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The Mandukya Upanisad with Gaudapada's Karika and Sankara's (Shankaracharya) Commentary

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The Mandukya Upanisad with Gaudapada's Karika and Sankara's (Shankaracharya)  Commentary
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The Mandukya Upanisad with Gaudapada's Karika and Sankara's (Shankaracharya) Commentary

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Item Code: IDF844
Author: Swami Nikhilananda
Publisher: Advaita Ashram
Language: English
Edition: 2019
ISBN: 9788175050228
Pages: 320
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 7.0" X 4.7"
weight of the book: 250 gms

In 1936, Sri Ramakrishna’s first birth centenary was observed all over the world. On that memorable occasion, several centres of the Ramakrishna Order brought out many publications, including translations of the sacred Upanisads. One such was this dukyopanisad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Sankara’s commentary, translated and annotated by the well-known learned monk, Swami Nikhilananda of the Ramakrishna Order, of revered memory, with a scholarly Foreword by the great philosopher, the late V. Sub- rahmanya Iyer, and published by Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, My sore. During this half a century, the book has undergone five editions.

The copyright of the book was made over to Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, in 1983. We are grateful to Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore, for this gesture. It gives us great pleasure now to publish the sixth edition of the book and place it in the hands of the lovers and students of the Upanisadic lore. May the incomparable spiritual knowledge and profound philosophy contained in this smallest of the ‘major or principal Upanisads’ spread far and wide is our earnest prayer and wish.



The unique feature of Mandukya lies in this that while all the other Upanisads deal with the several phases of Vedanta, such as Religion, Theology, Scholasticism, Mysticism, Science, Metaphysics and Philosophy, Mandukya deals exclusively with Philosophy, as defined by the most modem authorities. The three fundamental problems of philosophy, according to this special treatise are, (1) the nature of the external (material) and the internal (mental) worlds; (2) the nature of consciousness; and (3) the meaning of causality. Each of these subjects is dealt with in a chapter. The first chapter sums up the whole at the very commencement. There is nothing more for philosophy to do. While it shows how the most advanced modern sciences and modern philosophies are approaching its conclusions, it gives to the world of our own times its central doctrine that partial data give partial truth, whereas the totality of data alone gives perfect truth. The ‘Totality’ of data we have only when the three states of waking, dream and deep-sleep are coordinated for investigation. Endless will be the systems of philosophy, if based on the waking state only. Above all inasmuch as this philosophy holds that mere ‘satisfaction’ is no criterion of truth, the best preparation for a study of Vedanta Philosophy is a training in scientific method, but with a determination to get at the very end : ‘ To stop not till the goal (of Truth) is reached.



No one that knows anything of the philosophy of the Upanisads can be said to be ignorant of the place that Mandukya Upanisad with its Karikas occupies in it. If a man cannot afford to study all the hundred and more Upanisads, it will be enough, it is declared in the Muktikopanisad, it he reads the one Upanisad of Mandukya, since, Sankara also says, it contains the quintessence of all of them. Thoroughly to grasp the philosophy taught in Mandukya, one needs 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 Swami Nikhilanandaj’s most valuable publication it was not because I had. Any thought that this well known and learned author of the translations of Vedantasara and Drg- Drsys-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 Gaudapada, not among religionists, theologians, scholastics or mystics but among philosopher’s.

In what high regard he is held by the Vedantins 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 Sri Saccidananda Sivabhinava Narasimha Bharati Swami of Sringeri, who introduced me to the study of the Karikas, at whose feet I had the inestimable privilege of sitting as a pupil. Here, a short account of my first lesson in Gaudapada may not be considered irrelevant by the reader. The very first day I paid my respects to the Swami 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 Swami 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 he so with the early or intermediate stages in philosophy. But Vedanta, 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 Vedanta, if the Swami would be so gracious as to introduce me to a Vedantin, 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 Gaudapada, Karikas II—1, I1I-l7 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 Sankara’s teacher’s teacher, Sri Gaudapada says in his Karikas.’

The other eminent personage to whom I owe most of my effort to make a critical study of Gaudapada is His Highness the Maharaja of Mysore, Sri Krsnaraja Wadiyar Bahadur IV. His profound and extensive knowledge of philosophy and particularly his high regard for Mandukya Upanisad and the Karikas, 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 mc to the necessity of ascertaining how far Gaudapada’s views are of value from the standpoint of the student of Western science and philosophy and how far the ancient Vedanta could stand the {ire 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. Krsnasvami Iyer, the Vedantin of Bangalore, and to those Swamis of the Sri Ramakrsna 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 Gaudapada for a time I turned to the Upanisad and to Brahma-Sutras as interpreted by Sankara, under the Sringeri Swami’s invaluable guidance. I have now for more than forty years read and re-read them in the light of the Swami’s teachings and I find that Vedanta 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 Gaudapada anticipated what science is just beginning to guess in regard to ‘causal’ relation without a knowledge of which Vedanta 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.

Vedanta in its highest, that is its philosphic, 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 Upanisads 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. Gaudapada and Sankara 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. Gaudapada 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 Upanisads hold that unless the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep be coordinated, 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 Vedanta, 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 Gaudapada could be fairly appreciated even without such background, yet, his commentator Sankara and his followers cannot be fully comprehended without a previous acquaintance with the several systems of Indian thought. Swami Nikhilanandaji has there- lore furnished valuable notes to make such matters clear. Ono 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 Karikas, 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’ lie confined to percepts, Gaudapada 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 Gaudapada’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 relation• ship, in what is Ultimate Truth. Nor does he admit ‘Satisfaction’ (Anandam) to be a test of it.

Another important feature is that he is a thinker of the most rational type, which Sankara’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 Gaudapada and Sankara, 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 Vedanta as ignores any part or parts, is no Vedanta. In fact it employs the scientific method more rigorously than modern science does. Gaudapada and Sankara’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).

Gaudapada is little known in the West. There is not the least doubt that his work will open new vistas of thought In Western enquiries 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. Il 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 dhira (hero).

Much less does the West know of Gaudapada’s method of complete eradication of ‘Eg0’ 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-his just becoming alive. Swami Vivekananda says, ‘Can anything be attained with any shred of "I" left? ’ And Sri Sankara 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 mom 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 indispens- able 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 Sri Krsna says in the Bhagavata:
‘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 the teachings of Hindu Philosophy here is found in the following prayer of the great Sri Ramakrsna 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 Swamiji 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 Sri Gaudapada, the first Vedantic philosopher, known to Indian history in what is said to be the post Upanisadic or modern period.



THE Mandukya Upanisad; like Mundaka, Prasna and some minor Upanisads, forms part of the Atharva Veda. It is one of the shortest of the ten principal Upanisads. Gaudapada has written two hundred and fifteen verses known as the Karika to explain the Upanisad and Sankara has written a commentary on both the Upanisad and the Karika. Anandagiri in his Tika explains at greater length Sankara's commentary.

The Mandukya Upanisad, like other Upanisads, dis- cusses the problem of Ultimate Reality. The knowledge of Brahman or Atman, the goal of existence, is its theme. Unlike most of the Upanisads, 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 Vedanta to arrive at Reality is what is known as 'Vicara'. This Upanisad also follows the same method. In the first place Atman is associ- ated with the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, and, then, these states are shown to merge in Turiya or the Ultimate Reality. And in the sequel it is pointed out that the non-dual Atman 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 Upanisad.

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 Mandukya Upanisad as well as the other Upanisads 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 casual 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 Upanisad and followed by Gaudapada for arriving at Reality is to analyse our experience. Through the contempla- tion of the three sound symbols as the three states, the student, endowed with the mental and moral qualifications required for the understanding of Vedanta, is helped to reach the Ultimate Reality.

The Karika of Gaudapade is divided into four chapters (prakaranas) : (1) Agama (Scripture), (2) Vaitathya (the illusoriness of self-experiences), (3) Advaita (non-duality), (4) AlataAanti (the quenching of the fire-brand). The first chapter deals with the problem of Reality from the stand- point of the Vedas. The three subsequent chapters demonstrate the same truth by means of reason.

Sankara, who has commented only on Vedantic works of the most authoritative character, such as Gita, the Upanisads and the Sutras, has deemed it necessary to write a commentary on Gaudapada'a Karika. This indicates the supreme -import- ance and value of this treatise to the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.

Who was Gaudapada? Tradition makes him the teacher of Govinda who was the teacher of Sankara. It is said that Gaudapada wrote, besides the Karika on Mandukya Upanisad, commentaries on the Samkhya system and Uttara Gita. But there does not exist much evidence to support it. Anandagiri says in his Tika on Sankara's commentary on the Karika (4-1) that Gaudapada performed great austerities in the Badarikasrama, in the interior of the Himalayas, in order to propitiate Narayana who is worshipped there as the God-Man. Narayana being pleased with his devotion revealed to him the secret of the Advaita Vedanta. Gaudapada salutes this Narayana in the opening verse of the fourth chapter of the Karika. In the face of the controversy regarding the date of Sankara, the date of Gaudapade, cannot be definitely fixed. The generally accepted date of Sankara's birth, one agreed to by Bhandarkar, Pathak and Deussen, 788 A.D. is not free from objections. According to Swami Prajnanananda Sarasvati and a few other scholars, SaTikara flourished before Christ. Some eminent scholars, by an examination of the literary style of Sankara 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 Gaudapada, is the solitary philosopher, known to us, who, before Sankara, gave a rational explanation of the Advaita Vedanta which is the objective of the Upanisadic teachings.

Even the sutras of Badarayana are not free from a priori reasoning, that is, reasoning conditioned by the tradition and the authority of the Scriptures. It is only Gaudapada that has successfully demonstrated in his Karika that the non-dual Atman declared in the Upanisads 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. Gaudapada, 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 sruti is to establish the non- dual Atman 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 Vedas. Sankara refers to this in his commentary on the first verses of the last three chapters of the Karika.

Here, we deem it necessary to review some of the obser- vations of the latest among well-known authors. Professor S. N. Das Gupta, M.A., ph.n., in his celebrated work, A History of Indian Philosophy (pp. 423-29) regarding Gaudapada and his philosophy writes: 'Gaudapada thus flourished after all great Buddhist teachers Asvaghosa, Nagarjuna, Asanga and Vasubandhu, and I believe that there is sufficient evidence in his Karikas for thinking that he was posibly himself a Buddhist and considered that the teachings of the Upanisads tallied, with those of Buddha. Thus at the beginning of the fourth chapter of his Karika he says that he adores that great man (dvipadam 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 (Asparsa Yoga-probably referring to Nirvana) 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 (avivadah, aviruddhaSca). . .. In IV. 19 of his Karika, he again says that the Buddhas have shown that there is no coming into being in any way (sarvatha buddhai- rajati paridipitah,). Again in IV. 4, 2 he says that it was for those realists (vastuvadis), since they found things and could deal with them and were afraid of non-being, that the Buddha had spoken Of origination (jati). In IV. 90 he refers to Agrayana, which we know to be a name of Mahayana. Again, in IV. 98 and 99, he says that all appearances are 'pure and vacuous' by nature. These the Buddha, the emancipated one (mulkta) and the leaders know. It was said by Buddha that all appearances were knowledge. He then closes the Karikas with an adoration which in all probability also refers to the Buddha ..... Gaudapada 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 Gaudapada says that truth is like the void (Akasa) 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 Akasa. . .. He should awaken the mind (citta) into its final dissolution. . .. All the Dharmas (appearances) are without death or decay. Gaudapada then follows a dia- lectical form of argument which reminds us of Nagarjuna .... All experiences (prajnapti) are dependent on reasons, for other- wise both would vanish. . .. When we look at all things in a connected manner they seem to be dependent, but when 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 Madhyamika doctrines, as found in the NagurJuna Karikas and Vijnanavada doctrines as found in Lankavatara, that it is needless to attempt to prove it. Gaudapade, assimilated all the Buddhist Sunyavada and Vijnanavada teachings and thought that these hold good of the ultimate truth preached by the Upanisads. 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 Vijnana or vacuity would hold good of the highest Atman of the Upanisads and thus laid the foundation of a revival of the Upanishadic 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 Karika, without attach- ing any value to the commentary of Sankara or the tika of Anandagiri and it is clear from the point of view of Prof. Das Gupta that Sankare, has failed to understand the sense of the Karika. This attempt of Prof. Das Gupta to interpret the Karika according to his own view is no doubt responsible for ascribing to Gaudapada the views which, according to us, he never seems even to have dreamt of cherishing. Prof. Das Gupta tries to prove that Gaudapada 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.




Foreword i-viii
Preface ix-xxxv
Vedic Invocation 1-5
Chapter I Agama Prakarana 7-85
Chapter II Illusion 86-135
Chapter III On Advaita 136-211
Chapter IV Quenching of Fire-Brand 212-313
The Concluding Salutation by Sri Sankaracarya 314-315
Index 316-320


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