The Kena Upanishad is quite brief, and now concludes with a story and a short reflection on the story. Here is the story:
The victory of the gods
“Once the gods won a victory over the demons, and though they had done so only through the power of Brahman, they were exceedingly vain.
“They thought to themselves, ‘It was we who beat our enemies, and the glory is ours.’ Brahman saw their vanity and appeared before them. But they did not recognize him.
“Then the other gods said to the god of fire: ‘Fire, find out for us who this mysterious spirit is.’ ‘Yes,’ said the god of fire, and approached the spirit.
“The spirit said to him: ‘Who are you?’ ‘I am the god of fire. As a matter of fact, I am very widely known.’”
“‘And what power do you wield?’ ‘I can burn anything on earth.’”
“‘Burn this,’ said the spirit, placing a straw before him. The god of fire fell upon it with all his might, but could not consume it. So he ran back to the other gods, and said: ‘I cannot discover who this mysterious spirit is.’”
“Then said the other gods to the god of wind: ‘Wind, do you find out for us who he is.’ ‘Yes,’ said the god of wind, and approached the spirit.
“The spirit said to him: ‘Who are you?’ ‘I am the god of wind. As a matter of fact, I am very widely known. I fly swiftly through the heavens.’”
“‘And what power do you wield?’ ‘I can blow away anything on earth.’”
“‘Blow this away,’ said the spirit, placing a straw before him. The god of wind fell upon it with all his might, but was unable to move it. So he ran back to the other gods, and said: ‘I cannot discover who this mysterious spirit is.’”
“Then said the other gods to Indra, greatest of them all: ‘O respected one, find out for us, we pray you, who he is.’ ‘Yes,’ said Indra, and drew nigh to the spirit. But the spirit vanished,
“And in his place stood Uma, God the Mother, well adorned and of exceeding beauty. Beholding her, Indra asked: ‘Who was the spirit that appeared to us?’”
“‘That,’ answered Uma, ‘was Brahman. Through him it was, not of yourselves, that you attained your victory and your glory.’ Thus did Indra, and the god of fire, and the god of wind, come to recognize Brahman.” (Kena Upanishad 3:1-4:1).
The Divine Power
This is a very straightforward account. The “gods” are mostly the intelligent faculties of the individual human being. The philosophical element is very simple: the senses and mind cannot comprehend Brahman, but Its truth can be revealed by the Divine Feminine aspect of God, Mahashakti or Adishakti, the Great, Primal Power that is the dynamic aspect of Brahman, the Prakriti–Divine Creative Energy–that is inseparable from Purusha–the Supreme Spirit. God the Father is Unmoving Consciousness, whereas God the Mother is Moving Consciousness. The entire field of creation is Mother, the Father being the Transcendental Witness of Her manifestations. The Mother is the Divine Ladder which we ascend to the Bosom of the Father (John 1:18).
Prakriti proceeds from Purusha, the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” according to the Nicene Creed of Christianity.
The fundamental idea of the “dance” of the Creative Energy before the “face” of the Supreme Spirit is found in the book of Proverbs where she speaks of herself, saying: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. Neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; playing in the world” (Proverbs 8:22-31). The Divine Mother dances the dance of creation before the witnessing Lord.
Although Prabhavananda used the expression “Uma, God the Mother,” the Sanskrit phrase is Uma Haimavatim. Uma in Indian history, was the daughter of King Himalaya, and so was called Himavati. She was considered a manifestation (avatara) of the Divine Mother aspect of God. Uma is a name often given the Divine Power. But Shankara has a different, and interesting interpretation of Haimavatim. He say it means “one who was as though attired in dress of gold.”
This is most intriguing, because in the Bible we have similar imagery of the Divine Mother, the Queen–sometimes called “the King’s Daughter” because She emanates from the King–being dressed in gold. David wrote: “Upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir” (Psalms 45:9). And a few verses later: “The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold” (Psalms 45:13).
In the book of Revelation we find: “There appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun” (Revelation 12:1). In this instance the “gold” is the light of the sun.
“The god of fire, the god of wind, and Indra–these excelled the other gods, for they approached nearest to Brahman and were the first to recognize him” (Kena Upanishad 4:2).
As said above, in this upanishadic story, the gods are mostly the intelligent faculties of the individual human being. However, Agni, Vayu, and Indra are representative of the primeval Elements fire, air, and ether. These are closer to the Self, to Brahman, than are the earth and water elements, whose faculties are smell and taste. The faculties of fire, air, and ether respectively are sight, touch, and sound. In meditation we see light of various colors, experience sensations that are the inner modes of touch, and in our silent japa hear the inner mental sound. These are three revealers of the presence of the Self/Brahman.
However: “But of all gods Indra is supreme, for he approached nearest of the three to Brahman and was the first of the three to recognize him” (Kena Upanishad 4:3). The etheric body is the nearest to the Self, and its faculty of sound is that which unites our consciousness with Brahman. Thus etheric sound is the supreme “god” by which we recognize (perceive) Spirit.
Brahman in all
Brahman and Shakti (Power) are in reality one. Sri Ramakrishna often used the simile of fire and its power to burn. Fire is the Purusha and the burning power is the Prakriti. It is not amiss to say that Prakriti is the Effect of the presence of Brahman–is Brahman Itself. The upanishad recapitulates this, saying:
“This is the truth of Brahman in relation to nature: whether in the flash of the lightning, or in the wink of the eyes, the power that is shown is the power of Brahman. This is the truth of Brahman in relation to man: in the motions of the mind, the power that is shown is the power of Brahman. For this reason should a man meditate upon Brahman by day and by night” (Kena Upanishad 4:4, 5).
Wherefore: “Brahman is the adorable being in all beings. Meditate upon him as such. He who meditates upon him as such is honored by all other beings” (Kena Upanishad 4:6).
It is the presence of Brahman which draws us to seek after or value an object. As the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says:
“It is not for the sake of the husband, my beloved, that the husband is dear, but for the sake of the Self.
“It is not for the sake of the wife, my beloved, that the wife is dear, but for the sake of the Self.
“It is not for the sake of the children, my beloved, that the children are dear, but for the sake of the Self.
“It is not for the sake of wealth, my beloved, that wealth is dear, but for the sake of the Self.
“It is not for the sake of the Brahmins, my beloved, that the Brahmins are held in reverence, but for the sake of the Self.
“It is not for the sake of the Kshatriyas, my beloved, that the Kshatriyas are held in honor, but for the sake of the Self.
“It is not for the sake of the higher worlds, my beloved, that the higher worlds are desired, but for the sake of the Self.
“It is not for the sake of the gods, my beloved, that the gods are worshiped, but for the sake of the Self.
“It is not for the sake of the creatures, my beloved, that the creatures are prized, but for the sake of the Self.
“It is not for the sake of itself, my beloved, that anything whatever is esteemed, but for the sake of the Self” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.5).
The proof of this is the fact that when we successfully meditate on Brahman other sentient beings will sense the presence of Brahman in us and value us accordingly.
It is now up to us
The teaching is wonderful, but it is not enough. The student of the upanishadic sage intuits this, but comes to a wrong conclusion, asking: “Sir, teach me more of the knowledge of Brahman.” But the teacher responds: “I have told you the secret knowledge” (Kena Upanishad 4:7). Naturally, the student will assume–as would we–that the secret knowledge is the philosophy about Brahman, etc. Therefore the teacher continues: “Austerity, self-control, performance of duty without attachment–these are the body of that knowledge. The Vedas are its limbs. Truth is its very soul” (Kena Upanishad 4:8).
The importance of this perspective simply cannot be exaggerated. The Secret Knowledge is not philosophic formulations: It is practice–what Krishna calls Abhyasa Yoga, the Yoga of Practice. The Vedas are only its adjuncts. Truth is at its heart to be realized by the practitioners. Tapasya, self-mastery, and karma yoga form the body of the secret knowledge. There are no effects without a cause. These three enable the knowing of Brahman. about which the sage concludes:“He who attains to knowledge of Brahman, being freed from all evil, finds the Eternal, the Supreme” (Kena Upanishad 4:9).
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Past is the Future
Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:
- The Isha Upanishad
- The Kena Upanishad
- The Katha Upanishad
- The Past is the Future
- Seeing Death, Seeing Life
- The Good and the Pleasant
- The Way of Ignorance
- The Mystery of the Self
- How to Either Know or Not Know the Self
- From the Unreal to the Real
- Finding the Treasure
- The Transcendent Reality of the Self
- The Immortal Self
- The Indwelling Self
- The Omnipresent Self
- The Sorrowless Self
- Who Can Know the Self?
- The All-Consuming Self
- The Divine Indwellers
- The Chariot
- The Chariot’s Journey
- The Glorious Way
- To Know The Self
- The Power of Enlightenment
- The Infinite Self
- The Dweller in the Heart
- The Birthless Self
- The Shining Self
- The Life-Giving Self
- The Eternal Brahman–The Eternal Self
- The Radiant Self
- The Universal Tree
- Hierarchy of Consciousness
- From Mortality to Immortality
- The Prashna Upanishad
- The Mundaka Upanishad
- The Mandukya Upanishad
- The Taittiriya Upanishad
- The Aitareya Upanishad
- The Chandogya Upanishad
- The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
- The Shvetashvatara Upanishad
Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary