most careful consideration of all who are
interested in the growth of religious and philosophical ideas. The sublime
doctrines of Vedanta are presented in this Upanishad in a very attractive and
Upanishad has always been considered as one of the best Upanishads. It has won
the appreciation of many English, French and German writers also. They regard
this” Upanishad as the best book on philosophy and poetry of ancient Hindus. In
elevation of thought, depth of expression, beauty of its imagery, no Upanishad
is equal to the Kathopanishad.
comparison of the body with a car or chariot, the soul with the Lord of the
chariot, the intellect with the rider, the mind with the rein, the senses with
horses, the five objects of the senses with the roads, is indeed very
Upanishad, the way to attain Self-realisation is fully treated.
passages as, “This Atman is difficult to be known, It is very subtle, It cannot
be obtained by arguing”, it is quite evident that revelation or direct
intuition (Aparoksha-anubhutj is the source of the knowledge of the Self.
passages as, “A wonderful teacher is required”, “Arise, awake, having reached
the excellent teacher, learn” (III-14), “How can this Atman be realised
otherwise than from those who say that It exists” (VI-12), it is quite clear
that a realised Guru is necessary to lead the aspirants in the spiritual path.
11th Mantra of the 6th Valli, you will understand that this Upanishad
recognises the necessity of Yoga as well. This Mantra says: “The firm control
of the senses they regard as Yoga. At that time one becomes vigilant, for Yoga
is acquired and lost”.
writers complain that Kathopanishad is not the production of an original
thinker or a seer, as there is little connection between the thoughts or verses
in some places, there is no progress from one idea to another, there is neither
arrangement nor connected sequence in some places, and that it is a mere
compilation. This is a sad mistake. The seers of the Upanishads had direct
revelations during communion or meditation. They expressed their experiences.
Their inspired thoughts were scattered in different Sakhas or Branches of the
Vedas. In days of yore, the thoughts of the seers, or their compositions, were
handed over orally from teachers to their disciples. The original composers,
the compilers, the repeaters, or lastly, the writers of the Upanishads might
not have taken care to arrange them in an orderly manner. In some places, the
text might have been corrupted by later compilers, copyists or printers.
Upanishad was first introduced to the knowledge of European scholars by Raja
Ram Mohan Roy. It has been translated into the German by Windischmann, by
Poley. Dr. Weber has also written a commentary. Swami Ananda Giri has written a
gloss on the commentary of Sri Sankara. Muir, Rignaud, Gough and many others
have translated this Upanishad.
May the truths of the Upanishads be revealed unto you
all! May you all be endowed with right understanding, discrimination and pure
subtle intellect! May you all be freed from the knots of ignorance and ties of
Samsara, and the trammels of birth and death! May you all be blessed with a
Srotriya Brahrna-Nishtha Guru to lead you on in the spiritual path! May you all
shine as Jivanmuktas or Brahma-Jnanis in this very birth!
About the Author
the 8th September, 1887, in the illustrious family of Sage Appayya Dikshitar
and several other renowned saints and savants, Sri Swami Sivananda had a
natural flair for a life devoted to the study and practice of Vedanta. Added to
this was an inborn eagerness to serve all and an innate feeling of unity with
passion for service drew him to the medical career; and soon he gravitated to
where he thought that his service was most needed. Malaya claimed him. He had
earlier been editing a health journal and wrote extensively on health problems.
He discovered that people needed right knowledge most of all; dissemination of
that knowledge he espoused as his own mission.
divine dispensation and the blessing of God upon mankind that the doctor of
body and mind renounced his career and took to a life of renunciation to
qualify for ministering to the soul of man. He settled down at Rishikesh in
1924, practised intense austerities and shone as a great Yogi, saint, sage and
In 1932 Swami Sivananda started the Sivanandashram. In
1936 was born The Divine Life Society. In 1948 the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy
was organised. Dissemination of spiritual knowledge and training of people in
Yoga and Vedanta were their aim and object. In 1950 Swamiji undertook a
lightning tour of India and Ceylon. In 1953 Swamiji convened a ‘World
Parliament of Religions’. Swamiji is the author of over 300 volumes and has
disciples all over the world, belonging to all nationalities, religions and
creeds. To read Swamiji’s works is to drink at the Fountain of Wisdom Supreme.
On 14th July, 1963 Swamiji entered Mahasamadhi.
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