Garbha Upanishad

गभर् उपिनषद्

Garbha Upanishad

Om! May we be protected; may we be nourished; may we act together with energy; may our study be vigorous and effective; may we not mutually dispute. Om! śāntiå, śāntiå, śāntiå.

The body is fivefold in nature (the five elements), existing in the five, depending on the six supports (tastes of food), connected with the six qualities, [consisting of] seven dhātus (tissues), three impurities, having two yonis (sexes), and [nourished by] four kinds of food.

How is it pancātmakam (five-fold)? Because of the five: earth, water, fire, air and ether. In this five-fold body, what is earth, what is water, what is fire, what is air, and what is ether? It is said that what is hard is earth, what is fluid is water, what is warm is fire, what moves is air, and what is space is ether.

There the earth is to support, water is to consolidate, fire is for light, air is for movement, and ether is to provide space. Separately, ears are to receive words, the skin for touch, eyes to see form, tongue for taste, and nose for smell. The genitalia are for pleasure and apāna for evacuation. One cognizes with the intellect (buddhi), envisions with the mind (manas), and speaks with words (vāk).

How is the six-fold support? It is said to be the six tastes [of food]: sweet, acid, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. And shadja, rsabha, gāndhāra, pancama, madhyama, dhaivata, ni āda, together with agreeable and disagreeable sounds and prayer, make ten categories.

It has white, red, black, smoky gray, yellow, tawny and pale as the colours. What are the seven dhātus (tissues) when Devadatta (any person) desires enjoyment of objects? From the proper combination of qualities, six types of taste (rasa) emerge. From relish of food, blood is created, from it flesh, thence fat, bones, marrow, semen. By the combination of semen and blood the embryo (garbha) is born, and its growth is regulated by the heart (mother’s heartbeat as well as the embryo’s).

[The seven dhātus] are in the heart where there’s inner fire; at the place of the fire is pitta (bile); at the pitta-organs is movement (vāyu); and at the vāyu-place is the heart, all growing in order according to the law (Prajāpati).

When ready, on the joining [of the male and female], [the embryo] after [a day] and night is in a mixed (semi-fluid) state; after seven days it becomes a bubble; after a fortnight, a solid mass, and in a month, it hardens. In two months, it develops the head; in three months, the feet grow.

In the fourth month, belly and hip are formed; in the fifth month, the backbone is formed; in the sixth month, nose, eyes and ears are formed.

In the seventh month, [the embryo] comes to have the jīva (conscious self), and in the eighth month, it becomes complete in every sense.

If the father’s seed is more potent, it becomes male; if the mother’s seed is stronger, it becomes female. If the seeds are equal, it becomes an intersexual (napa+saka, neither male, nor female).

If [at the time of impregnation] the parents are agitated, the child will be blind, crippled, hunch-backed or stunted. If the vital air moves around, the seed enters in two parts, resulting in twins.

Enabled by the five-fold self, the intelligence of the five elements emerges, and he meditates on the imperishable syllable Om. With the knowledge of the syllable, he understands the eight natures [five sense organs, the mind, intellect and ego] and their sixteen modifications belong to the self residing in the body.

Whatever is consumed or drunk by the mother passes through the nerves and vessels to the child, becoming the source of his satisfaction. During the ninth month, all outer signs attain completeness. And he is reminded of his previous birth, and recounts the good and bad deeds committed.

He thinks: I have seen thousands of wombs, eaten several kinds of food and sucked many breasts. Born and dead again and again, I am immersed in grief but see no remedy. Thinking of my good and bad deeds, I am suffering alone, although the bodies that enjoyed the fruits are gone.

When I get out of this womb, I will take refuge in Sā¡khya-Yoga, which destroys misery and yields liberation; when I get out of this womb, I will take refuge in Maheśvara, who destroys misery and grants liberation.

When I get out of this womb, I will take refuge in Nārāyana, who destroys misery and grants liberation. When I get out of this womb, I will meditate on the eternal Brahman.

When he reaches the birth canal and comes out of it with great difficulty, he is touched by an all-pervading movement [Māyā] that causes him to forget previous births and the good and the bad deeds performed therein.

Why the body is called śarīram. It has three fires – namely, jñānāgni, darśanāgni and koshtahāgni. Of these, koshtahāgni is that fire which enables the digestion of all that is eaten; darśanāgni is the fire that gives the power of seeing forms; jñānāgni is that fire of knowledge which enables one to distinguish between good and bad actions.

They have three places. At the heart is the dakshināgni, in the belly is the gārhapatya, in the mouth is the āhavanīya. Ātman is the yajamāna (sacrificer); the mind is the Brahmā (the doer); greed and so on [anger, jealousy] are animals [of sacrifice]; mental strength is the vow; contentment and the organs of intellect are the instruments of the yajña (sacrifice); the action organs are the sacrificial objects (comparable to the havis or the rice); the head or the skull is the utensil; the hair thereon is the darbha (the dried grass used in homa); the mouth is the inner altar, the head are the four cups, and the two rows of teeth are the sixteen cups (kapāla) [of the sacrifice].

[The human body] consists of 107 marmas (weak or sensitive spots), 180 sutures or junction points, 109 snāyu (sinews), 700 channels, 500 majjā (muscle), 360 bones, and forty five million hairs. The heart weighs 8 palas and the tongue weights 12 palas. It has one prastha of pitta (bile), one ādhhaka of kapha, one ku©ava of śukra, and two prasthas of fat. The measure of the urinary or solid excretions is dependent on the intake. [1 pala = 45.5 grammes; 1 prastham = 728 grammes; 1 ādhhakam = 2,912 grammes; 1 ku©avam = 182 grammes]

This Moksha Shāstra was enunciated by the sage Pippalāda. This Moksha Shāstra was enunciated by the sage Pippalāda.


1. Pippalāda and his date

The first question concerns the date of the Garbha Upanishad. Since it is ascribed to Pippalāda, we need to determine this sage’s place in the Vedic tradition, although it is believed that the text may not be as old as the sage. Pippalāda is also the instructing sage of the Praśna Upanishad and the author of the Atharvaveda śākhā named after him (Paippalāda śākhā). As a principal arranger of the Atharvaveda, he should be assigned to at least the middle of the second millennium BCE, if the Rigveda is to be taken to be no later than 2000 BCE, as is suggested by hydrological evidence related to the drying up of the Sarasvatī river around this time, and the fact that the Rigveda celebrates this river as the great river of its time, flowing from the mountains to the sea.

According to the Purānas, Pippalāda was the disciple of the Rsi Vedasparśa, and he instructed Yudhishthira in the significance of the Angāravrata, which is based on a dialogue between shukra and Virocana.

The physiological knowledge in the Garbha Upani¬ad is consistent with that found in the oldest Upanishads. Like the other texts, it speaks of recursion, but it doesn’t list as many channels (veins and nerves) as the other texts do. This indicates that this Upanishad may be older than what has been assumed.

Pippalāda answers six questions in the Praśna Upanishad, a number that is reminiscent of the six darśanas. The six questions touch upon six different aspects of reality: forms (nyāya), basis of life (mīmā+sā), origins (sā+khya), devas within (yoga), next world (vedānta), and modifications (vaiśeshika). This is not an argument for the lateness of the Praśna Upanishad, but rather for the remote antiquity of six bases to reality, which mirroring the six directions.

2. Recursion

Recursion, the mirroring of the cosmos at several levels, including at the level of the body, is one of the central ideas of the Upanishads. It is clearly stated, for example, in the Chāndogya Up. 8.1.1 and 3, where we are told that within the heart is this small place with the heaven, earth, sun, moon, and stars where the lights of the universe shine.

There is in this city of Brahman (the body) the mansion in the shape of a lotus and in it the small inner ākāśa (sky). What lies there that should be sought, which one should seek to understand?’

As large indeed as is this ākāśa, so large is that ākāśa in the heart. Within it are contained both heaven and earth, both fire and air, both sun and moon, lightning and stars; whatever there is of him (Self) in this world and whatever is not, all that is contained within it. (Chandogya Up. 8.1.1 and 8.1.3)

This recursion is also expressed across time, and it leads to a variety of paradoxes that, the Vedas tell us, cannot be explained away by language. It is described most clearly in the last (fifth) section of the Garbha Upanishad in which the body itself is seen as the ground of the sacrifice.

Speaking of recursion, one must also mention “hiranyagarbha,” the golden womb out of which, the Veda tells us, the universe emerged. In an abstract sense, creation at the cosmic level is to be understood in a sense similar to that at the individual level.

3. Physiology and consciousness

Now we consider the most interesting assertion that the body consists of 107 marmas (weak spots), 180 sutures or junction points, 109 snāyu (sinews), 700 veins, 500 majjā (muscle), 360 bones, and forty five million hairs.

The numbers 180 and 360 are obviously astronomical and related to the number of days in the civil year. Their occurrence is the assertion of the mirroring of the cosmos in the body.

The numbers 107 and 109 are also, but less obviously, astronomically related. I have shown elsewhere (see the references below) that the Vedic Rsis characterized the universe by the measure of 108, for it represents the distance to the sun and the moon from the earth, in multiples of their respective diameters. If the body mirrors the universe, it will have 108 parts, with 107 vulnerable joints (marmas), and 109 lashes to hold them together (snāyu).

Other Upanishads (e.g. Aitareya 3.3) speak of four kinds of life: born alive, born from egg, born from moisture (insects), and born from germ (plants).

[These all] are born of eggs, of wombs, of moisture, and of sprouts, namely horses, cattle, men, elephants, and all creatures that there are that move or fly and those that do not move. All these are guided by consciousness and supported by consciousness; the basis is consciousness. Consciousness is Brahman. (Aitareya Up. 3.3)

Consciousness is not taken to exist only in the human, but in all life.

4. Channels in the body (nerves)

The count of 700 channels does not go to the usual details that are to be found in other Upanishads. Thus Pippalāda instructs¸ Aślavāyana in Praśna Upanishad 3.6:

Here there are one hundred and one channels; each of these has one hundred more; each further has seventy-two thousand branching channels, through which the vyāna (breath) courses. (Praśna Upanishad 3.6)

This means that the total number of channels (veins, nerves) equals:

101 + 101.100 + 101.100.72,000 = 727,210,201.

Of these, the most significant channel is the sushumnā.

Brhadāranyaka Upanishad 2.1.19 speaks of how the Self returns to the body along the 72,000 hitā channels, which branch off from the heart to all parts of the body.

This together with a further description of these nerves of four colours is described well in the Kaushītaki Brāhmana Upanishad:

The nerves of the heart named hitā extend from the heart of the person towards the surrounding body. Fine as a hair divided a thousand-fold, they stand full of thin essence of various colours, white, black, yellow, and red. In these one remains when sleeping and sees no dream, becoming one with the prāªa alone. Then speech with all names goes to it, the eye with all forms goes to it, the ear with all sounds goes to it, and the mind with all thoughts goes to it. And when he awakes, then as from a blazing fire sparks proceed in all directions, thus from that self the prānas proceed, each towards its place, from the prānas the gods (the senses), from the gods the worlds. And as a razor might be placed in a razor-case, or as fire in the fire-place, even so this conscious self enters the body to the very hairs and nails.

On that self depend other selves, as the men follow the chief, or as his own people are of service to the chief, even so these other selves are of service to that self. So long Indra did not understand this self, the Asuras defeated him. When he understood this, striking down and conquering the Asuras, he attained pre-eminence among all gods and all beings, sovereignty and supremacy. And thus also he who knows this obtains pre-eminence among all beings, sovereignty, supremacy – he who knows this, yes, he who knows this. (Kaushītaki Brāhmana Upani¬ad 4.19-20)

5. Causal chain and birth

In Section 4, the Upanishad speaks of how the newborn forgets the causal chain at the moment of birth. This echoes the Bhagavad Gītā:

By the rising together of desire and envy by the confusion of duality, all beings, when born, fall into the state of forgetting. (Bhagavad Gītā 7.27)

By doing this, it is able to fit the individual’s embodiment in the womb that is consistent with the idea of rebirth.

6. General views

Like other sages of the Upanishads, Pippalāda is systematic and rational. The physical basis of life, and the sequence following the development of the embryo, is clearly defined. He describes the basis of life mystically in categories that go, in sequence, from 2 to 7. In the body emerge 8 natures and in it arise 16 modifications that are similar to the tattvas of Sā¡khya. In Praśna Upanishad 6.4, these are listed by Pippalāda.

The embryo is taken to have become jīva (conscious self) in the seventh month, and in the eighth month, it becomes complete in every sense. This gives the time the fetus becomes a person, with attendant legal rights. It is not explained how the jīva comes to be attached to the body.

Although other passages indicate that the jīva resides in the heart’s recess, it also suffuses the entire body; furthermore, its identity with the Purusha means that, mysteriously, it is the one with the entire universe. The distinction also implies the existence of the subtle body (lingam). In the Sarvasāra Upanishad 7, the subtle body is defined as created out of the mind and other subtle elements that reside in the knot of the heart. The consciousness within this subtle body is called the “knower of the field” (ksetrajña).

The body is an instrument of the heart, but for it to be able to do what it can, the kshetrajña must be free: this is moksa or mukti.


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