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 III – अद्वैत प्रकरण Advaita Prakaran (Chapter on Non-duality)
In the first chapter, with the help of scriptures it was proved that the experiences of dream and waking state are effects of ignorance
and are unreal from तुरीय Turiya i.e. Pure Consciousness point of view. Also the characteristics
of Turiya were described in negative terms. In the second chapter, with the help of logic, the unreality of 'misapprehension' of Truth, i.e.
experience of dream and waking states, was explained. In this third chapter the causal ignorance i.e. 'non-comprehension' of Truth
would be negated and it would be proved that the Supreme, Transcendental Pure Consciousness is the only reality; the description of
creation of universe is incidental and for the sake of understanding the Truth.
Question may be raised as to how logic - a product of intellect - can prove non-duality of Pure Consciousness which is beyond intellect?
Answer: Logic guided by scriptures and of 'sincere-inquiring-nature' regarding Truth, is helpful for a spiritual aspirant. Independent logic
which reasons without basing itself on true Self, can not grasp Truth as it will always analyze/probe the outer/objective इदम्
idam (this) and never the inner/subjecive अहम् aham (I am).
(1) Those who believe in causality are कृपण: kripanah (narrow-minded people). People with ideas of
separateness, fear, and ignorance are small minded. One may ask why criticize the aspirant in the beginning of the chapter? The
distinction of worshipper and worshipped that an aspirant takes for granted is contradictory to the conclusion of chapter 2 and the
premise of chapter 3. Thus the criticism of duality is appropriate while establishing non-duality.
Those who consider themselves as bodies (gross or subtle) and think that the Brahman was unborn in the beginning and now it is born
are जातब्रह्म Jatabrahma and not अजातब्रह्म
Ajatabrahma. In their delusion they consider the eternal Pure Consciousness to be under the domain of Time!
It is interesting to quote here a question that was put to Sri Nisargadatta Mj and his reply to it:
Q: You said that before I was born I was one with the Pure Being of Reality; who decided that I should be born?
A: In reality you were never born and shall never die. But now you imagine that you are, or have a body and you ask what has brought
about this state. Within the limits of illusion the answer is: desire born from memory attracts you to a body and makes you think as
one with it. But this is true only from the relative point of view. In fact there is no body, nor world to contain it; there is only
a mental condition, a dream-like state, easy to dispel by questioning its reality.
(2) Brahman being always unborn, it alone is अकार्पण्यम् Akarpanyam limitless.
(3) Just as 'space enclosed in a pot' is non-different from 'outer infinite space', the jivas are non-separable from Brahman.
The space and Atman are both homogeneous, subtle, and beyond contamination; but space contains dissimilar objects like earth, sun,
moon etc.; this does not apply to Atman.
(10) All bodies (gross, subtle, and causal) are dreamlike; they appear and disappear by the Maya of the Lord.
(15) & (16) In the shruti there are passages in which origination of world is mentioned, as also karma, worship (upasana),
differentiation, duality etc. are mentioned. Such passages are meant only for the purpose of explaining the non-dual Reality and
never for origination of the world, or duality. The jivas are experiencing the world and have many desires in them, so the
Vedas try to solve their problems by mentioning various paths. Shruti narrates story of origination of world in such a way that
the spiritual aspirant understands the unreality of world! World, including all beings in it, is of illusory nature and only the
non-dual Brahman exists! Thus the passages explaining world-process are meant for madhyam and adham adhikari
(middle-type and lowest-type of spiritual aspirants).
(17) The means of experience that we have – senses and mind – are illusory and hence all our experiences are also illusory. These
illusory means can not enter the Truth hence the ‘experience’ of Truth is difficult to reach, e.g. eyes can see everything but they
can not see themselves. Truth has no conflict with any imaginary object hence Advaita (non-duality) has no conflict with other
philosophies. Philosophies like Samkhya, Naiyayika etc. that are busy in the explanation of the imaginary objects, contradict each other.
(18) Shruti view is: power (शक्ति shakti) of Brahman is inferred from the effects seen
(i.e. creation etc.) and is non-different from the 'wielder of power' (शक्तिमान shaktimaan).
The power is inferred during the experience of effect i.e. when we experience phenomenon we have to admit the shakti; but in
absence of effect (e.g. in super-conscious state of Samadhi) shakti is absent and Absolute Brahman alone exists. Agama view is: Independent-power (स्वातन्त्र्यशक्ति
swatantryashakti) is ever-present in Brahman though never separate from It.
Sri Ramana Maharshi explains this point as follows:
'The Vedantins say that Maya is the shakti of illusion premised in siva. Maya has no independent existence. Having
brought out the illusion of the world as real, she continues to play upon the ignorance of the victims. When the reality of her
not being is found, she disappears. 'Recognition' (pratyabhijna - an Agama text) says that shakti is coeval with siva.
The one does not exist without other. Siva is unmanifest, whereas shakti is manifested on account of Her independent
will swatantra. Her manifestation is the display of the cosmos on Pure Consciousness, like images in a mirror. The images can
not remain in the absence of a mirror. So also the world can not have an independent existence. Swatantra becomes
eventually an attribute of the Supreme. Sri Shankara says that the Absolute is without attributes and that Maya is what is not and
has no real being. What is the difference between the two? Both agree that the display is not real. The images of the mirror can not
in any way be real. The world does not exist in reality (vastutah). Both schools mean the same thing. Their ultimate aim is
to realize the Absolute Consciousness. The unreality of the cosmos is implied in Recognition (pratyabhijna), whereas it is
explicit in Vedanta.'
(20) द्वैताद्वैतवादी Dvaitadvaitawadi
also known as भेदाभेदवादी Bhedabhedawadi or भर्त्यप्रपञ्च
Bhartyaprapancha is an old non-dualistic opinion in which the phenomenon is considered as real and originating from Brahman.
They also consider jiva to be real in the phenomenal world.
(22) Dvaitadvaitawadi philosophy holds that the world and soul to be real while non-dualistic Vedanta followers considers
them to be illusory. If they are real then a person will remain a person and an animal will remain an animal. Brahman will have to be
considered then as transforming entity; this contradicts reason. Shruti narrates the process of creation etc. with the aim of
establishing non-duality in the heart of the spiritual aspirant and it is not meant to be a real creation process.
(23) The shruti passages about creation can be interpreted to mean that they are secondary to the purpose of non-duality but other
passages which describe the absolute characteristics of Brahman can not be otherwise interpreted; e.g. former category of passages
include: ‘यतो वा इमानि जायन्ते
yato va imani jayante’ which is further added with ‘तत् विजिज्ञासस्व
tat vijijyasasva’ and later with ‘तत् ब्रह्म tat brahma’. Thus
these passages are pointing to non-dual and unborn nature of Brahman. The latter category of passages include: ‘सबाह्याभ्यन्तरोहि अज:
sabahyabhyantaro hi ajah’ which is complete in itself and does not require to be added further with other statements. The
conclusion is that shruti passages about creation of world etc. are actually meant to prove the illusory nature of world.
(24) There are shruti passages which negate the creation. If shruti wanted us to believe that the creation is real then
these ‘creation negating’ passages should not have been there; but there are such passages e.g. ‘नेह नानास्ति किञ्चन
neha naanaasti kinchana’; also there are passages suggesting the illusory nature of creation such as ‘इन्द्रो मायाभि
indro maayaabhi’. The purpose of creation passages is to guide the ‘world-experiencing soul’ towards the only Reality of non-dual Brahman.
Doubt: In the ‘अभिधान-ग्रन्थ/कोष-ग्रन्थ’
(dictionary) called ‘निघन्टू Nighantu’ by यास्क
Yaska, there are eleven synonyms for माया maya; one of which is प्रज्ञा
prajnaa. So why not interpret maya to mean prajnaa instead of मिथ्या mithya (illusion)?
Explanation: By the word prajnaa, only the consciousness related to the senses is meant and not the Pure Consciousness. Our
senses are painting an illusory world on the Pure Consciousness; in that sense the word prajnaa is meant to be maya.
Swami Vivekananda says: ‘Upon Him the senses are painting chairs, and tables, and rooms, and houses, and worlds, and moons, and suns,
and stars, and everything else.’
(25) संभूति - सम्यक् भूति ऐश्वर्यं यस्या: - हिरण्यगर्भ
(Cosmic subtle mind – first product of Ishwara)
In this karika the word sambhuti is to be interpreted as उपासना upaasana
(worship) while असंभूति asambhuti as कर्म karma (work).
In ultimate knowledge of the Reality there is no place for co-existence of karma (work); but karma as a step towards the
knowledge i.e. क्रम krama (order/stpes) is accepted.
(1) साधना saadhana or karma combined with upaasana (process towards the goal)
(2) साध्य saadhya or hiranyagarbha or sambhuti (goal to be reached)
Both 1 and 2 mentioned above are deprecated from highest point of view.
(26) The shruti passages related to creation of the world are meant as means for spiritual practice (साधनरूप
saadhanrupa) just as the ‘world-that-is-experienced’ is also a means for spiritual practice. This is Adhyaropa. Swami
Vivekananda says: ‘The world is a grand moral gymnasium wherein we have all to take exercise so as to become stronger and stronger
spiritually.’ But by this if an impression is derived that Brahman is saadhya (goal to be reached) and there is causality in
Brahman, then this impression is negated by ‘नेति नेति neti neti’ passages.
As explained in the note on verse 7 of first chapter, Turiya is the only Substratum/Reality that exists; all the three states
(waking, dream, and deep sleep) are superimposed on this substratum. In relation to these three states, Turiya is called the
Fourth. Similarly with respect to the ‘saadhan’, 'world', Brahman is called ‘saadhya’; in Itself, Brahman is the
ever-present Truth and not goal of any process. Such a Brahman is pointed by the 'negating' shruti passages; the neti, neti
approach to describe Brahman is better than describing It in terms of 'world' like infinite as sky/sea/space. This is so because our
mind is accustomed to think in terms of sense-inputs only i.e. in terms of 'world' and when scriptures talk about Self/God/Brahman as
infinite/unborn/all-pervasive, our mind is baffled and tries to 'imagine' Brahman as something similar to vast sky/sea; this is
essentially not the purport of the shruti and hence negating all that mind can conceive is a better approach.
(27) Doubt: If the Atman is ever unreachable in experience then it must be असत् asat (non-existent)?
Explanation: The effect (i.e. world) that is experienced can be taken as the indication for सत्-स्वरुप परमात्मा
satswarup Paramatma (Reality that is Pure Being); e.g. magician shows magic but he himself is not seen (this is an example of
illusory efficient cause) or a rope mistaken for snake (here material cause is illusory). Even after going through innumerable births
and experiences, our real nature remains unchanged, ever-present, Pure Consciousness; during these experiences too it remains
unaffected. Hence in Vedanta it is termed as कूटस्थ kutastha – literally meaning the
anvil which takes the blows from a blacksmith and still remains unchanged.
(28) नैयायिक Naiyaayika philosophers are असत् कार्यवादी
Asat Kaaryavaadi i.e. they believe creation out of non-existence. They also consider the existence and non-existence to be two
entities opposite to each other. वैनाशिक (माध्यमिक/शून्यवादी)
Vainaashika (Maadhyamika/Shunyavaadi) are also Asat Kaaryavaadi but they believe non-existence to be the
absence of existence.
But it not observed anywhere that something is born out of non-existence. Hence their position is not tenable; e.g. वन्ध्यापुत्र
vandhyaaputra (son of a barren woman) is not seen actually or by assumption.
(34) & (35) चित्त (Chitta) = चित् (Chit) + त् (t)
i.e. World/mind = Consciousness +
Attachment to objects of experience
सुषुप्ति sushupti – mind merged in ignorance but desires are in causal form
समाधि samaadhi – mind merged in Pure Consciousness and even desires in their causal form are burned.
(36) For a Self-realized person, the phenomenal dealings are illusory; his/her own ‘life-show’ is apparently carried on with liberated-mind
(बाधित अनुवृत्ति baadhita anuvritti).
(37) अभिलाप abhilaap – वाक् vaak (speech)
‘You will find that none of you can think without some symbol.’ – Swami Vivekananda
In Yoga – समाधि samadhi is by चित्तवृत्ति-निरोध
chittavritti-nirodha - by controlling the modifications of mind and thus merging it in Prakriti, Purusha then
becomes separate & free.
In Vedanta – समाधि samadhi is by आत्मसत्यानुबोध
aatmasatyaanubodha (realization of true Self)- control of mind is natural when Brahman is realized as true Self; becoming one
with Reality itself is samadhi i.e. mind dissolves in Infinite Pure Consciousness.
(38) To remain ignorant of true Self is narrow-mindedness (कृपणता kripanataa)
To realize the true Self is to get rid of narrow-mindedness (अकृपणता akripanataa)
In human birth, not to strive for self-knowledge and to depart the world ignorantly, is narrow-mindedness.
There is nothing to be ‘gained’ in Self-knowledge; only to loose all! All false self is to be given up as Sri Nisargadatta Mj put it:
‘The false self must be abandoned before the real self can be found.’
(39) अस्पर्शयोग asparshayoga (Yoga of ‘no contact’). In the
ultimate Reality, all types of subject-object duality is absent. The Truth is never touched by sin or virtue.
दुर्दर्श: durdarshah (difficult to grasp) - To the conditioned being, the
name-less, shape-less Self is difficult to understand and he/she has to repeatedly practice श्रवण shravan
(listening about Atman), मनन manana (cogitating about It), and निदिध्यासन
nididhyasan (continuous abiding in Atman).
People are afraid (बिभ्यति bibhyati) of fearlessness (i.e. Brahman). They are afraid
to loose the personality/individuality idea.
(40) For people who have attained the highest non-dual Self-knowledge, the mind is automatically calmed but for the mediocre and
struggling aspirants, practice of mind-control is essential. The practice may be जप japa (repetition of sacred mantra),
तप tapa (austerity), भक्ति bhakti (devotion), निष्काम-कर्म
nishkama karma (self-less work), प्राणायाम pranayama (control of prana) etc.
(42) The scriptures advice us to control the mind by systematic approach and not by stubborn insistence. We have to be firm in our
implementation of sadhana but obstinacy is to be avoided. Methods mentioned in the above karika for mind-control are the
examples of systematic approach while tamasik sadhanas like standing on one foot, remaining hungry etc. are the examples of
obstinacy. Even in the path of Hatayoga there is a systematic implementation of its techniques.
In desires and enjoyments, the mind gets exhausted; it gets relief in deep sleep which is dissolution of mind to seed form. When we
are tired and feel sleepy, the mind is unable to move further and wants to get back to seed form (लय laya). Laya
is as much an obstacle to Self-realization as desires and sense-enjoyments are.
(43) Mind generally lives in the meshes of sense-objects because of its desire for enjoyment; it can run only to such objects wherein
it has at least one among its primary false beliefs about them namely:
1. sense-objects are real (सत्यत्व भावना
2. sense-objects are permanent (नित्यत्व भावना
nityatva bhavana) and
3. sense-objects have 'potential happiness' in them (समीछिनत्व भावना
These three false values have been super-imposed by the mind upon the sense-objects; the objects in themselves have none of these values.
By discriminating on the limited, sorrowful, and transitory nature of all duality, the mind gradually becomes desire-less. If sense-objects
were real, then after repeated enjoyments, we should feel fulfillment but it is observed that this does not happen and instead we feel
more and more emptiness. The sense-objects are illusory and have no reality by themselves; we should stop running after them.
First discipline is to understand that the things experienced are transitory and are causes of misery; this is practice of detachment (वैराग्याभ्यास
vairagyaabhyaas). Next is to understand that these things are only appearances and have no existence by itself; only the unborn,
infinite Self exists; this is practice of knowledge (ज्ञानाभ्यास
jnanabhayas). Thus the out-going mind is restrained and is stabilized in the Self.
(44) & (45) If mind is controlled from external objects and is also not allowed to go into sleep, still it does not get established in
the Self. Why? It becomes immobile as it were. The reason is - subtle desires which are holding it to the limited consciousness (कषाय
kashaya). These desires are to be unearthed and got rid of. Kashaya is difficult to detect and has to be carefully observed & eliminated;
‘I-am-the-body’ idea and related desires are to be systematically & resolutely counteracted.
Following three are the main obstacles for Self-realization:
1) लय/स्तब्धता (laya/stabdhata) mind becoming immobile due
to तमोगुण tamoguna inertia; its causes could be heavy diet, heavy work, lack of sleep etc.
(bahirmukhata/vikshepa) mind attached to external sense-objects due to रजोगुण rajoguna
(rasaaswada/samaadhisukha) mind attached to the bliss of ignorance associated causal consciousness (आनन्दमयकोष
Spiritual aspirant should engage himself/herself only in bare necessary dealings of the world and should avoid unnecessary engagements.
(46) अनिङ्गनम् Aninganam – absolutely steady mind
Modes of mind-stuff (चित्त chitta) according to Yoga philosophy:
क्षिप्त kshipta, विक्षिप्त
vikshipta, मूढ mudha, एकाग्र ekagra, and निरुद्ध
Difference between Yoga Samadhi and Vedanta Samadhi: former is the result of separation between purusha (Self) and prakriti
(Phenomenon) and in it the mind/nature is neither negated nor is it dissolved in Self; in latter the mind/nature is merged completely
in the Self and it is the result of constantly meditating on the Reality of the Self.
In Vedanta, the transmigrating nature of an embodied being is not absolutely real but in Yoga it is real. Also in Yoga there are many
Purusha (Self) while in Vedanta Brahman alone is the Self.