Kena Upanishad | by Shankara | I 2-3


śrotrasya śrotraṁ manaso mano yad
vāco ha vācaṁ sa u prāṇasya prāṇaḥ |
cakṣuṣaścakṣuratimucya dhīrāḥ
pretyāsmāllokādamṛtā bhavanti || 2 ||

It is the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind,
the speech of the speech, the life of the life, the eye of the eye.

The wise, freed (from the senses and from mortal desires),
after leaving this world, become immortal.

Śrotrasya śrotraṁ, the Ear of the ear.

The śrotraṁ is that by which one hears, the instrument for the hearing of sound, the organ of hearing which reveals the words:

He about whom you put the question,
Who is the effulgent being who directs the eyes and the ears?"
- is the Ear of the ear.


Is it not incongruous to answer, “He is the Ear of the ear",
when the reply should have been
So-and-so, with such and such attributes, directs the ears etc."?


This is no fault, because His distinction cannot be ascertained otherwise.

If the director of the ears etc. can be known as possessed of His own activity, independently of the activities of the ears etc. just as it is in the case of the wielder of sickle etc., then this answer will be incongruous.

But as a matter of fact, no director of ears etc., possessed of his own activity, is apprehended here like a mower possessed of a sickle etc.

But He can be known, (as existing unmixed with the ear etc.), from the logical necessity that such activities as deliberation, volition, determination, of those very composite things, viz. the ear etc., must be meant for someone’s benefit.

Just as in the case of a house, so also (in this case) there does exist someone, standing outside the conglomeration of ears etc., by whose necessity is impelled the group of ears etc.

Thus from the fact that composite things exist for the need of someone else,
a director of the ears etc. can be known (i.e. inferred).

Hence the reply, “He is the Ear of the ear", is quite appropriate.


What, again, can there be the significance here of the expression, “The Ear of the ear" etc.?

For just as a light has no need for another light, so in this context the ear can have no need for another ear.


There is no such fault. The significance here is this:

The ear, to wit, is seen to be able to reveal its own object.

This ability of the ear to reveal its own object is possible only when the eternal non-composite, all-pervading light of the Self is there, but not otherwise.

Hence the expression, “Ear of the ear" etc., is justifiable.

To the same effect there are other Vedic texts:

it is through the light of the Self that he sits" (Br. IV. iii. 6),
Through His light all this shines” (Ka. II. ii.' 15; Śv. VI. 14; Mu. 11. ii. 10),
Kindled by which light the sun shines” (Tai. B. III. xii. 9.7), etc.

And in the Gītā,

(Know that light to be mine),
which is in the sun and which illumines the whole universe
.” (XV. 12), and

(As the one sun illumines the whole universe), so does He who resides in the body, O descendant of Bharata, illumine the whole body" (XIII. 33).

So also in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad,

the permanent among all that is impermanent, the conscious among all that is conscious"
(II. ii. 13).

It is a commonly accepted belief that the ears etc. constitute the Self of all, and that these are conscious. This is being refuted here.

There does exist something which is known to the intellect of the men of realisation, which dwells in the inmost recesses of all,

which is changeless, undecaying, immortal, fearless, and unborn, and which is the Ear etc. of even the ear etc., i.e. the source of their capacity to act.

Thus the answer and significance can be justified.

Similarly, manasaḥ, of the mind, of the internal organ; (He is) the manaḥ. Mind;

because the internal organ is not able to perform its own functions- thinking, determination, etc.—unless the radiance of the light of consciousness is there.

Therefore He is the Mind of the mind, too.

Here the mind and the intellect are jointly mentioned by the word mana (mind).

yad vāco ha vācaṁ: the word yat, used in the sense of because, is connected with all such words as śrotra (ear) in this way:

because He is the Ear of the ear, because He is the Mind of the mind, and so on.

The objective case in vāco ha vācaṁ is to be changed into the nominative in consonance with the expression prāṇasya prāņa (the Life of life).


In conformity with vāco ha vācaṁ, why should not the conversion be into the objective case thus: prāṇasya prāņam?


No, for it is reasonable to conform to the majority.

So in consonance with the two words, (saḥ and prāṇa), in saḥ u prāṇasya prāṇaḥ (where they are in the nominative case), the implication of the word vācam is vāk, for thus is the reasonable conformity with the majority maintained.

Moreover, a thing asked about should properly be denoted in the first (nominative) case.

He, of whom you ask, and who is the Life of prāṇa—of that particular function called life; by Him, indeed, is ensured the capacity of the vital force to discharge its functions of sustaining life,

and this is because there can be no sustaining of life by anything that is not presided over by the Self, in accordance with the Vedic texts:

Who, indeed, will inhale, and who will exhale
if this Bliss (Brahman) be not there
in the supreme Space (within the heart)?
" (Tai. II. vii. 1),

Who pushes the prāṇa upward and impels the apāna inwards" (Ka. II. ii. 3), etc.

Here, too, it will be said,

That which man does not smell with prāṇa (the organ of smell),
but that by which prāṇa is impelled,
know that to be Brahman
" (Ke. 1.9).


Is It not proper to understand prāṇa as the sense of smelling (and not life)' in a context which deals with the senses ears etc.?


This is true. But the text considers that by the mention of prāṇa (meaning the vital force), the sense of smell is referred to ipso facto.

The meaning intended in the context is this:

That for whose purpose occurs the activity of all the motor and sensory organs is Brahman.

So also He is the cakṣuṣaḥ cakṣuḥ, the Eye of the eye:

the capacity to perceive colour that the eye, the organ of sight, possesses is merely by virtue of its being presided over by the consciousness of the Self.

Hence He is the Eye of the eye.

Since a questioner’s desire is to know the thing he asks for, the expression, “having known" has to be supplied thus:

Having known Brahman, as the Ear etc. of the ear etc., as indicated before."

This (addition) is also necessary, because the result is stated thus, “They become immortal" (Ke. 11.5), and because immortality is attained through realisation.

From the fact that a man becomes free after getting realisation, it follows (that he becomes immortal) by giving up, (through the strength of knowledge), the group of organs beginning with the ear;

that is to say, since by identifying the Self with the ear etc. a man becomes conditioned by these and takes birth, dies, and transmigrates,

therefore having realised, as one's Self, the Brahman that is defined as the “Ear of the ear" etc., and atimucya, giving up self-identification with the ear etc. - (he becomes immortal).

Those who give up self-identification with the ear etc. are the dhīraḥ, intelligent,

because the self-identification with the ear etc. cannot be given up unless one is endowed with uncommon intellect.

Pretya, desisting; asmāt lokāt, from this world of empirical dealings involving ideas of “I and mine" with regard to sons, friends, wives, and relatives;

i.e. having renounced all desires; (they) bhavanti, become; amṛtāḥ, immortal, immune from death.

This is in accordance with the Vedic texts:

Not by work, not by progeny, not by wealth,
but by renunciation some (rare ones) attained immortality
" (Kaivalya Upaniṣad 1.2).

The self-existent Lord destroyed the outgoing senses
hence one perceives the external things and not the Self within.

A rare, discriminating man, longing for immortality,
turned his eyes away and then saw the indwelling Self
" (Ka. II. i. 1),

When all desires that cling to one’s heart, fall off ...
then one attains Brahman here
" (Ka. II. iii. 14), etc.

Or renunciation of desires being implied in the expression atimucya (giving up) itself, pretya means separating from this body, dying.


na tatra cakṣurgacchati na vāggacchati no manaḥ |
na vidmo na vijānīmo yathaitadanuśiṣyāt || 3 ||

There the eye does not go, nor speech, nor mind.
We do not know That;
we do not understand how can It be taught.

Since Brahman, as the Ear etc. of the ear etc., is the Self of those organs, therefore, tatra, there, to that Brahman; cakṣuḥ, the eye; na gacchati, does not go; for it is not possible to go to oneself.

Similarly na vāk gacchati, speech does not go:

When a word, as expressed by the organ of speech, reveals its own idea, speech is said to go to its object. But Brahman is the Self of that word, as also of the organ that utters it; therefore speech does not go.

Just as fire, which burns and illumines, does not burn or illumine itself, similarly is this so.

No manaḥ, nor the mind.

Though the mind thinks and determines other things, it does not think or determine itself; for of it, too, Brahman is the Self.

A thing is cognised only by the mind and the senses:

As Brahman is not an object of perception to these, therefore, na vidma, we do not know: “That Brahman is of this kind".

Hence na vijānīma, we are not aware of; yathā, the process by which; etat, this Brahman, anuśiṣyāt, should be taught, instructed to a disciple—this is the significance.

For, a thing that is perceived by the senses can be taught to another through categories denoting class, quality, and action.

Brahman is not possessed of these categories, viz. class etc.; hence it is very difficult to convince the disciples about It through instruction.

 In this way the Upaniṣad shows the necessity of putting forth great effort in the matter of imparting instruction and comprehending its meaning.

The contingency of the total denial of any process of instruction having arisen from the text,

“We do not know Brahman, and hence we are not aware of any process of teaching about It”, and exception to this is being stated in the next verse.

True it is that one cannot impart knowledge about the Highest with the help of such means of valid knowledge as the evidence of the senses;

but the knowledge can be produced with the help of traditional authority.

Therefore traditional authority is being quoted for the sake of imparting instruction about It: