The Kaivalya Upanishad – A Brief Exposition

November 26, 2011 2 Comments


The Kaivalya Upanishad is one of the so-called minor Upanishads, as compared to the ten major Upanishads. Though small in size, comprising only about 20 mantras, its scope is vast, covering the entire gamut of initial spiritual disciplines to the ultimate experience of the Supreme Reality. Dualism is not totally rejected but the spiritual aspirant is steadily guided to proceed from dualism to non-dualism. Another charm of the Upanishad is the highly poetic nature of the verses.

The title of the Upanishad is highly significant. “Kaivalyam” refers to the state of aloneness, of unity and identity with the Supreme Reality. This is the state of liberation, ultimate freedom from the thraldom of the body, mind and the senses, the state of final beatitude. So, the Upanishad promises to take the spiritual aspirant to that state of perfection, where all sense of difference is lost and the whole existence is realized as one indivisible Reality.

In this Upanishad, the teacher is the exalted Brahma himself. The highly accomplished student, Aswalayana, approaches him with the request to be taught Brahma-Vidya, the science of Brahman, the means of attaining the Supreme Reality. The teacher says that Brahman has to be attained by sraddha, bhakti and dhyana – faith in the words of the teacher and the scriptures, devotion to the ideal and meditation. Immortality cannot be attained by the usual wordly means, such as work, children or wealth but only by renunciation of all desires and of attachment to the body and all that is related to the body. It is beyond heaven and has to be realized in one’s own “cave of the intellect” or the heart.  The Ultimate cannot be found by searching outside. It has first to be realized within oneself, in the depths of one’s own being, and then its presence would be felt outside also.

This is the reason why the means of realization have been given as faith, devotion, meditation and renunciation, as without them no real introspection is possible. The process of liberation is further elaborated in mantra 4 which says, those pure-hearted aspirants who are fully convinced of the Vedantic truths and who have fully given up all attachments, are liberated at the time of death; they do not return to this cycle of birth and death. An intellectual knowledge of the Reality is necessary in order to take up serious enquiry into it and this process cannot be successfully pursued unless the mind is rid of all wordly attachments. More than a ritualistic renunciation, what is required is the renunciation of attachments and renunciation of the ego.  A deep study of the Upanishads and a conviction about the truth of their conclusions is stressed.

Meditation being the means of realization, that process is now elaborately discussed. One should sit comfortably in a quiet place, keeping the trunk, neck and head straight. The mind should be freed from all attachments and from thoughts of the past and future. The senses should remain calm and controlled. The aspirant should mentally salute his/her guru. The heart should be visualised as a full-blown lotus, pure and shining. In that, one should visualise Siva seated with his consort Uma by his side. It is important that a form of God should be adopted for meditation in the beginning, for Brahman, the formless ultimate Reality, cannot be initially grasped otherwise. As Brahman is never separate from its Sakti, Uma has to be visualised as being seated by the side of Siva. Though the Upanishad particularly mentions Siva-Parvati as the object of meditation, any form of God can be adopted, as long as the aspirant remembers that that form is a representation of Brahman. Having introduced the personal form of god for meditation, the Upanishad immediately proceeds to ascribe impersonal attributes to it – the very attributes of the ultimate Reality, such as beyond thought, beyond the grasp of the senses, appearing as diverse objects, pure auspiciousness, supremely calm, immortal, the source of the creator, one without beginning, middle or end, i.e infinite, the one and only Reality which is all pervading, of the nature of consciousness and bliss, formless and wonderful ! Meditating on the Divine Couple in this manner, the aspirant attains that which is the origin of the universe, the eternal witness of everything and the one beyond the darkness of ignorance. This is the culmination of the meditation prescribed by the Upanishad. No doubt, this requires sustained effort over a long period.

The guru declares that the Eternal Truth now realized by the disciple is the all-inclusive Divinity – He is Brahma, Siva, Indra, the Immortal Supreme Self –effulgent Being, Vishnu, Prana, Time, Agni, the Moon – in fact, everything that ever existed in the past, or will exist in the future, the ever-existent one. Knowing this Reality is the way to immortality. One attains the Supreme Brahman by realizing the all –pervading Atman, who is ever present in oneself and in all other beings. The Upanishad also prescribes the practice of chanting OM as another means of attaining the Supreme. Merging the mind in the silence following the chanting of OM each time, helps the aspirant to   realize Brahman as his self.

The Upanishad proceeds to analyze man’s experience in the different states of consciousness, namely, the waking state, dream state and deep sleep. Jiva is the Self deluded by Maya, who moves from one state to another, creating his  own world in the first two states and merging in the bliss of ignorance in the third. There is an unbroken consciousness prevailing in the three states which is the basis of all experiences and in which all the three states merge. From this undivided consciousness, which is the Self, are born prana, the mind, the senses and the five basic elements. The Supreme Brahman, manifest in every being as the Self, the basis and support of the Universe, the most subtle and eternal One – you are that, you are verily that. This is the acme of Realization to which the teacher is leading the disciple. The Reality which the disciple considered as different from him, is now declared to be his own Self, identical with the Universal Self. Knowing that Brahman alone is manifesting through the three states and realizing one’s identity with it, one is released from all bonds.

The teacher now reveals the state of the Realized person. The three elements of an experience are the experience, the object experienced and the act of experiencing. I am the Witness-consciousness of all the three aspects in all the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. I am the non-dual Brahman in which everything is born, exists and ultimately merges. I am smaller than the smallest and also extremely big. I am this wonderful universe. I am the Ancient Spirit and the Lord. I am self-effulgent and the auspicious Siva. I do not have hands or legs, but being of unimaginable power, I see without eyes and hear without ears. Though without form, I know all the forms, but none knows me, the knower. I am the eternal pure consciousness. I am the sole Reality to be known through all the Vedas. I am the Knower of the Vedas and the author of the Upanishads (Vedanta). Merit and sin, birth and death do not exist in me. Not being born, I do not have body, senses or mind. Being the Self, I am devoid of the five elements.

The teacher concludes: Thus realizing the Supreme Self, who resides in the cave of the heart, who is indivisible and non-dual, witness of everything, who is beyond relative existence and non-existence, one attains unity with that pure Supreme Self.

This Upanishad is considered as holy as the Vedic prayer Sata-rudriyam ( Sri Rudram ). By reciting it one is freed from all sins. The Upanishad concludes with an exhortation to recite it daily as it will generate spiritual knowledge and deliver one from samsara. Reciting it and meditating on its meaning will enable the spiritual aspirant to attain Kaivalya.

We thus see that this Upanishad is not really a “minor” one, but a condensation of the entire Vedantic wisdom and a true guide to spiritual illumination. May all students of Vedanta benefit from it.

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