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The Mundaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

The First Mundaka: First Khanda

The Glory of Knowledge

Knowledge is attained not so much by the effort of the individual as through the Sages who hand down this Knowledge. The characteristics of the ancient disciples were very marked. The aspiration, the sincere perseverance and the devotion they had to the ideal of Knowledge was exceptional. They attained the Knowledge with much difficulty, undergoing many hardships in the forms of austerity, service of the preceptor and practice of meditation. Knowledge is the ripe fruit of the fine flower of virtue. Righteousness practised without exceptions, to the very law, gives rise to the state of introversion and contemplation of consciousness. It is absolutely necessary that the aspirant or the disciple should be a contemplative so that he may be receptive to the Knowledge imparted to him. Knowledge is received by the internal nature and, hence, it is not properly received by extroverts.

In this Upanishad it is said that Knowledge was originally imparted by the Creator Himself to the representatives of Knowledge, the Sages and the Divine Beings.

Though everyone has the right for Knowledge, it is Knowledge that is connected with renunciation that becomes the means to liberation. Renunciation is the necessary implication of the attempt at an expansion into universality of nature. Knowledge cannot be expected to be co-existent with worldly activity. Love for the world is not consistent with love for the Absolute. Therefore, true spiritual Knowledge is found only in those who find no value in anything that is objective.

Mantra No. 1:

Brahma was the first among the divine beings. This Lord of all, the protector of all, imparted to his eldest son Atharva this Brahma-Vidya which is the basis of all sciences.

Brahma-Vidya is the fundamental science because it is the explanation and the very substance of all knowledge, the different aspects and branches of which are all lower forms of knowledge.

Mantra No. 2:

What Atharva was told by Brahma, Atharva told to Angi. Angi transmitted Brahma-Vidya to Satyavaha, the son of Bharadvaja, who gave this great science to Angiras.

Mantra No. 3:

Saunaka, the great sacrificer, approached Angiras duly and with respect and asked: “What is that, O Bhagavan, through the knowledge of which everything becomes known?”

The knowledge of everything through the knowledge of one thing means that everything is made up of that same thing. Ordinarily the knowledge of one thing does not imply the knowledge of another thing. But Brahma-Vidya is not a knowledge which excludes other kinds of knowledge, but that which transmutes into itself all kinds of knowledge. Spiritual knowledge means the direct experience arrived at through the fusion of the essence of the object of knowledge into the essence of the subject of knowledge. Hence spiritual knowledge is indivisible experience, not divisible like intellectual knowledge. It is intuition which does not function on the basis of duality, but is essentially a self-identical, integral experience. Spiritual Knowledge means the essence of the knowledge of everything that exists in generality as well as in particularity. It is the Knowledge of the highest cause, the knowledge of which means the knowledge of all its effects also.

Mantra No. 4:

To him he said: “Two kinds of knowledge have to be acquired: thus the Knowers of Brahman have declared. These are (i) the lower and (ii) the higher.”

Mantra No. 5:

Of these the lower one consists of the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, the Atharva Veda, phonetics, rituals, grammar, etymology, prosody and astronomy. But the higher one is that through which the Imperishable is attained.

Angiras tries to explain the lower Vidya in the beginning, though the question of Saunaka is regarding the higher Vidya. There may be a general doubt in the mind of the aspirant as to whether the lower Vidya has got any value or not. Angiras anticipates such doubts likely to be experienced by the disciple and says that the lower one is an insufficient means to the realisation of Brahman. The lower Vidya pertains to the divinities, their worship and the different methods of attaining excellent regions through the performance of meritorious deeds, like prayer, sacrifice, etc., offered to the divinities concerned. The prima facie view is rejected and the final judgment, viz., that the Imperishable Being is reached through another kind of knowledge, is established.

The great difference between the lower and the higher Vidyas is that in the former case knowledge gives rise to the performance of actions, whereas, in the latter case, all action ceases before the attainment of Knowledge. In the lower Vidya, when the knowledge of a divinity is gained, efforts should be put forth afterwards in order to attain that divinity. But in the higher Vidya, Knowledge does not mean the knowledge of any particular divinity and it is not knowledge in the ordinary sense at all. Higher Knowledge means not the connection between the knower and the known, but the knowledge of the Knower himself without any relation or medium between the knower and the known in the form of cognition or awareness. Further, the attainment of a divinity means the taking of a special form by an individual, befitting the nature of that particular divinity. But higher Knowledge means the renunciation of all forms of experience and existing as an absolutely attributeless being which is not in relation to any thing external.

The higher Vidya is the Knowledge propounded in the Upanishads. ‘Upanishat' means the Knowledge that destroys ignorance or that which leads to perfection or the means of attuning oneself with the true Existence. Brahma-Vidya is the technique or the science enabling one to reach Absolute Experience. This Knowledge is attained through great effort in the forms of Viveka, Vichara, Vairagya and Abhyasa.

Dharma and Jnana are different in their natures. Virtuous actions no doubt conform to Dharma. But, the nature of Dharma is to goad one to action. When there is a knowledge of Dharma which is the same as lower Vidya, a person is incited to perform actions in terms of Dharma. Knowledge of merely Dharma does not mean perfection, because it is the sense of imperfection involved in it that prompts a person to do further action. But the higher Knowledge is self-sufficient and does not require one to perform anything after the attainment of It.

Mantra No. 6:

That which is imperceptible, ungraspable, without lineage, colourless, eyeless and earless, handless and footless, eternal and all-pervading, existing in the heart of all, very subtle, imperishable and the source of all beings, is beheld by men of wisdom.

This indestructible being does not come within the purview of the powers and the functions of the body, the vital energy, the senses of knowledge and action, the mind, the subconscious, the intellect, and the ego, whatever be the form into which their functions are modified. The relative values and the ideas of connections or relations that are seen in the world of experience hold good only when there is cognition and perception of the external. Attributes do not inhere in this Ultimate Substance, and they are neither identical with It nor different from It. If they are different, they have no connection with It; if they are identical, they do not exist at all. Hence, all attributes are denied in the transcendental Being. The negation of the functions of hearing and seeing imply the non-existence of name and form which are connected with these two functions. Name and form do not mean the ordinary name and form which are understood by the mind. Name means the potentiality of form and form is the materialisation of name. Name is the subtle power which is the factor working as the principle or constitution of individuality which expresses itself as a form situated in space. Thus name stands for that individualistic principle which does not change until the attainment of the highest knowledge. But the form changes itself at the time of death and at the beginning of birth. Hence, Nama and Rupa are not valid in the Absolute.

Further, the senses and the other organs are necessary only when there is the need for the knowledge of anything or for doing anything. Absoluteness does not stand in the need of either knowing anything or doing anything, because of its secondlessness. It is able to know more and do more without any functional organ, as these organs are not helps but real obstructions to the consciousness of the perfection of spirit. This Spirit does not suffer diminution either in the form of decay of organs or loss of possessions or change of attributes, because it has neither organs, nor properties, nor qualities which are subject to change; nor is it affected by increase as in it everything is included. The Spirit is experienced as existent everywhere, without distinctions, by those who have risen to the level of spiritual consciousness. This is the object of higher knowledge, or Para Vidya.

Mantra No. 7:

As a spider projects forth and absorbs back (the threads), as plants grow on earth, as hairs grow on the body, the universe emerges from the Imperishable Being.

The first example shows that even the material cause of the universe is the Divine Being Itself, i.e., the Universe is non-different in nature from its cause. The second illustration shows that what is manifested is only an appearance of the form of the original cause. The third example shows that even apparently inanimate beings also find their origin in the conscious cause. In short, whatever is, similar or dissimilar—everything is essentially the highest causeless Cause, viz., the Divine Principle.

Mantra No. 8:

Brahman distends through austerity; then the primordial matter is produced; from that the Prana, the mind, truth, the regions and the effects of actions.

The austerity of Brahman consists in Knowledge. It is not a means to purification as in the case of the individual, but it is the metaphorical explanation of the nature of the Primal Wish which is considered to exist as the background of the appearance of the universe. The cause of the world is described here as the general potentiality which dilates in order to give rise to appearances. This cause accounts for the existence of the original essence of matter which is in the state fit for manifestation. This matter is called here as Anna or food, because it is the object of experience by the spirit internally as well as externally. The co-existence of matter and spirit makes possible the appearance of the cosmic life, or Hiranyagarbha. Prana, objectively and enlivened by consciousness, is the same as the Creator, Hiranyagarbha, but, subjectively, the energy that vibrates the body and influences the mind. This Hiranyagarbha is the peculiar combination of all- knowledge and all-power. He is all-knowledge because he is based on the Absolute and he is all-power because he is the cause of the world. The mind, which is of the nature of the thought and doubt together with the intellect with a capacity to discriminate and determine, is produced as an effect from this primordial matter itself. From this the mind comes out. Satyam, or truth, is the continuity or existence of the different forms of experience. Truth means the truth of experience. The experiences of the mind are considered as true, because the mind gives rise to the expression of its own forms. These forms, though they are not continuous or truly existent, appear to be continuous and true because the mind reflects through itself the consciousness which is continuous and true. The creation of the mind implies also the projection of the external fields or regions which provide the necessary atmosphere for the experiences of the mind. The moment the mind is ejected, the impulse to action, which is the nature of the mind, is also produced. The impulse to action results in the performance of action. As every action has got its own reaction or result, the fruits of action always exist as inseparable from their causes. The fruit of action is called here as Amrita, or indestructible, because these fruits of actions can never be destroyed until the attainment of Self-Knowledge.

Mantra No. 9:

Who is Omniscient and all-Knowing, whose penance consists in knowledge, from Him do proceed Hiranyagarbha, name, form and matter.

Omniscience stands for the knowledge of the general essence of everything. All-knowingness is the knowledge of everything in particular also. His power consists in knowledge. Wherever there is knowledge, there is power also. Power is the form taken by knowledge. True power cannot be had as long as one's knowledge is imperfect. The greater the knowledge, the greater is the power. Hence, Omniscience is Omnipotence also. Power is not actually the idea of superiority and control over another, but the result of becoming the Self of another. One cannot have power over another as long as one is different from another, because the relation between two things is always artificial. Genuine relationship is identity of nature, which is the same as true power. Real power is not the effect of effort or toil, but a spontaneous experience of Self-perfection which does not depend upon anything external. This Supreme Perfection, whose power is knowledge, manifests as the Cosmic Creator, who becomes the cause of the names and the forms of the universe and also the matter of names and forms.