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 IV – अलातशान्ति प्रकरण Alaatashaanti Prakaran (Chapter on Quenching the Firebrand)
In this last chapter it will be proved in detail that, the dualist and Buddhist philosophies, being contradictory to each other, are
untenable. The purpose of doing this is to make the spiritual aspirant firm footed so that he is not deceived by these philosophies.
The analogy of firebrand refers to the causal chain of transmigration. In the phenomenal world, the association of the Self with
non-self entities like mind, body, senses etc. is experienced but this association can not be real; this is so because for any association
two distinct entities are required and body-mind complex do not have any existence apart from the Self. Just as heat is associated
with fire but can not be proved apart from it similarly the body-mind complex is associated with Self but can not be proved apart from it.
(1) द्विपद dvipada (two-legged) – Human being (though birds are also two-legged, here the term refers to human being).
द्विपदांवरम् dvipadamvaram (greatest amoung two-legged)
– Self-Realized human being (in the context of Mandukya Karika the term refers to Narayan-Rishi of Badarikashrama i.e. Guru of Gaudapadacharya).
आकाशकल्पेन aakaashakalpena – Knowledge similar to space i.e.
subtle, vast, and part-less but not unconscious like space.
jneyabhinnena dharmaan – To realize that the world experienced in waking and dream states as non-different from the Self; hence
the world and its beings are also compared with space.
(2) अस्पर्शयोग asparshayoga – Not connected with anything i.e.
devoid of subject-object duality. That is the nature of Reality.
(9) प्रकृति prakruti – सांसिद्धिकी
samsiddhiki (achieved through right practice e.g. supernatural powers attained by the yogis)
स्वाभाविकी swabhaviki (inherent by nature e.g. heat in fire)
सहजा sahajaa (attained by birth e.g. flying ability of a bird)
अकृता akrutaa (not produced out of anything e.g. nature of water to flow downwards)
The unborn Atman can never change it’s nature and hence no birth is possible for It.
(10) Even when we experience birth, life, and death, we are by our real nature birthless, deathless, pure, and immortal. The true
Self of ours never undergoes any change since by nature (स्वभाव/प्रकृति)
it is changeless! And hence our experience of birth, life, and death is like a dream. The entire series of transmigration does not
affect our real nature in the least; but due to our ignorance and lack of attention we get disturbed even by minor incidents in life.
This is the tragedy of human existence!
(14) हेतु hetu – कारण kaarana (cause) – धर्माधर्म
dharmaadharma (good/bad deeds)
फल phala – कार्य kaarya (effect) - देह deha (body)
The above two are inter-dependent (cause-effect). In the world everything is causal; hence nothing in it can be said to be existing
entirely independent and causeless. The Atman (Self) alone is free and causeless.
Karika 3 onwards it was shown that various dualistic philosophies fight with each other and contradict each other. Any attempt to
explain the 'experienced world' in terms of cause and effect is self-contradictory. This is proved with the help of logic and similes.
First it was shown that the Samkhya and Naiyayika philosophies contradict each other, later in karika 24-27 the Buddhist
philosophical streams were shown to contradict each other.
The major Buddhist philosophical streams are:
वैभाषिक vaibhashik - बाह्यार्थ अपरोक्षवादी (प्रत्यक्षवादी)
bahyartha aparokshavaadi/pratyakshavaadi (external objects are directly perceived entities)
सौत्रान्तिक sautrantik - बाह्यार्थ अनूमेयवादी
bahyartha anumeyavaadi (external objects can be known only by inference)
योगाचार yogaachaar - बाह्यार्थ शून्यवादी (विज्ञानवादी)
bahyartha shunyavaadi/vijnanvaadi (external objects do not exist; perception and inference are not the proofs; there is only a flow of mental-cognitions)
माध्यमिक maadhyamik – सर्वशून्यवादी
sarvashunyavaadi (nothing exists)
(28) विज्ञानवादी vijnanvaadi opinion is refuted with logic
that it is absurd to assume birth of 'momentary mind'. This would be as futile as trying to trace the footprints of a flying bird!
शून्यवादी shunyavaadi opinion is ‘bolder’ than vijnanavaadi –
they say everything is shunya (non-entity). This is as absurd as to catch space by hand.
(37) – (39) विद्यमानत्वम् vidyamaanatvam (day
after day same phenomenon appearing) and अनेकसाधारणत्वम्
anekasaadhaaranatvam (many observers confirming same phenomenon) are said to be the characteristics of waking state – which
make it different from dream state. But this logic is ‘waking-self logic’ and during dream experiences also similar argument can be put!
Hence just as during dream the dream experiences appear real but in fact they are not real, the waking experiences also appear real
during waking time but they are ultimately not real. The experiencing entity of dream state comes to waking state and with respect to
waking experiences thinks that waking experiences are the cause of dream experiences. But in fact the same entity is having the dream
and waking experiences due to non-discrimination and getting itself mixed with subtle and gross bodies.
(42) The explanation of world is discussed by Self-realized people only for aspirants with dull intellect so that these aspirants
may gradually – by study of Vedanta – realize that there is no such real entity as world!
(47) – (52) Analogy of अलात alaat (firebrand) is introduced in karika 47. Till this karika
the unborn Self was proved by showing the contradictory nature of dualistic philosophies and impossibility of birth for the unborn Self.
If a firebrand is swirled rapidly, different images/shapes (like circle etc.) are seen, but these images – though seen – have no actual
existence. If the firebrand is stopped, the images are not seen.
e.g. 1 – For pots, the potter is efficient cause and clay is material cause 2 – For shapes seen in the firebrand example, the 'swirling of firebrand' is efficient cause and
'firebrand' is material cause
If we exclude potter from the e.g. 1 above, then the pots remain i.e. clay in the shape of pot remains. But in e.g. 2, if swirling of
the firebrand is stopped, the shapes do not remain; here the the shapes do not disappear somewhere and neither are they merged into
the firebrand. Thus it is proved that they have no existence at any time – even during they were seen! Similarly the universe, its
creatures, the phenomenal dealings etc. appear in Brahman but have no real existence at any time. They appear and disappear like a
dream. In firebrand analogy there is swirling of the firebrand, no such thing is required in Brahman for the phenomenon to appear.
In other words, our birth, life, death, rebirth etc. are all unreal from Absolute point of view as Swami Vivekananda says: ‘Birth, life and death are but old superstitions. None was ever born, none will ever die, one
changes ones position that’s all. This is first fact of consciousness is – I am.’
If we ask why do these phenomenon appear in Brahman? What is the cause? Then 'ignorance of the real Self' is the only answer. The
quotation by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj given in karika 1 of chapter 3 above proves same point. Brahman and the world do not have a
cause-effect relationship hence the appearances are अनिर्वचनीय
(54) The external objects are neither the cause nor the effect of mind; mind and external objects both are illusory appearances of
Pure Consciousness (Brahman). The Reality is devoid of cause-effect relationship.
(55) – (56) As long as we are attached to the cause-effect chain, we are subjected to the ‘birth-death-rebirth’ cycle and consequently
we have to experience the ‘world’. On realization of infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss as our real nature, this causal chain is broken
and the appearance of body, world etc. cease.
(64) – (66) In dream, the dream world (दृश्य drishya) is identical with the dreaming-mind (द्रष्टा
drashta). Also the dreaming-mind is identical with the dreamer himself. Thus the dreamer projects a dream-mind and associated
dream-world. But all the while the projected mind and the imaginary world are identical with the dreamer. This is also the case with
(67) चित्त chitta (mind or subject) – चैत्य chaitya (cognized
object) e.g. knowledge of pot is chitta – pot is chaitya
The above two are always interconnected and in fact it can not be proved that they have a cause and effect relationship between them.
From Absolute point of view they do not have any existence by themselves and appear to exists only because the seer imagines them that way.
(79) अभूताभिनिवेश abhutabhinivesh – अभूत
abhuta (objects that have no existence) + अभिनिवेश abhinivesh (to be convinced that they exist)
Our understanding about ourselves, others, and world is a abhutabhinivesh; in place of infinite, non-dual, Pure Consciousness
– the only Reality ever existing – we see or experience ourselves, others, and world as existing!
(81) The Atman or Self is स्वयंप्रकाश-स्वरुप
swayamprakaash-swaroop i.e. it shines by its own light and does not require external light like sun, moon, fire etc. to illumine
it and It is ever-present.
(82) Doubt: If nature of the Self is as mentioned above and we are repeatedly being told about It, why can’t we grasp It? Why do we
experience body, mind, world etc. and not Atman?
Explanation: ‘We’ – are essentially the Self, Pure Consciousness; forgetting this fact we attach ourselves to the illusory body-mind
phenomenon and then worry about Self-realization! All we have to do is to be aware of this fact and let go our hold on the body-mind
complex. Since we hold on to the ‘body-mind instrument’ and through it experience the phenomenal world, we are always ‘outward-focused’.
To ‘experience’ the Self we have no ‘instrument’; this is the ‘difficulty’ in the Self-realization. Being Itself the substratum of
thought-speech channel, the Atman is also difficult to describe or think of.
(83) Various philosophies try to describe Self/God in various ways:
(a) अस्ति asti – Self ‘IS’ (existence) – Sankhya and other dualistic philosophies - चलभाव
chalabhaav (moving or transmigrating nature)
(b) नास्ति naasti – Self ‘IS NOT’ (non-existence) – Vainashik or Vijnanwaadi
Buddhist philosophies - स्थिरभाव sthirabhaav (fixed or stationary nature)
(c) अस्तिनास्ति astinaasti – Self ‘IS and IS NOT’
– Ardhavainashik or Charwaak or Digambar Jain philosophies - उभयभाव
ubhayabhaav (both fixed and moving nature)
(d) नास्तिनास्ति naastinaasti – Self ‘IS NOT
and IS NOT’ – Maadhyamik or Atyantik Shunyawaadi Buddhist philosophies - अभाव abhaav (void nature)
All the above philosophers, by putting forth such subtle philosophies, are in fact ‘covering’ the Self as it were and hence are getting
deluded. If such is the plight of philosophers, no wonder majority of humanity is ignorant about the Atman.
(86) A Self-realized person has peaceful and blissful mind as a result of Self-discovery. That’s the nature of his mind; he does not
need to practice mind control. But a spiritual aspirant has to practice mind control and that which is natural to आत्मज्ञानी
atmajnani (Self-realized person) is a spiritual practice for aspirants.
(87) In this chapter from karika 3 to karika 86, the birth-less nature of Atman was proved by showing the contradictory
nature of dualistic philosophies. Now from karika 87 onwards the same truth is explained by Vedanta’s अवस्थात्रय
awasthaatraya (analyzing the three states of consciousness) method. जाग्रत jagrat (waking state) – लौकिकम्
laukikam (experienced with external objects)
स्वप्न swapna (dream state) – शुद्धलौकिकम्
shuddhalaukikam (experienced without external objects)
(88) सुषुप्ति sushupti (deep sleep) – लोकोत्तरम्
lokottaram (no objects, no experience)
ज्ञानम् jnanam (subject) and ज्ञेयम् jneyam
(object) is उपाय upaay (means) to reach विज्ञेयम्
vijneyam (transcendental knowledge) i.e तुरीय turiya.
(90) Spiritual aspirant must be aware of following four categories, so that he/she can move correctly on the path:
हेय heya – that which is to be avoided (the contents of three states or all phenomenal knowledge)
ज्ञेय jneya – that which is to be known (transcendental knowledge)
आप्य aapya – that which is to be attained or to be taken help of e.g. पाण्डित्य
panditya (hearing), बाल्य baalya (cogitating), and मौन mauna (continuous meditation).
पाक्य paakya that which is to be rendered ineffective or to be sterilized like attachments,
hatred, desires etc.
(92) The objects of the phenomenal world including all creatures do not have absolute existence. They are संदिह्यमानस्वरुप
sandihyamaanswarup (not positively ascertainable); they can neither be said to exist nor not to exist. But the Self is not sandihyamaanswarup
rather it is नित्यनिश्चितस्वरुप
nityanishchitaswarup (positively ever present). Swami Vivekananda says, ‘It is through the inscrutable power of Maya, which can
not be indicated as either existent or non-existent that the relative consciousness has come upon the Jiva who is none other than
Brahman. This is generally known as the conscious state. And the state in which this duality of relative existence becomes one in the
pure Brahman is called in the scriptures the super-conscious state…’
(94) In scriptures, often an ignorant person is derided (कृपण: kripanah – small minded, miser etc.).
This is done just to encourage the spiritual aspirant towards the goal.
(99) ‘All knowledge and knower are essentially infinite Pure Consciousness’ – this truth is not proclaimed by the Buddhists, though
they negate the phenomenal world and its creatures. Vedanta alone proclaims the real nature of the phenomenon.
This karika specifically mentions the above point since throughout the treatise Gaudapadacharya uses terms and verses resembling
Buddhist literature. He makes use of these terms and verses because they were popular in the intellectual circles of India at his times.
But this could give us the wrong impression that Buddhist and Vedanta philosophies are identical. In order to clear the confusion and
state the difference between the two philosophies, here in karika 99, the above point is highlighted. Swami Vivekananda says,
'Buddhism is a great religion in some respects, but to confuse Buddhism with Vedanta is without meaning; anyone may mark just the
difference that exists between Christianity and the Salvation Army.'
(100) Our salutations to the infinite Pure Consciousness that is difficult to attain for those who have not sharpened their minds with
discrimination and dispassion. How can salutation be made to the Truth that is devoid of any subject-object relationship? The answer is:
to get rid of body-consciousness and to establish ourselves in Pure Consciousness is in itself नमस्कार
Just as opening of Mandukya Karika was by two verses invoking auspiciousness (Mangalacharan), in the end of the text there are
three such verses dedicated to Brahman, Paramguru (Supreme Teacher/God), and Guru.
| ॐ शान्ति: | ॐ शान्ति: | ॐ शान्ति: |
| Om Peace | Om Peace | Om Peace |