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Essence of the Mundakopanishad

by Swami Sivananda


1. The knowledge which is a means to the attainment of the highest Brahman can be attained only by the grace of the preceptor, after one's having renounced all desire and egoism, and having acquired the four means of salvation.

2. Brahman is not grasped by the senses as it is subtle and infinite, but is realised by the intellect purified through knowledge and meditation.

3. The individual soul attains liberation through the knowledge of Brahman.

4. Just as rivers, when flowing into the ocean, become one and the same with it, so also he who knows Brahman becomes identical with Brahman.

5. The fruits of sacrifice are but perishable and transitory.

6. Cultivate discrimination, dispassion, austerity, faith, concentration, love for solitude, for the attainment of immortality and eternal bliss.

7. Seek the knowledge of Brahman from a qualified teacher who is versed in the Vedas (Brahma Stotriya) and is established in Brahman (Brahma-Nishtha).

8. There are two kinds of Vidya Apara (the lower) and the Para (the higher). The former is founded on the four Vedas and the six Vedangas. The latter refers to Brahman which is all-pervading, immortal, indivisible and self-luminous.

9. Just as a spider projects the web out of its body and then again withdraws it into itself, so also Brahman projects this world and then withdraws it into itself.

10. Brahman is a target to be penetrated by meditation on Om.

11. Brahman is the immortal Soul, the one warp of the world and the individual souls, the self-luminous light of the worlds, full of bliss, omnipresent. It is in front, behind, above, below, to the right and to the left, and shines with all splendour in the heart of all.

12. Spiritual discipline, ethical duties and spiritual practices enable the aspirants to attain the knowledge of the Supreme Self.

13. Meditation will help the aspirants to develop dispassion, discrimination, faith, purity, and attain immortality and eternal bliss.

Chapter 1 - Section 1

Knowledge of The Divine Ground

O, Gods! may we, with our ears, hear what is auspicious. O ye, fit to be worshipped! may we, with our eyes see what is auspicious. May we enjoy the life allotted to us by the Gods, offering our praise with our body strong of limb. May Indra, the powerful, the ancient of fame, vouchsafe us prosperity. May he, the nourisher and possessor of all wealth, give us what is well for us. May the lord of swift motion be propitious to us, and may the protector of the great ones protect us, too.

Om Peace ! Peace !! Peace !!!

14. Brahma, the creator and protector of this universe, arose as the first among Gods. He expounded the science of the knowledge of Brahman (Brahma-Vidya), the foundation of all knowledge (all sciences) to Atharvan, his eldest son.

15. Whatever Brahma told Atharvan, that knowledge Atharvan gave to Angir. Angir taught it to Satyavaha of the family of Bharadvaja, and Satyavaha taught to Angiras the knowledge traditionally obtained by the success on of teachers.

16. Saunaka, the great householder, approached Angiras in the manner laid down by the scriptures and questioned; What is that, O Bhagavan, which being known, all this becomes known?

17. Brahman is the cause of this world. By attaining the knowledge of Brahman, the effect, the world, is comprehended.

18. To him (Saunaka), Angiras replied: There are two kinds of knowledge to be acquired. So those who know Brahman (or the Vedas) say,Para and Apara, i.e., the higher and the lower.

19. Para is the knowledge of Brahman.

20. Apara is that which treats of the means and fruits of good and bad actions. The object of the lower science is to show the cause of virtue and vice and their consequences. Apara Vidya is ignorance. It teaches nothing ultimately real. It must therefore be rejected in the end.

21. The lower knowledge is the Rig-veda, the Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Siksha (phonetics), Kalpa (code of rituals), Vyakarana (grammar), Nirukta (etymology), Chhandas (metre) and Jyotisha (astrology). But the higher knowledge is that by which the immortal is known.

22. Brahman can be obtained only by the removal of ignorance.

23. Brahma-Vidya is called Para-Vidya, because it is a help to salvation, it leads to the attainment of the summum bonum.

24. Para-Vidya is the knowledge of the immortal which can be known through the Upanishads.

25. That which cannot be seen or seized, which has no origin, which has no properties, which has neither ear nor eye, which has neither hands nor feet, which is eternal, diversely manifested, all-pervading, extremely subtle and imperishable, the wise regard as the source of all beings.

26. Brahman sees without eyes and hears without ears.

27. Decay is not possible in Brahman, as it is ever full and self-contained.

28. That knowledge by which the immortal Brahman is known is what is called Para-Vidya.

29. The wise are those who are endowed with discrimination.

The Origin of Things

30. As a spider sends forth and draws in its web, as herbs grow from the earth, as hair grows from living man, so this universe proceeds from the immortal (Brahman).

31. Creation is not a real transformation (Parinama) but only a projection of a certain inscrutable, illusory power of Brahman.

32. Just as seeds remain latent underground in winter and burst forth into herbs and plants in the rainy season, so also the Jivas remain latent in Pralaya with their different Karmas as their seeds, and come out at the time of creation as trees of different kinds, but with their roots always in Brahman.

33. By Tapas Brahman swells with the joy of creation, as it were, and from it food is produced; from food the Prana, the mind, the elements, the worlds, Karmas, and also their fruits.

34. The Tapas of Brahman is knowledge as to the manner of creation.

35. This is knowledge of the whole of creation in the ideal form, before it assumes a distinct concrete shape.

36. Tapas denotes reflection on the shape and character of the world which Brahman is about to project.

37. Food is the primal matter.

38. Hiranyagarbha is the common thread-soul of this universe.

39. Karma, with its fruits is an endless chain. As soon as one gets knowledge of Brahman, this chain is broken and all Karmas are burnt by the fire of wisdom.

40. From Brahman who knows all in general and also knows everything in detail, whose penance has the nature of knowledge, is produced this manifestation,name, form and food.

41. Brahman is Sarvajna, i.e., one who knows all things generally, or as a class, all-wise.

42. Brahman is Sarvavit, i.e., one who knows every thing of all, specially or in detail, omniscient.

Chapter 1 - Section 2

An Insight into Karma

43. The sacrificial works which the wise found in the Mantras of the Vedas are true and were much performed in the Treta age. Practise them always diligently and regularly, ye, lovers of Truth. This is your path that leads to the world of good works.

44. One entertains the sublime idea of renunciation, dispassion, discrimination, self-restraint, longing for liberation, etc. only when he has clearly understood the hollow and transitory nature of worldly and heavenly pleasures.

45. When the fire is kindled and the flame begins to move, let the sacrificer offer his oblations with faith, on the two portions of the fire where the ghee should be poured.

46. If a man's Agnihotra sacrifice is not accompanied by the new moon and full moon sacrifices (Darsa and Purnamasa), by the four month's sacrifices (Chaturmasya) and by the sacrifice in the autumnal season (Agrayana), if it is unattended by guests, if it is not done in the proper time or is performed without the rite to the Visvedevas or is not performed according to rule, then it destroys his worlds till the seventh.

47. The seven flickering tongues of the fire are Kali (black one), Karali (terrific one), Manojava (swift as the mind), Sulohita (the deep red), Sudhumravarna (the smoke-coloured), Sphuligini (sparkling) and the Visva-Rupi or the Visvaruchi (having all forms).

48. The seven flames are the seven tongues of the fire.

49. Whoever performs his Karmas (Agnihotra etc.), when these flames are shining and in proper time, then these oblations lead him through the rays of the sun to where the one lord of the Deva dwells.

50. Come hither, come hither, the brilliant oblations say unto him and carry him through the rays of the sun addressing him with the pleasant words of praise; this is the holy world of Brahma gained by thy good works.

51. Perishable and transient, indeed, are the eighteen supporters of the sacrifice, on whom these lower ceremonial depends. Those ignorant persons who delight in this as the highest goal are subject, again and again, to old age and death.

52. The ignorant beings, in the midst of ignorance, but fancying themselves wise and learned, go round and round oppressed and miserable, as blind people led by the blind.

53. Living in various ways, in ignorance, the ignorant imagine that they have obtained their end. Because the performers of work are not wise owing to their passions, they become miserable and, after the fruits of their Karmas are finished, fall from heaven.

54. Knowledge can dawn only when one annihilates desires and attachments.

55. Life in heaven is also impermanent. When the merits of one's deeds are exhausted, he is reborn on earth.

56. One can attain that final liberation or the immortal state only by attaining knowledge of Brahman.

57. These ignorant persons fancying sacrifice and charitable gifts as their highest object, do not know any higher good. Having enjoyed the fruits of their work on the high place of heaven which they gained by their good work, they enter again this world or a lower one.

58. But those who practice penance and faith in the forest, with subdued senses, learning and living the life of a mendicant, living on alms, go, freed from sin, through the sun, to where the immortal and imperishable Purusha dwells.

To The Imperishable

59. Those who worship Saguna-Brahman or the personal God attain gradual emancipation (Krama Mukti). They go to Satya-loka and are finally emancipated at the end of the cycle. Along with Brahma, they merge in the Nirguna-Brahman or the imperishable Absolute, at the end of the cycle.

60. But sages who have attained the knowledge of the Self attain Kaivalya Mukti. They do not go to any Loka or world. Their Pranas, etc. are directly absorbed in Brahman. They become one with the supreme Self. They attain liberation in this very life.

61. Let a Brahmana (an aspirant), after he has examined the worlds gained by Karma, acquire freedom from all desires, reflecting that nothing that is eternal can be gained by Karma. Let him, in order to obtain the knowledge of the eternal take sacrificial fuel (Samit) in his hands and approach that preceptor who is versed in the Vedas and is established in Brahman.

62. To that pupil who has approached him respectfully, whose mind is at rest, and whose senses are subdued, let the wise teacher truly teach that Brahma-Vidya (science of Brahman) through which the one immortal Brahman is known.

63. He who is thoroughly disgusted with this Samsara is alone fit to attain the knowledge of Brahman or Para-Vidya.

Chapter 2 - Section 1

The One Becomes Many

64. This is the truth. As from a blazing fire, sparks, like unto fire, issue forth by thousands, so various Jivas are produced from the Indestructible (Brahman), O beloved youth, and also they return to it,

65. He is very luminous, without form. He is both without and within; unborn, without Prana, without mind, pure and greater than the great, the indestructible one.

66. From Him are born the Prana (life), the mind, the organs, Akasa, the wind, the fire water and the earth which supports all.

67. Fire is His head, His eyes the sun and the moon, the four quarters (or directions) His ears; His speech Vedas disclosed, the wind is His breath. His heart the universe; from His feet comes the earth; He is indeed the inner Self of all beings.

68. The above is a description of the Virat-Purusha who is born of Hiranyagarbha, or the first born.

69. The world is the body of the Lord. From Him is produced the heaven-world which is the first fire, where the fuel is the sun; from moon Parjanya (clouds) as the second fire; from the clouds the herbs that grow on the earth, the third fire; from these man, the fourth fire, sheds semen into woman who is the fifth fire. Thus many living beings are produced from the Purusha.

70. From Him came the Rig, the Sama, the Yayus, the Diksha (initiatory rites), all sacrifices and offerings of animals (Kratus), the fees given to the priests, the year, the sacrificer, and the world in which the moon purifies and the sun shines brightly.

71. From Him also were produced the gods of various orders (celestials), the Sadhyas, men, cattle, birds the Prana and the Apana, rice and barley, truth, penance, devotion, celibacy and law.

72. Tapas or austerity is an indispensable adjunct to Karma. A man with pure heart will perform the Karma very efficiently. Tapas purifies the heart.

73. From Him proceed the seven Pranas (senses), the seven flames, the seven kinds of fuel, the seven oblations, the seven Lokas (worlds) where the Pranas move, resting in the cave of the heart and placed there seven and seven.

74. From Him proceed the oceans and all the mountains and the rivers of every kind; from Him also emanate the annual herbs and the juice by which the inner self (subtle body) exists encircled by the gross elements (Bhutas).

75. The Purusha alone is all this universe, Karma (sacrifice) penance, Brahma, the highest immortal; he who knows this hidden in the cave of the heart, breaks the knot of ignorance even here (on earth), O gentle youth!

76. He who knows that he himself is this Brahman, the highest and the immortal placed in the hearts of all beings, destroys ignorance, attains knowledge of the Self and becomes immortal.

Chapter 2 - Section 2

The Spiritual Hero's Target

77. Bright, near, moving in the cave of the heart, is the great Being, the support of all. In it is centred all that moves, breathes and winks; know this as what is all that has form (gross), and all that is formless (subtle), which is to be adored by all, which is beyond the reach of man's knowledge, and is the highest of all.

78. Knowledge of Brahman is not mere intellectual knowledge. To know Brahman is to become Brahman.

79. Know this Brahman which is beyond the reach of the intellect and senses, through intuition or direct spiritual experience in deep meditation.

80. That which is brilliant, smaller than the small, that on which all the worlds are founded with their inhabitants, is the immortal Brahman. That is the Prana, speech and mind. That is true and immortal. That is to be aimed at, O gentle youth!

81. Having taken the bow supplied by the Upanishads, the great weapon, and fixed in it the arrow sharpened by incessant meditation, and having drawn it with the mind fixed on Brahman, hit, O gentle youth, at that mark, the immortal Brahman.

82. The arrow is the mind which is sharpened or rendered pointed by constant meditation.

83. Fix the arrow in the bow and draw the mind and the senses from their external objects. Then bend it with concentration on Brahman; hit the mark or target, i.e., merge in Brahman through deep meditation.

84. Pranava (Om) is the bow, the self is the arrow, and Brahman is called its aim. It is to be hit by a man who is self-collected (with concentration), and then, as the arrow becomes one with the target, he will become one with Brahman.

85. Just as the bow helps the arrow to enter into the target or marks, so also the repetition or Japa of Om and meditation on Om helps the mind to get itself fixed in Brahman. Therefore Pranava is like a bow.

86. In Him the heaven, the earth, the sky, the mind with the Pranas (senses) are centred. Know Him alone as the Atman of all, and leave off all other speech. This is the bridge to Immortality.

87. He moves about, becoming manifold, within the heart, where the nerves meet like spokes fastened to the nave of a wheel. Meditate on Om as the Self. Blessedness be to you that you may go to the other side beyond darkness.

Realisation and After

88. This Atman which is omniscient, which knows everything in detail, whose glory is manifested in this world, is placed in the ether, in the bright city of Brahman. It is of the nature of the mind and becomes the guide of the life and the body. It subsists in food, in close proximity to the heart. The wise behold with the aid of their supreme knowledge the Atman which shines forth full of bliss and is immortal.

89. The knot of the heart is broken, all doubts are solved, and all Karmas perish, when he who is both high and low is beheld.

90. There are three kinds of Karmas, viz., Sanchita (accumulated works) Prarabdha and Agami or Kriyamana (current works done in this present life, which will bear fruit in future lives).

91. Prarabdha is the name given to the effects of one's works which brought about this birth which have already begun to germinate and bear fruit in this life.

92. This world itself is the manifestation of the Lord's Glory.

93. Only when one attains Self-realisation are the Sanchita and Agami destroyed. Prarabdha still remains. It must be worked out or enjoyed. It must be exhausted by actual knowledge of the Atman.

94. Only on account of Prarabdha does this body continue to exist even after the attainment of the knowledge of the Atman.

95. The body will fall only when the Prarabdha is completely exhausted.

96. The potter stops rotating the wheel but the wheel will continue to revolve on account of the momentum of the force previously given by the potter. Even so, this body continues to function on account of the force of Prarabdha which has already begun to operate.

97. You cannot withdraw the arrow that has already been discharged. It must work on. Even so is this Prarabdha.

98. When Brahman is realised as I am He one attains liberation, ignorance, the cause of Samsara being destroyed.

99. In the inner most golden sheath there is the Brahman without stains and without parts. That is pure. That is the Light of lights. That is what the knowers of the Atman know.

100. Just as the sheath envelops the sword, so also the five sheaths envelop the soul. So man is not able to behold the Atman. These sheaths stand as veils between man and the soul.

101. The light of the Atman is the highest light which is not illumined by other lights. The Atman or Brahman is self-luminous.

102. Those persons whose minds are impure, whose vision is of an objective nature, cannot know or realise this Atman.

103. The sun does not shine there, nor do the moon and the stars, nor these lightnings, and much less this fire. When He shines, everything shines after Him. By His light all this is illumined.

104. That immortal Brahman is before, that Brahman is behind, to the right and to the left, below and above, all-pervading. Brahman alone is all this. It is the highest.

Chapter 3 - Section 3

Jiva and Isvara

105. Two birds, inseparable companions, dwell upon one and the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit, the other one looks on without eating.

106. The two birds are Jiva (the individual soul) and Isvara (the Lord).

107. Having known Truth thus, one goes beyond death. There is no other road to salvation.

108. The Jivatman is limited by Avidya or ignorance. Therefore, he is bound by body, mind and work.

109. The Lord is conditioned by Maya, but Maya is under His control. Therefore, He is free, omnipotent and omniscient.

110. Tree here means the body. A tree can be cut or destroyed. The body also can be cut or destroyed. So the body is compared to a tree.

111. The reflection of the Parmatman in the mind-mirror is the Jivatman or the individual soul.

112. The Jiva tastes, from ignorance, the fruits of his Karmas, viz. happiness and misery.

113. The Atman is always the silent witness. It is non-doer or non-enjoyer. Enjoyment and agentship are superimposed on the Jiva by the mind.

114. When ignorance is destroyed, when the heart is purified, when knowledge of the Self dawns, the knots of the heart are rent asunder, all Karmas perish, the ideas of doer and enjoyer are annihilated. One becomes identified with the supreme Self and attains liberation.

115. Being seated on the same tree, the Jiva immersed in ignorance, and deluded, grieves, on account of helplessness. But when he sees the other, the Lord who is adored by all, and His glory, then he becomes free from grief.

116. When the seer beholds the golden coloured (self-effulgent) creator of the world, the Lord, the Purusha, the source of Brahma, then that wise one shakes off good and evil, becomes stainless and attains supreme equality.

117. This is verily, Prana, i.e., the Lord shining forth in all living beings. The wise one who thus knows does not talk of anything else. He sports in the Self, he delights in the Self, and performing his works, he is the greatest among the knowers of Brahman.

Auxiliaries to Wisdom

118. The realisation of Brahman as the one common consciousness in all beings, the knowledge of the Atman alone, is real wisdom.

119. This Atman is to be verily obtained by the constant practice of truth, penance, perfect knowledge and by abstinence. He whom the sinless behold, is the pure and effulgent, within the body.

120. Tapas is concentration. Concentration of the mind is the highest Tapas, because withdrawing the mind and the senses from the external objects and concentrating it on the Atman is the most difficult form of austerity.

121. Aparoksha Jnana or Anubhava is direct perception of the Atman through intuition. This is the highest spiritual experience.

122. Truthfulness, penance, continence are accessories to meditation. Meditation leads to direct or intuitive knowledge.

123. This Atman cannot be attained by an occasional practice of truth. Tapas, constant practice, is necessary.

124. Truth alone triumphs, and not falsehood. By truth is opened Devayana or the path of the Devas, by which the sages satisfied in their desires proceed to where there is that highest place of the True One.

125. Brahman is Truth. Brahman is to be attained or known by speaking truth.

126. Truth is the most important discipline in the spiritual path. It widens and opens the divine path.

127. That (true Brahman) shines forth, vast, divine, inconceivable, subtler than the subtle. It is far and yet near here, and seen, fixed in the cave of the heart, by the wise.

128. As Brahman is all-pervading, it is both far and near.

129. Brahman is not grasped by the eye, nor by the speech, nor by the other senses, nor by penance, nor by good works. When a man's mind is purified by the serene light of knowledge, then alone he beholds the invisible Brahman, by meditation.

130. Brahman cannot be seen by the physical eyes, because it is formless and exceedingly subtle.

131. This subtle Atman is to be known by the mind as being in the body, wherein Prana, fivefold divided, entered. The mind of every creature is pervaded by Pranas. When the mind is purified, then the Atman shines by itself.

132. A man of purified mind gains that world and those desires which he imagines in his mind. Therefore, let a man who is desirous of prosperity (happiness) worship him who knows the Atman.

133. The Jivanmukta who identifies himself with the all-pervading Atman obtains whatever worlds or objects he longs for, either for himself or for others, because he is the Atman of all.

Chapter 3 - Section 4

The Final Freedom

134. One should know this Supreme Brahman, the place where all this universe rests and which shines brightly. The wise, who, free from desires, worship that Person, transcend this seed (are not born again).

135. He who forms desires in his mind is born, again, through his desires, here and there. But to him, whose desires are fulfilled, and who has realised the Atman, all desires vanish, even here on earth.

136. He who wishes to attain the final emancipation must renounce all desires. This is the first step in the spiritual path.

137. Aparoksha Brahma-Jnana or direct Self-realisation is the only means for the entire annihilation of all desires. When desires are destroyed, one is freed from future births.

138. The desires goad a man to do good and bad deeds. He is caught in the wheel of Karma or the net of Maya. He has to take births after births to enjoy the fruits of his actions.

139. He who has attained Self-realisation is absolutely free from all desires, because the Atman is all-full, and self-contained. He enjoys eternal bliss, everlasting peace and supreme satisfaction. How can desires enter the mind of such an exalted person who is ever drinking the nectar of immortality?

140. All the desires that prompt him to perform good and bad actions are totally destroyed, even while his body lasts. Desires cannot spring up in him, because the cause of their rising, viz., ignorance, is annihilated in toto.

141. This Atman cannot be obtained by much study of the Vedas or by intelligence or by much learning. He whom the Self chooses, by him the Self can be gained. To him this Atman reveals its true nature.

142. There is no gain greater than the attainment of Self-realisation.

143. Self-realisation is the highest object of human desire.

144. One should thirst for final emancipation. One should have a burning yearning for attaining Brahman. He should long for Self-realisation whole-heartedly. He should earnestly seek to know that, after renouncing everything else. Then alone can he attain Brahman.

145. Just as a pot reveals its form in the presence of light, so also this Atman, which is concealed by ignorance, reveals its true nature when one attains knowledge.

146. When ignorance is dispelled, the Atman which is already shining in the heart reveals itself.

147. Moksha is not a thing to be achieved. It is not something produced. It is already there. One has to know Brahman, by dispelling ignorance, as his own inner Self.

148. Brahman is not a thing to be brought from some place. It is the life of life. He ever dwells in the heart of all beings. It is the soul of all beings. The only effort is to remove the veil of ignorance. When the veil is removed, the self-luminous Brahman shines forth by itself.

149. The Atman cannot be attained by one who is destitute of strength or is without earnestness or by mere penance without significance. But if a wise man strives after it, by those means, then his Self enters into Brahman.

150. Mere physical strength alone is not sufficient. Physical, mental and moral strength is necessary.

151. The aspirant should have power of endurance, fortitude, faith, self-reliance, courage, mental vigour, patience, etc. Then alone will he be able to bear the difficulties on the path and conquer obstacles. Then alone will he not be affected by failures.

152. When the sages have attained the Atman, they become satisfied with their knowledge, their purpose is fulfilled, become free from desires, and are tranquil. Having attained the all-pervading Atman on all sides, they, devoid of it enter into everything.

153. Having, without doubt, well ascertained the import of the knowledge of Vedanta, and having purified their minds by the Yoga of renunciation, the anchorites attain the world of Brahman, and at the time of death become fully liberated.

154. Just as the footmarks of birds in the air, and of aquatic animals in water, are not visible, so the track of the Jivanmukta is not seen.

155. He does not go by any road. His Prana is directly absorbed in Brahman.

156. Their (of the liberated ones) fifteen Kalas (parts) enter into their elements, their Devas into their corresponding Devas. Their deeds, and their Self full of knowledge, become all one in the highest and imperishable Brahman,

157. Just as flowing rivers disappear in the sea, losing their names and forms, so also a seer freed from names and forms, goes to the Divine Person who is greater than the great.

158. He who knows the highest Brahman becomes even Brahman. In his line no one who does not know Brahman will be born. He overcomes grief, good and evil, and being freed from the fetters of the heart, becomes Immortal.

159. Let one teach this knowledge of Brahman to those only who perform the Karma enjoined, who are versed in the Vedas, and firmly established in the Brahman (lower), who, endowed with full faith, offer oblations, themselves, to the fire called Ekarshi, and who perform the vow called Sirovrata (who carry fire on the head) according to the rule (of the Atharvanas).

160. No one who has not observed the vow should study this. This is the truth. Rishi Angirasa declared thus to Saunaka and other disciples in ancient times. Prostrations to the great Rishis; prostrations to the great Rishis.

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