Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
IV4.1-6 - Karma
Alan Jacobs

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The following is an extract from ‘The Principal Upanishads – a poetic transcreation’ by Alan Jacobs. Purchase from or

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Verses 1 - 5
Yagnavalkya said,
When that Self has sunk into death
It sinks into unconsciousness
Then gathers the senses
Around him or her,
And gathering the elements of light
Falls into the Heart.
When the Supreme in the eye turns away
It ceases to recognize any names or forms.

He or she has become One
With the Self as Brahman.
He or she does not see
The heart center is lit up
By ‘That,’ Consciousness, which leaves
Through the eye or skull
When his or her knowledge and deeds
Take him or her to the world of Brahman.
The life breath leaves
With all other vital forces.
He or she is fully conscious,
The knowing Self is conscious,
He or she leaves the body.
Then his knowledge and deeds
Seize him along with his understanding
Of his former life.

As a caterpillar, after reaching the tip
Of a blade of green grass
Moves to another blade,
So does the Self of Consciousness,
After having left the body
And all ignorance,
Make an approach
To a new body
And draws towards it.

As a goldsmith takes
A piece of gold
And melts it
Into another one, a newer,
More beautiful form,
So does the Self of Consciousness,
After leaving the body
And all ignorance,
Take on a newer
More beautiful form
Like the Ancestors, the Celestial Beings,
The Gods, the Father
Creator, or Brahman.

The Self of Consciousness
Is Brahman,
It has knowledge,
Light and no light,
Desire and no desire,
Anger and no anger,
Now as a man or woman
Is like this or like that,
As he or she acts and behaves,
So will he or she be.
A man or woman of good deeds
Becomes good,
A man or woman of bad deeds
Becomes bad.
He or she becomes pure
By pure acts,
Impure by impure acts.
A person consists of desires
And as his or her desire so is
His or her Will,
And as his or her Will, so his or her deed.
What deed he or she does
So he or she shall reap.

The 19th-century philosophers, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kant, and Hegel, were fascinated by the problem of will, an issue anticipated in this Upanishad thousands of years ago. This part of the Upanishads is the apara vidya (exoteric) teaching and implies that there is a choice between good and so-called bad deeds. This was an ethical doctrine necessary to govern society. In fact these are only guidelines to morally condition human beings to better behavior. The Brahmin (Advaitin) knew that all actions were God's actions and the question of good and bad did not arise. "There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so," as Shakespeare wrote. They are relative terms to a so-called individuality. From a cosmic point of view all that happens is good because it serves God's will for cosmic harmonious balance.

Verse 6
To whatever a man
Or woman's mind is attached
He rushes
With his deed.
Having achieved an end
Here on Earth
He returns again
To the Source,
A temporary reward
For this world of action.
So much for a man
Or woman of desire,
But to those who do not desire,
Freed from desires,
Only desiring to realize the Self of Consciousness
His or her vital spirits,
Being Brahman, they go to Brahman.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012