The Mandukya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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Section 2: The Individual and the Absolute

The first Mantra of the Mandukya Upanishad describes the nature of Omkara and its connotation in relation to the whole universe. Now, it also denotes some object, as was pointed out earlier. It is a Universal Name which refers to a Universal Form in such a manner that the Name and the Form coalesce to constitute one Being. As the Name is Universal and the Form also is Universal, they have naturally to blend into a single existence, because we cannot have two Universals standing apart from each other. There is, therefore, the Universal Name coalescing with the Universal Form; Nama and Rupa become one in this experience-whole. That experience is neither Nama nor Rupa, by itself. It is both, and yet neither. God is not merely a form denoted by a name, nor is He an object that can be described by any person. As all persons are included within the body of God, there is no naming God by any other entity outside it. Hence, in a sense, we may say that God is nameless. Who can call Him by a name? Where is that person who can call Him by a name! As there is, therefore, essentially, no name, in the ordinary sense of the term, that can designate God, He cannot also be regarded as a Rupa or a form which corresponds to a Nama or a name. There is an indescribable something which is designated ultimately by Omkara or Pranava, and, being indescribable, it is visualised by a name that conveys the best of possible meanings. Though it may itself have no name, and it cannot also be said to have any particular form, we, as Jivas, individuals here on earth, cannot envisage it in that transcendent nature. We have to conceive it in our minds before we can contemplate or meditate upon it for the sake of realisation. This meaningful and suggestive designation of that indescribable, transcendent something, is Brahman, the Absolute.

Sarvam hyetad brahma: All this is, verily, Brahman. Thus begins the second Mantra. "All this creation is just the Absolute alone", is the real meaning of this statement. All that can be regarded as what you call this universe is that Brahman. Etat vai tat: "This, verily, is that": "That" and "this" are two terms demonstrating two separate entities, objects or things; "that" referring to a distant object and "this" to an object which is near. Now, "this" cannot be "that", and yet the Upanishad proclaims, "this" verily is "that"; if "this" is "that", if one thing can be another thing, then there are no two things. Where comes the necessity for these two demonstrative pronouns, "this" and "that"? By a process of definition called Bhaga-tyaga-lakshana (characterisation by division and elimination of certain properties), a reconciliation of these two suggestive terms, Etat and Tat, "this" and "that" is brought about. The famous example usually cited is of a person whom you might have seen in a distant place once, and whom you might now see near you in another place. Soyam Deva-dattah – "This" is "that" Devadatta. That person called Devadatta whom I saw in a distant place, now I see here, near me, in another place altogether. The places are different; he might have even grown in age; he might be speaking a different language now; he might not even recognise me due to lapse of time; there is distance of space and difference in time, yet I recognise that person now. This, verily, is that person, Etat vai tat. The reconciliation of "this" and "that" is done not by a unity of the two meanings of the pronouns "this" and "that", but a unity of the single object which these two pronouns designate. "This" and "that" do not represent any object. They only indicate an object. These are indicative pronouns pointing out to an object, and the unity of the object is established by discarding the connotation of "that" as well as of "this". It does not matter if that person was somewhere else at one time and now he is in another place at another time; these distinctions make no difference to us in recognising the person. Spatial and temporal differences are abandoned for the sake of the recognition of the unity of the person who is the same always; then, as well as now, there as well as here. This very method is employed in understanding such Upanishadic statements as 'Sarvam hyetad brahma'; 'Ayam atma brahma': All this is Brahman; and this Atman, also, is Brahman. Here you have; as it were, the quintessence of all Upanishadic teaching, the last word of the Vedanta, as you may call it, the culmination of the wisdom of the sages. This universe which appears to be proximate to our senses is that Brahman which seems to be distant or away from us, and this personality of ours which appears to be so proximate is also reconcilable with that Absolute which appears to be far from your reach. And, finally, on a consideration of the fact that every individual can make a reference to oneself as "this" and to Brahman as "that", and inasmuch as "this" is verily "that", all "this" also is "that". This personality, this individuality, this Jivatva, is ultimately unifiable with that Absolute, which is Supreme, but appears to be distant. If every individual is to make an assertion of this nature, the total "I" becomes reconcilable with "That"; – "This is That". All becomes That – Sarvam hyetad brahma.

How can many things be one thing, is another question. Sarvam brahma: All is Brahman. A multitudinous variety seems to be unified with a single entity. This is intriguing because we have never seen many things being equated with one thing. Many things are many things and one thing is one thing. The manifold variety of the universe is perceived by us because of the differentiating characters of objects. What about this differentia, then? What happens to the differentia when we try to identify all things with a single reality? Here, again, we have to apply the same method of Bhaga-tyaga-lakshana, of shedding something and taking something else, in the act of understanding. Just as you recognise a person who was there and who is now here by a method of sublimation of characters, all this manifold universe is recognised as one single Being by the method of elimination of redundant characters which are not essential to the structure of the variety, which cannot be called the essence of the variety and which are only accidental to the particulars. That which is accidental is to be abandoned and that which is essential is to be taken. Brahman is essence and therefore it can be equated only with essence. The essential Brahman cannot be identified with the accidental attributes of the objects of the world. The name and the form, the structural distinctions that we observe in the things of the world are accidental in the sense that they persist only as long as there is space and time. As was pointed out in the first Mantra itself – Yaccanyat trikalatitam tadapyomkara eva – Brahman transcends the three periods of time, and therefore all space. For this reason it cannot be said to have the characters of space and time.

What are the essential characters of space and time? They are distinction and formation, differentiation of one thing from another by attribute, definition, etc. Because of perception of specific characters called Viseshas, we begin to distinguish one set of Viseshas from another, calling each centre or set as an individual or entity. Minus these Viseshas, these entities would vanish. We know water as drops. One drop is different from the other. When all the drops are one and there is no differentiating character between one drop and another, we call it the ocean. We, then, name it by a different epithet altogether. There is a merger of properties due to the overcoming of the difference of space and the barrier of time, in some sense, and in this merger of characters, there is no perception of variety.

There are said to be five characters in all existence: Nama, Rupa, Asti, Bhati and Priya. Nama and Rupa are name and form. Asti, Bhati and Priya mean existence, illumination and the character of pleasurableness. Existence, illumination and satisfaction seem to be permeating Nama and Rupa, whatever be the place or the time of the Nama and the Rupa. We are all constituted of Nama and Rupa, name and form. Each one of us has a name and a form. Everyone has a name and a form. There is name-form complex and, therefore, the world is caIled Nama-Rupa-Prapanca, the network of names and forms. But, notwithstanding the fact that we are in a position to perceive only names and forms, and nothing beyond, we are impelled by the urge of something else beyond name and form, which fact comes into relief in our hectic activities of day-to-day life, wherein we express a desire not merely for name and form but for something more than name and form. Why do you act, why do you think, why do you engage yourself in any kind of work? There seems to be a purpose behind all these endeavours, and the purpose is not merely a contact with a name or form, but a utilisation of name and form for a different aim altogether. All our activities hinge upon a single objective, that is, relationship with externals, contact with objects; but for a purpose higher than the objects themselves, the putting into use or harnessing the object, including persons, for bringing about an effect which we regard as beneficial to ourselves. This effect is the final objective, and not Nama and Rupa. You pursue in this world not some persons and things, but certain effects, consequences which you want to follow by your contact with persons and things. If these consequences do not follow, you reject the persons and things. It is not that you want persons or things; you want certain consequences to follow from the contact with persons and things. If they do not follow, you do not want them. Your friends become enemies or at least things of indifference when the consequences desired from them do not follow, and your desires become aversions when the required consequences do not materialise. So, it is not name and form or objects as such that we long for, but a desired consequence. What is that consequence?

The ultimate longing of all aspiring centres is to bring about a release of some tension. The release of tension of any kind is equal to pleasure. You are unhappy when you are in a state of tension, and you are happy when tensions are released. There are various kinds of tensions in life and every tension is a centre of suffering. There is family tension, communal tension, national, or international tension, which is usually called a cold war, all which place one in a state of anxiety and agony. The release of tension brings satisfaction and one works for that satisfaction. You want the tension to be released. But all these are outward or external tensions. There are inner tensions which are of greater consequence than the outer ones – the psychological tensions caused by a variety of circumstances: These circumstances in the psychic set-up of our personality form a network called the Hridaya-Granthi, in the words of the Upanishads. The Tantra-Sastras and Hatha-Yoga Sastras call this Granthi by a threefold name: as Brahma-Granthi, Vishnu-Granthi and Rudra-Granthi, which you have to pierce through by the release of the Kundalini-Sakti. All this you might have heard and learnt earlier. This is the Granthi of Avidya, Kama and Karma, ignorance, desire and action; this is the tension of Vasanas or Samskaras; this is the tension of the subconscious or unconscious mind; this . is the tension of unfulfilled desires and frustrated feelings. This is 'personality' in its essential nature. We are a network of these tensions. This is Jivatva. What is the Jiva made of? It is made up of a group of tensions. That is why no Jiva can be happy. We are always in a state of anxiety and eagerness to find the first opportunity to release the tensions. The Jiva tries to work out a method of release of tensions by what is called fulfilment of desires, because, ultimately these tensions can be boiled down to unfulfilled desires. It appears on the surface that by a fulfilment of the desires the tensions can be released and we can enter into Asti-Bhati-Priya by coming in contact with Nama and Rupa. But the method that we adopt is an erroneous one. It is true that desires have to be fulfilled, and unless they are fulfilled there cannot be release of tension. But how are we to fulfil the desires? We adopt a very wrong method; therefore, we never fulfil our desires completely, at any time, in all the births that we take. The desires cannot be fulfilled by contact with objects, because a contact excites a further desire for a repetition of the contact which, again, in turn, excites an additional desire, and this cycle goes on endlessly – desire for things and things exciting desires, desire for things and things exciting desires. This cycle is the wheel of Samsara, again. By contact with things, desires are not fulfilled. On the other hand, desires are ignited, as it were, into a state of conflagration by such contact. Desires arise on account of an ignorance of the structure of things. Unless this ignorance is removed, the tension is not going to be released. And, what is this ignorance? The ignorance in the form of the notion that multiplicity is a reality; and that by an aggregate of all the finite things constituting the multiplicity, we can have the infinite satisfaction that we long for. A total of the finites is not the infinite, and therefore contact with finite things cannot bring infinite satisfaction. Nama-Rupa-Prapanca is, therefore, not the way to the realisation of Asti-Bhati-Priya, which is what beckons us every day in our activities.

We want perpetual existence. We do not want to die. This is the sense of Astitva, being, in us. We want to be called intelligent at least. We do not want to be regarded as stupid. This is the urge of Bhatitva or Chit, consciousness, in us. And we want happiness and not pain. This is the urge of Priya, bliss, in us. The urge for perpetual existence, if possible immortal existence, is the urge of Asti or Sat – existence. The urge for knowledge, wisdom, illumination, understanding, information, is the urge of Bhati or Chit – consciousness. The urge for delight, satisfaction, pleasure is the urge of that infinite delight of existence-consciousness, Priya or Ananda, bliss. It is this threefold blend of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss that reveals itself even through Nama and Rupa, and it is not the Nama and the Rupa or the name and the form that we really want in our life. In our contact with things, or names and forms, we seek Asti, Bhati and Priya. We seek Satchidananda through Nama-Rupa; we seek Reality in appearance; we seek the Absolute in the relative; we seek Brahman in all creation; we seek Isvara in the world. That is what we seek. In all our activities, whether it is office-going or factory-labour, whatever be the work that we do, the purpose behind is the seeking for a final release of all internal tension and an acquisition of unlimited satisfaction.

So, Nama-Rupa-Prapanca, all this variety, this universe, is ultimately that Brahman – Sarvam hyetad brahma. This unity can be established by the recognition of Asti, Bhati, Priya or Satchidananda in Nama-Rupa, even as we find gold in ornaments. The form of an ornament is not a hindrance to the existence of gold in it. Whatever be the structural differences of the ornaments, gold is common to all of them. We may say, all these ornaments are gold. Is there any contradiction in the statement? Ali the ornaments are gold because the ornaments are made of gold. Likewise, all this is Brahman – Sarvam hyetad brahma. The structural formations do not impede the recognition of the one essence in them. All earthen pots are made of clay. We may say, all these pots are clay; all the trees are wood; all the ocean is water. The difference is not, in these cases, an obstruction to the existence of the essence. The variety does not negate the essence, The variety also is the essence, and in the case of this vast universe of variety, we, therefore, need not be intrigued as to how this can be unified with That, how the proximate can be the same as the remote.

There are two aspects of the matter that we have to consider, namely, the substance of the universe, and the distances involved in the universe. The substances of the things of the world appear to be variegated on account of the forms, and not because of their essence. Take the case of a forest. One tree is not like another tree. Even a leaf in a tree is not like another leaf in the same tree. There are tall trees, short trees, thick ones, thin ones, of this kind and that kind. In spite of all this difference, all trees are wood. Whatever be the difference in the make of chairs and tables, all are wood. Likewise is the case with the things of the world. All things are substantially one, though structurally different. Now, this is one aspect of the matter. The other aspect is: why do they appear structurally different? This structural difference is an effect of the interference of space and time in existence. There is what is called 'space-and-time' which is something difficult to understand and which seems to be playing, a very important role, if not the most important role, in the interpretation of the things of the world. We do not merely see things in space and time. This is a very important aspect of perceptional psychology. We always engage ourselves with things, ignoring the fact of space and time involved in things. We may be under the impression that space and time are some non-entities, as it were, which can be ignored, and we are concerned only with things or solid objects. This is a misconception. Modern scientists will tell us how space and time are equally important, as important as the substantiality of objects, if not more important than their substantiality.

The substance and the structure of an object depend upon various factors associated with space and time. The location of the object, the observational centre of the subject and the relationship of the object to other objects; all these determine the structural nature of any single given object. Here I would advise you, if you so like, to study some of the discoveries made by modern science, especially physics. The objects are organically involved in space and time. They are not merely dove-tailed into space and time, externally or mechanically. It is not that objects are hanging in space, unconnected with space. No, says modern physics. Space and time are regarded as one, these days. It is not that space is one and time is another. They are two names for one continuum, called space-time continuum, and the things of the world are only modulations of space-time. Things in space, as they say, are certain structural differences in the continuum of space-time itself. Ultimately, we are told, there is only space-time, not even objects. and the so-called persons and things with which we are so much engaged are only space-time. We are hugging objects unconsciously without knowing what we are doing. So, even the structural differences are illusory, ultimately, and even the spatial and temporal difference is not valid, finally. Hence, substance is one, and the spatial and temporal differences get merged into this unity behind the variety. 'Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti', is the Vedic proclamation. The One existence is regarded as many by the great sages. They behold the One as many. Many names are given to the One. On account of this reason, because of the fact that the names and the forms which constitute the world are immediately resolvable to the structure of space-time, and finally resolvable to consciousness itself, Sarvam hyetad brahma, all this universe is Brahman. It is God illumining Himself in His variety, in His glorious multiple Form.

Well, if all this is Brahman, it goes without saying that this so-called self of ours, also, is Brahman: Ayam atma brahma. We need not, once again, explain this matter. It becomes clear because this self is also included in the All. Sarvam hyetad brahma: All is Brahman; therefore, Ayam atma brahma: this Atman is Brahman. Which self? This is another question. What is this self? We generally regard the self as constituting an animating consciousness within our body. We speak of 'I myself', 'you yourself', 'he himself', etc. Such terms are used by us in common language. Now, this self is the false self, not the real Self, because we have created a variety of selves by saying, myself, yourself, himself, herself, etc. This is the Mithya-Atman or the Gauna-Atman, the secondary self, the unimportant self, not the real or primary Self, or the Absolute Self – Mukhya-Atman. If all is Self, because Brahman is Self, it is impossible to regard anything as an object. All objects, again, coalesce into the Subject, because Brahman is the Subject, the Seer, the Drashta-Purusha, the final Beholder, the Consciousness that is at once the Seer as well as the seen. Brahman never becomes an object. If it is not an object, and if, also, all things are It – Sarvam hyetad brahma, then all things should be the Self. There is, then, in this experience, a Universal Beholding, a Cosmic Seeing, which means seeing without an object outside the Seer. This is an uncommon way of perception, because, here, we have a perception without a perceived object. This is knowledge without a known. All becomes knowledge when there is no object outside knowledge, Jnanam, jneyam, jnanagamyam, says the Bhagavad-Gita. It is knowledge as well as the known, that which is to be obtained by knowledge. It is the ocean of knowledge because outside it, there is no object. It is on account of this reason that we call it the Self or the Atman. The nature of the Atman is knowledge, not known-ness, not objectivity. This Universal Atman is Brahman; not the individual Jivatman, but the Universal Paramatman is Brahman – Etad brahma. This Brahman is the very Self which is Universal. To give a common analogy of the omnipresent space contained in a vessel: Space is universal, and it may appear to be limited on account of being apparently contained within the walls of a vessel, or a room. Can you say that space is limited because it is inside a hall? It is not really limited by the erection of brick walls, and when a vessel moves in space, we cannot say that the space also moves inside it. Likewise, the Atman does not move, when you move. You may travel distances, but the Atman does not move, because it is Universal; the Universal cannot move – Sarvam hyetad brahma; Ayam atma brahma.

This Brahman, which is the Universal Atman, is attainable by a process of personal experience. This process of experience by which we can attain the Atman which is Brahman, designated by Om, with a definition of which the Mandukya Upanishad commences, is a process of analysis and synthesis – Anvaya and Vyatireka – of the Self, the Subject. As was pointed out earlier, we are not concerned with objects here, but with the Subject, because the Subject is the means of the attainment of Brahman. Why? Because Brahman is the Supreme Subject; it is not an object. We cannot reach Brahman through objects; we attain It through the Subject alone. So, the analytical and synthetic processes of experience, of which we are making a study in the following verses of the Upanishad, are of the Subject, the Self, and not of objects with which we are not concerned in this endeavour here, because objects are not, when we consider the nature of the Universal Subject.

This Subject, this Atman, whose investigation we are to make now, is regarded as fourfold for the purpose of this analysis – So'yamatma chatushpat. Four-footed, as it were, is this Atman. What is this four-footed Atman? Is it like a cow, with four feet? The four feet of a cow are different from one another by a spatial distinction among them. One foot of the cow is different from another foot. We can see the four feet of a cow separately. Has the Atman four feet in the same way? What does the Upanishad mean by saying, So'yamatma chatushpat, four-legged, four-footed is the Atman? It is not true that the four quarters of the Atman are like the four feet of a cow, but rather these are like the four quarters contained in a Rupee coin. You may say that the four quarters are contained in a coin, a Rupee, which you cannot see distinctly. The four quarters are in the coin, and yet they are not distinguishable. You recognise their presence, but you cannot behold them with the eyes. In this sense, we may say that the Atman has four feet, and not in the sense of the four feet of a cow. The four quarters of the Atman described in the Mandukya Upanishad are the four aspects in the study of the Atman, and not four distinguishable, partitioned quarters of the Atman. These quarters, these four aspects in the study of the nature of the Atman, which are the main subject of the Mandukya Upanishad, are also a process of self-transcendence. The whole scheme is one of analysis and synthesis and also transcendence of the lower by the higher. This Mandukya Upanishad itself is an exhaustive study of the Vedanta, because, in a few words, phrases or sentences, it states what our primary duty in life is. A transcendence of the lower by the higher by way of analysis, excluding nothing, but including everything, is the way to synthesis. We enter into an analytical process by self-transcendeace, because synthesis, by itself alone, is not sufficient. If you total up all particulars into a synthesis of unity, you may get the vast physical cosmos. You may think: this is Brahman. To remove this misconception, the Upanishad introduces the subject of self-transcendence. You have not only to total up the entire visible universe into a single unity and take it as one substance, but also transcend the nature of this total unity, because the physical character of the universe is not the essential nature of Brahman. Brahman is not physical, not even the universal physical which is the cosmos. So, we have to transcend it, step by step. Four steps are stated. These are the four feet referred to in the Upanishad, the four stages of self-transcendence.

We have attained to a unity by bringing together all particulars into the universal. Now we transcend even the universal physical for the sake of the attainment of the universal psychic or the astral; transcend that also, later, and then reach the universal causal; and transcend that, too, further, and reach the universal Spiritual, the Spiritual which we cannot designate even as the universal. We have only to call it the Absolute. So, we have the physical, the subtle, the causal and the Spiritual. These are the four feet of the Atman, or rather, four aspects of the study of the nature of the Atman, four stages of self-transcendence described in the Upanishad. These four stages are called Jagrat, Svapna, Sushupti and Turiya – the waking state, the dreaming state, the sleeping state, and the transcendent spiritual state. There are the four states of Consciousness, and a study of Consciousness is the same as the study of the Absolute or Brahman, because Brahman is Consciousness. Prajnanam brahma: Brahman is Prajnana or Consciousness. A study of consciousness is the subject of the Mandukya Upanishad; – the four states of consciousness; – the states in which the consciousness appears to be connected to certain temporary, accidental circumstances in waking, dreaming and sleep, and its pristine, purified state of Absoluteness. So, we have to take, one by one, the stages of waking, dream, sleep and the pure Spirit, or the Absolute, for the sake of attaining this self-transcendence. In this progress of transcendence of the lower by the higher, the higher does not negate the lower, reject the lower or abandon the lower, but includes the lower within itself by sublimation, just as the eighth standard is included in the matriculation standard, the matriculation standard in the graduate standard, the graduate standard in the master of arts, and so on. When you advance in the educational career, you do not reject the lower standards, but sublimate them into a higher condition. So is this process of self-transcendence. When you go to a higher state, you do not reject or abandon the lower, but the lower is contained in the higher in a transfigured form. The lower is there in its real value. When you wake up from dream, you do not negate the value or the substantiality of dream, but you sublimate it into a higher value in what you call the waking consciousness, so much that you are happier when you wake up from dream. You do not feel grieved that some dream objects are lost, just because you have woken up. 'O, why did I wake up! I have lost my treasure of the dream world'; you do not feel grieved like that. You only feel happy that the phantasmal worry has gone. You feel better, then. So is the grand process of self-transcendence and God-realisation in the end. The highest process of self-transcendence is that by which we attain God Himself, and the last thing which we attain is God-Being, wherein the world is not negated or abandoned, but absorbed into Its vitality, taken entirely into the supra-essential essence of God; and in God we wake up into a consciousness of Reality, just as we wake up from dream into this so-called waking world. God-realisation is an integrated consciousness where we gain everything and lose nothing. That is why it is said that God-realisation is the Goal of life, because when we attain God, we have attained everything. By knowing That, we have known all things. By acquiring That, we have possessed everything. And it is not a distant aim of certain people alone in the world, like Monks, the Brothers or Fathers or Sannyasins; it is for humanity, for creation as a whole. It is creation that longs for God; not merely you or I. The whole universe surges towards God, which longing is expressed in the process of evolution. Why does the universe evolve? Because it is restless until it reaches that state. So, we are driven to that state of perfection, and this urge is the urge for cosmic evolution. God-realisation, therefore, is the Goal of life. Brahma-sakshatkara is the aim for which we are here, and this is the finale of the process of self-transcendence described in the Mandukya Upanishad.