Mandukya Upanishad, Class 3


Greetings All,

Swamiji said, in last class we saw that in Vedanta when Shabda Pramanam is employed properly through Srvanam, Mananam and Nidhidhyasanam; through a qualified Guru; it will produce Gyanam. Even though words normally don’t reveal Brahman, the Upanishad still uses different methods to reveal Brahman through words. The Gyani parampara is proof of that.

People say Upanishadic words give only knowledge and that they don’t give us experience of Brahman. Vedanta says, our problem is not lack of experience rather it is lack of knowledge. Thus, we experience Dvaita in jagrat and swapna avastha and advaita in sushupti avastha. While we do have these experiences, unfortunately our conclusion from them is faulty. It is here that the Upanishads come to our help. It wants us to enquire into our available anubhava to come to know that the Advaita Aham is my real nature and that the Jagrat and Swapna dvaita experience is mithya.

This is a new knowledge correcting my misconceptions and this knowledge is enough for moksha. Since this teaching is occurring at the end of Vedas, it is called Vedanta. Vedanta does not mean end of knowledge.

In this Vedantic part we are trying to gain knowledge of ourselves as such it is called Gyana Kandam; unlike Veda purva that is called Karma kandam.

Since this portion deals with nature of myself, my swarupam or atma and not the universe, it is also called atma viddhya. In this process it reveals that I the atma am the limitless entity, existence consciousness and hence called Brahman or the limitless one or Brihat Samatvat Brahma. Scriptures also call this means of obtaining knowledge of Brahman as Brahma Vidya, Atma vidya and even as Upanishad.

The word Upanishad can be broken-down as Upa Ni Sat.

Upa means Guru’s knowledge.

Ni means Nischaya Gyanam; knowledge without any doubts.

Sat means vehicle or carrier. Sat also means destroyer of ignorance and Samsara. Another meaning of Sat is Sadhayati Gamayati Prapayati Iti Sat or one which carries the seeker to Brahman. It helps Jivatma merge with Paramatma. Shankaracharya also says, Brahma Sadhayati Gamayati Prapayati Iti Sat.

Upanishad means it is knowledge from Guru that takes Jivatma to Paramatma. It does not mean paramatma is sitting somewhere waiting for jivatma. Rather, here, merger means removal of the notion that I am different from Paramatma. Hence it is called Upanishad. In the end portion of the Vedas this knowledge is given as a dialogue. A group of dialogues or even one dialogue is called Upanishad. They say, at some time in the past there were 1080 Upanishads, but many have been lost. Now there are only 108 Upanishads available. Shankaracharya has commented on only ten of them. All ten of them are considered great only because Shankaracharya commented on them. Mandukya is one of the ten Upanishads. It is the smallest among them with only twelve shlokas. Mandukya Upanishad belongs to Atharvana Veda. A Rishi named Manduka revealed it. The word root Manda means to be happy. Therefore, one who is always happy is known as Manduka. Even though it is small, it is comprehensive and all glorify it. There is another Upanishad known as Muktika Upanishad that details the dialogue between Rama and Anjaneya. This Upanishad tells us about the many other Upanishads, how many are there; which Upanishad belongs to which Veda etc. Muktika Upanishad says study of Mandukya Upanishad alone can give Gyanam. It says, if you don’t understand Mandukya Upanishad, study the other ten; if you still don’t understand then study all 108 of them; if you still don’t get it try it in the next birth. “ Mandukya ekam eva alam.”

Gaudapada wrote the commentary on the twelve shlokas of Mandukya Upanishad in verse form. He occupies a very important position in Advaita Tradition.

The following is an important mantra for advaitins:

Narayanam Padmanabhuvam Vasishtam Shaktim cha tatputra parashar cha vyasam shukam gaudapadam mahantam govind yogindramathsya Shishyam Sri Shankaracharyamathsya Padmapadam cha hastamalakam cha shishya tam totakam vartikkarmanyansmad gurun santatmanosmi

Sadashiva samarambham Shankaracharya madhyamam

Asmad acharya paryantam vande Guru Paramparam.

The Adi Guru of all Guru’s is Vishnu, then came Brahma then Vasishta, Shakti, Parashara, Vyasa, Shuka, then Gaudapada and then Shankara, all the way down to my Guru.

From Narayana to Shuka, the first part of the Guru parampara, are all from Puranas or mythology and not from history. Here each disciple is son of a father; thus Vishnu’s son was Brahma and so on. It is also called Pitr-Putr parampara.

Then the parampara changed. While Shuka was a Rishi, Gaudapada was a Manushya. From Gaudapada onwards there is history available of this parampara. From Gaudapada onwards the parampara became different in that it started the Sanyasi paramapara as well. Hence Gaudapada is a very important acharya. Gaudapada was Shankaracharya’s Guru’s Guru. Hence Gaudapada’s Karika is very important.

Gaudapada lived in Gauda Desha or Northern Bengal. His original name is not known. The suffix pada means reverence. So he was the honorable acharya from Gauda Desha. Among his works Mandukya Karika is most important one. He has written 215 shlokas. They help us understand the Upanishad comprehensively, when studied with the Karika. Shankaracharya started the tradition of studying this Upanishad with its Karika. Shankara also has written a commentary on the Karikas. Following this tradition, we will also study the Upanishad and Karikas together. The 227 shlokas of the Upanishad are divided into four chapters. Each chapter is called a Prakaranam. The four prakaranams are:

  1. Agama Prakaranam.
  2. Vyatathya Prakaranam
  3. Advaita prakaranam
  4. Alata Prakaranam

These four prakaranams contain the mantras as well as Karikas.

Agama Prakaranam is a mixture of entire Upanishad with 29 Karikas, thus it has 41 shlokas.

Since it has the entire Upanishad, later Prakaranams have only the Karikas. Since Agama parkaranam is a mixture of Upanishad mantras as well as karikas, which is more prominent of the two? It is said that Chapter One is Upanishad pradhana. Other three chapters are Karika pradhana. The word Agama conveys that the Vedas and their Upanishads as coming from God himself.

Since Chapter One includes Upanishad it has a shanti patha as well. The shanti patha is from Atharvana Veda. Other Upanishads such as Mundaka, Prashna, and now Mandukya are all from Atharvana Veda and they all have the same common Shanti patha.

Shanti patha:

“Om. Shining Ones! May we hear through our ears what is auspicious; Ye, fit to be worshipped! May we see with our eyes what is auspicious; May we, endowed with body strong with limbs, offering praise, complete the full span of life bestowed upon us by the divine beings; May Indra, of enhanced fame, be auspicious unto us; May Pūshan, who is all-knowing, be auspicious unto us; May Tārkshya, who is the destroyer of all evils, be auspicious unto us; May Brihaspati bestow upon us auspiciousness!

Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!

We have studied this Shanti patha before. Its essence is that through the shanti patha the seeker is asking for three boons; and they are:

  1. Ayushyam: A long enough life to be able to complete the study of the Upanishad through Srvanam, Mananam and Nidhidhyasanam.
  2. Arogyam: Good health with a good physical body. It does not make sense to live long with a sick body. Sense organs should function well and should focus on good actions such as hearing good, seeing good and speaking good. Mind should be emotionally sound so that I can learn the teaching with a balanced mind. Intellectual health is also important and a sharp intellect is highly desirable so that I can pursue this Vichara.
  3. Nirvignatvam: Freedom from obtacles. Prayers to various gods are offered for freedom from obstacles.

This prayer is specific to learning this Upanishad without any obstructions. The Shantipatha ends with Om Shanti chanted three times meaning it is seeking freedom from obstructions of Adhyatmika, Adhidavika and Adhi bhautika nature. 

Shloka # 1:

Om, the word, is all this. A clear explanation of it is (the following)- all that is past, present and future, verily, is OM. That which is beyond the three periods of time is also indeed, OM.

First chapter is a mixture of Upanishad and karikas. Upanishad is in prose while karikas are in verse. In this chapter, mantra and karika are mixed.

The first six shlokas are Upanishadic mantras and their karikas. Then comes the seventh mantra.

The first two mantras are introductory ones. They talk of two types of enquiry.

  1. Omkara Vichara mantra: this first mantra introduces us to the fact that through Omkara one can arrive at the ulitimate reality.
  2. Atma Vichara mantra: The second mantra introduces us to self-analysis.
  3. Third to seventh mantras: elaborates on atma vichara.
  4. Eighth to twelveth mantras: here Omkara vichara is elaborated upon.

All these twelve shlokas are expanded upon further by Gaudapada’s commentaries.

Om is discussed in Taittiriya Upanishad as well. It says Brahmaji churned the Vedas and took out the pranava mantra or the Omkara mantra.

In Taittirya Upanishad’s Shikshavalli  also the Omkara mantra is discussed.

Now the Upanishad says the monosyllable mantra is the entire creation. If you have to know about creation, just study of Omkara mantra gives you this knowledge.

This study includes all present, past and future creations. The three states are all in Omkara. Anything beyond time is also in Omkara. Omkara represents within time and outside of time as well or Vyavaharika loka as well as paramarthika loka. What is beyond time? Consciousness, Maya, Avidya etc., are all beyond time. In short Omkara is everything.

Truth of Omkara equals truth of creation. Hence this pursuit is important. So, we will study Omkara.

With Best Wishes,


Ram Ramaswamy