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
Chapter I – आगम प्रकरण Agama Prakaran (Chapter on Upanishadic Texts)
(1) अभिधान Abhidhan – वाचक Vachak (Name – Word)
अभिधेय Abhidheya – वाच्य Vachya (Form – Meaning of word)
All the Abhidhan i.e. all forms in phenomenon are gross manifestations of Abhidheya i.e. of Name (also referred as
Shabda-Brahman/Naad-Brahman/Sphota/Hiranyagarbha or Logos/Cosmic Subtle body).
Thus all names and forms are manifestations of Aumkar ('Pranav Dhvani').
The ultimate Reality is beyond name and form, space and time, body and
mind; and thus is beyond Aumkar, but to reach it, we have no other means than Aumkar and hence the Truth is also
referred by Aum (ॐ).
(Please see Swami Vivekananda's explanation of Aum in his 'Bhakti-Yoga'[Chapter VII] at:
Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda[Volme III] )
(2) The names and forms of phenomenon which were referred as Aumkar in first mantra are here referred as identical with
Brahman. We may misunderstand this 'Brahman' as something separate from ourselves and hence to remove this misconception it is stated
that अयमात्मा ब्रह्म Ayam-Atma-Brahma. Ayam-Atma
referes to our finger pointing to our heart i.e. 'I am'; and hence 'I am Brahman'.
@ 'Ayamatma-Brahma' is one among the four main Mahavakyas from Veda.
चतुष्पात् Chatushpat (four legs/quarters) - this Atman (or Brahman) is
said to be of four legs/quarters; however it is not to be understood as having four separate legs/quarters like the four legs of a
cow but rather four quarters of a one single coin (Rs, Dollar). Just as four quarters make one whole and one whole can be seen as
made up of four quarters, similarly this Atman is made up of four quarters.
(Later these four quarters would be explained identical with A, U, M, & Amatra of Aumkar and also with waking, dream,
deep-sleep, Turiya states)
Some Vaishnavas interpret the meaning of first two verses of Mandukya as below:
A – अनिरुध्द Aniruddha – विश्वरुप Vishwarupa
U – प्रद्द्युम्न Praddyumna – तैजसरुप Taijasarupa
M – संकर्षण Sankarshan – प्राज्ञरुप Praajnarupa
̐ – वासुदेव Vasudev – तुरियरूप Turiyarupa
Taking into consideration the explanation of AUM as above, they believe that these first two verses describe a technique for
spiritual practice. But this is not the expected meaning of श्रुति Shruti (Upanishad).
Here the chapter is about knowledge (Jnana) and Shruti wants to establish the aspirant in his/her real nature
through knowledge and inquiry; no technique or process, as such, is being described here.
(3) बहिष्प्रज्ञ: Bahishprajnah – The senses are outer as
compared to the mind hence the term Bahishprajnah, though the Prajnaa (consciousness) is within. Consciousness of
waking state is called Vishwa. Nineteen mouths are: five senses of knowledge, five senses of action, five vital-force (Pranah),
Manah, Chittah, Buddhi, Ahamkaar. This is Pratham Paada (first part of Atman).
(4) अन्त:प्रज्ञ: Antahprajnah – The mind is inner as compared to
the senses hence the term Antahprajnah, though the Prajnaa (consciousness) is within. Consciousness of dream state is
called Taijasa. It functions on the basis of impressions gained in waking state. This is Dvitiya Paada (second part of Atman).
(5)Due to our ignorance of our real nature, in all the three states of waking, dream, and deep-sleep, we are 'asleep' and not really
awakened. The deep-sleep state underlies all our three states of consciousness. In order to discuss deep-sleep, separate from waking
and dream, here in this mantra the adjectives 'does not desire' (न कंचन कामं कामयते
'na kanchan kaamam kamayate') & 'does not dream' (न कंचन स्वप्नं पश्यति
'na kanchan swapnam pashyati') are given.
प्रकर्षेण Prakarshena – सर्वकालिक्त्व
Sarvakalikatva & सर्वविषयित्व Sarvavishayitva
- all the knowledge of waking and dream becomes unified in deep sleep hence it is called Praajna; also since in deep-sleep,
unlike waking and dream states, there is no separate knowledge of time and space but just the 'substratum knowledge' covered
with 'ignorance', it is called Praajna.
In deep sleep we are united with the Sat (Pure Being) aspect of the Reality but we do not comprehend it due to ignorance.
एकीभूत: Ekibhutah – In deep sleep the mind-made duality of waking and dream states is
unified. The duality is not destroyed but is not experienced because no instrument of discrimination is available in that state.
This is similar our inability to locate things in total darkness, things are 'as if unified' in darkness.
प्रज्ञानघन Prajnaanghana – mass of consciousness, similar to
above explanation of Ekibhutah, everything is covered with darkness and all knowledge of waking and dream becomes concentrated
in Praajna hence Prajnaanghana.
आनन्दमय: Aanandamayah – The cause of exhaustion in waking and dream states is the
oscillation of mind as subject-object duality; this is absent in deep sleep and hence we derive bliss from deep sleep. Thus it is
termed as Aanandamayah (full of bliss).
If a person is given all the pleasures of the Earth to enjoy and is denied sleep, he/she will suffer and won't be happy at all;
deep-sleep rejuvenates us. Still this bliss of deep-sleep is not comparable to the bliss of Self-realization.
आनन्दभुक् Aanandabhuk – Effortless bliss.
चेतोमुख: Chetomukhah – Praajna is the doorway (cause) for Vishwa and
Taijasa (effects); hence Chetomukhah. OR
Vishwa and Taijasa are the doorways for Praajna hence Chetomukhah.
Na Etasmat Jatyantar Bhutonyesham Eva – In Samkhya and Yoga philosophy Ishwara is different from Jiva as they
believe in पुरुष Purusha and प्रकृति Prakriti.
Ishwara is Purusha-Vishesha (special type of soul) while Pradhana is the उपादान कारण
Upadana Karana (material cause). In case of Naiyayikas also Ishwara is Tatastha and only the निमित्त कारण
Nimitta Karana (efficient cause) not the Upadana Karana. But in Vedanta, Ishwara being the
Nimitta as well as the Upadana Karana, is non-different from Jiva; Praajna itself is Ishwara.
उपाधिप्रधानता Upadhipradhanta (consciousness
under the control of limiting adjuncts) is Jiva while चैतन्यप्रधानता
Chaitanyapradhanta (consciousness in control of limiting adjuncts) is Ishwara.
In the context of ‘सदेव सोम्य इदम् अग्रासीत
sadev somya idam agrasita’ (Chhandogya Upanishad), the verse ‘प्राणबन्धनं
हि सोम्य मन: pranabandhanam hi somya manah’ uses the word मन:
manah to refer to the जीवात्मा Jivatma while the word प्राण:
pranah points to परमात्मा Parmatma or Sadbrahma. The aspect of
Brahman referred by pranah is सद्ब्रह्म Sadbrahma or शबलब्रह्म
Shabalabrahma and not the unborn, absolute Brahman. This Sadbrahma or Shabalabrahma is the seed (cause) for
creation of Jivas. To refer the Absolute Brahman, shruti says ‘अक्षरात्परत:
aksharaatparatah parah’ i.e. पर: parah (superior) than अक्षर: Aksharah
(unchangable) [अव्याकृत Avyakrit (unmanifested)/Sabij (causal)/Shabalabrahma (potential)] etc.
Similarly in the shruti verse सबाह्याभ्यन्तरो ह्यज:
‘sabahyabhyantaro hyajah’, the absolute, unborn Brahman is referred as the substratum of cause (अभ्यन्तर:
abhyantarah) and effect (बाह्य: bahyah).
परावाणी Paravani (source of speech) = Brahman (Absolute Truth)
In waking state, the oscillation of mind is in the form of perception through senses and in dream it is of the form of desire-laden
memory. In deep sleep oscillation of mind is absent and mind with senses is absorbed in prana (vital forces). The Jiva
then resides in the ह्रदयाकाश Hridayakasha (space of heart). Perception and
memory are forms of thought, in the absence of which, the seer remains indistinguishably in the form of Praajna in the heart alone.
(7) Turiya (transcendental consciousness) is characterized as:
गुण Guna (quality) e.g. loving, angry, intelligent, artistic etc.,
क्रिया Kriya (action) e.g. reader, farmer etc.,
सम्बन्ध Sambandha (relation) e.g. princely-man, father-son etc.,
रुढी Rudhi (custom) e.g. pankaj for lotus flower
negation of all specific attributes
negation of Taijasa (dream state consciousness)
negation of Vishwa (waking state consciousness)
negation of interval between dream and waking
negation of Praajna (deep sleep state consciousness)
negation of Sakshi (witness consciousness)
negation of inertness
ungraspable by senses of perception
devoid of empirical dealings as it is ungraspable
ungraspable by senses of action
can not be pointed out by direct perception or inference
'unthinkable' as it is alakshanam
'unspeakable', can not be formulated in words
the Self that subsists in waking, dream, and deep sleep is the ‘I-am’ consciousness OR
the only valid proof for Turiya is the unchanging ‘I-am’ consciousness in every being
cessation of all phenomenon; after the negation of sthani in three states, now the sthans are also negated
unchanging, tranquil, peace
auspicious as it is devoid of any differentiation
How to worship or meditate on such a Turiya or transcendental Pure Consciousness?
The homogeneous supreme Reality should be identified as our own inner Self (प्रत्यगात्मा
pratyagatma) and we should always abide in it. To feel the Turiya as our own ever-present-Self (अपरोक्ष-नित्य-दृष्टित्व
aparoksha-nitya-drishtitva) is meditation.
Bhagawan Ramana Maharshi was asked what is turiya? He replied:
There are three states only, the waking, dream, and sleep.Turiya is not a fourth one: it is what underlies these three. But
people do not readily understand it. Therefore it is said that this is the fourth state and the only Reality. In fact it is not
apart from anything; for it forms the substratum of all happenings; it is the only Truth; it is your very Being. The three states
appear as fleeting phenomenon on it and then sink into it alone. Therefore they are unreal. … …
… … Turiya is only another name for the Self. Aware of the waking, dream, and deep sleep states we remain unaware of our own
Self. Nevertheless the Self is here and now. It is the only Reality. There is nothing else. So long as identification with body
lasts the world seems to lie outside us. Only realize the Self and they are not.
(8) This Upanishad started with the verse ‘all this is verily ॐ (Aum)’. Aum points to the Parabrahma
(Transcendental Reality) and the way to reach it is also Aum. Though the Reality is devoid of अभिधान
Abhidhan (word) and अभिधेय Abhidheya (meaning of word), it is reached through them.
In the beginning of the chapter, first it was pointed that ‘all this is Aum’, then ‘all this is Brahman’, and then ‘this
innermost Self of all beings (i.e. Atman) is Brahman’. Then the Atman was said to have four quarters in it: Vishwa, Taijasa,
Praajna, and Turiya. It was said that the waking, dream, and deep sleep states are imagined in Brahman (Adhyarop),
then they were negated by stating characteristics of Brahman in negative terms like na antahprajna, na bahishprajna (Apavad).
Why this process?
The world that we experience in waking and dream is a superimposition on Brahman and correspondingly our
imagination about ourselves as Vishwa, Taijasa, and Praajna ('I am so-and-so, my age is 'x' years, I think, I
feel, I know, I don't know' etc.) is also a superimposition and not a reality. By the negation of all these we are guided to
dissociate ourselves from the superimposition and establish ourselves as we truly are i.e. Turiya (Infinite Pure Consciousness).
Prior to this verse, the above-mentioned process was explained; now the relation between above-mentioned four quarters and मात्रा
maatras (letters) of ॐ (Aum) is explained. Why is it necessary? Some experts say that the further process is not required for
superior and middle type of spiritual aspirants (उत्तम अधिकारी
uttam adhikari and मध्यम अधिकारी madhyam adhikari)
but is meant for the lowest type of spiritual aspirants (अधम अधिकारी adham adhikari)
as they haven’t yet developed the subtle buddhi to grasp the Truth. Other experts dispute this and say that the Upanishad and
the commentary on it, is meant to confer the knowledge of Reality on the aspirant - by establishing the absolute identity between
individual soul and Supreme Truth - and thus no process (उपासना upasana) towards the goal
is given here. They say that the further verses and commentary is for the glorification (स्तुत्यर्थ
stutyartha) of this identity of Jiva and Brahman.
(9) ‘अ’ (A) = Vishwa / वैश्वानर Vaishwanar
‘A’ is the first letter and also pervades all speech; similarly Virat is the first quarter and it pervades all.
(Speech-impaired people may not utter any other sound but they can utter A!)
(10) ‘उ’ (U) = Taijasa / हिरण्यगर्भ Hiranyagarbha
‘U’ is in the middle of ‘A’ and ‘M’, also it is superior to ‘A’ and thus signifies intermediate-ness and excellence.
Taijasa is superior to Vishwa; and dream state is in the middle of waking and deep sleep states.
(We move in the circle: waking-dream-deep sleep-dream-waking)
(11) ‘म’ (M) = Praajna / Ishwara(Avyakrutatma)
‘M’ is the merging point for ‘A’ and ‘U’, and it sort of ‘measures’ them i.e. ‘taking in’ and ‘throwing out’.
Similarly Vishwa and Taijasa are dissolved in Praajna; and Praajna sort of measures them
i.e. ‘absorbing in’ and ‘issuing out’.
(Mitee – the measuring pot used to measure grains like wheat, barely etc.)
(12) The three letters of Aum merge in the fourth Amatra of Aum ( ̐ ). The spiritual
aspirant who has practiced the identity of A, U, M of with waking, dream, and deep sleep states, merges himself/herself into the
real Self i.e. Turiya - the infinite Reality out of which all states appear.
(All the twelve verses of the Mandukya Upanishad are discussed in this first chapter of 'Mandukya Karika'. The chapter also contains few
karikas i.e. explanatory verses by Gaudapadacharya on the Upanishadic verses. Chapter 2, 3, and 4 of the 'Mandukya Karika' has
no Upanishadic verses but only Karikas.)