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



The Mandukya Upanishad has the unique distinction of a detailed exposition by two stalwarts – Sankara and his teacher’s teacher, Gaudapada.  Gaudapada, about whom very little is known, wrote a detailed commentary on the Upanishad in the form of karikas – explanatory verses. His work is well-known as the Mandukyakarika. It is also known as Agamasastra. This karika is more than a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad; it looks as an independent exposition of Gaudapada on Advaita through the means of the Mandukya Upanishad.

The karika has a total of 215 verses divided into four prakaranas or sections as under.

Agama prakarana
Vaithathya prakarana
Advaita prakarana and
Alatasanti prakarana.

The entire Mandukya Upanishad has been covered in the Agama Prakarana by interspersing the verses of the karika in between the mantras of the Upanishad. The other three prakaranas are completely independent expositions of Advaita Vedanta from various angles. Sankara has commented not only upon the Upansihad but also on the karikas.

Vaithathya  prakarana : This deals with the unreality of the world by analyzing the three states of consciousness.

Advaita prakarana: This attempt to establish advaita viz., Brahman is the one and only Reality, through yukti or logic instead of merely relying on scriptures.

Alatasanti prakarana: This is the longest of the four sections. It refutes 35 schools of philosophy that existed during that time, using the famous example of alata or a lighted torch which, when rotated appears as a circle of fire, though no such circle exists.  In the same way, the world of duality is only an appearance and not real.

Some other important concepts given by Gaudapada are as follows:

Analyzing the avasthatraya or three states of consciousness (waking, dream and deep sleep states); Gaudapada tells us that it is only in the waking state that the dream and deep sleep states are negated. However, from the standpoint of turiya, which is the ‘eternal state’ in the Atman, even the so called waking state also is filled with darkness of ignorance and hence all the three states are actually the night of ignorance.

‘Ajati’ or ‘non-birth’ is another concept which is peculiar to this work. Since Brahman alone is real and all other objects, whether it is this world or the jivas (living beings) are only appearances, there is no question of any birth or creation of this world at all. Though the scriptures have described srishti or creation, they have not declared it to be real.

However, following the tradition, Gaudapada accepts pranvopasana – meditation on Atman or Brahman with the help of Omkara – and explains the procedure in detail.  On the fruits of such meditation he says:

• Try to know OM by each of its padas (quarters). There is no doubt that padas and matras (letters) are the same. If you know OM through its padas, there is nothing for you to worry about. You are then blessed.
• Concentrate the mind on pranava (OM). Pranavah nirbhayam brahma – pranava is Brahman and as such, takes you beyond fear. If you can fix your mind on Pranava there is no more fear for you.
Pranava (OM) is both nirguna and saguna Brahman. This pranava has nothing to which it can be traced and there is nothing which can be traced to it. There is nothing outside it and nothing alien to it. It never decays, is always the same.
Pranava is the beginning, the middle and the end of everything. If you know pranava this way, you at once know Brahman fully.
• Know pranava to be the Lord who resides in the hearts of all and controls them. A thoughtful person knows pranava to be all-pervasive. Such a person is never troubled by sorrow i.e. he goes beyond both pleasure and pain.
• He, who knows OMkara as undivided and limitless, as the end of all duality, and as all good, is truly a wise person. He is a muni. None else.

Another special term used in this work is ‘asparsayoga'.  It is the same as the experience of unalloyed bliss of the Self wherein there is no sparsa or contact of the senses with their objects, but only with the Self.

The karika ends with a definition of moksha or liberation as just a rediscovery of one’s true nature as the Atman (Brahman) and a brief description of the man of liberation.

Gaudapada concludes he has realized that the Self is unique, unborn, pure and changeless. It is almost impossible to talk about a subject like this, but he has done his best. He offers his salutations to this Supreme Truth and draws the curtain down.


Receive Site Updates