Mandukya Upanishad and Creation (Part-I)

A very innocuous but interesting question, which arises in the mind of everyone, is about the creation of this universe. How was it born, what will happen to it, how long will it survive etc. Related to this, there is another question which concerns one’s very own self. From where have I come, where will I go to, what is my real aim in life, how will I die etc. We basically live our life ignoring these meaningful questions and busy ourselves with family, friends, books etc. Thus forming a comfort zone for ourselves, we neglect and ignore these solemn questions. But being meaningful as they are, these sharp questions come back to to us again and again and set us thinking.  

Indian philosophy enunciated in Gita, Upanishads and Brahma Sutra offers a plethora of answers to these questions and thereby confounds us further. It proposes a number of models for creation. It is, however, said that they differ from each other only in form and not in substance. They are said to be essentially same. Be that as it may, I have tried to utilize my mind and find out which model strikes and appeals to me the most.

The one model which has suited me the most is discussed elaborately in Yoga Vasistha. It is also discussed very succinctly but crisply in Mandukya Upanishad (which is the subject matter of present study). To our great fortune, this Upanishad is elaborated upon in Karika, without which probably I would not have been able to understand Mandukya clearly. So overwhelming and eye opening are the verses of Yoga Vasistha and Karika that one feels like drinking nectar. The verses are pure,light and soft like the drops of dew and flakes of snow. One gets satisfied to the core of his heart while reading and reciting them.

It is my endeavor to write here the very essence of this particular model of creation which is called ajatvada and also to quote relevant sentences from the Shankar Bhashya of Mandukya and Karika.

This model basically states that world was never created at all. Our perception of its reality is identical to our perception of a world in our dream state. The way dream world exists in waking state i.e. just like a potential happening unrelated with actual reality, exactly in the same manner, this waking world too is a mere potential happening unrelated with actual reality. By no logic can anyone prove the existence of dream world. But the dream world is real to dreamer. Similarly waking world is real to waker. By no logic can any difference be established between waking world and dream world. Therefore, waking world enjoys only as much reality as the dream world. No dream world has ever been created. It is an illusion pervaded by only one thing, waker’s mind. Similarly, no waking world has ever been created, it is pervaded by only one thing, my own mind. Here I will digress a bit from Mandukya and quote Ramana Maharishi, ” Seek the mind and you will find that there is no mind and then you will experience your own Self.” That Self is all this.

Now, after having explained the essence of ajatvada, let me write the relevant statements from Shankar Bhashya of Mandukya and Karika which discuss this philosophy and reject others and also the reasons therefor. These texts also address the critical concepts of avidya, which I have discussed in my posts Avidya and Avyakta, Part- I and Part-II.

The discussion in Mandukya starts with the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. Jiva is named as Vishva, Taijas and Prajna in these three states. It is also known as Bahisprajna, Antahprajna and prajnanghan respectively. Out of these, first two are easy to understand as in these two states the awareness of jiva is outside and inside respectively. But why is Prajna called prajnanghan? To answer this, let us recollect that this manifest plurality is known as dvaita. By dvaita, one means duality and therefore diversity. This duality, as discussed above, is the result of apparent perception by mind of its own imagination unconcerned with actual reality. In the states of waking and dream, mind forms, all out of itself, subject and object i.e. vishay and vishayi. Thus, in these two states, mind vibrates and sees itself as diverse and dvaita. No such thing happens in deep sleep. But then, can deep sleep be said to be the state of advaita?

Let us consider a night, in which there is no source of any sort of light. It is absolute darkness then. In that night, can we see anything. No. But then, does that mean the absence of duality? Just as in the darkness of night nothing is visible and therefore everything appears to be one black mass, similarly in the state of deep sleep, mind is covered completely by avidya without leaving its nature. Thus, there is an experience of everything condensing to one whole (avidya) which, as discussed above, doesn’t indicate the absence of duality (advaita). That is why it is called prajnanghan or ekibhut. Why is deep sleep called anandmaya? What bliss is there in avidya? Very logical question indeed. Shankaracharya explains that mind undertakes the effort of apparent transformation of itself into vishay and vishayi in waking and dream states. There is, however, a cessation of effort on part of mind in deep sleep. The absence of effort is indicated by bliss and therefore deep sleep state is known as anandmaya.


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