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Friday, March 27, 2015

Major Upanishads - 5

Taittreya Upanishad:  This is part of Krishna Yajur veda. This is equivalent to a convocation address to students at the end of their gurukula (living with the teacher) period of 12 years. Many mantras in common use today come from this Upanishad. Examples include:  

1. Satyam vada, dharmam chara, Acharya devo bava, athithi devo bava in 1:11:1 (Speak truth; do the right thing (duty appropriate to your position in life); respect the teacher; serve the guest who arrives on his own)

2. Mata, Pita, guru and daivam in 1:11:2-4. (Respect mother, father, teacher and the Divine in that order)

3. OM is Brahman in 1:8:1

4. It eats (atthi) and is eaten (athyathey); therefore. It is called anna (food)

5. It desired to be many, to be born. Having “created” that, It entered that very thing.

6. Brahman IS satyam, gnanam and anantam. (Brahman is the ultimate truth, knowledge and without limits) It is a definition. These are defining principles and not adjectives.

7. The Being that is in the human and the Being that is in the Sun are one.  

This upanishad also gives a description of the five sheaths (kosa) of an individual, namely anna maya, prana maya, mano maya, vignana maya and ananda maya. They are the fields of food (body), of breath, of mind, of knowledge and of Bliss. The Sanskrit word for bliss is aananda. This has to be differentiated from the word ananta, meaning infinite, eternal, boundless, without limits.

The main message of the Upanishad is about reaching the blissful state of one with Brahman.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Major Upanishads - 4

Mandukya Upanishad is from the Atharva Veda. There are only 12 slokas in this Upanishad. But it is well-known probably because Sri Gaudapada wrote a Karika on it. His student's (Govinda Bhagavatpada) student Adi Sankara wrote a long explanation of these Karikas. The subject matter of this Upanishad is OM. In discussing this concept of OM, Gaudapada clearly established that the concept of Advaita is not just dependent on the authority of the scriptures, but also on reasoning. In his Karika, Gaudapada gives arguments for Advaita and against Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Mimamsa and the Buddhist concepts. Adi Sankara elaborates on them. 

This Upanishad with the karika has four sections. The first section called the agama prakarana gives the meaning of the mantra OM.  The Upanishad starts with Om iti etat aksharam idam sarvam. The very next sutra gives one of the four mahavakyas (major statement) of the Upanishads which says “ayam atma brahma” (The Self is Brahman).  Section 2 called vaithathya prakarana argues that the duality of the phenomenal world is unreal. Section 3 called advaita prakarana argues that non-duality is the true state and Section 4 called alatasanti prakarana argues that non-vedic (non-advaita) points of view are invalid.  

Section 1:7 defines atman as follows: “unseen, beyond empirical dealings, beyond our grasp, not arrived at by inference, unthinkable, indescribable, whose valid proof consists in the single belief in the Self, in which all phenomena cease and which is unchanging, auspicious and non-dual”.  

Gaudapada defines jiva as individualized atman in the transmigration state. Once the jivan  (atman) recognizes its identity with the Brahman, there is no more transmigration. We falsely identify the Atman in us, which is the substratum of all consciousness, with various states (awake, dream-sleep, dreamless-sleep) and various individual lives (jivas). If we get in touch with that Atman, we will see that all these states and lives come and go, whereas Atman stays steady, immutable. All other states characterized by perception of duality depend on that Unity. In that state (turya), the duality does not disappear, but the notion of duality does. The state of absolute bliss in which there is no duality at all is turyathitha, beyond the turya state. 

Section 1:8 points out that OM is made of a, u and m; a stands for the wakeful state or vaishvanara; u stands for dream state or tejasa and m stands for deep sleep state or pragna.  Vaisvanara or Virat is the state of seeing external things. Tejasa is the state of seeing internal things (dream state with false perceptions). Pragna is the state of undivided consciousness (non-perception of anything as in deep sleep), whose existence is inferred only on waking up. Turya is beyond all of these.  

In a commentary by Adi Sankara, it is explained that meditation on A (of AUM) is the waking state at the macro or the gross level (also called Virat), meditation on U is at the mental or subtle plane (Hiranyagarbha or the cosmic mind) and the meditation on M is on Pragna which is at the causal plane (also Isvara). Gaudapada’s Karika 23 is a summary and is easy to remember. It runs thus:           

            Akaro nayate vishvam            The word A refers to Vaisvanara

            Ukarah cha api thaijasam        The word U refers to Tejas

            Makarah cha punah pragnam  The word M refers to Pragna

            Naamathrey vidyathe gathih.  The Soundless is Brahman

There is a difference between the deep sleep state and the fully awakened state of Realization in deep meditation state called the turya state. In deep sleep, the mind loses its self, is free of ideation, and is in a state of potentiality, dark and un-differentiated. In the Turya state of realization, the mind does not lose its self, is not in darkness but indeed in a fully awakened state of unity with Brahman.  

In 1:17, Gaudapada says that “This duality is non-duality, because the perception of duality is based on maya which is defined as non- and false perception of reality”. In other words, the perception is due to the way our minds thinks and not due to the thing as IT IS. This is pointed out in Buddhism also.  

Mandukya Karika Part 2 (Sutras 19 to 32) lists all schools of thought on the nature of Brahman and says that none of them is valid. “Non-duality is the correct view” is the assertion.  

The list starts with the statement that this Self is imagined to be various objects such as Prana. Those who know Prana consider Prana to be the Reality” (implying that they do not know Self to be that Reality”) and includes the following schools of thought:  Vaiseshikas who consider Prana as the Reality (they also talk about the large and the small prana); Lokayatta or materialists who consider the elements (panchabhutas – space, air, fire, water and earth) to be the Reality; Samkhyas who emphasize Gunas (sattva, rajasa and tamasa) as the source of this world; Saivas who emphasize Self, Ignorance and Shiva; Vatsyayana school which emphasizes the sense organs; those who follow puranas for whom earth, heaven and intermediate world are important;  those who worship various devas (Gods); the Vedic school who follow the major Vedas and some who focus on the yagnas (sacrifice) such as the Baudhayanas and those who emphasize Karmas (mimamsaka); those who consider Reality as possessed of forms (with vigraha and puja, as in agamas) and those who swear that Reality is formless; astrologers who think time and planets are the Realities; “dabblers in theories of Reality” who think that mantras (tantrics) and metals (siddhas) hold the secret of immortality; those who call the mind as Self and those who call intelligence as Self; Buddhists who consider that the only Reality is purely subjective and not based on external realities; those who emphasize virtue and sin as the cause of realities;  some who say that Reality is made of 25 principles (Samkhya), those who consider 26 basic elements (God was added as 26th by Patanjali in Yoga) or those who consider 30 as the ultimate as in Pasupata sect. That is as comprehensive a list as one can get. Gaudapada and Sankara list all of the above categories. 

Then the Upanishad goes on to say that when a teacher points out one thing, a particular object as the Reality, the individual focuses on it, gets absorbed in it at the exclusion of all other objects and mistakenly considers that to be the Reality, not realizing that Self is the ONLY reality behind all.  Such a person is like one who is focusing on the finger when the finger is pointing to the moon. 

The Karika for part 3 (sutra 33 and 47) implies that the base-consciousness on which awareness, knowledge and the process of knowing depend is the Brahman. In other words, Brahman is Knowledge/Information/Consciousness and not some material thing or object.  Sutra 3:33 (ajena ajam vibhudyatey) states that Brahman is known by that unborn Knowledge, which is the nature of Self itself.  Sutra 47 states “ajam ajena gneyena” which means that the birthless (Self) is known by the birthless (Brahman) which is the thing to be known. In another sutra (3:35), the karika says: gnana aalokam samanthah which refers to Brahman who has knowledge as Its expression or light. All of these imply Brahman as inherent and potential repository of information, energy and material source of what we experience as the Universe. Such a view is very much aligned with the view of cosmologists and physicists.  

Another passage (3:36) says that the state of the Sun is that it is there always; but when he is shining we call it a day and when he is not we call it night. So is Brahman. He is there always. We either experience or not due to our limitations says the Upanishad.   

Another passage asks the question: “One portion of Veda teaches rituals and rites; another says meditate on the Self. Which is correct?”. The answer is clearly on the side of meditation and Realization of unity of Brahman and Atman. It says that  rites and rituals are for purification of the mind and not for Moksha (release from the cycle of birth and death). It also says the end is always the same, namely union with Brahman. The means may be varied (such as puja, sacrifice etc).  It says: “do not mix up means, which are varied, with the end, which is Only One”. 

The Karika also defines Yogi (3:40) as one who controls the mind (mano-nigraha) and becomes fearless (because there is no two), has no sorrow and misery (since he has no desire and attachment), attains knowledge of the Self (praboda) and everlasting peace (akshaya shanti). 

Gaudapada takes up various philosophical systems and shows that none of them can explain the idea of cause and effect in this cosmos. This problem of not being to explain the cause and effect puzzle is the reason for Gaudapada to state that the very idea of cause and effect is absurd in a cosmological sense. This also leads to the Advaitic position that Brahman or the Unborn, eternal, immutable first principle just exists always in every object and in every living thing.  It is neither born nor made. It appears to be born because of our ignorance.  

 One of the profound statements by Gaudapada is that the idea of cause and effect cannot be proved at the primordial level. Karika 3:39, says that “in reality it cannot be established that anything has any causal relationship in any way whatever”. That was hundreds of years back. Now read what Bertrand Russel has to say in one of his talks in 1913. (Papers read before the Aristotelean Society 1912-1913.  1. On the notion of cause  Bertrand Russell).  

“All philosophers of every school, imagine that causation is one of the fundamental axioms or postulates of science, yet, oddly enough, in advanced sciences such as gravitational astronomy, the word “cause” never occurs. …….the reason why physics has ceased to look for causes is that, in fact, there are no such things. The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of the bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.”

 In his elaboration on Gaudapada’s Karika and Sankara’s commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, Swami Nikhilananda points out that there are four cosmological and two theological views on the “creation” of the Universe. The cosmological are: 1. Creation is a manifestation of the divine power of God; 2. Creation is the nature of a dream or an illusion; 3. Creation is a manifestation of Divine Will which cannot but be fulfilled; 4. Creation is manifestation which proceeds from Time.  The two theological are: 1. Creation is for the purpose of enjoyment of God and 2. Creation is an act of God’s play.  Advaitic philosophy says that it is none of these. There is no creation. IT is always there as Brahman. Brahman is everything, everywhere and all the time. There is no duality.

It is interesting to note that all of these concepts are unlike the concept of “creation” in the western traditions, in which it is a historical event and time is linear. For the Vedic philosophers, time is cyclic. Therefore, there is no creation and destruction. There is only manifestation and absorption.  

Gaudapada takes on the Vijnanavada and Nihilist schools of Buddhism also as follows (Karika 4 – 25 – 30). Vijnanavada school says that all ideas are momentary. It also says that all objects have no existence of their own, except in the form of vasanas or ideas in the mind of the perceiver (subjective idealism). If so, consciousness of one moment is not related to the next moment and there can be no memory. In the absence of a common unchanging substratum, it is not possible to be aware of change of consciousness from one moment to the next. If there is no such perceiver or substratum, how can one know of momentariness of thoughts and of experiences of pain and misery?  It is like saying that the birds left footprint in the sky. It is even worse with the nihilists idea that denies everything, including the perceiver (sunyatta). If all that exists is a void, there still must be a perceiver of the void. Otherwise, who is there to assert that void?  

A reading of Indian history suggests that at one time, there were several schools of thought and of worship including some very violent systems of worship. The time between 400 CE to about 800 CE seems to be the dark ages in India. We do not know when exactly Adi Sankara lived. There are controversies. However, most scholars agree that he was responsible for bringing about some order out of the chaos and re-established the Vedic tradition. My guess is that Adi Sankara used many of these arguments of Gaudapada to win over members of others traditions and systems of philosophy including Buddhism and Jainism and followers of agamas, puranas and tantras and established Vedanta ( at that time only Advaita) as the dominant philosophy.