Commentary on the Mundaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 3: Section 2

Sa vedaitat paramam brahma dhāma yatra viśvaṁ nihitam bhāti śubhram, upāste puruṣam ye hy akāmās te śukram etad ativartanti dhīrāḥ (3.2.1): Whoever knows this Brahman in which the Universe in all its vastness is fixed and which shines more radiantly than the Sun, and those people who are devoted to such a person without any kind of earthly desire, go beyond the chances of coming back to this world by rebirth. The possibility of rebirth is severed completely because the cause of rebirth, which is the remainder of the sanchita karmas, is burnt and becomes like a burnt seed.

The karma of the Jivanmukta Purusha is compared to a burnt seed or a burnt cloth. A burnt cloth may look like a cloth, but if we touch it, it is ashes. A burnt seed cannot germinate into a plant though it may look like a seed to all outside perceptions. So is the condition in this world of the knower of Brahman. He transcends the causes of rebirth – śukram etad ativartanti – and therefore people adore these great beings. By the vibration that automatically arises around this person, a kind of purifying atmosphere is created. There is an aura around a knower of Brahman which reaches some distance according to the intensity of the realisation. It may be some feet, some kilometres, or even longer distances. The light of the Atman emanating from within into longer distances outside the body is called the aura of a person. The radiance cannot be seen with the eyes, but those effects can be felt.

There was a great saint and sage called Raghavendra Swami, and his Samadhi is in Mantralaya, which is now in Andhra Pradesh. It seems that three astrologers met him and saw his horoscope to find out how long he would live. One of the astrologers said 100 years, another astrologer said 300 years, and the third astrologer said 700 years. How is it possible that three great astrologers say that he would live for 100, 300 or 700 years? The saint, who was present while this discussion was taking place, said that all three astrologers were correct. For 100 years his body will last, for 300 years people will read the works written by him, and for 700 years his aura will be felt around his Samadhi. This is the great proclamation of the saint himself, and they say that whoever goes to Mantralaya and sleeps there for 3 nights expressing some wish, that wish will be fulfilled because of the greatness of the aura that continues to operate at that place for 700 years after his passing. I think 700 years are not over yet, so you can go and see what happens. Such is the power of the knower of Brahman.

Kāmān yah kāmayate manyamānaḥ sa kāmabhir jāyate tatra tatra, paryāpta-kāmasya kṛtāmanas tu ihaiva sarve pravilīyanti kāmāḥ (3.2.2): If we desire anything, we will be born according to the nature of the desire. Inasmuch as every day we accumulate desires and go on piling them one over the other, and the duration of our lifespan is not long enough to permit us to enjoy all those desires, we die before the desires are fulfilled. Some of them are of course fulfilled, but many of them are not, and our unfulfilled desires will decide where we will be reborn. Therefore, it is up to each person to go on investigating into their own mind and probe into what kind of desires are inside – whether subtle or gross, visible or invisible, covert or overt. It is proper and good for everyone to make a list of all their desires if desires are there, though it is better if they are not there. If desires are there, we must fulfil them in this birth itself in some manner or we must sublimate them by higher means. One way or the other, desires should not be there at the time of passing; otherwise, the jiva, the sushma sarira, the mind and the senses will directly gravitate in the direction of that location where it is possible for the mind to fulfil its desires. So rebirth is unavoidable for those who entertain desires in their mind.

Kāmān yah kāmayate manyamānaḥ sa kāmabhir jāyate tatra tatra: Whatever be the desire, accordingly one will be reborn in that particular place corresponding to the nature of the desire; but if the desires are all dissolved here – paryāpta-kāmasya kṛtāmanas tu – if we have done whatever is to be done and there is nothing more for us to do in this world, if we have known whatever is to be known in this world and there is nothing more to be known, and if we have seen and enjoyed things enough in this world and there is nothing more to be enjoyed, the desires melt instantaneously here at this very spot. All the desires melt into liquefied form, and they shall not cause any solidification of our mind in the form of rebirth.

Ihaiva sarve pravilīyanti kāmāḥ: Because of the fact all the desires are fulfilled, we are what is called kratakritya, praptaprapya and jnatajneya. Kratakritya is one who has done what is to be done, praptaprapya is one who has obtained what is to be obtained, and jnatajneya is one who has known what is to be known, and nothing more is left. Hence, the mind cannot have any occasion to desire another body for fulfilling itself because the mind itself will not be there when the desires go. It is good, therefore, to see that these desires melt. If there are desires, fulfil them and somehow or the other see that they are not there.

Nāyam ātmā pravacanena labhyo na medhayā, na bahunā śrutena: yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyas tasyaiṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanūṁ svām (3.2.3): This verse also occurs in the Kathopanishad. It means that logical dispositions are not the means of knowing the Atman – not by intellection, not by academic knowledge, not by of scriptural study. It shall be known only by that person who is chosen by the Atman. If it is God’s will that we should know him, we shall know him. It is the grace of God. Dhātu-prasādān mahimānam ātmanaḥ (Katha 2.20) is mentioned in the Kathopanishad. The grace of God is operating everywhere as events in this world, cosmic history and the fate of people. The past, present and future of every individual is written in the firmament of the cosmos; and therefore, it is up to us to devote ourselves to the Supreme Atman, the Soul of the universe, God Almighty, that we shall be in its good books.

Nāyam ātmā bala-hīnena labhyo na ca pramādāt tapso vāpy aliṅgāt etair upāyair yatate yas tu vidvāṁs tasyaiṣa ātmā viśate brahma-dhāma (3.2.4): A weakling cannot attain the Atman. The word ‘bala-hīnena’ has been used here in a different sense. It does not mean that elephants will reach God and human beings will not because elephants have greater strength than humans. Here strength means toughness of the inner spirit. Of course it also means physical health, which is very necessary; but more than that, it means inner toughness of spiritual aspiration and the power of tapas, the strength of freedom from desire. All these are implied here by ‘energy’, ‘strength’, ‘bala’, and whoever has not this bala, or strength, cannot attain the Atman. The Atman is great energy, power and potency; and that can be reached only by a powerful person, spiritually great in energy. Therefore, weaklings cannot reach the most powerful. Neither should we be physically weak, nor mentally, nor intellectually, nor spiritually, nor ethically. We should be strong in every field.

Na ca pramādāt: A heedless, careless and slipshod attitude towards the Atman will not take you there. How concentrated your mind has to be is mentioned here. Today I think of the Atman, tomorrow I think of the anatman; today I sleep away, tomorrow I shall do work; the day after tomorrow I shall eat, and go for a walk, then go on tour, and do every blessed thing distractedly, in a perfunctory manner. This is called pramada or careless behaviour. A person who is careless in his attitude towards the Atman will not reach it.

Tapso vāpy aliṅgāt: By any kind of ostentation, pretention, vainglorious appearance in public life, this is not to be attained. The great in society need not be really great in the eye of God. And austerities which are just physically oriented, and even torturous mental restraints, may not be adequate for the sake of the Atman because the highest tapas is love of God. Mumukshutva and all austerity converge in this intense longing, devotion, and any kind of tapas or austerity minus devotion or longing and ends only in a kind of mortification of the spirit will not lead us to the Atman.

Nāyam ātmā bala-hīnena labhyo na ca pramādāt tapso vāpy aliṅgāt etair upāyair yatate yas tu vidvāṁs tasyaiṣa ātmā viśate brahma-dhāma: All these methods that have been described earlier in this Upanishad have to be adopted. And we know what these methods are. Satyena labhyas tapasā hy eṣa ātmā (2.2.5) etc. is mentioned in earlier verses. Satya, ahimsa, brahmacharya, aparigraha, asteya are one’s powers. And the method of meditation has also been mentioned. By drawing the bow of the Pranava of the Upanishad and discharging the arrow of the Atman on the target of Brahman with the force of devotion, you shall find yourself merged in Brahman as an arrow merges in the object or the target. Unless intense meditation is carried on day in and day out for a protracted period, the knots of the heart cannot be broken, avidya, kama, karma cannot go, and the body may leave you at any time. Life is very short. And even in this short span of life, you do not know the length of life that is actually granted to you. It may end tomorrow, the day after, or two days after. A little grain of rice stuck in the throat will see you in heaven in one minute. So do not be proud of your glory, power, wealth, and the imaginary length of time in this world. Frail is this body, uncertain is life and, therefore, gird up your loins just now, and not tomorrow. There is a saying in Hindi – kal kare to aaj kar, aaj kare to aab: If there is something which you can do tomorrow, it is better you do it today itself, and if there is something which you can do it today, it is better to do it just now. Why postpone it until tomorrow? Tomorrow may not come at all.

Now the following verses, with which we will conclude the Upanishad, speak of the final attainment of the soul, unity with Brahman, the attainment of the final goal. How do we attain that? Some examples and illustrations are given here to make it clear as to how we unite ourselves with Brahman.

Samprāpyainam ṛṣayo jñāna-tṛptāḥ kṛtātmāno vīta-rāgāḥ praśāntāḥ, te sarvagaṁ sarvataḥ prāpya dhīrā yuktātmānas sarvam evāviśanti (3.2.5): Those who are calm and quiet in their minds, free from internal desires and external constraints of the senses, wanting nothing – those who have done everything that is to be done in this world and are ready to leave, bag and baggage, satisfied with knowledge only and wanting nothing else through knowledge, knowing knowledge as the final end in itself, realising that knowledge is being and it is not an instrument for the acquisition of something outside – having attained the Atman by these means, the blessed souls enter into that which is everywhere, from all sides, and become all themselves. The soul, when it enters Brahman, enters into that which is everywhere; and enters not only from one direction or from one passage, it enters from all sides. When we enter a house, we enter through one door only, and not through all the doors. But the soul, inasmuch as it has expanded its dimension to infinity, enters Brahman, which is everywhere, from every side. From all ten directions, the soul will enter Brahman. And having entered it, the Atman becomes all things.

What is meant by ‘all things’? This is a question of interpretation according to the school of thought. It may mean becoming all things, it may mean becoming the Supreme Absolute which is all things. This is a simple and plain answer. Or it may mean becoming all the fourteen worlds at one stroke so that in our very personality we will see the fourteen worlds scintillating as Virat Svarupa itself. Or it may mean that we are able to see ourselves in every little creature in this world, in every leaf, tree, stone and atom. The Sun, the Moon, the stars and the firmament – we will find ourselves spread out everywhere. So whatever be the manner in which we understand this state of affairs, the final significance is that the soul, having become infinite on account of total freedom from all desires, enters the Infinite. It is the Infinite entering the Infinite. Therefore, it enters in an infinite manner and becomes the Infinite itself. So the Infinite enters the Infinite in infinite ways, and becomes the Infinite. That is the meaning of this half verse: te sarvagaṁ sarvataḥ prāpya dhīrā yuktātmānas sarvam evāviśanti. It is a great blessedness to listen to these words. Even listening to these words and bestowing a little thought on what this means will purge us of all our sins and past karmas.

Vedāntā-vijñāna-suniścitārthāḥ saṁnyāsa-yogād yatayaḥ śuddhasttvāḥ, te brahma-lokeṣu parāntakāle parāṁṛtāḥ parimucyanti sarve (3.2.6): Those seekers, knowers, whose internal nature has been purified by a life of intense quest and renunciation, and those who are well established in the Atman and who have been illumined by the knowledge of the Vedanta Shastra, whose minds have been fixed forever in one given direction, who have attained a conviction which is forever certainty and no shaking of that conviction is ever possible, such great souls reach Brahmaloka.

There are two kinds of mukti mentioned here. The earlier verse which we read just now describes sadyomukti. What we are reading now will describe kramamukti. Sadhyomukti is immediate liberation just here. Wherever we depart, whichever be the place where we die or cast off the body, at that very spot we merge into Brahman. If a drop in the ocean is to unite itself with the ocean, it need not have to travel some hundreds of kilometres to reach the ocean; it is just there. It dives into the very bosom of its own source the ocean. In a similar manner, the soul need not have to travel in some direction – go to the Sun, Moon, stars, etc. It dissolves here itself because that which it has to reach is at the very spot where it is. That is called sadyomukti, immediate liberation, which is very rarely obtained. It is attained with great difficulty by those most blessed ones who have no desires at all of any kind.

Otherwise, the lesser ones reach Brahmaloka gradually through the Devayana Marga, through the rays of the Sun, through the Sun, and then through lightning, and through a Mahapurusha who comes and takes the soul by the hand to Brahmaloka. It is said that this soul will remain in Brahmaloka for as long as this universe lasts, which means to say for such length of time as Brahma himself rules this cosmos. At the end of the universe – the pralaya or the ultimate dissolution of the cosmos – the universe is dissolved, and together with it Brahma also is dissolved. And when Brahma and the universe are dissolved in ultimate pralaya, the souls abiding there will also dissolve, and will attain absolute Brahman. Until that time they will be in the region of the Creator for as long as the Universe lasts. This is called kramamukti, the graduated system of attainment of liberation in the case of those who have sattvic desires, who have done great sattvic upasanas and worshipped God with devotion but sattvic karma is still persisting and therefore they will not immediately merge with Brahman. They will reach up through the graduated scale prepared by prakriti through the sattva guna, and having reached Brahamaloka at the end of time, they merge with Brahman. Either way it is good; there is no harm. Let us go through Brahamaloka if we cannot have immediate liberation – te brahma-lokeṣu parāntakāle parāṁṛtāḥ parimucyanti sarve.

Gatāḥ kalāḥ pañcadaśa pratiṣṭhā devāś ca sarve prati-devatāsu, karmāñi vijñānamayaś ca ātmā pare’vyaye sarve ekī-bhavanti (3.2.7): All the faculties get dissolved. There are various faculties in us. There are five senses of knowledge, five senses of action, five pranas, and there is manas, buddhi, ahankara, chitta. These are the kalas, or the faculties. They suddenly melt like snow before the heating Sun.

Gatāḥ kalāḥ pañcadaśa pratiṣṭhā: Here fifteen faculties are mentioned, which are actually the five pranas, the five senses of knowledge, and the five senses of action. With the mind included, it becomes sixteen. But here fifteen are mentioned, and these fifteen or we may say sixteen kalas – all the perceptive and cognitive faculties – dissolve. Together with that dissolution, individuality itself dissolves.

Devāś ca sarve prati-devatāsu: All the divinities superintending over the sense organs also withdraw themselves. They also get dissolved because the locations of these gods are dissolved. When one’s seat is gone, one has to quit that place. So the gods who were controlling our sense organs, our faculties – Brahma was ruling the intellect, Moon was ruling the mind, Rudra was ruling the ego, Vishnu was ruling the chitta, the Sun was ruling the eye, and so on – these gods will no longer have a function to perform; they return to their original sources, and the faculties merge.

Gatāḥ kalāḥ pañcadaśa pratiṣṭhā devāś ca sarve prati-devatāsu karmāñi vijñānamayaś ca ātmā pare’vyaye sarve ekī-bhavanti: Even our karmas are dissolved. We need not to pay penalties for what we have done because the fire of knowledge has burnt all actions to ashes. The fire of knowledge can reduce to ashes even a mountain of sins. And the intellect, which is the seat of the ego, also goes with it. What happens? This individual soul, with all these appurtenances mentioned, with all its properties and belongings, psychically in their nature, go and settle themselves in that Imperishable Being and get united with it. This is the state of mokshapare’vyaye sarve ekī-bhavanti.

Yathā nadyas syandamānās samudre astam gacchanti nāma-rūpe vihāya, tathā vidvān nāma-rūpād vimuktaḥ parāt-param puruṣam upaiti divyam (3.2.8): We attain to that Supreme Eternal Purusha and merge into that Purusha, uniting ourselves with that Supreme Being. As rivers flowing in different directions commingle with the ocean and we cannot know where what river is, all the jivas who have been liberated will melt into this great Atman, the Universal Being, as rivers melt in the ocean. As nama and rupa, names and forms, are dissolved in the ocean – Ganga is no more Ganga, Yamuna is no more Yamuna, and no river is there by its name and form because it is one mass of equality and merger – so this person, that person, this thing and that thing, whatever we see in this world, casts aside name and form. It is lifted above the encasement of names and forms in that big sea, and made to identify itself only with the vast ocean of Imperishable Being. Tathā vidvān nāma-rūpād vimuktaḥ: The knower of Brahman, having cast aside all names and forms, attains to that Supreme Being above all conceivable divinities in the cosmos. That supreme Purusha becomes our whole – parāt-param puruṣam upaiti divyam.

The Upanishad is over. You have attained the Supreme Brahman. What else do you want to hear now?

Sa yo ha vai tat paramam brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati, nāsyābrahma-vit kule bhavati, tarati śokaṁ tarati pāpmānaṁ guhā-granthibhyo vimukto’mṛto bhavati (3.2.9): If you know this Brahman, you shall become Brahman. Whatever you think you are, that you really are. If you know that your existence is inseparable from that Universal Brahman, you shall become That. Whoever knows Brahman becomes Brahman.

Nāsyābrahma-vit kule bhavati: In case the knower of Brahman is a householder, no non-knower will be born in his family for seven generations because of the power of the realisation of this person. It is said that if one person in a family attains God, seven generations behind and seven generation ahead also will attain liberation by the power of this one person attaining Brahman. So parents should not cry if one son attains God. Tarati śokaṁ tarati pāpmānaṁ: You cross over sorrow, cross over all sins, and break all the knots of the heart. Guhā-granthibhyo vimukto’mṛto bhavati: Immortal nectar do you become.

Tad etat ṛcābhyuktam: kriyāvantas śrotriyā brahmaniṣṭhās svayaṁ juhvata ekaṛṣim śraddhayantaḥ, teṣam evaitām brahma-vidyāṁ vadeta śirovrataṁ vidhivad yais tu cīrṇam (3.2.10): This Upanishad is not to be taught to everybody. This is what this mantra says. We should not go on blabbering it in public, unless they are sufficiently purified in their minds to receive its import and meaning. Kriyāvantaḥ: Only those people who have performed their duties well in this life should listen to it. Otherwise, they will have a wrong notion of there being no duty in this world and will be like a half-baked pot or a raw vegetable, which is of no utility. They will be neither here nor there. Attainment of God does not mean violating duties and rules that bind us to the conditions in which we are.

The duties that we are expected to discharge in this world are the automatic consequence of the location of our personality in society. We must find out where we are actually seated. Our physical body, our mind and our very existence is conditioned by certain external atmospheres. We know very well what the requirements of our existence in the world are, and the sources which fulfil the requirements are those to which we owe some obligation. Somebody serves us, somebody protects us, somebody is taking care of us, somebody sees that we are secure. We know very well how our life in this world is made possible by the operation of various social and natural factors. To those things, we owe an obligation.

Therefore, kriyāvantaḥ: those who have fulfilled their duties and discharged their obligations; śrotriyāḥ: who know very well the import of the scriptures and do not have any kind of misunderstanding about them; brahmaniṣṭhāḥ: whose mind is fixed in Brahman and who have no desire at all apart from that; svayaṁ juhvata ekaṛṣim śraddhayantaḥ: who have performed those sacrifices that are expected to be performed through the stages of life that they have passed – Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, Sannyasa, etc. Teṣam evaitām brahma-vidyāṁ vadeta: You shall speak this Brahma-vidhya, knowledge of this Upanishad, only to these people, and do not speak it to other people. Śirovrataṁ vidhivad yais tu cīrṇam: You should speak this Upanishad only to those who have performed shirovrata. The word ‘shirovrata’ has been explained in various ways. It is said to mean the vow of the head. Some commentators say it is Sannyasa, as shaving the head or carrying fire on the head is also one form of sacrifice that is performed before one enters into the Sannyasa order. It is also called Mundaka Upanishad. Mundaka means shaving, mund, and so the word ‘mundaka’ as well as the word ‘shirovrata’ seem to imply that this Upanishad is intended only for Sannyasis, and those who have not discharged their duties as householders, Brahmacharis or whatever they are in the world under the conditions they are placed in life cannot become Sannyasis, and those who have desires in their mind also cannot become Sannyasis. But those who have fulfilled this condition, to them this Upanishad be taught, and only then this instruction will become properly fructified.

Tad etat satyam ṛṣir aṅgirāḥ purovāca, naitad a-cīrṇa-vrato’dhīte, namaḥ parama-ṛṣibhyo namaḥ parma-rṣibhyaḥ (3.2.11). At the very beginning of this Upanishad, Saunaka put a question to Angiras: What is that by knowing which everything can be known? And the whole Upanishad is an answer to that question, what is that by which we can know all things. Thus is the answer which Angiras gave to Saunaka and all the Rishis who were there in the audience. And this was told in early days. Naitad a-cīrṇa-vrato’dhīte: One who has not fulfilled his duties, one who has not undergone the necessary discipline for this purpose, will not read this Upanishad. Namaḥ parama-ṛṣibhyo namaḥ parma-rṣibhyaḥ: Prostrations be to the great sages, prostrations be to the great sages who have given us this great knowledge of the Upanishad.