The Yaksa – Episode occurs in the third and fourth section of the Kena Upanisad. In short, the story goes like –
Once gods won a battle against the demons and started thinking that the whole credit of the victory belongs to them. As a matter of fact, Brahman or the Supreme power had made gods His instrument and had won the battle. Brahman understood the pretension of the gods and appeared in the form of a Yaksa before them.
Gods could not recognise Him and sent fire god to enquire about that being. When fire – god met Him, He asked fire – god about the quality that he possessed. The fire – god replied that he could burn anything on this earth. He also added that he is known as jataveda, one who knows the birth of all beings. After listening to this, the Yaksa put a blade of grass in his front and asked to burn that. Fire – god could not consume that blade even after using his full energy. He returned to gods and told that he could not recognise that being.
Next, the gods sent air – god to know about that being. The Yaksa asked him about his essential quality. Air – god replied that he could blow anything on this earth and also added that he is known as Matarisva. Air – god also failed to move the blade of grass, as fire – god did. He also came back to tell that the being could not be recognised.
Finally Indra went to know the exact state of affair and as soon as he reached the Yaksa vanished. In the same zone, Indra met Haimavati, the daughter of Himavat, and came to know from her that the Yaksa was nothing but the Ultimate Brahman. As she uttered –
“‘It was Brahman’, said She, ‘In the Brahman’s victory, indeed, you became elated thus’. From that alone, to be sure, did Indra learn that It was Brahman”
The same Upanisad further reads that Indra, fire and air is superior to other gods, since they were the first to get exposure of Brahman. Indra, among them is the supreme since he got the knowledge directly from Hemavati.
Now coming to the philosophical significance of the story, we find that the story suggests that Brahman is the Ultimate source of energy for all. No one can perform even a simple act without taking support from the Supreme. Fire and air gods failure to move the small blade of grass implies the fact
All the forces of nature, indicated here as personified devi – gods like air and fire, which are beyond human control, also derive their energy from the Supreme.
The feeling of having the full credit of any kind of achievement is vain for any individual. This is not true, as the story suggests, even of the gods. No achievement is possible, devoid of Divine Grace, only by dint of individual effort. Therefore it is futile to be too much proud of one’s achievements.
Apart from that, the vanishing of the Yaksa in front of Indra suggests that the Ultimate Divine experience is very momentary. The Upanisad itself compares the Divine expression with the flash of lightning and with the blinking of the eyes, suggesting that, at least in the primary stages, it comes for a fraction of the moment. Later the Upanisad prescribes techniques to expand and elongate this experience.
Dr. Radhakrishnan writes that the description of Haimavati as a beautiful woman indicates that the true knowledge of the Divine is beautiful and extends elegance to one who acquires it. Haimavati here is the embodiment of the knowledge Divine.
The story reads that Indra, air and fire god grew superior to other gods by virtue of the Ultimate Knowledge. This suggests that knowledge of Brahman is the ground of superiority. Anyone, be he god or human, if acquires Divine knowledge or comes in contact with Divinity, turns superior to the rest of his fellow beings.
Apart from that, it also seems that knowledge of the Supreme brings a kind of humility to its knower. It might come in the garb of a, as here Yaksa is, hard teacher.
They say that Indra became the Supreme among gods since the knowledge of Brahman was first revealed to him by Haimavati. The verse reads as –
“Therefore Indra surpasses greatly, as it were, other gods. He, indeed, has come onto close contact with Brahman. He, indeed, for the first time knew it was Brahman”
Coming out of the story, the Upanisad itself talks about its spiritual significance. It reads, in the fifth sloka of the fourth section that every physical and psychical activity presupposes the existence of Brahman.
As another implication of the expression, Brahman is the source of energy to all devas, Sankara suggests that the word deva comes from the root ‘div’ which means to illuminate. Taking deva in that sense, it indicates the sense organs. Thus the expression reiterates the presupposition of Brahman for the function of the senses.
Many of the philosophical texts use the method of allegory in order to impart its core teachings. This Upanisad is one of them. Partly its language is symbolic. Different interpreters give different meaning to these passages. In a nutshell the story tries to establish the superiority of Brahman upon all human and super – human beings