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is one of the shortest
Upanishads, that form the speculative metaphysical parts of
Hindu texts, the
Vedas. It belongs to the
Atharva Veda. It devotes itself entirely to the explanation
of the mystic syllable
Aum. It is in prose.
About the Upanishad
For the very reason
that it explains the esoteric meaning of the fundamental
syllable Aum of Hindu spiritual tradition, the Upanishad
has been extolled greatly. The
talks about all other Upanishads, says that if a person cannot
afford to study all the hundred and more Upanishads, it will be
enough to read just the Mandukya Upanishad. According to
Dr.S. Radhakrishnan, in
this Upanishad we find the fundamental approach to the
attainement of reality by the road of introversion and ascent
from the sensible and changing, through the mind which dreams,
through the soul which thinks, to the divine within but above
The first extant
commentary on this Upanishad was written by
Gaudapada, before the time of
Adi Shankara. This commentary, called the Mandukya-karika,
is the earliest systematic exposition of the
advaita point of view of
Vedanta. Its importance can be gauged from the fact that
when Shankara wrote his commentary on Mandukya Upanishad, as he
did for ten other Upanishads, he merged the Karika of Gaudapada
with the Upanishad and wrote a commentary on the Karika also.
Explanation of Aum
as in Mandukya Upanishad
There are three
matras in the word aum : a as the u in but; u as
the u in put; and the m. The term matra is used for the
upper limb of
Nagari characters and a syllabic instant in prosody.
Esoterically, the a stands for the first stage of wakefulness,
where we experience in our gross body the totality of external
experiences through our mind and sense organs. The u stands
for the dream state of sleep in which mental experiences are
available, though erratically, by the mind which is the only
thing which is then awake, without the help of the external
sense organs or the presence of the rationalising intellect.
Waking state and
The two kinds of
experience, namely those of the waking state and those of the
dream state, contradict each other, in the sense that a man may
experience hunger in a dream though he has eaten in the waking
state a few minutes earlier.
[Deep sleep state
In the state of deep
sleep, represented by the sound m, there is no consciousness
of any experience; even the mind has gone to sleep. But still
there is an awareness after the deep sleep is over that one has
been sleeping. Mandukya Upanishad says that in the state of deep
Atman which is always present, has been the witness to the
sleep of the body and it is this source from which issues the
memory of sleep.
Beyond the three
It is the Atman
which is also present beyond the three states of experience. The
fourth state (turiya avastha) (see
to the silence that ensues after one has steadily pronounced aum.
It is the state of no matra (amatra). In that silence
is present; there is nothing else. Therefore there is nothing to
be cognized or be conscious of. This is the substratum of even
the other three states of experience. During the silence that
follows the recitation of aum, one is advised to merge in
that Consciousness, in fact, be that Consciousness. That
Consciousness is the Atman. That is
underscore the point that the fourth state is not another
state of consciousness, but consciousness itself, turiya
avastha is simply called turiya (the fourth).
In his karika on the
Gaudapada deals with all the outstanding problems of
philosophy, such as
turiya, he says the
mind is not simply withdrawn from the objects but becomes
Brahman, who is free from fear and who is all-round
illumination. In both deep sleep and
consciousness there is no consciousness of objects. But this
objective consciousness is present in an unmanifested 'seed'
form in deep sleep while it is completely transcended in the
turiya. Specifically, if one identifies the amatra state of
silence with the turiya and meditates on it without
intermission, one realizes one's
self and 'there is no return for him to the sphere of
empirical life', says Gaudapada.
Radhakrishnan. The Principal Upanishads. George Allen and
Vol.2. With the commentary of Sankaracharya, Tr. By Swami
Gambhirananda. Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1990.
Nikhilananda: Mandukyopanishad with Gaudapadas Karika and
Sankaras Commentary. Shri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore.
Sixth edn. 1974
Essentials of Hinduism. Narosa Publishing House, New Delhi.
, Musical version of Mandukya Upanishad Composed by
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