Namaskaar. After the Introductions to the Upanishads and also the author of this series Mr. V. Subrahmanian and the Advaita Academy, we now enter the study of the Upanishad proper. Its an advanced study of Advaita Vedanta and so its presumed that the reader already has sufficient exposure to the study of Vedanta through basic texts like Tattvabodha, and is familiar with the terms used therein. This series is just an introductory series and is in no way a substitute for learning from a Guru, which is essential for all of us to properly assimilate the teachings.

I pray for the Grace of Isvara to be with us all so that we can benefit from this study. I am sure it will be a most enjoyable experience to get an exposure into the wonderful teachings of the Upanishads. HariH Om.


The muNDakopaniShat – Part 1  —  by V Subrahmanian

Part 1

The muNDakopaniShad belongs to the atharvaNa veda.  The text begins with the enumeration of the Teacher-Disciple names with a view to eulogize the tradition of transmitting the knowledge, vidyA, by the qualified teacher and the receiving of the same by the qualified disciple/aspirant.  When such a mention is made of the persons involved in the past in obtaining this exalted Knowledge, the student who comes to this vidyA in the present will be favourably impressed in the great effort that goes into the dissemination of this teaching which results in emancipation. When the eulogy is duly made, the aspirant would take to the study with all seriousness.

Any study/teaching has to have a specific non-trivial fruit that comes out of such an exercise.  That is being specified in this upaniShat in the sequel by the mantra भिद्यते हृदयग्रन्थिः…’  ‘The knots of the heart will be severed…’ (2.2.8). This is the declaration by the upaniShat that upon the culmination of the study and assimilation of the teaching, the fundamental ignorance that causes transmigration will be dispelled.  This is the ‘connection’, sambandha, between the goal and the means.  The goal, fruit, phalam, as stated, is the freedom from saMsAra and the means is the knowledge acquired from the study of the upaniShat.

The upaniShat, at the very beginning, indicates that the vedic portions concerning the RRig, yajus, sAman and atharva and their limbs, constitute the means for attaining those ends that are ephemeral in nature and thus do not constitute the means for the removal of ignorance which is the fundamental cause of transmigration.  This is indicated by the explicit wordsअविद्यायामन्तरे वर्तमानाः… ’they remain in the realm of ignorance’  (1.2.8).  The upaniShat also specifies the means for realizing the Supreme to be deep dispassion towards the entire gamut of enjoyments attainable through finite means and ends and approach a qualified Teacher to secure that knowledge which alone puts an end to ignorance : परीक्ष्य लोकान्…‘having carefully examined the worlds/goals attainable by finite means..’ (1.2.12). The ultimate fruit is stated severally: ब्रह्म वेद ब्रह्मैव भवति ‘the knower of brahman becomes verily brahman’ (3.2.9) and परामृताः परिमुच्यन्ति सर्वे…‘They become identified with the Supreme Immortality and are freed absolutely’ (3.2.6)

The role of sannyAsa, renunciation:

Even though those in all stations of life, namely the student (brahmachArin), the householder (gRRihastha), the forest-dweller (vAnaprastha) and the renunciate (sannyAsin), are equally eligible to take to the inquiry of Truth, yet the renunciate’s life alone is especially conducive for the rise of the knowledge that dispels ignorance and liberates the Knower.  The coexistence of works is not a condition for the rise of knowledge.  This is brought out by this upaniShat by the passages such as भैक्षचर्यां चरन्तः ‘those engaged in seeking alms’ (1.2.11) and संन्यासयोगात् ‘by resorting to renunciation’ (3.2.6).  Apart from these explicit vedic passages, there is this reasoning, yukti, that knowledge and action are opposed to each other.  Along with the Knowledge of the Unitary Self (which is non-different from brahman) it is impossible even in dream to court action.  Knowledge is never time-driven/time-specific and not influenced/dependent on definite causes.  To explain, a scriptural or worldly action is dependent on certain conditions like the doer, the specific time appropriate for the action, the quality of the implements/ancillary aids, etc.  brahman-Realization, in the form of knowledge, is not thus dependent on any external accessories.

The various instances of householders being Teachers of this brahmavidyA does not vitiate the above rule that Knowledge and actions cannot co-exist.  For, while even by a hundred injunctive sentences light and darkness cannot coexist in the same locus, much less by the power of mere indications.

The etymological meaning of the word ‘upa-ni-Shat’ is thus derived:

Whoever resorts (‘upa’-yanti) to this brahmavidyA with a view to make it one’s own combined with intense faith and devotion/commitment will have their entire lot of pains characterized by birth, old age, disease, death, etc. annulled.  This is conveyed by the particle ‘ni’.  This vidyA leads them to the Supreme brahman. The root cause of saMsAra which is avidyA, etc. is dispelled (‘sad’ particle).  The prefixes ‘upa’ and ‘ni’ when applied to the particle ‘sad’ gives us the above meaning.

shAnti pATha

भदं कर्णेभिः श्रुणुयाम देवाः
भद्रं पश्येमाक्षभिर्यजत्राः ।
स्थिरैरङ्गैस्तुष्टुवां सस्तनूभिः
व्यशेम  देवहितं यदायुः ॥

स्वस्ति न इन्द्रो वृद्धश्रवाः
स्वस्ति नः पूषा विश्ववेदाः ।
स्वस्ति नस्तार्क्ष्यो अरिष्टनेमिः
स्वस्ति नो बृहस्पतिर्दधातु ।
ओम् शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Peace Chant:
Om. O gods, may we hear auspicious words with the ears; while engaged in sacrifices, may we see auspicious things with the eyes; while praising the gods with steady limbs, may we enjoy a life that is beneficial to the gods.

May Indra of ancient fame be auspicious to us; may the supremely rich (or all-knowing) pUshA (god of the earth) be propitious to us; may Garuda, the destroyer of evil, be well disposed towards us; may bRRihaspati ensure our welfare.

Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!

Now the commentary for the mantras commences.

Mantra 1.1.1
(The first number denotes the Part, the second is the section and third is the mantra)

ब्रह्मा देवानां प्रथमः सम्बभूव
विश्वस्य कर्ता भुवनस्य गोप्ता ।
स ब्रह्मविद्यां सर्वविद्याप्रतिष्ठा-
मथर्वाय ज्येष्ठपुत्राय प्राह ॥ १ ॥

ब्रह्मा brahmA देवानां प्रथमः first among the deva-s सम्बभूव born विश्वस्य of the universe कर्ता creator भुवनस्य of the world गोप्ता protector स he ब्रह्मविद्यां the knowledge of brahman सर्वविद्याप्रतिष्ठाम् the foundation of all knowledge  अथर्वाय to atharvA ज्येष्ठपुत्राय eldest son प्राह told

Om. brahmA, the Maker of the universe and the Preserver of the world, was the first among the deva-s. He transmitted to his eldest son atharvA the Knowledge of brahman, the foundation of all knowledge.

brahmA is the ‘eldest’ in creation.  No one born is accorded this position of being the first-born.  Also, since he is possessed of exalted qualities like knowledge of dharma, dispassion and lordship/auspiciousness, he excels/surpasses everyone else in creation.  Among the splendorous beings called devatA-s, brahmA is the first and foremost, both in virtue and also in the order of manifesting in creation.   His manifestation is also unique in that he was born independently, that is, unlike the other creatures of the earth who are born depending on their merits and demerits.  The manusmRRiti (1.7) says: He that is super-sensuous and cannot be grasped (subtle, unmanifested, eternal, existing in all beings, and beyond thought – is this One who was born independently).

brahmA is the source of the entire creation. He is also the preserver, protector, of the created universe.  He handed the great vidyA, called brahmavidyA, to his eldest son atharvA.  This vidyA is called by the name brahmavidyA because it is the means to realize brahman, the Supreme Principle.  This very upaniShad says so: ‘yenAkSharam puruSham veda satyam’ (1.2.13) (‘by which one knew this puruSha who is Eternal, Satya.’)  It is so called also because it is taught by brahmA, the first-born.

The mantra says this vidyA is ‘sarvavidyApratiShThA’, ‘the basis, foundation, of all sciences.’  This is because this vidyA, Pure Consciousness, is the one which is instrumental in making all other sciences/knowledge known to one. Or through this alone is known that which all kinds of knowledge aim at, in accordance to the passage ‘through which the unheard of becomes heard, the unthought-of becomes thought of, the unknown becomes known’ (chhAndogya upaniShad (6.1.3)).

Such a vidyA was handed to the first and foremost son atharvA by the father the first-born brahmA.  Among the several kinds of creations of brahmA one is that which has atharvA as the first one.  To such a one, brahmA gave this instruction concerning the Supreme Reality, brahman.

The propagation of this vidyA from atharvA down to various others:

Mantra 1.1.2:

अथर्वणे यां प्रवदेत ब्रह्मा-
थर्वा तां पुरोवाचाङ्गिरे ब्रह्मविद्याम् ।
स भारद्वाजाय सत्यवहाय प्राह
भारद्वाजोऽङ्गिरसे परावराम् ॥ २ 

अथर्वणे to atharvA यां that प्रवदेत ब्रह्मा brahmA told अथर्वा atharvA तां that same पुरा in the past उवाच told अङ्गिरे angir ब्रह्मविद्याम् the knowledge of brahman स he भारद्वाजाय to bharadvAja-clan  सत्यवहाय satyavaha प्राह told भारद्वाजः bharadvAjaअङ्गिरसे taught angiras परावराम् the vidyA transferred in succession

The Knowledge of brahman which brahmA gave atharvA, atharvA, in olden times, told angir. angir taught it to satyavaha, belonging to the clan of bharadvAja and the latter taught it, in succession, to angiras

That knowledge of brahman which brahmA gave to atharvA, that very same vidyA atharvA in the olden times imparted to the one named angir.   This angir further gave it to satyavaha belonging to the bharadvAja clan (gotra).  He in turn imparted the vidyA to his son or pupil named angiras. This vidyA is called ‘parAvara’ because it is transmitted by a higher (para) AchArya to his lower (avara) disciple.  Or it could be so called because this brahmavidyA is the abode, source, of all vidyA-s, both parA (higher) and aparA (lower).

Now, after the mention of the lineage, starts the actual context of brahmavidyA

Mantra 1.1.3:

शौनको ह वै महाशालोऽङ्गिरसं विधिवदुपसन्नः पप्रच्छ ।
कस्मिन्नु  भगवो विज्ञाते सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवतीति ॥   

शौनकःshaunaka  ह वै महाशालः a famed great householder अङ्गिरसं to angiras विधिवदुपसन्नः who has approached in the proper manner पप्रच्छ asked कस्मिन्नु ‘which  भगवः Sir विज्ञाते knowing सर्वम् all इदं this विज्ञातं भवति becomes known इति thus

shaunaka, the great householder, approached angiras in the proper manner and said: Revered Sir, what is that by the knowing of which all this becomes known?

shaunaka, the son of shunaka, a great householder approached angiras who is the pupil of bharadvAja, in the ordained manner.  What is this manner?  We have in this upaniShad itself (1.2.12), in the sequel, the manner in which an aspirant after knowledge is supposed to approach the Teacher. He should, with sacrificial faggots, samit, in hand, present himself to the Teacher with a subdued mind and controlled organs, prostrating and express his readiness to be of service.  It is to such a one, the Teacher pleased, will open the floodgates of knowledge which will result in liberation from saMsAra.


To be continued …….. in part 2

Pranaam from Kamal Kothari