Mandukya Upanishad


Unlike some of the other upaniShads, mANDUkya is not analyzed in brahma sUtra which is an analytical vedAntic text written by Ved Vyas ji. One reason is that sentences of this upaniShad are so clear, that it does not have any ambiguity and therefore it is not analyzed.  

The Mandukya upaniShad is Omkar Vichararupa upanishadupaniShad which is in the form of inquiry, with the help of omkAra. OM is considered to be a very important syllable in our tradition. OM is the name of paramAtma. The first chapter is for ascertaining the meaning of omkara to be paramAtma.  

The message given by this upaniShad is so profound, that many people find it difficult to relate to. It has only 12 mantras and it is very concentrated in its meaning. That is why it is considered to be a very advanced upaniShad.  We usually study this upaniShad along with the kArika

What is a Karika and who wrote the Mandukya Karika?

is a commentary in verse form dealing with some part of the subject matter of the original text. This commentary will not explain every word of the upaniShad. But it will be analyzing a particular subject matter discussed in the original text.   

This commentary is over 1200 years old and is authored by gaudapAdAcharya. Adi shaMkarAchArya, a great teacher in advaita tradition, was taught by his guru, govindapAdAchArya, who was in turn taught by his guru, shrI gaudapAdAchArya.

gaudapAdAchArya’s personal history is not known in so much detail. In those days, people did not care, they just wrote, whereas, now-a-days people write, asserting their copyright – 

‘No part of this text should be reproduced without the written permission of the author; otherwise it will attract legal action.’

In those days, some of them did not even write their name at the end of the text. The text was taught to the disciples. That is how the sampradAya (tradition) continued. We do not know much about gaudapAdAchArya, though there are some speculations about where he was from. But we do know that he was a great AchArya (teacher).  He is considered to be either from the tradition of sukadevAchArya or his direct disciple. sukadeva was the son of veda vyAsa who compiled the veda-s and wrote the epic, mahAbhArata. We know of this connection from a verse, where we salute the lineage of teachers –   

‘NArAyanam PadmaBhuvam vaShistam, Shaktimca tatputra parAsharanCa, vyAsam sukam gaudapadam mahAntam…’

Tradition of teachers starting with Lord Narayana who taught his son vashishtA who taught his son shakti who taught his disciple parAshara who taught it to vyAsa who taught it to his son suka, who taught it to his disciple the great gaudapAdAchArya.


Chapters of the upaniShad

gaudapAdAchArya has written this commentary called kArika and therefore it is called gaudapAda kArika.  Since it is a kArika on the upaniShad called mANDUkya, it is also called mAndukya kArika. This kArika has four chapters called prakaraNam-s containing 215 sloka-s.

i. First chapter is called Agama prakaraNam – chapter on upaniShad;

ii. Second is called VaitaThya prakaraNam – chapter on unreality;

iii. Third is called advaita prakaraNam – chapter on non-duality; and

iv. Fourth chapter is called alAtashAnthi prakaraNam – chapter on quietening of the firebrand.   

We will briefly see the ideas contained in each chapter. 

Agama prakaraNam –

This chapter contains 12 upaniShad mantra-s as the main part. The ideas contained in the mantras are elaborated by gaudapAdAchArya in 29 kArika-s.

The layout of this chapter is as follows –

The chapter begins with six mantra-s from the upaniShad, which are then followed by kArika-s or sloka-s. They are then followed by the seventh mantra from the upaniShad, which is then followed by some kArika-s. The chapter alternates between mantra-s from the upaniShad and their kArika-s. Thus, in this manner the chapter presents to us that the non-dual brahman alone is reality.

Traditional knowledge is called Agama. upaniShad is called apauruSheya, as it is not authored by a particular person at a particular time. It is handed over to the disciple by the teacher. guru shiShya paramparayA Agatah iti Agama – That which has come down through the tradition of guru and shiShya is called Agama. Since the first chapter is having Agama as its predominant part, it is called Agama prakaraNam. The upaniShad is highly emphasized, yukti or reasoning is secondary in this chapter.   

This chapter is Agama shAstra pradhAna i.e. mainly scripture-based. It is shravaNa pradhAna i.e. mainly based on listening to the scriptures. That is why certain things which are told may not look scientific or even logical, but we have to go along the way shown by the upaniShad. The logical aspects will be shown later. 

The rest of the three chapters concentrate on clarifying the two words which come in the upaniShad mantra – prapa~nchopashamaM and advaita.

vaitathya prakaraNam -The second chapter has 38 karika-s of gaudapAdAchArya.

means unreality or unreal status. Vitatha means unreal. Vitathasya bhAvah vaitathyam – the state of being unreal is called vaitathyam.  In this chapter, the unreal nature of this duality is established through reasoning. The chapter dealing with the unreal nature of the world is called vaitathya prakaraNam 

In the second chapter, what has been said by shruti is substantiated by reasoning. It is established how dvaita or duality is unreal. advaita or non – duality can be established only when experiential duality is negated. Otherwise there will be a particular doubt – ‘How can you say brahman is non-dual, when there is experience of duality?’ This particular doubt is answered in this chapter, by giving yukti or logic. Logic itself is not the pramANam i.e. the means of knowledge of non-duality of brahman. But yukti helps us to clarify the doubts regarding what has been said by the scripture.  That is why the second chapter is manana pradhAna i.e. mainly reflection based. mananam is resolving the doubts of how this experience of duality is unreal. Therefore the second chapter resolves doubt about the unreality of duality. And the logic given is how duality is just assumed without enquiry. So, whatever assumptions we have, are shattered. 

advaita prakaraNam – The third chapter has 48 karika-s of gaudapAdAchArya.

Here, some may think that, if duality is unreal, then non-duality may also be unreal. But this does not follow; both can be dismissed. Sometime we have this mentality- ‘I lose, but my enemy also should lose.’ Similarly the opponent may say -‘this is OK. My dvaitam is mithyA, but your advaita also is mithyA’. Whatever logic you have given to dismiss dvaitam can be applied to advaita also. So dvaitam is dismissed and advaitam also is dismissed. What will remain is shunya vAda – zero is the reality. This is the contention of one branch of Buddhism which says that both the seen and the seer are unreal; there is no reality at all. That particular contention is dismissed in this chapter, by means of reasoning to establish advaita.   

alAtashAnti prakaraNam

The fourth chapter has 100 karika-s of gaudapAdAchArya.

In this chapter the contentions of various opponents are dismissed and it is established that advaita alone is reality. To establish advaita and to explain the experience of dvaita, the example of alAta or fire brand is given. ShAnti means quietening or ceasing.   

When the firebrand is moved fast, you see various shapes – round, square, etc., but really there is no object. Yet, you have an experience of a shape. You can draw a circle or any animal. But the reality of the shapes is the alAta or fire brand. 

Similarly the reality of this world is paramAtma alone, but paramAtma not understood is appearing as this world.  Understanding takes place when your vision is only on brahman like that firebrand. Then, really, the world is not there. So the world which is like the movement of this alAta gets dismissed or ceases on the wake of knowledge. That is what is established in this chapter.

The four chapters together add up to 215 sloka-s. This is the development or outline of the text.  It is not like a 20-20 cricket match. It is like a test match – a long innings… 

shaMkarAchArya-ji in his commentary on this text introduces the upaniShad and the kArikA by saying –

‘VedAntArtha sArasangrahbhutam idam prakarana chatustayam omiti etat akSharam ityAdi Arabhyate

‘This text consisting of four chapters is in the form of collection of essence of the subject matter of all vedAnta-s.’

In vedAnta or upaniShad-s so many topics are dealt with.  Whereas, in this text, only the essential part is given which is – non- dual brahman. upaniShad by itself is not a prakaraNam. But the text along with upaniShad is considered to be prakaraNam i.e. dealing with one part of the original shAstram. In vedAnta so many topics are discussed. Here one topic is discussed elaborately. Therefore this text can be considered to be a prakaraNam because it contains the essence of all vedAnta. And this text begins with the upaniShad mantra-s. When I refer to the word text, what is meant is upaniShad plus kArikA.

In next Blog we will discuss the first chapter of the mANDUkya UpaniShad.

Radhe Radhe ………….