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Śaṅkara’s Introduction to the (Māṇḍūkya) Upaniṣad Commentary

With the word Aum, etc., begins the treatise, consisting of four1 chapters, the quintessence2 of the substance3 of the import of Vedānta.4 Hence5 no separate mention is made of the (mutual) relationship, the subject-matter and the object to be attained (Matters usually stated in an introduction to a study of any Vedàntic treatise). For, that which constitutes the relationship, the subject-matter and the object of the Vedāntic study is evident here. Nevertheless, that one desirous of explaining a Prakaraṇa (treatise), should deal with them is the opinion of the scholastic. This treatise must be said to contain a subject-matter on account of its revealing6 the means (for the realization of Ātman) that serves the purpose, or the end to be attained. It therefore possesses, though indirectly, ‘specific relationship’, ‘subject-matter’ and ‘the end to be attained’. What then, is that end7 in view? It is thus explained: As a man stricken with disease regains his normal8 state with the removal9 of (the cause of) the disease, so the self labouring under misapprehension, owing to identification10 of itself with misery, recovers its normal11 state with the cessation (of the illusion) of duality, which manifests itself as the phenomenal universe. This realization of non-duality is the end to be attained. This treatise is begun for the purpose of revealing12 Brahman inasmuch as by knowledge (Vidyā) the illusion of duality, caused by ignorance, is destroyed. This is established by such scriptural passages as: ‘For where there is, as it were, duality, where there exists, as it were, another, there one sees another, and one knows another. But where all this has, verily, become Ātman (for one), how should one see another, how should one know another?’

The first chapter, then, seeks, by dealing specifically with the Vedic texts,13 to indicate the (traditional) means to the realization of the essential nature of Ātman and is devoted to the determination14 of the meaning of Aum. The second chapter seeks rationally15 to demonstrate the unreality of duality; the illusion (duality) being destroyed, the knowledge of non-duality (becomes evident), as the cessation of the imagination of snake, etc., in the rope reveals the real nature of the rope. The third chapter is devoted to the rational demonstration of the truth of non-duality, lest it should, in like manner,16 be contended to be unreal. The fourth chapter is devoted to the rational refutation of the other schools of thought which are antagonistic to the truth as pointed out in the Vedas and which are opposed to the knowledge of the Advaitic Reality, by pointing out their falsity on account of their own mutual17 contradiction.


Ānandagiri’s Ṭīkā (glossary):

1 Four chaptersi.e., the Māṇḍūkyopaniṣad with the Kārikā by Gauḍapāda treated in four chapters: viz., the Āgama Prakaraṇa, the Vaitathya Prakaraṇa, the Advaita Prakaraṇa and the Alātaśānti Prakaraṇa. The mere Upaniṣadic portion without the Kārikā does not present a full view of the philosophic system of Vedānta which seeks to interpret human knowledge as a whole (vide Foreword).

2 Quintessence—It is because the Māṇḍūkya Śruti confines itself only to the establishment of non-duality without controverting the doctrines of the other systems. Muktikopaniṣad aptly describes that Māṇḍūkya alone, among the Upaniṣads, is sufficient for liberation (the attainment of truth). Cf.

3 Substance—The doctrine of the non-difference of Jīva and Brahman.

4 Vedānta—It literally means the last portion of the Vedas which is identical with the Upaniṣads. The word also signifies the essence of the Vedas. Vedāntic works usually deal with the following: the fitness of a pupil for the study of Brahmavidyā, the qualification of the teacher, the nature of Jīva and Brahman, and finally the non-difference or non-duality of the two.

6 Hence, etc.—Śaṅkara treats the Māṇḍūkyopaniṣad and the Kārikā not as a Śāstra but as a Prakaraṇa (treatise). A Śāstra though related to a particular end in view deals with varieties of topics. But a Prakaraṇa is a short manual which confines itself to some essential topics of a Śāstra. All the arguments of the Māṇḍūkyopaniṣad with Kārikā ultimately point to the establishment of the attributeless Brahman, thus serving the purpose of a Prakaraṇa which is defined as follows:—

शास्त्रकदेशसंबन्धं शास्त्रकार्यान्तरे स्थितम् ।
आहुः प्रकरणं नाम ग्रन्थभेदं विपाश्चितः ॥

śāstrakadeśasaṃbandhaṃ śāstrakāryāntare sthitam |
āhuḥ prakaraṇaṃ nāma granthabhedaṃ vipāścitaḥ ||

The other Vedāntic texts also establish the truth of non-duality but they incidentally discuss various other philosophical doctrines.

A Prakaraṇa (treatise) has four indispensable elements (anubandha) literally, “what sticks to another,” namely, the determination of the fitness of the student for the study of the treatise (abhikārī), the subject-matter (viṣaya), the mutual relationship (sambandha) between the treatise and the subject-matter (which is that of the explainer and the explained) and the object to be attained by the study, i.e., its utility (prayojana).

6 Revealing, etc.—Though liberation is attained through the knowledge of the non-duality of Jīva and Brahman and not as a result of the study of scriptures, yet the scriptures indirectly help the attainment of this knowledge by pointing to the illusory character of duality.

7 Object—Is the knowledge something to be produced or is it ever-existent? In the former case, it would be like other effects, impermanent, and in the latter case, the means pursued would be futile. The reply is that though the Knowledge of Ātman is eternally existent, yet it is obscured by ignorance in the Jīva. The aim of Sādhanā is to remove this obstruction. Thus Sādhanā serves a useful purpose though it does not make the student attain anything new.

8 Normal state—The sick man thinks that he has lost the normal state during the period of his illness.

9 Removal, etc.—This is done by means of medicine, etc.

10 Identification, etc.—This suffering is due to the illusion of duality, such as egoism, etc., caused by ignorance which does not exist in reality. Otherwise its destruction would be an impossibility.

11 Normal state—This state being in itself perfect, cannot be transcended by any other state.

12 Revealing, etc.—This is done by the removal of ignorance.which is the cause of the illusion of duality.

13 Vedic texts—The first chapter of the Māṇḍūkyopaniṣad, namely, the Āgama Prakaraṇa, consists mainly of the Upaniṣadic texts. The doctrines contained therein are established rationally in the following three chapters.

14 Determination—This would enable the student to attain the knowledge of the self, whose real nature is revealed by the demonstration of the unreality of duality which is an illusion. Ātman is realized through such knowledge. Therefore the indirect result of the explanation of the real nature of Aum leads to the attainment of the summum bonum. The rational treatment will follow.

15 Rationally—With the disappearance of the sense of reality with regard to illusions, there spontaneously arises the knowledge of truth. Gauḍapāda in the second, third and fourth chapters of the Kārikā, rationally presents the truth, presented in the first.

16 In like manner—There may be a doubt regarding the very existence of Reality when duality is removed. The argument followed by the author of the Kārikā is that the knowledge of Reality is such that it is never contradicted.

17 Mutual contradiction—The contradictions are pointed out with a view to establishing the truth of non-dualism—a course frequently pursued by both Gauḍapāda and Śaṅkara.

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