Vidyas in the Upanishads

The Upanishads, besides delineating various spiritual experiences, also give a few hints on sadhana, i.e., paths of spiritual realization. These methods of sadhana are called vidyas. This post outlines this in brief.

According to Kapali Sastry[1], the Vidyas correspond to the many possible ways of approach to the Reality and also to the varying temperament and fitness of the aspirants.   They delineated the many ways of attaining to the Brahman and were naturally different depending upon what aspect of that Supreme Reality they sought to realise and dwelt upon – Brahman with Qualities, saguna, or without them, nirguna, Brahman as the Self, Purusha, Atman or as Consciousness in its diverse manifestations or as Bliss. The Vidyas were known either by terms expressive of their central features (e.g. Prana Vidya, Udgitha, Dahara, Vaishvanara) or after the Teacher (e.g. Shandilya Vidya, Satyakama Vidya) who expounded them or even after the disciple who first pursued the Vidya with notable results (e.g. Bhargavi Varuni Vidya, Upakosala Vidya, Balaki Vidya).

There are no detailed procedures given on these Vidyas but only general instructions.   These sadhanas, these methods of approach were transmitted by the Master to the disciple through subtle means (i.e. thought transference) and verbal instruction when necessary at all to accompany the initiation given was either not recorded or only briefly hinted at in these Scriptures.  And this is so because the real sadhana, begins with initiation and not with oral instruction though the latter may be in some cases helpful giving just a sort of mental satisfaction.  The actual and definite working out of the sadhana takes place only when the would-be-sadhaka receives the help, the influence, the power from some source human or Divine or more truly from the Divine in the human.  The teacher who was always a seer admitted the disciple for initiation on being convinced of his fitness for receiving the Vidya.  He trained him for the life, put into him the necessary seed of realisation, allowed it to grow and bear fruit in the right season. Thus these Brahma-Vidyas were communicated in silence through the influence and example of the Guru, rather than through precept which occupied a brief and formal place in the scheme of the spiritual culture of these ancients.

This is a summary of five of these Vidyas from the texts of M.P Pandit, Kapali Sastry and Swami Brahmananda.

Bhuma Vidya (Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.2)

Bhuma means the Vast Self.  The discipline aims at the realisation of the Infinite Self beyond the Creation. The Bhuma Vidya starts with a strong and constant remembrance, dhruva smrti, an intuition – not the same as realisation – earned by purification of the stuff of the instrumental being, sattva suddhi, which is the same as dhatuprasada, crystalline purity of the temperament.

Prana Vidya (Chandogya Upanishad 5.2.3, 7.15, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.5.11-23, Kaushitaki Upanishad Chap 2 and 3):

Prana Vidya is NOT Prayanama!  In this Vidya, one must develop consciousness of the Universe as Creative Energy (Prana).  Life-energy has to meditated upon in three aspects: one’s own body(adhyatmika), the universe(adhibhautika) and the celestials(adhidaivika).   In the first stage, one must develop awareness for the Life-energy as it flows through the body, energizes the senses,  invigorates the mind and upholds the past in the form of memory.  In the second stage, one must become conscious of the Life-energy which pervades and sustains plants, animals, life on earth and extend the movement further to encompass the orbits of the planets, the sun and other celestial bodies.   One must see that it is the same energy which upholds the higher and lower holds – the whole Creation.   Lastly, one must realize that which stands behind this Life-energy – and that is the Divine in the form of Conscious Force (Chit-Shakti).

Shandilya Vidya (Chandogya Upanishad 3.14):

In this Vidya, the soul is envisaged as Spirit in its relation to its embodiment in life, to its encasement in mind as well as to its Source, Support, Power and Light in the all-pervading Purusha. It is the most comprehensive of all the Sadhanas and begins with the centre of the Spirit as soul, the seat of God the heart; it takes a survey of and aims at the realization of the All Spirit becoming the soul in each.

Madhu Vidya (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.5):

Madhu means honey.  This Vidya aims to realize the Universe as a creation of Bliss.  Beneath the triple sensations of pain, pleasure and indifference lies the sensation of Bliss.  During the practice of Yoga, at some point the Purusha (soul) disengages from Prakriti (body) and then one stands apart and gains indifference from the sensations.  When the Sun of higher consciousness establishes itself in the body, it unleashes the rays of fire which illumine everything within.  This power floods the senses with the nectar of Soma juice and then all contacts are turned into a feeling of bliss.

Vaishvanara Vidya (Chandogya Upanishad 5.11-18, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.9)

Vaishvarana means the Universal Spirit or Cosmic Self.  Vishwa=all and Nara=self.   One must realize the unity between the Fire within oneself, the psychic being or Agni, and the Universal Being.  One sees that the food one eats is an offering to the Universal Spirit.

Klaus G. Witz [3] has tabulated many other Vidyas from the various Upanishads.

Name of Vidya


Uddalaka Antaryami

Brihad III.7.1


Brihad III.8.8

Jyotisam Jyotir

Brihad IV.4.16

Usasta Kahola

Brihad IV.4.2


Brihad IV.5.6

Satya Brahma

Brihad V.4, Brihad V.5.2


Chandogya VIII.7.1


Chandogya I.3.9, Brihad I.3


Chandogya I.6.6


Chandogya III.1.1


Chandogya III.12.1.

Parajyotir or Kaukseya jyotir

Chandogya III.13.7


Chandogya III.14.1


Chandogya IV.10.5


Chandogya IV.15.1

Aksiri Satyabrahma

Chandogya IV.15.1, Brihad V.5.2


Chandogya IV.3.1


Chandogya IV.5.9


Chandogya V.1.1


Chandogya V.10


Chandogya V.18.1

Sat Vidya

Chandogya VI.2.1


Chandogya VII.23.1


Chandogya VIII.1.1


Chandogya VIII.14.1

Isha Up Vidya

Isha 15-16


Katha III.2


Katha IV.12, Svet V.8


Kaus I


Kaus I.1


Kaus IV.18


Mundaka I.1.5

Parama Purusha

Prasna V.5


Taittiriya II.1.1

Sriman Nyasa

TaittNarayaniya 79


  1. Kapali Sastry. Lights on the Upanishads
  2. M.P Pandit.  Wisdom of the Upanishads (amazon)
  3. Klaus G. Witz. The Supreme Wisdom of the Upanishads, p 202 Google Book Page
  4. Swami BrahmanandaThe Supreme Knowledge: Revealed Through Vidyas in the Upanishads (amazon)

15 thoughts on “Vidyas in the Upanishads

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  3. Pingback: Vidyas in the Upanishads – part 2 « Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  4. kalpana

    Thanks. Yes have been reading and re-reading these – so rich in meaning and inspiration!
    Swami Krishnananda’s explanations are deep but at the same time the style is accessible and clear.
    Especially Sri Aurobindo on the Isha – bringing a new light and more appropriate on the meanings of the words.

    Brhada. Upan. is also at another level a delight to read, because of the conversational style – and amusing to read how one annoying questioner got treated by the sage! [ Thankfully, Sri Aurobindo was more patient with his disciples questions]. To lose the mind maybe desirable, but not the head.

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  9. Al

    My interpretation of the Panchagni Vidya in 2001 under the auspices of Swami Krishnananda Guruji.

    To Swami Jyotirmayananda

    Vaishvanara Vidya
    (Panchagni Vidya)
    (Bhuma Vidya)

    “The practice of meditation on Brahman, the wise cognizer,
    Means reflection on It, talking about It, mutually producing
    Logical arguments about It – thus to be fully occupied with It alone.”
    Panchadasi VII-106

    You should remove the illusion of duality: an object and a subject
    Notice the interconnectedness of everything.
    This is Yajna, sacrifice.
    Indeed, there is ultimately neither birth nor death,
    If you realize that Reality that does not change.

    Even though the effect is visible and the cause is not,
    The connection of the two phenomena is the key
    To liberation from Samsara-Chakra.
    Dissect the type of knowledge you apply,
    And aiming at the highest,
    Then use the scalpel of the Panchagni Vidya,
    To remove the ignorance, and correct the
    Defect of vision caused by Avidya.
    Who creates our sorrows but we do?
    By disregarding the law of the Universe,
    The miserable ego is born and reborn.

    Oh brethren, realize your connection to the Whole,
    Be brave; do not let the ocean of the world
    Pummel you like a worthless creature, for in you
    Dwell the lion and the swan.
    Do you know what is wrong with you? Do you?
    No, you don’t and there lies the essence of your troubles.
    This discontent you feel is the world subjecting you,
    Snaring you with myriad effects and finitude.
    Hold fast to the Infinite and the pressure disappears,
    Like a mirage in the desert.
    Who tells you that you must die?

    Mere listening of the truth is almost-always not enough,
    For like any other theory forget you will,
    For realization to occur this knowledge must turn into being
    Through practice this Vidya must comprehend the cause
    That no experience can be isolated from another.
    He is not your son, she is no your sister nor she is your mother,
    Neither yours or anybody’s, but the Universe’s,
    Thus Bhramanda is Pindanda, as above, below.
    Mind causes the World-Mind; the latter causes the world that causes you,
    Thus at the end you are caused by Mind.
    This is the all-encompassing, needed meditation on the primal cause.
    You should keep sight of all the parts in this meditation.
    Everything you see, every effect around you bespeaks
    Of a tingling coming from a higher realm,
    A reflection you are, an image, but not the original impression,
    Which is of you in heaven.

    This “Yonder World”, which is Mind is defined as the Void,
    Utterly incomprehensible it is to us spatio-temporal beings,
    From this seemingly void all creation comes forth, in cycles,
    This Void is the primal seed of existence, the sun is traceable to it,
    You must contemplate that celestial realm as a sacrifice, a fire,
    As an integral part of which you are, your actions are oblation to that fire.
    Your actions will decide whether interference or cooperation is caused,
    Whether sacrifice is affected or negative reactions are started,
    Your life ultimately becomes a sacrifice to the eternal fire,
    Invoking, inviting, you elicit a certain and appropriate response,
    However temporal, finite, non-eternal, all together the causes of rebirth.

    This is the description of the descend into the physical embodiment,
    A highly esoteric teaching, not to be taken literally in ultimate detail,
    For in reality physicality is itself an idea, a feeling.
    Like the feeling of having a body and a brain.
    The commonality of images pertains to a common Seer.
    The world does not exist just because when you wake up
    Another tells you so, but because there is a Master-Idea common
    To you and the other, and behind both, that never fails.
    The most recondite corner of the earth, never seen by human or animal,
    Still exists in that master view, so it is said to stand on its own.
    Thus the world is real, not a mere illusion, mentally real it is.

    The Celestial Region, the Atmosphere, the Earth, Man and Woman,
    Are the five fingers of the hand of the Pachagni Vidya meditation.
    A baby is born; everything is born, for better or worse,
    Out of the combination of these five interrelated factors,
    Chained together in cause and effect.
    Repel the illusion of any local, isolated, event,
    See the wisdom of the universality of all occurrences.
    Where are you? You are everywhere.
    To whom you belong? To the universe you belong.
    Do this and that exist? That they do is the source of your bondage,
    As ideas only they exist, but as changing ideas they are not real.

    You should understand that the Real does not change,
    Time and space are mere notions that do not affect It.
    The Real is imperishable, immutable, genuine,
    Ungraspable by your senses It is,
    So you must learn to go beyond your senses.

    What is it that your senses tell you?
    Do they tell you the truth? In a scale of happiness,
    Would you say that one that does what his senses like is totally happy?
    Is the famous pianist that loves his music totally happy?
    Is the great athlete that loves the game he plays totally satisfied?
    Or isn’t the pianist rattled by his music, the athlete rattled by his game?
    Wouldn’t both the pianist and the athlete continue endlessly their play?
    However there is an end to everything here in the sense world,
    Moreover, your senses only give away the tip of an immense reservoir,
    So you are longing for something more and are never really satisfied,
    A bastard you feel and not a legitimate son.

    There is not such a thing as a particular this or that or a body,
    You are fooled by the report of the senses through the intellect,
    First the senses, according to their own restrictions, give impressions,
    Which are now affirmed by the intellect in the mind.
    The original report is wrong by leaving out the invisible causes,
    It happens all the time, every day, at every moment.
    You become the marionette that never knows,
    The glitter of the world blinds you,
    Makes you go hither and thither after an elusive shadow,
    Thinking yourself a separate entity, a willing
    Material manifestation unconscious of your inner self.

    The first sacrifice occurs as Om in the Celestial Heaven,
    Followed by a reverberation felt in the lower regions of the atmosphere,
    This is the second fire, which brings the rain that provides food.
    The third oblation is grosser and manifests as causes in the world.
    Man himself produces the fourth fire by consuming the food,
    Thus energizing himself and getting ready for procreation.
    The last and final oblation is woman united with man,
    Which brings about the birth of a child.
    These are the five fires, they are not individual events,
    The womb of the woman is equal to the womb of nature,
    Every time anything is born this process is followed.

    You should realize that ultimately everything is mental,
    Even this process and this meditation.
    The solidity of an object is a feeling, a sensation.
    There is not such a thing as matter, all is spirit,
    You are everywhere.

    Round earth apparently rotates around the sun at incredible speed,
    But you, standing on the earth, do not feel it.
    Do you fall from the earth surface when you are head down?
    A tree at a distance appears small, however it is much bigger.
    That two persons see the same object does not make the object exist.
    Outside these persons, indeed there is a common seer that sees the object.
    Alas, the object is never outside of mind, and mind is common to both,
    As no one can comprehend a thing outside of himself.
    If A causes B and B causes C, then A causes C,
    However there is only A.

    The attachment to the body of the newly born is such
    That no memory of previous lives are remembered.
    Consciousness becomes a single link of a long chain, now forgotten.
    Mercilessly the play of life through Karma is imposed on this link,
    To be one day finally pushed out as he was previously pushed in.
    Due to perceiving the non-existent, or non-perceiving the Existent,
    The darkness of ignorance (Avidya) cuts the umbilical cord of
    Universality, impressing the stamp of separation, duality, and pain.
    Fortunate is the Jnani who awakens to this knowledge,
    For he does nothing in the face of much toil, apparently busy
    He remains calm and detached from the world.

    But beware of the insidious trap of so-called knowledge,
    For this knowledge is not acquired through reading scriptures.
    Not even by intellectual understanding of these readings wisdom dawns.
    This knowledge literally means “living”, life itself,
    Existence, practice, being; the person you are.
    You are bound to the extent that you are ignorant of the law,
    You are free to the extent that you live and abide by that law.
    So see the whole cosmos in this encompassing meditation,
    Transfer yourself to the Ultimate, the Universal Being,
    As your breath becomes the cosmic Vital Force, as your
    Intelligence transforms into the Cosmic Intelligence.

    Miami, Florida
    Dwapara 301 (2001)

  10. Sudha

    Hello. There is merely a mention and hint about Prana Vidya in Chandogya V.1.1 However, the detailed explanation given by Shri.Kapali Sastry is wonderful. I would like to read the Sanskrit verses from which it was derived. Could you please guide me to them?
    Thanks and regards

    1. Sandeep Post author

      you want to read the original verses from the Upanishads ?
      The Upanishads are available for download in PDF format from various sites.
      You can also search for commentaries on Chandogya

      Sorry, I don’t have time to search.


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