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 sleeping, and the transcendent fourth state of illumination. The Muktikopanishad, which discusses other Upanishads, says that the Mandukya Upanishad alone is enough for salvation.

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.

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 indifferentiated 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."[4]

Commentary by Gaudapada[edit]

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. Scholars hold the Karika as well as Shankara's Commentary on it in high esteem.

Gaudapada deals with perception, idealism, causality, truth, and reality. The fourth state (turīya avasthā) corresponds to silence as the other three correspond to AUM. It is the substratum of the other three states. It is referred to as atyanta-shunyata (absolute emptiness).[5]

From the fact that many Buddhist terms are used in explaining the fourth state, such as Śūnyatā or emptiness, it is clear that this commentary was written in an era when the concepts of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā school of Mahayana Buddhism were influential and renowned.[5]

In the fourth state of consciousness – turiya – the mind is not simply withdrawn from the objects but becomes one with Brahman. In both deep sleep and "transcendental consciousness" there is no consciousness of objects but the objective consciousness is present in an unmanifested 'seed' form in deep sleep, while it is transcended in turīya. Specifically, if one identifies the wordless state with turīya and meditates, one realizes the true self and 'there is no return to the sphere of empirical life'.[6]

Reception in modern Hinduism[edit]

According to Radhakrishnan[7] it contains the fundamental approach to reality.


  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. ^ Invocation and verses of Mandukya Upanishad by Swami Krishnanda
  5. ^ a b Hajime Nakamura, Trevor Leggett, A history of early Vedānta philosophy, Part 2. Reprint by Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2004 page 285.
  6. ^ Swami Nikhilananda: Mandukyopanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Sankara’s Commentary. Shri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore. Sixth edn. 1974
  7. ^ S. Radhakrishnan. The Principal Upanishads. George Allen and Unwin. 1969

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]

See also[edit]