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Essence of the Aitareyopanishad

by Swami Sivananda


1. The Aitareya Upanishad forms part of the Aitareya-Aranyaka of the Rig-Veda. It is divided into five sections (Khandas). The Upanishad derives its name from its author Mahidasa Aitareya, the son of Itara.

2. It describes in symbolic knowledge the creation of the universe. It deals with the Atman as the only Reality. It contains the saying of the Rishi Vamadeva who attained immortality through knowledge of the Self.

3. The central teaching of this Upanishad is the unity of the Atman with the Paramatman.

4. Hari Om. My speech is rooted in my mind. My mind is rooted in speech, Brahman, reveal thyself to me. Ye, mind and speech enable me to grasp the truth that the scriptures teach. Let what I have learnt slip not from me. I join day with night in study. I speak the truth. I speak the real. May that protect me. May that protect the teacher. May it protect me. May it protect the teacher. May it protect the teacher.

Om Peace, Peace, Peace!

The Story of Creation

5. In the beginning, all this was, verily, the Atman alone. There was nothing else living. Nothing else, whatsoever, living, existed. There was no other thing that winked at all.

6. He thought: Now, verily, I shall create the worlds.

7. The word Atman is derived from the root which means to obtain, to eat, to enjoy or to pervade all.

8. He created these worlds, viz. water, light-rays, death, waters. The water is above the heavens, its support. The rays are from the sky. The region of death is the earth, and what are below the earth are waters.

9. He reflected, These indeed are the worlds I have created. I shall create the protectors or rulers of the world. Then he raised a Purusha from water and gave him form.

10. Then the Atman brooded over that i.e., the lump. He wished to give it the shape of Man. A hole in the shape of a mouth manifested itself in that man, which was brooded over by him, just as a bird's egg bursts when hatched. From the mouth came out speech and from speech fire. Then his nostrils came forth, from the nostrils the breath, from breath wind.

11. His eyes came forth; from his eyes sight, from sight the sun. His ears came forth; from his ears hearing, and from hearing the quarters. His skin came forth; from the skin the hair, from the hair the herbs and big trees. His heart came forth; from the heart the mind, from the mind, the moon. The navel came forth; from the navel the Apana, and from Apana death. His generative organs came forth; from the generative organs semen, and from semen water.

12. Those gods, thus created, fell into the great ocean of Samsara (world). Then He subjected them to hunger and thirst. They said to Him (the creator), Ordain for us a place in which, being established, we may eat food.

13. He brought a bull to them. They said; It is indeed not sufficient for us. He brought a horse for them. They said: This is not enough for us.

14. He brought a man to them. They said: Well done, indeed; hurrah! Man alone is the master-piece. Man alone is the abode of all good actions. He said to them, Enter now with your respective bodies.

15. Fire, becoming speech, entered the mouth; air, becoming Prana, entered the nostrils; the sun, becoming sight, entered the eyes; the deity of the quarters, becoming sound, entered the ears; the herbs and trees, becoming hairs, entered the skin; the moon, becoming mind, entered the heart; death, becoming Apana, entered the navel; water, becoming semen, entered the generative organ.

16. Hunger and thirst said to Him; Assign a place for us. He told them: I assign you a place in these gods, and make you sharers with them. Therefore, when oblations are offered to any god, hunger and thirst become sharers therein.

17. He (the Lord) thought again: The worlds and the protectors of the worlds have been created. Now let me create food for them.

18. Then He (the Lord) brooded over the water, and from the waters so brooded over, issued a form. The form thus created is, verily, food.

19. Then this food so created wished to run away. He tried to catch it by speech; but he could not catch it by speech. If he had caught it by speech, then one would be satisfied by merely talking of food.

20. He wished to catch it by breath, He could not catch it by breath. If he had caught it by breath, then one would be satisfied by merely smelling food.

21. He wished to catch it by the eye. He could not catch it by the eye. If he had caught it by the eye, then one would be satisfied by merely seeing food.

22. He wished to catch it by the ears. He could not catch it by the ears. If he had caught it by the ears, then one would be satisfied by merely hearing of food.

23. He wished to catch it by touch. He could not catch it by touch. If he had caught it by touch, then one would be satisfied by merely touching food.

24. He wished to catch it by the mind. He could not catch it by the mind. If he had caught it by the mind, then one would be satisfied by merely thinking of food.

25. He wished to catch it by the generative organ. He could not catch it by the generative organ. If he had caught it by the generative organ, then one could be satisfied by mere emission.

26. Then he tried to catch it by Apana, and he caught it. It is this Apana which catches food. This Apana is the giver of life, by food.

27. He (the Lord) thought: How can all these live without me? So He pondered; By which way shall I enter it? He again thought; If speaking be done by speech, smelling by nose, seeing by the eyes, hearing by the ear, touching by the skin, thinking by the mind, eating by Apana and discharge by the generative organ, then who am I?

28. Then He opened the suture of the skull and entered by that door. That door is called the Vidriti or the cleft. It is, verily, the Nandana (the place of bliss). He has three dwelling places in the body and three sleeping states. This is his dwelling place, this is his dwelling place, this is his dwelling place.

29. The right eye is his first abode. The mind is the second. The cavity of the heart or the heart-ether is the third.

30. When born (in the form of the Jivas, i.e., when the highest Self had entered the body), he reflected with reference to all beings. He gazed round upon the creatures, and thought. How should anyone speak of any other? What else besides Me is there for Me to name? There is none. How could He desire to declare any other thing different from Him? He found nothing else but the reality of Himself, as the Purusha, the Brahman, all-pervading. He said to himself: O I have seen this.

31. Therefore, he is called Indandra. Idandram is verily His name. Though He is called Idandram, He is indirectly called Indra. The gods are fond of being called by indirect names, as it were.

The Story of Birth

32. First indeed is the germ in man. That which is the semen is the essence of strength or vigour, drawn from all his limbs. He bears himself within his self alone. When he deposits it in the woman, he causes it to be born. This is its first birth.

33. That seed becomes one with the woman as her own limb, as a part of her own body. Therefore it does not produce any suffering to her. She nourishes his (the husband's) self thus within her.

34. As she becomes the nourisher of his self within her, so also she should be nourished. The woman bears the son in her womb. He (the father) nourishes the child before and also after its birth. In nourishing the child before and after its birth, he really nourishes himself for the continuation of these worlds. Thus are these worlds of progeny perpetuated. This is his second birth.

35. That son who is his very self is made his substitute for the performance of virtuous deeds. This, his other self (the father's self), having discharged his duties, attains old age, and departs from this world. He, while departing hence, is born again. This is his third birth.

Rishi Vamadeva

36. It was declared by the Rishi Vamadeva: While in the womb I knew all the births of the gods. A hundred iron-holds held me down. But I burst through them with speed, like a hawk. Thus spoke Vamadeva even while lying in the womb.

37. Bodies which are like impenetrable iron-houses guard the Jiva from extricating himself from the fetters of Samsara. The bodies are compared to the strong iron-holds as they imprison the Jiva within their folds.

38. He (Rishi Vamadeva) became the knower of the Atman, and became identical with it. He betook himself to his upward path, and after the destruction of the body, attained all desires in the heavenly world, and became immortal.

Consciousness Is Brahman

39. Who is this Atman whom we worship? Which of the two is He, that Atman, the real or the phenomenal, the Nirupadhika or Sopadhika? Whether He by whom one sees, or He by whom one hears, or He by whom one smells the scents, or He by whom one utters the speech, or He by whom one knows what is tasteful and what is not tasteful?

40. This which is known as the heart, this mind, consciousness, mastering knowledge of arts, comprehension, power of retaining import of books, perception, fortitude, reflection, independent power of thinking, distress of mind caused by diseases, etc., memory, volition, application, any pursuit for maintenance of life, desire for the company of women, all these are, indeed, names of Consciousness.

41. This Brahman; this Indra; this creator; all these gods; these five great elements, viz., earth, water, fire, air, ether; all these small creatures; these others; the seeds of creation, these egg-born, the womb-born, sweat-born, sprout-born, horses, cows, men, elephants, whatever else which breathes and moves and flies, or is immovable, all these are guided by Consciousness and are supported by Consciousness. The universe has Consciousness for its guide. Consciousness is the basis or stay of all. Verily, consciousness (Prajnanam) is Brahman.

42. Prajnanam Brahma: Pure Consciousness is Brahman. This is one of the Maha-Vakyas or great sentences of the Upanishads.

43. This is called the Lakshana-Vakya, because it gives a description of the nature of Brahman.

44. He (Vamadeva, or any other sage) was exalted to the state of Brahmanhood on account of his knowledge of the Atman. He left this world and obtained all that he desired in that world of supreme bliss, and attained immortality.

45. A liberated sage does not move to any world. He gets absorbed in the all-pervading Brahman. He realises that the individual soul is identical with Para Brahman.

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