The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad – Prayer to the Sun by a Dying Person

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The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad dates back to the 8th century BCE and is possibly the oldest text of the Upanishads, India’s spiritual teachings. This section of the text discusses the Soul’s experience after death, as it leaves the physical body and journeys into the sun on its way into the Supreme Absolute.

About the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad

The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad (Sanskrit: बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद्) is one of the older, “primary” (mukhya) Upanishads. It is contained within the Shatapatha Brahmana, and its status as an independent Upanishad may be considered a secondary extraction of a portion of the Brahmana text. This makes it one of the old (if not the oldest) texts of the Upanishad corpus, dating to roughly the 8th to 7th centuries BCE. It is associated with the Shukla Yajurveda. It figures as number 10 in the Muktika canon of 108 Upanishads and was notably commented upon by Adi Shankara.

It is widely known for its philosophical statements, and is ascribed to Yajnavalkya. Its name is literally translated as “great-forest-teaching”.[1] It includes three sections, namely, Madhu Kanda, Muni Kanda (or Yajnavalkya Kanda) and Khila Kanda. The Madhu Kanda explains the teachings of the basic identity of the individual or jiva and the Atman. Muni Kanda includes the conversations between the sage Yajnavalkya and his wife, Maitreyi. Various methods of worship and meditation are dealt in the Khila Kanda. The doctrine of “neti neti” (“neither this, nor that”) and a often quoted verse, “Asato Maa” is found in this Upanishad.


The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad

by Swami Krishnananda
The Divine Life Society  

Fifteenth Brahmana


All these meditations that are described in the Fifth Chapter of this Upanishad are qualitative in their nature. They are called Saguna-Upasanas, which means to say, meditations on the Supreme Being as defined by certain supreme qualities, or characteristics, such as All-pervadingness, Creatorship, Preservership, Destroyership, Internal Rulership, the character of being a luminous Light within, being as vast as Space, and so on. Whatever be the definition of the Ultimate Reality as pointed out in this section they have always been associated with certain attributes. These meditations with qualities, or Saguna-Upasanas, are supposed to lead the soul to liberation, gradually, through an orderly ascent, known as Krama-Mukti. This passage of Krama-Mukti, the gradual liberation of the soul attained by Saguna-Upasanas, or qualitative meditations, is always traversed through the sun. The sun is regarded as a very important place, a halting point of the soul in the gradual ascent to the Absolute. Of all the deities who are supposed to direct the soul onwards in its passage upwards, the sun is considered the most important. It is a very prominent location where the soul is not only purified in an intensive manner but is landed in the realm of light as it finds itself in the region of the sun.

The soul that is to depart the body, after having completed its career of life through meditation in this manner, prays to the sun for opening a passage. The immediate experience after the body is cast off is one of ascent to the sun. Many types of description are given in the different scriptures as to how the sun receives the soul. Romantic explanations and stimulating experiences are associated with the event of the soul’s reaching the land of light, and the soul is glorified in its divine form. The following is part of the prayer of the soul on the verge of leaving the body, having completed the course of its life through meditation. The prayer to the sun and the different feelings which the soul undergoes at the time of its leaving this world for a higher, one are mentioned herein.

1. hiranmayena patrena satyasyapihitam mukham: tat tvam, pusan, apavrnu, satyadharmaya drstaye.

“Great Abode of life!” Thus is addressed the resplendent sun. The face of truth is covered with a golden vessel, and so I cannot see the truth behind. I can see only the glare of the vessel of gold that is covering the light of truth. O glorious one! Lift this lid of gold with which you have covered the glory of truth inside, so that I may behold your inner reality, which is my own essence, also. The essence in you is my essence. So, I have a great privilege, a prerogative of beholding your true nature which is not the radiance of the beaming rays that you are projecting to baffle the eyes of people. You have an inner being which is hidden behind the rays. Withdraw your rays; uncover this lid and enable me to behold you as you are in essence, so that I may commune myself with your being. Thus is the soul’s prayer to the sun.

The stages of the ascent of the soul through Krama-Mukti are the levels of identification of the self with the deities concerned. It is not analogous to confronting some person as you see a friend in a hotel or an inn, when you are on a journey, who is there to receive you and make arrangements for your stay, lodging, boarding etc. This is not the kind of arrangement which we are expecting from the deities or the service which the deities are rendering to the soul. At every particular stage there is a communion of the soul with the corresponding deity, so that it is a regular transcendence, and not merely a contract of one individual with another superior. No transcendence is possible unless there is communion. The absorption of the soul in a particular state is the precondition of the transcendence of that state for the purpose of realising a higher, or a better one. So, the soul gets identified with the being of the sun, becomes one with the sun and absorbs itself into the reality of the sun. It does not merely receive a hospitality from the sun as a guest receives from a friend or a well-wisher. So the prayer is: May I be able to absorb myself in your being. May I not merely behold you as an outsider as I have been looking upon you earlier. For this purpose, enable me to see you through my being, rather than through my eyes, as I have been doing before. For this purpose, again, lift the lid of the golden vessel with which you have been covering the essence of truth that you really are.

The golden vessel is the orb of the sun which we are beholding, seeing every day, but we cannot see the reality behind the sun. That energising centre which is the divine source in the sun cannot be seen with the physical eyes. The glory that is behind the sun is non-physical, super-relative, and it is divine. It is something inscrutable. One of the great miracles of creation is the sun. You cannot understand what it is. It is not merely light; it is not merely energy; it is something more than all these that our experiments can reveal to us. The outward mode through which the sun’s reality is manifest to our eyes is to be lifted, as if it is a lid, and the true basis of truth which is behind has to be beheld. The whole universe may be regarded as a golden vessel which covers the Absolute, so that we cannot see that it is there at all. We see only the world outside. We see objects; we see people; we see activities; we see colours; we hear sounds, but we cannot see the basic reality. The waves are so many in number that the ocean and the bottom is not visible. There is only a perception of the relative manifestation of certain characteristics of reality, but it itself is not seen. The object of perception which is this vast universe of colours and sounds is the lid, as it were, which is golden because it is attractive. We are attracted by the world; we see meaning in the world and we feel that there is a tremendous significance for us in all the objects of sense. As is gold, so is this world. It does not allow us to go deeper into what is behind it. There is a substratum of this universe of particulars which is the uniform reality. So the prayer to the divine being is: Lift this phenomenon, the universe, the object-world which is preventing me from entering into the being which is the ultimate truth.

I am not merely begging of you to do a favour. In fact, I have a privilege to know this because my essential nature is inseparable from the essential nature of all creation. In the same way as the universe outside is the lid that covers the Absolute, this body is the lid that covers the soul within. The body also is a glittering gold which is attractive, of which we are enamoured and which we like very much, as do we like everything else in this world, also. Personally, this body, this psycho-physical individuality, this so-called ‘me’, which we like so much, is the golden vessel that prevents us from visualising the true light that we are essentially. Outwardly, again, there is this multifaceted universe of particular objects which will not enable us to probe into the reality of Brahman. We cannot see the Atman within on account of the body here; we cannot see Brahman, the All-Being, because of the universe outside. So, this lid which is inside as well as outside in the form of this bodily individuality here and the universe there – may this lid be lifted so that I may behold the Absolute Truth.

This is a prayer offered to the Master of all luminaries, the sun himself, as a passage to liberation.

2. pusann, ekarse, yama, surya, praja-patya, vyuha rasmin samuha, tejah yat te rupam kalyanatamam, tat te pasyami yo sav asau purusas, so’ham asmi.

Pusann: O creator of all! Ekarse: Single solitary traveller, unbefriended in this world! Yama: Controller of all beings! Surya: Who projects rays of light, energy! Prajapatya: Born of the Creator Brahma! Vyuha rasmin samuha: Collect your rays and dazzle not my eyes! What for? Tejah yat te rupam kalyanatamam, tat te pasyami, yo sav asau purusas, so’ham asmi: You hide a very attractive reality within you, which is your real Being. The most blessed auspicious Being that you really are, may I behold that Being. The Purusa within you is also the Purusa within me. This is the similarity between us; this is the affiliation that I have with you; this is the common characteristic that we both have between ourselves; and this is the privilege that I also have to exercise; because the Purusa within me is the Purusa within you. Therefore, O Surya, Sun-God! Do me this favour, if you would like to call it one, of absorbing me into your bosom, so that I may rise high, onwards, on the path of the realisation of the great Goal of life.

3. vayur anilam amrtam athedam bhasmantam sariram: aum krato smara, krtam smara, krato smara, krtam smara.

Well; I go. It is true; and what happens to this body which I have been loving so much, which I have been regarding as my own self, with which I have become one practically in my daily life? This body is made up of the five elements-earth, water, fire, air, ether. It is an effect of these five elements. Therefore, naturally, the constituents of this body should go back to their sources. What I have borrowed from other sources, I return to them because I have fulfilled the purpose that I have to achieve through this body.

Vayur anilam amrtam: The air-principle within me, the Prana that is inside me becomes one with the cosmic immortal Prana. The so-called limited Prana within me is a part of the Cosmic Prana which is Hiranyagarbha, who is immortal. I look mortal and finite because of my limitation to this body. Now the limitation-consciousness is gone, and the material which has been utilised by me for finite purposes is returned to the Cosmic Source from where it has been taken over. The immortal Vayu, the immortal Prana, the Sutra-Atman, Hiranyagarbha – to that my Prana goes. I become one with Hiranyagarbha. Athedam bhasmantam sartram: This body is reduced to ashes when it goes to the cremation ground. It becomes one with the earth. The physical aspect, the material part of this body is formed of the earth-element. It goes to the earth. The wind-element, or the air-element, the Prana element, goes to the Prana and the Vayu, the Wind. And the water-element goes to Water. The fire-principle goes to the Fire. And what else is there in this body except the five elements. They go back to their original sources.

There is a self-investigative prayer, a prayer to one’s own mind, as it were-to oneself. May I be able to remember what I have done in this life. This is what an intelligent self-conscious being would recollect at the time of departure from this body. The time has come to depart from this world, and I have now to enter a new realm of new functions altogether, a new set of experiences. “O myself, my mind, my understanding, my conscious being, remember what you have done in this life.” Krato smara: “O will, with which I have been working in this world for different purposes! Remember what purposes you have achieved through the application of your functions!” Krato smara, krtam smara, krato smara, krtam smara: Twice is it said: remember, remember what you have done in this life, because a sincere repentance also does good. Perhaps, repentance is a potent means of destroying all evil. It has a peculiar psychological role to perform in one’s career. If the heart really repents from the bottom, then all the mistakes that it might have committed earlier can be wiped off. Naturally, the future is left open. It is clean and is not filled with further activities or functions or wills or determinations, and the past, of course, is now repented over. So, a kind of repentance is brought upon the mind at the time of the death of the person, and all possible memories of the past are brought to the surface of consciousness for the purpose of this contemplation which is a last thought bestowed upon the actions that one performed throughout one’s life.

It is one of the practices of Sadhakas to do this kind of contemplation every day in the night. What is the manner in which I have spent the day today, from morning to night? What is the good that I have done, and what is the objective fulfilled, in what manner, etc., for what purpose, in what capacity? This kind of contemplation keeps the mind calm and consoled at the time of going to sleep. If there is such a recapitulation of one’s deeds throughout the day, then, of course, the last thought would be nothing but the cumulative effect of these thoughts. Else, that would be a difficult thing to consider at the end of life when everything gets forgotten. But, we are here considering the case of a special individual, not the ordinary one, the layman of the world. We are here studying the course of the soul of a person who has been regularly engaged in meditation. Naturally, in the case of such a person, there may not be the usual difficulty felt by people at the time of death – neither any sorrow in connection with the deeds that one performed, nor any kind of depression of spirit, for life has been spent well in meditation.

4. agne naya supatha, raye asman; visvani, deva, vayunani vidvan; yuyodhy asmaj juharanam eno: bhuyistham te nama-uktim vidhema.

The stages of the ascent of the soul by Krama-Mukti have been mentioned. The first stage is supposed to be that of Agni, or the god of Fire. He is the one who will face you first, and everyone comes afterwards. So there is a prayer offered to Agni, the deity of the divine Fire. Agne naya supatha raye asman: O Divine Fire! Lead us along the right path for the purpose of higher prosperity that we are to achieve. Visvani deva vayunani vidvan: O Cosmic Fire, who is the representative of the Universal Vaisvanara Himself! You know everything, you are omniscient, there is nothing hidden from your view, and so you know what is best for us. You know the right path which we have to tread. So, show us that path, O Agni! Yuyodhy asmaj juharanam eno: If we have done any mistake, please destroy these errors. Anything that is inimical to the path, anything that is of an obstructive character in our ascent onwards, anything that one may regard as evil or undesirable, may that be destroyed by the force of your Fire. Bhuyistham te nama-uktim vidhema: We prostrate ourselves before you, again and again, sincerely from the depths of our hearts.

With this prayer, the soul leaves the body and then it is taken over to the realm of Agni, or Flame, or the god of Fire. Then, upwards, through the passage of the Sun, it reaches Brahma-Loka, or Prajapati-Loka, the realm of the Creator, through several further stages, and then it attains the Supreme Absolute.

The opinion is generally held that the soul will be in Brahma-Loka till the end of the universe. When the universe is dissolved, Hiranyagarbha, Brahma, also gets back to the Source. At the end of the cosmic dissolution, the soul, with Brahma, the Creator, goes back to the Absolute. Until that time, it remains there. This is the belief of some teachers of the Upanishads.

Here we come to the close of the Fifth Chapter of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. Now we may go back to the point where we left out in the First Chapter because of the necessity to maintain a connection of thought or subject. We left out some portion and went on to the Second Chapter towards the end of it because those portions we left out are of a similar nature as the ones that we have been studying from the Fifth Chapter onwards. They are certain Upasanas of a symbolic nature, qualitative character. So, one of them is in the First Chapter and a little of it in the beginning of the Second Chapter. These meditations which we have studied in the Fifth Chapter are practically continued in their essentiality in the themes of these passages which we are going to study, but they occur in the First Chapter itself. They are also meditations – how we can contemplate or concentrate our minds in such a way that whatever we are individually and whatever things are outwardly are brought together into unison, so that there is no rift between ourselves and the outer world. That is the purpose of the meditations. The world outside, the various realms of existence in the external creation and our own self, individually, are to be set in tune with each other. They have to be harmonised. This is the function of meditation. We are not to sit outside the world as if we are independent of it; we are a part of it, you know. But this has to be emphasised and it has to be realised in our experience.


The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad by Swami Krishnananda, The Divine Life Society

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