By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Mandala-brahmanopanisad, MaNDala-brAhmaNopaniSad, Mandala-braahmanopanishad
Maṇḍala-brāhmaṇopaniṣad is one of the minor Upaniṣads assigned to the Śukla Yajurveda. It was taught by Āditya, the Puruṣa (being) in the orb of the sun, to the sage Yājñavalkya. The Upaniṣad has five brāhmaṇas or chapters, thirteen khaṇḍas or subsections and eighty nine mantras, both in prose and in poetry.
The first chapter starts with the story of the great sage Yājñavalkya approaching Āditya or the Sun-god for the knowledge of the Ātman. Āditya starts his teaching by describing the aṣṭāṅgayoga leading to jñāna or knowledge of Brahman.
Though these eight steps appear to be the same as in the Yogasutras of Patañjali (200 B. C.) factually they are not. Here yama has four parts and niyama has nine parts. Items under these include forbearance of the vagaries of nature, steadiness of mind, devotion to the spiritual teacher, solitude, not desiring the fruits of action and self-control. Āsana is that posture of meditation wherein the mind can easily flow towards Brahman.
Fixing the mind on the ātman as pure consciousness, after eliminating the mental waves of sense-objects is dhāraṇā. Seeing the ātman or pure caitanya or consciousness in all the living beings continuously is dhyāna. Forgetting oneself completely in this experience is called samādhi.
This is followed by the enumeration of pañcadoṣas or five defects in an embodied being which are obstacles to mukti or liberation. They are:
- Kāma - lust
- Krodha - anger
- Niśśvāsa - unsteadiness of breath
- Bhaya - fear
- Nidrā - sleep
They have to be conquered respectively by not making up one’s mind, forgiveness, prāṇāyāma. giving up the consciousness of duality and thinking of the highest Truth.
Fixing the mind on the light in between the eyebrows along with some other details is described next. The jīva (individual soul) by following the disciplines described here detaches himself from all the 24 principles of prakṛti and realizes that he himself is Paramātman (the Supreme Self) in essence. Thus ends the first chapter.
The second chapter starts with the questions by Yājñavalkya regarding some teachings in the last chapter which he has not grasped. In reply, the Puruṣa in the orb of the sun, who is the teacher, describes the Ātman/Brahman which is extremely brilliant and the cause of the five fundamental elements. This Ātman, which is also the final resting place of the universe after dissolution, can be attained only by jñāna. Here a few techniques of yoga which are rather difficult to comprehend are described.
Next comes a description of Praṇava or Oñkāra as identified with Brahman and the absence of the bondage of karma in him who has realized it. The inner experience of a man of knowledge is next compared to a ritualistic worship. For instance, renunciation of all the actions is āvāhana. The continuous flow of the mind in the form of Brahman is itself snāna (bath) of the deity. The realization, ‘I am He’ is itself namaskāra and so on. Continuous meditation of Brahman in this manner if practiced by the sādhaka or the votary, ultimately leads to its realization.
- In suṣupti the mind is dissolved in tamas and hence comes back with all its defects intact.
- In samādhi, tamas is completely destroyed and the perception of the world as a real object is gone. Hence, even after coming out of samādhi, the realized soul does not see the world as a real object but only as Brahman identified with himself.
Then comes a description of five states of consciousness. They are:
- Jāgrat - waking state
- Svapna - dream state
- Suṣupti - deep-sleep state
- Turīya - the fourth state
- Turīyātīta - the state beyond even the turīya
The jiva or the bound soul, gradually progresses from the first to the last state through experiences got over several lives. Now comes a delineation of the path that leads to the transcending of sansāra (transmigration). This is the usual traditional path denote the following:
- Approaching the spiritual teacher
- Giving up all actions motivated by selfish desires
- Duly performing the prescribed duties
- Acquiring the four well-known sādhanās like viveka, vairāgya and so on
- Meditating on Brahman in the heart
- Realizing the same
The Upaniṣad declares here that saṅkalpa is responsible for bandha (bondage) and giving it up leads to mokṣa (liberation). One who gives up saṅkalpa and sees the whole world as Ātman/Brahman, is able to realize it in course of time. He himself become that.
This chapter is short. It describes unmanībhāva and amanaskatva. When the various pratyayas or mental waves are looked upon as nothing but Paramātman, the Supreme Self, then the effects of the indriyas or the senses of the mind are destroyed. The supreme Self is the final or original cause of all including Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Rudra. He also sports in one’s heart or intellect.
Then the mind will become absolutely steady like a lamp kept in a windless place. This itself is amanī-bhāva. This is also termed as unmanībhāva, a state of transcending the mind and an experience of the bliss of Brahman.
This section is very short. It describes the vyomapañcaka or five kinds of ākāśas or space. They are:
- Ākāśa - The ordinary physical space which is dark both inside and outside is the ākāśa.
- Parākāśa - The parākāśa has the fire of deluge in it.
- Mahākāśa - The mahākāśa is that tattva or principle which is full of unlimited light.
- Suryākāśa - The suryākāśa is brilliant like the sun.
- Paramākāśa - The paramākāśa is the all-pervading and indescribable light which is full of bliss.
The word ākāśa in the latter four terms, should be deemed to have been derived from the root-verb ‘kāś’ which means ‘to shine’. They are states of increasing enlightenment, of the knowledge of the Ātman/Brahman. The last is the final state.
The last chapter is also very short. After describing how the mind can be dissolved (manolaya) by detaching it from the world and directing it towards the Ādityapuruṣa (who is Brahman), the text describes how a paramahansa or an avadhuta, the perfected being, lives in the world. He is ever pure and detached. His purity and spiritual greatness are capable of liberating one hundred and one generations.
On the whole, it can be said that the Upaniṣad does not deviate from the usual (core) teachings of the major Upaniṣads. It also gives a lot of information about the esoteric teachings of Haṭhayoga and Rājayoga.
- Sun - God is also called as Nārāyaṇa.
- Aṣṭāṅgayoga is the yoga comprising eight steps.
- Brahmana means Ātman.
- Ātman is the soul inside oneself.
- Prāṇāyāma means breath-control.
- Jñāna was the path of knowledge leading to its experience.
- Āvāhana means inviting the deity to the place of worship.
- Namaskāra means salutation.
- Suṣupti means deep-sleep.
- Samādhi means perfect concentration resulting in the super conscious experience of the Ātman.
- Tamas means the basis of ignorance.
- Saṅkalpa means making up one’s mind to acquire and enjoy the objects of desire.
- Amanī-bhāva is a state in which the mind does not behave like the original fickle mind.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore