The Mundaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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The Third Mundaka: First Khanda

Mantra No. 1:

Two birds living together, each the friend of the other, perch upon the same tree. Of these two, one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, but the other simply looks on without eating.

The two birds are the Jiva and Isvara, both existing in an individual compared to a tree. They exist together as the reflection and the original. They both manifest themselves in different ways in every individual. From the characteristics of the Jiva it is possible to infer the nature of Isvara, and from the nature of Isvara it is possible to determine the potentialities of the Jiva. Both the Jiva and Isvara have a common substratum which is Brahman and which is the reality of both. The body is compared to a tree because it can be cut down like a tree. This tree is also called the Kshetra or the field of manifestation and action of the Kshetrajna or the knower of the field. The body is the field of action and experience and it is the fruit of actions done already.

That which distinguishes the Jiva from Isvara is the mind only. In fact, the mind itself constitutes the Jiva. It is the Jiva that is affected by Avidya, Kama and Karma. Because of the conjunction of consciousness with these limiting factors, it has to experience the results of its actions; but Isvara, who is not limited to any adjunct, has no actions whatsoever to perform, and so, no experience of the results of actions. The fruits enjoyed by the Jiva are of the nature of pleasure and pain, i.e., they are all relative experiences born of non-discrimination. The experience of Isvara is eternal and is of the nature of purity, knowledge and freedom. Relative experience is the effect of the presence of Rajas, but the character of Isvara is Sattva and, hence, there is no phenomenal experience for Him. He is in fact the director of both the agent of actions and the results of actions. Isvara’s activity consists in His mere existence. The value of His existence is greater than that of the activity of the whole universe. It is His existence that actuates the whole universe of manifestation.

Mantra No. 2:

In the self-same tree the individual (bird) is drowned in grief because of delusion and impotency. When it beholds the other (bird), viz., the adorable Lord, it realises its own glory and gets freed from sorrow.

The grief of the Jiva is the result of its inability to live in conformity with the forms of the effects of unwise actions done in the past. Such thoughtless actions, no doubt, lead to their corresponding results and as they are not in tune with the law of Truth, they torment the individual in the form of unpleasant experiences. Without a relative experience the individual cannot live, and with every relative experience produced by unwisdom, fresh misery is added to the pre-existing lot. Thus, from the highest standpoint, the entirety of the experience of the individual consists of grief alone. Because of its confinement to the forms of its desires and actions, the Jiva feels itself to be impotent, confused and helpless. It is even made to feel that a particular experience to which it is connected is alone real and that there is no reality beyond it. Due to this, it is now and then connected with and separated from the objects of its desire. It is born and it dies, passing through several kinds of wombs in accordance with the kinds of its actions.

The freedom of the individual consists in the vision of the Lord Supreme Who is co-existent with it, in fact inseparable from it as its very Self. The realisation of Isvara is the same as the raising of the individual consciousness to the consciousness of Isvara. The Jiva ceases to exist the moment it realises Isvara. The glory of the real essence of the individual is known only when the veil covering it is removed. This is achieved in the realisation of God. The ultimate realisation is in the form of the identity of the Self with the Supreme Being. Here, the whole universe is realised to be the same as the essence of the spiritual infinite. This realisation puts an end to all kinds of imperfections and sorrows.

Mantra No. 3:

When the knowing individual has the vision of the intelligent creator, the Lord, the Purusha, the Brahman which is the source of all, then it shakes off both merit and demerit, and having become taintless, attains to supreme equality with the Lord.

In this Mantra, the Lord is designated as having a golden hue, which means that His nature of Knowledge is eternally inherent in Him even as the colour of gold is something inherent in it. It points to the self-luminous nature of God, whose characteristics are imperishable, which fact is hinted at by the unaffected colour of gold. It is also said that the individual should have the fit perception, i.e., it should have the ability to perceive the universal Being. To the individual is attributed the quality of knowingness which is the knowledge of the Supreme Being achieved after the acquisition of the power of correct discrimination.

Divine knowledge is free from the conception of good and bad, because this knowledge is non-relative. It is an all-consuming wisdom in which relative natures or conceptions can have no value. Distinctions like virtue, vice, good, bad, high, low, etc., are made only as long as the all-comprehensive knowledge, which underlies all these distinctions, is not realised. The effects of merit and demerit are burnt up by the fire of knowledge, because these effects are only conceptual and not spiritual. They exist only as long as the mind exists. When the mind is transcended, they too are transcended. The whole universe stands transfigured in the Absolute. The Jiva becomes free from blemishes, attachments and sorrows, and gets unified with the Supreme Being. Equality with the Infinite is the same as identity with the Infinite, which is of the nature of non-duality, limitless and unsurpassable. Equality of objects which have different characteristics is only a mental imagination and not a fact. But the equality of identical natures encompassing the whole existence is the experience of an indivisible unified whole.

Mantra No 4:

In all beings this one supreme life manifests itself. Knowing this, the wise one does not speak of anything else. Having his sport in the Self, bliss in the Self, and action in the Self, he is the best among the knowers of Brahman.

One who realises this Supreme Being as one’s own Self, ceases from his natural sense-functions and puts an end to all speech unconnected with the Self. Rather, he does not speak at all. Speech is a manner of connecting one thing with another thing. In Self-realisation, the relationship of the subject with the object is transcended and all things become the Self Itself. Whenever there is a perception of duality, speech has got a value, but in non-duality all such relationships lose their value. Instead of the experiences of the external relationships, the knower has the experience of Self-identity. This experience of the Self is described in the form of finding everything that is found externally, in one’s own Self Itself. The statements regarding sporting in the Self or finding all bliss in the Self make it clear that the highest form of happiness is realised without any contact with any object or any condition. Real bliss is not the effect of either mental or physical contact, but is the result of the absence of all contacts. In short, bliss consists in the resolution of the very sense of objectivity into the conscious subject. The action of the knower consists in the knowledge of the Self. Self-delight itself is action for him. It is a simple mass of bliss that he experiences, unhampered by any function alien to the nature of the Self. Sankara points out that the action of the knower is of the nature of renunciation, meditation and wisdom.

The Mantra does not imply that the knower performs any function. It only glorifies the state of the realisation of the Self by resorting to figurative descriptions of his greatness. The possibility of the combination of action with knowledge is denied by the fact of his being the highest among the knowers of Brahman. The Brahma Varishtha is the one who is in the seventh state of knowledge where his ego is totally merged in the Absolute. It is quite evident that external bodily action with personal consciousness cannot be in conformity with Absolute Knowledge. It is not possible for a person to sport in the Self or have delight in the Self and at the same time concern himself with relative action. Self-Knowledge is possible only after withdrawing oneself from all external functions, physical as well as mental. The consciousness of externality and internality cannot be simultaneous, even as darkness and light do not exist in the same place.

Therefore, the contention that it is possible to combine action with Absolute Knowledge is only the prattle of the ignorant. The Upanishads have constantly declared that true Knowledge is obtained through renunciation of all external functions and through meditation on the Absolute. The Brahma Varishtha, therefore, is one who has realised Brahman and whose action consists in Self-Knowledge preceded by renunciation of external consciousness.

Mantra No. 5:

The Atman is attained through truth, penance, correct knowledge and Brahmacharya (self-control), observed continuously without break. The Atman is beheld within in the form of light and purity by the austere ones who are freed from all kinds of sins.

Truth is adherence to fact, whether absolute or relative. It is proceeding along the way of the unity of existence. Relatively, it takes the form of acting in conformity with facts that are experienced through the process of individual knowledge. Absolutely, it is living in the light of the fact that Existence is absolute and indivisible. Falsehood is the opposite of truth, and is the result of clinging to the falsehood of individuality. Truth is the way of disintegrating the individual personality through presentation of the good and not the pleasant. Truth is that which is universally good, but falsehood, when it is deliberately resorted to for the fulfilment of a definite purpose, appears pleasant only to an individual or certain individuals. Falsehood, therefore, fattens the individuality, whereas truth breaks open the individuality and enables one to realise the Atman.

Tapas, or penance, in its true sense, consists in the withdrawal of senses and concentration of the mind. Austerity, or penance, is only a means to the end and not the end itself. It is a means inasmuch as it disciplines the individual functions and directs them to meditation, which leads to wisdom and realisation. By Tapas what is meant is not merely bodily mortification, because bondage does not consist in the body but the mind that animates the body. The cause of bondage is the mind alone and, therefore, the discipline of the mind is Tapas.

Proper knowledge is equal vision, or perception of the one Atman in all. This is a function deeper than that of speaking truth or practising Tapas. It is a function of the spirit which realises itself in every form of existence.

Brahmacharya is the method of the abstraction of sense-energy from the externals and the conservation of the same for the sake of steadying the mind and giving it the energy necessary for the practice of concentration and meditation, though the popular meaning of Brahmacharya is continence. It really means leading a life befitting the nature of Brahman. It is, in other words, Charya or moving or acting or conducting oneself in accordance with the law of Brahman, which is the unity of existence. Such control is not merely the abandonment of objects but is the absence of the taste for objects. Bondage is not caused by the existence of objects but by the connection of the mind with those objects. In short, self-control is absence of sense-experience, giving rise to mental equilibrium, light, consciousness and joy.

These observances should be practised continuously without exceptions to the rules, and not for sometime alone and with certain exceptions. These should be practised until the realisation of the Self, because the stoppage of such practices may lead to the assertion of individuality and impede the process of Self-realisation. The Upanishad has said that “the Atman is attained by those in whom there is no crookedness, no falsehood and no play of tricks”.

This Atman is realised within oneself and not outside oneself. Though the process of realisation is an inward one, the goal that is attained includes the outward also. Sadhana starts with an introversion of the mind in the beginning, but in the end the result achieved is not simply internal but is infinite. From the point of view of the individual, it is said that this Atman is realised in one’s own heart, in the form of a splendid effulgence, perfectly pure and limitless in its nature, which is realised only by those who are free from attachments and sins, desires and all kinds of greed. This realisation is effected through the practice of virtues like truth, enumerated above. Sankara is of the opinion that only a Sannyasin, i.e., a person of complete renunciation, will be able to achieve this Supreme End which requires of the aspirant a total transcendence of the universe.

Mantra No. 6:

Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood. Through truth the divine path is spread out by which the sages whose desires have been completely fulfilled, reach to where is that supreme treasure of Truth.

Truth is more than truth-speaking. Truth is the symbol of perfection, a representation of the Divine Being. Adherence to truth means embracing the universal nature of the Reality. Therefore, truth wins victory everywhere. Truth is the essence of the Universal movement consisting of evolution and involution. Untruth is negative, whereas truth is positive. Through Truth the consciousness blossoms into more expanded experience, but untruth attempts to stifle consciousness altogether and disallows the expansion of consciousness causing, at the same time, the hardening of individuality.

It is Truth through which the divine way or the life of spiritual striving is spread before the aspiring individuals. The universe as a spiritual organism to be striven for, is brought into the consciousness of the individual through the practice of Truth. Truth is in fact the eye of the individual aspiring for the realisation of its Absolute nature. The sages got a vision of this Truth because they were absolutely free from such defects as deceit, delusion, fraud, pride, vanity and falsehood. They found the consummation of their desires and aspirations in this Absolute Truth. They became first desireless and then sought the Truth. Desire breeds falsehood, and desirelessness gives rise to Truth. Truth enables one to attain the Supreme Treasure which is the Absolute Truth.

Mantra No. 7:

That which is supremely expansive, divine, of unthinkable form, subtler than the subtle, much farther than that which is far, and at the same time very near, shines and is seated in the Central Being of those who have the consciousness of That.

Mantra No. 8:

It is not grasped by the eye, not even by speech, nor by the other senses. It is not possible to know it through mortifications or deeds. He who meditates upon it with absolute purity (Sattva) of mind, as the partless Being, beholds it through the serenity attained in knowledge.

The serenity of knowledge is that state where nothing is experienced other than simple awareness. In ordinary human beings, this knowledge is not manifest, since it is not connected with the tranquillity of mind and also since it is polluted by the defects of love and hatred for external things. As a mirror covered over by dust is not able to reflect an object, knowledge, though it is present within, is not experienced, as the mind is disturbed by objectivity. When the dirt of the mind consisting of love, etc., in connection with the sense-objects, is removed and the mind is rendered calm, pure and peaceful, then one is said to have attained the serenity of knowledge in which condition alone one becomes fit for the experience of Brahman. Further, meditation should be practised on Brahman as the partless indivisible being and not as a partial or limited aspect of the whole. The quality of meditation is dependent upon the character of the object of meditation. When the mind contemplates upon the divisionless Being, it itself becomes divisionless and vanishes into the Absolute. But, for all this, in the beginning, practice of virtues like truth is absolutely necessary, to be followed by the withdrawal of the senses and concentration of mind, leading to Tadatmyata, or absorption in the object of meditation.

Mantra No. 9:

This subtle Atman should be known with the purified mind into which the Prana with its fivefold aspect has entered. The mind is pervaded completely by the functions of the Pranas together with the powers of the senses. In this purified mind this Atman is revealed.

Mantra No. 10:

Whichever region is thought of by the mind and whatever desires the man of purified mind desires, that region and those desires he obtains. Therefore, one who wishes to have prosperity should worship the knower of the Self.

The realisation of the Self is a simultaneous fulfilment of the deepest aspirations together with all the desires, internal or external, unmanifested or manifested, subtle or gross, of the individual. The state of Sattva, or absolute purity of mind, is not an individualistic experience but a universal one. Sattva is free from Rajas and, therefore, the experiences of the individualities are denied in it. Complete fulfilment of all one’s wishes is not possible except in the state of universal Being, which is the same as Suddha-Sattva-Anubhava.

Because of the omniscience and omnipotence of the knower of Self, whoever worships him becomes prosperous. The Sankalpa of the Knower is rooted in Satya or Truth, and his influence upon those who adore and worship him, is great. Wherever this Knower of the Self moves, there he exercises his influence automatically. Whoever comes in contact with him gets completely transformed.