‘Lucid and exhaustive of most important book in Advaita Vedanta’
The Mandukya Upanishad, the shortest (it has just 12 verses) and , according to a general opinion, the most important of the 12 main Upanishads, has the added interest in being associated with the authoritative karikas of Gaudapada, grand-mentor of Shankaracharia, the initiator of Advaita Vedanta. Of the former it has been said that his is ‘a rational analysis of the totality of our experience in all three states: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Incomplete and insufficient will be any philosophy that is based on the waking state alone’ (Swami Brahmananda).
‘When everything has been said, the fact remains that Vedanta is the only way of thinking that claims to study life in all its aspects in a scientific manner. It treats of truth, wisdom, and happiness, subjects of eternal interest to mankind. The credit of having brought to the notice of thinkers the value of its all-comprehensive method revealed in the Upanishads, and of having successfully built an impregnable system on that solid basis, will ever belong to Gaudapada.’ (Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati).
This new book, authored by the well-known (and, one could say, prolific writer in the field of Advaita Vedanta – this is his 7th book), Dennis Waite, has several features that make of it an important addition to the literature in this specialized area, one that is becoming much better known than it was some 10-20 years ago.
Beginning with a few general remarks, something that strikes the reader is the clarity of the writing and the logic of the exposition of its contents which, at first sight, appears to be an introductory text for the un-initiated. Far from it! – and it is not a question of its length (420 pages) or even of the exhaustive coverage of everything that is relevant to the Upanishad itself and Gaudapada’s running commentary in the karikas. Clear and didactic it is, but the tools (armamentarium), organization of the work, and employment of many important Sanskrit words together with their English translation, plus a long Glossary (41 pp.), make of this book an indispensable reference for the modern reader of both this important Upanishad and Gaudapada’s contribution.
An important feature of the book consists in the numerous references (81 in all!) – most of them with short-to-medium length descriptions of the tenets or arguments of the, mostly modern, authors consulted when DW was in the process of preparing this work (Annotated Bibliography – 33 pp.)
Apart from the illuminating Introduction (36 pp.) and ‘What the Mandukya Upanishad is About’ at the beginning, the following 7 sections are: The World Appearance, Causality, Creation, Nature of Reality, Self-Knowledge, Practical Aspects, and Conclusion. They are all important, certainly, but I found ‘Nature of Reality’ to be like a centre-piece.
There are 7 Appendices at the end, comprising altogether 95 pp. To give one an idea of the completeness of the work, one of the Appendices (No. 5) deals with pronunciation and transliteration, using a recently proposed method: ITRANS. Lastly, a full Index, containing also a list of all the karikas mentioned in the book. AM
Dear Dennis & Martin
This is an extremely scholarly work, and Dennis has clearly gone to a lot of effort to classify the verses of Mandukyakarika into his thematic headings and seems to try to cover many of them.
Dennis seems to have aimed this book at the beginner, as well as the advanced student. In so doing, I think he might have missed the mark.
I struggled with getting through this, partly because of the inevitable repetition / redundancy that arises from trying to cover all relevant verses within a theme. I must admit, I think Dennis’ other books are better introductions to advaita. And Mandukyakarika is probably not the best place to start for a beginner.
For a more advanced student the thematic approach is perhaps redundant, because this is already understood. In the book, one is tantalised by the verse references to Mandukyakarika, but is not actually provided with the text of it, and the flow of thought with which Gaudapada had written it. Perhaps the reader should have read Mandukyakarika first, and to have it at hand, as he reads this book. Overall, I would have appreciated (and this is clearly a personal preference) a more classical, linear verse by verse exposition from Dennis.
These comments are not meant to detract from Dennis’ much appreciated efforts in this work; just a personal preference on how it could have been set out. And his specific comments and references are very helpful.