The Mundaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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The Third Mundaka: Second Khanda

Mantra No. 1:

Him who knows this Supreme Abode of Brahman in which the whole universe is situated and which is brilliantly shining, those heroes who adore and worship, without any desire in their minds, transcend this seed of birth.

Mantra No. 2:

He who contemplates on objects of desire, having a desire for them, is born here and there due to those desires; but for him whose desires are all fulfilled, whose Self is perfectly contented due to the sense of perfection, all desires dissolve themselves here itself.

An individual is born in that condition of mental experience in which it will be possible for it to fulfil the desires cherished previously. Desires goad an individual towards virtue and vice, the result of performance of actions which leads to birth and death. Birth and death cannot be negated until all desires are fulfilled or destroyed. In fact, there is no such thing as complete fulfilment of phenomenal desires as long as one exists as a phenomenal being having desires for objects of phenomena.

Desires are never fulfilled through acquisition of objects, but they find their fulfilment, which is the same as their destruction, in the source of Consciousness itself, in the knowledge of which they vanish altogether. All the different individuals have their cloaks made up of their own varying desires through which alone they have objective experience which is called birth, life and death. Such experiences cease when these cloaks are cast off and the Absolute Self is realised. The moment the Self is realised, all the desires get dissolved in the menstruum of knowledge. This is the condition in which love merges into experience and the distinction of the subject and the object is abolished. Here it is that the true meaning of all desires and aspirations is found and the complete fulfilment of all these is achieved in its real sense. When the cause of desires is uprooted through knowledge, all its effects too get invalidated at once. The knower transcends the sense of virtue and vice and all such pairs of opposites, whose law binds only the individual living in space and time. Destruction of desires is Moksha.

Mantra No. 3:

This Atman is not to be attained through discourses, through intellect, or through much of hearing. That which one seeks, by that alone it is attained. To such a one this Atman reveals its true nature.

The Self is realised not through an external process of speaking, thinking or hearing but through self-identical knowledge. Whom one wishes to attain, i.e., the Self or the Atman, by him alone is It attained through non-relational experience. The realisation of the Self is actually attained not by the mind, but by consciousness which belongs to the Self and which in fact is the Self Itself. The Mantra indicates that that which is sought is not something different from the seeker but the essential nature of the seeker himself. The condition of realisation is intense aspiration. There is no other way to realise It. The seeker is required to surrender his individual personality so that that which obstructs the experience of himself as the infinite Being may be removed, and not to suggest that surrender means a giving up of oneself to another being. This surrender is actually the abandonment of the false self for the sake of the infinite Self which is non-different from one’s own Self. The Absolute Atman is ever accomplished and is of the nature of Self-experience and, therefore, It cannot be reached through an external process even as one cannot reach one’s own body through any kind of action. To such an aspiring seeker, the true nature of the Self is revealed within himself alone in the form of eternally accomplished knowledge. In short, realisation of the Self is the negation of non-self which consists in the process of thinking.

Mantra No. 4:

This Atman cannot be attained by one who is devoid of strength, not through heedlessness, not even through penance which is devoid of its proper insignia. That wise one who strives hard with these methods, his self enters into the state of Brahman (or the Absolute).

The Mantra sets forth certain pre-requisites of meditation on the Atman. Strength here stands for mental and moral power, or inner toughness, without which concentration is impossible. It may also mean physical stability, inasmuch as physical health is conducive to mental peace. Sankara takes strength in the sense of the power that is generated through devotion to and meditation on the Atman, which paves the way for the higher achievements later on. One should not expect to know the Self through such heedless practices as attachments to worldly objects like son, cattle, etc., nor through works done for the sake of personal gain. Even austerity practised improperly as a sort of mortification without its insignia, viz., Sannyasa or inner renunciation, will not help in the realisation of the Self. Sankara here suggests that Tapas may be taken to mean knowledge which is possessed even by householders, in which case it is useless because of the lack of renunciation. The knowledge of a householder cannot really be Self-knowledge, because of his being bound to his duties connected with his stage of life. True knowledge is the awareness of the non-dual Reality, which a householder cannot be expected to have as long as he has to perform his duties in this world. Therefore, knowledge connected with renunciation alone is true knowledge. Knowledge is necessarily preceded by renunciation, without which it cannot be called real knowledge.

With these methods, viz., strength, carefulness and knowledge connected with renunciation, one who aspires to attain the Supreme Being becomes a Vidvan, or a Knower of the Self, and his Self enters into the essence of the Absolute.

Mantra No. 5:

Having attained this, the heroic Rishis, being satisfied with Knowledge, perfect, desireless and calm, uniting their selves with the Divine Being and attaining everything from every side, enter into Everything Itself, i.e., they become omnipresent through the attainment of the Omnipresent Being.

Knowledge itself is the highest end of life and not simply a means to an end. Knowledge is identical with the highest perfection. The sages who have this knowledge are satisfied with It alone and not with some external means of satisfaction which will simply fatten the body and the ego. One’s highest duty consists in the struggle for the attainment of this knowledge by which one gets unified with the all-pervading Absolute Being. This is the same as Moksha, where the individuality ceases to be and where one exists in all places and at all times, i.e., becomes infinite and eternal.

Mantra No. 6:

Those Yatis who have ascertained the true meaning of the knowledge of Vedanta, who have purified their natures through Sannyasa and Yoga, having attained immortality, get liberated from all sides in the region of Brahma at the end of time.

Sannyasa-Yoga means establishment in the consciousness of Brahman consequent upon the renunciation of desires and actions. The individuals get liberated at the end of time, which means that they are freed from bondage when their experiences of Samsara come to an end. It is not ordinary death that is meant here, because in ordinary physical death time does not come to an end and Samsara also does not cease. What is meant is the Atyantika Marana, or ultimate death, where the subtle body of the individual dies together with its cause, viz., ignorance. The end of time may also mean the time when those who have attained Brahma Loka attain Krama Mukti at the time of the dissolution of cosmos together with Brahma Himself. In that state, all the liberated ones find their individualities vanish into Brahman, even as a lamp which is not fed by oil is extinguished into space. These liberated souls are said to enter into everything, because they become the Soul of the universe through instantaneous experience of the Infinite. Their experience is, therefore, absolutely unconditioned and it is not the result of proceeding towards any plane of consciousness, which is always conditioned because of its being only a degree of Truth. Moksha is not a movement towards any state, but an immutable experience here and now. Knowledge is said to be the means to Moksha because the means should always befit the nature of the end, and knowledge is unconditioned like Moksha. Moksha is not produced as an effect of anything but consists in the mere cessation of the hindrances to such an experience.

Mantra No. 7:

The different parts of individuality get dissolved and all the senses merge in their presiding divinities. Actions, the self consisting of intelligence—all these become unified in the Supreme Imperishable.

The effects of all actions are not experienced because of the rise of knowledge. The intellectual self, viz., the individual self, transcends itself and is unified with its source, viz., Pure Consciousness, which is called here the Supreme Imperishable, which is vast like the ether, which is the same as Brahman, which is unlimited, undecaying, unborn, changeless, immortal, fearless, without a cause and without an effect, without internality and externality, non-dual, blessed and peaceful, existing everywhere, at all times in the same condition. The individual becomes non-different from It, having got rid of all the obstructions in the forms of ignorance, desire and action.

Mantra No. 8:

As rivers flowing into the ocean lose themselves in the ocean, casting off name and form, so the knower, freed from name and form, attains the Divine Purusha who is higher than the high.

Mantra No. 9:

He who knows the Supreme Brahman becomes Brahman Itself. In his family none devoid of the Knowledge of Brahman is born. He crosses over sorrow, he crosses over sin. Freed from the knots of the heart he becomes Immortal.

It may be thought that the knower of Brahman may be obstructed by Devas, etc., from attaining perfection. But, this is not possible in the case of a knower of Brahman or even an aspirant after the knowledge of Brahman. Obstacles are possible only in the case of those whose effort is put forth for the attainment of something which is particularised. Whenever one struggles to obtain something which is not universal but particular, there is a reaction from the other particulars, or rather the other aspects of reality, which resist the onward march of the mind towards its own limited end. The Knower of the Self, on the other hand, becomes the Self of the Devas and, therefore, he cannot have opposition from any side. Knowledge simply consists in the removal of ignorance. The moment ignorance is dispelled or duality is cancelled, Moksha is experienced without any opposition whatsoever. Oppositions are the reactions to selfish desires and not to the aspiration for Brahman as there cannot be reaction to an impersonal being or impersonal thought or aspiration. The Impersonal Being is eternal and is always identical with one’s own Self. In fact, an aspirant after Brahman is helped by the universe in the pursuit of the same, because what he aspires for is the common reality of all. No opposition can be of any avail in his case. He transcends all obstacles, conquers sorrow and sin through the power of Knowledge, frees himself from the pairs of opposites like virtue and vice, purifies his family with his knowledge, breaks the knots of his heart, is liberated ultimately from relative experience and becomes Immortal.

Mantra No. 10:

Those who have performed their duties well, who are learned in scriptures, who intensely aspire for Brahman, who faithfully worship the sacred fire called Ekarshi, who have undergone the vow of the head, to them alone this Brahma-Vidya should be told.

Those who have performed the works prescribed in the previous stages of life, purify themselves through such works and become fit for higher aspirations. Erudition in the sacred lore makes them undeluded and clear-minded. Further, they should have already performed the Upasana of Saguna Brahman, through which alone their minds can rest in the Nirguna Brahman. Ekarshi is a fire worshipped by Atharva Vedins. The meaning is that one should perform the works and the worships enjoined in the section of the Veda of which he forms a member. The vow of the head is either a particular kind of sacrifice in which fire is carried on the head or Sannyasa which is connected with the vow of the head, viz., shaving. The drift of the Mantra is that one should have already performed what he considers as his duty in life and renounced everything later on, so that he may have true aspiration for Brahman. When Brahma Vidya is imparted to such people, it becomes fruitful.

Mantra No. 11:

This highest truth was declared in ancient days by the Rishi Angiras. This Vidya should not be studied by one who has not followed the prescribed rules. Prostration to the great Rishis. Prostration to the great Rishis.

Om Santih, Santih, Santih.