Showing posts with label Aitareya Upanishad- Origin Of The Universe & Man. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aitareya Upanishad- Origin Of The Universe & Man. Show all posts

Saturday, April 9, 2016


Upanishads are the theological texts of Hinduism which contain the most basic philosophy on which the Hindu thought is based. Along with the Bhagvat Geeta, they form the core of the Hindu understanding of the universe. They impart a  philosophical and spiritual angle to the various Vedic rituals and hence these texts have multilevel interpretations. A scholar can go deep and deep but still he will find the same verses will have infinite meanings that reflect upon the keen sense of metaphysical understanding that our ancestors had.
The most heard quotes from Hindu philosophy are none but Upanishadic verses right from Aham Brahmasmi, Tatvamasi to Satyameva Jayate.

Each of the 4 Vedas i.e Rigveda, Yajuveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda are divided into 4 parts i.e

  • Samhita - The texts that contains verses and hymns to be recited
  • Brahmana - Meanings of certain words and verses
  • Aranyaka - To be recited in the forests. They are similar to Brahmanas
  • Upanishad - They explain the deep philosophical meaning of Vedic verses and rituals
Thus Upanishads themselves are a part of Vedas. There exist more than 200 Upanishads ranging from few pages to fat books. The list of 108 various Upanishads occur in the Muktikopanishad where the names of almost all of the major Upanishads occur. 
The most famous Upanishads of Hindu thought are Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya, Aitareya, Isha, Prashna, Mundok, Kena, Shwetashwatara, etc. 

Another logical conclusion is that every Veda has it's own Upanishad which propounds the contents of that particular Veda. Here is a small classification of Upanishads according to the Vedas they belong to - 




There are infinite sites and honourable Swamis who deal with the philosophical aspect of the Upanishads. This post is mainly meant to deal with the historical and geographical aspect of the Upanishads. 


The Vedic culture mainly comprised of rituals which were basically established to please Gods, live longer or to get priceless gifts from Gods. The Yagyas that were conducted mainly dealt with rituals which included fire, horse, oblations,etc. Now these Yagyas cannot be conducted silently. Thus verses were composed by different families of rishis for their particular Yagyas which were to be recited. This gave rise to a large number of Yagyas for different purposes. All of this is mechanical and ritualistic worship. 

Human mind is always in the pursuit of knowing the deep secrets of the universe and what lies in the infinite space around us. Just as science and rituals are the food for your brain, philosophy and spirituality is the food for your mind. The rishis came to know that a level of perfection and ultimate pleasure can be attained through meditation and becoming one with the Supreme.With time, the rishis started focusing on some basic questions of our existence. Their inborn curiosity led them to find as to who is controlling all that is around us. Consequently, the deep meanings of Vedic verses and the various rituals was taken into account. To quote an example, the Upanishads discuss the deep meaning of why a horse is tied to a pole and faces east during a Ashwamedha Yagya. The consequent result was a concept called "Brahman" or the supreme being. This Brahman is what is driving everything around us.  It is the chemical X that is present in every bit of the universe that makes it function what it is destined to. 

Without going much into philosophy, let's focus on the consequences of this. With a new style of thinking taking shape, the same rituals began to be viewed with completely different angle. The knowledge began to be divided into two types-  Gyankanda and Karmakanda literally meaning philosophy and rituals way of understanding things. Consequently, knowledgeable people started conducting debates about the in depth understanding of the Brahman.  Kings began conducting such debates. Handsome awards were given to the winner. The conversations of such people were recorded and further compiled into scriptures which came to be known as Upanishads. It should be noted that philosophy has existed from the start of civilization but it came out in full force when Upanishads were compiled as texts dealing only with philosophy. These scriptures were compiled, assigned a meter and faithfully transmitted orally. Having such a precious doctrine in them ,these scriptures were declared as Shrutis i.e scriptures to be heard and transmitted where not even a word is to be changed.

The brahmins belonging to that particular branch of Vedas were taught that particular Upanishad. But with time, all these scriptures were made open to all and they got a common name "Vedanta" literally meaning the end point of Vedas. 

Authorship of the Upanishads is a bit complicated issue since very few names are mentioned. But from what information we get, majority of the authors were Brahmins and Kshatriyas. The Varna system being flexible then, even a Shudra was made a Brahmin based on his knowledge. There are many instances where the kings themselves outwitted the Brahmins showing that knowledge was not the sole premise of Brahmins. Kings like Janaka Videha, Ajatshatru Kashiraj, Ashwapati Kekaya,etc won debates with Brahmins who had come to teach them. Shudras like Satyakama Jabala won many debates. Another interesting feature is that we find mention of two women namely Gargi Vachaknavi and Maitrayee who also used to participate in the debates. This shows the high social ranking of women in those times. 


Now coming to the main point- geography of Upanishads. 
If we look at the names of different places mentioned and the kings belonging to different kingdoms, the geography can be broadly classified into Kuru- Panchala region and Kashi-Videha region. In the Kuru-Panchal region, we have kings like Jaivahan Panchal and rishis like Uddalaka. Uddalaka is said to have roamed in the Kuru region to gather Brahmins for a debate. The epicentre for philosophy was of course, the Kashi-Videha region with it's most powerful theologist, Yajnavalkya. He was the one who had defeated almost all people from different parts of Bharat. He was the chief theologist in Videha's king Janaka's court. Because of him, Videha had emerged as an important center for philosophy. 
In addition, in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, we have a reference of Indradyuma Bhallaveya having learnt from king Ashwapati Kekaya, the father of Ram's step mother Kaikeyi. Regions like Gandhara are also mentioned.
Upanishads were composed. Majority of the Upanishads were composed during, just before and just after the era of Rama and king Janaka of Videha. As I have said earlier, king Janaka used to host debates in his kingdom where Yajnavalkya was his chief theologian. Most of the names, thus, appearing with Yajnavalkya become his contemporary. We would see how this is the case as we begin placing the Upanishads. 

All the placing of rishis and sages is done with respect to king Janaka who was one generation before Shri Rama. 

Kaushitaki Upanishad 
The composer of this Upanishad is Kahod Kaushitaki. He was the contemporary of king Janaka and Yajnavalkya. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad  ( 3.5) has a conversation between Yajnavalkya and Kahod Kaushitaki. Plus, Mahabharata ( 3.132 and 133) mention the story where Janaka had organized a debate in his Videha kingdom where Kahod's son Ashtavakra and Ashtavakra's mama Shvetaketu had gone there to debate with Bandi, the son of Varuna. It also gives the information of Shvetaketu's family as Aruni --> Uddalak --> Shvetaketu . 
This would be clear by the following - 

This places the Kaushitaki Upanishad one generation prior to Shri Rama.

Aitareya Upanishad 
This Upanishad is composed by Mahidasa Aitareya, who belonged to a lower caste but was elevated to the post of a Brahmin. He has also composed Aitareya Brahmana, Aitareya Arnyaka,etc. But late additions have also been made to his Brahmana and Aranyaka. We take the help of Sankhyayana Grihya Sutra ( 4.10 and 6.1). It gives the list of teachers of that scripture. This list starts from Kahod Kaushitaki --> Suyajna Sankhyayana --> Mahidasa Aitareya. Apart from these, Ashvalayana Grihya Sutra ( 3.4) inserts Paingya in between Kahod and Suyajna.  See the following



This places Aitareya Upanishad 4 generations before Shri Rama. 

Katha Upanishad 
This Upanishad is a conversation between young Nachiketa and Yama. Nachiketa is said to be the son of Auddalak i.e grandson of Uddalak in Katha Upanishad (1.1.11). Elsewhere, his father is said to be Vajashravas. That could be his personal name. But the placing is clear. 
Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishad These are very easy to place since majority of the people they talk are having a conversation with Yajnvalkya in the court of king Janaka of Videha. If you place the different kings and rishis listed in the these two Upanishads, we conclude that some of them were before Yajnavalkya, some contemporary who had conversation with him and others are later than him. This shows that the conversations were recorded and later on compiled into an Upanishad.
Another way of placing these two Upanishads is by the reference of Indradyumna Bhallaveya. He had a debate with Yajnavalkya. Indradyumna claims in Chandogya Upanishad (5.11) and Shatpatha Brahmana ( that he was counselled by Ashwapati Kekaya which Ramayana mentions to be the father of Kaikeyi, Rama's step mother. So these two Upanishads can indeed be placed in the Ramayanic era.
Since we have placed these Upanishads, we can make a list of names whom are either contemporary or 1-2 generations before/after these Upanishads. All the names appear in Brihadaranyaka (BU) and Chandogya (CU) and Shatapatha Brahmana (SB) -

  • Pravahana Jaivali Panchal - BU (6.2)
  • Ajatshatru Kashi - king of Kashi and his son Bhadrasena Aajatshatru - SB (
  • Uddanka Saulbhayana - BU ( 4.1.3)
  • Budhila Ashvatarashvi - CU (5.16)
  • Patanjala Kpya - BU (3.7.1)
  • Barku Varshna BU (4.1.4)
  • Bhujyu Lahyayani BU (3.3)
  • Gardabhivipeeta Bharadvaja BU (4.1.5)
  • Gargi Vachaknavi BU (3.6)
  • Jaratkarava Artabhaga BU (3.2)
  • Jitvan Shaileeni BU (4.1.1)
  • Ushasta Chakrayana CU (1.10.1)
  • Vidagha Shakalya SB (, BU (3.9)
  • Chaikitayana Dalbhya and his son Brahmadatta Chaikitaneya - CU (1.8)
  • Gargya Balaki - BU (2.1) has a discussion with Ajatshatru Kashi
Besides, these Upanishads also mention Kahod Kaushitaki, Ashtavakra, etc who also were contemporaries of Yajnavalkya. 
As we have seen, Mahidasa Aitareya was 4 generations before Shri Rama. Chandogya being contemporary to Shri Rama, it mentions that Mahidasa Aitareya lived for 116 years - CU (3.16.7). It also mentions the story of Satyakama Jabala who existed some generations after Yajnavalkya thus confirming my proposition that these two Upanishads are compilation of dialogues which were compiled later.

Brihad Jabala Upanishad 
As the name suggests, the composer is Satyakama Jabala. He was a Shudra who was taught by his teacher Haridrumata Gautama. His story appears in Chandogya  (4.4.3).  Now, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.3.7) also gives a list of teachers from Uddalaka till Satyakama Jabala. Chandogya (4.10) adds another name of Upakoshala Kamlayana as the pupil of Satyakama Jabala. Following will demonstrate it -
This places the Brihad Jabala Upanishad at 3 generations after Shri Rama. This is also coroborated by a reference to a dialogue between Yajnavalkya and king Janaka that is quoted in Brihad Jabala (7). 

This is a relatively late Upanishad. The placing becomes clear by one reference to king Hiranyanabha of Ayodhya where the rishis had gone to interact with him. PU (6.1)
The rishis who were present were Sauryayani Gargya, Shaivya Satyakama.,Sukesha Bharadvaja, Kaushalya  Ashvalayana, Kabandhi Katyayana, Bhargava Vaidarbhi. 
King Hiranyanabha was 18 generations after Shri Rama. 

This Upanishad cannot be properly 'placed' but it is definately before the times of Yajnavalkya.
As a matter of fact, sage Vaishampayana was the mama and teacher of Yajnnavalkya. Vaishampayana had taught the Yajurveda to Yajnavalkya. At that time, there was only one Yajurveda. Yajnavalkya due to his arrogance was asked to give back all his knowledge. So he gave it back. After worshiping the Sun God, he refined the Yajurveda and made it accurate. The original version taught by Vaishampayana came to known as Krishna Yajurveda and the version of Yajnavalkya came to be known as Shukla Yajurveda. 
Ishopanishad is a part of Yajurveda. Since it is present in both the Yajurvedas, we can be sure that it existed before Yajnavalkya and Vaishampayana. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Aitareya Upanishad- Origin Of The Universe & Man

Aitareya Upanishad- Origin Of The Universe & Man (Part-1)
By T.N.Sethumadhavan, October 2011 

Aitareya Upanishad is a common ground for philosophy and physics. It contains the mahavakya, the great aphorism “prajnanam brahma”, Consciousness is Brahman. Aitareya Upanishad identifies Consciousness as the First Cause of creation. This is forerunner of ‘Unified Field Theory’ or a ‘Theory of Everything’ which the modern physicists are trying to discover although the modern science does not recognize Consciousness as a factor in creation of the universe. 

One of the oldest pastimes of man is to run the search engine of his contemplative and analytical faculties to find out the final answer to the riddle of creation of the universe. This question is not merely academic but it also assumes the colors of religion, philosophy, science and poetry.

We have answers to this enigma in every religion. We have scientific theories throwing up endless ever changing conclusions, the most path-breaking of which is Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” followed by Stephen Hawking and others. We have philosophers’ speculations and poetic imaginations. But the mystery of creation remains as much unfathomed and unsolved today as in the Vedic days. For a detailed analysis of the subject the reader may refer to my article entitled “Mystery of Creation - Some Vedantic Concepts” under the category ‘Vedanta’ available in this Website.


Creation is interpreted in the Vedas as a developmental course rather than as bringing into being something not hitherto existent. It was considered as an ongoing-process and not an event. The Purusha Sukta of Rig Veda paints a picture of the ideal Primeval Being existing before any phenomenal existence. He is conceived as a cosmic person with a thousand heads, eyes and feet, who filled the whole universe and extended beyond it. The world form is only a fragment of this divine reality. The first principle which is called Purusha manifested as the whole world by his Tapas.

This view gets crystallized into the later Upanishadic doctrine that the spirit or Atman in man (at microcosm) is the same as the spirit which is the cause of the world which goes by the name Brahman or Paramatman (at macrocosm). These theories are discussed in elaborate details in the following Upanishads Viz., Prasna, Aitareya, Mundaka, Taittiriya, Katha, Chandogya, Svetasvatara, Brhadaranyaka, Maitri, Paingala Upanishads besides the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Vasishtha. Among the latter Acharyas the contributions made by Gaudapada, and Adi Sankara to these thoughts are colossal.

A brief quotation from the article “Cosmology in Vedanta” by Swami Tathagatananda published by Vedanta Society of New York given below brings out lucidly the perspectives of both Vedanta and modern science on this subject.

Quote--“A perceptive reader will find many striking similarities between the latest findings of Astrophysics and ancient Indian cosmological ideas, of which Swamiji (Vivekananda) says: " . . . you will find how wonderfully they are in accordance with the latest discoveries of modern science; and where there is disharmony, you will find that it is modern science which lacks and not they."

Einstein writes that "cosmic expansion may be simply a temporary condition which will be followed at some future epoch of cosmic time by a period of contraction. The universe in this picture is a pulsating balloon in which cycles of expansion and contraction succeed each other through eternity."

The modern astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking, writes: "At the big bang itself, the universe is thought to have had zero size, and so to have been infinitely hot . . . The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired."

The Vedas also state that creation is ongoing: what has been in the past is being repeated in the new cycle. Stephen Hawking writes, "Thus, when we see the universe, we are seeing it as it was in the past." He further writes, "But how did he [God] choose the initial state or configuration of the universe? One possible answer is to say that God chose the initial configuration of the universe for reasons that we cannot hope to know."

It is perhaps enough for the modern mind to know how great is the similarity. Vedanta does not support the "big bang" theory and its mechanistic materialism. We have merely cited certain common ideas to be found in both.

Brahman is the ultimate Reality. Brahman is impersonal-personal God. Impersonal God may be called the static aspect and personal God may be called the dynamic aspect of
Brahman. The static aspect Anid Avatam - as Rg-Veda puts it, "It existed without any movement." Brahman is truth, Consciousness and Infinitude. Knowledge, will and action are inherent in Brahman. God projects the universe by animating His prakriti (maya).

Astrophysics and Advaita Vedanta agree on certain points. Advaita Vedanta upholds the notion of the pulsating or oscillating universe. Creation is followed by dissolution and this process will continue ad infinitum. Science used the term "big bang" for the starting point of creation and "big crunch" for the dissolution of the universe.

The "cosmic egg” of Vedanta, which is like a point, is called singularity in astrophysics. The background material of the scientist cannot be accepted as the source of creation. That is the biggest difference between the two systems. Science is still exploring and remains inconclusive but Vedanta has given the final verdict, which is unassailable. Unless there is one changeless Reality, change cannot be perceived at all”.--Unquote

We will now attempt to study the Aitareya Upanishad in detail. (We have already covered in full the study of the Prasna and Svetasvatara Upanishads and briefly the Mundaka Upanishad in this website).

Introduction to the Aitareya Upanishad
The Aitareya Upanishad belongs to the Aitareya Aranyaka and is a part of the Rig Veda. This Upanishad consists of 3 chapters; the first chapter has 3 sections and the remaining two chapters do not have any sections. In the earlier portions of the Aranyaka rituals for the attainment of oneness with Saguna Brahman and their interpretations are dealt with. It is the purpose of the Upanishad to lead the mind of the ritualist away from the outer cermonials to their inner meaning. Sankara points out that there are three classes of men who wish to acquire wisdom. The highest consist of those who have turned away from the world, whose minds are freed and collected, who are eager for freedom. For such seekers this Upanishad is intended. (The other two classes of people are those who want to become free gradually and those who care only for worldly possessions).

The first chapter describes the creation. It provides an allegorical description of the creation of the universe - as also of man – from Consciousness. It uses the word ‘Brahman’ for universal Consciousness and ‘Atman’ for individual Consciousness. These two words embrace all possible concepts about God and all known names of God without any contradiction whatsoever.

Atman alone exists as the sole Reality prior to the creation of all names and forms of the phenomenal world and during their continuance and after their dissolution as well. It projects the created objects through its wondrous powers of maya. The creation is the spontaneous act of the Creator who is not impelled by any desire or necessity. It is the projection of creator’s thoughts.

The stages of creation are as follows: the different worlds, the Virat (representing the totality of the physical bodies) ► ►the deities or Devas (who control the various organs) ►►the elements►►the individual bodies►►and the food by which these bodies are sustained. After creation the Creator enters into the bodies as their living self. Thus is projected the universe of diversity. Next the Upanishad deals with the refutation (apavada) of this universe in order to arrive at the Knowledge of Atman.

Aitareya Upanishad- Origin Of The Universe & Man (Part-2)
By T.N.Sethumadhavan, October 2011 

atha aitareyopaniShadi prathamAdhyAye prathamaH khaNDaH
Chapter I - Section 1
The Creation of the Cosmic Person


va~n me manasi pratishthita mano me vachi pratishthitamaviravirma edhi ..

vedasya ma anisthah shrutam me ma prahasiranenadhitenahoratran

sa.ndadhamyrita.n vadishyami satya.n vadishyami .. tanmamavatu

tadvaktaramavatvavatu mamavatu vaktaramavatu vaktaram.h ..

om shantih shantih shantih

May my speech be fixed in my mind, may my mind be fixed in my speech!
O self-luminous Brahman, reveal yourself to me.
O mind and speech enable me to grasp the truth which the scriptures teach.
Let me not forget what I learnt. Let me study day and night.
May I think truth? May I speak truth?
May truth protect me? May truth protect the teacher?
Protect me. Protect the teacher. Protect the teacher.
Aum. Peace! Peace! Peace!

Mantra 1

om atma va idameka evagra asinnanyatki.nchana mishat.h . sa ikshata

lokannu srija iti .. 1..

In the beginning all this verily was Atman (Absolute Self) only, one and without a second. There was nothing else that winked. He (Atman) willed Himself: "Let Me now create the worlds".

It is the common experience that change can take place only upon a changeless base. The moving waters of a river should have a motionless river-bed. The moving train must have a rigid ground to move upon. Similarly, the world around us is ever changing and the continuity of change gives us the illusion of permanency to it. For this phenomenon of continuous change, we must have a changeless, permanent factor and all our scriptures are an enquiry into the existence and nature of that permanent Absolute Factor. This Upanishad is one such enquiry. In this Mantra the master says that ‘in the beginning’ i.e., before the manifested creation came into existence ‘Self alone existed’. It is just like telling in a cloth shop that before all the varieties of fabrics came into being all those were nothing but cotton. In the same way we are told that before the manifested world got projected, it was all Consciousness alone, all pervading and eternal.

We must note here that the sage has deliberately used the word Atman and not Brahman. This can be explained by means of the example of foam. Prior to its manifestation foam was being called as water and after its manifestation it is called both as water and foam. The idea is that before the creation of the pluralistic world of objects, names and forms all that remained was the Self (Atman –individual Consciousness) which is nothing other than Brahman(Universal Consciousness) for there is no difference between pot space and universal outer space.

The Mantra adds that there was no other active principle or entity at that time in the Supreme. This means that the Supreme did not create the world of plurality out of some material cause that already existed like a potter making a pot out of clay that already existed. In the creation of the world the Supreme himself is the material and efficient cause. It also indicates that creation is a misinterpreted super-imposition upon the truth as the appearance of a snake on the rope is available to the disillusioned and confused person only. This is called adhyaropa in Vedanta.

How did the creation take place? He thought I shall indeed create the worlds. At the end of the cycle, the totality of beings living at that time remains in the form of vasanas or mental impressions. In the beginning of the next cycle, these vasanas are projected by the Supreme (who for this purpose is called Isvara) according to the quality of their past actions to seek out their fulfillment in the objective world to appear. The point to keep in mind is that although the creation is the will of Brahman, the resultant product is not based on His arbitrary whims and fancies but on the nature of past actions by the created persons.

Thus the story of creation in Aitareya Upanishad starts when there was nothing other than Consciousness, also called Atman, This One and Absolute Consiousness willed to create a world of multiplicity and relativity. Creation is a consequence of that Will Power, ‘Tapas’.

The philosophy of Atman is stated here in brevity in the form of a sutra. Later on, by the demonstration that names and forms are mere illusory superimpositions (adhyaropa) and then by their refutation (apavada) will be shown the unreal nature of phenomena and the sole reality of Atman.