One of the greatest heritage and contribution of our Indian culture is its sublime philosophy, generally accepted to be condensed in Upanishads. Being extremely cryptic, their import is difficult to understand. The commentaries by great masters are, however, of great help in this quest. It is an accepted fact that these texts are unified in their import and Brahma Sutra was created precisely to dispel the prima facie contradictions in the words of these texts. Personally, I have found Mandukya Upanishad along with Karika to be most appealing to me. In this post, I intend to write about another great upanishad, the Mundak Upanishad in question answer format for better clarity of understanding.
Q: What is that after experiencing/ knowing which, all this is experienced/ known?
A: There are two kinds of Vidya which deserve to be known, Para Vidya and Apara Vidya.
Doubt: I asked a precise question, you appear to answer something else, that too unasked.
RoD: See, Apara Vidya is basically avidya. Nothing is really known if you know about it. Also, only after Apara Vidya can one really go beyond it. Further, answer requires an order. That is why my seemingly irrelevant answer.
Four Vedas and six Vedang (Shiksha, Kalpa, Vyakaran, Nirukta, Chhanda, and Jyotish) are Apara Vidya. Para Vidya, whereas, is that by which Akshar is achieved. That Akshar is described in Mantra 6.
Doubt: By this logic, Para Vidya is extraneous to even Vedas and therefore cannot be accepted to be truth.
RoD: No. Don’t take literally. What was meant by saying the Vedas and Vedang to be Apara Vidya referred merely to the mass of words. So, a differentiation needs to be made and the experience/knowledge of Akshar which is knowable by Upanishad needs to be separated and referred as Para Vidya. See, just by mere words, without dispassion etc, one cannot know Akshar. In this context, Apara Vidya was referred so.
Know in short, that one living piously, doing his duties etc becomes sinless and goes through the door of Sun to the place where lives that immortal Hiranyagarbha. However, know that not to be Moksha. This is the highest that a person full of Sattwa can realize. Thus, that is the limitation of Apara Vidya.
However, if a person gets dispassion i.e. he understands that everything in this world is temporary and what he really wants is eternal and therefore rises beyond everything, he can get that Para Vidya from a Guru. Even though he is well-versed in scriptures, he should not investigate into Brahman on his own.
There are two kinds of Akshar. One Akshar is known as Avyakrit (avyakta) which is the root of names and forms and is the source of world. Then there is another Akshar, which is called Purusha and is without any adjuncts. Now, this is conceptual and needs to be understood in light of Gita. What is being referred here is the concept of Kshar Purusha, Akshar Purusha and Uttam Purusha. From the posts Avidya and Avyakta, Part-I and Part-II, it is clear that-
Akshar Purusha = Avyakta
Kshar Purusha = Kshetra- Avyakta
Kshar Purusha + Akshar Purusha = Kshetra
Uttam Purusha = Brahman = Atman
Modifications like Prana and all other things are merely in name and not in substance and are mere jugglery of words (वाचारंभणम् विकारो नामधेयम्). All of it has emanated from that Uttam Purusha when it appears to have the adjunct of avidya.
However, just because of this, the existence of Prana etc is not established as a childless person cannot be treated to have child just because he happened to have child in his dream.
This entire world is the modification of Antah Karan (see Basics of Samkhya), as this world is seen as to emanate from it in waking state like sparks from fire, and also it dissolves therein during deep sleep. The text here though appears a bit contradictory (page 53).
One, who thus knows everything to be Brahman and knows himself to be Brahman, is liberated of the knot of heart, while living.
Everything which can be perceived is Supreme Brahman only. This perception of non-Brahman (अब्रह्मप्रत्यय: सर्व: अविद्या मात्र: रज्ज्वाम् इव सर्प प्रत्यय:) is merely avidya just as the perception of snake in rope. Incidentally, this is in sharp contradiction with E-II, as discussed in Superimposition (Adhyas) in Vedanta.
This is the essence of Mundak Upanishad, as understood by me.