Kena Upanishad is a part of 'Upanishad Brahmana' of Sama-Veda (Talavakara branch); it derives its name from the first word of
it's opening verse. The authors of Upanishads did not leave behind any of their personal details; so these Upanishads are
referred by the first word appearing in it. Kenopanishad starts with the enquiry - केनेषितं पतति प्रेषितं मन:
keneshitam patati preshitam manah (willed by whom does the 'directed mind' go towards its objects?); so the inquiry here is
'By Whom' do 'I' function mentally as well as physically? The spiritual aspirant is convinced that in human consciousness there must
be a center around which the ever changing mind-body complex revolves and his/her search after this center of consciousness becomes
the theme of this Upanishad.
Importance of Kenopanishad can be gauged by the fact that Adi Shakaracharya has written, not only पद-भाष्य
pada-bhashya (word-by-word commentary) but also a separate वाक्य-भाष्य
wakya-bhashya (sentence wise commentary) on it. Anandagiri says that Sri Shankaracharya was not satisfied writing only
the pada-bhashya and in order to highlight the importance of Kenopanishad from logic (युक्ति yukti) point of view, he wrote wakya-bhashya.
We present here the notes derived from audio talks by Revered Ramananada Saraswati and Revered Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj on Kena
Upanishad with Shankar Bhashya. The talks by Revered Ramananda Saraswati also take into consideration the Tika of Anandagiri.
(The original text for the Upanishad can be downloaded from sanskritdocuments.org)
* Section I
* Section II
* Section III
* Section IV
The desire to know Pure Consciousness i.e. real nature of self can arise only in pure hearts. A spiritual aspirant, who has experienced
the transitory nature of phenomenal universe, in his/ her innumerable births, alone can inquire about the unchanging, immortal Brahman.
Most other beings follow the path of transmigration i.e. उत्तरायण uttarayana
(dwelling in highest sphere of existence for some time and then Liberation at the dissolution of universe), दक्षिणायन
dakshinayana (return to earth from intermediate spheres of existence), and जायस्व-म्रियस्व
jayaswa-mriyaswa (birth into forms like insects, mosquito etc. which are subjected repeatedly to birth and death).
1. इषितम् ishitam (desired by) and प्रेषितम्
preshitam (directed by/ordered by) these two terms are employed in order to highlight the enquirer's quest, namely 'who is the
unchanging controller of ever-changing body-mind complex?' Everybody observes the body-mind functioning in the world but few have the
जिज्ञासा jijnasa (inquisitiveness) about the inner ruler of this changing
If only ishitam had been mentioned then the import of enquirer's quest would not have been properly highlighted; the enquirer
is interested to know the 'distinct ruler' of the body-mind complex and is convinced that such a center exists. Ordinarily the
body-mind complex is seen and thought of as functioning independently by itself while consciousness is regarded as a product of
body-mind complex. Thus no separate ruler of the organism is even suspected. If the mind was indeed free to act by itself then nobody
would have thought of or performed evil and painful things; but that is not observed, people are 'as if' forced to follow evil and
painful path despite themselves. This fact is properly expressed only if preshitam is used along with ishitam.
If only preshitam had been mentioned then there would have been doubt as to 'how' the mind is directed (employed), by what
'means' the mind is forced. By supplementing ishitam with preshitam, this doubt is nullified.
Thus using ishitam and preshitam together implies that there is a distinct entity within body-mind complex which by
It's mere 'desire', 'compels' mind and body to function.
* All the spiritual practices in Indian tradition are either प्राणप्रधान
praanapradhaan (based on vital forces) or ज्ञानप्रधान
jnanapradhaan (based on mind-stuff) as क्रियाशक्ति kriyashakti
(power of action) and ज्ञानशक्ति jnanashakti (power of knowledge)
are the two manifestation of the Self; praanapradhaan includes Karma-Yoga, Raja-Yoga etc. while jnanapradhaan includes
Bhakti-Yoga and Jnana-Yoga.
2. Answer to the question raised in first verse is: the ever-free Atman (Self) is the ear of ear, eye of eye, prana (vital force)
of prana etc. i.e. without Pure-Consciousness, the body-mind complex can't function. Pure-Consciousness is the substratum and
borrowing light from It - mind and senses are able to perform their respective functions. धीर: पुरुष:
dhirah purushah (one who has practiced discrimination and dispassion) is able to withdraw himself/herself away from senses &
mind and thus achieve immortality.
3. Pure Consciousness is different from विदित vidita (known) and अविदित
avidita (unknown). In waking and dream states we cognize objects but in deep sleep we do not cognize any objects; the Self is
transcendent to both known and unknown.
Another meaning of vidita and avidita: all that is known through body-mind complex is always limited, perishable,
sorrowful, and unsatisfactory hence should be renounced but the Self being different from known can not be renounced (अहेयत्व
aheyatva). All that is unknown requires a process to know it but the Self being non-different from us (i.e. it being the essence of 'I AM')
does not require any process to know 'IT' (अनुपादेयत्व anupadeyatva).
Thus the Self can neither be renounced nor can be obtained by any process (हेयोपादेयरहित
heyopadeyarahit); It is self-existent and self-evident.
Brahman is being denied as an object to be acquired or rejected and thus disciple's query of an objective cause different from himself/herself
swatmanonanyatvaad brahmavishaya jijnyasa) for the functioning of the body-mind complex is answered.
Anything apart from us must be either vidita (known) or avidita (unknown); that which is neither known nor unknown must
be non-different from ourselves!
प्रत्यक्ष pratyaksha is the knowledge through mind and senses; this is
also called अपरोक्ष aparoksha (immediate); while the indirect knowledge (hearing from
someone, inference etc.) is termed परोक्ष paroksha (mediate). The Self i.e. Pure-Consciousness-Bliss
is always immediate (नित्य अपरोक्ष nitya aparoksha) i.e.
directly evident to ourselves (साक्षात् अपरोक्ष
saakshaat aparoksha). God is paroksha and world is pratyaksha so in order to realize God the mind is turned away
from world and directed towards God; when God is realized within as the real source of 'I AM', then God becomes aparoksha.
In other words when we stop identifying ourselves with body-mind-complex and identify ourselves with God within us we are
established in our real nature i.e. Pure-Consciousness-Bliss. That's why it is said that God-realization causes Liberation.
The disciple enquired about the cause for body-mind's functions and he/she was instructed by the Guru that Brahman is not different from
the Self. But the disciple failed to grasp the import of the statement because he/she was accustomed to think that 'I am different from God',
'I am worshiper, doer, enjoyer' etc. and hence was unconvinced that God is not-different from himself/herself. Sensing this dilemma
in disciple, the Guru explains the Truth in next couple of mantras as:
4. Brahman is that which makes us speak and not that which is revealed by speech. If we consider Brahman as something external, different
from ourselves, and an object to be achieved then we are mistaken. Brahman is our real nature, it is essentially who we are.
By वाक् vaak (speech) is meant the 'sense-organ' (करण karana) of speech as well
as the words (वर्ण varna) manifested by the sense organ. Both these are being illumined by the Self and
hence they themselves can not express or manifest Self.
5-8. Pure Consciousness is the light which makes us think, cogitate, remember etc. It is referred as mind of mind, eye of eye, ear of ear,
nose of nose i.e. without the ever-existing and self-luminous Atman (I AM) as the substratum, our mind and sense-organs can not function.
In the mantras 4-8 it is pointed out to the disciple that Self is the basis of all phenomenon and that Self is non-different from Brahman.
These mantras also stress that anything worshiped external to the Self is not Brahman. Why is this stressed? For the
following two reasons:
a) नियमार्थम् niyamaartham - to establish
the fact in the heart of the disciple
anya-buddhi-parisamkhyartham - To negate the idea that Brahman is anything different that Self ('I AM')
On being thus stressed, the teaching naturally causes the aspirant to search for Truth within himself/herself and stop the in-vain
Upon being instructed by the Guru that you are that Pure-Consciousness-Bliss Self which is हेयोपादेयरहित
heyopadeyarahita (devoid of being acquirable or throwable), the disciple gets the idea that he/she has understood the Brahman.
Guru immediately senses that the disciple has taken the instruction objectively and has not realized the import of the teaching and
hence the Guru says:
1. If you think you have known Brahman well-enough then surely you have known little and you need to deliberate on the matter more.
Pure-Consciousness-Bliss by itself is unchanged but due to the limiting adjuncts of mind and body, It appears to have taken the name
and form of the adjunct. Our birth, life, death is in relation to the body-mind-complex but we, by our real nature, are birth-less, deathless,
immortal, ever-present Pure-Consciousness-Bliss.
2. On thus being tested by Guru, the disciple went into solitude, thought over the matter as per the instructions of Guru and scriptures,
and thus realized the true Self. Then the disciple confirmed Guru's words: 'Self is different from known and unknown' in his/her own
words as: 'I don't think that I know the Self; also I do not think that I don't know the Self. Anyone knowing the Self will know as
I have known.'
The Self can not be known in any other way; It can neither be made an object of knowledge nor can it be said to be unknown. The
disciple realized that 'I Am That Pure-Consciousness-Bliss Self' which is difficult to grasp, and which is known only through Guru and
scriptures, which is free from all doubts, and which is devoid of all separations, divisions, dualities etc.
3. Those who consider that Pure Consciousness is known i.e. it is an object of knowledge, do not know It while those who understand
that Pure Consciousness being the very Self of everything can't be 'known' and It is the ultimate 'knower' of everybody and everything;
are the real 'knowers' of Pure Consciousness.
In other words those who have grasped that 'I Am' the unchangeable foundation upon which the 'knower-known-knowledge' process appears,
have realized the Self; while others consider body-mind-complex as 'I Am'!
Or those who experience phenomenon as separate from themselves are ignorant of Self while the knowers of Self do not experience
phenomenon as separate from themselves!
4. This mantra is very important as it is the crux of Vedanta and gives us clue as to how the Self is realized.
बोध bodha (cognition/knowledge) is the reflection of Self's light on the thought-wave of intellect/mind.
In each and every modification of 'intellect-mind-sense-body', the knowledge of the Self is reflected; it is the light of our real
nature that is the basis for our every 'thought-perception-action'. Even the slightest though-current is illumined by the Self and
thus the Self is realized in every bodha (प्रतिबोधविदितम्
pratibodhaviditam). It means that with each of our thought and action, we should simultaneously be aware of our real
Pure-Consciousness-Bliss nature since the Self can never be the object of knowledge.
The Naiyayik philosophers hold the Self as a substance with quality of cognition when in contact with mind; thus when there is a
thought-wave, the Self by becoming the agent of cognition gives rise to cognition and when there is no thought-wave, the Self remains
as a substance without any quality. If this explanation is accepted for pratibodhaviditam then the Self becomes a changing,
impure substance with parts. As per Vaishyeshik philosophers too the Self is a substance but in it the cognition remains as colour
inheres in a pot. Both these views are contradictory to the scriptural passages as प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म
prajnanam brahma (Brahman is Consciousness), विज्ञानमानन्दं ब्रह्म
vijnanam-anandam-brahma (Brahman is Consciousness and Bliss) etc. Apart from being contradictory to scripture these views are
also contradictory to reason: how can the part-less, attribute-less Self come in contact with mind which is made up of parts and
attributes? Even if it is argued that the Self being everywhere can come in contact with anything simultaneously, this will lead to
the condition where cognition is arising always and there would be no place for memory sequence; this is not only contradictory to
reason but also to empirical experience.
Thus scriptures and logic prove that the Self ('I Am') is Pure Consciousness, Self-Luminous, and Eternal Witness and with every
cognition It is manifested.
आत्मना विन्दते वीर्यं विद्दयया
विन्दतेSमृतम् aatmanaa vindate viryam viddyaya vindate amrutam
- Spiritual aspirant gets strength of immortality itself by getting the true knowledge about 'who I am'. Self-knowledge does not depend
on anything external and hence it gives strength while dependence on body-mind-complex makes us helpless as we feel limited, bound, and mortal.
Swami Vivekananda says, '"I am He, I am He" Day and night say, "I am He". It is greatest strength; it is religion.'
5. प्रेत्य अस्माल्लोकाद्
अमृता भवन्ति pretya asmaallokad amrutaa bhavanti - by getting
rid of the identification with body-mind-complex one becomes immortal. After being born with human body if man/woman does not realize his/her true nature i.e. God, then it is a great disaster as this human
body is a great chance to break the painful cycle of transmigration. Those who realize their true Self in this human birth, they
fulfill the purpose of receiving the human body; they attain the immortality of Brahman.
Till now i.e. in section I and II, the question of the disciple and answer given by Guru were discussed. For उत्तम अधिकारी
uttam adhikari (best/highest spiritual aspirant) this much is sufficient but when मन्द अधिकारी
manda adhikari (dull/lowest spiritual aspirant) hears that the Self is different from known and unknown he/she may think that
Brahman does not exist at all and his/her doubts are not cleared immediately. Hence this third section is started in which a story is
narrated in order to point out the Reality of the Self behind the apparent personality.
This section may be for glorification of Self-Knowledge as it is explained in the story that glory of gods was due to Brahman.
Through the story it is pointed out to the spiritual aspirant that Self-Knowledge is difficult to achieve; even gods are deluded in
this respect. Hence the aspirant should be extremely cautious.
This section may be for describing उपासना-विधि upaasana-vidhi (mode
of spiritual practice)
It may be for pointing out the false nature of कर्तृत्व kartrutva ('I am the doer' idea)
and भोक्तृत्व bhoktrutva ('I am enjoyer' idea) experienced by all beings.
In the war between gods and demons, the Supreme Lord granted victory and glory to gods, but gods thought that they themselves have won
the war and the glory is theirs. The Supreme Lord, being the in-dwelling Reality in all beings, instantly realized the folly of gods
and in order to help them see their mistake, appeared in front of them as Yaksha i.e. in a supremely magnificent form. All the gods
were unable to ascertain the identity of the Yaksha and hence they decided to investigate the matter; they asked Agni (fire-god) to
approach the Yaksha and inquire his identity.
Agni went near the Yaksha but couldn't utter a word; so the Yaksha asked him, 'who are you?' Agni replied, 'I am Agni also known as
जातवेद jataveda (all-knowing by birth)' The Yaksha then asked Agni, 'what are your powers?'
Agni Replied, 'I can burn all that there is.' Yaksha then asked Agni to burn a straw; Agni tried with all his might but failed and
returned back to gods. On hearing Agni's inability to ascertain Yaksha's identity, the gods then asked Vayu (wind-god) to try the same.
Vayu also known as मातरिश्वा maatarishwa (travelling in space) tried
the same and met the same fate as that of Agni.
Then the gods requested Indra - the king of gods; Indra also known as मघवन maghawan (powerful) approached
the Yaksha, but the Yaksha suddenly disappeared and did not so much as grant an interview to Indra! And in the place of Yaksha appeared
Uma Haimavati (daughter of Himalaya or Knowledge in the form of beautiful goddess). To Her, Indra enquired about the Yaksha.
Uma Haimavati replied, 'That Yaksha was Brahman. Brahman was responsible for the victory and glory of gods.' Thus Indra realized that
It was Brahman; Agni and Vayu had also gone near Brahman but it was Indra who realized It.
Indra can be taken as representing Buddhi (intellect-heart), Vayu as mind, and Agni as prana (vital forces) or senses.
Buddhi is nearest to the Self and only needs positive faith in Truth to reach It. Indra did not return from the place where the
Yaksha had disappeared; he remained there and pondered over the matter. This was indicative of his self-analysis and devotion; and
his devotion made him see Uma Haimavati, the goddess of Knowledge; She granted him Brahman-realization.
The above story highlights the point that every spiritual aspirant should have devotion to the ideal which enables him/her to realize
the Truth. The way to our impersonal, absolute Pure-Consciousness-Bliss nature is through personal (sense of 'I AM') aspect of our
existence. In life, for everything, a spiritual aspirant must depend on the 'Inner Self' and not on the body-mind complex. Dependence
on the transitory body-mind complex will never satisfy us.
4. Just as the lightening flashes in a split second and disappears or just as an eye is winked quickly, similarly knowledge of Brahman
flashes suddenly in Buddhi (heart). This is the analogy for revelation of Truth with respect to Its cosmic aspect.
5. With respect to the individual aspect of Truth, the revelation of Self is with the rise of every thought. Mind is the limiting
adjunct of the Self hence each and every thought - however subtle - reveals the Self within. This was referred to earlier in the
verse 4 of section II.
Above verse number 4 and 5 are for those who can not grasp the Truth without any attributes.
6. Brahman can be worshiped in any form and with any attribute. Here तद्वन 'tadvan' is the name
given to It. God being in the hearts of all beings is worthy of veneration (भजनीय/ वननीय
bhajaniya/ vananiya) hence the name tadvan. One who worships God as tadvan i.e. keeping God's attribute of
veneration in mind gets the result that he/she, himself/herself becomes worthy of veneration!
7. Now the disciple said to Guru, 'Please tell me Upanishad'. The guru says, 'What I have told you till now was Upanishad. It was the
Upanishad about Brahman i.e. about realization of the Self.'
Why does the disciple request such a thing after he/she was instructed earlier in Brahman? It could be for inquiring about whether any
auxiliary (accessory) part is required to be performed along with the knowledge of Brahman. So the Guru says that you have been
already told about It. Further mantras relate to the means for realization of Brahman; to make the aspirant capable for
realization but they are not any accessory or complementary part of the knowledge of Brahman.
The point is - in absolute Truth i.e. in Liberation there is no place for any process (karma work) co-existing with knowledge,
though self-less work is a means to purify the mind; and purified mind is capable of Knowledge.
8. The Guru says, 'The Upanishad that I have just explained to you i.e. the Upanishad about Brahman/Self-knowledge is achieved by
practising तप: tapah, दम: damah, कर्म karma etc.; these are as प्रतिष्ठा
pratishtha (base) for Self-realization.
Tapah - concentration of body-mind complex on the goal
Damah - withdrawal of senses, mind from external objects
Karma - self-less work
Practicing these disciplines clears the mind of many angularities; mind thus becomes subtle enough to probe into Truth and capable to
hold the Truth. Impure mind can not grasp the teaching about Self; it may even misunderstand the teaching or worse - may understand
it the wrong way.
सत्यम् आयतनम् satayam aayatanam - Truthfulness is God's
dwelling place; every spiritual aspirant should be truthful in mind, body, and speech.
9. One who knows this Upanishad i.e. one who realizes one's true infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss nature does not again come back to
this painful phenomenal existence and remains established in blissful Brahman.
| ॐ शान्ति: | ॐ शान्ति: | ॐ शान्ति: |
| Om Peace | Om Peace | Om Peace |