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Mundaka Upanishad
Translated by F. Max Müller


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Shankaracarya's Introduction

(Hidden from public view pending receipt of permission to reprint.)

This page contains the introduction to the commentary that Shankaracarya wrote about the Mundaka Upanishad. He is the most important philosopher in Indian history, and his commentaries laid the foundation for the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. This text on this page was translated by Swami Nikhilananda and reproduced under the fair use provision of the U.S. Copyright Act from The Upanishads: A New Translation, Volume 1, published in 1949 by the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, New York.


The Mundaka Upanishad, beginning with the text: "Om. Brahma, the Maker of the universe," belongs to the Artharva-Veda.   Some modern scholars believe that the Mundaka Upanishad was an independent document and not part of the Artharva Veda.

The Upanishad, for the purpose of extolling its content, states at the very outset how the Knowledge contained therein was transmitted by preceptor to disciple. The great sages made mighty efforts to obtain this Knowledge; for it is the means of realizing the Highest Good in life. The Upanishad praises the Knowledge in order to create a taste for it in the mind of the hearer; for after the taste is created by the praise, he will eagerly seek it.

The relationship between the Knowledge and Liberation, as means to end, will be subsequently stated in the passage beginning: "The fetters of the heart are broken." (II. ii. 8.)


The Upanishad first states that the knowledge denoted by the term lower knowledge (apara vidya), discussed in the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, and the rest, and consisting of merely mandatory and prohibitory injunctions, cannot destroy ignorance (avidya), which is the cause of samsara, or relative existence. Next it distinguishes the Higher Knowledge (Para Vidya) from the lower knowledge, in the passage beginning: "Fools, dwelling in darkness." (I. ii. 8.) Ultimately, the Upanishad, in the passage beginning: "After having examined all these worlds which are gained by works" (I. ii. 12.), describes the Knowledge of Brahman, which is the means to the attainment of the Absolute and which can be obtained, by the grace of the preceptor, only after the aspirant has cultivated dispassion for all things considered as ends of worldly pursuit and as means to the realization of such ends. The result of this Knowledge is repeatedly stated by the Upanishad in such passages as: "He who knows the Supreme Brahman veriliy becomes Brahman" (III. ii. 9.) and "Enjoy here supreme Immortality." (III. ii. 6.)

Although people belonging to all stages of life (asramas) are equally entitled to the Knowledge of Brahman, yet the knowledge culminating to complete renunciation (sannyasa) becomes the means to Liberation (Moksha), and not the knowledge combined with action. This is shown by such passages as: "Who live on the forests on alms" (I. ii. 11.) and "Having purified their minds through the practice of sannyasa." (III. ii. 6.) The Knowledge of Brahman is incompatible with action. One realizing the identity of Atman and Brahman cannot perform action even in a dream. Knowledge is independent of the time factor; it is not the effect of any definite cause. Therefore it is not reasonable to consider the Knowledge of Brahman to be conditioned by time.

If it be suggested that Knowledge and action are compatible, as indicated by the fact that the taechers among the householders handed down the Knowledge of Brahman to their disciples, it can be said in reply that this mere indication cannot override a well established truth. The coexistence of darkness and light cannot be made possible even by a hundred rules — much less by mere indications.

After thus describing the desired end and the result of the study of the Upanishad, we now proceed to write a short commentary on it.

The Knowledge of Brahman (Brahmavidya) is called Upanishad because it destroys the whole host of evils, such as lying in a mother's womb, birth, old age, and disease, for those who approach it intimately and with reverence and devotion; or because it enables them to attain the Supreme Brahman; or because it utterly shatters such things as ignorance and desires, which are the cause of samsara, or embodied existence. For such is the etymological meaning of the word Upanishad.

  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.