Mandukya Gaudapada Karika Upanishad

Mandukya Gaudapada Karika Upanishad


[Gaudapada (c. 8th century CE) was first philosopher of the Advaita Vedanta ('Non-dualistic Vedanata') school of Hindu philosophy in the post-Upanishadic period. He was paramguru of the great teacher Adi Shankara.]

Commentary by Shankaracharya:

Those who have realized Brahman, the Highest Reality, merge the self in Turiya because they have transcended the notion of cause and effect, which inheres in the third quarter of Atman. They are not born again; for they have realized their identity with the causeless Turiya. The illusory snake which has merged in the rope as a result of discrimination between the snake and the rope, does not reappear. Students of dull or mediocre mind who have renounced the world and are endowed with spiritual virtues should meditate on the common features of the sounds of AUM and the quarters of Atman, as explained before. Thus, proceeding step by step, they ultimately realize Turiya, devoid of any state or sound, and attain the Highest Goal.

Commentary on Karika by Shankaracharya (adapted):

(1) The first chapter, that is to say, the Mandukya Upanishad proper, declared the reality of Non-duality on scriptural evidence through the explanation of AUM.

(2) The second chapter [on Illusion] established the same truth with the help of reason and scripture (scripture supporting what was proved by reason), by demonstrating the unreality of the distinctions implied by the external objects of experience.

(3) The third chapter, dealing with Non-duality, established it directly, on the authority of reason and scripture, and concluded with the statement: “The supreme truth is that nothing ever is born." The Knowledge of Non-duality, which alone is the real import of the Vedas, is challenged by the dualists and by the nihilists of the well-known Buddhist school. But the teachings of these schools contradict each other and their followers’ reasoning is vitiated by the blemishes of attachment to their own opinion and aversion for that of others. Hence the knowledge they claim is false knowledge. The philosophy of non-dualism is true philosophy because it is free from these blemishes. (Two of the tests of Reality are that it must be free from contradiction and conflict and must be conducive to the welfare of all. Ultimate Reality is that by the knowing of which everything can be known. The Knowledge of Non-duality satisfies these conditions.)

(4) The purpose of the fourth chapter, called Alatasanti, or the Quenching of the Fire-brand, is to bring to a conclusion the discussion of the philosophy of non-dualism. This is done by showing in detail that other systems, on account of the mutual contradictions inherent in them, cannot be called true philosophy. The method followed is called the method of disagreement, or avitanyaya. (This is one of the processes of inference, the other being known as the method of agreement. The second chapter, following the method of agreement, has shown that what is caused or brought into existence is unreal. In the present chapter it will be shown that what is not unreal is also not caused.)

Chapter I -— The Non-duality & AUM

Visva [Consciousness functioning through the waking state] is all—pervading, the experiencer of external objects. Taijasa is the cognizer of internal objects. Prajna is a mass of consciousness. It is one alone that is thus known in the three states.

Visva is the cognizer through the right eye; Taijasa is the cognizer through the mind within; Prajna is the akasa in the heart. Therefore the one Atman is perceived threefold in the same body.

Visva experiences the gross; Taijasa, the subtle; and Prajna, the blissful. Know these to be the threefold experience. The gross object satisfies Visva; the subtle, Taijasa; and the blissful, Prajna. Know these to be the threefold satisfaction.

The experiencer and the objects of experience associated with the three states have been described. He who knows these both does not become attached to objects though enjoying them.

Surely a coming into existence must be predicated of all positive entities that exist. Prana manifests all inanimate objects. The Purusha manifests the conscious beings in their manifold forms.

Some of those who contemplate the process of creation regard it as the manifestation of God’s powers; others imagine creation to be like dreams and illusions.

 Those who are convinced about the reality of manifested objects ascribe the manifestation solely to God’s will, while those who speculate about time regard time as the creator of things.

Some say that the manifestation is or the purpose of God’s enjoyment, while others attribute it to His division. But it is the very nature of the effulgent Being. What desire is possible for Him who is the fulfillment of all desires? (1.1-9)

Read: Mandukya VII

Turiya, the changeless Ruler, is capable of destroying all miseries. All other entities being unreal, the non—dual Turiya alone is known as effulgent and all—pervading. (1.10)

Visva [ Consciousness functioning in the waking state] and Taijasa [Consciousness functioning in the dream state ] are conditioned by cause and effect. Prajna [ Consciousness functioning in deep sleep ] is conditioned by cause alone. Neither cause nor effect exists in Turiya. (1.11)

Prajna does not know anything of self or non—self, of truth or untruth. But Turiya is ever existent and all—seeing. (1.12)

Non—cognition of duality is common to both Prajna and Turiya. But Prajna is associated with sleep in the form of cause and this sleep does not exist in Turiya. (1.13)

The first two, Visva and Taijasa, are associated with dreaming and sleep respectively; Prajna, with Sleep bereft of dreams. Knowers of Brahman see neither sleep nor dreams in Turiya. (1.14)

Dreaming is the wrong cognition and sleep the non—cognition, of Reality. When the erroneous knowledge in these two is destroyed, Turiya is realized. (1.15)

When the jiva, asleep under the influence of beginningless maya, is awakened, it then realizes birthless, sleepless and dreamless Non—duality. (1.16)

If the phenomenal universe were real, then certainly it would disappear. The universe of duality which is cognized is mere illusion (maya); Non—duality alone is the Supreme Reality. (1.17)

If anyone imagines illusory ideas such as the teacher, the taught and the scriptures, then they will disappear. These ideas are for the purpose of instruction. Duality ceases to exist when Reality is known. (1.18)

Read: Mandukya VIII-XI

When the identity of Viśva and the sound (letter) A is intended to be described, the conspicuous ground is the circumstance of each being the first (in their respective position); another reason for this identity is also the fact of the all-pervasiveness of each. (1.19)

The clear ground of realising Taijasa as of the same nature as U is the common feature of “Superiority Similarly another plain reason of such identity is being in “the middle”. (1.20) ...

Read: Mandukya XII

AUM should be known quarter by quarter. There is no doubt that the quarters are the same as the letters. Having understood AUM quarter by quarter, one should not think of anything else. (1.24)

The mind should be concentrated on Aum. Aum is the fearless Brahman. He who is always absorbed in Aum knows no fear whatever. (1.25)

Aum is verily the Lower Brahman. It is also stated to be the Higher Brahman. Aum is beginningless and unique. There is nothing outside it. It is unrelated to any effect and is immutable. (1.26)

Aum is, indeed, the beginning, middle, and end of all things. He who has realized Aum as immutable immediately attains the Supreme Reality. (1.27)

Know Aum to be Isvara, ever present in the hearts of all. The calm soul, contemplating Aum as all-pervading, does not grieve. (1.28)

One who knows Aum, which is soundless and also endowed with infinite sounds, which is all good and the negation of duality, is a real sage, and none other. (1.29)

Chapter II — on Illusion (Maya)

As a rope lying in darkness, about whose nature one remains uncertain, is imagined to be a snake or a line of water, so Atman is imagined in various ways.

When the real nature of the rope is ascertained, all misconceptions about it disappear and there arises the conviction that it is nothing but a rope. Even so is the true nature of Atman determined.

Atman is imagined as prana and other numberless ideas. All this is due to maya, belonging to the effulgent Atman, by which It appears, Itself, to be deluded. (2.17-19)

"It is found in common experience that a rope, not known as such, is imagined in semi-darkness to be a snake, a line of water, a stick, or any one of a number of similar things. If the rope were previously known in its true nature, then the illusion of a snake or a stick would not have been possible. Similarly, Atman is imagined in various ways, for instance, as a jiva or as prana, because of ignorance of Its true nature, the pure essence of Knowledge, which is non-dual and utterly unrelated to such phenomenal characteristics as causality etc., resulting in the experience of suffering and grief. This is the conclusion of Vedanta." (Shankaracharya)

This ignorance is maya, the inscrutable power described, from the phenomenal standpoint, as inhering in Brahman.
The doctrine of maya is an explanation of the manifold universe from the causal standpoint. By the power of maya the manifold comes into existence and appears to be real; but it cannot affect the non-dual and transcendental nature of Atman.

Maya is an inexplicable power belonging to Brahman. It is the creative energy through which the phenomenal universe is projected. The very conception of the Lord as the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of the universe is the result of maya. One can know and contemplate the Personal God through this power of maya; otherwise Pure Consciousness, which is devoid of all attributes, remains unknown and unknowable to the finite mind. Even when diversity disappears at the end of a cycle, the Lord, covered by maya, remains as the cause. It is only when the Knowledge of Reality arises that maya completely disappears. (sn)

The Unreality of Duality

As dreams, illusions, and castles in the air are viewed, so is the tangible universe viewed by the wise, well-versed in Vedanta. (2.31)

There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practising disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth. (2.32)

Atman is imagined as the unreal objects [that are perceived to exist] and as Non-duality as well. The objects, too, are imagined in the non-dual Atman. Therefore Non-duality is Bliss. (2.33)

The diversity in the universe does not exist as an entity identical with Atman, nor does it exist by itself. Neither is it separate from Brahman nor is it non-separate. This is the statement of the wise. (2.34)

The following interpretation of this important and profound verse is based upon the commentary of Shankara and its explanation by Anandagiri:

—[verse 2.32] ...The gist of this verse is that the state of bondage, discipleship, etc. cannot exist in the absence of creation and destruction. How can it be said that there is neither creation nor destruction? It is because duality never exists at any time. The absence of duality is emphasized by such scriptural passages as: "All this is verily Atman" (Br. Up. II. iv. 6); "Atman is one and without a second" (Chh. Up. VI. ii. 1). Birth and death can be predicated only of what exists and never of what does not exist. Birth and death are never mentioned with reference to the son of a barren woman. That which is non-dual can never be said to be born or destroyed. Birth indicates a previous non-existence, and death, a subsequent non-existence. But the non-dual Atman is eternal existence.

Further, birth and death, implying change, can only be brought about by an external factor which effects the change. But Atman is one and without a second. That Atman should be non-dual and at the same time subject to birth and death is a contradiction in terms. ....

From the relative standpoint duality exists as we perceive it. It is superimposed, through ignorance, upon the non-dual Atman, as a snake or a stick is superimposed upon a rope. The notions of happiness and unhappiness, knowledge and ignorance, birth and death, corporeality, grossness and subtleness, old age and decay, etc. are superimposed upon Atman. Through all these relative experiences the reality of Atman persists as the perceiver. This being so, scripture certainly has no applicability with regard to Atman, which, being the substratum, is ever self-evident. Scripture cannot directly describe the true nature of the non-dual Atman. It is of no use to the knower of Ultimate Reality. The purpose of scripture is to accomplish what is not yet accomplished. It does not serve the purpose of evidence if it is used to establish what is self-evident or what has already been established. Though Atman is by nature pure and non-dual, yet It is not aware of Its true nature on account of such obstacles as the notions of happiness, unhappiness, corporeality, etc. superimposed by ignorance.

The purpose of scripture is to remove these illusory notions; thus it serves a negative purpose. This is accomplished when scripture describes Atman as Neti, neti—"Not this, not this." (Br. Up. II. iii. 6.) Thus dissociating from Atman such adjectives as happy or unhappy, which would make It an object (vishaya), scripture indirectly helps to establish It as the eternal subject or substantive. The negation of attributes reveals the real nature of Atman. The purpose of scripture is to negate all positive characteristics falsely associated with Atman.

—[verse 2.33] The highest teaching of Vedanta is that Brahman alone is real. What the ignorant see as diverse phenomena are nothing but Brahman. As the snake is identical with the rope, and dream-objects with the mind, so the various objects that are perceived to exist are nothing but Brahman. When one perceives the snake as other than the rope, one is afraid of it. This fear is based on ignorance. Similarly, when one sees objects outside Atman, one feels attracted or repelled by them. The highest Bliss is experienced when one realizes all things to be Atman. From the standpoint of Reality the phenomenal world—and even the idea that it exists—is nothing but Atman. Therefore from the highest standpoint there is neither birth nor death.

—[verse 2.34] The changing phenomenal universe cannot exist as a separate entity and at the same time be identical with the unchanging non-dual Atman; in that case the diversity would become unreal, because Atman is one and without a second. The illusory snake, which in darkness appears to be other than the rope, is known, with the help of a light, to be the same as the rope. The light does not reveal two separate entities, namely, the snake and the rope, and their identity. It reveals only one thing, namely, the reality of the rope. Likewise, the light of Knowledge reveals only the non-dual Atman. Diversity, which is taken to be real from the relative standpoint, is realized to be nothing but the non-dual Atman; it does not exist as one with Atman. (sn)

Chapter III — the Knowledge of Non-duality

The scriptural statements regarding the creation, using the examples of earth, iron and sparks, are for the purpose of clarifying the mind. Multiplicity does not really exist in any manner.

The unborn Atman becomes manifold through maya and not otherwise. For if the manifold were real, then the immortal would become mortal.

The disputants assert that the unborn entity (Atman) becomes born. Now can one expect that an entity that is birthless and immortal should become mortal?

The immortal cannot become mortal, nor can the mortal become immortal. For it is never possible for a thing to change its nature.

How can one who believes that an entity by nature immortal becomes mortal, maintain that the immortal, after passing through change, retains its changeless nature? (gk 3.15, 19-22)

From such scriptural passages as, "One does not see any multiplicity in Atman" [Ka. Up. II. i. 11.] and "Indra (the Supreme Lord), through maya, assumes diverse forms" [Ri. VI. xlvii. 18.], one knows that Atman, though ever unborn, appears to have become many only through maya.

Further, by the negation of the creation, coming into birth is negated. The causality of Brahman is denied by such a statement as "Who can cause It to come into birth?"

On account of the incomprehensible nature of Atman, the scriptural passage "Not this, not this" negates all [dualistic] ideas [attributed to Atman]. Therefore the birthless Atman alone exists.

What is ever existent appears to pass into birth through maya, yet from the standpoint of Reality it does not do so. But he who thinks this passing into birth is real asserts, as a matter of fact, that what is born passes into birth again.

The unreal cannot be born either really or through maya. For it is not possible for the son of a barren woman to be born either really or through maya. (3.24-28)

The Nature of Brahman

Brahman is birthless, sleepless, dreamless, nameless, and formless. It is ever effulgent and omniscient. No duty, in any sense, can ever be associated with It.

Atman is beyond all expression by words, and beyond all acts of the mind. It is great peace, eternal effulgence, and samadhi; It is unmoving and fearless.

Brahman is free from mental activity and hence from all ideas of acceptance or relinquishment. When knowledge is established in Atman it attains birthlessness and sameness. (3.36-38)

The mind distracted by desires and enjoyments should be brought under control by proper means; so also the mind enjoying pleasure in inactivity (laya). For the state of inactivity is as harmful as the state of desires.

Turn back the mind from the enjoyment of desires, remembering that they beget only misery. Do not see the created objects, remembering that all this is the unborn Atman.

If the mind becomes inactive, arouse it [from laya]; if distracted, make it tranquil. Understand the nature of the mind when it contains the seed of attachment. When the mind has attained sameness, do not disturb it again. (3.42-44)

Chapter IV — the Quenching of the Fire-brand

It is not reasonable to think that a dreamer actually goes out in order to experience the objects [seen in the dream], because of the discrepancy of the time involved in such a journey. Nor does he, when awakened, find himself in the places [seen in the dream].

The dreamer, after awaking, realizes the illusoriness of the conversations he had with friends etc. in the dream state. Further, he does not possess in the waking state anything he acquired while dreaming.

The dream body is unsubstantial because the other [i.e. the physical] body, different from it, is perceived. Like the [dream] body, all things cognized by the mind are unsubstantial.

Since the experience [of objects] in dreams is similar to the experience [of objects] in the waking state, waking experience is regarded as the cause of dream experience. It is only by him [who admits waking experience to be the cause of dream experience] that waking experience can be regarded as real.

All entities are said to be unborn, since birth cannot be established [as a fact]. It is utterly impossible for the unreal to be born of the real. (4.34-38)

...And how utterly impossible it is for the real to be the cause of the unreal! (4.40)

Realizing the Absence of Causality is Ultimate Truth

As long as a person clings to the belief in causality, he will find cause producing effect. But when this attachment to causality wears away, cause and effect become non-existent.

As long as a person clings to the belief in causality, samsara will continue to expand for him. But when this attachment to causality wears away, samsara becomes non-existent. (4.55-56)

Samsara ('wandering'): a journey of the soul. Going around through a succession of states, disease, old age and the cycles of birth and rebirth. That which is constantly changing.

The birthlessness of the mind, which is free from manifestation arid causal relationship, is absolute and constant. For duality [i.e. the perceiving mind and its objects] is merely an objectification of the mind.

Realizing the absence of causality as ultimate truth, and not finding any other reason [for birth], one attains that state which is free from grief, desire, and fear.

On account of attachment to unreal objects the mind pursues such objects. [But it comes back to its pure state] when it attains non-attachment, realizing their unreality.

The mind freed from attachment [to all external objects] and un-distracted [by fresh objects] attains the state of immutability. The wise realize such a mind to be Brahman; It is undifferentiated, birthless, and non-dual. (4.77-80)

The birthless, dreamless, and sleepless Reality reveals Itself by Itself; for this Dharma (Atman) by Its very nature of self-luminousness. [4.81]

Soul is Immortal

One should be conversant, at the very outset, with four things. These are as follows: the things to be avoided, the goal to be realized, the disciplines to be cultivated, and the tendencies to be rendered ineffective. Of these four, all except the goal to be realized [i.e. the Supreme Reality] exist only as products of the imagination.

All Atmans (Dharmas) are to be known, by their very nature, to be beginningless and [unattached] like akasa. There is not the slightest variety in them in any way or at any time.

akasa (akasha): the first material element created from the astral world, the essence of all things in the material world; other elments are Air, Fire, Water and Earth).

All jivas are, by their very nature, illumined from the very beginning. There can never be any doubt about their nature. He who, having known this, rests without seeking further knowledge is alone capable of attaining Immortality. (4.90-92)

jiva - the individual soul

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* Commentary by Swami Nikhilananda