From the Vedas: Knowers of Brahman

The Shvetashvatara Upanishad Describes the One All-Pervading Being

The following is an excerpt from the Yajurveda’s Shvetashvatara Upanishad, section 3, 7-21, describing the indescribable Brahman (translation by Raimon Panikkar).

Verse 7. Still higher is Brahman, the supreme, the great, hidden in the bodies of all these beings, the One, encompassing the All, the Lord—having realized Him, men become immortal.

8. I have come to know that mighty Person, golden like the Sun, beyond all darkness. By knowing Him, a man transcends death; there is no other path for reaching that goal.

9. Higher than Him is nothing whatever; than Him nothing smaller, than Him nothing greater. He stands like a tree rooted in heaven, the One, the Person, filling this whole world.

10. That which is exalted high above this world—an absence of form, an absence of suffering—those who know this become immortal. The others merely enter upon sorrow.

11. Dwelling in the face, head, and neck of all, hidden in the heart of every being, all-pervading, the Lord is He. Hence He is called the Omnipresent, the Auspicious.

12. This Person indeed is the mighty Lord; it is He who impels all that is, inspiring to the purest attainment. He is Master and Light unchanging.

13. A Person of a thumb’s size is the inner atman, ever dwelling in the heart of beings. He acts by and through the heart, mind and spirit. Those who know that become immortal.

14. A thousand-headed is the Man with a thousand eyes, a thousand feet; encompassing the Earth on all sides, he exceeded it by ten fingers’ breadth.

15. The Person, in truth, is all this world, what has been and what yet shall be. He is the Lord of immortality, the ruler of every creature that is nourished by food.

16. On every side are His hands and feet, on every side His eyes, His head, and His face; on every side His hearing. He stands, encompassing all in the world.

17. Reflecting the qualities of all the senses, yet Himself devoid of all the senses, He is the Lord and God of all; He is the universal refuge.

18. The soul, embodied in the nine-doored city, playfully sports to and fro outside it. Controller is He of all the world, of all that moves and of all that moves not.

19. Without hands, He grasps; without feet, He runs; without eyes, He sees; without ears, He hears. What is knowable He knows, but none knows Him! They call Him the great primeval Person.

20. Subtlest of the subtle, greatest of the great, the atman is hidden in the cave of the heart of all beings. He who, free from all urges, beholds Him, overcomes sorrow, seeing by grace of the creator, the Lord and his glory.

21. Him do I know, the unaging primeval atman who pervades all with penetrating power. Birth—they say it stops for the one who knows Him whom the Brahman-knowers call Eternal.

RAIMON PANIKKAR, (1918-2010), held doctorates in science, philosophy and theology. His anthology of verses, The Vedic Experience, excerpted above, is the result of ten years spent in Banaras translating ancient texts with the help of Vedic scholars.