THE MUNDAKA UPANISHAD

(New Discoveries, Vol. 3, pp. 557-68)

[A Jnāna-Yoga class delivered in New York, January 29, 1896, and recorded by Mr. Josiah J. Goodwin]

In the last Jnana-Yoga (Vide Complete Works, II.) lecture, we read one of the Upanishads; we will read another [the Mundaka Upanishad]. Brahmā was the first of the Devas, the Lord of this cycle and its protector. He gave this knowledge of Brahman, which is the essence of all knowledge, to his son Atharvan. The latter handed it over to his son Angiras, he to his son, Bharadvāja, and so on.

There was a man called Shaunaka, a very rich man, who went to this Angiras as a learner. He approached the teacher and asked him a question. "Tell me, sir, what is that which, being known, everything else is known?"

One [knowledge] is supreme and the other is inferior. The Rig-Veda is the name of one of the different parts of the Vedas. Shikshā is the name of another part. All different sciences are inferior. What is the supreme science? That is the only science, the supreme science, by which we reach the Unchangeable One. But that cannot be seen, cannot be sensed, cannot be specified. Without colour, without eyes, without ears, without nose, without feet — the Eternal, the Omnipresent, the "Omnipenetrating", the Absolute — He from whom everything comes. The sages see Him, and that is the supreme knowledge.

Just as the Urnanābhi, a species of spider, creates a thread out of his own body and takes it back, just as the plants grow by their own nature, and all these things are yet separate and apparently different (the hair is, as it were, different from the other parts of a man's body; the plants are different from the earth; the thread is different from the spider — yet they [the earth, the spider and so on] were the causes, and in them these things act), so from this Unchangeable One has come this universe.

First, out of Brahman comes the knowledge of desire and from that comes the manifestation of Creator, or the Golden Womb. From that comes intelligence, from that, matter and all these different worlds. 

This is the truth — that for those who want to come to salvation or attain to other enjoyments, various ways are toldin the Vedas.

Then it [the Mundaka Upanishad] goes on to say how they will reach these blessings. When they die they will go through the sun's rays to places which are very beautiful, where after death they will go to heaven and live for some time, but from there they will again fall. 

Here are two words — Ishtam and Purtam. Sacrificial and other rituals are called Ishtam, and Purtam is making roads, building hospitals and so on. "Fools are they who think that rituals and doing good work are high and that there is nothing higher." They get what they desire and go to heaven, but every enjoyment and every sorrow must have an end. And so that ends, and they fall back and back and become men again, or still lower. Those that give up the world and learn to control the senses live in a forest. Through the rays of the sun they reach that immortality where lives He who is the Absolute.

Thus the sage, examining all desires of good or evil works, throws away all duties and wants to know that, getting which there is no more return, no more change. And to know that, he goes to the Guru, the teacher, with fuel in his hand. 

There is a myth in our country about going to the Guru with fuel in one's hands as a sign of helping him in making sacrifices, as he will not take presents.

Who is a teacher? He who knows the secrets of the scriptures, he whose soul has gone unto Brahman, who does not care for works or going to heaven or all these things.

Unto such a disciple, who has controlled his mind, has become peaceful and calm, has given up all this tremendous wave that rises in the mind by desire ("I will do this and that" and all those desires which are at best only disturbing, such as name and fame, which impel mankind to do all sorts of things) — to that disciple in whom all these vexatious desires have been calmed down, the teacher teaches the way which is the science of Brahman, by which he can know that One who never changes and who is the Truth.

Then comes what he [Angiras] taught:

This is the truth, O gentle one, as from a mass of burning flame myriads of sparks come out of the same nature as the fire, even so from this Unchangeable One all these forms, all these ideas, all this creation, come out; and unto Him it [the creation] goes back.

But the Eternal One is everlasting, formless, without beginning, inside and outside of every being — beyond all life, beyond all mind, the Pure One, beyond even the unchangeable, beyond everything.

From Him is born the vital principle. From Him comes the mind. From Him come all organs of the senses. From Him are air, light, water and this earth which holds all beings. These heavens are, as it were, His head; His eyes, the sun and moon. The cardinal points are, as it were, His ears. The eternal knowledge of the Vedas is, as it were, His manifested speech. His life is the air. His heart is this universe; His feet, this world. He is the Eternal Self of every being.

From Him have come the different Vedas. From Him have come the gods of the Sādhyas. The latter are superior men, much higher than ordinary men and very much like the gods.

From Him are all men. From Him are all animals. From Him is all life; from Him, all the forces in the mind; from Him all truth, all chastity.

The seven organs are all from Him. The seven objects of perception are from him; the seven actions of perception are from Him.

From Him are the seven worlds in which the life currents flow. From Him are all these seas and oceans. From Him are all rivers that roll into the sea; from Him are all plants and all liquids.

He is the inside. He is the inner Soul of every being. This great Purusha, this great One — He is this universe, He is the work, He is the sacrifice. He is Brahman, and He is the trinity. He who knows Him frees his own soul from the bond of ignorance and becomes free.

He is the bright one. He is inside every human soul. From Him are all name and form; all the animals and men are from Him. He is the one Supreme. He who knows Him becomes free.

How to know Him? Take this bow, which is the Upanishad, the knowledge of the Vedanta; place upon that bow the sharpened rod [arrow] of worship; stretch that bow by what? — by making the mind of the same form as He, by knowing that you are He. Thus strike at it; strike at that Brahman with this rod.

This One is the bow. This human mind is the rod [arrow]. Brahman is the object which we want to hit. This object is to be hit by concentrating the mind. And just when the rod has hit [its mark], the rod penetrates into the object and becomes one with it — a unity. Even so, this soul, the rod, is to be thrown upon the object so that it will become one with It — in Whom are the heavens, this earth and the skies, in Whom are the mind and all that lives.

In the Upanishads there are certain passages which are called the great words,1 which are always quoted and referred to.

In Him, that One — in Him alone, the Atman — exist all other worlds. What is the use of all other talk? Know Him alone. This is the bridge over this life to reach universality.

He [Angiras] goes on to show a practical way. So far it is very figurative.

Just as all the spokes of a wheel meet at the axle, even so in this body is that place from which all the arteries flow and at which they all meet. There, meditate upon the Om that is in the heart. May thou succeed.

May the gentle one with success attain the goal. May you go beyond all darkness to Him who is omniscient, the All-Knowing. His glory is in heaven, on earth and everywhere.

He who has become the mind, the Prānā, He who is the leader in the body, He who is established in the food, the energy of life. By supreme knowledge the sages see Him whose nature is bliss, who shines as immortality.( Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.8.) (This is another of the sentences very much quoted.)

There are two words: one is Jnāna, the other Vijnāna. Jnana may be translated as science — this means intellectual [knowledge] only — and Vijnana as realization. God cannot be perceived by intellectual knowledge. He who has realized [the Self] by that supreme knowledge — what will become of that man?

All the knots of the heart will be cut asunder. All darkness will vanish forever when you have seen the Truth.

How can you doubt? How foolish and childish you will think these fights and quarrels of different sciences and different philosophies and all this. You will smile at them. All doubts will vanish, and all work will go away. All work will vanish.

Beyond, the golden sheath is there — without any impurity, without parts [indivisible] — He, the Brahman. His is the brightness, the Light of all light — the knowers of the Atman realize Him as such.

And when you have done that, the sun cannot illumine, nor the moon, nor the stars. A flash of lightning cannot illumine the place; it is mental — away, deep in the mind. He shining, everything else shines; when He shines within, the whole man shines. This universe shines through His light.

Take such passages [for memorizing] later on, when studying the Upanishads.

The difference between the Hindu mind and the European mind is that whereas in the West truths are arrived at by examining the particular, the Hindu takes the opposite course. There is no [such] metaphysical sublimity as in the Upanishads.

It [the Mundaka Upanishad] leads you on, beyond the senses — infinitely more sublime than the suns and stars. First Angiras tried to describe God by sense sublimities — that His feet are the earth, His head the heavens. But that did not express what he wanted to say. It was in a sense sublime. He first gave that idea to the student and then slowly took him beyond, until he gave him the highest idea — the negative — too high to describe.

He is immortal, He is before us, He is behind us, He is on the right side, He is on the left, He is above, He is beneath.

Upon the same tree there are two birds with most beautiful wings, and the two birds always go together — always live together. Of these, one is eating the fruits of the tree; the other, without eating, is looking on.

So in this body are the two birds always going together. Both have the same form and beautiful wings. One is the human soul, eating the fruits; the other is God Himself, of the same nature. He is also in this body, the Soul of our soul. He eats neither good nor evil fruits, but stands and looks on.

But the lower bird knows that he is weak and small and humble, and tells all sorts of lies. He says he is a woman, or he is a man or a boy. He says he will do good or do bad; he will go to heaven and will do a hundred sorts of things. In delirium he talks and works, and the central idea of his delirium is that he is weak.

Thus he gets all the misery because he thinks he is nobody. He is a created little being. He is a slave to somebody; he is governed by some god or gods, and so is unhappy.

But when he becomes joined with God, when he becomes a Yogi, he sees that the other bird, the Lord, is his own glory. "Why, it was my own glory whom I called God, and this little "I", this misery, was all hallucination; it never existed. I was never a woman, never a man, never any one of these things." Then he gives up all his sorrow.

When this Golden One, who is to be seen, is seen — the Creator, the Lord, the Purusha, the God of this universe — then the sage has washed off all stains of good and bad deeds. (Good deeds are as much stains as bad deeds.) Then he attains to total sameness with the Pure One.

The sage knows that He who is the Soul of all souls — this Atman — shines through all.

He is the man, the woman, the cow, the dog — in all animals, in the sin and in the sinner. He is the Sannyāsin, He is in the ruler, He is everywhere.

Knowing this the sage speaks not. (He gives up criticizing anyone, scolding anyone, thinking evil of anyone.) His desires have gone into the Atman. This is the sign of the greatest knowers of Brahman — that they see nothing else but Him.

He is playing through all these things. Various forms — from the highest gods to the lowest worms — are all He. The ideas want to be illustrated.

First of all the writer showed us the idea that if we want to get to heaven and all these places, we will get there. That is to say, in the language of the Vedas, whatever one desires that he sees.

As I have told you in previous lectures, the Atman neither comes nor goes. It has neither birth nor death. You are all omnipresent, you are the Atman. You are at this moment in heaven and in the darkest places too. You are everywhere. Where are you not? Therefore how can you go anywhere? These comings and goings are all fictions — the Atman can never come nor go.

These visions change. When the mind is in a particular condition it sees a certain vision, dreams a certain dream. So in this condition, we are all seeing this world and man and animals and all these things. But in this very place, this condition will change. And the very thing we are seeing as earth, we shall see as heaven, or we may see it as the opposite place or as any place we like.

All this depends on our desires. But this dream cannot be permanent, just as we know that any dream in the night must break. Not one of these dreams will be permanent. We dream that which we think we will do. So these people who are always thinking in this life of going to heaven and meeting their friends, will have that as soon as their dream of this life is ended. And they will be compelled by their desires of this life to see these other dreams. And those who are superstitious and are frightened into all such ideas as hell will dream that they are in the hot place. Those whose ideas in this life are brutal — when they die, will become pigs and hogs and all these things. With each one, what he desires he finds.

This book starts by telling us that those who know nothing better than a little road-making or hospital-building and such good works will have a good dream when they die. They will dream that they are in a place where they will have god-bodies and can eat anything they like, jump about, go through walls and so on, and sometimes come down and startle someone.

In our mythology there are the Devas, who live in heaven, and the Devakas, who are very much the same but a little more wicked. The Devas are like your angels, only some of them from time to time become wicked and find that the daughters of men are good. Our deities are celebrated for this sort of thing. What can you expect of them? They are here — simply hospital-makers — and have no more knowledge than other men. They do some good work with the result that they become Devas. They do their good work for fame or name or some reward and get this reward, dreaming that they are in heaven and doing all these things.

Then there are demons who have done evil in this life. But our books say that these dreams will not last very long, and then they will either come back and take the old dream again as hu man beings, or still worse. Therefore, according to these books, it behooves every sensible, right-thinking man, once and for all, to brush aside all such foolish ideas as heavens and hells.

Two things exist in the world — dream and reality. What we call life is a succession of dreams — dream within dream. One dream is called heaven, another earth, another hell, and so on. One dream is called the human body, another the animal body, and so on — all are dreams. The reality is what is called Brahman, that Being who is Existence, Knowledge, Bliss.

He is the Guru — the sage who wants to get rid of all these dreams, to stand aside and know his own nature — who wants to go beyond this self-hypnotism.

When we desire, we are hypnotizing ourselves. Just as I desire "I will go to heaven", that hypnotizes me, and I begin to find I am in heaven directly I die, and will see angels and all sorts of things. I have seen about fifty people who have come from death's door, and they all have told me stories about being in heaven. These are the mythologies of our country, and it shows that it is all hypnotism.

Where Western people make a great mistake is here. So far as you have these ideas of heaven and hell, we agree with you. But you say this earth is real. That cannot be. If this is real, heavens and hells are real, because the proof of each of these is the same. If one is a hypnotic condition, the whole of it must be so.

Vedantists say that not only are heavens hypnotic, but so is this life and everything here. Some people want to go from one hypnotic condition to another, and these are what we call the fools of the world — the Samsārins, the travellers who go from dream to dream, from one hypnotic trance to another. For fifty years they are under the idea that they are men and women.

What nonsense is [this — ] a man or a woman in the soul? It is terrible hypnotism. How can the soul have any sex? It is self-hypnotism. You have hypnotized yourself and think you are men and women. If we are fools, we will again hypnotize ourselves and want to go to heaven, and hear all this trash of gods and goddesses and all sorts of humbug, and will kneel down and pray, and have god-bodies by the millions to worship on thrones. At the end, we have to hypnotize ourselves again.

We are all in the same boat here, and all who are in the same boat see each other. Stand aside — free, beyond dream and hypnotism. Some fools have hypnotized themselves that they have bodies and wives and all these things. I also am a fool and have hypnotized myself that I have senses and all these things. So we are all in the same boat and see each other. Millions of people may be here whom we do not see, touch or feel. Just as in hypnotism there may be three books before you, but you are hypnotized and are told that one of them does not exist. And you may live for a year in that condition and never see it. Suppose thirty men are under the same hypnotic influence and are told that this book does not exist. Those who are in this condition will all fail to see the book. Men, women, animals are all hypnotized, and all see this dream because they are all in the same boat.

The Vedanta philosophy says that this whole universe — mental, physical, moral — is hypnotic. Who is the cause of this hypnotism? You yourself are to blame. This weeping and wailing and knocking your heads into corners [against brick walls, as it were] will not do you the least good.

However, knocking everything [that is hypnotic] on the head [leads to] what is called non-attachment; and clinging to more and more hypnotism is attachment. That is why in all religions you will find they wanted to give up the world, although many of them do not understand it. These fellows used to starve themselves in a forest and see the devil coming to them.

You have heard those wonderful stories of India — of how those magicians can make a man see a rope rise from the ground to the skies. I have not seen any of them. One of the Mogul emperors, Jahangir, mentions it. He says, "Allah, what do these devils do? They take a rope or a chain, and the chain is thrown up and up until it becomes firm — as if it were stuck to something. Then they let a cat go up the chain — then a dog, then a wolf, then a tiger, then a lion. All walk up the chain and vanish. Sometimes they will send men up the chain. Two men will go up and begin to fight, and then both of them vanish. And after a while you hear a noise of fighting — and [then] a head, a hand, and a foot fall. And, mind you, there are two or three thousand people present. The fellow showing it has only a loincloth on". They say this is hypnotism — throwing a net over the audience.

That is what they call their science. It exists within a certain limit. But if you go beyond this limit or come within it, you do not see it. The man who is playing does not see anything. So if you stand near him, you do not see anything. Such is the hypnotism here.

So we have first to get beyond the circle (Jnana) or stand within the circle of the hypnotism (Bhakti) with God, the great Player who is playing all these things — the whole universe He projects.

Chapter after chapter comes and goes. This is called Māyā, the power which creates all these tremendous things. He who is the ruler of this Maya, is God; and he who is ruled by Maya [is the soul]. Just as in the case of that chain — so the man who was standing in the centre had the power and was not deluded, but all that audience was governed by Maya. So that portion of Atman which rules Maya is called God, and the little bits of the Atman deluded by it are called souls — you and I.

The Bhakta says, Crawl nearer and nearer to the hypnotist, and when you get to the centre you do not see anything. You get clear of it.

The Jnāni does not care to undergo all this trouble — it is a dangerous way. Unless a man becomes a lunatic, when he finds himself covered with mud, will he take more mud to wash himself? So why increase the hypnotism? Get out of the circle; cut it off and be free. When you are free you will be able to play, even without being caught yourself. Now you are caught, then you will catch — that will be all the difference.

Therefore in the first part of this book, we are told that we must give up all this idea of heaven and of birth and death and so on. It is all nonsense; no man was ever born or ever died. They are all in hypnotism. So is eternal life and all this nonsense. Heaven is hypnotism and so is earth.

It is not as materialists say: that heaven is a superstition and God is a superstition, but he himself is not a superstition. If one is superstition — if one link is nonexistent — the whole chain is nonexistent. The existence of the whole chain depends on the existence of one link — and that of one link, on the whole.

If there is no heaven, there is no earth; and if there is no God, there is no man. You are under this hypnotism; and as long as you are under it, you will have to see God and nature and the soul. And when you are beyond this hypnotism, God will vanish2 — so will nature, and so will the soul.

Therefore, first of all, we will have to give up all these ideas of God and heaven and enjoying the fruits of these; and all that going to heaven will be one more dream.

Next, after showing these things, the book goes on to tell us how to get out of this hypnotism. And the one idea that is brought out through all these ideas is to be one with that Universal Being. The thing manifested — the Universal Being — is not anything of these; these are all nonsense — Maya. (The Swami has been discussing the two aspects of Maya. On the previous page, (a few paragraphs earlier) he described Maya as the power of Brahman; here he is referring to Maya as the world-appearance.) But that upon which all these things are being played — the background upon which all this picture is written — [is we ourselves]; we are one with Him [that Universal Being]. You know you are one with Him, only you must realize it.

He gave us two words: one is intellectual knowledge, and the other is realization. That is to say, intellectual assent is within this realization, and realization is beyond it. Therefore intellectual assent is not sufficient.

Every man can say this theory is right, but that is not realization; he must realize it. We can all say we understand that this is hypnotism, but that is not realization. That will be when the hypnotism will break — even for a moment. It will come in a flash; it must come. If you struggle it will come.

When it does vanish, all idea of body will go along with it — that you have sex or body — just as a lamp blows out. Then what will become of you? If some part of your Karma remains, this world will come back again — but not with the same force. You have known that it is what it is; you will know no more bondage. So long as you have eyes you will have to see; or ears [you will have to] hear — but not with the same force.

I had read all sorts of things about the mirage, but had never seen it before until about four years ago when I was travelling in western India. Of course, as a Sannyasin I was travelling on foot, making my slow marches. So it took me about a month to travel through that country. Every day I saw such beautiful lakes and the shadows of trees on the shores of those lakes, and the whole thing was quivering in the breeze — and birds flying, and animals. Every day I saw this and thought what a beautiful country it was. But when I reached some village, I found it was all sand. I said, How is it?

One day I was very thirsty and thought I would drink a little water at the lake. But when I approached, it disappeared, and with a flash [the thought] came into my mind: "This is the mirage about which I read all my life". But the strange thing is that I was travelling for a month and could never recognize that it was a mirage — and in one moment it vanished. I was very glad to know this was the mirage about which I had read all my life.

Next morning I saw the lake again, and along with it came the idea: "That is the mirage". All that month I had been seeing the mirage and could not distinguish between reality and mirage. But in that one moment I caught the idea.

From that time, when I see a mirage, I will say, "That is a mirage", and never feel it. Such will it be with this world when the whole thing will vanish once; and after that, if you have to live out your past work, you will not be deceived.

Take a carriage with two wheels. Suppose I cut one of the wheels from the axle. The other wheel will run for some time by its past momentum and will then fall. The body is one wheel, and the soul another; and they are joined by the axle of delusion. Knowledge is the axe which will cut the axle, and the soul will stop immediately — will give up all these vain dreams.

But upon the body is that past momentum, and it will run a little, doing this and that, and then it will fall down. But only good momentum will be left, and that body can only do good. This is to warn you not to mistake a rascal for a free man. It will be impossible for that [free] man to do evil. So you must not be cheated.

When you become free the whole hypnotism has vanished and you know the distinction between the reality and the mirage. [The mirage] will no more be a bondage. The most terrible things will not be able to daunt you. A mountain [could] fall upon you, but you will not care. You will know it for a mirage.

  1. ^In each of the four Vedas there is one such "great word", or great utterance, called Mahāvākya: "Prajnānam Brahma" ("Consciousness is Brahman"); "Aham Brahmāsmi" ("I am Brahman"); "Tat Twam Asi" ("That thou art"); and "Ayam Atmā Brahma" ("This Self is Brahman").
  2. ^Here Swami Vivekananda is referring to Ishvara, or the Personal God.