The Mandukya Upanishad is contained within the Atharva Veda. This Upanishad is recited in the Mandukya shãkhã (branch) of the Atharva Veda, hence it is known as the ‘Mandukya Upanishad’. Smaller in size than the other principle Upanishads, this Upanishad contains only twelve mantras. These twelve mantras are divided into four khandas (sections).
In order to perform true upãsanã and bhakti of Parabrahman, one must attain knowledge of one’s ãtmã; one must become brahmarup. This Upanishad gives simple precepts on the knowledge of ãtmã and on awakening the sense of being brahmarup by associating with Aksharbrahman.
Identifying the atma to be Brahmarup
One must know the glory of Brahman in order to become brahmarup. Hence, this Upanishad commences with a de-scription of the greatness of Brahman. ‘ॐ इत्येतदक्षरमिदं सर्वम्’– ‘Aum ityetadaksharamidam sarvam’ – ‘Akshar, whose glory has been sung by the word aum, pervades everything’ (Man-dukya Upanishad 1.1). The same statement is then repeated using the word Brahman instead of Akshar. ‘सर्वं ह्येतद् ब्रह्म’– ‘Sarvam hyetad Brahma’ – ‘Everything is pervaded by Ak-sharbrahman’ (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2).
The reason for describing the all-pervasiveness of Akshar-brahman is to reiterate brahmadrashti – realizing Brahman in everything. ‘Sarvam’ means everything. If everything is per-vaded by Brahman, then this includes all ãtmãs. Therefore all ãtmãs are brahmarup, or aksharrup. This is a lofty principle on the spiritual path. The same principle is then revealed again in clear words: ‘अयमात्मा ब्रह्म’– ‘Ayamãtmã Brahma’ – ‘This jivãtmã is the form of Aksharbrahman’ (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2).
Thus it has been established that one must identify the ãtmã as being brahmarup. To realize one’s ãtmã as being brahma-rup, one must first know it to be separate from the three bo-dies (causal, subtle and physical) and the three states (waking, dream and deep sleep). These bodies and states are ropes which have been tied to the ãtmã. In this Upanishad, the main message is to be aware of one’s ãtmã as brahmarup, separate from the three states. To develop the understanding that ‘I am separate from the three states’ one must first know the three states, only then is it possible to realize one’s jivãtmã to be brahmarup and distinct from them. Therefore, this Upanishad first describes the aforementioned three states of the jivãtmã, and, afterwards, it describes the fourth state of the jivãtmã, – that of brãhmisthiti (the brãhmic state). Thus, here, with the words ‘सोऽयमात्मा चतुष्पात्’– ‘So’yamãtmã chatushpãt’ (Mandukya Upanishad 2.1), the jivãtmã has been described as being of four states (chãtushpãt).
Let us take a look at these four states.
The First State: The Waking State
The waking state is described first: ‘जागरितस्थानो बहिष्प्रज्ञः सप्ताङ्ग एकोनविंशतिमुखः स्थूलभुग् वैश्वानरः प्रथमः पादः’– ‘Jãgaritasthãno bahishpragnaha saptãnga ekonavinshatimukhaha sthoolabhug vaishvãnaraha prathamaha pãdaha’ (Mandukya Upanishad 2.1). This implies that when the jivãtmã knows (pragnaha) the outer objects (bahihi) such as sound, touch, taste, smell and form, it is said to be in the waking state. In this waking state, the jivãtmã experiences a variety of pleasures prominently using nineteen organs (eko-navinshatimukhaha sthoolabhug), namely: the five sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin; the five organs of action – the hands, feet, mouth, anus, and genitals; the five prãnas (vital breaths); and the four inner organs – the mind, intellect, chitt and ahamkãr. For example, to see with our eyes, to hear with our ears, to walk with our feet, to do something with our hands, in fact, whatever we do conscious-ly are all actions of the waking state. In this state we are com-pletely conscious of our physical bodies. Moreover, in the waking state, the jivãtmã has been called ‘vaishvãnaraha’ by this Upanishad because in this state the jivãtmã is able to ex-perience all outer objects (vishva). For this very reason, it is also known by names like ‘vishva’ and ‘vishvãbhimãni’.
Thus, the waking state, which is connected with the physical body, has been described as the first state.
The Second State: The Dream State
‘स्वप्नस्थानोऽन्तःप्रज्ञः प्रविविक्तभुक् तैजसो द्वितीयः पादः’– ‘Svap-na-sthãno’ntahpragnaha praviviktabhuk taijaso dviteeyaha pãdaha’ (Mandukya Upanishad 2.2). The state in which the sleeping jivãtmã does not know (pragnaha) the outer objects during the waking state, but knows the inner objects (antaha) – is the dream state. In this state, one is not conscious of the physical body. When we see a dream, neither the five organs of action nor the five sense organs are active, but the inner organs, like the mind and intellect, are. In this state, the jivãtmã experiences a variety of objects in the dream world (praviviktabhuk). Paramatma is the creator of this entire dream world. The jiva has no control there. Paramatma creates this dream world in order to make the jiva experience the fruits of its accumulated karmas. In this real dream state, the jivãtmã experiences the fruits of a great many accumu-lated karmas in a very short time.
Although the eyes are closed and there is darkness, in the dream state the jivãtmã experiences a variety of objects as if they were alight and so it is called ‘तैजसः’– ‘taijasaha’.
Thus, the dream state, which is connected with the subtle body, has been described as the second state.
The Third State: The state of Deep Sleep
‘यत्र सुपतो न कञ्चन कामं कामयते न कञ्चन स्वप्नं पश्यति तत् सुषुपतम्’– ‘Yatra supto na kanchana kãmam kãmayate na kanchana svapnam pashyati tat sushuptam’ (Mandukya Upanishad 2.3). This is the state in which not just the sense organs, but the mind also rests. The state in which absolutely no desires or wishes can occur like they do in the waking state, and in which even dreams cannot be seen occurs when someone experiences intense sleep. We refer to this state as deep sleep. In this state, a person does not attain any outer knowledge. Even dreams cannot be seen within. Thus, in this state, rather than the physical body, or the subtle body, it is the causal body that is predominant. In this state, by the wish of Paramatma, the jivãtmã, which is the form of knowledge, is absorbed in a fraction of the bliss of Pradhan-Purush. In this state of deep sleep, the jivãtmã, residing as the form of knowledge, is known as ‘prãgna’.
In this way, the third state of deep sleep has been described.
Thus, the three states of the jivãtmã have been described. Purushottam Parabrahman Shri Swaminarayan has also given a detailed, yet simple explanation of these three states in Vachanamrut Sarangpur 6.
The main reason for describing these three states is to explain the unity with Brahman who is above these three states, and to attain the brãhmic state. Therefore, identification with that Brahman, i.e., the brãhmic state itself, has been described as the fourth state.
The Fourth State: The atma as Brahmarup
‘नान्तःप्रज्ञं न बहिःप्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं न प्रज्ञानघनं न प्रज्ञं नाऽप्रज्ञम्’– ‘Nãntahpragnam na bahihipragnam nobhãyatahapragnam na pragnadhanam na pragnam nã’pragnam’ (Mandukya Upanishad 2.5). This means that there is a fourth state which can not be called the waking state, the dream state, or even the state of deep sleep. This state is distinct and superior to these three. In this state, the jivãtmã has attained the sense of unity with Aksharbrahman, i.e., has become brahmarup – ‘ऐकात्म्यप्रत्ययसारम्’– ‘Eikãtmyapratyayasãram’ (Mandukya Upanishad 2.5), as stated before in the mantra ‘अयमात्मा ब्रह्म’– ‘Ayamãtmã Brahma’ (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2). Moreover, ‘प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवमद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा विज्ञेयः’– ‘Prapanchopashamam shãntam shivamadvaitam chaturtham manyante sa ãtmã vigneyaha’ (Mandukya Upanishad 2.5), that is, on attaining this state, all illusions of mãyã and infatuation with the world dissolve, and mãyã is overcome (prapanchopashamam). The jivãtmã becomes tranquil (shãntam). The jivãtmã becomes divine (shivam). In this way, the brahmagnãni (one who knows Brahman) considers the jivãtmã that has attained qualities like Aksharbrahman, and has become like it (advaitam) to be the fourth state (chaturtha manyante). Thus, the Brãhmic state has been described as the fourth state, above the waking, dream and deep sleep states.
The Fruits of the Brahmic State
In conclusion, the Mandukya Upanishad ends by informing us of the benefits of one who has acquired the brãhmic state: ‘संविशत्यात्मनाऽऽत्मानं य एवं वेद’– ‘Sanvishatyãtmnã’’tmãnam ya evam veda’ (Mandukya Upanishad 4.1), i.e., one who re-cognizes one’s ãtmã as brahmarup, having attained qualities like Aksharbrahman as mentioned in this Upanishad, such a brahmarup jivãtmã is permeated by Paramatma. In other words, it forever realizes the form of Paramatma.
Thus, the Mandukya Upanishad gives us the remarkable liberating precept of recognizing one’s ãtmã to be brahmarup, above the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, in order to realize Paramatma.