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The Mundaka Upanishad


The First Mundaka: Second Khanda

The object of the lower Vidya is connected with the doer, the instrument of doing, the action, and the result thereof. The path of the lower Vidya is one of Samsara, whose beginning and end cannot be known. It is of the form of pain and, therefore, it has to be rejected by all intelligent beings. The experience of Samsara is continuous like the flow of waters in a river. The cessation of this flow is called emancipation which is the object of the higher Knowledge, which is beginningless and endless, decayless, deathless, immortal, fearless, pure and calm, of the nature of establishment in the Self, non-dual and Supreme Bliss. The experience of Samsara is not a constant or steady experience but a constant movement or a free flow of mental experiences. It is not existence, but change. Change is another name for Samsara. This change is the involuntary urge caused by the sense of imperfection and desire for perfection. It is this great discontent present in life that never allows anything to be what it is for more than a moment. Everything has to transform itself, for nothing is perfect. Whatever is in space or in time comes under the law of causation and, therefore, is bound to be imperfect. This section of the Upanishad deals with the nature of lower Vidya and its criticism is intended to make one conscious of the imperfect state and then go beyond it. Vairagya is the result of the perception of defects and the consciousness of perfection. It is necessary that there should be a consciousness of suffering so that one can know what he actually is through the sense of limitation and the aspiration given rise to by this consciousness.

Mantra No. 1

The effects of Karmas which were glorified in the Mantras of the Vedas and which were known by the sages were diversely explained and put into practice in the Treta Yuga. (Treta may also mean the threefold Veda consisting of the Rik, the Yajus and the Saman.) O men! Observe these always, having the desire for the fruits of actions based on truth or righteousness. This is your path of good action in this world.

Mantra No. 2:

When in the flaming-fire the flames begin to shake, then oblations of ghee should be offered in the middle of the two previous oblations of Darsa and Paurnamasa.

Mantra No. 3:

Whose performance of Agnihotra is without the Darsa and the Paurnamasa, without the sacrifice of Chaturmasya, without the offering of the autumnal season, without feeding and worshipping the guest, without proper performance, without the Vaishva-Deva offering and which is not done according to rules—that Agnihotra shall destroy the seven worlds of the performer.

Mantra No. 4:

The seven flames of fire are Kaali, Karali, Manojava, Sulohita, Sudhumravarna, Sphulingini and Vishvaruchi.

Mantra No. 5:

Who performs the sacrifice when these flames are brilliant, offering oblations at the right time, him the rays of the sun guide and take to where the ruler of the gods reigns supreme.

Mantra No. 6:

The oblations offered appear in conscious forms and invite the sacrificer, saying “Come, Come”. They speak to him in sweet words and worship him and through the passage of the rays of the sun lead him up to the celestial region and say, “This is your auspicious heavenly world, the effect of meritorious deeds.”

Actions performed without knowledge bind the performer to the particular results of those actions. These actions are infected by ignorance, desire and the impulse to act and, therefore, they are essenceless and the source of sorrow. Hence, such actions are criticised in the following Mantras.

Mantra No. 7:

All the sacrifices performed by the eighteen people connected with them are transient and unsafe boats in crossing this Samsara. These actions are inferior. Those ignorant ones who glorify and consider as good these actions go to birth and death again and again.

‘Plava’ is boat or a floating bubble. These actions are called bubbles, because their effects break like bubbles together with the potencies of actions. No action leads a person to something which is not conditioned by space or time, because all actions are in space and time.

Mantra No. 8:

Drowned in the midst of ignorance, but thinking themselves great and learned, the deluded ones, attacked from all sides by decay, disease and death and several other miseries, turn round and round in the wheel of Samsara like blind men guided by blind men.

Mantra No. 9:

Controlled by the diverse forms of ignorance, children without intelligence arrogantly feel: “We have achieved our purpose”. Because of the desires present within their minds, these performers of selfish actions fall down miserably to the field of action and sorrow from the region of enjoyment on the exhaustion of the effects of their meritorious deeds.

Actions, good or bad, give rise to limited results and, therefore, there is an end of the experience of the fruits of all actions. Though a person is really ignorant, he is made to feel that he is wise because of the semblance of consciousness that is reflected through his intellect. The fruits of actions are not powerful enough to give the performer of the actions lasting happiness. There is a threefold defect in the experience of the fruits of actions. An action is generally performed with the expectation that it will bring the desired end. But inasmuch as desires do not have connections with anything permanently and because they shift their centres quickly, at the time of experience of the fruit of the previous action it is no more the desired end. Not only this, it becomes a source of sorrow. This is one defect. Secondly, the experience of happiness through the fruits of actions is not real happiness, but only an excitement of the mind temporarily caused by the desired contact with the object which appeared to give the promise of true happiness. Hence, it is more a deluded state of the mind than an experience of real happiness. Thirdly, because it may not be possible always to fulfil all desires and reap the fruits of all actions in one birth, the individual may have to take several more births for the sake of experiencing them. Thus, all desires and actions lead to bondage. It is sheer ignorance and delusion that make one believe that one can become perfect and happy through his intellect, mind and the senses, as all these instruments of knowledge and action function in the relative plane alone.

For the sake of acting according to his own interests, man takes the advice of only such other people as are conducive to the fulfilment of those personal interests. This is illustrated by the saying of blind men being led by the blind. People full of desires cannot appreciate the advice given by men of wisdom, as wisdom is contrary to desire. Rejecting the precepts of wisdom, people take to their own methods of action and through self-conceit and vanity think that they have achieved their ends. Their experiences, however, shall result in intense grief and they will be made to repent for their actions. Because of heedlessness and pride they constantly fall back into the experiences of phenomenal suffering and never really attain to what they actually longed for, inasmuch as what is really desired is unrestricted happiness and as this cannot be had through desires and actions.

Mantra No. 10:

Thinking that external sacrifices and charities are all, i.e., the best, these deluded ones do not know of anything better. Enjoying in heaven the fruits of meritorious deeds, at the end of it, they fall down to this world or even to a lower world.

Because of the lack of proper knowledge, ordinary people do not have the consciousness of the fact that there is a higher state of emancipation. Their lot is suffering alone because wherever there is lack of knowledge, there pain is the experience. A meritorious deed temporarily raises an individual to a region of enjoyment, because the effect of a deed is temporary. At the end of the momentum of the meritorious deed, the individual reverts to his native condition of imperfection and desire for action, i.e., he once again becomes what he was previously. No deed can permanently raise an individual to a high and glorious state, as every deed is only a phenomenon. And, further, due to the presence of passion and greed, the individual may even fall down to lower regions.

Mantra No. 11

Those people who have faith and practise austerity, who live in forests with calmness of mind and full with knowledge, living on alms, being freed from all desires, pass through the passage of the sun to where is that immortal and imperishable Purusha.

The Mantra refers to Krama-Mukti, or gradual liberation, attained by the Upasakas of Saguna Brahman. These Upasakas are the Vanaprasthas living in forests a life of austerity and devotion.

Mantra No. 12:

Examining the nature of the regions attained through action and finding out their worthlessness, a wise person should get totally disgusted with them, because that which is not made cannot be attained through what is made or done. For the sake of the knowledge of that (which is not made), one should approach, with Samit in his hand, a preceptor who is well-versed in scriptures and also established in Brahman.

The efforts of an individual are generally stained by ignorance, selfish desires and actions connected with those desires. Karmas are enjoined only on such people as cannot extricate themselves from the clutches of these fetters. The different regions and experiences which are accessible to these people, are also of the same nature as their causes. They give rise to such unpleasant experiences as rise and fall in different states. They are also dependent on and affected by the defects consequent upon the non-performance of what is enjoined and the performance of what is prohibited. People who revel in mere phenomenal selfish actions alone, get such births as those of beasts, demons, etc. These experiences should be properly analysed with the help of such proofs of knowledge as perception, inference, verbal testimony and comparison. The true nature of these experiences in the different worlds should be known in its essential form. These experiences are the different roads to Samsara. They extend from the unmanifest potentiality of beings to the lowest inanimate matter. They are either manifested or unmanifested, physical, astral or mental, objective or subjective. They are interdependent like the seed and the tree. They are the sources of extreme misery and are absolutely essenceless. They are illusory like a juggler’s trick or water in the mirage or a city in the clouds or like objects in dream or like a breaking bubble. They are now seen and now not seen. Such experiences should be known to be the results of desires and actions belonging to the mind and senses. An aspirant should turn his back to all these and should come to the conclusion that the whole universe is produced by nescience and its undesirable consequences. The network of this universe is kept intact in the forms of pleasure and pain, virtue and vice, good and evil, etc.

A wise aspirant, therefore, should get disgusted with all these experiences beginning from Brahman down to a blade of grass. That which is not produced or created, is not attained through that which is produced or created. There can be relationship only between similar things, and not between two dissimilar things. A product has got non-eternal characteristics and, therefore, it will not be able to know the eternal as long as it is bound to such lower characteristics. Moreover, all effects or produced things can relate themselves to another thing only through a change or modification or an action. It is obvious that self-transformation is not the way of attaining true knowledge of any object. Since a transformation is transitory in nature, the knowledge that is effected by it would also be transitory. In this universe of manifestation, there is nothing that is not produced. Brahman is not something that is produced. Hence, the attainment of the knowledge of Brahman is not possible through a transitory process, which is the characteristic of produced things alone. Everything that is done leads only to what is done or produced. That which is eternal and not produced, is attained only through pure Knowledge which is not non-eternal or produced. Brahman is not subject to either producing or creating or obtaining or purifying or modifying in any way.

The highest Bliss which an aspirant seeks is found only in the immutable eternal Being. In the aspirant there is a consciousness of the difference between all non-eternal appearances and the eternal Being. This consciousness is called Viveka, which gives rise to Vairagya or the abandonment of the non-eternal. The aspirant begins to perceive the worthless nature of things and the possibility of the existence of a higher glorious being. For the sake of the knowledge of the Supreme Being, he approaches a spiritual preceptor who is rooted in the consciousness of Brahman. This Mantra points out that one will not be able to have intuitive knowledge without the help of an experienced teacher, even though one may be a very learned person.

Mantra No. 13:

To him who has duly approached (the Preceptor), who is of tranquil mind, whose mind is completely controlled, the wise Preceptor duly imparts the knowledge of Truth, the Brahma-Vidya, through which one is enabled to know the Imperishable Being.

The disciple should approach the teacher in a manner suited to the reception of the Knowledge of Brahman. The most important of all qualifications required of the disciple is thorough desirelessness. The forms of desires, whatever their nature or condition be, cover the purity of the mind and prevent the reception of the knowledge which is the opposite of any kind of desire. Even desire for life in the body should be got rid of when one approaches a preceptor for the sake of Knowledge. The disciple should have intelligently combined in himself the qualities of the head and the heart. He should have purity of feeling within coupled with subtle intelligence. The nature of Knowledge is first understood through the purified intellect and then felt within the purified heart. Viveka and Vairagya are respectively the qualities of the head and the heart, i.e., of the intellect and feeling. The preparations which an aspirant should make before receiving spiritual knowledge consist in the practice of the canons laid down in the Sadhana-Chatushtaya.