Mandukya Upanishad

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The Mandukya Upanishad explains the universal sound AUM.

The Mandukya Upanishad is the shortest of the Upanishads – the scriptures of Hindu Vedanta. It is in prose, consisting of just twelve verses expounding the mystic syllable Aum, the three psychological states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep, and the transcendent fourth state of illumination.

Gaudapadacharya was the author of Māṇḍukya Kārikā, a commentary on Mandukya Upanishad. It was written in 8th century, and is one of the earliest works on Advaita Vedanta.[1]


The name, "Mandukya" may have come about for several reasons:

  • Attribution to a sage called Manduka. Manduka means "son of Manduki" and a seer with this metronymic is mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad along with the Mandukeyas, his disciples. The Mandukeyas figure in the Bhagavata Purana as the receivers of a branch of the Rig Veda from Indra. This group of seers also figures in the Rig Veda itself: their hymns are mostly connected with linguistics.[2] A text on the etymology of Vedas with the name "Manduki Shiksha" deals with the notes of the musical scale.
  • Manduka is also a type of yoga – a "particular kind of abstract meditation in which an ascetic sits motionless like a frog".[3] Mandukasana is one of the asanas (postures) described in yoga.


Nakamura dates the Mandukya Upanishad to "about the first or second centuries A.D."[4] Olivelle gives the following date:

Finally, we have the two late prose Upanisads, the Prasna and the Mandukya, which cannot be much older than the beginning of the common era.[5][note 1]

Buddhist influence[edit]

According to Hajime Nakamura, the Mandukya Upanishad was strongly influenced by Mahayana Buddhism.[7] Many Buddhist terms and expressions may be found in it, especially the concept of sunyata.[7][note 2]

Four states of consciousness[edit]

See also: Sarira (Vedanta) and Kosha

The Mandukya Upanishad describes four states of consciousness, namely waking (jågrat), dreaming (svapna), and deep sleep (suƒupti),[web 1][web 2] which correspond to the three bodies:[10]

  1. The first state is the waking state, in which we are aware of our daily world. "It is described as outward-knowing (bahish-prajnya), gross (sthula) and universal (vaishvanara)".[web 2] This is the gross body.
  2. The second state is the dreaming mind. "It is described as inward-knowing (antah-prajnya), subtle (pravivikta) and burning (taijasa)".[web 2] This is the subtle body.
  3. The third state is the state of deep sleep. In this state the underlying ground of concsiousness is undistracted, "the Lord of all (sarv'-eshvara), the knower of all (sarva-jnya), the inner controller (antar-yami), the source of all (yonih sarvasya), the origin and dissolution of created things (prabhav'-apyayau hi bhutanam)".[web 2] This is the causal body.
  4. The fourth factor is Turiya, pure consciousness. It is the background that underlies and transcends the three common states of consciousness.[web 3] [web 4] In this consciousness both absolute and relative, Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman, are transcended.[11] It is the true state of experience of the infinite (ananta) and non-different (advaita/abheda), free from the dualistic experience which results from the attempts to conceptualise ( vipalka) reality.[12] It is the state in which ajativada, non-origination, is apprehended.[12]

Aum in the Mandukya Upanishad[edit]

There are three mātrās ("letters", syllabic instants in prosody) in the word aum : ‘a’, ‘u’ and ‘m’. The ‘a’ stands for the state of wakefulness, where we experience externally through our mind and sense organs. The ‘u’ stands for the dream state, in which inward experiences are available. In the state of deep sleep, represented by the sound ‘m’, there is no desire and consciousness is gathered in upon itself.

But there is a fourth, transcendent state, which is "neither inward-turned nor outward-turned consciousness, nor the two together; not an undifferentiated mass of consciousness; neither knowing, nor unknowing; invisible, ineffable, intangible, devoid of characteristics, inconceivable, indefinable, its sole essence being the consciousness of its own Self; the coming to rest of all relative existence; utterly quiet; peaceful; blissful: without a second: this is the Ātman, the Self; this is to be realised."[13]

Commentary by Gaudapada[edit]

Further information: Gaudapada § Mandukya Karika

The first extant metrical commentary on this Upanishad was written by Gaudapada, before the time of Adi Shankara. This commentary, called the Māndūkya-kārikā, is the earliest known systematic exposition of Advaita Vedanta. When Shankara wrote his commentary on Māndūkya Upanishad he merged the Kārikā of Gaudapada with the Upanishad and wrote a commentary on the Kārikā also.

Gaudapada took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra),[14][note 3] and "the four-cornered negation".[14][note 4] The 'four-cornered negation' is an English gloss of the Sanskrit, Chatushkoti. Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara".[18][note 5]

Reception in modern Hinduism[edit]

According to Radhakrishnan[20] it contains the fundamental approach to reality.

Sikh translation[edit]

According to sikh scholars, the Mandukya Upanishad 'is one of the most fascinating upanishads ever written as it deals with the four states of being' and was translated in Anandpur in 1689 under the patronage of Guru Gobind Singh.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Older sources tend to give an older dating. William K. Mahony dor example, wrote in 1987: "The Upanis:ads of a third group (the Prasna, Maitri (or Maitrayanıya), Jbala, Paingala, and Mandukya Upanisads) return to prose form, but in a language that resembles classical Sanskrit much more than Vedic Sanskrit. They probably emerged in the late fifth and early fourth centuries BCE although the dates for a few of them are uncertain.[6] The most recent source he's referring to is from 1974.
  2. ^ Nakamura:
    • "As was pointed out in detail in the section titled Interpretation, many particular Buddhist terms or uniquely Buddhist modes of expression may be found in it."[8]
    • "From the fact that many Buddhist terms are found in its explanation, it is clear that this view was established under the influence of the Mahayana Buddhist concept of Void."[9]
    • "Although Buddhistic influence can be seen in the Maitri-Upanishad, the particular terms and modes of expression of Mahayana Buddhism do not yet appear, whereas the influence of the Mahayana concept of Void can clearly be recognized in the Mandukya-Upanisad."[9]
    • "Although Mahayana Buddhism strongly influenced this Upanisad, neither the mode of exposition of the Madhyamika school nor the characteristic terminology of the Vijnanavada school appears."[4]
  3. ^ It is often used interchangeably with the term citta-mātra, but they have different meanings. The standard translation of both terms is "consciousness-only" or "mind-only." Several modern researchers object this translation, and the accompanying label of "absolute idealism" or "idealistic monism".[15] A better translation for vijñapti-mātra is representation-only.[16]
  4. ^ 1. Something is. 2. It is not. 3. It both is and is not. 4. It neither is nor is not.[web 5][17]
  5. ^ The influence of Mahayana Buddhism on other religions and philosophies was not limited to Vedanta. Kalupahana notes that the Visuddhimagga contains "some metaphysical speculations, such as those of the Sarvastivadins, the Sautrantikas, and even the Yogacarins".[19]


  1. ^ Sharma, C. (1997). A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0365-5, p. 239
  2. ^ Phonology: Critical Concepts by Charles W. Kreidler
  3. ^ Monier-Williams writings on Hinduism.
  4. ^ a b Nakamura 2004, p. 286.
  5. ^ Olivelle 1998, p. 13.
  6. ^ Mahony 1987, p. 9483.
  7. ^ a b Nakamura 2004, p. 284-286.
  8. ^ Nakamura 2004, p. 284.
  9. ^ a b Nakamura 2004, p. 285.
  10. ^ Wilber 2000, p. 132.
  11. ^ Sarma 1996, p. 137.
  12. ^ a b King 1995, p. 300 note 140.
  13. ^ Invocation and verses of Mandukya Upanishad by Swami Krishnanda
  14. ^ a b Raju 1992, p. 177.
  15. ^ Kochumuttom 1999, p. 1.
  16. ^ Kochumuttom 1999, p. 5.
  17. ^ Garfield 2003.
  18. ^ Raju 1992, p. 177-178.
  19. ^ Kalupahana 1994, p. 206.
  20. ^ S. Radhakrishnan. The Principal Upanishads. George Allen and Unwin. 1969


Published sources[edit]

  • Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited 
  • King, Richard (1995), Early Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism: The Mahāyāna Context of the Gauḍapādīya-kārikā, SUNY Press 
  • Kochumuttom, Thomas A. (1999), A buddhist Doctrine of Experience. A New Translation and Interpretation of the Works of Vasubandhu the Yogacarin, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 
  • Mahony, William K. (1987), "Upanisads", in Jones, Lindsay, MacMillan Encyclopedia of Religion (2005), MacMillan 
  • Nakamura, Hajime (2004), A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part 2, Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  • Olivelle, Patrick (1998), The Early Upanishads, Oxford University Press 
  • Raju, P.T. (1992), The Philosophical Traditions of India, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited 
  • Sarma, Chandradhar (1996), The Advaita Tradition in Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 


Further reading[edit]

  • Eight Upanishads. Vol.2. With the commentary of Sankaracharya, Tr. By Swami Gambhirananda. Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1990.
  • V. Krishnamurthy. Essentials of Hinduism. Narosa Publishing House, New Delhi. 1989
  • Swami Rama. Enlightenment Without God [commentary on Mandukya Upanishad]. Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, 1982.
  • Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads [1]. Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. 1972.

External links[edit]