Brahma Upanishad Teaches to Become Highest Brahman

Brahma Upanishad (ब्रह्म उपनिषद) is an ancient Sanskrit text and one of the minor Upanishads of Hinduism. It is among the 32 Upanishads attached to the Krishna Yajurveda and classified as one of the 19 Sannyasa Upanishads. The text has been one of the important Upanishads dealing with Hindu renunciation traditions. It discusses Atma (soul) and its four avasthas (states of consciousness) and four seats; the seats for the purpose of achieving Dhyana (mediation) of the Nirguna Brahman (the formless Brahman). The Brahma Upanishad is notable, in its third chapter, for rejecting all forms of rituals and external religious observations, and declaring the highest complete state of man is one that is dedicated entirely to knowledge. In the Telugu anthology of 108 Upanishads of the Muktika canon, narrated by Rama to Hanuman, the Brahma Upanishad is listed as number 11. The text is also referred to as Brahmopanishad (ब्रह्मोपनिषद्).

Chronology and anthology of Brahma Upanishad

Textual references and literary style suggest that this Hindu text is ancient, composed before the Ashrama Upanishad, dated to the 3rd century CE.

In the Colebrooke anthology of 52 Upanishads, popular in North India, the Brahma Upanishad is listed at number 10. In Narayana’s anthology of 52 Upanishads, popular in South India, the Upanishad is listed at 10 as well. 

The Upanishads : Brahman and Atman | Search for The Soul - Indrajit Rathore
The Brahman and Atman from Brahma Upanishad

Brahma Upanishad Structure

The Brahma Upanishad manuscripts have survived into the modern era in different versions. The divisions and structure of these manuscripts are different, particularly those referred to as “Calcutta and Poona editions”, though with a similar message. The Telugu language versions exist in two very different versions in terms of size, with one recension splitting the text into Parabrahma Upanishad and Brahma Upanishad.

The initial portions of the text contain general speculations, not renunciation, which has made scholars such as Narayana question whether it belongs in the text. Starting about the mid-2nd chapter and all of the 3rd chapters constitute a treatise on the ancient Hindu tradition of renunciation.

Contents of Brahma Upanishad

The text opens with Shaunaka Mahashala – a wealthy householder, meeting Vedic sage Pippalada, calling the human body the “divine city of Brahman (the Supreme One)”, and inquiring about how the human body is constituted, what the source of power found in the human body?

Brahman is the Self in the human body

Prana (breath) is a life-force

Brahman, states sage Pippala in the text, indeed is the Prana (breath, life-force) and is the Atma (soul). The self’s form is the shining Brahman that resides in one’s body giving it a glow, and which controls everything. The Brahman is Prana, and the life of the Gods is the vital sensory organs in the human body, their beginning and end.

Soul and the human body

Chapter 1 uses many similes using nature to describe how the soul and the human body interact. The Brahman (Atman) leads all these Gods within the human body, and they follow him, asserts the text, in a way similar to bees and queen-bee.

They do and focus on what the Atman wants. He connects a web with them and withdraws within itself like a spider. In a similar way, Prana spreads out into arteries in the temple that is the human body, and also retracts when it wants to. When the human body goes into a deep sleep, the Prana retires, just like the falcon soars to the skies when he wants to and then goes to his nest to retire.

Atman moves to its new abode

Like a caterpillar, which moves from its first grass or leaf abode to the next leaf, and puts its foot forward to get a firm footing there before leaving its original abode; the Atman moves to its new abode yet retains a footing in the sleeping body. The Atman, states the text, is the source of the Vedas and the Gods.

Deussen and Olivelle state that the prose in this chapter and many of the similes are fragments and references to earlier Upanishads, such as Mundaka Upanishad 1.1.7 and 2.2.9, Kaushitaki Upanishad at 4.19, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in section 4.3, and Prashna Upanishad in 2.4.

Principle of non-harm (Ahimsa)

Brahman, as the Atman, expresses himself when the man is awake, he is the bird, the crab, and the lotus. The Atman is the higher and lower Brahman, the one inspiring the principle of non-harm (Ahimsa), imbuing consciousness into the Gods that are sensory organs, he is the swan, and he is the self.

Four states of consciousness

State of wakefulness

Some South Indian versions of the Brahma Upanishad manuscripts begin here. As Purusha, Brahman has four dwellings or seats which are the navel, the heart, the throat, and the head. From these emanate the four aspects through which Brahman is effulgent. These are the state of wakefulness representing God Brahma; the state of dreaming which denotes God Vishnu; the state of “dreamless sleep” that is Rudra’s form; and the “transcendental” imperishable state of Turiyam in which Brahman is supreme.

Supreme Brahman

The Para Brahman (Supreme Brahman) is, states Brahma Upanishad, the same as Aditya, Vishnu, Ishvara, Purusha, Prana (human breath, life force), individual Self (soul), and the “god-filled fire inside the Brahman-city of the human body” where the highest Brahman shines.

The shining Brahman state of the Atman has no worlds or non-worlds, no Vedas nor non-Vedas, neither Gods nor non-gods, no sacrifices nor non-sacrifices, no mother nor father, no non-mother nor non-father, no relatives no non-relatives, no ascetic nor non-ascetics, neither recluse nor non-recluse, and this one highest Brahman is which shines.


This Atman-Brahman lives in the space of one’s heart, but a universe is in it, weaving all we experience. The same soul is ever present in all living creatures; to know this soul through meditation is to become the highest Brahman. This knowledge is liberation, states the Brahma Upanishad. In this spirit, in this heart, in this consciousness it is.


Truth of Yoga

Put away the sacred thread and shear off the tied tuft of hair on your head, states the text, as it begins its discussion of renunciation. Abandon the external rites and rituals, and rest in peace with your soul and pursuit of its wisdom, the one who does so has understood the Vedas. It is this string a yogin, who understands the truth of yoga, should wear.

Knowledge is a sacred thread

It is the hair tuft, knowledge is his sacred thread, knowledge to the renouncer is the highest, states the text. Knowledge is the incomparable means of self-purification, the state of purity, the means of purification. 

Fragment from the Shvetashvatara

The Brahma Upanishad then references and includes a fragment from the Shvetashvatara Upanishad chapter 6.11:

The one god, hidden in all the beings,
all-pervading, inner soul of all,
the observer of works, abode of all beings,
witness, knower, alone, without Guṇas. — Brahma Upanishad Chapter 3


The sage is within, one’s own soul, and those who know this have eternal peace, asserts the text. One should make one’s Self a lower churn stick (fire stick), the Om the upper churn stick, then rub them through meditation to see the godly latent fire within. 

Through meditation and with such wisdom, asserts the text, one’s soul unites itself with the supreme soul. This journey is twilight worship.

Brahma Upanishad Teachings

Prajnanam Brahma (प्रज्ञानम् ब्रह्म)

Consciousness is Brahman – Brahman is that which is Absolute, fills all space, is complete in itself, to which there is no second, and which is continuously present in everything, from the creator down to the lowest of matter. It, being everywhere, is also in each and every individual. This is the meaning of Prajnanam Brahma occurring in the Aitareya Upanishad.

Ayam Atma Brahma (अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म)

This self is Brahman – This Self is Brahman, which is the substance out of which all things are really made. That which is everywhere is also within us, and what is within us is everywhere. This is called ‘Brahman’, because it is a plenum, fills all space, expands into all existence, and is vast beyond all measure of perception or knowledge. On account of self-luminosity, non-relativity, and universality, Atman and Brahman are the same.

Ayam Atma Brahma (अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म)

This identification of the Self with the Absolute is not any act of bringing together two different natures but is an affirmation that absoluteness or universality includes everything, and there is nothing outside it.

Tat Tvam Asi (तत् त्वम् असि)

Thou art That, You are the one – The term Tvam stands for that which is in the innermost recesses of the student or the aspirant, but which is transcendent to the intellect, mind, senses, etc., and is the real ‘I’ of the student addressed in the teaching. The union of Tat and Tvam is by the term Asi or are.

Tat Tvam Asi (तत् त्वम् असि)

That Reality is remote is a misconception, which is removed by the instruction that it is within one’s own self. The erroneous notion that the Self is limited is dispelled by the instruction that it is the same as Reality.

Aham Brahma Asmi (अहम् ब्रह्म अस्मि)

I am Brahman, I am Divine – In the sentence, ‘ Aham Brahmasmi,’ or I am Brahman, the ‘I’ is that which is the One Witnessing Consciousness, standing apart from even the intellect, different from the ego-principle, and shining through every act of thinking and feeling. This dictum is from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

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Because of the above, I am confident that you have learned in-depth about Brahma Upanishad.  chronology, anthology, structure, contents, atman, brahman, teachings, etc. Now, that you have become self-sufficient in knowing the importance of Chandogya Upanishad, henceforth, I believe that you will be adopting the values of such unique knowledge.

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Frequently asked questions

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What is Brahma Upanishad?

Brahma Upanishad is an ancient Sanskrit text and one of the minor Upanishads of Hinduism. The text has been one of the important Upanishads dealing with Hindu renunciation traditions.

What is the chronology of Brahma Upanishad?

Textual references and literary style suggest that this Hindu text is ancient, composed before the Ashrama Upanishad, dated to the 3rd century CE.

Which is the important teaching of Brahma Upanishad?

I am Brahman, I am Divine – In the sentence, ‘ Aham Brahmasmi,’ or I am Brahman, the ‘I’ is that which is the One Witnessing Consciousness, standing apart from even the intellect, different from the ego-principle, and shining through every act of thinking and feeling. This dictum is from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.




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