Kena Upanishad | Shankara's Commentaries


|| kenopaniṣat ||

Here you can read Kena Upanishad with commentaries of the famous Hindu Advaita Vedanta Swāmī Shankara-Ācārya (788-820) online.

The Kena Upanishad belongs to the Talavakāra Brāhmaṇa of Sāma Veda, giving the etymological roots of an alternate name of Talavakāra Upanishad for it, in ancient and medieval era Indian texts.

The Kena Upanishad is also referred to as the Kenopanishad.

|| atha kenopaniṣat ||

auṁ āpyāyantu mamāṅgāni vākprāṇaścakṣuḥ
śrotramatho balamindriyāṇi ca sarvāṇi |
sarvaṁ brahmaupaniṣadaṁ
mā'haṁ brahma nirākuryāṁ mā mā brahma
nirākarodanirākaraṇamastvanirākaraṇaṁ me'stu |
tadātmani nirate ya
upaniṣatsu dharmāste mayi santu te mayi santu |

May my limbs, speech, energy, eyes, ear and vitality,
as well as all the other senses become more vigorous!
All are that Brahman of the Upanishads.
May I never deny Brahman, nor may Brahman deny me.
Let there be no denial at all;
let there be no denial at least from me.
May all the virtues that dwell in the Upanishads reside in me,
who am devoted to the Ātman!

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
auṁ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ||

Om Peace! Peace! Peace!




Since the Upaniṣad commencing with Keneṣitam and revealing the supreme Brahman has to be spoken of, the 9th chapter (of the Talavakāra Brāhmaṇa), begins.

Earlier than this, rites have been exhaustively dealt with, and the (different) meditations on the vital force as the basis of rites, as also the meditations on the (various) Sāmas, forming parts of rites, have been spoken of.

After that is stated the meditation on the Gāyatra Sāma, (thought of as the vital force), which ends with a succession of teachers and pupils and which relates to effects of action.

If all these rites and meditations, as enjoined, are properly observed, they become the cause for the purification of the mind of one who is free from desires and longs for emancipation.

But in the case of one who cherishes desires and has no enlightenment (i.e. meditation on or knowledge of gods), the rites by themselves, as enjoined in the Vedas and the Smṛti, become the cause for the attainment of the Southern Path and for return to this world.

But through activity prompted by natural impulses that are repugnant to the scriptures, there will be degradation into lower beings ranging from beasts to the motionless ones (trees etc.), in accordance with the Vedic text:

“(If one does not perform rites or meditation),
then one does not proceed by either of these Paths (Northern or Southern):

They become these little creatures (mosquitoes etc.) that are constantly subject to birth and death following the (divine) order ‘Be born and die.’ This is the 3rd state
(Ch. V. X. 8);

and in accordance with the words of the other Vedic text:

3 kinds of beings followed a course that deviates (from these Northern and Southern Paths)
/born from the womb, egg or earth/
(Ai. Ā. II. i. 1.4).

The longing for the knowledge of the indwelling Self arises only in that desireless man of pure mind who has renounced all transitory, external means and ends by virtue of the emergence of a special kind of tendency (in his mind) created by works done in this life or in previous ones.

This fact is being shown in the form of questions and answers by the Vedic text beginning with Keneṣitam.

In the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, too, it is said,

The self-existent Lord destroyed the outgoing senses;
therefore one sees the outer things and not the Self within.
A rare discriminating man, who desired immortality,
turned his eyes away and then saw the indwelling Self
“ (Ka. II. i. 1) etc.

And in the (Muṇḍaka) Upaniṣad of the Atharva-Veda it is said,

Having examined the worlds attainable by work thus:
‘The unproduced (everlasting emancipation) is not to be produced by work’,
the Brāhmaṇa should resort to renunciation.

In order to know that fully, he must approach, with sacrificial articles in hand, a teacher who is versed in the Vedas and is established in Brahman” (Mu. I. ii. 12).

In this way alone, does a man of detachment acquire the competence to hear, meditate on, and realise the knowledge of the indwelling Self, and not otherwise.

Besides, as a result of this realisation of the indwelling Self as Brahman, there comes the total cessation of ignorance which is the seed of bondage and the cause of the emergence of desire and activity, in accordance with the verse:

What sorrow and what delusion can there be for that seer of oneness?” (Īś. 7);

and also in accordance with the Vedic texts:

The knower of the Self transcends sorrow” (Ch. VII. L3);

When the One that is both cause and effect is seen,
the knots of the heart of the (seer) are cut,
all (his) doubts are resolved, and all karma is consumed
” (Mu. II. ii. 8). etc.


May it not be argued that this result can be attained even from knowledge coupled with rites and duties?


No, because in the Vājasaneyaka (Brihadāraṇyaka) Upaniṣad that (combination of rites and meditation) has been spoken of as the cause of a different result.

Starting with the text, “Let me have a wife“ (Br. I. iv. 17),
the Vājasaneyaka shows in the text,

This world of man is to be won through the son alone, and by no other rite;
the world of the Manes through rites;
and the world of the gods through meditation
” (Br. I. v. 16),

- how rites and duties lead to the attainment of the 3 worlds that are different from the Self.

And there (in that Upaniṣad itself), again, the reason for embracing renunciation is adduced thus:

What shall we achieve through children,
we to whom the Self we have attained is the goal?
” (Br. IV. iv. 22).

The explanation of that reason is this:

What shall we do with progeny, rites, and meditation combined with rites, which are the means for the attainment of worlds other than that of the Self, and are the causes for the attainment of the 3 worlds of men, Manes, and gods?

Nor are the 3 worlds—transitory and attainable by means as they are— desirable to us, to whom is desirable the world that is natural, “birthless, undecaying, immortal, fearless” (Br. IV. iv. 25),

that “neither increases nor decreases through work” (Br. IV. iv. 23), and is eternal.

And being eternal, it is not to be secured by any means other than the cessation of ignorance.

Hence the only duty is to renounce all desires after the realisation of the unity of the indwelling Self and Brahman.

Besides, the knowledge of the identity of the indwelling Self and Brahman militates against its co-existence with work:

For the realisation of the identity of the Self and Brahman, which eradicates all dual ideas, cannot reasonably co-exist with work which presupposes the ideas of the difference of agent and results;

for the object (of knowledge) being the deciding factor, the realisation of Brahman is not determined by human effort.

Therefore, this desire to know the indwelling Self, in the case of a man who has renounced all seen and unseen results attainable by external means, is being shown by the Vedic text beginning with Keneṣitam...

But the object (of the inquiry)-being subtle, the presentation in the form of questions and answers of the student and teacher leads to easy comprehension;

and it is also shown that the object is not realisable through mere dialectics.

Moreover, in accordance with the Vedic text,
This knowledge is not attainable through dialectics” (Ka. I. ii. 9),

and the obligation about taking a teacher implied in the Vedic and Smṛti texts,

One who has a teacher knows” (Ch. VI. xiv. 2),

Such knowledge alone as is acquired from a teacher becomes the best” (Ch. IV. ix. 3).

Learn that through obeisance” (G. IV. 34),

- it can be imagined that someone, having found no refuge in anything other than the indwelling Self, and having a longing for the fearless, eternal, auspicious, and unshakable (Brahman), approached a teacher who is established in Brahman, and asked:


auṁ keneṣitaṁ patati preṣitaṁ manaḥ
kena prāṇaḥ prathamaḥ praiti yuktaḥ |
keneṣitāṁ vācamimāṁ vadanti
cakṣuḥ śrotraṁ ka u devo yunakti || 1 ||

By whom commanded and directed
does the mind go towards its objects?
Commanded by whom
does the life-force, the first (cause), move?
At whose will do men utter speech?
What power directs the eye and the ear?

Kena, by what agent; being iṣitam, willed, directed; manaḥ, the mind; patati, goes, goes towards its own object - this is the construction.

Since the root i cannot be taken here to imply either repetition or going, it must be understood that the present form of the root is in its sense of desiring.

The form in which the suffix it is used in the word iṣitam is a Vedic licence.

Preṣitaṁ is a form of the same root, with pra prefixed to it, in the sense of directing.

If the word preṣitaṁ alone were used (without iṣitam) there would arise such an inquiry about the particular kind of director and the direction as:

By what particular director? And how is the direction?

But the attribute iṣitam being there, both the questions are set at rest, because thereby is ascertained a special meaning, viz. “directed (preṣitaṁ) through whose mere will?


If this be the meaning intended, the purpose is served by the expression willed by alone, and the expression directed not be used.

Moreover, since it is reasonable that an additional word should imply an additional meaning, it is proper to understand some special sense such us:

By what is it directed - by will, act, or speech?


This cannot be so because of the trend of the question:

For the reasonable conclusion derived from the trend (of the question) is that the inquiry is made by a man who has become disgusted with the ephemeral works and their results, such as the assemblage of the body, senses, etc., and seeks to know something other than these, which is unchangeable and eternal.

If it were not so, the question would be surely meaningless, since the directorship of the group of body etc. (over the mind) through will, word, and act is a familiar fact.


Even so, the sense of the word directed is not certainly brought out.


No, since the word directed can reasonably convey a special sense, viz. that it is the question of a man in doubt.

Both the adjectives iṣitam (willed) and preṣitaṁ (directed), in the sentence willed by whom the directed mind goes, are justifiable as implying:

Does the directorship belong to the aggregate of body and senses, which is a well-known fact;

or does the directorship through mere will, over the mind etc., belong to some independent entity which is different from the aggregate?"


Is it not a well-known fact that the mind is free and goes independently to its own object?
How can the question arise with regard to that matter?

The answer is this:

if the mind were independent in engaging or disengaging itself,
then nobody would have contemplated any evil.

And yet the mind, though conscious of consequences, wills evil;
and, though dissuaded, it does engage in deeds of intensely sorrowful result.

Hence the question, keneṣitaṁ patati etc., is appropriate.

Kena, by whom; prāṇāh, the vital force; being yukta, engaged, directed; praiti, goes, towards its own activity?

Prathamaḥ, first, should be an adjective of the vital force, for the activities of all the organs are preceded by it.

Imām vācam, this speech, consisting of words; as ordinary people vadanti, utter; kena iṣitam, by whom is it willed (during that utterance)?

Similarly, kaḥ u devaḥ, which effulgent being; yunakti, engages, directs towards their respective objects; cakṣuḥ śrotram, the eyes and the ears?

To the worthy disciple who had asked thus, the teacher said,

Hear what you have asked for in the question,

Who is that effulgent being who is the director of the mind and other organs towards their own objects, and how does he direct?’ ”