Mandukya Upanishad, Class 2


Introduction to the Upanishad, continued

Swamiji said, in last class we saw that Vedanta Pramanam is the only means of Brahma Gyanam; all others are extrovert and reveal only anatma. Vedanta Pramanam, in words, however, reveals Brahman. Scriptures however, say Brahman is beyond description of words. They say, words cannot describe Brahman; however, Upanishad itself is in words, if so, how does it reveal Brahman? Even logically words cannot reveal Brahman as the object of revelation must still fulfill the five conditions we saw in the last class. The five conditions were:  Rudhi, Jatihi, Guna, Kriya and Sambandha. If an object is evidently available and clearly visible such as say the sun or water then we can have a common description and agreement on this experience. Then we can call it by a name, property, function, relationship or species.

If we don’t know name of an object sitting on a table we can describe it through relationship called adhara adheyam sambandha. Through adhara, adheyam can be revealed; and through adheyam, adhara can also be revealed. Through relationship of table we can refer to an object.

These are the five conditions. But Brahman does not meet any of these five conditions.

Thus, Brahman does not have Rudhihi, because we don’t have Brahman as a popular experience say like the sun or water. Thus Brahman is not popularly available. This phenomenon is known as Pratyaksha Pratibhihi or popular availability.

Secondly, Jati is also not available to describe the Brahman. There is no Brahman species. Species is possible only when there are many members to compare with. Brahman is Ekam; as such it can’t be compared with.

Guna: Brahman is nirgunam; as such it has no properties.

Kriya: Brahman does not have action. It is known as Nishkriya Brahman.

Sambandha: This also does not apply to Brahman as it requires at least two entities. But, Brahman is Ekam. It is non-dual.

Therefore, some people, raising an objection, say, Brahman can’t be revealed through words, and as such Vedanta Pramanam can’t function.

The answer to this is that even though normally words don’t reveal Brahman, using abnormal or unusual methods, they can reveal the truth. Upanishad can do this by having a Guru use the words in a meaningful manner. Four methods are given by the Upanishads through which Brahman can be revealed by words.

They are:

  1. Using unreal attributes: Brahman is revealed through Mithya attributes. Citing some examples: Revealing sky via its blue color, although in reality the color of sky is not blue. Akasha does not have a color; it only has a mithya color of blue. Similarly the ocean is revealed through the blueness of ocean while in reality water is not blue.  Sun can be revealed as the rising sun or setting sun while in reality we know sun does not rise or set. It appears so, as the earth revolves.  Thus, words can reveal through apparent attributes.  This is one method of revealing Brahman. The Sakshitvam of Brahman or consciousness is also an apparent attribute used to reveal Brahman. In reality Sakshitvam is not a real attribute; it is only an apparent attribute. Shakshitvam means witnessing and it is an apparent attribute.
  2. Temporary or incidental attributes: are also used to reveal objects. It is not a real or intrinsic attribute.  Citing example a man is searching for a house among many similar houses. How to reveal the house of Mr. X? A crow sat on that house. Now, the crow becomes an incidental indicator of the house. The person showing the house shows the crow only as an incidental attribute.  Similarly consciousness can’t be revealed directly. So its direct association with body is used to reveal. Thus, consciousness is not a part, product, or property of body; rather it is something that makes the body sentient. The body will die and Consciousness is not permanently connected to the body; but we use the incidental body to reveal Brahman.
  3. .Absence of attribute is used to reveal Brahman.  Citing an example:  There are several drinking glasses with each containing coke, milk, water and even an empty one respectively. How to identify the empty glass? Emptiness is revealed through absence of things. Emptiness does not have any color. It is a negative attribute.  Another example: Several people wore spectacles while there was one person without spectacles. So, here, absence of spectacle is an attribute.  Similarly when we call a person a bald man it refers to absence of hair or a person without hair.  Thus, Anantam Brahman or absence of limitation (nirakara, nirguna, etc) is all absence of attributes.  Thus the three attributes we have seen are: Apparent, Incidental and Absence.
  4. The fourth attribute is one where without talking of Brahman, he talks of something else and thus indirectly talks of Brahman. Thus, it is talking without talking about it.  Citing an example: A Mother has two boys. She tells elder boy, you are very intelligent, making younger son feel bad. Although mother did not say anything to younger boy, just praising elder son was enough of a signal.  Another example: three men are in a room with a glass full of water. One left the room then came back and noted glass was empty. He asked, who drank the water? One of them said I did not drink the water. The implication, without saying it, was that the other person drank the water. This is known as communication without communicating and is also called Maunam Vakhyanam. Maunam does not always mean keeping the mouth shut.  Another example: some one came to meet me just before I left for a class. He kept talking and finally I had to remind him that I had a class at 5:30 PM. He understood and took leave. Here again the communication was indirect.  Another example: someone was leaving in his car. I asked where are you going? He says where can I drop you off? This is another non-verbal communication. Upanishad calls it Neti Neti method of communication. After negating everything whatever is left behind is called Neti, Neti method. It does not talk of subject positively rather it talks of other topics and thus communicates. Thus through Neti Neti method we discover that Atma is not the Known or the Unknown. So, whatever is left is only the knower alone. Known and unknown are all objects. This is the fourth method known as Lakshanavrithi or the Implication method.

These are the four methods used to reveal knowledge.

Lastly one more important topic needs to be discussed.

The general perception is that words can give knowledge. Knowledge is however complete only when it is intimately and directly experienced. Only then is knowledge complete. Thus beauty of Gangotri and Badrinath can be experienced in our direct viewing experience. Reading only gives me knowledge but it is incomplete unless I directly experience Badri or Gangotri.

Vedanta is in words and it can only give knowledge; but it is incomplete, as one still needs the direct experience. If so, how, will Vedanta knowledge be considered complete?

For this a variety of sadhanas are discussed, to convert Gyanam to experience, such as meditation, sravanam, mananam etc. This is known as Gyana Anubhava Bheda. They consider Atma Gyanam is different from Atma anubhuti. Therefore, without Atma anubhuti, knowledge will be incomplete. How then to get Vedanta Anubhava? They say Vedanta Gyanam is Gyanam while anubhava is obtained through meditation.

Vedantic point of view:

They say Vedantic words can give only knowledge; we agree with this. They say, it can’t give anubhava; we agree with this as well.

We, however, say, Vedanta does not give anubhava nor does it is wish to give anubhava. Vedanta says we don’t require any more new experiences at all. Our problem is not lack of new experiences. Our problem is lack of knowledge alone. What does this mean? All our self- experiences can be classified in two categories:

  • Dvaita anubhava
  • Advaita anubhava.

All of us have gone through both dvaita and advaita experiences. Every human being has gone through both. How do you say so?

In waking and dream states we go through dvaita anubhava. I am the subject (experiencer) different from the object. Subject object duality exists and is known as Savikalpa anubhava. In this dvaita anubhava, I experience myself as an individual, localization in time and space occurs separate from others, and naturally I am a limited “I”; individual, localized and separate, I.

Another experience we have is during sleep. Here there is no division of subject and object. No subject object duality exists. I am not an individual entity. No localization occurs; thus I cannot say I am in Madras as I cannot locate myself. I have no limitation. This “I” experience in sushupti is the clean advaita anubhava.

Jagrat & Swapna: Dvaita anubhava.

Sushupti: Advaita anubhava.

Other than these two anubhavas there is no other anubhava.

Therefore, Vedanta does not want to give any new anubhavas; we have gone through all anubhavas in Avastha Trayam. Our problem is not lack of any anubhava; our problem is in dvaita I experience myself as a limited “I” and in advaita I experience myself as a limitless “I”.

The question before us is, which is our real nature, the limited or limitless I? Both can’t be our real nature as they are diagonally opposites. So, only, one of them is my real nature and the other is only an incidental nature; or Swabhavik dharma and Agantuka dharma. Unfortunately before studying Vedanta we concluded, erroneously, that the limited I is our real nature and limitless I is an incidental one or it is a Vesham (disguise).

So problem is not lack of experience rather it is our wrong conclusions from our experiences. Vedanta’s aim is not to give me another experience rather it raises questions and rectifies our conclusions.

The rectified conclusion is that I am the limitless one, my real nature. Limited human experience is only an incidental Vesha. “You are not a human being requiring spiritual experience; rather you are a spiritual being temporarily going through a human experience”, said somebody.

Therefore Vedanta does not give or want to give us a new experience. Therefore student should not expect a new experience. Mandukya Upanishad’s analysis of Avastha Trayam brings us the proper knowledge. Vedanta assists us in arriving at proper knowledge in the Jagrat Avastha. In the other two avasthas, sushupti and swapna, a teacher cannot teach us.

Thus, Vedanta gives us knowledge and it is enough for liberation.

Take Away:

  1. Our problem is, in dvaita, I experience myself as a limited “I” and in advaita I experience myself as a limitless “I”. The question before us is, which is our real nature, the limited or limitless I?
  2. “You are not a human being requiring spiritual experience; rather you are a spiritual being temporarily going through a human experience”.

With Best Wishes,

Ram Ramaswamy