The pathway to understanding Advaita (Mandukya Upanishad note) – Part 4 – Conclusion and Summary

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,

P.S: Previous parts of the series are available here – Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.


In the previous parts, we have, through the Vedanta Pramaana, arrived at the following – the Sakshi AtmA is the only independent existence or Satyam, while the world including the body-mind-sense complex are dependent on the AtmA for its existence, and hence is called mithyA. In this part, we will further explore the nature of this dependence.

In particular, we explore the question – Agreed that the world is dependent on the AtmA, but how does it make the world any less real?

The Kaarya-kaarana-prakriya :

The world is in a cause-effect relationship with the AtmA. The Vedanta Shruti Pramana reveals that the world arises out of the AtmA alone. It is the witness Atman alone which the independent existence, all of the witnessed objects in the world have borrowed existence from the Atman. The Atman is the cause for all of the things in the world. Towards this end the Shruti speaks of the example of the clay and the multivarious pots which are formed of the clay. The very same singular entity, clay, appears in the different shapes, and gets called by different names too with respect to the shapes. Before the clay assumes form, it used to be simply a lump of clay. After the pot-form is destroyed, the clay becomes a lump again. Even when the pot-form is assumed, it is still clay only. Clay alone can be said to be really existing at all periods of time. The pot-forms, come and go in the same clay. Minus the clay, the pots cannot be said to be existing at all. The clay is the material cause, the Kaarana, for the existence of the pots, which are the Kaarya. The Kaarana alone is satyam, the independent existence; and the kaarya is mithyA, dependent existence.

Similarly, the world consists of various forms assumed by the one AtmA. The world is the kaarya, while the AtmA is the kaarana. The world is in name and form only, and does not exist independently of the AtmA. Therefore we cannot ascribe equal status of reality to the world and the AtmA, just like we cannot ascribe equal status of reality to the pots and the clay. The AtmA always is, while the world which is only a superimposition on the AtmA comes and goes. Therefore the AtmA is called Paaramaarthika Satyam while the world is given a lower state of existence called Vyaavahaarika Satyam.

Having been forwarded this example, a question is raised –

You say that the world is like the pot while AtmA is the kaarana, like the clay. However the clay changes shape really to assume the various forms of pots. The clay therefore undergoes some modification. Any kaarana has to undergo some modification to become the kaarya.  Clay, which is itself composed of different parts, has the capacity to change in form, undergo modification, be separated into various portions, etc. And what undergoes modification must also have birth and death. Clay cannot remain clay forever and it must disintegrate. Does the AtmA also become subject to modification, change, and therefore birth and death, just like the clay?

The answer is no. The purpose of the clay-pots example was purely to indicate that the world is dependent of the AtmA for its existence and therefore it does not have a reality, a satyatva, which is as strong as that of the Atman. However, the Atman is asangah, it is not affected by the changes in the world. The Mandukya Upanishad itself says this, as we saw in Part 1. The Shaastra also gives more examples for us to help understand this. One of these examples, that of the dream, was already discussed which we now take up for another purpose.

The Dream example:

Previously the dream example was used to show that the world is mithyA, its existence being inseparable from that of the witness Sakshi who has independent existence. We now look at the very same example to understand that the AtmA is asanga. Within the dream, the dreamer may dream that he is going to Kashi, Rameshwaram, etc and doing all kinds of puja and other worship procedures. Having slept after a full meal, he may even be tired and hungry during the dream. Upon waking up however, he knows that it was ‘all a dream’. He is unaffected by anything that happened in the dream, even though he himself is the cause for the dream, the dream body, the dream objects, etc. Even when the dream is going on, the individual is unaffected by the dream happenings. Also, it is the same person who dreams all the differentiated objects in the dream world, manifesting, sustaining and unmanifesting them with ease.

Similarly, the AtmA which is the adhishtaana, the basis for the world, is unaffected by whatever happens in the world. It is the true nature of the seeker and is not sullied by anything at all. Inspite of a variety of things appearing in the physical world, the AtmA  is only one alone. It is the Paaramaarthika Satyam while the witnessed world is Vyaavahaarikam.

We now look at another example which conveys the same idea.

The Ghataakaasha-Mahaakaasha (Pot-space, Total-space) example:

The questioner asked as to whether the AtmA is really undergoing change in order to become the world. To answer this, the beautiful example of space (AkAshA) is taken up. Space as we know it is one entity. When there is a new container (for example, a pot (ghata)),  we begin to think of ideas such as – “there is a space inside the pot which is separate from the total space” and call it pot-space perhaps. However on enquiry we understand that there is no such special thing called pot-space (ghataakaasha) which is differentiated from the total space (mahaakaasha). In the presence of the container (pot), the space located inside pot is known as pot-space. However it is not separate from the total space. In fact, though it appears that there is space within the pot, it is the pot which actually appears within the space.

Moreover, because of association with a pot which is filled with some good-smelling foodstuff or some foul-smelling thing, we may also assume that the pot-space has become good-smelling or dirty. However this is not the case at all. The good-smell or the foul-smell belongs to the material  inside the pot and not the pot-space. Space is ever unaffected and unsullied by anything it accommodates and that is its very nature.

Also, according to Vedanta, the entire manifested physical universe, whatever is witnessed by the physical organs of perception, all of them take their origin from space alone. The various elements in the universe are understood to be various modifications arising from space alone.

We thus have a peculiar situation where the space-modifications occur in space and as a result of non-enquiry are assumed to divide and affect space itself. But through enquiry we find out that space provides space and sustenance for everything to exist and remains unaffected by whatever it accommodates. In the similar way, the AtmA on account of various kinds of upaadhis (limiting adjuncts like the pot) appears to have become divided and appears to have taken on properties like sorrow, happiness, hot, cold, etc etc. But this division and assuming of properties is purely an appearance, just like the ghataakaasha-mahaakaasha difference is an appearance. Even the existence of the upaadhis itself is only appearance as the shruti reveals; it is the nirupaadhika nirguNa nishkala (limitation-free, propertyless, divisionless) AtmA alone which exists. All other witnessed objects are mere appearance. Their manifestation, existence, and dissolution is also mere appearance only. Thus the “cause”-ful nature of the AtmA, its kaaranatvam, is only from the point of view of the kaaryam, the world. From its own point of view, the AtmA alone is. There is no second thing. The world has experience, transactability and utility. However it has no reality, no existence, apart from the AtmA. This is the revelation of the Vedanta shaastra.


1. The Upanishad mantra is – 

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

2. The words – नान्तःप्रज्ञं नबहिःप्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं नप्रज्ञानघनं नप्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञम् ।
अदृश्यमव्यवहार्यं अग्राह्यं अलक्षणं अचिन्त्यं अव्यपदेश्यं एकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं – reveal that the seeker’s nature is that of the Sakshi AtmA, the non-participatory unconditioned witness pure consciousness subject.

3. The words – प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवं अद्वैतं – reveal that the AtmA alone is the Paaramaarthika satyam while the world is mere appearance. The origination, the sustenance, and the dissolution of the world is also mere appearance only.

Sri Sadguro sharanam.

Sri Krishnaarpanamastu.


  1. Thank you for taking time to write on this subject! Have been looking into more details on same for some time now.

    Going through all parts of this series, I’m hard time relating how Karma can be any more real, if the world (Maya) is not real ? How does Karma comes into picture for subsequent birth based upon our interaction with the outer world ? Does Karma leaves any imprints on AtmA?

    Kindly share your insights on same.

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