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This Upanishad is in four sections. In each, there is a portion in prose, followed by verses which explain and support the points made in prose earlier. Some verses which are considered part and parcel of the Upanishad by Shri Madhva, are considered as part of the Gaudapada-karika, in the Advaita tradition. B N K Sharma has discussed the controversy whether they form part of the Upanishad in detail in several papers, and has conclusively proved that they are indeed a part. The main points to be noted in this context are:
1. Shri Ramanuja also quotes some of these verses as Shruti and interprets them.
2. A number of Advaita commentators such as Anandagiri, Brahmananda, and Appayya Dixita, etc., also quote these texts as Shruti.
3. Shri Shankara himself quotes these as Shruti elsewhere.
It is clear that these form part of the Upanishad text. Gaudapada must have considered these as his source texts and put them together as Agama-prakaraNa at the commencement of his Karika. The very description of these as Agama-prakaraNa also shows that these were not his compositions, but were verses revealed to Chaturmukha Brahma (Brahma d.rshhTa). It is noteworthy, that some of these appear to be supportive of Advaita, and the Dvaita tradition would not have taken the trouble to elevate them to the impregnable status of the Shruti and interpret them in a different manner, unless they were indeed a part of the Upanishad.
Meaning of Omkaara
This Upanishad makes the opening statement that OM means Akshara. Three important points are mentioned about OM or Akshara. It is guNapUrNa (full of auspicious attributes), trikAlAtIta (beyond the three modes of time) and Atma or sarvaniyAmaka (controller of all else). The expressions sarva and brahma convey guNapUrnatva, and the term akshara conveys trikAlAtItatva. AtmA conveys sarvaniyAmakatva. The implication of trikAlAtItatva is that it does not undergo any modification or change at any time (shAshvadekaprakAra). shrItatva or Lakshmi also has the same characteristic by the grace of God.
ayaM AtmA brahma
This expression in the second passage means that the guNapUrNa Brahman conveyed by Om and AtmA present in all entities who regulates and controls, is one and the same. The word AtmA does not refer to the individual souls, but to God who is immanent in them. akshara or Brahman conveyed by OM, and AtmA present in all as their inner controller is the same. Thus, God's characteristic of sarvaniyAmakatva is brought out here. The context of giving an exposition of the meaning of Om and the purpose of the statement ayaM AtmA brahma show that the identity of the jiiva and God is not plausible. On the other hand, three important characteristics of God, guNapUrNatva, trikAlAtItatva and sarvaniyAmakatva are conveyed with the minimum of words. The Upanishad also clearly explains the correct interpretation of the words OM, AtmA, Brahman, and akshara, all of which denote Brahman by describing Him with His special attributes.
Four Forms Of God (conveyed by the syllables of Omkaara)
After explaining OM as a whole, the Upanishad proceeds to explain the meaning of each syllable constituting Om. These are a, u, ma, and nAda, each of which convey one form of God. a conveys Vishva or Vaishvanara form of God, which regulates the jiiva, being present in his right eye and enables the Jiva to cognize external objects. This form has the face of an elephant at the centre and nine human faces on either side -- nineteen in all. With 4 arms, 2 legs, and one trunk (of the elephant face), he has 7 limbs (saptAN^ga). u conveys the taijasa form, which is present in the neck and controls the dream state. He enables the jiiva to cognize dream objects. This form also has nineteen faces and seven limbs like the Vishva form. ma conveys Praaj~na form, present in the heart (h.rtkarNika) and regulates deep sleep. This form enables the jiiva to cognize its own svarUpa (essence) , aj~nAna (primordial ignorance) , kAla (efflux of time) and sushupti sukha (bliss associated with deep sleep). This form also has 19 faces and seven limbs.
Turiya is not Nirguna Brahman
The fourth form of God, called Turiya Rupa is described in the Upanishad in a sort of a code language. One has to go beyond the literal meaning to grasp the full significance of the terms used with reference to Turiya. This form present in the centre of the head described by the word nantaHpraj~nA, is contrasted with the other three. He does not control waking, dream or deep sleep. He does not control the cognition of external objects, dream objects, jiivaswarUpa, aj~nAna, etc. This does not mean that He is neutral or indifferent. He controls the Liberated. The Unliberated souls in samsAra therefore cannot realize, describe, grasp, or otherwise deal with Him in any way. He removes mithyAj~nana or erroneous knowledge and helps to put an end to the transmigration of the jiiva. He is called Advaita in this context, as He puts an end to Dvaita (mithyAj~nAna). The negative attributes given here have two implications --
1. To contrast Turiya form of the Lord with the other three Vishva, Taijasa and Praaj~na.
2. To bring out the distinction between comprehension of the Liberated and Unliberated.
In view of these facts, the efforts of some commentators to equate Turiya form with Nirguna Brahman do not appear to be correct.
Theories of Creation
At the end of the first section, different theories of creation are postulated and the final view is stated. These are:
1. brahma vibhUti -- creation is a modification or manifestation of Brahman.
2. vivarta -- It is merely a projection of an illusion like a dream or magic.
3. kAla -- Time is the substratum for all creation.
4. sR^ishhTi -- Creation is the outcome of God's will to create.
The Upanishad rejects the first three views and affirms the last. The Upanishad also rejects the views that creation by God has the objectives of bhogArtha (for enjoyment) or krIDArtha (for sport). The Upanishad holds that it is the very nature of God (svabhAva). God's will to create is because it is His nature to do so.
jaganmithyatva Is Not the Purport
Two verses of this Upanishad have given rise to much controversy in their interpretation. This controversy is discussed in several contexts and the untenability of the Advaita interpretation has been shown in detail. Hence, without going into details, the correct interpretation will be noted here.
I. prapaJNcho yadi vidyeta This verse is interpreted as follows --
The erroneous knowledge leading to bondage in the form of attachment to the body, material wealth, etc. (Called Dvaita here) is not natural to the soul and independent of God. It can be overcome with the grace of God. God, who removes it and is understood as such is called Advaita.
The fivefold differences between inert world, souls and God would have been destroyed, if they were created (not natural and eternal). These are not destroyed, but are observed by God, who alone is supreme.
II. vikalpo vinivarteta, etc. This verse is also interpreted as follows --
The attachment to the body, material wealth etc. even were it to be natural, could be removed by instructions by a proper teacher. When one knows the supremacy of God, his erroneous knowledge leading to attachment will be removed.
The fivefold differences would have been withdrawn, were they to be the projections (unreal) of some one else. It is only the ignorant who fail to see Difference. One has to understand the supremacy of God and reality of difference, by receiving proper instructions.
These interpretations will remove the erroneous notion that these two verses state jaganmithyatva. This subject is discussed threadbare in the Vishnu-tattva-vinirNaya and other texts.
The main teachings of the MaaNDuukyopanishad can be summed up as:
1. Exposition of the meaning of Omkaara.
2. Explanation of the four forms of God viz. Visva, Taijasa, Praajna and Turiya.
3. Theories of creation.
The explanation of the nature of Turiya and verses like prapaJNcho yadi vidyeta, etc., offer some interpretational issues.