Mandukya Upanishad- An inquiry into what is Real And Unreal -1

Bracelet is an illusory appearance of gold; only when the gold is forgotten does one see a bracelet. Even so, are the illusory notions of a nation or the world and also that of repeated births. When the false notion of the bracelet is rejected, the truth of the gold is revealed; and when the false notion of the subject-object is rejected, there is no ignorance to create a division. Thought alone creates all these divisions and illusions. When it ceases, creation ceases too, then you realize that all the waves constitute one ocean, dolls are wood, pots are clay and the three worlds are absolute Brahman. – Yoga Vasishtha.


The statement “Brahma Satyam jagat mithya – Brahman is the only reality and all the others are mithya or illusory, an unending dream” puts in a nutshell the entire non-dualistic philosophy of Adi Sankara and his teacher’s teacher Gaudapada. But any person even with a minimum intelligence is bound to argue how this everlasting universe perceived by him and others like him day in and day out in the waking state be a dream? The response to this question is very meticulously investigated and expounded in the great MANDUKYA UPANISHAD and its explanatory or auxiliary treatise Mandukya Karika by Acharya Gaudapada. It may be noted that Gudapada’s Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad is the first systematic exposition of Advaita Vedanta which has come down to us from Pre-Sankara days. Bhagavan Adi Sankara was so fascinated by the theme of this Upanishad that he commented upon both the Upanishad and the Karika. The Mandukya Upanishad mantras provide us with the staple food for our intellect by enunciating the Truth while the Karika graphically reveals to us a line of enquiry and thinking with logic and reason to find out that Truth.

Let the universe be real or a dream, in what way we are concerned? Of what use is this intellectual exercise to us who are already overburdened with the problems and challenges of daily living? Is it not a sheer waste of time to indulge in this cerebral gymnastics? All the replies to these and other similar issues can be found in this Upanishad itself. By thinking over these problems and analyzing them with the instruments provided in the Upanishad and the Karika we can certainly come to the conclusion that this world and worldly objects are all momentary and not real and such momentary worldly objects cannot give us eternal Bliss and that Eternal Bliss lies only in realizing Brahman. Mandukya Upanishad and the Karika take us to that Bliss through a direct path as an arrow flies to hit the target.

The Karika of the Upanishad has been divided into four chapters. The first chapter called Agama Prakarana has been dedicated to the `Unity of Consciousness` that is present in the three states of human being that is waking, dream and deep sleep and also deals with the fourth state called ‘Turiya’, the transcendent  state of illumination.

The second chapter called Vaithathya Prakarana talks about the exposition of Unreality of the World-of-Duality or Illusion. In this chapter it has been further explained that waking experiences are similar to dream experiences. In both the states objects experienced are external to the experiencer and it asserts that there is no birth, no death, no bondage and no release of the Atman.

According to the third chapter of the Mandukya Upanishad called Advaita Prakarana (Non-dualism) The One manifests Himself as many without undergoing any real changes. It states that every change is imaginary and to a man who has realized the Absolute Truth all things are equivalent to nothing and only the Atman is of prime importance.

The fourth chapter of this Upanishad entitled Alata Shanti Prakarana (Quenching the Firebrand) talks about the theory of non-creation. It has rejected the concept of God as the Creator. It has claimed that God has projected Himself into the World and the world of duality is nothing but mere imagination, an Illusion.  According to this section of the Upanishad once the Truth has been realized nothing else seems real and there remains neither bondage nor attachment. Only Eternal Bliss prevails.

Mandukya Upanishad forms a part of the Atharva Veda. Though this is the shortest of the Upanishads, consisting of only twelve mantras in prose, it occupies a very important position in the Vedantik literature. This is because the Upanishad consists of the essence of the entire AdvaitaVedanta. In fact one of the Mahavakyas used for deep meditation (ayam atma brahma - this Atman is Brahman) has been derived from the Mandukya Upanishad. Hence it is no wonder when the Muktika Upanishad observes “Mandukya alone is sufficient for an aspirant to reach liberation” (mandukyam ekam kevalam mumumukshunam vimuktaye). According to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan it contains the fundamental approach to reality.

There are several theories about the nomenclature of this Upanishad but it is generally attributed to a sage called Manduka.


Like all the other Upanishads the Mandukya Upanishad also consists of a teacher and a taught because no Upanishadic study is complete without the presence of a Guru. As a result, the Upanishad has explained all its contents through the words of the Guru. It is with the help of the Mandukya Upanishad that individuals learn to dissect their lives completely and in turn discover the Ultimate Truth. 

The Upanishad has the uniqueness to declare the uncut, raw Truth without any kind of polish or decoration and embellishment which may cause the human minds and intellects to revolt against the very concept and its implications. The Mandukya Upanishad hears all such intellectual and mental follies and cautions that the declarations of the Upanishad contain nothing but truth uncolored by sweet add-ons.

Most of the Upanishads have some stories or the other to convey their message; but the Mandukya Upanishad delivers its message through a symbol. This symbol is AUM. Just as a shaligrama stone is worshipped as Bhagavan Vishnu or Narayana wherein the worshipper knows that the object of his worship is not a stone but God himself, AUM is considered an apt symbol of Brahman. The Upanishad declares that AUM and Brahman are one and the same. They support the phenomenal world – AUM supporting the phenomenal world represented by sounds and Brahman supporting the phenomenal world represented by the varieties of sense experiences.

When the phenomenal world is negated by knowledge, there is only the substratum left – that is AUM or Brahman. It is like the ghost being negated leaving behind only the post. But how to meditate on AUM?

First in our waking state we meditate that we are Virat that is Brahman as the sum total of of all physical bodies. This is represented by the letter ‘A’. Next we imagine that we are in dream state when we consider that we are Hiranyagarbha that is the Brahman as the sum total of all the minds which is ‘U’ of AUM. Then we imagine that we are in deep sleep when we take us to be one with Isvara which is the Brahman associated with its power ‘Maya’. This is represented by M of AUM. These three stages are considered as ignorance. If we are able to go still further, beyond everything, then we become one with Turiya, Pure Consciousness. We are then amatra in the syllable AUM, beyond duality. We are Brahman. This is how the Upanishad explains Brahman through the symbol of AUM.


We are attempting to study the Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika in as much details as we are gifted to understand.  So, as is customary, we begin to pray that we may have healthy bodies and minds. We pray that our bodies and minds may be steady and not create any problems for us. We pray that we can hear good things and see good things so that there are no distractions and that we can devote ourselves entirely to the subject, living a life as long as the god’s decree. This prayer is as follows.

Om! Bhadram karnebhih s’rnuyāma devāh
bhadram pasyemākṣhabhiryajatrāh
rvyaśema devahitam yadāyuh
svasti na indro vriddhaśravāh
svasti nah pūṣhā viśvavedāh
svasti nastārkṣhyo ariṣhtanemih
svasti no brihaspatirdadhātu
Om śāntih; śāntih; śāntih ||

“Om. Shining Ones! May we hear through our ears what is auspicious; Ye, fit to be worshipped! May we see with our eyes what is auspicious; May we, endowed with body strong with limbs, offering praise, complete the full span of life bestowed upon us by the divine beings; May Indra, of enhanced fame, be auspicious unto us; May Pūshan, who is all-knowing, be auspicious unto us; May Tārkshya, who is the destroyer of all evils, be auspicious unto us; May Brihaspati bestow upon us auspiciousness!

Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!

Hari OM Tat Sat

[To be continued]



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