The Aitareya Upanishad English Translation

Aitareya World View

Translation by Jayaram V

This is a complete, original translation of the Aitareya Upanishad by Jayaram V. It is divided into three chapters. The first chapter is further divided into 3 sections. The Upanishad deals with the nature of Self and creation and how world, food (materiality) and beings manifested in the beginning. The Upanishad also contains the famous expression (mahavakya) "Prajnanam Brahma" meaning Brahman is pure intelligence. The chapterwise summary of the Aitareya Upanishad is available here.


My speech is harmonized with my mind and my mind is harmonized with my speech. He who is manifested, may He manifest himself before me. Acting as a nail, may He makes the knowledge of the Vedas stay with me. Do not let go what I have learned. With the help of what I have studied day and night, I speak that which is harmonious, I speak Truth. May that protect me, protect the speaker. Aum, peace, peace, peace.

Chapter 1

Section 1

1. The Self only verily all this was in the beginning. Nothing else whatsoever stirred. He (the Self) thought, "Let me now create the worlds."

2. He then created all these worlds. He created the world of rain, the world of sun rays, the world of death, and the world in the water. Above the heaven is world of rain The heaven is its supports. The world of sun rays is the mid-region. The earth is the world death. That which is below is the world in the waters

The Vedic people believed that the cloud bearing region from where rains fell was the world of rains or the ambhas. Below was the heaven of Indra, where gods lived. Below that was the mid-region (antariksha), the world or celestial beings. It separates the heaven from the earth and filled with the light from the sun. Our world is called the world of death because beings here are subject to mortality and it is ruled by the lord of death. The lakes, oceans and rivers are always found below the ground level. Hence, they considered it a separate world, the world hidden in the waters, inhabited by fishes, snakes, etc..

3. He thought, 'Here are now the worlds. Let me create their controllers. So from the waters He brought out the Purusha and gave him a shape.'

This verse refers to the creation of the being, or the primeval person, who is called 'purusam'. The being is the embodied Self, a combination of the Self and aspects of Nature. The controllers are the deities which are symbolized in the body as organs. They are called controllers because they control particular functions in the body and reside in their designated spheres which they rule. The being is also a controller. He controls all the organs in the body.

4. He meditated upon him. From him who was thus meditated upon the mouth was separated, like (a chick coming out of) an egg. From the mouth came speech, from speech fire. The nostrils were separated. From the nostrils, breath, from breath air. The eyes were separated. From the eyes sight, from sight the sun. The ears were separated. From the ears hearing, from hearing the (eight) directions of space. The skin was separated. From the skin, the hairs, from the hair plants and trees. The heart was separated. From the heart the mind, from the mind the moon. The navel was separated. From the navel, the out breath, from the out breath came death. The reproductive organs were separated. From it semen, from semen water.

Creation is a process of differentiation. It is characterized by diversity. The verse explains how the diversity in the beings manifested, or how the different parts of the body came into existence, and how they occupied their respective spheres. Since, the source of all creation is one, it logically follows that one becomes many by differentiating into many or by separating itself into distinct parts and forms. According to this verse the first to differentiate in the body of the person was mouth. It is probably because the newly born baby comes out into the world crying. Therefore, speech is the first sign of life. It is only after crying and breathing, the baby starts looking at the world,, listening to the sounds, and using other senses.

From this we have to presume that the Creator first manifested the Self. He clothed it with a form and a body. Inside the body he manifested different organs and infused them with the force of prana. Finally, he subjected them to death by creating outgoing breath and rebirth by creating reproductive organs. There is a logical progression in the description of the whole process of how a being is formed and given birth. It is possible that the seers of the Upanishad conceived this design by observing life and how beings are born. It is a basic Hindu concept that man is a microcosmic representation of the macrocosm, the Purusha. All the gods and divinities exist in man also, though in a subtle form. The divinities who exist in the macrocosmic form of God (Purusha) as various energies or powers, also exist in His microcosmic aspect ( man or being) as sense organs, the mind, the reproductive organs and so on. Hence, it appears that they took this model of human birth and conceptualized the creation of the macrocosm also.

Section 2

1. The divinities so created fell into the great ocean (of life). The Self subjected them to hunger and thirst. And they asked Him, "Find out an abode for us where we can sit and eat food."

2. He brought for them a cow. They said, "No, this is not enough for us" He gave them a horse. They said, "No this is not enough for us."

3. He brought for them a person. They said this was an appropriate creation. A person is indeed an appropriate creation. He said to them, "Enter your respective parts."

All beings in creation are subjected to desires, which at the most basic level manifest as hunger and thirst. Without the two the physiological needs life will not be possible. In the absence of desires people will not perform any karmas, which will result in chaos and social disorder. Thereby the order and regularity of the worlds will be severely compromised. Imagine a world in which people do not experience any hunger or thirst. That world would be full of lazy people or people who would show no interest in doing anything. Hunger and thirst force all living beings to participate in their struggle for survival and create in the process the forward movement of our world, and the progression of life through the complete time cycle and all divisions of time.

Hence, even gods (compared here to sense organs) are subject to hunger and thirst. Since they cannot make food for themselves, they face even a greater predicament. For their nourishment, they depend upon the body, which is symbolically equal to the mortal world. The verses 2-3 contain the rudimentary notions of the evolution of human body from primitive life forms such as a four footed animal like cow or a horse, which were not found suitable for the functioining of the sense orgas. Hence, they pressed the creator for more suitable body and were happy with the human body.

4. Fire becoming speech entered the mouth. Air becoming breath entered the nostrils. The sun becoming sight entered the eyes. The directions of space, becoming hearing entered the ears. Plants and trees becoming hair, entered the skin. The moon becoming mind, entered the heart. Death becoming the outgoing breath, entered the navel. Water becoming semen, entered the reproductive organs.

Here we have a detailed account of how the elements transformed into various parts of the body. Fire became speech. Air became breath. Light became the eyes. Thus the five elements provided the material for the emergence of the sense organs. the moon is the source of the mind. In the macrocosm it is compared to the world of ancestors. Intelligence is usually compared to Brahman, which is however not mentioned here. Death is always related to the outgoing breath, because when breath departs from the body a person dies. So the outgoing movement of the breath is naturally tied to death. Semen is generally compared to water because according to Vedic beliefs water is the source of all life. The souls that fall from the world of ancestors enter the plants through water. Then when those plants are consumed by humans and animals they enter those bodies and travel into the region where semen is produced.

5. To Him hunger and thirst said, " Please find out an abode for us also." And he replied, "For you I create a place in these divinities and make you both co-sharers with them." Therefore whatever offering is made to a divinity, hunger and thirst co-share it with the divinity.

Hunger and thirst symbolically stand for desire, which is the main motive power behind the functioning of the sense organs. According to this verse, the creator did not create a specific region for hunger and thirst, while he did it for the rest of the divinities. Instead he assinged the entire body to them so that every part in the body would experience and hunger and thirst and seek food and water for their survival in return for the services they render. In other words, hunger and thirst compel the whole body and its parts to work properly and secure food. Imagine if hunger and thirst were limited to only a particular part in the body. People would have solved the problem of hunger by just cutting of those organs and lived happily without experiencing any desire for food or water.

Section 3

1. He thought, "Now here are the worlds and the controllers of the worlds. Let me create food for them."

2. He meditated upon waters and from the waters so meditated upon, came forth a form which was verily food.

First the Self emerged. No one created. It was there in the beginning since it is eternal and indestructible. Then the Self created the duality and diversity by manifesting various parts or organs of the body in which the deities or the controllers were installed. Next he subjected them to hunger and thirst so that they would listen to the body, depend upon it and do their part in its survival and continuity. Since, the parts are subject to hunger and thirst, they need nourishment. Therefore, he created food. Food not only refers to the food we cook and eat, but all things that aid in our survival and continuity. At the macrocosmic level it represents all the materiality and sense objects. The world itself is food for the god of Death, who rules our mortal world. The water symbolically refers to Nature. If you remember in a previous verse we heard that the Self gathered the primal being from the waters only and all the parts of the body were created from it. Thus Nature is the source of all materiality. At the subtle level, food symbolizes pure energy.

3. This form so created wanted to run away. It (the being) tried to seize it with speech. But speech could not take hold of it. Indeed if he could have seized it with speech, with speech alone he would have had the satisfaction of eating food.

4. It (the being) tried to seize it with breath. But breath could not take hold of it. Indeed if he could have seized it with breath, with breathing alone he would have had the satisfaction of eating food.

5. It (the being) tried to seize it with sight. But sight could not take hold of it. Indeed if he could have seized it with sight, with seeing alone he would have had the satisfaction of eating food.

6. It (the being) tried to seize it with hearing. But hearing could not take hold of it. Indeed if he could have seized it with hearing, with hearing alone he would have had the satisfaction of eating food.

7. It (the being) tried to seize it with skin. But skin could not take hold of it. Indeed if he could have seized it with skin, with sensation alone he would have had the satisfaction of eating food.

8. It (the being) tried to seize it with mind. But mind could not take hold of it. Indeed if he could have seized it with mind, with thought alone he would have had the satisfaction of eating food.

9. It (the being) tried to seize it with reproductive organs. But reproductive organs could not take hold of it. Indeed if he could have seized it with reproductive organs, with emission alone he would have had the satisfaction of eating food.

10. Then It (the being) tried to seize it with out breath. And he seized it. He who has grasped food thus is what air is. This one who lives on food is verily of the nature of air.

The gist of these verses is that hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied by using the senses. You cannot overcome hunger by looking at food, speaking about it, touching it, listening about it, thinking about it or by having sex. It goes away only when you eat food with your mouth. When you swallow the food, you let out some air. Hence, the expression that the being was able to grasp food with the help of Apana (outgoing) breathe. In the early Upanishads such as this one, you will find a subtle hint that the Self is the same as breathe. The Self is the enjoyer, the breathing one, who grasps food using his outgoing breathe as a handle and nourishes the body.

11. He pondered, "How can this food exist without me?" He pondered, " Through what path should I enter into it?" He wondered, "If speaking is through speech, if breathing is through breath, if seeing is through the eyes, if hearing is through the ears, if touching is through the skin, if thinking is through the mind, if breathing out is through the out breath, if emission is through the reproductive organs, then who am I?"

The body by itself has no support. It cannot function by itself without the Self. Food has no meaning and value without the enjoyer residing in it, which is the Self. Hence, having created the body, having assigned specific duties and functions to the organs, having creaked hunger and thirst, and having created food for their nourishment, the Self decided to enter the body and become its support. Since, the organs in the body were already occupied by their presiding deities, he wondered through which organ to enter the body. There is not experience without the one who experiences. Hence the expression, how the food exist without the enjoyer.

12.Opening the very end of the head, He entered through it. This is the opening, which is known by its name vidrti. It is (the source of) delight. For that exist three abodes, three kinds of dreams. This is the abode, this is the abode, this is the abode.

The aperture in the top head, which is also the location of sahasrara Chakra, is considered the point of entry and exit for the soul. At the time of conception, it enters the body through it and at the time of death also it departs from there. The Vedic seers arrived at this conclusion by observing how people died in their last moments. During death, a person's body loses strength and becomes numb from the feet upwards. Then he gradually loses consciousness as his eyes, speech, and ears grow weak. Finally, he would loose consciousness and die. Thus, they might have noticed that the head was the last part to die and consciousness or intelligence was the last thing to lose vitality and movement, and attributed it to the movement of the departing soul.

The three abodes of the Self are considered to be the eyes, the heart and the mind or intelligence. The three kind of dreams are the waking state, the dream state and the deep sleep state. All three are considered dream states only because the mortal world is an illusion, or a dream like experience, and unreal. Thus, we can see here an early reference to the idea of Maya or illusion. According to another interpretation, the three abodes of the soul, the body of the father, the body of the mother and one's own body. Prior to birth, the soul resides in the parents' bodies and after birth resides in its own body. However, the first interpretation seems to be the correct one, because the teacher of the Upanishad used the expression thrice, "this is the abode," to show the parts or the locations in his body.

13. He, having born, perceived the created beings. He perceived this very Person, the all pervading Brahman. "I have seen this," he said. What else would one desire to speak here?

14. There is his name Idandra. Indeed Idandra is the name. They speak of him indirectly who is Idandra as Indra. Indeed God seems to be fond of speaking indirectly.

This verse refers to the duality experienced by the embodied Self. Perception does not exist in the transcendental world because there is not duality. It happens only when the Self enters the mortal worlds and inhabits a mortal body. Idandra is the witness consciousness. He is compared Indra, who is the lord of the heaven in the  macrocosm or the lord of mind in the microcosm. He is also the controller of all sense organ. The seers do not refer to him directly because he is indescribable. Therefore, they refer to him indirectly as That or It.

Chapter 2

1. Indeed in a person this one first becomes an embryo. That which is called semen is a culmination of the vigor coming from the limbs of the body. In the self only one bears the self. By shedding it into a female, he gives birth to it. This is the first birth.

2. It enters into the self of the female, as if it is a limb of her. Therefore it does not cause her any harm. She nourishes this self of his that has come into her.

3. She is the one who nourishes, so should she be nourished. She bears him in her womb. Before the birth he nourishes the child, so does he after his birth. He thus nourishes his own self, for the continuation of the worlds. The worlds are sustained in this manner only. This is the second birth.

4. He who is thus born of his own self, becomes the substitute for performing the deeds. After completing his works, he departs. Departing thus he is born again. This is his third birth. This what the seers said.

5. "While I was in the womb, I knew all the births of the gods. A hundred walls made of steel, protected me. I burst out of them with the speed of a hawk," Vamadeva spoke this verse while lying in the womb.

6. He who knows all this, when the body is dissolved, travels heavenward and enjoys al the heavenly desires. He becomes immortal, yes immortal.

These verses explain the triple births of a human being. Contrary to the popular opinion, the Vedic people believed that the father of a child also played a prominent part in the birth of the child not only by contributing the semen but also by bearing the soul of the child in the semen sac before transferrring it to the mother through intercourse. In the previous section we learned that the Self resides in three bodies. Those three bodies are reveaked here, the body of the father, mother and own body. According to early Vedic beliefs, a father is born again through his son. Hence the expression in the 4th verse, "who is thus born of his own Self." We also have a clear reference to rebirth.

Chapter 3

1. "Who is he whom we all worship as the self ?" He by whom one sees, one hears, one smells the various odors, one is able to speak, one is able to distinguish the tasty from the tasteless.

2. That which is the heart, the mind, it is consciousness, perception, discrimination, intelligence, mental brilliance, vision, determination, thought power, thoughtfulness, impulse, memory, decision, goal, life, desire, control. All these are the different names of intelligence only.

3. He is Brahma, he is Indra, he is Prajapati. He is all these gods. He is the five elements, namely the earth, air, ether, water and light, a combination of which forms into seeds of different kinds, the ones born out of eggs, the ones born out of wombs, the ones born from sweat, the ones born from sprouts, horses, cows, people, and elephants, all the creatures that breath here, moving, flying or stationary. All this is led by intelligence. The world is led by intelligence, is established in intelligence. The world is led by intelligence. The support is intelligence. Brahman is intelligence.

4. He with this intelligent self soared upward from this world and having enjoyed all the desires in that heavenly world became immortal. Yes he became immortal.

This chapter contains the famous saying (mahavakya),"Prajnanam Brahma," or Brahman is  intelligence. In the previous chapters we learned how the body was created, how the controllers or deities of various organs were established, how hunger and food were created to ensure the continuation or preservation of the being in the mortal world. We also learned that the body was created from waters, an archaic reference to the Undifferentiated Nature of Primal Prakrit. In this chapter we learn that in the body, Brahman is reprsented by intelligence, which is higher than even the breathe. Intelligence is the supreme controller of the being. Thoughts, desires, memories, impulses, etc., are all different forms of the same Intelligence. From this the dualists may infer that this chapter draws a clear distinction between the Atman , the individual Self and Brahman, the Supreme Self. If the soul is the breathing one in the body, Intelligence is the Supreme Self.

Rights: Reproduced with permission from the publishers

Aitareya Upanishad - An Introduction

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