Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad is the smallest among the ten principal Upanishads. Though being smallest in size it is highest in philosophy and deals with the subject of Pure Consciousness directly. Mandukya Karika of Gaudapadacharya is a famous commentary on this Upanishad. Adi Shankaracharya has written his commentary (Bhashya) on Mandukya Upanishad and Mandukya Karika. There is further explanatory commentary (Tika) by Anandagiri on Shankaracharya's Bhashya.

We present here the notes taken from the audio talks by Revered Ramananada Saraswati and Revered Ranganathanadnaji Maharaj on Mandukya Upanishad. The talks by Revered Ramananda Saraswati also take into consideration the Bhashya of Shankaracharya and the Tika of Anandagiri.

(The upanishad and its commentary being in sanskrit, many sanskrit terms are inevitable while discussing them. Appropriate English translations are provided wherever possible. The original text for the Upanishad and the Karika can be downloaded from sanskritdocuments.org)

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Mandukyopanishad is the essence of Vedanta (vedantartha-sarasamgrahabhutam) as it does two important things: analyzing the three states of consciousness with the view of making it means to transcend them and it looks deeper into the problem of causality. Muktikopanishad states that, 'if the sole object be the attainment of the Highest Truth (supreme goal of life) the single Upanishad of Mandukya is sufficient'

वेदान्तार्थ-सारसंग्रहभूतम् vedantartha-sarasamgrahabhutamJiva (Individual soul) and Brahman (Infinite Reality) are identical. This is the essence of Vedanta. This is to be firmly established in the intellect (heart) of the spiritual aspirant (संग्रह - सम्यक्-ग्रहण samgraha - samyaka-grahana).

मंगलाचारण ‘Mangalacharan’ (Opening verse invoking Auspiciousness):

(1) In Brahman the waking experiences or waking world (स्थान sthan or sphere of activity) are imagined and hence the corresponding entity having waking experiences (स्थानी sthani) is also imagined.
i.e. for waking state: sthan is विराट Virat and sthani is विश्व Vishwa; dream state: sthan is हिरण्यगर्भ: Hiranyagarbha and sthani is तैजस: Taijasa; deep sleep state: sthan is ईश्वरः Ishwara and sthani is प्राज्ञ: Praajna;

This is called अध्यारोप Adhyaropa (superimposition) and it begins with Tat Padartha (‘That‘ in the statement ‘That Thou Art’); Tat refers to Brahman - the Absolute Reality. This process of explanation is refered as विधिमुख Vidhimukha.

In waking and dream experiences, our relationship with objects of experience is one of knowledge only and no other relationship can be established. We merely reveal them (or become conscious of them) by the light of Atman. In other words attachment and hatred for objects is merely an imagined idea.
(Atman and Brahman are the words used to refer to the ultimate Reality of Pure Consciousness. Reality behind the world is generally termed as Brahman while the same Reality behind the individual is termed Atman)

Even Ishwara (God or sum total of all beings) is imagined in Brahman.
This first mangalacharan verse can be considered as salutations to the supreme-transcendent (Para) Brahman.

(2) In this verse the अपवाद Apavaad (de-superimposition) is mentioned which begins with Tvam Padartha (‘Thou’ in the statement ‘That Thou Art’); Tvam refers to individual soul (Jiva).
This is also referred as निषेधमुख Nishedhmukha.

In this verse it is established that the individual transmigrating soul is non-different than the supreme Reality.

This second mangalacharan verse can be considered as salutations to the Ishwara or Guru (Apara Brahman).

Thus in these two mangalacharan verses, the fact of identity of Jiva and Brahman is firmly established in the intellect/mind of the spiritual aspirant from two different aspects. (In first - starting from Bramhan the process of world and Jiva is explained to be imaginations in Brahman. In second – starting from Jiva, the absolute identity of Jiva and Brahman is explained.)

  • After a single day’s quota of waking experiences is exhausted, the dream state manifests in the same Brahman.

  • The use of terms सूत्रात्मा Sutratma and Hiranyagarbha for cosmic subtle body is according to the importance given to either Prana (vital force) or बुध्दि: Buddhi (intellect or heart) respectively.

  • When the Atman (Self) is referred as सच्चिदानंद Satchidananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss), our intellect can’t grasp it because our concepts about ourselves and objects are always conditioned and we understand only conditioned being, conditioned consciousness, and conditioned bliss but not the substratum which is simple and unconditioned.

  • A gap (opening), as it were, is created in the homogeneous-undivided Satchidananda by the stirring up of ‘I’ and then between ‘I’ (aham) and ‘This’ (idam) there is space for the entire phenomenal universe to manifest!

  • When the eyes of the waking state are closed we see the dream world with the eyes of the dream state. Similarly our ‘knowledge eye’ is closed and hence we see the waking world. If by the grace of God our ‘knowledge eye’ is opened and we realize our true nature, we would then experience everything as our own Self. (i.e. all the things and entities experienced are mySelf.)

  • आगम Agama (Tripura Rahasya) mention three types of desires:
      1. कामवासना Kama Vasana (desire for sexual enjoyment) resulting from the fickleness of Buddhi,
      2. कर्मवासना Karma Vasana (desire for work) resulting from the dullness of intellect, and
      3. अपराधवासना Aparadha Vasana (lack of faith in scriptures) resulting from the subtleness (shrewdness) of intellect which dominates श्रध्दा Shraddha (faith).
    A person can realize Truth if he is devoid of Karma Vasana and Aparadh Vasana but has little of Kama Vasana, as in the case of King Janaka; but such is not necessarily an ideal for all spiritual aspirant. Panchadashi states above obstacles to Self-Knowledge as 1. Vishayasakti (attachment to sense-pleasures) 2. Buddhi-Maandya (dullness of intellect) 3. Kutarka (argument against scriptures), Viparyay (opposite or wrong understanding of scriptures), Duragraha (adamant sticking to unreasonable position, refusing to leave wrong argument)

  • Dream experiences are negated in waking but waking experiences are not negated in dream, they are negated only when Truth is realized. Dream is based on the ignorance of the waking state and waking state is based on the ignorance of the Self.

Out of the four chapters of Mandukya Karika, the first one is based on all the twelve mantras of Mandukyopanishad and discusses the nature of 'Aumkar' and its use in Self-realization; second chapter proves the illusoriness of all phenomenon; third chapter proves the non-dual nature of ultimate Reality/Brahman; and the last chapter refutes the claims of other philosophies which contradict the non-dual nature of Truth.

Next : Chapter I