Mundaka Upanishad

This Upanishad is related to Atharva Veda with three chapters; the first one dealing with Brahma Vidya down the ages: Chaturmukha Brahma, the Creator-Sustainer and Protector of the Universe himself was manifested as the foremost taught the rudiments of Jnaana or Enlightenment to his son Atharvan apparently born of one of the most ancient cycles of unqualified Brahma times. Atharvan taught Brahma Vidya to Angira, the down the cycle to Satyavaha of the ancestry of Bharadvaja and further down to Maha Yugas, Shaunaka a house holder approached Maharshi Angira and asked him:Bhagavan! Kasminnu vigjnaate sarvamidam vigjnaatam! Or what is that by which every thing of the Supreme Brahman becomes known! The reply was that there were Paraa Jnaana or Aihika Jnaana of somewhat inferior approach to Brahma Vidya in contrast to Apara Jnaana or Amushmika Jnaana or that as known through acquisition of knowledge of Veda Vedangas and the system of Rituals, Regulations and conventional set of Rules that the knowledge of Scriptures so prescribe. The other Superior approach of higher Learning without resorting to ‘karma kaanda’ of Self Realisation through total control of ‘Panchendriyas’or Action oriented organs and Sensory Organs- all remote controlled by Mind. The former route is detailed as the knowledge of Four Vedas viz. Rik-Yajur-Saama-Atharva as also Six Vedangas viz. Shiksha, Kalpa, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Chhandas and Jyotisha. Indeed, adequate grounding of the so called ‘Paraa Jnaana’ ofVeda-Vedangas and the ‘parijnaana’ or the classified knowledge of Karma Kaanda, the Rituals enables and constitutes a solid step to the Superior ‘Aparaa Jnaana’ to accomplish ‘Tadaksharam’ or that Ultimate! Thus on the solid foundation of the so called ‘Inferior’ knowledge of Veda Vedangas and Karma Jnaana comprising Rituals and Practice is but an effort only half won – albeit an essential base. Vasishtha Maharshi well visualised the unity of purpose and the effectiveness of the Mantras of Rituals as constant practice and performance of the ‘Karma’ would indeed be the foundation. In this context, Mundaka Upanishad highlights Agni Karyas. As the flames of Fire is kindled and set ablaze, the ‘havya vaahana’ the carrier to Devas aborbs the classified butter or ghee with appropriate veda mantras; this Upanishad describes details of the ‘aahutis’ of offerings, their prescribed number, the pattern of daily performance of Vaishvadeva Rites daily, failing which the specified oblations on Amavasya the Moon Fall or Pournami the Moon Rise days, chaturmasyas, harvest riruals etc. Agni’s ‘Sapta jihvas’ or Seven Tongues of Flames viz. Kaali (black), Karaali (ferocious), Manojava (Speed of Mind), Sulohita (Red Hot), Sudhumra varna (coloured with thick smoke), Sphlunin gini (emitting cracky sparks) and Vishvaruchi ( blazing all around) have been described. Agni Karyas and Aahutis mingle with Surya Kiranas and at an appropriate time, several exercises by karta lead to the Lord and specified Devas. Besides the Agni Karyas, the person of knowledge resorts to other rituals too and then resorts to introspection even realising the need for a qualified ideal preceptor to teach Brahma Tatwa. Thus indeed the ‘karma kanda’ is a sure stepping stone to Brahma Tatwa,although the Tatwa might not be the direct outcome!

The Second and Key Chaper of Mundaka Upanishad seeks to explain the concept of Supreme Brahman; just as the fully blazing Agni issues out countless sparks all around, different creatures are originated and merge back. Various Beings ranging from a blade of grass to Hiranyagarbha manifest their own characteristics yet the hidden message of all the Upanishads that the basic Truth is that the Individual Self is the Supreme Self Itself. Purusha or the Antaratma as of Paramatma and is essentially ‘divya’ or the Self-Effulgent, ‘amurta’ or formless, ‘sabahyaantara’ or existent within and without, ‘ajah’ or unborn or birthless, ‘apraana’ of devoid of vital force being self-existent, ‘amanah’ or without manas or mind, since His ‘sankalpa’ or mere proposal is the ‘niranya’ or the decision; ‘akshara’ or imperishable, and ‘Apara’ and ‘Para’ or beyond comprehension yet Realisable. It is from this Parama Purusha, the Life Energy praana s originated as also the Mind, besides the Five Physical Parts and Senses, Antariksha, Vaayu, Jyoti or Agni, Water and Earth. The Pancha Bhutas or Five Elements possess the qualities of shabda, sparsha, varna, swaad and ghraana or sound-touch-colour-taste-and smell respectively. This Purusha is different from Virat Purusha possessive of Agni as his head, his eyes as Surya Chandras, Dishas or Directions as the ears, Vedas as his speech Vayu as his vital force, the Universe as his heart and his feet as Earth. From the Parama Purusha emerged Agni the ‘samidha’or fuel to Surya. From Him Chandra and Parjanya or rains lead to the resultant ‘oshadhis’ or herbs and foodgrains on Earth; from Him again the male and female species and ‘charaachara jagat’; importantly enough His creation of ‘Vahni’ or common Fire facilitating humanity to perform Karma or riruals and the consequent deeds of Dharma and Nyaya or virtue and justice. Then He manifested Himself as Veda-Vedangas, Deva Daanavas, Vasu-Aditya- Rudras, and the concepts of paapa-punyaas. He created sapta praanas viz.two each of eyes, ears, nostrils, and tongue as the respective senses, Sapta Samudras, Sapta Lokas and Sapta Giris.

The Third and the final chapter initiates the analogy of two birds named Supana and Sayuja sharing the same tree, one being busy eating sweet fruits of the tree and another refraining from eating or one immersed in enjoying material pleasures and the other resisting the temptations of life. The Self indeed as the Source of Brahman attainable byYoga, Karma, Tapasya and Truthfulness. As the Seeker of Reality finally confronts the vision of the vision of the golden hued Over Lord and merges with the non duality of Purusha and the Self as the Source of Brahman, the Seeker attains equation and then the riddance of Tri Gunas and features, merits and non merits, ‘paapa punyaas’ as the final goal. Realising the significance of Praana as the key factor, the person concerned would rather target the Antaratma inself instead of getting involved with esoteric exercises and show off knowledge but delight in the quest of the Self by taking to the established routes. The Self is achievable through the understanding as to what is Truth and Untruth as also Tapasya or austerities with control of mind and senses as the latter includes ‘nitya Brahmacharya’ or continuous abstinence, straightforwardness and non pretentiousness, and clean inner conscience leading to Self Illumination; indeed that is the Path of Parama Nidhana which truly indeed is the Seat of the Golden Hued! Since the role of Maya is the Cause of Rebirth and the Ultimate Truth is of Accomplish -ment, the Mundaka Upanishad describes the nature, pattern and emancipation finally. At the Time of Mukti or Deliverance, the fifteen body constituents of Five Jnaanendriyas or sensory organs, Five Karmendriyas or the responsive body parts of Action, Five Basic Elements of Nature, besides Mind all of them being headed by Prana at the end would all become integrated and unified as the Self Consciousness as the latter is but the same as the Supreme. Thus takes the qualification of the Self as tarati shokam tarati paapmaanam guhaa gandhibhyo vimuktomrito bhavati/ or overcome grief of mind, blemishlessness, and then the ‘Sthitapragna’ achieves freed from the knots of the unknown cave hidden in the mortal heart as shrouded by ignorance of Maya and accomplish Immortality! In the conclusion, Maharshi Angirasa declared that what all has been taught was the Truth of the Truth as preached by the great Teachers of the yore and prostrated to them all!

Sri V.D.N.Rao and Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham presents the Essence of Puranas in English, condensed by Sri. V.D.N.Rao, devotee of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. Compiled, Composed and Interpreted by V.D.N.Rao, Former General Manager, India Trade Promotion Organisation, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi Ministry of Commerce, Govt. of India The author can be contacted at