[Advaita-l] Mandukyopanishad for the Sanyasis

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Fri Jul 1 00:52:36 CDT 2011

On Fri, 27 May 2011, Srikanta Narayanaswami wrote:

> I think the Mundakopanishad is for the sanyashis as the name suggests 
> and sanyashis do the mundana

The munDakas were followers of the atharvaveda who underwent a special 
discipline as part of the study of their shakha called shirovrata.  The 
upanishad itself explains it thus.

kriyAvantaH shrotrIyA brahmaniShTa
svayaM juhvata ekarShiM shraddhayantaH |
teShAmevaitAM brahmavidyAM vadeta
shirovrataM vidhivadyaistu chIrNam ||

"Versed in Shruti, established in Brahman[1] who personally sacrifice to
the Ekarshi[2] with faith, to them alone should this brahmavidya be 
taught after duly performing the shirovrata.[3] (3.2.10)

[1] If they are already established in Brahman why would they need to 
learn brahmavidya?  Shankaracharya explains that they are 
aparasminbrahmaNyabhiyuktAH parabrahma bubhu savaH "devoted to the lower 
[i.e. saguna] Brahman who wish to know the higher [i.e. nirguNa] Brahman."

[2] Ekarshi is a name of Agni and this is a specific kind of agnihotra.

[3] A discussion of this shirovrata takes place in brahmasUtra 3.3.3.  It 
is said that this vrata is described in a vedA~nga of the atharva shAkha 
called samAchAra smR^iti.  I think it is no longer extent.  (The 
atharvavedic tradition is rather weak.)

the next verse goes on to say in part


"one who has not performed the vrata does not read this [upanishad]."

Which seems pretty clear cut.  However going back to the brahmasUtra, the 
siddhAnta is that the admonition is only for those atharvavedis who are 
formally learning the vedic text as part of their svAdhyaya.  But those 
who are studying it for its vedantic content only need not abide by such 
strictures because the vidya taught here is the same as that taught 
elsewhere without strictures.

> Dear Sirs,
>        In my opinion, Mandukya upanishad is not just limited to
> sanyasis. I do not see that there is any proper validity of this
> conclusion. I have personally studied and keep studying this small
> upanishad, which I believe encompasses all the philosophical tenets of
> Advaita in a concise way. It contains only 12 verses - but the depth
> is immense. All the upanishads are for the seekers of the truth - if
> he is a householder or a sanyasi, it is the choice of way of life and
> it has nothing to do with the seeking truth.

Just to be clear, we are discussing the munDaka not mAnDukya upaniShada. 
Traditionally, in-depth studies of the upanishads were only undertaken by 
those who had formally renounced.  True, a brahmana ideally ought to learn 
atleast the upanishads belonging to his shakha.  Others would have learned 
the essence of the upanishads through puranas etc.  In fact we can 
definitely say Vedanta was a legitimate area of study for educated 
grhasthas even in the most rigorously orthodox circles.  Shri 
Venkatashrirama gives a number of modern day vidvans who are grhasthas 
and we can add such famous names as Shriharsha, Vachaspati Mishra, Appaya 
Dikshita etc.  But by and large as those worthies would themselves admit 
that sannyasa is the key to advancement in jnana.

On Sat, 28 May 2011, Venkata sriram P wrote:

> Namaste,   Whether it is mANDukya / muNDaka, it's study is not limited
> to sanyasis only because vedanta is not a water-tight compartmentalized
> system.   

True but the internal logic of Vedanta places limits.  How can someone who 
is immersed in the world honestly practice an ideology that states that 
world is false and should be shunned?  (It's a question I ask myself 


> Now, coming to the point of discussion, vedanta / upanishad sravaNa,
> manana, nidhidhyAsana is not only for yatis but also for grihasthAs.   
> It needs a special mention here that vedanta guru of kanchi
> mahaperiyaval was Shri Krishna Sastrigal; vedanta guru of Chandrasekhara
> Bharati was Shri Virupaksha Sastrigal; vedanta guru of Shri Abhinava
> Vidya Tirtha was Shri Ramachandra Sastrigal (father of the present
> administrator VR Gowrishankar - the "illustrious" person in Sringeri);
> vedanta guru of Shri Bharati Tirtha was Shri Gopalakrishna Sastrigal.   
> And all these stallwarts are grihasthAs only.

Would any of them urge a mumukshu not to take sannyasa?  Do they/did they 
take sannyasa themselves in due course?

>   So, sanyasya shravaNam
> kuryAt is the emphasis laid on sanyAsa dharma ie., after taking to
> sanyasa, they should only do vedanta vichara.  

Why become a sannyasi at all then if one gets all the same benefits while 
remaining a grhastha?  A possible answer is that it is the most 
comfortable lifestyle for a jnani's nature.  Just as an unlettered farmer 
may be content doing drudgery in the fields but if he becomes educated, it 
is no longer satisfying and he starts hankering after a more 
intellectually stimulating job in the city.  So too a jnani may be a 
grhastha at the dawn of realization but he won't remain one for very long.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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