Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Devanagariबृहदारण्यक उपनिषद्
Date of compositionBefore mid first millennium BCE[1][2]
Purported authorsYajnavalkya
Type of UpanishadMukhya Upanishad
Associated VedaShukla Yajurveda
Associated Brahmanapart of Shatapatha Brahmana
Associated AranyakaBrihad Aranyaka
Core philosophyThe basic identity of the Atman
Commented upon byMadhvacharya, Adi Shankara
Popular verse"Aham brahmāsmi"
Jump to: navigation, search
Devanagariबृहदारण्यक उपनिषद्
Date of compositionBefore mid first millennium BCE[1][2]
Purported authorsYajnavalkya
Type of UpanishadMukhya Upanishad
Associated VedaShukla Yajurveda
Associated Brahmanapart of Shatapatha Brahmana
Associated AranyakaBrihad Aranyaka
Core philosophyThe basic identity of the Atman
Commented upon byMadhvacharya, Adi Shankara
Popular verse"Aham brahmāsmi"
Part of a series on the
aum symbol
Bṛhadāraṇyaka  · Īṣa
Taittirīya  · Kaṭha
Chāndogya · Kena
Muṇḍaka ·Māṇḍūkya ·Praśna
Other Major Upanishads
Shvetashvatara ·Kaushitaki ·Maitrayaniya

The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad (Sanskrit: बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद्) is one of the older, "primary" (mukhya) Upanishads. It is contained within the Shatapatha Brahmana, and its status as an independent Upanishad may be considered a secondary extraction of a portion of the Brahmana text. This makes it one of the oldest texts of the Upanishad corpus. It is largely the oldest Upanishad, excluding some parts which were composed after the Chandogya.[3] and the largely neglected Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana.[4] It is associated with the Shukla Yajurveda.[5] It figures as number 10 in the Muktika canon of 108 Upanishads and was notably commented upon by Madhvacharya and Adi Shankara.


Brihadaranyaka or the great forest of knowledge

The Upanishad is widely known for its philosophical statements and is ascribed to Yajnavalkya. Its name means "great-wilderness-Upaniṣhad" or the "great forest of knowledge".[6] It includes three sections: Madhu Kanda, Muni Kanda (or Yajnavalkya Kanda) and Khila Kanda. The Madhu Kanda explains the teachings of the basic identity of the individual or Atman. Muni Kanda includes the conversations between the sage Yajnavalkya and one of his wives, Maitreyi. Methods of meditation and some secret rites are dealt in the Khila Kanda. The doctrine of "neti neti" (later on understood as "neither this, nor that") and an often quoted verse, "Asato Maa", is found in this Upanishad.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is a commentary on Purush Sukta of the Vedas. Being an intuitional revelation it is rich in the use of metaphors, symbolism and imagery to describe the nature of Reality. Instead of using deduction to derive the truth, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad uses self-evident psychological arguments. The Upanishad uses the imagery of Ashvamedha sacrifice, described in Purusha Sukta, to depict the creation of the universe. Prajapati, or the creator, is identified with ‘Asva’ or ‘the horse’ and ‘Medhya’ is the sacrifice. Verse 1.1.2 of the Upanishad describes the reason for using ‘the horse’ as a symbol for Prajapati. The horse being a substratum for demons, gods and humans is an apt symbol for Prajapati, the substratum of the whole universe. In verse 1.4.7, name and form are given as reasons for appearance of differentiation in an undifferentiated Absolute. In verse 1.4.15, the truth is described as nothing but one’s own ‘Self’. This is elaborated in the metaphysical statements in the Upanishad.


Ethics in the Upanishad revolve around the five Yajnas or sacrifices. These sacrifices are described as a person’s duty towards gods, rishis, ancestors, fellow humans and animals. In section 5.2, three disciplines are described using three ‘da’s’: damyata (self control), datta (charity), dayadhvam (compassion).[7]


The verses in the Upanishad contain numerous statements pertaining to psychology. Verse 1.4.17 describes the desire for progeny as the desire for self-assertion and the desire for wealth as the desire for material comfort. Eyes and ears are mentioned as the instruments of wealth because it is through the eyes and ears that we come to know of the names and forms of the objects which are regarded as wealth. Objects of wealth are often symbolically represented as food in the Upanishad. For instance, verse 1.5.2 enunciates that the food stuff is never exhausted because the consumers of the food themselves create food, implying that objects of desire never get exhausted as long as the desire persists in the subject. Eight grahas (sense organs) and atigrahas (object of senses) are conveyed in the Upanishad: nose-odour, speech-name, tongue-taste, eye-colour, ear-sound, mind-desire, hands-work, skin-touch. The purpose of the mind is described as desire with its basis in pleasure. In section 4.3 of the Upanishad an analysis of dreams and deep sleep is presented. Section 4.3 goes on to explore the state of deep sleep where the reason for lack of sensory experience is proposed to be the merger of senses with the perceiver. The Upanishadic psychology concludes when Yajnavalkya explains to Maitreyi that one does not love an object for the sake of the object but for the sake of the Self.


Verse 1.3.28 acknowledges that metaphysical statements in Upanishads are meant to guide the reader from unreality to reality. The metaphysics of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is Dvaita. For instance, in verse 2.4.13 Yajnavalkya asserts that everything in the universe is covered with the Self. Section 1.6 implies that the reality is covered with name, form and work. The nature of reality or Self is described as consciousness-bliss in verse 3.9.28. Neti-neti or (not this—not this) is a method of negation described by Yajnavalkya to negate empirical reality. It implies that Absolute reality cannot be understood by the senses, mind or the intellect. The heart of the Upanishadic metaphysics appears in the verse 5.1 which also appears at the invocation and conclusion of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते |
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ||
pūrṇam adaḥ, pūrṇam idaṃ, pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate.
"That (Brahman) is infinite, and this (universe) is infinite. the infinite proceeds from the infinite.
(Then) taking the infinitude of the infinite (universe), it remains as the infinite (Brahman) alone."
Translation by Swami Madhavananda[8]

"From infinite or fullness, we can get only fullness or infinite". The above verse describes the nature of the Absolute or Brahman which is infinite or full, i.e., it contains everything. Upanishadic metaphysics is further elucidated in the Madhu-vidya (honey doctrine), where the essence of every object is described to be same to the essence of every other object which is held to be Brahman.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad looks at reality as being indescribable and its nature to be infinite and consciousness-bliss. Human beings are looked upon as the synthesis of the organ of speech, mind, prana(cosmic energy) and the twin cosmic desires of differentiation and unison. The cosmic energy is thought to integrate in the microcosm various sensations like sound, smell and sight and in the macrocosm integrate the individual to the universe.

Popular mantras[edit]

ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्मामृतं गमय ।।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ।। – बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद् 1.3.28.


oṁ asato mā sad gamaya
tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
mṛtyor mā amṛtaṁ gamaya
oṁ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥbṛhadāraṇyaka upaniṣad 1.3.28


Lead Us From the Unreal To the Real,
Lead Us From Darkness To Light,
Lead Us From Death To Immortality,
Let There Be Peace Peace Peace. — Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28.

According as one acts, so does he become.
One becomes virtuous by virtuous action,
bad by bad action. — Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5[9]



In literature[edit]

Poet T. S. Eliot makes use of the story "The Voice of the Thunder" and for the source of "datta, dayadhvam, and damyata" found in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Sections of the story appear in his poem The Waste Land under part V What The Thunder Said.[12]


  1. ^ Olivelle, p=xxxvi
  2. ^ King, Ācārya, p. 52.
  3. ^ Olivelle, Patrick . Upaniṣhads. Oxford University Press, 1998, pages 3–4
  4. ^ Fujii, M. 1997, “On the Formation and Transmission of the Jaiminīya-Upaniṣad-Brāhmaṇa”, Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts: New Approaches to the Study of the Vedas, ed. M. Witzel, Harvard Oriental Series, Opera Minora, 2], Cambridge, 89–102
  5. ^ Jones, Constance (2007). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 93. ISBN 0816073368. 
  6. ^ "Aranyaka" means "connected with wilderness"; it also refers to a type of Vedic texts associated with the more dangerous sacrifices, such as the Pravargya. Cf. "Aranyaka."
  7. ^ Chatterjea, Tara. Knowledge and Freedom in Indian Philosophy. Oxford: Lexington Books. p. 148. 
  8. ^ The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad with commentary of Sankaracarya. Advaita Ashrama. "The Peace Chant" 
  9. ^ Four facts of Hinduism
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Bloom, Harold (2006). T.S. Eliot's The Wate Land. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 58. 

External links[edit]