Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika

The Mandukya Upanishad is very short, only twelve verses. Sri Shankara calls it the essence of the Upanishads, and our teacher’s teacher, Shri  Dada also said this is one of the three Upanishads which if studied will give the whole of the spirit of those Upanishads. The waking state, the dreaming state, and the dreamless sleep state. Now these are regarded as key concepts of the beginning of the Upanishad. The first state is awareness of external things.

The Upanishad is very short, only twelve verses. Sri Shankara calls it the essence of the Upanishads, and our teacher’s teacher, Shri  Dada also said this is one of the three Upanishads which if studied will give the whole of the spirit of those Upanishads. The waking state, the dreaming state, and the dreamless sleep state. Now these are regarded as key concepts of the beginning of the Upanishad. The first state is awareness of external things.

Dream is one example of it, but in the other case, in ‘the waking state’, as they call it, we are also dreaming all the time, because when we are seeing the outer objects we also have inner pictures, as every salesman knows. He sees ‘the prospect’ as he calls them, and the same time he has an’ inner picture’, of what he’s going to get out of it. This is a dream even while waking. Then the third state, the Upanishad says, is a state where there is no cognition, either external or internal, it’s a mass of consciousness. We would think, ‘No, no, that’s unconsciousness’.

But the point is made by Sri Shankara  here and in many other places, that if it were unconscious we would never know about it.

But we do have the awareness: ‘I was in deep sleep, I knew nothing.’ We say, ‘Oh well, that’s the same thing as not knowing, as being unconscious’. But the analysis is very precise here, ‘knowing nothing’ is not the same as ‘not knowing’.  A statement can be made:  ‘There was nothing there’.  If we don’t know, we can’t make a statement. An example which is given from modern biology is this, snakes have a pit in the cheeks which registers heat, and they can tell whether there is a mouse in the room, they can sense the heat of the mouse.

So if you put a snake in a room it turns its head. The room is absolutely dark, it turns its head, and then if there’s no mouse, it goes to sleep.  It heat senses nothing.  It knows there’s no mouse there. Now if we are put in a dark room we don’t know whether there’s a mouse there or not. We don’t know whether to go to sleep or not, there might be a mouse.  So, a great point is made of this in the yoga psychology.  Gaudapada says, that this state goes on all the time, because this is the state of not knowing.

And all the time in our ordinary empirical experience there is a consciousness of external objects, then ‘ there’s an inner light by which we see internal objects, and then lastly there’s a state where we don’t know, there’s a layer of ignorance. ‘We don’t know, as they say, ‘where we came from or where we’re going to.’ There is ignorance and this is the state of deep sleep, which is continuing all the time when we’re going around ;  and  Shankara extends these verses of the Upanishad, to include not only the strict state of dream but also the internal visualisations and plans and pictures which we make. They are the second state which is of light.

Now the next point is,  OM is all this. And we think, ‘Well, these are just words. They can’t mean anything at all. How can a word, even a name, how can a name BE a thing?’ Well, some examples are given. One of them can be like this. This is a picture of  a  dancing girl who is carrying a flute.  Now,  she’s wearing silk garments here. The undergarments, which you can just see forming a V there are made of cotton.

Her hair is parted in the middle, it comes down the back there. Her hands are holding the flute. She’s obviously not playing it yet. She’s going to bring it to her lips. You can tell how old she is by the length of the sleeves. She’s under twenty. So that there are a great many things here. But in fact, all these things are simply names. There’s no flute there, there’s no hands there, there’s no hair there, there’s no silk dress there, there’s simply the clay. It’s the names that actually ‘are’ these things. Well, we can say, ‘Ah yes, true’. But that’s only because there really are such things. It’s only because such things really exist, those long sleeves really exist.

There is a Chinese, and  Japanese, legend of a bird whose feathers are so beautiful and pure that  the heavenly beings beg this bird form to make their feather robes, and the bird will give feathers and then it grows new ones. But this also is a creation of names, words and pictures, and it’s familiar and it’s recognised by the people in this tradition.  Shankara says that, In the same way, if things are created by names and the names are the things, then he says it is a disease to take these things which are names as real and we suffer from it, from this disease. And it is cured by knowing that they are creations of names.

And he says that this is done by meditation on the Self.

And he quotes the  Maitri Upanishad in his commentary here,

As the Self worship  OM,
Worship  OM as the Self,
because in  OM All the names
are included and transcended.’

And then he gives another: ‘As Self alone He is to be worshipped’. And this text which often comes in Shankara’s writings, from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad  it comes originally, he often calls knowledge as he does in this commentary. We can say, ‘As self alone He is to be worshipped’, not simply thought of but worshipped. If we just think of a thing we separate ourselves from it. In worship we go towards it.

Shankara says, ‘It’s essential. You have to worship.’ And in some of his commentaries, in some places of his commentaries, he’s very frank, the opponent is allowed to speak very forcibly. And the opponent says ‘You see. Your worship and meditation, finally, is on identity isn’t it?’ ‘Yes. Yes.’ You worship  OM and finally it’s an identification.’ And the opponent says ‘Well look, you see, in some of these rituals you are told to meditate on the sacrificial post as the sun. Well, you do this, you think of, somehow of the sacrificial post as of the splendour of the sun, it’s taking part in the holy ceremony. But all the time you know perfectly well that it isn’t. And your meditations are just like that. It’s like a man who sees a stump of a tree and thinks that that’s a man. Say he’s lost, and in a mist, he needs to find someone to ask the way, and he hopes. And then he sees this thing about the height, dimensions of a man, so he rushes up to ask the way, he thinks it’s a man. But he’s wrong.

The opponent says, ‘Your, Vedantic meditations are just like that. You’re trying by meditation to persuade yourself that the stump of a tree is a man. And all the time, really, you know that it isn’t.’

And  Shankara meets this point. He says, ‘It’s not like that, because the scriptures tell us that these meditations which are given, are not symbolic but are facts, are true.’ And in the Brihadaranyaka  the point is discussed at great length, and he points out that to meditate on a fact which is not yet realised is not creating an illusion, but it’s truth.

And so he, in the meditations here he says, ‘In the state of seeing exterior things, let him meditate that heaven is his head’.

The opponent says, ‘But heaven is not the man’s head’, and  Shankara says, ‘No. Not as the Sankhya’s see the self, circumscribed by the body. But if this meditation is pursued up to ‘the point of knowledge, then he will find that it is so.’  The, self is regarded as having four quarters, of being of four quarters, quarters which are contained in it are contained only by imagination, by a vibration of the mind, and therefore you can’t see them, they’re there. There is a quarter here, which represents the state of deep sleep. And the state of the interior observation, and the state of the exterior observation.

And he says, The people in this state, well, when we are in this state, we see external objects and we are satisfied with those objects. To somebody who’s, we would call them now extroverted, the deeper states are simply dreams. It’s people just sitting with their mouths open and so on, sooner or later they’ve got to come back and have their dinner, haven’t they? Just unreal, just sort of figments of the imagination. But he says, In fact this is based on this, which is the inner light, and the exterior perceptions are based on the inner perceptions, and the inner perceptions are based on this massed  consciousness which is here, but all this is a creation of vibrations of the mind.

But in order to attain realisation of them, Atman, the true self which contains them all, begins here, and he has to, as Shankara says, in Samadhi, merge into this one, merge until he loses the external perceptions and becomes entirely internally, perceiving, then internally perceiving, to make a jump away from thought into massed  consciousness, and then finally to burn this up, he uses the yogic term to burn the seeds, and attain to the Atman. Now he says,  the field of this is the external objects, the field of this is the inner light, the field of this is  massed consciousness. But the field of this is not given. But if we look carefully at the commentary we’ll see, the field of this is the other three as well as its own self. Well our teacher often spoke of this, the third state which we call deep sleep, but Shankara doesn’t call deep sleep in his commentary, not only deep sleep, it’s when memory disappears and the mind has been transcended.

There’s no consciousness of external objects, then the mind is transcended, no consciousness of internal objects, Shri Dada says this same thing, and then, finally the seeds, the impressions, are burnt up by worship and devotion and meditation, and then there is complete realisation of Atman. The third state, which we think of as unconsciousness, in fact is called omniscience, in the Upanishad, but that omniscience is lost when we return to ordinary life because the seeds of our ignorance block the manifestation of omniscience. But our teacher often referred to cases of scientists and artists who do succeed in entering that state still partially concentrated on a particular point, then they enter that state in which the concentration is completely transcended. But when they come back, the point on which they’ve concentrated, is illumined.

There’s no consciousness of external objects, then the mind is transcended, no consciousness of internal objects, Shri Dada says this same thing, and then, finally the seeds, the impressions, are burnt up by worship and devotion and meditation, and then there is complete realisation of Atman. The third state, which we think of as unconsciousness, in fact is called omniscience, in the Upanishad, but that omniscience is lost when we return to ordinary life because the seeds of our ignorance block the manifestation of omniscience. But our teacher often referred to cases of scientists and artists who do succeed in entering that state still partially concentrated on a particular point, then they enter that state in which the concentration is completely transcended. But when they come back, the point on which they’ve concentrated, is illumined.

In the yoga doctrine these three are, in a certain sense, created by illusion and the example our teacher often gave was of a play, and if we remember that illustration we can understand more easily, some of the sort of verbal expressions where they discuss these things. For instance, they’ll say, ‘There is no world. No world has been created actually, so it can’t disappear can it?’ Then you think, ‘Well what’s all this, you see, what’s all this. If we go to a play of Hamlet, we see there a kingdom, with a history. The history goes back before the play begins, there was a murder before the play begins. Was it created? Well, not exactly, it doesn’t exactly exist and yet we see it and we feel with it, it goes on. Then at the end, does it disappear? If it was never there, how could it disappear? Yet in another sense it does disappear. And our teacher gave the example of the play because it does enable us to understand some of these logical difficulties in explaining a thing which is both real, because it’s perceived, and unreal, because it’s made up of names and forms.

The concluding verses of the Karikas give the methods of realisation, and they say, ‘The syllables of  OM must be realised one after another’.

The first measure or syllable is aa and this corresponds to the state conscious of waking objects, and when it’s meditated on, and Shankara uses the word ‘Samadhi’, the experience becomes universal.

Then heaven is his head, and there are descriptions of this experience in some of the mystic literature of yoga. Then when he meditates on the second, the  oo, aaoo, which join together into oohh, then he becomes Hiranyagarbha which is the cosmic intellect, and he receives inspiration from that because he is now unified with it, and the concentrations that the individual has had now become illumined by inspiration. Then, finally the last syllable is the mm which is transcending both consciousness exterior and interior, a jump.

This is the blank circle in the Zen pictures, a jump has to be made. We can think ‘Oh we  don’t want to go beyond thought, that would be unconsciousness’. No. Inspiration, Sarvajña, all knowing and bliss, and  Shankara says this is not the full bliss, the complete bliss, because there is still ‘the seedbed’, what we should call the causal body, which here in this text, in his commentary, he calls the seeds. And then when they have been burnt up by the yoga practice, then finally there’s the ‘Turiya’ which is unobstructed and can, as our teacher said, ‘play at will in any of these states or in none of them’. I’ll just read the opening verses. ‘The letter  OM is all this. All that is past, present or future Is verily  OM. Whatever is beyond the three periods of time is also verily  OM.  All this is surely Brahman. This self is Brahman. This self has the four quarters’.

© Trevor Leggett

 

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