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MUKUNDA UPANISHAD - Ancient Teachings from INDIA

The Mundaka Upanishad
Translations and explanations by Swami Nikhilananda
Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, New York

(note : Brahman / Brahma means The One Creator)


By means of the Higher Knowledge the wise behold everywhere Brahman, which otherwise cannot be seen or seized, which has no root or attributes, no eyes or ears, no hands or feet; which is eternal and omnipresent, all-pervading and extremely subtle; which is imperishable and the source of all beings.
(Mundaka Upanishad, I.i.6)

[Note: As the spider sends forth and draws in its thread, as plants grow on the earth, as hair grows on the head and the body of a living man- so does everything in the universe arise from the Imperishable.

"Draws in": That is to say, absorbs within itself. The thread, when drawn in, becomes again part and parcel of the spider. "Plants..": They are not different from the earth. "Hair….": The hair is different from the man. The one is inert and the other living.

These three illustrations stress the spontaneous nature of the creation. Brahman Itself, without the help of an extraneous cause, projects the universe out of Itself. It is both the material and the efficient cause. The first illustration points out that the universe is projected from Brahman and also ultimately merges in Brahman. The second illustration points out that, after the creation, the universe rests in Brahman. According to the third, Brahman, which is Pure Intelligence, projects out of Itself the inert material universe, like the growth of hair from a living man. The creation is not the becoming or transformation of Brahman. Brahman through Its own inscrutable power, appears as the universe of name and form without Itself undergoing any change whatsoever. This is called maya.]

[The following comments refer to the next verse No.8. The successive stages in the evolution of the universe are described. Things did not come into existence all at once, as if someone had thrown a handful of plums.]

Brahman expands by means of austerity, and from It primal matter is produced; from matter, Prana; from Prana, mind; from mind, the elements; from the elements, the worlds; thence works, and from the works, their immortal fruits.
(Mundaka Upanishad, I.i.8)

[Note: "Expands": The word tapas in the Sanskrit text means, literally, austerity. It also denotes intense thinking, which precedes any creative act. Here the word means knowledge, regarding the future creation. Brahman or Pure Intelligence, alone exists. It is one and without a second. Under the influence of Its own maya there arises in Brahman the desire for creation, or projection, and forthwith it becomes endowed with omniscience, that is to say, with the knowledge and capacity of creating, preserving and destroying the universe.
Thus Brahman appears to increase in size, like a seed before it splits and the sprout comes out; or like a father dilating with joy before begetting a son. In this stage Brahman, or the attributeless Absolute, becomes known as Saguna Brahman associated with the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and so on. The whole creation is the illusory superimposition of name and form on Brahman, owing to maya. Maya has no existence independent of Brahman.

"From It": Prakriti or primal matter in a state of non- differentiation, being a beginningless entity, cannot be said to be created. What is meant is that it becomes ready for manifestation. The word for primal matter in the Sanskrit text is annam, food; all created beings derive enjoyment from material objects, as a man does from food. Brahman desirous of creation appears as the undifferentiated prakriti, or matter. From the standpoint of prakriti, Brahman is the material cause of the universe, whereas, from the standpoint of Pure Intelligence, It is efficient cause.

"From Matter, Prana": The first tangible and specific manifestation is Prana (Life), known as Brahma, Hiranyagarbha (the Golden Egg), Prajapati (the Creator), and Sutratma (the Atman which, like a thread, holds together the whole universe). He is the World Soul, the Cosmic Person in whom become manifest the knowledge and power of Brahman with regard to creation. He is the sprout, the first shoot of the creation, and contains in seed from the desires and actions of the created beings yet to be evolved.

The Personal Gods of the different religions represent different aspects of Brahma. In the Puranas He is described as a special Person endowed with a form and dwelling in a special world called Brahmaloka, which may be roughly compared to the heavens of the Dualistic religions.

"Mind": That is to say the Cosmic Mind. The individual minds are not yet evolved, Mind is characterised by volition, deliberation, doubt, and determination.

"Elements": The five elements, space (akasa), air, fire, water and earth. When first evolved, they are uncompounded, subtle, and incapable of creating. Then they combine and become gross elements. Each gross element contains one half portion of its subtle counterpart and one eighth of each of the four other subtle elements.

"Immortal fruits": Work (karma) creates desire, and the desire again impels one to action. Thus in the relative universe the stream of work never comes to an end even in a million aeons. The Knowledge of Brahman alone puts a stop to desire and work. Like work, its fruit is also without an end. Hence it is called immortal.

From the relative point of view, creation is without beginning.
The human mind cannot think of the beginning of time or space. If a limit is arbitrarily set, one can conceive of time or space beyond that as well. Likewise, there is no such thing as absolute destruction. Vedanta speaks of the manifestation and the non-manifestation of the universe. In the former state things are seen in their tangible form, and in the latter they remain as seeds. These two states are called the "day of Brahma" and the "night of Brahma." The period of manifestation is called a kalpa, or cycle (One kalpa consists of 4,320,000,000 years. Two kalpas make a day and night of Brahma of 8,640,00,000 years.360 such days make one year of Brahma. 100 such years constitute Brahma’s lifetime of 311,040, 000,000,000 years.

Whenever the creation of the world is spoken of, what is really meant is the beginning of a cycle. A new cycle begins by the will of Isvara (Saguna Brahman,), and its character is determined by the accumulated actions of the living beings of the previous cycle. Mere matter, without the help of consciousness or intelligence, cannot precipitate creation. Whether the created beings in a particular cycle will be happy or unhappy, wise or ignorant, is determined by the law of karma. In discussing creation or evolution, it should be remembered that according to Vedanta it is the illusory superimposition upon Brahman of names and forms.
That is to say, owing to maya Pure Intelligence, or Brahman, appears as Brahman with attributes, further appears through maya as the undifferentiated prakriti. This process of illusory superimposition is to be applied to all stages of evolution.]

For him who knows all and understands everything, whose austerity consists of knowledge- from Him, the Imperishable Brahman, are born Brahma, name, form, and food.
(Mundaka Upanishad, I.i.9)

[Note: "Who knows all": That is to say, in general. This refers to the cosmic aspect of Brahman (Brahman with attributes) associated with maya, or cosmic ignorance. Saguna Brahman surveys the created universe as a totality.

"Understands everything": That is to say, in particular. This refers to the individualised aspects of Brahman (that is to say, the jiva or individual soul), associated with avidya, or individualised ignorance.

"Austerity": The word refers to omniscience, endowed with which Brahman creates the universe. In the case of ordinary people austerity is associated with great effort. But Brahman creates the universe without the slightest effort. It appears to be the spontaneous manifestation of Brahman.

"Name": By which a created being is known.
"Form": Denoting a particular shape or colour.
"Food": Corn, barley, and other foods, by which living beings are sustained.

It is well known that any creative work is preceded by deep thinking. The object is at first conceived in the mind of the creator; then it is given a tangible form. The universe is the outcome of the thought of the Creator. In describing the act of creation, the Upanishad says: "He thought." The difference, however, between a human creation and the divine creation is that the former is the result of much effort and labour, whereas, the latter is the spontaneous manifestation of Brahman. "Devasya esha svabhavah-" All this is the very nature of Brahman. The Upanishad gives a spiritual interpretation of the creation as opposed to a mechanistic one.]

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