The muNDakopaniShat – Part 5
The upaniṣat is analyzing the nature of action and presenting the inherent defects thereof with a view to generate discrimination and dispassion with regard to the rituals. One who has grown above the need for engaging in ritualistic action alone is eligible for the enquiry into the Truth.
अविद्यायां बहुधा वर्तमाना
वयं कृतार्था इत्यभिमन्यन्ति बालाः ।
यत्कर्मिणो न प्रवेदयन्ति रागा-
त्तेनातुराः क्षीणलोकाश्च्यवन्ते ॥ ९ ॥
अविद्यायां in ignorance बहुधा in many ways वर्तमानाः remain hooked वयं we कृतार्थाः are blessed इति thus अभिमन्यन्ति bloat in arrogance बालाः immature यत् which कर्मिणः ritualists न do not प्रवेदयन्ति realize रागात् owing to attachment तेन due to which आतुराः misery-stricken क्षीणलोकाः having exhausted their merits च्यवन्ते they fall
Immature, immersed in ignorance in various ways, flatter themselves, saying: We have accomplished life’s purpose. Because these performers of karma do not know the Truth owing to their attachment, they fall from heaven, misery-stricken, when the fruit of their work is exhausted.
Those devoid of discrimination find it delightful to think ‘we have attained the purpose of life’, even as they continue in ignorance engaging in actions that yield finite results. Since their area of functioning is within ignorance, they never come to knowing the Truth. Actions aimed at enjoyment yield those results and only lead to perpetuation of samsāra.
इष्टापूर्तं मन्यमाना वरिष्ठं
नान्यच्छ्रेयो वेदयन्ते प्रमूढाः ।
नाकस्य पृष्ठे ते सुकृतेऽनुभूत्वे-
मं लोकं हीनतरं वा विशन्ति ॥ १० ॥
इष्टापूर्तं sacrifices and societal works मन्यमानाः regarding वरिष्ठं highest न अन्यत् not anything else श्रेयः higher good वेदयन्ते know प्रमूढाः deluded fools नाकस्य heavens’ पृष्ठे abode ते they सुकृते fruits of noble actions अनुभूत्वा having enjoyed इमं this लोकं human world हीनतरं वा or even lowly विशन्ति enter
Ignorant fools, regarding sacrifices and humanitarian works as the highest, do not know any higher good. Having enjoyed their reward on the heights of heaven, gained by good works, they enter again this world or a lower one.
The word ‘iṣṭaṁ’ refers to sacrifices enjoined in the veda. ‘pūrtaṁ’ is engaging in digging wells, ponds, establishing parks, planting trees, rest houses for travellers, building temples, etc. These acts are aimed at directly benefiting the people at large. The man engaging in such acts does tire himself physically and also expends money liberally. Such actions certainly bring a lot of puṇyaṁ, merit, to those who engage in them. As a result of this they attain to higher worlds, heavens, and enjoy pleasurable things. Those who engage in these acts think that these are the means to higher good, puruṣārtha. Thus engrossed in these, they remain ignorant about the highest goal of life, liberation, through securing self-knowledge. Hence they consider being in the company of wife, offspring, cattle and other wealth alone to be yielding them happiness. When they leave this body, their noble actions take them to higher worlds. Having enjoyed innumerable objects of pleasure there, they, upon the exhaustion of their merits, return to this human world. Or they might end up in lower, animal, bodies too.
How is it justified that they could enter lower worlds having performed noble deeds before enjoying heavenly pleasures? The answer to this lies in the consideration of the long-accumulated stock of karma at their credit. This karma can be a mixture of good and evil. That karma which is next in the queue will fructify and depending on this, such beings will end up in the human or even sub-human life-forms.
तपःश्रद्धे ये ह्युपवसन्त्यरण्ये
शान्ता विद्वांसो भैक्षचर्यां चरन्तः ।
सूर्यद्वारेण ते विरजाः प्रयान्ति
यत्रामृतः स पुरुषो ह्यव्ययात्मा ॥ ११ ॥
तपःश्रद्धे with actions and meditation ये those हि indeed उपवसन्ति live अरण्ये in forest शान्ताः tranquil विद्वांसः wise men भैक्षचर्यां चरन्तः live on alms
सूर्यद्वारेण through the path of the Sun ते they विरजाः purified प्रयान्ति reach यत्र where अमृतः immortal स that पुरुषः Supreme हि indeed अव्ययात्मा Imperishable
But those wise men of tranquil minds who live in the forest on alms, practising penances appropriate to their stations of life and contemplating such deities as Hiraṇyagarbha, depart, freed from impurities, by the Path of the Sun, to the place where that immortal Person dwells whose nature is imperishable.
The word ‘tapaḥ’ in this context means the adhering to the rules prescribed for one’s station in life. The word ‘śraddhā’ refers to meditations on deities such as Hiraṇyagarbha. Those devoted to these practices take to the forests in order to seriously pursue their goals. There these people tranquil by nature, live with their body-mind-organ group controlled. These are wise men in the sense that their aim is to secure knowledge, though they are householders. They desist from accepting anything that is not essentially required for the upkeep of their body. That is why they take to the forest, to live on the food that is naturally available there. Being freed of the burden of their merit and demerit (puṇyam and pāpam), they take to the bright path, uttarāyaṇa mārga, and reach those worlds such as the satya where Hiraṇyagarbha, the first-born, resides. He is called ‘imperishable’ relatively since his existence lasts as long as samsāra lasts. This abode is the upper limit up to which one can go while still being in samsāra, transmigrating life. These worlds are attained by the lower-knowledge, apara-vidyā, involving scripture-ordained actions and meditations on the attributed Brahman.
Some wish to take the above itself to be liberation, mokṣa. Such a view is incorrect for it is contradicted by a number of vedic passages. For example, in this muṇḍakopaniṣat itself we have passages such as ‘their desires get sublated here, in this life/body, itself.’ (3.2.2). ‘They the wise/daring ones, with controlled minds, enter/attain/realize the All, the all-pervading, in all means.’ (3.2.5). Also, their view is not conducive to the context in which the current mantra occurs. While these mantras of this second section of the first chapter are about the lower-vidyā, there cannot be an abrupt teaching of liberation, attainable by the higher, parā, vidyā. The reference to the forest-dwellers being freed of puṇya-pāpa duality is only relative.
This abode of Hiraṇyagarbha marks the limit of all actions, in the range of apara-vidyā, involving meditations too, to be accomplished by resorting to various means such as the doer, the action itself and several other aids, in the realm of duality. Manu, recounting the courses of transmigratory existence that starts with that of unmoving beings, says: ‘The wise men say, that is the highest goal of holiness that consists in the attainment of (the state of) Hiraṇyagarbha, the Prajāpati-s (lords of creatures, such as Marīci), Dharma (Death), (the principle called) Mahat, and the Unmanifested’ (Manusmṛti 12.50.)
In the sequel, after having discussed the nature of actions and their results, in order to trigger discrimination, the Upaniṣad presents the ideal aspirant who is ready for embarking on the enquiry into the Self. Such a person has to have turned away from the cycle of means and ends and aim for that entity that is beyond means and ends.
निर्वेदमायान्नास्त्यकृतः कृतेन ।
तद्विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगच्छेत्
समित्पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्मनिष्ठम् ॥ १२ ॥
परीक्ष्य having examined लोकान् the worlds कर्मचितान् earned through actions ब्राह्मणः let the brahmin निर्वेदं आयात् attain dispassion न अस्ति there is no attainment of अकृतः the eternal कृतेन through ephemeral तत् that विज्ञानार्थं with a desire to realize स he गुरुम् एव Teacher alone अभिगच्छेत् let him approach समित्पाणिः with fuel in hand श्रोत्रियं who is learned ब्रह्मनिष्ठम् and established in Brahman.
Let a brahmin, after having examined all these worlds that are gained by works, acquire freedom from desires: nothing that is eternal can be produced by what is not eternal. In order that he may understand that Eternal, let him, fuel in hand, approach a Guru who is well versed in the Vedas and always devoted to Brahman.
The upaniṣad itself hints at the ephemeral nature of the world by the words ‘that which is attained/earned through actions.’ Thus, a discriminating one has to wake up to the reality that he is faced with. Since the true nature of the aspirant is the Eternal, unproduced, Brahman and owing to the ignorance of this fact the individual is in saṁsāra, he is triggered by desire to somehow make himself full. For this, he, in ignorance, seeks finite means, erroneously hoping to make himself full. But this cycle – avidyā, kāma, karma (ignorance leading to desire which leads to actions) is not going to end and will only perpetuate saṁsāra. Engaging in scripture-ordained actions and meditations too will not directly free a person from bondage. Owing to natural tendencies one is bound to commit evil actions and make himself liable to experience their unsavoury fruits. And these fruits will take the form of his attaining to lowly creature-bodies too. A truly serious aspirant has to equip himself with the knowledge of the world in which he lives. This knowledge can come from direct perception of people’s actions and experiences, inference such as ‘a good action done will give good fruits even in other worlds, at later times and the same with evil actions too.’ and ‘just as the finite actions lead to finite results in this world, so too the finite acts of this world yield only finite results in other worlds.’ And the third source of knowledge is the scripture. From the scripture too one gains the right understanding of the nature of life.