The Pathway to understanding Advaita (Mandukya Upanishad note) Part 3

Sri Gurubhyo Namaha

There is a famous mantra in the Mandukya Upanishad (7th mantra)

नान्तःप्रज्ञं नबहिःप्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं नप्रज्ञानघनं नप्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञम् ।
अदृश्यमव्यवहार्यं अग्राह्यं अलक्षणं अचिन्त्यं अव्यपदेश्यं एकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवं अद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः ॥

This mantra and the Kaarika on the Upanishad authored by Gaudapaadachaarya offers a sequential method of understanding Vedanta. This came up in a discussion with a friend and I am penning this down. This post is based on my listening live to lectures on Vedanta given by own teachers and mp3 audio lectures by Swami Paramarthananda. Any errors here are due to limitations in my understanding. This is just for my record mostly and to share with those to whom it may be of interest. That a live Guru is needed to understand Vedanta goes without saying.

With Pranams,

Previous parts of this series are available here – Part 1 and Part 2.


In Part 1 and Part 2, we have seen that the Upanishad guides the saadhaka to the conclusion – “I am the Sakshi Atma who is the ultimate basis for everything that is available to be witnessed, i.e, the body, the mind and the world of external objects”. Therefore, AtmA is known as Satyam (Absolute Independent Existence) while the witnessed body-mind-world, jagat, is known as Mithya (Dependent, conditional existence). Two reasons were presented in the Upanishad, Gaudapada Karika and Shankaracharya’s Bhashyam –

Drshyatvam – The waking world and the dream world are equivalent in the sense of both being witnessed. What is witnessed cannot exist separately from the witness itself, which is Sakshi Atma. Therefore they are to be treated equally, i.e., the waking world also, just like the dream world, depends on the AtmA for its existence.

Anityatvam – The waking world is temporal in nature. It is present during the waking state alone and is not found to be existing during the dream state or the deep-dreamless-sleep state. Therefore its reality is subordinate to the AtmA, which is present in and through all the three states of the mind – waking, dream, and deep-sleep.

At the proposal that the dream and waking worlds are both mithya, questioner raised several objections, among which the last one was regarding the permanence of the waking world and the dream world. The objection was that,“Since the waking world is known to persist both before and after the dream and deep-sleep states, one cannot equate the dream state with the waking state. Therefore the reasoning that – “Waking world is also mithya just like dream on account it being drsyam (witnessed) just like the dream” – is wrong”. To this it was replied that the waking person is not the impartial judge in assessing the reality or unreality of the waking state itself, because if one were to analyse the dream as a dreamed individual, then the dream appears quite permanent and the so-called ‘waking state’ does not exist at all.

At this juncture, the questioner asks – If the waker is not an impartial judge, then who is? The Siddhaantin (Advaitin) replied – We take the judge as the Vedanta Shaastra. Vedanta Shaastra (Upanishad) is the appropriate means of knowledge (Pramaana) to understand the reality of jaagrat as mithya.

We now proceed to elaborate on this.

What is a Pramaana?

A pramaana is an instrument of knowledge – something that produces uncontradicted and unique knowledge. For example, eyes (sight) reveal form and colour. Ears (sense of hearing) reveal sound. The nose (sense of smell) reveals smells. All of these are pramaanas for their respective domains; the eyes for form and colour and so on. They uniquely reveal the knowledge pertaining to that domain for knowledge. The knowledge that they reveal stands uncontradicted by other means of knowledge. For example, in order to check if a particular object is of the colour red or not, one has to use one’s eyes. The word “red” or the sense of “redness” of an object has no meaning for a person who has no sense of sight. Thus, the knowledge revealed by the chakshuh pramaana, the sense of sight, is contradictable, negatable, verifiable, falsifiable, purely the sense of sight.

The Vedas including the Vedanta (the Upanishads) are also looked upon as such an unique pramaana. What does the Vedanta pramaana reveal? It reveals the Satyatvam (the Absolute independent reality) of the AtmA and the MithyAtvam of Jagat (the dependent reality of Jagat). This revelation is the unique knowledge obtained from the Upanishads, from their study under a qualified teacher. The knowledge gained from Upanishads alone are capable of revealing the true nature of the Self. To verify or falsify anything about the nature of the Atman, about the nature of oneself, one has to turn to the Vedanta Pramaana alone.

In this regard, the Gaudapada Karika says about the nature of the waking world –

“कल्पयत्यात्मनात्मानमात्मा देवः स्वमायया ।
स एव बुध्यते भेदानिति वेदान्तनिश्चयः ॥ १२ ॥”
“The Atman by its own Maya shakti manifests the objects of dream/waking which are non-separate from itself and also becomes aware of them. This is the conclusion of the Vedanta pramaana”
“विकरोत्यपरान्भावानन्तश्चित्ते व्यवस्थितान् ।
नियतांश्च बहिश्चित्त एवं कल्पयते प्रभुः ॥ १३ “
“The Lord (Prabhuh, the Atman) manifests both the world of ideas (in dream) and the external objects (in waking)”.
Thus, it is the Vedantic revelation that it is the Atman alone which appears as the waking individual and the objects of the waking-world. Apart from the Atman, the objects of the waking world do not exist at all, just as the objects of the dream world do not exist apart from the dreamer. The manifested duality is superimposed on the Atman and is not separate from it.
The word in the Mandukya Upanishad relevant here is “प्रपञ्चोपशमं – prapanchopashamam”. The world along with the body-mind is called prapancha. Prapancha-upashamam can be explained in two ways. One of the interpretations is taken up here  (the other at the end of this post where it is relevant). The word prapancha-upashama means that the Prapancha does not exist separate from the Sakshi AtmA. The AtmA is the adhistaana for the Jagat, for Prapancha, The Prapancha resolves, as it were, in the AtmA. The prapancha is merely name and form while AtmA is the material cause, the upaadaana kaarana of jagat. The AtmA is like the clay from which many pots are formed. The pots are many and of various kinds, similarly the prapancha has different kinds of objects. However the clay is the same; and in the same way the AtmA is the one common thing which forms the basis of all objects in prapancha. Thus what remains as the only reality is the AtmA alone. Everything else, the Jagat, the Prapancha, is MithyA.

When such a proposal is placed by traditional Acharyas, the questioner raises more questions –

Q1: How do you know what the Veda reveals is true? The Veda is after all a book, a collection of words. How is it different from any fairy tale?

A1: A pramaana has to reveal valid knowledge, or pramA. The knowledge thus revealed has to satisfy three criteria, anadhigatam (the pramaana corresponds to a unique domain), abaadhitam (knowledge uncontradicted by any other pramaana and by itself) and phalavatvam (useful to someone at sometime). Every pramaana is self-validated if the knowledge it reveals satisfies these three criteria. No external validation is required, nor is it possible. For example, if we consider the sense of sight, any knowledge revealed by it can be verified only by the sense of sight. Anything apart from sight cannot be used to prove it. Similarly in the case of the Veda pramana. It is only the Veda itself which can be used to prove the Veda.

Q2: You have claimed that you have proved Mithyatva (the ontological status of being a dependent reality) by showing the equivalence of dream and waking state in terms of being drsyam (witnessed). Then why do you need Vedanta pramaana?

A2: We have shown the equivalence of the dream state and the waking state in terms of drshyatvam (property of being witnessed). Using this as a reason, we negate your claim that the waking state is absolutely real just like the AtmA. Simultaneously we are making the claim that the waking world, Jagrat Prapancha, is mithya just like the dream world, the swapna prapancha. The logic is – yatra yatra drshyatvam, tatra tatra mithyaatvam – wherever there is the property of being witnessed, there there is the property of being mithya (i.e. dependent existence on the witness consciousness Atma). However, for us the clinching evidence is from the Vedanta pramaana. It is the Vedanta pramaana that reveals AtmA to be the manifest-er and sustainer and resolver of prapancha. Several statements from the Upanishads (including the word ‘prapanchopashamam’ in the Mandukya Upanishad)  indicate that the variegated manifested universe is nothing but a projection, a superimposition, on the Atman. The Atman alone is the upaadaana kaarana, the material cause, for the manifested universe.

Q3: If the Atman is the material cause for the universe similar to the same clay being the material cause for different pots, definitely it should be undergoing change like the different pots?

A3: Not necessarily. For example, for the dreams one may have, oneself alone is the material cause, however there is still no change in oneself because of the variegated manifested dream. One becomes, as though, many in the dream, and yet one remains the same one without any change whatsoever. In the same way, the Atman, though projecting the variegated world, still remains without change. This too is evidenced from the Mandukya Upanishad and other Upanishads too. The word – prapanchopashama – occuring in the Mandukya Upanishad has also the meaning of the Atman which is not touched, disturbed, or affected, by the prapancha, the manifested world. Unlike the clay which undergoes modification to form the pots, the Sakshi AtmA is not at all touched by the prapancha. The AtmA is the non-changing, unaffected, material cause of the prapancha while the prapancha itself is only a superimposition of name and form upon AtmA.

 [More on this in the next post].

Sri Krishnaarpanamastu.


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