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Thread: Mandukya Upanishad

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    Mandukya Upanishad

    Mandukya Upanishad is probaby the most controversial Upanishad in the history of vedanta, and has been interprted in an umpteen number of ways:

    When read literally, it teaches a form of monism ( absolute, qualified or otherwise). It states that Atma has four pAdas at the outset. It also states that this Atman is Brahman, and also "everything is Brahman", when read literally.

    The word Atma itself is interpreted differently by different schools, and the four pAdas can be interpreted to mean a lot of things. Hence this Upanishad has a good number of unique interpretations.

    This thread is intended for a detailed exaimination of this Upanishad, with a good summary to begin with and an in depth verse by verse, analysis. No heated debates please, so that every one can contribute their own understanding of the Upanishad. I am just presenting my own understanding of the Upanishad briefly, and will later elaborate in detail, verse by verse.

    The first twelve verses of the Upanishad and the 29 verses of Agama prakaraNa maybe used for the discussion.

    Mandukya essentially deals with four padas, or quarters, forms or states. I read the pada as a manifestation(form) of the Lord, Sriman Narayana.(Atma)

    I dont have any Vishistadvaitin literature on this Upanishad with me, so I have to contruct this solely on my own, with some clues provided in the major commentaries.

    The first pada described is the Vaishvarana, who is described with cosnciousness turned outward, and seven limbs and nineteen mouths. Vaishvarana is the manifestation of the Lord in the form of prakriti. Brahman, being the material cause of this prakriti, and immanently present, and controls it. The exact descriptions of the seven limbs and nineteen mouths are varied, and I am honestly least intersted to read it in terms of Philosophy. In essence, it consist of all universes. Bhagavata describes that there are countless number of universes, made of the five stula bhuta tattvas like fire, water, ether, earth and air. Along with many combinations of these, make the prakriti or jagat. Obviously, fire, water or air are not the building blocks in modern science, so these must be properly explained with respect to science to be taken seroously. Philosophy devoid of science is idle talk, so I dont want to elaborate on these tattvas as done by ancient commentrators. Vaishnvanara falls in the realm of avidya, meaning material science. If anybody could present a modern view of this, that would be impressive.(please attempt so even if it is not rigorous)


    The second pada described is Taijasa, who is descrined with consciousness directed inwards, and having seven limbs and nineteen mouths.

    The description obviously points to the sukshma form of prakriti( because every stula tattva has a corresponding sukshma tattva), which is nothing but the cosmic universe, comprising of the sukshma butha tattvas. Bhagavata again talks of millions of non material universes. All worlds from heaven to the Brahma Loka fall in this category. Brahman, naturally is the material cause of all the cosmic universes. A person who experiences the Taijasa attains apara mukti, and is freed from all karma. He then resides in the higher worlds until the mahapralaya before atatining moksha. He is an aparoxin.

    The third pada described is Prajna, who is described as an experiencer of immense bliss.

    What else could this be? It is the Lord himself present in every jivatma, and from where he controls the jiva. Jiva, as we know is jnana-svarupa and hence is both bliss and the experiencer of bliss. Any one who realized his self ( his jiVatman) is all conscious. The jiva that realized his atman is omniscient like the Lord. The jiva is not omnipresent as yet.

    The fourth pada is described as Turiya, which is the paripurna Brahma anubava, the complete experience of the indescribable Brahman. Jiva who realizes this form of Brahman finds his way into the world of Brahman and enjoys sayujya mukti, a state of oneness with the Lord, and sees a state of oneness, with the manifestation of the Lord everywhere. The Jiva, thus realized, is both omniscient and omnipresent( though he is atomic). The jiva is not omnipotent, because that is the privilege of the Lord alone as taught in the vedanta sutras.(4.4.17)


    The stula prakriti is realized with the physical and outward senses alone(including the Yoga nadis). When senses are subdued, the suksma prakriti(Taijasa) can be realized with the mind. Karma Yoga alone purifies one's mind, and is sufficient to obtain this vision of the Lord. The vision of Krishna obtained by Arjuna is complete Taijasa, as Arjuna is a perfect Karma Yogi. All divine experiences of various people, either as visions, mediums,oracles are all partial manifestations of Vaishvanara and Taijasa, and are result of spiritual merits of former births.


    Jnana Yoga is needed to subdue the mind, and realize the Atman.

    The Yogi who realized his jivatman, is filled with ectasy and flowing love for the Lord, and engages in an uninterrupted Bhakti Yoga, and finally obtains the Turiya.

    (In detail later)
    Last edited by Sudarshan; 23 March 2006 at 06:59 AM.
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    Namaste Sudarshan,

    catuSpAd (or catuSpad) means “quadruped”, “having made four steps or divided into four parts”, or “having four staffs or consisting of four processes”.

    pad means “to stand fast or fixed”, “to fall, fall down or out, or perish”, or “to go, resort or apply to, participate in, keep, or observe”.

    pad (or pAd) indicates “a foot, on foot, or sticking to the feet”, “a step”, or “a fourth part, a quarter or quadrant”.

    catuSpAd indicates a fourfold footing, stance, or foundation; four “outfalls” or expressions; four ways to go (and thus an intersection or crossing point); four resorts; four applications, modes of participation, or aspects of observance or appearance; four sites or four sights.

    catuSpAd indicates four feet or steps, or a fourth part of one whole ~ and thus four quarters or cardinal directions ~ the four corners and four pillars (or beams) ~ four rays of light that are considered as the feet of a heavenly body .

    pada indicates “a step, pace, or stride”, “a footstep, trace, vestige, mark, or the foot itself”, “a sign, token, or characteristic”, “a footing, standpoint, position, rank, station, site, abode, or home”, “a business affair, matter, object or cause of”, “a pretext”, or “a part, portion, or division” (e.g. ekapada, dvipada, tripada, catuSpada, etc.), “a square on a chess-board, a plot of ground, or the foot as a measure of length”, “a ray of light”, “a portion of a verse, quarter or line of a stanza”, “any one in a set of numbers, the sum of which is required”, or “a square root”.

    pada represents “a foot”, while pAda (more directly) represents “the foot”.

    pAda is “the foot (of men and animals)”, “the foot or leg of an inanimate object”, “a column or pillar”, “a wheel”, “a foot as a measure”, “the foot or root of a tree”, “the foot of a mountain, or a hill at the foot of a mountain”, “the base”, “a ray or beam of light (considered as the foot of a heavenly body)”, “a quarter, a fourth part (the fourth of a quadruped being one out of four)”, “the quadrant (of a circle)”, “a verse or line (as the fourth part of a regular stanza)”, or “the chapter of a book or section of a book consisting of four parts”.

    The collective plural pAdAH indicates “the four parts” (i.e. all things required for completion of the whole).

    sarvaM hyetad brahmAyamAtmA brahma so.ayamAtmA catuSpAd |2|

    All this is verily Brahman; this Atman is Brahman; this Atman is quadruped (i.e. having four steps or understandings).


    The Upanishad reveals that three of these understandings are associated with division, while the fourth stands undivided and alone.

    There are three fundamental phases of manifest existence ~ as a solid, a liquid, or a gas ~ and yet there is only one elemental essence that stands firm and untouched (unmanifest and never changed in its true nature, despite all outward appearances).

    The three stages of manifest reality are the three steps or footprints of Vishnu ~ i.e. the earth, the air, and the sky ~ and all of these are ultimately situated in “the space between the eyebrows”.

    The fourth stage of unmanifest and ultimate reality is Aja Ekapad ~ the Shivadvaita Turiya.

    Vishva and Taijasa and Prajna are aspects of Nara-Narayana; whereas the Turiya aspect is the one and only, unimaginable and unnameable Lord “Rudra Shiva”.

    The one Brahman is divided as Narayana, and simultaneously undivided as Shiva.

    Kala Brahman is known as Krishna or Vishnu, and Akala Brahman is known as Mahakala or Shiva.

    The Turiya Pada is defined as being unmanifest, and so the four Padas can NOT all be considered as “manifestations” of Atman.

    The three steps of Vishnu (Vishva, Taijasa, and Prajna) are the very form of Maya or Prakriti (Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva) ~ as I have already explained.

    Shri Lakshmi is the Shakti (primary power or “weapon” of Vishnu) and Shri Devi is Maya.

    Narayana Vishnu is fully expressed in the Trimurti, the Trikona, and the Three Qualities, Qualifications, Distinctions, or Conditions (i.e. the Three Gunas).

    The mystery behind creation and manifestation belongs to Narayana Vishnu; while the mystery behind immortality and non-manifestation (invisibility or destruction) belongs to Rudra Shiva.

    Advaita considers all three of the “forked” understandings as relative Avidya, with Turiya alone standing for all eternity as the ultimate and only true Vidya.

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    Interesting thread:

    Vishva is jagat
    Taijasa is Indra (or Brahma)
    Prajna is jiva (kaivalya)
    Turiya is Brahman (para mukti)

    Brahman is One and the Trinity.
    Brahman with omnipotence or power of creation(Brahma/Saraswati)
    Brahman with omniscience and power of dissolution (Shiva/Shakti)
    Brahman with omnipresence and power of preservation ( Vishnu/Lakshmi)

    Quote Originally Posted by Sudarshan
    If anybody could present a modern view of this, that would be impressive.(please attempt so even if it is not rigorous)
    Indeed, modern science can be explained using the Sankya's 24 principles. I will try to post this when I have time, it will be a lengthy post. Sankya is the most beautiful and complete exposition you will come across that even vedanta did not make any corrections in this regard.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sarabhanga
    Namaste Sudarshan,

    catuSpAd (or catuSpad) means “quadruped”, “having made four steps or divided into four parts”, or “having four staffs or consisting of four processes”.

    pad means “to stand fast or fixed”, “to fall, fall down or out, or perish”, or “to go, resort or apply to, participate in, keep, or observe”.

    pad (or pAd) indicates “a foot, on foot, or sticking to the feet”, “a step”, or “a fourth part, a quarter or quadrant”.

    catuSpAd indicates a fourfold footing, stance, or foundation; four “outfalls” or expressions; four ways to go (and thus an intersection or crossing point); four resorts; four applications, modes of participation, or aspects of observance or appearance; four sites or four sights.

    catuSpAd indicates four feet or steps, or a fourth part of one whole ~ and thus four quarters or cardinal directions ~ the four corners and four pillars (or beams) ~ four rays of light that are considered as the feet of a heavenly body .

    pada indicates “a step, pace, or stride”, “a footstep, trace, vestige, mark, or the foot itself”, “a sign, token, or characteristic”, “a footing, standpoint, position, rank, station, site, abode, or home”, “a business affair, matter, object or cause of”, “a pretext”, or “a part, portion, or division” (e.g. ekapada, dvipada, tripada, catuSpada, etc.), “a square on a chess-board, a plot of ground, or the foot as a measure of length”, “a ray of light”, “a portion of a verse, quarter or line of a stanza”, “any one in a set of numbers, the sum of which is required”, or “a square root”.

    pada represents “a foot”, while pAda (more directly) represents “the foot”.

    pAda is “the foot (of men and animals)”, “the foot or leg of an inanimate object”, “a column or pillar”, “a wheel”, “a foot as a measure”, “the foot or root of a tree”, “the foot of a mountain, or a hill at the foot of a mountain”, “the base”, “a ray or beam of light (considered as the foot of a heavenly body)”, “a quarter, a fourth part (the fourth of a quadruped being one out of four)”, “the quadrant (of a circle)”, “a verse or line (as the fourth part of a regular stanza)”, or “the chapter of a book or section of a book consisting of four parts”.

    The collective plural pAdAH indicates “the four parts” (i.e. all things required for completion of the whole).

    sarvaM hyetad brahmAyamAtmA brahma so.ayamAtmA catuSpAd |2|

    All this is verily Brahman; this Atman is Brahman; this Atman is quadruped (i.e. having four steps or understandings).


    The Upanishad reveals that three of these understandings are associated with division, while the fourth stands undivided and alone.

    There are three fundamental phases of manifest existence ~ as a solid, a liquid, or a gas ~ and yet there is only one elemental essence that stands firm and untouched (unmanifest and never changed in its true nature, despite all outward appearances).

    The three stages of manifest reality are the three steps or footprints of Vishnu ~ i.e. the earth, the air, and the sky ~ and all of these are ultimately situated in “the space between the eyebrows”.

    The fourth stage of unmanifest and ultimate reality is Aja Ekapad ~ the Shivadvaita Turiya.

    Vishva and Taijasa and Prajna are aspects of Nara-Narayana; whereas the Turiya aspect is the one and only, unimaginable and unnameable Lord “Rudra Shiva”.

    The one Brahman is divided as Narayana, and simultaneously undivided as Shiva.

    Kala Brahman is known as Krishna or Vishnu, and Akala Brahman is known as Mahakala or Shiva.

    The Turiya Pada is defined as being unmanifest, and so the four Padas can NOT all be considered as “manifestations” of Atman.

    The three steps of Vishnu (Vishva, Taijasa, and Prajna) are the very form of Maya or Prakriti (Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva) ~ as I have already explained.

    Shri Lakshmi is the Shakti (primary power or “weapon” of Vishnu) and Shri Devi is Maya.

    Narayana Vishnu is fully expressed in the Trimurti, the Trikona, and the Three Qualities, Qualifications, Distinctions, or Conditions (i.e. the Three Gunas).

    The mystery behind creation and manifestation belongs to Narayana Vishnu; while the mystery behind immortality and non-manifestation (invisibility or destruction) belongs to Rudra Shiva.

    Advaita considers all three of the “forked” understandings as relative Avidya, with Turiya alone standing for all eternity as the ultimate and only true Vidya.
    pada means a quarter or a division by extension. Atma is understood to be ekapada, so the chatuspad must be understood to refer to a partcular aspect of Atma and not Atma itself. Treat atma itself as a chatuspad(when it is an ekapad) and then sublating the other three padas is a far fetched interpretation. As it turns out, Atma is Brahman, and the various padas are just different divisions in Atma sakshatkara.

    All this interpretations are based on the theory of adhyasa(superimposition), which has been declined by scripture at various places. For eg, the reality of jagat has been explicitly upheld in Bhagwad Gita, which will mean that Vaishvanara is real and not sublated in Turiya:

    asatyam apratistam te jagad ahur anisvaram
    aparaspara sambhutam kim anyat kama haitukam

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    Namaste Ram,

    pAd refers primarily to the foot or footing, and thus foundational understanding. And catuSpAd refers to four primary understandings, all of which are required to complete the instruction on the fourfold nature of auM.

    omityetadaksharamidaM sarvaM tasyopavyAkhyAnaM bhUtaM bhavad-bhaviSyaditi sarvamoÑkAra eva |
    yaccAnyat-trikAlAtItaM tadapyoÑkAra eva |1|


    Om is the Word, and it is all this; and its explanation is this: All that is past, present, and future, is verily Om.
    Also that which is beyond the triple conception of time is verily Om.


    Now that the Mandukya has properly introduced its initial perspective, it is quite clear that Om is the “quadruped” under consideration here.

    a is Vishva, u is Taijasa, and M is Prajna ~ and these are the three “foot-prints” of Narayana Vishnu.

    auM taken as a perfect whole is the Ekapad (Rudra Shiva), and a + u + M is the Tripad (Vamana Vishnu).

    Ekapad plus Tripad equals Catushpad!

    Solid and Liquid and Gas are the three primary manifestations of all matter; and the pure unchanging and unseen (unless by special techniques) essence that is the basis for all three manifestations is well understood.

    Three temporarily divided feet that are in essence only one eternally undivided foot ~ Aja Ekapad.

    Is it “far-fetched” to suggest that ice and water and steam are all different understandings of H2O ?

    Does any scripture refute the idea that what we perceive as past, present, and future, are in truth only passing aspects of the one eternal and unfathomable continuum of Time itself ?

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    Namaste-ji!

    Quote Originally Posted by sarabhanga
    Three temporarily divided feet that are in essence only one eternally undivided foot ~ Aja Ekapad.

    Is it “far-fetched” to suggest that ice and water and steam are all different understandings of H2O ?
    Yes, it is too far fetched to suggest that ice and water are sublated by steam....All of water, ice and steam are always real. The interpretation based on explaining the divisions of Brahman( as forms), does not suffer from the need to dismiss the first three states, while stilling upholding that turIya alone is the ultimate reality.


    Quote Originally Posted by sarabhanga
    Does any scripture refute the idea that what we perceive as past, present, and future, are in truth only passing aspects of the one eternal and unfathomable continuum of Time itself ?
    This is irrelevant. When we are trying to prove something that we dont percieve, proof is needed to prove the concept. The absence of pramana is no proof in such cases. To prove that the world is unreal, you need proof, a very strong one, and not based on any speculations. Infact this possibility is denied in all scriptures and can you show even one single solid evidence. ( not subject to speculations). Simple, find a single authentic quote that dismisses the reality of the world. There are so many that say the opposite.

    On the other hand, there is no proof need to prove the reality. What proof do you need to prove that the sky is blue? Padma Purana goes to the extent of saying that wherever jagat is mentioned to be mitya(if at all), it only refers to its non eternal nature.
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    Hi Ram,

    Quote Originally Posted by Ram
    Prajna is jiva (kaivalya)
    This is what I stated but I am not sure what Acharya has said. I think the dvaitins interpret Prajna as Brahma.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ram
    Brahman with omnipotence or power of creation(Brahma/Saraswati)
    Brahman with omniscience and power of dissolution (Shiva/Shakti)
    Brahman with omnipresence and power of preservation ( Vishnu/Lakshmi)
    Does the Trinity has any proof? Must be your personal opinion.



    Quote Originally Posted by Ram
    Indeed, modern science can be explained using the Sankya's 24 principles. I will try to post this when I have time, it will be a lengthy post. Sankya is the most beautiful and complete exposition you will come across that even vedanta did not make any corrections in this regard.
    Cool , I would await that.
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    Namaste Ji.

    Quote Originally Posted by sarabhanga
    Vishva and Taijasa and Prajna are aspects of Nara-Narayana; whereas the Turiya aspect is the one and only, unimaginable and unnameable Lord “Rudra Shiva”.
    Is this Shaiva perspective or that of advaita...Advaita does not consider Nara Narayana as Prajna and Shiva as Turiya. Can you show where Sri Shankara has said that? Either both are Prajna or both are Turiya or Narayana is Turiya and Shiva is Prajna.


    Quote Originally Posted by sarabhanga
    Kala Brahman is known as Krishna or Vishnu, and Akala Brahman is known as Mahakala or Shiva.
    Gita Bhasya of Sri Shankara starts out with a reverance to the Parabrahman known as Vasudeva and Govinda. Is Parabrahmam same as Kala Brahman( who is just Maya and unreal?)

    Quote Originally Posted by sarabhanga
    Advaita considers all three of the “forked” understandings as relative Avidya, with Turiya alone standing for all eternity as the ultimate and only true Vidya.
    This is perfect except for the "forked" understandings. All manifestations of the Lord are wonderful, real and eternal isn't it? I beleive the word real and unreal have to properly explained.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ram
    asatyam apratistam te jagad ahur anisvaram
    aparaspara sambhutam kim anyat kama haitukam
    Ah, have you seen how this is handled in Sri Shankara's commentary? He never tries to defend it like it is targetting only Buddhism, because the reasons are obvious. His defence is wholly unrealistic here.

    The most "satsifactory" explanation I have heard so far is that Arjuna was not ready yet for hearing about "higher" truths such as Mayavada. How to beleive this considering the fact that Arjuna was revealed the Vishvaroopa, and Bhagavan describes it as a unique form that he displayed to Arjuna?
    Guard your Dharma, Burn the Myth, Promote the Truth, Crush the superstition.

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    Namaste Sudarshan,

    I have not suggested that the concepts of ice and water are negated by the concept of steam, but it should be obvious that when solid ice melts into liquid water the previously existing block of ice is now non-existent, having been entirely transformed into the liquid state. And when that same body of liquid water evaporated into the gaseous steam phase the previously existing pool of water is now non-existent, having been entirely transformed into the gaseous state. And throughout all of these temporary and conditional changes of manifest nature, the true and ultimate nature of H2O remains untouched and unseen, as the fixed stage for the interplay of its various appearances or temporary manifestations.

    Vishva, Taijasa, and Prajna (just as solid, liquid, and gas; or past, present, and future; or A, U, and M) are the three principles of a manifest existence or Creation; and behind that world of manifestation there is a subtle realm of unmanifest but eternal and unborn existence. And that unborn and eternal (“ultimate”) Truth is the Turiya.

    The matter of the scriptural refutation of “superimposition”, and thereby the supposed refutation of all of my comments regarding the Catushpad Atman, was brought up by Ramji, and I simply questioned: “Does any scripture refute the idea that what we perceive as past, present, and future, are in truth only passing aspects of the one eternal and unfathomable continuum of Time itself ?”

    And you responded: “This is irrelevant.”

    It would appear that you have not actually read the very first line of the Mandukyopanishad, which clearly states:

    “All that is past, present, and future, is verily Om; and that which is beyond the triple conception of time is verily Om.”

    And I have NOT attempted to “prove that the world is unreal”.

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