[Advaita-l] Essence of Mundaka Upanishad - Section 1- Part 1

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Sat Sep 5 22:32:10 CDT 2015

Essence of Mundaka Upanisahd. 
Note: After listening to Swami Paramarthanandaji talks on this Upanishad on and off, I felt like writing this based on my notes, for my own saadhana. If it helps others, that is His blessings.  I will present section by section, as and when I complete that section.  Obviously it will be presented in many posts
 Hari Om! 
                                                                   Essence of Mundaka Upanishad

Mundaka Upanishad is an important Upanishad and it occurs in AtharvaNa Veda. Mundam or MundakaH means Head. Hence the title implies it is the Head or primary Upanishad, and it is general studied as the first Upanishad. At the end of the text, it mentions about the mundaka vratam that is performed before the Upanishad is studied. It involves a seeker keeping the sacred fire-pot on his head while performing the ritual or vratam. Since this Upanishad is studied after the completion of the Mundaka-vratuam, it is also called Mundaka Upanishad.  The Upanishad has total of 65 mantras spread out in three chapters with each chapter consisting of two sections. Thus there are, in total, 6 sections. We will now discuss the contents of each section.

1. Section 1 is of introductory nature and has 9 mantras.  It introduces the samapradaaya or traditional methodology where the student approaches the teacher for knowledge. The knowledge is passed on from higher to the lower, i.e. from the teacher to the taught, starting from Iswara, the Lord. Thus, it indicates that it is of divine origin, and points out that it is therefore defect-free, unlike opinions of a human being. It also points out that the subject matter is subtle as it deals with the subject and subject-object complex which are not amenable to objective analysis or can be analyzed by objective tools. Hence, it is reliable and time-tested perineal flow of knowledge, being passed on from the beginning-less time, from teacher to the taught. 

Upanishad begins with the glorification of the knowledge of Brahman, the ultimate truth. The knowledge of Brahman, Brahma-vidyaa, is the basis and culmination of all other disciplines of knowledge. This wisdom has its origin in the creator or Iswara himself, and has traditionally coming down through various teachers all the way down to the current teacher, Angiras. This Upanishad involves student Saunaka approaching the teacher Angiras, requesting him to teach the highest knowledge. 

Saunaka approaches Angiras with due respects and asks with full humility – demonstrating by way of his example that a) the subtle and the highest knowledge should be gained from a teacher, who himself is well established in the truth, and also who knows how to communicate that knowledge to a student. In addition, it shows by implication that the teaching requires two basic ingredients i) shraddha, faith and ii) bhakti, devotion, which require a sincere commitment to know. The student asks the teacher.  “Oh! Lord! Please teach me that knowledge knowing which I will know everything – kasminnnu bhagavo vijnaate, sarvam idam vijnaatam bhavati”. This is a very tall request. Normally in any objective knowledge, such as say, Chemistry, Physics, etc., the more one learns the more ignorant one becomes in the sense that he learns that there are lot more things that he does not know, which he was not aware of before. Thus his ignorance gets exposed more and
 more. In the process he realizes that what he knows is very little in contrast to what he does not know and thus becomes humble. This aspect we also see at the end of every scientific paper, as the author poses more questions than answers, requiring more study. Thus, one becomes super specialist of narrower and narrower field. Here the upanishadic-student wants to know that knowledge knowing which he can know everything; if such knowledge exists.  

The teacher Angiras, considering the sincerity of the student goes directly to the teaching in a way assuring that such knowledge exists which he proceeds to teach. Like a true scientist, he proceeds systematically and says that knowledge can be divided into two parts – Higher (paraa) and Lower (aparaa) knowledge – and then he provides, first, the description of what he considers as lower knowledge. 

Of these, aparaa vidya or lower knowledge consists of the first portion of four Vedas as well as six axillaries (Phonetics, Rituals, Grammar, Etymology, Prosody, and Astrology). In short, all branches of knowledge dealing with the continuously changing material universe can be called as aparaa vidyaa. Paraa vidyaa is knowledge of the ultimate truth, which the upanishad calls as aksharam, meaning that which is indestructible or changeless; and therefore infinite, since any finite undergoes a change. It is that knowledge that is liberating for an individual from the realm of change or samsaara. Aparaa vidyaa is knowledge of the finites and by contrast is kshara or continuously changing, and therefore non-liberating knowledge. However, Angiras says, the lower knowledge helps indirectly in preparing the mind for the higher or liberating knowledge, paraa vidya, provided its role is clearly understood. The knowledge of the finites or aparaa vidyaa includes
 among many other things, the disciplines of karma yoga or attitude in action, in refining the mind by performing appropriate actions (dhaarmic and obligatory actions), and upaasana or mental actions that refine the mind. Krishna discusses these aspects in the 3rd and 6th Chapters of Geeta. The purification and refinement of the mind are discussed in terms of values for a seeker in Ch. 13, 16 and 18. The paraa vidyaa is discussed throughout Geeta starting from 2nd, 4th, 7th, 9th, 13th, and 18th, etc. The ultimate truth or aksharam is defined as a) eternal as it is imperishable and infinite, b) all-pervading, c) not an objective-knowledge that is experiencable but includes the subject who is the experiencer and d) extremely subtle. 

The Upanishad points out that the truth being infinite in principle it cannot be known by the finite mind; but as Shankara says it can only be cognitively recognized by a mind that is well prepared by the four-fold qualifications, as it contemplates in the direction pointed by the Upanishad. In the first section, the teacher points out that the nature of this absolute reality is the cause for the universe, jagat kaaraNam. Here, the cause includes both material (upaadaana), intelligent (nimitta), instrumental (karaNa) causes. 

Question: Why is Upanishad discussing the creation aspect when the student wants to know about that knowing which everything is known? 

Ans: The Upanishad recognizes that effects are nothing but cause (material) itself in different forms. Since creation is beginning-less, the creative cause appears as products; and now can only be known via the products, just as gold can only be recognized by its products either in ornaments form or lump form. Formless gold cannot be perceived. Hence the Upanishad first proceeds to discuss to show that Brahman is the material cause for the universe. The whole universe consisting of objectifiable entities is nothing but Brahman itself in various names and forms. 

Mundaka Upanishad first provides in this section, the most beautiful definition for Brahman, expressing itself as Iswara or God. Both the nirguna aspects as well as saguna aspects of Brahman are provided.  

yatat adreshyam agraahyam agotram avarNam,
achakshushrotram tat apaaNi paadam
nityam vibhum sarvagatim susuukshmam tat avyayam
yat bhuutayonim paripasyanti dheeraaH||

That which is imperceptible, which cannot be grasped, which has no origin, indescribable, without eyes and ears, without hands and legs, which is eternal, all-pervading, very subtle, imperishable and which has become many and thus is the cause for all the beings and that which the discriminative ones alone can see. 

That which is infinite cannot be described. Yet Upanishad ventures with description for a discriminative intellect to recognize. For that one has to uplift the mind and contemplate in the direction pointed out by the scriptures, since it is very subtle (susuukshmam). For example, our mind is subtler than our gross body. Therefore it is imperceptible. None can see either one’s mind or others minds, as they are very subtle; yet everybody knows that everyone has mind to think. Hence imperceptibility is not sufficient reason to deny the existence of the mind. Objective tools are not valid tools for investigation of the subtler entities. 

In fact many of the above descriptions can be applied to the mind itself. Here Brahman is not only subtle but being infinite also cannot be seen.  Hence Upanishad declares that which cannot be seen since it is not objectifiable entity and cannot be grasped by any objective tools. Hence when an atheist asks show me God, he is looking for objectifiable entity. The one who is asking, cannot show his mind, yet he has to use the mind to ask. 

If God created the universe, who created God, questions a rationalist. Hence Upanishad says – the buck stops here – He has no origin – and He is indescribable. Even the use of the word He, God, etc., are only for the purpose of communication, instead of calling as alpha, beta or gamma. Being infinite, it has no form – hence no eyes, ears, representative of sense organs (jnaanedriyas), and no hands or legs, representative of organs of action(karmendriyas). Hence when Hinduism picturizes in a form, it is only for the purpose of mediation as the mind cannot think of form-less one. Since it is infinite it has to pervade everything, yet different from anything that it pervades. If anything else exists, it can only be its own expression since anything else that exists cannot be different from it. Hence the scriptures says, He himself became many or appears to have become many. Since creation being infinite cannot be different from Him, the creator, who
 is also infinite as He pervades this entire universe. The Vishnusahara naamavali starts with this – Visvam- indicating that He is the entire universe of names and forms. The next word is VishnuH, the one who pervades this Vishvam. Thus the first two names of Vishnu summaries the upanishadic statements. Implication of this is that one has to recognize Iswara in and through every object that one perceives or transacts with. Therefore the Upanishad says that those who have discriminative power (dheeraH) can SEE that which cannot be seen. Being very subtle, to SEE one has to develop the discriminative capacity to see that which cannot be seen otherwise. 

I cannot see any force. Hence force itself is recognized by the effects it produces.  I cannot see the life and its potential, yet I can recognize its presence by its expressions at gross and subtle level. It can be known by the discriminative intellect by its very expression as it pulsates in every living being that is alive. Similarly a wise person can SEE by developing the capacity to see clearly the subtle entity that pervades the entire universe expressing itself in all things and beings. Thus the Upanishad defines beautifully that which cannot be described; yet provides description that need to be used to recognize that Iswara who is the very souse of the entire universe.  

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