Mahā Nārāyaṇa Upanishad | Section 12



aṇoraṇīyān mahato mahīyānātmā guhāyāṁ nihito'sya jantoḥ .
tamakratuṁ paśyati vītaśoko dhātuḥ prasādānmahimānamīśam.. 1..

1. The Infinite Self more minute than the minute and greater than the great is set in the heart of the beings here. Through the grace of the Creator one realises Him who is free from desires based on values, who is supremely great and who is the highest ruler and master of all, and becomes free from sorrows.


This section purports to impart divine wisdom to a person who has attained the necessary purity required for it by the practice of righteousness extolled in the previous section.

 It is said that this section and the follow­ing one describe the nature of Paramātman and His worship.

This stanza is found with slight variation in Kaṭha Up II 20 and an exact duplicate of it is at Śvetāśvatara Up IV 20.

The Supreme is subtler than ether and the minutest atom, for then only He can be present in everything whatever that exists. Being thus all-pervasive He encompasses and trans­cends the sum total of the universe.

The statement that the Supreme resides in the heart of creatures does not imply a local habitation. Then it would be tantamount to saying that the whole is confined in the part. Therefore the limita­tion to the heart-lotus or the intellect means only the possibi­lity of intuiting or communing with the Supreme in and through buddhi (intellect).

The word akratuṁ in the text qualifying the Supreme is interpreted as free from desires based on personal valuations. The Supreme is directly present as the innermost witness in everything.

His knowledge is not, therefore, derived through the internal organ which according to its constitu­tion evaluates sensations and conceptions as agreeable and disagreeable, worthy and unworthy, acceptable and rejectable.

Being thus unconditioned, the Supreme is unlimited.

While the Katha passage emphasises the necessity of personal effort for the realisation of the Supreme—namely, for effecting dhātu prasāda or the purification of internal and external organs—the text here is meant to stress that divine grace is the essential condition of self-illumination and freedom from sorrow.

sapta prāṇā prabhavanti tasmāt saptārciṣaḥ samidhaḥ sapta jihvāḥ .
sapta ime lokā yeṣu caranti prāṇā guhāśayānnihitāḥ sapta sapta .. 2

2. From Him originate the seven prāṇas, the seven flames, their fuel, the seven tongues and the seven worlds in which the life-breaths move.

(Further other things that are) sevenfold also come forth from Him, who dwells in the secret place of the heart and are set (in their respective places).


This mantra sets forth the creative power of the Divine Being who was presented as the object of worship in the immediately preceding one It occurs also in Muṇḍaka II 1-8 where jihvāḥ is substituted by homa.

Commentators interpret the verse as giving an account of God’s creation of the senses, the seven planets, the seven sacrificial fires, their seven flames, and the seven worlds together with other sevenfold entities.

According to Śrī Śankara and Sāyana, the seven prāṇas are two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and mouth, the seven flames are the enlightenments produced by their activity, the external objects which stimulate their actions are their fuel, the seven tongues are Kālī etc. described at Muṇḍaka I 2-4 and the seven worlds are Bhuḥ to Satya.

In Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad the purpose is to show that all activities, their means and results with which a sacrificer is connected proceed from God. Here God is described as the creative cause of the universe for the purpose of meditation.

ataḥ samudrā girayaśca sarve'smātsyandante sindhavaḥ sarvarūpāḥ .
ataśca viśvā oṣadhayo rasāśca yenaiṣa bhūtastiṣṭhatyantarātmā .. 3

3. From Him arise all the seas and mountains. From Him flow rivers of all kinds and from Him all herbs and essences come forth; united with the essence of the herbs the individual Soul seated in the subtle body dwells in creatures.


This stanza is found also at Muṇḍaka II. 1,9 with slight alteration.

The purpose of this whole stanza cited here again is to point out the necessity of knowing and worshipping the Supreme who is the only source of the universe.

brahmā devānāṁ padavīḥ kavīnāmṛṣirviprāṇāṁ mahiṣo mṛgāṇām .
śyeno gṛdhrāṇāɱsvadhitirvanānāɱsomaḥ pavitramatyeti rebhan .. 4.

4. The Supreme having become the four- faced Brahmā among gods, the master of right words among the composers, the seer among the intelligent people, the buffalo among animals, the kite among the birds, the cutting axe among the destructive tools and soma among the sacrificers, transcends all purifying agencies accompanied by the sound (of holy chant).


This mantra is quoted from the Taittirīya Saṁhitā III 4-11.

But here it is interpreted to convey the sense that the Supreme Being, who created the insentient world as described above, became the leading principle in every group of objects.

ajāmekāṁ lohitaśuklakṛṣṇāṁ bahvīṁ prajāṁ janayantīɱ sarūpām .
ajo hyeko juṣamāṇo'nuśete jahātyenāṁ bhuktabhogāmajo'nyaḥ .. 5..

5. There is one unborn Female (Māyā, the uncaused substance of the universe) red, white and black (representing Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) producing manifold offspring of the same nature.

There is one unborn (in the generic sense - some Jīvas who are attached) who lies by her taking delight in her; there is another unborn (in the generic sense - those who are not attached) who leaves her after having enjoyed her.


This stanza aims to teach the doctrine of bondage and liberation based on the principle of Māyā accepted by Vedanta for the explanation of the creation of the universe according to the advaitic system of it.

Avidya, Māyā, and Prakṛti are taken to be synonyms.

Prakṛti is the uncaused cause of the remaining categories posited to explain the stages of universal evolution. Therefore it is one and unborn.

The term Prakṛti being grammatically feminine in gender represents the unborn Female giving birth to the rest of creation.

Red, white and black represent either Tejas, Ap and Annam taught in Chāṇḍogya VI 4-1 or the three guṇas Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.

The manifold offspring produced by Prakriti is described as having the same nature because the guṇas of Prakriti extend to every part of its effects.

In the second half of the stanza two types of individual souls, āsakta and virakta (passionate and dispassionate), are described—the former enjoy pleasures under the bondage of Māyā and the latter are averse to the pleasures and so are liberated from the thraldom to Māyā.

 The word bhuktabhogā implies that the latter have done with enjoyments supplied by Māyā and so they are no more enslaved by her.

haṁsaḥ śuciṣadvasurantarikṣasaddhotā vediṣadatithirduroṇasat .
nṛṣadvarasadṛtasadvyomasadabjā gojā ṛtajā adrijā ṛtaṁ bṛhat .. 6..

6. That which is the sun who abides in the clear sky, is the Vasu (the air that moves) in the mid-region, is the fire that dwells in the sacrificial altar and in the domestic hearth as the guest, is the fire that shines in men and in the gods, as the Soul, is the fire that is consecrated in the sacrifice, is dwelling in the sky as air, is born in water as submarine heat, is born in the rays of the sun, is the fire that is directly seen as the luminary, and is born on the mountain as the rising sun—that is the Supreme Truth, the Reality underlying all.


This stanza in jagatī metre is the well-known Hamsa- mantra describing the Supreme Reality as it appears to the sage who has been illuminated. Its original place is in the Rigveda IV 40, 5. It is found in the Vājasaneyī Saṁhitā X 24, XII 14, and the Kaṭha Upaniṣad V 2.

The essence of the Hamsa mantra is contained in the formula haṁ-saḥ  which establishes the identity of the Self in man and the Deity in the sun.

Al­though in the common usage the word Haṁsa denotes a swan, in religious literature it stands for the Self, finite as well as Infinite, because of their uniqueness and unity.

 According to the interpretation accepted here, the Sun is called Haṁsa because he moves everywhere; his abode is heaven, he is the animating power of air in the mid-region.

As the necessary ingredient of a sacrifice in the shape of fire, he dwells in the sacrificial altar and also in the civil fire to be tended like an honoured guest, as Vaiśvānara he dwells in men and gods.

While gods like Indra are invisible, the sun is directly visible to all. He rises in the eastern mountain. His presence is known by the rays and by the submarine heat of water.

All these attributes of the sun represent symbolically Brahman and in this context it is asserted that Brahman is the one source and substratum of all that has been described by the mantra.

According to Śaṅkarācārya the ending phrase informs us that each item described above is but an appearance of that subtle Reality which is the final causeṚitam Brihat. The man who rejects the illusory world described in the immedi­ately preceding stanza realizes the truth described in this one.

yasmājjātā na parā naiva kiṁcanāsa ya āviveśa bhuvanāni viśvā .
prajāpatiḥ prajayā saṁvidānastrīṇi jyotīɱṣi sacate sa ṣoḍaśī .. 6 ka..

6. (A). The beings born from Prajāpati are not separate from Him. Before their birth nothing whatsoever existed other than Him, who entered all the creatures of the world as their in-most Self. Prajāpati has identified Himself with the creatures. He imparts the three luminaries, fire, sun and moon, lustre by identifying Himself with them. He is endowed with sixteen parts.


In the previous stanza it was asserted that the manifold universe is the Supreme Reality designated as Ṛitam Brihat. The common man who witnesses created beings only cannot accept this as a matter of experience. This passage, therefore, reasserts the Vedic idea that the manifold sensible universe is in reality non-different from the Supreme, though it appears not so to the uninitiated observer.

This passage occurs in the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa III 7 9.

Prajāpati is the Divine Provi­dence who creates all beings, who supplies them with the ten senses, and the five elements constituting their bodies and minds, and the three luminous worlds in which they dwell, and who supports them as the indwelling Spirit.

According to Sāyana, the 16 parts or kalās are:

prāṇa, śraddhā, five elements, indriya, mind, food, vīrya (virility), tapas, mantra, sacrifice, the worlds, and the names, given in the Praśna Upaniṣad VI 4.

vidhartāraɱ havāmahe vasoḥ kuvidvanāti naḥ .
savitāraṁ nṛcakṣasam .. 6 kha..

6. (B). We invoke the creator of the universe who sustains the creation in many ways and who witnesses the thoughts and deeds of men. May He grant us plenty of excellent wealth!

ghṛtaṁ mimikṣire ghṛtamasya yonirghṛte śrito ghṛtamuvasya dhāma .
anuṣvadhamāvaha mādayasva svāhākṛtaṁ vṛṣabha vakṣi havyam .. 7..

7. The sacrificers poured clarified butter into the consecrated Fire. Clarified butter is the place of origin of this one and in clarified butter is his support. Indeed clarified butter is his luminant and residence.

O Fire, with every offering of oblation bring here the gods and delight them! O thou excellent one, convey to gods the offerings we have made with svāhā!


This hymn to Fire is cited from the Rigveda II 3 11 here to propitiate the sacrificial Fire, so that through sacri­ficial acts one may attain to conditions suitable for spiritual illumination.

samudrādūrmirmadhumāɱ udāradupāɱśunā samamṛtatvamānaṭ .
ghṛtasya nāma guhyaṁ yadasti jihvā devānāmamṛtasya nābhiḥ .. 8..

8. From the Supreme Fount, vast as the ocean, arose the universe in the shape of waves, yielding enjoyment to created beings. The name designating the self-luminous Reality and consisting of the syllable Om is hidden in the Vedas. By contemplating on the Supreme along with the slow repetition of that name one attains to Immortality. This designation of the Supreme is on the lips of contemplative sages and it is the central support of undying bliss.


This also is a stanza quoted from Rigveda IV. 58 1 in order to support the view that the syllable Om is the means of attaining release from the cycle of birth and death.

vayaṁ nāma prabravāmā ghṛtenāsmin yajñe dhārayāmā namobhiḥ .
upa brahmā śṛṇavacchasyamāna catuḥśṛṅgo'vamīdgaura etat .. 9..

9. May we always repeat in our contemplative sacrifices the designation Om which has for its cause the Self-luminous Reality and may we also hold Him in our hearts with salutations!

The four-horned white Bull has expressed this Supreme Brahman praised by us in the hearing of co-seekers.


Here is another citation from the Rigveda IV 58 2 designated to express the glory of Prāṇava.

The four-homed white Bull represents the syllable Om. The four horns are the four sound elements in the Prāṇava. Whiteness is argued to be the result of its being repeated by holy men free from all worldly desires.

catvāri śṛṅgā trayo asya pādā dveśīrṣe sapta hastāso asya .
tridhā baddho vṛṣabho roravīti maho devo martyāɱ āviveśa .. 10..

10. The syllable Om conceived as the Bull possesses four horns, three feet and two heads. He has seven hands. This Bull connected in a threefold manner, eloquently declares the Supreme. The Self-luminous Deity has entered the mortals everywhere.


This is the well-known allegoric stanza of the Rigveda IV 58 3 variously interpreted in different contexts.

The word Vṛṣabha conventionally means a bull and etymologically that which rains (plenty). The meditation on Prāṇava is stated to confer on the aspirant spiritual riches.

The Vṛṣabha, or Prāṇava, has four horns as indicated in the previous note. Om is also the Reality expressed by it, and that Reality is reached through the three feet or steps, namely, the waking, sleeping and dreaming of the individual soul, and also the universe, the soul embodied in the universe and its unevolved cause.

The higher and lower aspects of Prakṛti, taught in the Gītā, chapter VII, are con­sidered as His two heads. The seven worlds are fancied to be His hands.

Being the ground of all that exists this Vṛṣabha is connected with the threefold aspects of subjective and objective universe mentioned just now.

The Vṛṣabha or bull bellows loudly. Here the Prāṇava declares the Supreme Reality eloquently. This declaration here implies the presence of Paramātman in all creatures and His sustaining of them.

According to another interpretation the four horns are the four adjutants of the sacrifice, Adhvaryu, Hotri, Brahman, and Udgātri, the three feet are Gārhapatya, Āhavaṇiya, and Anvāhāryapacana; the heads are the institutor of the sacrifice and his wife or the Prāyanīya and Udayanīya, the seven metres headed by Gāyatrī are the seven hands.

The body of the sacrifice is bound in a threefold manner by three ceremonies connected with the extraction of soma. The Yajña grants desired objects.

So it is Vṛṣabha. The noise produced by the bull compares to the chant of the three Vedas at the sacrifice. The Lord Himself entered human beings through the sacrifices in which He is worshipped.

tridhā hitaṁ paṇibhirguhyamānaṁ gavi devāso ghṛtamanvavindan .
indra ekaɱ sūrya ekaṁ jajāna venādekaɱ svadhayā niṣṭatakṣuḥ .. 11..

11. God-like sages attained in the order (of their spiritual practices) the Self-luminous Reality, laid in the three states of consciousness and secretly held by the teachers who praise it by chants in the Vedic speech (the great formulas such as ‘Thou art That’).

Indra or Virāt, the regent of the visible universe and the waking consciousness, created one, the visible world. Sūrya representing Taijasa and Hiraṇyagarbha created one, namely, the world of dream, and from Vena came the remain­ing one, the dreamless sleep.

By the self-support­ing Paramātman all these threefold categories were fashioned.


This is yet another mantra from Rigveda IV 58 4. Reproduced here and interpreted as a description of Om and the Reality denoted by it.

yo devānāṁ prathamaṁ purastād-
viśvādhiko rudro maharṣiḥ .
hiraṇyagarbhaṁ paśyata jāyamānaɱ
sa no devaḥ śubhayāsmṛtyā saṁyunaktu .. 12..

12. May He, the Lord, join us with beneficial remembrance—He who is superior to all, who has been revealed in the Vedas, who is the Supreme Seer and who sees Hiraṇyagarbha who is the first among the gods and who is born before all the rest.


From the indication in the stanza it is accepted that this is one of those mantras prescribed as a prayer for the at­tainment of illumination through the grace of Parameśvara.

 Hiraṇyagarbha represents the sum total of jīvas residing in all the bodies, hence He is also called Sūtrātman or the Self that pervades creation as a thread.

The Supreme Divine functions as Hiraṇyagarbha for setting in motion the entire creation, and hence the latter is the first-born and the Lord of all other gods.

The present participle jāyamānam implies that the Supreme is ever face to face with the individual jīva represented by Hiraṇyagarbha viewed as a totality.

The word Rudra is explained variously—revealed in the Vedas, giver of knowledge, causer of cry of sorrow at dissolution.

The epithet Ṛṣi is given to one who directly sees the Truth or who sees more than what others see, and so Maha-Ṛṣi here is the all-seeing God.

The whole stanza occurs also in Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad III 4 and IV 12 with some verbal variation.

yasmātparaṁ nāparamasti kiñcit
yasmānnāṇīyo na jyāyo'sti kaścit .
vṛkṣa iva stabdho divi tiṣṭhatyeka-
stenedaṁ pūrṇaṁ puruṣeṇa sarvam .. 13..

13.  Other than whom there is nothing higher, nothing subtler, nothing greater, by that Puruṣa—the One who stands still like a tree established in heaven—all this is filled.


The object of unbroken remembrance stated in the previous stanza is now further described here. The Paramāt­man is all that exists, even as the visible universe. The simile of the tree here is perhaps akin to that of the eternal banyan with roots in heaven, described at Katha VI 1.

 At Taittirīya- Brāhmaṇa II 8, 9 we get the following two stanzas which throw light on the Vṛkṣa mentioned here:

Was it a forest? What was the tree from which the world was fashioned? O wise men, think out an answer for this and verify it by ascertaining from your prece­ptor. Further, ask what is the cause which sustains all the world within itself?

This is the reply of the teacher:

Brahman is the forest. Brahman is the tree out of which heaven and earth were fashioned, for all efficiency needed is in Brahman. O wise ones, I, the teacher, have arrived at this conclusion and tell you so. That Brahman stands above all other causes, holding the whole universe in Itself.

This mantra is found in the same form at Śvetāśvatara III 9.

na karmaṇā na prajayā dhanena tyāgenaike amṛtatvamānaśuḥ .
pareṇa nākaṁ nihitaṁ guhāyāṁ bibhrājate yadyatayo viśanti ..14..

14. Not by work, not by progeny, not by wealth, they have attained Immortality. Some have attained Immortality by renunciation. That which the hermits attain is laid beyond the heaven; yet it shines brilliantly in the (purified) heart.


This is one of the widely quoted stanzas of this Upaniṣad interpreted by Bhaṭṭabhāskara and Sāyana in two distinct ways:

According to both these commentators, it lays down the means for the attainment of the Supreme Being whose attributes, power and grace were described in the previous stanzas.

Both of them agree that immortality resulting from the knowledge of the Supreme is attained only by some who have undergone the necessary discipline.

The passage, however, does not imply that work, progeny and gift of wealth are condemned as futility. To think so would be discarding the evidence of the Vedas. The purpose of the passage here is to stress the supreme importance of renunciation for the attainment of divine knowledge, which is the goal of the twofold religious path named pravṛtti and nivṛtti.

 Bhaṭṭabhāskara considers that tyāga here means phala-tyāga or the surrender of the fruits of religious acts and of deeds of charity.

The regular duties meant to secure absolution from the three- fold debt to ancestors, gods and Riṣis cannot be neglected.

The Supreme Being is realised in the highest heaven as well as in one’s own heart. He is attained by those who study the Vedas, understand then import, perform duties laid down by them, habitually control the senses and continuously practise divine contemplation.

They surrender the fruits of then actions to the Most High, consequently they are not bound by the actions they do.

Sāyana thinks that this passage teaches total renunciation associated with sannyāsa which is necessary for the attainment of Immortality.

Small devotions like Agnihotra, extended sacrificial sessions designated Sattra and ordinary work of common service, however helpful these might be in generating the desire to know the Supreme, they cannot by themselves give Immortality.

The knowledge of Paramātman and freedom come to one only by renouncing other interests and concentrating oneself on that ideal.

This stanza and the succeeding one are found also at Kaivalya Upaniṣad I 2, 4.

vedāntavijñānaviniścitārthāḥ saṁnyāsayogādyatayaḥ śuddhasattvāḥ .
te brahmaloke tu parāntakāle parāmṛtāḥ parimucyanti sarve ..15..

15. Having attained the Immortality con­sisting of identity with the Supreme, all those aspirants who strive for self-control, who have rigorously arrived at the conclusion taught by the Vedanta through direct knowledge, and who have attained purity of mind through the practice of the discipline of yoga and steadfastness in the know­ledge of Brahman preceded by renunciation, get themselves released into the region of Brahman at the dissolution of their final body.


This stanza is commented on by Śrī Śaṅkarācārya at Muṇḍaka III 2, 6 . The explanation and rendering given above follow his authority.

According to Śrī Śaṅkarācārya, the goal of Vedānta is Paramātma-vijñāna or Self-Realisation. The central theme of this verse is that this knowledge is attained through inner purity gained by taking to sannyāsa and yoga.

Sannyāsa implies renouncing worldly and religious work and preferring to remain forever steadfastly in the consciousness of Brahman. This is also yoga.

Those who perpetually strive to keep this spiritual state are called Yatis.

The last moment of life is called antakāla, end-time. Souls fated to rebirth confront antakāla repeatedly, but the soul that is illumined by the wisdom of Vedānta takes his last birth, and consequently he meets with his para-antakāla, final end-time.

The same author explains brahmalokeṣu in the plural from the view-point of many liberated souls who all merge into one Brahman.

The word parāmṛtāḥ denotes the attainment of Immortality while one is living on the earth, and the verb parimucyanti implies the merging of the individual Self then and there, at the time of death, into the Supreme Self, without leaving a trace of separate individuality—-just as the birds flying across the sky do not leave any footprint there or the fish moving in water leave no trail of a path.

With the attainment of illumination the aspirant becomes parāmṛtāḥ and at the fall of the body he becomes paramukta, no more to be born again.

dahraṁ vipāpaṁ varaveśmabhūta yat puṇḍarīkaṁ puramadhyasaɱstham .
tatrāpi dahre gaganaṁ viśokaṁ tasmin yadantastadupāsitavyam.. 16..

16. In the citadel of the body there is the small sinless and pure lotus of the heart which is the residence of the Supreme.

Further, in the interior of this small area, there is the sorrowless Ether. That is to be meditated upon continually.


This stanza gives the object and place for the unbroken meditation of the Supreme Divine:

 The Hindus worship God objectively in Nature or in the symbols artistically conceived for the purpose of adoration, as shown by the authority of the scriptures.

Greater importance, however, is often attached to the subjective worship of the Divine which chiefly consists in His contemplation within one’s own heart.

To make this idea clear the analogy of the capital of a king, familiar to the Indian populace, is worked out in some of the Upaniṣadic passages. See Chāṇḍogya VIII 1:

The body is named as Brahmapura analogous to the capital of a king. There is the royal mansion in the city to which the lotus of the heart is compared. The king resides in the mansion and he must be sought there by supplicants.

 This passage describes that although Parabrahman is infinite, He can be accosted in the ether of the heart through unbroken meditation.

The heart is the mansion of the Supreme. Because the heart is the place for meditating upon the Supreme it is qualified as sinless and pure. When a king is propitiated through proper service in his own residence he would reveal himself and all his glory to his devoted servants.

So also when the Supreme is approached through contemplation within oneself, one realises the true nature of one's own being.

The Paramātman residing in the heart is here referred to as viśoka, sorrowless, and an aspirant who enters into his own heart by the con­tinuous contemplation of the Supreme also becomes sorrowless.

For further elucidation of worship in the heart see Brahmasutias 1 3 14-21.

yo vedādau svaraḥ prokto vedānte ca pratiṣṭhitaḥ .
tasya prakṛtilīnasya yaḥ paraḥ sa maheśvaraḥ .. 17..

17. He is the Supreme Lord who transcends the syllable Om which is uttered at the commence­ment of the recital of the Vedas, which is well established in the Upaniṣads and which is dis­solved in the primal cause during contemplation.


This mantra describes the Reality mentioned in the previous stanza as the sorrowless ether in the heart.

The Prāṇava is the symbol and the representation of the Supreme and so the source and substance of the Vedas and the Upaniṣads.

The aspirant is advised to meditate on the three elements of Prāṇava -  a, u and m representing Virāt, Hiraṇyagarbha and Avyakrta (material, mental and causal aspects of the universe).

By this meditation the grosser principle is refunded to its subtle cause, so Virāt is dissolved in Hiraṇyagarbha and Hiraṇyagarbha in Prakṛti. Beyond Prakṛti, the causal principle, is the Supreme, corresponding to the nada or the intangible reverberation, which continues forever when the three syllables of the Prāṇava are uttered in succession and their physical sound has subsided.