Maitrāyaṇa-Brāhmaṇa Upanishad
Category: Hindu
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The Maitrayaniya Upanishad, also known as the Maitri Upanishad, is found in the black Yajurveda. It consists of seven Prapathakas (lessons). The first Prapathaka is introductory, the next three are structured in a question-answer style and discuss metaphysical questions relating to Atman (Self, Soul), while the fifth to seventh Prapathaka are supplements. However, several manuscripts discovered in different parts of India contain lesser number of Prapathakas, with a Telugu language version showing just four.


First Prapāthaka.

The laying of the formerly-described sacrificial fires is indeed the sacrifice of Brahman. Therefore let the sacrificer, after he has laid those fires, meditate on the Self. Thus only does the sacrificer become complete and faultless.

But who is to be meditated on? He who is called Prāṇa (breath). Of him there is this story:

A King, named Bṛhadratha, having established his son in his sovereignty, went into the forest, because he considered this body as transient, and had obtained freedom from all desires. Having performed the highest penance, he stands there, with uplifted arms, looking up to the sun. At the end of a thousand (days), the Saint Sākāyanya, who knew the Self, came near, burning with splendour, like a fire without smoke. He said to the King: ‘Rise, rise! Choose a boon!’

The King, bowing before him, said: ‘O Saint, I know not the Self, thou knowest the essence (of the Self). We have heard so. Teach it us.’

Śākāyanya replied: ‘This was achieved of yore; but what thou askest is difficult to obtain. O Aikshvāka, choose other pleasures.’

The King, touching the Saint’s feet with his head, recited this Gāthā:

‘O Saint, What is the use of the enjoyment of pleasures in this offensive, pithless body—a mere mass of bones, skin, sinews, marrow, flesh, seed, blood, mucus, tears, phlegm, ordure, water, bile, and slime! What is the use of the enjoyment of pleasures in this body which is assailed by lust, hatred, greed, delusion, fear, anguish, jealousy, separation from what is loved, union with what is not loved, hunger, thirst, old age, death, illness, grief, and other evils!

And we see that all this is perishable, as these flies, gnats, and other insects, as herbs and trees, growing and decaying. And what of these? There are other great ones, mighty wielders of bows, rulers of empires, Sudyumna, Bhūridyumna, Indradyumna, Kuvalayāśva, Yauvanāśva, Vadhryaśva, Aśvapati, Śaśabindu, Hariścandra, Ambarīsha, Nahusha, Anānata, Śaryāti, Yayāti, Anaraṇya, Ukshasena, &c., and kings such as Marutta, Bharata (Daushyanti), and others, who before the eyes of their whole family surrendered the greatest happiness, and passed on from this world to that. And what of these? There are other great ones. We see the destruction of Gandharvas, Asuras, Yakshas, Rākshasas, Bhūtas, Gaṇas, Piśācas, snakes, and vampires. And what of these? There is the drying up of other great oceans, the falling of mountains, the moving of the pole-star, the cutting of the wind-ropes (that hold the stars), the submergence of the earth, and the departure of the gods (suras) from their place. In such a world as this, what is the use of the enjoyment of pleasures, if he who has fed on them is seen to return (to this world) again and again! Deign therefore to take me out! In this world I am like a frog in a dry well. O Saint, thou art my way, thou art my way.’

Second Prapāthaka.

Then the Saint Śākāyanya, well pleased, said to the King: ‘Great King Bṛhadratha, thou banner of the race of Ikshvāku, quickly obtaining a knowledge of Self, thou art happy, and art renowned by the name of Marut, the wind. This indeed is thy Self.’

‘Which, O Saint,’ said the King.

Then the Saint said to him:

‘He who, without stopping the out-breathing, proceeds upwards (from the sthūla to the sūkshma śarīra), and who, modified (by impressions), and yet not modified, drives away the darkness (of error), he is the Self. Thus said the Saint Maitri.’ And Śākāyanya said to the King Bṛhadratha: ‘He who in perfect rest, rising from this body (both from the sthūla and sūkshma), and reaching the highest light, comes forth in his own form, he is the Self (thus said Śākāyanya); this is the immortal, the fearless, this is Brahman.’

‘Now then this is the science of Brahman, and the science of all Upanishads, O King, which was told us by the Saint Maitri. I shall tell it to thee:

‘We hear (in the sacred records) that there were once the Vālakhilyas, who had left off all evil, who were vigorous and passionless. They said to the Prajāpati Kratu: “O Saint, this body is without intelligence, like a cart. To what supernatural being belongs this great power by which such a body has been made intelligent? Or who is the driver? What thou knowest, O Saint, tell us that.”’ Prajāpati answered and said:

‘He who in the Sruti is called “Standing above,” like passionless ascetics amidst the objects of the world, he, indeed, the pure, clean, undeveloped, tranquil, breathless, bodiless, endless, imperishable, firm, everlasting, unborn, independent one, stands in his own greatness, and by him has this body been made intelligent, and he is also the driver of it.’ They said: ‘O Saint, How has this been made intelligent by such a being as this which has no desires, and how is he its driver?’ He answered them and said:

‘That Self which is very small, invisible, incomprehensible, called Purusha, dwells of his own will here in part; just as a man who is fast asleep awakes of his own will. And this part (of the Self) which is entirely intelligent, reflected in man (as the sun in different vessels of water), knowing the body (kshetrajña), attested by his conceiving, willing, and believing, is Prajāpati (lord of creatures), called Viśva. By him, the intelligent, is this body made intelligent, and he is the driver thereof.’

They said to him: ‘O Saint, if this has been made intelligent by such a being as this, which has no desires, and if he is the driver thereof, how was it?’ He answered them and said:

‘In the beginning Prajāpati (the lord of creatures) stood alone. He had no happiness, when alone. Meditating on himself, he created many creatures. He looked on them and saw they were, like a stone, without understanding, and standing like a lifeless post. He had no happiness. He thought, I shall enter within, that they may awake. Making himself like air (vāyu) he entered within. Being one, he could not do it. Then dividing himself fivefold, he is called Prāṇa, Apāna, Samāna, Udāna, Vyāna. Now that air which rises upwards, is Prāṇa. That which moves downwards, is Apāna. That by which these two are supposed to be held, is Vyāna. That which carries the grosser material of food to the Apāna, and brings the subtler material to each limb, has the name Samāna. [After these (Prāṇa, Apāna, Samāna) comes the work of the Vyāna, and between them (the Prāṇa, Apāna, and Samāna on one side and the Vyāna on the other) comes the rising of the Udāna.] That which brings up or carries down what has been drunk and eaten, is the Udāna.

Now the Upāṃsu-vessel (or prāṇa) depends on the Antaryāma-vessel (apāna) and the Antaryāma-vessel on the Upāṃsu-vessel (prāṇa), and between these two the self-resplendent (Self) produced heat. This heat is the purusha (person), and this purusha is Agni Vaiśvānara. And thus it is said elsewhere: “Agni Vaiśvānara is the fire within man by which the food that is eaten is cooked, i.e. digested. Its noise is that which one hears, if one covers one’s ears. When a man is on the point of departing this life, he does not hear that noise.”

Now he, having divided himself fivefold, is hidden in a secret place (buddhi), assuming the nature of mind, having the prāṇas as his body, resplendent, having true concepts, and free like ether. Feeling even thus that he has not attained his object, he thinks from within the interior of the heart, “Let me enjoy objects.” Therefore, having first broken open these five apertures (of the senses), he enjoys the objects by means of the five reins. This means that these perceptive organs (ear, skin, eye, tongue, nose) are his reins; the active organs (tongue (for speaking), hands, feet, anus, generative organ) his horses; the body his chariot, the mind the charioteer, the whip being the temperament. Driven by that whip, this body goes round like the wheel driven by the potter. This body is made intelligent, and he is the driver thereof.

This is indeed the Self, who seeming to be filled with desires, and seeming to be overcome by bright or dark fruits of action, wanders about in every body (himself remaining free). Because he is not manifest, because he is infinitely small, because he is invisible, because he cannot be grasped, because he is attached to nothing, therefore he, seeming to be changing, an agent in that which is not (prakṛti), is in reality not an agent and unchanging. He is pure, firm, stable, undefiled, unmoved, free from desire, remaining a spectator, resting in himself. Having concealed himself in the cloak of the three qualities he appears as the enjoyer of ṛta, as the enjoyer of ṛta (of his good works).’

Third Prapāṭhaka.

The Vālakhilyas said to Prajāpati Kratu: ‘O Saint, if thou thus showest the greatness of that Self, then who is that other different one, also called Self, who really overcome by bright and dark fruits of action, enters on a good or bad birth? Downward or upward is his course, and overcome by the pairs (distinction between hot and cold, pleasure and pain, &c.) he roams about.’

Prajāpati Kratu replied: ‘There is indeed that other different one, called the elemental Self (Bhūtātmā), who, overcome by bright and dark fruits of action, enters on a good or bad birth: downward or upward is his course, and overcome by the pairs he roams about. And this is his explanation: The five Tanmātrās (sound, touch, form, taste, smell) are called Bhūta; also the five Mahābhūtas (gross elements) are called Bhūta. Then the aggregate of all these is called śarīra, body. And lastly he of whom it was said that he dwelt in the body, he is called Bhūtātmā, the elemental Self. Thus his immortal Self is like a drop of water on a lotus leaf, and he himself is overcome by the qualities of nature. Then, because he is thus overcome, he becomes bewildered, and because he is bewildered, he saw not the creator, the holy Lord, abiding within himself. Carried along by the waves of the qualities, darkened in his imaginations, unstable, fickle, crippled, full of desires, vacillating, he enters into belief, believing “I am he,” “this is mine;” he binds his Self by his Self, as a bird with a net, and overcome afterwards by the fruits of what he has done, he enters on a good and bad birth; downward or upward is his course, and overcome by the pairs he roams about.’

They asked: ‘Which is it?’ And he answered them:

‘This also has elsewhere been said: He who acts, is the elemental Self; he who causes to act by means of the organs, is the inner man (antaḥpurusha). Now as even a ball of iron, pervaded (overcome) by fire, and hammered by smiths, becomes manifold (assumes different forms, such as crooked, round, large, small), thus the elemental Self, pervaded (overcome) by the inner man, and hammered by the qualities, becomes manifold. And the four tribes (mammals, birds, &c.), the fourteen worlds (Bhūr, &c.), with all the number of beings, multiplied eighty-four times, all this appears as manifoldness. And those multiplied things are impelled by man (purusha) as the wheel by the potter. And as when the ball of iron is hammered, the fire is not overcome, so the (inner) man is not overcome, but the elemental Self is overcome, because it has united itself (with the elements).

And it has been said elsewhere: This body produced from marriage, and endowed with growth in darkness, came forth by the urinary passage, was built up with bones, bedaubed with flesh, thatched with skin, filled with ordure, urine, bile, slime, marrow, fat, oil, and many impurities besides, like a treasury full of treasures.

And it has been said elsewhere: Bewilderment, fear, grief, sleep, sloth, carelessness, decay, sorrow, hunger, thirst, niggardliness, wrath, infidelity, ignorance, envy, cruelty, folly, shamelessness, meanness, pride, changeability, these are the results of the quality of darkness (tamaḥ).

Inward thirst, fondness, passion, covetousness, unkindness, love, hatred, deceit, jealousy, vain restlessness, fickleness, unstableness, emulation, greed, patronising of friends, family pride, aversion to disagreeable objects, devotion to agreeable objects, whispering, prodigality, these are the results of the quality of passion (rajas).

By these he is filled, by these he is overcome, and therefore this elemental Self assumes manifold forms, yes, manifold forms.’

Fourth Prapāṭhaka.

The Vālakhilyas, whose passions were subdued, approached him full of amazement and said: ‘O Saint, we bow before thee; teach thou, for thou art the way, and there is no other for us. What process is there for the elemental Self, by which, after leaving this (identity with the elemental body), he obtains union with the (true) Self?’ Prajāpati Kratu said to them:

‘It has been said elsewhere: Like the waves in large rivers, that which has been done before, cannot be turned back, and, like the tide of the sea, the approach of death is hard to stem. Bound by the fetters of the fruits of good and evil, like a cripple; without freedom, like a man in prison; beset by many fears, like one standing before Yama (the judge of the dead); intoxicated by the wine of illusion, like one intoxicated by wine; rushing about, like one possessed by an evil spirit; bitten by the world, like one bitten by a great serpent; darkened by passion, like the night; illusory, like magic; false, like a dream; pithless, like the inside of the Kadalī; changing its dress in a moment, like an actor; fair in appearance, like a painted wall, thus they call him; and therefore it is said:

Sound, touch, and other things are like nothings; if the elemental Self is attached to them, it will not remember the Highest Place.

This is indeed the remedy for the elemental Self: Acquirement of the knowledge of the Veda, performance of one’s own duty, therefore conformity on the part of each man to the order to which he happens to belong. This is indeed the rule for one’s own duty, other performances are like the mere branches of a stem. Through it one obtains the Highest above, otherwise one falls downward. Thus is one’s own duty declared, which is to be found in the Vedas. No one belongs truly to an order (āśrama) who transgresses his own law. And if people say, that a man does not belong to any of the orders, and that he is an ascetic, this is wrong, though, on the other hand, no one who is not an ascetic brings his sacrificial works to perfection or obtains knowledge of the Highest Self. For thus it is said:

By ascetic penance goodness is obtained, from goodness understanding is reached, from understanding the Self is obtained, and he who has obtained that, does not return.

“Brahman is,” thus said one who knew the science of Brahman; and this penance is the door to Brahman, thus said one who by penance had cast off all sin. The syllable Om is the manifest greatness of Brahman, thus said one who well grounded (in Brahman) always meditates on it. Therefore by knowledge, by penance, and by meditation is Brahman gained. Thus one goes beyond Brahman (Hiraṇyagarbha), and to a divinity higher than the gods; nay, he who knows this, and worships Brahman by these three (by knowledge, penance, and meditation), obtains bliss imperishable, infinite, and unchangeable. Then freed from those things (the senses of the body, &c.) by which he was filled and overcome, a mere charioteer, he obtains union with the Self.’

The Vālakhilyas said: ‘O Saint, thou art the teacher, thou art the teacher. What thou hast said, has been properly laid up in our mind. Now answer us a further question: Agni, Vāyu, Āditya, Time (kāla) which is Breath (prāṇa), Food (anna), Brahmā, Rudra, Vishṇu, thus do some meditate on one, some on another. Say which of these is the best for us.’ He said to them:

‘These are but the chief manifestations of the highest, the immortal, the incorporeal Brahman. He who is devoted to one, rejoices here in his world (presence), thus he said. Brahman indeed is all this, and a man may meditate on, worship, or discard also those which are its chief manifestations. With these (deities) he proceeds to higher and higher worlds, and when all things perish, he becomes one with the Purusha, yes, with the Purusha.’

Fifth Prapāṭhaka.

Next follows Kutsāyana’s hymn of praise:

‘Thou art Brahmā, and thou art Vishṇu, thou art Rudra, thou Prajāpati, thou art Agni, Varuṇa, Vāyu, thou art Indra, thou the Moon.

Thou art Anna (the food or the eater), thou art Yama, thou art the Earth, thou art All, thou art the Imperishable. In thee all things exist in many forms, whether for their natural or for their own (higher) ends.

Lord of the Universe, glory to thee! Thou art the Self of All, thou art the maker of All, the enjoyer of All; thou art all life, and the lord of all pleasure and joy. Glory to thee, the tranquil, the deeply hidden, the incomprehensible, the immeasurable, without beginning and without end.’


‘In the beginning darkness (tamas) alone was this. It was in the Highest, and, moved by the Highest, it becomes uneven. Thus it becomes obscurity. Then this obscurity, being moved, becomes uneven. Thus it becomes goodness (sattva). Then this goodness, being moved, the essence flowed forth. This is that part (or state of Self) which is entirely intelligent, reflected in man (as the sun is in different vessels of water) knowing the body (kshetrajña), attested by his conceiving, willing, and believing, it is Prajāpati, called Viśva. His manifestations have been declared before. Now that part of him which belongs to darkness, that, O students, is he who is called Rudra. That part of him which belongs to obscurity, that, O students, is he who is called Brahmā. That part of him which belongs to goodness, that, O students, is he who is called Vishṇu. He being one, becomes three, becomes eight, becomes eleven, becomes twelve, becomes infinite. Because he thus came to be, he is the Being (neut.), he moves about, having entered all beings, he has become the Lord of all beings. He is the Self within and without, yes, within and without.’

Sixth Prapāṭhaka.

He (the Self) bears the Self in two ways, as he who is Prāṇa (breath), and as he who is Āditya (the sun). Therefore there are two paths for him, within and without, and they both turn back in a day and night. The Sun is the outer Self, the inner Self is Breath. Hence the motion of the inner Self is inferred from the motion of the outer Self For thus it is said:

‘He who knows, and has thrown off all evil, the overseer of the senses, the pure-minded, firmly grounded (in the Self) and looking away (from all earthly objects), he is the same.’ Likewise the motion of the outer Self is inferred from the motion of the inner Self. For thus it is said:

‘He who within the sun is the golden person, who looks upon this earth from his golden place, he is the same who, after entering the inner lotus of the heart, devours food (perceives sensuous objects, &c.)’

And he who having entered the inner lotus of the heart, devours food, the same, having gone to the sky as the fire of the sun, called Time, and being invisible, devours all beings as his food.

What is that lotus and of what is it made? (the Vālakhilyas ask.)

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