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Kena Upanishad

Translated by Raja Ram Mohun Roy

Cena Upanishad

1st, Who is he [asks a pupil of his spiritual father,] under whose sole will the intellectual power makes its approach to different objects? Who is he under whose authority breath, the primitive power in the body, makes its operation? Who is he by whose direction language is regularly pronounced? And who is that immaterial being that applies vision and hearing to their respective objects?

2nd. He, [answers the spiritual parent,] who is the sense of the sense of hearing; the intellect of the intellect; the essential cause of language; the breath of breath; the sense of the sense of vision;— this is the Being concerning whom you would enquire. Learned men, having relinquished the notion of self-independence and self-consideration from knowing the Supreme Understanding to be the sole source of sense, enjoy everlasting beatitude after their departure from this world.

3rd. Hence no vision can approach him, no language can describe him, no intellectual power can compass or determine him. We know nothing of how the Supreme Being should be explained: he is beyond all that is within the reach of comprehension, and also beyond nature, which is above conception. Our ancient spiritual parents have thus explained him to us.

4th. He alone, who has never been described by language, and who directs language to its meaning, is the Supreme Being, and not any specified thing which men worship; know THOU this.

5th. He alone, whom understanding cannot comprehend, and who, as said by learned men, knows the real nature of understanding, is the Supreme Being, and not any specified thing which men worship; know THOU this.

6th. He alone, whom no one can conceive by vision, and by whose superintendence every one perceives the objects of vision, is the Supreme Being, and not any specified thing which men worship: know THOU this.

7th. He alone, whom no one can hear through the sense of hearing, and who knows the real nature of the sense of hearing, is the Supreme Being, and not any specified thing which men worship: know THOU this.

8th. He alone, whom no one can perceive through the sense of smelling, and who applies the sense of smelling to its objects, is the Supreme Being, and not any specified thing which men worship: know THOU this.

9th. If you [continues the spiritual parent], from what I have stated, suppose and say that “I know the Supreme Being thoroughly,” you in truth know very little of the Omnipresent Being; and any conception of that Being which you limit to your powers of sense, is not only deficient, but also his description which you extend to the bodies of the celestial gods, is also imperfect; 1 you consequently should enquire into the true knowledge of the Supreme Being. To this the pupil replies: “I perceive that at this moment I begin to know God.”

10th. “Not that I suppose,” continues he, “that I know God thoroughly, nor do I suppose that I do not know him at all: as, among us, he who knows the meaning of the above-stated assertion, is possessed of the knowledge respecting God; viz. “that I neither know him thoroughly, nor am entirely ignorant of him.”

11th. [The Spiritual Father again resumes:] He who believes that he cannot comprehend God, does know him; and he who believes that he can comprehend God, does not know him: as men of perfect understanding acknowledge him to be beyond comprehension; and men of imperfect understanding suppose him to be within the reach of their simplest perception.

12th. The notion of the sensibility of bodily organs, which are composed of insensible particles, leads to the notion of God; which notion alone is accurate, and tends to everlasting happiness. Man gains, by self-exertion, the power of acquiring knowledge respecting God, and through the same acquisition he acquires eternal beatitude.

13th. Whatever person has, according to the above stated doctrine, known God, is really happy, and whoever has not known him is subjected to great misery. Learned men, having reflected on the Spirit of God extending over all moveable as well as immoveable creatures, after their departure from this world are absorbed into the Supreme Being.

In a battle between the celestial 2 gods and the demons, God obtained victory over the latter, in favour of the former (or properly speaking, God enabled the former to defeat the latter); but, upon this victory being gained, the celestial gods acquired their respective dignities, and supposed that this victory and glory were entirely owing to themselves. The Omnipresent Being, having known their boast, appeared to them with an appearance beyond description.

They could not know what adorable appearance it was: they, consequently, said to fire, or properly speaking, the god of fire: “Discover thou, O god of fire, what adorable appearance this is.” His reply was, “I shall.” He proceeded fast to that adorable appearance, which asked him, “Who art thou?” He then answered, “I am fire, and I am the origin of the Ved;” that is, I am a well-known personage. The Supreme Omnipotence, upon being thus replied to, asked him again, “What power is in so celebrated a person as thou art?” He replied, “I can burn to ashes all that exists in the world.” The Supreme Being then having laid a straw before him, said to him, “Canst thou burn this straw?” The god of fire approached the straw, but could not burn it, though he exerted all his power. He then unsuccessfully retired and told the others, “I have been unable to discover what adorable appearance this is.” Now they all said to wind (or properly to the god of wind), “Discover thou, O god of wind, what adorable appearance this is.” His reply was, “I shall.” He proceeded fast to that adorable appearance, which asked him, “Who art thou?” He then answered, “I am wind, and I pervade unlimited space;” that is, I am a well-known personage. The Supreme Being, upon being thus replied to, asked him again, “What power is in so celebrated a person as thou art?” He replied, “I can uphold all that exists in the world.” The Supreme Being then, having laid a straw before him, said to him, “Canst thou uphold this straw?” The god of wind approached the straw, but could not hold it up, though he exerted all his power. He then unsuccessfully retired and told the others, “I have been unable to discover what adorable appearance this is.” Now they all said to the god of atmosphere, “Discover thou, O revered god of atmosphere, what adorable appearance this is.” His reply was, “I shall,” He proceeded fast to that adorable appearance, which vanished from his view. He met at the same spot a woman, the goddess of instruction, arrayed in golden robes in the shape of the most beautiful Uma. 3 He asked, “What was that adorable appearance?” She replied, “It was the Supreme Being owing to whose victory you are all advanced to exaltation.” The god of atmosphere, from her instruction, knew that it was the Supreme Being that had appeared to them. He at first communicated that information to the gods of fire and of wind. As the gods of fire, wind, and atmosphere had approached to the adorable appearance, and had perceived it, and also as they had known, prior to the others, that it was indeed God that appeared to them, they seemed to be superior to the other gods. As the god of atmosphere had approached to the adorable appearance, and perceived it, and also as he knew, prior to every one of them, that it was God that appeared to them, he seemed not only superior to every other god, but also, for that reason, exalted above the gods of fire and wind.

The foregoing is a divine figurative representation of the Supreme Being; meaning that in one instant he shines at once over all the universe like the illumination of lightning; and in another, that he disappears as quick as the twinkling of an eye. Again, it is represented of the Supreme Being, that pure mind conceives that it approaches to him as nearly as possible: Through the same pure mind the pious man thinks of him, and consequently application of the mind to him is repeatedly used. That God, who alone in reality has no resemblance, and to whom the mind cannot approach, is adorable by all living creatures; he is therefore called “adorable;” he should, according to the prescribed manner, be worshipped. All creatures revere the person who knows God in the manner thus described. The pupil now says, “Tell me, O Spiritual Father, the Upanishad or the principal part of the Ved.” The Spiritual Father makes this answer, “I have told you the principal part of the Ved which relates to God alone, and, indeed told you the Upanishad, of which, austere devotion, control over the senses, performance of religious rites, and the remaining parts of the Ved, as well as those sciences that are derived from the Veds, are only the feet; and whose altar and support is truth.” He who understands it as thus described, having relieved himself from sin, acquires eternal and unchangeable beatitude.


1. The sum of the notion concerning the Supreme Being given in the Vedant, is, that he is “the Soul of the universe, and bears the same relation to all material extension that a human soul does to the individual body with which it is connected.

2. In the Akhaika it is said that those powers of the Divinity which produce agreeable effects and conduce to moral order and happiness, are represented under the figure of celestial gods, and those attributes from which pain and misery flow, are called Demons and step-brothers of the former, with whom they are in a state of perpetual hostility.

3. The wife of Siva.

See Also


Translation of the

Cena Upanishad

One of the Chapters of the Sama Veda

According to the Gloss of the Celebrated Shancaracharya

(incl. Introduction)

By Raja Ram Mohun Roy

Full Text Online (PDF)

Translated by Charles Johnston

Kena Upanishad

By whom impelled flies the forward-impelled Mind? By whom compelled does the First Life go forth? By whom impelled is this Voice that they speak? Who, in sooth, is the Bright One who compels sight and hearing?

That which they call the Hearing of hearing, the Mind of mind, the Voice of voice, that is the Life of life, the Sight of sight. Setting this free, the Wise, going forth from this world, become immortal.

Sight goes not thither, nor does voice go thither, nor mind. We have not seen, nor do we know, how one may transmit the understanding of this; for this is other than the known, other than the unknown also.

Thus have we heard from those who were before us, who have declared this unto us.

That which by voice is not spoken, that through whose power voice is spoken; that, verily, know thou as the Spirit, the Eternal, not this which here they honour and serve.

That which does not think through the power of the mind; that by which, they have declared, the mind is thought; that, verily, know thou as the Spirit, the Eternal, not this which here they honour and serve.

That which does not see through the power of sight; that by which he perceives sights; that, verily, know thou as the Spirit, the Eternal, not this which here they honour and serve.

That which does not hear through the power of hearing ; that through whose power hearing is heard here; that, verily, know thou as the Spirit, the Eternal, not this which here they honour and serve.

That which does not live through the power of the life-breath; that through whose power the life-breath lives; that, verily, know thou as the Spirit, the Eternal, not this which here they honour and serve.

If thou thinkest: I know It well, little, indeed, of a truth, knowest thou that form of the Eternal—that form which thou art, that form which is in the Divine Powers; but if thou sayest: It is to be searched for and sought out, then I think It is known of thee.

He who says: I think not that I know It well, nor do I not know It—he, indeed, knows It. He who says: I know It, knows It not; he who thinks: I know It not, he knows It.

Of whom It is not understood, of him It is understood; of whom It is understood, he knows It not. It is uncomprehended of those who comprehend; It is comprehended of those who comprehend It not.

When It is known through illumination which turns toward It, and so is understood, then he who thus knows It, finds immortality. Through that Supreme Self he finds valour; through illumination he finds immortality.

If he has come to the knowledge of It in this present life, this is the supreme good. If he has not come to a knowledge of It, great is his loss, his fall. Searching for, and discerning It in all things that are, sages, going forth from this world, become immortal.

The Eternal, verily, won a victory for the Bright Powers. In the victory of That, of the Eternal, the Bright Powers magnified themselves. They, considering, said: Of us, verily, is this victory; of us, verily, is this might, said they.

That Eternal knew this thought of theirs. To them, verily, That manifested Itself. They knew It not. What apparition is this? said they.

They spoke to the Fire-god: Thou All-permeating, discover thou what this apparition is! said they.

Be it so! said he.

The Fire-god ran up to That.

That said to him: Who art thou?

The Fire-god, verily, am I! said he. The All-permeating am I!

If that be so, what valour is in thee? said That.

Even this all can I burn up, whatever there be, here in the world! said he.

Before him That laid down a blade of grass.

Burn this! said That.

He went forward toward it with all swiftness. He was not able to burn it.

From That, verily, he turned back.

I have not been able to discover what that apparition is! said he.

And so they spoke to the Wind-god: Thou Wind-god, discover thou what this apparition is! said they.

Be it so! said he.

The Wind-god ran up to That.

That said to him: Who art thou?

The Wind-god, verily, am I! said he. He who rests in the Mother am I!

If that be so, what valour is in thee? said That.

Even this all can I take up, whatever there be, here in the world! said he.

Before him That laid down a blade of grass.

Take up this! said That.

He went forward toward it with all swiftness. He was not able to take it up.

From That, verily, he turned back.

I have not been able to discover what that apparition is! said he.

And so they spoke to the Sky-lord: Thou Might-possessor, discover thou what this apparition is! said they.

Be it so! said he.

The Sky-lord ran up to That. That vanished from before him.

The Sky-lord there, verily, in the shining ether, came upon a Woman greatly radiant, Uma, daughter of the Snowy Mountain.

To her the Sky-lord spoke: What is this apparition? said he.

She spoke: The Eternal, verily! said she. In the victory of That ye were magnifying yourselves, said she.

From her, verily, he knew: It is the Eternal.

Therefore, verily, these Bright Powers stand in rank above the other Bright Powers, namely, the Fire-god, the Wind-god, the Sky-lord; for they touched That most nearly. And because he first knew that It is the Eternal, therefore the Sky-lord surpasses in rank the other Bright Powers; for he touched That most nearly, he first knew That, saying, It is the Eternal.

Of That, this is the teaching: That flashed forth from the lightning, like the twinkling of an eye. This concerns the celestial Powers.

Now, as concerns the Self: To That, intelligence approaches; and through That, the will constantly remembers That. This, verily, is named adoration of That; as adoration of That, it is to be approached with reverence. He who knows That thus, to him all beings are subject in loving obedience.

Thou hast said: Master, tell the Upanishad, the secret teaching! The Upanishad is declared to thee; we have, of a truth, declared the Upanishad concerning the Eternal; for this Upanishad, fervour, control, holy work are the support; the Vedas are its members; truth is its abode.

He who rightly knows this secret teaching, putting away darkness and sin, in the unending heavenly world which is to be won he stands firm, he stands firm.

See Also


“BY Whom?”

Kena Upanishad

Translated from the Sanskrit with an Interpretation

By Charles Johnston

Full Text Online (PDF)

Translated by Swāmi Nikhilānanda

Kena Upanishad

Chapter I

1

The disciple asked: Om. By whose will directed does the mind proceed to its object? At whose command does the prana, the foremost, do its duty? At whose will do men utter speech? Who is the god that directs the eyes and ears?

2

The teacher replied: It is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Speech of speech, the Life of life, and the Eye of the eye. Having detached the Self [from the sense-organs] and renounced the world, the wise attain to Immortality.

3-4

The eye does not go thither, nor speech, nor the mind. We do not know It; we do not understand how anyone can teach It. It is different from the known; It is above the unknown. Thus we have heard from the preceptors of old who taught It to us.

5

That which cannot be expressed by speech, but by which speech is expressed—That alone know as Brahman, and not that which people here worship.

6

That which cannot be apprehended by the mind, but by which, they say, the mind is apprehended—That alone know as Brahman, and not that which people here worship.

7

That which cannot be perceived by the eye, but by which the eye is perceived—That alone know as Brahman, and not that which people here worship.

8

That which cannot be heard by the ear, but by which the hearing is perceived—That alone know as Brahman, and not that which people here worship.

9

That which cannot be smelt by the breath, but by which the breath smells an object—That alone know as Brahman, and not that which people here worship.

Chapter II

1

The teacher said: If you think: “I know Brahman well,” then surely you know but little of Its form; you know only Its form as conditioned by man or by the gods. Therefore Brahman, even now, is worthy of your inquiry.

The disciple said: I think I know Brahman.

2

The disciple said: I do not think I know It well, nor do I think I do not know It. He among us who knows the meaning of “Neither do I not know, nor do I know”—knows Brahman.

3

He by whom Brahman is not known, knows It; he by whom It is known, knows It not. It is not known by those who know It; It is known by those who do not know It.

4

Brahman is known when It is realized in every state of mind; for by such Knowledge one attains Immortality. By Ātman one obtains strength; by Knowledge, Immortality.

5

If a man knows Ātman here, he then attains the true goal of life. If he does not know It here, a great destruction awaits him. Having realized the Self in every being, the wise relinquish the world and become immortal.

Chapter III

1

Brahman, according to the story, obtained a victory for the gods; and by that victory of Brahman the gods became elated. They said to themselves: “Verily, this victory is ours; verily, this glory is ours only.”

2

Brahman, to be sure, understood it all and appeared before them. But they did not know who that adorable Spirit was.

3-6

They said to Agni (Fire): “O Agni! Find out who this great Spirit is.” “Yes,” he said, and hastened to It. Brahman asked him: “Who are you?” He replied: “I am known as Agni; I am also called Jātavedā.” Brahman said: “What power is in you, who are so well known?” Fire replied: “I can burn all—whatever there is on earth.” Brahman put a straw before him and said: “Burn this.” He rushed toward it with all his ardour but could not burn it. Then he returned from the Spirit and said to the gods: “I could not find out who this Spirit is.”

7-10

Then they said to Vāyu (Air): “O Vāyu! Find out who this great Spirit is.” “Yes,” he said, and hastened to It. Brahman asked him: “Who are you?” He replied: “I am known as Vāyu; I am also called Mātariśvā.” Brahman said: “What power is in you, who are so well known?” Vāyu replied: “I can carry off all—whatever there is on earth.” Brahman put a straw before him and said: “Carry this.” He rushed toward it with all his ardour but could not move it. Then he returned from the Spirit and said to the gods: “I could not find out who this Spirit is.”

11-12

Then the gods said to Indra: “O Maghavan! Find out who this great Spirit is.” “Yes,” he said and hastened to It. But the Spirit disappeared from him. Then Indra beheld in that very region of the sky a Woman highly adorned. She was Umā, the daughter of the Himālayas. He approached Her and said: “Who is this great Spirit?”

Chapter IV

1

She replied: “It is, indeed, Brahman. Through the victory of Brahman alone have you attained glory.” After that Indra understood that It was Brahman.

2

Since they approached very near Brahman and were the first to know that It was Brahman, these devas, namely, Agni, Vayu, and Indra, excelled the other gods.

3

Since Indra approached Brahman nearest, and since he was the first to know that It was Brahman, Indra excelled the other gods.

4

This is the instruction about Brahman with regard to the gods: It is like a flash of lightning; It is like a wink of the eye.

5

Now the instruction about Brahman with regard to the individual self: The mind, as it were, goes to Brahman. The seeker, by means of the mind, communes with It intimately again and again. This should be the volition of his mind.

6

That Brahman is called Tadvana, the Adorable of all; It should be worshipped by the name of Tadvana. All creatures desire him who worships Brahman thus.

7

The disciple said: “Teach me, sir, the Upanishad.”

The preceptor replied: “I have already told you the Upanishad. I have certainly told you the Upanishad about Brahman.”

8

Austerities, self-restraint, and sacrificial rites are Its feet, and the Vedas are all Its limbs. Truth is Its abode.

9

He who thus knows this Upanishad shakes off all sins and becomes firmly established in the infinite and the highest Heaven, yea, the highest Heaven.

See Also


The Upanishads

Katha, Isa, Kena, and Mundaka

Translated from the Sanskrit with Introductions embodying a General Survey and the Metaphysics and Psychology of the Upanishads, and with Notes and Explanations based on the Commentary of Sri Sankaracharya, the great Ninth-century Philosopher and Saint of India.

By Swami Nikhilananda

Full Text Online (PDF)

Translated by Vidyavachaspati V. Panoli

© 2013 Universal Theosophy.com

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