Kaivalya Upanishad — the Significance of the First Verse

Sri Aurobindo has translated the first verse of the Kaivalya Upanishad, as well as provided a commentary:  “OM.  Ashwalayana to the Lord Parameshthi came and said, ‘Teach me, Lord, the highest knowledge of Brahman, the secret knowledge ever followed by the saints, how the wise man swiftly putting from him all evil goeth to the Purusha who is higher than the highest.’ ”

This verse is tightly packed with important guidance for the spiritual seeker, as Sri Aurobindo explains in his commentary.  There is specificity as to the type of knowledge sought:  “It is … the best or highest, because it goes beyond the triple Brahman to the Purushottama or Most High God; it is secret, because even in the ordinary teaching of Vedanta, Purana and Tantra it is not expressed, it is always followed by the saints, the initiates.  The santah or saints are those who are pure of desire and full of knowledge, and it is to these that the secret knowledge has been given sada, from the beginning.  He makes his meaning yet clearer by stating the substance of the knowledge — yatha, how, by what means won by knowledge, vidvan, one can swiftly put sin from him and reach Purushottama.”

“There are three necessary elements of the path to Kaivalya, — first, the starting point, vidya, right knowledge, implying the escape from ignorance, non-knowledge and false knowledge; next, the process or means, escape form sarvapapam, all evil, i.e. sin, pain and grief; last, the goal, Purushottama, the Being who is beyond the highest, that is, beyond Turiya being the Highest.  By the escape from sin, pain and grief one attains absolute ananda, and by ananda, the last term of existence, we reach that in which ananda exists.  What is that?  … that which is beyond … good and evil, … calm and chaos, … duality and unity.  Sat, Chit and Ananda are in this Highest, but He is neither Sat, Chit nor Ananda nor any combination of these.  He is all and yet He is neti, neti (not this, not that).  He is One and yet He is many.  He is Parabrahman and He is Parameshwara.  He is Male and He is Female.  He is Tat and He is Sa.  This is the Higher than the Highest.  He is the Purusha, the Being in whose image the world and all the Jivas are made, who pervades all and underlies all the workings of Prakriti as its reality and self.  It is this Purusha that Ashwalayana seeks.”

Several points should be noted.  The term “sin” does not have the same sense as we use it in modern day language.  Sin is anything that disrupts, disturbs the being, distracts or distorts the reality, so that the seeker is unable to focus the attention with a calm, serene and tranquil mind and heart.

The Bhagavad Gita describes the Purushottama as being beyond the Kshara Purusha (the conscious awareness in the manifested world) and the Akshara Purusha (the conscious awareness in the Unmanifest).  The Purushottama contains and exceeds, witnesses and sanctions both what is or has been manifested, and that which remains unmanifest, latent and potential, and yet is not bound by either or both of these aspects as He is beyond them.


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kaivalya Upanishad, pp.387-390