The word `Kena’, meaning `By whom?’ indicates the direction taken by the teaching of the Kena Upanishad. There is, in the third part, an arresting allegory illustrating the omnipotence of Brahman-that God alone is the supreme power behind all creation. It is also an eulogy bringing out the superiority of Brahman over all the minor gods in the Indian mythology.
The disciple’s first questions are: `By whom willed and directed does the mind light on its subjects? By whom commanded does prana (life force) the first, move? By whose will do men utter this speech? What intelligence directs the eye and the ear?’
Brahman, so the story goes, won a victory over the demons. Although it was entirely due to Brahman, the gods became elated by it and took the glory of the victory to themselves. Seeing through their false pride, Brahman decided to teach them a lesson. As they were boasting about their victory, He appeared before them, through the magic of Maya, as a venerable old man, a yaksha. They were mystified, failing to understand who he might be. The god of fire then went up to the yaksha and told him he had the power to burn up all there is on this earth. The yaksha then tested him by placing a straw before him and asking him to burn it. The god of fire, full of enthusiasm before this trivial task, went near the straw but failed, dismally, even to singe it. The same process was repeated in the case of the god of wind who said he could blow away everything there is on this earth. Again the yaksha placed a straw before him and again the god failed in this simple task.
The gods then really became concerned and sent Indra, who excelled among them, to find out who this great spirit could be who could thus render them powerless. Indra approached the yaksha who, however, disappeared in a flash. Instead Indra beheld `a woman, Uma, very beautiful and of golden hue, daughter of Himavat’ and asked her who that great spirit was. Her reply is given in the first verse of the fourth part of the Upanishad: `It is Brahman indeed. You have attained glory through the victory of Brahman alone’.
Uma here represents the grace of God through which the individual soul realizes Brahman within itself as its very essence, and this `within the winking of an eye’. Therefore Indra surpasses greatly, as it were, the other gods, as he for the first time knew that it was Brahman.
The Kena Upanishad is dealing with a very fundamental aspect of the human character-that of egoity, which here causes man to assume the mantle of divinity. In antiquity this mantle was often, by common acceptance, invested in superior beings thought to represent divine providence. We have the example of China, where the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom-to them representing the entire cosmos-was the all-transcending being. In India the warrior kings of ancient times are said to have derived their power entirely from the gift of light reflected upon them through the Brahmin caste.
In the West, emperors, kings and queens were crowned by archbishops or popes who themselves held the title of `Vicar of Christ’. But over the centuries the `mantle of divinity’ lost much of its significance owing to lack of faith and the division of spiritual powers between Church and State.
Similarly, on the positive side, it is interesting to observe how some of the leading scientists are filled with humility before the wonders of creation which they are constantly witnessing. Pasteur proclaimed the mystery of the universe in no uncertain terms in his approach to God’s manifestations in created nature: `Man’, he said, `will never cease to ask himself “What is beyond?” He who proclaims the existence of the Infinite-and who can avoid it?-embraces in that affirmation more of the supernatural than is to be found in all the religions, for the notion of the Infinite presents the paradox that it forces itself upon us and yet it is incomprehensible’.
We might also quote Einstein: `My religion is humble, boundless admiration for the superior spirit which is revealed in the minutest detail of the creation. I have the profound emotional conviction of the presence of a superior rational power, revealed through our incomprehensible universe which forms my idea of God’. At another time he also said that cosmic religious experience was the strongest and noblest driving force behind scientific research.
Here two of the greatest minds of science have intimated the fundamental origin of all creation. Yet the question `By Whom?’ can only be answered by a qualified pupil who has received the `saving knowledge’ (Upanishad) from a true, God-realized teacher; as the final verses of the Kena Upanishad show:
The pedestal of Brahman is devotion, accompanied by self-control, selfless deeds of benevolence and sacrifice, and also the Vedas and their auxiliary branches. Truth is the abode of Brahman.
Whoever knows thus, he, having dispelled sin, remains firmly established in the boundless, blissful and highest Brahman; he remains firmly established there.
© Trevor Leggett