The Mundaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda


Among the Upanishads, the Mundaka Upanishad is regarded as one the most important. It throws a flood of light on the Jnana Marga (the path of Knowledge) and leads the aspirant to the highest rung in the ladder of Jnana—Brahmavid brahmaiva bhavati.

That this Upanishad was meant for the Sannyasin (and hence the significant name Mundaka Upanishad) is itself the highest tribute that can be paid to its sacredness. The truth that this Supreme Knowledge which the Upanishad imparts is to be had through inspirational initiation direct from a Guru who is well versed in the Brahma Vidya and who has at the same time had the Brahma Anubhava, is brought out very clearly in this Upanishad.

At the very commencement, the Upanishad throws out a challenge to all finite (and therefore imperfect) sciences. Real Knowledge does not consist in the mastery of cartloads of mere verbiage, but in the immediate experience of the Self. Without this Self-Knowledge, it is futile to try to know anything else! Man’s knowledge of an object is clouded by the ignorance that shrouds his own Self; and minus this unifying force of Self-Knowledge, all knowledge is reduced to mere conjecture and, therefore, it is arbitrary. Knowledge of the Self instantly means true knowledge of everything.

How is this Knowledge to be attained? While yet engaged in the performance of his daily duties, the aspirant should carefully and minutely analyse the nature of the world, and grasp the transience of all objects. If everything is transient, what, then, is Eternal and, therefore, worth aspiring for? This question cannot be answered by the aspirants’ intellect, for the intellect itself is a finite and frail instrument and one amongst the transient objects in this evanescent world. But the emergence in the aspirants’ mind of such a Query is itself the signal that the heart-strands that bound him to Samsara have got loosened, and that with the sword of Jnana he can easily cut them asunder. This sword is in the Guru’s sheath and has to be acquired by direct personal initiation. In the Guru’s holy presence, the disciple’s intellect ceases to function. Like the gushing waters of a mountain torrent, when the obstructing dam is broken, Divine Wisdom floods the heart of the aspirant: he knows. He realises that in essence he is that Knowledge Itself! That is the Supreme Knowledge in which the distinction between knowledge, the knower and the known vanishes. And, that is the reason why the Upanishad alludes to It with a series of negations.

The Upanishad gives graphic descriptions of the effects of desire-prompted actions and shows how the wrong performance of these actions brings on evil consequences and even the correct performance, while conferring temporary affluence and happiness, terminates in the reincarnation of the Jiva in even lower births. Desire is condemned in unequivocal terms.

Practice of truth is one of the foremost Sadhanas for the purpose of Self-realisation. And the powerfully reassuring Mantra Satyameva jayate na anritam occurs in this Upanishad. Practice of Truth, penance, Brahmacharya and the acquirement of correct knowledge are the practices that bestow strength on the aspirant—physical, mental, moral, intellectual and spiritual strength; and an aspirant endowed with this strength alone can reach the Goal—not a weakling, says the Upanishad.

These are all preparatory practices. These are excellent aids for self-purification. But these ‘actions’ cannot by themselves achieve That which is not the product of any action—the Supreme Brahman. Utter annihilation of the ego is called for; and the Upanishad again and again stresses the Truth that the Atman is all-pervading and is the Self of all. Failure to perceive this Truth alone results in egocentric personality. The Upanishad forbids one from talking of anything other than this all-pervading Self. The austerity of speech (and of the inner Bhava that prompts speech itself) is hidden in this! Just reflect for a moment. If you really and sincerely recognise the presence of the Atman in every being, no contemptuous expression would escape from your lips, no falsehood will be uttered by you; your speech would be sweet, truthful and loving. Universal love will reside in your heart; and cosmic love is synonymous with supreme self-sacrifice, or egolessness. That cosmic love is the threshold to the limitless domain of Brahmic Bliss.

The Upanishad has given very apt and illuminating illustrations to make clear the subtle Truth propounded in it. And, Swami Krishnanandaji, in his commentary, has thrown a flood of light on these analogies and brought out the inner meaning most lucidly. Flashes of the Swami’s intuitive wisdom illumine abstruse corners of metaphysical statements inevitable in such a text which treats the Highest and Subtlest of topics.

Swami Krishnanandaji’s commentary on the Mundakopanishad is a most valuable aid to all students of Yoga and Vedanta. In others, even in worldly persons, it will induce Vairagya, a distaste for worldly life and taste for the Higher Life that is the gateway to Liberation from the painful bondage of birth and death.

May God bless Sri Swami Krishnanandaji with health, long life, peace, prosperity and Kaivalya Moksha! May all the earnest readers attain the highest goal of Self-Knowledge or Atma-Sakshatkara.

1st June, 1951

Swami Sivananda