The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s Commentary
NO one that knows anything of the philosophy of the Upaniṣads can be said to be ignorant of the place that Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad with its Kārikās occupies in it. If a man cannot afford to study all the hundred and more Upaniṣads, it will be enough, it is declared in the Muktikopaniṣad', if he reads the one Upaniṣad of Māṇḍūkya, since, as Śaṅkara also says, it contains the quintessence of all of them. Thoroughly to grasp the philosophy taught in Māṇḍūkya, one needs a knowledge of the whole field of ancient Indian thought. Such being the nature of this work, one with my limitations of knowledge cannot presume to be able to do any justice to its merits and that in, what is called a “Foreword”. And yet if I agreed to write a foreword to Swāmi Nikhilānandaji’s most valuable publication it was not because I had any thought that this well-known and learned author of the translations of Vedāntasāra and Dṛg Dṛśya Viveka and frequent writer to many leading Indian journals on religion and philosophy needed an introduction to the literary world. Nor did I think that I could add anything of value to his critical and scholarly preface and notes. On the other hand, I consented because I felt that this was an opportunity for me to indicate in some measure the place of Gauḍapāda, not among religionists, theologians, scholastics or mystics but among philosophers. In what high regard he is held by the Vedāntins of the past is well known. But the esteem that he commands among distinguished men of our own times has yet to be pointed out. With this object in view and also with an idea of acknowledging my own-indebtedness to some of them I have ventured to say a few words. Of two such renowned personages of our day one was my most revered Guru, the late Śrī Satchidānanda Sivābhinava Narasimha Bhārati Swāmi of Sringeri, who introduced me to the study of the Kārikās, at whose feet I had the inestimable privilege of sitting as a pupil. Here, a short account of my first lesson in Gaudapāda may not be considered irrelevant by the reader.
The very first day I paid my respects to the Swāmi more than forty years ago, I started thus:
“The follower of every religion thinks that his faith, his scripture or his interpretation of it reveals the highest truth and that they are therefore superior to other faiths, scriptures or interpretations. This notion has contributed not a little to the misfortunes of mankind in this world. The case is not far different with many of those that are called philosophers. Though they have not instigated men to cause bloodshed, as mere religionists have done and are still doing, yet they have made their followers delight rather in their points of difference than in those of agreement. How then is a Hindu in any way better than a Mahomedan or a Christian? Or, again, if truth or ultimate truth, a something common to all minds, cannot be rationally reached, is not philosophic enquiry a wild goose chase, as so many modern and honest: thinkers have held? Lastly, as regards truth itself, everyone, even a fool, thinks that what he knows is the truth.”
The Swāmi in reply said,
“What you say may be true with regard to mere religion, mysticism, theology or scholasticism which are mistaken for philosophy. It may be so with the early or intermediate stages in philosophy. But Vedānta, particularly its philosophy, is something different. It starts with the very question you ask. It sets before itself the object of finding a truth, ‘Free from all dispute’ and ‘Not opposed to any school of thought or religion or interpretation of 'scriptures’. Its truth is independent of sect, creed, colour, race, sex, and belief. And it aims at what is ‘Equally good for all beings’.”
Then, I said, that I would devote the whole of my life to the study of Vedānta, if the Swāmi would be so gracious, as to introduce me to a Vedāntin, past or present, that did not or does not claim superiority for his religion over others on the authority of his own scripture, who does not refuse to open the gates of his heaven to those that differ from him, but who seeks only such philosophic truth as does not lead to differences among men. Immediately the revered Guru quoted three verses from Gaudapāda, Kārikās II–1, III–17 and IV–2, and explained them, the substance of which has been quoted above.
“If you want,” he added,
“truth indisputable by any one and truth beneficent to all men, nay, to all beings, read and inwardly digest what Śaṅkara’s teacher’s teacher, Sri Gauḍapāda says in his Kārikās.”
The other eminent personage to whom I owe most of my effort to make a critical study of Gauḍapāda is His Highness the Maharaja of Mysore, Śrī Kṛṣṇarāja Wadiyar Bahadur IV. His profound and extensive knowledge of philosophy and particularly his high regard for Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad and the Kārikās, led to frequent talks on the topics dealt with therein. His Highness who is accustomed to meeting learned scholars, pious religionists, and deep thinkers of all types and of different countries, is a most disinterested critic. This drove me to the necessity of ascertaining how far Gauḍapāda’s views are of value from the standpoint; of the student of Western science and philosophy and how far the ancient Vedānta could stand the fire of modern criticism, particularly of science, a knowledge of which is so indispensable to the study of philosophy nowadays.
In this connection, I must not forget to mention that my debt is also immense to Mr. K. A. Krishnaswami Iyer, the Vedāntin of Bangalore, and to those Swāmis of the Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa Order, that have devoted their life to the philosophical pursuit of truth both from the ancient and from the modern view-points and that have been with me at Mysore.
After studying Gauḍapāda for a time I turned to the' Upaniṣads and to Brahma-Sūtras as interpreted by Śaṅkara, under the Sringeri Swāmi’s invaluable guidance. I have now for more than forty years read and re-read them in the light of the Swāmi’s teachings and I find that Vedānta is far in advance, not merely of the most modern Western philosophic thought, but also of scientific thought, so far as its pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is concerned. To refer to an instance or two: Two thousand years ago Gauḍapāda anticipated what science is just beginning to guess in regard to ‘causal’ relation without a knowledge of which Vedānta can never be understood. The meaning of ‘Truth’ which is still a matter of dispute among many philosophers, has been investigated by him more deeply than has yet been done by other thinkers.
Vedānta in its highest, that is its philosophic, aspect can have no significance to one who has not realized the importance of the most fundamental question in philosophy: What is truth, particularly ‘Ultimate Truth’? How is it to be tested? It is the Upaniṣads that answer it by declaring that Ultimate Truth is that which admits of no difference of view of any kind, as two plus two are equal to four. Gauḍapāda and Śaṅkara follow this doctrine in all its implications. It assigns to religious faith, theology, scholasticism, mysticism, art and science, their respective places in the one grand edifice of human knowledge, as a whole. Gauḍapāda rejects no kind of knowledge or experience. Even the views of his opponents, he welcomes and accepts as parts of the knowledge that leads to the attainment of truth and Ultimate Truth. His distinction lies in the emphasis he lays on the impossibility of reaching the highest truth unless the totality of human experience or knowledge be taken into consideration. Others generally build their systems on the waking state alone. But the philosophers of the Upaniṣads hold that unless the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep be co-ordinated, there cannot be adequate data for the enquiry regarding Ultimate Truth. This is a matter still unknown to Europe and America. Nor has the West as yet evaluated conceptual knowledge. The relation of mind to its ideas or contents is another problem that has not as yet been even dreamt of in Western Philosophy.
To one desirous of making a scholarly study of Vedänta, the historical side of the evolution of philosophic thought in India is of great value. One can, however, easily obtain this information in any of the modern text-books on Indian Philosophy. But, though Gauḍapāda could be fairly appreciated even without such background, yet, his commentator Śaṅkara and his followers cannot be fully comprehended without a previous acquaintance with the several systems of Indian thought. Swāmi Nikhilānandaji has therefore furnished valuable notes to make such matters clear. One point, however, needs to be referred to here, as it is of special interest to modern thinkers.
The several theories of perception, for instance, are discussed in the Kārikās, it being taken for granted that causal relation is an unquestionable fact. Like all true philosophers, not mere metaphysicians, he starts with the perceptual world and pursues the enquiry. If the word “real” be confined to percepts, Gauḍapāda is not a realist. If the word “ideal” be confined to what is known within, apart from the senses, he is not an idealist. But he admits that the concepts, real and ideal, are of value as steps leading to the highest truth which is beyond idealism or realism, or spiritualism, all of which only refer to waking experience. To him the external world as well as the internal is unreal. But his philosophy does not lead to illusionism, as the goal. The relation between mind and matter, idea and sense objects, or even mind and its contents is a matter of dispute to this day. But Gauḍapāda’s explanation may or may not be accepted, to the extent to which it is confined to the waking state. It does not, however, affect in the least his conclusion which is based on the three states. He denies the category of relationship, in what is Ultimate Truth. Nor does he admit ‘Satisfaction’ (Ānandam) to be a test of it.
Another important feature is that he is a thinker of the most rational type, which Śaṅkara’s interpretation of him, points out. The “philosophic method” (prakriya) described here clears so many misapprehensions regarding the meaning of philosophy, in general.
Philosophy, according to Gauḍapāda and Śaṅkara, is an interpretation of the totality of human experience or of the whole of life from the standpoint of truth. Philosophy, therefore, is the whole, of which Religion, Mysticism (Yoga), Theology, Scholasticism, Speculation, Art and Science are but parts. Such philosophy or Vedānta as ignores any part or parts, is no Vedānta. In fact it employs the scientific method more rigorously than modern science does. Gauḍapāda’s and Śaṅkara’s view of philosophy is being echoed and re-echoed by modern Western thinkers in defining it. These ancient philosophers further declare that all other kinds of experience and knowledge are but several stages in the evolution of life and philosophic thought. And the object sought by philosophy, as these two pre-eminent Hindu philosophers say, is the happiness (Sukham) and welfare (Hitam) of all beings (Sarva Sattva) in this world (Ihaiva).
Gauḍapāda is little known in the West. There is not the least doubt that his work will open new vistas of thought to Western enquirers and will make them turn to the East for more light. Without the slightest fear of exaggeration, it may be said that in no other part of the “world” has man dared to pursue truth with the degree of devotion, and particularly of determination with which he has done in India. It is in India alone that one sees the seeker sacrificing not merely all his material belongings as in other countries, but also every feeling, thought, view, or perception to which he may, at the start, be attached. Till one makes sure that one’s mind has been completely purged of all preconceptions or prejudices which are the offspring of attachment, one cannot hope to command the concentration of mind needed for climbing the topmost steps leading to truth. One of the greatest characteristics of philosophy in India—not Indian theology and the like—is the perfection to which the method of eliminating preconceptions is carried. And to do this one must be a dhīra (hero).
Much less does the West know of Gauḍapāda’s method of complete eradication of the ‘Ego’ or the personal ‘self,’ a subject, to the supreme importance of which, Western Science—not its Philosophy or speculation which is blissfully ignorant of it—is just becoming alive. Swāmi Vivekānanda says, “Can anything be attained with any shred of ‘I’ left?” And Śrī Śaṅkara says, “The root of all obstacles (in the pursuit of Truth) is the first form of ignorance called the ‘Ego’. So long as one has any connection with the ‘Ego,’ vile as it is, there cannot be the least talk about liberation (from ignorance).”
As has been hinted in the Note also at the beginning, the best modern scientists hold that:
“The Scientific man has above all things to strive at self-elimination, in his judgments to provide an argument which is true.... unbiassed by personal feeling is characteristic of what may be termed the Scientific frame of mind. . . .”
“The validity of a scientific conclusion depends upon the elimination of the subjective element . . . .”
“What is most difficult of attainment and yet indispensable is distrust of our personal bias in forming judgments. Our hypothesis must be depersonalized. . . .”
—From J. A. Thomson.
How strongly this discipline is enforced on the seeker after truth in India may be gathered from what Śrī Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhāgavata:
“One should prostate oneself on the ground before every creature down to an ass or a dog, so that ‘egoism’ may quickly depart.”
The essence of teo teachings of Hindu Philosophy here is found in the following prayer of the great Sri Rama-krishna Paramahamsa: (Translated).
“One man says this, another man says that. O mother, pray, tell me what the Truth is.”
Many such and other matters of great value are ably dealt with by the Swāmiji in the body of the work. This distinguished and learned author has done a real service to such earnest seekers after truth, as are determined to reach the end, wherever English is known, by translating this priceless work of Śrī Gauḍapāda, the first Vedāntic philosopher, known to Indian history in what is said to be the post-Upaniṣadic or modern period.
V. SUBRAHMANYA IYER.