The Aitareya Upanishad is contained in the Rig Veda. Because it is encompassed in the ‘Aitareya’ Ãranyaka of the Rig Veda, it is called the Aitareya Upanishad. This Upanishad is spread across three adhyãyas (chapters). The first adhyãya has three khandas (sections), the second and third adhyãyas have one khanda each. This Upanishad has become especially renowned in the philosophical world for its unique clarifications on philosophical matters.
The First Adhyãya
The creator of the entire world
Who is the cause of creation? Who is the creator? Who is the controller? Who is the nurturer? These and other enquires have been settled decisively in this Upanishad. With the words ‘स र्इक्षत लोकान्नु सृजा इति’ – ‘Sa eekshata lokãnnu srujã iti’ (Aitareya Upanishad: 1/1). Thus, Parabrahman has been clearly shown as the cause, creator, controller and nurturer of the entire creation. ‘Eekshata’ means he wished. At the time that the world we see around us did not exist, and everything was dissolved in a subtle form in mahãmãyã, Parabrahman himself, out of compassion, had a divine wish, ‘Lokãnnu srujã iti’ – ‘Let me create a variety of worlds which are appropriate for the jivas and ishwars to experience the fruits of their karmas.’ Thereafter, ‘स इमान् लोकान् असृजत’ – ‘Sa imãn lokãn asrujata’ (Aitareya Upanishad: 1/1) from mãyã, Parabrahman created this variety of worlds and places of experience. Thus, the entire grandeur of Paramãtmã, the creator of all the worlds, has been sung here.
The Creator of the World-Carers
‘स इक्षत। इमे नु लोका लोकपालान्नु सृजा इति’ – ‘Sa ikshata, ime nu lokã lokapãlãnnu srujã iti’ (Aitareya Upanishad: 1/1). Just as Paramãtmã has created various worlds, he has also created the world-carers who can control and nurture those worlds. That is he gives them a suitable body by which they are capable of controlling those worlds. This has been explained here, and furthermore, a detailed description of the creation of the body and organs of those world-carers, and of the method of occupation of the deities who rule over those organs has also been given.
The Provider for the World-Carers
Compassionate Paramãtmã has created a variety of places as well as world-carers to look after those places. This Upanishad informs us that he is also concerned about nourishing them, ‘स र्इक्षतेमे नु लोकाश्र्च लोकपालाश्र्चाऽन्नमे यः सृजा इति’ – ‘Sa eekshateme nu lokãscha lokapãlãschã’nnamebhyaha srujã iti’ (Aitareya Upanishad: 1/3). That Paramãtmã desired to create food so that all these worlds and world-creators continue to be nourished. Food was created according to that wish, and all are nourished by that food.
Thus, the first adhyãya prominently explains matters such as Paramãtmã creating the worlds appropriate for the jivas and ishwars to experience the fruits of their karmas; and also creating the world-carers of those worlds; and creating food for their life-long nourishment.
The Second Adhyãya
Creation of the human body
The main subject of the second adhyãya is the creation of the human body. It gives a clear presentation of how the jivãtmã attains a human body by Paramãtmã’s inspiration. The discrimination between the body and ãtmã is automatically understood by this description. Thereafter, there is a description of what happens to the jivãtmã after its life-span in this body is over. This Upanishad states that the person who lacks brahmavidyã has to repeatedly wander in the miserable cycle of births and deaths, and those that imbibe brahmavidyã attain Akshardham and experience the bliss of Paramãtmã.
The Third Adhyãya
The Upãsanã of Parabrahman
The first two adhyãyas describe the grandeur of Paramãtmã well. The third adhyãya then instructs us to perform the upãsanã of Parabrahman with knowledge of his greatness. The Upanishad says, ‘येन पश्यति येन वा शृणोति येन वा गन्घान् जिघýति येन वा वाचं व्याकरोति येन वा स्वादु चाऽस्वादु विजानाति’– ‘Yena pashyati yena vã shrunoti yena vã gandhãn jighrati yena vã vãcham vyãkaroti yena vã svãdu chã’svãdu vijãnãti’ – ‘One should perform the upãsanã of Paramãtmã, by whose inspiration the ãtmã can see via the eyes, hear via the ears, smell fragrances via the nose, speak words via the tongue, and know good and bad tastes’ (Aitareya Upanishad: 3/1). If we did not have this body or these organs, then what could we do? We would not be able to perform any endeavours for liberation. Kindhearted Paramãtmã has compassionately given us all of this. He has given us a body, he has given us organs and he has poured strength into those organs. He has made everything convenient. Therefore, let us perform his upãsanã, please him and attain liberation. This has been stated here forcefully.
In order to understand the full glory of Parabrahman, and in order to do his upãsanã appropriately, one must become aksharrup, one must be engulfed in the sense of being like Brahman, and for this very reason, one must know Aksharbrahman. This is the essence of the whole of Vedanta. Therefore, this Upanishad has indicated the pragnãn form of Aksharbrahman with the words ‘प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म’ – ‘Pragnãnam Brahma’ (Aitareya Upanishad: 3/3). Moreover, ‘यदेतद् हृदयं मनश्र्चैतत् ... सर्वाण्येतानि प्रज्ञानस्य नामघेयानि भवन्ति’ – ‘Yadetad hrudayam manaschaitat … sarvãnyetãni pragnãnasya nãmadheyãni bhavanti’ – ‘This heart, mind, etc. of ours – whatever we have – are all names of pragnãna Brahman’ (Aitareya Upanishad: 3/2), that is, they are all pervaded by Aksharbrahman. Thus, we have been instructed to perceive everything as Brahman.
The Divine Fruits
This Upanishad then concludes by informing us of the fruits that one who becomes brahmarup and performs the upãsanã of Parabrahman with knowledge of his greatness attains. ‘अमृतः समभवत्’ – ‘Amrutaha samabhavat’ (Aitareya Upanishad: 3/4). Such a person attains divine Akshardhãm and is released from the cycles of birth and death.
In this way, by calling Paramãtmã the cause, creator, controller and nurturer of creation the Aitareya Upanishad tells us that he is the essence of creation. We should perform the upãsanã of that Paramãtmã. In order for that upãsanã to be complete and free of hindrances we should adorn our ãtmãs with a sense of being like Brahman, and thus attain ultimate liberation. By explaining such principles this Upanishad has given us a clear view of the path to liberation.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas