The Mandukya Upanishad


There are some very unusual points about both the Upanishad and about the Karika. The Upanishad is very short, only 12 verses. Shri Shankara calls it the essence of the Upanishads, and our teacher’s teacher, Shri Dada, also says this is one of the three Upanishads which, if studied, will give the whole of the spirit of those Upanishads. The Karikas – they’re verses – they’re divided into four books, of which the first book goes with the short little Upanishad, the Mandukya.  It is often called a commentary upon it, but it’s a very odd commentary.

Normally the format of the commentary is that the basic verse is given and then the commentary follows, and it explains the verse and its connection with the previous and following verses and with the general ideas. In this case, it’s rather a different thing. It’s not necessary to see all this clearly in terms of the details but, for example, we find a block of verses of the Upanishad and then a block of verses of the Karika.  It’s not in the normal way where verse one of the Upanishads is followed by verse one of the Karika and so on. Instead, we see:

Verses 1 – 6           Upanishad

Verses1 – 9            Karika

Verse 7                   Upanishad

Verses 10 – 18        Karika

Verses 8 – 11          Upanishad

Verses 19 – 23        Karika

Verse 12                 Upanishad

Verses 24 – 29        Karika

This is an unusual setup for a text and commentary.

Then another very unusual thing would be this. We read the first two verses of the Upanishads.

“’Om’ is all this. The sacred syllable ‘Om’ is all this. ‘Om’ is all this. Of this, an exposition is begun.  All that is past, present, or future is verily ‘Om’. Whatever is beyond the three periods of time is also verily ‘Om’.”

The second verse:

“All this is surely Brahman. This Self is Brahman.  The Self is possessed of four quarters.”

Here we have two verses, the first one on ‘Om’, the second one on Brahman and the Self.  ‘Om’ is the leading idea of the Upanishad. It’s often called the Upanishad of ‘Om’.  But ‘Om’ never occurs in the Karikas until verse 24, where there are six verses on ‘Om’.  The second verse is on Brahman and that also never occurred until the end. The last keyword, Self or Atman, again doesn’t come until verse 12 with the Karika. Well, these things are worth noting, not for any contentious purpose, but only to alert one. It’s rather difficult when reading the text – the Upanishad interleaved with the Karika, so to speak – how to remember which says which.

The Karika has an extension of the thought of the Upanishad. Now, the next verses of the Upanishad are on the waking state, the dreaming state and the dreamless sleep state. These are regarded as the key concepts of the beginning of this Upanishad. We should note again that the Karika doesn’t make the same division. It never mentions the words ‘waking state’ at all. It classifies both what he calls the waking state in the Upanishad – namely, when the senses are in contact with outer things – and the dreaming state – when there’s an inner light and things are seen internally by the inner light, seen, heard, felt, and so on, which is called a dream.

Now both those two states are called by the Karika, ‘dream’. The Karika is saying, even while we are awake, we’re dreaming.  If one simply reads the Upanishad straight, one will conclude one is in the waking state or the dreaming state or, further on, the dreamless sleep state. The Karika says ‘no’ – even in a state when exterior objects are seen, you are still in the dreaming state. This is rightfully to be called dreaming.

Then the third state is the dreamless sleep state.  Well, now again, the Karika doesn’t refer to it as ‘dreamless sleep’. It says, “This is the state where no object, either external or internal, is cognized.” It says, “… as if in dreamless sleep; as if in dream”. Now, when Shankara comments on these verses of the Upanishad – the waking, the dreaming, and the dreamless sleep – he doesn’t use these terms. He interprets them in accordance with the Karika; that’s to say 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”. “This”, he says, “is the second state, the state of interior light, cognition interiorly”. He says that 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 we 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. At 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, and the Karika makes a big point of this.

Then, the third state, the Upanishad says, “Is a state where there’s no cognition, either external or internal. It is a mass of consciousness”. We would think, “No, no, that’s unconsciousness”. The point is made by Shankara here and in many other places, that if it were unconscious, we would never know about it.  We do have the awareness: “I was in deep sleep. I knew nothing”. We say, “Well, that’s the same thing as not knowing, that’s being unconscious.” 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.

I think an example which is given from modern biology is the snakes have a pit in the cheeks which registers heat. They can tell whether there’s a mouse in the room. They can sense the heat, the mouse.  If you put a snake in a room, it turns his head like that. The room is absolutely dark, but it turns its head like that. 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 there or not – it might be a mouse!

A great point is made of this in the Yoga psychology and 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 the 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’s ignorance. This is the state of deep sleep, which is continuing all the time that we are going around. This is the view of the Karika. Shankara extends these verses of the Upanishad to include, not only the strict state of dream, but also the internal visualizations 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, be all this? How can a name be a thing?” Well, some examples are given and one is a picture of a model, a girl who’s a dancing girl. She’s carrying a flute and she’s wearing silk garments; her hair is parted in the middle and comes down her back; her hands are holding a flute, but she’s not playing it yet as she’s just about to bring it to her lips. As a Japanese girl, you can tell she’s not yet 20 by the length of the sleeves. There are great many things in a picture like this but, in fact, all these things are simply names. There’s no flute there, no hands there. There’s no hair there, no silk dress there. There’s simply the clay – it’s the names that actually are these things.

Well, we can say “Yes, that’s true, but that’s only because there really are such things, it’s only because such things really exist. As long sleeves really exist, the under-20 girls with a particular profession in Kyoto wear them. They’re the entertainers and they’re dancers and singers. 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 dragon, it’s quite familiar to us and to all Chinese.  Now, such things have never existed, but they’ve been created by pictures and words and names, and we can recognize them.

Sometimes when people are in delirium, they get the feeling that a dragon is trying to get into the house – as the wind rattles their window, it becomes real to them. These 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 for them to make their feather robes.  The bird will give feathers and then it grows new ones. Now this is quite well known as a subject for art and these wonderful feathers are so fine that the heavenly beings beg from the bird. This also is a creation of names and words and pictures; and it’s familiar, it’s recognized, by the people in this tradition.

Well, Shankara says that, in the same way, if things are created by names and the names are the things, it is a disease to take these things, which are names, as real. We suffer from it, from this disease, and that is cured by knowing that they are creations of name. 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; “Worship Om as the Self, because in It 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 calls Knowledge, as he does in this commentary. “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.  People think, “Oh, well, we don’t want to worship these days. No, surely man can stand by himself”. 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 a sense of benevolence. A top American ambassador is probably not a particularly gullible man, but rather cynical.  However, on meeting the head of a particular state, a ‘father of his people’, he said of him, “His brown eyes were 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”.

And of another man, who was not a Christian, a prominent man – a dean, a Christian –  said, “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 Christian, I felt ashamed when I saw this exhibition of this man who’s 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 instinct to sidle up to – that was Stalin as seen through the eyes of the American ambassador, Walter Bedell Smith.

The second one was Chairman Mao, who killed more people 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 – she was a considerable thinker in her own right and a great idealist, she began worshipping Chairman Mao.  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 I go? What wouldn’t they stand?”  She quotes with approval, in one of her books on education, some remarks by Chairman Mao on education. 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, he’s alright and he should get full marks”.  She posts this, she says, “Sometimes Chairman Mao is quite unexpected”.

He also said that 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 questions on this”.   One pupil answered them all correctly from his textbook but he said, “Only give him 50% because he’s mechanically copying”. Another one answers them more-or-less out of his head.  Perhaps he hasn’t read the book, but he sort of invents the book. “Well, mark him up because he’s been creative”. She writes this down, she’s worshipping.  With part of her head, she knows that is absolute nonsense, but because she’s worshipping, she needs something to worship, she follows him.

Shankara says, “It’s essential to have to worship.” In some of his commentaries, and some parts of his commentaries, he’s very frank, the opponent is allowed to speak very forcibly. The opponent says, “You see, your worship and meditation, finally is on identity, isn’t it? Yes, you worship Om, and finally, it’s an identification”. The opponent says, “Well, you say in some of these rituals, you’re told to meditate on the sacrificial post as the sun.  Well, you do this, you think that somehow there is the sacrificial post, the splendour of the sun, and it’s taking part in the holy ceremony.  But all the time, you know perfectly well that your meditations are just like a man who sees a stump of a tree and thinks that that’s a man. Say he’s lost in a mist and he needs and hopes to find someone to ask the way.  Then he sees this thing about the height and 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 meditation to persuade yourself that the stump of a tree is a man, and all the time really, you know that it isn’t”.

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 facts.  They are true.” In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1:3:1, the point is discussed at great length. He points out that to meditate on a fact, which is not yet realized, is not creating an illusion, but is truth. In the meditations here, it 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 Samkhya’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. Now, there is the Self and the quarters which are contained in it, are contained only by imagination, by a vibration of the mind. There’s a quarter which represents the state of the deep sleep and another, the state of the interior observation and another, the state of the exterior observation.

Shankara says that, when we are in this (external) state, we see external objects and we’re satisfied with those objects. To somebody who’s extroverted, the deeper states are simply dreams – it’s people just sitting with their mouths open.  “Sooner or later they’ve got to come back and have their dinner haven’t they?  It’s just unreal, this thickness in their imagination.”

But Shankara said that, in fact, this (exterior observation) is based on this (interior observation), which is the inner light.  The exterior perceptions are based on the inner perceptions and the inner perceptions are based on the mass consciousness – but all is a creation of the vibrations of the mind.

In order to attain realization of the Atman, the true Self which contains them all, he begins in the exterior quarter and he has to, as Shankara says, in samadhi merge into the interior one; merge until he loses the external perception and becomes entirely internally perceiving; then internally perceiving, to make a jump away from thought, into mass consciousness. Then finally, to burn this up – he uses the yogic term to burn the seeds – and attain to the Atman. Now he says there is the field of the external objects, the field of the inner light, the field of massed consciousness.  But the field (of the final quarter) is not given. If we look carefully at the commentary, we’ll see that this field is the other three, as well as its own self.

Our teacher often spoke of this.  The third state, (which we call deep sleep, but Shankara doesn’t call deep sleep in his commentary) is not only deep sleep, it’s when memory disappears, and the mind has been transcended. There is no consciousness of external objects, then the mind has been transcended, with no consciousness of internal objects. Shri Dada says the same thing. Finally, these seeds, the impressions are burnt up by worship and devotion, and meditation and then there’s complete realization of Atman.

The third state which we think of as unconsciousness, in fact, it’s called ‘omniscience’ in the Upanishad.  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. 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 inspiration.

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 13, with no education – but he has built up Panasonic, this vast empire. His income is so great that the taxes are 90%. He says to himself, “I’m making all this money in exports for Japan. Of course, it all goes over straight to the government, but they let me keep a service charge of 10%.” Now, he’s not educated, but he says that it’s got some advantages.

He said, “When something comes up in business where you’ve got to see something, my staff read a book about it.  I actually go and look at it.” He said, “When the problem comes up, they try and find the answer in books, but because I have no real education, I’m not really at home in books.” He says that one very interesting thing is that as the president of the company, he has to listen to a tremendous number of talks on the management and on the company policy and  the export figures, and so on. They do a lot of these in Japanese companies to create a team spirit – Sony is not just a competitor, but the enemy.  They built it up in on this basis.

He says that he couldn’t understand these talks. He was very successful, but he couldn’t understand the talks on how to be successful. 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 as the president.  But he could shut off the voice, and then he could think about the actual problems and the ideas for the company. He said sometimes they were very fruitful afterwards, but he had to be able to shut out the voice.

This is a yoga technique of quite a high order to be able to shut out the voice and to withdraw from the external consciousness of external objects into this luminous inner sphere of taijasa.   One of his books, which I’ve read and they’re very interesting, is a book about incidents in his company. He was having trouble with the newly founded unions not very long after the war, about 10 or 15 years. The row was on when the year changed.  On the New Year holiday things close down, and then on the fourth day everything opens up.  It’s customary then for the president and some of the managers to go to make a formal inspection of the whole premises.  So everybody’s standing there and it’s all been cleaned up and it’s all spruced up and so on.

The unions thought they’d try him out as they were having this row. They deliberately left the open floor of one of the staff lavatories stained and dirty. All the rest was perfectly clean all around and they wondered what he’d do. The description in the book said that he was making the rounds and they came to this place.  They stood on the threshold, and it was perfectly apparent that there was this defiled area in the middle.  There was a silence. Then he said something to one of the system managers who scurried off and came back with a bucket of hot water, a big cake of soap and a scrubbing brush.  The president then got down on his hands and knees and scrubbed the floor clean, going right on to the end, waving away his assistants, until it was perfect clean. Then he mopped it up, got up and went on.

This made him enormously popular in the company. It was one example of inspiration. Now another one was that there was a depression in Japan and all the electrical companies were in a bad way. People couldn’t afford to buy new stuff. 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.

Well, Matsushita called his staff together, explained the situation, said “We’ve got this problem. You’ve made these electric stoves and electric kettles and cookers and so on, but we can’t sell them because of the depression. They’re piling up.  It’s no use making any more, is it? We can’t sell them. Can’t get any turnover.”  Everybody bowed their heads. Then he said, “I’m an amateur in business but amateurs can do all right. I’ve never had any training or education – 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 yourselves 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.  You can sell these things to the housewives at cost price, so long as we get them moving and some turnover and then we can make some more.

So 600 salesmen descended on Osaka, amateur salesmen carrying these things in their hands and selling them a cost price. His was one the few companies that survived the depression. I only mentioned this, because he’s a man who practiced meditation of his own kind. He’s an idealist. He had these inspirations which are most unexpected. Our teacher told us that all the time inspiration is raining on us.  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 quarters are, in a certain sense, created by illusion. The example our teacher often gave was of a play. If we remember that illustration, we can understand more easily some of the 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?”

“What’s all this”, you say, “What’s this?” If we go to a play of Hamlet and we see there a kingdom with a history, that history goes back before the play begins. There was a murder before the play begins. Was it created? 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.  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.

Now the concluding verses of the Karikas give the methods of realization. They say the syllables of Om must be realized one after another. The first measure or syllable is ‘A’ and this corresponds to the state conscious of waking objects.  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.

When he meditates on the second ‘U’ which joined together becomes ‘AU’ (pronounced ‘o’ as in ‘sew’), then he becomes Hiranyagarbha which is the cosmic intellect. He receives inspiration from that because he’s now unified with it. The concentrations that the individual has had, now become illumined by inspiration.

Then finally, the last syllable is the ‘M’ (… mmm), which is transcending both consciousness of exterior and interior – a jump.  This is the blank circle in the Zen pictures – a jump has to be made. We can think, “We don’t want to go beyond thought – that would be unconsciousness.”

Inspiration, sarvajna – all-knowing and bliss. Shankara says this is not the full bliss, the complete bliss, because there is still the seedbed, what we should call the ‘causal body’. Here in this text in his commentary he calls the seeds.  When they have been burnt up by the yoga practice, then finally there’s the turiya, which is unobstructed.  This can, as our teacher said, play at will in any of these states or in none of them.

I’ll just read again 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.”



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