The Upanisads are the concluding texts of the body of religious literature in india called the Vedas. They are the root texts of the Vedanta which literally means the end or culmination of the Vedas.
The Mandukya Upanisad itself is one of the classical (pre samkara) Upanisads. It is not known when or by whom it was written but since it predates Samkara it must have been written sometime before the latter part of the 8th century C.E. or even before the 7th century C.E. depending on how one dates Samkara himself.
Despite its exceptional brevity the Mandukya is an important Upanisad because it is a compendium of the teachings of some of the classical Upanisads that predate it. It is also important because it has played a very important role in the history of the Samkara or nondual (Advaita) school of the Vedanta. To a large extent this is due to the close connection that has existed historically between the Mandukya and another work known as the Agama sastra also called the verses of Gaudapada (Gaudapadiya-karika) after the man about whom we know very little who is though to have been its author.
Although it can be shown that the Mandukya is an independent text it is not unusually found as an independent text in the Sanskrit manuscripts themselves. In most cases the Mandukya is found embedded within twenty nine memorial verses which form a commentary on it a fact which considerably complicates the task of purposely interpreting the Mandukya itself. To complicate matters further the Mandukya and these twenty nine karias are often found in the manuscripts as merely the first of four prakaranas (treatises chapters) of the aforementioned work the Agama sastra. When the Mandukya and the twenty nine commentarial verses are associated with these other three treatises or chapters they are often referred to together as the Agama prakarana i.e. as the agamic chapter or treatise of the work called the agama sastra.
The Samkara school includes Gaudapada the reputed author of the Agama Sastra in its lineage of teachers. According to its traditions Gaudapada was the teacher of a man named Govindapadacarya who in turn was the guru of Samkara. These traditions also assert that the Agama-sastra—vivarana, the oldest and most important commentary on the Agama-sastra - was writ-ten by Adi Samkara himself.
For the most part, modern scholarship has accepted both parts of this tradition. It has also accepted, by and large, the Samkara school’s interpretation of the Mandukya and the Agama-sastra.
According to the Samkara or advaita school of the Vedanta, the world is an illusion (maya), and only the non dual absolute (Brahman) is real. This school draws a sharp distinction, not only between Brahman and the world, but also between Brahman and God (isvara). According to Samkara, God is just as real as the world itself is but no more: i.e., God is phenomenally real but ultimately unreal. This school does not reject the theism of the Vedas and the Vedanta, but it holds that isvara belongs only to the purely phenomenal realm (prapanca). Consequently, the doctrine of the Samkara school can be said to be a theistic one only at the level of phenomenal or relative truth.
The radical nature of this teaching is nowhere more apparent than when it is applied to the Mandukya. This Upanisad is essentially an epitome or compendium of the teachings of the earlier Upanisads, expressed in terms of the doctrine of the four states of the self: waking, dreaming, sleeping and an absolute state of the self which is called simply the fourth (caturtha).
Where would God fit into this Upanisadic doctrine of the four states of the self? Since the Samkara school holds that God has only a phenomenal reality, it cannot assign God (isvara) to the fourth or absolute state of the self. Instead, it associates isvara with the third (triiya) state of the self, i.e. with the state of deep sleep, which is held to be a state of ignorance, or rather the very root of ignorance.(Since the Samkara school’s interpretation of the Mandukya associates the trtiya, or third state of the self, with isvara, I refer to it as the TI interpretation.) The TI interpretation of the Mandukya is in sharp contrast with another possible interpretation of the Upanisad, which associates isvara with the fourth (caturtha) or absolute state of the self (and which I therefore call the IC interpretation of the Mandukya).
The Samkara school’s interpretation of the Mandukya raises some serious philosophical questions (some of which I address in the last chapter of the present work), but it also raises interpretational and historical problems as well.
One of the problems, as I argue in Chapters 1 and 2 of Part I, is that the Agama-prakarana (the first part of the Agama-sastra) and the Upanisads which postdate the Mandukya do not unequivocally support the TI interpretation of the four states of the self. The same point is made in Chapter 3 about a number of other medieval commentaries and treatises which have something to say, directly or indirectly, about the interpretation of the Mandukya.
The strongest evidence against the TI interpretation, however, is found in Upanisads that predate the Mandukya or were roughly contemporaneous with it. Chapters 4 and 5 show that earlier Upanisads clearly favor the IC interpretation of the Mandukya, and Chapter 6 makes the same point about the Maitri Upanisad, a late classical Upanisad which was probably written about the same time as the Mandukya.
These results raise a number of historical, textual and doctrinal problems connected with the authorship of the Agamasastra and its most important commentary, the Agama—sastra—vivarana. The chapters of Part II focus more directly on these problems. My conclusions on these matters are largely opposed to the prevailing scholarly views and the traditions of the Samkara school.
First, I argue that the Agamasastra itself is a quartet of treatises, rather than a single work in four chapters (Chapter 9).Secondly, I argue that the Agamasastra (including the Agama—prakarana) was probably not written by the paramaguru of Samkara (Chapters 7-8, 11-12). Thirdly, I argue that Samkara was not the author of the Agama-sastra-vivarana (Chapter 10). Chapter13 then presents a new theory about the authorship of the Agama-sastra, the Agamasastra-vivarana and the history of the TI interpretation of the Mandukya which I feel is more plausible than the traditional and commonly received view.
I conclude the monograph in Chapter 14 of Part III with a discussion of the philosophy which I believe underlies the Mandukya. My interpretation of the philosophy of the Mandukya is based on the IC interpretation of the Upanisad. I do not attempt to defend this philosophical doctrine directly, but I do argue that it is a different doctrine — and philosophically a more tenable doctrine than the maya doctrine of the Samkara school which has been superimposed on it.
The Appendix contains translations of the Mandukya and the four Prakaranas of the Agama sastra the Agama Prakarana the Vaitathya prakarana the Advaita prakarana and the Alata Santi Prakarana. A glossary of some important Sanskrit terms has also been provided.
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