‘pariksya lokan karmacitan brahmanah
nirvedamayad nastyakrtah krtena
tadvijnanartham sa gurumevabhigacchet
samitpanih srotriyam brahmanistham.’
‘May the person with discrimination discover dispassion by examining the experiences gained
through actions and meditation. Moksa, which is not created, cannot be gained through action.
Therefore, to gain the knowledge of Brahman, he must go, with sacrificial twigs in hand, to a
teacher who is well-versed in the scriptures and who has clear knowledge about Brahman.’ (1.2.12)
“Every upanisad is a word mirror which reveals that the one who is looking at it, is the only one
who makes things happen, exist and resolve.”
I have been teaching for a number of years many upanisads but I never attempted to publish a book
on any one of them. To prepare an edited copy from the transcripts of classroom material is a
difficult task. It is so because the textual discussions in the classes imply a lot of topics such
as grammar, bhasya, purva-paksasiddhanta and so on, making the transcript a big potpourri of
different ideas. To bring out these as a readable text with a cogent flow of thought takes a lot
of skill and patient editing on the part of someone who knows the subject matter very well.
The Mundakopanisad is presented as the first book, in the upanisad series by the Arsha Vidya
Research and Publication Trust, Chennai, thanks to the efforts of Sri Swami Sakshatkritananda
Saraswati. With his incredible patience and scholarship, the swami could prepare the manuscripts
leaving nothing to be desired. His services being available for the Publication Trust, we all can
eagerly expect more books of this class.
Among the many upanisads available now, ten are well known since Sankara has commented upon them.
They are Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya and
Brhadaranyaka. These ten upnisads are from the four Vedas. Aitareya appears in Rgveda. Katha and
Taittiriya are from Krsna Yajurveda while Brhadaranyaka and Isavasya are from Sukla Yjurveda. Kena
and Chandogya are from Samaveda. Mundaka, Mandukya and Prasna are from Atharvaveda.
These upanisads are divided into mantropanisads and brahmanopanisads. Mantra means a hymn.
Mantropanisad is in the form of hymns and is proseform and is looked upon as explaining the
mantropanisad. Mundakopanisad is a mantropanisad from the Saunakiyasakha, a recension of Saunaka
In the teaching tradition, Mundakoanisad occupies an important place inasmuch as it covers all the
important topics besides the main topic which every upanisad reveals. It also gains more
importance when we recognize the number of mantras that are often quoted in the traditional
discussions of Vedanta.
This upanisad first reveals how the knowledge .is to be gained through a sampradaya, tradition.
The source of this knowledge is traced to Brahmaji, the creator, who gave this knowledge to his
own son Atharva. From Atharva onwards a lineage is mentioned. The names of the teachers may not be
mentioned but the knowledge unfolded in the upanisad is to be gained only from a teacher, since
the upanisad is always in the form of a teacher-student dialogue.
This upanisad also talks highly about a mumuksu. A mumuksu is a seeker of moksa, freedom. The
desire for moksa is natural to all. It is not a cultivated desire. For instance, a desire for
television is cultivated. If I do not know anything about television I do not desire for one. I
have many such desires that are cultivated. But a desire to eat is not cultivated. It is something
natural. Nobody has to teach me to eat when I am hungry. Even a baby cries when it is hungry. The
urge to eat, to quench thirst are natural urges. So too, the desire for freedom is not cultivated.
Everyone is a mumuksu because everyone has a desire to be free from being small and insignificant.
It is more than a desire; it is an urge. ‘I am sma1l’ is a conclusion and I want to be free from
that conclusion. If that conclusion is real, it is knowledge. If it is knowledge, then ‘I am small
and insignificant’ is a fact. There is no way of freeing myself from being small and
Suppose the sense of smallness is a conclusion that is not real, the truth would just be the
opposite—the truth that I am already free from being small and insignificant and I am the only
significant being in this world. Then the urge to get rid of my sense of insignificance is very
natural. The urge to become significant stems from the notion, ‘I am insignificant.'
In reality if I am insignificant, there is no moksa possible and the urge to become significant
becomes meaningless. A cultivated desire can be meaningless like a desire to go to the sun. Lord
Hanumanji tried once, in vain. It is difficult even to survive the summers in many parts of India
like Rajasthan; what is there to say about approaching the sun? A lame person’s desire to climb
Mount Everest is meaningless; he should give it up, and he can give it up. He can have some other
desires. A deaf person cannot have a desire to become a telephone operator. Such a desire is
meaningless and it can be given up. So you can either dismiss or grow out of cultivated desires.
But if there is a natural urge, you can neither give up nor dismiss it.
To become significant and complete is natural and you cannot dismiss it. If you cannot dismiss it,
the only thing you can do is to fulfil it. We do see in life the available means for fulfilling
the urges that are natural. Hunger is a natural urge and there is a means for fulfilling it; food
is available in the creation. Thirst is a natural urge and there is a means for fulfilling it;
water is available in the creation. The urge to breathe is natural; there is air for fulfilling
When these natural urges can be fulfilled, the fundamental urge t0 become free from being small
and insignificant must have a means 0f fulfillment. The urge to become significant is there in
all; hence there is a lot 0f pressure inside to become different. Everyone wants to be special.
Everyone wants to be loved and wants to be recognised as someone special. In other words, everyone
sets himself or herself up to prove himself or herself to be somebody. It is very natural. One
cannot complain that a person is ambitious. The urge comes from the conclusion that ‘I am small
and insignificant. Being a natural urge, it has a means of fulfillment. But the means that one
follows does not seem to be appropriate because it is never successful.
The pursuit of money and pleasures that one follows does not seem to remove this insignificance
significantly. The more one gains them; more one desires them. Any experience that gives some
pleasure has got to be repeated. If it is repeated then one gets bored. Monotony is the result of
repeated experience of anything. So, one turns one’s attention towards something else. Even if the
pursuit of money and pleasures are fulfilled, one wants something else, like power. One is ready
to spend any amount of money for the sake of power. Mere money alone is not enough. Power seems to
make the person significant. Even if one is a moneyed person without any power, one cannot
We find that the known means that we follow are incapable of fulfilling the fundamental urge. At
the same time, we cannot dismiss it because it has not taken our permission before coming, like
anger. We cannot tell an angry person, "Do not get angry." He will get angrier if he is told so
because he has not decided to be angry. The situation is one of helplessness. Since the urge to
become significant is natural, we cannot dismiss it.
Unless one sees this helplessness, one cannot seek help. People think that they themselves can fix
up problems. They do not seek help when they need to. Their situation is like that of one given to
alcohol. As long as one thinks that one can stop alcohol at any time, one has no way of getting
rid of it. Only when one thinks, ‘I do not have any power over alcohol,’ one has a chance to stop
it. This is the first step. When one discovers that one has no say over alcohol, one will seek
help. Similarly, mumuksutva, the desire for freedom, is also something that is discovered through
a process of discernment. The discernment is, "I cannot fulfil the natural urge to be free from
being small and insignificant with the available means I have, through the gain of ‘what is not
yet gained’ like money, pleasures and so on." If the gain of ‘what is not yet gained’ is not going
to help, then what is the solution? We cannot say there is no solution because the desire to be
free is a natural urge and there must be a way out. Through this kind of reasoning, a person
discovers the desire for freedom and becomes a mumuksu.
What I want is really not ‘a thing’, but freedom. Freedom is not ‘a thing’ just as happiness is
not a thing. Freedom is not available as an object somewhere that I can go and buy or claim.
Freedom is located exactly where bondage is. Bondage is definitely not in my nose or eyes. The
nose is limited. The eyes are limited. But the nose itself does not have a sense of limitation or
a complex. The eyes have no complex. The bondage lies in the conclusion, ‘I am not good, I am not
significant, I am wanting’ and so on. I do not want to be that wanting insignificant person. The
sense of bondage is centred on I. The freedom from this sense does not lie outside the place where
this sense is. One cannot, therefore, pick up freedom by going to a place, like one goes to Nepal
and picks up saligrama, a type of stone, from River Gandaki. The one who considers that to be
freedom is a bound person. He or she continues to be bound. If the sense of bondage is centred on
I, then the freedom also is centred on I. ‘I am bound’ is only a notion because I do not feel
bound in sleep. In a moment of happiness also I do not see myself as ‘I am bound.’ So, there must
be a way out.
If the gain of ‘what is not yet gained’ is not going to make me free from this natural urge to be
free, then one thing is left out. My helplessness is not that bad, really speaking. I do not see
all the doors closed against me. I still find one door open. It can perhaps be the ‘gain of what
is already gained? In that case there is self-disowning. Therefore I need to know myself.
Is there anything like the gain of what is already gained? What is already accomplished can be
accomplished if the accomplished is not known as such. But here the pursuit is entirely different;
it is one of knowing, for which you require a pramana, a means of knowledge.
The means of knowledge at our disposal like senses and mind are good enough for throwing light
upon everything else. But they cannot objectify the atman and know it as purnam brahma. In fact,
Brahman is not sitting upon atman. Brahman is atman. How are you going to know it? It is purely a
recognition, in the form of a vrtti, cognition, born of a means of knowledge. The means of
knowledge that gives rise to this recognition, ‘I am purunam brahma’ are the upanisads. One of
them is Mundakopanisad.
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