In the series ‘The Science of Upaniṣads’, it is Māṇḍūkya (माण्डूक्य) Upaniṣad that we now take up for study and rational review; this is the sixth in the series of eleven Upaniṣads. Māṇḍūkya belongs to Atharva Veda, together with two other Principal Upaniṣads, Muṇḍaka and Praśna. What the word Māṇḍūkya signifies is not definitely known; in the study of the Upaniṣad it is not significant either.

Māṇḍūkya is the smallest of the eleven Principal Upaniṣads under our review; it has only 12 verses, numbered serially from 1 to 12. Nevertheless, it is the tersest of all, expounding in a unique manner the nature of shining of Ātmā in beings, with particular importance to the aspect of CHIT (consciousness). It uncovers four distinct modes of expression of CHIT.

Brevity of the Upaniṣad is an indication of the terseness in contents presentation, warranting detailed study of each verse. However, before moving on to the verses, we may recall our declared adherence to the rational path in the study of Upaniṣads. This may at times entail departure from conventional understanding and teaching by theologians and spiritual luminaries; in such cases the views expressed here may be appreciated with a rational approach befitting this age of scientific spirit. In our study, we shall also pursue our commitment to look for and abide by the consistency of teachings in all the Principal Upaniṣads taken together, which is essential for comprehensive understanding of their philosophy.


Let us now see the first verse:

ओमित्येतदक्षरमिदं सर्वं तस्योपव्याख्यानं भूतं भवद्भविष्यदिति सर्वमोङ्कार एव | यच्चान्यत् त्रिकालातीतं तदप्योङ्कार एव || 1 ||

omityetadakṣaramidaṃ sarvaṃ tasyopavyākhyānaṃ bhūtaṃ bhavadbhaviṣyaditi sarvamoṅkāra eva yaccānyat trikālātītaṃ tadapyoṅkāra eva. (1)

Word meaning: om- Om; iti- known as; etat- this; akṣaram- syllable; idaṃ- here, this; sarvaṃ- all; tasya- its; upavyākhyānaṃ- explanation, interpretation (physical translation, which is verily manifestation); bhūtaṃ- past; bhavat- present; bhaviṣyat- future; eva- verily; yat- which, what; ca- and; anyat- others; trikāla- past, present and future taken together, atītaṃ- beyond, transcending; tat- that; api- also.

Verse meaning: ‘All this is the syllable known as ‘Om’, (rather) its manifestation. Everything in the past, present and future is verily Om; if anything is there transcending these three expressions of time, then, that too is verily ‘Om’.

In verses 2.23.2 and 2.23.3 of Chāndogya Upaniṣad it is said that Vedas issued forth on account of intense meditation by Prajāpati on the worlds; in the same manner the three words ‘bhūḥ, bhuvaḥ, svaḥ (bhur, bhuva, sva)’ issued forth from the Vedas; and ‘Om’ issued forth from these three words, by intense meditation. The implication is that the principle of ‘Om’ was reached by successive intense meditations on the worlds, the Vedas and the three words of ‘bhūḥ, bhuvaḥ, svaḥ’. ‘Om’ is thus the ultimate essence of the worlds; the said meditations indicate a churning process to bring forth that essence, like the churning of Kṣīra Sāgara for obtaining the mythological amṛta, wherein Kṣīra Sāgara represents the universe.

If ‘Om’ is the essence of the worlds, then reversely, the worlds must be the manifestation of ‘Om’. This exactly is what the first verse of Māṇḍūkya declares through the phrase ‘tasyopavyākhyānaṃ’ (its manifestation, physical interpretation). After saying that ‘Om’ is all that is here, the verse quickly adds this phrase by way of clarification, implying that all that is here is only the manifestation of ‘Om’ and not ‘Om’ as such. The split presentation must be for the sake of force in expression. The said clarification applies to the rest of the verse also, though the phrase is not repeated again and again.

Contrary to this understanding of ‘upavyākhyānaṃ’, the view of conventional interpretation is this: the word indicates that what follows it is the explanation of what precedes it. This interpretation however reduces a profound philosophical revelation into a superficial utterance. It is awkward to think that the Upaniṣad seeks to explain the simple and ubiquitous phrase ‘idam sarvam’ in so many words as would constitute a major portion of the verse. Moreover, it is most unlikely that an Upaniṣad would include the past, future and transcendent entities within the ambit of the phrase ‘idam sarvam’.

Further, the syllable ‘Om’ is Ātmā itself as explicitly declared in verse 12 of this very Upaniṣad. Ātmā is pure existence, consciousness and bliss; it is purely immortal too. But, the phenomenal world represented by ‘idam sarvam’ has an element of mortality. Therefore, nothing in this world can be equated squarely to Ātmā. That is why the Upaniṣad adds an immediate clarification that the world is ‘upavyākhyānaṃ’ of ‘Om’. The conventional interpretation ignores this aspect.

Above all, the very subject-matter of this Upaniṣad is an explication of how the said ‘upavyākhyānaṃ’ (manifestation) of ‘Om’ works out.

The next verse too reinforces the present understanding of the import of ‘upavyākhyānaṃ’, by asserting that all this is Brahma only. We know that there is a subtle difference between Ātmā and Brahma, since Brahma has a mortal form also (vide verse 2.3.1 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka). Verse 2 is given below:

सर्वं ह्येतद्ब्रह्म अयमात्मा ब्रह्म सोഽयमात्मा चतुष्पात् || 2 ||

sarvaṃ hyetadbrahma ayamātmā brahma soഽyamātmā catuṣpāt. (2)

Word meaning: hi- certainly, indeed, of course; ayam- this, saḥ- he; catuṣpāt- four-footed. (Rest as in the first verse)

Verse meaning: Indeed, all this is Brahma. This Ātmā is Brahma. He, this Ātmā, is four-footed.

After stating in verse 1 that all this is manifestation of Om, here in verse 2 it is asserted that all this is indeed Brahma. The implication is that Brahma represents manifested Om. As stated above, verse 2.3.1 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka declares that Brahma has two forms, namely, mortal – immortal, perceptible – imperceptible and limited and unlimited. This underlines the idea that the world is only manifested Om and not Om as such. So, the assertion ‘all this is Brahma’ is quite veritable.

The next assertion is ‘this Ātmā is Brahma’ (Ayam Ātmā Brahma). ‘This Ātmā’ refers to which Ātmā? No previous reference is there regarding any Ātmā; the only reference is to Om, in the previous verse. In verse 12, this Om is declared as Ātmā. So, manifested Om is manifested Ātmā, which in essence is Ātmā with Prakṛti invoked. Therefore the declaration ‘this Ātmā is Brahma’ implies that the Ātmā with invoked Prakṛti is Brahma. We have been consistently holding that Ātmā and Brahma are not identical or synonymous, in view of the Upaniṣadic declaration that Brahma has two forms, unlike Ātmā which is purely immortal, imperceptible and unlimited. Had they been naturally and unassailably identical, the Upaniṣads need not have again and again made such assertive declarations on their mutual relationship.

The verse finally asserts that this Ātmā is four-footed. This implies that the shining of Ātmā has four distinct modes. In the ensuing verses we shall study these modes in detail. But before proceeding to the next verse, we may take note of an important fact about this verse. It is this: the declaration ‘This Ātmā is Brahma’ (Ayam Ātmā Brahma – अयमात्मा ब्रह्म) is one of the four Great Declarations (Mahāvākyas) of Upaniṣads. We have already seen two, one in Bṛhadāraṇyaka (1.4.10 – I am Brahma – अहं ब्रह्मास्मि – ahaṃ brahmāsmi) and the other in Chāndogya (6.8.7 – That is you – तत्त्वमसि – tattvamasi). This is the third; the fourth is yet to come.

In the next verse we see the first mode of shining of Ātmā. Let us see what the verse says:

जागरित स्थानो बहिःप्रज्ञः सप्ताङ्ग एकोनविंशतिमुखः स्थूलभुक् वैश्वानरः प्रथमः पादः || 3 ||

jāgarita sthāno bahiḥprajñaḥ saptāṅga ekonaviṃśatimukhaḥ sthūlabhuk vaiśvānaraḥ prathamaḥ pādaḥ. (3)

Word meaning: jāgarita- waking; sthāna- state, domain; prajñaḥ- knowing; bahiḥprajñaḥ- outward knowing (knowing oriented outwards); saptāṅga- with seven components; ekonaviṃśatimukhaḥ- with 19 mouths (mouth here means portals for conveying information); sthūlabhuk- consuming (knowing) the gross; apprehending/ cognising the forms tangible to senses; vaiśvānaraḥ- Vaiśvānaraḥ (it is the name of the state in question); prathamaḥ- first; pādaḥ- foot (mode).

Verse meaning: The first mode is Vaiśvānaraḥ. It is the shining of Ātmā in the waking state; the knowing process herein is outwardly oriented. This mode involves seven components and nineteen mouths. Those forms (objects) which are tangible to the senses are cognised in this mode.

We know that Ātmā is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA and that it shines uniformly all over the universe. But, depending upon the structural characteristics and capabilities of the physical bodies of beings, this shining is expressed differently. Varying expressions of such shining, with reference to CHIT, are mentioned here as ‘modes’. The Upaniṣad says that modes are four in number (verse 2). The four modes relate to the four states which a being may pass through, namely, waking, dreaming, sleeping and transcendental. In this 3rd verse, the first mode is explained; the shining in the waking state is called Vaiśvānaraḥ and it relates to the knowing/expressing process when the being is awake. In the waking state all the sense organs and motor organs (organs of action) are active; they interact with the outside world, which fact is indicated in the verse by the phrase, ‘knowing is outwardly oriented’. ‘Knowing’ indicates the working of consciousness, which includes expressing also.

It is also stated that the process involves seven components and nineteen mouths. What are those seven components (aṅga) and nineteen mouths (mukhas)? Many interpreters imagine Vaiśvānaraḥ to be a being of human form, on account of the mention of aṅga which, they take as limb, and mukha which, to them is the organ for consuming food. Accordingly, they assume his body parts like head, eyes, breath, feet, etc. as the aṅga in question. But, this assumption is out of place, since the topic under discussion is the mode of shining of Ātmā in the waking state of beings and how the process of knowing consequently operates in that state; Vaiśvānaraḥ is only the name of that mode. Moreover, in the next verse, all these seven ‘limbs’ are present, but the name of the dreaming state is Taijasa to which this assigning of body parts is inappropriate. The conventional interpreters fail to get at the real import of Upaniṣadic postulations, due to their application of the lower texts of mythology and epics for understanding the higher texts of Upaniṣads. They interpret Upaniṣads on the basis of the popular stories of epics and mythology; Upaniṣads stand far higher than these stories and have to be understood by application of the reasoning faculty. It must be the Upaniṣadic declarations that should serve as a tool for properly understanding the message of these stories and not otherwise. Actually, the seven components of this mode are seven members participating in the process of knowing/expression (cognition/action). They are

1. Sense organs,
2. Organs of action (motor organs),
3. Prāṇas,
4. Antaḥkaraṇas,
5. Consciousness,
6. Pañcabhūtas, and
7. Sense objects.

Among these seven components involved in the knowing process, says the verse, there are nineteen mukhas. These mukhas are nothing but portals for receiving or disseminating information regarding either knowing or expression. Which are those mukhas? In the sense organs we have 8 such portals, namely, 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils, tongue and skin. Motor organs provide 7 portals, namely, speech, 2 hands, 2 legs, reproductive organ and organ of excretion. These two come to a total of 15. To this, 4 Antaḥkaraṇas, which are the ultimate portals of reception and dissemination, are added, taking the total to 19. These are the nineteen mukhas.

In the waking state we cognise and also act upon objects/beings perceivable to our senses. Such objects/beings, existing in specific forms and names in the phenomenal world, are described as sthūla (gross); hence the word sthūlabhuk which simply means cognising of or acting upon gross objects/beings.

Before proceeding to the next verse, we may take note of one important fact: though Vaiśvānaraḥ is the name of waking state cognition, it vicariously represents the state wherein the knower indulges in worldly experiences. This is obviously the lowest state of enlightenment. In the same way, the second state Taijasa represents the middle level of enlightenment wherein one is withdrawn from the direct worldly experiences, but the impressions thereof still remain in him with varying degrees of influence. In the third state, Prājña, the knower is further elevated to the level, wherein only the consciousness of ‘I am’ remains. In the final state, all differentiations end, resulting in unification with pure Ātmā. We will see these in detail in the coming verses.

Now, we may move on to the fourth verse which says about Ātmā’s second mode of shining. The verse reads thus:

स्वप्नस्थानोഽन्तःप्रज्ञः सप्ताङ्ग एकोनविंशतिमुखः प्रविविक्तभुक् तैजसो द्वितीयः पादः || 4 ||

svapnasthānoഽntaḥprajñaḥ saptāṅga ekonaviṃśatimukhaḥ praviviktabhuk taijaso dvitīyaḥ pādaḥ. (4)

Word meaning: svapnasthānaḥ- dream state; antaḥprajñaḥ- knowing oriented inwards; praviviktabhuk- that which enjoys fine images; pravivikta- fine, detached; taijasa- Taijasa; dvitīyaḥ- second (for the rest, please see verse 3)

Verse meaning: The second mode is Taijasa. It is the shining of Ātmā in the dreaming state; the knowing process herein is inwardly oriented. This mode (too) involves seven components and nineteen mouths. In this mode, the forms (objects) cognised are fine and also detached from the senses (pravivikta).

The second mode differs from the first in two respects; one is the difference in orientation of the knowing process. In the first mode, the orientation is outwardly, whereas in the second, it is inwardly. Dreaming state is the initial state of sleep, wherein the sense organs and also the motor organs fade into inaction; but, Manas (mind), the involuntary component of Antaḥkaraṇa, is still active. In the waking state Manas processes signals received from the senses by accessing the stock of information in Chitta, under the reasoning control of Buddhi, and thus forms valid perceptions. These are obviously based on live sense signals of perceivable worldly objects and therefore are called sthūla. But, in the dreaming state, since the senses are inactive, no signals are received from them; Buddhi, being voluntary in nature, also becomes inactive. In this situation, the involuntary Manas accesses stored information from Chitta and arbitrarily constructs false perceptions. Most probably, such information must be the ones which it has last accessed during the waking state. Thus, dreams are the creation of the involuntary Manas without the direct involvement of either Buddhi or sense organs. This is why it is said that the knowing process in this mode is inwardly oriented.

Praśna Upaniṣad says that when all the sense organs merge into Manas and lie dormant there, we enjoy dreams wherein we see once again what has been seen before, hear what has been heard before and enjoy what has been enjoyed before. We also enjoy the unseen, unheard, unperceived and the unreal (Praśna Upaniṣad 4.2 & 4.5). Since the perceptions constructed by Manas in the dreaming state are indirect and unreal, they are called ‘pravivikta’. This constitutes the second difference between the two modes; in the first mode the perception was ‘sthūla’ whereas it is ‘pravivikta’ here.

In this mode also, all the seven aṅgas (components) and nineteen mukhas (mouths) are involved in the knowing/expressing process; the only difference is that their use is indirect and involuntary.

The third mode relates to shining of Ātmā in the deep sleep state. About it the fifth verse says thus:

यत्र सुप्तो न कंचन कामं कामयते न कंचन स्वप्नं पश्यति तत् सुषुप्तं | सुषुप्तस्थान एकीभूतः प्रज्ञानघन एवानन्दमयो ह्यानदभुक् चेतोमुखः प्राज्ञस्तृतीयः पादः || 5 ||

yatra supto na kaṃcana kāmaṃ kāmayate na kaṃcana svapnaṃ paśyati tat suṣuptaṃ. suṣuptasthāna ekībhūtaḥ prajñānaghana evānandamayo hyānadabhuk cetomukhaḥ prājñastṛtīyaḥ pādaḥ. (5)

Word meaning: yatra- when, where; supta- sleeping; na- not; kaṃcana- any; kāmaṃ- desire; kāmayate- wish for, seek for; svapnaṃ- dream; paśyati- see; tat- that; suṣuptaṃ- deep sleep; suṣuptasthāna- deep sleep state; ekībhūtaḥ- unified; prajñānaghana- (undifferentiated) mass of knowledge; eva- indeed, really; ānandamaya- blissful, consisting of bliss; hi- verily; ānadabhuk- enjoying bliss; cetomukhaḥ- having consciousness as mukha (mouth); prājñaḥ- Prājña, the knowing person; tṛtīyaḥ- third; pādaḥ- foot.

Verse meaning: The stage of sleep, wherein no desire is wished for and no dream is seen, is called deep sleep. In the deep sleep state, the mode of shining of Ātmā is known as Prājña (which indicates the knowing person). In this mode the entire knowledge is really unified into an undifferentiated mass; it is verily blissful (ānandamaya). So, bliss alone is enjoyed in this third mode and the mukha (mouth) therefor is consciousness.

When we are in deep sleep, we don’t see any dream; nor do we desire for anything; for, in this state we don’t experience any differentiation into sthūla or pravivkta, in respect of cognisance of objects. Actually, we know no objects; the entire knowledge is unified into an aggregate, a mass of knowledge without any differentiation. We only know ‘I am’ and enjoy only bliss since there is only ‘I’ and nothing other than ‘I’ to desire for or dread about. The one who knows ‘I am’ is known as ‘Prājña’ which veritably is the name of this third mode of shining of Ātmā. Since only bliss is there to enjoy, this mode is said to be blissful (ānandamaya). Neither mind nor any sense is used for enjoyment of bliss; it is enjoyed by the consciousness within.

In the first two modes, we have seen that nineteen mukhas are used for the knowing/expressing process. Here, none of these comes in the picture; only the inner consciousness is used; that is why it is stated that the mukha here is ‘cetas’ (चेतस् – consciousness). In fact, consciousness is the energy behind the whole knowing process undertaken by the senses and Antaḥkaraṇas. In this third mode, which is subtler than the previous ones, it has taken over the whole process since the senses, Manas and Buddhi are inactive.

The next verse says more about the ‘Prājña’ state. Please see the 6th verse below:

एष सर्वेश्वर एष सर्वज्ञ एषोन्तर्यामि एष योनिः सर्वस्य प्रभवाप्ययौ हि भूतानाम् || 6 ||

eṣa sarveśvara eṣa sarvajña eṣontaryāmi eṣa yoniḥ sarvasya prabhavāpyayau hi bhūtānām. (6)

Word meaning: eṣa- he; sarveśvara- lord of all; sarvajña- the omniscient; antaryāmi- inner controller; yoni- the cause; sarvasya- of all; prabhavāpyayau- both the origin and the end; hi- verily; bhūtānām- of the beings.

Verse meaning: He (Prājña) is the lord of all, the omniscient, the inner controller and the cause of all; he is both the origin and the end of all beings.

Bṛhadāraṇyaka verse 1.4.1 says thus: “In the beginning, there was only Ātmā in the mode of Puruṣa. He surveyed around; finding only himself, he said, ‘I am’….” Bṛhadāraṇyaka continues to say that the origin of all beings is this Puruṣa (1.4.4) and also that Ātmā is the inner controller of all, the omniscient, etc. (verses 3.7.3 to 3.7.23). Here, in verse 6 of Māṇḍūkya, the one who knows ‘I am’ is Prājña; obviously he is Puruṣa pervading the beings and therefore he is inner controller, omniscient and all, since Puruṣa is Ātmā himself.

The next verse presents the subtlest mode of shining of Ātmā. Let us see the verse below:
नान्तःप्रज्ञं न बहिःप्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं न प्रज्ञानघनं न प्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञं अदृष्टमव्यवहार्यं अग्राह्यमलक्षणं अचिन्त्यमव्यपदेश्यं एकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवमद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः || 7 ||

nāntaḥprajñaṃ na bahiḥprajñaṃ nobhayataḥprajñaṃ na prajñānaghanaṃ na prajñaṃ nāprajñaṃ adṛṣṭamavyavahāryaṃ agrāhyamalakṣaṇaṃ acintyamavyapadeśyaṃ ekātmapratyayasāraṃ prapañcopaśamaṃ śāntaṃ śivamadvaitaṃ caturthaṃ manyante sa ātmā sa vijñeyaḥ. (7)

Word meaning: na- not; antaḥprajña- inward knowing; bahiḥprajña- outward knowing; ubhayataḥprajña- bidirectional knowing; aprajña- absence of knowing, cessation of knowing; adṛṣṭaṃ- unseen; avyavahāryaṃ- not relatable, not amenable to be dealt with; agrāhyam- ungraspable; alakṣaṇaṃ- devoid of attributes; acintyam- unthinkable, beyond being thought of; avyapadeśyaṃ- that cannot be indicated, beyond being designated; ekātmapratyayasāraṃ- unified essence of all the states of consciousness; prapañcopaśamaṃ- cessation of all worldly differentiations; śāntaṃ- serene; śivam- blissful; advaitaṃ- without a second; caturthaṃ- fourth; manyante- considered; sa- he; ātmā- Ātmā; vijñeyaḥ- to be realised. (For other words see former verses)

Verse meaning: The fourth is Ātmā himself, in his subtlest mode of shining. He is beyond inward knowing, outward knowing and bidirectional knowing; he is neither knowing nor unknowing; he is not a mass of knowledge. He is not seen and not relatable; he is ungraspable, devoid of attributes and unthinkable; he cannot be indicated (like this is he). He is the unified essence of all the states of consciousness wherein all worldly differentiations cease; he is serene, blissful and without a second. He is to be realised.

The meaning is very clear. We are already aware of the various aspects of the nature of Ātmā described here; we have seen them in the previous articles of this series. However, a little elaboration is necessary on some points like ‘ekātmapratyayasāraṃ’. The word ekātmata indicates unification or unified state; pratyaya is consciousness and sāraṃ is essence. In the three verses 3, 4 and 5 we have seen the three modes of shining of Ātmā. If we eliminate the different characteristics of the knower in each of these modes, we are ushered into the concept of ‘ekātmapratyayasāraṃ’; this, in other words, is an abstraction of the three modes of shining. In the waking state the knower has all the senses in direct participation, in the dreaming state they are in indirect participation and in deep sleep state none of them is employed. Abstraction implies elimination of such differences; this process is indicated by the initial words like ‘nāntaḥprajñaṃ’ ‘na bahiḥprajñaṃ’, ‘na prajñaṃ’ ‘nāprajñaṃ’ etc. The nature of Ātmā emerging from this abstraction, representing only the essence, the consciousness is known as ‘ekātmapratyayasāraṃ’.

The difference between the third and fourth modes is this: in the third, Ātmā is in the Puruṣa mode, having invoked Prakṛti; but in the fourth, Prakṛti is revoked and Ātmā is in its serenest and subtlest form.

In the remaining verses, the Upaniṣad presents another view of the principle of Ātmā, based on syllables. It is said in verse 8 that the syllable ‘Om’ represents Ātmā; ‘Om’ is a combination of three sounds namely ‘अ’ (a- ‘ʌ’), उ (u- ‘u’) and म् (m- ‘m’). These three sounds actually represent the first three modes mentioned in verses 3, 4 and 5; we will see this in the ensuing verses. Let us see verse 8:

सोഽयमात्माध्यक्षरमोङ्कारोഽधिमात्रं पादा मात्रा मात्राश्च पादा अकार उकारो मकार इति || 8 ||

soഽyamātmādhyakṣaramoṅkāroഽdhimātraṃ pādā mātrā mātrāśca pādā akāra ukāro makāra iti. (8)

Word meaning: adhyakṣaram- based on syllables; adhimātraṃ- based on sounds, consisting of sounds; mātrā- sound; akāra- the sound ‘अ’ (a- ‘ʌ’); ukāra- the sound उ (u- ‘u’); makāra- the sound म् (‘m’); iti- thus. (For the rest, see preceding verses).

Verse meaning: Meaning of the verse is same as is given in the beginning of this paragraph.

Now, in the verses 9 to 11, the implication of each sound in the syllable ‘Om’ is explained. Please see verse 9 below:

जागरितस्थानो वैश्वानरोഽकारः प्रथमा मात्राप्तेरादिमत्वाद्वा आप्नोति ह वै सर्वान् कामान् आदिश्च भवति य एवं वेद || 9 ||

jāgaritasthāno vaiśvānaroഽkāraḥ prathamā mātrāpterādimatvādvā āpnoti ha vai sarvān kāmān ādiśca bhavati ya evaṃ veda. (9)

Word meaning: āpteḥ- on account of reaching out; ādimatvād- on account of being the first or preliminary; vā- and; āpnoti- reaches out; ha vai- verily; sarvān kāmān- all desires (kāmā); yaḥ- whoever, veda- knows, aware of. (Rest as in preceding verses).

Verse meaning: The waking state Vaiśvānara is assigned the first sound of ‘Om’ namely ‘akāra’; for, it is in this state that one reaches out to the outside world and it is the preliminary (primitive) state of his enlightenment. Further, the sound ‘अ’ also possesses these attributes; it is the first sound of ‘Om’ and the other sounds follow it. One whose awareness is limited to this state, remains in the initial stages of enlightenment and reaches out to all desires.

Further explanation seems unwarranted, as the verse meaning is sufficiently intelligible. We may now see the next verse:

स्वप्नस्थानस्तैजस उकारो द्वितीया मात्रा उत्कर्षादुभयत्वाद्वा उत्कर्षति ह वै ज्ञानसन्ततिं समानश्च भवति नास्याब्रह्मवित्कुले भवति य एवं वेद || 10 ||

svapnasthānastaijasa ukāro dvitīyā mātrā utkarṣādubhayatvādvā utkarṣati ha vai jñānasantatiṃ samānaśca bhavati nāsyābrahmavitkule bhavati ya evaṃ veda. (10)

Word meaning: dvitīyā- second; utkarṣād- on account of rising to something better, ubhayatvād- on account of being bidirectional; utkarṣati- raise; jñānasantati- flow of knowledge; samāna- being equally disposed to opposites; bhavati- becomes; na- not; asya- his; kule- in the family; abrahmavit- not knowing Brahma

Verse meaning: The dreaming state Taijasa is the second sound of ‘Om’, namely ‘ukāra’. It is so called on account of its rising to a better state/position and of being bidirectional. One who knows thus raises the flow of knowledge in him and becomes equally disposed to opposite experiences; in his family, no one will be ignorant of Brahma.

We have seen that the Taijasa marks a complete withdrawal of the senses from direct worldly experiences. But, the earlier impressions will remain without being completely erased of. However, to the point of view of enlightenment, this is a step forward; that is why it is stated to be ‘utkarṣa’ or improvement. Taijasa is the middle state between Vaiśvānara and Prājña; it connects them both. That is why it is bidirectional state or the state of ‘ubhayatva’. One who is in the Taijasa state may raise his knowledge level and disseminate it around; this will result in passing of the knowledge of Brahma to his family members also. Further, such a person will not be affected by dualities of the phenomenal world (he becomes samāna).

Like Taijasa, ‘ukāra’ also is bidirectional. It is the middle sound of ‘Om’; it therefore marks an upgradation from the earlier sound. Therefore, it fits well with the Taijasa state.

The next verse says about the final sound of ‘Om’. Let us see the verse:

सुषुप्तस्थानः प्राज्ञो मकारस्तृतीया मात्रा मितेरपीतेर्वा मिनोति ह वा इदं सर्वमपीतिश्च भवति य एवं वेद || 11 ||

suṣuptasthānaḥ prājño makārastṛtīyā mātrā miterapītervā minoti ha vā idaṃ sarvamapītiśca bhavati ya evaṃ veda. (11)

Word meaning: tṛtīya- third; miteḥ- on account of limit; apīteḥ- on account of being the final, ultimate; minoti- understand, perceive; idam sarvam- all this; apītiḥ- attaining to, dissolution, entering into. (Rest as above)

Verse meaning: The deep sleep state Prājña is assigned the third sound ‘makāra’ (म्) of the syllable ‘Om’. This is because it is the final limit which a being with body consciousness, can attain to. One, who knows this, verily understands all this here and dissolves into the underlying consciousness.

In ‘Om’, ‘makāra’ is the last sound and therefore the limit of ‘Om’; further, Prājña is the state which an embodied can attain to. This explains the propriety of their mutual association assigned in the verse.

Prājña is the state of Puruṣa, beyond which it is only serene Ātmā, without Prakṛti. The next verse describes its nature:

अमात्रश्चतुर्थोഽव्यवहार्यः प्रपञ्चोपशमः शिवोഽद्वैत एवमोङ्कार आत्मैव संविशत्यात्मनात्मानं य एवं वेद य एवं वेद || 12 ||

amātraścaturthovyavahāryaḥ prapañcopaśamaḥ śivodvaita evamoṅkāra ātmaiva saṃviśatyātmanātmānaṃ ya evaṃ veda ya evaṃ veda. (12)

Word meaning: amātra- without any sound differentiation; caturtha- fourth; avyavahārya- not relatable, not amenable to be dealt with; prapañcopaśama- cessation of all worldly differentiation; śiva- blissful; advaita- without a second; evam- thus; eva- verily; saṃviśati- enters in, attain to; ātmanā- by own self; ātmānaṃ- into the Ātmā; ya- who; veda- knows (repetition indicates end of the text).

Verse meaning: The fourth state of ‘Om’ is without any differentiation into its constituent sounds; it is not amenable to be dealt with in any manner and in it all worldly differentiations cease. It is blissful and without a second. This Oṅkāra is verily Ātmā. One who knows this enters the Ātmā himself.

The core idea in this verse is that the composite ‘Om’, devoid of differentiation into the constituent sounds mentioned in the three preceding verses, is the serene Ātmā. In the three states represented by the three sounds, Ātmā shines as Puruṣa with his Prakṛti invoked, with varied expressions. In the waking state the world as such is the object of experience and enjoyment. In the dreaming state the objects are the impressions received in the waking state; this state is marked by a departure from direct worldly experiences. In the deep sleep state, such impressions too are absent; only the consciousness of ‘I am’ remains. This is the state of identification with Puruṣa. In contrast, Ātmā in its purest form, with the Prakṛti revoked and involved, is represented by the fourth state where no differentiation of any kind exists. Thus, in these verses, we can see a progressive transformation from the mundane to the most enlightened state. The lesson to be learnt is that detachment from worldly entailments takes one to immortality.

In Praśna Upaniṣad, we will see the same issue of differentiation of ‘Om’ into the constituent sounds with their respective impacts and also its composite form, in the discussion on the fifth question.

Thus ends our study of Māṇḍūkya. Herein we have seen the different modes of shining of Ātmā in various states of awakening of beings; the more we are awakened to the phenomenal world, the less we are awakened to its immortal essence. Gīta presents this truth beautifully in verse 2.69 which says thus: ‘what is night to all beings, the self-controlled one (hermit) is awake therein; wherein all beings are awake, it is night to that hermit’.

“या निशा सर्वभूतानां तस्यां जागर्ति संयमी |
यस्यां जाग्रति भूतानि सा निशा पश्यतो मुनेः || 2.69 ||

yā niśā sarvabhūtānāṃ tasyāṃ jāgarti saṃyamī,
yasyāṃ jāgrati bhūtāni sā niśā paśyato muneḥ. (2.69)

The Upaniṣad further explains the syllable ‘Om’ which is the symbol for representing Ātmā and correlates the constituents of ‘Om’ with the modes of shining of Ātmā.

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Prior articles in this series:

The Science of the Upanishads – Introduction
The Science of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
The Science of Chandogya Upanishad
The Science of Ishavasya Upanishad
The Science of Katha Upanishad
The Science of Kena Upanishad
The Science of Mandukya Upanishad
The Science of Mundaka Upanishad
The Science of Prashna Upanishad
The Science of Taittiriya Upanishad
The Science of Aitareya Upanishad
The Science of Shvetashvatara Upanishad
The Science of Upanishads – Conclusion