mANDUkya upaniShad Part 8

*** Read Part 7 ***

Mantra 7

नान्तःप्रज्ञं न बहिष्प्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं न प्रज्ञानघनं न प्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञम् ।अदृष्टमव्यवहार्यमग्राह्यमलक्षणमचिन्त्यमव्यपदेश्यमेकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवमाद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः  ॥ ७ ॥

nAntaHpraj~naM na bahiShpraj~naM nobhayataHpraj~naM na praj~nAnaghanaM na praj~naM nApraj~nam |adRRiShTamavyavahAryamagrAhyamalakShaNamachintyamavyapadeshyamekAtmapratyayasAraM prapa~nchopashamaM shAntaM shivamAdvaitaM chaturthaM manyante sa AtmA sa vij~neyaH  || 7 ||

This (consciousness) is known as the ‘fourth’. (It is) neither (the knower of) the internal (world), nor the external. Neither (is it the knower of) both. (And it is) not (just) a ‘mass’ of consciousness. (It is) not consciousness (in the empirical sense of conscious ‘of’) nor (is it) unconsciousness. (It is) imperceptible, transaction-less, not ‘graspable’, un-inferable, unthinkable, and indescribable. (It is) the essential ‘I’-experience. (It is) the negation of the experience of all plurality of the universe. (It is) pure, tranquility, and non-dual. This is the Self. This is to be understood.

This 7th mantra is possibly the single most important mantra in the whole of the Vedic scriptures; it attempts to ‘describe’ the nature of absolute reality, knowing that such description is intrinsically impossible.

It first makes it clear that turIya is not a ‘knower’ of any sort (pramAta vilakShaNa); i.e. not the waker, dreamer or deep-sleeper that have just been described in the previous four mantras, nor some intermediate or combined state:

  • chaturthaM manyante – this (i.e. Consciousness) is known as the fourth (chaturtha – this is a synonym for turIya).
  • nAntaHpraj~naM – (It is) not (the knower of) the internal, subtle world, i.e. not the dreamer, taijasa;
  • na bahiShpraj~naM – nor (the knower of) the external, gross world of objects (bahis means ‘outside’), i.e. not the waker, vishva;
  • na ubhayataHpraj~naM – nor (the knower of) both (ubhaya), i.e. not some intermediate state, such as day-dreaming;
  • na praj~nAnaghanaM – and not that (knower) which is a (compact) mass of (ghana) consciousness (i.e. not the deep-sleep state, in which the mind is resolved and there is consciousness which is ‘conscious of nothing’);
  • na praj~naM – there are two possible interpretations of what is intended here and both are correct. One meaning of praj~naM is ‘all-consciousness’ or ‘all-knower’, i.e. conscious of everything. This should be understood as meaning that it should not be thought of as God or Ishvara.  It is ‘pure’ Consciousness, as opposed to Consciousness qualified by mAyAIshvara can be thought of as the cause of everything but brahman has nothing to do with cause and effect.

    But the simple meaning is that it is not ‘Consciousness’. This would seem to be a contradiction of the usual understanding of the seeker, namely that a synonym for Atman or brahman or turIya is ‘Consciousness’, with the capital ‘c’ to denote that it is not the usual (i.e. waking) ‘consciousness’ but an all-encompassing, eternal variety, which is in fact all that there is. But turIya-brahman-Atman is not nameable in any way, pedantically speaking. And the very word implies that there exists something else of which Consciousness is conscious – and, of course, there isn’t. Anything that we say about it, or any name we give it, has to be dropped ultimately. What should be understood is that turIya is that which is the substratum of everything and, in particular, it is that which ‘provides’ the consciousness in everything that is conscious.
  • na apraj~naM – nor is it inert, ‘unconsciousness’, unawareness or insentience.

We deduce, therefore, that it is consciousness without having any attributes of ‘knower-hood’.

Shankara, in his commentary on this mantra, uses the metaphor of rope and snake. Just as we realize the nature of the rope by negating all of the illusory attributes of the snake, so we can come to understand the nature of turIya by negating the attributes of knower and known in each of the three states. Just as the rope is revealed as the essence of the snake, when we remove the superimposed attributes, so turIya is seen to be the substratum of the states of consciousness. Once this is seen, the mithyA nature of the waking and dream worlds are simultaneously appreciated.

We negate the particular attributes of the waker (na bahiShpraj~nam), who then becomes the dreamer; we negate the particular attributes of the dreamer (na antaHprajnam) who then becomes the deep-sleeper; and we negate those particular attributes (na praj~nAnaghanam) too. But Consciousness remains ever the same throughout all of this. This is analogous to the manner in which the bangle may be melted down and remade as a chain and then a ring but all are really only ever gold. Since ‘I’ am present throughout, as each of the three states come and go, I must be turIya and not any of them.

Anandagiri points out here that turIya is not different in essence from vishva, taijasa and prAj~na. There is an ‘apparent’ difference but no ‘absolute’ difference. If turIya were completely different, then this presentation of the Upanishad would not help us to realize the truth. Also, if the three states were entirely negated, then we would have to conclude that there was no Atman at all. This would lead to nihilism or the ’emptiness’ (shUnyata) of Buddhism. 

The mantra next states that turIya does not have any attributes of ‘known-hood’ either; i.e. it is not ‘knowable’ (prameya vilakShaNa). It does this by looking at the various ways by which we come to know of the existence of something. If it is not accessible to any of these, then it cannot be known.

  • adRRiShTam – imperceptible; (It is) unseen (by any of the senses) [dRRiShTa means, seen, perceived, visible, apparent – but the word stands for all the senses]. This negates the pramANa of pratyakSha, direct perception.
  • avyavahAryam – unavailable for transactions; It has nothing to do with ‘worldly’ things [vyavahAra is to do with common practice, ordinary life, conduct, behavior etc. i.e. transactions within vyavahAra]. This follows, since it is not accessible to senses, mind, organs of action etc. as described by the other words in this section of the mantra.
  • agrAhyam – not ‘graspable’ [grAhya often means to be perceived, recognized or understood but here it is used in its literal sense and stands for all the five karmendriya-s (organs of action) – grahaNa literally means to catch, where the organs of action are involved in catching.]
  • alakShaNam – without any characteristics [lakShaNa is an indicatory mark or sign or, more commonly in Advaita, a pointer] also translated as ‘un-inferable’. This negates the pramANa of inference.
  • achintyam – unthinkable. Since turIya is unavailable for the pramANa-s of perception or inference, it is incomprehensible, beyond thought. It follows that whatever you can conceive is not turIya!
  • avyapadeshyam – unspeakable. Since it is not an object of experience, it cannot be described or defined. I.e. it is not available to shabda pramANa either. See the main text for a description of how Advaita and the sampradAya tradition manage to talk about that which cannot be described!

If turIya is neither the knower nor the known, what then is it and how can we appreciate that it is the only reality?

  • ekAtmapratyayasAraM – it has to be recognized (sAra) to be the one unique (eka) ‘I’-experience (Atma-pratyaya). It is the same Self that is experienced in all three states. We know that the ‘feeling of I’ that I have remains the same throughout my life. Although the body changes, the mind changes and my personal circumstances continually change, the ‘essential I’ that I feel myself to be now is the same as that which existed when I was a child and first appreciated myself as an existent entity. The attributes – size, age, health, relations, job, possessions, emotions, beliefs etc. are all transitory attributes but ‘I am’ – Consciousness – continues unchanged. When all of those attributes are dropped, what remains is my true Self – Atman. That is turIya. (The ‘dropping’ is, of course, an intellectual exercise, which has to be done in the waking state.)
  • prapa~nchopashamaM – that in which all phenomena cease; negation (ama) of the experience (pash) of all plurality of the universe (prapa~ncha). The waking state is that in which we are conscious of the gross universe – sthUla prapa~ncha. The dream state is that in which we are conscious of the subtle world projected by the mind – sUkShma prapa~ncha. The deep-sleep state is that in which we experience peace and bliss, though the causal world (svapna prapa~ncha) is unmanifest. But turIya is neither knower nor known. All of those attributes which characterize the three states are negated. There is no plurality; no universe; consciousness alone exists without a second – this word is effectively negating the existence of the world; turIya is that which is free from the ‘universes’ in the three states of consciousness.

As Shankara points out, it is because turIya is different from the three states that it is called the fourth; the three are only appearances, whereas turIya is the reality. Another, possibly useful metaphor here is that of the three states of H2O, viz. ice, liquid water and steam. Each of these has H2O as its substantial reality, though their empirical characteristics differ widely. H2O is not itself intrinsically any of the states, though it is the only reality of all of them. Although each state changes into the others under differing conditions, H2O remains the unchanging reality. Similarly, waking dream and deep sleep change, one into the other at appropriate (or inappropriate) times of the day, but turIya remains the unchanging reality.

  • shAntaM – peace, tranquility;
  • shivam – favorable, propitious, auspicious. Swami Gambhirananda (Ref. 15) translates this as ‘absolutely pure; supreme Bliss and Consciousness in essence’. This makes more sense. 
  • AdvaitaM – non-dual;  
  • chaturthaM manyante – they (i.e. ignorant people) consider it to be the fourth (= turIya), (because they erroneously think that that waking, dream and deep-sleep states are real, whereas they are actually mithyA);
  • sa AtmA – that is the Self;
  • savij~neyaH – that is to be understood. I.e. the ignorance of this truth in vyavahAra has to be removed. Swami Muni Naryanana Prasad (Ref. 38) says that j~neyaH means ‘that which is to be known’, but vij~neyaH provides additional emphasis: ‘that which is to be specifically known’. And he cites Bhagavad Gita (VII.8 – 11), where Krishna states that he is the quality of the taste in water, the light in the sun and moon, fragrance of the earth and the vital essence of all living beings etc. The point is that our minds have to become so trained that, whatever we do or perceive, we are constantly aware that ‘everything is brahman‘  (sarvam khalvidam brahma) and ‘this Atman is brahman‘ (ayam Atmabrahma).

The upshot of this is that no word can ever describe the nature of reality and, indeed, anything that we predicate of it cannot be true. Even to speak of it as ‘Consciousness’ or ‘non-dual’ or ‘brahman’ has to be, in the final analysis, merely an attempt to understand it with our feeble mind.

But, by negating the defining characteristics of the three states, we are able to apprehend the nature of the real Self. Shankara compares this to negating the imagined snake, crack in the ground or stick, thus enabling us to realize that their ‘substratum’ of rope is the only reality. We do not need to look for a separate source of knowledge to tell us about the rope. This explains how it is possible for scripture to function as a pramANa.

*** Read Part 9 ***

Just a reminder that this series forms Appendix 1 of my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, which deals with the Upanishad and the whole of Gaudapada’s kArikA-s. (And the tone of the book is much more ‘conversational’ than this Appendix!) It is available from Amazon:

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2 thoughts on “mANDUkya upaniShad Part 8

  1. Dear Dennis,
    Reg ekAtmapratyayasAraM, I think the essential idea conveyed through this that it is the means for *realizing* Turiyam is missing in the explanation. Bhashya presents two interpretations for this term. I am giving below my understanding of this term as per Bhashya.
    The two interpretations differ in the anvaya for the term “eka”. In the
    first interpretation, it is associated with the term “atma” while in the
    second it is associated with “pratyaya”. Thus we have “eka atma pratyaya”
    and “atma eka pratyaya”. In the first, Turiyam is stated to be realized by
    following the thought process ( sarah ) that the Atmas ( Consciousness ) in
    the three states of awareness namely jagrat/svapna/sushupti are really one
    and the same and not three separate Atmas ( Consciousnesses ). Thus
    Vaishvanara/Taijasa/prajna are to be understood as one and the same Turiya.
    In the second interpretation it is stressed that the ONLY ( eka pratyaya )
    means ( sarah ) of realizing Turiyam is through understanding it as Atman.
    There is no other means. The Bhashyam hence cites in support of this the BU
    << आत्मेत्येवोपासीत’ (बृ. उ. १-४-७) .
    Best Wishes

  2. Dear Chandramouli,

    Thank you for adding that. When I originally wrote this (around 12 years ago I think), I did not have access to a complete Shankara bhAShya (in English). And this appendix was intended to be just a bare explanation of the mantras themselves, without the benefit of Shankara.

    I now have the bhAShya (Sarojini Varadarajan translation, from talks by Swamis Dayananda and Paramarthananda) and, coincidentally, was reading the mantra 7 bhAShya a couple of days ago. I have to say that I think your explanation is clearer – thank you!

    Best wishes,

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