Introduction To The Mandukya Upanishad: Profound Wisdom for the Modern World

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The Mandukya Upanishad is a profound text within Hindu philosophy. It is a part of the Atharvaveda and delves into the nature of reality and consciousness. This ancient scripture is a part of the Vedanta tradition and holds immense significance for seekers of spiritual wisdom. Through its contemplative verses, the Mandukya Upanishad offers insights into the nature of existence and the states of consciousness.

Believed to have been composed around the 6th century BCE, the Mandukya Upanishad is one of the shortest yet most profound Upanishads. It consists of just twelve verses, yet the depth of its teachings matches its brevity. It primarily centers around the syllable “AUM” (mispronounced as OM in modern society) and explores the significance of this sacred sound in relation to human consciousness.

Consciousness According to the Mandukya Upanishad

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The Mandukya Upanishad describes four states of consciousness, each symbolized by a syllable of the sacred sound “Aum”. These states represent different aspects of human experience and levels of awareness. Let’s delve into each of these states:

Wakefulness (Jagrat)

In the waking state, individuals are immersed in the sensory experience of the external world. This is a state of active engagement, where the mind interacts with the physical realm, processing information and responding to stimuli.

Dreaming (Swapna)

The state of dreaming, known as “Swapna”, occurs during sleep. Here, the mind projects a subjective reality that often deviates from the external world. Dreams can be a mix of personal experiences, memories, and imagination.

Deep Sleep (Sushupti)

“Sushupti”, or deep sleep, is a state of unconsciousness where the mind is at rest. This state is devoid of sensory experiences and desires, as the sense organs are temporarily inactive. This state is not void, it is a reservoir of potentiality and rejuvenation. The Mandukya Upanishad in its verses has talked about a fourth state beyond these three, the state of “Turiya”.

The State of Absolute Consciousness (Turiya)

Turiya is the transcendent state that transcends the three aforementioned states. It goes beyond wakefulness, dreaming, and deep sleep. It represents pure consciousness, devoid of attributes and limitations. It is the underlying reality that unifies all experiences.

Turiya represents the state of unity and the true nature of existence.

AUM: The Symbol of Ultimate Reality

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The Significance of AUM

At the heart of Mandukya Upanishad lies the profound exploration of the syllable “AUM.” This sacred sound symbolizes the ultimate reality and serves as a representation of the four states of consciousness. The ‘A’ represents the waking state, ‘U’ signifies the dream state, ‘M’ indicates the deep sleep state, and the silence that follows denotes Turiya.

The Essence of AUM

Just as AUM encompasses all states of consciousness, it also encapsulates the entirety of existence. It mirrors the creation, preservation, and dissolution of the universe. Chanting AUM aligns the individual with cosmic vibrations, harmonizing their being with the cosmos.

The Concept of Non-Duality (Advaita)

Beyond Duality and Division

Mandukya Upanishad expounds on the concept of Advaita, emphasizing the non-dual nature of reality. It asserts that the perceived duality between the self (Atman) and the ultimate reality (Brahman) is an illusion. In truth, they are one and the same.

The Illusion of Multiplicity

The Upanishad dismantles the notion of a separate self, highlighting that the individual self is interconnected with the universal consciousness. Just as waves are inseparable from the ocean, beings are inseparable from Brahman.

The Role of Self-Knowledge and Meditation

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The Path to Self-Realization

Mandukya Upanishad guides aspirants towards self-realization through introspection and meditation. By understanding the layers of consciousness and transcending them, one can recognize their inherent divinity and unity with Brahman.

Meditation on AUM

The Upanishad prescribes meditation on AUM as a transformative practice. As practitioners delve into the symbolism of AUM and its connection to the states of consciousness, they move towards the realization of their own true nature.

Verses of The Mandukya Upanishad With Translation

Below are the 12 verses of the Mandukya Upanishad with their loose English translations. With Sanskrit language having lost its usage in commonplace conversations, our knowledge of the language is limited and experts on the language might be able to provide a lot more context to these verses.

1. ॐ इत्येतदक्षरमिदꣳ सर्वं तस्योपव्याख्यानं
    भूतं भवद् भविष्यदिति सर्वमोङ्कार एव
    यच्चान्यत् त्रिकालातीतं तदप्योङ्कार एव
"Aum, this syllable is this whole world. Its further explanation is: All that is past, present, and future is verily Aum. And whatever else there is beyond the threefold division of time, that also is truly Aum."
2. सर्वं ह्येतद् ब्रह्मायमात्मा ब्रह्म सोऽयमात्मा चतुष्पात्
"All this is Brahman, the Self is Brahman. This Self has four quarters."
3. जागरितस्थानो बहिष्प्रज्ञः सप्ताङ्ग एकोनविंशतिमुखः
    स्थूलभुग्वैश्वानरः प्रथमः पादः
"Vaisnavara, the first quarter of the self (Pada), is cognizant of external objects, has seven limbs and nineteen mouths, and experiences only gross (material) items. His field of action is the waking state."
4. स्वप्नस्थानोऽन्तःप्रज्ञः सप्ताङ्ग एकोनविंशतिमुखः
    प्रविविक्तभुक्तैजसो द्वितीयः पादः
"The Taijasa represents the second quarter of the self (Pada), whose domain (of action) is the dream. This quarter has seven limbs, nineteen mouths, and experiences the objects."
5. यत्र सुप्तो न कञ्चन कामं कामयते न कञ्चन स्वप्नं
    पश्यति तत् सुषुप्तम् । सुषुप्तस्थान एकीभूतः प्रज्ञानघन
    एवानन्दमयो ह्यानन्दभुक् चेतोमुखः प्राज्ञस्तृतीयः पादः
"The state of profound sleep where the person is dreamless and has no object desires is the third quarter of the self. The Prājña's (third quarter) domain is deep sleep where all experiences are indiferentiable. This state is full of bliss and is the one who experiences bliss, and is on the path leading to knowledge."
6. एष सर्वेश्वरः एष सर्वज्ञ एषोऽन्तर्याम्येष योनिः सर्वस्य
    प्रभवाप्ययौ हि भूतानाम्
"This is the Source of All, the Indwelling Controller, the Omniscient Lord of All. All entities have this as their source and destination."
7. नान्तःप्रज्ञं न बहिष्प्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं न प्रज्ञानघनं
    न प्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञम् । अदृष्टमव्यवहार्यमग्राह्यमलक्षणं
   अचिन्त्यमव्यपदेश्यमेकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं
   शान्तं शिवमद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः
"That is the fourth quarter of the self. It is consciousness that is neither inward or outward-turned. Nor is it the both together. It is not an indifferentiated mass of consciousness, nor is it knowing or even unkowing. It is ineffable, intangible, invisible, inconceivable, devoid of characteristics, indefinable, it is the consciousness for the sake of itself, the quarter of the self where the relative experience ends, it is peaceful and blissful. It is the Atman. This is to be realised."
8. सोऽयमात्माध्यक्षरमोङ्कारोऽधिमात्रं पादा मात्रा मात्राश्च पादा
    अकार उकारो मकार इति
"This Atman or the self (which is present everywhere), in the realm of audio, displays itself as the syllable "AUM". The previously described 4 states are synonymous with the parts of "AUM" "A", "U", "M" and the silence that follows afterward." 
9. जागरितस्थानो वैश्वानरोऽकारः प्रथमा मात्राऽऽप्तेरादिमत्त्वाद्
    वाऽऽप्नोति ह वै सर्वान् कामानादिश्च भवति य एवं वेद
"The first quarter of the self is represented through the sound 'A'., because this sound ecompasses all, and is the first. One who knows this sound holds within all desirable objects." 
10. स्वप्नस्थानस्तैजस उकारो द्वितीया मात्रोत्कर्षात्
      उभयत्वाद्वोत्कर्षति ह वै ज्ञानसन्ततिं समानश्च भवति
      नास्याब्रह्मवित्कुले भवति य एवं वेद
"The Taijasa, or the second quarter is represented by the sound 'U' because this sound represents excellence, and holds both the other 2 sounds together. One who knows this sound becomes equalised. No one ignorant of Brahman is born in his family."
11. सुषुप्तस्थानः प्राज्ञो मकारस्तृतीया मात्रा मितेरपीतेर्वा
      मिनोति ह वा इदं सर्वमपीतिश्च भवति य एवं वेद
"The third quarter of the Self is represented by the sound 'M' because this is the last sound and that into which all enters. He who knows this measures all and becomes all."
12. अमात्रश्चतुर्थोऽव्यवहार्यः प्रपञ्चोपशमः शिवोऽद्वैत
       एवमोङ्कार आत्मैव संविशत्यात्मनाऽऽत्मानं य एवं वेद
"The fourth quarter of the self is represented by the silence that follows the syllable. It is a quieting down of all relative manifestations. It is peaceful, blissful, and non-dual. Thus, AUM is the Atman. One who knows this, merges onseself in the Self."

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Mandukya Upanishad is a part of which Veda?

The Mandukya Upanishad is a part of the Atharvaveda, which is considered to be the latest of the 4 vedas. The Atharvaveda is the only Veda that talks about the practice of black magic in Hinduism.

How can one practice the teachings of the Mandukya Upanishad?

Practicing introspection, doing proper AUM chanting meditation, and understanding the states of consciousness talked about in the Mandukya Upanishad can help bring spiritual progress.

What are Upanishads?

The Upanishads are a collection of texts that are found at the end of the Vedas. They are said to contain the entire overview/summary/knowledge of the Vedas in brief.

How has the Mandukya Upanishad influenced modern spiritual thought?

The Mandukya Upanishad has had a significant impact on modern spiritual thought and has influenced various philosophical and spiritual traditions such as Advaita Vedanta, mindfulness meditation, new-age spirituality and inter-faith dialogue.

Why is the Mandukya Upanishad significant today?

The teachings of the Mandukya Upanishad offer insights into self-realization and the states of consciousness. These teachings offer the opportunity to introspect and attain inner peace, and are thus important for the modern world.

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