All about Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is one of the most ancient Hindu spiritual texts that talks about the central philosophical concepts contained in Hinduism.

It is one of the oldest Upanishadic scriptures of Hinduism and is also regarded as one of the Principal Upanishads. The post offers detailed insights about Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

In fact, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad translates as the “Great Forest Book.” It has been composed in the prose form and focuses on the nature of reality as well as the identity of the Self or Atman.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

It is estimated that this ancient text was written between 1000 and 700 B.C.E. Moreover, some parts have been estimated to be composed after the Chandogya Upanishad.

Most of the portions in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad are about Sage Yajnavalkya and his wife. In these stories, Yajnavalkya takes up philosophical issues such as the Self, Consciousness, Creation, and Karma. It also offers passages on ethics, psychology, and metaphysics.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad emphasizes that only experiential knowledge of Atman and Brahman (It is the Universal Self) can help to attain the state of Samadhi or Enlightenment.

The text also describes specific methods of meditation, rituals, and rites. It describes the virtues that should be practiced by the yogis, such as compassion, generosity, and self-restraint. These are the foundations of Yoga which have been elaborated by Sage Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which means “Forest Upanishad” is mainly credited to Sage Yajnavalkya. However, the text was also refined by many ancient Vedic scholars. It forms the fourteenth Kanda of Satapatha Brahmana of “Shukla Yajurveda.” It contains six adhyāyas (chapters) in total.

The text contains two major recensions known as:

  • Madhyandina recension
  • Kanva recension

It also includes three sections:

  • Madhu kanda
  • Muni kanda (or Yajnavalkya kanda)
  • Khila kanda

The Madhu Kanda consists of six Brahmanas each in its first and second chapters respectively. The Yajnavalkya Kanda consists of nine Brahmanas and six Brahmanas in its first and second chapters respectively. The Khila Kanda contains fifteen Brahmanas and five Brahmanas each in its first and second chapters.

Content of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Now, we offer you details of the Content of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that is contained through its first to six chapters.

Content: First Chapter

The first chapter of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad mainly contains Vedic theories regarding the creation of the Universe.

It states that there was nothing before the Universe started. It was Prajapati who created the Universe from this nothingness as a sacrifice to himself. He imbued it with Prana Shakti (life force) in the form of “cosmic inert matter” and “individual psychic energy.”

It further clarifies that the world is more than just matter and energy alone. It also consists of Atman or Brahman as well as Knowledge. It states that the Soul is imperishable and invisible and is concealed pervading all reality.

Content: Second Chapter

The second chapter of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad starts with the conversation between Ajatashatru and Balaki Gargya in which they discuss the theory of dreams. It even goes on to assert that the human mind has the power to perceive the world as it is. It can even fabricate the world in whichever form it wants to perceive it.

So, the mind is a means that is prone to flaws. It states that man struggles to realize the “true reality behind perceived reality.” It asserts that Atman-Brahman is inherently existent yet unknowable as it no qualities and no characteristics. It is based on the concept of “neti-neti” (not this, not this).

Further up, this chapter presents a dialog between a husband and wife, namely Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi. They discuss on matter of love and spirituality. Yajnavalkya asserts that it is the knowledge of the Self, Soul, and the Brahman, which makes one immortal. He clarifies that the Soul is the cause of immortality and infinite bliss.

The second chapter also introduces the Madhu theory. It is one of the cornerstones of Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy.

Content: Third Chapter

The third chapter of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad contains metaphysical dialogue between ten ancient sages on matters such as Atman, Reality, and Mukti. The chapter also presents concepts of Graha and Atigraha (sensory action and sense). It lists down eight combinations of Graha and Atigraha, such as:

  • Breath and Smell
  • Speech and Name
  • Tongue and Taste
  • Eye and Form
  • Ear and Sound
  • Skin and Touch
  • Mind and Desire
  • Arms and Work

The sages go on to debate the nature of death. They discuss whether any Graha and Atigraha prevail after the death of someone. They go on to state that one’s ideas, actions, and work (karma) continue to affect the universe. They go on to discuss what is the nature of the soul and point out that all souls are one, immanent, and transcendent.

They state that the journey to profound knowledge begins by shedding off one’s erudition. One needs to adopt childlike curiosity and simplicity. One also needs to become silent, meditative, and observant. It is only due to the true knowledge of Self-Atman that one can become free from all frustration and sorrow.

Content: Fourth Chapter

This chapter of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad begins with a dialogue between Yajnavalkya and King Janaka wherein they discuss the “Soul Exists” theory, its phenomenal manifestations, as well as its philosophical implications.

The chapter states that the human soul manifests in six forms:

  • Prajna (consciousness)
  • Priyam (love and the will to live)
  • Satyam (reverence for truth, reality)
  • Ananta (endlessness and the curiosity for the eternal)
  • Ananda (bliss and contentment)
  • Stithi (calm perseverance)

In this part of the Upanishad, it explores the question of “what happens to the soul after one dies.” The chapter also discusses the widely cited “neti-neti” principle, which can be understood as “not this, not this.” The principle helps the “soul” journey to realize Brahma. It states that the soul is blissfully free and is eternally invulnerable.

It even discusses the premises of “moksha” that is freedom, liberation, and self-realization. It provides a thematic description of Atman-Brahman. Here, Yajnavalkya declares that Knowledge is freedom, and it powers inner peace.

Content: Fifth & Sixth Chapters

This part of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is known as Khila Khanda. It means a supplementary section or appendix. It discusses ethical theories and states that the ultimate truth is Brahman.

It even narrates the sexual rituals that must be practiced between a husband and wife for conceiving and celebrating the birth of a child. It is likely written later and incorporates ideas that were considered important in later age.

The concepts of Karma, Ethics, Psychology, and Metaphysics in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad contains an elaborate account of the Karma doctrine. For example, here we list out the hymn (4.4.5) in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which describes the Karma theory:

“As per his acts and according to as he behaves, so will he be;
A man of good actions will become good; a man of bad actions, bad.”

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad contains hymns on virtues and ethics. It recommends three virtues as:

  • Self-restraint
  • Charity
  • Compassion

It contains theories about psychology and human motivation:

“According to one acts, so does he become.
One becomes virtuous by virtuous action,
Bad by bad action.”

— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5

Its metaphysical statements guide the reader from unreality to reality. One of its famous concepts has described in verse 5.1.1 as:

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते ।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥

The Pavamāna Mantra

असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

  • Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28

From untruth lead us to Truth.
From darkness lead us to Light.
From death lead us to Immortality.
Aum Peace, Peace, Peace.

Now, we have come to the end of this post on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. We hope that now you have got much insight into this important Hindu religious scripture.

It will help you to appreciate and learn the concepts that have taken up in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

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