kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Tue Jul 18 17:58:11 CDT 2006

In the past I have provided a general introduction covering many
epistemological issues that are important to understand the Upanishad.
We proceed now to the study of the upanishad.  Some clarifications are
in order before we take up the upanishad text. 
Those are presented below from my perspective.
ManDukya Upanishad

Introduction:  Veda means knowledge. It is revealed knowledge, heard by
the Rishies of the yore in the seat of their meditation.  Hence, they
are called shrutis.  They are passed on to the next generation by the
word of mouth. They are not born of human intellect, hence are called
apouruSheyam.  Therefore, they are considered free from any defects that
can arise from a limited conceptual human intellect.  These are
collected and compiled by Bhagavaan VyAsa into four volumes: Rik, yajur,
saama and atharvaNa.  Each of the Vedas has two parts.  karma khAnDa,
the first part deals with rituals, and the second part, jnAna khAnDa,
deals with the knowledge supreme.  The study of the first part is not an
end in itself, since they deal with rituals.  It is like a cookbook. 
Knowledge of a recipe is not an end in itself.  One has to follow the
recipe to the letter and cook to enjoy the benefits.  Similarly, the
karma khAnDa has to be used to do specified rituals to gain the promised
results.  The second part is jnAna khAnDa.  Here the study itself is the
end.  Knowledge is the end. They have to be understood using a teacher
as a guide.  One has to listen to the teacher, shrotavyaH, contemplate
upon the teachings until all doubts are removed, mantavyaH, and meditate
on their meaning, nidhidhyAsitavyaH, to gain the knowledge.  Here
‘tavyaH’ indicates a statement of vidhi, meaning it has to be done, if
one wants to gain the knowledge.  

According to Swami Paramarthanandaji, the first part, karma khAnDa deals
with three types of goals that can be gained using three types of means,
in order to fulfill human aspirations in this life and/or the life
after.  Vedas also states in the end that all these three types of goals
that one can acquire by following karma khAnDa intrinsically have three
fundamental defects.  Recognition of the defects would help prepare the
aspirant to go to next section of Vedas namely Vedanta, which also means
the ultimate knowledge.  The three types of goals, sAdhya trayam,
involve 1) improvement of an individual (body, mind, etc) 2) improvement
of individual possessions (property, wealth, position, power, etc) and
3) improvement of environment (change of set-up).  The three means
(sAdhAnatrayam) involve 1) physical discipline (tapas, rituals, etc) 2)
discipline of speech (japam, chanting,  etc), 3) discipline of mind
(various types of meditation, etc).  Even after acquiring the goals, one
remains unfulfilled, since the goals that are achievable by karma are
finite and plagued with three types of fundamental defects
(doShatrayam). The first is due to the associated pains involved: pains
in acquiring, pains in preserving and pains in loosing what has been
achieved.  Thus, all achievable gains are mixed with these pains, in one
form or the other.  The second defect is they do not give complete
satisfaction.  After gaining what one wants, one is still left with a
mind desiring for something more.  The reason is the inherent
limitations of the gains achieved.  They are space-wise, time-wise and
object-wise limited.  These can only give limited happiness rather than
unlimited happiness.  The third defect is these gains make an individual
more dependent than independent.  They enslave the individual and make
him more and more dependent on their fulfillment.  Thus one is caught up
in karma to janma to karma – an eternal cycle of birth-action-death and
birth. Krishna says “jAtasyahi dRivo mRituH, dRivam janma mRitasyaca|” -
what is born must die and what dies must be born.  
When I recognize that I cannot gain the eternal unlimited happiness that
I am longing for by any gains through karma, I have become wiser. 
Scripture advises such a student to approach a teacher to learn how to
overcome that, gaining which there is no more to gain. 
parIixa lokAn karmacitAn brahmanO nerveda mAyAnAsca kRitahkRitena|
tat vijnAtartham sa gurumevAbhi gacchet samit pAniH sRotriyam brahma
After examining ones life of experiences and recognizing that one cannot
gain by any action infinite eternal happiness that one is longing for,
the scripture itself advises that he should approach a teacher who is
well versed in scriptures and who is well established in Brahma jnaanam
to gain that knowledge.  He should also approach the teacher with
humility to serve and to gain the knowledge.  This is echoed also by
Lord Krishna in Gita that one should approach a teacher with an attitude
of service to learn from him asking appropriate questions, tat viddhi
praNipAtena pariprashnena sevayaa. 

Vedanta addresses those people who may be only a few in number (Krishna
says: manuShyAnAm sahashreShu kaschit yatati siddhaye, of the thousands
of people very few are interested in the knowledge of the supreme), and
who recognized that finite action cannot give that infinite happiness
that they are longing for in all their pursuits.  In contrast to karma
khAnDa, the goal emphasized by Vedanta is Brahman, who is free from all
the three defects stated above. As Krishna says: nirdhoSham hi samam
brahma, tasmAt brahmaNi te sthitaH|, absolute infinite cannot have any

When we listen to Vedanta, we will get startling answers.  Brahman,
being infinite (Brahman word also means infiniteness), cannot be the
result of any action, ‘na karmaaNaa 
’says shruti.  Since it is
infinite, it cannot be known either.  In any knowing processes, there is
knower, known, and means of knowing, which by mutual exclusion are
finite.  shRiti in fact says, one who says he knows it, he does not know
it, since it cannot be an object for knowledge.  The most revealing
statement that Vedanta makes is ‘what you are looking for, you are
that’, ‘tat tvam asi’.  That the self that you are is nothing but
Brahman, ‘ayam aatma brahma’ is discussed exhaustively in this
upanishad.  Since you are a conscious entity, that consciousness is
Brahman, ‘prajnAnam brahma’.  Hence, VedAnta says, seeker himself is the
sought.  Therefore, any seeking on the part of the seeker is going to be
a failure, since in the very seeking, he has resolved that the sought is
not there where the seeker is.  The seeking has to terminate in the
knowledge that seeker is the sought, aham brahmaasmi. 

These are startling declarations by Vedanta, which are hard to swallow. 
Added to this, there are many AchAryas, who vehemently dismiss these
assertions of Vedanta as incorrect and therefore interpret the same
statements differently.  The seeker will be thoroughly confused.  It is
therefore with reason that Vedanta advices a seeker to approach a
competent teacher and study the scriptures for a length of time and
reflect on the teachings until he becomes a doubt free.  It is obviously
difficult for the seeker to know a priori who the competent teacher is. 
Hence, it is only by the grace of God (due to the merits of my lives)
that one is lead to a right teacher.  In AvadhUta Gita Bhagavaan
DattAtreya says, “ IswarAnugrahAt eva pumsAm advaita vAsana’  only by
the grace of the Lord one has the inklings for advaita Vedanta. 

The problems are obvious.  Until he is exposed to Vedanta, he has all
notions that he is full of defects and limitations.  From morning to
evening, from womb to the tomb and perhaps from life after life, he is
established with the notion that he is limited by his body, by his mind
and by his intellect.  On the other hand, Vedanta says that he is
immaculately pure limitless Brahman.  There is nothing to gain and
nothing to seek, since he is already an adequate person he wants to be.
Being an adequate person implies one is complete and full and therefore
happy. Any limitation makes one feel that I am an inadequate being. 
Freedom from all limitation is absolute freedom.  Longing for absolute
freedom where one is free from all dependences appears to be an inborn
desire.  In fact all desires for objects, places and beings are only
manifestation of ones desire to be free from any dependence or be an
adequate person.  Longing for happiness is longing for freedom from any
dependence and that is moxa.  Someone asked a teacher, ‘Sir, what is
wrong in being unhappy once in a way?  That way, I feel more happy when
I get happiness.”  The teacher answered, “There is nothing wrong in
being sorrow once in while, as long as you are happy about it.  If you
are very happy all the time, there is nothing more to it.”  If one
examines carefully, the moments of happiness that he gains when his
desires are momentarily satisfied, he is one with himself, completely
contended without any wanting or desiring mind.  However, when another
desire props of in the mind, he feels again that he is an inadequate
person and wants something other than himself to make him an adequate
person.  Thus, he goes after objects trying to fulfill his desires in
order to make him, at least momentarily, an adequate person.  For an
intelligent person, a question ultimately arises to know exactly whether
he is truly inadequate person with all limitations or he is, what
Vedanta says, full, complete, infinite, defect-free Brahman.  Which
state is real?  There seems to be moments where he feels he is an
adequate or full, even though they are far and in between.  All other
times he is chasing that state of limitlessness that he wants to be. 
Hence, he knows what adequacy means.  He needs to know about himself
whether he is the miserable limited jiiva that he feels most of the time
or he is the unlimited inexhaustible source of happiness Brahman that he
wants to be.  In order to find out about his true identity, an inquiry
is needed; a self inquiry to discover to truth about himself.  The
self-inquiry should lead to self-knowledge, which eliminates all notions
about oneself.  To gain self-knowledge an appropriate means of knowledge
or pramaaNa is required, since no knowledge can be gained without a
pramaaNa.  Of all the six pramANas available, namely, pratyaksha,
anumaana, upamaana, arthaapatthi, anupalabdi, and shabda, the first five
provides the knowledge of outside objects.  To know about yourself you
need a pramANa (means of knowledge) that can show yourself to yourself,
like a mirror, which reflects your face, which cannot be seen otherwise.
 Vedanta is a shabda pramANa and acts like darpaNa or darshana, a mirror
that reflects your true identity.  

Vedanta is shabda pramANa involving words.  Word stands for name, and
name stands for a form as discussed in the background.  Word can reveal
an object if any of the five conditions is met: ruDhi, jAti, guNa, karma
or sambandha.  ruDhi is a firm knowledge based on direct perception of
an object, which is available, like ‘eye witness account’.  Ex. Teacher
can say ‘look at the figure right in front of you’.  Here words reveal
the perceptible objects.  JAti is generic qualification based on which,
knowledge can take place.  If teacher says ‘white elephant of Indra is
called airAvatam’ because of the familiarity of the generic attributes
of an elephant, student can gain the knowledge, even though the object
is not right in front of him.  Based on attributes, guNas also, one can
gain the knowledge, since as described earlier all knowledge is only
attributive knowledge.  One can gain the knowledge based on karma or
action.  ‘Please call the doctor’, if the teacher says, based on the
function, the individual is defined. Finally, sambandha, relationship
also reveals an object.  ‘Please give this to my second daughter’, would
precisely locate an individual among many.  In all these five ways,
words are used only to reveal objects, which are finite.  None of them
is applicable to Brahman.  Hence Vedanta says Brahman cannot be
described by words. “na tatra caxur gacchati, na vAk gacchati .. Eyes
cannot go there, speech cannot go there” – “yato vAco nivartante aprApya
manasA saha – speech return back along with the mind without reaching
there”, etc.  If words cannot describe Brahman, then how can Vedanta be
a shabda pramANa?  

Vedanta uses the words to indicate Brahman provided they are correctly
understood by proper explanation by a competent teacher.  Hence, the
need of a teacher becomes essential for Vedanta to act as pramANa.
Vedanta uses different techniques, which need to be unfolded by a
competent teacher.  It uses unreal attributes to indicate the reality
that has no attributes. Example is Brahman as a witness or sAxii –
Witness itself implies dvaita since it differs from that which is
witnessed.  However, it helps a seeker to separate himself from the
identification with an object, which is witnessed by the subject, who is
the witness.  This includes not only the external objects but also very
intimate objects such as physical body, the mind and intellect.  This is
called pancakosha vilaxanam. Second method that it utilizes is by
providing temporary attributes as Alambanam, which will be subsequently
withdrawn.  These are called incidental qualifications of Brahman. For
example ‘ He is the creator, sustainer and annihilator of this universe
of objects and beings, yatOva imaani bhutAni jAyante..’.  The truth
ultimately is ‘neha naanaasti kincana, there is no plurality what so
ever here’ since everything is nothing but Brahman and Brahman being
infinite cannot undergo any modification. Third method is by giving
absence of attributes as the indicator for Brahman.  Infinite is one
example.  It is not a positive definition but negates any thing finite
as not Brahman. anantaH, infinite; nirguNaH without any attributes,
nirvikAraH, without any modifications, advaitam, non-dual, etc. are some
examples. Finally, another way of communicating about Brahman is without
directly communicating about it.  Communicating in silence, ‘mounam
vyaakyaa prakaTita brahma tatvam..’ (discourse in silence),  is one such
technique –By rejecting any thing that is objectified, neti, neti, etc.
not this, not this, etc., since Brahman is not an object.  Kenopanishad
describes Brahman very tactfully. ‘That which the mind cannot think, but
because of which the mind has the capacity to think, that alone is
Brahman not this that you worship here’, etc.  ‘It is beyond known and
unknown, na viditAt aviditAt api’ indicating it is the very knowledge
itself which we noted earlier as indefinable.  That Vedanta uses the
words to take the mind beyond objectification.  Hence, the teaching is
very subtle it involves in making the student to discard his
preconceived notions about himself in order to establish himself in the
truth or as the truth. The preconceived notions, which involve taking
non-self as self or taking inert as oneself or in simple terms taking
object as subject and suffer because of that misunderstanding.  Vedanta
provides a means to inquire within to recognize oneself as oneself by

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list