Upanishads are philosophical and spiritual sermons, forming a part of the Vedas. Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Munda, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka are the ten most famous Upanishads.
The Maandukya Upanishad, along with Prashna and Mundaka belongs to the Atharvaved. It is an exposition of the principle- “ॐ” (Aum) as consisting of three syllables or elements- A, U and M which refer to the three states of consciousness- waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The word “Manduka” means a frog. Maandukya Upanishad is so called probably because the frog does not have to climb each stair. It can jump from first to the fourth. This Upanishad shows the way to transcend the three stages of जागृति Jaagruthi (wakefulness), स्वप्न Swapna (dream) and सुषुप्ति Sushupti (sleep) and reach the Turiya तुरीय or the fourth stage which is to become one with Brahman. It’s possible to reach the final stage in one leap, like a frog, by means of worshipping Omkaara. Some say this Upanishad belonged to those tribes who adopted the frog as their symbol. It’s also said that the sage to which this Upanishad was revealed was Varuna in the form of a frog. The Maandukya Upanishad contains only twelve verses.
Due to lack of adequate evidence for the chronological orientation, the exact date of the composition of the Upanishads cannot be determined. The Upanishadic age has been placed somewhere between 1200 B.C. and 600 B.C. (R.D. Ranade “A constructive study of Upanishadic philosophy”). The chronological order of the Upanishads as estimated by R.D. Ranade is as follows-
- Isha, Kena
- Aitareya, Taittiriya
- Katha, Mundaka
Generally, it is regarded as a work during pre-Buddhistic period i.e. around 600 century B.C. The opinions regarding this, however, vary. On the other hand, tradition says that the Vedas have come from the mouth of the creator of the world- Lord Brahma at the beginning of the Satya Yuga (the Golden Age). According to this belief, the Vedas (including the Maandukya Upanishad) would be more than thirty-five lakh years old.
The Upanishads have a Shanti Pada or a peace invocation at the beginning of the verses. The Upanishads belonging to the same Veda have the same invocation. This invocation or prayer is to be recited prior to the study of the Upanishad. This is done with an intention to avert all the evils which may fall on the person reading it. The invocation of the Maandukya Upanishad is as follows-
ॐ भद्रं कर्णेभिः शृणुयाम देवा भद्रं पश्येमाक्षभिर्यजत्राः |
स्थिरैरङ्गैस्तुष्टुवांसस्तनूभिर्व्यशेम देवहितं यदायुः ||
Om Bhadram karnebhih shrunuyaama devaa bhadram pashyemaakshabhiryajatraah |
Sthirair angais tushtuvaamsastanoobhir vyashema devahitam yadaayuh ||
“Om! O gods, may we hear auspicious words with ears; O Gods, worthy of worship, may we see auspicious things with the eyes. While praising the gods with (our) strong limbs, may we enjoy the life-force bestowed by the gods.”
स्वस्ति न इन्द्रो वृद्धश्रवाः स्वस्ति नः पूषा विश्ववेदाः |
स्वस्ति नस्तार्क्ष्यो अरिष्टनेमिः स्वस्ति नो बृहस्पतिर्दधातु ||
Svasti na indro vruddhashravaah svasti nah pooshaa vishvavedaah |
Svasti nastaarkshyo arishtanemih svasti no bruhaspatirdadhaatu ||
“May Indra, of increasing glory, bestow prosperity on us; may Pushan, the knower of all, bestow prosperity on us; may Taarkshya, of unobstructed path, bestow prosperity on us; may Bruhaspati bestow prosperity on us.”
Philosophy of the Upanishad
The syllable AUM is the symbol of Brahman. Brahman is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Brahman stays within beings as the individual self or the embodied self. The embodied self is possessed of four quarters viz. वैश्वानर (vaishvaanar), तैजस (taijas) प्रज्ञा (prajna) and the fourth one is nothing but the self alone. These four quarters experience the four different states of consciousness- waking state, dream state, deep sleep and the turiya state respectively.
The waking state is the state in which a person is aware of the ‘real’ world and the day-to-day activities. That part of the person which perceives the objects in this state is the vaishvaanar.
The dreaming state is the state which can be experienced when a person goes to sleep. When the person sees dreams, he is in a state of dreaming. A person can dream of anything- perceived or unperceived objects, events that are experienced or not experienced before etc. That part of a person which is a witness to the dreams is the taijas.
The deep sleep is the state in which a person is sleeping soundly and not experiencing any dreams. All the waking and dreaming experiences disappear. The person is not conscious about his body and experiences serenity. That part of a person which is exposed to this state is the prajna.
The fourth state is beyond the above three states. In this state, neither the internal objects are cognized, like in a dream, nor are the external objects cognized, like in wakefulness. This fourth state is unseen, incapable of being spoken of, ungraspable and unnamable. This state is peaceful and full of bliss. There is non-duality between the individual self and the Brahman. There is no distinction between the seer and that which is seen. The self in this state is the fourth quarter.
The self is the nature of the syllable AUM. Vaishvaanar, whose sphere of activity is the waking state, is the syllable A, the first element. He, who understands this, gets all his desires fulfilled. Taijas, whose sphere of activity is the dream state, is the letter U, the second element. The person who understands this becomes knowledgeable and is always born in the family of those who know the Brahman. Prajna, whose sphere of activity is the deep sleep, is the syllable M, the third element. He, who knows this, becomes one with himself i.e. the thinker and the thought merge. The fourth, however, has no elements. The person, who meditates on all the three syllables together, goes to a state beyond them to reach the fourth state.
The Maandukya Upanishad, thus, prescribes an easy way to reach the highest fourth state directly. This simple way is to meditate on the word AUM.
- A Constructive Survey Of Upanishadic Philosophy; Dr. R.D. Ranade
- The Principle Upanishads; S. Radhakrishnan
- Eight Upanishads (with the commentary of Shankaracharya); Swami Gambhirananda
- A glimpse On Sruthi; E.T. Sankaran Kutty