The Kena Upanishad is so named because it asks many fundamental questions that begin with the phrase, “by whom” – or “kena”. The is one of the most metaphysical of the Upanishads, as it discusses the subtle reality of the indestructible Brahman. In conjunction with Chapter 8 of the Bhagavad Gita, it forms a pillar of the knowledge of the One supreme reality. The Kena addresses both the impersonal and personal aspects of Brahman, so as to engage the needs of all levels of truth-seekers.
Invocation and Questions
The Upanishad begins with an invocation for universal peace and harmony, followed by many questions:
By whom willed and directed does the mind alight upon objects of the world?
Enabled by whom does the vital primeval life-force (prana) flow in the body?
Willed by whom does the power of speech originate and manifest?
Enabled by whom does the eye finds vision, the ear finds the power of hearing?
It is in the opening paragraph of the Kena that these questions are posed by the disciple. One can see that the Upanishad immediately asks some very direct questions on behalf of the seekers of truth. In essence, the disciple is seeking to know the nature of the transcendental reality that is beyond the mind, the intellect, the life-forces, and the senses. This question and answer format of the Upanishad is identical to the format followed by Arjuna and Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The seeker has to ask in order to receive (knowledge) – it is not given unsolicited by the teacher!
The Guru Responds
It is the Guru or teacher’s turn to respond to the questions:
That which is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Speech of the speech, the Life of the life, the Eye of the eye, is the ultimate reality.
The wise, freed from the senses and mortal desires, after leaving this world, become immortal.
The teacher points the student to explore beyond the physical ear, eye, speech, mind and life-force. What is our true mode of hearing? Is it the physical ear? Or is it the auditory center in the brain? Or is it really the consciousness that activates the brain’s auditory center that is truly the “Ear of the ear”? Similar questions can be asked about the “Eye of the eye”, the “Speech of the speech”, the “Mind of the mind” and even the “Breath of the breath”?
The Immortal Source
The Guru points the student to look for the first source – the primary consciousness – often expressed simply in the indivisible sound of OM. Brahman, the transcendental reality lies is in the knowledge of That primary, subtle consciousness. Such subtle knowledge is beyond the perception of the gross physical senses. One needs to develop the subtle senses in order to experience the nature of the subtle. When we know the Ear of the ear, the Eye of the eye, and such – then, having severed ourself from our physical nature, we become immortal.
Immortality is simply the state where we have found the subtle, eternal and inexhaustible essence within us – Swami Paramananda