The Mundaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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The Second Mundaka: Second Khanda

Mantra No. 1:

This Supreme Being is revealed as seated within, very near to oneself (really, it is not near but the very Self itself). It moves in the cave and is the great support on which everything rests. (On it is based) whatever moves, whatever lives and whatever winks. Know this which is existence as well as non-existence, which is adorable, the best of all beings, superior to the intellects of people.

The Self is not really experienced by any individual as it really is. Only its effects are experienced. The existence of the Self is inferred from the fact that the effects which are experienced, manifest the natures of existence, consciousness, bliss and indivisibility. The external experiences of the sense of being, intelligence, happiness, love and power show that there must be an ever-enduring Being in which are found all these characteristics in their perfected state. The functions of the sense-organs as well as those of the psychological instruments constantly reflect the nature of an eternally perfect Being. This Self should be known as the only reality and as identical with the central core of everything. It is described as existence, non-existence, and that which is beyond both. It is, therefore, called transcendental Existence or Super-Being, beyond the ordinary conception of existence or being.

Mantra No. 2:

On that which is self-luminous, subtler than the subtle, all the worlds and their inhabitants are supported. That is the imperishable Absolute. That manifests itself as life, speech and mind; that is truth; that is immortal; that should be meditated upon. O disciple! meditate on it.

Mantra No. 3:

Taking hold of the great weapon of the bow consisting of the theme of the Upanishads, fixing the arrow which is rendered sharp through constant contemplation, drawing back the bow-string with the power of the conscious affirmation of that, O disciple, hit that mark, the Imperishable.

Mantra No. 4:

Om is the bow; the individual self is the arrow; Brahman is the target to be hit. It should be hit with great vigilance. Then, one shall merge in Brahman, even as the arrow enters into the target.

Constant meditation on Om allows the individual consciousness to take the form of Om itself which is unlimited in its nature. The meditator becomes ultimately the object of meditation itself. Om is the symbol of Brahman and, therefore, meditation on Om leads to the realisation of Brahman. When one meditates on Om, the mind gets purified. It is freed from its distractive nature and, consequently, it rests in the tranquil condition of the Absolute Om.

The individual self is compared to the arrow which hits the target, because the individual which is a limited reflection gets dissolved in the original through intense concentration and meditation, even as the arrow that is shot by pulling the bow-string gets unified with its target. But, in the case of the individual, the arrow does not move towards an external object but is turned within. The individual, therefore, does not move towards Brahman and then get identified with it. It is inwardly extinguished through the transcendence of its own personal existence. It is more a process of Self-centredness than objective meditation. Brahman is compared to a target, not because it is away from the arrow which can hit it, but it is the ultimate experience which is gained when the personality of the self is lost. Even objective meditation finally leads to self-dissolution, because intense concentration on an object continuously and for a long time makes the mind take the form of that object. As the mind perceives only the form which it has taken, it begins to perceive the same form everywhere. Since, however, it is not possible for the mind to exist contemplating on one thing alone and at the same time maintain its individuality, it itself ceases to exist the moment there is perception of the same form everywhere. Therefore, continuous meditation on any form leads to the same result of ultimate self-extinction and Self-recovery in the Absolute.

Meditation should be practised not with heedlessness and non-discrimination, but with the power consequent upon complete renunciation of all objects and states, giving rise to absolute passionlessness through concentration of mind. One thing can become identical with another thing only when that one thing partakes of the nature of the other thing. Desires of all kinds, potential or manifested, are detrimental to the consciousness of oneness and, hence, the realisation of Oneness, or Brahman, follows the practice of absolute desirelessness. All the factors that go to make up one’s individual existence have to be cast off through meditation on the universal Being, which transcends all planes of phenomenal existence.

Mantra No. 5:

On which the heaven, the earth, the sky and the mind, together with all the Pranas, are based—know that one Atman alone. Leave off all other speech; this is the bridge to Immortality.

This Atman should be known not as any kind of object of knowledge, but as the substance of one’s own Self as well as the Self of everybody else. As a subject can never become an object at any time, the Self cannot be known through any means related to objective knowledge. But it is known in the form of Self-awareness freed from the objective faculties pertaining to the five material sheaths. This is achieved through a total abstraction of oneself, i.e, refusal to abide by the laws of relative thinking and understanding. This, again, is possible only after sense-abstraction, which is signified by discipline and control of speech. Speech is a means of relating oneself to external objects by means of spending energy. This energy is spent out, really, through thinking alone. Every thought sends out energy to the object that is thought. In this process, the mind gets transformed. As this transformation is a change of the mind itself, there is absence of equilibrium in the mind. This disturbed state of the mind transmits its transformation to the senses, which connect themselves accordingly with the forms of objects determined by this previous transformation. The cessation of speech means the stoppage of connections with persons external to oneself, though subtle connections are kept up by the mind, independent of the senses. Therefore, the gross and subtle relationships are stopped respectively through cessation of sense-functions and of mental modifications. This practice is reinforced by continuous meditation on the nature of the Atman. The Atman is figuratively described as the bridge to Immortality, meaning, thereby, that its experience is Immortal. The Sruti has said that the knowledge of That alone leads one to Immortality and that there is no other way of attaining it.

Mantra No. 6:

Like spokes centred in the hub of a wheel, all nerve-centres are centred in consciousness. This one consciousness of the Atman seems to appear in various forms. Meditate on this Atman as OM. May there be blessedness to you all on your way across darkness.

When a person appears to have a certain quality, it must be understood that this quality is of the mind and not of the Atman. When it is said that a person is happy or sorry, pleased or displeased, it means that the mind of the person has taken certain forms. As all forms are changes felt within, they cannot belong to the nature of the Atman. Every experience is a fluctuation of the mind, good, bad or otherwise, in relation to the individual. Because of the intimate relationship that is between the Atman and the mind, it appears as though the whole person changes when the mind changes itself. This is the reason why a person says, “I am happy”, “I am sorry”, etc., though in essencet these conditions do not belong to the person at all. This Atman, which is distinct from the functions of the mind, should be meditated upon through the symbol of Om. The meditators, as it was already described, are those who have withdrawn themselves from the impulse for desire and action through an intense yearning for the attainment of Absolute Knowledge. So that obstacles may not impede the free progress of the disciple, the preceptor blesses them with auspiciousness for the sake of reaching the other shore of darkness, i.e., the attainment of the light of the Self.

Mantra No. 7:

He who is Omniscient and all-knowing, whose glory extends even to the earth, is established in the ether of the heart, or the divine city of Brahman. The guider of the mind and the Pranas and the mover of the body is seated in the core of every individual. Through the knowledge of that Supreme Principle, the great heroes behold that which shines as Bliss and Immortality.

The glory of this Atman extends to the earth, because even the individuals inhabiting the earth reflect certain characteristics belonging to the Atman. The main characteristics of the Atman are indivisibility, absoluteness, eternity, immortality and pure existence. The special natures which characterise the aforesaid essential, self-identical qualities of the Atman are consciousness and the freedom of perfection. All these natures are reflected in the individual in one way or the other.

The indivisible nature of the Atman is reflected in the individual in the form of the urge for perfection, preceded by a sense of imperfection. The inner essence of the individual always points to the possibility of and necessity for an undivided state of existence. The universe manifests itself as an organic whole and has got the characteristics of harmony and synthesis among its contents. The character of indivisibility implies that of infinitude or Absoluteness, as that which is divisible is conditioned by space, time and motion. Perfection cannot be spatiality. The non-spatial nature of perfection means its non-temporal nature also. It is not divided by past, present and future because of non-objectiveness. Absoluteness can have neither origin nor phenomenal continuance nor cessation. Hence it is eternal, which explains everything, but which itself is not explained by anything. Non-temporality is the same as immortality, which again is the nature of perfection or existence without change. The inability of the individual to rest continuously in any form of phenomenal life, and the constant urge from within to transcend oneself ever felt by the individual, are the harbingers of the knowledge of the fact that the individual is in essence a non-individual or impersonal unlimited being. The diversities of life can be explained only by absoluteness of nature.

Such is the glory of Brahman as reflected on earth and in the individuals. This relentless Law of the Absolute is the supreme controller of the systematic functions of everything in this universe. Even as one cannot go behind one’s own self, one cannot in any way transgress the law of the Absolute, as the Absolute is the very basis of every individual. The glory of Brahman is reflected through the individual functions, psychological as well as physical. The characteristics of existence, consciousness, freedom, etc., which belong to the Absolute, are manifested in different degrees in the different stages of evolution in conformity with the knowing capacity of the individual in a particular state of experience. Everyone in this world wants freedom and perfection, which sense is not limited by any conception, possibility or existence. Everyone hankers after unlimited freedom. Freedom would not be possible for anyone if it lay as something remote from the one who seeks it. That freedom is necessary proves that it is possible to have it, and this possibility again shows that it cannot be remote but should be an element in one’s own consciousness. Therefore, perfection is the essential nature of all beings, the lack of the experience of which ends in the various struggles of life.

In thinking individuals, Brahman manifests as existence and consciousness, but in inanimate beings only the aspect of existence is revealed. Bliss, however, is experienced in addition to the experience of existence and consciousness only in the higher class of beings in whom the quality of Sattva is predominant. In Tamas, Rajas and Sattva respectively, existence, consciousness and bliss are experienced in succession, the succeeding one including the preceding natures of reality. Therefore, all individuals belonging to all degrees of manifestation reflect in different degrees the reality of the Self.

This all-pervading Self is said to be situated in the centre of the individual. This, however, does not mean that the Atman is situated anywhere in space, but it means that it is felt as existence by the individual through the mind which defines one’s personality. Because it is the mind that reflects the Atman, the presence of the Atman is felt only where the mind manifests itself. There is neither going nor coming nor establishment in space with reference to the Atman. Wherever a positive value is experienced, it must be understood that the Atman is manifest there. It is realised as existent in an indivisible nature, i.e., as the Absolute, by Sages full of Wisdom, in the form of the experience of positive bliss and immortality.

Mantra No. 8:

The knot of the heart is broken, all doubts are cleared and all actions perish when the Greatest Supreme Being is beheld.

The knots of the heart are Avidya, Kama and Karma, or ignorance, desire and action. Avidya is the cause, Kama is the medium and Karma is the effect. These three binding factors confine experience to an individual personality. Because ignorance is the cause of all troubles, Knowledge, which is the opposite of ignorance, is able to break open the fort of ignorance, desire and action. When the cause is removed, all the effects also are removed. Since an effect cannot remove its cause, no mental act or physical act can remove the cause of these two, viz., the absence of knowledge. A condition is contradicted only by an opposite condition and not by an object or state which is subservient to the condition to be contradicted. Hence, knowledge which is the sole power which is directly opposite to the cause of all troubles, is able to put an end to the entirety of phenomenal experience.

Doubts which trouble the minds of the individuals are ultimately solved because of the knowledge of Existence itself. Doubt is a function of the mind, which is an effect of nescience. When its cause is removed, it is itself removed. When the mind, the cause of actions, is removed by the removal of ignorance, all actions perish. Actions are threefold in nature: Sanchita, Agami and Prarabdha. Sanchita Karma is the store of the effects or the impressions of all the actions performed by an individual in his countless previous births. All these effects of actions have to be experienced by the individual in different bodies. An action or a group of actions out of the Sanchita Karma, which can be experienced only under some particular conditions, is allotted to a particular body for the sake of experience in those conditions demanded by this special effect or group of effects of an action or actions. This allotted portion is called Prarabdha. The Agami Karma consists of actions performed by the individual through a particular body or the mind which will bear fruit in future.

It is sometimes held that the Prarabdha Karma of a Jnani is not destroyed. Sometimes it is suggested that even the Prarabdha is destroyed when Knowledge rises. The portion of the effects of actions to be worked out through a particular body is separated from the Sanchita Karma and allotted for experience even before the birth of the body. Hence, the momentum with which the Prarabdha starts actuating the body is exhausted only on the death of the body and not before. Knowledge is not concerned with this active momentum at all. Even when the individual is resolved into the Absolute Consciousness, the body, as long as the Prarabdha is not exhausted, will continue to move as directed by the Prarabdha, though this movement of the body does not become the object of the Knowledge of the Self-realised person. In this sense, the Prarabdha is not destroyed even when Knowledge dawns.

But, it must be remembered that the Prarabdha is seen to be working in the Jnani only by other individuals who have not got Self-knowledge. The value of a thing is completely negated and is also reduced to non-existence when there is no consciousness of that thing or when the thing is resolved into the subject itself. The state of the consciousness of the Absolute is not something which is separated from the movement of the Prarabdha. In it all movements are realised as an infinite unity. The Jnani has no special connection with his particular body. All other bodies also are equally his. He is the centre of the Consciousness of all individuals and, therefore, there is no meaning in holding that Prarabdha works in him. He is the witness of universal activity, or rather, the very Self of the Universe itself. Appearances are meaningful only to separated individuals and not to the unified consciousness. The movement of the body of the Jnani is compared to the movement of a leaf in the wind; such a movement is not a conscious activity at all.

For these reasons, it should be known that Prarabdha is not a substantial something which is co-existent with consciousness, but it is only a negative force which operates only in the individual but not in the Absolute. All relative values are transcended the moment Absolute Knowledge is realised. The Knowledge of the Supreme Being, which is Omniscient and free from the attributes of Samsara, in the form of the identity of oneself with it, removes the fetters caused by ignorance, desire and action. Having uprooted these causes of Samsara, the individual merges into the Absolute.

Mantra No. 9:

The pure, partless Brahman is encased, as it were, in the great golden sheath (of the intellect). This Pure Being is the Light of lights. It is known by those who have realised the Self.

The intellect is the seed of the highest empirical knowledge and, therefore, it is nearest to the consciousness of Brahman. It is the sheath which manifests Brahma-Chaitanya in the greatest degree. It is characterised by Sattva-Guna and, therefore, its colour is said to be golden. Because of this Sattva present in it, the human being has consciousness in him, even in his individualised condition. But, the intellect is characterised by Rajas also and, hence, its consciousness is always objective. Objectivity belongs to the Rajas in the intellect, and the consciousness in it belongs to Brahman which is behind the intellect. However, the intellect is the pointer to the existence of Brahman. Meditation is practised through the aid of the function of the intellect. Meditation is made possible because of the consciousness or Sattva that is in it, and meditation is made necessary because of the Rajas that is in it which dissipates energy and impedes real knowledge. The Atman is realised through the intellect by transcending the intellect. Hence, Brahman is said to be manifest in the intellect.

This Atman is known by those who follow the course of the natural essential consciousness within through the withdrawal of the senses and the mind. But, those who follow the course of the mind and the senses, enter into the world of sorrow. The mind and the senses constitute the world of darkness which is illuminated by the light of the Atman. The whole universe appears to have consciousness and light because the universe which is truly the region of darkness reflects the consciousness and the light of Brahman. Even the greatest light of the universe and the greatest consciousness manifest in it are only a borrowed reflection of Brahman. Brahman is not known by them who are busy with the universe of darkness in which roam the mind and the senses.

Mantra No. 10:

There the sun does not shine, nor the moon and the stars; nor even these lightnings; what to speak of this fire; everything shines after Him who shines. By His light this whole universe is illuminated.

Mantra No. 11:

This immortal Brahman alone is before. Brahman is behind. Brahman is to the right and to the left. Brahman alone is spread above and below. This whole universe is the supreme Brahman alone.

This Mantra shows that what is real is indivisible and that all divided manifestations are false appearances. This is the conclusion of the subject-matter of the Srutis. It appears to be spread in all directions, or existent everywhere, only from the point of view of the individual perceiving or conceiving It in terms of space and time. The experience of Itself in Itself is free from the idea or notion of extension or magnitude. Its true nature is summed up in the word ‘Absolute’, which is neither a subject nor an object of Knowledge. All conceptions and perceptions are based on the idea of cause and effect, which has no meaning for Brahman. In truth, that which appears as various names and forms is only Brahman, which is without names and forms. All are in It but It is not in them in its completeness, as It is not fully manifest in any name or form. True Knowledge is therefore divisionless, without reference to the knower or the known or the relation between the two. The Upanishads conclude that Brahman alone is the Absolute Reality.