Mundakopanishad – Part 1



By U. Ve. , MahAmahOpAdhyaya, Dr. Sriman Srirangam Nallan Chakravarthy Raghunathacharya Swami: Translated into English by Sriman K.S. Rajaji I.A.S.,

The essence Upanishads are parts of the Vedas which explain the Brahman. The Upanishads have originated to explain the nature and form of the JivA and ParamAtma, to discourse on the manner of releasing oneself from the ties of the world and obtaining eternal happiness by obtaining by attaining Brahman, after freeing oneself from the anxieties and cares for the uplifting of all the sentient beings. These Upanishads are the auspicious lamps, which throw light on our ancient philosophical knowledge (the Truths).

UPANISHAD – Definition
There is one definition- “Upa- nishadya- grihyamaaNathvaath Upanishad”. The meaning is that the Upanishad is that knowledge of the Brahman which is transmitted (taught) by the AchArya in a secret manner to a disciple who is seated close to him. Another definition is “BrahmaNi Upanishannethyupanishad” This is given the vakyakara – Brahmanandin. This is quoted in the S’ruthaprakaas’ika. According to this, Upanishad is that which directly explains the nature of Brahman. In the Mahabharata there is an expression “nishathsu – upanishathsu ca”. From the commentaries on Mahabharata, it may be seen that as said in purusha suktham “angaanyanyaani devathaah”, that the manthras which pertain to the gods who are the limbs of the supreme lord are called “nishath” and those which address directly the ParamAtma are called Upanishad. Sri S’ankara at the beginning of his commentary on Mundakopanishat has explained with reference to the grammatical root of the word (Upannishadiyatheethi Upanishath) that the Upanishath is what rids one of the evils like birth and death, or that which enables a person to draw closer to Brahman, or that which destroys the causes for the evils like Karma caused by ignorance.

Though there are many Upanishads, all of which may be termed as rays of philosophical knowledge, Sri S’ankara and Bhagavad Ramanuja gave prominence only to ten Upanishads – the S’vethaas’vathara, the Subaala, Kaushitaki, and others. The Mundakopanishat however has greater claims for prominence than the above for the following reasons –
1. All those matters, without leaving anything, which need to be discoursed upon to the seeker-devotee have been very well summarised here.
2. A feature of this Upanishad is that matters pertaining to the S’astras, which are beyond the comprehension of an ordinary person have been explained here with the common, but attractive examples, so that they are easily understood by him
3. Though the language is Vedic language, this Upanishad is couched in a manner which is intimate (close to), easily understood and in a sweet (attractive) language of Sanskrit, instead of the high level from beginning to the end, which is not understood by the common man.
4. The Manthras found here have been cited very often as authoritative by sage Vyasa in his Vedanta Sutras and in the commentaries thereon by the revered acharyas.
For the above reasons, I am presenting below, in a summarised manner for the benefit of the readers, what has been stated in the six parts called Khandas of the MuNdaka Upanishad, which has a special prominence when compared to the other Upanishads. In the AtharvaNa Veda, there is a branch which has been discoursed upon by a great sage called MuNdaka. Towards the end of the Manthras enumerated therein, this Upanishad is found. That is the reason why this Upanishad is called MuNdaka Upanishad.

The First chapter or the First Khanda
In this Upanishad, Brahman has been addressed as “Akshara” and a discourse is being given on the science of Akshara Brahman with the aim of attaining the Paramatman. Since Angirasa had such a wealth of knowledge, he was able to answer the question of S’aunaka and gave a discourse on Brahman. The essence of the discourse is as follows –
A knowledge seeker would have to know two sciences, here in after called Vidyas, the paravidya and aparavidya. VidyA stands for knowledge. When the four Vedas (Rig Veda and other Vedas), the knowledge of phonetics, the codes of rituals, grammar, etymology (the Vedic Lexicon), the prosody, astronomy, the ithihAsAs, the PurANas, Logic and Vedic exegesis, Dharma SAstras and other such sciences are learnt from an AchArya, the knowledge of the Brahman which arises from such a study is “apara VidyA”. The knowledge of Brahman which is acquired through such knowledge which is imparted (that is learnt by hearing) is only indirect knowledge. Para VidyA is that knowledge gained by meditation which enables the experiencing the Lord as direct manifestation. The meditation which has, as its object, the form of the Lord, gradually matures into a stage of direct perception. The worship, which is instant, should gradually become more intense till the Lord Himself manifests before him. Such worship is called Para VidyA. That which is capable of being learnt from listening to Vedas and afterwards manifests personally at the stage of constant worship is akshara Brahman. That Brahman is referred to as the material cause – upAdAna karaNa for this entire physical Universe.

In His subtle state, the Akshara Brahman has the chit and achit merged in Him, in different forms as per His Will (desire). He is therefore referred to as the main cause for all the sentient and insentient entities. This Akshara Brahman permeates the entire universe and so the chit and achit become almost identical with Him. The essence of teaching of Angirasa therefore is that since the Universe has such an indissoluble connection with the Brahman, both before creation and after creation and since the universe has originated from Him and has been permeated by Him after creation, knowing about the Brahman, is knowing about the entire universe. This is what is conveyed when it is said- knowing One is knowing everything. This reply is given by Angirasa at Mantra 7 of Khanda 1, when he says “” thenedam poorNam purushena sarvam” and again at Mantras 9&10 of Khanda 3 when he says “yenaisha bhoothaih thishThathe hyantharaathma” and “Purusha evedam viswam”. In the seeds of trees, which are embryos of the tree itself, amazing qualities of the tree are available in subtle form and these are the causes for the different changes in the trees. When we see the seed, which is the primary cause, we realize also the nature of the qualities of the tree which is to grow, is it not? The meaning of the reply of Angirasa is that when we learn about the Brahman who has amazing powers and is the cause of the universe, it is the same as knowing this creation of His, into all of which He has permeated. In the ChAndOgya Upanishad also a similar reply has been given giving the example of lump of clay. When we look at a lump of clay, we know also about the pots, tiles, pans, and bricks etc., which are made out of mud/clay; is it not?

This may be true. But how is the supernatural womb and how was the universe born out of it? These also have been answered by Angirasa. That is in the next posting.

Courtesy — Srinivasa Ramanuja Dasan.

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