Kena Upanishad: Mind, Senses and Life-Force and the Search for the Underlying Cause of Their Action

The Kena Upanishad examines the relationship between our mind and senses and reminds us that they do not arise in a vacuum, but have a cause. The first verse raises the question.  The second begins the process of response:

“By whom missioned falls the mind shot to its mark?  By whom yoked moves the first life-breath forward on its paths?  By whom impelled is this word that men speak?  What god set eye and ear to their workings?”

“That which is hearing of our hearing, mind of our mind, speech of our speech, that too is life of our life-breath and sight of our sight.  The wise are released beyond and they pass from this world and become immortal.”

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “The Upanishad … is concerned with the relation between the subtle existence and the spiriitual, the adhidaiva and adhyatma.  But the Mind, the Life, the speech, the senses are governed by cosmic powers, by Gods, by Indra, Vayu, Agni.  Are these subtle cosmic powers the beginning of existence, the true movers of mind and life, or is there some superior unifying force, one in itself behind them all?  By whom or what is the mind missioned and sent on its errand so that it falls on its object like an arrow shot by a skilful archer at its predetermined mark, like a messenger, an envoy sent by his master to a fixed place for a fixed object?  What is it within us or without us that sends forth the mind on its errand?  What guides it to its object?”

“Then there is the life-force, the Prana, that works in our vital being and nervous system. … the Breath to which so much importance is given in the Upanishads, is the pure life-force itself, — first, because all others are secondary to it, born from it and only exist as its special functions.  It is imaged in the Veda as the Horse; its various energies are the forces that draw the chariots of the Gods.  The Vedic image is recalled by the choice of the terms employed in the Upanishad, yukta, yoked, praiti, goes forward, as a horse driven by the charioterr advances in its path.”

“Who then has yoked this life-force to the many workings of existence or by what power superior to itself does it move forward in its paths?  For it is not primal, self-existent or its own agent.  We are conscious of a power behind which guides, drives, controls, uses it.”

“The Gods combine, each bringing his contribution, the operations of the physical world that we observe as of the mental world that is our means of observation; but the whole universal action is one, not a sum of fortuitous atoms; it is one, arranged in its parts, combined in its multiple functionings by virtue of a single conscient existence which can never be constructed or put together … but is for ever anterior to all these workings.  The Gods work only by this Power anterior to themselves, live only by its life, think only by its thought, act only for its purposes.  We look into ourselves and all things and become aware of it there, an ‘I’, an ‘Is’, a Self, which is other, firmer, vaster than any separate or individual being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 101-102, 114-116