Sacred Books of the East/Volume 1/Talavakâra-upanishad

Also known as Kena-upanishad.


First Khanda.

1. The Pupil asks: 'At whose wish does the mind sent forth proceed on its errand? At whose command does the first breath go forth? At whose wish do we utter this speech? What god directs the eye, or the ear?'

2. The Teacher replies: It is the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, the speech of speech, the breath of breath, and the eye of the eye. When freed (from the senses) the wise, on departing from this world, become immortal[1].

3. 'The eye does not go thither, nor speech, nor mind. We do not know, we do not understand, how any one can teach it.

4. 'It is different from the known, it is also above the unknown, thus we have heard from those of old, who taught us this[2].

5. 'That which is not expressed by speech and by which speech is expressed, that alone know as Brahman, not that which people here adore.

6. 'That which does not think by mind, and by which, they say, mind is thought[3], that alone know as Brahman, not that which people here adore.

7. 'That which does not see by the eye, and by which one sees (the work of) the eyes, that alone know as Brahman, not that which people here adore.

8. 'That which does not hear by the ear, and by which the ear is heard, that alone know as Brahman, not that which people here adore.

9. 'That which does not breathe by breath, and by which breath is drawn, that alone know as Brahman, not that which people here adore.'

Second Khanda.

1. The Teacher says: 'If thou thinkest I know it well; then thou knowest surely but little, what is that form of Brahman known, it may be, to thee[4]?'

2. The Pupil says: 'I do not think I know it well, nor do I know that I do not know it. He among us who knows this, he knows it, nor does he know that he does not know it[5].

3. 'He by whom it (Brahman) is not thought, by him it is thought; he by whom it is thought, knows it not. It is not understood by those who understand it, it is understood by those who do not understand it.

4. 'It is thought to be known (as if) by awakening, and (then) we obtain immortality indeed. By the Self we obtain strength, by knowledge we obtain immortality.

5. 'If a man know this here, that is the true (end of life); if he does not know this here, then there is great destruction (new births). The wise who have thought on all things (and recognised the Self in them) become immortal, when they have departed from this world.'

Third Khanda.[6]

1. Brahman obtained the victory for the Devas. The Devas became elated by the victory of Brahman, and they thought, this victory is ours only, this greatness is ours only.

2. Brahman perceived this and appeared to them. But they did not know it, and said: 'What sprite (yaksha or yakshya) is this?'

3. They said to Agni (fire): 'O Gâtavedas, find out what sprite this is.' 'Yes,' he said.

4. He ran toward it, and Brahman said to him: 'Who are you?' He replied: 'I am Agni, I am Gâtavedas.'

5. Brahman said: 'What power is in you?' Agni replied: 'I could burn all whatever there is on earth.'

6. Brahman put a straw before him, saying: 'Burn this.' He went towards it with all his might, but he could not burn it. Then he returned thence and said: 'I could not find out what sprite this is.'

7. Then they said to Vâyu (air): 'O Vâyu, find out what sprite this is.' 'Yes,' he said.

8. He ran toward it, and Brahman said to him: 'Who are you?' He replied: 'I am Vâyu, I am Mâtarisvan.'

9. Brahman said: 'What power is in you?' Vâyu replied: 'I could take up all whatever there is on earth.'

10. Brahman put a straw before him, saying: 'Take it up.' He went towards it with all his might, but he could not take it up. Then he returned thence and said: 'I could not find out what sprite this is.'

11. Then they said to Indra: 'O Maghavan, find out what sprite this is.' He went towards it, but it disappeared from before him.

12. Then in the same space (ether) he came towards a woman, highly adorned: it was Umâ, the daughter of Himavat[7]. He said to her: 'Who is that sprite?'

Fourth Khanda.

1. She replied: 'It is Brahman. It is through the victory of Brahman that you have thus become great.' After that he knew that it was Brahman.

2. Therefore these Devas, viz. Agni, Vâyu, and Indra, are, as it were, above the other gods, for they touched it (the Brahman) nearest[8].

3. And therefore Indra is, as it were, above the other gods, for he touched it nearest, he first knew it.

4. This is the teaching of Brahman, with regard to the gods (mythological): It is that which now flashes forth in the lightning, and now vanishes again.

5. And this is the teaching of Brahman, with regard to the body (psychological): It is that which seems to move as mind, and by it imagination remembers again and again[9].

6. That Brahman is called Tadvana[10], by the name of Tadvana it is to be meditated on. All beings have a desire for him who knows this.

7. The Teacher: 'As you have asked me to tell you the Upanishad, the Upanishad has now been told you. We have told you the Brâhmî Upanishad.

8. 'The feet on which that Upanishad stands are penance, restraint, sacrifice; the Vedas are all its limbs[11], the True is its abode.

9. 'He who knows this Upanishad, and has shaken off all evil, stands in the endless, unconquerable[12] world of heaven, yea, in the world of heaven.'


  1. This verse admits of various translations, and still more various explanations. Instead of taking vâkam, like all the other words, as a nominative, we might take them all as accusatives, governed by atimukya, and sa u prânasya prânah as a parenthetical sentence. What is meant by the ear is very fully explained by the commentator, but the simplest acceptation would seem to take it as an answer to the preceding questions, so that the ear of the ear should be taken for him who directs the ear, i.e. the Self, or Brahman. This will become clearer as we proceed.
  2. Cf. Îsa Up. 11; 13.
  3. The varia lectio manaso matam (supported also by the commentary) is metrically and grammatically easier, but it may be, for that very reason, an emendation.
  4. In order to obtain a verse, we must leave out the words tvam yad asya deveshv atha nu mîmâmsyam eva. They were probably inserted, as an excuse for the third khanda treating of the relation of Brahman to the Devas. There is considerable variety in the text, as handed down in the Sâma-veda and in the Atharva-veda, which shows that it has been tampered with. Daharam for dabhram may be the older reading, as synezesis occurs again and again in the Upanishads.
  5. This verse has again been variously explained. I think the train of thought is this: We cannot know Brahman, as we know other objects, by referring them to a class and pointing out their differences. But, on the other hand, we do not know that we know him not, i.e. no one can assert that we know him not, for we want Brahman in order to know anything. He, therefore, who knows this double peculiarity of the knowledge of Brahman, he knows Brahman, as much as it can be known; and he does not know, nor can anybody prove it to him, that he does not know Brahman.
  6. This khanda is generally represented as a later addition, but its prose style has more of a Brâhmana character than the verses in the preceding khandas, although their metrical structure is irregular, and may be taken as a sign of antiquity.
  7. Umâ may here be taken as the wife of Siva, daughter of Himavat, better known by her earlier name, Pârvatî, the daughter of the mountains. Originally she was, not the daughter of the mountains or of the Himâlaya, but the daughter of the cloud, just as Rudra was originally, not the lord of the mountains, girîsa, but the lord of the clouds. We are, however, moving here in a secondary period of Indian thought, in which we see, as among Semitic nations, the manifested powers, and particularly the knowledge and wisdom of the gods, represented by their wives. Umâ means originally flax, from vâ, to weave, and the same word may have been an old name of wife, she who weaves (cf. duhitri, spinster, and possibly wife itself, if O.H.G. wîb is connected with O.H.G. wëban). It is used almost synonymously with ambikâ, Taitt. Âr. p. 839. If we wished to take liberties, we might translate umâ haimavatâ by an old woman coming from the Himavat mountains; but I decline all responsibility for such an interpretation.
  8. The next phrase was borrowed from §3, without even changing the singular to the plural. As Indra only found out that it was Brahman, the original distinction between Indra and the other gods, who only came near to it, was quite justified. Still it might be better to adopt the var. lect. sa hy etat in §2.
  9. I have translated these paragraphs very differently from Saṅkara and other interpreters. The wording is extremely brief, and we can only guess the original intention of the Upanishad by a reference to other passages. Now the first teaching of Brahman, by means of a comparison with the gods or heavenly things in general, seems to be that Brahman is what shines forth suddenly like lightning. Sometimes the relation between the phenomenal world and Brahman is illustrated by the relation between bubbles and the sea, or lightning and the unseen heavenly light (Mait. Up. VI, 35). In another passage, Kh. Up. VIII, 12, 2, lightning, when no longer seen, is to facilitate the conception of the reality of things, as distinct from their perceptibility. I think, therefore, that the first simile, taken from the phenomenal world, was meant to show that Brahman is that which appears for a moment in the lightning, and then vanishes from our sight.
    The next illustration is purely psychological. Brahman is proved to exist, because our mind moves towards things, because there is something in us which moves and perceives, and because there is something in us which holds our perceptions together (saṅkalpa), and revives them again by memory.
    I give my translation as hypothetical only, for certainty is extremely difficult to attain, when we have to deal with these enigmatical sayings which, when they were first delivered, were necessarily accompanied by oral explanations.
  10. Tadvana, as a name of Brahman, is explained by 'the desire of it,' and derived from van, to desire, the same as vâñkh.
  11. It is impossible to adopt Saṅkara's first rendering, 'the Vedas and all the Aṅgas,' i.e. the six subsidiary doctrines. He sees himself that sarvâṅgâni stands in opposition to pratishthâ and âyatana, but seeing Veda and Aṅga together, no Brahman could help thinking of the Vedâṅgas.
  12. Might we read agyeye for gyeye? cf. Satap. Brâhm. XI, 5, 7, 1.