Kena Upanishad

Inscrutability of Brahman

We cannot know Brahman in the same way that we can know an object, for Brahman is not an object of knowledge; it is always the subject. In order to know a thing, three factors are necessary viz., jneya - what is to be known or the object of knowledge, jnata - the knower and jnana - knowledge itself. But in the case of Brahman all these three factors are combined into one (Three in One).Hence the question of knowing Brahman does not arise just as fire can burn other objects but it cannot burn itself.

The teacher said: If you think: "I know Brahman well," then surely you know but little of its form; you know only its form as conditioned by man or by the gods. Therefore Brahman, even now, is worthy of your inquiry.

This warning to the student by the teacher is necessary lest the student may think that Brahman is like any other object that can be seen or felt through the senses. So the teacher says that the matter requires further investigation and inquiry. The teacher told him: "You have heard about It, but that is not enough. You must experience It.  Mere intellectual recognition will not give you true knowledge of It. Neither can It be taught to you.  The teacher can only show the way.  You must find It for yourself."

Knowledge means union between subject and object. To gain this union one must practice, mere theory cannot be of much help. 

The previous section has shown that the knowledge of Brahman is beyond sense-perception: "There the eye does not go, nor speech, nor mind."  "That is distinct from known and also It is beyond the unknown."  Therefore it was necessary for the teacher to remind the disciple that knowledge based on sense-perception or intellectual apprehension should not be confounded with supersensuous knowledge.

The disciple said: I do not think I know It well, nor do I think that I do not know It. He, who among us says he knows, does not know it. It is known to those who say they do not know it. It is not known to those who say they know it.

This appears to be contradictory, but it is not.  In the previous section we learned that Brahman is "distinct from the known" and "beyond the unknown."  The disciple, realizing this, says: "So far as normal understanding is concerned, I do not think I know, because I understand that It is beyond mind and speech; yet from the higher point of view, I cannot say that I do not know because It is the source of my being.”

He who thinks he does not know It, knows It.  He who thinks he knows It, does not know It. The true knowers think they can never know It (because of Its infinitude), while the
ignorant think they know It.

This verse brings out how we struggle with difficulties of human expression and insufficiency of mental utterance. By this text the teacher confirms the idea that Brahman is unthinkable, because it is unconditioned.  Therefore he says: He who considers It beyond thought, beyond sense perception, beyond mind and speech, he alone has a true understanding of Brahman. 

They who judge a living being from his external form and sense faculties, know him not; because the real Self of man is not manifested in his seeing, hearing, speaking.  His real Self is that within by which he hears and speaks and sees.  In the same way he knows not Brahman who thinks he knows It by name and form.

The arrogant and foolish man thinks he knows everything; but the true knower is humble.  He says: "How can I know You, who are Infinite and beyond mind and speech?"  The contrast between the attitude of the wise man who knows, but thinks he does not know; and that of the ignorant who does not know, but thinks he knows is as follows.

When a wise person says that he does not know Brahman, we have to understand that he knows Brahman in the sense that Brahman cannot be known through the sense organs. What he means is that he does not know Brahman as an object of the senses and that it can be known only through super sensuous experience. This indicates that he knows Brahman.

When an ignorant person says that he knows Brahman, we have to understand that he does not know Brahman in the sense that what he knows is merely his sense experience and what he thinks as Brahman is not at all Brahman

When one attains Brahman in every state of consciousness, one attains true knowledge and one goes beyond life and death. By self knowledge one attains strength; by true knowledge one attains immortality.

We have seen that the Brahman is unknown to those whose knowledge is limited to sense experience; but He is not unknown to those whose purified intelligence perceives Him as the basis of all states of consciousness and the essence of all things. 

By this higher knowledge a man attains immortality, because he knows that although his body may decay and die, the subtle essence of his being remains untouched. Such an entity also acquires unlimited strength, because he identifies himself with the ultimate Source.  The strength which comes from one's own muscle and brain or from one's individual power is always limited and mortal and therefore cannot lift one beyond death; but through the strength which Atma-jnana or Self-knowledge gives, immortality is reached.  Whenever knowledge is based on direct perception of this undying essence, one transcends all fear of death and becomes immortal.

If a man knows Brahman here, he then attains the true goal of life. If he does not know It here, a great loss awaits him. Having realized the Self in every being, the wise relinquish the world and become immortal.

The wise man sees the same Brahman in every creature. If on this earth and in this physical body we arrive at our true existence and are no longer stuck up in the process of becoming, we are really saved from catastrophe. If it is not so, our loss is great, for we then will be lost in the whirlpool of our mind and body and will never rise above it to our supra-mental existence. In this world only names and forms vary. From this variance we have to find out the unity of existence. We are all one. The difference is merely in the degree of manifestation. If we do not realize this truth it will cost us very dearly says this Upanishad.

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