Talk 1 - Introduction
Having invoked Bhagavan Vighneshwara's grace, we are starting an important upaniShad called mANDUkya upaniShad. Before entering into the text, we will see some introductory points. In our tradition, the body of knowledge is called shAstra. The word shAstra is derived from ‘sha’ dhAtu, which means ‘to teach’ – shiShyate anena iti shAstram - the text by which a person is taught is called shAstra.
There are various forms of shAstram
1) vedas – RRig veda, yajur veda, sama veda and atharva veda
2) sUtra grantha-s like jaimini sutra-s, pAnini sutra-s
3) SmRRiti grantha-s like bhagavadgIta, Manu smRRiti and purAna-s
4) ItihAsa-s – mahAbhArata and rAmAyana
All of them are called shAstram. Among these various forms of shAstram, veda-s are considered to be mUla shAstram i.e. fundamental scriptures. They are called fundamental scriptures because all other forms of scriptures are based on the veda-s.
About the veda-s
These veda-s are not authored by any particular human being. Veda Vyasa has just compiled them properly with the help of his disciples. No RRiShi claims the authorship of veda-s. We call the RRiShi-s ‘mantra dRRiShtarah’ – the seers of mantras. They are not the authors of mantras. The RRiShi had seen the mantra which was already there in the previous kalpa and in the previous kalpa other RRiShi-s or the same RRiShi had seen this mantra and that also was existent before. In our tradition the veda-s are considered to be nitya i.e., eternal. They have always been there. The veda-s become manifest and unmanifest but they are not newly produced.
These veda-s are divided into two sections, depending upon the subject matter, etc.:
1) karma kANDa. It is the first portion of the veda-s;
2) j~nAna kANDa. It is also called vedAnta. It is the end portion of the veda-s.
The four aspects called anubandha chatuShTaya are different for karma kANDa and j~nAna kANDa. The four aspects are subject matter (viShaya), the qualified student (adhikArI), purpose (prayojana) and connections (sambandha):
1) viShaya or subject matter for karma kANDa consists of the various rituals or karma-s and their result. On the other hand the reality, which is the self or Atma i.e., Self-knowledge is the subject matter of j~nAna kANDa or vedAnta;
2) The adhikAri or the qualified person is also different for both. The person who will be benefited is called adhikArI. For the karma kANDa, one who wants to gain a material result through karma and upAsana is the adhikArI. For j~nAna kANDa, one who is disinterested in the material result and who wants to have mokSha is the adhikAri;
3) The prayojana, motive or purpose, is also different. The prayojana for karma kANDa is the attainment of a finite material result here or hereafter. The prayojana for vedAnta is attaining limitlessness;
4) The sambandha – connection or relationship between the text and the subject matter – is also different. In karma kANDa there is chodya-chodaka sambandha i.e. motivated-motivator relationship. A person is motivated to do something by karma kANDa. The ritual or action is chodyam and shAstra itself is chodaka i.e. motivator of the action. Thus between the text and the subject matter, there is chodya-chodaka sambandha. On the other hand, in vedAnta there is bodhya-bodhaka sambandha i.e. revealer-revealed connection. bodhya is that which is to be known; bodhaka is the revealer. ShAstra is just bodhaka. It is simply revealing the reality which is bodhyam. It does not ask you to do anything. Of course, for knowing, you should do whatever is required. But finally you have to know the reality.
Thus the karma kANDa section is dealing with karma-s. Only a limited result is possible through karma-s; limitlessness cannot be the result of any finite karma. The finite cannot produce the infinite.
In his commentary on kaThopaniShad (1.ii.16), shaMkarAchAryaji says:
param chet j~nAtavyam, aparam chet prAptavyam.
The limitless is to be known and the finite is to be obtained.
aparam here means aparam brahman, ‘inferior’ brahman which stands for any material result which is to be obtained through karma. On the other hand, param refers to the supreme brahman which is limitlessness. The limitless is to be known only; it cannot be ‘obtained’.
If this is clear that para brahman, the limitless reality, is gained through knowledge only, then we will have this question: How can we know para brahman? Anything is known only through a pramANa i.e., means of knowledge. There is no other way for knowing.
pramANam or means of knowledge
There are six pramANa-s available to us. They are:
1) pratyakSha - direct perception or direct means of knowledge. E.g.: I see, I hear. This gives rise to perceptual knowledge;
2) anumAna – Inference. Eg: Seeing the smoke, I infer fire. This gives rise to inferential knowledge;
3) arthApatti – presumption. Seeing something, I presume;
4) upamAna – simile or comparison. Something is compared to something else;
5) anupalabdhi - non cognition. It becomes the means for the cognition of the absence of something. E.g.: absence of elephant in the room;
6) shabda pramANa - the means in the form of words. Through words also something can be revealed.
This is just a brief description. Each of these can be elaborated further. For infinite brahman, the first five means are not valid because they relate to the area of the finite. Only shabda pramANam is available in the form of vedAnta. So vedAnta is the pramANam for knowing the infinite.
Approach to the study of vedAnta
If this is clear then when I am understanding vedAnta, I am understanding the infinite. Understanding the infinite is attainment of infinite because there is no other attainment of limitlessness other than the recognition that one is brahman. brahman already is, it is not to be produced. Also it is not away from me. It is only to be acknowledged or discovered. So attainment of brahman is really the understanding of brahman. Understanding brahman means understanding vedAnta.
Therefore my approach towards vedAnta should be proper. vedAnta should not be studied like some other subject, for mere information. Our approach is not an academic approach. It is life science in the true sense – it deals with my own life and it deals with the core issue. Feeling limited is the core issue and it deals with that. vedAnta deals with the infinite and attainment of the infinite is freedom from saMsAra. With this approach we should study shAstram. So, clear and firm understanding of vedAnta is very important. For that alone, j~nAna yoga is prescribed in the form of shravaNam, mananam and nididhyAsanam.
What is shravaNam, mananam and nididhyAsanam?
shravaNam means listening. It does not mean passive listening or hearing. shravaNa means arriving at the tAtparyam (purport, intention) of all the vedAnta vAkya-s which is non-dual brahman which is non-separate from myself and free from duality. This is shravaNam. mananam means reflection. By this the doubts which are there are resolved. nidhidyAsanam means contemplation to resolve habitual errors.
j~nAna yoga starts with shravaNam. The student goes to the teacher and studies some vedAnta shAstra. Initially, some introductory text like tattva bodha or Atma bodha is studied, but finally the upaniShads are taught.
How many upaniShad-s should you study?
Bhagvan Ramachandra, while giving upadesha (instruction, teaching) to HanumAnji in the muktikopaniShad said:
mANDUkyam ekameva alam mumukShUnam vimuktaye.
The mANDUkya alone is enough for a mumukShu to get liberated.
This indicates how highly the mANDUkya upaniShad is regarded. Moreover he says that if, after studying the mANDUkya, you still don’t seem to have attained the infinite, then study the following ten major upaniShad-s: Isha, kena, katha, prashna, mundaka, mANDUkya, taittirIya, aitareya, chhAndogya and bRRihadAraNyaka. (The ten includes the mANDUkya, so study the other nine Upanishads.)
If the ten also do not work, then study the principal 32 upaniShad-s. If you have more time, then study all 108 upaniShad-s and he gives a list of all the 108 upaniShad-s to study. So, if I am fit, then one upaniShad – the mANDUkya upaniShad is enough. Any upaniShad is enough, but the mANDUkya is very, very profound and therefore glorified.
General Information on the upaniShad
It is a small upaniShad with just 12 mantras, but very powerful. It is the smallest among the ten upaniShad-s. Even the IshAvAsya has more -18 mantras. Nowadays, the I-pod and other digital recorders are very small, but they will have 1 GB, 2 GB, 3 GB while a big machine may have a few MBs only. Similarly the mANDUkya upaniShad is a very profound upaniShad. That is why it is generally taught at the end, only after teaching some of the other upaniShad-s.
The mANDUkya upaniShad belongs to the atharvaNa veda. It is called mANDUkya upaniShad because the mantras of this upaniShad were supposed to have been visualized by a RRiShi called manduka RRiShi. manduka was his name and manduka also means frog. The peculiarity of the frog is that when it wants to go to another place, the frog raises its hind leg first. This indicates that the journey is not outside but inward. Inner preparation is more important. So the mANDUkya upaniShad is an inward journey and, since it was seen by manduka RRiShi, it is called mANDUkya upaniShad.
The meaning of the word upaniShad
Different meanings have been given by different commentators. upaniShad primarily means brahma vidyA, i.e. the knowledge of brahman;
1) The infinite is called brahman. Why is brahma vidyA called upaniShad?
upaniShadati prapnoti brahmAtma bhAvah anayA iti upaniShad. (Vachaspatyam)
That (Self-knowledge) by which one attains oneness with brahman is called upaniShad.
brahma vidyA is called upaniShad because, in the word upaniShad, there are three words: upa, ni and Shad and all three put together becomes upaniShadati which means prapnoti – attains, accomplishes. What does a person attain? brahmAtma bhAva - brahma eva Atma iti bhAva-attainment of oneness with brahman is brahmAtma bhAva. The state of Atma being one with brahman is brahmAtma bhAva. It is not a state, really it is j~nAnam which is called brahmAtma bhAva;
2) There is another meaning also derived from the word upaniShad. The word upaniShad has three components - upa, ni, and Sha. Upa and ni are upasarga-s or prepositions. 'upa' means near; 'ni' means 'nishchayena' - steadfastly, determinedly and these two words 'upa' and 'ni' are indicative of the method of attainment of this knowledge.
How brahma vidyA is attained is indicated by these two words, 'upa' and 'ni'. 'ShAstram gurum cha upagamya' - by approaching the teacher and scripture, this vidyA is attained. By the word 'upa', shravaNam is indicated. This vidyA is gained by properly listening to the scripture taught by a competent teacher; i.e. through shravaNa. By the word 'ni', mananam and nidhidyAsanam are indicated. ni means nischayena. This j~nAnam has to be clear. Clarity and firmness of j~nAnam are achieved by manana and nididhyAsana. So upa and ni together indicate the method to attain this vidyA, which is in the form of shravaNam, mananam and nididhyAsanam. And when this vidyA is attained through these three methods, the result is indicated by the word Shad.
The word 'Shad' is originally a root. It has got several meanings. We will see two of them:
1) One meaning of 'Shad' is visharaNam - destruction. That which destroys is called Shad. This brahma vidyA destroys ignorance, and ignorance-born problems which cause bondage. Therefore it is called Shad;
2) Another meaning of the word Shad is gamayati i.e. getting or reaching. 'mumukShum brahma gamayati' - that which makes the seeker reach brahman is called Shad. This brahma vidyA helps the person to attain brahman and is therefore called Shad.
The final meaning of the word upaniShad combing both meanings of Shad is–That which is gained by shravaNam, mananam and nididhyAsanam and which helps the seeker to attain brahman and destroys ignorance and ignorance-born problems, is called upaniShad. This is the technical definition of upaniShad.
The simple definition of the word upaniShad is brahma vidyA, the knowledge of infinite brahman. Finally this is what upaniShad is. If you forget the details, it does not matter. But the final thing should remain with you. The vRRitti or thought that gives the knowledge of brahman, that vRRitti alone is technically called upaniShad. But that which gives rise to that brahmakAra vRRitti i.e., thought having brahman is also called upaniShad.
Just as cash is called money, a check also is called money. That which gives you the check and cash is also called money. So the words of vedAnta, giving rise to brahmakAra vRRitti, are also upaniShad. And the book which is containing the words of the upaniShad is also called upaniShad.
But all of them are gauNa prayoga– figurative usage. Primarily, brahma vidyA is called upaniShad. If you have got the book but the words are not making sense to you, then you don’t have upaniShad. Like one person working in an ashram book section said: 'Swamiji, all the upaniShad-s are known to me.' What he meant was that he knows the price of all upaniShad-s! Even if you have all the upaniShad books with you, that is not enough. Even if the words are there and you are familiar with them, still you have not got upaniShad. You only get upaniShad in the real sense when this j~nAnam– the brahmakAra vRRitti arises in your mind. What sort of j~nAnam? The j~nAnam that I am brahman. Nobody can steal this away. Other things like books, somebody can steal. But this brahmakAra vRRitti is your own. This is really upaniShad.