The pAshupata-brahmopaniShat (pAshupata brahma [brAhmaNo] upaniShad; PBU)
The PBU (known as pAshupata-brahmopaniShat or pAshupata brAhmaNopaniShat) is a somewhat neglected upaniShad, which is usually classified as a yoga upaniShad. As is usual of several later upaniShad-s it is attributed to the brahma-veda. The only commentary in my possession is the vivaraNa of upaniShad brahmayogin who mainly comments from a post-sha~Nkara advaita angle. Of course the use of the term advaitaM in the uttara-kANDa of the upaniShad is taken to be congruent with the sense used in the sha~Nkara tradition. A systematic study of the relative ages of the yoga upaniShad-s is a desideratum, and in this regard one of the most obvious questions is the relative age of the PBU. Other questions of interest which arise are: 1) Is there anything of interest about its name? 2) Is the PBU a pure yoga upaniShad or does it have relationship with the shaiva yoga? 3) Does it have any relationship with the lineage of shaiva-s known as kApAlika-s? 4) Are the salient features of the yoga doctrine related to any other well-characterized yoga doctrines?
-Basic structure and possible markers of relative age
The text has two distinctive parts — the pUrva kANDa comprised of 32 verses whereas the uttara kANDa of 46 verses. On account of the distinctness of the contents and the language of the two parts, they appear to represent two different temporal layers in which the upaniShad was composed. The first part is largely in prose that is reminiscent of the brAhmaNa-s from which the classical upaniShad-s have been drawn. However, it alludes to the classical trinity and identifies them with the three guNa-s of sAMkhya-yoga, which suggests that the work is not of core vedic provenance. Nevertheless, it could belong to the early post-vedic period, when brAhmaNa-like works were still being composed. The references to the trinity followed by indra is reminiscent of another text, the nArAyana valli (also considered an upaniShat), of the late taittirIya tradition, which also has early yoga concepts. Thus, these two texts could belong to a similar temporal layer. The conscious imitation of the brAhmaNa style is further consistent with subject matter of the pUrva kANDa being modeled after the discussion of shrauta rituals, with which it shows a clear familiarity. The pUrva-kANDa homologizes yoga with the vedic rituals and presents them as internal versions of the shrauta rites. Such homologization of shrauta rites with other activities and events, for example war, is a key feature of the core narrative of the mahAbhArata (see also the whole sabhA parvan of the bhArata) this might suggest that the PBU pUrva kANDa might be coeval with the composition of the core bhArata. Thus we could place these texts as part of the early post-vedic-epic layer of compositions. Thus at least the PBU pUrva-kANDa appears to be a good candidate for an early yoga upaniShad that emerged within the usual mImAMsa context in which the classical upaniShad arose. The uttara kANDa in contrast is dominated by verses in the shloka anuShTubh meter. It is also disconnected from the first part which is a lecture of brahmA svayaMbhU to the vAlakhilya. The first part ends with a “sa evaM veda”. The uttara-kANDa also aligns itself closer to classical vedAnta. This part hence appears to be a later accretion.
-The name and relationship to the atharva-veda.
Given the brAhmaNa-like structure of the pUrva-kANDa and its tendency to use shrauta ritual models it is possible that name brahma or brAhmaNa in its name is an allusion to it being a brAhmaNa text [an imitation of a brAhmaNa text is also seen in another yoga upaniShad with a similar name: the maNDala-brAhmaNopaniShad]. It is also possible that the brahma comes from the brahmA svayambhU who delivers the lecture comprising the pUrvopaniShad. It might also come from the link to the atharva, i.e. brahmaveda. The link to the atharvaveda in this case might be more than the usual apocryphal allusion seen in late upaniShad-s. Firstly, the gopatha brAhmaNa of the atharvaveda records the internalization of the darsha-pUrNamAsa sacrifice in the brahmodya contest of uddAlaka AruNi and svaidAyana shaunaka (pUrva brAhmaNa 3.6-10), which provides a model for the internalization of ritual. Secondly, the PBU explicitly identifies the deity of the internal yAga as rudra-pashupati even as indra is the deity of the external vAjapeya ritual (PBU 1.11 and 1.29; “rudro yAga-devaH” and “devatA pashupatiH”). One of the earliest ritual texts of the original pAshupata-s, which specifies the archaic pAshupata vrata is linked to the atharvavedic tradition and occurs as an AV parishiShTha. This connection to the AV is also further strengthened by two other major shaiva upaniShad-s i.e. nIlarudra (drawn from the AV paippalAda saMhitA) and the atharvashiras, which are linked to the early pAshupata tradition. Thus, both the template for the PBU and its pAshupata connection might be drawn from the larger late AV tradition.
-yoga or shaiva upaniShad and connections with the “vedic” pAshupata tradition
The classification of the PBU as a yoga upaniShad is reasonable because the primary focus of the upaniShad is the prescription of a specialized yogic practice termed haMsArka-praNava-dhyAnaM, which described using shrauta rituals as a model. While yoga is its primary focus, both the pUrva kANDa and the uttara KANDa explicitly declare rudra-pashupati to be the deity of the internal yAga and the object of meditation, making its shaiva affinities also apparent. This connection between the yoga of haMsa and rudra appears to be a persistent one – it is alluded to in some of the other yoga upaniShad-s such as the haMsopaniShad and the brahmavidyopaniShad that cover related topics pertaining to haMsa. For example, the brahmavidyopaniShad states:
“haMsa eva paraM vAkyaM haMsa eva tu vaidikam |
haMsa eva paro rudro haMsa eva parAtparam || BVU 61 ||”
“sarvadevasya madhyastho haMsa eva maheshvaraH | BVU 61a”
The haMsopaniShad is presented as the knowledge emerging from a conversation of shiva (pinAkin) and pArvati (HU 2). In the dhyAna of haMsa too explicitly connects it to the form of rudra:
agnIShomau pakShAv-oMkAraH shira ukAro bindus-tri-NetraM mukhaM
rudro rudrANI charaNau dvividhaM kaNThataH kuryAd ity-unmanAH ajapopasaMhAra ity-abhidhIyate || evaM haMsa-vashAnmano vichAryate || HU 14-15 ||
[Here upaniShad brahmyogin in his gloss states that interpretation is “face is rudra and rudrANI and ga~NgA (not in the text) are the two feet (!)”. It is more likely that rudra and rudrANI are the two feet and the three eyed face is formed by the ukAra and bindu of the praNava. In any case the haMsa is conceived in the form of the three-eyed shiva]. In the final verse of the hamsopaniShad the Atman(=brahman) is again described as sadAshivaH shaktyAtmA, which the brahmayogin interprets as the deity sadAshiva.
However, it is amply clear that the brahmavidyopaniShad are hamsopaniShad much later than the PBU. They already show distinct developments of the tantric mantra-mArga (the haM sauM mantra in HU 12) and the post-matsyendra kaula and haTha yoga system (e.g. kuNDalini in BVU 74 and the baddha-mudra and granthi bheda in BVU 68-71). These features are absent in the PBU and conversely the BVU and HU do not contain specific vedic ritual references of the PBU beyond generally conforming to vedic norms or generally mentioning the vedic saMhitA-s. Thus, we consider the PBU an earlier upaniShad of the yoga stream closer to the vedic period and preceding the rise of the mantra-mArga, and classical kaula and haTha-yoga practices.
This would put it in the general milieu of the non-mantra-mArga shaiva-s, i.e. the pAshupata-s, who showed a strong affinity to yoga, and along with their mantra-mArga saiddhAntika successors tended to conform closely to the vedic norms (something seen across the 3 steps of pAshupata development: early pAshupata-s>lAkulIsha-s>kAlAmukhas). However, if we take the surviving texts of these classical pAshupata-s we see no such close adherence to sacrificial terminology as in the PBU, despite closely conforming to the veda (in fact, such divergence might even be seen in the early pAshupata upaniShad the atharvashiras). This leads us to another highly misunderstood lineage of pAshupata-s – the kApAlika-s [Most students of shaiva lore, including myself, have been much confused by the actual status of the kApAlika-s, just as the mlechCha historian Lorenzen and the A~NgalIka mahApaNDita Sanderson once were]. The evidence of the sarva-siddhAnta viveka [footnote 1] suggests that like the polemical accounts the kApAlika-s were indeed skull-bearing graveyard rangers (note kShemendra’s account of kApAlika-s “pitR^i-vana-vAso mAlA narAsthibhiH… pAtraM kapAlam…”). However, it importantly points out that they were pAshupata-s just like the kAlAmukhas (i.e. successors of the lAkulIsha-s) and not followers of mantra-mArga (i.e. mAmsa- and mada-using bhairavAcharins and bhUtAcharins, with whom they were often colloquially conflated). More relevant to the current point, the SSV suggests that they actually identified with the vedic rudra and recited the litanies used in shrauta sacrifices as they wandered with the skull in their hand. They also observed daily saMdhya rites like other pAshupata-s. This important piece of evidence is consistent with their brAhmaNa origins and suggests that they were indeed affiliated with the vedic ritual – probably initially performing it externally and then internalizing it as a part of their shaiva practice.
Another enigmatic group of late-surviving pAshupata-s from the drAviDa country also shows specific associations with the vedic sacrificial traditions. The only record of these pAshupata-s appears to be in the connection of inscription 135 at the jambukeshvaraM temple related to a locally powerful tevar and his lineage of brahminical teachers. The pAshupata guru-s associated with this temple from the late Vijayanagaran period (~1584 CE– veNkaTa-I’s reign) were makhin-s performing soma sacrifices and householders. While there is no explicitly stated connection with kApAlika-s, the pattern of vedic sacrifices among these pAshupata makhin-s of jambukeshvaraM resembles what is known for the kApAlika-s. These observations suggest that within the generally veda-conforming pAshupata-s there were groups, which actually performed vedic rituals externally and also internalized. The divergence of the kApAlika-s from the other pAshupata-s appears to have happened before the 600s of CE as suggested by the Chattisgarh inscription and the allusion in the akulavIra tantra. Hence, we suspect that the PBU actually represent an early tradition amongst the vedic ritual-performing pAshupata-s from who the kApAlikas and perhaps other “shrauta” pAshupata-s emerged.
-yoga of the PBU
The general ideas of the PBU appear to be developments of those found in earlier genuinely vedic upaniShad-s. Several of these ideas also continue to exist in much later yoga upaniShad-s. Firstly, brahmA’s form is stated to be universal- sun, moon, light, planets, stars and other celestial objects. Then the OM-kAra with its 3-fold form is said to be the devatA of brahmA. We also see the concept of the mAtR^ikA-s comprising the universe – this is a concept much developed in the tantra-s. The OM-kAra, which is the devatA of brahmA is thus the essence of the mAtR^ika-s and the universe. We also observe in the PBU the sAMkhya elements that tend to be associated with yoga from an early period – The trinity and other deities are identified with sAMkhya guNas: rudra=tamas; brahmA=rajas; viShNu=sattva; indra and the gods= rajas+sattva.
The main principle the PBU expounds is that of haMsa and its meditation. haMsa is an ancient holy bird with which several deva-s, namely indra, ashvin-s, marut-s, uShA-s and bR^ihaspati are identified in the RV. But even in the RV the principle of the haMsa as the pervader is stated in the famous R^ik of vAmadeva gautama (RV 4.40.5). This R^ik is cited again in the kaTha upaniShad 5.2 in a sense of haMsa as the pervading prANa or Atman. This is also developed in the bR^ihadAraNyaka upaniShad 4.3.11-12 and extensively in the early shaiva upaniShad the shvetAshvatara (SU 1.6, 3.18, 6.15). In the vedic soma sacrifice there is an important shastra recitation of the hotar that is learned secretly only by the erudite shrauta ritualists. This recitation has several modifications with insertions of OM-kAras of the famous haMsa R^ik. In it the haMsa is said to be in the light, pervading the atmosphere, the hotar performing the rite in the vedi, the guests of the sadas (duroNa), the men, the space (vyoman), the sky, the reality, the waters, the rocks etc as the natural order (R^ita). The PBU internalizes this ancient principle of haMsa by suggesting that haMsa is [pervades] the mind, is the self (the Ajapa mantra: so.ahaM haMsaH) and the transformations [occuring] in haMsa is jIva. This is described as a yAga, which is an enquiry into the nAda.
Though in general hindu parlance the term kApAlika is taken to mean a kapAla-bearing shaiva sAdhaka belonging to the bhUta or bhairava streams of mantra-mArga, in a strict sense the kApAlika-s are defined as a group of a pAshupata-s adhering to a text/s termed the soma-siddhAnta. Some inscriptional evidence supports the kApAlikas being veda-following brAhmaNa-s with pure pAshupata rather than mantra-mArga affiliation. Consistent with this we get further clues from a Tamil work, named j~nAnAvaraNa viLLakaM from the 1600s, uncovered by the reputed south Indian archaeologist R. Nagaswamy. This work in turn cites an even earlier Sanskrit treatise named the sarva-siddhAnta viveka (SSV) from which it draws its material about different sects. We have a reliable choLa inscription from 1175 CE recording a kApAlika AchArya vagIsha bhaTTa from the Tamil country who followed the somasiddhAnta. Thus, the SSV was close enough to the period when the kApAlika sect was still alive to actually record its traditions.