Parã vidyã (त्व्परा विद्या’), or brahmavidyã (त्व्ब्रह्मविद्या’) is the means to ultimate liberation. Everything is included in brahmavidya. All vidyãs are known by knowing it. Therefore, when a disciple named Shaunak asked, ‘कस्मिन्नु भगवो विज्ञाते सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवतीति’– ‘Kasminnu bhagavo vignãte sarvamidam vignãtam bhavateeti’ – ‘By knowing which vidyã does one know everything?’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/1/3). Replying with the words, ‘अथ परा’ – ‘Atha parã’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/1/5), Maharshi Angirã revealed brahmavidyã as the answer. Moreover, he defined brahmavidyã saying, ‘येनाऽक्षरं पुरुषं वेद सत्यं प्रोवाच तां तत्त्वतो ब्रह्मविद्याम्’ – ‘Yenã’ksharam Purusham veda satyam provãcha tãm tattvato brahmavidyãm’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/2/13). Meaning, that by which both entities, Aksharam, i.e., Aksharbrahman, and Purusham, i.e., Purushottam, are known is called brahmavidyã. He also explained in great detail the forms, characteristics, powers and other qualities of the two divine entities, Akshar and Purushottam, mentioned in the definition of brahmavidyã. This has been described in the previous two articles of this series.
Nevertheless, it is not enough to be satisfied with just information on parã vidyã or brahmavidyã, i.e., the forms of Akshar and Purushottam. This would just be aparã vidyã in the name of parã vidyã. Therefore, so that we understand this parã vidyã in its true sense, Maharshi Angirã reveals something of great importance.
The Door to Brahmavidyã:
Surrenderance to the Guru
‘Guru’ – an eternal word of Sanatana Hindu dharma. A word of great significance that reflects the Sanatana Hindu tradition. In the Mundaka Upanishad, the guru has been described as the door to realizing brahmavidyã.
‘O Shaunak,’ said Angirã muni, त्व्तद्विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगत्व्छेत्’ – ‘Tadvignãnãrtham sa gurumevãbhigachchhet’ – ‘In order to realize that brahmavidyã, one must go to the guru’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/2/12). This statement by Angirã is the life-line of spiritual endeavour. It is not a merely a suggestion to surrender to the guru; it is an order, a command. The technique for unravelling the profound secrets of all the shastras is included in this command. Let us try to understand this matter in depth.
First of all, in this statement ‘Tadvignãnãrtham sa gurumevãbhigachchhet’, Angirã muni has very cleverly used the word ‘eva’. By this one word ‘eva’ he has told us two special things. ‘Eva’ is used in the definitive sense of the word, for example, ‘you must do this’, meaning that it is compulsory; or ‘you will surely attain happiness’, meaning that you will definitely become happy. Here too, in the above sentence, ‘eva’ exhibits two unique and remarkable meanings.
Firstly, in order to realize brahmavidyã‘अभिगत्व्छेद् एव’ – ‘abhigachchhed eva’ – one ‘must go’ to the guru. There is no other way. Gnãn (wisdom) cannot be attained by oneself. You have to go somewhere.
Moreover, the second intention is‘गुरुम् एव अभिगत्व्छेत्’ – ‘Gurum eva abhigachchhet’ – ‘Only a guru’ can be approached in order to attain gnãn; one cannot go elsewhere. The world consists of people of various backgrounds, intellects, thoughts and experiences. In fact, they do not just vary, they may even conflict. So on whom do we base our decisions? This Upanishad brings to our attention that we should not go just anywhere, but we have to go to the guru.
Furthermore, this is not just an order to merely go – ‘gachchhet’, but to go well and entirely – ‘abhigachchhet’. The purpose is not just to linger around the guru, but to truly associate with him. To explain this with an analogy: holding a sweet in one’s hand is equivalent to lingering, but eating it is true association. Angirã Rushi reveals this secret later on too.
The Charactersitics of the Guru
If surrendering to the guru is the lifeline of spiritual endeavour, then it is also necessary to decide who that guru is, and what he should be like. It is not an easy matter to lead someone to realize brahmavidyã. This is not even in the capability of a normal person. Not just anyone can become a guru for brahmavidyã. So who is that guru? What are his characteristics? These questions have also been answered by Angirã Rushi. Angirã says, “O Shaunak! The guru worthy of surrendering to should be श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्म निष्ठम्’ – ‘Shrotriyam Brahma nishtham’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/2/12). ‘Shrotriyam’ means that he should know the essence of all the shastras. This is not about being a storehouse of information, but about having experience. This is not just about knowing, but about practicing. Only one who lives according to that gnãn can be the guru. That guru should be ‘Brahma’ – Aksharbrahman himself – as well as ‘nishtham’ – he should have staunch conviction in Paramãtmã and should be solely engrossed in bhakti (devotion) towards Paramãtmã. In the Bhagavad Gitã, such a guru has been referred to as ‘उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदíशनः’ – ‘Upadekshyanti te gnãnam gnãninastattvadarshinaha’ – ‘wise and seer of the entities’ (Gitã: 4/34).
Singing the praises of the guru, the form of Brahman, Maharshi Angirã says,‘यः सर्वज्ञः सर्वविद् यस्यैष महिमा भुवि’ – ‘Yaha saravagnaha sarvavid yasyaisha mahimã bhuvi’ – ‘This brahmaswarup guru is all-knowing; he knows everything firsthand. He is educated in everything; he has all vidyãs at his fingertips. Such is the extent of his divine glory.
Our knowledge is limited. How can we experience everything firsthand? Our mundane senses cannot exceed their limits. They can also be mistaken. Moreover, there is much that is not perceivable to us, and thus has become known to us by assumption or by being told. This is not the case for Aksharbrahman, due to the grace of Paramãtmã his knowledge is all-encompassing, eternally proficient, firsthand, unmistaken, pure and precise. “Therefore, O Somya! This Aksharbrahman is ‘वरेण्यं परं विज्ञानाद् वरिष्ठं प्रजानाम्’ – ‘Varenyam param vignãnãd varishtham prajãnãm’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/2/1).” Meaning, all those entangled in the net of mãyã should take his refuge. They should make him their guru. They should pray to him.
Thus, having discussed the divine characteristics of the guru who makes us realize brahmavidyã, he then explains the method in which one should surrender to him.
The Method of Surrendering to the Guru
The unique method for a disciple wanting to attain knowledge to surrender to the guru is well-established in our shastras. Here, words such as ‘समित्पाणिः’ – ‘samitpãnihi’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/2/12) and ‘प्रशान्तचित्ताय शमान्विताय’– ‘prashãntachittãya shamãnvitãya’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/2/13) have been used to show his method.
Samitpãnihi means one must go to the guru with samidh in hand. Samidh is fire-wood used in yagnas. A disciple obtains this samidh from the jungle. This represents the spirit of seva (service). If a disciple wants to attain knowledge, his first duty is to humbly and enthusiastically serve the guru. If he is lazy and arrogant, he will not attain knowledge even if he stays with the guru.
‘Prashãntachittãya’ means stability of mind and inner satisfaction. What can a wavering mind grasp? Nothing is understood if the mind is agitated. To attain knowledge we must focus our minds and serve the guru.
‘Shamãnvitãya’ means control of the senses, forgoing unnecessary or unsuitable pleasures. The eyes do not see the unsuitable. The ears do not see the unsuitable. The tongue does not speak the unsuitable nor eat the uneatable. The skin does not touch the unsuitable. The nose does not smell the unsuitable. They only partake what is necessary and suitable, and only to the extent that is necessary and suitable, anything else is relinquished. If one tries to control all the senses in this way, then one can hear, understand and imbibe the precepts given by the guru. On the other hand, uncontrolled senses have a tendency of remaining submerged in pleasures. Therefore the realization of brahmavidyã is far away for those who are controlled by their senses.
Thus, he explains the obligation of a disciple who has surrendered to the guru. He then explains what our relationship with that guru should be like and how we should associate with the guru.
Association with the Guru
Surrenderance! Surrenderance by mind, speech and actions – this is the true way of surrendering to the guru. It is not enough to merely go to him or sit near him physically. One has to surrender and become engrossed. Angirã explains this principle with a nice metaphor. He says, ‘तदेतद् अक्षरं ब्रह्म स प्राणस्तदु वाङ् मनः। तदेतत् सत्यं तद् अमृतं तद् वेद्धव्यं सो य! विद्धि॥’ – ‘Tadetad Aksharam Brahma sa prãnastadu vãng manaha, tadetat satyam tad amrutam tad veddhavyam Somya! viddhi.’ – ‘O Somya! That immortal and ever-existing Aksharbrahman is our life, our mind, our all. This is the absolute truth. Therefore we should penetrate through to him (veddhavyam), i.e., make him our goal and attain him. Therefore, make him your goal and obtain him (viddhi)’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/2/2). He then explains the method of attaining that goal. ‘प्रणवो घनुः शरो ह्यात्मा ब्रह्म तल्लक्ष्यमुत्व्यते। अप्रमत्तेन वेद्धव्यं शरवत् तन्मयो भवेत्’ – ‘Pranavo dhanuhu sharo hyãtmã Brahma tallakshyamuchyate, apramattena vedhavyam sharavat tanmayo bhavet’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/2/4). Pranava means Aum; Aum refers to Aksharbrahman. This is deduced from statements in the shastras, such as,‘ॐ इत्येतद् एतद्ध्येवाऽक्षरं ब्रह्म’ – ‘Aum ityetad etaddhyevã’ksharam Brahma’ (Katha Upanishad: 2/15,16), ‘ॐ इत्येकाक्षरं ब्रह्म’ – ‘Aum ityekãksharam Brahma’ (Gitã: 8/13) in which Aksharbrahman is described with the word ‘Aum’. According to the shruti‘ गुरुमेवाभिगत्व्छेत् समित्पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्म निष्ठम्’ – ‘Gurumevãbhigachhet samitpãnihi shrotriyam brahma nishtham’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/2/12) that Aksharbrahman is the brahmaswarup guru.
Therefore this mantra means that pranava, i.e., the guru, who is the form of Aksharbrahman, is like a bow. One’s ãtmã is like an arrow, and that same Aksharbrahman is the target. Thus, just like an arrow clinging to the bow becomes one with the target, one should join one’s ãtmã to the manifest form of Aksharbrahman, the guru, i.e., profoundly associate with him and attain that very goal. In other words, one should become brahmarup and attain Akshardham. For in that Akshardham resides Paramãtmã – the controller of Akshar.
Maharshi Angirã does not stop here. Revealing the greatness of Aksharbrahman, he further explains that this is the only thing worth doing in life. Everything else is useless. Therefore he says, तमेवैकं जानथाऽऽत्मानम् अन्या वाचो विमुञ्चथ’– ‘Tamevaikam jãnathã’tmãnam anyã vãcho vimunchatha’ – ‘O Shaunak! Drop (vimunchatha) other talks (anyã vãcho) and only believe that Aksharbrahman to be your ãtmã (Tamevaikam jãnatha ãtmãnam)’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/2/5). His intention is that we never do what really has to be done and our priceless lives are squandered elsewhere. Therefore, when we find such a brahmaswarup satpurush, it is worth dropping all other matters, believe him to be our ãtmã, unite with him, and seize the opportunity of becoming brahmarup and offering devotion to Parabrahman and thus attain liberation. Since, ‘O Shaunak! ‘अमृतस्यैष सेतुः’ – ‘Amrutasyaisha setuhu’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 2/2/5).’ This Aksharbrahman guru is not ordinary; he is the divine bridge to attain Paramãtmã. Through him we can easily attain Paramãtmã, the Lord of Akshardham, who resides on the other side of this worldly course.
Thus, Angirã Muni has not just advised us to surrender to the guru, but he has also taught us the ideal method of surrendering to him totally.
He then reveals one more special method.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas