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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



Mundaka Upanishad
Translated by F. Max Müller


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First Mundaka



Brahma was the first of the Devas, the maker of the universe, the preserver of the world. He told the knowledge of Brahman, the foundation of all knowledge, to his eldest son Artharva.


Devas = gods

Brahma is the god of creation. Brahman is the Absolute or God in an impersonal sense



Whatever Brahma told Atharvan, that knowledge of Brahman Atharvan formerly told to Angir; he told it to Satyavaha Bharadvaga, and Bharadvaga told it in succession to Angiras.

  The author enhances the credibility of this teaching by describing how it came down to him: a god told his son, who told somebody else, etc.



Saunaka, the great householder, approached Angiras respectfully and asked: 'Sir, what is that through which, if it is known, everything else becomes known?'

  This question is the main topic of the Upanishad. The questioner assumes that there is some extraordinary thing he can learn about that will automatically give him knowledge of everything else in the universe. The Upanishad will explain what that one thing is.



He said to him: 'Two kinds of knowledge must be known, this is what all who know Brahman tell us, the higher and the lower knowledge.'



'The lower knowledge is the Rig-veda, Yagur-veda, Sama-veda, Atharva-veda, Siksha (phonetics), Kalpa (ceremonial), Vyakarana (grammar), Nirukta (etymology), Khandas (metre), Gyotisha (astronomy); but the higher knowledge is that by which the Indestructible (Brahman) is apprehended.'


An extraordinary statement, really. This verse says that the Vedas — the holiest scriptures of Hinduism — contain only a lower form of knowledge.

This seems to imply that this Upanishad overturns the Vedas and replaces them with something higher. Traditional commentators harmonize the apparent conflict by asserting that the higher knowledge is actually the realization of the subject matter of the Vedas. This assertion is simillar to Christ's claim that he came to fulfil the Old Testament laws, not to destroy them.

The higher knowledge is the direct apprehension of Brahman, which we today call self-realization.


'That which cannot be seen, nor seized, which has no family and no caste, no eyes nor ears, no hands nor feet, the eternal, the omnipresent (all-pervading), infinitesimal, that which is imperishable, that it is which the wise regard as the source of all beings.'

  The author is describing Brahman here, the Absolute.


'As the spider sends forth and draws in its thread, as plants grow on the earth, as from every man hairs spring forth on the head and the body, thus does everything arise here from the Indestructible.'


The Indestructible = Brahman.

All things emanate naturally from Brahman.



'The Brahman swells by means of brooding (penance); hence is produced matter (food); from matter breath, mind, the true, the worlds (seven), and from the works (performed by men in the worlds), the immortal (the eternal effects, rewards, and punishments of works).'


This is a brief account of the creation of the universe.

Brooding = tapas, i.e., intense burning thought or yogic austerities.

This verse is much more beautiful as translated by Purohit and Yeats: "Brooding Spirit creates food, food life, life mind, mind the elements, the elements the world, the world Karma, Karma the Everlasting."


'From him who perceives all and who knows all, whose brooding (penance) consists of knowledge, from him (the highest Brahman) is born that Brahman, name, form, and matter (food).'


  Due to copyright restrictions we can't always publish the best existing translations. The clearest and most accurate English version of the Mundaka Upanishad is contained in this Oxford University Press edition translated by Patrick Olivelle. The book is cheap and we recommend it very highly.


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This page was published on Realization.org on April 18, 2001.

Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.