The Evolver first of the bright ones came into being, the maker of the whole, the guardian of the world. He taught the wisdom of the Eternal, the resting-place of all wisdom, to Atharva, his eldest son. And what the Evolver had declared to him, this wisdom of the Eternal Atharva of old told to Angira. He to Bharadvaja the truth-bearer; and Bharadvaja taught it, in turn received, to Angiras.

Shaunaka, verily, of the great Lodge, approaching Angiras according to the law, asked him:

—Master, what should be known that all this may be known?

To him he replied:

—Two knowledges should be known, said he—what the knowers of the Eternal declare, the higher and the lower knowledge.

—Of these, the ower knowledge is: the Rig, the Yajur, the Sama, the Atharva Vedas; intoning, rites, modulation, definition, verse, the star-lore.

— But the higher knowledge is that by which the Unchanging is gained: that invisible, ungraspable, nameless, colorless, sightless, soundless; the enduring Lord, the all-going, with neither hand nor foot; the very subtile, the unfading, that the wise see well as the womb of the worlds.

— As the web-wombed spider puts forth and draws to him; as—trees come forth upon the earth; as from a living man, his locks and tresses; so from this Unchanging, comes forth all the world.

—This Eternal glows with fervent power; thence is born the Food, and, from the Food, the Life and Mind; what exists—the worlds—and eternal causation.

—Who is the all knowing, the all-wise, whose fervent power is wisdom formed, this is that Eternal; and, from this, Name and Form and Food are born.

—Therefore there is this truth:

The powers that the seers perceived in the sounds of the hymns, were divided, each in their own form for the triple fire; “practice these constantly, ye who desire the truth; this is your path of good work in the world. For when the flame curls in the fuel that bears what is to be offered, then let him guide the offerings in the space between the two paths of the sacrificial fluid. With faith it is offered. He whose fire-invocation fits not with the new moon, the full moon, the fourth month, and the autumn, where there are no guests, where the offerings to all the bright ones are absent, where the law is unfulfilled,—he injures his seven worlds. The seven curling tongues of flame are: the dark, the gloomy, the mind-swift, the very red, the purple, the sparkling, the all-shaped bright one. He who makes the offerings when these flames are gleaming, at the fit time, like sun-rays They lead him to where the one lord of the bright ones reigns.”

“Come! Come!” the offerings call to him; they carry the sacrificer by the rays of a shining sun. Addressing to him a loving voice, they honor him: “This is your holy, well-won world of the Eternal!”

—Infirm rafts indeed are these forms of rites of the eighteen sharers in the sacrifice, on which the lower ritual depends. They who exult in this as the better way, fools, they go again to sickness and death. Turning round in the midst of unwisdom, sages, thinking themselves wise; fools, they go about staggering in the way, like the blind led by the blind.

—Turning about manifold in unwisdom, you exult, children, thinking thus the work is done. Because these performers of ritual are not wise in their longing desire, in their folly they fall, losing their worlds.

—Thinking that oblations and offerings are the best, they know nothing better, these deluded fools. After enjoying this good work of theirs beyond the sky, they return to this or a lower world.

—But they who dwell in faith and fervor in this forest, full of peace, and wise, and free from the lust of possession; by the sun- door they, freed from lust, go forth, where is the immortal spirit, the unfading Self.

—Therefore let him who seeks the Eternal, viewing well the worlds that are won by rites, become indifferent to them, for the Uncreate cannot be gained by ritual works. And to learn this Uncreate let him draw near to the Teacher—the Sage, well founded on the Eternal—with fuel in his hands. To him approaching, with his wandering soul quite at rest, and entering into peace, the Wise One will declare truly the truth by which that Unchanging is known, the wisdom of the Eternal.

—And there is this truth:

As from a well-lit fire sparks of its own nature come forth thousand-fold; so, dear, from that Unchanging, manifold beings are born, and thither they go again. For this shining, formless Spirit is within and without them, though unborn. This bright Spirit of the Unchanging, above Life and Mind, is the Supreme of the Supreme.

—From this are born Life and Mind and all the powers—ether, breath, the starry, the waters, earth the holder of all.

—He whose head is Fire; whose eyes, the sun and moon; whose ears are the fields of space; whose voice, the manifest Vedas; whose life is breath, whose heart is the whole world; from whose feet is the earth; this is the inner Self of all beings. From him the Fire whose fuel is the sun; from the moon, the powers of fertility, the trees upon the earth. The active force sows the seed in the passive; from this active power many beings are engendered.

—From this the Rig, the Sama, the Yajur verses; initiatory rites, sacrifices, offerings, and gifts; the circling seasons and the sacrificer, and the worlds where the sun and the moon have their power. From this the manifold bright ones are engendered, the lesser bright ones and men and beasts and birds. From this the forward and downward lives, from this, rye and barley; from this, fervor and faith and truth, the service of the Eternal, and the law.

—The seven lives come forth from this, the seven flames, the seven fuels, the seven sacrifices; these seven worlds wherein the seven lives move; they are hidden in the secret place by sevens and sevens. Hence the oceans and all the hills, from this the rivers flow, in all their forms. Hence come all growths, and the essence through which the inner Self stands in all beings.

—For Spirit alone is this all, and the works and fervor.

He who knows this Eternal hid in secret, he, dear, even in this world unties the knot of unwisdom.

Commentary: Higher and Lower Knowledge

This Book of Hidden Wisdom strongly emphasizes the view already put forward, that the great theme and substance of the Upanishads is in no sense a development of the great Vedic cycle,—the fountain of popular religion in India from the days of the Seers of the Hymns; but that, on the contrary, the substance of the Upanishads is distinct in origin, different in aim, and often very hostile in tone to the great popular cycle of Indian culture.

In the days when this Book of Wisdom took final form, the great cycle of Indian culture included, we are told: the Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas, and the six Limbs of the Veda, as they are called: the sciences and studies that deal with the intoning, the grammar, the verse, the rites of the Vedic liturgy, the definition of old and difficult words, and the fixing of times and seasons—the new moon, the full moon, the four-month period—by noting the ways of the sun and moon, the planets and the stars.

This liturgy and ritual is the lower knowledge but the higher knowledge, the true wisdom, is the seeking and finding of the real inner Self, the enduring Lord, that the wise see as the womb of the worlds.

Very little is conveyed to our imaginations by this description of the lower knowledge, as liturgy and ritual, as the four Vedas and the six limbs of the Vedas. But the second section gives us something clearer and more intelligible. Its essential part, we are told is a system of ceremonies, sacrifices, and oblations that centers round the “three sacrificial fires”: the household fire, kept burning during the householder’s life, and from which the other fires are lit; the fire of oblations to the shades of the fathers; and the fire of sacrifices to all the deities.

By the ritual of the three fires, they hoped to gain the good things of this life—sons and grandsons of a hundred years, gold and chariots and horses; then the happiness of ancestors who had passed away, joined to the hope that their own trans-sepulchral welfare would be duly looked after—filial piety with a lively sense of favors to come; then the favor of the deities, who, fitly fed by their worshippers, should grant to the devout the feasts of this world and the next. Such was the ideal of this ritual system—the way of works—a happy blending of worldliness and otherworldliness; a not unnatural desire to secure the largest share of sensuous enjoyment that a careful keeping of the rules of both worlds could afford.

These ideals are “not too good for human nature’s daily food”; so entirely natural are they that at once they recommended themselves to the devout, and formed the foundation of a religion that lasted milleniums.

Very much depends on the nice performance of these rites, in the opinion of their votaries; for the gods are rather exacting and punctilious; and grave responsibility rests on the sixteen priests who, with the sacrificer and his wife, complete the “eighteen sharers in the sacrifice”.

It is easy to understand that, when the well-being of one’s ancestors, one’s self and family, and one’s descendants depended on the exact performance of these experiments in transcendental physics, one was likely to look for the most competent demonstrator, and to reward him very liberally when the experiment was finished and the period of strained anxiety at an end. It is easy, too, to understand that much deliberation might go on among the skilled professors, in leisure hours, on questions of donations of one cow, up to the bestowing of the whole property, after the sacrifice, to the attending priests, as the Commentator says. One can see at once the fitness of a phrase like this: “These are lean kine, they have eaten their grass, drunk their water, given their milk, and lost their strength; joyless worlds he gains, who offers these”.

So by gentle, imperceptible steps the “sacrificer and his wife” would be enthralled, until the whole outward culture of the nation was summed up in the words: “Blessed are they who partake of the leavings of the sacrifice”.

It is easy to treat this making the best of both worlds very leniently, with good humored complaisance and light irony; but the true Seers of the Upanishads did not treat it leniently.

Infirm rafts are these rites of the eighteen sharers of the sacrifice. They who exult in this as the better way, fools, go again to sickness and death.
Turning round in unwisdom, these sages, thinking themselves wise—fools, they stagger in the way, like the blind led by the blind.
Turning about in unwisdom, you exult, children, thinking that thus life’s work is done. Because these men of rites are full of longing desire, in their folly they fall, losing their worlds.
Thinking that oblations and gifts are best, they see not the better way, these deluded fools.

This is not quite the language of easy toleration; and, if we look closer, we shall find another reason for this denunciation besides simple hostility towards the enthrallers of the people.

For there is a second meaning hardly hidden here and elsewhere clearly revealed, in this rite of the three sacrificial fires. For “the lower-life is the household fire, the distributing-life is the fire of oblations, the forward-life is the fire of offerings”. In other words, they are “the fire of the loins, the fire of the heart, the fire of the head”; three centers of vital fire or nervous force. This becomes, then, fairly clear; “when the flame curls in the fuel that bears what is to be offered, then let him guide the offerings in the space between the two parts of the sacrificial fluid”. From this offering—from the diversion of vital force which it implies—arise “the seven tongues of flame”, and these, the Commentator tells us, kindle the powers of “the seven orifices in the head”; or, more plainly, awaken the psychic senses of sight and hearing and speech.

In fact, the Commentator clearly shows—and the Upanishads completely prove—this sacrificial ritual is a symbol of certain processes for awakening the psychic senses and powers by calling up the diverted vitality of the “downward-life”, the fire of creative force. In the words of another Teacher, this is not the wisdom that comes from above; this wisdom comes from below, is earthly, sensual, devilish. Or to translate more truly, this wisdom is earthly, psychic, and of the nature of demons.

But let us turn from the rites of the three fires to the better wisdom, the wisdom of the Eternal. This is the worship of the dim star that burns within, the star that grows, as you watch and worship, and gradually becomes the infinite Light. This is the wisdom of those who dwell in faith and fervent will, in this forest of the world. They are full of peace and wise and free from the lust of possession. They go forth by the sun-door, freed from the lust of sensuous life, to the real life of the immortal spirit, the unfading Self.

Therefore let him who seeks the Eternal, viewing well the worlds that are won by these rites, become indifferent to them. Let him draw near to the true Teacher, the star that burns within; when he approaches, with wandering soul quite at rest, and entering into peace, the wise one, the inner Self, will declare truly the truth by which the Unchanging is known, the true wisdom of the Eternal.

The sun-door to the Eternal is the inner sense of the trueness of things that tests the sensuous life, the feasts of this world and the next, and declares that the lasting joy is not to be won by these changing things that fade. The sun-door is the wisdom that chooses the better rather than the dearer, and turns back from dear and dearly-loved desires.

This intuition and inner sense of the trueness of things gradually leads the scattered selves away from the sensuous paths of habitual life; gradually leads them away from the fear and hate that spring from the lust of possession; gradually leads them away from the vanity and selfishness that spring from their illusion of apartness and hostility one to another; and wraps them back into the real world, the oneness of the Self.

Thus awakened from the dream of life, they see the steps by which they fell to dreaming the dream of the world. They see that, as the web-wombed spider puts forth his web, and draws it toward him again; as trees come forth on the bosom of the earth; as sparks from a well-lit fire; so all this dream of the outward world, this world of dream, came forth from the Self, the Eternal, that the seers plainly perceive as the womb of the worlds. For this shining Spirit, though unborn, is without and within all the worlds, and the worlds are the changing dream-lessons of the unchanging Self.

The Self, though unchanging, falls into dream; it dreams itself first into many separate hostile selves; then it dreams for their satisfaction the manifold sensuous life of the middle and the outer worlds; then, that the hostile selves may not fall into perpetual fascination and enthralment, the Self dreams the last and sanative dream of death; and, through the power of that last dream, the wandered selves find no lasting joy in their sensuous ways, for they see that all this fades and wastes and wanes; that there is no lasting unchanging joy but the Self—rebecome one—awaking from all dreams to the reality of its immemorial Oneness. This is the wisdom of the Self that the seers tell of; and the dim star within lights the old, oft-trodden path, along which they pass over to the other shore.

Following this wisdom, therefore, they found themselves in lasting opposition to the other way, the way of works; in its outer aspect of ritual, a mercenary huckstering with the gods; in its inner aspect, an opening, of new senses to another sensuous world, far more alluring, far more seductive than the world of day. These are false lights; not only do they not dispel the darkness, but they blind dazzled eyes, and rob them of the infinite Light.


Manifest, near at hand, moving in secret verily is that great support, and by it all this is upheld, whatever moves and lives with open eyes. Know this as Being and unbeing, the adorable supreme, beyond the knowledge of beings, most excellent.

The Being like flame, smaller than small in whom the worlds are laid, and the dwellers in the worlds; this is that unfading Eternal, this is Life and Voice and Mind. This is the Real, this the Immortal, know dear that this is the aim to be reached.

As bow, grasping the hidden wisdom, the great weapon; laying on it the sharpened arrow, aspiration; drawing the bow by thought bent on that Being, know that the mark is that unfading Eternal.

The holy aspiration is the bow, self the arrow, the Eternal they call the mark; it is to be pierced with steady aim; let the self, arrow-like, become one with the mark.

In whom are heaven and earth and the world between; in whom mind and all the lives are fixed, know that One as the Self, and be rid of all other voices, for this is the bridge of the immortal.

Like spokes in the nave of a wheel, in this all channels are joined together; this is he who moves within, through manifold births. Think on this Self as the holy aspiration Om; may you reach safe the shore beyond the darkness.

He who knows all, who is all-wise, to whom this greatness in the world belongs—this Self is set firm in the shining ether, in the luminous dwelling of the Eternal. In the form of mind, this guides the lives and the vestures, set firm in the food of the worlds ; setting their hearts on it, by discerning this, the sages behold well him who shines as the bliss-formed immortal.

The knot of the heart is opened; all doubts are cut; all his deeds fade away on beholding this supreme who is the first and the last.

In the highest golden veil is the stainless, part-less Eternal; this is the shining, the Light of Lights that the self-knowers know.

The sun shines not there, nor moon and star, nor this lightning, nor fire like this. After the shining of this, all shines; from the shining of this, all else receives its shining.

For the Eternal verily is this immortal; eastward the Eternal, westward the Eternal, southward the Eternal, and northward; below, above, extended the Eternal, this all, this most excellent One.

Two well-winged ones, well mated, cling together on the branch of the same tree; one of the two eats the sweet figs; the other watches without eating.

On the same tree the spirit sinking down, for lack of the Master, is full of sorrow, wandering in delusion; but when he beholds the other, the beloved Master, as his own great Power, his sorrow is gone.

When the beholder beholds the gold-colored maker, the Master, spirit, Eternal, the womb of worlds; then the wise one, shaking off good and bad, stainless reaches the supreme union.

This is the life which shines through all beings; knowing and understanding this, he declares there is naught beyond it. Rejoicing in the Self, delighting in the Self, doing all as the Self, he r is the best knower of the Eternal.

Through reality and fervor is this Self to be gained, by perfect knowledge, by perpetual service of the Eternal. In the inner vesture is this starry shining one, whom the men of self-conquest, whose stains have faded away, behold. Reality conquers, verily, not falsehood; by reality is opened up the path, the way of the gods that the sages ascend by, their desire is fulfilled; there is that Real’s supreme abode. Great is that, divine, of form beyond imagining; that shines forth as subtler than subtle. Further than far is it, and yet close at hand; for those who can see, it is here, hidden in the secret place.

Nor by eye is it apprehended, nor by voice, nor by the other bright ones, nor by fervor nor deeds. But by the grace of wisdom he whose being is pure beholds the part-less One by the light of the soul.

This subtle Self is to be known in consciousness—the Self in—whom Life has his fivefold dwelling. The whole inner power of mind is bound up with the lives; when the inner power is made pure, the Self becomes manifest.

Whatever world the pure in nature pictures in his mind, and whatever desires he desires, that world he wins and those desires; therefore let the seeker for power honor the self-knower.

He knows the supreme Eternal, the home where the world resting there shines bright. The desire-less sages who draw near to spirit, reach that luminous One.

He who desires, desires, and thinks on them, is born in that place through his desires. But all desires melt utterly away even here for him whose desire is accomplished, who has gained the Self.

This Self is not to be gained by speaking, nor by reasoning, nor by much hearing; whom the Self chooses, by him it is to be gained; and the Self chooses out his form as its own.

This Self is not to be gained by the impotent; nor by passionate emotion, nor by undefined fervor. But one who strives by these means, after attaining wisdom, the Self of him enters the home of the Eternal.

Gaining this Self, the seers exult in wisdom, having attained it; rid of raging desire, and entered into peace. The sages, finding everywhere the all pervading, united with the Self enter verily the All.

Very certain in the knowledge of the end of wisdom, self-conquered through the union of renunciation, of pure nature, in the worlds of the Eternal, when their time is ended, full of immortality they are together free.

The fifteen life-divisions are gone, the bright powers withdrawn into their shining potencies; deeds and the Self that takes the form of knowledge have all become one in the unchanging Supreme.

As the rolling rivers go to their setting in the ocean, giving up name and form; so he who has attained wisdom, rid of name and form, reaches the divine spirit beyond the highest.

He who verily knows the supreme Eternal, becomes the Eternal; there is none in his line who knows not the Eternal. He crosses over sorrow, he crosses over sin ; rid of the knots of the heart, he becomes immortal.

So it is declared by the Vedic verse:

Let him say this wisdom of the Eternal is theirs who have fulfilled all acts, who know the rites, who are established in the Eternal, who sacrifice faithfully to the one Seer; and those who have duly performed the vow of the head.

The Seer Augiras taught this truth of old; let none learn it who has not fulfilled the rite.

Salutation to the higher seers; salutation to the higher seers.

[Here ends the Mundaka Upanishad]

Commentary: The Hidden Shining

In this book of Hidden Wisdom, there is very little that requires any comment or explanation; no symbols whose meaning is to be looked for, no parables or allegories to be made clear; just the plainest and most simple telling of the supreme secret that can be put into words.

Yet of this secret not much can be put into words, even with the best of wills; for how can one describe that which the eyes have never seen, nor will ever see; which the hands have never handled nor the ear heard; something which cannot even be pictured by contrasts, for it is not the opposite of anything in this world of ours, just as it is not the same as anything in the world.

Yet this hidden support, for all its farness and strangeness, is yet very familiar and near; all men are perpetually feeling it, and, as it were, dipping into the being of it; and all the best of them are perpetually trying to embody this secret in the arts of beauty and in acts of generosity and broad-minded goodwill.

This symbol has been used before, yet it is perhaps as good as any to embody the sense of this secret being that presses in upon our lives. It is as though we were men sitting in a cave among the rocks, at dark midnight, with our faces toward the blank dead wall of the cave. At first all is blackness and silence; and there is only the sense of the cold night air and its freshness coming in upon us from the great emptiness outside; all is very silent and dark, or only moved with dim formless murmurings and shadows of sound.

Then, little by little, the first greyness of dawn comes; the dead rock wall before us is very faintly becoming visible to our eyes straining through the darkness; and, as it grows lighter, a dim redness of dawn is caught and flung about in broken reflections across the rock before us, and our shadows begin to be seen. Then, from that moment, all the thought and watchfulness that are in us are bound up in the fortunes of the shadows, as they move about there, in that dim, ruddy light of dawn. And we are so utterly absorbed in them that we forget not only ourselves, but the very being of the light that cast our shadows on the walls.

Then perhaps some one among us begins to tire of the shadow-show cast on that dead rocky wall, and gradually falls to thinking of the light behind; and, at last, in a moment of inspiration, turns, rises, leaves the cave, and suddenly enters the fair world of perfect day.

One can imagine such a one, after drinking in the brightness of the sunlight, and feeling the full delight of the fair living world, coming back to the cave-dwellers and their shadow-show, and trying to turn their eyes away from the mimicking, mocking shades to the light behind, that is flowing so abundantly through the cavern’s mouth.

But when men’s hearts are in a shadow-show like this, he must have a very eloquent voice who would interest them in other things, and very winning must he be who would prevail on them to leave their watching of the shadows, and come with him to the world of life.

For the men in the cave have noticed that the shadows are in some way bound to themselves; indeed they noticed that very early in the morning. And seeing that every movement of the shadows answers to their own movements and the changes of their wills, they are anxiously interested in the shadows’ welfare, and in direct apprehension lest any mishap should overtake the flat, black manikins on the wall. Indeed, when the shadows of two of them cross each other on the same piece of rock, they think their temporary obliteration is a real injury; and they have been for a long time full of very bitter feeling towards each other, touching this injury to their shades.

It is nearly a hopeless task for the messenger who has come back to them from the outer sunlight, and who tries to bring them forth with him, for what do they know about the sun; and are they not altogether absorbed in the game of shadows on the dead rock wall? It is only when some of them are weary of their shadow play, or in some momentary lull, that the messenger has any chance at all, and even then he is met by a good deal of doubt and questioning, and finds it very hard to get into these good folks’ heads any idea of what sunlight is.

There must be a good deal of good humored pity in the messenger’s mind, as he sees these people so absorbed in their strange game, their parody of real life; but he will willingly exert all fancy and ingenuity to tell of the sunlight and make it thinkable, wherever he finds open ears. And now and then there are times when a good many grow weary together, and fall to listening to what the messenger has to tell; and some of the very bravest among them, sometimes, very rarely, have actually the courage to get up and go out into the world of everlasting day— that strange day where the sun rises but shall not set again, but rising, stands forever in mid-heaven.

Some day they will, all of them, be persuaded to leave their shadow-show and their black, rocky cave behind, and all together go out and bathe in the living light; then the rocks will say—for there will be no one else left to say it:—Alas! this is the end of the world!

As the world is now, we are most of us still busy with the shadows and their struggles, each one fighting with other shadows for his own bit of dead wall; and some of us are getting tired of it all, and are ready to believe the messengers who, with good-natured chiding, are inviting us to leave it all, and come out into the real world.

We shall go out presently, and drink in the sunlight for ourselves, and then we shall come back to these hot-headed people in the cave, each of them championing his own shadow against the rest, and trying to make it fill the largest possible space of the bare rock. We shall do our best to interest them in the question of healthy daylight, dealing rather gently with them, because they really take the mishaps of their shadows so terribly to heart and we remember that it is not such a long time since we did, too.

Our messages will be like these books of hidden wisdom, messages of hidden daylight, of the shining that is so full of joy, out there in the beyond. And this wisdom is hidden, very securely hidden too, because these good people so steadfastly refuse to turn their heads, and it is no easy matter to get an inkling of it into them. But one day we shall all be out there together, our game of shadows ended, laughing to each other in the light of the healthy sun.