by F. Max Müller
UPANISHAD is about knowing Brahman. More exactly, it's
about the paradoxical nature of that knowledge.
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.
idea took on great importance in Advaita Vedanta, the
mainstream Hindu philosophy of nondualism. In his commentary
on this Upanishad, Sankara wrote:
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
the Knowledge of Brahman depends entirely upon the
reality of Brahman Itself, and not upon the will of
in Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads, Volume I
(New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1990), p. 225.
KENA UPANISHAD falls into two halves.
first half, consisting of two khandas or chapters,
records a dialogue in verse between a student and teacher.
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
Nikhilananda interprets this story allegorically as
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.
Nikhilananda, The Upanishads, Volume I (New York:
Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1990), p. 222.
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.
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
wrote the notes except where some other attribution
May 31, 2000
page was published on Realization.org on May 31, 2000.