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‘pariksya lokan karmacitan brahmanah
nirvedamayad nastyakrtah krtena
tadvijnanartham sa gurumevabhigacchet
samitpanih srotriyam brahmanistham.’
‘May the person with discrimination discover dispassion by examining the experiences gained through actions and meditation. Moksa, which is not created, cannot be gained through action. Therefore, to gain the knowledge of Brahman, he must go, with sacrificial twigs in hand, to a teacher who is well-versed in the scriptures and who has clear knowledge about Brahman.’ (1.2.12)
“Every upanisad is a word mirror which reveals that the one who is looking at it, is the only one who makes things happen, exist and resolve.”
I have been teaching for a number of years many upanisads but I never attempted to publish a book on any one of them. To prepare an edited copy from the transcripts of classroom material is a difficult task. It is so because the textual discussions in the classes imply a lot of topics such as grammar, bhasya, purva-paksasiddhanta and so on, making the transcript a big potpourri of different ideas. To bring out these as a readable text with a cogent flow of thought takes a lot of skill and patient editing on the part of someone who knows the subject matter very well.
The Mundakopanisad is presented as the first book, in the upanisad series by the Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust, Chennai, thanks to the efforts of Sri Swami Sakshatkritananda Saraswati. With his incredible patience and scholarship, the swami could prepare the manuscripts leaving nothing to be desired. His services being available for the Publication Trust, we all can eagerly expect more books of this class.
Among the many upanisads available now, ten are well known since Sankara has commented upon them. They are Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya and Brhadaranyaka. These ten upnisads are from the four Vedas. Aitareya appears in Rgveda. Katha and Taittiriya are from Krsna Yajurveda while Brhadaranyaka and Isavasya are from Sukla Yjurveda. Kena and Chandogya are from Samaveda. Mundaka, Mandukya and Prasna are from Atharvaveda.
These upanisads are divided into mantropanisads and brahmanopanisads. Mantra means a hymn. Mantropanisad is in the form of hymns and is proseform and is looked upon as explaining the mantropanisad. Mundakopanisad is a mantropanisad from the Saunakiyasakha, a recension of Saunaka Rsi.
In the teaching tradition, Mundakoanisad occupies an important place inasmuch as it covers all the important topics besides the main topic which every upanisad reveals. It also gains more importance when we recognize the number of mantras that are often quoted in the traditional discussions of Vedanta.
This upanisad first reveals how the knowledge .is to be gained through a sampradaya, tradition. The source of this knowledge is traced to Brahmaji, the creator, who gave this knowledge to his own son Atharva. From Atharva onwards a lineage is mentioned. The names of the teachers may not be mentioned but the knowledge unfolded in the upanisad is to be gained only from a teacher, since the upanisad is always in the form of a teacher-student dialogue.
This upanisad also talks highly about a mumuksu. A mumuksu is a seeker of moksa, freedom. The desire for moksa is natural to all. It is not a cultivated desire. For instance, a desire for television is cultivated. If I do not know anything about television I do not desire for one. I have many such desires that are cultivated. But a desire to eat is not cultivated. It is something natural. Nobody has to teach me to eat when I am hungry. Even a baby cries when it is hungry. The urge to eat, to quench thirst are natural urges. So too, the desire for freedom is not cultivated. Everyone is a mumuksu because everyone has a desire to be free from being small and insignificant. It is more than a desire; it is an urge. ‘I am sma1l’ is a conclusion and I want to be free from that conclusion. If that conclusion is real, it is knowledge. If it is knowledge, then ‘I am small and insignificant’ is a fact. There is no way of freeing myself from being small and insignificant.
Suppose the sense of smallness is a conclusion that is not real, the truth would just be the opposite—the truth that I am already free from being small and insignificant and I am the only significant being in this world. Then the urge to get rid of my sense of insignificance is very natural. The urge to become significant stems from the notion, ‘I am insignificant.'
In reality if I am insignificant, there is no moksa possible and the urge to become significant becomes meaningless. A cultivated desire can be meaningless like a desire to go to the sun. Lord Hanumanji tried once, in vain. It is difficult even to survive the summers in many parts of India like Rajasthan; what is there to say about approaching the sun? A lame person’s desire to climb Mount Everest is meaningless; he should give it up, and he can give it up. He can have some other desires. A deaf person cannot have a desire to become a telephone operator. Such a desire is meaningless and it can be given up. So you can either dismiss or grow out of cultivated desires. But if there is a natural urge, you can neither give up nor dismiss it.
To become significant and complete is natural and you cannot dismiss it. If you cannot dismiss it, the only thing you can do is to fulfil it. We do see in life the available means for fulfilling the urges that are natural. Hunger is a natural urge and there is a means for fulfilling it; food is available in the creation. Thirst is a natural urge and there is a means for fulfilling it; water is available in the creation. The urge to breathe is natural; there is air for fulfilling it.
When these natural urges can be fulfilled, the fundamental urge t0 become free from being small and insignificant must have a means 0f fulfillment. The urge to become significant is there in all; hence there is a lot 0f pressure inside to become different. Everyone wants to be special. Everyone wants to be loved and wants to be recognised as someone special. In other words, everyone sets himself or herself up to prove himself or herself to be somebody. It is very natural. One cannot complain that a person is ambitious. The urge comes from the conclusion that ‘I am small and insignificant. Being a natural urge, it has a means of fulfillment. But the means that one follows does not seem to be appropriate because it is never successful.
The pursuit of money and pleasures that one follows does not seem to remove this insignificance significantly. The more one gains them; more one desires them. Any experience that gives some pleasure has got to be repeated. If it is repeated then one gets bored. Monotony is the result of repeated experience of anything. So, one turns one’s attention towards something else. Even if the pursuit of money and pleasures are fulfilled, one wants something else, like power. One is ready to spend any amount of money for the sake of power. Mere money alone is not enough. Power seems to make the person significant. Even if one is a moneyed person without any power, one cannot accomplish anything.
We find that the known means that we follow are incapable of fulfilling the fundamental urge. At the same time, we cannot dismiss it because it has not taken our permission before coming, like anger. We cannot tell an angry person, "Do not get angry." He will get angrier if he is told so because he has not decided to be angry. The situation is one of helplessness. Since the urge to become significant is natural, we cannot dismiss it.
Unless one sees this helplessness, one cannot seek help. People think that they themselves can fix up problems. They do not seek help when they need to. Their situation is like that of one given to alcohol. As long as one thinks that one can stop alcohol at any time, one has no way of getting rid of it. Only when one thinks, ‘I do not have any power over alcohol,’ one has a chance to stop it. This is the first step. When one discovers that one has no say over alcohol, one will seek help. Similarly, mumuksutva, the desire for freedom, is also something that is discovered through a process of discernment. The discernment is, "I cannot fulfil the natural urge to be free from being small and insignificant with the available means I have, through the gain of ‘what is not yet gained’ like money, pleasures and so on." If the gain of ‘what is not yet gained’ is not going to help, then what is the solution? We cannot say there is no solution because the desire to be free is a natural urge and there must be a way out. Through this kind of reasoning, a person discovers the desire for freedom and becomes a mumuksu.
What I want is really not ‘a thing’, but freedom. Freedom is not ‘a thing’ just as happiness is not a thing. Freedom is not available as an object somewhere that I can go and buy or claim. Freedom is located exactly where bondage is. Bondage is definitely not in my nose or eyes. The nose is limited. The eyes are limited. But the nose itself does not have a sense of limitation or a complex. The eyes have no complex. The bondage lies in the conclusion, ‘I am not good, I am not significant, I am wanting’ and so on. I do not want to be that wanting insignificant person. The sense of bondage is centred on I. The freedom from this sense does not lie outside the place where this sense is. One cannot, therefore, pick up freedom by going to a place, like one goes to Nepal and picks up saligrama, a type of stone, from River Gandaki. The one who considers that to be freedom is a bound person. He or she continues to be bound. If the sense of bondage is centred on I, then the freedom also is centred on I. ‘I am bound’ is only a notion because I do not feel bound in sleep. In a moment of happiness also I do not see myself as ‘I am bound.’ So, there must be a way out.
If the gain of ‘what is not yet gained’ is not going to make me free from this natural urge to be free, then one thing is left out. My helplessness is not that bad, really speaking. I do not see all the doors closed against me. I still find one door open. It can perhaps be the ‘gain of what is already gained? In that case there is self-disowning. Therefore I need to know myself.
Is there anything like the gain of what is already gained? What is already accomplished can be accomplished if the accomplished is not known as such. But here the pursuit is entirely different; it is one of knowing, for which you require a pramana, a means of knowledge.
The means of knowledge at our disposal like senses and mind are good enough for throwing light upon everything else. But they cannot objectify the atman and know it as purnam brahma. In fact, Brahman is not sitting upon atman. Brahman is atman. How are you going to know it? It is purely a recognition, in the form of a vrtti, cognition, born of a means of knowledge. The means of knowledge that gives rise to this recognition, ‘I am purunam brahma’ are the upanisads. One of them is Mundakopanisad.
I have been teaching for a number of years many upanisads but I never attempted to publish a book on any one of them. To prepare an edited copy from the transcripts of classroom material is a difficult task. This is so because the textual discussions in the classes imply a lot of topic such as grammar, bhyasa, purva-paksa-siddhanta and so on making the transcript a big potpourri of different ideas. To bring out these as a readable text with a cogent flow of thought takes a lot of skill and patient editing on the part of someone who knows the subject matter very well.
The Mundakopanisad is presented as the first book, in the upanisad series by the Arsha Vidya Centre, Research and Publication, thanks to the efforts of Sri Swami Skakshatkritananda Saraswati. With his incredible patience and scholarship, the swami could prepare the manuscript leaving nothing to be desired. His services being available for the Centre, we all can eagerly expect more books of this class.
In the previous section the limited ends that can be accomplished through various means stated in the karma-kanda, that is, apara-vidya, was discussed briefly. Now para-vidya is taken up again and unfolded. Sankara introduces it as follows. The subject matter of para-vidya is aksaram brahma that was earlier revealed as one not subject to decay and death. The upanisad defined para-vidya as the that vidya by which aksarm brahma is understood. Then, the results of apara-vidya were mentioned pointing out their limitations in order for one to discover in oneself a dispassion towards limited ends and develop a value for the subject matter of para-vidya. The sastra thus helped to create the adhikarin for the para-vidya. Now the upanisad takes up the original request on the part of Saunaka, namely, the knowledge of that, knowing which everything is as well known. That is the subject matter of para-vidya.
The teacher points out who laksanas, modes of revealing Brahman. Both of them are very important.
One definition unfolds, by implication, the svarupa, essential nature of Brahman. The other is tatastha, an incidental definition, involving something distinct from the nature of Brahman, but by which it is known. This definition is meant to show that Brahman is not one of the objects in the world, but is the very cause of the world. Without the incidental definition one cannot understand Brahman as everything. The world as well as one’s physical body, mind and senses are non- separate from Brahman. It does not mean Brahman has undergone a change to become all this. Had it been so, then Brahman would not be available at all for knowing. In the svarupa-laksana one gets to know Brahman as neither the cause nor the effect. The cause-effect set-up is to prove that any effect is mithya and it depends upon satya which is Brahman. So, all that is here is Brahman. That Brahman is ‘I,’ the caitanya atman. Therefore, I am everything. By the knowledge of atman, everything is as well known. In the following mantras both the above definitions are well brought out.
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