Kaivalya Upanishad Is Path To Liberation

The Kaivalya Upanishad (कैवल्य उपनिषत्) is an ancient Sanskrit text and one of the minor Upanishads of Hinduism. It is classified as a Shaiva Upanishad and survives into modern times in two versions, one attached to the Krishna Yajurveda and the other attached to the Atharvaveda. It is, as an Upanishad, a part of the corpus of Vedanta literature collection that presents the philosophical concepts of Hinduism. The Upanishad extols Shiva, aloneness, and renunciation, and describes the inner state of man in his personal spiritual journey detached from the world. The text is notable for presenting Shaivism in Vedanta, discussing Atman (Self) and its relation to Brahman, and Self-knowledge as the path to kaivalya (liberation). 

Kaivalya Upanishad Meaning

The Sanskrit word Kaivalya means “aloneness, isolation”, and refers to someone who has renounced and isolated himself from all attachments to worldly desires. It also refers to “the absoluteness”, states Deussen, the inner conviction of a man on a spiritual journey to liberationThe term Upanishad means it is knowledge or “hidden doctrine” text that belongs to the corpus of Vedanta literature collection presenting the philosophical concepts of Hinduism and considered the highest purpose of its scripture, the Vedas.

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Kaivalya Means “Aloneness, Isolation”, and Upanishad Means it is Knowledge or “Hidden Doctrine”.

Kaivalya Upanishad Chronology

The Kaivalya Upanishad, remarks Deussen, is from the group of five Upanishads which extol and assert God Shiva as a symbol for Atman (Self). These five Upanishads – Atharvashiras, Atharvashikha, Nilarudra, Kalagnirudra, and Kaivalya – are ancient, with Nilarudra likely the oldest and Kaivalya the relatively later era 1st millennium BCE Upanishad, composed closer to:

The manuscripts of this minor Upanishad are sometimes attached to the Krishna Yajurveda or alternatively attached to the Atharvaveda. In the Muktika canon, narrated by Rama to Hanuman, this Shaiva Upanishad is listed as 12th in the anthology of 108 Upanishads. The text is also titled the Kaivalyopanishad.

Structure of Kaivalya Upanishad

The Kaivalya Upanishad manuscripts vary, depending on which Veda it is attached to. The one attached to Krishna Yajurveda has 26 verses, while the edition attached to the Atharvaveda has 24 verses with an epilogue. Both convey the same message, but the former is structured as a single chapter, and the latter into two chapters (19 verses in the first, 5 verses in the second). The text is structured as verses, set to a poetic Vedic meter (exactly the same number of syllables per verse of the song).

{resented as a discourse

The Upanishad is presented as a discourse between the Vedic sage Ashvalayana and the God Brahma, wherein the Ashvalayana asks Brahma for Brahma-vidya, which is the knowledge of the ultimate reality Brahman.

Verses from early Principal Upanishads

The Upanishad’s structure is notable as it embeds key parts of verses from early Principal Upanishads, thus referencing them and yet building its own message. The fragments of earlier major Upanishads it thus integrates within it, include Mundaka Upanishad and Shvetashvatara Upanishad.

Shaivism with Vedanta terminology

The text is also notable for presenting Shaivism with Vedanta terminology, discussing the relationship of Atman (Self) and Brahman (ultimate Reality), and Self-knowledge as the means to Kaivalya (liberation). The text describes the self-realized man as one who “feels only as the one divine essence that lives in all”, who feels the identity of his and everyone’s consciousness with Shiva (the highest Self), who has found this highest Self within, in the depths of his heart.

Kaivalya Upanishad Content

The setting: Ashvalayana and Brahma (verses 1-2)

The Upanishad opens with sage Ashvalayana meeting Brahma, the creator God in Hindu Trimurti. Ashvalayana is a revered Vedic sage, mentioned in the Rigveda, a student of the ancient grammarian Shaunaka, and belonging to the Hindu tradition of forest hermits who wander. Ashvalayana, states the text, asks Paramesthi (synonym for Brahma) for Brahmavidya, which Ashvalyana calls “the highest knowledge, always cultivated by the good”, one that enables to reach the person who is greater than the great. This verse references a fragment from section 3.2 of the Mundaka Upanishad.

Brahma answers, asserting verse 2 of the Upanishad, “Seek knowledge with Sraddha-bhakti-dhyana-yogadavehi (faith, devotion, meditation in yoga), not ritual works, not wealth, not offsprings”. Aloneness and renunciation, states the text, is the path to the life of eternity.

Brahma’s answer: Grasp Vedanta doctrine (verses 3-5)

Beyond heaven, in the heart, that which shines within, states Brahma in verse 3 of the Kaivalya Upanishad, is the destination of those who have understood the meaning of Vedanta doctrine. There, states the text, all the sannyasis (renunciates) who have reached that wisdom reside, in the state of pure being. The Upanishad says, seclusion is their place, enthroned is their joy, and calm is their Yoga.

These are the ones, asserts the Upanishad, who revere their teachers (Guru), who live a life of virtuous self-restraint, in their Ashrama (stage) of life. These are the ones who meditate, states the text, their focus on their heart, wherein resides the pure one, the griefless, the bliss.

Verse 4 references a fragment each from section 3.2 of the Mundaka Upanishad, and section 2.8 of the Shvetashvatara Upanishad.

Meditate on Shiva: He, Brahman, Indra, and Vishnu are the same (verses 6-9)

The text then iconographically paints the God Shiva, as the one who is the companion of Uma, with three eyes, a blue neck, and the calm wonderful lord imbued with intelligence and bliss, the source of everything. It is this supreme lord, states the text, one must meditate on, asserts verse 7.

This supreme, states Kaivalya Upanishad, is the eternal, the all-pervading, formless, unmanifest, infinite, inconceivable, one without beginning or middle or end, one which is chidananda (“consciousness-bliss”). He is, states the Upanishad:

  • Brahman,
  • Shiva,
  • Indra,
  • Vishnu, 
  • Prana (life force, breath),
  • Fire, and moon (time, lunar calendar).

Eternity is him, states the text, all that originated in him, all that originates in him. Know him, find liberation, there is no other way, states verse 9.

Meditate on Om: the three states of consciousness (verses 10-15)

The Kaivalya Upanishad asserts that one must see “his Atman (Self) in all beings, and all beings in his Atman” to attain salvation, there is no other way.

In verse 11, the text makes a reference to a fragment from section 1.14 of the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, to metaphorically describe how to gain this knowledge. Making his own Self as the lower fire stick and Om the upper fire stick, states the Kaivalya Upanishad, one must rub these together, light up the fire of knowledge, and burn the ties to ignorance.

Jiva (being) immersed in Maya (changing reality, illusive world) craves for worldly greed, performs karoti (Sanskrit: करोति, ritual works), and enjoys bodily pleasures like women, food, drink, and pleasures. This, states the text, gives him satisfaction in his wakeful state, in a dream as he sleeps his Self fashions a dream world of joys and nightmares, but this is all deception. True bliss, states the text, comes in the third state of consciousness. It is, states the text, the third state, everything comes to rest, in whole, in peace, in bliss.

Shiva, Brahman is within you (verses 16-17)

According to Chester Starr, a professor of history, the next two verses of the Upanishad crystallize the ancient Hindu thought. Man has an Atman (spirit) identical to the great spirit of the world, repeated in its great Upanishadic saying, “That art thou,” or God is within man.

Verse 17 of the text repeats, that all three states, experienced when one is awake, when one dreams, and when one is in deep dreamless sleep, are illuminated therein. “Know yourself to be that Brahman”, translates Deussen, and experience liberation.

The State of Liberation (verses 18-24)

The text, in verses 18 to 24 describes the state of the liberated renouncer. The Upanishad states he is blissful, content in all three states of consciousness feels everything was born in him and abides in him and dissolves in him, that he is Brahman that is in everyone, he is Sadashiva, ancient, diverse, spiritual, with the gift to know eternity.

The liberated renouncer feels he is the knower, the perceiver, the one to learn the Vedas, the one to perfect the Vedas, states verse 22 of the text. He feels his essence is beyond good and bad, beyond body and mind, beyond merit and demerits, beyond what perishes, asserts the text. The liberated man, states the Upanishad, has found the highest Atman in his heart.


In the end, the glories of reciting the Kaivalya Upanishad are told. Recitation of this Upanishad, asserts the epilogue, frees one of the various sins, end the cycle of samsara (birth-death-rebirth), and gains Supreme Knowledge and kaivalya.

The style of the text’s epilogue, that is the concluding verses, is odd and different from the rest of the text. This structural anomaly, as well as the very different message therein, states Deussen, suggests that the passage on the “study of Satarudriyam and all sorts of promises” may be a later insertion or an accident of extraction from the Vedic text in which this Upanishad was embedded.

Kaivalya Upanishad, el conocimiento de lo absoluto y el aislamiento en Shiva... » YogaNidraMX
Contents of Kaivalya Upanishad

Kaivalya Upanishad Commentaries

Commentaries on the Kaivalya Upanishad are written by Sadasiva Brahmendra, Upanishad Brahmayogin (c. 1800 CE), and Osho (1931 – 1990). An incomplete commentary, which includes only the first verse, by Aurobindo was written in 1912 and first published in 1971. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan translated this text in 1953.

Kaivalya Upanishad Teachings

Purpose of the introduction

The purpose of the introduction of the Kaivalya Upanishad was to summarize the main points of the Upanishad. Vedas, the primary scriptures, are classified as 1) Vedapurvaha, meaning the beginning portion of Vedas, and 2) Vedanta, meaning the ending portion of Vedas.  Vedapurvaha deals with Karma or action or Karma-Kanda, also considered a ritualistic portion of Vedas. The ritualistic actions are of different types, depending upon the instruments used. Thus, there are:

Kayika Karmani

These are physical actions backed by words and thoughts. Many Yagas and Yagyas fall under this category.

Vachika Karmani

Here physical human body does not play a role. It is mainly spoken or oral activity. Chanting of Vedas, Parayanams including Nama Japam fall under this category.  Once it has the status of Karma, it will also result in a Phalam. This is the reason all mantras have a Phala Sruthi.  Jata Patha, Samhitha (Brahma samhita), and Ghana Patha are all Vedic chants. Vishnu Sahasranama, Rudram, Shri Suktam, and Saundarya Lahari are examples of chants that come under Vachika karmani. They all produce results for the chanter as well as for people listening to it.

Manas Karmani

This is the third type of Karma. Here it is a purely mental activity, directing thought to a field or an object. The chanting of mantras performed mentally becomes a Manas Karmani.  Nama Japam also can fall under this category. Puja is a ritual. However, when performed mentally it is also Manas Karma. Mental Activities are of many types. In fact, you can do an entire Puja or Sandhya Vandanam mentally; this is called Manasa Puja (mental ritual). Whatever you do physically, you can do the same mentally.   In Dhyana Shloka, when you visualize the Devatha, this also is Manas Karmani.  Manas Karma also produces results. 

Three types of defects 

Dukha Mishritatvam

All these pleasures are mixed with pain also. They are not unalloyed pleasures. While the pleasure is higher so is the competition. Accomplishing an object is not enough. One has to retain it. As the Tennis Ace will say, “Getting to the top of the ATP rankings is easy but retaining it is more difficult”. That is why there are upsets in Sports. Retention is as difficult as an accomplishment.

Someone said: – “First I want Status. Then I want Status Quo”. That Status Quo is almost impossible.

In Sanskrit, the first problem is called “Yoga” – a union problem. And the second problem is called Kshema – “Retention problem”. If Accomplishment involved pain, maintenance involves even more pain. And despite all the efforts taken to maintain the status quo, whatever is accomplished will be lost one day.

And when a loss takes place, despite best efforts, then that is the greatest pain. Therefore, the acquisition is Dukham (pain), preservation is Dukhataram (more pain), and loss is Dukhatamam (highest pain).

Atripti Karatvam

Whatever we accomplish with our actions is going to be finite. The rule is “As the Action, so is the result. Every Action has a proportionate result.” And we know that all actions are finite in nature. Any Karma phalam is therefore going to be finite and no one is going to be happy with finitude. No Karma Phalam will give total satisfaction. It only provides a pseudo satisfaction or Atripthi-karatvam.

A man buys a lottery ticket and gets the first prize as a Cycle. The next day’s lottery’s first prize happens to be a scooter. The man is upset and feels cheated.

Whatever you have, you always think of the next possibility. Other people may be envious of you, but you always feel that something more is possible. Even the richest man thinks he is in the middle class.

Bandha Tatvam

All the Karmas have an enslaving capacity. They all can cause dependence like dependence causing drugs. If you regularly take a sleeping pill to sleep then after some days you cannot sleep without one. A smoker, after some time, becomes a slave of cigarettes and a drunkard of his drink.

Scripture says that if I need Karma Phalam to be happy then I am dependent on it. I need crutches; not necessarily physical crutches but mental Crutches or psychological ones to be happy. Thus, I have progressed from strength to psychological weakness.

Every object has the capacity to bind. Thus, we travel, not from dependence to independence. When analyzed, we are traveling from dependence to greater dependence. And we call this – Success! We call this success because we can order so many things- however, Vedanta says that you are a failure. Why? You are a failure because you are dependent psychologically.

Enter the Lotus of the Heart – Kaivalya Upanishad
Teachings of Kaivalya Upanishad


Because of the above, I am confident that you have learned in-depth about Kaivalya Upanishad, its meaning, chronology, structure, contents, teachings, etc. Now, that you have become self-sufficient in knowing the importance of Kaivalya Upanishad. Henceforth, I believe that you will be adopting the values of such unique knowledge.

After reading this article, how would you rate it? Would you please let me know your precious thoughts? 

Frequently asked questions

Before posting your query, kindly go through the:

What is the meaning of Kaivalya Upanishad?

The Sanskrit word Kaivalya means “aloneness, isolation”, and refers to someone who has renounced and isolated himself from all attachments to worldly desires. It also refers to “the absoluteness”, states Deussen, the inner conviction of a man on a spiritual journey to liberationThe term Upanishad means it is knowledge or “hidden doctrine” text that belongs to the corpus of Vedanta literature collection presenting the philosophical concepts of Hinduism and considered the highest purpose of its scripture, the Vedas.

Which are the five Upanishads discussed in Kaivalya Upanishad?

The five Upanishads are – Atharvashiras, Atharvashikha, Nilarudra, Kalagnirudra, and Kaivalya.


What is Epilogue in Kaivalya Upanishad?

In the end, the glories of reciting the Kaivalya Upanishad are told. Recitation of this Upanishad, asserts the epilogue, frees one of the various sins, end the cycle of samsara (birth-death-rebirth), and gains Supreme Knowledge and kaivalya.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaivalya_Upanishad

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