The Mundaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

The Second Mundaka: First Khanda

The objects and the natures of lower Vidya have been explained. They end in the experience of Samsara. In this Section of the Upanishad, all experiences are traced back to their ultimate cause from which they proceed, in which they subsist and into which they return. The knowledge of this ultimate Cause means the knowledge of everything that exists. This ultimate Cause is the object of higher Knowledge, Para Vidya or Brahma Vidya, which is the subject matter of the following Mantras.

Mantra No. 1:

This is the truth: Even as from a blazing fire countless sparks of various kinds but similar form are shot forth, similarly, from the Imperishable Being, various kinds of beings emerge forth, and return to it later on.

The individuals that emerge out of the Supreme partake of the nature of the Supreme in addition to their own special individualities. In every individual, there is a special nature of existence and permanency which are eternal values, and there are also such relative values as experiences of qualities. That which is real in every individual is of the same nature in all, but that which is special to the individual is peculiar to itself alone. The illustration of sparks shooting forth from fire is not meant to show that individuals exist independent of their cause, as sparks are separate from their cause which is fire, but to prove that effects have got a nature which is identical with that of the cause. All are one in their essential Selfhood, but all are different in their modes of thinking. Even as the roots of all trees are in the earth and the trees are fed by the earth alone and all trees live upon the same essence of food extracted from the earth, but the branches do not touch the earth, and the trees differ from one another in their forms or external growth, the different individuals are rooted in the common essence of the universal Self, but their superficial natures are peculiar to their individualities which are the effects of their different ways of thinking. The freedom of the individual, therefore, consists in the absorption of the consciousness of the nature peculiar to itself into the consciousness of the general essence underlying all individualities. It is only the breaking of the barrier of limited consciousness that constitutes the movement towards perfection. Even as the air that is in different vessels may give different smells, different minds have different natures; but, even as the space within different vessels is not affected by the odour which is in the air within the vessel, the Absolute Self in all individuals is unaffected by the modes of thinking in different individuals. The factors which create distinction are the vessel and the odour. Without these two, there is no distinction at all. Similarly, it is the body and the mind that create differences in existence and without them there is no experience of difference. Moksha, therefore, is the removal of the mind and the consequent transcending of the body-consciousness. All individuals proceed from, subsist in, and return to the one Cause of all causes, viz., the one Self in all. Life is made possible because of the dependence of individuals on this Self. It is this Self that gives the very existence which is the main value necessary for every individual; without it individuals have no existence, even as without space there is no universe at all. As all created objects ultimately vanish into space, all individuals finally return to their source, viz., the Self. All are distinctionless in that Source of all beings. All special characteristics of the individuals are cast off and everyone is reduced to a uniform state, even as in deep sleep everyone experiences the same condition. Nama and Rupa, or name and form, constitute the universe of appearance, whereas Satchidananda constitutes Reality. Names and forms appear to be real because of the reflection of Satchidananda in them. The whole value of things is, therefore, Satchidananda, and without it they are nothing.

Mantra No. 2:

The Purusha is Divine, formless, existing inside and outside, unborn, free from Prana and mind, pure, and greater than the great unmanifest.

Purusha is one who fills all space or who resides in the cavity of the heart. The Purusha is immaterial and, therefore, divine in nature. For the same reason, it is inside and outside. It is unborn because it is causeless. It does not undergo any process such as of life and its experiences.

The Universal Self knows without the ordinary Pramanas, or proofs of knowledge. Its knowledge does not consist in perception, inference, verbal testimony or any kind of commonly known proof. Worldly knowledge is relative and mediate. There is no necessity for the cognitive or perceptive organs in the highest Self, because in it knowledge consists in Self-realisation, or realisation of Itself. Even the distinction which is ordinarily made between the sheaths of a person cannot be made in the true Self. Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Isvara are of the nature of Pure Consciousness. The apparent distinction which is seen to exist among these three aspects of the Divine Being is more the result of a convention or habit of the mind to find objectively what it experiences in itself. Logically this distinction cannot be proved, though it is simply believed in. Hence, the Upanishad says that the Divine Being is without Prana or mind. The Pranas and the mind are limiting factors and, therefore, they have no basis in the unlimited Divine Being. The Mantras of the Vedas and the declarations of the Upanishads which describe the Divine Being as having heads, eyes, feet, etc., are only figurative, meant to convey its universal nature. There is neither the vibration of Iccha Sakti nor of Kriya Sakti in the Divine Being; therefore, there are no sense-organs also. In short, there is nothing in It which belongs to the special characteristic of the individual.

This Purusha is superior to the unmanifested being which is the source of the possibility of all causes and effects which constitute the very pith of phenomena. In this Divinity of the Purusha, the mind, the Pranas, etc., are said to come to a complete cessation as they are simply modes of relative existence, i.e., the manner in which the relations between the subject and the object are kept up. These functions of the mind, etc., are not self-existent, because they are the special forms manifested by the consciousness for a definite purpose. Their value is, therefore, only in relation to the passing modes of consciousness. As there is no mode in the Divine Being, there are no functional organs in It.

Mantra No. 3:

From this Being proceed the vital energy, the mind, the senses, ether, air, fire, water and the all-supporting earth.

All the appearances are based on the different phases of consciousness, or Vishaya-Chaitanya. Appearances are possible only on the reality of consciousness. That which is real in all forms of experience, is common to both the experiences and the experiencer. Matter is not a substance but a condition of experience differing in the various stages of evolution. Hence, all forms of matter, gross or subtle, external or internal, are certain states which are peculiar to the respective modes of the experiencing consciousness. Therefore, the universe, including all subjects and all objects, is only a condition supported by the Absolute, on the basis of which appearances are experienced by the cognising individual and without which the universe has no reality. In fact, what is real in the universe is nothing more and nothing less than Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. The names and the forms are not existent substances.

Mantra No. 4: The Nature of the Virat-Purusha and the Universe

The Virat is the Chaitanya, or the Consciousness, which animates the universe of gross experience. The following Mantra describes the universal character of the Virat, which is the name given to the materialised state of the subtle, universal, creative power called Hiranyagarbha. Even this Virat has one character belonging to the Absolute, which makes the Virat the centre of all-knowledge and all-power. This character is universality of nature. No distinction can be made between Hiranyagarbha and Virat except in the sense that the latter is the way in which the former exists as the universe of objective experience. In other words, Virat is Chaitanyamaya. The ascription of certain characters and forms to the Virat is only to facilitate the clear understanding of the universal nature which an individual will not be able to understand with his limited knowledge and his impotent sense-organs.

This is the universal Self, the Virat; his head is the shining region of the heavens; his eyes are the sun and the moon; his ears are the quarters of space, his speech is the Veda full of knowledge; his vital energy is the universal air; the whole universe is his heart; his feet are the lowest earth.

The description of the form of Virat as extending from the highest region to the lowest, to the right and to the left and to every quarter of space, is a metaphorical illustration of the all-inclusive nature of this universal being. In this Mantra, all objects and states of experience are unified with the subject of all experience, whereby duality is denied. The whole mass of experience is understood by an individual only in terms of the manner in which it is presented to it. The same universal vibration, which has no special character at all, is experienced as sound by the ear, as touch by the skin, as form by the eye, as taste by the tongue and as smell by the nose. The very same universal vibration is subjectively experienced by the Pranas as heat and cold, hunger and thirst. The psychological organs experience this universal nature as the respective counterparts of their own individual conditions. Thus, the whole universe is ideal in its nature.

This ideal nature is conceived of and experienced in relation to the subject. Subjectively, all experiences are explained as manifestations or expressions of the forms of the mind within. The necessity for the explanation of the objective reality of experiences is demanded by the fact that the individual seems to have no control over the objective nature. Thus, experience is explained as being the result of the interaction of the subject and the object. But, this explanation gives rise to the question as to how consciousness of experience, if it is only the result of an interaction, is produced at all when it is only a factor different from both the subject and the object. Consciousness cannot simply hang in the air without belonging either to the subject or the object. If it belongs to the subject, it means that a conscious subject is capable of knowing an unconscious object. If, on the other hand, consciousness belongs to the object, the subject would be controlled by the object. No complete knowledge of anything would be possible if the subject is entirely dependent on the object. If complete knowledge is a possibility at all, the object of knowledge should be ingrained in the essential constitution of the subject itself. The experience of Self-realisation, where infinitude becomes the centre of reality, denies all possibilities of any value of any object distinct from the subject. Thus also the ideal nature of the universe is established.

Moreover, the Absolute, which includes all subjects and all objects, cannot be said to give rise to either itself or something other than itself. Both hypotheses would frustrate the very meaning of Absoluteness. Hence, experience is essentially limitless. The distinctions in experiences are only the different stages in and the different ways of the knowledge of the Absolute by Itself in the forms of individual natures.

This, in essence, is the meaning of the explanation of the appearance of the Virat as the universe of experience. This Virat-Consciousness is the real seer, hearer, thinker and understander in all beings. All functions are made possible by this general consciousness in all beings.

Mantras No. 5 to 9:

From Him, the heavenly region which is illuminated by the sun, the moon, the showers of rain, all vegetation on earth, do proceed. Earth is the essence of food. Food produces energy, and from energy all beings are produced. From Him come forth the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajurveda, the austerities connected with sacrifices, the sacrifices themselves with and without offering of animals, the gifts to the priests, the proper time of the sacrifice, the sacrificer, and the worlds presided over by the moon and the sun, to be reached by the sacrificers. All these are determined by the law of the Virat. From Him again proceed the forms of and the rules connected with the celestial beings who are of diverse nature, the semi-gods, the human beings, animals, birds, inhalation and exhalation, corns and grains, penance, faith, truth, continence and restraint. By Him are determined the functions of the different senses with their different forms of knowledge connected with their respective objects giving rise to various kinds of experiences, the different seeds of the functionl organs actuated by the Pranas within, in accordance with the constitution of the different individuals. In Him are found the oceans and the mountains; all rivers flow in Him in their various forms. Plants and the various tastes connected with food—all form the different parts of this Cosmic Body in which resides the Universal Self or the Virat-Purusha.

Mantra No. 10:

The whole universe is the Purusha alone. Actions and penances also are this Immortal Supreme alone. One who knows this which is seated within the secret cave, breaks open the knot of ignorance.

Because all is the Purusha alone, it follows that differences are unreal. Hence, modification is described as merely a play of speech consisting only in name and, therefore, false. What is true is the Purusha alone. Other than this Purusha, there is nothing. This is the reply given by the preceptor to the disciple’s question regarding that the knowledge of which means the knowledge of everything. When the Purusha is known, all is known. In fact there is no such thing as all, except this one Purusha. The Knowledge of the Purusha, therefore, means the absence of duality which is the same as the destruction of ignorance and attainment of Immortality and Absoluteness.