The Upanishads are the philosophical and spiritual sermons, forming a part of the Vedas. Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Munda, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka are the ten most famous Upanishads. The Kena Upanishad, of the Samaved, derives its name from the first word ‘Kena’ at the beginning of the first verse of the Upanishad. The word ‘kena’ means ‘by whom’.

केनेषितं पतति प्रेषितं मनः केन प्राणः प्रथमः प्रैति युक्तः|

केनेषितां वाचमिमां वदन्ति चक्षुः श्रोत्रं क उ देवो युनक्ति||

Keneshitam patati preshitam manah kena kena praanah prathamah praiti yuktah |

Keneshitaam vaachamimaam vadanti chakshuh shrotram ka u devo yunakti||

“Willed by whom does the directed mind go to the object? Being directed by whom does the vital force, which precedes all, proceed (towards its duty)? By whom is this speech willed, which is uttered by people? Who is the effulgent being who directs the eyes and the ears?”

The Kena Upanishad consists of four sections, the first two in verse and the other two in prose. The metrical portion deals with Brahman (ब्रह्मन्) as the absolute principle underlying the world, the mind and the sense organs. The prose section of this Upanishad deals with Brahman as the Supreme God.


The Kena Upanishad along with Chandogya Upanishad is one of the major Upanishads belonging to the Samaveda. It is also known as Talavakara Upanishad. Talavakara is the name of the Brahmana of the Jaimini branch of Samaved.


Due to lack of adequate evidence on chronological orientation, the exact date of the composition of the Upanishads cannot be determined. The Upanishadic age has been placed somewhere between 1200 B.C. and 600 B.C. (R.D. Ranade “A constructive study of Upanishadic philosophy”). The chronological order of the Upanishads as estimated by R.D. Ranade is as follows-

1.   Chandogya, Bruhadaranyaka

2.   Isha, Kena

3.   Aitareya, Taittiriya

4.   Katha, Mundaka

5.   Maandukya

Generally, it is regarded as a work during pre-Buddhistic period i.e. around 600 century B.C. Opinions regarding this, however, vary. On the other hand, tradition says that the Vedas have come from the mouth of the creator of the world- Lord Brahma at the beginning of the Satya Yuga (the Golden Age). According to this belief, the Vedas (including the Kena Upanishad) would be more than thirty-five lakh years old.


The Upanishads have a Shanti Pada or a peace invocation at the beginning of the verses. The Upanishads belonging to the same Veda have the same invocation. This invocation or prayer is to be recited prior to the study of the Upanishad. This is done with an intention to avert all the evils which may fall on the person reading it. The invocation of the Kena Upanishad has three hymns-

आप्यायन्तु ममाङ्गानि वाक्प्राणश्चक्षुः श्रोत्रमथो बलमिन्द्रियाणि च सर्वाणि |

aapyaayantu mamaangaani vaakpraanashchakhuh

shrotramatho balamindriyaani cha sarvaani |

“May my limbs, speech, vital energy, eyes, ears, strength and all the sense organs become well developed.”

सर्वं ब्रह्मौपनिषदं माऽहं ब्रह्म निराकुर्यां मा मा

ब्रह्म निराकरोदनिराकरणमसत्वनिराकरणं मेऽस्तु |

Sarvam brahmaupanishadam maaham brahma niraakuryaam ma ma brahma niraakarodaniraakaranamasatvaniraakaranam mestu |

“Everything, revealed in Upanishads is Brahman. May I never discard Brahman; may the Brahman not spurn me; Let there be no rejection (of me by Brahman); let there be no denial (of Brahman) by me.”

तदात्मनि निरते य उपनिषत्सु धर्मास्ते मयि सन्तु ते मयि सन्तु |

tadaatmani nirate ya upanishatsu dharmaaste mayi santu te mayi santu |

“May they live in me, all the truths which are (spoken of) in the Upanishads, may they repose in me who am dedicated in the pursuit of Self.”

The invocation of the Kena Upanishad, thus, starts with a prayer for a healthy body and mind, and ends in the hope that all the knowledge of the Upanishads will be properly understood. A well functioning body and a stable mind are essential to attain the knowledge of the Self.

Philosophy of the Upanishad

The verse at the beginning of the first two sections enquires about the basic underlying energy or principle which sets everything into performing their respective functions. Brahman is then described to be the answer to the above question. Brahman is construed to be the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear, the speech of the speech, the mind of the mind and the life of life. This indicates that Brahman is the cause of the existence of everything, even the sense organs and the mind, which are supposedly the means of getting knowledge. Brahman cannot be perceived through the sense organs or through the mind. Hence, It cannot be explained or defined. Brahman is beyond the known as well as the unknown. Whatever information is available about Brahman is from the ancient teachers who have passed on that knowledge to the later generations.

The Kena Upanishad disagrees with idol worship. Brahman cannot be limited to the stone idols. The sense organs and the mind are the instruments to gain knowledge of the material world. However, Brahman is the fundamental principle or the power by which these instruments of knowledge function. They cannot reach Brahman, but Brahman is the vital force because of which they perform efficiently.

Brahman has to be experienced by the soul. A seeker, who claims in his pride, that, Brahman is understood by him, is wrong. Brahman cannot be understood by those who believe ‘I know’. It can only be understood by those who believe that they do not know. Even the great Greek philosopher Socrates claims, “I know that I know nothing.” Once the knowledge of Brahman is gained in reality, a person becomes immortal. Immortality does not mean that a person escapes death; it means that the person is free from the fear of death. If a person fails to recognize the supremacy of Brahman, and continues to live the materialistic life, he is drowned in the vast ocean of materialism and thus, destroyed.

In the next two prose sections, there is a story wherein the divine mother Goddess Parvati enlightens the deities about Brahman. Brahman is personified in this part. Once, all the deities/gods won a war because Brahman made them victorious. They believed, in their ignorance and ego, that, the reason behind the victory is their own capability. To make them realize the truth, Brahman came before them in the form of Yaksha, a demigod. The deities saw him and failed to recognize who he was. They sent Agni (fire-god) to find out who that spirit was. Agni approached him and was inquired by yaksha about his identity and powers. When Agni informed him about himself, Brahman in the form of yaksha, challenged him to burn a blade of grass in his hand. Agni tried with all his power to burn a trifling blade of grass, but in vain. Then, Vayu (air-god) approached the yaksha and tried in vain to blow the blade of grass. Lastly, the king of the gods, Indra, approached him and the yaksha vanished. In the space where the yaksha was standing, the beautiful and charming Goddess Uma appeared. She informed Indra that this yaksha was none else than the personified Brahman. Thus, the pride of Indra and other deities was wiped out.

The illustration of a lightning is used to indicate the instantaneous enlightenment produced by the union of the individual soul (jiva) with Brahman. Like lightning, Brahman showed himself to the gods and disappeared in a trice. The process of realization of Brahman may take effort on the part of the seeker, but, once the moment of realization arrives, it is experienced in no time.

Brahman is said to be the dearest of all the beings. Everyone in this world struggles to seek happiness through materialistic objects. However, they get only temporary pleasure. Everlasting bliss can be obtained only through the realization of Brahman. Brahman is what all beings are actually looking for. What all the beings really want- peace, bliss and love- can be sought only from Brahman.

At the end, the Kena Upanishad explains how to be competent in gaining the knowledge revealed in the Upanishads. It advises that a person should possess concentration, detachment, control over sense organs and truthfulness.


·         A Constructive Survey Of Upanishadic Philosophy; Dr. R.D. Ranade
·         The Principle Upanishads; S. Radhakrishnan
·         Eight Upanishads (with the commentary of Shankaracharya); Swami Gambhirananda
·         A glimpse On Sruthi; E.T. Sankaran Kutty
View/s: 369