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The Mandukya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Section 7: The Transcendent Presence

We have made an analysis of the three relativistic phases of the Atman, both in its individual and cosmic aspects. But, Reality, as such, is neither individual nor cosmic. To say that it is cosmic is also to limit it to a certain extent, to bring it to the level of what we call creation. The Supreme Brahman, the Absolute, is not a cause, and not also an effect. It has no effects, and, therefore, it is no cause. We cannot call The Supreme Being as even a cause of things, especially when we consider that everything is identical with It. The Mandukya Upanishad describes not merely the gross, subtle and causal conditions of the manifested consciousness, but also Consciousness, as such. There is something called Reality in itself, independent of relation. Even Isvaratva is a description by means of a relation to the universe. We call God Sarvesvara, Sarvajna and Sarvasaktiman, because we relate Him to the creation. God is omnipresent, pervading everywhere, which means that we recognise Him in terms of space. He knows 'all' things, means that there are things which He knows; and He has power over all things, means that He can exercise power over something which is external to Him. All definitions, even the best ones, such as Creatorship, Preservership and Destroyership of the universe; omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence, are relative. They are Tatastha-lakshanas of God, accidental definitions; – not Svarupa-lakshana, the essential nature of Reality. What was God before creation? That would be His Svarupa-lakshana or essential characteristic. God, in His own essence, is something more than a Creator, Preserver or Destroyer, more than a cause of things, more than even an Overlord, All-knowing and All-powerful. What is that essential essence which is by its own right, and abides in its own Greatness, in its own Majesty? What is that Light which cannot be beheld by others, the Light which shines, but shines not upon anything? That is the state of Pure Consciousness, which is neither causal, nor subtle, nor gross. It is neither outside nor inside. It has no external nor internal. That grand Reality is described in the seventh Mantra of the Mandukya Upanishad.

This Absolute is known as the Turiya, or the fourth state of Consciousness, transcending all relational manifestations – causal, subtle and gross. While the waking consciousness is external and the dream consciousness is internal, this Consciousness is neither external nor internal, because it is not either waking or dreaming. It is neither internally conscious nor externally conscious, Nantah-prajnam, na bahih-prajnam – not internal consciousness like dream, nor external consciousness like waking. One may think that it is a consciousness simultaneously of both the states. No; It is something different from a simultaneity of consciousness. It is not external, not internal, not a simultaneity of both, either; – No-'bhayatah-prajnam. It is not also a mass of consciousness like a homogeneous heap of water in the ocean – Na prajnana-ghanam. It is not quantitative in its essence. Quantity is spatial, mathematical and Consciousness is not such. Hence, it cannot be called a mass of consciousness, also, because when you think of mass, you think of a heap, a body, indistinguishable, though. Not so is Consciousness – Na prajnana-ghanam. It is not featureless Consciousness without any awareness – Na prajnam. You may think that it is awareness without an object before it. It is not even that, because the object is contained in that Consciousness. It is not Consciousness bereft of objects. It is Consciousness into which the objects have been absorbed. So, it cannot be regarded as a featureless transparency of an ethereal consciousness. It is not also absence of consciousness – Na-aprajnam. It is not a state of inert perfection which the schools of thought like the Nyaya and the Vaiseshika describe. It is not unconsciousness; it is not absence of consciousness; it is not bare consciousness; it is not a mass of consciousness; it is not external consciousness; it is not internal consciousness; it is not both-ways consciousness. What is this? Such is God in His essence, the Absolute in its True Being.

Adrishtam: Invisible is it. One cannot see it. Whatever be the effort of the eyes, the eyes cannot visualise it. Avyavaharayam: One cannot have any kind of dealings with it. You cannot touch it; you cannot grasp it; you cannot talk to it; you cannot see it; you cannot hear it. No kind of business can be established with it. You cannot have a relationship with it. It is unrelated; non-relational is it. It repels all relation. It is neither friendly nor inimical. Such is the mystery of the Being of all beings. Agrahyam: It is not graspable by the power of the senses. You cannot catch it with the hands, smell it with the nose, taste it with the tongue, hear it with the ears, see it with the eyes. No such thing is possible. Alakshanam: And, therefore, indefinable is it. You cannot describe it. No definition of it is possible, because what is definition but an association of qualities which you have seen, heard, etc.? But here is something which you have not seen, which you have not heard of; how can you have a characterisation of it? There is, thus, no definition of this Being of beings. No one can say anything about it. Acintyam: It is unthinkable by the mind. You cannot form a thought of this Being. You cannot, therefore, meditate upon it in the usual manner. You cannot think it, because to think would be to bring the object to the realm of space and time, to externalise it. It is not an object, and it is not in space and time, and, so, it is not thinkable. Avyapadesyam: Indescribable, ineffable is it. You cannot speak its glory with your tongue. No scripture can describe it; no saint can explain it. Not even the wisdom of the sages put together can be adequate to its greatness. It is beyond all the wisdom of the sages, and it is peerless, incomparable. This character of the Being of this Reality is due to the fact that it cannot be referred to by anyone else. This world is a network of references. One thing is referred to the other for the purpose of definition, understanding and dealing. The whole world of business is a realm of references made to 'others'. Here, however, no such reference is possible. It is a silence of all activity, both of the body and of the mind.

Ekatmapratyayasaram: Here, we have a wonderful characterisation of the Atman. The Atman can be defined only as the Atman. You cannot define it by any other form or concept. It is said that the battle bctween Rama and Ravana was incomparable. To what can you compare the battle bctween Rama and Ravana? You can say that something is vast like the ocean, endless like the sky, bright like the sun, sweet like sugar. But, like what was the battle between Rama and Ravana? It was like the battle between Rama and Ravana! This was all that the poet could say. "Space is like space, ocean is like ocean, and the Rama-Ravana-battle was like the Rama-Ravana-battle." So, also, is the Atman. The Atman is like the Atman. You cannot say that the Atman is like this, or that, because it is incomparable, and any comparison attempted would be a reference made to something that has come out afterwards as an effect. That would be a travesty of affairs, indeed. Therefore, it can be designated only as Ekatmapratyayasaram, the Essence of the consciousness of Selfhood and Oneness. It is, if at all, definable by three interesting terms – Ekatva (Oneness), 2. Atmatva (Selfhood) and Saratva (Essentiality). It is the essence of all things, and it is One, and it is the Self. It is the Self, and, therefore, it can only be One. It is the Self, and, therefore, it is the Esscnce. The Self is that which knows itself, not by a means but by its own existence. It is Existence knowing itself without any external proof. Perception, inference, verbal testimony, comparison, etc. do not apply here in the case of the knowledge of the Atman. It cannot be inferred by logic, induction or deduction, and it cannot he perceived, it cannot be compared, it cannot be described by words. It is the Self, which means that it is not beheld bv someone else. The Self is beheld by itself alone. Here, Self and Existence mean one and the same thing. Existence is Self; Existence is the Atman. The Self is non-objectifiable, non-alienable from its own essence. The knowledge of the Atman is intuition, which is a non-relational apprehension of Reality, independent of the operation of the senses and the mind, where existence becomes identical with knowledge, and knowledge is one with the known. Here the object of knowledge is the same as knowledge and intuition. When the object stands outside knowledge, it is called perception. This is the difference between intuition and sensory cognition or information. Where the object stands in an immediacy of relation with knowledge, it is intuition. One cannot say whether it is the object that knows itself or the knowledge that knows itself. The difference between their characters vanishes as when two oceans join together. The knowing subject and the object of its knowledge come together in a single coalescence of Being. This is Atmatva – Selfhood.

'Salila Eko Drashta', says Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranayaka Upanishad. The Atman is like an oceanic flood without a surface or a limit. The Atman is the sole Seer, Knower, Beholder, Experiencer, without a counterpart objective to it. It knows itself, not 'others', for the 'others' are also a part of itself. Hence, knowledge of the Atman is the knowledge of the whole of existence. It is not knowledge of this Atman, that Atman, this Self, that self, this person, that person. It is the knowledge of The Atman, which can only be One. The Atman is single – Ekatmapratyayasaram. The One Atman is called the Paramatman as distinguished from the multitudinousness of the so-called Atmans, called Jivatmans. It is Paramatman, because it is the Supreme Self. 'Brahmeti Parnmatmeti Bhagavaniti Sabdyate', says the Srimad-Bhagavata. From the absolute, universal and personal standpoints, it is called Brahman, Paramatman and Bhagavan. In itself it is Brahman, the Absolute; and as the Supreme Creator, Preserver, Destroyer, it is the Paramatman; as the Beloved of devotees, it is Bhagavan. It is all this; -Dvaita, Visishtadvaita and Advaita points of view come together here in this Atman, and the conclusions of the schools of thought merge into the single truth of a blend of various standpoints. Quarrels cease, arguments come to a stop, philosophies are hushed, silence prevails. This Atman is Silence, said a great Master. When a devotee came, and asked the Guru, 'Tell me the Atman', the Guru kept quiet. When the disciple queried again, 'Master, tell me the Atman', the Guru kept quiet, again. A third time the question was raised, and the Guru kept quiet, once more. When for the fourth time the disciple put the same question, 'Tell me the Atman'; the Guru said, 'I am telling you, you are not hearing; because Silence is the Atman'. In that Great Silence, all the turmoil of the cosmos is calmed. All the clamour of the senses, all the noise of the universe is contained and absorbed in this Silence. The Silence here is better than all the sounds that one makes, and it explains things better than all the speeches that one utters. This Silence is a fuller explanation than all the logical arguments of the philosophers. This Silence of all silences connotes Reality in a more comprehensive manner, than anything else, because when we express it in words, we come down from its level to a lower grade, and begin to think of it as an external object. The Kena Upanishad warns us when it says, "It is not known to those who know it; it is known to those who do not know it". If you think you know it, you do not know it, and when you know it, you do not think, but you simply are. You have become That, and you are That; and that is real knowledge. Knowledge is not expression, but Being. It is not becoming or a process. It is called Satta-samanya, in the language of the Yoga Vasishtha, the General Existence of all things, as distinguished from the particular existences of bodies, minds and individuals. It is the Transcendent Being, which cannot be called either as this or that. It is neither Sat (existence) nor Asat (non-existence) in the ordinary sense of the term. It is not 'Sat' or existence in the sense of some object being there. It is not 'Asat' or non-existence, also. We say that something is, because we see it; we can think of it; we can hear it; we can catch it with our hands. And, Reality is not such a type of existence. But, thereby, you cannot say that it is non-existence. It is beyond Sat (existence) and Asat (non-existence). 'Anadimat param brahma na sat tan na-asad ucyate', says the Bhagavad Gita. This Brahman, the Origin of all things is non-temporal eternity. 'Na asad asit no sad asit', says the Rig Veda. What was there in the beginning? Not existence, not non-existence. Definitions are given by persons, and all persons who give a definition of Reality came afterwards as an effect. Who is to define that which was prior even to the cause of all things, antecedent even to the condition of Isvara? Who can describe it, and what can you say about it except only characterising it, tentatively, as Ekatmapratyayasaram? How do you grasp this Atman? By knowing it that 'It Is – 'Asti-iti-eva-upalabdhnvyah', as the Katha Upanishad puts it. Know it as 'That which is', said saint Augustine. What is the Reality of all realities? That which Is, the General Existence, Satta-samanya, Ekatmapratyayasaram. This is Brahman.

Prapancopasamam: Here all Samsara, all this tumult of creation, subsides, like waves sinking into the ocean, as dream is withdrawn into waking consciousness. The universe, in all its conditions – gross, subtle and causal – ceases here. In this state, there is neither the Virat, nor Hiranyagarbha, nor Isvara; because, there is no creation. This is the Atman where there is neither waking, nor dreaming, nor sleep. Thus, it is called Prapancopasamam. It is not a condition; it is beyond all conditions. It is not a state of affairs. We do not know what it is. It is a mystery. Wonder of all wonders is this: Wonderful is that disciple who can comprehend it from the wonderful teacher who can teach this wonderful Being. Ascaryavat pasyati, Vadati, srinoti', says the Katha Upanishad. What a glorious Being is it! The Prapanca, this vast cosmos, ceases there, and That alone is, shining as the glorious Sun of all suns. It is Santam: Peaceful is that state. No worries, no anxieties, no pains, no sufferings, no births and deaths, no agonies of any kind can be there. It is not the peace born of the absence of sound or the absence of contact with things. It is the peace which is positive in its nature. We say we are peaceful when nobody talks to us, none disturbs us, and we have everything that we want. This is not the peace of the Atman, because our concept of peace in the world is purely negative and, again, relational. The Atman is non-relational peace that cannot be put an end to by the passage of time. Our peace on earth has a beginning and an end. Today we are peaceful, tomorrow we are not. We cannot afford to be always peaceful. But the peace of the Atman is eternal, and most blessed is that state. It is Sivam: It is the only thing that can be called really auspicious, designated by the most blessed terms, 'Om' and 'Atha'. Pranava is its designation, in its Self-comprehensiveness. Advaitam: Non-dual is that state. We cannot even call it as the One. It is 'Not-two'; – that is all; because, to say that it is one, would be to denote it by a numerical figure. It is not one, because there is nothing other than it. We can only say, 'it is not-two'; - Advaita. The Upanishad, after having said that it is Eka (One), now says that it is Advaita (Non-dual). We should not call it as one, or Eka, because 'onc' has a relation to 'two', 'three', 'four', etc. It is non-relational; therefore, we should not describe it even as one. It is 'not-this, not-this'; - 'Neti, neti'. It is not this, and not that; not anything that we can think, or understand.

Caturtham manyante, Sa atma: This is the fourth state of Consciousness, which is called the Atman. It is called the fourth, not numerically, but in comparison with the three relative states of waking, dream and sleep. When you go to this fourth state, you do not feel that you are in a 'fourth state'. You are, then, in the only possible state. It is the transcendence of the three, not in a fourth, but in a numberless, figureless, quantityless, immeasurable Being. This is the Atman. This is our essential nature, and the essential nature of all things. We are the Atman, which does not wake, dream or sleep which does not restrict itself to the outer or the inner. The Atman is the sole Being of all beings, Existence of all existences, 'Sat' of all 'sat', 'Chit' of all 'chit', Ananda of all anandas: - Supreme Existence-Consciousness-Bliss.

Sa vijneyah; This is to be known. This is the purpose of life. We live here for this purpose, and we have no other aim in life. All our activities, all our business, all our functions, whatever they be, are conscious or unconscious attempts on our parts to realise the Atman, and until and unless we reach the Atman, we cannot be happy, we cannot be satisfied, and we cannot put an end to the cycle of birth and death. We are perpetually both and we perpetually die to train ourselves for attunement of our being with the Atman. Births and deaths are processes of training in the field of experience. We experiment with the things of the world, with a view to visualising the Atman in them, coming in contact with the Atman in the objects. We love things because we hope that the Atman is there in them, but we do not see it there because it is not in one place only. Why do we love things, love persons, love objects? Because we have a hope that the Atman is there, and we go for it. We do not find it there, and so we go to another object – perhaps it is there – like the Gopis searching for Krishna in different places. Krishna! Are you here, are you there? You know, where; He is everywhere. The Gopis queried the trees, the plants, the bees and even the inanimate things. Have you seen Krishna? Has Krishna passed by this path? Where is Krishna? Can you give an indication of Krishna's whereabouts? Madly did the Gopis ask of everything in creation, animate and inanimate. Do you know Krishna? Have you seen Him? In a similar manner, madly do we go after the things of the world. Is the Atman here? Have you seen the Atman? Can you get the Atman here, there, in this, in that? It is nowhere! It is not in anything particularised, and, therefore, we cannot get the Atman by any amount of search in the outer world of objects. So, all the loves of the world are futile in the end, and are bound to be frustrated, doomed to suffer, because of this erroneous approach to Reality made through the objects, to which Reality cannot be confined on account of their inherent structural defect. And, in this experimentation, we die. Life is too short. The experimentation does not end. In the next birth we do, again, experiment with things, because the objects in creation are infinite. We make infinite experiments, and the struggle goes on. This process is called Samsara, transmigration; and in all the lives that we take, in all the deaths that we pass through, the Atman cannot be seen, just as the Gopis could not see Krishna until He Himself made a Will to appear before them. Nobody could inform the Gopis as to where Krishna was. 'I do not know: I do not know': this is what all the objects will tell you. What are we asking for, then? We have never seen it. And, considering this enigmatic situation of the quest for the Atman, the Upanishad finally said that perhaps it can be realised only by him whom it chooses. You have to leave it to itself. You do not know how you can see it. There seems to be no means of knowing it. Nothing in the world can be a help to us in knowing it. Yam eva esha vrinute tena labhyah: Whom it chooses, he alone can obtain it. This seems to be a solution arrived at by the sage of the Katha Upanishad. We are tired of the quest. And when the Gopis were fatigued in this arduous quest, when they became unconscious in their utter surrender to Krishna, He revealed Himself. Now the time has come. The ego has gone; effort has ceased; one cannot do anything further; then He comes. You search, and search, and search, and you realise its futility. The ego realises its limitations, and it ceases. When you know your limitations, you cease from all egoistic effort, and the cessation of the ego is the revelation of the Atman. God comes when the ego goes. When you are nowhere, He alone is everywhere. He takes the position of your personality. You vanish, and He comes in, not before that. When the personalities of the Gopis vanished, Krishna took possession of their hearts, and instead of the Gopis being there; Krishna was there. The Jiva expires into Isvara. This is the Atman to be known, the Goal for which we live in this world. This is the fourth state Consciousness, the Atman, the Absolute, Brahman.