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Bhikshuka Upanishad

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Bhikshuka Upanishad

Bhikshuka Upanishad
Bhikshuka Upanishad describes Hindu mendicants
Devanagari भिक्षुक
Meaning of name Ascetic or Mendicant
Type of Upanishad Samnyasa
Associated Veda Shukla Yajurveda
Number of chapters 1
Number of verses 5

Bhikshuka Upanishad (Sanskrit: भिक्षुक उपनिषत्, IAST: Bhikṣuka Upaniṣad) is one of the minor Upanishads and is listed at 60 in the serial order in the Muktika enumerated by Rama to Hanuman, in the modern era anthology of 108 Upanishads.[1][2] Composed in Sanskrit,[3][4] it is one of the 19 Upanishads of the Shukla Yajurveda, and is classified as one of the 20 Samnyasa (renunciation) Upanishads of Hinduism.[5][6] This text finds mention in South Indian Telugu language version of Hindu Upanishad anthologies, but is missing in North Indian anthologies where instead, in Chapter 4 of the Ashrama Upanishad, in a somewhat different recension,[7] presents the same substance.[1]

The Upanishad is a short text describing different kinds of sannyasins (monks), their beliefs and lifestyle, and discusses their soteriological path to moksha or liberation through ascetic practices.[8] The text is also known as Bhikshukopanishad (भिक्षुकोपनिषत्).


  • Etymology 1
  • Chronology 2
  • Contents 3
    • Kutichaka, Bahudaka and Hamsa monks 3.1
    • Paramahamsa monks 3.2
  • Reception 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7


Bhikshuka means "mendicant, monk", and is derived from the root word Bhiksu which refers in Indian tradition to a "religious person who subsists entirely on alms".[9]


The author and composition date of Bhikshuka Upanishad are unknown; it was composed in late medieval to modern era, likely between the 14th and 15th centuries.[10] However, Ashrama Upanishad, whose chapter 4 is same in substance to Bhikshuka Upanishad,[1] is dated to about 3rd century CE.[10][11]


Bhikshuka Upanishad is a short Upanishad with only five verses with the first verse mentioning four types of mendicant monks as Kutichaka, Bahudaka, Hamsa and Paramahamsa.[4][12] This classification in the Upanishad, and the simple lifestyle of the four monk types wherein they choose to subsist by eating eight mouthful of food a day only, is found in many ancient Indian texts, and also in Epics such as in the Mahabharata sections 1.7.86–1.7.87,[13] and in section 13.129.Anushasana Parva 13.129.29, Mahabharata">Deussen, Bedekar & Palsule (tr.) 1997, p. 763,
Sanskrit: चतुर्विधा भिक्षवस ते कुटी चर कृतॊदकः
हंसः परमहंसश च यॊ यः पश्चात स उत्तमः – Anushasana Parva 13.129.29, Mahabharata.

The first three mendicant types are mentioned briefly, and the majority of the text describes the fourth, namely Paramahansa mendicants.[14]

Kutichaka, Bahudaka and Hamsa monks

All ascetic types live frugally, states Bhikshuka Upanishad, eating just eight morsels a day, except the Hamsa mendicants who eat less or more per a Chandrayana cycle. All four pursue their goal of attaining moksha through Yoga.[6]

The Kutichaka monks eat eight mouthfuls of food a day, practice Yoga, and pursue moksha alone.[15] Prominent ancient Rishis who belonged to the Kutichaka group were Gotama, Bharadwaja, Yagnavalkya, and Vasishta.[4][8]

The Bahudaka type of mendicants carry "three bamboo sticks tied together" as a walking staff, and a kamandala (water pot). They have a hair tuft or sikha, wear red or ochre coloured cloth, wear a thread or yagnopavita across their chest. The Bahudaka do not eat meat or consume alcohol, feed eight mouthfuls of food a day in the house of Brahmarshis, pursue moksha on their own.[15][8]

The Hamsa type of ascetics are constantly on the move, have an injunction to stay only one night at a village, 5 nights in a town, and seven nights in a religious centre. The ascetic practice of Hamsa monks, states the text, include daily consumption of the urine and dung of a cow.[4][8] The Hamsa monks practice the Chānḍrāyaṇa cycle in their food eating habit, wherein they vary the amount of food they eat with the lunar cycle, eating just one mouthful of food a day after the dark new moon night, increasing their food intake by an extra mouthful with increase in the size of moon, reaching fifteen mouthful of food for the day after full moon night, thereafter decreasing their food intake by a mouthful each day till they reach the new moon night.[16]

Paramahamsa monks

The text starts the description of Paramhamsa (literally, "highest wandering birds")[17] type of mendicants with examples, listing Samvartaka, Aruni, Svetaketu, Jadabharata, Dattatreya, Shuka, Vamadeva, and Haritaka as Paramahamsa monks.[14][15] They eat only eight mouthfuls of food a day, prefer a life of aloofness, and are dedicated to Yoga.[14] They live clothed, naked or in rags,[17] and are found by themselves sitting under a tree, in abandoned empty ruins or in cremation grounds.[14][15]

The Upanishad dedicates rest of the verses describing the beliefs of the Paramhamsa monks. For example,

न तेषां धर्माधर्मौ लाभालाभौ
शुद्धाशुद्धौ द्वैतवर्जिता समलोष्टाश्मकाञ्चनाः
सर्ववर्णेषु भैक्षाचरणं कृत्वा सर्वत्रात्मैवेति पश्यन्ति
अथ जातरूपधरा निर्द्वन्द्वा निष्परिग्रहाः
शुक्लध्यानपरायणा आत्मनिष्टाः प्राणसन्धारणार्थे

With them, there are no dvaita (dualities) as dharma and adharma, gain or loss,
purity and impurity. They look upon these with the same eye, and to gold, stone and clod of earth with indifference,
they put up with everything, they are patient with everyone, they seek and accept food from anyone,
they do not distinguish people by caste or looks, they are non-covetous and non-craving (aparigraha),
they are free from all duality, engaged in contemplation, meditate on Atman.

— Bhiksuka Upanishad 5, [6][15][18]

The Paramhamsa loner monks are to be found, states the Upanishad, in ruined houses, temples, straw huts, ant hills, sitting under a tree, sand beds near rivers, mountain caves, waterfalls, hollows inside tree, or just a square block (sthandila).[6] They have advanced far in their path of reaching Brahman, they are pure in mind, they are the Paramahamsas, states the last verse of the text.[14][15]


Obeyesekere states that the beliefs championed and attributed in Bhikshuka Upanishad is traceable to Vedic literature such as Jaiminiya Brahmana, as well as those in much later composed Upanishads such as Narada-parivrajakopanishad and Brhat-Samnyasa.[7][19] In all these texts, the renouncer is accepted to be one who, in pursuit of spirituality, was "no longer part of the social world and is indifferent to its mores".[19] A test or marker of this state of existence is where "right and wrong", socially popular "truths or untruths", everyday morality, and whatever is happening in the world makes no difference to the monk, where after abandoning the "truths and untruths, one abandons that by which one abandons". The individual becomes an end in himself.[19][20]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Deussen, Bedekar & Palsule (tr.) 1997, pp. 557 footnote 6, 763.
  2. ^ Knapp 2005, p. 475.
  3. ^ Ramamoorthy & Nome 2000, p. 19.
  4. ^ a b c d "Bhikshuka 1-Upanishaḍ of Śukla-Yajurveḍa". Sacred Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  5. ^ Tinoco 1997, p. 89.
  6. ^ a b c d Patrick Olivelle (1992), The Samnyasa Upanisads, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195070453, pages 236–237
  7. ^ a b Patrick Olivelle (1992), The Samnyasa Upanisads, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195070453, pp. 98–100
  8. ^ a b c d Parmeshwaranand 2000, p. 67.
  9. ^ Monier Monier Williams (2011 Reprint), Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-8120831056, p. 756, see bhikSu Archive
  10. ^ a b Patrick Olivelle (1992), The Samnyasa Upanisads, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195070453, pp. 8–10
  11. ^ Joachim Friedrich Sprockhoff (1976), "Saṃnyāsa: Quellenstudien zur Askese im Hinduismus", Volume 42, Issue 1, Deutsche Morgenländische, ISBN 978-3515019057, pp. 117–132 (in German)
  12. ^ "Bhikshuka Upanishad". The Theosophical Publishing House, Chennai. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  13. ^ J. A. B. van Buitenen (1980), The Mahabharata, Volume 1, Book 1, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226846637, pp. 195, 204–207
  14. ^ a b c d e f ॥ भिक्षुकोपनिषत् ॥ Sanskrit text of Bhiksuka Upanishad, SanskritDocuments Archives (2009)
  15. ^ a b c d e f KN Aiyar, Thirty Minor Upanishads, University of Toronto Archives, OCLC 248723242, pp. 132–133
  16. ^ KN Aiyar, Thirty Minor Upanishads, University of Toronto Archives, OCLC 248723242, p. 132 footnote 3
  17. ^ a b Deussen, Bedekar & Palsule (tr.) 1997, p. 766.
  18. ^ Deussen, Bedekar & Palsule (tr.) 1997, pp. 763, 766.
  19. ^ a b c Gananath Obeyesekere (2005), Karma and Rebirth: A Cross Cultural Study, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120826090, pp. 99–102
  20. ^ Oliver Freiberger (2009), Der Askesediskurs in der Religionsgeschichte, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447058698, p. 124 with footnote 136, 101–104 with footnote 6 (in German)


  • Deussen, Paul; Bedekar, V.M. (tr.); Palsule (tr.), G.B. (1 January 1997). Sixty Upanishads of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.  
  • Knapp, Stephen (2005). The Heart of Hinduism: The Eastern Path to Freedom, Empowerment, and Illumination. iUniverse.  
  • Parmeshwaranand, Swami (1 January 2000). Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Upanisads. Sarup & Sons.  
  • Ramamoorthy, Dr. H.; Nome (2000). The Song of Ribhu: The English Translation of the Tamil Ribhu Gita. Society of Abidance in Truth.  
  • Tinoco, Carlos Alberto (1997). Upanishads. IBRASA.  
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