The entire text of the Kaivalya Upanishad was previously posted on this blog, but no introduction or commentary was made on it. Today's edition will be the background and commentary on this great Upanishad.
The Vedic canon of Sanatana Dharma ends with the body of texts known as Upanishads, which are philosophical treatises on the Vedas. In total, there are more than 210 Upanishads in existence. Of these 108 Upanishads are mentioned by the Muktika Upanishad, which "officially" puts an end to the growing Vedic canon (the rest presumably came into existence after the Muktika). These 108 Upanishads are divided into seven branches depending on the school of thought to which they belong. The seven branches are: (1) Principal Vedic, (2) General Vedanta, (3) Yoga, (4) Sannyasa, (5) Shaiva, (6) Vaishnava and (7) Shakta.
Of these seven branches, the Kaivalya Upanishad is listed as one of the fourteen Shaiva Upanishads. This Upanishad belongs to the Krsna-Yajurveda, although some internet sources incorrectly attribute it to the Atharvaveda. It is fairly safe to assume that the Kaivalya Upanishad is probably one of the older Shaiva Upanishads. It is said that the celebrated teacher of Advaita Vedanta, Adi Shankara, considered it an important Upanishad despite not having commented upon it. The term Kaivalya is derived from kevala (aloneness), and indicates the state where one is absolutely free of all binds. In both Sanatana Dharma and Jaina Dharma, the term Kaivalya is a technical term for moksha (liberation).
For the sake of our brief overview of the Kaivalya Upanishad, only a few salient points need highlighting:
The Upanishad begins with the theme of Sage Ashvalayana approaching Brahmā seeking the knowledge of the Absolute. Brahmā begins teaching the sage of the nature of the Absolute Brahman, the means to realization and the practice of yogic meditation (verses 1-6).
In verse 7, we find that the Absolute Brahman is identified with Shiva allied with Uma (Shakti) – this is why it is considered a Shaiva Upanishad. And in verses 8-10, He is described as all and in all, and that realization is impossible without realizing this oneness.
In verse 11 we come upon a famous analogy also used in other Upanishads – the self is to be used as a lower fire stick and Aum as the upper stick. Rubbing the two together (mediation upon the Aum) one produces the flame of realization.
Verses 12-14 explain the basic Vedanta philosophy of the nature of the three ordinary states of consciousness – waking, dreaming and deep sleep. These verses elaborate that the experiencer of all these conditions is the one indivisible consciousness.
In verses 15-16 we come upon the teaching that all things have emerged from Brahman, and indeed “Thou art That” (tat tvam asi). The Atman is indeed Brahman – this one of the four great statements of Vedanta non-dualism, which we find repeated in the Kaivalya Upanishad (originally it is found in the Chandogya Upanishad).
Once this great statement is established, the theme of the Upanishad changes. All of a sudden, the Upanishad changes from being a conversation between Ashvalayana and Brahmā to one of self-realization. The subject is now “I”, indicating the cosmic I, the non-dual consciousness (verses 17-24). These verses go on to describe the nature of this non-dual existence.
The final two verses (25-26) speak of this Upanishad and its fruits, technically called a phala-shruti, and identify the present teaching as the way to attain Kaivalya (liberation). Also, verse 25 by the mere mention of the Shatarudriya hymn clearly tags this Upanishad to the Yajurvedic tradition.
The Kaivalya Upanishad, though short, is brimming with non-dualistic Shaivite teaching aligned with Vedantic philosophy. Apart from the Shvetashvatara and Mandukya, the Kaivalya can probably be considered the most important of Upanishads for Shaiva non-dualists.
Click here to read the entire text of the Kaivalya Upanishad.
Aum Namah Shivaya.