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Lessons on the Upanishads
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: The Mandukya Upanishad

Yesterday we observed that the human individual is a microcosmic specimen of the entire creative process of the cosmos. The layers, or degrees of reality, that constitute the universe are also to be found in the human individual in the form of the koshas, or the sheaths, as they are called: the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and the causal. These are known in the Sanskrit language as annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, manomaya kosha, vijnanamaya kosha and anandamaya kosha. These are the five layers of objectivity which, in a gradational form, externalise consciousness. The grosser the sheath, the greater is the force of externality, so that when consciousness enters the physical body, we are totally material in our outlook, physical in our understanding and assessment of values, intensely body-conscious, and know nothing of ourselves except this body. It is only when we go inward that we have access to the subtler layers of our personality, not otherwise.

The Taittiriya Upanishad deals with this subject of the five layers, known as the koshas; and the Mandukya Upanishad, which is another important Upanishad, sometimes considered as the most important, deals with the very same koshas in a different way—namely, by way of the elucidation of the involvement of consciousness in these koshas. The five koshas have been classified into three groups: the physical, the subtle and the causal. In the waking state in which we are now, for instance, the physical body is intensely operative and we always think in terms of the physical body, physical objects and physical sensations.

This physical sensation is absent in the state of dream, but three of the koshas operate in dream. All the five are operative in the waking condition, concentrating their action mostly on the physical body. The physical body is not operative in the dream state, but the vital, the mental and the intellectual sheaths are active. The prana is there, the mind is there, and the intellect is there, in a diminished intensity. We breathe, we think and we understand in the state of dream. That means the prana, manas and buddhi are all active in the state of dream minus the physical element—namely, the body consciousness. In the state of deep sleep, none of these are active. Neither the body is operative there, nor the mind, nor the intellect, nor is there any consciousness that we are even breathing. The consciousness is withdrawn entirely from all the sheaths—physical, vital, mental and intellectual. There is only one sheath operating in the state of sleep. That is the causal sheath—the anandamaya kosha, as it is called in Sanskrit.

In the waking condition, the senses are physically and materially very active. The Mandukya Upanishad tells us that in the waking state we enjoy, we experience and we contact things in nineteen ways. Consciousness has nineteen mouths through which it eats the food of objective experience. What are these nineteen mouths? They are the five senses of knowledge: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. With these five sensations we come in contact with things in the world outside and enjoy them with the actions and reactions produced by means of such sensory contact. These five mentioned are called senses of knowledge, or jnana indriyas. They are so called because they give us some sort of knowledge of either sight or sound or taste or smell or touch.

Apart from these five senses of knowledge, there are five organs of action. They do not give us any independent knowledge, but they act. The hand that grasps is one organ of action; the speech that articulates words is another organ of action; the feet that cause locomotion or movement are also organs of action; the generative organ and the excretory organ are also two of the active elements, or organs of action. They act, but they do not give any new knowledge. Whatever idea, knowledge, experience, etc., we may have through any one of these organs of action comes through the sensations already mentioned—namely, the jnana indriyas. Even when the organs of action act and we are conscious that they are acting, this consciousness is available only through the jnana indriyas and not separately through the organs of action. They do not give additional knowledge. It looks as if we have some sensation even through the organs of action, but actually it is not so. The sensation, the experience of the actions of the karma indriyas, as they are called, arises on account of the simultaneous action of the jnana indriyas, or senses of knowledge. So these five senses of knowledge and five organs of action make ten mouths of consciousness.

There are five pranas. The prana, or the vital energy in us, operates in five ways. When we breathe out, expel the breath, the prana is active. When we breathe in, when we inhale the breath, the apana is active. The vyana is the third form of the operation of this energy. It causes circulation of blood and makes us feel a sensation of liveliness in every part of the body. The operative action of the bloodstream is pushed onwards in a circular fashion throughout the body by the action of a particular function of prana called vyana. There is another action of the prana, which is udana. It causes the swallowing of food. When we put food in the mouth, it goes inside through the epiglottis and it is pushed down by the action of a prana called udana. Udana has also certain other functions to perform; it takes us to deep sleep. Our jiva consciousness, our individualised consciousness, is pushed into a state of somnolence. That also is the work of udana. Udana also has a third function to perform, namely, the separation of the vital body from the physical body at the time of death. Three actions, three performances are attributed to udana. The fifth prana, samana, operates through the navel region and causes the digestion of food. It creates heat in the stomach and in the navel region, causing the gastric juices to operate, and so we feel appetite. Hunger is created, and food is digested by the action of samana. Thus there are five pranas: prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana. Five senses of knowledge, five organs of action and five pranas make fifteen ways in which we contact things.

There are four functions of the psychic organ. The internal psyche, which is generally called manas—or mind, in ordinary language—has four functions. In Sanskrit these four functions are designated as manas, buddhi, ahamkara and chitta. Manas is ordinary, indeterminate thinking—just being aware that something is there. That is the work of the mind; that is manas. Buddhi determines, decides and logically comes to the conclusion that something is such and such a thing. That is another aspect of the operation of the psyche —buddhi, or intellect. The third form of the mind is ego, ahamkara, affirmation, assertion. “I know that there is some object in front of me and I also know that I know. I know that I am existing as this so-and-so.” This kind of affirmation attributed to one's own individuality is the work of ahamkara, known as egoism. The subsconscious action, memory, etc., are called the chitta, which is the fourth function. Thus, manas, buddhi, ahamkara and chitta are the four basic functions of the internal organ, the psychological organ.

Hence we have five senses of knowledge, five organs of action, five pranas and four operations of the psyche, totalling nineteen. Consciousness grasps objects from outside through these mouths. We feel secure and happy because all these nineteen aspects are acting at the same time, in some form or other, with more or less emphasis. Any one of the nineteen can act at any time under special given conditions. Inasmuch as any one can act at any time, it is virtually saying that all are acting at the same time. Therefore, we are actively, objectively conscious through the nineteen operative media of the individual consciousness in the waking condition. We are aware of this vast world of sensory perception, and we go on contacting these objects of the world through these media.

In this connection, it is also mentioned that we can conceive this form of perception in a cosmic way. Cosmic-consciousness can be conceived to be operative in this manner in a cosmic waking condition. Just as we are individually conscious of objects in this waking condition of ours, in a similar manner we can conceive that the Universal consciousness is awake to the world of daylight. The whole universe is the object of the consciousness of a consciousness, in a manner similar to an individualised, circumscribed world becoming the object of our individual consciousness in the waking state. The terms for this waking state are jagrat-avastha, jagrat-sthana. For instance, ‘visva' is the word used to designate consciousness in the waking, individualised state. Our consciousness, the jiva tattva, this individuality of ours during this moment of waking, is called visva. And, this very waking world of universal expanse in space and time, animated by a universal consciousness, is called vaisvanara or virat. ‘Virat' is the word sometimes used. There is a consciousness pervading all things, as we know already. If this consciousness—which is universal and is hidden behind all things—is to be aware of the whole cosmos as we perceive in our waking condition, that cosmic, waking awareness of the whole universe may be regarded as virat tattva, Cosmic-consciousness of the whole physical world—the entire cosmos of physicality.

We have heard that Sri Krishna manifested the virat-svarupa before Arjuna. In the Purusha Sukta also, we have some sort of description in which the Cosmic Being is conceived as animating the whole physical cosmos. We have to understand here that the physical cosmos is not merely this earth, but is all the layers of externality—which are computerised, as it were, into fourteen categories, known in Sanskrit as bhulok, bhuvarlok, svarlok, maharlok, janalok, tapolok and satyalok. The whole cosmos, in all the levels of its manifestation, is at once an object of the awareness of this Cosmic Being. Such an awakened waking state, as it were, of the Cosmic-consciousness is virat—known also as vaisvanara in the language of the Upanishads. Individually, the microcosmic aspect of this virat is visva, your own or my own waking experience as it is available just now, for instance.

Hence, through nineteen mouths we experience objects of the world in this waking condition. We can conceive, for our own intellectual satisfaction, that the universe also operates in this manner. And God-consciousness, imagined to be operating through this waking condition everywhere, is an expanded form of our individualised consciousness. While we in our waking state know only certain things, God as the Universal consciousness knows all things at the same time. This is, briefly, a description of the consciousness involved in the waking state. The total physical perception—in which the consciousness is involved—is the objective world of the waking state of consciousness.

In the dream state something else happens. The actual physical world—which is seen, contacted through the sense organs in the waking state—is absent, but it looks as if it is present even in the dream state due to an action of the mind. Without the assistance of the gross senses and of the organs of action which are active in the waking condition, the mind alone concocts, imagines, projects a world of its own and we see a world in dream. We exist there, in the dream, in the same manner as we exist in the waking state. We can see ourselves now seated here in the waking state; in a similar way, we can see ourselves seeing certain things in the dream state also. There is a ‘dream me' in the same way as there is a ‘waking me'. There is also a dream world. We see all sorts of things in the waking state—mountains, rivers, sun, moon, stars, and all kinds of people. We can see all that in the dream world also. There is space, time and externality in dream, as there is in the waking state. The difference between the waking and the dream is that the mind has created the entire world of external cognition and perception of its own accord without the assistance of externally existing physical objects or physical sensations.

In dream also there are nineteen mouths operating. We have dream eyes, dream ears, a dream nose, a dream tongue that tastes, dream touch and dream legs, dream hands, dream organs of every kind. In dream we run with legs; we eat a good meal in dream. We can even live and die—even that experience is possible in dream. One can feel that one is born or one can feel that one is dead; one can observe one's own cremation in dream. All kinds of fantastic things can be experienced in dream. A new world is projected by the mind. Space, time, causation, objects, people, all blessed things are in the dream world because the psyche is operating through the vital energy, the mind and the intellect in a diminished form—not in an active way. The only difference is that the physical body is not there as an object of awareness. People sometimes sleep with their mouths open; if a few particles of sugar are put on the tongue of a sleeping man, he will not taste it because his mind is withdrawn.

The mind is the main operative organ that causes the sensations of seeing, hearing, tasting, etc. Even the ego is very active in dream. If somebody calls us—either in dream or deep sleep—by a name that is not ours, we will not listen to it; we will not wake up. If John is sleeping and he is called Jacob, he will not wake up. John must be summoned only as John. That is, the ego is so very intensely identified with this particular name-form complex that it is active even there, in the submerged condition of dream and sleep. So the nineteen mouths of the waking condition are psychologically projected by the mind in the dreaming state also. There also we have all these experiences, every blessed thing, as we have in the waking state.

The Mandukya Upanishad is a study of these states. It is said that if we understand the Mandukya Upanishad and its implications properly, we need not read any other Upanishad. Mandukyam ekam evalam mumukshunam vimuktaye (Muktika 1.27): “For the sake of the liberation of the Soul, one Upanishad is sufficient—the Mandukya Upanishad” provided it is understood properly in its deep connotations. You should not just read it only by way of understanding the word meaning of it. The suggestion given by the Mandukya Upanishad is to take your consciousness deeper and deeper into the very root of your personality—from external sensations, from body, etc., to what you really are in your deepest essence.

There is a third state called sleep, where not only are you not aware of the body, but even the psychological functions are not there. The mind does not think, the intellect does not decide, and you do not know that you even exist there. Your existence itself is abolished, as it were. It is a state of nothingness, but you are not even aware that it is nothing. To be aware that it is a nothing would be something, but you are not even aware that it is nothing. It is pure, unadulterated nothing. But, what is happening there? Are you dead? No, you are very much alive. Who told you that you were alive in sleep, when it was a nothing and your awareness was totally obliterated by something? You are totally oblivious of all things happening there. When you did not even know that you were existing, how did you come to the conclusion that you were alive at that time? Nobody told you. You yourself conclude, “I am the same person now that I was before I slept yesterday. I am not another person. Therefore, I must have been existing during sleep.” But how do you know that you are the same person? You may be another person. Every day you could change and become somebody else, but this does not happen.

A continuity of consciousness is maintained between yesterday's experience and today's experience. Is this not interesting and surprising? You are very certain that today you are the same person that you were yesterday and your consciousness continues through even the sleep condition, making you feel that you exist today in the same way as you existed yesterday. That is to say, you did exist in the state of deep sleep. The proof of it is only your conviction that you are the same person today as you were yesterday. You have a memory of having slept. Now, if consciousness must have existed in the state of deep sleep, you must have existed as consciousness only. You did not exist as a body, mind, intellect or anything else. You were not even aware of the act of breathing at that time. You existed as consciousness only.

So, do you believe that your essential nature is consciousness? Even minus all these appurtenances of body, mind, intellect, if you can exist nevertheless, why should you imagine that you are the body, mind, intellect, etc.? If I can exist minus something, that thing from which I am withdrawn is not me, really speaking. If I can be safe without something, that something is redundant. Therefore, the body is a redundant thing, and the mind and intellect are also not us. You are pure shuddha chaitanya, as it is called—Pure Consciousness. In that state you existed. There is no other thing that can be regarded as an attribute of your being in that condition. Consciousness was your essential nature.

What were you conscious of? You were conscious of nothing; it was conscious of consciousness only. It was a consciousness of existence, about which we discussed earlier. It was not a consciousness of something; it was a consciousness of consciousness existing. You were aware that you were aware, that is all—nothing more, nothing less. It was Being-Consciousness, and you were very happy, so it was Bliss also. You know how happy you are after having gone into a good sleep. You rub your eyes and you would like to continue to sleep a little more. You were so free in sleep that you would like to go to sleep again. All the botheration, the turmoil of this world is no longer there. Sometimes you feel: “Let me go to bed and forget the devil of this world.” Thus, in the state of deep sleep you existed as Pure Consciousness. Sat-chit-ananda was your real nature in the state of deep sleep.

This Consciousness, which is sat-chit-ananda, was not merely inside the body, as you may wrongly imagine once again, even after having deduced this wonderful conclusion that you were Pure Consciousness. It is a wonderful conclusion, indeed, that you are essentially Pure Consciousness, but again you may commit the mistake of thinking that it is inside the body. Pure Consciousness is not inside anything; it is all things. We have already concluded in earlier sessions that consciousness is all-pervading; it cannot be confined to one individuality only. To be conscious that it is only in one place and not in another place is to virtually accept that consciousness is in another place also. Otherwise, how would consciousness know that it is not in some other place unless it has already been there? Hence, the negation of consciousness in some other place is actually an affirmation of it in that place. Negation is determination.

Therefore, the second conclusion that we draw by this analysis is that in the state of deep sleep we existed as Pure Consciousness—not a little consciousness inside the body, but a pervading consciousness which is everywhere. Cosmic-consciousness was there; Universal-consciousness was our essential nature in deep sleep. But why is it that we are not aware of such a condition? We wake up as the same fools that we were before we entered the state of deep sleep. We do not wake up as wise persons. The same idiot goes and the same idiot comes back. Why is this, in spite of this wondrous conclusion? A peculiar operation is catching hold of us. The impression and the impact caused by this operation is the reason why we come up as the old fools, though it appears that we were not really fools during deep sleep.

We have passed through various lives; we have taken many births. This life is one link in the long chain of the births that we have undergone, maybe thousands in number. In every birth we think something, feel something, do something; and every thought, every feeling, every action creates an impression in the psyche. The psyche is nothing but the individualised centre of consciousness. This impression is nothing but a remnant of a desire remaining after a particular experience. If we see something, we would like to see it again. If we like something, we want to continue with that liking again, as much as possible. The like and the dislike, so-called, which is a basic operation of the mind of an individual, create an impression in the mind—a groove, as it were—and create a propulsion in the psyche to repeat the experience again. This goes on day after day, every day, and we pile up impressions, one over the other, so that these heaped-up impressions become something like a thick cloud covering our consciousness.

This happens in one life; but if many lives are taken in this manner, what would happen? There would be complete darkness—like an eclipse of the sun or the experience of utter midnight during the monsoon season—even in the waking condition, even in the daytime. This cloud weighs so heavily upon us that it does not permit us to know that we were aware in the state of deep sleep. Thus, the transcendental being that we really are in  the state of deep sleep is almost a negation of our existence because of the heavy weight that is sitting upon us.

Suppose you are given a very good lunch, very tasty, and at the same time five quintals of heavy weight are placed on your head. Will you enjoy the food? Unless that weight is removed, this eating has no meaning. So this experience of a transcendental awareness of your true nature in the state of deep sleep does not have any significance for you on account of the heavy weight of karma potentials which compel you to think only in one way, in a stereotyped fashion—like with blinkers, as it were. And you cannot think in any other way. You may take any number of lives, pass through birth after birth, but you are the same person. You do not become different, because you are whipped by the desires which have produced those impressions earlier. As a horse being whipped by a rider is compelled to move in one direction only, you are forced to think only in one way: this space, this time, this causation, this object, this person, this me, this somebody else.

The Mandukya Upanishad gives this analysis of our basic nature, but it is said that we will attain moksha by gaining this knowledge: Mandukyam ekam evalam mumukshunam vimuktaye. How will we get moksha by knowing this? It is also added that we are the same foolish person; we have never become different. This foolishness of ours can be removed by the gradual practice of yoga. The suggestion of a particular kind of yoga that is made by the Mandukya Upanishad is the recitation of pranava, or omkara. It has a simple way, a very easy means of meditation to tell us. It is no complicated thing—just recitation of pranava. OM is the pranava, or the omkara, which is a blend of three syllables or letters: A, U, M. A-U-M becomes OM.

When you chant OM, when you articulate your vocal organ in the recitation of OM, all parts of the vocal organ act simultaneously in such a way that they are supposed to be uttering every letter at that time. This is why all languages are supposed to be included in OM. All the articulatory process takes place in the recitation of OM, if you can properly observe it.

The visva, as I mentioned, is the name given to the waking consciousness; the dreaming consciousness is called taijasa; the sleeping consciousness is called prajna and the transcendental consciousness is the Atman. So, visva, taijasa, prajna and Atman are the designations of the very same consciousness involved in the physical body and the physical sensations involved in dream perception, involved in sleep, and not involved in anything—existing as transcendent. In a way, the letters of the mantra OM—A, U, M—are identified by the Mandukya Upanishad, with these three states. ‘A' is waking, ‘U' is dreaming, ‘M' is sleeping and AUM, or OM, is the Atman. Tasya vacakah pranavah (Y.S. 1.27), says Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras: “OM is the name of the Ultimate Reality.” The Name of God is OM; He has no other name. As God is all-pervading, His name also should be all-inclusive. We do not call Him ‘ka', ‘kha', ‘ga', ‘gha' or ‘A', ‘B', ‘C', ‘D'.

This AUM is an inarticulate universalised vibration. It is not actually a letter or a word, but a vibration. OM is to be chanted for the sake of the removal of the dross accumulated in your psyche, in the form of impressions of past karmas. Merge waking in dream, merge dreaming in sleep and merge sleep in the Atman. Draw the consciousness gradually from waking to dream; that is to say, draw it from the waking body consciousness to the psychological consciousness, from that to the sleep consciousness. How do you do this? In the beginning, you have to be seated in a suitable posture and slowly articulate this beautiful name of God, which is OM or pranava.

The scripture says that in the beginning, the Vedas did not exist. Eka eva pura vedah pranavah sarva vanmayah (Bhagavata 9.48), says the Srimad Bhagavata Maha Purana. In the Krita Yuga, the Golden Age as we call it, the Vedas did not exist; only pranava existed. Also, that religion was not Hinduism, Christianity, etc. Hamsa is the name of the religion of the Krita Yuga. Hamsa means just love of God. It is not love through some ‘ism'—this community, that community. No communities existed in the Krita Yuga; it was total man loving total God, and OM was considered as inclusive of all the three Vedas. From Akara, Ukara, Makara, Prajapati is supposed to have extracted the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda; and the three padas of the Gayatri Mantra are supposed to be extractions of the three Vedas and are also supposed to be embedded in AUM, so that all the Veda is inside OM—all the three Vedas.

To practise this meditation according to the Mandukya Upanishad, be seated properly, without distractions, and chant Aaaauuuummmmm. Take a deep breath and then chant Aaaauuuuummmmmmm, Aaaauuuuummmmmmm, Aaaauuuuummmmmmm, Aaaauuuuummmmmmm, Aaaauuuuummmmmmm. When you recite OM like this, don't you feel a sense of satisfaction inside? In a few seconds you feel the difference; you feel as if you are a different person altogether. You are not the same body; for a few seconds you are not even aware of the body. It is melting, as it were; it has actually melted. Every day practise this chant for fifteen minutes, in the morning and in the evening. You will feel as if the body is melting. Actually, physically it may not melt; the sensation of melting will arise on account of the withdrawal of the consciousness from the body. It will withdraw itself from even the mind, and it will withdraw itself even from your personality consciousness.

Only by the chanting of OM can one enter into the Bliss of the Atman, is the teaching of the Mandukya Upanishad. All yogas are combined in this. So, do this practice yourself. When you are alone somewhere—under a tree, near the Ganga, in the temple, in your room, wherever you are—sit for a few minutes and chant in the same way as I told you, with a sonorous sound, beautifully, calmly, creating an equilibrated vibration in your personality. You will forget all your worries; you will feel happy inside; you will feel a tingling sensation in the body as if the consciousness were slowly getting withdrawn from the body. This is the practice of the yoga of the Mandukya Upanishad.