Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad

Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad forms the concluding portion of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa of the Śukla (White) Yajur Veda. The literal meaning of the term Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad is the “Great Forest Upanishad.” Śankarāchārya, in the Introduction to his commen­tary, says that this Upanishad, consisting of six parts, is called “Great” (Brihat) because of its length and profundity, and “Forest” (Āraṇyaka) because of its having been taught in a forest. The theme of the book, as of all Vedāntic treatises, is the absolute identity of Ātman and Brahman.

The second part of Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad comprises six chapters and contains sixty-six verses. It begins with the dialogue between Gārgya and King Ajātaśatru. Gārgya says to the king that he worships the deities controlling the sun, moon, lightning, etc. as the Supreme Brahman. Ajātaśatru replies that all these deities, being various forms of Hiraṇyagarbha, are Saguṇā Brahman and be­long to the realm of phenomena; they are not the Supreme Brahman.

The third part of Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad contains nine chapters and ninety-two verses in all; it describes, through the story of King Janaka, the means of acquiring Knowledge: first, appropriate gifts to the teacher, and next, association and discussion with scholars. King Janaka in order to obtain knowledge offers a suitable prize to be awarded to the greatest knower of Brahman. Yājñyavalkya, who is an expert both in rituals and in the Knowledge of Brahman, claims the prize.

The fourth part of Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad, divided into six chapters, contains ninety-two verses. The scene is still the court of Janaka, and Yājñyavalkya starts the dis­cussion. Brahman is the topic. The fourth chapter deals in detail with the subject of death and rebirth. Rebirth is determined by the desires the self cherishes. After reaping the fruit of its desires in a higher or lower world, the soul is born in a human body for new action. But the man who has suppressed all desires is not embodied again, because the cause of embodiment is absent.

The fifth and sixth parts of the Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad together are called the Khila kāṇda, or Supplementary Part. The fifth part consists of fifteen chapters totalling thirty-one verses. The first verse gives the gist of the entire Upanishad, namely, the nature of Brahman, of the manifested universe, and of their mutual relationship. Brahman, beyond time, space, and causality, is infinite. The universe, which is projected from Brahman through māyā, is also infinite, because in reality it is nothing but Brahman.

The sixth part of the Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad contains five chapters. The aim of the first chapter, which consists of fourteen verses, is to demonstrate the superiority of the Prāṇa, or vital breath. It is the Prāṇa that preserves the embryo before the sense-organs begin to function. Later, after they have developed, it enables them to function. The second chapter, consisting of sixteen verses, describes the ways followed by the soul after a persons death, the various stages through which the soul passes before it is reincarnated in a human body, and other similar matters.