Commentary on the Mundaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: Section 2

Now we go to the second section.

Tad etat satyam: mantreṣu karmāṇi kavayo yāny apaśyams tāni tretāyāṁ bahudhā santatāni, tāny ācaratha niyatam, satyakāmā, eṣa vaḥ panthāḥ sukṛtasya loke (1.2.1.). This is a different subject altogether. The first mantra, the beginning verses, told us that there are two types of knowledge, the lower and the higher. Rg-vedo yajur-vedaḥ sāma-vedo’tharva-vedaḥ śikṣā kalpo vyākaraṇaṁ (1.1.5), etc., are all lower knowledge. Higher knowledge is that great spiritual insight by which we come into direct contact with the Imperishable. This was told to us in the earlier verses.

Now some details are given as to what this lower knowledge is. The mantras of the Veda are utilised in the performance of sacrifices, or yagnas. This is the secondary character of the Veda mantras. Veda mantras can be used as prayers to the Almighty God or the divinities inhabiting heaven. That is one form of the utilisation of the mantras. But the major aspect of the mantras is their utility in the performance of yagnas. This is true: tad etat satyam. Whatever suggestion for the performance of action as sacrifice or yagna was visualised by the great sages in the mantras of the Veda, that vision has to be considered as true. That is to say, the Vedic sacrifices are not just concoctions of the mind or someone’s whim and fancy. There is a truth in it.

The rituals that we perform in our religious worships are not unnecessary things as some modern intellectuals may sometimes tell us. The entire body and mind gesticulates. It is not merely the body; even the mind puts on a gesture, an attitude when a ritual is performed. This point is missed by critics. When the mind and body are in a state of unison in the performance of a ritual, the prayer assumes a physical shape. The mantras are prayers. The Vedic mantras are hymns offered to God, and the implementation or actual practice of this prayer is the ritual thereof. The ritual can be worship as we do in temples, for instance, or it can be an act of a homa or yagna or sacrifice. These suggestions of actual action proceeding from the mantras in the form of ritual are true. It is not untrue, says the mantra: tad etat satyam.

Mantreṣu karmāṇi kavayo yāny apaśyams tāni tretāyāṁ bahudhā santatāni. Treta means three Vedas. In the three Vedas – Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda – we will find every mantra is a potential for action. The Mimamsa Shastra is very vigorous in the affirmation of mantras being just instruments in the performance of external sacrifice. Knowledge is the medium for action. After we know something, we do something. We do not merely know something and keep quiet. So shodhana, or incentive for action, is the potential of every mantra. This is the Mimamsa Shastra, and we are mentioning it in this particular verse. Therefore, the three Vedas are incentives for the performance of further action in the form of ritual and yagna. Treta means three Vedas, and it also means Treta Yuga. There are four Yugas: Krita Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. We are in Kali Yuga, the last of the Yugas. Eka eva purā vedaḥ praṇavaḥ sarva-vāṅgmāyaḥ (Srimad Bhagavata 9.14.48). In Krita Yuga there was no Veda, no yagna or sacrifice, no worship, no government as such, no ruler, no necessity for law and order, etc. It is called the hamsa condition – pure Eternity living on earth, the golden age, the millennium come, as some religions tell us. Treta Yuga was a descent in the moral order of creation; and then the yagnas started, and also the Vedas. Otherwise, Om – Pranava – alone was the Veda. The three Vedas were not there. Hence, we can take this word ‘treta’ to mean both things: either the commencement of yagnas in the Treta Yuga, or it may mean the three Vedas being the incentive for the performance of yagnas.

Tāny ācaratha: Please do it. The Mimamsa tells us, “Please do this.” Niyatam: Regularly perform these yagnas. Satyakāmāḥ: If you want the fruit of your good deeds in the form of heavenly experiences, if you want Indra’s glory and to rejoice in heaven, here it is. Come, perform yagnas by the recitation of the mantras of the three Vedas. Eṣa vaḥ panthāḥ sukṛtasya loke: This is the blessedness for you. Mimamsa speaks here to you, “It is the path of blessedness open to you. All people come. If you recite the Veda mantras properly, perform yagna and offer oblations to the gods, the flames of the sacrifice uniting themselves with the rays of the Sun will take you, by your subtle body, to the glorious realm of Indra’s heaven.” So here is an invitation to the heaven of Indra.

Yathā lelāyate hy arcis samiddhe havya-vāhane, tad ājya-bhāvāv antareṇāhutiḥ pratipādayec chraddhayā-hutam (1.2.2). When we perform a havanam, yagnam, the flames should shoot forth. The fire should not be smouldering, and it should not be smoking. If that is the case, then the yagna is not done properly. Savita is the flaming forth of the heated fire. When the flames move like tongues of fire, lapping hither and thither with a roaring sound, into those tongues of fire coming up from the vigorous burning of the yagna agni we must offer the holy ghee, the clarified butter, between the flames. The offerings are to be poured between the lapping flames. Pratipādayec: This is an instruction as to how we have to conduct yagna.

Yasyāgnihotram adarśam apaurṇamāsam acāturmāsyam anāgrayaṇam atithivarjitam ca, ahutam avaiśvadevam avidhinā hutam ā-saptamāṁs tasya lokān hinasti (1.2.3). Here we have a tremendous instruction from the Mimamsa Shastra – Karmakanda gone to its extreme, we may say. It is not enough if we just perform one havan and keep quiet, as in agnihotra, for instance. The mantra here says if a person does not at the same time, together with the performance of agnihotra, also perform the special sacrifices called darsha and paurnamasa during the new moon and the full moon, does not also perform the special offerings required to be done during the four months of the rainy season, does not also perform the special havan intended to be done during the spring season, and if the havan is performed without guests being fed during the yagna, and if the flames do not come forth properly and are only smouldering and smoking, and if the feeding of animals, etc, is also not taken care of at the same time, and if the mantras in the yagna are not properly chanted with the proper intonation and recitation, what will happen? Seven generations of ours will be destroyed: ā-saptamāṁs tasya lokān hinasti. It is a very terrible curse. It also means that for us, the seven worlds will be destroyed. Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Mahaloka, Janaloka, Tapaloka, Satyaloka will expel us and not allow us to enter. Therefore, imagine how difficult it is to perform a sacrifice, a yagna. If we make a little mistake – a little wrong intonation, a little fumbling – the result is great danger. Karmakanda is very difficult. If we do it, wonderful; but if we do not do it properly, to hell we go.

Kālī karalī ca mano-javā ca sulhoitā yā ca sudhūmravarṇā, sphuliṅginī viśva-rūpi ca devī lelāyamānā iti sapta-jiḥvāḥ (1.2.4). In a properly performed sacrifice, seven flames of the fire are supposed to shoot up, not just one or two. The hungry fire will lap up in seven tongues, and the seven tongues have their own names – kālī: the black one; karalī: the blacker one; mano-javā: rapid like the movement of the mind; sulhoitā: reddish in colour; sudhūmravarṇā: brownish in colour; sphuliṅginī: sparking forth; viśva-rūpi: radiant; devī: divine are the flames. Agni himself rises up to receive our offering and take us to the gods so that, in their satisfaction, they lift us up to the abode of the gods. Lelāyamānā iti sapta-jiḥvāḥ: Oscillating flames of the agni to which we offer the oblations are designated in this manner. These names are to be remembered. Kālī karalī ca mano-javā ca sulhoitā yā ca sudhūmravarṇā, sphuliṅginī viśva-rūpi ca devī lelāyamānā iti sapta-jiḥvāḥ.

Eteṣu yaś carate bhrājamāneṣu yathā-kālaṁ cā hutayo hy ādadāyan, taṁ nayanty etās sūryasya raśmayo yatra devānām patir eko’dhivāsaḥ (1.2.5). If we are in a position to perform these sacrifices meticulously without committing mistakes, as we calculate a mathematical problem right from the beginning to the end without making any error, if we can perform the yagnas as mentioned in these verses in the holy fire which is radiating with its power, if offerings are made in this way, then what happens? The fire assumes a very subtle form as soundless ethereal shapes, into which it enters when it becomes inaudible; and colour also becomes invisible and merges into the subtle rays of the Sun. The flames of the fire transmute themselves into fine forces of light converging into the intensity of the rays of the Sun.

Taṁ nayanty etās sūryasya raśmayo yatra devānām patir eko’dhivāsaḥ. The soul, the subtle body of the performer of the yagna, is drawn out when the body is shed, and by the gravitational pull of the rays of the Sun and the propulsion given by the flames of fire into which we have offered the yagna, the soul of the jiva that departs from the body rises up. Where do we go? We go to the Sun, the solar orb. From there we are transported. Yatra devānām patir eko’dhivāsaḥ: We are very graciously, lovingly escorted to the great heaven of Indra who rules the whole heaven. So be prepared for the great blessedness of going to heaven, and do yagnas every day.

Parīkṣya lokān karmancitān brāhmaṇo nirvedam āyān nāsty akṛtah kṛtena, tad vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet samit-pāṇiḥ śrotriyam brahma-niṣṭham (1.2.12). Having given us an idea of the prospects of the performer of yagnas or sacrifices, and having told us that karmas, actions, sacrifices are unreliable boats in one’s effort to cross the ocean of life, and hinting that only those who are austere and live in seclusion, living a simple life, having a lofty goal before them as their final destination, reach Brahmaloka, the abode of blessedness, through the rays of the Sun, now the Upanishad tells us that the way to Brahman, the path of spirituality, the sadhana marga, is through a Guru or a spiritual preceptor.

Having seen this world properly, having investigated the futility of expressing permanent happiness through works which are perishable in nature because every work has a beginning and an end – that which has an origin will also have secession one day or the other – therefore, works which are of an impermanent nature essentially will not be adequate means to carry the soul to that which is absolutely permanent. Parīkṣya lokān: Properly investigating into the transient character of all things in the world which are attained by the performance of yagnas, sacrifices, etc, a Brahmana, a learned one, should become fed up with this world. Having enjoyed everything in this world, we will finally not like to have anything from this world. The end of this world enjoyment is retirement from any kind of contact with it. Satiety of desires is unknown. The more we pamper our longings, the more do they become vigorous and the more they will go on asking endlessly, which the world cannot grant.

One should finally feel satiated with all things that the world can give. As when we have had a full meal and cannot eat anything further, so should be the satiety we feel in this world. Renunciation of the world is possible only by such a person who has seen the world thoroughly, through and through, who has not left any part of the world uninvestigated, and has everything that this world can give. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say that only those who were kings in the previous birth can become sannyasins. If you are really dispassionate, a true sannyasin wanting nothing in this world, you must have been an emperor in the previous birth, because one who has not tasted the world cannot reject the world. Hence, everything has to be seen properly, and going deep into the structure of the possibilities of pleasures that the world can give – or whatever the world can give, pleasures or otherwise – one should finally detach oneself from all things that the world appears to promise. Why?

Nāsty akṛtah kṛtena: That which is not the product of any kind of action cannot be reached by actions, which are products. Actions are emanations of personality, and are not self-existent. Actions cannot hang in the air. They have to emanate, rise from some personality. Therefore, they are in the form of an effect. An effect is that which is produced by a cause; it is a product. That which is a product cannot become the cause of the attainment of that which is not a product. The Purusha, the Supreme, is not created by anybody. It is a non-created eternal. Temporal things cannot take us to the eternal. Time has no connection with eternity. The three-dimensional world is a shadow, as it were, cast by an eternity which is supposed to be multi-dimensional or infinite- dimensional. Let a person get disgusted with this world and want nothing from it, realising that this world cannot actually fulfil its promises. Its promises are empty. Knowing the futility of life in this world, one should humbly approach a great master for the sake of the knowledge of that which shall make the soul immortal one day or the other.

What kind of teacher, what kind of a master? One who has two qualities. Śrotriyam brahma-niṣṭham: He must be immensely learned, and also spiritually established. If a person is spiritually established but does not feel competent to expound the scriptures, he will not be able to speak to you. But if a person is learned but not established in Brahman, then his speeches will be empty. So the two qualifications are mentioned here: internally established in God, Brahman consciousness, and outwardly capable of expounding the meaning of the scriptures in a highly learned manner that carries conviction in the mind of a student.

Humbly you should approach. Samit-pāṇiḥ is the word used here. In ancient days, disciples used to live with the Gurus in forests, in retreats, etc., far from cities and available means of transport and the minimum needs of life, so that even firewood was a difficult thing for them to obtain. So firewood was carried by disciples, especially for the yagnas or sacrifices. Every householder has to perform an agnihotra sacrifice. Most of the great masters those days were householders, and so they had to carry on the agnihotra sacrifices every day, for which firewood is necessary. So the first thing that the disciple would offer to the Guru was firewood, and every day he would go to the forest to collect it, which, in those days, was a very important duty of disciples. It is in this context that it is mentioned to approach the Guru humbly, with holy firewood in one’s hand, or it may simply be an offering that is the need of the Guru. In those days firewood was a necessity, but in other cases it may be something else. So, whatever is a requirement of the Guru is that which has to be offered by a disciple. With such offering, humbly let a seeker of Brahman approach that master who is learned in sacred lore and established in Brahman - śrotriyam brahma-niṣṭham.

Tasmai sa vidvān upasannāya samyak praśānta-cittāya śamānvitāya, yenākṣaram puruṣaṁ veda satyam provāca tāṁ tattvato brahma-vidyam. To such a sincere disciple who humbly approaches the master with restrained mind, with no desires whatsoever, and with sama, dama and such qualities – sama is internal restraint, the restraint of the inner organs, and dama is external restraint, the restraint of the outer organs – and who is calm and quiet, composed in mind, when such a person approaches the Guru for the sake of that Imperishable Purusha who is to be known, the Truth of all truths, the Guru speaks. What does he speak? He speaks the essentials of Brahma-Vidya – tattvato brahma-vidyam.

Now we are given some indication as to what this Brahma-Vidya is. Up to this, it is some kind of introduction. We have been introduced into the essence of the Upanishad in all these passages that we have gone through up to this time. Now comes the real import of the Upanishad, which is supposed to be the teaching of the Guru to the sincere disciple.