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)

Introduction Chapter I      Chapter III Chapter IV

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Chapter II – वैतथ्य प्रकरण Vaitathya Prakaran (Chapter on Unreality)  

Waking state – Jivas are more aware of the ‘Being’ aspect; are conscious of their existence. Waking objects are revealed primarily by the light of the Atman (Pure Consciousness) and not just by sun or other lights.

Dream state – Jivas are more aware of the ‘Consciousness’ aspect. Though sun, moon, and other lights are absent in dream state; dream objects are revealed by the light of Atman.

Deep sleep state – Jivas are more aware of the ‘Bliss’ aspect. There is no object to be revealed.

In all the three states, the existence, consciousness, and bliss is due to the Atman, though the degree of awareness about them varies.

To establish the unreality of dream experiences, karikas 1 and 2 use logic about space and time while karika 3 uses basis of shruti (upanishads) passage.
If doubt is raised that the objects in dream state are real in dream while the waking objects are real in waking state then it is refuted by these 3 karikas.

Thus the unreality of the दृष्टान्त drishtant (illustration) i.e. of the dream is proved. Based on this, now it is inferred in karika 4 that the waking experiences are as unreal as that of dream experiences. दृष्यत्वात् Drishyatvat (being perceived) is the common factor for the experiences in these two states. The difference between the two states is only of the duration of time and dimension of space.

An inference has following five parts:

  • प्रतिज्ञा Pratijna (proposition to be proved) – waking state objects are unreal
  • हेतू Hetu (ground) – Drishyatvat i.e. being perceived
  • दृष्टान्त Drishtant (illustration) – dream objects
  • हेतूपनय Hetupanaya (relation between illustration and proposition) – 'objects being percieved' is the similarity between dream and waking states.
  • निगमन Nigaman (reiteration) – hence waking state objects are unreal

In karika 6, another reason is given to establish the unreality of waking objects: आदावन्ते च यन्नास्ति वर्तमानेSपि तत्तथा aadavante-cha-yannasti-vartamanepi-tat-tatha i.e. that which does not exist in the beginning and the end is equally so in the present (or middle).

(11) A doubt is raised that if the waking and dream states are unreal then the phenomenon experienced in these states i.e. 'experiencer' and his experiences, would have no basis. Also the question would arise as to whom does these dreams appear?
This has to be answered as it is observed that there is no dream without the dreamer; also without the answer to this question the waking up from the dream would be a problem!

(12) & (13) Answer to the above doubt is given: the self-luminous Atman imagines Itself through Itself by the power of Its own Maya; It then cognizes the objects. How is this done?
The प्रभु Prabhu (Lord) i.e. Atman or Self manifests diversely the things existing in mind: external objects like sun, moon, earth etc. as well as internal objects like thoughts, emotions, desires etc. The dreamer is the Lord and not the individual Jiva.

प्रभु Prabhu (Lord): प्रभवते अस्मात् सर्वम् इति प्रभु Prabhavate asmat sarvam iti prabhuh (That from which all this is manifested)    OR

प्रभवते स्वयं नाना रूपेण इति प्रभु Prabhavate swayam nana repun iti prabhuh (That which manifests as all this)    OR

समर्थो भवति इति प्रभु Samartho bhavati iti prabhu (One which is capable)

Thus the firm conclusion of Vedanta is: knowledge and memory are not without the support of Atman; nihilists (some Buddhists) deny this. Also there is no extra-cosmic creator in Vedanta.

(14) & (15) One might wonder that thoughts, emotions etc. being internal can be imaginations but what about the external world objects and events which appear concrete and seem to last longer?

The answer given in these two karikas is that the difference between internal and external is only related to the duration of time and organs of perception. Hence internal as well as external things are imagined as in dream.

In case of waking state, the external objects are perceptions of sense-organs while the internal objects are of the mind. (In dream too, one has experience of 'inner' thoughts within oneself and 'outer' objects separate from oneself!)

(16) The Lord (Prabhu) first imagines the individual soul (Jiva) and internal & external objects of experience. The individual soul gets his/her memory according to the thought impressions he/she has.

(17) & (18) Ignorance about the real nature of Self is the cause of Jiva and removal of ignorance is Self-knowledge.

(19) The Lord through His Maya projects infinite objects like vital forces etc. and is deluded by them!

(26) Samkhya philosophy has 25 principles:

प्रकृति-विकृति Prakriti-Vikriti - a. महत् Mahat (Cosmic Intelligence)
   (Nature-modification)           b. अहंकार Ahamkaar (Ego)
c. पञ्च-तन्मात्रा Panch-Tanmatra
  1. शब्द shabda (sound),
  2. स्पर्श sparsha (touch),
  3. रूप rupa (form),
  4. रस rasa (taste),
  5. गन्ध gandha (smell)
प्रकृति-विकार Prakriti-Vikara - a. पञ्च-ज्ञानेन्द्रिय Panch-Jnanendriya
   (Nature-evolutes)                       (five perceptive sense)
b. पञ्च-कर्मेन्द्रिय Panch-Karmendriya
(five organs of action)
c. पञ्च-विषय Panch-Vishaya
(objects related to five sense)
d. मनस Manas
पुरुष Purusha (Self) प्रकृति Prakriti (Nature)

Yoga philosophy has 26 principles: the 25 mentioned above and Ishwara

पाशुपत Pashupat or एकत्रिंशक Ektrinshak philosophy has 31 principles: the 25 of Samkhya philosophy, माया Maya, and पञ्च-कञ्चुक Panch-kanchuk (राग raga, अविद्या avidya, नियति niyati, काल kaal, कला kalaa).

Some other philosophies have infinite principles.

(27) As per Vedic वर्णाश्रम varnaashrama tradition:

For ब्राह्मण Brahmin the four ashramas i.e. ब्रह्मचर्य brahmacharya, गृहस्थ grihastha, वानप्रस्थ vanaprastha, and संन्यास sanyasa are compulsory.

For क्षत्रिय Kshatriya the three ashramas i.e. brahmacharya, grihastha, and vanaprastha are compulsory.

For वैश्य Vaishya the two ashramas i.e. brahmacharya and grihastha are compulsory.

For शूद्र Shudra only one ashrama i.e. brahmacharya is compulsory.
(But for a man of intense dispassion, embracing sanyasa-ashrama is allowed from any other ashrama)

Karikas 20 – 28 describe philosophies that define the Self in various categories like प्राण: praanah (vital force), गुण guna (quality), मन: manah (mind), काल kaal (time), देश desha (space), चित्त chitta (inner psyche), धर्माधर्म dharmadharma (right/wrong conduct), पाद paad (quarter), लोक loka (spheres of existence), भुवन bhuvan (dwelling place), भोज्य bhojya (object of enjoyment), सूक्ष्म shukshma (subtle), स्थूल sthula (gross), तत्व tatva (element), आश्रम ashrama (stage of life), लिंग linga (charecteristic), सृष्टि strishti (cosmos) etc.

The reason for imagination of world in the Self is these above mentioned (20-28) diverse ideas. According to Vedanta the only real entity/principle is 'Self' which is Consciousness-Bliss itself.; by Its 'light', everything else is conscious and illumined. Ignorance about this Self gives rise to various imaginations. The diversity experienced in the world gives rise to various ideas which come forth as varied philosophies.

Avyakrutatma (Praajna) is the cause and the Praanah is the primary effect; above mentioned principles (20-28) are further effects of Praanah. Apart from these, the other differences observed in the phenomenal world are imaginations in these principles.

(29) In whichever way a human being perceives/imagines/worships the Atman (Self), in that very way the Atman protect him/her.


(30) People devoid of discrimination consider Praanah etc. as different from the Self while the discriminating ones know the non-dual Self (i.e. Praanah etc. being non-different than the Self) and hence are free from any doubt.

(31) Shruti (Veda) and तत्वदर्शी Tatvadarshi (seers of Truth) know the phenomenal universe as dreamlike and as unreal as a city in the sky (गन्धर्वनगरम् Gandharvanagaram).

(32) This is an often quoted karika and many scholars unable to comprehend it have accused Gaudapadacharya of teaching a false philosophy. The karika says (from the Absolute point of view): In Truth there is no origination, no dissolution, none in bondage, none striving or aspiring for freedom, and none liberated!

(33) Since all the imaginations are based on the infinite Self, non-duality is auspicious and conducive to well-being of all, even during the transactions of phenomenal world. Though no imaginations have absolute existence in Pure Consciousness, all the imaginations – including world and its creatures – are deriving their existence from the Self. The idea of separateness is unreal and inauspicious.

This is also stressed by Swami Vivekananda in his ‘Practical Vedanta’; he advocates that Advaita Vedanta (non-dualistic Vedanta) knowledge applied to all spheres and all walks of life is auspicious.
Sri Ramakrishna uses the words नित्य Nitya and लीला Lila to indicate the absolute and relative aspects of the Self respectively and says that God can be realized with eyes closed as well as with eyes open!

The life that we lead is transitory play of Consciousness but the basis of it is the unchanging and ever-present Pure Consciousness i.e. phenomenal ‘I’ is temporary play but real ‘I’ is immortal and permanent.

Next : Chapter III