Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

(c. 700 B.C.E.)
   The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is a classical UPA-NISHAD connected to the White YAJUR VEDA. It is probably the oldest of the classical Upanishads and retains much material on ancient Vedic ritual, which the later classical Upanishads ignore.The work opens with a meditation on the ashva medha, or HORSE SACRIFICE, seeing the horse itself as universal reality in all its particulars. This is a feature that is well established in the earlier BRAHMANA literature, which focused on the deeper meaning of ritual.
   The Upanishad contains a cosmogony of the Ultimate Self or ATMAN as it differentiates into worldly reality. It also preserves several ancient dialogues about the nature of the universe, the atman, and the BRAHMAN. Particularly, it contains the disquisitions or answers of the famous sage YAJNAVALKYA to these questions.
   In the course of this Upanishad, the doctrine of the two forms of brahman, the formed and the formless, is outlined (Bri. 2.3. 1–6). This doctrine is repeated in later Upanishads and is a central issue in the thought of later VEDANTA. Brihadaranyaka also presents for the first time the image of the divine reality as a spider and the worldly reality its spun web or threads (Bri. 2.1.20).
   In the course of one of Yajnavalka’s dialogues, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad also outlines, per-haps for the first time, the three levels of con-sciousness: waking (jagarita), dreaming sleep (svapna), and deep sleep (sushupti). (The fourth level appears to be a later development: turiya, the transcendent state of consciousness.) The work also outlines (Bri. 4.4. 3–6) the first extended dis-course on REINCARNATION and KARMA, as well as the karmic paths of the Sun and Moon: liberation is the path via the Sun and reincarnation is the path via the Moon (Bri. 6.2. 16). Finally, it introduces the negative description of the brahman as being “Not thus, not thus” (NETI NETI) (Bri. 4.5.15.).
   Further reading: S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 1 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975); Swami Nikhilandanda, trans., The Upanishads, Vol. 1 (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1975); S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanishads (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1974).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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