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Vedas And Upanishads

Taittiriya Upanishad- Petal 2
By T.N.Sethumadhavan, November 2011 [[email protected]]

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aum sham no  mitrah sham varunah. sham no bhavatvaryama .
sham na indro brihaspatih . sham no vishnururukramah .
namo brahmane . namaste vayo . tvameva pratyaxam brahmasi .
tvameva pratyaxam brahma vadishyami . ritam vadishyami .
satyam vadishyami . tanmamavatu . tadvaktaramavatu .
avatu mam.h . avatu vaktaram.h .
aum shantih shantih shantih .. 1..
   iti prathamo.anuvakah ..

Harih Om

May Mitra be propitious unto us! May Varuna be propitious unto us! May Aryaman be propitious unto us! May Indra and Brihaspati be propitious unto us!

May Vishnu, of wide strides, be propitious unto us! 

Salutation to Brahman! Salutation to Thee, O Vayu! Thou indeed art the visible

Brahman. Thee indeed I shall proclaim as the visible Brahman. Thee indeed, O Vayu, I shall proclaim as the right (ritam). Thee indeed I shall proclaim as the true (satyam). May It protect me! May It protect the teacher! May It protect me! May It protect the teacher!

Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!

This is a prayer to various deities as we begin to embark upon a grueling journey of the study of Vedanta which at the same time is the most covetable undertaking. So we need the blessings, support and good wishes of all the deities. The word ‘sam’ in Sanskrit means propitious, be kind, be helpful.

The deities to whom the prayers offered are:

Mitra – The deity identified with the prana and the day; the deity controlling the sun.

Varuna – The deity identified with apana, the downward breath and the night.

Aryaman – The deity identified with the eye and the solar orb.

Indra – The deity identified with strength.

Brihaspati – The deity identified with speech and intellect.

Vishnu – The deity who pervades the universe and is identified with the feet.

Praise and salutations are offered to Vayu (air) by the student seeking knowledge of Brahman so that obstacles to the attainment of such knowledge may be removed. All actions and their fruits are under the control of Vayu who is identified with prana. Here Vayu is addressed as Brahman. He is referred to as the visible because of his being direct, immediate, nearer than the sense organs and he can be felt.

Addressing Vayu, the student says ‘ ritam vadishyami, satyam vadishyami’ –‘I will call you the moral order, I will call you the truth’ because no society can flourish without moral order and the rule by truth. He then prays for his own protection and that of the teacher also as both the teacher and the taught should be mentally and physically fit for attaining the spiritual goal. If the student is dull he cannot learn and if the teacher is dull he cannot teach.

The word ‘shanti’ is uttered thrice in order to ward off the obstacles emanating from one’s own self, from the other living beings and from the natural forces.

Thus the first section of the Upanishad opens with a set of invocation Mantras which together constitute Isvara Upasana which is a necessary prerequisite for gaining antah karana shuddhi, purity of mind and intellect for becoming fit for gaining spiritual wisdom and ultimately moksha - total fulfillment in life. It is an invocation to certain deities to remove the obstacles to acquire spiritual wisdom.

End of Section 1 - Chapter 1



aum shixam vyakhyasyamah . varnah svarah . matra balam.h .

sama santanah . ityuktah shixadhyayah .. 1..

               iti dvitiyo.anuvakah ..

Om. We will expound siksha, or the science of pronunciation. It deals with sound, pitch, quantity, force, modulation and combination. Thus is explained the lesson on pronunciation.

Although the purpose of reading the Upanishad is to get at its meaning, we may miss that meaning if we do not know the pronunciation of each of its words because Sanskrit is a phonetic language where the spoken and written letters and words (sound and its illustration) produce the same effect without any difference inter se (unlike English language where written words may be similar but their pronunciation differ e.g. the words ‘PUT’ and ‘BUT’). Hence the science of pronunciation has been given such a high importance that it is considered as the auxiliary work to the Vedas (Veda Upanga). These auxiliary works are six in number viz.

Siksha – Science of pronunciation
Chhandas – Science of prosody
Vyakarana – Science of Grammar
Nirukta – Science of etymology
Jyotish – Science of Astronomy and
Kalpa – Science of rituals.

The Upanishad unfolds the entire Veda as a physical act of worship of Paramesvara  in oneself. Accordingly, the Upanishad now proceeds to present, in a series of lessons, an overview of the essential content of a selected few major topics from the Karma Kanda of the Veda, which serve as Moksha Sadhanam.

Since Vedic education is mainly through oral communication, the Vedic student first learns to utter the Veda mantras properly. What that involves is indicated in this section.

The Vedic education starts with Siksha which also means the science of phonetics, or principles of correct articulation and pronunciation. Correct pronunciation of letters and words is extremely important in teaching Veda mantras. Since wrong pronunciation of letters and words will ultimately lead to alteration of mantras and their meanings, early Vedic education stresses the all-important nature of correct pronunciation of Veda mantras. The only remedy to correct the ill effects of wrong pronunciation of Upanishad mantras is to learn to pronounce them correctly, together with their proper meanings and with proper understanding. Therefore, Vedic education starts with phonetics of Vedic language.

The Vedic teacher will first explain the science of phonetics of Vedic language. This entire Upanishad being an abstract of the entire Veda highlights only the essential topics which are indicated. With respect to phonetics of Vedic language, the essential topics are varnah svarah . matra balam.h .sama santanah .

Varnah svarah means accent on letters, syllables and words. Every Vedic chanting has prescribed svaras. They are four in number, namely, Udattham, Anudattham, Svaritham and Prachayam. These svaras are usually indicated in the written version of Veda mantras. For example, Udattham is indicated by a vertical stroke above the letter or the syllable, and it means "raise the voice". Anudattham is indicated by a horizontal stroke, and it means "lower the voice". Svaritham is indicated by two vertical strokes above the syllable, and it means raise the voice and lengthen the syllable by three units of time, and Prachayam means normal pronunciation.  For one who is well trained in Vedic chantings, these Svaras come naturally.

In addition to the four Svaras, there is also a symbol for total silence - the substratum sustaining all forms, names and sounds, which is indeed the true nature of Brahman without limitations of any attributes. In the written texts, this is indicated by a curve and a dot above the syllable as we see in AUM.

Matra refers to style of pronunciation with respect to duration or vowel length – a short vowel consists of one matra, a long vowel two matras and a prolonged vowel three matras - and balam refers to intensity or effort associated with the style of pronunciation.

Sama refers to style of pronunciation with respect to speed and intonation (fast, slow, high pitch, low pitch, etc.). This is particularly important in Sama Veda. Santanah refers to the flow of words with respect to Sandhi and Samhita, connection and combination of letters and words.

In all these various forms of pronunciation, one should neither bite the words, nor swallow the words. The mantras themselves must come out crisp and clear, so that the meaning of the mantras can spring forth completely and spontaneously.

Thus the lesson on phonetics has been stated, which means that one must clearly understand that, aside from the language itself, which is obvious, accent, duration, strength or intensity, speed and intonation, and connection or combination are the most essential aspects of the science of phonetics with respect to proper utterance of Veda mantras as an inseparable part of Vedic education and training.

End of Section 2 - Chapter 1



The intent of the Upanishad is to express the inexpressible, describe the formless Supreme, The Absolute. In this process the known language is not adequate to explain fully and convey through words the bliss of spiritual experience. This, however, does not mean the experience of the Infinite cannot be conveyed at all. It only means that the words of the language in the scriptures are employed in a distinctive manner much different from their ordinary usage. Thus the inexpressible Infinite Truth is not directly and openly expressed in the scriptures through the plain language but is indicated in the suggestive sense. This poses difficulty in conveying the wisdom of the scriptures by the teacher and consequently its comprehension by the student. Hence there arises the need for the teacher and the taught to be attuned to each other before the master’s words could achieve the desired end result in the disciple. Once the master and the student are in the same wavelength the process of the former’s language entering the mind of the latter becomes easy. Otherwise the efforts of the teacher will be very frustrating like “blowing a conch in the ears of a deaf man” as a Tamil Proverb goes or like “bains ke kaan me been bajaana” as a Hindi Proverb tells us.

In order to achieve this goal the methodology adopted in the Upanishads is called Upasana. Upasana is an intellectual process of conscious thinking over a subtle object superimposed for the purpose by the mind temporarily upon a gross object.In other words, to swap a lesser object (Nikrista Vastu) for a higher or noble ideal (Utkrista Dristi) is Upasana. For example to worship an ordinary stone in the form of a Siva Linga as a the sacred Lord Siva and offer to that object full devotion, prayers and other related reverences is an act of Upasana or meditation.

We have seen in the first two sections of this Chapter that after the initial invocation, the teacher and the taught discussed about the science of pronunciation. In the third section the teacher takes the next step of initiating the students into meditation techniques for making their minds sharp and sensitive to apprehend the Immortal Truth, the core of the Upanishad. After the customary prayer, the teacher starts prescribing the various methods of Upasana (meditation techniques) by which the wandering minds get into the focus mode. The teacher tells the student how to tame the wild horse of scattering mind and how to mould it from bahu shaka  to  vyavasayatmika buddhi as the Bhagavad Gita says.

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