Uma Instructs the Gods (Kena Upanishad)

Poetry Friday: The Great Year, Shakespeare, Eliot, Blake, Poems on Work & Poems on Mythology Human Voices Wake Us

Earlier this year, I thought it was possible to supplement this podcast with one weekly (and shorter) additional reading over at Substack; for many reasons, that ambition proved impossible to maintain. Since an illness has kept me from recording a new episode this week, I thought it worthwhile collecting those six weeks of shorter readings here: 3 Poems from my long work-in-progress, The Great Year: “The Autumn Village,” “I was in Iceland centuries ago, ” “Smith Looks Up the Long Road” Two readings from Shakespeare: “Of comfort no man speak” (Richard II, act II scene 2), “All the world’s a stage” (As You Like It, act II scene 7) 3 Poems on Work: Philip Levine (1928-2015): “Among Children,” Elma Mitchell (1919-2000), “Thoughts After Ruskin," Mary Robinson (1758-1800), “A London Summer Morning” Favorites from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets Three Poets & Mythology: Eavan Boland (1944-2020), “The Making of an Irish Goddess," Michael Longley (b. 1939) “The Butchers," Robert Pinsky (b. 1940), “The Figured Wheel” Blake & His Animals: Three passages from William Blake (1757-1827): one from Visions of the Daughters of Albion and the last two from Milton. I hope that plucking these three passages from his longer work can suggest how varied—not just how prophetic and opaque, but simply beautiful—so much of his poetry can be. Don’t forget to support Human Voices Wake Us on Substack, where you can also get our newsletter and other extras. You can also support the podcast by ordering any of my books: Notes from the Grid, To the House of the Sun, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old, and Bone Antler Stone. Any comments, or suggestions for readings I should make in later episodes, can be emailed to humanvoiceswakeus1@gmail.com. — Send in a voice message: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/humanvoiceswakeus/message Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/humanvoiceswakeus/support
  1. Poetry Friday: The Great Year, Shakespeare, Eliot, Blake, Poems on Work & Poems on Mythology
  2. Caravaggio's Severed Heads / Herodotus Among the Scythians / Ian McKellen on Macbeth
  3. Raising a Musical Prodigy / God's Response to Job
  4. Seamus Heaney: 10 Essential Poems
  5. Psalm 23 / Mary, Queen of Scots is Executed / 3 Poems by Mary Oliver

And heres one of my favorite bits from the Hindu Upanishads, chapters three and four from the Kena Upanishad. From the translation of Swami Nikhilananda:

Brahman, according to the story, obtained a victory for the gods; and by that victory of Brahman the gods became elated. They said to themselves: “Verily, this victory is ours; verily, this glory is ours only.”

Brahman, to be sure, understood it all and appeared before them. But they did not know who that adorable Spirit was.

They said to Agni (Fire): “O Agni! Find out who this great Spirit is.” “Yes,” he said, and hastened to It. Brahman asked him: “Who are you?” He replied: “I am known as Agni; I am also called Jataveda.” Brahman said: “What power is in you, who are so well known?” Fire replied: “I can burn all-whatever there is on earth.” Brahman put a straw before him and said: “Burn this.” He rushed toward it with all his ardour but could not burn it. Then he returned from the Spirit and said to the gods: “I could not find out who this Spirit is,”

Then they said to Vayu (Air): “O Vayu! Find out who this great Spirit is.” “Yes,” he said, and hastened to It. Brahman asked him: “Who are you?” He replied “I am known as Vayu; I am also called Matarisva.” Brahman said: “What power is in you, who are so well known?” Vayu replied: “I can carry off all-whatever there is on earth.” Brahman put a straw before him and said: “Carry this.” He rushed toward it with all his ardour but could not move it. Then he returned from the Spirit and said to the gods: “I could not find out who this Spirit is,”

Then the gods said to Indra: “O Maghavan! Find out who this great Spirit is.” “Yes,” he said and hastened to It. But the Spirit disappeared from him. Then Indra beheld in that very region of the sky a Woman highly adorned. She was Uma, the daughter of the Himalayas. He approached Her and said: “Who is this great Spirit?”

She replied: “It is, indeed, Brahman. Through the victory of Brahman alone have you attained glory.” After that Indra understood that It was Brahman.

Since they approached very near Brahman and were the first to know that It was Brahman, these devas, namely, Agni, Vayu, and Indra, excelled the other gods.

Since Indra approached Brahman nearest, and since he was the first to know that It was Brahman, Indra excelled the other gods.

This is the instruction about Brahman with regard to the gods: It is like a flash of lightning; It is like a wink of the eye.

Now the instruction about Brahman with regard to the individual self: The mind, as it were, goes to Brahman. The seeker, by means of the mind, communes with It intimately again and again. This should be the volition of his mind.

That Brahman is called Tadvana, the Adorable of all; It should be worshipped by the name of Tadvana. All creatures desire him who worships Brahman thus.

The disciple said; “Teach me, sir, the Upanishad.” The preceptor replied: “I have already told you the Upanishad. I have certainly told you the Upanishad about Brahman.”

Austerities, self-restraint, and sacrificial rites are Its feet, and the Vedas are all Its limbs. Truth is Its abode.

He who thus knows this Upanishad shakes off all sins and becomes firmly established in the infinite and the highest Heaven, yea, the highest Heaven.

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