Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECOND VALLĪ - The Thirteen Principal Upanishads
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
SECOND VALLĪ - Misc (Upanishads), The Thirteen Principal Upanishads 
The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, translated from the Sanskrit with an outline of the philosophy of the Upanishads and an annotated bibliography, by Robert Ernest Hume (Oxford University Press, 1921).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The failure of pleasure and of ignorance; the wisdom of the better knowledge
1. The better (śreyas) is one thing, and the pleasanter (preyas) quite another.
Both these, of different aim, bind a person.
Of these two, well is it for him who takes the better;
He fails of his aim who chooses the pleasanter.
2. Both the better and the pleasanter come to a man.
Going all around the two, the wise man discriminates.
The wise man chooses the better, indeed, rather than the pleasanter.
The stupid man, from getting-and-keeping (yoga-kṣema), chooses the pleasanter.
3. Thou indeed, upon the pleasant and pleasantly appearing desires
Meditating, hast let them go, O Naciketas.
Thou art not one who has taken that garland1 of wealth
In which many men sink down.
4. Widely opposite and asunder are these two:
Ignorance (avidyā) and what is known as ‘knowledge’ (vidyā).
I think Naciketas desirous of obtaining knowledge!
Many desires rend thee not.2
5. Those abiding in the midst of ignorance,
Self-wise, thinking themselves learned,
Running hither and thither, go around deluded,
Like blind men led by one who is himself blind.3
Heedlessness the cause of rebirth
6. The passing-on4 is not clear to him who is childish,
Heedless, deluded with the delusion of wealth.
Thinking ‘This is the world! There is no other!’—
Again and again he comes under my control.
The need for a competent teacher of the soul
7. He who by many is not obtainable even to hear of,
He whom many, even when hearing, know not—
Wonderful is the declarer, proficient the obtainer of Him!
Wonderful the knower, proficiently taught!
8. Not, when proclaimed by an inferior man, is He1
To be well understood, [though] being manifoldly considered.2
Unless declared by another,3 there is no going thither;
For He is inconceivably more subtile than what is of subtile measure.
9. Not by reasoning (tarka) is this thought (mati) to be attained.
Proclaimed by another, indeed, it is for easy understanding, dearest friend (preṣṭha)!—
This which thou hast attained! Ah, thou art of true steadfastness!
May there be for us a questioner (praṣtā) the like of thee, O Naciketas!
Steadfast renunciation and self-meditation required
10. I know that what is known as treasure is something inconstant.
For truly, that which is steadfast is not obtained by those who are unsteadfast.
Therefore the Naciketas-fire has been built up by me,
And with means which are inconstant I have obtained that which is constant.
11. The obtainment of desire, the foundation of the world (jagat),
The endlessness of will,4 the safe shore of fearlessness,
The greatness of praise, the wide extent, the foundation (having seen1 ).
Thou, O Naciketas, a wise one, hast with steadfastness let [these] go!
12. Him who is hard to see, entered into the hidden,
Set in the secret place [of the heart], dwelling in the depth, primeval—
By considering him as God, through the Yoga-study of what pertains to self,
The wise man leaves joy and sorrow behind.
The absolutely unqualified Soul
13. When a mortal has heard this and fully comprehended,
Has torn off what is concerned with the right (dharmya),2 and has taken Him as the subtile,
Then he rejoices, for indeed he has obtained what is to be rejoiced in.
I regard Naciketas a dwelling open [for Ātman3 ].
14. Apart from the right (dharma) and apart from the unright (a-dharma),
Apart from both what has been done and what has not been done here,
Apart from what has been and what is to be—
What thou seest as that, speak that!
[Naciketas being unable to mention that absolutely unqualified object, Death continues to explain:]4
The mystic syllable ‘Om’ as an aid
15. The word5 which all the Vedas rehearse,
And which all austerities proclaim,
Desiring which men live the life of religious studentship (brahmacarya)—
That word to thee I briefly declare.1
The eternal indestructible soul
18. The wise one [i. e. the soul, the ātman, the self] is not born, nor dies.
This one has not come from anywhere, has not become anyone.
Unborn, constant, eternal, primeval, this one
Is not slain when the body is slain.5
The Soul revealed to the unstriving elect
20. More minute than the minute, greater than the great
Is the Soul (Ātman) that is set in the heart of a creature here.
One who is without the active will (a-kratu) beholds Him, and becomes freed from sorrow—
When through the grace (prasāda)1 of the Creator (dhātṛ) he beholds the greatness of the Soul (Ātman).
His opposite characteristics
21. Sitting, he proceeds afar;
Lying, he goes everywhere.
Who else than I (mad) is able to know
The god (deva) who rejoices and rejoices not (madāmada)?
22. Him who is the bodiless among bodies,
Stable among the unstable,
The great, all-pervading Soul (Ātman)—
On recognizing Him, the wise man sorrows not.
The conditions of knowing Him
23. This Soul (Ātman) is not to be obtained by instruction,
Nor by intellect, nor by much learning.
He is to be obtained only by the one whom He chooses;
To such a one that Soul (Ātman) reveals his own person (tanūm svām).2
24. Not he who has not ceased from bad conduct,
Not he who is not tranquil, not he who is not composed,
Not he who is not of peaceful mind
Can obtain Him by intelligence (prajña).
The all-comprehending incomprehensible
25. He for whom the priesthood (brahman) and the nobility (kṣatra)
Both are as food,
And death is as a sauce—
Who really knows where He is?
[1 ]The word sṛnkā occurs nowhere else in the language—so far as has been reported—than in 1. 16 and here. Its meaning is obscure and only conjectural. Śaṅkara glosses it differently in the two places, here as ‘way.’
[2 ]This stanza recurs with unimportant variants in Maitri 7. 9.
[3 ]With a variation, this stanza recurs in Muṇḍ. 1. 2. 8; similarly in Maitri 7. 9.
[4 ]That is, death, the great transition, mentioned at 1. 29.
[1 ]With different grouping of words the first two lines may also mean:
That is, the Ātman is to be obtained only by a superior person, as is stated in Muṇḍ. 3. 2. 4.
[2 ]Or perhaps, ‘. . . [because] being considered manifoldly,’ i. e. by the inferior man the Ātman is falsely ‘conceived of as a plurality,’ while in reality He is absolute unity.
[3 ]Either (1) by another than an inferior man, i. e. by a proficient understander, or (2) by another than oneself, i. e. by some teacher.
[4 ]Or perhaps ‘work.’
[1 ]The word drṣṭvā is superfluous both logically and metrically.
[2 ]Here, in contrast with the latter half of the line, the idea of dharma may be philosophical: i. e. ‘the qualified.’ In the next stanza it is certainly ethical.
[3 ]Compare Muṇd. 3. 2. 4 d: ‘Into his Brahma-abode [i. e. that of a person qualified to receive Him] this Ātman enters.’ See also Chānd. 8. 1. 1.
[4 ]Śaṅkara and all translators except Deussen regard the previous section as an utterance by Naciketas. Instead of assigning so pregnant an inquiry to a pupil still being instructed, the present distribution of the parts of this dialogue interprets it (in agreement with Deussen) as continued exposition, rhetorically put in the form of an interrogation by the teacher himself.
[5 ]The word pada here doubtless is pregnant with some other of its meanings (twenty-two in all enumerated by Apte in his Sanskrit-English Dictionary), particularly ‘way,’ ‘place,’ ‘goal,’ or ‘abode.’
[1 ]The ideas and some of the language of this stanza recur in BhG. 8. 11.
[2 ]The word akṣaram here may also be pregnant with the meaning ‘imperishable’ (Apte gives fourteen meanings in all). Thus:—
[3 ]The word brahma(n) here may contain some of its liturgical meaning, ‘sacred word,’ as well as the philosophical meaning ‘Brahma.’ Thus:—
[4 ]This stanza recurs with slight verbal variation in Maitri 6. 4.
[5 ]Substantially this stanza is identical with BhG. 2. 20.
[6 ]Substantially this stanza is identical with BhG. 2. 19.
[1 ]This is an important passage, as being the first explicit statement of the doctrine of Grace (prasāda). The idea is found earlier in the celebrated Hymn of the Word (Vāc), RV. 10. 125. 5 c, d, and again in Muṇḍ. 3. 2. 3 c, d. This same stanza occurs with slight verbal variation as Śvet. 3. 20 and Mahānārāyaṇa Upanishad 8. 3 (= Taittirīya Āranyaka 10. 10. 1).
[2 ]This stanza = Muṇḍ. 3. 2. 3.