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“SATYAMEVA JAYATE (सत्यमेव जयते)” is the national motto of India. All Indians do know it; but, most of them may not know that this is part of an Upanishadic mantra. Yes, it forms part of verse 3.1.6 of Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, which is the subject of discussion in this article; this is the seventh in the series ‘The Science of Upaniṣads’.
Muṇḍaka belongs to Atharva Veda and consists of six parts (Khaṇḍas) arranged in three sections which are known as Muṇḍaka(s). Each verse is numbered by the section, part and serial numbers; accordingly 1.2.3 indicates verse 3 of part 2 of Muṇḍaka 1.
As usual, this Upaniṣad also speaks about Ātmā and Brahma and also about the paths for attaining thereto; but the exposition herein is rather direct and precise. The postulations in the Upaniṣad are presented in the form of instructions imparted to one Śaunaka (शौनक), a great householder, by Sage Angiras. Śaunaka approaches and asks Angiras, “Lord, what having known does all this become known?” (Bhagavo, kasmin vijñāte sarvamidaṃ vijñātaṃ bhavati – भगवो, कस्मिन् विज्ञाते सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवति). It may be recalled that this is the same question which Sage Uddālaka Āruṇi asked his son Śvetaketu to test whether the son had got proper instruction (6.1.2 of Chāndogya Upaniṣad). Śvetaketu failed in the test, in spite of his being proficient in Vedas through twelve years of Veda studies. Implied therein is the declaration that mere knowledge of Vedas is not adequate to elevate man to higher levels of awareness culminating in immortality. We see the same sight here also; Angiras asserts that knowledge of Vedas and Vedangas (texts subsidiary to Vedas) is verily inferior to the knowledge by which the imperishable is known (1.1.4 & 1.1.5). Gīta verses 2.42, 2.45 and 2.46 reflect the same view. Particularly, Gīta verse 2.45 indicates that Vedas are concerned with physical aspects of life and in contrast, the desirable pursuit is detachment from them. Vedas here obviously refer to the Samhitas and other texts dealing with physical accomplishments (karmakāṇḍa).
Angiras follows up by explaining the superior knowledge that leads to attainment of immortality. His explication is about the transcendent entity, knowing which one attains immortality. Please see below what he says:
यत्तदद्रेश्यमग्राह्यमगोत्रमवर्णंमचक्षुःश्रोत्रं तदपाणिपादम् |
नित्यं विभुं सर्वगतं सुसूक्ष्मं तदव्ययं यद्भूतयोनिं परिपश्यन्ति धीराः || 1.1.6 ||
nityaṃ vibhuṃ sarvagataṃ susūkṣmaṃ tadavyayaṃ yadbhūtayoniṃ paripaśyanti dhīrāḥ. (1.1.6)
Word meaning: yat tat- that which; adreśyam- invisible; agrāhyam- inconceivable; agotram- without lineage or origin; avarṇam- without Varṇa; acakṣuḥśrotraṃ- without eyes and ears; tat- that; apāṇipādam- without hands and feet; nityaṃ- eternal; vibhum- pervasive; sarvagatam- omni-present; susūkṣmam- extremely subtle; avyayam- undecaying; yat- which; bhūtayoniṃ- the source of beings; paripaśyanti- perceive, behold, see; dhīrāḥ- the wise, the intelligent.
Verse meaning: That which is invisible, inconceivable, without lineage, without Varṇa, without eyes and ears, without hands and feet, and that which is eternal, all-pervasive, omnipresent, extremely subtle and undecaying – that is what the wise behold as the source of all beings.
The entity described here is obviously transcendent; it is beyond the phenomenal existence, but at the same time the cause thereof. We have already seen these descriptions of the transcendent entity in the study of other Upaniṣads; see Bṛhadāraṇyaka 1.4.7 (unseen, unknown), 1.4.10 (origin); Chāndogya 3.14.3 (pervasive, subtle), 8.1.1 to 8.1.5 (pervasive, undecaying); Īśa 4, 5 & 8 (unseen, pervasive); Kaṭha 2.20 (subtle), 6.9 (unseen); etc. etc. All these descriptions relate to Ātmā. Here it is added that Ātmā is without lineage and Varṇa. Since it is the ultimate entity, it must be without lineage; it should not have descended from anything else. Kaṭha Upaniṣad says the same thing in 2.18 (नायं कुतश्चित् – nāyaṃ kutaścit); it is seen expressed in Gīta 2.20 also (नायं भूत्वा भवित – nāyaṃ bhūtvā bhavita). Now, what does the phrase ‘without Varṇa’ mean? Varṇa is not caste, as many usually understand; it indicates the four classes into which the entire mankind is distributed. The Varṇa classification is primarily based on the proportion of Guṇas occurring in individual beings and then on the Karmas done under the influence of such Guṇas. Guṇa is the inherent proclivity in beings, instrumental in performance of Karma; there are three Guṇas, namely, Sattva, Rajas & Tamas (सत्त्व, रजस्, तमस्). The Varṇa classification has nothing to do with castes. There are thousands of castes in India, which are confined within the believers of Hinduism; but Varṇas are only four in number and, as per the scriptures, cover the entire mankind. Moreover, there is no scriptural prescription classifying various castes into particular Varṇas. Details of Varṇa classification are available in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 1.4.11 to 1.4.14. Further clarifications can be seen in Gīta 4.13, 18.42 to 18.44, etc. Since Ātmā is beyond Guṇas and Karma, it is naturally without Varṇa; it is Avarṇa. In this context, it may be noted that ignorant people use the word ‘Avarṇa’ to indicate certain castes, which they consider lower in status; this only betrays their ignorance and foolishness.
How can physical beings come out from such an entity that is beyond physical attributes? The next three verses explain:
यथोर्णनाभिः सृजते गृह्णते च यथा पृथिव्यामोषधयः संभवन्ति |
यथा सतः पुरुषात् केशलोमानि तथाक्षरात्संभवतीह विश्वम् || 1.1.7 ||
yathorṇanābhiḥ sṛjate gṛhṇate ca yathā pṛthivyāmoṣadhayaḥ saṃbhavanti;
yathā sataḥ puruṣāt keśalomāni tathākṣarātsaṃbhavatīha viśvam. (1.1.7)
Word meaning: yathā- as, just like; ūrṇanābhi- spider; sṛjate- emits; gṛhṇate- take back; ca- and; pṛthivyām- on the earth; oṣadhayaḥ- herbs; saṃbhavanti- spring up; sataḥ puruṣāt – from living person; keśalomāni- hairs (on head and body); tathā- so, in that manner; akṣarāt- from the imperishable; saṃbhavati- arises, happens; iha- here, this; viśvam- universe.
Verse meaning: As a spider emits threads (and makes its web) and takes them back (at his will), as herbs spring up on earth and as hairs grow from living persons, so does the universe arise from the Imperishable (entity).
Here, it is the factor of comparison that is important. What is that? In the example of spider and thread, the spider is unaffected by the emission of thread and also outlives the thread; moreover, it also sustains the thread and also withdraws it at its will. In the other two cases also, the sources remain unaffected and outlive the things sprung up from them. In this way the verse relates the universe to the Imperishable using the said factors of comparison. Now verse 1.1.8:
तपसा चीयते ब्रह्म ततोഽन्नमभिजायते |
अन्नात् प्राणो मनः सत्यम् लोकाः कर्मसु चामृतम् || 1.1.8 ||
tapasā cīyate brahma tatoഽnnamabhijāyate
annāt prāṇo manaḥ satyam lokāḥ karmasu cāmṛtam. (1.1.8)
Word meaning: tapasā- by tapas; cīyate- augment, expand, flourish; brahma- Brahma (this is not the Lord of Creation among Trimurtis, who is really Brahmā in Sanskrit; Brahma here is what usually get translated as Brahman; we have opted to go by the Sanskrit word as such, like Ātmā); tataḥ- from that; annam- food; abhijāyate- be produced, arise; annāt- from food, next to food; prāṇaḥ- Prāṇa; manaḥ- Manas; satyam- Satyam; lokāḥ- worlds; karmasu- in Karma; ca- and; amṛtam- eternity, never ending.
Verse Meaning: Brahma expands through tapas, from which food is produced; it is followed by Prāṇa, Manas and the worlds, which are only Satyam; together with these arises unending Karma also.
We know that Brahma is Ātmā with Prakṛti invoked; in other words, it is the Puruṣa-Prakṛti combine, since Ātmā is Puruṣa when Prakṛti is invoked. It is stated here that Brahma expands and produces food. Puruṣa is Ātmā only and therefore, it is not subject to any change; so, in the said combine, the expansion and production of food must apply to Prakṛti only. Food here means the material used/consumed for emergence of beings. It is physical energy; so, expansion of Brahma implies release of physical energy by Prakṛti. Praśna Upaniṣad says in verse 1.4 that Rayi (matter or energy) and Prāṇa were produced through Tapas at first, from which all the beings came forth. Here we find the same thing. This Muṇḍaka verse also says that energy was released through Tapas. What is that Tapas? Tapas is heating; the next verse will tell us what kind of heating is intended here. Following the production of ‘food’, Prāṇa, Manas and the worlds arise. The word ‘annāt’ cannot be construed as ‘from food’; it only means that production of food is followed by coming into existence of Prāṇa and all. For, without physical energy (or matter), existence of Prāṇa and Manas is out of question; similarly, physical energy by itself cannot produce Prāṇa.
The verse also says that the worlds are Satyam. We are aware what Satyam means; it is Asat supported by Sat (Chāndogya 8.3.5). The worlds are verily that. Karma is an entailment of worldly life; so Karma never ends as long as worlds are there and hence the reference to unending Karma in this verse. Gīta also says that Guṇas of Prakṛti are the cause of Karma (3.27, 13.29 & 14.19); since differentiation of Brahma into names and forms occurs on upsetting the mutual proportion of the three Guṇas from their natural state of uniformity in Prakṛti, Karma is an essential part of the phenomenal world.
Now let us see the nature of Tapas mentioned:
यः सर्वज्ञः सर्वविद्यस्य ज्ञानमयं तपः |
तस्मादेतद्ब्रह्म नाम रुपमन्नं च जायते || 1.1.9 ||
yaḥ sarvajñaḥ sarvavidyasya jñānamayaṃ tapaḥ
tasmādetadbrahma nāma rupamannaṃ ca jāyate. (1.1.9)
Word meaning: yaḥ- who; sarvajñaḥ- omniscient; sarvavid- perceiving all; yasya- whose; jñānamayaṃ- consisting of knowledge; tapaḥ- Tapas; tasmāt- from him; etat- this; brahma- Brahma; nāma- name; rupam- form; annaṃ- food; ca- and; jāyate; come into existence.
Verse meaning: The one who is omniscient and all-perceiving and whose Tapas consists of knowledge only – from him have come into existence this Brahma, names and forms and also food.
We know who this omniscient and all-perceiving is – it is Ātmā (Māṇḍūkya 6). It is stated that his Tapas consists of knowledge only; it means that he exerts heat by knowledge. The cumulative implication is that his Tapas consists in intense exercise of his will. He willed intensely and as a result the Brahma, names and forms and also food came out. Bṛhadāraṇyaka says in verses 1.4.3 and 1.4.7 that Puruṣa along with his Prakṛti differentiated into names and forms.
Thus we come to the end of the first part of the first Muṇḍaka. In the second part, we see the futility of Yajñas consisting of inferior Karma. The opening verse of this part (1.2.1) says thus: ‘All that is here is Satyam (तदेतत् सत्यम् – tadetat satyam). The Karmas prescribed in the Mantras of holy texts are to be done by those who wish Satyam (ie. सत्यकामाः – satyakāmāḥ which indicate those who aspire for enjoyment of the phenomenal world). They will reach only the world attainable by good works (सुकृतस्य लोकः – sukṛtasya lokaḥ). In the next five verses the Upaniṣad deals with some aspects of such Karmas. At the end, it points out the futility of these Karmas in attaining to the ultimate principle, thus underlining the teachings in 1.1.4 and 1.1.5. See the verse below:
प्लवा ह्येते अदृढा यज्ञरूपा अष्टादशोक्तमवरं येषु कर्म |
एतच्छ्रेयो येഽभिनन्तन्ति मूढा जरामृत्युं ते पुनरेवापि यन्ति || 1.2.7 ||
plavā hyete adṛḍhā yajñarūpā aṣṭādaśoktamavaraṃ yeṣu karma;
etacchreyo yeഽbhinantanti mūḍhā jarāmṛtyuṃ te punarevāpi yanti. (1.2.7)
Word meaning: plava- that which floats, a boat or raft; hi- surely; adṛḍha- weak, frail; yajñarūpa- in the form of yajña; aṣṭādaśoktam- prescribed in the Eighteen (Purāṇas); avaraṃ- inferior; etat- this; śreyaḥ- auspiciousness, welfare, benefit; ye- who; abhinantanti- hail, rejoice at; mūḍhā- fools; jarāmṛtyuṃ- old age and death; te- they; punaḥ:- again; eva api- indeed; yanti- reach.
Verse meaning: Frail indeed are these rafts in the form of Yajñas wherein the Karmas are the inferior ones prescribed in the Eighteen (Purāṇas); the fools, who (continue to) hail them as śreyas, indeed reach old age and death again and again.
What is Yajña? It is sacrifice; a Karma in which something is wilfully given up, ultimately benefitting others. The Yajña which is done as a ritual by offering something in fire is only a namesake one. It is an inferior Yajña, as the Karma therein involves giving up of nominal things (offerings into fire) and the claim of benefits therefrom is not reasonably substantiated. Such Yajñas are done as per prescriptions in the eighteen Purāṇas. (Actually the verse uses the word ‘eighteen’ only. Purāṇas are eighteen in number and prescribe Yajñas; that is why the presumption of eighteen Purāṇas is made here). In contrast to these, a Yajña is seen mentioned in Gīta 3.14 wherein it is said that rain occurs due to Yajña. Ritualists go by the letters and do Yajña by offering ghee, etc into fire; they declare that this Yajña will bring rain. Actually, the Yajña mentioned in the Gīta verse is something else; it can be understood by observing the process of raining. In that Yajña Sun, Sea, Wind and Atmosphere are the participants. Sun gives heat and Sea gives water; as a result, water vapour is produced. Wind carries this vapour to the high regions of Atmosphere and the cooling provided by Atmosphere in that high regions precipitate rain. It is evident that the participants part with what they have, but do not obtain anything in return. This is the Yajña intended in the said Gīta verse. Look at India’s struggle for independence. Lakhs of people offered themselves for that noble cause, expecting nothing in return. They secured independence for all the Indians. Such are true Yajñas.
Now, returning to the Upaniṣadic verse under study, we may understand its implication thus: Through the Yajñas of inferior Karma, one would not be able to cross the sea of sorrows in this mortal world; these Yajña rafts are incapable of taking the performer beyond the mortal world of dualities. For attaining immortality one would require the superior Brahmavidya. Fools do not recognise this fact; they think themselves to be wise and learned, but wander about miserably like the blinds led by the blind (1.2.8 – this is same as Kaṭha 2.5).
The idea in 1.2.7 is further asserted in the following verse:
इष्टापूर्तं मन्यमाना वरिष्ठं नान्यच्छ्रेयो वेदयन्ते प्रमूढाः |
नाकस्य पृष्ठे ते सुकृतेഽनुभूत्वेमं लोकं हीनतरं वा विशन्ति || 1.2.10 ||
iṣṭāpūrtaṃ manyamānā variṣṭhaṃ nānyacchreyo vedayante pramūḍhāḥ;
nākasya pṛṣṭhe te sukṛteഽnubhūtvemaṃ lokaṃ hīnataraṃ vā viśanti. (1.2.10)
Word meaning: iṣṭāpūrtaṃ- credits of accomplished sacrificial rites; manyamānā- thinking; variṣṭhaṃ- supreme; na- not; anyat- others; śreyaḥ- beneficial, auspicious; vedayante- know; pramūḍhāḥ- fools; nākasya- heaven’s; pṛṣṭhe- in the regions; te- they; sukṛte- merits of good deeds; anubhūtvā- having enjoyed; imaṃ- this; lokaṃ- world; hīnataraṃ- inferior; vā- or; viśanti- enter.
Verse meaning: The fools who consider the credits of accomplished sacrificial rites as supreme and know nothing else as auspicious, do come again to this or even inferior world, after having enjoyed the merits of their good deeds.
The idea is that sacrificial rites do not provide permanent escape from the entanglements of the worldly life. Thus, the supremacy as well as uniqueness of Brahmavidya is once again asserted. In the remaining three verses of this part, the same topic is further explained. In verse 1.2.12 it is stated that a Brāhmaṇa (an aspirant for Brahmavidya) gets dispassionate towards the worlds attainable through Karmas and then approaches a Guru for guidance. Verse 1.2.13 directs that such Guru should tell the aspirant the truth of Brahmavidya by which the imperishable Puruṣa is known.
In the second Muṇḍaka, the first part is almost entirely devoted to assert that the universe emerged from immortal Puruṣa. The first verse takes us to the truth that verse 1.2.13 directs the Guru to impart. See the verse below:
तदेतत् सत्यं यथा सुदीप्तात् पावकाद्विस्फुलिङ्गाः सहस्रशः प्रभवन्ते सरूपाः |
तथाक्षराद्विविधाः सोम्य भावाः प्रजायन्ते तत्र चैवापि यन्ति || 2.1.1 ||
tadetat satyaṃ yathā sudīptāt pāvakādvisphuliṅgāḥ sahasraśaḥ prabhavante sarūpāḥ;
tathākṣarādvividhāḥ somya bhāvāḥ prajāyante tatra caivāpi yanti. (2.1.1)
Word meaning: tat- that; etat- this; satyam- truth (which verse 1.2.13 mentioned about); yathā- just as; sudīptāt pāvakāt- from blazing fire; visphuliṅgāḥ- sparks; sahasraśaḥ- in thousands; prabhavante- spring up, come forth, originate; sarūpāḥ- having shape or form; tathā- in the same way; akṣarāt- from the imperishable; vividhāḥ- of several kinds; somya- O, dear; bhāvāḥ- beings; prajāyante- be produced, come forth; tatra caiva- and there itself; āpi- also, again; yanti- go.
Verse meaning: That truth (which the previous verse mentioned about) is this: like sparks, having (various) shapes/forms, spring up in thousands from a blazing fire, several kinds of beings come forth from the Imperishable (Puruṣa) and also return to it.
We have seen the same idea in verse 1.1.7 above and in 2.1.20 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka. Here, it is further stated that the beings at the end merge with the Imperishable. Thus, it is declared that all beings emerge from and merge with the Imperishable entity, which is Puruṣa (Ātmā). This fact is seen asserted in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 2.4.12 & 2.4.13 and Chāndogya 6.9.1 to 6.9.4 & 6.10.1, 6.10.2. Gīta also presents the concept of origination and dissolution of beings, on the same lines in chapters 7 (verses 4 to 7), 8 (verses 18 & 19) and 9 (verses 4 to 10).
Verses 2.1.2 to 2.1.9 elaborate the concept further by enumerating various beings and asserting that they all originate from and dissolve into the Puruṣa. At the end, in verse 2.1.10 the matter is concluded and an additional declaration is made to the effect that those who know the Puruṣa cast off all the entanglements of ignorance here itself. See that verse below:
पुरुष एवेदं विश्वं कर्म तपो ब्रह्म परामृतम् |
एतद्यो वेद निहितं गुहायां सोഽविद्याग्रन्थिं विकिरतीह सोम्य || 2.1.10 ||
puruṣa evedaṃ viśvaṃ karma tapo brahma parāmṛtam;
etadyo veda nihitaṃ guhāyāṃ soഽvidyāgranthiṃ vikiratīha somya. (2.1.10)
Word meaning: puruṣa- Puruṣa; eva- verily; idaṃ- this; viśvaṃ- universe; karma- Karma; tapaḥ- Tapas; brahma- Brahma; parāmṛtam- immortal; etat- this; yo- who; veda- know; nihitaṃ- seated; guhāyāṃ- in the inner part; saḥ- he; avidyāgranthiṃ- knot of ignorance; vikirati- tear away; īha- here; somya- dear!
Verse meaning: This universe, the Karma, Tapas and the immortal Brahma are verily Puruṣa. Whoever recognizes this (Puruṣa) as seated in his heart, my dear, tears away the knots of ignorance here (itself).
The meaning is very clear and the intended conclusion is appropriate too. Now let us move on to part 2 of this Muṇḍaka. Verse 2.1.10 above stated that everything here is Puruṣa only and that he is seated in the subtlest regions of beings. In continuation, verse 2.2.1 says that he is to be known and the knowledge about him is the highest and the greatest knowledge for man. Further, in the next verse (2.2.2), it is reiterated that he being the support of all is the one to be known. How can he be known? This is the topic of next two verses 2.2.3 and 2.2.4. Verse 2.2.4 says thus:
प्रणवो धनुः शरो ह्यात्मा ब्रह्म तल्लक्ष्यमुच्यते |
अप्रमत्तेन वेद्धव्यं शरवत्तन्मयो भवेत् || 2.2.4 ||
praṇavo dhanuḥ śaro hyātmā brahma tallakṣyamucyate;
apramattena veddhavyaṃ śaravattanmayo bhavet. (2.2.4)
Word meaning: praṇavaḥ- the syllable ‘Om’; dhanuḥ- bow; śaraḥ- arrow; hi- indeed; Ātmā- the aspirant himself; tat- that; lakṣyam- goal; ucyate- is said; apramattena- carefully, veddhavyaṃ- to be penetrated, to be entered; śaravat- like the arrow; tanmayaḥ- identified with it; bhavet- should become.
Verse meaning: Be an arrow yourself and make ‘Om’ the bow and Brahma the goal. Then carefully enter into the goal like an arrow and become identified with it.
The implication is that ‘Om’ should be made a base and from that base, through unswerving meditation, get catapulted into the goal of Brahma and enter into it. Meditation on ‘Om’ is stressed in verse 2.2.6 also, as a means to accomplish well-being. The Ātmā, which is thus meditated upon as ‘Om’, manifests as the phenomenal world and is seated in the heart of all. Knowing him, the wise attains to immortality (2.2.7). When one succeeds in recognising Ātmā in all, in the high and low alike, he is freed from all bondages and ignorance (2.2.8); for, he overcomes all dualities of life then and thus acquires a composed state of mind.
In the next two verses, the Upaniṣad says about the pure, serene and undivided Brahma, which is the Brahma before undergoing the expansion mentioned in 1.1.8. This Brahma is positioned in the ultimate effulgent sheath of existence; it is the ultimate light (2.2.9). The sun, moon, stars and all are nothing to it; all of them actually shine because of it (2.2.10). (This verse is same as verse 5.15 of Kaṭha Upaniṣad). The implication is that the serene, undivided Brahma is the substratum from which the phenomenal world evolved.
In contrast to this description of the serene, undivided Brahma, verse 2.2.11 says about the Brahma after its expansion. It is stated that everything everywhere is Brahma only. See the verse:
ब्रह्मैवेदममृतं पुरस्ताद्ब्रह्म पश्चाद्ब्रह्म दक्षिणतश्चोत्तरेण|
अधश्चोर्ध्वं च प्रसृतं ब्रह्मैवेदं विश्वमिदं वरिष्ठम् || 2.2.11 ||
brahmaivedamamṛtaṃ purastādbrahma paścādbrahma dakṣiṇataścottareṇa; adhaścordhvaṃ ca prasṛtaṃ brahmaivedaṃ viśvamidaṃ variṣṭham. (2.2.11)
Word meaning: brahma- Brahma; eva- verily; idam- here; amṛtaṃ- immortal; purastāt- in the front; paścād- in the back, behind; dakṣiṇataścottareṇa- on right and on left; ca- and; adhaścordhvaṃ ca- below and above; prasṛtaṃ- wide-spread; idaṃ- this; viśvam- universe; variṣṭham- the greatest.
Verse meaning: Here, the immortal Brahma extends all over; it alone is in existence everywhere — in the front, in the back, on the right and on the left and also below and above. The universe is verily Brahma which is the greatest.
Thus, in verses 2.2.9 and 2.2.10 we have been told about the undifferentiated Brahma and in verse 2.2.11 about the Brahma differentiated into names and forms. In the next two verses, we see how both these states of Brahma exist in individual beings. We know that Brahma is Ātmā with Prakṛti invoked, in other words, the combine of Puruṣa and Prakṛti. In this combine, the agent of differentiation is evidently Prakṛti, since Puruṣa is changeless. We have seen in the ‘Science of Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad’ that the serene Puruṣa represents the deep-sleep state, wherein exists only the consciousness of ‘I am’ which is devoid of attributes. The deep-sleep state is the serene, effulgent state of — being ‘I am’ and it represents the experience provided by the undifferentiated state of Brahma mentioned above. Contrary to this, in the differentiated state of Brahma, the consciousness of ‘I am’ includes the individual physical body also, in each being. This is a constraint of individuality occurring due to differentiation into individuals which in turn is caused by the power of Prakṛti. Since Prakṛti is also known as Māyā, this constraint in consciousness is attributed to Māyā. It may be noted that the said constraint works on the base stock of serene, effulgent, pure ‘I am’ and that it works by veiling the base stock and producing the illusive image of body conscious ‘I am’. Both of them, the serene ‘I am’ and the illusive ‘I am’, are present in the same being at the same time, so long as the veil on base stock is not removed. The illusive ‘I am’ is experienced in the waking and dream states whereas the serene ‘I am’ is experienced in deep sleep state (Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad verses 3, 4, 5 & 6). The simultaneous existence of both the states of consciousness in the same body is the subject matter of the next two verses, 3.1.1 and 3.1.2. Let us see the verses.
द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षम् परिषस्वजाते |
तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्ति अनश्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति || 3.1.1 ||
dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṃ vṛkṣam pariṣasvajāte;
tayoranyaḥ pippalaṃ svādvatti anaśnannanyo abhicākaśīti. (3.1.1)
Word meaning: dvā- two; suparṇā- birds with beautiful wings; sayujā- united; sakhāyā- in friendship; samānaṃ- same; vṛkṣam- tree; pariṣasvajāte- embrace, occupy; tayoranyaḥ- one of the two; pippalaṃ- berry; svādu- delicious, tasty; atti-eats; anaśnan- not eating; anyaḥ- the other; abhicākaśīti- looks on.
Verse meaning: Two birds with beautiful wings occupy the same tree, united in friendship. Of them, one eats tasty berries (of the tree) while the other looks on without eating.
समाने वृक्षे पुरुषो निमग्नः अनीशया शोचति मुह्य्मानः |
जुष्टं यदा पश्यत्यन्यमीशं अस्यमहिमानमिति वीतशोकः || 3.1.2 ||
samāne vṛkṣe puruṣo nimagnaḥ anīśayā śocati muhymānaḥ;
juṣṭaṃ yadā paśyatyanyamīśaṃ asyamahimānamiti vītaśokaḥ. (3.1.2)
Word meaning: samāne vṛkṣe- on the same tree, in the same body; puruṣo- Puruṣa; nimagnaḥ- immersed or absorbed in, indulged in; anīśayā- in the absence of proper guidance, being powerless, helpless; śocati- grieves, be afflicted; muhymānaḥ- be confused, stupefied, deluded; juṣṭaṃ- inhabited, pervaded; yadā- when; paśyati- sees; anyam- the other; īśaṃ- the ruler; asya- his; mahimānam- glory; iti- then; vītaśokaḥ- free from grief.
Verse meaning: (Just as the berry eating bird mentioned above) the Puruṣa, who is deluded due to lack of proper guidance, gets indulged in the body where he is seated (samāne vṛkṣe nimagnaḥ) and becomes grieved. But, when he sees the other who is the ruler pervading the tree and also his glory, he becomes free from grief.
In this verse, two Puruṣas are mentioned just as two birds in the previous verse. One of the birds enjoys the berries that are products of the tree where it lives. In the same way one of the Puruṣas here enjoys the worldly life which his seat, the body, facilitates; the tree here represents the body and the berry is worldly life it facilitates. Resultantly, he is bonded to the worldly life and thus suffers all its afflictions. He is the Puruṣa of the expanded Brahma; he is usually referred to as Jīvātmā. The other Puruṣa is of the undivided, effulgent, serene Brahma; he is verily the serene Ātmā or Paramātmā. When the afflicted Puruṣa realises his true identity and gets identified with it, he becomes absolutely free. That is what the verse asserts.
These two verses together dispel all the doubts about ‘how the serene, effulgent Ātmā gets a consciousness of being a separate individual in a particular being’; they also clarify how on realising the true nature of Ātmā, the individual consciousness gets liberated from the infatuations of having a separate identity. We know that Ātmā is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA, wherein SAT is that which sustains, CHIT is that which causes knowing and expressing and ĀNANDA is pure bliss that causes the urge to be happy. Ātmā has these three aspects inseparably integrated into a unity, like seven colours are inherent in sunlight. This Ātmā is an unbroken continuum pervading the entire universe, sustaining each and every being. In non-living beings the knowing faculty is absent and therefore the activity of CHIT is limited in them to mere expression; they express their physical attributes. This expression is confined to the physical boundaries of the being. In living beings, knowing faculty is present and therefore, both knowing and expressing occur in them. Knowing is done using the nerves through which consciousness (CHIT) extends its presence all over the body. In this case too, the activity of CHIT is confined within the physical limits of the being, since it is conditioned by the presence of nerves. The cumulative implication is that the aspect of CHIT in Ātmā gets expressed in beings within their physical limits only and not beyond that. This means that the continuity of expression of CHIT registers a break at the periphery of each individual being, beyond which the mode of expression changes in accordance with the adjoining being or element. For example, when a thing is submerged in water, within the physical periphery of the thing, CHIT expresses the attributes of that thing, beyond which the attributes of water get expressed. It is this change in mode of expression of CHIT that defines the individual identity of beings. A person knows himself and other individual beings, primarily on this basis. It needs higher knowledge to view individuals at a wider perspective and realise the identity as one with the whole.
In 3.1.2, the Ruler (Īśa) was mentioned. We have found that he is the effulgent Puruṣa or the Ātmā itself. Verse 3.1.3 says about realisation of this Ruler. See the verse below:
यदा पश्यः पश्यते रुक्मवर्णं कर्तारमीशं पुरुषं ब्रह्मयोनिम् |
तदा विद्वान् पुण्यपापे विधूय निरञ्जनः परमं साम्यमुपैति || 3.1.3 ||
yadā paśyaḥ paśyate rukmavarṇaṃ kartāramīśaṃ puruṣaṃ brahmayonim;
tadā vidvān puṇyapāpe vidhūya nirañjanaḥ paramaṃ sāmyamupaiti. (3.1.3)
Word meaning: yadā- when; paśyaḥ- the faculty of sight, vision; paśyate- sees; rukmavarṇaṃ- golden-coloured, effulgent; kartāram- the agent or energy of all deeds; īśaṃ- the Ruler; puruṣaṃ- Puruṣa; brahmayonim- the source of Brahma; tadā- then; vidvān- the learned; puṇyapāpe- the virtue and vice; vidhūya- having shaken off; nirañjanaḥ- spotless, passionless; paramaṃ- the supreme; sāmyam- sameness, unity; upaiti- attains.
Verse meaning: When the vision of a learned person grasps the effulgent Puruṣa who is the Ruler of all, the energy of all deeds and also the source of Brahma, then he, having shaken off both virtues and vices and having become passionless, attain unity with that Supreme Entity.
The verse simply says that when one knows the effulgent Puruṣa, who is verily the Ātmā, he becomes identified with it. We have already seen this idea in Kaṭha 4.15.
Verse 3.1.4 says that this Puruṣa is the Prāṇa in beings; the one who knows him gets detached from unnecessary dealings and rejoices in his own self. It is asserted in the next (3.1.5) that he is attained through Tapas, accurate knowledge and continence which are all pursued through the medium of Satyam. The word Satyam here indicates the physical faculties of a person. We know that Satyam is ASAT supported by SAT (8.3.5 of Chāndogya); we also know that SAT is that which never ceases to exist and ASAT is that which never comes to existence on its own (Gīta 2.16).
In line with the above, the next verse (3.1.6) asserts that only Satyam subsists, not Asat and that the path to divine existence is spread out by Satyam.
सत्यमेव जयते नानृतं सत्येन पन्था विततो देवयानः |
येनाक्रमन्त्यृषयो ह्याप्तकामा यत्र तत्सत्यस्य परमं निधानम् || 3.1.6 ||
satyameva jayate nānṛtaṃ satyena panthā vitato devayānaḥ;
yenākramantyṛṣayo hyāptakāmā yatra tatsatyasya paramaṃ nidhānam. (3.1.6)
Word meaning: satyam- Satyam; eva- alone; jayate- subsists, survives, gets sustained; na- not; anṛtaṃ- Asat; satyena- by Satyam; panthā- path; vitataḥ- spread out; devayānaḥ- divine carriage, divine existence; yena- by which; ākramanti- approach, go near to; ṛṣayaḥ- the Rṣis; hi- verily; āpta- overtaken; kāmā- Kāmas; yatra- where; tat- that; satyasya- of Satyam; paramaṃ- ultimate; nidhānam- abode.
Verse meaning: Satyam alone subsists, not Asat. The path to divine existence is spread out by means of Satyam; The Rṣis who have overtaken the Kāmas go by this path to that entity which is the ultimate abode of Satyam.
Divine existence here means the freedom from all bondages of worldly life. The path to this goal is spread out by Satyam. This implies that the efforts to attain divine existence are done through the physical faculties of beings, as mentioned above. The ultimate abode of Satyam is undoubtedly Ātmā, since Satyam originates when SAT (Ātmā) supports ASAT. So, what the verse means is that those who have given up all Kāmas make use of their body for doing sādhana to get established in the ultimate principle of Ātmā.
Satyam is evidently that which has SAT; therefore it will always survive. That is why “Satyameva jayate – Truth alone will triumph”. The phenomenal world is also Satyam. It never gets destroyed; it gets only transformed. It only merges into and emerges from Ātmā periodically (see the verses 1.1.7 and 2.1.1, together with the references thereunder, above; see also Gīta 2.12).
In the next three verses, the nature of the ultimate abode of Satyam, which is Ātmā, and the techniques to attain to it are discussed in detail. Verse 3.1.7 says that Ātmā is the grossest and at the same time the subtlest; it is everywhere, near and far and it is inside everyone. The concept of grossness and subtleness of Ātmā can be seen in Chāndogya 3.14.3, Kaṭha 2.20, Śvetāśvatara 3.9 & 3.20. Ātmā’s presence near and far is mentioned in Īśa Upaniṣad (5) and Gīta (13.15) also. In the next verse it is asserted that Ātmā is not graspable by the senses, but is attained by a spotless inner constitution (by viśuddhasattva). The verse is quoted below:
न चक्षुषा गृह्यते नापि वाचा नान्यैर्देवैस्तपसा कर्मणा वा |
ज्ञानप्रसादेन विशुद्धसत्त्वः ततस्तु तं पश्यते निष्कलं ध्यायमानः || 3.1.8 ||
na cakṣuṣā gṛhyate nāpi vācā nānyairdevaistapasā karmaṇā vā;
jñānaprasādena viśuddhasattvaḥ tatastu taṃ paśyate niṣkalaṃ dhyāyamānaḥ. (3.1.8)
Word meaning: na- not; cakṣuṣā- by eyes; gṛhyate- grasped; na api- not even; vācā- by speech; na anyaiḥ devaiḥ – not by other senses; tapasā- by Tapas; karmaṇā- by rituals; vā- or; jñānaprasādena- by purity or brightness of knowledge; viśuddhasattvaḥ- spotless inner constitution; tataḥ- then; tu- but; taṃ- him; paśyate- realises; niṣkalaṃ- undivided; dhyāyamānaḥ- the meditative (one who is engaged in meditation).
Verse meaning: The undivided Puruṣa (mentioned in the previous verse as present everywhere and residing in every being) is not graspable by eyes, speech or by any other senses, or by Tapas or rituals. But, He is realised by a meditative person upon his acquiring a spotless inner constitution through brightness of knowledge.
We have already seen who the undivided Puruṣa is. He is Ātmā. This verse says that Ātmā is not graspable by the senses and not attainable by Tapas or rituals; it is only reached by brightness of knowledge which enlightens and purifies the inner constitution of a meditative person. The inability of the senses to grasp Ātmā is seen repeatedly declared by Upaniṣads (Bṛhadāraṇyaka 3.7.23, Īśa 4, Kena 1.3, Kaṭha 6.9 & 6.12, Śvetāśvatara 4.17, 4.20). The purity of inner constitution mentioned in this verse is determined by what one is internally composed of, which in turn indicates the stock of convictions and ideas in his Chitta. You may know that Chitta is the exclusive storage chamber of all our knowledge and perceptions.
It may be seen in verse 3.1.9 that Ātmā reveals itself in a purified Chitta. See the verse below:
एषोഽणुरात्मा चेतसा वेदितव्यो यस्मिन् प्राणः पञ्चधा संविवेश |
प्राणैस्चित्तं सर्वमोतं प्रजानां यस्मिन् विशुद्धे विभवत्येष आत्मा || 3.1.9 ||
eṣoഽṇurātmā cetasā veditavyo yasmin prāṇaḥ pañcadhā saṃviveśa;
prāṇaiscittaṃ sarvamotaṃ prajānāṃ yasmin viśuddhe vibhavatyeṣa ātmā. (3.1.9)
Word meaning: eṣaḥ- This; aṇu- subtle; ātmā- Ātmā; cetasā- by consciousness; veditavyaḥ- able to be realised; yasmin- in which; prāṇaḥ- Prāṇa; pañcadhā- in five modes/parts; saṃviveśa- has entered; prāṇaiḥ- by Prāṇa; cittaṃ- Chitta; sarvam- all; otaṃ- activated, invoked, interwoven; prajānāṃ- of beings; yasmin- in which; viśuddhe- (in) purified; vibhavati- appears, reveals; eṣa- this; ātmā- Ātmā.
Verse meaning: This Ātmā is very subtle; it is realisable by the inner consciousness, in which Prāṇa has entered in five different modes/parts. The Chittas of all beings are sustained by Prāṇas; Ātmā reveals itself in purified Chittas.
We have seen above that Ātmā is not graspable by the senses. Therefore, it is to be realised by something beyond the senses; that something is consciousness which is the energy behind the senses. Hence the assertion that Ātmā is realisable only by consciousness. Nobody can invoke the inner consciousness at his will; it is to be done through a process and this is described by narrating the Consciousness – Prāṇa – Chitta relation in the verse. Consciousness is the cause of Prāṇa and Prāṇa works within the body in five different modes (we will see these modes in detail in the Praśna Upaniṣad). It is the Prāṇas that activate Chitta, one of the four Antaḥkaraṇas, which is the storage of all perceptions and knowledge. When harmful perceptions and knowledge that create bondage are eliminated from Chitta it becomes purified. It is in such a purified Chitta that the Ātmā reveals itself. This is the message of the verse.
Next verse (3.1.10) is the last verse of the first part of third Muṇḍaka. As a corollary to the previous verse, it says that a person with spotless inner constitution accomplishes all that he desires; therefore, those who desire such supreme power (bhūtikāma) have to honour (अर्चयेत्) the knowledge of Ātmā (आत्मज्ञं). The explanation is this: One who honours the knowledge of Ātmā will surely pursue such knowledge. He will finally attain to the ultimate principle of Ātmā and thus will attain the said power.
The first verse of the next part endorses this view. Please see the verse below:
स वेदैतत्परमं ब्रह्मधाम यत्र विश्वं निहितं भाति शुभ्रम् |
उपासते पुरुषं ये ह्यकामाः ते शुक्रमेतदतिवर्तन्ति धीराः || 3.2.1 ||
sa vedaitat paramaṃ brahmadhāma yatra viśvaṃ nihitaṃ bhāti śubhram;
upāsate puruṣaṃ ye hyakāmāḥ te śukrametadativartanti dhīrāḥ. (3.2.1)
Word meaning: sa- he (the one who pursues knowing the Ātmā as mentioned in verse 3.1.10); veda- knows; etat- that; paramaṃ- supreme; brahmadhāma- the abode of Brahma; yatra- where; viśvaṃ- universe; nihitaṃ- be fixed, be held; (ca- and); bhāti- shines, appears; śubhram- brightly, clearly; upāsate- worship, aspire for; puruṣaṃ- Puruṣa; ye- who; hi- surely; akāmāḥ- without Kāma; te- they; śukram- seed of animals (implies the worldly life); etat- this; ativartanti- transcend; dhīrāḥ- the wise.
Verse meaning: The one who is in pursuit of the knowledge of Ātmā knows (at the end) that supreme abode of Brahma, wherein the universe is held and does shine clearly. Those wise persons who having been devoid of Kāma, aspire to attain to Puruṣa, will surely transcend the worldly life.
Two things are correlated here; one, those who pursue knowledge attains to Ātmā; the second, those who are devoid of Kāma attains to Ātmā. When one acquires knowledge he gives up Kāma in consequence thereof. We have already seen in Kaṭha 6.14 that one attains immortality when all the Kāmas are eliminated from the heart.
In contrast to this, verse 3.2.2 says, those who always think about Kāma remain bonded for ever; only those, whose Kāmas are allayed or who are well-composed, get released from the bondage. The Upaniṣad goes on to say in the next verse (3.2.3) that only perseverance and dedication lead one to the ultimate goal. See the verse below:
नायमात्मा प्रवचनेन लभ्यः न मेधया न बहुना श्रुतेन |
यमेवेष वृणुते तेन लभ्यः तस्येष आत्मा विवृणुते तनूं स्वाम् || 3.2.3 |
nāyamātmā pravacanena labhyaḥ na medhayā na bahunā śrutena;
yameveṣa vṛṇute tena labhyaḥ tasyeṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanūṃ svām. (3.2.3)
Word meaning: na- not; ayamātmā- this Ātmā; pravacanena- by oral intructions, labhyaḥ- attained; na medhayā- by mere intelligence; na bahunā śrutena- by much hearing (of the scriptures); yameva- Him (Ātmā) alone; eṣa- he (the seeker); vṛṇute- prefer; tena- by him; labhyaḥ- attained; tasya- to him; eṣa ātmā- this Ātmā; vivṛṇute- reveals; tanūṃ- body, form, real nature; svām- (His) own.
Verse meaning: This Ātmā is not attained by oral instructions, or by mere intelligence, or by much hearing of the scriptures. He is attained by one who prefers only Him; to such a person He reveals His real nature.
The same verse is seen in Kaṭha 2.23.
In the next four verses the issue of attainment to Ātmā is probed further, which culminates at the following conclusion.
यथा नद्यः स्यन्दमानाः समुद्रेഽस्तं गच्छन्ति नामरूपे विहाय |
तथा विद्वान् नामरुपाद्विमुक्तः परात्परं पुरुषमुपैति दिव्यम् || 3.2.8 ||
yathā nadyaḥ syandamānāḥ samudreഽstaṃ gacchanti nāmarūpe vihāya;
tathā vidvān nāmarupādvimuktaḥ parātparaṃ puruṣamupaiti divyam. (3.2.8)
Word meaning: yathā- as, in which manner; nadyaḥ- rivers; syandamānāḥ- flowing; samudre- in the ocean; astaṃ gacchanti- get dissolved; nāmarūpe- names and forms; vihāya- having relinquished; tathā- so, in that manner; vidvān- the learned; nāmarupād- from name and form; vimuktaḥ- being freed; parātparaṃ- the most supreme; puruṣam- Puruṣa; upaiti- attain to; divyam- effulgent.
Verse meaning: As the flowing rivers get dissolved in the ocean, having relinquished names and forms, so does the learned, being freed from name and form, attain to the most supreme effulgent Puruṣa.
The important message in this verse is that through knowledge one loses attachment to worldly life and thus becomes disinterested in his physical identity; this disinterest is the implication of the phrase ‘being freed from name and form’. (It is such freedom from name and form that is often termed as Mokṣa). We can see the same idea in verse 5.14 of Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad. Identity of the learned with Ātmā is asserted in verse 4.15 of Kaṭha Upaniṣad.
In the case of the learned, this merging with the ultimate happens while they are still in their physical body, since they become free from attachment to the body, while still holding the body. In the case of others, the attachment to body ends only when they lose their physical body; then only they attain to Ātmā, just as rivers terminate their flow in the ocean (as mentioned in Chāndogya 6.10.1 and 6.10.2).
While verse 3.2.8 says about attaining to Puruṣa, the next verse (3.2.9) says that he who knows Brahma becomes Brahma itself; shedding all the sorrow and vices and consequently being liberated from all bondages, he becomes immortal. We know that Brahma is Puruṣa-Prakṛti combine; so knowing Brahma is same as knowing Puruṣa. Verse 3.2.9 is therefore only an elaboration of the previous verse. See the verse below:
स यो ह वै तत्परमं ब्रह्म वेद ब्रह्मैव भवति नास्याब्रह्मवित्कुले भवति |
तरति शोकं तरति पाप्मानं गुहाग्रन्थिभ्यो विमुक्तोഽमृतो भवति || 3.2.9 ||
sa yo ha vai tatparamaṃ brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati nāsyābrahmavitkule bhavati; tarati śokaṃ tarati pāpmānaṃ guhāgranthibhyo vimuktoഽmṛto bhavati. (3.2.9)
Word meaning: sa- he; yo- who; ha vai- verily; tat- that; paramaṃ brahma- Supreme Brahma; veda- knows; brahma- Brahma; eva- surely; bhavati- becomes; na- not; asya- his; abrahmavit- one who does not know Brahma; kule- family, clan; bhavati- be, happens; tarati- overcomes; śokaṃ- sorrow; pāpmānaṃ- vices; guhāgranthibhyo- knots in the heart; vimukta- being free; amṛta- immortal; bhavati- becomes.
Verse meaning: He who knows that Supreme Brahma becomes Brahma itself; nobody will be there in his family who is ignorant of Brahma. He overcomes all sorrows and vices and having been free from all knots in the heart, he becomes immortal.
Māṇḍūkya says in verse 10 that one who raises his level of knowledge from the perceptions about phenomenal world overcomes the dualities of worldly experiences and becomes aware of Brahma; and because of him, following his footsteps, all his family members too become so aware. This is the idea expressed here in more definite terms.
The Upaniṣad ends with the instruction that this sacred Brahmavidya is to be imparted exclusively to those who are firmly devoted to the knowledge of Brahma.
Readers can contact the author by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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