Taittiriya Upanishad- Petal 1A Bird's Eye View


The Taittiriya Upanishad is a part of the Krishna Yajur Veda and forms a part of the seventh, eighth and ninth chapters of the Taittiriya Aranyaka. This Upanishad occupies a unique place in Indian Philosophy because it explains the Reality both in direct as well as indirect terms. Let us see what we mean by direct and indirect way of explaining.

In the field of Upanishad knowledge, the mode of communication is through lakshana vritti where communication is accomplished by indication through different pointers. There are two types of such pointers: they are tatastha lakshanam and svaroopa lakshanam. For example, consider the word Brahman. This word is not available as the meaning of any other known word. It is not comparable to anything that we know. It does not have any attributes. It has no Guna or attribute. It has no action. Therefore, a word defining Brahman is not there. Simply trying to use many words to define Brahman does not really help. The only way knowledge about Brahman can be communicated is through lakshana vritti, by indication through appropriate pointers.

There are two types of such pointers. They are tatastha lakshanam and svaroopa lakshanam. In the tatastha lakshanam Brahman is indicated not by what It is, but how It is related to the things that we know. For example, when we say"I do namaskar to That Brahman fromwhich this entire creation is born", this statement does not tell what Brahman is. It onlytells that there is something called Brahman and That is the cause for this creation. Here again, we must understand that this creation is not an attribute of Brahman and Brahman stands independent of creation. Such method of indicating Brahman is called tatastha lakshanam, (tatastha means standing apart).

On the other hand, in svaroopa lakshanam one indicates Brahman as It is. For example, when the Upanishad says: satyam jnanam anantam brahma, Brahman is satyam - that which is never subject to change, is jnanam - that which is all knowledge Itself, is anantam -that which is Limitlessness Itself. All these three indicators point to the same ONE BRAHMAN. Here the Upanishad indicates Brahman Itself, as It is, and this method of indication is called svaroopa lakshanam. In this method of indication, we do not talk about creation at all. Even though we do not talk about creation as such, Brahman being anantam - Limitlessness Itself, there can be nothingindependent of Brahman which means all names and forms in this creation are non-separate from Brahman even though Brahman Itself remains independent of this creation which is subject to change from time to time. In this way, we gain knowledge of both satyam and mithya and their relationships.

In the Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahman is introduced by both types of indicators, namely tatastha lakshanam and svaroopa lakshanam which is the extraordinary feature in the mode of communication or dissemination used in this Upanishad.

Though comparatively short, the Taittiriya Upanishad is one of the important Upanishads and is recited in many parts of India with proper accent, intonation and dedication. This Upanishad, like most other Vedic chantings, has a particular accent, mode of recitation,(svara) which has come down from generation to generation, by tradition (which also varies slightly from region to region). It is regarded as a source-book of the Vedanta philosophy. The topics covered are presented very methodically which are enlightened further by Adi Sankaracharya’s commentary thereon.

An interesting legend is closely associated with the Taittiriya Upanishad. The legend goes that once saint Vaisampayana got angry with one of his prominent disciples called Yajnavalkya. As the guru had got angry with his disciple he demanded that his disciple should give back all the knowledge which he has acquired from the guru. Being ordered in such a manner from the guru, Yajnavalkya vomited the entire knowledge which he had imbibed from the guru.

On such an occasion the guru asked his other disciples to take the form of partridges (Taittiriya birds) and consume the leavings. It is said that for this particular reason this Upanishad has been called the Taittiriya Upanishad. Instead of being repulsive, the story has been given a completely different implication. It was said that Yajnavalkya was such a genius that he was not only able to produce the teachings of the Guru but had also added his originality and insight into the knowledge acquired. Witnessing such a situation the guru was so charmed that he had asked his other disciples to acquire the knowledge produced by Yajnavalkya as much as they could.

The Taittiri-birds or the partridges are small in size but they are very active and careful and the purport of the story is to instill into the students the spirit of the small birds so that the disciples are as careful, as vigilant and as active as the Taittri birds in the quest for knowledge.

The essential content of all the Upanishads is the same. However, in this Upanishad, there is no reference to any war, any sorrow or any distress. There is not even the usual student-teacher dialogue.  What we have here is a spontaneous and exuberant expression of the essential content of the original Vedic knowledge, as it is, presented in the freshness of an Upanishad, with no reference to any particular situation in life. For most of us, this Upanishad is as close to the pure Vedic education as we will ever have in our lives. Ordinarily, Upanishads form part of the Jnana kanda of the Veda, which deals primarily with Brahman, whereas the preceding Karma kanda of the Veda deals with disciplines, rituals, meditations, values., etc. Because this Upanishad is an overview of the entire Veda, it includes the essential content of both the Karma and Jnana kandas of the Veda in that sequence.

Thus the first chapter of the Upanishad called siksha valli gives the essence of the  karma kanda of the Veda in terms of disciplines, rituals, meditations, values, code of conduct for daily life, etc. as Veda Upanishad , as moksha sadhanam - as means helpful for gaining the overriding purpose of life, namely moksha - total fulfillment in life. The second and the third chapters of the Upanishad, called brahmananda valli and bhrigu valli respectively, give the essence of the Jnana kanda of the Veda, in terms of knowledge of jiva, jagat and jagadeesvara followed by the step-by-step process of contemplation on Brahman  leading ultimately to moksha.

Since this Upanishad deals with the entire Vedic education, it is considered to be a complete Upanishad, complete in the sense that it indicates all the necessary tools available to every person for one's continued spiritual progress towards gaining total fulfillment in life. Probably for this reason, this Upanishad is the most often recited one on all auspicious occasions, bringing the benefit of Vedic knowledge within the reach of ordinary people in daily life.

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