Krishna in the Upanishads

Krishna learning from Angirasa

by Jayaram V

The Upanishads are the heart of Hinduism. I was introduced to them by chance nearly forty years ago, and ever since my interest in them only grew. It was out of my interest I translated several Upanishads twice in the past. The first attempt was several years ago, and it was meant mainly for the Internet. In my recent attempt, which took me over a year, I translated 16 major Upanishads covering over 1700 slokas. For me the exercise was more like an active meditation with an opportunity to communicate with the best of the ancient minds and making sense of their universal vision of God and existence. In this section I want to share with you the wisdom of the Upanishads, whenever I am inspired to do so. I hope to present at least a few every month until my thoughts are exhausted or my interest has waned. I hope you will find them useful. Jayaram V

Please do not look for complete answers or information in these. They are fragments of thoughts which deal with only certain aspects of the chosen subject

Krishna in the Upanishads. There is a section (3.17) in the Chandogya Upanishad, which states that Ghora Angirasa taught the sacrificial nature of human life to Krishna, the son of Devaki, whereby he became free from all desires.

Angiras or Angirasa was a mind born son of Brahma and an associate or friend of Atharvan. Both are credited with the authorship of the Atharvaveda. In some lists he is also reckoned as one of the seven seers (saptarishis).

However, the Angirasa who is mentioned in the Upanishad was not the same since the Atharvaveda Veda was composed prior to the Mahabharata war in a previous epoch. He was probably a descendent of the seer or a teacher with the same name or family lineage.

The name  may be even a symbolic reference to Agni himself since Agni is said to be the progenitor of a group of celestial beings known as Angiris who act the guardians of fire sacrifices. Who can be a better teacher of fire sacrifice than Agni himself?

Angirasa taught Krishna that life was a sacrifice because it was not meant to be lived for oneself but for the sake of God to perform his duties. In that sacrifice one became both the sacrificer and the sacrificed. We get a brief idea of the nature of his teaching in the previous section (3.16) in which the daily sacrifices were compared to the phases in human life.

If a day equals one lifespan of a human being, the morning becomes comparable to childhood, the afternoon to adulthood, evening to old age and night to death. Accordingly the Upanishad compares the morning prayers to the first 24 years, the midday prayers to the next 40 years, and the evening prayers to the next forty years.

The next section in the Upanishad affirms that not only daily prayers but also actions such as eating, drinking, laughing, sexual intercourse, austerity, charity, etc., also constitute offerings in the sacrifice of life. This was the knowledge which Angirasa conveyed to Krishna and suggested to him that at the time of death he should take refuge in three thoughts, that he was imperishable, unchangeable, the essence of breath.

Life is indeed a sacrifice, especially when you do not live for yourself. In that sacrifice everything that you do and own becomes a potential offering. You can either enjoy the rewards of that sacrifice and incur karma or you can make that offering to God and escape from the cycle of births and deaths.

The central theme of the Bhagavadgita is indeed the same. It is about overcoming desires and performing obligatory duties selflessly with a sacrificial attitude. Chandogya Upanishad is considered one of the oldest Upanishads, if not the oldest. This reference strengthens the argument that the knowledge of the Bhagavadgita is a redaction of the Vedas and Krishna had proper initiation into their study. From this we may also conclude that the Bhagavadgita was based upon his teaching only and not a mythical dialogue. << >>

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