Brhadaranyaka Upanishad: The Great Forest Teaching

The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad belongs to the white Yajurveda. As its name implies, it forms part of an Aranyaka or 'Forest Teaching', which is attached to the Satapatha Brahmana. The books are called adhyayas (readings), and the individual chapters brahmanas, reflecting its origin.

Book One: Part I


1. OM. Dawn is die head of the sacrificial horse.The horse-sacrifice, ashvamedha, was the most ambitious form of the yajna, or Vedic sacrifice, and the model for the other forms. It was the means by which a king established himself as a world-ruler. The consecrated horse was allowed to wander free for a year, attended by a guard of three hundred warriors. Any ruler on to whose territory it wandered had to submit or fight- At the end of the year the horse ,   was sacrificed with great ceremony, to ensure the prosperity and fertility of the kingdom. By the method of meditation described here, one who knows this can gain the great merit of the ashvamedha through internal contemplation. The sun is the eye of the sacrificial horse, the wind his breath, the fire that is in all Agni Vaisvanara, who embodies all the forms of fire, including the heat within living creatures. I have frequently had to choose between translating agni as 'fire' and vayu as 'air' or 'wind', and leaving them as Agni and V5yu, the names of important gods. It should be remembered that the composers of the Upanishads would probably have intended us to understand both meanings all the time. his open mouth; the year his body (atman). The sky is his back, middle-air Antariksa, the intermediate space between sky (dyaus) and earth (prthivi), with which it completes the three worlds: so translated to distinguish it from air (vayu) and space (aakash), two of the five elements his belly, earth his flanks, the directionsThe cardinal and intermediate points, vital for orientating oneself for ritual as well as everyday purposes. In reading ancient Indian texts, it should be borne in mind that in giving directions, one is assumed to be facing due east, so that 'in front' can also mean 'due east', 'on the right' also 'due south' etc. his two sides, the intermediate directions his ribs, the seasons his limbs, the months and half-months The waxing and waning halves of the lunar month his joints, the days and nights his feet, the constellations Nakshatra, or lunar mansions his bones, the clouds his flesh. The food in his stomach is the sands; the rivers are his bowels, liver and lungs; the mountains, plants and trees are his hairs; the rising sun is his front half, the setting sun his rear half; when he yawns, it listens; when he shakes himself, it thunders; when he urinates, it rains; speech is his voiceSpeech, voice, both translations of vac.

2. Day arose as the sacrificial vesselMahiman, literally 'greatness', two bowls, one of gold and one of silver, used to hold the Soma in the horse-sacrifice.  in front of the horse: its birthplaceYoni, literally 'womb' was in die eastern ocean. Night arose as the sacrificial vessel behind it: its birthplace was in the western ocean. These two came into being as the vessels at either end of the horse, Becoming Steed, Steed, etc., different words for 'horse': haya, steed, racer; vajin, warhorse, charge arvan, runner, courser; asva, horse (the ordinary word). he carried the gods; becoming Charger, he carried the gandharvas) becoming Courser, he carried the demons; becoming Horse, he carried human beings. The ocean was his kinsman, the ocean his birthplace.


  1. In the beginning, there was nothing here: thisThis, all this, usual Upanishadic terms for the universe as we know it.  was covered by Death, by Hunger, for Hunger is DeathDeath, mrtyu, is here being identified with Prajapati, 'Lord of Offspring', the progenitor of the universe.. Death made up his mind: 'If only I could have a self {atman)!' Shining {arc),Arc, to shine or to praise he moved about, and as he shone, the watersApah 'the waters' were born of him. 'As I shone, water {ka)Ka can mean both 'water' and 'happiness' came to me,' he thought that is why water is called arka.Arka, 'shining', means both 'water' and-more commonly- Water will come to the one who knows in this way why water is called arka. Tad arkasyarkatvam, literally, 'hence the water-ness of water' , a frequent type of usage in the Upanisads.
  2. The waters are arka. The foam of the waters was compacted togeiher. It became the earth. He foiled on it, and as he toiled and grew hot, his brightness,Tejas, light, heat, energy, the element of fire. his essence, became fire.
  3. He divided himself into three, one third being the sun and one third the air.The remaining third being fire As breath, too, he was divided into three. The eastern direction became his head; that one and that one South-east and north-east. The speaker points to them-reminding us that this was originally oral literature. Death seems already to be in a horse-like form: see below. became his forequarters; that one and that oneSouth~west and north-west became his hindquarters. The southern and northern directions became his two sides, the sky his back, middle-air his belly, thisEarth his breast. He stands firm on the waters. Knowing this, one stands firm wherever one goes.
  4. He desired that a second self might be beam of him. By means of mind. Hunger, that is Death, joined with SpeechIn Sanskrit grammar, vac, speech, is feminine, and mrtyu, death, is normally masculine, as it is here. However rt5snhgm, hunger, with whom death is identified, is feminine, suggesting that he contained a female aspect even before vac appeared. in sexual union. The seedRetas, 'that which flows'. In ancient Indian physiology, both sexes were thought to produce their own kinds of seed, originating in the bone-marrow, which had to combine for conception to take place. Often in the Brhadaranyaka the word is used in a general way, to denote the power of procreation, or, as here, the resulting embryo. became the year. Before that there was no year- He carried it for so much~ time. After so much time, a year, he sent it out.Srj to emit, one of the normal Sanskrit verbs for the act of creation by a deity. The deity is seen as sending the universe out from his or her own being or else as organizing it (vi-dha) from chaos, lately, if ever, as making it from nothing. He opened his jaws to eat his offspring. It made die noise, 'Bhan!'Either a cry of terror, or simply a baby's first cry: connected here with bhan-, to speak. That became speech
  5. He realized if he were to kill it, he would make less food for himself. With that speech, he sent out all this, whatever there is: The Rgveda, Yajurveda, and Samaveda, the metres,The metres of the Veda people and animals. Whatever he sent forth, he began to eat. Because he eats (ad-) everything, space is called Aditi. Who ever knows that this is why space is called Aiditi becomes the eater of all this: all this become his food
  6. He desired that he might sacrifice again with a greater sacrifice, he toiled, he raised heat;Through acetic: practice (tapas) and -as he toiled and grew hot;, his splendour, his vigour, departed. The breaths (prana) are splendor, vigour. 0nce the breaths departed, his body began to swell, but mind was still in his body.

    He desired that that body of his should become fit for sacrifice, and that by it he should become embodied.Atmanvin, possessing an atman', here in the sense of the body~ The Sanskrit has 'that of his'  . . 'it became a horse, the 'body' being understood Then his body became a horse. 'Since it has swollen (asvat),' he thought, 'it has become fit for sacrifice (medhya).' That is why the horse sacrifice is asvamedha. Whoever know this, knows the horse-sacrifice.

    Letting it go free, he contemplated it. After a year, he sacrificed it to himself,As the sacrificial horse is allowed to wander for a year.  He offered the animals  I.e. the other sacrificial animals to the deities. That is why folk offer the horse, which is consecrated to all the deities, as an offering to Prajapati.

The one who gives heatThe sun is the horse-sacrifice: the year is his self. Fire is arka:Here = the sacrificial fire. the worldsThe three worlds, earth, middle-air and sky are his bodies. They are two, the shining one and the horse-sacrifice. Then again, they are just one deity. Death. He conquers re-death;I.e. the one who knows this re-death, punarmrtyu, seems~ to appear before rebirth as the main reason for seeking freedom. Death does not get him; Death becomes his body(atman); he becomes one of the deities.


  1. The descendant of Prajapati are of two kinds, the gods and the demons. The gods are the younger, the demons the elder, and they vied for these worlds. The gods said, 'come, let us defect the demons at the sacrifice by means of the Udgitha '
  2. The gods said to speech, 'Chant the Udgitha for us!'

    'I will' said speech, and chanted it for them. Whatever enjoyment there is in speech, it sang into being for the gods: but the fact dial it sang well was for itself.Speech, as Udgatr priest, 'is chanting on behalf of its clients, the gods, who have commissioned the sacrifice: however it also takes pleasure in its own activity. Perhaps it is that element of self interest that enables the demons to corrupt it.

    The demons thought, 'By means of this Udgatr they will defeat us,' and attacking it, pierced it with evil. That evil is the evil that anyone does when he says what is not proper.

  3. The gods said to breath (prana),It is unclear here whether in-breath or out-breath is intended. It appears, however, that the later role of prana as the supreme breath is here taken by the breath-in-the mouth (asanya prana). 'Chant the Udgitha for us!'

    'I will!' said breath, and chanted it for them. Whatever enjoyment there is in breath it sang into being for the gods: bill the fact that it smelt well was for itself.

    The demons thought, 'By means of this Udgatr they will defeat us,' and attacking it, pierced it with evil. That evil is the evil that anyone does when he smells what is not proper.

  4. The gods said to the eye,As frequently in the Upanishads, 'the eye' represents the whole faculty of sight, not just the physical organ: and so with the other senses. 'Chant the Udgitha for us!' 'I will!' said the eye, and chanted it for them. Whatever enjoyment there is in the eye it sang into being for the gods: but the fact that it saw well was for itself.

    The demons thought, 'By means of this Udgatr they will defeat us,' and attacking it, pierced it with evil. That evil is the evil dial anyone does when he sees what is not proper.

  5. The gods said to the ear, 'Chant the Udgitha for us!' 'I will' said the ear, and chanted it for them. Whatever enjoyment there is in the ear it sang into being for die gods: but the fact that it heard well was for itself.

    The demons thought, 'By means of this Udgatr they will defeat us,' and attacking it, pierced it with evil. That evil is the evil that anyone does when he hears what is not proper.

  6. The gods said to mindLiterally, 'by (him)self' (atmana) , 'Chant the Udgilha for us!' 'I will' said mind, and chanted it for them. Whatever enjoyment there is in mind it sang into being for the gods: but the fact that it imagined well was for itself.The demons thought, 'By means of this: Udgatr they will defeat us,' and attacking it, pierced it with evil. That evil is the evil that anyone does when he imagines what is not proper.

    In the same way they afflicted the other deities with evil, they pierced them with evil.

  7. The gods said to the breath in the mouth (ayasya prana), 'Chant the Udgitha for us!'

    'I will' said the breath in the mouth, and chanted it for them.

    The demons thought, By means of this Udgatr they will defeat us,' and attacking it, desired to pierce it with evil. As a turf would be scattered if it struck a rock, they perished, scattered in all directions. Then the gods prevailed and the demons were overcome. Whoever knows this himself prevails and the adversaryBhratrvya, literally, 'cousin' (son of one's father's brother): the hostile meaning no doubt developed because such a relative would have been a potential rival for the family inheritance-as in the Mahabharata. who hates him is overcome.

  8. They said, 'Where is the one we had dealings with just now?' 'He is here in the mouth.' He is Ayasya Angirasa, the essence (rasa) of the limbs {anga).
  9. That deity is called Dur, for Death is far {dura) from him. Death is far from the one who knows this.
  10. That deity, having driven away evil-dial is, death-from these deities, took it to 'the ends of the directions. There he set down their evils. So one should not go to the people there, one should not go to the end of the directions, lest one should meet with evil, with death.
  11. That deity, having driven away evil. That is, death~ these deities then carried them beyond death.
  12. First he carried speed across. When speech escaped death, it became fire. Fire, having passed beyond death, blazes.
  13. Next he carried the breath across. When breath escaped death, it became wind. Wind, having passed beyond death; purifies.
  14. Next he carried the eye across. When the eye escaped death, it became the sun. The sun, having passed beyond death, gives heat (tap).
  15. Next he carried the ear across. When the ear escaped death, it becomes the directions. The directions have passed beyond death.
  16. Next he carried the mind across. When the mind escaped death, it becomes the moon. The moon, having passed beyond death, shines. Whoever knows this, these deities carry him beyond death.
  17. Next he sang into being good food Annadya, food which is fit to eat, suitable food a stock expression in the early Upanishads. For the power of the skilled Udgatr to sing (a-gai) things into existence by his chanting. for himself. Whatever food is eaten, is eaten by him, and he is supported on it.
  18. The gods said, "You have sung all this into being as food for yourself. Give us a share in this food.' 'Then sit around me.' 'We will,' they said, and surround him. So whatever food one eats by means of him, the gods too enjoy. Whoever knows this is surrounded by his own people he becomes the lord, the best, the foremost of his own people, an eater of food, an overload. If someone knows This, and one among his own people desires to rival him, that rival is not even adequate to support his own dependants, that But if someone who helps him desires to support his own dependants, that helper is adequate to support his own dependants.
  19. He is called Ayasya Angirasa, for he is the essence of the limbs. Breath is the essence of the limbs. So when breath departs from any limb, it dries up, for it is the essence of the limb.
  20. It is also Brhaspati. Speech is brhati it is its lord, so it is also Brhaspati
  21. It is also Brahmariaspati- Speech is Brahman it is its lord, so it is also Brahmanaspati.
  22. It is also the saman. Speech is the saman. It is she (sa) and he (ama)Ama seems to be an artificial word, created to provide etymologies like this. It may have been adduced from the pronoun stem amu . It is equal (sama) to, a gnat, equal to a fly, equal to an elephant, equal to the three worlds, equal to all this, so it is the saman. Whoever knows the saman in this way attains union with the saman, shares a world with it.Asnute samnah sayujyam ~salokatam literary attains co-yoked-ness co-world-ness,  of the Saman, Sayujya, union could men either complete identification or simply close companion.
  23. It is also the Udgitha. The breath (prana) is ud (up), for all this is upheld by breath. Speech is song (githa). Ud and githa make Udgitha.
  24. On this, Brahmadatta Caikitaneya, while drinking the King,Soma said, 'May the King make this man'sClearly he means himself- Oddly, however, the pronoun he tya normally refers to someone far away 'yonder man'. Perhaps the Soma is playing tricks with his spatial awareness head split apart if Ayasya Angirasa chanted the Udgitha by anything else, but this. He chanted it only by speech and by breath'.
  25. Whoever knows the property (sva) of the saman obtains property. Its property is tone (svara)The pitch accent necessary for proper chanting of the Vedas. In what follows, I have inserted 'good' and a priest for clarity
 So one who is about to fulfill the office of a priest should wish for good tone in his speech. With speech possessing good tone he can fulfill the office of a priest. So at a sacrifice people desire to see a priest with good tone, and one who there fore has property. Whoever knows as such the wealth of the saman obtains property.
  26. Whoever knows the gold (suvarna) of the saman obtains gold. Its gold is tone. Whoever knows as such the gold of the saman obtains gold.
  27. Whoever knows the support(prastishta) of the saman stands firm {prati-stha). Its support is speech. The breath sings when it is supported on food'.
  28. Now there is the praying of the prayers of purification. The Prastotr chants the saman. While he chants, oneThe patron of the sacrifice (yajamana) should mutter these players:
  • From the unreal lead me to the real.
  • From darkness lead me to light.
  • From death lead me to immortality.
When he says, 'From the unreal lead me to the real'. He means, 'From death lead me to immortality, make me immortal."

'From darkness lead me to light.': Death is darkness, immortality is light. He means, 'From death lead me to immortality, make me immortal.'

In whatever other hymns of praise there are, one should sing into being good for oneself. In them one may choose a boon, for whatever desire one may desire. The Udgatr who knows this sings into being, either for himself or for the patron of the sacrifice ,whatever desire he desires. So it is called 'World-Conquering' and whoever knows the saman as such, has no prospect of ever being without a world.

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