Indian spiritual tradition is a great banyan tree. The Upanisads are the most beautiful flowers blossomed on this tree, according to Dr. Paul Deussen. Flowers are beautiful when they are on the tree. The tree of the Upanisad-flowers is constituted of the Vedas. In other words, the Upanisads are the flowers having the fragrance and beauty of the philosophy of non-dualism, blossomed on the vast banyan tree of the Vedas which in turn are enlaced by the complexities of rituals. The Taittiriya Upanisad is one of the best among such flowers.
This Upanisad begins with a chapter on siksa, a subsidiary Vedic discipline which teaches the art of correct chanting of Vedic hymns with proper intonations. But this discipline is given a new dimension in the Upanisad. It is revalued and sublimated so as to be fully meaningful I the context of the wisdom of Vedanta. Instead of rejecting a Vedic concept, it is accepted in the Vedantic context by giving it a new meaning and a new status. That is to say, the Vedic concept of siksa is subjected to a dialetical revaluation and is made acceptable to Vedanta.
According to the ancient system of Gurukula education, a student has to live with the guru at his residence. he can either continue in the same gurukula after completing the formal education to lead a teacher’s life or return home to live as a householder. The first chapter of the Upanisad ends with a detailed practical instruction given by the guru to the disciple who is about to leave the gurukula after completing his education, which education culminates in Brahmavidya or the science of Brahman. These instructions meant for leading an ideal worldly life, show clearly that Brahmavidya or Vedanta is not merely an escapism. Rather it insists on making the life in this world perfect with the guidance of the wisdom of Vedanta.
Brahmananda Valli, the second chapter, beings with a statement about the ultimate value of the wisdom of Brahman followed by a definition of Brahman. Then it says, this Brahman is to be directly perceived by one in his own being, as the self. The search then is for a real understanding of the Self. That is to say, the enquirer has to find out the causal substance which has become individuated as his personal being. The search goes more and more interiorized. At each stage of interiorization a particular aspect of one’s existence is perceived as the stuff of with Ananda (Bliss or Value). At each stage the previous one is seen as its body, while the latter makes the former perfect. Lastly, when Ananda is seen as the stuff of the Self, the enquirer sees the being of Brahman itself as his own being.
Sankara introduces here the theory of five sheaths (pancakosa). This theory assumes that each stage is a sheath to be removed so as to see the Self seated inside. At least according to us, this Upanisad does not support such an idea. Each stage is perceived as the Self and that status is never denied afterwards. Besides all the stages are so inter-related that each of the preceding one forms that body of the latter while the latter gives perfection to the former. For this reason we had to deviate from Sankara in respect of the way of approach in interpreting this Upanisad. Yet the final conclusion arrived at remains the same as that of Sankara and he has been considered our guide in this commentary.
The remaining part of the second chapter consists of a subsidiary question and its answer. The question is, “Does an ignorant person attain the supreme after death or does the wise one along reach there?” The answer Indicates that the very question is a result of the lack of proper understanding of the Reality. The Guru elaborately describes the nature of life in its global aspect where there is no discrimination between the ignorant and the wise, the wise, the here and the hereafter, life and death, merit and demerit. Man’s sense of value, the range of which extends from ordinary worldly pleasures to Brahmananda (Absolute Happiness of Brahman) is subjected to a critical study, and finally finds that the same value or Ananda runs through the entire gamut. We cannot say where the here ends and the hereafter beings in this range of values. All are but various forms in which the same Ananda expresses itself in a graded fashion.
In the Brahmananda Valli, the Reality is perceived as the Self. The opposite is the way of the Bhrgu Valli, the third chapter. An individual, through his own austere self-discipline, strives to know Brahman. The same gradation of values seen in the case of the Self in the second chapter is visualized as concerning Brahman. Finally all these gradations, from food to Bliss, including the knowledge that enabled the attainment of Brahman, are equated to food (annam), as values. It indicates that all of them have the same place as food in human life.
Such is the structural scheme in which Brahmavidya is presented in the present Upanisad. Though all the Upanisads deal with the same subject, each has its own uniqueness in respect of its overall structure, the main problem solved, general background on which the theme is set, and the Vedic concepts revalued and restated.
The thought behind the present commentary is not merely is not merely of one individual. Each section of the Upanisad was reflected on for a whole day by a group of students and they presented their observations in the next class. The present commentator absorbed all such ideas into his own and gave a final touch and shape. That is how this book was written.
An insight into the overall structure of the Upanisad and its uniqueness was gained from the classes given by Nataraja Guru in various contexts. An attempt to delve deeply into the mystico-philosophical poems of Narayana Guru has also helped a lot in understanding the implications in the Upanisad.
The devotedness with which Mr. Andy Larkin of Portland, Oregon (U.S.A.) edited the entire text of this commentary cannot be recalled without shedding tears. We are very much grateful to M/s. DK Printworld for undertaking the responsibility of publishing the book.
We prostrate before the long, succession of Gurus’ from the unknown rsi of the Upanisad to Sankara, Narayana Guru, and Nataraja Guru, and submit this commentary to all the inquisitive students of the Upanisads.
Back of the Book
The Upanisads capture the quintessence of Indian spiritual wisdom unfolding deep-set, highly perceptive reflections on human existence and how it is related to cosmic mystery. Authored by enlightened seers, at different times, during 1500-200 BC, the Upanisadic message inheres neither a promise of heaven, nor scare of hell. Rather, it is a magnificent vision that raises human consciousness to sublime heights.
The Taittiriya – appended to the Krsna (Black) Yajurveda – is one of best among the principal Upanisads. and, schematically, is offered in three chapters, entitled: (1) Siksa Valli, (2) Brahmananda Valli, and (3) Bhrgu Valli – which each Swami Muni Narayana Prasad treats singly, superbly revealing the invisible thread that goes through all of them.
With original Sanskrit text, its Roman transliteration and easy-to-understand English paraphrase, this stimulating, at once analytical commentary grows from Swami Muni Narayana Prasad’s prolonged reflections on the Taittiriya Upanisad, coupled with the insights he acknowledges to have gained from Nataraja Guru’s discourses on different Upanisadic themes, Narayana Guru’s mystico-philosophical poems, and numerous sessions of intellectual interaction with different groups of scholars.
Swami Muni Narayana Prasad is the Guru and Head of Narayana Gurukula, a guru-disciple foundation open to all, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, religion or nation, aimed at promoting the Science of the Absolute (Brahma-vidya) as restated by Narayana Guru. A disciple of Nataraja Guru and Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati, he has traveled widely teaching Indian Philosophy. He has authored around seventy books in the Malayalam language. His English books are: commentaries on the Aitareya, Chandogya, Isa, Katha, Kena, Mandukya, Mundaka and Prasna Upanisads, Vedanta Sutras and Darsanamala of Narayana Guru, Vedanta up to Narayana Guru, Karma and Reincarnation, Basic Lessons on India’s Wisdom, The Philosophy of Narayana Guru, Life Pilgrimage Through the Gita, Collected Works of Narayana Guru, and Narayana Smrtih.
THE Vedas are the basic scriptures of India. They are four in
number, namely, the Rg Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and
the Atharva Veda. These are compilations of hymns composed
by numerous seers, commonly known as rsis. The Vedas were
followed by a body of literature called Brdhmanas which mainly
aimed at elucidating the ritualistic import of the Vedic hymns.
The latter part of certain Brahmanas are distinguished as
Aranyakas, which by nature tend to be more philosophical.
Certain Aranyakas end with philosophical discourses known as
TheTaittirya Upanisad forms part of the Taittiriva Aranyaka as
its seventh, eighth and ninth sections (prapathakas). The tenth
section of the same Aranyaka is known as the Mahanarayana
upanisad. The Taittiriya Aranyaka is the concluding part of the
Taittiriya Brahmana, which in turn is appended to the Taittiriya
Samhita or the Krsna (Black) Yajur Veda.
Unlike the other Vedas, the Yajur Veda has two recensions, the
sukla Yajur Veda and the Krsna Yajur Veda. Sukla means 'white'
and Krsna means 'black'. There is a legend behind this division
which is referred to in the Mahabharata (12.319) and the Visnu
Purana (3.5). Vyasa, who classified the Vedic hymns and
compiled them into the four Vedas, authorized four of his senior
disciples to convey the Vedas to posterity. Vaisampayana was
in charge of the Yajur Veda. Once there was a great assembly of
rsis in the Mahameru Mountains, at which Vaisampayana was
meant to be present, but which he could not manage to attend.
This error of omission was considered so serious that it was
taken to be equal to the sin of killing a Brahmin (brahma-hatya-
papa). Vaisampayana, therefore, directed his twenty-seven
disciples to do expiatory rituals on his behalf. Yajnavalkya, a
nephew of Vaisampayana, was one among them. Well aware of
the incompetence of his co-disciples, Yajnavalkya offered to do
the entire ritual by himself on behalf of all of them.
Vaisampayana interpreted this as an offensive display of
egotism on the part of Yajnavalkya. He thought that Yajnavalkya
was ridiculing his friends, and was, even worse, showing
disrespect towards his own master. He, therefore, decided that
Yajnavalkya was not fit to be the propagator of his tradition. He
became so enraged at his dlsciple that he asked him to return
whatever he had gained from him.
Yajnavalkya took this as an insult in turn, feeling that his Guru
was not impartial. But he had to give back all the Vedic hymns
he had learned from Vaisampayana. It was in the form of vomit
mixed with blood that all the yajus (stanzas of the Yajur Veda)
came-out from him. All the other disciples of Vaisampayana, at
his behest, took the form of black partridges and ate the vomit.
The black partridge is called tittiri in Sanksrit. The Yajur Vedic
hymns vomited by Yajnavalkya and eaten by the tittiris thus
came to be known as the Taittiriya Samhita (the Vedic hymns
descended from the tittiris).
Yajnavalkya did not become dispirited. He began to lead a
life of intense austerity, worshipping and meditating on the Sun
God. The Sun God became so pleased with him that he came to
him in the guise of a white horse and taught him the same
hymns of the Yajur Veda in another form. This recension of the
Yajur Veda became known as the Sukla Yajur Veda and also as
the Vajasaneyi Samhita as it was taught by a horse (vaji). The
Brhadaranyaka Upanisad and the Isavasya Upanisad come under
The Taittiriya Upanisad has a special place among the experts
who chant the Vedic hymns observing the rules on sound
modulation. The branch of discipline which lays down the rules
on such recitals is known as siksa. The first chapter of the
Taitiriva Upanisad is named Siksa Valli and has this discipline
for its anterior position ,of purvapaksa. That may be why such an
importance is given to this Upanisad.
There are six disciplines, known as Vedangas which are
auxiliaries to the study of the Vedas. Siksa, which teaches the
proper pronunciation of words and laws of euphony, is first
among them. The other five are: Kalpam (the discipline which
lays down the ritual and prescribes rules for ceremonial and
sacrificial acts), Vyakaranam (grammar), Niruktam (explanation of
words), Chandas (metrical science), and Jyotisam (astrology).
Though Siksa in the Vedic context means 'pronunciation', in a
general sense it can also mean 'preparing oneself proyerly for
the endeavour one is about to be engaged in'. The Siksa Valli
begins by defining the word siksa in its Vedic context. But we see,
as the lessons advance, that the Vedic concepts are revised one
after another by merging them within another context which has
a wider meaning. For example, there are three vyahrtis (bhuh,
bhuvah and suvah) which are usually added to the chanting of
the famous Gayatri mantra; to these is added a fourth one called
mahah which is equated here to the Brahman (the Absolute) of
the Upanisads. This is followed by an instruction on how to
meditate on mahah as belonging to five contexts; in each context
mahah is related to the individual's existence and also to the
existence of the entire cosmic system. Finally, the natural
behaviour patterns of those who are fully dedicated to it are
described. Here we see that the Siksa of the limited context of
Vedism is revised and its value and scope enhanced and
sublimated to the higher context of Vedanta. Such is the nature
of the chapter on siksa of the Taittiriya Upanisad. We shall see its
details as we proceed.