Kena Upanishad is one of the popular Upanishads, which is short and crisp. It answers in its own way, the perennial question of ‘Who is That’. Kena means ‘by whom’. There is a story about how gods derive their power from the invisible and self illuminating Brahman. The purpose of human birth is to realize the Brahman, the Supreme Creator. He cannot be seen, but can only be realized. For this realization and subsequent liberation, one needs the highest form of intellect, which is the knowledge about the Brahman. This knowledge is being discussed in Kena Upanishad. This Upanishad is so called because it begins with the word ‘kena’. This Upanishad comes under Sama Veda. All Upanishads begin with a non-materialistic prayer. They are unanimous in seeking spiritual knowledge, which is the only requirement for emancipation. This Upanishad prays that he (spiritual seeker) should not divert his awareness from the Brahman. He also prays for a healthy physique, as a healthy body is a prerequisite for divinity. This is based on the fact that physical body is encasing the Brahman within. The disciple asks his guru as to who controls various activities in this world. Guru replies that one who knows that he is not responsible for his actions becomes renounced. “When the self is not responsible for his actions, then who else could be responsible? He cannot be reached by any means. He is beyond comprehension. He cannot be explained by words but words are known through Him and He is That Brahman. He cannot be conceived by mind but the mind functions at His command. He cannot be heard, He cannot be inhaled but He is responsible for all these actions.

Brahman is not these senses that people worship. The one that undergoes modifications cannot be the Brahman. Brahman is omnipresent, eternal and immutable.” Guru says “If you say that you know the form of the Brahman, it means that you do not have any idea about Him. What you know is His mere reflection. You only feel His manifestations through various gods and goddesses. For knowing the Brahman, you should explore Him further. “ The disciple answers “He who says that he does not know the Brahman is knower of the Brahman. When someone says that he knows Him does not know Him.” Knower of the Brahman is called a Self-realized person. Such a person does not say that He is knower of the Brahman. Such Self-realised persons attain immortality not on the basis of eternal existence of their physical body, but purely on the fact that their consciousnesses remain fixed with the Brahman unremittingly. If one is able to realize the Brahman in this birth, he then withdraws his consciousness from the material world and gets coalesced with the Brahman eternally. If one fails to realise that he already is a Brahman (philosophy of omnipresence and self-realisation), undergoes sufferings due to rebirths. The Upanishad, through a story, elucidates the source of power of manifestation, which is vital for existence. There was a war between gods and demons and gods won the battle. They were in a stage of superbia, affected by illusion that their might was responsible to win over the demons. Brahman thought that they should be taught a lesson. Suddenly there was a huge form appeared before them. Gods asked the god of fire, Agni to find out who that form was. When Agni neared the form, it asked who he was and Agni replied that he was Agni and he could burn anything. The figure put an ordinary straw before Agni and asked him to burn it. Agni tried but failed. Agni returned to other gods who were waiting for him and told them that he could not find who he was. Next, it was Vayu’s (the god of wind) turn. The figure asked him to blow the straw away, but he could not. Finally, Indra, the head of all gods and goddesses went to find out who that figure was. Just then, the figure disappeared and there appeared a beautiful woman adorned with excellent ornaments. She was Uma Haimavati the daughter of Haimavan, the king of mountains. Indra enquired Uma about the figure and found out that It was the Brahman. She told Indra that they had won the battle with demons because of that Brahman only.

Gods understood that Brahman is the only source of power for the entire universe. The Upanishad says that Agni, Vayu and Indra were able to see the Brahman as they have established closeness with the Brahman, because they are considered spiritually advanced than other gods. The status of being a god does not give them closeness with the Brahman, but their spiritual advancement makes them feel their closeness with the Brahman. It is only the mental conciliation that makes one feel the nearness of the Brahman. Brahman is neither farther nor closer and it is only the consciousness that makes one feel so. Indra has attained the leadership of gods and goddesses because of his penance and exploring the Self within. The Upanishad draws two comparisons about which we are aware of. It says that the Brahman is like a flash of lightning or blink of eye. When the Brahman is reached through one’s mind, due to His proximity such reflection of light is felt. Realising the Self by withdrawing the mind from senses and ever remaining in His thoughts is advocated. This Brahman is considered as adorable by some and He should be worshipped that way. Upanishad calls this adorable one as ‘tadvanam’ and the one who knows this is worshiped by all living beings. The student now asks his guru to explain to him the teachings of this Upanishad. The student was in bafflement as the guru talked only about the Brahman. Possibly the student wanted to know about the practice. Guru told his disciple that he had already taught him the didactics of the Brahman. However, to answer such questions, the Upanishad ends with some practical guidelines. Non-indulgence, self-restraint and persistent practice of meditation form the foundational knowledge about the Brahman. Vedas are the limbs of the Brahman and His abode is truth. One who realizes the Brahman this way overcomes all difficulties and firmly established himself in a state of perpetual bliss.

Further Readings:

Katha Upanishad

Avadhūta Upaniṣad

Isha Upanishad