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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



Kena Upanishad
Translated by F. Max Müller


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Editor's Introduction


THIS UPANISHAD is about knowing Brahman. More exactly, it's about the paradoxical nature of that knowledge.

It stresses the idea that when we consider ourselves to be performers of actions, we are unable to recognize Brahman (God), because Brahman is the real actor.

This idea took on great importance in Advaita Vedanta, the mainstream Hindu philosophy of nondualism. In his commentary on this Upanishad, Sankara wrote:

...[K]nowledge of the non-duality of the inmost Self and Brahman is antagonistic to karma (action). Karma presupposes the knowledge of the distinction between doer and result, but the unitive knowledge of the inmost Self and Brahman puts an end to the perception of distinctions. Therefore karma and the Knowledge of the inmost Self cannot coexist.

Furthermore, the Knowledge of Brahman depends entirely upon the reality of Brahman Itself, and not upon the will of the knower.

  Quoted in Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads, Volume I (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1990), p. 225.

THE KENA UPANISHAD falls into two halves.

The first half, consisting of two khandas or chapters, records a dialogue in verse between a student and teacher.

The second half, in prose, tells a fable in which the gods fail to recognize Brahman because they imagine they are responsible for a victory that was in fact won by him.

Swami Nikhilananda interprets this story allegorically as follows:

The Gods stand for the psychic forces that control the sense-organs. Indra, or I-consciousness, is their ruler. The demons [who were overcome in battle by Brahman] represent a man's evil passions. Now and then the senses are able to overcome a passion and get a sudden glimpse of Atman. Then they proudly feel that they can understand Atman's whole nature. The organ of speech (Agni, or Fire) thinks it can know the whole of Brahman. Prana, the vital force (Vayu, or Wind), thinks it alone controls man's activity. They soon realize, however, the futility of their power and beat a retreat. Then the ego, or the individual soul (Indra), chastened and humbled, steps forward, and the vision of Atman vanishes. There appears before him Grace (Uma, the consort of the Lord), who is the Power of Brahman (Sakti) and also the Wisdom of the Vedas (Brahmavidya). She destroys the wrong notion of the ego and the senses and ultimately reveals the truth of Brahman. Thus the aspirant attains the supreme knowledge. It should be noted that one cannot even have a glimpse of the indwelling Atman unless the evil passions are subdued.

  Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads, Volume I (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1990), p. 222.

About the Text

The title of this Upanishad, kena ("by whom"), is simply the first word of the text. (The Isa Upanishad gets its name in the same way.) The Kena Upanishad is also sometimes called the Talavakara Upanishad because it forms the ninth chapter of the Talavakara Brahmana of the Sama Veda.

This translation was first published more than a hundred years ago by F. Max Müller, a leading European Sanskrit scholar of the nineteenth century. The copyright has expired.

I wrote the notes except where some other attribution is specified.

-- Elena Gutierrez
May 31, 2000



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This page was published on Realization.org on May 31, 2000.

Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.