by Swami Krishnananda
The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad, or the great forest of knowledge, as the significance of this title would suggest, is a veritable mine of wisdom, with its Six Chapters touching upon the internal meaning of almost every phase of human life. The word 'Upaniṣhad' is supposed to connote a secret instruction or a hidden doctrine, secret and hidden in the sense that it purports to reveal the invisible background or reality behind the visible forms of temporal existence. It is evident that things are not what they seem. And the Upaniṣhad is a record of the unfolding of the mystery that lies behind phenomena.
The subject of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad rises into a crescendo of importance, heightening its encompassing gamut of theme after theme, right from the very commencement until the conclusion of the Fourth Section of the First Chapter, rising in its pitch at this stage somewhat like the Ultimate Revelation at the level of the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavadgītā, which blossoms gradually through its earlier chapters.
Literally as a wide-ranging forest, one can discover in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad new visions through its different sections or cantos, and perhaps we can find in it anything anywhere. However, since the student might well feel more at home through teachings presented in the form of a well-tended garden rather than a thick jungle of information, the arrangement of the lectures, which form the substance of this book, is patterned to follow a logical ascent of subjects, keeping aside matters of a secondary character or importance to a later consideration as a sort of a sequel, so that the thread of the narration of similar themes is maintained without breaking the same with an interruption by some other subject which is not very relevant to the contemplation on hand. Thus, these lectures follow a procedure as detailed below.
There is a continuity from the beginning of the Upaniṣhad till the Fifth Section of the First Chapter. Then, the trend of the lectures proceeds directly therefrom to the Fourth Section of the Second Chapter, and thence to the end of the Fifth Chapter. The left-out sections of the First Chapter and the beginning three sections of the Second Chapter are then touched upon after the description of the Fifth Chapter is over. Also, in these discourses, a study of the Sixth Chapter of this Upaniṣhad, though very interesting and even important as an esoteric teaching on certain essential aspects of human life considered as necessary steps towards the higher fulfilment, is omitted altogether, since one would feel that this part of the Upaniṣhad is not going to fit into the normal course of present-day human thinking.
The First Section of the Sixth Chapter is concerning the importance of the Prāṇa and the functions of the different sense-organs; and the essentials of this subject have already been considered elsewhere in this work. Thus, this is not repeated again as a fresh study. The Second Section of the Sixth Chapter concerns the narration of the famous Panchāgni-Vidyā, which occurs also in the Chhāndogya Upaniṣhad. Since an entirely new publication, known as Vaiśhvānara-Vidyā, expounded by the author, includes this subject, and is available to the public as a separate treatise, the same is not discussed again in the present work. The Third and the Fourth Sections of the Sixth Chapter relate to certain mystic rituals performed in connection with attainment of material prosperity and the living of a family life. The same are not taken up here for study, as their significance cannot be understood by a mere reading for oneself without proper personal initiation and the requisite spiritual background.
The entire series of these lectures being, as usual, an unpremeditated, on-the-spot speaking by the author, the conversational tone has been maintained to keep up the intimate touch, which, we feel, would make this highly indigestible topic more digestible. Though the author himself has touched up the manuscript of the First and Second Chapters, the other three Chapters were edited by his disciples, as his feeble eyesight would not permit him to go through this portion of the manuscript of the lectures. Thus, the reader might discover a little difference in these sections, rather unavoidably.
A study of this book would be found easier if it is taken up side by side with any standard edition of the Upaniṣhad, preferably containing the original Sanskrit text with an intelligible translation, inasmuch as the lectures constitute a widespread exposition of the in-depth intentions of the teachings, rather than a translation or just an annotation of the text.
We have a firm hope that this unique publication will serve as a standard guide to everyone who aspires to delve into the profundities of this superb scripture.
—THE DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY
23rd January, 1983.