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The Mandukya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Section 1: The Pranava or Omkara

The Vedas, in their form as the Samhitas, constitute an introduction to the subject dealt with in the Vedanta or the Upanishads. The Upanishads are secret teachings containing wisdom beyond the realm of the earth and revealing proclamations of the great sages of yore on the nature of Reality. Among the Upanishads, the Mandukya may be regarded as the most important, and it is aptly said, Mandukyam ekam eva alam mumukshunam vimuktaye - for the liberation of the Mumukshu or seeker the Mandukya alone is enough; and if you are able to understand the true meaning of this single Upanishad, there may not be a necessity to study any other Upanishad, not even the Chhandogya or the Brihadaranyaka, because the theme of the Mandukya Upanishad is a direct approach to the depths of human nature. It does not give analogies, tell stories or make comparisons. It states bare facts in respect of man in general and Reality in its essential character. A very comprehensive Upanishad is this, containing only twelve statements called Mantras, in which the whole wisdom or knowledge of the Upanishads is packed into a nutshell. The Upanishad commences with a prayer. All Upanishads start with a prayer – prayer to the guardians of the quarters, the deities or the manifestations of God, who rule the whole of creation, that we be blessed with health and understanding in order to go into the secrets of the Upanishads, to meditate upon them and to realise the Truth proclaimed in them.

The Mandukya Upanishad is attributed to the revelation of a great sage called Manduka. That which pertains to Manduka is Mandukya. The Upanishad or the secret teaching revealed to the sage Manduka is the Mandukya Upanishad. It commences with a solemn declaration:

Om ityetadaksharam idam sarvam, tasyopavyakhyanam bhutam bhavat bhavishyaditi sarvam omkara eva.

The Imperishable is OM, and it is 'all this'. Everything else, whatever be of the past, present or future, is like an exposition, explanation or commentary on the meaning of this great Truth – the Imperishable Om. Sarvam Omkara eva: Everything is Om, indeed. This is how the Upanishad begins. Om itiyetadaksharam idam sarvam: All this, whatever is visible, whatever is cognizable, whatever can come within the purview of sense-perception, inference or verbal testimony, whatever can be comprehended under the single term, creation – all this is Om.

We have been reciting 'Om' many a time, and it is a custom with most of us to greet one another with Om, to recite anything with Om and start Japa of any Mantra with the chanting of Om. The implication is that Om comprehends all things and it makes also a very auspicious beginning to everything. OM and ATHA are supposed to be two auspicious terms: 'Om, Atha; Om, Atha; Om, Atha; Om;' do we recite daily. In the beginning, Om is supposed to have been the first vibratory sound that emanated as the seed of creation. Om is Pranava. It is a Bija-Mantra for all the other Mantras, whether Vaidika or Tantrika. In the recitation of Om we comprehend not merely all meaning but also all language. All verbal implication as well as objective reference is included in Om. Om is both Nama and Rupa, name as well as form. It is not merely a sound, though it is also a sound, and a very important aspect of Om that you have to bear in mind is that Om is not merely a chant or a recitation, a word or a part of human language but it is something more than all this. It is something which exists by its own right, something which is usually called "Vastu Tantra", as distinguished from "Purusha Tantra"; – that which exists not because it has a reference to anything else but because it is something by itself. We do not create Om by a chanting of it, but we only produce a vibration sympathetic with the vibration that is already there by its own right and which is called Om. Om is a cosmic vibration. It is not a chant made by us, created by us or initiated by us. Why do we chant Om? To establish a connection between ourselves and that which exists by its own right and which manifests itself as a sound-vibration in the form of Om.

The Supreme Absolute is the Rupa (Form) of Om which is the Nama (Name). As everything in the world is designated by a name, we designate Isvara, God, also, by a name. As we summon into our consciousness a form by calling out its name, remembering its name, so also we summon into our consciousness the Being or the Form of Isvara, God, by summoning His Name. And just as the name of a particular object is connected with that object by a description of the character of that object, Om also, as the Name of Isvara, describes Isvara, and by this unique description of it, it enables us to contemplate the form of Isvara. A mountain is a name, a river is a name, fire is a name, man is a name, woman is a name, Rama is a name, Krishna is a name; and so on, we have many names – Nama. These names correspond to particular forms which they connote and also denote. When you utter a name, the form corresponding to that name comes to your mind automatically, spontaneously as it were, because of a permanent connection that has been established between the particular name and its corresponding form. How much we are influenced by a name, every one of you knows very well. If you are called by a particular name, you may be pleased or displeased. There are names, by which you may be called, which may annoy you, put you out of your balance, because of the reason that you have created a permanent association in your mind between a particular Nama and its corresponding Rupa. For example, if you are addressed as 'Maharaj', you are pleased; but if you are addressed as an 'ass', you are displeased. The reason is the association that you have established in your mind and feeling between the name 'Maharaj' and its corresponding significance, or the name 'ass' and its corresponding significance. Names create vibrations within us. Suppose one of you suddenly cries out, 'snake! snake!' just now, you will all get up suddenly, and listen to nothing that I say. What sort of vibration it creates in your mind – the word snake! You have established a contact in your psychological being between the name 'snake' and its corresponding meaning or significance, and its connection with you. What it means, you know very well. Every name in the world has a form and a meaning attached to it. Every form is not merely a counterpart of the name with which it is connected, but it has a relation with other forms, as well.

Now, we come from what we call Isvara-Srishti to Jiva-Srishti. Isvara-Srishti is the form corresponding to a name, as it is by its own right. Jiva-Srishti is the psychological connection that you have established between yourself and the corresponding form of a particular name. You are affected because of the Jiva-Srishti, and your understanding of the form corresponding to a name signifies merely Jiva-Srishti. We are now concerned not merely with Isvara-Srishti, but also Jiva-Srishti; perhaps with the latter we are more concerned than with the former because what binds us or liberates us is the nature of Jiva-Srishti, not so much the nature of Isvara-Srishti. Things as they are do not concern us very much. But things as they are to us mean very, much to us, and this meaning it is that binds us to what we call Samsara (earthly existence). Every name has a corresponding form, and the form is a content of Isvara-Srishti; the creation of Isvara, God; and you, as a Jiva or an individual, though you are also a part of Isvara-Srishti, create a cocoon round yourself, coil yourself in a web that has been created by your own imagination, and this imagination connects you with the other Jivas, other things, other contents of creation, socially. You do not merely exist as a content of creation; you also have a connection with other contents in creation in several ways. This is the difference between you as a part of Isvara-Srishti and you as a centre of Jiva-Srishti. You have an aspect of Isvara in you, and you have also a Jivatva in you. The aspect of Isvara is your dignified nature, and the aspect of Jiva in you is what binds you to this realm of Samsara. So, you have a twofold nature, a double personality, a character that distinguishes you by means of your relation to Isvara, and your relation to this earthly life.

This is the situation we find ourselves in through Nama and Rupa, name and form, the designator and the designated, in this creation of which we are parts or contents. Now, it is the summoning of the forms into relation with ourselves that has been the cause of our pleasures and pains. Every day we summon into our consciousness different forms of the world, and this summoning is nothing but a psychological contact that we establish between ourselves and these forms. This is Samsara. Every relationship, external, is Samsara, and the whole life of ours, throughout the days and nights that we pass, all this is Samsara from which we seek liberation or freedom. We want Moksha from Samsara and Moksha is that status in which we establish ourselves not in a relation of Jivatva, but in the condition of Isvara, that is, existence by its own right, and not existence by means of a relation to other things. You are something by yourself, independent of what you mean to others, what you may appear to others or what others may appear to you. You want to transfer your existence from Jivatva to Isvaratva. You want to exist by your own right, in your own essential nature, to be independent rather than dependent on things. You do not want to think objects for your subsistence. You want to be absolutely independent as a Kevala. You want to attain Kaivalya. This is called Moksha; – absolute freedom.

This Upanishad, the Mandukya, suggests a very simple method for the establishment of Jiva in Isvara, to transfer the relation of the personality to the non-relation of Isvara and to achieve this by a direct method of invoking the presence of Isvara, or Brahman, into our being, summoning Isvara into our consciousness. Give Isvara a place in your heart. Instead of thinking of an object corresponding to a particular name, think of Isvara who is designated by a comprehensive Name. All the names of the world like mountain, river, etc. are particular names corresponding to particular forms. But Isvara is not a particular form; He is a Universal Form, and therefore you cannot call Him or summon Him by a particular name. You have to call Him by a Universal Name, because He is Universal Form. No particularised language can describe Isvara, because Isvara is not a particularised object. He is not a man or a woman or a human being; He is not here or there; He is everywhere. That which is everywhere can not be designated by a language that belongs only to particular country or a man or a woman or a particular person. You require a very comprehensive language to describe the comprehensive Form of Isvara. There is no comprehensive language; all languages are local. You have many languages, and there is no single language that can be applied to the whole world. And even if there be a language that can be valid for the whole world, even that is a local language from the point of view of the vaster cosmos. Is there a language that can be valid for the whole universe? That language alone can describe Isvara, because He is Universal. There is no such language. The only language conceivable, revealed to the ancient Rishis, is Om, or Pranava.

The recitation of Om is the speaking of a universal language, a language which comprehends within itself all other languages; and the vocal organ, in the recitation of Om, or Pranava, vibrates also in a very comprehensive manner. When you utter A, B, C, etc., a particular part of the vocal system begins to vibrate, but when you recite Om, the entire soundbox begins to vibrate. This is a matter for experiment. Anyone of you can experiment with it and observe the result. The whole soundbox begins to function, not merely a part of the soundbox; and all the languages are supposed to be contained in Om because of the fact that in the recitation of Om every part of the vocal organ begins to vibrate, and naturally every word, every phrase should be somehow included in the root-sound that is created when Om is chanted. Not merely this; the recitation of Om has another significance or meaning. The chanting or the calling out of a particular name produces a vibration in you. You have a feeling generated within you by the recitation or the calling out of a name. Rasagulla, laddu, kheer, coffee, tea, rice: these are certain names of certain objects, and you know that when you utter these names, different ideas occur to your mind and you have different sensations in your body. Scorpion: a different sensation; disease, ugliness, earthquake, atom bomb, war; – all these ideas produce vibrations in your system. They are not merely words; they are vibrations that are conveyed to your system by a particular word or a phrase; and Om is also a vibration, not merely a word or a sound. Om is a vibration, a Universal vibration with which creation commenced, as they say.

The Manusmriti, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Upanishads describe the nature, the constitution, the structure and the glory of Om. With Om, Brahma created this cosmos, and from Om constituted of the three isolated letters A, U, M, the Vyahritis came forth: Bhuh, Bhuvah, Svah. From these three Vyahritis, the three Padas of the Gayatri-Mantra emanated. From the three Padas of the Gayatri-Mantra, the meaning of the three sections of the Purusha-Sukta emerged, and from the meaning of the Purusha-Sukta, the meaning of the entire Vedas emanated, and from this vast meaning of the Vedas, Brahma created this cosmos, say the scriptures. So important is Om, not a chant uttered by Brahma, but a vibration that rose from the Supreme Being in the initial stage of creation – a comprehensive vibration. And when we chant Om, we also try to create within ourselves a sympathetic vibration, a vibration which has a sympathy with the cosmic vibration, so that, for the time being, we are in tune with the cosmos. We flow with the current of the cosmos when we recite Om, and produce a harmonious vibration in our bodily and psychological system. Instead of tearing ourselves away from the world outside, we flow into the current of the world. Instead of thinking independently as Jivas, we start thinking universally as Isvara. Instead of thinking in relation to objects segregated from one another, we think in terms of nothing at all. There is thought thinking itself, as it were. Can you imagine thought thinking itself? This is Isvara's Thought. When a thought thinks of an object, it is Jiva's thought. When the, thought thinks only itself, it is Isvara's Thought, Isvara's Will and when we recite Om properly, with an understanding of its real connotation, we think nothing in particular. We think all things in general; this is Isvara thinking. We do not think at that time; it is Isvara who thinks through these individual minds of ours. We, as persons, cease to be for the time being. We exist as the thing-in-itself, Isvara, who exists by His own stature, mind and status. He does not exist as a Jiva in terms of other objects. We always exist in relation to something else. Isvara exists with relation to nobody else, and we, as seekers of the status of Isvara, or Brahman, wishing to exist by a universal nature, try, by this means of the recitation of Om, to flow into Isvara's Being like rivers trying to flow into the bosom of the ocean. We are like streams wanting to rush into the sea, and just as by the force of the inclination of the waters, the rivers enter the ocean, we, by the inclination of the vibration of Om, enter the Universal Form of Isvara.

When you recite Om properly, you enter into a meditative mood. You are not merely reciting a sound or a word or a phrase, you are creating a vibration. To point out once again; you are creating a vibration. What sort of vibration? Not a vibration which agitates you, irritates you, or creates a desire in your mind for a particular object, but a vibration which melts all other particular vibrations, puts an end to all desire, extinguishes all cravings and creates a desire for the Universal. As fire burns straw, this desire for the Universal burns up all other desires. A recitation of Om, even three times, correctly done, is enough to burn up all sins, to put a cessation to all desire and make you calm, quiet and satisfied within yourself. The test of a correct recitation or chant of Om is that you become calm in your mind and feel satisfied with what you are and what you have. When you come out of your meditative mood with a desire persisting, it would only point out that your contemplation has not been perfect. The desire for things was lurking within while you were in a mood of contemplation; even the chant of Om was not properly done. The chant of Om should go together with the thought of the Universal. It is a Japa and a Dhyana combined. While other Japas may lead you to a mood of Dhyana or meditation, while other Mantras may lead to Dhyana, the Japa of Om suddenly becomes Dhyana when it is properly done. Here, Japa and Dhyana combine, and Nama and Rupa are brought together. Here, you do not have a distinction between the designator and the designated, because the Nama (name) which is Om, being Universal, merges into the Rupa (form) which is also Universal. There cannot be two Universals; there can only be one Universal. So the designator and the designated, in the case of Om, become one. Japa and Dhyana mean the same thing in the case of the chanting of Om. It is a sudden entering into a realm which the individual mind cannot understand. A rapture of ecstasy may take possession of you if you chant Om, thus. Omityetadaksharamidam sarvam – Om is, verily, everything.

Om is imperishable. All name in this world is perishable, for it goes with the corresponding form. But this Universal Form is imperishable, this Universal Name also is imperishable, comprehends everything. Omityetadaksharam: Om is Akshara, and Akshara is imperishable. Tasyopavyakhyanam, bhutam, bhavat, bhavishyaditi sarvam Omkara eva; Yaccanyat trikalatitam tadapyomkara eva... All that was in the past, all that is now in the present, all that will be in the future, all this is Om, because Om has no past, present and future; the Universal has no time. What a grand description of Om is given in the Mandukya Upanishad! Whatever is in time, as past, present and future, is Om. Not merely this; that which is above time, also, is Om. Om has a twofold nature, the temporal and the eternal: it is Sabda and Sabdatita. It is constituted of A, U, M, representing all creation; but it has also a fourth nature which transcends these distinctions of A, U, M. It is called Amatra and Chaturtha-Bhava: The soundless form of Om is Amatra, the immeasurable, and it is not audible to the ears. This Amatra, or the immeasurable, eternal nature of Om is not a sound or even a mere vibration, but it is just existence, pure and simple, known as Satchidananda-Svarupa – Existence-Consciousness-Bliss.

That which is past, present and future is the temporal comprehension of the gamut of Om, and that which transcends time is the eternal nature of Om. To give the analogy of the river and the ocean: the river is the temporal form, the ocean is the permanent form. There is a name and a form for the river, but there is no such name and form of the river in the ocean, as all rivers become one in the ocean. In the temporal form, Om may be said to designate all that is existent in creation; in its eternal form it cannot be said to constitute any kind of particular form, but it is formless, durationless and spaceless. Om, therefore, is name and form; form and the formless; vibration and Consciousness; creation and Satchidananda. All this is Om.

How to chant Om? This doubt may arise in your mind. We have tried to understand something about the magnificence of Om, but how are we to recite Om? Are we to think anything when we recite Om? The usual procedure prescribed is that the recitation of Om should neither be too short nor too long. There is a short, middling and elongated pronunciation, no doubt, but for all practical purposes of meditation, I would suggest that you may take to the middling duration of the recitation of Om. There is what is called a Matra or a measure, and you may regard one Matra as the time taken by the fist of the hand to go round your knee, in leisure, neither too fast nor too slow, and to snap the fingers. Take your hand once round your knee. This is the time taken for the measure called one Matra. Bring the hand round your knee once and make a snap of your fingers. How much time have you taken? This is one Matra. Bring it twice, these are two Matras; bring it thrice, these are three Matras. Now, when it is once, it is a short Matra. When it is twice, it is a middling Matra. When it is thrice, it is the elongated Matra. You may choose whichever Matra is convenient to you. There is no compulsion as to the measure. Whichever is convenient, practicable and agreeable to your temperament and capacity may be chosen by you as the required Matra for the recitation of Om.

What have you to think when you recite Om? You are the ocean, and all the rivers of objects enter you. Remember the Sloka of the Gita: Apuryamanam acalapratishtham. . . etc. You are the ocean into which all the rivers of objects rush. There are, then, no rivers, no objects, you are the ocean. Imagine your feeling at that time, a feeling that I cannot describe. Each one of you should feel it for himself or herself. Chant Om, and entertain this feeling in your mind for even five minutes continuously, and record your experience in your diary, and tell me whether it has made any difference to you or not. Definitely, it will make a difference, and if God blesses you with the time and patience necessary to do this practice for even half an hour daily, you should regard yourself as a thrice-blessed seeker. The world enters you; and where is the world, then, to agitate you! Samsara is a network of agitations, and all these are like currents of rivers rushing into your universal being. You have swallowed them up in the bosom of universality; and the roar of the river ceases when it enters the calmness of the ocean. The vexations of the world cease when they enter the solemn existence of your universality.

This is Isvaratva, for the time being. This is the gateway for the Sakshatkara (realisation) of Isvara, and if, for even half an hour daily, you are in a position to continue this chant and meditation; – who knows, the bubble may burst one day! The bubble of Jivatva may open up into the ocean of Isvaratva. Be prepared for this glorious achievement. And who can describe your majesty at that time! You will start shedding tears even by thinking of this condition. Tears will flow from your eyes; the body will tremble, because it will not be prepared for this experience. There will be Angamejayatva, as Patanjali describes – a tremor of the body. The river is beholding the ocean: 'O, how big! How am I to go there? I have been a small channel up to this time. Now I am entering into something which does not seem to have a limit at all from any side.' Terror may take possession of you; hair may stand on end, and you may experience a thrill, as if an electric shock is being administered to you. These are the experiences you may have, commonly speaking. I do not mean that the same experience will come to every person, but generally speaking, with some difference in detail, this experience will come to everyone. And if, by God's Grace, the Prarabdha is to come to an end, well, you may realise Him today. And if you enter into this Bhava or mood of Dhyana with a hopeful chant of Om, even hunger may be appeased, thirst can be quenched, and a weird strength will enter your body. You may have a feeling that you can even lift a mountain. You may not be able to do it actually, but you will have an inspiration and a sensation. Such strength may enter into your being, and if Sakshatkara comes, if there is real realisation, you may even do this feat. How did Lord Sri Krishna lift a mountain! We cannot do it because we are Jivas, but Isvara can do it. And it is not the Jiva that acquires the Siddhi or the power of working such exploits. The Jiva is no more there. It is not you as a Siddha or a Yogin that do these marvels. It is Isvara who does this through these instruments of His. Just as when you lift a small stone with your hand, it is not the hand that lifts it, it is you that lift it, so also, when a Yogin does a marvel, it is Isvara who does it, which, to the other Jivas, may appear as a marvel, because they cannot do it. For an ant, the man lifting a stone would be a marvel. We are all giants to the ant; and, likewise, to us, Jivas, the Siddha-Purushas are wonder-workers. But it is a divine power that glories in all the Siddhas. Just as the equalised bodily power works through a particular hand and raises a weight, for example, the harmonised Universal Power which is Isvara's Sakti works a miracle through a Siddha-Purusha or a Jivanmukta, which anyone of us can be, may be, any day. If we become instruments in the hands of Isvara, that would be our blessedness; and when we become real instruments in the hands of the Universal Power, we become God-realised souls. We become divinities walking on this earth. We become Tirthas, or holy waters, ourselves, and this is Moksha from Samsara, liberation from bondage, which is attained by a simple method, according to the Mandukya Upanishad – a correct recitation of Om or Pranava, with contemplation on its Universal Form which is Isvara, or Brahman.