Mandukya Upanishad (Gaudapa Karika and Shankara Bhashya)

by Swami Nikhilananda | 1949 | 115,575 words | ISBN-13: 9788175050228

This is the English translation of the Mandukya Karika by Gaudapada, which is a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad. The school of philosophy this book attempts to expose is ‘Advaita Vedanta’, a non-dualistic path to spiritual realization of the self. Many of the verses from the Karika attempt to illustrate the identification of the Atman (self) ...

THE Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, like Muṇḍaka, Praśna and some minor Upaniṣads, forms part of the Atharva Veda. It is one of the shortest of the ten principal Upaniṣads. Gauḍapāda has written two hundred and fifteen verses known as the Kārikā to explain the Upaniṣad and Śaṅkara has written a commentary on both the Upaniṣad and the Kārikā. Ānandagiri in his Ṭīkā explains at greater length Shankara Bhashya (commentary).

The Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, like other Upaniṣads, discusses the problem of Ultimate Reality. The knowledge of Brahman or Ātman, the goal of existence, is its theme. Unlike most of the Upaniṣads, it does not relate any anecdote or any imaginary conversations to elucidate the subject-matter. It is also silent about rituals and sacrifices in any form as they are irrelevant to the metaphysical or philosophical discussion of Reality. It goes straight to the subject. The extreme brevity of its statements has been the cause of despair to superficial readers who are unable to understand its real significance.

The well-known method of Vedānta to arrive at Reality is what is known as “Vicāra”. This Upaniṣad also follows the same method. In the first place Ātman is associated with the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, and, then, these states are shown to merge in Turīya or the Ultimate Reality. And in the sequel it is pointed out that the non-dual Ātman is identical with the three states and therefore all that exists is Brahman. The nature of the Ultimate Reality has been described in the seventh text of the Upaniṣad.

As the generality of men cannot realize the Ultimate Reality which is beyond all categories of time, space and causation, it is sought to help them to do so by means of a symbol. The symbol selected by the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad as well as the other Upaniṣads is Aum, the word of all words. Aum consists of three sound symbols, viz., A, U, and M. These three denoting the gross, the subtle and the causal aspects of Brahman (from the relative standpoint), have been equated with the three states mentioned above, which contain the totality of man’s experience. The method adopted by the Upaniṣad and followed by Gauḍapāda for arriving at Reality is to analyse our experience. Through the contemplation of the three sound symbols as the three states, the student, endowed with the mental and moral qualifications required for the understanding of Vedānta, is helped to reach the Ultimate Reality.

The Kārikā of Gauḍapāda is divided into four chapters (prakaraṇas):

  1. Āgama (Scripture),
  2. Vaitathya (the illusoriness of sense-experiences),
  3. Advaita (nonduality),
  4. Alātaśānti (the quenching of the fire-brand).

The first chapter deals with the problem of Reality from the standpoint of the Vedas. The three subsequent chapters demonstrate the same truth by means of reason.

Śaṅkara, who has commented only on Vedāntic works of the most authoritative character, such as the Gītā, the Upaniṣads and the Sūtras, has deemed it necessary to write a commentary on Gauḍapāda’s Kārikā. This indicates the supreme importance and value of this treatise to the philosophy of Advaita Vedānta.

Who was Gauḍapāda? Tradition makes him the teacher of Govinda who was the teacher of Śaṅkara. It is said that Gauḍapāda wrote, besides the Kārikā on Māndukya Upaniṣad, commentaries on the Sāṅkhya system and Uttara Gītā. But there does not exist much evidence to support it. Ānandagiri says in his Ṭīkā on Shankara Bhashya (commentary) on the Kārikā (4-1) that Gauḍapāda performed great austerities in the Badarikāśrama, in the interior of the Himālayas, in order to propitiate Nārāyana who is worshipped there as the God-Man. Nārāyana being pleased with his devotion revealed to him the secret of the Advaita Vedānta. Gauḍapāda salutes this Nārāyana in the opening verse of the fourth chapter of the Kārikā. In the face of the controversy regarding the date of Śaṅkara, the date of Gauḍapāda cannot be definitely fixed. The generally accepted date of Śaṅkara’s birth, one agreed to by Bhāndārkar, Pāthak and Deussen, 788 A.D. is not free from objections. According to Swāmi Prajñānānanda Saraswati and a few other scholars, Śaṅkara flourished before Christ. Some eminent scholars, by an examination of the literary style of Śaṅkara and the historical and other references, push back his date to the second century B.C. Their contention cannot be lightly brushed aside. One fact, however, can be asserted without fear of contradiction that Gauḍapāda is the solitary philosopher, known to us, who, before Śaṅkara, gave a rational explanation of the Advaita Vedānta’which is the objective of the Upaniṣadic teachings.

Even the Sūtras of Bādarāyaṇa are not free from a priori reasoning, that is, reasoning conditioned by the tradition and the authority of the Scriptures. It is only Gauḍapāda that has successfully demonstrated in his Kārikā that the non-dual Ātman declared in the Upaniṣads as the Ultimate Reality is not a theological dogma, and that it does not depend upon the mystic experiences of the Yogis; but that it is a metaphysical rather a philosophical truth which satisfies the demands; of universal tests and which is based upon reason independent of scriptural authority. Gauḍapāda, as. already stated, follows, in the first chapter of his book, the traditional method of basing his conclusions on the authority of the Scriptures and demonstrates that the aim of the Śruti is to establish the non-dual Ātman as the ultimate authority. In the following chapters he re-establishes the same truth through reasoning alone and thus meets the arguments of the Buddhists and other thinkers who do not admit the authority of the Vedās. Śaṅkara refers to this in his commentary on the first verses of the last three chapters of the Kārikā.

Here, we deem it necessary to review soma of the observations of the latest among well-known authors. Professor S N. Das Gupta, m.a., Ph.D., in his celebrated work, A History of Indian Philosophy (pp. 423-29) regarding Gauḍapāda and his philosophy writes: “Gauḍapāda thus flourished after all great Buddhist teachers Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, Asanga and Vāsubandhu, and I believe that there is sufficient evidence in his Kārikās for thinking that he was possibly himself a Buadhist. and considered that the teachings of the Upaniṣads tallied with those of Buddha. Thus at the beginning of the fourth chapter of his Kārikās he says, that he adores that great man (dvipadām varam) who by knowledge as wide as the sky realized (sambuddha) that all appearances (Dharma) were like the vacuous sky (gaganopamam). He thus goes on to say that he adores, him who has dictated (desita) that the touch of the untouch (Asparśa Yoga—probably referring to Nirvāṇa) was the goal that produced happiness to all beings and that he was neither in disagreement with the doctrine nor found any contradiction in it (avivāda aviruddhaścha).... In IV. 19 of his Kārikā, he again says that the Buddhas have shown that there is no coming into being in any way (sarvathā buddhairajātī paridīpitāḥ). Again in IV. 4. 2 he says that it was for those realists (yāstuvādis), since they found things and could deal with them and were afraid of non-being, that the Buddha had spoken of origination (jāti). In IV. 90 he refers to Agrayāna which we know to be a name of Mahāyāna. Again, in IV. 98 and 99, he says that all appearances are ‘pure and vacuous’ by nature. These the Buddha, the emancipated one (mukta) and the leaders know. It was said by Buddha that all appearances were knowledge. He then closes the Kārikās with an adoration which in all probability also refers to the Buddha.... Gauḍapāda does not indicate his preference one way or the other (i.e., regarding the theories of creation), but describes the fourth state.... In the third chapter Gauḍapāda says that truth is like the void (Ākāśa) which is conceived as taking part in birth and death, coming and going and as existing in all bodies, but, however it be conceived, it is all the while non-different from Ākāśa.... He should awaken the mind (citta) into its final dissolution.... All the Dharmas (appearances) are without death or decay. Gauḍapāda then follows a dialectical form of argument which reminds us of Nāgārjuna.... All experiences (prajñapti) are dependent on reasons, for otherwise both would vanish____.... When we look at all things in a connected manner they seem to be dependent, but Men we look at them from the point of view of Reality or truth the reason ceases to be reason....

Therefore neither the mind nor the objects seen by it are ever produced. Those who perceive them to suffer production are really traversing the reason of vacuity (Kha).... It is so obvious that these doctrines are borrowed from the Mādhyamika doctrines, as found in the Nāgārjuna Kārikās and Vijñānavāda doctrines as found in Laṅkāvatāra, that it is needless to attempt to prove it. Gauḍapāda assimilated all the Buddhist Śūnyavāda and Vijñānavāda teachings and thought that these hold good of the ultimate truth preached by the Upaniṣads. It is immaterial whether he was a Hindu or a Buddhist, so long as we are sure that he had the highest respect for Buddha and for his teachings which he believed to be his.... He only incidentally suggested that the great Buddhist truth of indefinable and unspeakable Vijñāna or vacuity would hold good of the highest Ātman of the Upaniṣads, and thus laid the foundation of a revival of the Upaniṣadic studies: on Buddhist lines....” (The English words in italics are ours.)

Our interpretation of the passages in the above quotation will be found in the body of the book. Prof. Das Gupta has given his own interpretation of the Kārikā, without attaching any value to the commentary of Śaṅkara or the Ṭīkā of Ānandagiri and it is clear from the point of view of Prof. Das Gupta that Śaṅkara has failed to understand the sense of the Kārikā. This: attempt of Prof. Das Gupta to interpret the Kārikā according to his own view is no doubt responsible for ascribing to Gauçlapāda the views which, according to us, he never seems even to have dreamt of cherishing. Prof. Das Gupta tries to prove that Gauḍapāda was possibly a Buddhist and that his philosophy was borrowed from Buddhism. We shall therefore offer a few words of criticism regarding the views of Prof. Das Gupta.

It has not been settled that Gauḍapāda flourished after the Buddhist philosophers, Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, Asanga and Vāsubandhu. Some recent researches reveal that he lived long before them. This is, however, a point for the student of history of literature. Further, the standpoint and the conclusion of Gauḍapāda’s philosophy, however, are fundamentally different from those of the Buddhist thinkers named above. There is no evidence in his Kārikā to show that Gauḍapāda was possibly a Buddhist. There is positive proof on the other hand to show that he was not a Buddhist. Gauḍapāda himself states, for instance, in the clearest possible language at the conclusion of the Kārikā (IV. 99) that “This (his own view) is not the view of Buddha.” Śaṅkara in his commentary of this Kārikā says that the essence of the Ultimate Reality, which is non-dual and which is free from multiplicity of the perceiver, perception and the perceived, has not been taught by Buddha. In its refutation of the reality of the external objects and in asserting that all objects are mere acts of mind (manahspandanam), the Buddhist Vijñānavāda, no doubt, approaches the non-dual consciousness of the Upaniṣads, but the knowledge of the non-dual Ātman, which alone is the Ultimate Reality, can be found in Vedānta alone. We are of opinion that Buddhist metaphysical thought is nearest to Gauḍapāda’s Kārikās. Further corroboration can be found in Shankara Bhashya (commentary) on Kārikās IV, 28 and 83.

Prof. Das Gupta, in order to prove his conclusion, has given his own interpretations. One studying the Upaniṣads and the Kārikās in accordance with the six canons (liṅgam) of interpretation, viz., the beginning and the conclusion (upakrama and upasamhāra), repetition (abhyāsa), originality (apūrvatā), result (phalam), eulogy (arthavāda) and demonstration (upapatti), will find that the aims of the Upaniṣads and the Kārikā are identical, namely, the establishment of the non-dual self as the Ultimate Reality and this cannot be found in the teachings of the Buddhist philosophers.

At the beginning of the fourth chapter of the Kārikā, Gauḍapāda does not adore Buddha but Nārāyana who is worshipped in Badarikāśrama through the symbol of Man. The word Dharma used by Gauḍapāda does not mean appearance.Dharma’ literally means ‘attribute’, which is, according to the Vedānta philosophy, non-different from the substance—as the heat and the light are non-different from the sunshine. ‘Dharma’ is used by Gauḍapāda to mean Jīva which if taken as attribute of Brahman is non-different from it. Gauḍapāda has admirably proved in his Kārikā that all Dharmas or Jīvas are identical with the non-dual Brahman and therefore they are ever-pure and ever-illumined. The word ‘Dharma’ has been used in the plural sense in view of the multiplicity of the Jīvas from the standpoint of empirical experience. Gauḍapāda contends that what others, from their relative standpoint, take to be multiple Jīvas, is nothing but non-dual Brahman. The analogy of Dharma to Ākāśa, based upon vacuity, is far-fetched. The real point of analogy lies in their all-pervasiveness, purity and subtle nature. But Dharma is not really identical with Ākāśa as the latter is known, from the empirical standpoint, to contain the element of insentiency (jada). The adoration referred to in IV. 2 is not directed to Buddha, as hinted by Prof. Das Gupta, but to Nārāyaṇa.

The translation of the word ‘Asparśayoga’ as the ‘touch of the untouch’ does not convey any meaning. It certainly does not refer to Nīrvāṇa as suggested by Prof. Das Gupta, if Nirvana means total annihilation. We prefer to translate the word as the Yoga which is not related to anything. Apparently there is a contradiction involved in the word. The word ‘Asparśa’ meaning freedom from relationship refers to the non-dual Brahman alone. But Yoga signifying union indicates duality. Gauḍapāda designates the path of knowledge described in the Kārikā and in Advaita Vedānta as Asparśayoga inasmuch as the word Yoga was used in his time also to denote the method of attaining to the Ultimate Reality, in the Bhagavadgītā, for instance Yoga is used in different senses. Yoga is also used in the broad sense, of ‘discipline’ or ‘path’. That this method is free from all relationship has been demonstrated in the Kārikā. The Ultimate Reality taught in the Kārikā and Advaita Vedānta cannot be Nirvāṇa if that word means, as is known from the study of some of the Buddhist writers, the total negation of everything. But whether Buddha himself used the word in that sense is doubtful. The non-dual Brahman taught (vide Chapter III and II. 23 of Kārikā) in the Advaita Vedānta is free from hostility and contradiction as according to this philosophy non-dual Brahman alone exists. Hostility and contradiction are inherent in all dualistic systems of thought.

Gauḍapāda has, no doubt, used the word ‘Buddha’ several times in the Kārikā. But the word does not refer to the traditional founder of Buddhism, as Prof. Das Gupta seems to suggest. It only means the knower of Truth. The word ‘Agrayāna’ in IV. 90 may be made to indicate ‘Mahāyāna’ only by a fanciful resemblance of words. The word really means ‘Prathamatāh’, i.e., in the first place, otherwise one cannot get any meaning out of the Kārikā text in which the word occurs.

Prof. Das Gupta complains that Gauḍapāda ‘does not indicate his preference one way or other’ regarding the theory of creation. In the Āgama Prakaraṇa (Kārikā, 7-9) he enumerates several current theories of creation given by those who accept creation as a fact. He calls these theorisers mere speculators on the process of creation (sṛṣtichintakāḥ). Those to whom creation is real are certainly at liberty to advance any theory according to their tastes. But none of these speculators proves the reality of creation on rational grounds. Gauḍapāda is not in the least interested in these theories. He questions the reality of the act of creation, from the standpoint of the ultimate truth. Creation may be a fact to those who, like children, take empirical knowledge to be ultimate truth. Gauḍapāda, throughout his Kārikā and particularly in the fourth chapter, clearly demonstrates that the category of causality cannot be applied to the non-dual Ātman. Absolute non-manifestation (ajāti) is the only truth. Centuries before Hume and Bradley, Gauḍapāda proved that causality has no basis in fact. Creation indicates an unsatisfied desire on the part of the creator. If the Ultimate Reality be complete or perfect in itself and self-satiated (āptakāma), then the act of creation can never be predicated of it. Hegel contradicts himself when he says that a logical necessity impels the evolution of the Absolute. Schelling’s explanation that the evolution of the Absolute into ego and non-ego can only be understood by an intellectual intuition, is mysticism or mystification, but not rational truth. If there be no creation how can one explain the multiplicity of empirical experience in the universe? Gauḍapāda by an inexorable logic proves that this is the very nature of the Effulgent Being (Devasya eṣa svabhāvah). Whatever one experiences is only non-dual Brahman. All this is verily Brahman. Non-dual Brahman alone is. Diagnosis of the headache of a headless man (kabandha) is ludicrous and irrelevant. If the manifested manifold had ever existed, then one would think of its origination or destruction. That we see duality is due to our ignorance of the true nature of Reality which is non-dual Brahman. Again this ignorance (Māyā) does not exist from the standpoint of Reality. Māyā is only an explanation of creation given by those who hold creation to be a fact. Therefore Gauḍapāda sums up his philosophy, ‘None (is) in bondage, none liberated, this is the ultimate truth’ (II. 32). ‘No Jīva is ever born. Such birth is unreal. This indeed is the highest truth that nothing whatsoever is born’ (III. 48).

Gauḍapāda, no doubt, says that Ātman is like Ākāśa (III. 3). But voidness is not the point of analogy. He intends to convey the idea that Ātman, like the Ākāśa is subtle, without parts and all-pervading. Gauḍapāda was well aware of the fallacy of Nāgārjuna’s reasoning. Void or a negation cannot be the substratum of an illusion. The illusion of the mirage, the snake or the silver must have a positive substratum in the form of the desert, the rope or the mother-o’-pearl. Śaṅkara aptly criticises the position of the Buddhist nihilists as lacking in intelligence, for they, in spite of the very fact Of cognition and experience, describe every thing, including their own experience, as mere void. Therefore the Ultimate Reality is not a void or a negation. Without a positive Reality we cannot affirm our empirical experience. But this affirmation is not a co-relative of negation. Our relative-experiences have the dual predicates of affirmation and negation. The Ultimate Reality is free from affirmation and negation, the inevitable characteristics of the relative.

The translation of the first line of the 44th Kārikā of the third chapter as “He should awaken the ‘mind’ (citta) into its final dissolution (laya)” does not convey the correct meaning. Gauḍapāda uses the word ‘laya’ in the sense of deep sleep or Yogic Samādhi. Samādhl is the last word of the Yoga mystics. According to Gauḍapāda this is an obstacle to the realisation of truths The seeking of pleasure in Samādhi shows an exhaustion of the inquiring mind. It is because the Yogis look upon mind as separate from Ātman, that they seek to control it in Samādhi. But Gauḍapāda says that the mind is the non-dual Ātman. Therefore there does not arise any question of controlling it. The mind and its activities (prachāra, Comp. III. 34) are nothing but non-dual Brahman, ever-pure, ever-free and ever-illumined. It is only due to ignorance that one perceives the duality of the subject-object relationship in the activities of the mind. But a knower of truth perceives everywhere and in all activities only the non-dual Brahman (Gītā, IV. 24). Hence Gauḍapāda warns the student against the trap of the Yogic Samādhi, as described in the line quoted above (III. 44) which really means that one should awaken the mind from the (inertia of) laya (Samādhi or deep sleep) by the repeated practice of discrimination. The Vedāntic Samādhi does not signify the realization of Truth with closed eyes. It means the vision of Truth with eyes open on every object. A Vedāntist thus describes the Samādhi, “With the disappearance of the attachment to the body and with the realization of the Supreme Self, to whatever object the mind is directed, one experiences Samādhi.”

Nowhere does Gauḍapāda, or Śaṅkara or this Upaniṣad itself say that the ‘Fourth’ is a ‘State’ (Avasta) as Prof. Das Gupta says.

All Dharmas according to Gauḍapāda, are without death or decay (IV. 10). Prof. Das Gupta, as we have already pointed out, wrongly translates Dharma as appearance. ‘Appearance’ is certainly attended with disappearance, i.e., death and decay. For, Gauḍapāda rightly defines appearance and illusion as that which does not exist at the beginning or at the end (II. 6). Any appearance is perceived by Ātman only so long as that particular condition of his mind which gives rise to the appearance lasts. But Dharma can be said to be without decay or death only if it means Jīva which is the same as the non-dual Brahman.

We are afraid the translation of the 24th Kārikā (Chapter IV) as “all experience is dependent on reasons” (sanimittatvam) is not correct. This Kārikā gives the view of the opponent (Pūrvapakṣa) who asserts the reality of the external objects. The opponent says that all subjective experiences have their ‘cause’ (not ‘reason’) in external objects as otherwise there would exist no variety in experience. Further as no true explanation can be given of the pain and misery we experience, Gauḍapāda refutes the view of the realists with the arguments of the Buddhist idealists in the next Kārikā. Gauḍapāda says: If this be the contention of the opponent that external world or objects create subjective idea, we ask, What causes the external world or objects? The realist cannot point out any such cause. Hence the argument of causality based upon such experience fails. The position is summed up in the statement that the argument of so-called external cause (viz., the external objects) is not valid. A knower of truth does not see any object other than ideas which, being identical with the mind, are the same as the non-dual Brahman. In IV. 28 Gauḍapāda refutes the Buddhist idealists (Vijñānavādins) as well. He quotes the views of the Vijñānavādins for the refutation of the realistic theory of consciousness which is, according to that school of thought, momentary, subject to birth and death and full of misery. He says that those who hold mind to be subject to birth and death, etc., are really like those who seek to trace the foot-prints of birds in the sky. The translation of this Kārikā (IV. 28) as “Those who.... vacuity” given by Prof. Das Gupta, does not seem to be correct.

As we have already stated, Prof. Das Gupta tries to prove that Gauḍapāda has borrowed his ideas from the Buddhist philosophers. His criticism and estimate of Kārikā appear to be prejudiced. Gauḍapāda may have “assimilated all the Buddhist Sūnyavāda and Vijñānavāda teachings,” but this does not prove that he “thought that these hold good of the Ultimate Truth preached by the Upaniṣads.” Madhusūdan Saraswati and Vachaspati Miśra may have assimilated the entire Nyāya system of thought but this does not prove that the Nyāya views hold good of the truth established in the Advaita Siddhi or Bhāmati. Every philosopher, worth the name, studies contemporary systems of thought. He may even borrow some lines of arguments from others for purposes of explanation. Śaṅkara himself has done so. But it is a travesty of truth’ to call Śaṅkara a crypto-Buddhist (Prachchhmna Bauddha), as some of the dualists have done. We have not seen anywhere in the Kārikā Gauḍapāda saying that he is a believer in Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

Granting that Gauḍapāda had “the highest respect for Buddha”, every Hindu and every lover of truth cherishes a similar feeling of the highest regard for the Compassionate One. But this does not prove that they necessarily accept all that Buddha or Buddhism teaches. In fact the Hindus recognised centuries ago and even now recognise Buddha as one of the Avatārs of Viṣṇu like Rāma and Kṛṣṇa. Gauḍapāda does not certainly “incidentally suggest that the great Buddhist truth of indefinable and unspeakable Vijñāna or vacuity would hold good of the highest Ātman of the Upaniṣads.” To assert this is to pervert the real import of the Kārikā. On the other hand, Gauḍapāda emphatically declares (IV. 28) that he accepts the conclusion of the Buddhist Vijñānavādins in order to refute the realist’s contention of the reality of the external objects. But neither the Vijñānavādins nor the Śūnyavādins have got anything to say regarding the non-dual Ātman, which can be realized only through the rigorous pursuit of truth which the Advaita system alone does. Gauḍapāda does not let an opportunity pass without criticising the Mādhyamika view of absolute nihilism. The estimate of Gauḍapāda and his Kārikā as given by Prof. Das Gupta in his History of Indian Philosophy, does not indicate the high watermark of unbiassed judgment.

Prof. Rādhākrishnan gives an estimate of Gauḍapāda’s philosophy in his well-known Indian Philosophy (Vol. II, pp. 452-465). He thinks the use of some words in the

Kārikā is peculiarly Buddhistic. We have answered this point in our criticism of Prof. Das Gupta’s remarks. It may be stated here that it is a favourite method of Gauḍapāda and Śaṅkara to put one school of thought against another and ultimately show the untenability of both. Even the conclusions of the Buddhist philosophers can be found in some place or other of the Upaniṣads. It only proves the fact that at that time certain philosophical terms were the common property of Indian thought in general. One cannot accuse a modern philosopher if he uses the arguments of modern science in order to refute the contentions of his opponents or establish his own position.

Prof. Rādhākrishnan says that both “Bādarāyana and Śaṅkara strongly urge that there is a genuine difference between dream experience and the waking one and that the latter is not independent of existing objects.” According to Gauḍapāda there is no difference between the dream and the waking states from the standpoint of the Ultimate Reality. Thus an attempt is made to point out the difference between Gauḍapāda’s system and that of Śaṅkara. Again it is said that “in Gauḍapāda the negative tendency is more prominent than the positive. In Śaṅkara we have a more balanced outlook.” We disagree with Prof. Rādhākrishnan. In his commentary on Brahma-Sūtras Śaṅkara, no doubt,, makes a distinction between the waking and the dream states. But that is done from the empirical standpoint. We have not seen Śaṅkara anywhere declaring the reality of both the states, from the standpoint of Ultimate Truth. Gauḍapāda also admits the two states of waking and dream on the empirical plane, in which our experiences are associated with external objects and their absence (IV. 87). But the next Kārikā indicates the Ultimate Reality to be that in which there is neither any object, nor the idea of experiencing it. We do not know of any difference between the thoughts of Śaṅkara and Gauḍapāda. Had it been so Śaṅkara would not have written a commentary on the Kārikā. Nowhere in his explanation of the Kārikā does Śaṅkara point out his disagreement with the views of Gauḍapāda. It cannot be said that the views of Śaṅkara as embodied in the commentary on the Kārikā are different from those expounded in the commentaries on the Upaniṣads, the Brahma-Sūtras and the Gītā. Even the acutest critic of Śaṅkara has not been able to point out any inconsistency in the writings of Śaṅkara.

Sir Rādhākrishnan makes the following remarks regarding the philosophy of Gauḍapāda:

“The general idea pervading Gauḍapāda’s work, that bondage and liberation, the individual soul and the world, are all unreal, makes the caustic critic observe that the theory which has nothing better to say than that an unreal soul in trying to escape from an unreal bondage in an unreal world to accomplish an unreal supreme good, may itself be an unreality. It is one thing to say that the secret of existence, how the unchangeable reality expresses itself in the changing universe without forfeiting its nature is a mystery, and another to dismiss the whole changing universe, as a mere mirage. If we have to play the game of life, we cannot do so with the conviction that the play is a show and all the prizes in it are mere blanks. No philosophy can consistently hold such a theory and be at rest with itself. The greatest condemnation of such a theory is that we are obliged to occupy ourselves with objects, the existence and value of which we are continu-ally denying in theory. The fact of the world may her mysterious and inexplicable. It only shows that there is something else which includes and transcends the world; but it does not imply that the world is a dream.”

The main difference between the Advaita and other systems of thought is that the former does not find any reason for believing in the reality of the process of becoming whereas the latter pin their faith to evolution, creation or manifestation as real. Some Advaitic philosophers in order to explain the fact of the manifested manifold (which is perceived) adopt their theory of Vivarta according to which Brahman appears as the world without forfeiting its essential nature. It is like the rope appearing as the snake. Other schools of thought give other explanations of the process of becoming and not one of these explanations can be supported by reason. Gauḍapāda by an irrefutable logic disproves the reality of causation in the fourth chapter of Kārikā, and posits the Ajātavāda according to which Brahman or Reality has never become the universe. No one can ever prove the apparent mystery of one becoming the many, for, the many does never really exist.

Neither Gauḍapāda nor Śaṅkara ignores those who believe in the reality of the external objects or of the manifested manifold on account of their perceiving those objects through the instrumentality of the sense organs or their attachment to the particular avocations of life (IV. 42). They are generous enough to say that any defect that may attach to the belief in the reality of the external objects is not at all serious. If these realists will only pursue truth they will see that to the non-dual Ātman causality or duality can never be applied (IV. 42). The generality of mankind bereft of the power of discrimination is, no doubt, satisfied with empirical experience. Let it do so. But it is the aim of the philosopher that is bent upon the discrimination of the real and the unreal to point out the truth, the Ultimate Reality even if it proves the unreality of the tinsels and baubles of sense-perception. The non-discriminating mind, no doubt, plunges headlong into the play of life taking every experience to be real and takes the prizes of such experience. But it is only a philosophic mind that sees that the so-called play is but an unreal ‘shadow show’ and all the prizes are mere blanks. Is that not also the conviction of all sober-minded persons, when they, in their maturity of thought, take a retrospective view of life?

There are two ways of enjoying a theatrical show. Both spectators and those who take part in the show enjoy it. The actors identify themselves with their respective characters and take the show as real. Therefore they cannot be said to enjoy the show in reality. But the spectators on account of their detached outlook, with their knowledge of the unreality of the show, really enjoy it.

The existence of external objects depends upon the belief that they exist (IV. 75). No one has yet been able rationally to demonstrate that things exist independently of the perceiver’s mind. Even the thing-in-itself of Kant is a mere hypothesis based upon the belief in causality. Kant by making the things-in-themselves which are beyond the categories of time, space and causality, the cause of the phenomena is inconsistent with himself. But, a mere belief in the existence of the external objects, does not prove the reality of their existence. Even in common parlance it is said that all that glitters is not. gold. The ‘hay, wood and stubbles’ of the world, when tested by the fire of the philosopher’s reasoning, are found to be unreal. It is certainly not irrational in a philosopher to pursue truth and to demonstrate that the game of life which he plays is a mere show and that ‘all the prizes in it are mere blanks’. All of us, in a rare moment of discrimination and reflection, realise that ‘the world is a dream’. To our utter disillusionment we ultimately discover that we occupy ourselves with objects the existence and value of which must really be no more than those of appearances. A student must be disappointed if he expects Advaita Vedānta to point out to him the means of enjoying pleasures, which depend upon the subject-object relationship, which is based upon duality of existence. The only aim of Vedānta is to dehypnotise the mind which has been hypnotised into the belief that duality really exists. The only positive satisfaction guaranteed to a Vedāntist is that he will no longer be deluded by ignorance which paints the unreal or the seeming as the real. For, in the language of Śaṅkara, the knowledge of Reality destroys one’s hankering after objects which are unreal just as the knowledge of the mother-o’-pearl (mistaken for silver) removes the delusion regarding the silver. This knowledge may be chimerical to those who are still attached to the tinsels and gew-gaws of the world and the prizes it offers; but it is of supreme value to the seeker of Reality.

Sir S. Rādhākrishnan seems to suggest that Śaṅkara thinks waking experiences to be more real than the dream ones. This view may be true from the non- philosophical standpoint. The distinction between the reality of the waking and that of the dream experiences is said to depend upon the sense-organs apparently indicating reality. We create a false standard of reality in our relative plane of consciousness and thus hold one-set of experiences to be more real than another. But does Śaṅkara say anywhere that waking experiences are-real from the standpoint of the Ultimate Truth? All our experiences, whether waking or dream, are possible-if we believe the act of creation to be real. What is the view of Śaṅkara regarding creation?

When the opponent (Pūrvapakṣin) tries to find inconsistencies in the different accounts of creation given in the Vedas, Śaṅkara says in various places, for instance, in the introduction to the fourth chapter of the Aitareya Upaniṣad as follows:

“Here (i.e., the theories and stories of creation), the only fact intended to be conveyed is the realization of Ātman, the rest is but attractive figure of speech; and this is no fault. It seems to be more reasonable that the Lord, omniscient, omnipotent, did, like a magician, display all this illusion to facilitate explanation or comprehension, inasmuch as stories, although false, are easily understood by all. It is well known that there is no truth to be attained from accounts of creation (as they are false); and it is well established in all the Upaniṣads that the end attained by the conception of the unity of the Real Self is Immortality.”

Does it differ from the views expressed by Gauḍapāda regarding creation? He also says:

“Evolution or creation as described by illustrations of earth, iron, sparks of fire, etc., has another meaning, viz., they are-only the means to the realization of the unity of Existence. There is nothing like distinction (in it)” (III. 15).

Does Vedānta take away from man his zeal for work? Does Vedānta teach pessimism? Many a Western and Eastern critic of the philosophy of Advaita holds that it makes a man only a dreamer, a sky-gazing spectator. This is a wrong interpretation of Vedānta. Vedāntā never teaches one to fly away from the world or to shut himself up in caves and forests. Many a poetic picture has been drawn of the Vedāntic seer living the life of a recluse far away from the maddening crowd of ignoble strife. But this is not true. Śaṅkara, ‘the lion of Vedānta,’ and Swāmi Vivekānanda, ‘the paragon of the Vedāntists’ (as Prof. James of America characterised him) of the modern times, lived in human society and made the mightiest efforts for the uplift of humanity. They dedicated their lives to the amelioration of mankind. Vedānta has nothing to do with pessimism or optimism, or any ‘ism’ for the matter of that. It only teaches Truth. If the realization of Truth stand as an impediment to human progress, then the charge against Vedānta as the enemy of progress may be well justified. Nothing wonderful will happen to the world if the entire mankind be converted to Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam or to any other religion. But assuredly something marvellous will happen if a dozen of men and women pierce the thick walls of the church, temple, synagogue and realize the Truth. Again Truth is no characteristic of a recluse or a misanthrope or a bigoted thinker. The ancient Rishis of the Upaniṣads breathed the free air of Truth, sang the song of freedom and enjoyed the truth of life. Many of their highest teachings were imparted in the crowded courts of kings. The message of the Gītā, the excellent vade mecum of Vedānta, was delivered on the battlefield, where the grimmest realities of life were faced and battles fought. Arjuna after realizing the Vedāntic Truth did not flee away from the world, but girded his loins with fresh vigour and strength to discharge his duty (svadharma). After Śrī Kṛṣṇa had delivered his message, Arjuna said, “Destroyed is my delusion, and I have got back the memory of my real nature through Thy grace, Oh Kṛṣṇa. I am now firm, my doubts are gone. I will carry out Thy word.” Straightway he plunged into the terrible battle of Kurukṣetra and performed his duty.

Renascence of Indian life, in its various aspects, political, social, material, æsthetic and religious, always followed the restoration of the Truth of Advaita to its pristine glory. The Upaniṣads, the Gītā, Buddha, Śaṅkara and Rāmakrshna stand at the crest of the mighty tidal waves of India’s renaissance. And all of them taught the essential truth of Vedānta in different forms.

The greatest tragedy of life is to think that no work is possible without a firm belief in duality and subject-object relationship. Men say that no work is possible without the consciousness of egoism and agency. On the other hand selfishness, sordidness, jealousy, passion, etc., which are manifested in our daily activities, are due to a belief in the reality of the subject-object relationship. The mightiest achievements that have really transformed the fate of humanity have been done by those who have had no thought of their ego. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says in the Gītā, “He who is free from the notion of egoism, whose intelligence is not affected (by good or evil), though he kills these people, he kills them not, nor is bound (by action).” The artist or the musician shows himself at.his best when he feels himself one with his art. Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa never had the idea of agency in the work of his spiritual ministration. He used to say, “Perform your work keeping always the knowledge of Advaita in your pocket;”

Is it possible to do any work which always implies the triad of perceiver, perceived and perception, if one be established in non-dual Brahman? The idea may involve a logical or psychological contradiction, but. this position can be fully justified from the metaphysical or rather, philosophical standpoint. One pursuing Truth disinterestedly, when once established in Truth, can see this world of multiplicity and at the same time know it to be the non-dual Brahman, pure, free, and ever-illumined. A knower of Truth may move and act in the world like an ordinary man. He feels hungry and thirsty. He goes to sleep when tired. He feels compassion for the misery of others and tries his utmost to alleviate it; but at the same time he sees everywhere the non-dual Brahman alone, ever-free and ever-pure., Śrī Kṛṣṇa also says in the Gītā, “The offering is Brahman, the clarified butter is Brahman, in the fire of Brahman offered by Brahman, by seeing Brahman in actions, he reaches Brahman alone” (Gītā, IV. 24). We admit that this position is most difficult to be comprehended by those who are not trained in the pursuit of Ultimate Truth. Truly says Gauḍapāda, “Those few alone are known in the world as of high intellect who are firm in their conviction of the unborn and undivided Brahman. The ordinary people cannot understand them or their action” (IV. 95). He himself characterises the teachings of Kārikā as very deep (atigambhīram) and extremely difficult to be understood (durdarsam) (IV. 100).

The superficial critic often asks how it is possible to apply the teachings of Vedānta to our practical everyday life, if we are taught continually to think of the unreality of the world. How can the truth of non-dual Brahman, as taught by Vedānta, help one to work for individual or collective progress? Vedānta certainly does not help us to bring grist to our individual or national mill. It.certainly does not tell us how to increase our capacity to enjoy the pleasures derived from material objects. But Vedānta really teaches us how to enjoy the world after realizing its true nature. To embrace or comprehend the universe after realizing it as the non-dual Brahman, gives us peace that passeth all understanding. Says the seer in the Iśa Upaniṣad, “All this—whatsoever moves in the earth—should be realized as permeated by the Lord (Ātman). Enjoy (the world) by renunciation (of the illusory names and forms). Covet not anybody’s wealth.” Does Vedānta really ask us to negate the world? Does it really teach us to negate the existing objects? A student of the Kārikā will at once realize that there is nothing to be negated or added. That which exists can never be non-existent. Brahman alone is existent on account of its persistence in all acts of cognition. Names, forms and relations are illusory on account of their changeability and negatability. Vedānta teaches us to realize the world as Brahman and then be one with it. Vedānta teaches us to see Brahman everywhere even in the so-called illusion. An illusion can never be real and it is perceived on account of our ignorance. A Vedāntist does not negate the world which, being Brahman, can never be negated. It only asks the student to know the real nature of the world. A knower of truth, as we have already stated, does his duty or work in the world. But the knowledge of Truth makes all the difference in his attitude towards the world. Where the ignorant person sees non-Brahman, the Jñāni realizes Brahman alone. A Jñāni just exercises his understanding, and then uses the same sense-organs in dealing with the same external objects. He sees everywhere the non-dual Brahman.

One often hears in Europe and America that Vedānta is pantheism or idealism. Many foreign critics characterise Vedānta as illusionism. The critics only look at the Vedāntic truth from the relative standpoint. From the standpoint of the Ultimate Truth Vedānta is not idealism, as it does not see, in the Platonic fashion, the duality of illusory external objects and the reality of ideas. Nor does Vedānta teach, like the Buddhist idealists, that ideas, which alone are real, have birth, death and the characteristics of misery. Vedāntic truth is different from Kantian dualism which makes a distinction between noumena and phenomena. Berkley says that all external objects are but ideas in the perceiver’s mind and God or the cosmic mind sends these ideas. Vedānta says that God is also an idea and the plurality of ideas and their relationship cannot be proved to be real. Vedānta is not certainly pantheism as it does not recognize any God, independent of the Self, who is the universe. Vedānta denies causality from the highest standpoint and thus invalidates the process of becoming. Vedānta, like Hegel, says that Reality is thought but denies the evolution of the Absolute. Bradley says that time, space, or causal relation cannot apply to the Absolute but at the same time he says that the Absolute ‘somehow’ becomes the manifested manifold. Gauḍapāda denies the manifestation, evolution or the becoming of Ātman.

The conclusion of Vedānta can be summed up in four words “All this is Brahman”. Only the non-dual Brahman exists. There is no phenomenal Jīva about whom birth and death can be predicated. If one sees such birth, etc., it is due to his ignorance of the nature of Reality. Again this ignorance is not real (IV. 58), Jīvas are all peace from the very beginning, ever unproduced and indestructible by their very nature, and therefore, eternal and inseparable. All this is unborn and enlightened Brahman (IV. 93). The Jīvas are ever free from any obstruction (as obstruction does not exist) being entirely pure by nature. They are all-right and ever-liberated from the beginning (IV. 98). As Brahman alone exists there is nothing which can be accepted nor anything injurious which can be shunned.

The Teachings of Gauḍapāda can benefit only those that are equipped with the Sādhana Chatushtaya or the fourfold pre-requisites of philosophical discipline, such as discrimination, non-attachment (renunciation), self-control and an irrepressible hankering after the realization of Truth. Any one who undertakes the study of the Kārikā in a dilettante fashion will see in it nothing but confusion and may even be misled. Gauḍapāda has dealt with all the problems of philosophy following the scientific method of the modern times. The careful reader will find in the Kārikā the solution of such outstanding problems of philosophy as perception, idealism, causality, truth, Reality, etc. Every verse of the Kārikā demands profound thinking before it can be understood and appreciated. But people will rather die than think. The glory and value of the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad has been infinitely enhanced by the Kārikā of Gauḍapāda.

We are not aware of any other English translation of the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad with the Kārikā and Shankara Bhashya (commentary) than the one by Manilal N. Dvivedi published in 1894. For the most part the translation is reliable and we have looked into it while preparing our translation. We have felt that exhaustive notes are necessary for the average reader to understand the real import of the Kārikā and Shankara Bhashya (commentary). Therefore we have tried to elucidate Gauḍapāda and Śaṅkara with copious notes.

We are profoundly grateful to Mr. V. Subrahmanya Iyer, the retired Registrar of the Mysore University, for explaining to us the abstruse philosophy of the Kārikā. Mr. Iyer, the courageous thinker, taught us that no philosophy can live to-day in anything but a fool’s paradise, unless it ventures out into the open but biting air of critical reason as natural science does. Philosophy, like science, is vitally concerned with reasoned or rationally demonstrable truth and must not depend upon mere mystic vision or tradition or authority. The seed which ripens into vision may be a gift of the gods but the labour of cultivating it so that it may bear nourishing fruit is the indispensable function of arduous scientific or rational processes of thought. Mr. Subrahmanya Iyer has laid us under an additional debt of obligation by revising the entire book in its manuscript form and agreeing to stand sponsor to it in placing it before the public.

Above all, we cannot adequately express our deep sense of indebtedness to the distinguished Ruler of Mysore, His Highness the Maharaja, Śrī Kṛṣṇarāja Wadiyar Bahadur IV. Not only his philosophic knowledge, but also his philosophic life, has become a household word in the State and throughout India. The days that we spent breathing the spiritual atmosphere created all around by the Temple on the Chamundi Hill, at the foot of which is situated His Highness’s famous and picturesque capital, were among the happiest. His great devotion to Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa, the teacher of Universal Love, lends an additional charm to his life. And we felt that the best way in which we could acknowledge all that we owe to Mysore and its famous Ruler would be to bring out a work of this kind, associating it with the name of the royal Vedāntin, who is himself an ardent admirer of Śrī Gauḍapāda.

Vedānta Society, Providence,
Rhode Island, U.S.A.,
24 th June, 1932.

Swāmi Nikhilānanda.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: