Mandukya Upanishad- An Inquiry Into What Is Real And Unreal-3

In the last essay we had discussed about the attempts of the Rishi of the Upanishad to throw light on the concepts of Brahman or the Atman through its manifestations. He said that “All this is verily Brahman. This Atman is Brahman. This Atman has four quarters (parts).” We have to be clear that when it is stated that this Atman has four quarters or padas or limbs it does not mean that Brahman has four parts or divisions like four legs to an animal. What the Upanishad means to say is that the same Atman seems to possess four attributes or four aspects viz., the waking, the dream, the deep-sleep and Turiya planes of consciousness, although the first three aspects devolve into the fourth one in actuality. This is the underlying idea of the Rishi when he says that the Atman has four quarters. What they are, what is their behavioral pattern, what are their fields of activity, how the four quarters are said to indicate Atman etc., is explained now.


jagarita  sthano  bahishprajnah  saptanga  ekonavimshati  mukhah  sthula  bhug vaishvanarah  prathamah  padah .. 3...

The first quarter (Pada) is Vaisvanara whose sphere of activity is the waking state, who is conscious of the external world of objects, who has seven limbs and nineteen mouths and whose experience consists of gross material objects of the world.

Human life is nothing but a series of experiences wherein three features play a dynamic role. They are 1. the experiencer 2. the experienced and 3. the experiencing i.e. the relationship between the experiencer and the experienced. When we juxtapose these experiences into our own inner being or consciousness, we find that there are three planes of consciousness or three facets of life in the forms of the waker, the dreamer and the deep-sleeper in us. The experiences we undergo in these three states are entirely different from one another.  The Mandukya Upanishad explains the exact location, identity, field of activity and things enjoyed by us in these three states. It takes up first the waking state (jagarita  sthana).

The waker-ego is called Vaisvanara or Viswa that enjoys the waking state consciousness wherein it is aware of the world of sense-objects. According to Sankara he (the waking state) is called Vaisvanara because he leads all creatures of the universe in diverse ways to the enjoyment of various sense objects. or because he comprises all beings. The waker is not only aware of the objects of senses but also enjoys them in the nature of shabda, sparsha, roopa, rasa, gandha – sound, touch, shape or forms, taste and smell through his respective sense organs.  The Upanishad puts the idea as one the waker – ego’s sphere of activity is the waking state, and two who is conscious of the external world of objects.

The important word of the mantra here is ‘bahishprajnah’ – being aware of objects other than oneself. It is our common experience that we take more interest in other’s affairs than our own. According to Sankara this tendency is due to avidya or ignorance. Thus consciousness in the waking state is more related to outside objects than to one’s own inner being.

Then the Upanishad says that vaisvanara has seven limbs and nineteen mouths. Although this description may look bizarre, the expression ‘seven limbs’ is based upon the Chandogya Upanishad (V 18.2) which gives a description of the macrocosm as virat – the total structure of the entire cosmos as in the case of visva roopa darshana of The Lord in the Bhagavad Gita – an Universal or Cosmic form.  Nineteen mouths mean five sense-organs (hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell), five organs of action (speech, handling, locomotion, generation and excretion), five aspects of our vital breath (prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana), mind, intellect, mind-stuff – storehouse of thoughts, and ego - sense of self (manas, buddhi, chitta, ahankara).

Thus the Upanishad says that the experience of vaisvanara consists of gross material objects of the world.

We had seen in the beginning that the atman is the brahman; the individual ego is the Total ego; the limited Self is the Universal Self.  Hence the Upanishad says that microcosm (vyashti) is the macrocosm (samashti) or that the atman is having seven limbs. This is like saying that room-space is nothing other than total atmospheric space.

“The waking state is the normal condition of the natural man, who without reflection accepts the universe as he finds it. The same physical universe bound by uniform laws presents itself to all men”. _ Dr.S.Radhakrishnan.

After this quarter is dream state which we will take up next.


[To be continued]