Glimpses of Vedic Literature - Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad

MANDUKYA Upanishad is attributed to the Atharvaveda. It is extremely short, composed in prose, stated in terms, the meanings of which are not easy to understand.

It begins by a positive statement regarding the Universe, which is described as the exposition of the mystic syllable, AUM. It says:

"AUM is this imperishable word, AUM is the Universe and this is the exposition of AUM."

It is then declared that AUM is the past, the present and the future. And, finally, it is declared that all else that may exist beyond the bounds of Time, that too is AUM.

A further positive statement regarding the Universe is made next:

"All this Universe is the Eternal Brahman, this Self is the Eternal, and the Self is four-fold."

Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad

The identity of the Universe with the Brahman is one of the important realisations affirmed in the Upanishads. This identity constitutes monism, according to which Reality is one, without the second. This identity is expressed in other Upanishads in formulas such as:

Ekam eva advitiyam.
"One without the second."
Tat tvam asi
"Thou art That."
Sarvam khalvidam Brahma.
"All this is verily the Brahman."

But the special light that the Mandukya Upanishad throws is as to how the Reality is experienced in four different statuses or states of the Self or the Brahman.

We may recall that we had in the Taittiriya Upanishad a description of five orders of existence, physical, vital, mental, supramental and blissful, and corresponding to these five orders there are, we were told, five states of the Purusha, the witnessing and controlling poise of the individual, the annamaya purusha, pranamaya purusha, manomaya purusha, vijnanamaya purusha, anandamaya purusha (the physical, vital, mental, supramental and blissful beings of the individual). All this explains the correspondence between the macrocosm and the microcosm.

But now we have in the Mandukya Upanishad the description of the states of the consciousness in which the Universe is variously experienced. These states are the states of the Reality, which is the Brahman or the Atman or the Self. There are, we are told, four states, therefore, the Self is pronounced to be fourfold.

Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad

The first is called the state of wakefulness, the second state is called the state of dream, the third that of sleep and the fourth transcends all these states and the Self in that state is the one in whom all phenomena dissolve.

Let us state this fourfold state of the Self in the original terms of the Upanishad. The first is described as follows:

"He whose place is the wakefulness, who is wise of the out-ward, . . . who feels and enjoys gross objects, Vaishwanara, He is the first."

The second is described as follows:

"He whose place is the dream, who is wise of the inward,... who feels and enjoys subtle objects, Taijasa, the Inhabitant in the Luminous Mind, He is the second."

The third is described as follows:

"When one sleeps and yearns not with any desire, nor sees any dream, that is the perfect slumber. He whose place is the perfect slumber, who has become Oneness, who is wisdom gathered into itself, who is made of mere delight, who enjoys delight unrelated, to whom conscious mind is the door, Prajna, the Lord of Wisdom, He is the third."

This sleep-self is further described as follows:

"This is the Almighty, this is the Omnipresent, this is the Inner Soul, this is the Womb of the Universe, this is the Birth and Destruction of creatures."

Finally, the Fourth is described as follows:

"He who is neither inward-wise, nor outward-wise, nor both inward and outward-wise, nor wisdom self-gathered, nor possessed of wisdom, nor unpossessed of wisdom. He who is unseen and incommunicable, unseizable, featureless,

Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad

unthinkable and unnameable, whose essentiality is awareness of the Self in its single existence, in whom all phenomena dissolve, who is Calm, who is Good, who is the one than Whom there is no other, Him they deem the fourth: He is the Self, He is the object of Knowledge."

It will be clear that the words "Wakefulness", "Dream," and "Sleep" are used figuratively. The Sleep Self is described as Omniscient, the Dream-Self is described as the Inhabitant in the Luminous Mind and the Self that is wakeful is described as one who feels and enjoys gross objects. Indeed, the wakeful Self of this description is the one who is engaged in outward consciousness, while the one in the dream state is described as one who is engaged in inward consciousness; the wakeful enjoys gross objects, the dream Self enjoys subtle objects. The Sleep-Self enjoys delight neither by gross objects nor subtle objects, but His very stuff is made of delight. What stuff is made of delight? What do these descriptions really signify?

The clue is to be found in the process of Yogic Meditation or Concentration. The normal state of the human being is turned to external objects. We may recall the famous statement of the Kathopanishad where Yama says:

"The Self-born has set the doors of the body to face outwards; therefore, the Soul of man gazes outward and not at the Self within; hardly, a wise man here and there, desiring immortality, turns his eyes inward and sees the Self within him." (2.1.1)

In Indian psychology, we have a distinction between "Bahirmukha" and "Antarmukha", the one turned outward and the one turned inward. In our normal consciousness, we believe that we are awake, when we feel and enjoy gross objects. From the point of view of Yoga, this wakefulness is really a state of dullness, since that state has gross

Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad

understanding as distinguished from subtle understanding. It is only when one turns inward that one begins to take cognisance of subtle objects. The inward state is, therefore, superior to the outward state. This inward state is obtained when we withdraw from our outer consciousness of ordinary wakefulness and begin to enter into some kind of inner concentration. In this inner state of meditation, we begin to have visions and voices and these visions and voices are supra-physical in character. This state can be better; understood when we compare it with our ordinary experience of the state of dream.

For in that state of ordinary dream, we perceive objects and hear voices, even when our physical eyes are closed and our outer ears are too dull to be awakened by outer voices. It is because the inward state of meditation is in this respect similar to our state of dream, that inward state of the Self has been described in this Upanishad as the state of the dream-self. It is also important to note that the dream-self is called "the Inhabitant in Luminous Mind". This state is, of course, an intermediate state; in that state we are not yet free from partialities and desires. We have not yet discovered the inner source of joy and we still depend upon objects for deriving enjoyment, even though these objects are subtle and not gross. This inner state of the dream- self has many powers and astonishing capacities. To use the terminology of modern psychology, this inner state of consciousness may be called that of subliminal consciousness. Here the word "Subliminal" is used to indicate that which is beyond the threshold of outer consciousness. The powers of subliminal consciousness were known in the Indian Science of Yoga, but in modern times they are now being recovered in some of the latest schools of psychology. Subliminal powers include powers of telepathy and telekinesis; these powers enable us to

Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad

communicate our thoughts and feelings directly to the thoughts and feelings of others without the use of external agency of physical contact. In the subliminal consciousness, we have warnings of coming events or premonitions, or else, we have clear visions of events of the past, the present or of the future, even when they are not cognised physically. These and other powers of the subliminal consciousness begin to manifest when we begin to practise inner concentration by withdrawing from outer attachment to objects and begin to live more and more in our inner self. Often the seeker of Yoga gets entangled into the powers without realising that there are deeper depths to be conquered and that we should be free from the lures of the powers of the subliminal consciousness.

The Mandukya Upanishad, therefore, describes the third state of the Self. This third state is the state of sleep. Surely, this is not the state of ordinary sleep. It is only by analogy that this word "sleep" has been used. Just as in the ordinary sleep, there is a complete withdrawal from the outer or intermediate levels of consciousness, even so, in the state of Yogic sleep, one goes beyond the gross and the subtle objects. Just as in the ordinary sleep, there is dreamlessness and cessation of yearning and desire, even so in the state of Yogic sleep there is cessation of modification of consciousness and there is a deep concentration. But this concentration in the Yogic sleep is a luminous concentration which is quite distinguished from the concentration of ordinary sleep, where it is entirely unconscious. The Yogic sleep gives us the experience of oneness, where wisdom is gathered into itself and where delight does not depend upon outer objects but flows inherently from the intrinsic nature of oneness of the Self.

The Yogic sleep is also therefore called the state of

Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad

Omniscience. The Upanishad even goes farther and tells us that this Omniscient Self is the real Womb of the Universe. This would mean that according to the Upanishad the world is not a product of Ignorance, but a product of Omniscience. This reminds us of the description that is given in the Gita of para prakriti, which is the Omniscient creative force of the Universe. In the Gita, we have also description of para prakriti in the eleventh chapter where Lord Krishna grants to Arjuna the vision of His vast and universal form, vishwarupa darshana. In that vision, Arjuna witnesses the birth and destruction of creatures. It is the vision of the Almighty and the Omniscient. It corresponds exactly to the description of the sleep-self given in this Upanishad.

In the Gita this Almighty and Omniscient Self is the Self of creativity and mobility, and, therefore, it is called kshara purusha. And we are told that there is also akshara purusha as also Supreme purusha.

There is, indeed, therefore, the Fourth Self, the Self, i.e. beyond the Self of the state of wakefulness, the Self of the dream and the Self of sleep. The Upanishad describes this fourth one in memorable terms, and they bear repetition. It declares that this fourth Self transcends the distinction between inward and outward, transcends even the distinction being possessed of wisdom or unpossessed of wisdom. This Self transcends the distinction of subject and object. Its essentiality is awareness of the Self in its single existence, in whom all phenomena dissolve. This Self is unseen and incommunicable; He is unseizable and featureless; He is unthinkable and unnameable. It is added that He is Calm and Good. He is that Self which is to be known. He is the transcendental and supracosmic reality. He is the fourth aspect of the Self. All the four aspects of the Self are the Eternal Brahman and all this Universe is one with the Eternal Brahman.

Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad

In the last few statements of the Upanishad, we are told that the three letters of the mystic syllable AUM correspond to the three states oft the Self, the Wakefulness, the Dream and the Sleep and the fourth state of the Self is letterless. The Upanishad ends with the statement:

"He that knows is the Self and enters by his self into the Self, he that knows, he that knows."

Mandukya Upanishad

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