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Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, verse 1

Introductory Remarks by Śaṅkara

How does, again, the determination of (the meaning of) Aum help the realization of the essential nature of Ātman? It is thus1 explained: The Śruti 2 passages such as these declare3 thus: “It4 is Aum.” “This (Aun) is the (best)5 support.” “Oh, Satyakāma, It6 is the Aum which is also the higher and the lower Brahman.” “Meditate7 on the Self as Aum.”Aum, this8 word is Brahman.” “All9 this is verily Aum.” As the rope, etc., which are the substratum of such illusions (misapprehensions) as the snake, etc., so is the non-dual Ātman, which is the Ultimate Reality, the substratum of such imaginations as the vital10 breath (Prāṇa), etc., which are unreal. Similarly, Aum is the substratum of the entire illusion of the world of speech having11 for its (corresponding) contents such illusory objects as Prāṇa, etc., imagined in Ātman. And Aum is verily of the same12 essential character as the Ātman; for it is the name for Ātman. All illusions such as Prāṇa, etc., having Ātman for their substratum and denoted by words—which are but modifications13 of Aum—, cannot exist14 without names (which are but the modification of Aum). This is supported by such Śruti passages as: “The modification15 being only a name arising from speech.” “All this related to It (Brahman) is held16 together by the cord17 of speech, and strands18 of (specific) names.” “All these (are rendered possible in experience) by names,” etc.


Ānandagiri’s Ṭīkā (glossary):

1 Thus—The reason given here chiefly depends upon the scriptural authority, because the first chapter of this work lays emphasis on the scriptural texts.

2 Śruti passages—For detailed explanations of these passages the reader is referred to the respective Upaniṣads in which they occur.

3 Declare—The ultimate relationship between Aum and Brahman is thus explained. The phenomena of the world consist of ideas or the menial states, ideas depend upon words for their expression. The utterance of the word Aum (A U M) gives the clue to the pronunciations of all the words or sounds used by human beings. The various parts of the vocal organ used in the utterance of sounds come in contact with each other while pronouncing the word Aum. Therefore, Aum is the matrix of all sounds which in their diversified forms give rise to words used in the language. The substratum of phenomena is Brahman. The substratum of all sounds, as seen above, is Aum. The sounds signifying the phenomena are non-different from the phenomena as both are illusions. When the illusion disappears the substratum alone remains which, being one, admits of no difference. Hence Brahman is Aum.

4 It is, etc.—Kaṭhopaniṣad, 1.2. 15. When Aum is uttered, with concentration there arises the consciousness of Brahman in the mind. Therefore Aum is the nearest symbol helping the concentration of the mind leading to the realization of Brahman. The principle of this process is known as śākhācandranyāya.

5 Best—Kaṭhopaniṣad, 1.2.17. This is the best symbol of Brahman like an image (pratimā) of Viṣṇu.

6 It is, etc.—Praśnopaniṣad, 5.2. “The knower through the support (of the Aum) attains to one or the other. Through the meditation of Aum one can realize both the Para (attributeless) Brahman and the Apara (associated with names and forms) Brahman.”

7 Meditate—One, who seeks to realize the Self through “one-pointed” concentration on Aum, feels that the gross universe (symbolised by A) is absorbed into the subtle (U) and (U) into the causal (M) and, finally, the universe dependent upon causal relation is withdrawn into the transcendental which is known as Amātrā and which cannot be designated by any letter or sound.

8 This word, etc.—Taittirīyopaniṣad, 1.8.1 Aum indicates that both Saguṇa and Nirguṇa Brahman have the same substratum-which is the Nirguṇa (attributeless) Brahman or the highest Reality.

9 All this is, etc.—Both, i.e., Aum and Brahman, are the support of everything, they form the most universal concept. Therefore the knowledge of Aum and Brahman is identical.

10 Vital breath—The non-dual Brahman, being the only existing Reality, does not admit of any other existence. Therefore Prāṇa, etc. and their effects are but mental manifestations which are unreal,, having Brahman for their substratum,—like the illusion of snake superimposed upon a rope.

11 Having, etc.—Prāṇa, etc., are merely modifications of speech because they cannot be conceived of without names. As again names are nothing but different manifestations of Aum, therefore Prāṇa, etc., have Aum for their substratum.

12 Same nature—The name and the thing indicated by it are identical inasmuch as both are mental (Kālpanika).

13 Modifications—All sounds are included in “A”—the first letter of the alphabet (cf. The Śruti passage, akāro vai sarvāvāk). “A” is the chief constituent of Aum. Therefore all mental manifestations (i.e., the objects denoted by them are identical with the sounds associated with them) cannot exist apart from Aum.

14 Cannot exist, etc— The purpose of the Śruti is to show the identity of the name and the object. This can be understood from the standpoint of mentalism which explains everything as mere idea or a mental state or content.

15 ModificationChāndogya Upaniṣad, 6.1.4.

16 Held withi.e., Pervaded.

17 Cord— It stands for the general (sāmānya).

18 Strands—They denote the particular (viśeṣa).

Therefore it is said:—


Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, first verse:

हरिः ओम् । ओमित्येतदक्षरमिदं सर्वं तस्योपव्याख्यानं भूतं भवद्भविष्यदिति सर्वमोङ्कार एव | यच्चान्यत्त्रिकालातीतं तदप्योङ्कार एव ॥ १ ॥

hariḥ om | omityetadakṣaramidaṃ sarvaṃ tasyopavyākhyānaṃ bhūtaṃ bhavadbhaviṣyaditi sarvamoṅkāra eva | yaccānyattrikālātītaṃ tadapyoṅkāra eva || 1 ||

1. Hariḥ Aum. Aum, the word, is all this. A clear explanation of it (is the following). All that is past, present and future is verily Aum. That which is beyond the triple conception of time, is also truly Aum.


Śaṅkara’s Commentary

Aum, the word, is all this. As all diversified objects that we see around us, indicated by names, are not different1 from their (corresponding) names, and further as the different names are not different from Aum, therefore all this is verily Aum. As a thing is known through its name, so the highest Brahman is known through Aum alone. Therefore the highest Brahman is verily Aum. This (treatise) is the explanation of that, tasya, that is, of Aum, the word, which is of the same nature as the higher as well as the lower Brahman. Upavyākhyānam means clear explanation, because Aum is the means to the knowledge of Brahman on account of its having the closest proximity to Brahman. The word ‘Prastutam’ meaning ‘commences’ should be supplied to complete the sentence (as otherwise, it is incomplete). That which is conditioned by the triple (conceptions of) time, such as past, present and future is also verily Aum for reasons already explained. All that is beyond the three (divisions of) time, i.e., unconditioned by time, and yet known by their effects, which is called ‘Avyākṛta’, the unmanifested, etc.,—that also2 is verily Aum.


Ānandagiri’s Ṭīkā (glossary):

1 Not different—That the name and the object denoted by it are identical is understood from the standpoint of mentalism which.explains everything cognized or perceived as only a form of thought.

2 Also, etc.—Because the effect is non-different from the cause.

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