Mandukya Upanishad21 min read

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MANDUKYA UPANISHAD  13.3.82

Well this Upanishad has a historical place of course, about 200 A.D. or something, and there is a famous work which goes with it, called the  Karika which again, is thought to be something like 600 A.D. And on those two, on the Upanishad and the  Karika, Sri Shankara,  whom we follow here, of whom our teacher was a most faithful follower, did a commentary.

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.

Shankara doesn’t, use the word ‘waking state’ in his commentary, he says ‘things are seen externally’. Then, the next state, he says, ‘When you look at things you see them externally, Now close your eyes, and see those same things in your memory, ‘clearly’. He says, ‘As if it were a dream’; now this he says is the second state, the state of interior light, cognition, interiorally, and he says, ‘This is as if in a dream’, and he repeats it, ‘As here, so in a dream’.

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.

The under twenty girls of a particular profession in Kyoto wear them. They’re the entertainers, and they’re dancers and singers. So it’s only because they exist that we project them onto here.’ But that isn’t so. If we see, for instance, the picture of a Chinese dragon, it’s quite familiar to us and to all Chinese, but such things have never existed, but they have been created by pictures and words and names, and we can recognise them. And sometimes when people are in delirium they get the feeling that a dragon is trying to get into the house, as the wind rattles the window, it becomes real to them. But things can be created by names and words.

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. And people think, ‘Oh, we don’t want to worship these days. Surely man can stand by himself? No.’ Well we think so, but in actual fact it isn’t so. There are people who certainly, when they’re met, even though they may not be religious, they do give this sense of benevolence. A top American ambassador is probably not a particularly gullible man, rather cynical, but on meeting the head of a particular state, a father of his people, he said of him, ‘His brown eyes exceedingly wise and kind, and he’s the sort of man that a child would want to sit on his lap, and a dog would instinctively sidle up to him’. A

nd of another such prominent man, a Dean, a Christian, this man was not a Christian but he said of him, ‘The moment you talk of other people’s struggles, of other people’s difficulties, his whole face lights up. Concern immediately comes over him.’ He said, ‘As a questioner I felt ashamed, when I saw this exhibition in this man who is  an atheist, but in him I saw the true spirit of Christianity.’ Well the first of those two, the man whose eye was exceedingly wise and kind, on whose lap a child would want to sit, a dog would instinctively sidle up to, that was Stalin, as seen through the eyes of the American Ambassador, Biddle. And the second one, was Chairman Mao, who killed more people they now think, than Hitler and Stalin together, as seen through the eyes of the Dean of Canterbury, Hewlett Johnson.

In other words  they needed something to worship, and they began worshipping there. The personality cult is formed and it’s worshipped. In China, the country was being destroyed, and people knew it, but they went on worshipping the personality cult. Dora Russell who founded a school, admittedly it was a disastrous failure, but still she was a considerable thinker in her own right, and a great idealist. She began worshipping Chairman Mao.

And sometimes you feel these people  who are the focus of personality cults, something gets into them and they begin to think, ‘Well how far could you go? What wouldn’t they stand?’ And she quotes, with approval, in one of her books on education, some remarks by Chairman Mao on education. And he said, ‘People are against cheating but the fact is that if one pupil gets the answers right and another pupil peers over and copies what he’s written and gets his answers right, well then his are right and he should get full marks .’ So she quotes this, she says, ‘Chairman Mao is sometimes, quite unexpected’. And he then said, ‘And it was alright too to pay somebody to take your place in the examination’.  He said, ‘That shows enterprise’. And he said about examination questions, that the dream of the Red Chamber is a great Chinese classic. He said, ‘Set the questions on this and one pupil answers them all correctly from his textbook but only give him 50% because he’s mechanically copying. And another one answers them more or less out of his head. Perhaps he hasn’t read the book but he’s sort of invents the book. Well, mark him up because he’s being creative.’ And she writes this down, she’s worshipping him. With part of her head she knows that it’s absolute nonsense, but because she’s worshipping, she needs something to worship, and she follows him.

So 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. B

ut 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.

He gave many examples but it’s not very satisfactory to hear examples of famous artists and scientists because you think, Well, you’ve got to have tremendous skill, technical skill or knowledge, to have this sort of inspiration. So, some examples from ordinary life can be a very useful thing. The richest man in Japan, still, is a man who left school when he was thirteen, no education. But he built up the  Matsushita Electric, Panasonic, this vast empire. His income is so great that the taxes are 90%. He says of himself, he says, ‘I’m making all this money in exports for Japan but of course it all goes over straight to the Government, but they let me keep a service charge of 10%.’ He’s not educated. He says, ‘It’s got some advantages.’ When something comes up in business, where you’ve got to see something’, he said, ‘my staff read a book about it, I actually go and look at it.’ And’, he said, ‘when a problem comes up, they try and find the answer in books, you see. But I have to think, because I’ve no real education, I’m not really at home with books.’ But he said one very interesting thing, that he has to, as the President of the company, he has to listen to a tremendous number of these talks on management and on company policy and so on, and the export figures and so on. They do a lot of these, this sort of thing in Japanese companies to create a sort of team spirit. Sony are the enemy, not just a competitor, but the enemy, and they, build it up like this. Well he says that he couldn’t understand these talks, you see. He was very successful but he couldn’t understand the talks on how to be successful.

And he says that he developed a skill of being able to shut off the voice. He had to be there as the President, he had to sit up in his frock coat and the wing collar and the tie and so on, as the President, but he could shut off the voice and then he could think about the actual problems, and ideas for the company. And he said, ‘Sometimes they were very fruitful, afterwards’. But he had to be able to shut out the voice. Well, this is a Yogic technique of quite a high order, to be able to shut out the voice and withdraw from the external, the consciousness of the external objects, into this luminous inner sphere of  ‘Tejas‘. In one of his books, which I read and they’re very interesting, he was having trouble with the newly founded unions, not very long after the war, about ten or fifteen years, and the row was on when the year changed. Well, New Year holiday, things close down, and then on the fourth day everything opens up and it’s customary then for the President and some of the managers to go, make a formal inspection of the whole premises. And everybody’s standing there, it’s all been cleaned up and it’s all spruced up and so on. Well, they thought they’d, kind of try him out as they were having a row.

So they deliberately left, one of the staff lavatories, the floor, the open floor, one place was deliberately left stained and dirty. All the rest was perfectly clean. And, they wondered what he’d do. And the description said that he was making the rounds and they came to this place, you see, and then, they stood on the threshold, and then it was perfectly apparent there was this defiled area in the middle. And there was a silence, and then he said something to one of the assistant managers, who scurried off, came back with a bucket of hot water, a big cake of soap and a scrubbing brush. And the President then got down on his hands and knees and scrubbed the floor clean, going right onto the end, waving away, until it was perfectly clean. Then he mopped it up, got up, Well, this made him enormously popular in the company and it was one example of a sort of inspiration. Now another one was this. There was a depression in Japan and all of the electrical companies were in a bad way. People couldn’t afford to buy new stuff. Well, his factory then had 600 people, and they don’t like sacking people in Japan but some of the companies were having to do this. Matsushita called his staff together, explained the situation, said, ‘We’ve got this. Now you’ve made these electric stoves and electric kettles and cookers and so on, and we can’t sell them because of the depression, so they’re piling up. It’s no use making any more is it, if we can’t sell them?, can’t get any turnover.’ So everybody sort of bowed their head and then he said, ‘I’m an amateur, you know, in business, but amateurs can do all right.

‘ He said ‘I’ve never had any training or education, which some of you have had, but amateurs can do all right. Now, I’ll suggest this, ‘All of you give up what you’re doing, making these things, and turn yourself for a week into salesmen. You don’t know anything about selling but I didn’t know anything about electricity when I went into the business. And you can sell these things to the housewife at cost price, so long as we get them moving,  and then we can make some more’. So 600 salesmen descended on Osaka, amateur salesmen, carrying these things in their hands and selling them at cost price, and his was one of the few companies that survived the depression. He was a man who practised meditation, of his own kind. He’s an idealist and he had these inspirations which are most unexpected.

And our teacher told us that all the time inspiration is raining on us. Now his concern was with his company and the welfare of the people in it, but he did receive inspiration for that. 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’.