Introducing Reader’s Digest and the Upanishads…

I would like to welcome Reader, a regular commentator on this blog who is now shouldering an added responsibility of contributing articles to the blog as well. Reader, as most of you would know is well versed with the philosophies of life and possesses fine knowledge of the philosophical texts of various religions. His contributions would begin with reviews of works of philosophical and semi philosophical merit under the “Reader’s Digest” category.His first contribution is towards the Brihad-Aaranyak Upanishad and I am sure it will be most illuminating for all of us.Thank you Reader for sharing your thoughts.


Dear Readers,

I am grateful to Sharmila for allowing me to place my learning at your disposal on her blog.

This is the beginning of a new exercise for me. I am not sure it serves any purpose. I hope it does.

All my love,


The Brihad-Aaranyak Upanishad (Post – I; up to Chapter 5 of Section 1)

I have always believed that deliverance does not come from renunciation; Freedom from desires, dreams and relationships is not achieved by escaping reality. I seek deliverance from pain and suffering, I do not wish to renounce life and it’s blessings.

When the thought of renunciation occurred to me first time I automatically related it to sacrifices. I assumed that if I had to prevent sadness and suffering in my life I must sacrifice the pleasures and liberties associated with them.

This and many of my other misconceptions were corrected by the Brihad-Aaranyak Upanishad.

The Brihad-Aaranyaka is among the most popular Upanishads in the Aaranyaka category. Aaranya, in Sanskrit, means a forest.

The Aarnyaka are philosophical discourses between teachers and students dealing with the interpretation of rituals and ceremonies. In the days that these were recorded, they were held in forests by those who had retired from active social life.

The Brihad-Aaranyak Upanishad consists of three sections: The Madhu Kaand, The Muni Kaand and The Khila Kaand.

Section 1: The Madhu Kaand describes the identity, role and relationship of the Individual and the Universal Soul (Self);

Section 2: The Muni Kaand provides the philosophical basis of this teaching.

Section 3: The Khila Kaand describes the epistemological methods of upaasna (dedicated effort), sravan (learning), upadesh (teaching), manan (contemplation) and upapatti (reflection)

The Madhu Kaand

The madhu kaand begins with the description of the nature and the celestial bodies in the metaphor of a sacrificial horse:

The dawn is the head, the sun is the eye, the wind is the breath, fire is the open mouth, time in the year is the body, the sky is the back, atmosphere is the belly, earth is the hoof, the 8 directions are the sides and the ribs, the limbs are the four seasons, the lunar months and half-months are the joints, days and nights are the feet, the bones are the stars, clouds are the flesh, food in the stomach is the soil, rivers are blood vessels, lungs and liver are the hills and dales, hair are the herbs and plants, rising sun is the fore, setting sun is the rear; lightning is it’s yawn and thunder is it’s shaking; when it relieves it rains;

Finally, Voice is His voice.


The idea of a sacrificial horse is critical in the context. It’s first reference occurs in the 10th chapter of the Rig-Veda in a composition called “Purusha Sukta”. The entire primeval creation is considered a sacrificial entity.


The second chapter in this section describes the creation of the world in a unique order.

I find the first line interesting:

Naiveha kimchanaagra aasit |

… … … There was nothing whatsoever in the beginning!

(Translation mine)

In the beginning death is the only premise. I have always wondered about this. How does non-existence become a premise?

The first creations in the order are the soul and the mind. After that fire is created in the form of water! Water is worshiped as a form of fire! Water solidifies to become earth and all the other material world; the sky, atmosphere and all there is. Each element is described again metaphorically except speech.


The third chapter establishes the supremacy of the breath, speech and Udgeeta (The Word). The world is divided between the good and the evil, the gods and the demons. The good overpowers evil through intellectual use of the language. They convert words into thoughts and thoughts into actions, The Rig, Yaju and Saam Veda being the sources of inspiration and influence.

Saam is also pronounced Saamaan; Saa is She and maan is He. Speech is the chant, the saaman.


The fourth chapter of the first section addresses the creation of the human being.

So’aham asmity agre vyaaharat |

… … … “I am” was the first creation!

The universal self creates “I” the identity! From this emerge the differentiated nature of all things male and female. The female is born out of the form of the male like a pea divided into two!

Thus the undifferentiated universe became differentiated by identities.

The universal self is the primary entity, the essence, the omnipresent, the Brahma.

Several classes of Gods arise from this differentiation; the vasus, rudra, adityas, visvadevas and the maruts.

Several castes arise from this differentiation; Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaisyas and Shudras.


The fifth chapter describes seven types of food. One which is common foods, two that are consumed by the deities which are austerities and offerings, 3 that are mind, speech and life and the last one is mother’s milk.

Note: All are consumed!

A year in time is divided into 16 months. Nights are divided into 15 parts with one fixed moment that is the sixteenth. The entire time-line is divided into hexadecimal. (Similar to the code used by printers these days)

There are three worlds (lives). The life of men, the life of ancestors and the life of the Gods. The life of men is lived through children, the life of ancestors is lived in work, the life of Gods is live in the pursuit of knowledge.

To be continued…


63 Responses to “Introducing Reader’s Digest and the Upanishads…”

  1. Thank you Sharmila,

    It is an honor to see a classic up on the blog. I am only an instrument in this process.

    These scriptures have cascaded through generations for many thousand years.

    In those days it was normally transmitted from fathers to sons or teachers to selected students by word of mouth, till Vyasa and later Panini made it a practice to record it in the written script.

    We are lucky to still have some of the literature in our midst.

    Thank you.

  2. Reader, Sharmila,

    Extremely happy and proud to read the first post under ‘Reader’s Digest’.

    I plan to enrol my daughter for classes in Sanskrit and religious teachings come summer hols and I believe this simplified version of our holy texts will be of immense help to her for a better understanding of the same.

    There are very few people I know who are so well-read and can speak so eloquently on any given topic. And no one I know who can translit, translate, and discuss Hindu philosophy better than Reader.

    We are fortunate to have you in our midst, Reader.

    Thank you and wishing you and Sharmila the very best.


    P.S. I do have a vested interest in attempting to be the first to post a comment…I thought I might collect ‘all the love’.

    Kidding… but just couldnt let that one go! 🙂

  3. Hi Sharmila,
    Its wonderful that you chose to add this new dimension to your blog.
    It will be immensely beneficial to all.My husband has been learning the Vedas and Upanishads for the past 20 years and continues to go to his Guru daily even now.Purusha sukta,nakshatra sukta,sree sukta and more are recited every morning in my home and now its nice to know the meaning and understand it better.

    Thank you,

  4. Aishwarya,

    Thank you. I am really nervous about this. I am not on a mission. Whatever I have studied so far and am studying further is to refine my own knowledge.

    A few corrections to your comments.

    Vedic Scriptures do not represent Hindu Philosophy . That is a grave misunderstanding, though quite common.

    In general, I believe, scriptures of any following do not represent philosophy, except Buddhism – even Buddhism keeps re-inventing itself in each era.

    Most scriptures are about Theosophy – which is a treatise on God, The Creator, The Parmaatma.

    Philosophy is a completely different subject.

    Philosophy does not justify the existence of the universe or the life therein.

    It is merely the defining relationship of the individual and the knowable reality that life encounters.

    There is no rule that a person’s philosophy has to be all-inclusive or consider aspects that are not relevant to the person’s life.

    To say, “I am.”, one does not require something else to be or not to be. “I am.” is a complete expression by itself.

    The value of a person’s life is an absolute that is defined by the person’s choice – to establish a philosophy based on a studied knowledge of reality or an imaginary speculative hypothesis.

    The choice decides if one subjects life to arbitrary whims and force or to a state of rational consciousness.

    Philosophical detection, in order to be objective, needs a disciplined consciousness.

    An active state of consciousness is about being conscious of something – sensations, perceptions or concepts.

    A passive state of consciousness is a witness that registers an event but does not activate the process of reasoning.

    Philosophy is the relationship of a person with the conditions that he is living in. It pertains only to life. There is no such thing as a philosophy of death.

    A person needs sentience, perception, and cognitive abilities to derive a philosophy. These abilities are driven by the strength of his consciousness and the state of his mind.

    Philosophy is to metaphysics and virtue, what consciousness is to the mind and body.


    PS: All my love!


    • Reader,

      There is a line in the post that states that the Aaryanaka are ‘philosophical discourses’ between teachers and students. There is also a reference to ‘I am’.

      What constitutes the ‘knowable reality’? Is it possible that these books were written to define and classify ‘reality’ because only then could one form a relationship with the same and establish one’s philosophy?

      • Aishwarya,

        Aaranyaka were originally prescribed for the Sanyas yoga or vaana prasthashram- people who retired from active social lives. Unlike other upanishads where the disciplines of a righteous life are discussed, the aranyaka discuss the architecture of the universe and it’s relevance to life and death.

        A ‘knowable reality’ is one that is rigorously tested.

        The classification, differentiation as I call it, is required for perception and knowledge. Once it reaches a stage where the person processes knowledge, the differences dissolve into one singularity called Wisdom.

        Establishing a philosophy necessitates identifying (differentiating), assessing and evaluating every aspect of reality.

        A perceptual example would be: A person in the arctic cannot live without warm clothing while a person in a hot desert has a different dress code. What is right in one place is wrong in another. The relationship with the reality is different.

        Conceptual examples of beliefs and culture are far more complicated. But the principle is the same. Philosophy can be different depending on the knowable reality.

        This also means that philosophy can be changed. It is not a golden rule.

      • A flexible reality and a malleable philosophy…:)

        True. Philosophy need not rely on Theosophy…an atheist has a philosophy too…

        In that case, how would these scriptures be useful/applicable in today’s times, considering that its over 2000 years old?

    • P.S. 😉 🙂

  5. Aishwarya,

    Let me give you an example.

    The Vedic deities Marut, Indra, Savitra, Brihaspati and sages like Atharvan, Bhrigu are common to Parsees (Zoroastrians) and Hindus. The Creator is called Ahura Mazda. The book is called Avesta. The contents are practically the same.

    The word Hindu does not occur anywhere in the Vedas, Upanishads and Brahmanas. It does not occur even in the Dhammapada and Mahayana of Buddha (~400 BCE).

    So, my take is, the cult form called Hinduism that we see today has evolved out of custom rather than heritage.

  6. Aishwarya,

    Second example on the same lines:


    The twentieth Kanda of Atharva Veda has a verse, ‘Kuntapa’ which contains a statement about one ‘Maama’ Rishi;… still more apparent is a prophecy in Bhavishya Purana … by Veda Vyasa. This purana contains predictions of things to come, thus justifying its title ‘Bhavishya’. It foretells that irreligiosity would spread world over, and that then a foreign Acharya, ‘Mahaamada’ by name, would appear with his disciples in order to reform humanity, ‘Mahaamada’ probably being another Indian pronunciation of Muhammad. In Vyasa’s words:

    Aitasmin antare mlechha aachaaryen samavitah |
    Mahaamad itikhyaadah shishya shaakha samanvitah ||

    (At such a time would appear a ‘mlecha acharya’ named mahaamada with his train of disciples)

    The word mlecha means foreigner…


    By T. Muhammad in ‘One God One Creed’, Islamic Information Center, Discover Islam, Manama-Bahrain

  7. I am still unable to understand the “creation” of man…is there an evolution theory like that of Darwin’s that the book speaks of? Who was the first creation?

    • There is no darwins theory of evolution.

      The Brihad Aaranyak speaks of creation of each species as part of definite plan and purpose. Man and woman, Cows and Bulls etc.

      Everything in the universe is considered alive and having a soul. Everything is created systematically for a purpose. ‘Prajapati’ is the name of the force that creates the forms that we call living.

      Brahma is the soul of the entire universe which is also alive but not the way we call live as in something that uses volition.

      The first named human being without ancestral lineage is Manu.

      • Thanks. So is Manu a manifestation of Brahma. ? Who was Manu modeled on or a prototype of?

      • Sharmila,

        My understanding is that everything in this universe is a manifestation of Brahma.

        Some puranas refer to Manu as a model that is closest to Brahma. But it is difficult to subscribe to it.

        Let me explain:

        I’ll quote from the Bhagwat Gita because every single verse in it originates from either a Veda or an Upanishad (mainly Katha, Isa and Kena).


        Brhma arpanam brhma hawih brhmaagnou brhmana hutam |
        Brhma evah tena gantavya brhma karma smadheena ||

        … … … Offering is brhma, fuel is brhma, fire is brhma, the sacrifice too is brhma |
        … … … Offerer is brhma, reciever is brhma, act is brhma,the fruits too are brhma ||


        Gita 4:24

        (Translation mine)

        So what is not brahma? How can one model be more brahma than another?

        The human being is superior in many ways to other creations. Yet it doesn’t give us the capability of the Creator. We discover, we do not create (I mean as in space and matter).

        The idea of man in the image of God is very arbitrary, and is taken on faith in many puranas.

        Manifestations or Avtaar of deities who appear in form is conceived after the creation of the universe.

        The Creator, The Parmaatma, is formless and dimensionless. On that the Rig Veda ends with ‘Who Knows…’

      • Since there is no documentation or proof available before Manu…one might be forced to believe and consider him First Human on this Earth….
        In Gita…Krishna was trying to pursue Arjuna for the war of Mahabharata who was on verge of quitting without fighting…
        So to make him guilt free and detached…the abstract of all those Veda and Upanishads was told to him by Krishna…
        Now even if we think logically….the Brahman thing seems quite complicated…
        If everything is Him then what is the necessity of this world….this creation…!? Is it a some kind of game ….He is playing…like a child play with Toys for time pass….and we all are trapped into this game as his puppets…!? puppets don’t have emotions and intellect…! Do they…!?

      • MonaLisa,

        Brhma is not the Creator of the universe. Brahma is the soul of the universe and everything in it.

        The Creator is a formless dimensionless entity and completely unknown. We don’t know if the Creator has a gender. We don’t know anything. The Vedas don’t make any such claims. It’s not solicited either. The universe is self-sufficient to take care of the living. As I said there is no such thing as a philosophy of death.

        What you want to do with your limited life in your limited life-time is entirely left to you. Thats free will.

        If that was not the case, Arjuna would need no convincing or Krishna could have done the job himself.

        Krishna’s purpose was his purpose and he achieved what he wanted. Whatever is your purpose or mine is for us to decide. We do not need to follow Krishna’s advice.

        Only, if you notice, no matter what you come up with, you’ll find it addressed by Krishna. Every good, bad or evil deed is covered by the Mahabharat. Thats why it is called an epic.

        That does not take away our free will. No one can tell us what to do.

      • This is a better way of looking at it. I always thought we do not have the “intellect” to comprehend who the creator is or understand his ways, if we did, we would be the creator!. Thats what the Vishnu Sahasrnama says.

  8. Aishwarya,

    Your question is valid. Why do we need to read a record that is over 5000 years old?

    I wouldn’t have acquired 10% of the capacity to feel and think what I do now without these scriptures.

    All my engineering, social sciences, earth sciences etc are unable to tell me what is a virtue, what is a value, what are ethics, how do I acquire them or what do I do with them. The scriptures do.

    The scriptures provide me with a Code of Practice and Guidelines. I can take them or leave them, but at least I know them.

    It is a humbling feeling. The research and studies of a thousand great saints is available to me in print and I am able to simply pick and choose what I want. One life-time would not be enough if I had to do it all over again.

    In fact I feel the same gratitude for scientists and technologists today who save us so much effort and energy by bringing the latest discoveries at our door-step!

    • Reader,

      There are times when I feel that our religious customs and practices are followed more out of habit than with purpose or reason… Times when I have wanted to know the reason behind it but havent questioned because it is ‘not right’ to question age-old beliefs… But, I hope to learn and understand more with each post…

      You are right. It is a humbling feeling to know that all these studies are available to us…

      Guidelines to bring a calm and discipline in one’s life can never go outdated…

      • Aisharya,

        I promise I’ll address this and more as we move on to further portions. You’ll be surprised how intricate the design is. The brahmins of that age were ingenius!

  9. ” The universal self creates “I” the identity! From this emerge the differentiated nature of all things male and female. The female is born out of the form of the male like a pea divided into two!”

    How could one hate his/her own other half…!? Reader…!?

    So True..! To know and to learn and put into practice are two separate process…
    Knower is not necessarily a knowledgeable person until able to go through the process step by step upto contemplation and reflect the same in his/her behavior.
    I believe the entire universe has been considered like a Body here to make us understand or to confuse…whatever the purpose was…. 🙂
    Need to find this book….online….
    Thank you Reader and Sharmila…

    • MonaLisa,

      One does not hate the other half. As in magnetism, like poles may repel, but unlike poles always attract. The only condition is the polarities should match.

      You’ll find many different translations online. I suggest you choose only those which are limited to the translation, without the commentaries by the author. This will help you to form your own opinions without the cloud of esoteric (mystic) interpretations.

      • Hmm…Now I need to find out …where exactly did you mention that you hate women…
        Not very imp though…its your lifr …your free will…
        I was talking about buying that boof online…not sure if it is available to read on net…will keep in mind if I find one…no esoteric indulgence….!

      • MonaLisa,

        When did I say I hate women? Thats not true.

        I only said God may or may not be male but I believe Lucifer is female. But that was only a statistical observation. 🙂

        That does not mean I hate women. I love Lucifer as much as I love God. I don’t consider myself equal to either – at least not so equal that I can hate one for another.

      • Reader,
        Why Devil / evil has to be female..? Evil is evil in any form,size and shape….gender is no bar here….
        That shows how much you hate women..
        Not sure God has any gender or not…may be not….! It might be pure imagination but available in both genders….
        Combining Shiva and Shakti makes a complete pic….both are incomplete without each other…so has been said….

      • MonaLisa,

        I said it is a statistical observation, meaning the likelihood of a female Lucifer is more because of the number of times a certain quality is observed in a randomly chosen set of samples.

        It can be wrong. The samples I choose may be wrong. The observation may be wrong. The number of samples may be too small. And so on…

        Statistical observations are like stock market indices – never make sense! 🙂

      • I am not an atheist. I do believe in the Parmaatma.

        The simple fact that life exists in different forms is an evidence of Parmaatma. The name can be anything in any language.

        Or it can be just Aum as among Jains.

        Or it can be plain Silence, as I prefer it.

  10. Sharmila,

    On the nature of Brahma. Raj Kapoor did a brilliant cinematic take on that:

    Shiva is the Creation, The Creation is the Truth, The Truth is Beautiful…

    It is apparantly ironical. What is shown as the unharnessed fury of nature is actually called beautiful in the song!

  11. Sharmila,

    I agree about the limitations of the ‘intellect’.

    Vis-a-vis the Vishnu Sahasrnama and the Bhagwatam, the ‘Lotus’ model is now accepted by NASA and the entire scientific world of physicists as the only possible theory of creation. They call it the ‘Big Bang’ theory. NASA has a graphical representation on its web site.

    As humans, intellectually, we cannot imagine a 4th dimension. We are able to plot space into 3 dimensions (x, y, z). The 4th is impossible to visualize. Although some more like Time have been added since Eintein’s theory of relativity and the latest string theory.

    The universe consists of space and matter (energy). Since space is ‘occupied’ by energy, space has to be created first in the order of creation.

    The Creator cannot be in this space and create it at the same time! (Note the line in the BA upanishad: Naiveha kimchanaagra aasit… in the begnning there was nothing whatsoever… )

    So, in order to create this 3 dimensional space, the Creator must be in a dimension that does not require space to exist or a dimension of which space is an extraction or a derivative.

    It is impossible for us to imagine a dimension outside space.

    Hence the unknown form of the Creator.

    Let me quote one of the most beautiful poems ever written on this by Tagore:

    I boasted among men that I had known you. They see your picture in all works of mine.

    They come and ask me, “Who is He?” I know not how to answer them. I say, “Indeed, I cannot tell.”

    They blame me and they go away in scorn. And you sit there smiling.

    I put my tales of you in lasting songs. The secret gushes out from my heart.

    They come and ask me, “Tell me all your meanings.” I know not how to answer them, I say, “Ah, who knows what they mean!”

    They smile and go away in utter scorn. And you sit there smiling.

    Rabindranath Tagore in Gitanjali

  12. Sharmila,

    Is my next page due now, or next thursday?

  13. Reader- pls mail it whenever u r ready with it

  14. Reader,
    Glad…! You are admitting that your observation could be wrong and so would your statistics …. 🙂
    Thank You… 🙂

    • See, this confusion is caused because there is no Devil or Lucifer in the Vedic scriptures.

      Yama, Lord of Death, is also a God! He rides a buffalo and has a moustache from ear to ear. In fact, Dharma is not taught by Gods in Vedic tradition. Dharma is taught by Yama, the Lord of Death.

      Till my observations are proved wrong, I’ll choose Ms or Mr for Lucifer depending on the subject… 😛

  15. What is forever?

  16. If Reader is around, Sahir is always nearby.

    Here is Sahir:

    Dekha hai zindagi ko kuchh itna qareeb se
    Chehre tamaam lagane lage hain ajeeb se

    … … … I have seen Life so closely,
    … … … Everything appears strange

    Is rengati hayaat ka kab tak uthaaye baar
    Beemaar abb ulajhane lage hain tabeeb se

    … … … How long can we carry the burden of a crawling life
    … … … The ill have now begun to quarrel with their healers

    Is tarah zindagi ne diya hai humara saath
    Jaise koi nibaah rahaa ho raqeeb se

    … … … Life accompanies me as if
    … … … It is living with an enemy

    Ai ruuh-e-asar jaag kahaan so rahi hai tu
    Aavaaz de rahe hain puyambar saleeb se

    … … … O, soul-of-rebellion rise where do you sleep
    … … … Your Savior calls out in pain from the Cross


    • Thank you. Second post is up.

    • Why poets have to cry about things always…!? why can’t they see the Glass Half Full and feel happy about it…!? So pessimistic…! Always loathe life…! Why not make best out of it..whatever they got…!? Losing a woman is not the End of the World…! Is it..!?Jeee…ssss….!

      • Sahir and crying? Where did you read that?

        Read the last verse in the above:

        He says, rise in rebellion, your prophet is being crucified!

        Remember, that did not happen when Jesus was crucified. Instead some people mourned silently and left the place. EVen today many priests call people to repent, not to rebel.

        Sahir’s call is not a cry.

        It was Constantine in 3 AD who saw the good in Christianity and revived it!

      • Reader,
        Start not the other way around…start from the first stanza….
        Religion has been used successfully to serve many purposes….History is the witness…Constantinople did nothing new…just took advantage of illiterate naive masses…that’s all…

      • Thats the good and trouble about poetry of this type. Every reader finds a perception that fits into his conditions from San Fransisco to Beijing!

  17. portuguese architect…

    […]Introducing Reader’s Digest and the Upanishads… « Sharmila says…[…]…

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