Mandukya Upanishad- An inquiry into what is Real And Unreal-4


esha  sarveshvarah  esha  sarvajna  esho. antaryamy  esha  yonih  sarvasya prabhavapyayau  hi  bhutanam.h .. 6..

This is the Lord of all; this is the knower of all; this is the controller within; this is the source of all; and this is that from which all things originate and in which they finally disappear.

This mantra describes such Atman. We find the same idea conveyed by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita as under. (the common words are indicated in bold type).

etadyonini  bhutani  sarvanityupadharaya .
aham  kritsnasya  jagatah  prabhavah  pralayastatha .. 7.6..

Know all matter to be born from these (the higher and lower natures - prakritis - of The Lord). I am the reason for the origin of the entire universe and its dissolution.

Prajna is the natural state because in deep sleep all diversities of waking and dream states merge. This state, being free from the conditions of the waking and dream states, manifests the pure Consciousness. In this state Pure Consciousnss (Atman) is the Lord of all (sarveshvara). He is the Lord of all because if this consciousness is not there, we would not have been responsive at all. He is not different from the universe. He is omniscient (sarvajna) because he is the knower of all beings in their different conditions. He is the antaryamin, that is, he alone enters into all, directs everything from within. Therefore He is called the origin of all (sarvasya yonih) because from Him proceeds the universe characterized by diversity. If consciousness is not there in us, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor the entire world of objects nor the world of ideas would have been existent. For a man in the state of comma the world just doesn’t exist.

It being so, He is verily that from which all things proceed (prabhavah) and in which all disappear (apyaya). The world outside and the world within, rise up from this Pure Consciousness, exist in Consciousness and shall merge back into the Consciousness itself. When the consciousness in us is projected forth through the mind and intellect we acquire knowledge of the plurality of the world and when such projection is absent a man is considered dead. But instead of the total absence of consciousness, if the consciousness is directed beyond the mind and intellect, in such awareness we will realize the all-pervading Reality in the names and forms we see around us. What the Upanishad tells us is that the Ultimate Reality is one and that the diversities we see are only apparent but not true and hence it establishes the identity between the individual and the cosmic.

The three states of waking, dream and deep sleep has been illustrated in the following diagram.

The above diagram is from the book “MANDUKYA UPANISHAD - AN ANCIENT SANSKRIT TEXT ON THE NATURE OF REALITY” by James Swartz © 1996

(N.B. from here commence Gaudapada’s Karikas (explanatory verses) interspersed between the mantras in elucidation of the Mandukya Upanishad. As the Karikas are numerous in volume and deep in content, it is not practicable to incorporate them in an essay format like this. However a brief note is given at the end of this dissertation as an annexure giving a fair idea about the Karikas and their author, Gaudapada).



naantah-prajnam,  na bahishprajnam,  nobhayatah-prajnam,  na prajnanaghanam, na prajnam,  naaprajnam.h ,  adrishtam, avyavaharyam, agraahyam, alakshanam, achintyam, avyapadeshyam, ekatma-pratyaya-saram,  prapanchopashamam, shantam,  shivam, advaitam,  chaturtham,  manyante,  sa atma; sa vijneyah .. 7..

Turiya is not that which is conscious of the internal (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the external (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass of all consciousness, nor that which is simple consciousness, nor that which is unconscious. It is unseen (by sense organs), not related to anything, incomprehensible by the mind, uninferable, unthinkable, indescribable, essentially of the nature of Consciousness constituting the Self alone, negation of all phenomena, the Peaceful, all Bliss and the Non-dual. This is what is known as the fourth (Turiya). This is the Atman and it has to be realized.

What a soft flowing lyrical language like an early morning breeze in the spring season!

The main purport of Vedanta is that Brahman alone is real and the whole world of appearance is unreal, and that the Jiva is nothing but Brahman Itself. This abstruse theory cannot be comprehended by ordinary men of small understanding, who are immersed in the life of relativity and ignorance. They are taught this sublime Truth by means of illustrations suitable to them, so that they may fix their minds on the Reality through various angles of vision. The ancient sages adopted two popular methods to achieve this objective.

They are 1. to explain the Unknown through the known by citing practical illustrations of daily life whereby its abstract truths can be understood by the finite intellect very easily and 2. to explain the Unexplainable by denying the known entities. The first method is called Nyayas or illustrations while the second is known as ‘neti neti’ Not this, Nor this’. The great doctrine of “Neti – Neti” says that the truth can be found only through the negation of all thoughts about it. This is extensively adopted by Sage Yajnavalkya in his dialogues with his wife, Maitreyi, which are featured in the Muni Kanda or Yajnavalkya Kanda of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad.

This mantra of the Mandukya Upanishad adopted the “Neti Neti” method to explain Turiya, the fourth state of consciousness This doctrine in this Upanishad suggests the indescribability of the Brahman, the Absolute. It is possible to describe Brahman as what ‘It is not’ but not as to what ‘It is’. Atman is “neither this, nor this” (“Neti, Neti”). The Self cannot be described in any way. “Na-iti” – that is “Neti”. It is through this process of “Neti, Neti” that one gives up everything – the cosmos, the body, the mind and everything – to realize the Self. After knowing the Atman in this manner, one develops the attitude that the phenomenal world and all its creatures are made up of the same essence of bliss. Brahman is infinite, amorphous, colorless, characterless and formless Universal Spirit which is omnipresent and omnipotent, and like cosmic energy, it is pervasive, unseen and indescribable.

Now let us analyze the mantra. Using the language of negation it says that

1.  naantah-prajnam – The Atman or life force in man is not the dreamer or that which is conscious of the internal subjective world i.e. Turiya is not the dream state or Taijasa. 

2.  na bahishprajnam - It is not that which is conscious of the external object-world i.e. Turiya is not the waking-state ego or vaisvanara.

3. na ubhayatah-prajnam – It is also not that state which is in between waking and dreaming.

4. na prajnanaghanam – In deep sleep a person experiences undifferentiated consciousnessand one is not conscious of anything including oneself. But the Atman has no such state (prajnanaghanam).

5. na prajnam  na aprajnam.h – It is not conscious or unconscious.

If none of these states are applicable to the Self then how can we describe it?  The Upanishad says that one cannot describe the Self; one cannot predicate anything about it; one cannot say it is this or it is that. Once it is said that the Self is such and such, we limit the Self. Hence there is no way of saying exactly what it is. That is why it is said ‘Neti Neti’.

The Upanishad further says that the Self is

6. adrishtam – It cannot be seen i.e. it cannot be experienced by means of any sense organ.

7. avyavaharyam – It is not capable of being used by any of our organs.

8. agraahyam – It cannot be grasped.

9. alakshanam – It is beyond perception by any organ.

10. achintyam  - It is beyond thought. One cannot even think of it.

11. avyapadeshyam – One cannot describe it.

Then what is the Self?

12. ekatma-pratyaya-saram - It is only this ‘I’ consciousness, our Self-consciousness which everybody has. This common ‘I’ consciousness is Brahman. It is the Param Atman, the substratum, the common base, the Cosmic Self. The Upanishad has thus very cleverly led us from not this, to the conclusion that we are Brahman. In the end there is only one thing that exists – ekam atma-pratyaya – only the “I’ consciousness that is the support of the whole universe and the essence of our being.

When do we realize this?

13. prapancha upashamam - When the phenomenal world is negated, rejected or eliminated the object world is nothing but names and forms – nama and roopa.

When these are eliminated what is left?

14. shantam, shivam, advaitam  - That is peace, happiness and non-duality. There is peace because there is no diversity, no plurality, and no competition with each other. When there is unity there cannot be anything but peace and happiness.

This is called the fourth state i.e. chaturtham. That is Turiya. That is our real state and that is Brahman - sa atma

That is to be known - sa vijneyah – that is to be realized. By whom? We have to realize that Self by ourselves. Sankara says that we are now ignorant of our own Self; we have to remove that ignorance and then only the Self can be known. The idea is that mere intellectual understanding of the Self is not enough; what is required is to experience the Self by oneself. The means to achieve this experience is Pranava Upasana i.e. meditation on AUM which is the theme of the mantras that follow. In these mantras the Upanishad tells us that meditation on the constituent mantras (parts) of the pranava viz., A, U, M, (to pronounce these letters as in Sanskrit -  akara, ukara,  makara) will secure for us all knowledge, glory and prosperity which the three padas of the Atman viz., Visva, Taijasa and Prajna are capable of bestowing upon man. But all these come under the sway of maya and are therefore short-lived.  To have an eternal bliss, the Upanishad advises us to meditate on partless, unified Pranava (AUM) thereby achieve the blissful condition of the divisionless Atman or Brahman.

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