The muNDakopaniShat – Part 2
In the mantra 1.1.3 we see that shaunaka, the householder, formally approached angirA seeking the Supreme Knowledge. He asked ‘Respected Sir, by knowing what everything will be known innately? I have heard in the discourses of noble and learned persons that by knowing one entity everything will become known.’ Or it could be that shounaka has the worldly knowledge that the transformations of gold, etc. become known by knowing their unifying cause, gold, etc. Thereby what is there that is the cause of the variegated world, by the knowledge of which the entire creation becomes known?
The reply from the Teacher to this crucial question comes thus:
तस्मै स होवाच । द्वे विद्ये वेदितव्ये इति ह स्म यद्ब्रह्मविदो वदन्ति परा चैवापरा च ॥ ४ ॥
तस्मै to him स he ह उवाच said द्वे two विद्ये kinds of knowledge वेदितव्ये need to be known इति ह स्म thus indeed यद्ब्रह्मविदः knowers of brahman वदन्ति say परा higher knowledge च and एव also अपरा च lower knowledge
To him he, angirA, said: Two kinds of knowledge must be known; that is what the knowers of brahman tell us. They are the Higher Knowledge and the lower knowledge.
When shounaka posed the question, angirA the Teacher said: Two types of knowledges are worthy of acquiring. Thus say knowers of the purport of the veda, those who have realized the ultimate reality. Which are these two? The Higher knowledge, parA vidyA, is about the ultimate Truth. The Lower knowledge, aparA vidyA, concerns itself with the theory and practice of dharma/adharma, meritorious and other works, their means/methods and their ends/fruit.
When shounaka asked to know that by knowing which one becomes the all-knower, how come angirA instead of giving a straight answer, says ‘Two vidyA-s are to be known’?
This is no fault, for the answer requires to be stated in an order. The ‘aparA vidyA’, Lower knowledge, is really avidyA, ignorance, and that needs to be removed. If that alone is known, nothing is really known in essence. Therefore, the method is to first dispel the objection (in the form of aparA vidyA) and then state the reply, siddhAnta (which is the parA vidyA).
The nature of two vidyA-s:
तत्रापरा ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोऽथर्ववेदः शिक्षा कल्पो व्याकरणम् निरुक्तं छन्दो ज्योतिषमिति । अथ परा यया तदक्षरमधिगम्यते ॥ ५ ॥
तत्र of these two अपरा the lower consists of ऋग्वेदः Rg veda यजुर्वेदः yajur veda सामवेदः sAma veda अथर्ववेदःatharva veda शिक्षा phonetics कल्पः rituals व्याकरणम् grammar निरुक्तम् etymology छन्दस् metre ज्योतिषम् इति and astronomy अथ and परा the higher यया is the one by which तत् that अक्षरम् Imperishable अधिगम्यते is realized/known.
Of these two, the lower knowledge is the Rig veda, the yajur veda, the sAma veda, the atharva veda, shikShA (phonetics), kalpa (rituals), vyAkaraNam (grammar), nirukta (etymology), chhandas (metre) and jyotiSam (astronomy); and the Higher Knowledge is that by which the Imperishable brahman is attained.
The aparA vidyA is first enumerated: Rg veda, yajur veda, sAma veda, atharva veda – these four veda-s, shikhA (phonetics), kalpa (rituals), vyAkaraNam (grammar), niruktam (etymology), chhandas (meter) and jyotiSham (astronomy). These six constitute the lower vidyA.
Now, the parA (higher) vidyA is specified: That vidyA by which the Supreme Reality, akSharam, whose characteristic features will be specified in the sequel, is attained, is called parA vidyA (higher vidyA). By ‘attained’ what is meant is just the dispelling of avidyA, ignorance, about the Supreme Reality. Apart from such a removal of ignorance, there is no real attaining the akSharam which is one’s very self. Surely, one is ever the self; the self of everyone is never removed from one. The ignorance that results in one not realizing one’s self and taking the not-self namely the mind-body complex to be the self, is what characterizes knowledge which also means enlightenment/realization.
When the two vidyA-s were thus enumerated, a question arises: If the parA vidyA is something external to or outside the Rg veda etc., how can it be Higher vidyA and how does it become the means for mokSha? There is this manusmRRti: ‘The smRRti-s that are outside the vedic pale and those that propound perverted views, are all useless in the next world; and they are counted as occupied with dark things’. 12.9 which clearly rejects anything that is outside the purview of the veda. Due to their wrong views and uselessness they are not to be resorted to. Therefore the upaniShad-s may be outside the purview of the Rg etc. veda-s. In case it is urged that they are indeed within the purview of the Rg etc. veda-s, it is useless to separate the upaniShad-s from the Rg etc. veda-s by the separate classification named parA vidyA which fetches the realization of the Supreme.
To this objection it is replied: Not so since what is intended through that separate classification as parA vidyA is the realization of the thing to be known. The knowledge of that Imperishable, akShara, is what is intended to be taught primarily through the parA vidyA and not the assemblage of words found in the upaniShad-s. By the word ‘veda’, however, it is popularly known the assemblage of words. Since despite the acquiring of the knowledge of this assemblage of words, in the absence of the special effort involving the approaching the Teacher, serving him and dispassion, the realization of the Imperishable, akShara, does not come about, there arises the need to separately state this knowledge about brahman and its nomenclature as well as ‘parA vidyA’.
It is important to recognize a key difference between the nature of works and knowledge. In the case of works one will have to secure the various ingredients such as the performer, subsidiary accessories, etc. and also be informed well about the method of performing the intended ritual. Possessed with these alone one is able to actually execute the rituals such as the agnihotra. Not so in the case of knowledge of brahman where coterminous with the acquisition of the knowledge through the due process of shravaNam (listening), mananam (cogitating) and nididhyAsanam (meditating with a view to internalizing the knowledge), the realization is consummated. Apart from the realization of the truth revealed by the word of the veda and remaining committed to it nothing else is required to be performed by way of executing.
Therefore in the sequel, in the parA vidyA discourse, the akShara, the Imperishable, is taught with its ‘attributes’ as an established entity (not to be produced through any action):
यत्तदद्रेश्यमग्राह्यमगोत्रमवर्णमचक्षुःश्रोत्रं तदपाणिपादम् । नित्यं विभुं सर्वगतं सुसूक्ष्मं तदव्ययं यद्भूतयोनिं परिपश्यन्ति धीराः ॥ ६ ॥
यत् तत् that which is अद्रेश्यम् beyond the reach of sense organs अग्राह्यम् cannot be grasped अगोत्रम् no root अवर्णम् no colour, etc. अचक्षुःश्रोत्रं no eyes and ears तत् अपाणिपादम् it is without hands and legs नित्यं eternal विभुं of myriad forms सर्वगतं all-pervading सुसूक्ष्मं very subtle तत् it अव्ययं imperishable यत् which भूतयोनिं source of all beings परिपश्यन्ति realize धीराः wise
By means of the Higher Knowledge the wise behold everywhere brahman, which otherwise cannot be seen or seized, which has no root or attributes, no eyes or ears, no hands or feet; which is eternal and of myriad forms, all-pervading and extremely subtle; which is imperishable and the source of all beings.
That Supreme Reality, the Imperishable, brahman, is not perceivable by any sense organs. This is because the perceiving instruments are designed to cognize the inert, elemental objects alone. The akSharam is not graspable, that is, is beyond the scope of the motor organs (hands, feet, speech, excretory and reproductive). Also, the akSharam, being a non-created entity, does not have a source, a lineage, which can be said that it belongs to. Also, there are no specifications such as thin, stout, white colour, etc. that can be specified for the akSharam. It is devoid of eye and ear, the instruments required to grasping form and sound. From the teaching ‘यः सर्वज्ञः सर्ववित्’ [‘He who is omniscient and all-knowing’] of this very upnaiShad 1.1.9, one might conclude that brahman is endowed with instruments for knowing just as those jIva-s bound in saMsAra. Such a conclusion is refuted by this expression of this mantra: ‘devoid of eye and ear’. There is the shvetashvataropaniShat 3.19 teaching ‘पश्यत्यचक्षुः स शृणोत्यकर्णः’ [‘He sees without eyes; He hears without ears.’].
The Supreme Reality, akSharam, is devoid of all motor organs. This is expressed through the representative words ‘It is not with hands and legs’. Since It cannot be grasped and does not also grasp anything, It is eternal, does not perish. It is multiformed, vibhu, since all the forms in creation starting from the highest, brahmA, to the lowest creature, are only Its manifestations. It is also all-pervading, like space, very subtle, since it is not the cause of any grossness such as being the cause of sound, etc. that the elements space, etc. are. Because of the above said characteristics alone the akSharam is undiminishing. It is only that entity made of parts will suffer diminishing by way of disintegration of parts. Since the akSharam is not so made of parts, there is no question of its diminishing. No diminishing in the form of a royal treasury gradually emptying owing to expenditure of the treasure is possible in the akSharam. Nor even the diminishing in the manner of an attribute from its substantive is possible as the akSharam is devoid of any attributes as also It is the self-of-all.
Such an akSharam which is the source of the entire creation just like the earth is of the moving and stationaryobjects is directly realized by the adepts, who are endowed with discrimination, as the One that alone is everything, everywhere. That vidyA which enables one to realize this akSharam is what is termed ‘parA vidyA’, Higher Knowledge, by the upaniShad.