The Upanishads are the 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 Mundaka or Munda Upanishad, along with Prashna and Maandukya, belongs to the Atharvaved. The word “Mundaka” means a shaven head. This Upanishad states the distinction between the higher knowledge of the Supreme Brahman and the lower knowledge of the mundane world. The Mundaka Upanishad is to be followed by persons like Sanyaasins, with mature minds and a disposition free from attachment. Only a Sanyaasin, who has given up everything, can obtain the highest knowledge. The Mundaka Upanishad contains three chapters, each of which has two sections.
Due to lack of adequate evidence for 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-
- Chandogya, Bruhadaranyaka
- 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 Mundaka 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 befall the person reading it. The invocation of the Mundaka Upanishad is as follows-
ॐ भद्रं कर्णेभिः शृणुयाम देवा भद्रं पश्येमाक्षभिर्यजत्राः |
स्थिरैरङ्गैस्तुष्टुवांसस्तनूभिर्व्यशेम देवहितं यदायुः ||
Om. Bhadram karnebhih shrunuyaama devaa
bhadram pashyemaakshabhiryajatraah |
Sthirair angaistus tushtuvaamsastanoobhir vyashema
devahitam yadaayuh ||
“Om. O gods, may we hear auspicious words with ears; O ones 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
All the people are puzzled regarding the creation of the world. They try to ascribe various theories to it. The Mundaka Upanishad, very prudently, states that the entire world has emanated from the Supreme Brahman. All things and beings come forth from Brahman. The beings stay in the created worlds and are expected to return to where they belong i.e. to become one with Brahman. Brahman which is the source of all beings is all-pervading, eternal, effulgent and subtle. As Brahman is omnipotent, it expands by its innate power, creates life, mind, food, the five elements, the three worlds etc. Whatever we see around us has emanated from nothing but the Brahman.
Generally, the Upanishads do not agree with rites and rituals that form a part of the karmakaanda. Yet, the Mundaka Upanishad advises that sacrifices should be done. However, people perform sacrifices to attain the desired fruit. Once they obtain it, they become engrossed in its consumption. If sacrifices are performed with such an attitude, they prove to be a hindrance in the spiritual journey. Sacrifices act as a broken boat in the vast ocean of materialism. If they are used as instruments to fulfill desires, one is sure to sink low. Mundaka Upanishad prescribes sacrifices for the sake of mere duty. Sacrifices are essential for the smooth running of the world. It is because of the sacrifices that the deities get power with which they perform their duties in the world.
Brahman stays within us as the individual soul or the embodied self. The body, mind and intellect, though connected to the soul, are different from it. When the body, mind and intellect perform their functions, the soul stays within as a witness and provides energy to them. This is compared to the two birds on a tree, which are always together. One of them enjoys the sweet fruits of the tree and becomes upset when the fruits turn out to be sour. The other bird accompanies it everywhere all over the tree and merely watches its doings. Here, the first bird is the mind. The fruits are the sense objects which the mind unceasingly follows. The second bird is like the individual self. It stays with the mind, yet, is unaffected by the activities of the mind. This shows that the mind and the soul are two different things. When the person attains emancipation, his mind and intellect merge in the individual self which becomes one with Brahman.
It is the destiny of the soul to merge with Brahman. However, the biggest obstacle for the soul is the mind and its desires and the intellect and its ignorance. The mind is engaged in the pleasures of the senses. Despite getting lot of enjoyment, the mind will always crave for more. It feels that the fulfillment of the desires is its only aim. The mind gets entangled in the snares of the sensual pleasures and forgets that the enjoyments are temporary. Moreover, there is no end to desires and cravings. The fulfillment of each desire will give birth to more. The unfulfilled desires will lead to rebirth and the cycle of birth and death will go on. The goal of the individual is to discover that his identity is the self and not the mind or the body. It is the job of a good preceptor to help a seeker in his journey of self-realization.
The journey of self-realization is compared to the release of the arrow from the bow. When the string of the bow is pulled, the arrow advances forward to hit the target. The bow is the Upanishadic knowledge or the word ॐ; the arrow sharpened by rock is the seeker (or his soul) sharpened by meditation; the goal is the Supreme Brahman. With the help of the bow of Upanishads and Aum, one has to pierce the target of Brahman and become one with it.
The philosophy given in the Mundaka Upanishad is meant for Sannyasins or monks who are expected to have fewer desires than householders, as they have given up material life. It is easier for them to follow this doctrine.
Thus, the philosophy of the Mundaka Upanishad is the essence of all the Upanishads.
- 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