Consiousness – the three stages

Three States of Consciousness
As taught by Sri Ramana Maharshi
Edited by David Godman

Question: For one who has realised his Self, it is said that he will not have the three states of wakefulness, dream and deep sleep. Is that a fact?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: What makes you say that they do not have the three states? In saying “I had a dream; I was in deep sleep; I am awake”, you must admit that you were there in all the three states. That makes it clear that you were there all the time. If you remain as you are now, you are in the wakeful state; this becomes hidden in the dream state; and the dream state disappears when you are in deep sleep. You were there then, you are there now, and you are there all the times. The three states come and go, but you are always there. It is like a cinema. The screen is always there but several types of pictures appear on the screen and then disappear. Nothing sticks to the screen. Similarly, you remain your own Self in all the three states. If you know that, the three states will not trouble you, just as the pictures that appear on the screen do not stick to it. On the screen, you sometimes see a huge ocean with endless waves; that disappears. Another time, you see fire spreading all around; that too disappears. The screen is there on both occasions. Did the screen get wet with the water or did it get burned by the fire? Nothing affected the screen. In the same way, the things that happen during the wakeful, dream and sleep states do not affect you at all; you remain your own Self.

Question: Does that mean that, although people have all three states of consciousness – wakefulness, dream and deep sleep – these do not affect them?

Maharshi: Yes, that is it. All these states come and go. The Self is not bothered; it has only one state.

Question: Does that mean that such a person will be in this world merely as a witness?

Maharshi: That is so; for this very thing Vidyaranya, in the tenth chapter of the book Panchadasi, gives as example the light that is kept on the stage of a theatre. When a drama is being played, the light is there, which illuminates, without any distinction, all the actors, whether they be kings or servants or dancers, and also all the audience. That light will be there before the drama begins, during the performance and also after the performance is over. Similarly, the light within, that is, the Self, gives light to the ego, the intellect, the memory and the mind without itself being subject to processes of growth and decay. Although during deep sleep and other states there is no feeling of the ego, that Self remains attributeless, and continues to shine of itself.

Actually the idea of the Self being the witness is only in the mind; it is not the absolute truth of the Self. Witnessing is relative to objects witnessed. Both the witness and his object are mental creations.

Question: How are the three states of consciousness inferior in degree of reality to the fourth (Turiya)? What is the actual relation between these three states and the fourth?

Maharshi: There is only one state, that of consciousness or awareness or existence. The three states of waking, dream and deep sleep cannot be real. They simply come and go. The real will always exist. The “I” or existence that alone persists in all the three states is real. The other three are not real and so it is not possible to say they have such and such degree of reality. We may roughly put it like this, Existence or consciousness is the only reality. Consciousness plus waking, we call waking. Consciousness plus sleep, we call sleep. Consciousness plus dream, we call dream. Consciousness is the screen, on which all the pictures come and go. The screen is real, the pictures are mere shadows on it. Because by long habit, we have been regarding these three states as real, we call the state of mere awareness or consciousness the fourth. There is however, no fourth state, but only one state.

There is no difference between dream and the waking state except that the dream is short and the waking long. Both are the result of the mind. Because the waking state is long, we imagine that it is our real state. But, as a matter of fact, our real state is Turiya or the fourth state which is always as it is and knows nothing of the three states of waking, dream or deep sleep. Because we call these three Avastha (states) we call the fourth state also Turiya Avastha. But it is not an Avastha, but the real and natural state of the Self. When this is realised, we know it is not a Turiya or fourth state, for a fourth state is only relative, but Turiyatita, the transcendent state.

Question: But why should these three states come and go on the real state or the screen of the Self?

Maharshi: Who puts this question? Does the Self say these states come and go? It is the seer who says these come and go. The seer and the seen together constitute the mind. See if there is such a thing as the mind. Then, the mind merges in the Self, and there is neither the seer nor the seen. So the real answer to your question is, ‘They neither come nor go.’ The Self alone remains as it ever is. The three states owe their existence to non-enquiry and enquiry puts an end to them. However much one may explain, the fact will not become clear till one attains Self-realisation and wonders how one was blind to the self-evident and only existence so long.

For the Jnani (who is self-realised), all the three states of consciousness are equally unreal. But the ajnani (ignorant or who is not self-realised), is unable to comprehend this, because for him the standard of reality is the waking state, whereas for the jnani the standard of reality is reality itself. This reality of pure consciousness is eternal by its nature and therefore subsists equally during what you call waking, dreaming and deep sleep. To him who is one with that reality there is neither the mind nor its three states and, therefore, neither introversion nor extroversion.

His is the ever-waking state, because he is awake to the eternal Self; his is the ever-dreaming state, because to him the world is no better than a repeatedly presented dream phenomenon; his is the ever-sleeping state, because he is at all times without the “body-am-I” consciousness.

Question: Is the world that is seen, felt and sensed by us in so many ways something like a dream, an illusion?

Maharshi: There is no alternative for you but to accept the world as unreal if you are seeking the truth and the truth alone, for the simple reason that unless you give up the idea that the world is real your mind will always be after it. If you take the appearance to be real you will never know the real itself, although it is the real alone that exists. This point is illustrated by the analogy of the snake in the rope. You may be deceived into believing that a piece of rope is a snake. While you imagine that the rope is a snake you cannot see the rope as a rope. The non-existent snake becomes real to you, while the real rope seems wholly non-existent as such.

Questioner: It is easy to accept tentatively that the world is not ultimately real, but it is hard to have the conviction that it is really unreal.

Maharshi: Even so is your dream world real while you are dreaming. So long as the dream lasts everything you see and feel in it is real.

Question: Is then the world no better than a dream?

Maharshi: What is wrong with the sense of reality you have while you are dreaming? You may be dreaming of something quite impossible, for instance, of having a happy chat with a dead person. Just for a moment, you may doubt in the dream, saying to yourself, ‘was he not dead?’, but somehow your mind reconciles itself to the dream vision, and the person is as good as alive for the purposes of the dream. In other words, the dream as a dream does not permit you to doubt its reality.

It is the same in the waking state, for you are unable to doubt the reality of the world that you see while you are awake. How can the mind which has itself created the world accept it as unreal? That is the significance of the comparison made between the world of the waking state and the dream world. Both are creations of the mind and, so long as the mind is engrossed in either, it finds itself unable to deny their reality. It cannot deny the reality of the dream world while it is dreaming and it cannot deny the reality of the waking world while it is awake. If, on the contrary, you withdraw your mind completely from the world and turn it within and abide there, that is, if you keep awake always to the Self which is the substratum of all experiences, you will find the world of which you are now aware is just as unreal as the world in which you lived in your dream.

Question: We see, feel and sense the world in so many ways. These sensations are the reactions to the objects seen and felt. They are not mental creations as in dreams, which differ not only from person to person but also with regard to the same person. Is that not enough to prove the objective reality of the world?

Maharshi: All this talk about inconsistencies in the dream world arise only now, when you are awake. While you are dreaming, the dream was a perfectly integrated whole. That is to say, if you felt thirsty in a dream, the illusory drinking of illusory water quenched your illusory thirst. But all this was real and not illusory to you so long as you did not know that the dream itself was illusory. Similarly with the waking world. The sensations you now have get coordinated to give you the impression that the world is real.

If, on the contrary, the world is a self-existent reality (that is what you evidently mean by objectivity), what prevents the world from revealing itself to you in sleep? You do not say you did not exist in your sleep.

Questioner: Neither do I deny the world’s existence while I am asleep. It has been existing all the while. If during my sleep I did not see it, others who were not sleeping saw it.

Maharshi: To say you existed while asleep, was it necessary to call in the evidence of others so as to prove it to you? Why do you seek their evidence now? Those others can tell you of having seen the world during your sleep only when you yourself are awake.

With regard to your own existence it is different. On waking up you say you had a sound sleep, and so that extent you are aware of yourself in the deepest sleep, whereas you have not the slightest notion of the world’s existence then. Even now, while you are awake, is it the world that says, “I am real”, or is it you?

Questioner: Of course I say it, but I say it of the world.

Maharshi: well then, that world, which you say is real, is really mocking at you for seeking to prove its reality while of your own reality you are ignorant.

You want somehow or other to maintain that the world is real. What is the standard of reality? That alone is real which exists by itself, which reveals itself by itself and which is eternal and unchanging.

Does the world exist by itself? Was it ever seen without the aid of the mind? In deep sleep there is neither mind nor world. When awake, there is the mind and there is the world. What does invariable concomitance mean? You are familiar with the principles of inductive logic which are considered the very basis of scientific investigation. Why do you not decide this question of the reality of the world in the light of those accepted principles of logic?

Of yourself, you can say “I exist”. That is, your existence is not mere existence, it is existence of which you are conscious. Really, it is existence identical with consciousness.

Questioner: The world may not be conscious of itself, yet it exists.

Maharshi: Consciousness is always Self-consciousness. If you are conscious of anything you are essentially conscious of yourself. Unselfconscious existence is a contradiction in terms. It is no existence at all. It is merely attributed existence, whereas true existence, the SAT, is not an attribute, it is the substance itself. It is the Vastu (Reality). Reality is therefore known as SAT-CHIT, being consciousness, and never merely the one to the exclusion of the other. The world neither exists by itself, nor is it conscious of its existence. How can you say that such a world is real?

And what is the nature of the world? It is perpetual change, a continuous, interminable flux. A dependent, unselfconscious, ever-changing world cannot be real.

Question: Are the names and forms of the world real?

Maharshi: You won’t find them separate from the substratum (Adhishtana). When you try to get at name and form, you will find reality only. Therefore attain the knowledge of that which is real for all time.

Question: Why does the waking state look so real?

Maharshi: We see so much on the cinema screen, but it is not real. Nothing is real there except the screen. In the same way in the waking state, there is nothing but Adhishtan(substratum). Knowledge of the world is knowledge of the knower of the world. Both go away in sleep.

Question: Why do we see such permanency and constancy in the world?

Maharshi: It is seen on account of wrong ideas. When someone says that he took a bath in the same river twice, he is wrong because when he bathed for the second time the river is not the same as it was when he bathed for the first time. On looking twice at the brightness of a flame a man says that he sees the same flame, but this flame is changing every moment. The waking state is like this. The stationary appearance is an error of perception.

Question: Where is the error?

Maharshi: Pramata (the knower).

Question: How did the knower come?

Maharshi: On account of the error of perception. In fact, the knower, and his misperceptions appear simultaneously, and when the knowledge of the Self is obtained, they disappear simultaneously.

Question: From where did the knower and his misperceptions come?

Maharshi: Who is asking the question?

Questioner: I am.

Maharshi: Find out that “I” and all your doubts will be solved. Just as in a dream a false knowledge, knower, and known rise up, in the waking state the same process operates. In both states on knowing this “I” you know everything and nothing remains to be known. In deep sleep, knower, knowledge and known are absent. In the same way, at the time of experiencing the real “I” they will not exist. Whatever you see happening in the waking state happens only to the knower, and since the knower is unreal, nothing in fact ever happens.

Question: Is the light which gives the “I” –sense identity and knowledge of the world ignorance or chit, consciousness?

Maharshi: It is only the reflected light of CHIT that makes the “I” believe itself different from others. This reflected light of Chit also makes the “I” create objects, but for this reflection there must be a surface on which the reflection takes place.

Question: What is that surface?

Maharshi: On realisation of the Self you will find that the reflection and the surface on which it takes place do not actually exist, but that both of them are one and the same Chit. There is the world, which requires location for its existence and light to make it perceptible. Both rise simultaneously. Therefore, physical existence and perception depend upon the light of the mind which is reflected from the Self. Just as cinema pictures can be made visible by a reflected light, and only in darkness, so also the world pictures are perceptible only by the light of the Self reflected in the darkness of Avidya (ignorance). The world can be seen neither in the utter darkness of ignorance, as in deep sleep, nor in the utter light of the Self, as in Self-realisation or Samadhi.

From Aitareya Upanishad, I, iii, 12

Atman (the individual self thus embodied) has three abodes, three conditions of sleep. This is one abode, this is another, this is the third.

[Note: The reference is to the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. An unenlightened person, during the waking state, is ignorant of truth and takes the unreal to be real. Therefore the waking state is not, for him, different from sleep.]

Contributions from The Advaita Ashrama, Culcutta

The following article explains: Gross, Subtle and Causal Body, Microcosm and Macrocosm,Vishva, Taijas, Prajna,Akshara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat, AUM

Three States of Consciousness 
By S.S.Raghavachar, M.A.
Dept. of Philosophy, University of Mysore, India
(This article was written on 28-01-1962)

Human experience passes through three states, Waking, Dream and Deep-sleep. These three must be studied closely and their distinctive characteristics noted.

In Waking, there is the experience of the solid external world through sense-perception.

In Dream, senses do not function. The impressions deposited in the mind by previous experiences are revivified and shaped into the likeness of waking itself. The internal perception by the mind of these revivified impressions lodged within itself, as if they are realities of the waking state itself, is dream.

In Deep-sleep, neither the senses function nor the mind functions. The self withdraws into itself as it were, but there is no self-understanding. The self is covered by a primeval ignorance from which spring all wakings, and dreams. This ignorance covers the self in all its states, but it does not set up the presentation of the non-self in the deep-sleep as it does in the waking and dream.

This analysis of the states brings out the threefold nature of embodiment. In the waking state the self is embodied in what is called the gross body consisting of the five gross elements and their modifications. In the Vedic philosophy of nature, at least three stages are discernible.

In the first stage, as represented by the Chandogya Upanisad, three elements, namely, Fire, Water and Earth are posited.

In the second stage, as represented, for instance, in the Taittiriya Upanisad, there is the addition of Air and Space. Further on, the empirical fact that these elements are not to be found in their pure and unmixed state and that they are clearly independent substances is not much of a demonstrated scientific truth must have led to the explanation that the five elements are pure and independent only in their subtle state, while as found empirically they are mixed up a great deal.

Each empirically given gross element has within it, according to this view, all the other elements also. For instance, in the gross Earth, half of it consists of pure earth and the other half consists of the other four pure elements. This process of the composition of the gross elements is what is called Panchikaranam.
[Note: ‘Panchikarana’ The fivefold combination which the five subtle rudimentary elements have to undergo to become gross ones.]

Experience of these elements and their products through sense-perception is characteristic of waking life. In the dream-state the embodiment is said to be subtle. The body of the dream-self, in the first place, contains the five organs of knowledge and the five organs of action, which are ten in all and are called Indriyas (organs).

[Note: The five organs of knowledge are Tongue (taste), Nostrils (smell), Ears (sound), Eyes (vision) and Skin (touch). The five organs of action are Tongue (speech), Hands, Feet, organ of Excretion and the Generative organ.]

It also contains the five vital breaths called Pranas. [Note: The five Pranas are Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samana. See page ‘Prana-Apana-Vyana’ column on the left.]

It has the internal sense, (Antahkarana) consisting of intellect (Buddhi), mind (Manas), and ego-sense (Ahamkara) and the faculty of contemplation (Chitta). It also contains the five subtle elements. In addition to these five factors, i.e., organs of knowledge, organs of action, vital breath, internal sense and the subtle elements, it also has their foundation Avidya, Kama and Karma. These eight factors (according to Varttika of Sri Suresvara) constitute the subtle body of the self.

Seventeen-fold Subtle Body
According to another enumeration, the subtle body consists of seventeen factors. They are the ten organs of knowledge and action, the five vital breaths, the intellect and the mind. This is the analysis of the subtle body as decisively given in some works like Sankshepa Shariraka (3-20).

The Panchikarana of Sri Sankaracharya enumerates the five subtle elements, the five breaths, the ten Indriyas, Manas and Buddhi as constituting the seventeen-fold subtle body.

In deep-sleep the body of the self is said to be causal, meaning that it is the seed of the subtle and the gross bodies and that it is the pure unactualised potentiality of the body. It consists of the original Nescience (ignorance) from which spring the phenomenal manifestations of the dream and waking worlds.

This nescience is not the negation of the native consciousness of the Atman (self), for it must itself subsist in the presence of that consciousness, even as a cloud, however much it may conceal the Sun, owes its being to the Sun. Moreover, it covers and does not annihilate the self-effulgence of the Atman. This nescience truly defies definition, analysis and description.

It is neither real nor unreal. Nor is it both real and unreal. It is neither one nor many, nor one and many. It is neither simple nor composite, nor both. All that can be positively asserted about it is that it is subject to termination by only the knowledge of the identity of Brahman and Atman. The problem of explaining it does not arise when one is unaware of the Atman. When he comes to be aware of the Atman, the ignorance has disappeared and does not exist enough to call for an explanation.

It is only the co-existence of the clear awareness of the Atman and ignorance concerning it that would raise a problem. But that co-existence is impossible. Hence the nature of the primeval nescience is inexplicable. But it positively disappears when we awake to reality. This ignorance is the causal body operating by itself in the state of deep-sleep. Thus the Atman is encased in a threefold body.

Gross, Subtle and Causal Body
The three states and the three bodies are relative to the self. We can speak of three selves from the empirical standpoint in relation to the states and bodies.

The self as embodied in the gross body and undergoing the experiences of waking is called VISHVA.

The self as encased in the subtle body and undergoing dream-experiences is the TAIJASA.

The self as resting in the causal body in the state of deep-sleep is the PRAJNA.

This is the terminology to be adopted when we take an individualistic or Microcosmic point of view. But if we adopt the Macrocosmic point of view and regard the totality of being, the Cosmic Self or the Deity can be said to maintain itself in three planes of phenomenal manifestation.

In its primordial plane as associated with Maya or cosmic self-concealment it is AKSHARA.

As enfolded in the cosmic totality of subtle bodies and dream-state, it is Sutratman or HIRANYAGARBHA.

In relation to the totality of the gross universe as revealed to waking consciousness, the cosmic spirit is said to be VIRAT. (pronounced Viraat).

Thus there are three phases of the individual self corresponding to the three planes of the phenomenal appearance of the universal spirit.


PRANAVA or the syllable AUM consists of three component elements. They are A, U and M.

The Mandukya Upanisad initiated the tradition of regarding the three sound elements of AUM as corresponding to and as signifying the phases of the self conditioned by the three bodies, and as manifesting itself in the three phenomenal states.

A signifies the VIRAT in the Macrocosm and the VISHVA in the Microcosm.

U represents HIRANYAGARBHA in the Macrocosm and TAIJASA in the Microcosm.

M signifies PRAJNA in the Microcosm and AKSHARA or ISVARA in the Macrocosm.

[Note: VIRAT: The Consciousness associated with the aggregate of all gross bodies.

VISHVA: The Consciousness which identifies itself with the individual gross body and the waking state. HIRANYAGARBHA: The subtle objective totality. TAIJASA: The Consciousness associated with the dream state and the subtle body. PRAJNA: The Consciousness associated with the deep-sleep state and the causal body or ignorance.

AKSHAR(ATMA): The indestructible (spirit). ISVARA: The great cause of the universe, the Pure Consciousness associated with its own power called MAYA.]

This fusion of the particular and cosmic standpoints is insisted upon and we are to see in the three constituents of AUM the signification of the three phases of the one integral spirit.

Thus the whole universe is viewed in three levels, the causal, the subtle and the gross. The spirit which is the ultimate reality, appears conditioned by these. Now the philosophical problem for man is to ascend to the apprehension of the real as transcending the conditions in which it is seemingly embodied.

The spiritual problem is to release oneself from these limiting conditions and to realise one’s identity with the Ultimate Principle. The symbol AUM is maintained to contain the direction for developing this transcendent integrality of knowledge and life.

The first sound-constituent of AUM, namely A represents the gross point of view. It connotes the native realism and pluralism of common sense.

From this we ought to move on to the level of thought represented by U. U signifies the understanding of the world as the projection of the universe by the Spirit itself. The point of view is found on the dream-experience and its philosophy may be described as Dynamic Idealism. Spirit, through the instrumentality of mind, sets up within itself the entire cosmos. When this standpoint reaches maturity, we must pass beyond it.

The next stage is represented by M. The diversity of presentation conjured up in the dream-world is nothing real. It is a projection of the unreal. Such projection is founded upon the non-apprehension of the real. The realisation of this fact of radical non-apprehension is promoted by the consideration of the experience of deep-sleep.

We dream because we are asleep. The worlds taken as real in waking is really of the same status as dream world and the pre-supposition of such comic dreaming is the failure to see that the Atman is the sole reality.

This failure is most clearly illustrated in deep-sleep. We must pass into the frame of thought according to which our empirical life which is in reality a dream, is due to our being asleep to spirit, the fundamental substance of our being. We are most asleep when we fancy ourselves most awake. Even as the chanting of the sacred Pranava (AUM) culminates in the serenity of silence after the final sound M, the philosophic contemplation of man’s experience in its entirety must pass after the consideration of the state of deep-sleep into the unconditioned effulgence of the pure and transcendent Self.

The seed of phenomenal life namely ignorance most strikingly present in sleep must be destroyed and the sleeper must wake up to the infinite reality of the spiritual essence. This ultimate self-affirmation is the goal of contemplation. The agnosticism of sleep must be burnt up in this transcendent self-realisation.

Following the Pranava (AUM) in all its phases, and to its farthest merger in silence, one must review the spirit’s manifestation in the three states and up to its embodiment in the Nescience-body and pass beyond even that causal sheath into the utter freedom of its absolute illumination. An analysis of man’s three states does thus fulfil itself in the vision of his Divine essence in all the glory of its “stateless” eternity.

Panchikaranam – A small treatise on Vedanta 
By Sri Sankaracharya

AUM. . The VIRAT is said to be the sum total of all the quintuplicated five elements and their effects. This is called the gross body of the Atman (soul).

Waking is that state, where the senses give rise to the knowledge of objects. The Atman, which identifies Itself with both the waking state and the gross body, is known as the VISHVA

These three (the gross body, the waking state and the VISHVA) together are represented by the first letter ‘A’ in the syllable ‘AUM’.

[Note: ‘Quintuplicated’: A particular process by which the five elementary constituents of the universe are said to be compounded with one another to form grosser entities that serve as units in the composition of the physical universe.]

2. The five unquintuplicated rudimentary elements and their effect, the subtle body, both together constitute what is called the HIRANYAGARBHA. The material subtle body has seventeen parts, viz. the five vital forces, the ten organs of perception and action, the mind and the intellect. This is said to be the subtle body of the Atman (soul).

3. When the sense-organs are quiescent or withdrawn, the knowledge arising out of impressions of the waking state and the imaginary objects there perceived, are together called the dream state. The TAIJASA is the Atman which identifies Itself with both the dream state and the subtle body. These three, i.e. – the subtle body, the dream state and the TAIJASA – are represented by the second letter ‘U’ in ‘AUM’.

4. Bound up with reflection of Pure-consciousness, the Nescience, which hides the Atman and is the cause of both the gross and the subtle bodies, is called the ‘AVYAAKRTA’ or undifferentiated. This is the causal body of the Atman. This is neither existent nor non-existent, nor even both existent and non-existent; neither different from, nor identical with, nor both different from and identical with, the Atman. This Nescience is neither composite, nor non-composite, nor both composite and non-composite, but removable by the knowledge of the identity of Brahman and the Atman alone.

When all thoughts cease and the determinative intellect, too, lapses into its causal condition, the state of deep-sleep appears. The personality appropriating these two, i.e., the causal-body and the deep-sleep state is described as ‘PRAJNA’.

These three (the causal-body Nescience, the deep-sleep state and the PRAJNA) are symbolised by the last letter ‘M’ in ‘AUM’.

Now, ‘A’ the waking-personality, should be resolved into ‘U’, the dream-personality, and the ‘U’ into ‘M’ i.e., the deep-sleep personality. Again, the ‘M’ should be reduced into ‘AUM’ and the ‘AUM’ into ‘I’. I am, the Atman, the Witness of all, the absolute of the nature of Pure Consciousness; I am neither Nescience nor even its effect but I am Brahman alone, Eternally Pure, Ever Enlightened, Eternally Free and Existence Absolute. I am the Bliss Absolute, One without a second and the Innermost Consciousness.

Remaining in this state of absolute identification is what is called ‘SAMADHI’ or the Super-conscious state.

‘Thou art That’, ‘I am Brahman’, ‘Consciousness-Bliss is Brahman’, ‘This Self is Brahman’, etc. – all these Srutis, i.e., the Upanisadic sayings (known as Mahavakyas or the great dictum) are direct evidences to the identity of the Atman, the individual soul, and Brahman. This is what is called ‘PANCHKARANAM’ or quintuplication.

Here ends the small treatise named ‘Panchikaranam’
by Bhagavan Sri Sankaracharya.

The Five Great Elements

Further elaboration of
By Sri Suresvaracharya
Sri Sankaracharya’s worthy disciple

AUM is the essence of all the Vedas and reveals the highest Truth. The method of concentration of mind through that AUM is hereby being expounded for the sake of the aspirants after liberation.

The Supreme Brahman (Supreme Reality), eternally free and immutable, existed alone. That owing to the superimposed identity with its own Maya became, as it were, the seed of the universe as the unformed and the unnamed.

[Note: ‘Maya’: It is the power of Brahman transforming itself into the universe and is the cause of all illusions. Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas are the three constituent essence of Maya. It is neither real nor unreal and hence inexplicable. It cannot be proved by reasoning which itself a product of ignorance or Maya. And with the knowledge of the identity of Jiva (Individual soul) and Brahman Maya disappears just as the mistaken idea of a snake is removed when right knowledge reveals that a rope was mistaken for a snake. The illusory idea of snake was superimposed upon the rope.

‘Seed’: Brahman, the Pure, Unalloyed Consciousness is neither the cause nor the effect of anything. Only when it is associated with Its own power, Maya, It (Saguna-Brahma) is said to be Ishvara, the cause of the universe.]

(How the unconditioned Brahman appears to be the cause of the universe has been depicted in the preceding verse. Now the process of gradual super-imposition of the so-called creation on It is being demonstrated.)

From That originated Space (akasha), which is characterised by sound. From Space, Air, having the characteristic of touch, came into existence. Thence again Light, characterised by form was produced. From Light arose Water, of the nature of taste. From Water came out Earth with its distinctive quality of smell.

[Note: The grosser the element the more are the qualities in it. Quality exclusive to each element, and also those retained by the succeeding elements from the preceding ones are being described here in a concise way.]

5. & 6.
Space (Akasha) has the quality of sound only. Air possesses the double qualities of sound and touch. Light or Fire is said to have the triple qualities, sound, touch and form. Water has got four qualities- sound, touch, form and taste, whereas Earth is endowed with five qualities, viz., sound, form, taste and smell. Out of all these subtle elements came into being the great, universal, all-pervading principle, called ‘SUTRA’.

[Note: ‘Sound only’: The subtle, i.e. the rudimentary, uncompounded elements have got their own characteristic respective qualities of sound, touch, form, taste, and smell only.

‘SUTRA’: The total vital force before manifestation, is the soul that pervades the universe like a thread passing through the beads of a garland. (The word ‘sutra’ means thread). It is also called ‘PRANA’ for having the power of activity. ‘HIRANYAGARBHA’ is its another name. The consciousness identifying itself with the aggregate of all subtle bodies is known as ‘SUTRA’ or ‘HIRANYAGARBHA’, whereas the consciousness associating itself with the individual subtle body is called ‘TAIJASA’. In fact, the same principle viewed collectively and individually appears as the two.]

(Like the origin of the subtle bodies from the subtle elementary constituents, the creation of the gross elements and bodies through their quintuplication is now being described.)

7. Those subtle elements produced the gross ones, from which, again, the VIRAT- the Macrocosm or the objective totality- came into existence. The learned call the elements as gross only after their undergoing the process of quintuplication.

[Note: VIRAT or VAISHVANAR is the consciousness which identifies itself with all the gross bodies in the universe. The process of quintuplication is now being explained in the following three verses.]

8. 9. & 10.
Each of the several elements, Earth etc., must be divided into two equal parts. One of these two parts should be further split into four equal parts. Now to one half of each element should be added one quarter of each of the other four halved elements towards the formation of one gross element. Thus in Space (akasha) there will be five constituent parts. Half of it will be Space (akasha) and the other half will consist of the four parts contributed together by all the other four elements. Thus it is known in the case of the other four elements, like air, etc. This process is the fivefold combination according to the wise.

[Note: ‘Fivefold etc.’: i.e., quintuplication. The first originated five subtle uncompounded elements cannot produce the gross objects of the universe. They have to go through this fivefold combination in the above-mentioned proportion to do the same. So, according to this process, although every gross element has got some part of the other elements too, in it- still it retains its own name owing to the preponderance of its own part.]

(That the compounded elements go into the formation of the gross Universe is being stated here.]

.The gross elements are all compounded. These produce the VIRAT, i.e., the sum total of all the gross bodies. This is the gross body of the disembodied Atman (soul).

[Note: ‘VIRAT’: Here Virat means the aggregate of all the gross bodies. In fact, the Consciousness associated with those bodies is what the word ‘Virat’ or ‘Vaishvanara’ denotes. Because of its appearing as diverse in form It is called ‘VIRAT’. Identifying Itself with all the individual souls It is known as ‘VAISHVANARA’.]

(The whole creation which is a superimposition on the Atman (soul) is being shown in its threefold aspect.)

12. The one indivisible Brahman appears threefold through illusion and not in reality. These three forms are- ‘the sphere of the gods’, ‘the sphere pertaining to the body’, and ‘the sphere of the elements’.

(That the respective gods associated with the particular senses set them in action is being stated here.)

The senses being stimulated by the respective gods give rise to the knowledge of objects. That knowledge coming through the apprehension of the external objects like sound etc. is called the waking state.

[Note: ‘The senses’:– The organs of perception together with the organs of action.

‘The respective gods’: The Macrocosm (Brahmandam) is represented in miniature in the Microcosm (Pindandam). So the senses of knowledge and action do their work aided by the respective universal principles in the Macrocosm, called gods.]

(For the sake of clear understanding, the threefold division, mentioned previously, is being further illustrated in the following fifteen verses.)

The sense of hearing belongs to the body, whereas, what is heard, namely, sound, belongs to the sphere of the elements. And the quarters, in this connection, are said to be included in the sphere of gods.

[Note: ‘The elements’: (Adhibhuta) here means the objects of the respective sense. The sense-organs originate from the Sattwa quality of the subtle elements.

‘And the quarters’: i.e., the deities associated with them entered the ears in the form of the sense of hearing. (AitareyaUpanishad 2.4)]

The sense of touch, it is said, belongs to the body and what is touched, characterised by the sense of touch pertains to the sphere of elements. And the god of air is here the presiding deity.

[Note: ‘God of air’: Herbs and trees entered the skin in the form of the hairs (Aitareya Upanishad 1.4). Although cited in the Sruti (Scripture) as deities, herbs and trees are not known as such. So air, which dominates them, has been designated as the presiding deity here.]

The sense of vision belongs to the body. That which is seen, characterised by form, pertains to the sphere of elements and the Sun is the corresponding deity in the sphere of the gods.

[Note: ‘The Sun’: The Sun-god, in the form of the sense of seeing, entered the eyes. – Aitareya Upanishad 2.4.]

The sense organ of taste belongs to the body and what is tasted by the tongue belongs to the sphere of elements. Varuna (water), the god, is the presiding deity in the tongue.

[Note: ‘Varuna’: Taste implies water which is dominated by the deity Varuna. That Varuna, too, is a deity, is evident from the Sruti (scripture) (Sham No Mitrah Sham Varunah) meaning May Mitra, the deity who owns Prana and Day; and Varuna, the deity who owns Apana and Night, bestow on us all happiness.- Taittiriya Upanishad 1.1.]

The sense organ of smell is said to be belonging to the body. That which is smelt, possessed of the nature of smell, belongs to the sphere of the elements, and the earth-god is here the presiding deity.

[Note: ‘Earth-god’: The sense organ of smell is derived from the earth. So the Earth-god has been said here to be the presiding deity. In the Sruti (Vaayuhu Praano Bhootvaa Naasike Praavishat) meaning Air, in the form of Prana, entered the nostril – Aitareya Upanishad 2.4. Air has been described as the deity of the organ of smell, still air-god should be understood as subsidiary to the Earth-god.]

The organ of speech is said to be belonging to the body, whereas, that which is spoke, of the nature of sound, belong to the sphere of elements. The Fire-god is the presiding deity.

[Note: ‘Fire-god’: The Fire-god, in the form of the organ of speech, entered the mouth. Aitareya Upanishad 2.4.]

(Like the five organs of perception, the five organs of action too, which originate from the ‘Rajas’ quality of the subtle elements, have got their respective deities.)

The organ of hands, it is said, belongs to the body. That which is handled is in the sphere of elements and the god Indra is there the presiding deity.

[Note: ‘Indra’: “Indra is the god of my strength”. “Strength is considered to be contained in the arms”. Such sentences in the scriptures describe Indra as the deity of the hands.]

The organ of feet is said to be pertaining to the body, whereas that, which is, in this connection, the object or place gone to, belongs to the realm of elements. God Vishnu is the presiding deity thereof.

The excretory organ is in the sphere of the body. Excrescence is of the sphere of the elements. The god of death is the corresponding presiding deity.

The generative organ belongs to the body. The objective source of pleasure is the corresponding factor in the sphere of the elements. God Prajapati is the corresponding deity.

[Note: ‘Prajapati’: “Water in the form of seminal fluid entered the generative organ” (Aitareya Upanishad 2.4.). Water has been observed as the deity, still it is to be understood that by the word ‘water’ there, Prajapati, the god of reproduction has been hinted at.]

The mind is said to be in the realm of the body. Whatever is thought of, belongs to the world of elements. The moon-god is the presiding deity of the mind.

The determinative intellect (buddhi) is in the sphere of the body, whereas whatever is subject to determinative intellection belongs to the sphere of the elements, and in the sphere of gods, Brhaspati stands as the presiding deity.

[Note: ‘Brhaspati: From Agamas (Tantras) (Brhaspatiriva Budhyaa) meaning May I become like Brhaspati in intellect.]

Likewise, the sense of ego is in the bodily plane and all that concerning which the sense of ego is exercised belongs to the world of elements. The god Rudra, is the presiding deity.

The contemplative faculty (chittam) is said to be in the bodily realm and that which is the object of reasoning belongs to the sphere of the elements. The ‘Kshetrajna” or the witnessing Consciousness is the corresponding deity in the sphere of the gods.

Ignorance (Tamah), it is said, belongs to the bodily sphere, whereas the mutations happening therein are in the sphere of the elements. The supreme “God-head” is the presiding deity.

[Note: ‘Ignorance’: The causal body./ ‘God-head’: Ishvara, the cause of the world who controls Maya. For more explanation see Pages “Nature of Reality” and “Maya” ]

Thus by ‘waking state’ is meant the knowledge of the respective objects resulting from the operation of senses, both external and internal, aided by their corresponding deities.

(The first letter ‘A’ of the syllable ‘AUM’ represents the gross body, the waking state and the Consciousness called ‘VISHVA’ associated with them. Now the word ‘VISHVA’, of the text is being explained here.)

That which identifies Itself with both the waking state and the body, which is the seat of the senses, is described as the VISHVA.

[Note: ‘The body’: In the waking state, Consciousness identifies Itself with the gross body and in doing so, It evidently identifies Itself with the subtle body, which is contained by the former one. This has been hinted at by saying that the gross body is the seat of the senses (i.e., of the subtle body. The causal body, ignorance, the basis of the subtle body, too, comes into the picture and is identified with himself by Vishva. So, as a matter of fact, Vishva identifies Itself with all the three bodies. (Sukshmashariramaparityajya Stoolsharirapraveshtavaat Vishvah) meaning Consciousness having entered, as it were, the gross body without giving up Its identification with the subtle body is called VISHVA.]

(Vedanta always strives to establish the identity of the individual and the Universal Soul.)

In the preceding verse VISHVA has been said to be one with the gross body, and in verse 11 it has been stated that the compounded elements go to form the VIRAT. That this is possible only in case where the two are identical, is being described now.

This VISHVA (the individual Consciousness identifying Itself with the waking state and the gross body) must be looked upon as identical with VIRAT (the Microcosmic Consciousness) so that duality may be sublated.

In the following seven verses (31-37) the subtle body of the Atman (soul) is being expounded.)

31 to 34.

The sense organs of perception are five, viz., the organs of hearing, touch, vision, smell and taste. The organs of action, too, are five, namely, that of speech, the hands, the feet, and the organs of excretion and generation.

There are four internal organs, namely, the mind, the intellect, the ego and the apparatus of contemplation. The mind is that which considers the pros and cons of a subject, and the intellect is that faculty which determines. Likewise, the principle of ego is said to be of the nature of the sense of ownership, and Chitta or memory is that factor which remembers.

[Note: ‘Internal organs’: The inner organ (ANTAHKARANA) is called Manas (Mind), Buddhi (Intellect), Chitta (faculty of contemplation and memory), and Ahmkara (Ego) owing to its different functions. Manas (mind) when it cannot determine an object (doubting). Buddhi (intellect) when it is assured of the nature of the object (determines). The Chitta (memory) when it remembers. Ahamkara (ego) when it identifies with itself with the body as its own Self.

From Viveka Chudamani of Sankaracharya: verses 93/94: The inner organ (Antahkarana) is called Manas, Buddhi, Ahamkara or Chitta, according to their respective functions. Manas from its considering the pros and cons of a thing; Buddhi, from its property of determining the truth of objects. The Ahamkara (ego), from its identification with this body as one’s own self. Chitta, from its function of remembering things it is interested in.

‘Pros and cons’: When a person cannot determine whether an object is this or that, and whether or not to perform a particular action, Manas or the mind is then said to be functioning .]

35. & 36.
The PRANA, APANA, VYANA, UDANA and SAMANA- all these are called the five vital forces. The subtle elements are also five in number, viz., space, air, fire, water and earth. All these five groups together with Nescience (ignorance of our real nature), Desire, and Action (also called or described as eight ‘cities’) go to form the LINGA body. This is the illusory subtle body of the innermost Self or Atman.

[Note: ‘Prana’: From Viveka Chudamani of Sri Sankaracharya: Verse 95: “One and the same Prana (vital force) becomes Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samana according to their diversity of functions and modifications, like gold, water, etc.” (Just as the same gold is fashioned into various ornaments, and as water takes the form of foam, waves etc.)].

‘Prana’: The same Prana, the vital force, is called the Prana while inhaling and exhaling; the Apana while excreting; Vyana while it pervades the entire body; Udana when it helps passing out from the body Samana when it assimilates food and drink. Prana is said to be seated at the tip of the nose, being directly felt there, Apana in the excretory organ, Vyana in the entire body, Udana in the throat (generally the subtle body passes out through this exit), and Samana in the middle part of the body.

‘Nescience’: Ignorance of our real nature as the blissful Self. This ignorance leads to desire, which pushes one into action, the cause of countless sufferings.

‘The eight cities’: 1. The five organs of perception. 2.The five organs of action. 3.The five vital forces. 4.The five subtle rudimentary elements. 5. The inner organ consisting of the mind, intellect, etc (Antahkarana), 6. Nescience (ignorance), 7.desire and 8.Action.

‘Linga body’: The subtle body. The word ‘subtle body’ may, in ordinary parlance, mean something like a spirit or ghost, so in Vedanta, ‘Linga’ body is a better term. It is formed out of the eight aforesaid constituents.

‘Illusory’: This indicates that this body is not real.

‘Subtle body’: Made up of the eight cities (see Brhadaranyaka Upanishad]

(The workings of the subtle body are being elaborated further in verses 37-38.)

37. & 38.
Dream is the state conditioned by the inactivity of the senses, the potency of the impressions of waking state and the functioning of consciousness in the role of both the subject and object. The ego, which has the sense of ownership in relation to both (the dream state and the subtle body), is called TAIJASA.

(The wise one should look upon this TAIJASA as identified with HIRANYAGARBHA, the subtle objective totality.)

(Thus explaining the subtle body, the dream state and the consciousness associated with them – all these together representing the letter ‘U’- the author now proceeds to show the causal body, the state through which it is endowed with experiences, and the consciousness combined with both, in order to explain the last letter ‘M’ of AUM. Verses 39-40.)

39. & 40.
Bound up with the reflection of Pure Consciousness, the Nescience of the Atman (soul), the cause of the gross and subtle bodies constitutes the Unmanifested, also called Undifferentiated (i.e., un-named and unformed). This is neither existent nor non-existent nor both existent and non-existent. It is neither different from, nor identical with the Atman.

[Note: ‘Nescience’: Maya, Avidya, Ajnana, Avyakta, Avyakrita, Nescience, Prakrti- these terms are often synonymously used.]

41. It (this Nescience), is neither made up of parts, nor is it non-composite, nor even both composite and non-composite. By virtue of its being unreal, it is liable to elimination by the comprehension of the identity of Brahman and Atman.

[Note: ‘Unreal’: Because it is wrongly imputed to the Atman (soul). All wrong imputations (Adhyaropa or superimposition) vanish at the dawn of the knowledge of the real nature of the thing. As when in the dark, a rope is mistaken for a snake. The idea of a snake being superimposed upon the rope. The illusory idea of the snake vanishes the moment the true identity of the rope is realised. When the rope is known to be distinct from the snake (in a rope-snake superimposition), the snake then is said to be unreal. It is then neither in the rope nor elsewhere. The rope does not actually change into a snake, but only appears to be a snake, an illusion caused by ignorance.

This is called the VIVARTA-VADA theory, the only pivot on which the structure of the ADVAITA VEDANTA philosophy stands. As a snake is the VIVARTA of a rope, so is the universe the VIVARTA of Brahman (the Supreme Reality). This illusion, consisting of only name and form, can be removed only by the knowledge of Brahman. The removal of the illusion is called APAVADA. Appearing as something else is called VIVARTA.]

(After expounding the nature of the causal body, the state of deep-sleep, associated with it is now being explained.)

42. On the analogy of the Banyan tree in the seed, when all thoughts vanish and when the determinative intellect merges into its causal condition, the state of deep-sleep dawns.

[Note: ‘All thoughts vanish…’: All thoughts vanish in the state of final liberation, and sometimes in the waking state, too, when the mind is free of all ideas, but that cannot be said to be the deep-sleep state. The mind etc., gets merged in the causal condition, i.e., ignorance, at the time of (or during the state of) deep-sleep, from which again, everything springs up during the waking and dream states.]

43. The personality which appropriates these two (the deep-sleep state and the causal body) is described as PRAJNA. One should look upon this PRAJNA as one identical with the Great Cause of the universe, ISHVARA.

[Note: ‘Prajna’: Consciousness in a state of deep-sleep is termed Prajna. In the waking state the Self is called Vishva, in the dream state Taijasa. In deep-sleep, though the Prajna remains unified with Brahman (the Supreme Reality), owing to its being covered with ignorance, its knowledge is limited. TURIYA is beyond these three states, where the Soul, divested of all ignorance, becomes fully aware of its perpetual identity with Brahman.

‘Identical with the Great Cause of the universe’: The knowledge of identity of the individual soul with the universal one is the only thing that Vedanta aims at.]

(That all these manifold divisions like Vishva, Taijasa, etc., being of illusory nature, do not actually mar the non-duality of the Absolute Self is being described now.)

44. The Ultimate Reality which is of the nature of Pure Consciousness, though one, appears, through illusion as the multitude of Vishva, Taijasa, Prajna, Virat, Sutra (Hiranyagarbha) and Akshara forms.

[Note; ‘Multitude’: Duality appears only owing to the illusory limiting adjuncts.

‘Akshara’: i.e. Ishvara, the Consciousness associated with the collective causal body.]

(In reality truth is only One and That, through illusion, appears as many. The way to attain this knowledge through the process of Apavada, i.e., sublation, is being shown now.)

45. The three forms, Vishva, Taijasa and Prajna, must be contemplated as identical with Virat, Sutratma and Akshara respectively, so that the non-existence of the difference of those entities may be established.

[Note: ‘Apavada’: It is the negation of the illusory super-imposition, consisting of only name and form, and the consequent discovery of Brahman, the underlying Reality.

‘non-existence’: The three individual forms of consciousness, after sublation, become identical with the three collective forms of Consciousness, and so only the latter three remain in place of six. How these three also are progressively reduced into One Pure Consciousness will be shown later.]

(Here the identity of words and their meanings are being shown so that by way of sublating the above three as described in the preceding verse, the words, too, will get merged in Pure Consciousness simultaneously.)

46. ‘AUM’ is the entire universe constituted by the three selves, Vishva, Taijasa and Prajna. This is so because there is no ultimate difference between the name and the named (entity) and also because the two are never cognized in mutual separation.

[Note: ‘Entire universe’: A = Vishva + individual gross body + waking state.

U = Taijasa + individual subtle body + dream state

M = Prajna + individual causal body + deep-sleep state

‘Name and named’: as leaves are covered by arteries, so all names are pervaded by AUM (Chandogya Upanishad 2.23.3). The modification being only a name arising from speech. (Chandogya Upanishad 6.1.4).

(The identity of AUM in general with the whole universe has been spoken of. Now the parts (A, U, M ) are being shown as one with their respective meanings.)

47. The constituent letter ‘A’ is Vishva and the letter ‘U’ is to be considered as Taijasa, while the last letter ‘M’ is one with Prajna. Thus the identity of these constituent parts of ‘AUM’ and the three selves must be comprehended in the proper order.

(So far contemplation preparatory to Samadhi (a state of absorption with the Ultimate Truth) has been described. Now the process which immediately leads to that state is being narrated.)

48. Even prior to the time of Samadhi contemplating on this Truth with great care, one should resolve all these progressively in the order of gross, subtle and causal states into the Supreme Atman (soul), which is of the nature of Pure Knowledge.

Note: ‘Samadhi’: The state of complete absorption in the Absolute and non-dual Brahman (Supreme Reality), arrived at as a result of discrimination and deep contemplation with the help of ‘AUM’ as stated here.

‘With great care’: Because such contemplation can be done by one with unswerving perseverance, patience, faith and renunciation only.

(How these are to be progressively merged into the Pure Consciousness, is being shown here.)

49. The waking personality of Vishva, symbolised by ‘A’ must be resolved into ‘U’ (i.e., the dream personality). The subtle radiant personality of dream, the Taijasa, symbolised by ‘U’ must be merged into ‘M’ (i.e., the personality of deep-sleep). Again, the Prajna, that deep-sleep Consciousness symbolised by ‘M’ and which is the causal personality, must be finally reduced to the Atman, of the nature of Pure Consciousness.

[Note: ‘Finally reduced’: This sort of meditation is called Laya Upasana or Ahamgraha Upasana- meditation with the help of the sacred AUM.]

(It has been said how the whole universe has to be reduced to the Supreme Atman (Soul) which is of the nature of Pure Consciousness. Now by way of showing the process of attaining the ‘SAMPRAJNATA SAMADHI’, the essential characteristics of the Atman are being presented here. Verses 50-51)

50. & 51.
I am the Atman, the Pure Consciousness, eternally pure and Intelligence Absolute, ever free and One without a second. I am the Bliss Infinite. I am Vasudeva, the all-pervading Supreme Spirit and I am ‘AUM’. Thus comprehending, the contemplative faculty must also be merged into that Witness, the Absolute Atman.

[Note: ‘Bliss Infinite’: All enjoyments culminate in Brahman which is of the nature of Supreme Bliss. (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.32). The Avyakta or the Aksharatma is, as it were, a part of Brahman through the limiting adjunct ignorance; the Sutratma or the cosmic mind is again a part of that Avyakta, and the Virat, i.e., the Cosmic Soul identified with the gross universe is considered to be a fraction of the Sutratma. Even the bliss of the Virat-hood is something beyond the comprehension of the finite minds of ours. So Brahman is Bliss Infinite.

‘Vasudeva’: From Vishnu Purana: “As He (the Supreme Spirit) evenly pervades everything, so the wise ones call Him Vasudeva”.

‘The comprehending’: Here the process of attaining ASAMPRAJNYAAT SAMADHI or Nirvikalpa Samadhi is being described. This comprehending- i.e., after practising the Savikalpa Samadhi for long. Savikalpa Samadhi is that state where the mind assumes the form of Brahman (Supreme Spirit) and rests on it with the distinction between the subject and object still persisting. When with the deepening of that state the duality of subject and object vanishes altogether, and the aspirant becomes one with Brahman, the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi is said to have been achieved. So the former kind of Samadhi culminates into this.

‘Contemplative faculty’: The faculty involving the threefold divisions of meditation, meditator and the meditated.

‘Witness’: Because it directly illumines everything superimposed on it without the mediacy of any modification of the mind – it is called the Witness.

(The state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi is being narrated now)

When the contemplative mind is merged into the Atman (Soul), the Pure Consciousness, then it should not be disturbed. One should then remain as that Infinite Consciousness like the full and motionless ocean.

[Note: ‘One should then remain’: From Mandukya Karika 3.44.: Shamapraaptam Na Chaalayet etc. When the mind, free from all obstacles, is controlled, do not distract it any more. Do not linger on the bliss that comes from the Savikalpa Samadhi but be unattached through discrimination.]

(Constant practice of this Samadhi gradually culminates in realisation.)

Thus attaining perfect absorption through constant practice, an aspirant, endowed with faith and devotion, and having overcome the senses and anger, perceives (realises) the Atman; the One without a second.

[Note: ‘Endowed with faith and devotion’: These virtues have to be constantly and most reverentially practised for long till realisation dawns. From Yoga Sutra 1.14: “Sa Tu Deerghakala Nairantarya Satkaarsevito Drdhabhoomihi- meaning : Firmness of the ground is achieved through long and constant practice with love.]

(It may be argued that such constant practice is not possible in the presence of mundane duties. In reply it is being brought to our notice that renunciation of, or aversion to, all perishable objects, the most important pre-requisite for an aspirant, has to be developed firmly right through the period of that practice.)

This empirical world, as a whole, is of the nature of sorrow in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end. Therefore, after renouncing everything an aspirant should steadfastly be establish in Truth.

[Note: ‘Nature of sorrow’: From Gita 13.8. : Reflection on the evils of birth, death, old age, sickness and pain- all these produce sorrows. Indifference to sense objects is born of this reflection and gradually one turns towards the Atman for attaining freedom from all sorrows.

‘In the beginning’: From Panchadasi 7.139 Wealth is hard to acquire. Its protection entails lots of worries. When lost or spent, it becomes the cause of untold sorrows. Fie on such wealth! Panchdasi 7.140.141: In this way everything has to be discriminated.

‘After renouncing’: From Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12. : Not by rituals, not by progeny or wealth, but by renunciation alone immortality has to be achieved. / Arriving at the conclusion through reasoning that the worlds, acquired by rituals, are impermanent, a Brahmin (an aspirant ) in a spirit of dispassion, renounces everything, knowing those rituals full well as not conducive to the attainment of Brahman (Supreme Spirit). For the Knowledge of Brahman the aspirant must go with wood-fuel in his hand (or some flowers etc. as offerings, in a spirit of service and humility) to the teacher (Guru) who is endowed with Vedic learning and thoroughly merged in Brahman. (This knowledge does not come without being taught by a teacher.)

(Perfect satiety is the due outcome of realisation.)

For him, who sees the all-pervading Atman, of the nature of supreme peace and bliss and the sole reality, there remains nothing more to be attained and nothing more to be known.

[Note: ‘Nothing more to be attained’: All enjoyments or joys being included in the Bliss of Brahman, nothing more achievable is left behind. So a man of Knowledge is free from all duties, and he is no linger bound by any injunctions.

‘Nothing more to be known’: Because by knowing Him everything becomes known. Brahman alone, and nothing else, really exists. So when Brahman is known, nothing more remains to be known.]

(The state of perfection (where nothing more remains to be achieved or known) is further elucidated.)

A wise one attain the acme of life having nothing more to be achieved, and thus becomes eternally free although still living. With the whole of his mind and heart thoroughly filled with the Atman, he does not perceive this world.

[Note: ‘Eternally free’: During the time of Samadhi as well as when he is busy with outward activities.

‘Still living’: This is called Jivanmukti. When the knowledge of the Self-Brahman is attained, one is said to be liberated. But the body has to work out its pre-destined term of existence due to Prarabdha. So till the Prarabdha is exhausted through experience, such a man is called liberated while still living (Jivanmukta). After the fall of the body, the same is said to be Videhamukta (i.e., one who has attained disembodied or absolute freedom).

Prarabdha : There are three kinds of actions.

1.Sanchita-i.e., those accumulated in previous countless births (lives).

2. Agami – Those that have yet to come i.e.those that are done in this life after the attainment of knowledge.

3. Prarabdha. Part of the accumulated results of the past actions (i.e., Sanchita) which has started bearing fruit by giving birth to the present body is called Prarabdha. The knowledge of Brahman destroys all the results of the past accumulated actions (Sanchita) and makes impotent those that are done after attainment of Knowledge (Agami), for, the realised man is not at all touched by them. But the Prarabdha persists and runs its own course by producing various experiences till death. This is the state of Jivanmukti. When the Prarabdha exhausts itself, the body of the liberated man falls and he attains the state of Videha-mukti i.e., disembodied or Absolute liberation. (Brahma sutras

‘Does not perceive’: Although he may perceive the appearance of the world comprising name and form, still that has no reality for him and he is always fully conscious of Supreme Atman, for him and he is always fully conscious of Supreme Atman, his real nature, the substratum of all illusory imputations.]

(That an emancipated soul is always free even while engaged in worldly activities is now being explained.)

Sometimes even when he perceives duality in the ordinary course of life, he does not really perceive it as different from the Ever-Conscious Atman, for Consciousness runs in and through all.

[Note: ‘Sometimes’: When not in the state of Samadhi. An ignorant man always sees duality as real and is attached to it. To a man of knowledge, the world of name and form appears, no doubt, but that has no reality for him and he is also not lured by it.

‘Does not really perceive it’: Because whatever he perceives is just a false appearance. This false appearance of name and form is due to Prarabdha which has got to be exhausted through experience.

A man of knowledge does only what is good and beneficial for mankind. Although not bound by any law, the good habits, which he practised for long till the attainment of knowledge, persist, and he never transgresses the time honoured customs and the sanctions of the scriptures. Sri Sureshvaracharya says in his immortal book ‘Naishkarmya-Siddhihi’ : “If a man who has realised the non-dual Truth, goes out of bounds, then as regards consuming impure and forbidden things, what makes the difference between him and a dog?” 4-62.

“All qualities like non-violence etc., (Gita Ch.12, Shlokas 13 to20), attend a man of realisation automatically and they have not to be practiced with effort.” 4-69.

Gita Ch.12/ 13 to 20 :

He who hates no creature, who is friendly and compassionate to all, who is free from attachment and egoism, balanced in pleasure and pain, and forgiving.

Ever content, steady in meditation, possessed of firm conviction, self-controlled, with the mind and intellect dedicated to Me, he, My devotee, is dear to Me.

He by whom the world is not agitated and who cannot be agitated by the world, and who is freed from joy, envy, fear and anxiety- he is dear to Me.

He who is free from wants, pure, expert, unconcerned, and untroubled, renouncing all undertakings or commencements- he who is thus devoted to Me, is dear to Me.

He who neither rejoices, nor hates, nor grieves, nor desires, renouncing good and evil, and who is full of devotion, is dear to Me.

He who is the same to foe and friend, and also in honour and dishonour, who is the same in cold and heat and in pleasure and pain, who is free from attachment. (Honour and dishonour indicates at the level of the intellect; cold and heat indicates at the physical level; pleasure and pain indicates at the level of the mind or the emotional sphere of the mind)

He to whom censure and praise are equal, who is silent, content with anything, homeless, of a steady mind, and full of devotion – that man is dear to Me.

They verily who follow this immortal Dharma (doctrine or law) as described above, endowed with faith, regarding Me as their supreme goal, they, the devotees, are exceedingly dear to Me.

(It has been said that wise one never accepts duality as anything real. Now his angle of vision is being explained further.)

Moreover, a man of perfection perceives the world of duality as unreal even as one may see two moons and mistake directions though fully knowing the correct stand all the time. The illusion of his body lingers away to the liquidation of his Prarabdha.

[Note: ‘Two moons’: Like wise the One Brahman (Supreme Reality) appears as many due to various limiting adjuncts arising out of ignorance.

‘Mistake directions’: The Supreme Atman, similarly, is mistaken as the universe.

‘Lingers away’: Because false appearance cannot in any way contradict Knowledge and liberation.]

(What has been said in the previous verse is now being corroborated with the authority of the scriptures.)

59. The Upanishad says, “As long as the Prarabdha lasts” etc. The persistence of the Prarabdha in the case of the liberated one sustains only the appearance of the body etc., with no deluding potency.

[Note: ‘As long as’: Ignorance (Maya) is said to have two powers viz., the veiling power (Aavarana Shakti) and the power of projection (Vikshep Shakti). The former conceals the real nature of Brahman (Supreme Reality) and the latter gives rise to the illusion of name and form. The Knowledge of Brahman negates and completely destroys the veiling power, but the power of projection, although negated, i.e., known as false, persists till the exhaustion of the Prarabdha and gives rise to the appearances of name and form for that duration. A man of Knowledge has to deal with these names and forms till death but he has no sense of reality in them. Even after (the identity of) the rope is known, it may resemble a snake, but the sense of reality in the snake is gone for ever. Similarly, the appearance of the body and the world may persist but the balanced mind of a liberated man is not adversely affected by it.

Compare from Chandogya Upanishad 8.12.1 “O Indra, this body is mortal, always held by death. It is the abode of the Self, which is immortal and incorporeal. The embodied self is the victim of pleasure and pain. So long as one is identified with the body, there is no cessation of pleasure and pain. But neither pleasure nor pain touches one who is not identified with the body.]

(A man of Knowledge never accepts the appearance of duality presented by his Prarabdha as real, because one who has known the truth is always free i.e., not merely after the fall of the body but even when living; not merely when in Samadhi but even when engaged in outward activities. The moment one attains Knowledge one verily becomes Brahman: (Brahma Ved Brahmavaiva Bhavati) from Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.9. and so, in spite of the persisting appearance of the body etc., due to Prarabdha, such a person is not at all affected by them.

After his Prarabdha is exhausted through experience the enlightened one attains disembodied liberation.)

60. 61.& 62.
After the residual Prarabdha has been gone through, the enlightened one attains that status of Vishnu, the Supreme Reality, attains that, which is free from the darkness of Nescience and divested of all appearances, which is of the nature of stainless consciousness and absolute purity, which transcends mind and speech and the distinctions of name and the named, which is neither to be shunned nor to be accepted, and which is of the nature of self-luminous Consciousness and Bliss.

[Note: ‘Gone through’: i.e., after the dissolution of his body.

‘Vishnu’: The all-pervading Brahman, one without a second.

‘Divested etc.’: This is the state of disembodied liberation where name and form no longer appear at all.

‘Stainless’: Having no connection with ignorance or its effects.

‘To be shunned’: There being nothing apart from Atman with whom the liberated soul is completely identified.]

(For the benefit of the seekers after liberation, the pre-requisites, i.e., the absolutely necessary conditions for going through this course of Sadhana (training) are being enumerated now.)

This treatise must be studied and properly understood under men of God-realisation. One must bring to bear on the study proper dispositions like humility, loving service, etc., to the teacher.

[Note: ‘Treatise’: This “Varttika-Prakarana” is generally a collection of explanatory verses where things, spoken of in the main composition, are elucidated; things not spoken of, are illustrated, and things imperfectly stated, are clearly shown. ‘Prakarana’ is a small work which deals concisely with the main theme, avoiding detailed consideration of the subject.

‘Under men of God-realisation’: An aspirant must go a spiritual guide (guru), a realised soul, for enlightenment.

Bhagavan Sri Sankaracharya in his commentary on the Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12. says “One though well versed in the scriptures should not search independently after the knowledge of Brahman. Compare Chandogya Upanishad 6.14.12. A man who has accepted a teacher attains true Knowledge.

‘Humility etc.’: The reference is to the twenty virtues enumerated in the Gita, Ch.13, verses 7 to 11.

Gita Ch.13

Humility, unpretentiousness, non-injury, forgiveness, uprightness, service of the teacher, purity, steadfastness, self-control.

Indifference to the objects of the senses and also absence of egoism, perception of (or reflection on) the evil in birth, death, old age, sickness and pain.

Non-attachment, non-identification of the Self with son, wife, home and the rest, and constant even-mindedness on the attainment of the desirable and the undesirable.

Unswerving devotion unto Me by the Yoga of non-separation, resort to solitary places, distaste for the society of men.

Constancy in Self-knowledge, perception of the end of true knowledge- this declared to be knowledge, and what is opposed to it is ignorance.

‘Service etc.’: From Gita, 4.34. “Know that by prostrating thyself, by questions and by service, the wise who have realised the Truth will instruct thee in that Knowledge”.

The disciple must be well equipped with all these qualifications and then the teacher, too, should instruct such a disciple properly. Sri Sankaracharya, in his commentary on Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.13. says: on the part of the teacher, too, it is obligatory that he should instruct a disciple properly equipped with all the virtues as enumerated in the scriptures, and thus help him to cross the ocean of ignorance.]

(After having learnt the true purport of this book under the guidance of efficient and realised teachers one should devote one’s life and soul to the practice of the grand theme, dealt with herein.)

64. One striving earnestly for union with the Supreme, possessing excellence of understanding, and detachment from pleasures of both earthly and heavenly character, must practice this science thoroughly and with determined efforts during twilights, all his life.

[Note: ‘Possessing etc’: One who has done Hearing (Shravanam), and Reasoning (Mananam) for a considerable length of time and has thus qualified himself for contemplation (Nididhyasanam) on the Atman.

‘Detachment etc.’: Detachment means Vairagyam or the renunciation of both the earthly and heavenly enjoyments.

‘With determined efforts’: Avoiding all social formalities, giving up the ideas of decorating the body, and abandoning too much studies of the scriptures, try, to totally remove the superimposition that has come upon you. 
-viveka-Chudamani 270.(Sri Sankaracharya)

‘Twilights’: During twilights one should repeat, too, this treatise, with proper understanding.

‘All his life’: It becomes firmly grounded by long, constant practice with great love (for the goal to be attained). Yoga Sutra 1.14. Also from Gita 18.52: Success does not come in a day, but by long continued practice.

Here ends the ‘Varttika’ composed by Sri Suresvaracharya on ‘Panchikaranam’ of Bhagavan Sri Sankaracharya.


(An inquiry into the nature of the) ‘SEER’ and the ‘SEEN’
Translation and notes by Swami Nikhilananda
Sri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre, New York

In the state of deep sleep, when (the thought of) ego disappears and the body also becomes unconscious. The state in which there is the half manifestation of the ego is called the dream state and the full manifestation of the ego is the state of waking. (Verse 10)

[Note: Now is described the world-bound nature of the Atman (soul) as well as its associations with the three states, which are possible only when the ego identifies itself with the body. 
‘Disappears’ : The ego merges itself in the causal ignorance which is characterised by the non-apprehension of empirical objects. This state in which there is no perception of duality is called the state of deep sleep. The ego in this state does not identify itself with the body. The result of past Karma, then, is not noticed. Therefore, we become unconscious of our body in that state.
‘Dream State’ : In the dream state the ego does not perceive any object external to itself. The seer, the objects seen and the act of seeing which constitute dream experiences are only the mental modifications of the ego. 
Compare Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, 4-3-10: “There are no real chariots in that state, no horses, no roads but he himself creates chariots, horses and roads. There are no pleasures, joys or delights there, but he creates the pleasures, joys and delights. There are no pools, (water) tanks or rivers there, but he creates the pools, tanks and rivers. For he is the agent.” 
The dream experiences, though they appear during the dream state as outside the body of the seer, are known to be only modifications of the mind from the standpoint of the waking state. Therefore from the waking standpoint the dream state is only a partial manifestation of the ego.

“Full manifestation” : In the waking state the ego experiences the gross external objects by means of its internal organs. The ego and the non-ego which constitute the entire world of experience are both cognised in the waking state. In dream it is the mind alone of the sleeper which appears both as the ego and the non-ego. Therefore the full manifestation of the experience covering both ego and non-ego is seen only in the waking condition]

The inner organ (mind) which in itself is but a modification (vritti) identifying itself with the reflection of Consciousness imagines (various) ideas in the dream. And the same inner organ (identifying itself with the body) imagines objects external to itself in the waking state with respect to the sense-organs. (Verse 11)

[Note: How the experiences of the waking and dream states are but the modification of mind is described here.
“Inner organ” : This comprises mind (manas), mindstuff (chittah), intellect (buddhihi) and egoism (ahamkarah).
“Identify” : It is like identification of the heat (fire) with the (red hot) iron ball. 
“Ideas” : The ideas of the ego and the non-ego as well as their mutual relationship.
“Imagines” : We remember our dream experiences in the waking state. The dream experiences which have the same natures as the waking ones are known to be internal only in the waking state. The waking experiences are also mere ideas or thoughts of the perceiving mind.]

The subtle body which is the material cause of the mind and egoism is one and of the nature of insentiency. It moves in the three states and is born and it dies. (Verse 12)

[Note: The real nature of the inner-organ (antahkarana) is thus described.
“Subtle body” : This is the same as the Antahkarana and is called Lingam, because it enables the Jiva or the embodies being to realise Brahman (Supreme Reality). This subtle body has been described in other Vedantic texts as composed of seventeen parts, viz., five organs of perception, five organs of knowledge, five modifications of prana, mind (manas) and intellect (buddhihi).
“One” : The subtle body (lingam) and the inner-organ (Antahkarana) are really one and identical, though from the empirical standpoint they appear as different. Like the water and the wave the Antahkarana (vrittimaan) and the ideas which manifest themselves as powers of knowledge and activity (Jnana shakti and Kriya shakti) which are only modifications (vritti) of the mind, are identical.
“Nature etc.” : It is because the Antahkarana (inner- organ) is the modification of the Avidya which is of the nature of insentiency. It appears as sentient on account of its identification with the reflection of Consciousness.
“Moves etc”. : The identification with the three states as well as birth, death, etc., can be predicated of the ego only and not of Atman or Self who is not associated with these conditions.]

[The following comments relate to Verse 13.
The existence of the material world is a matter of indubitable experience. The question arises, what is its cause? Brahman (the Supreme Reality) which is beyond all causal relations, cannot create it. Therefore the scriptures postulate MAYA as the cause of the appearance of the universe. This MAYA is extremely illusive. It cannot be described either as real or unreal. (See ‘Maya’- Pages column on the left). 
The best way to describe MAYA is to explain its two aspects, which is done in the following verse.]

Two powers, undoubtedly, are predicated of MAYA, viz., those of projecting and veiling. The projecting power creates everything from the subtle body to the gross universe.
(Verse 13)

The manifesting of all names and forms in the entity which is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss and which is the same as Brahman, like the foams etc. in the ocean, is known as creation. (Verse 14)

The other power of MAYA conceals the distinction between the perceiver and the perceived objects which are cognised within the body as well as the distinction between Brahman and the phenomenal universe which is perceived outside (one’s own body). This power (shakti) is the cause of the phenomenal universe. (Verse 15)

[Notes: “Manifesting” : This manifestation is due to the projecting power of Maya which is potential in Brahman from the causal standpoint.
“Names” : By which things are designated.
“Forms” : That which is expressed by a name. Both names and forms are mere forms of thought as can be understood by the analysis of names and forms experienced in dream, which are nothing but the modifications of the mind.
“Entity” : Reality is not a void or negation. The appearance of the manifold cannot be based on an Absolute negation. In empirical experience, every appearance has a positive substratum. The illusion of names and forms appears from, and disappears in, Brahman.
“Existence etc.” : These are not positive attributes of Brahman, which cannot be described by word or thought. Words etc. can describe only what is perceived in the perceptual world.
“Like etc.” : This illustration is for the purpose of showing the indescribable nature of creation. Foams, waves, bubbles, etc., are not separate from the ocean, because all these are made of the same stuff as water. Again, they are not identical with the ocean, because we do make a distinction between the ocean and the waves etc. Similarly the manifested manifold is not separate from Brahman, as the Sruti (scriptures) says, because no separate universe can be conceived of, which according to the Sruti, is not of the nature of Existence-Consciousness_Bliss. Again from the Sruti we know Brahman as separate from the world, which we perceive to be gross, solid, extended in time and space, etc. This appearance of the universe as separate from Brahman is due to MAYA.
“Creation” : Vedanta explains the origin of the universe by saying that it the unfolding of Brahman through Its inscrutable power, called Maya. As the rope appears in the form of the snake or as the ocean appears in the form of foams, waves etc., or as the sleeping man appears to be living in a dream world, so also Brahman appears in the form of the world. From the causal standpoint, Brahman is both the material and efficient cause of the world.
“Other power” : It is known as the Avarna-shakti or the veiling power of Maya.(Projecting power is known as Vikshep shakti).
“Perceiver” : The witness (sakshi) which is the cause of the immediate perception of “I”. It considers itself as the enjoyer etc. by identifying itself with the gross and the subtle body. Really speaking, it is the relationless Atman (Self).
“Objects” : It includes everything from the empirical ego to the gross body. The Sakshi is distinct from the perceived objects. But the veiling power of Maya does not enable us to see the distinction and therefore the sakshi appears to have identified itself with the empirical ego, mind, sense-organs, etc.
“Brahman” : Brahman is said to be of the nature of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. But through the veiling power of Maya It seems to have identified Itself with names and forms and thus appears as objects of enjoyment.

‘Phenomenal” : this is a mere appearance like that of silver in the mother-of-pearl.
“This etc.” : From the highest standpoint there is neither creation not dissolution. Non-dual Brahman alone is and always exists. The appearance of the manifold is due to the veiling power of Maya which conceals the real non-dual nature of Brahman and presents the appearance of the variegated universe. It is just like perceiving dream objects with which the sleeper at that time is in no way connected. From the subjective standpoint a man becomes a world-bound creature on account of the identification of the seer with the mind, sense-organs etc. (object). Ignorance of the distinction between the subject and the object is the cause of one’s sufferings in the world.
Though it is a custom with the Vedantic writers to describe the veiling power (Avarna shakti) as prior to the projecting power (Vikshepa shakti), the author of this treatise (Drg-Drsya-Viveka) makes here a departure. Strictly speaking, the Avarna shakti cannot be said to precede the Vikshepa shakti or vice versa. For, the effects of both are seen simultaneously. One cannot be conceived of without the other.]

From The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7, Verse 14

The Blessed Lord said:
Verily, this divine illusion of Mine (MAYA), made up of the three qualities of Nature (Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas) is difficult to cross over; those who take refuge in Me alone, cross over this illusion.

From Vivekachudamani 
Sri Shankarachaya

Know that it is egoism which, identifying itself with the body, becomes the doer or experiencer, and in conjunction with the Gunas (Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas) assumes the three different states (waking, dream and deep sleep). (Verse 104)

Avidya (Nescience) or Maya, called also the Undifferentiated, is the power of the Lord. She is without beginning, is made up of the three Gunas and is superior to the effects (as their cause). She is to be inferred by one of clear intellect only from the effects She produces. It is She (Maya) who brings forth this whole universe. (Verse 108)

She (Maya) is neither existent nor non-existent nor partaking of both characters; neither same nor different nor both; neither composed of parts nor an indivisible whole nor both. She is most wonderful and cannot be described in words. (Verse 109)

Maya can be destroyed by the realisation of the pure Brahman, the one without a second, just as the mistaken idea of a snake is removed by the discrimination of the rope (by the realisation of the true identity of the rope). She (Maya) has her Gunas as Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas,names after their respective functions.
(Verse 110)

From Svetasvatara Upanishad 

Brahman projects the universe through the power of Its maya. Again, in that universe Brahman (as the Jiva) is entangled through maya. (Chapter 4,Verse 8)

Know then, that prakriti is maya, and that the Great God is the Lord of maya. The whole universe is filled with objects which are parts of His being. (Chapter 4, Verse 10)

From Mandukya Upanishad 
Explanations drawn from the writings of Swami Nikhilananda
Sri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, New York

[Mandukya Upanishad is the shortest of the
major Upanishads, containing only 12 verses.]

The first chapter of Mandukya Upanishad discusses Turiya by means of the Vedic symbol AUM. The restless mind cannot think of the transcendental Reality without the help of a concrete symbol. Thinking is possible only through symbols. The student is asked to imagine four parts in Brahman, or Cosmic Reality. They are called four quarters. The first three- gross, subtle and causal- constitute the phenomenal world. The fourth, so called only in relation to the three just mentioned, is transcendental, being beyond time, space and causality. It is Turiya, or the unconditioned Brahman.

Brahman and Atman (Self) are identical. The gross aspect of Brahman has its counterpart in the waking state (Visva) of Atman, when the external world is perceived by means of the sense-organs; the subtle aspect, in the dream state (Taijasa), when the internal world, created by waking experiences, is perceived; and the causal aspect, in deep sleep or dreamless sleep (Prajna), characterised by bliss and the cessation of mental activity. The transcendental aspect of Atman, or Pure Consciousness, which is its true nature, is the same as Turiya.

Like Brahman, AUM also has four parts, called letters. The first three are A, U, and M, corresponding to the first three quarters of Brahman and Atman. In addition to these there is an undifferentiated sound of AUM, which comes after the first three letters are pronounced. Devoid of all characteristics, it is not any particular sound, but the substratum of all sounds. It is the same as the unconditioned Brahman, or Turiya. Turiya is here figuratively called a quarter. In reality it does not denote any part. It is Brahman Itself, which does not admit of any differentiation. The knowledge of the fourth quarter is realised by merging in it the previous three. That is to say, the waking state is merged in the dream state, the dream state in dreamless sleep, and finally, dreamless sleep in Turiya, or Pure Consciousness. Thus through meditation on AUM one can realise Brahman both in its cosmic and in its acosmic aspect.
[Note: “Unconditioned Brahman”: For explanation, refer to Page ‘The Nature of Reality’, see column on the left].

The four quarters are like the quarters of a coin, and not like the four feet of a cow. A large coin, for instance a silver dollar, can be divided into four quarters. But these quarters are not essential or intrinsic characteristic of the dollar; they are designed to serve a practical purpose. That is not true of the four feet of a cow, which are essential parts of it. Atman (Self) is partless. Therefore the four quarters mentioned in the text are superimposed upon Atman as the quarters are superimposed on the coin. Again, the waking state merges in the dream state, the dream state in the dreamless sleep, and dreamless sleep in Turiya. The three preceding states are the means of realising the fourth, or Turiya. The attainment of Turiya is the object of philosophical inquiry. Turiya is not a part of Atman.

Mandukya Upanishad

HARIH AUM! Aum, the word, is all this [i.e. the whole universe]. A clear explanation of it is as follows: All that is past, present, and future is, indeed, AUM. And whatever else there is, beyond the three- fold division of time- that also is truly Aum. (Mandukya Upanishad,Verse 1)

All this is, indeed, Brahman (the Supreme Reality). This Atman (Self) is Brahman. This same Atman has four quarters (padas). (Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 2)

The first quarter (pada) is called Vaisvanara, whose sphere of activity is the waking state, who is conscious of external objects, who has seven limbs and nineteen mouths, and who is the experiencer of gross objects.
(Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 3).

[Note: “Who is conscious of external objects”, : The self in the waking state is aware of objects other than itself. Consciousness appears to be related to outer objects. This is due to Avidya, or ignorance. From the standpoint of Reality, Brahman or Atman, is Pure Consciousness. Consciousness is non-dual and nothing exists outside it. The duality of ego and non-ego, subject and object, appears in the Cosmic Mind due to avidya. Material objects are illusory in nature and have no independent existence.

“Seven limbs”: The word limbs is used here to denote parts of the body. The seven limbs are the head, the eyes, the mouth, the breath, the middle part of the body, the kidney, and the feet. They have their counterparts in the universe, namely the heavens, the sun, fire, air, akasa (space), water, and earth.

“Nineteen mouths”: Namely, the five organs of perception (hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell), the five organs of action (the organs of speech or the tongue), hands (for grasping etc.), feet (for locomotion), generation (for procreation), and excretion, the five pranas (the vital breath in its five aspects: prana, apana, vyana, samana, and udana), the mind (manas), the intellect (buddhi), I-consciousness (ahamkara), and the mind-stuff (chitta). These are, as it were, the mouths or organs by means of which the waking person (Vaisvanara) experiences gross objects. Like the seven limbs, these also are superimposed through avidya (ignorance), upon Atman. The etymological meaning of the word ‘Vaisvanara’ is “common to all men”.

The universe may be regarded from two standpoints: the microcosmic and the macrocosmic. The microcosmic (subjective) entity (adhyatma) is endowed with four quarters, namely, Vaisvanara (or Visva), Taijasa, Prajna, and Turiya. Likewise the macrocosmic (objective) universe, comprising the sphere of the sun, the moon, the stars, etc., has four quarters. The first three are known as Virat (the totality of gross physical bodies), Hiranyagarbha (the totality of subtle bodies), and Isvara or Avyakrita, the Unmanifested (the totality of causal bodies). The attributeless Brahman, like Turiya, is the fourth. It is transcendental, beyond all causal relations, and is the unrelated substratum of all appearances. A parallelism runs through the subjective and the objective. The macrocosm is superimposed upon Brahman, and the microcosm upon Atman (Self), through avidya (ignorance). Both are illusory appearances. On account of the non-difference between the subjective and the objective, the limbs of Vaisvanara are described in terms of the objective universe. The purpose is to show the illusory nature of the entire phenomenal world and establish the non-duality of Atman (Self) and Brahman (Supreme Reality).

The identity of Vaisvanara and Virat indicates the similar identity of Taijasa and Hiranyagarbha, and also of Prajna and Isvara. Taijasa is the dream self, the experiencer of subtle ideas. Hiranyagarbha is Consciousness identified, through maya, with the totality of minds. At the time of deep sleep all distinctions between subject and object, and also between objects themselves, as experienced in the waking state and the dream state, are obliterated. The same thing happens at the time of cosmic dissolution.]

The second quarter (pada) is Taijasa, whose sphere of activity is the dream state, who is conscious of internal objects, who is endowed with seven limbs and nineteen mouths, and who is the experiencer of subtle objects.
(Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 4)

[Note: “Dream state”: The impressions of waking experiences are reproduced in the form of dream objects. From the empirical standpoint there is a causal relationship between the waking state and the dream state.

‘Internal”: In dreams mental states consisting of the impressions of the waking state are experienced. During the dream state the sleeping man is aware of the external world and of internal ideas. But when he awakes and reviews the dream experiences, he comes to realise that they were nothing but the internal activity of the mind. When a man is asleep his sense organs are inactive. Therefore the dream experiences cannot but be mental states.

“Endowed with..”: The experiencer in the dream state is non-different from the experiencer in the waking state.

“Subtle objects”: In the waking state one’s consciousness is associated with gross objects, whereas in the dream state one sees the impressions of past experiences. But in reality the experiences of waking and dreaming are of the same nature; for in both states the perceiver is aware only of his mental states. From the standpoint of dreams, the dream objects are as gross and physical as those experienced in the waking state. It is from the standpoint of waking alone that one infers that the dream objects are subtle, inasmuch as in the dream state no gross object exists for the dreamer.]

That is the state of deep sleep wherein one asleep neither desires any object nor sees any dream. The third quarter is Prajna, whose sphere is deep sleep, in whom all experiences become unified, who is, verily, a mass of consciousness, who is full of bliss and experiences bliss, and who is the door leading to the knowledge of dreaming and waking. (Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 5)

[Note: “That is the state of deep sleep”: All three states have a common feature, namely, the absence of the knowledge of Reality. But deep sleep differs from waking and dreaming in that it is associated neither with gross objects nor with subtle impressions, which are the characteristics of the other two. Though the same person, ignorant of Reality, experiences the three states, yet the experiencer of the waking state perceives gross objects, and the experiencer of the dream state perceives dream objects.

“Prajna”: That is to say, the knower par excellence. This state is characterised only by general consciousness. The other two states are associated with the knowledge of particulars.

“Unified”: In deep sleep all the diversified experiences of waking and dreaming, which are nothing but the activities of the mind, reach the state of non –discrimination, without, however, losing their peculiar characteristics- just as the various objects perceived during the day lose their diverse appearances when enveloped by the darkness of night. This state of non-discrimination is known in empirical language as the causal state. A person viewing dreamless sleep from the waking state takes it to be the causal state because he finds that the experiences of waking and dreaming merge in deep sleep. This unified experience of deep sleep is quite different from the unity experienced through the knowledge of Brahman; for in the waking or dream state that follows it, one again takes multiplicity to be real. After attaining the knowledge of Brahman one never takes multiplicity to be real.

‘Mass of consciousness”: That is to say, free from the knowledge of multiplicity. In deep sleep no specific knowledge is present. As in a dark night all cows appear black and cannot be distinguished from one another, so in deep sleep all discriminative knowledge disappears.

“Full of bliss”: Deep sleep is a state of ease and repose. The friction caused by the subject-object relationship is absent. All effort disappears. Hence a person in deep sleep experiences bliss, in the sense that one who is free from effort is said to be happy. This bliss is quite different from that of Brahman.

“Door leading to the knowledge”: The unified consciousness of deep sleep, wherein all diversities disappear, is the antecedent of the waking and dream experiences. Hence it is regarded as the cause of, or the door to, the other two states.]

He is the Lord of all. He is the knower of all. He is the inner controller. He is the source of all; for from Him all beings originate and in Him they finally disappear.
(Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 6)

[Note: Consciousness associated with deep sleep is known as Prajna. His nature is described in this verse 6.

“He”: Refers to Prajna, or Consciousness functioning in deep sleep. In this state, Consciousness, free from the diversities of waking and dreaming, manifests in a marked degree its natural purity.

‘The Lord of all”: That is to say, of the physical and the supra-physical universe. But this lordship does not refer to an extra-cosmic Creator, as some schools hold. (Compare Brahadaranyaka Upanishad, 4,4,22.).]

[The following comments refer to the next verse No.7. The three states superimposed on Brahman through avidya (ignorance) have already been explained. Within them the causal law operates. Now will be explained the fourth state, known as Turiya, which is free from causality, is of the very nature of Pure Consciousness, and is the Supreme Reality. This will be done through the negation of the three states.] :

Turiya is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness nor is It unconsciousness. It is unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible, uninferable, unthinkable, and indescribable. The essence of the Consciousness manifesting as the self (in the three states), It (Turiya) is the cessation of all phenomena; It is all peace, all bliss, and non-dual. This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). This is Atman (Self), and this has to be realised.
(Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 7)

[The following comments refer to the next verse No.8. The highest truth, as explained above by the refutation of the erroneous superimpositions, can be grasped only by students endowed with sharp or moderate intelligence. But ordinary students, who cannot understand philosophical reflections, are advised to concentrate on AUM as the symbol of Ultimate Reality.]:

The same Atman [explained before as being endowed with four quarters] is now described from the standpoint of the syllable AUM. AUM, too, divided into parts, is viewed from the standpoint of letters. The quarters [of Atman] are the same as the letters of AUM, and the letters are the same as the quarters. The letters are A,U, and M.
(Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 8)

[Note: “The same Atman is now described…”: The Mandukya Upanishad commences with the statement that AUM covers all things and also that which is beyond. Further, AUM is identical with Atman, which is endowed with four quarters. In the explanation of the word, emphasis has been given to Atman, which the word indicates. The present verse explains AUM from the standpoint of the world itself.

The first verse of the Upanishad states that AUM is everything- past, present, and future, and what is beyond time. The second verse states that AUM is the same as Brahman and Atman. Next follows the explanation of Atman with its four quarters. All these explanations of AUM have been given from the standpoint of Atman, emphasizing the name (i.e. Atman) indicated by AUM. Now the same AUM is being explained from the standpoint of the word itself.

AUM is pronounced OM.

“In Sanskrit language the vowel ‘O’ is constitutionally a diphthong, contracted from a + u. Om therefore may be analysed into the elements a + u + m.” (R.E.Hume, The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, Oxford University Press.)

Vaisvanara Atman, whose sphere of activity is the waking state, is A, the first letter (of AUM), on account of his all-pervasiveness or on account of his being the first. He who knows this obtains all desires and becomes first (among the great). (Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 9)

[Note: “Vaisvanara Atman”: Atman functioning through the waking state. His other name is Visva; he is identical with Virat.

“His”: Here Atman is personalised.

“All-pervasiveness…”: The sound A pervades all sounds. It is present in all sounds. No sound can be produced without opening the mouth, and the sound that is thus produced is A. Likewise, the entire universe is pervaded by Vaisvanara Atman. It has already been stated that knowledge of the dream state and of deep sleep is possible only in the waking state. Since the three states constitute our entire experience of the universe, the waking state pervades the whole universe. Another point of resemblance between A and Vaisvanara is that just as A is the beginning, or first, of the three letters constituting AUM, so also, Vaisvanara, or the waking state, may be said to be the beginning, or first, of the three states. ]

Taijasa Atman, whose sphere of activity is the dream state, is U, the second letter (of AUM), on account of his superiority or intermediateness, He who knows this attains a superior knowledge, receives equal treatment from all, and finds in his family no one ignorant of Brahman.
(Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 10)

[Note: In this verse the identity of the second quarter of Atman and the second letter of AUM is pointed out.

“Taijasa Atman”: Atman functioning through the dream state.

“Superiority”: As a matter of fact, A, being the first of all letters, is superior to them all. But U, coming after A, is stated here to be superior in a figurative sense. Taijasa, or Atman functioning through the dream state, is said to be superior to Vaisvanara because he perceives ideas, whereas the latter sees only gross objects. While investigating dreams the student realises physical phenomena to be states of the mind, which knowledge brings him nearer to truth.

“Intermediateness”: As the letter U is between A and M, so the dream state is between waking and deep sleep.]

Prajna Atman, whose sphere is deep sleep, is M, the third letter (of AUM), because both are measure and also because in them all become one. He who knows this is able to measure all and also comprehends all within himself.
(Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 11)

[Note: The identity of the third quarter of Atman and the third letter of AUM is pointed out.

“”Measure”: Both the waking state and the dream state emerge from (during manifestation) and disappear into (during non-manifestation) the dreamless state. Therefore both Vaisvanara and Taijasa are said to be contained in Prajna, which may be compared to the container. The word ‘measure’ in the text is used in the sense of a container.

“All become one”: When the word AUM is repeated quickly several times, the sound actually heard is MAUM. That is why it is said that the letters A and U become one with M. Likewise, Visva and Taijasa become one with, or merge in, Prajna in deep sleep.

“Is able …all”: That is to say, he knows the real nature of the universe. He realises that the universe perceived in the waking and the dream states is essentially the same as the experience of deep sleep, inasmuch as all the three states are characterised by non-apprehension of Reality.

“Comprehend all within himself’: He attains the status of Isvara, who is the cause of the universe.]

The Fourth (Turiya) is without parts and without relationship; It is the cessation of phenomena; it is all good and non-dual. This AUM is verily Atman. He who knows this merges his self in Atman- yea, he who knows this.
(Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 12)

[Note: AUM, in its transcendental aspect, is Turiya.

“Without parts”: That is to say, without sound. This aspect of AUM cannot be expressed by any sound. Being non-dual, it cannot even be described as the substratum of the three other sounds. The AUM uttered through sounds points, by contrast, to the soundless AUM. All sounds must some time or other merge in silence or soundlessness. The soundless AUM is the same as Turiya.

“Without relationship”: That is to say, incomprehensible. Objects and their corresponding names or sounds both disappear in Turiya. The physical world is only an idea. Therefore all objects are but ideas expressed by names or sounds. The contemplation of Turiya destroys ignorance and also the mind created by ignorance. With the destruction of thoughts and sounds, there remains nothing by which Turiya can be comprehended.

“This AUM is verily Atman”: As already stated, the three letters or sounds of AUM are identical with three states of Atman.]

(The following is adapted from Sri Shankaracharya’s commentary) :

Those who have realised Brahman, the Highest Reality, merge the self in Turiya because they have transcended the notion of cause and effect, which inheres in the third quarter of Atman. They are not born again; for they have realised their identity with the causeless Turiya. The illusory snake which has merged in the rope as a result of discrimination between the snake and the rope, does not reappear. Students of dull or mediocre mind who have renounced the world and are endowed with spiritual virtues should meditate on the common features of the sounds of AUM and the quarters of Atman, as explained before. Thus, proceeding step by step, they ultimately realise Turiya, devoid of any state or sound, and attain the Highest Goal.

(The following quotations are from Gaudapada Karika):

As in dreams the mind acts through maya, presenting the appearance of duality, so also in the waking state the mind acts through maya, presenting the appearance of duality.

There is no doubt that the mind, which is in reality non-dual, appears to be dual in dreams; likewise, there is no doubt that what is non-dual (i.e. Atman) appears to be dual in the waking state. (61-61)

The mind should be concentrated on AUM. AUM is the fearless Brahman. He who is always absorbed in AUM knows no fear whatever. (25)

Aum is indeed the beginning, middle, and end of all things. He who has realised AUM as immutable immediately attains the Supreme Reality. (27)

Here ends the Mandukya Upanishad.

Aum Tat Sat 


Dasa Mahavidyas: the Manifestations of Cosmic Female Energy


Ten Mahavidyas (great wisdoms), the charismatic goddesses of Hindu pantheon looked at with great curiosity world over, more than any other group of divinities, are rather the late entrants into ritual-religio-cultural stream of Indian thought and theology. Identically conceived in many things, as a group of divinities having bizarre forms and exotic character, and pregnant with strange magical powers, these goddesses, invariably numbering ten, make a debut at their earliest in around eleventh-twelfth centuries, though it is rather in fourteenth century Shakta texts that their emergence is more decisive and it is here that they are identified as Mahavidyas in unambiguous terms. These Shakta texts, ‘upa’ or subordinate ‘puranas’ as they are called in the scriptural tradition, are largely the collections of hymns – ‘nama-strotas’, dedicated to each of these goddesses and recited to invoke them for accomplishing a desired objective. These early ‘nama-strota’ texts reveal iconographic form and basic nature of each of the ten Mahavidyas, and sometimes each one’s power to fulfill a prayer. However, in these texts or rather in the entire body of the Mahavidyas-related literature, barring a few narratives in regard to their origin or allusions to their exploits in various fields appearing here and there, an effort at exploring their conceptual aspect, metaphysical meaning, symbolic dimensions or even theological status, hardly ever reveals.


Some early Goddesses int their role as Mahavidyas

Not that all goddesses of the group had late emergence, the black goddess Kali, lotus goddess Kamala, or even Tara, had very early presence in religious streams of India and were widely worshipped. Kamala is rather a Rig-Vedic deity and as Shri a full Rig-Vedic Sukta has been devoted to her. However, in their role as Mahavidyas, individually and as a group, they make their presence felt from around fourteenth century, or a little early. With a different role and form, something like a post-puranic proliferation of the cult, even Kali, Kamala or Tara emerge as their own antimodels. As a matter of fact, at least in their visual representations the postMahavidya iconographic forms of Kali and Tara – horror-striking naked figures standing on Shiva’s supine body, so overwhelmed the scenario that their preMahavidya forms were only rarely seen.


In their Puranic models maintaining cosmic order was the primary role of Kali, Kamala, or even Tara; in their forms as Mahavidyas such role in regard to them becomes subsidiary or rather insignificant. In her Mahavidya form Kamala, Vishnu’s consort in Puranic tradition, is rarely invoked or visually represented with Vishnu, her spouse. In her Mahavidya-transform this Vaishnavite goddess of the Vedas, and Puranas in the Vedic line, seems to tilt, at least in her bearing, to Shaivite side. In their related hymns other Mahavidyas are also lauded as spouses of male gods; however, this spousal aspect in case of them all is weak and insignificant. Too independent to be in a wife’s frame, besides gender they have in them little which is consort-like; they all are rather stubborn and over-dominating possessed of, or rather obsessed by, a desire to bend their male partners to their will and to have a final say in everything.

Mahavidyas : Appearance, nature and metaphysical meaning

The goddesses of unusual type, all of them are conceived with fearful demeanour and agitating mind, and as destructionloving, though at times they are also amorous and benevolent, and peacefully poised. In some of them, as in Tripura-Sundari who has been conceived triply, as Tripurabala – the virgin, as TripuraSundari – the beauteous, and as Tripura-Bhairavi – the terrible, such diversity better manifests.


Collectively they seem to represent stages in a woman’s life cycle except her motherhood. They are hardly ever lauded or visually represented as mothers or with motherly attributes – a child in arms as have Matrikas, or with breasts filled with milk as has Ambika, Annapurna or Mother-goddess.


Metaphysically interpreted, Mahavidyas represent cosmic reality, both its dynamic and static forms prevailing over all seen and unseen spaces, all directions, as also all elemental regions, summed up as ten. Mahavidyas, ten manifestations of the Divine Female, preside over ten elemental regions of this cosmic reality, as also its absolute nature – dynamic as well as static. In metaphysical terms, Kali, Tara, Bagala, Bhairavi, Tripura-Sundari, and sometimes Chinnamasta represent its dynamics while Dhumavati, Matangi, Kamala and Bhuwaneshvari, its statics

Shaivite and Tantrika Links of Mahavidyas

Mahavidyas, the product of Shaktism, more especially of Tantrika Shaktism, with their strong links with Sati, Parvati and Kali – all Shiva’s spouses, are Shaivite in nature, though contrarily, in myths, as well as conceptually, tradition subordinates Shiva to them, not them to Shiva. As a rule they are represented as Shiva’s superior. The cult of Shiva’s subordination to them has its roots in various myths related to Mahavidyas’ origin. In Sati-related myth Sati’s will prevails over Shiva, while in Kali-related myth Shiva, fed up with Kali’s untidy habits, tries to flee from her but with all exits blocked by her he helplessly submits to her will. Mahavidyas have fierce forms, untidy habits, destructive nature, mystic dimensions and strange magical, meditative and Yogik powers. In most Tantras they are the presiding deities of the Tantrika rituals. Though Mahavidyas are endowed with masculine build too rough and tough for a woman, they often manifest a feminine mind agitating against every type of masculine arrogance, particularly when a male, whether a father or husband, abuses, ignores, slights, or even tries to dominate them. This agitation often transforms into dreadful wrath, which truly defines all Mahavidyas.


Mahavidyas: Their own contrantictions

Mahavidyas have strange contradictions. They are individualistic in nature, yet their identity better reveals as a group. Many forms with diverse nature as the Mahavidyas are, they are essentially the manifestations of one Divine Being. They are truly the concrete expression of the idea of many forms of the One. Some of the Mahavidyas with their association with cremation ground, corpses and destruction represent death on one hand, and with their naked figures sometimes engaged in copulation with an inert body lying under them represent sex and fertility on the other, and thus a strange synthesis of opposites, the death and the sex – cessation and creation. In an ambience where death and destruction reigns, Mahavidyas represent what defines the life, the timeless youth, the body’s kinetic energy and the desire to produce, of which sex is the incessant source, and the creation. The benevolent ones, Mahavidyas bless an adept but often by destroying or harming someone, one of their adept’s enemies or opponents, thus destruction being often Mahavidyas’ mode of blessing.

mahavidya banglamukhibangalamukhi

Mahavidyas: The meaning of term

The broad meaning of the term ‘Mahavidya’ is ‘great knowledge’. In its wider sense the term might be taken to mean complete, supreme, absolute, or ultimate knowledge. Tantrikas claim that ten Mahavidyas stand for ‘ten great mantras’, for a ‘mantra’ and ‘vidya’ are the same. They assert that a mantra is the deity manifest as the deity, at least in Tantrika way, does not emerge unless invoked through a mantra. They claim that the deity emerges from the mantra if it is correctly pronounced. Not merely the deity’s vehicle, mantra is her body, being and essence. Thus, even if the deity exists beyond it, it is in the mantra dedicated to her, defining her form, attributes and powers, that she becomes manifest and is realised.

chinnamasta_hv48 (1)

Hence, ten mantras are ten manifestations of the deity – the Divine Female. Such Tantrika thesis is just the extension of the ancient Indian cult of the ‘shabdabrahma’ which claims ‘shabda’ – sound, to be the essence of the total reality – the Ultimate that the term ‘Brahma’ defines. The mantra – the sound condensed into sacred syllabic utterance, manifests thus an aspect of the Ultimate, and ten mantras, Ultimate’s all ten dimensions. Under another sound-based Indian theory of Sphota – explosion of sound, which claims sound to be the manifestation of cosmic power, this Tantrika assumption is interpreted in a slightly different way. If a Mahavidya is a mantra, the most intense condensation of sound, and as mantra she manifests one aspect of cosmic power, ten Mahavidyas – the ten mantras, manifest cosmic power in aggregate. Under yet another theory, Mahavidyas are sometimes seen as the source of ultimate knowledge – all that is to be known. It views Mahavidyas as representing transcendental knowledge, summed up into ten stages or objects, each of which one Mahavidya represents.

Origin of Mahavidyas

As regards the origin of Mahavidyas, the tradition has five myths in prevalence; however, among them the one that relates to Sati, Shiva’s consort and the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, one of the Brahma’s sons, is the main and more widely known. Other four relate to Parvati, Kali, Durga and Sharakshi, identified also as Shakambhari. The Sati-related myth emerges with pre-eminence in Brahaddharma Purana and Mahabhagavata Purana. Myth’s versions appearing in later texts are almost identical to them. Sati, the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, had married Shiva against the will of her father who had great dislike for Shiva. For such act of Sati Daksha was as much annoyed with his daughter and had split all ties with her. Once, Daksha Prajapati organised a great yajna – sacrifice. He invited people from far and wide but to slight Shiva and Sati did not invite them. Shiva felt insulted but was indifferent to it. However, Sati, not in a mood to forgive her father for the insult, decided to go to her father’s house and disrupt the yajna. Her anguish was so deep that when Shiva forbade her from doing it, her wrath turned from her father to him. Besides accusing him of neglecting her and thrusting his decisions upon her, in fury her limbs began trembling and eyes – turned red and bright as if emitting fire.


Frightened Shiva closed his eyes but when he opened them, he was dismayed to see standing before him a woman with a fierce form. The moment he looked at her, she began growing old. Her feminine charms began disappearing, and her arms, branching into four. She had disheveled hair, fiery complexion and a lolling tongue moving from one side to other over sweat-smeared lips. She wore a crescent as her crown. Except what a garland of severed hands covered her figure was naked. Her form blazed and from it emitted brilliance of a million rising suns. With her laughter she shattered the earth and filled with awe the world from one end to other. Frightened Shiva tried to flee from one direction to other but a burst of laughter obstructed him on every side, and dismayed and frightened he submitted. To further ensure that he did not slip the woman, obviously Sati’s transform, filled all directions around him with ten different forms. These ten forms of Sati were ten Mahavidyas. On his query Shiva was revealed their names and also their identity by Sati herself in some versions of the myth as Sati’s friends, and in other, as her own forms. A frightened Shiva allowed her to join her father’s yajna and do as she chose. The rest of the myth is the same as in other contexts. In annoyance an insulted and disgraced Sati jumped into Daksha’s yajna and destroyed herself as well as the yajna.

Parvati-related myth is largely the creation of oral tradition prevalent in Tantrika world. Parvati was Sati in her re-birth after she had killed herself in the course of the yajna that her father Daksha Prajapati had organised. Broken by Sati’s death Shiva had decided not to marry again. However, Parvati, by her great penance, subdued him to marry her. She was thus his second wife. One day Shiva decided to leave Parvati. Parvati prayed him not to go away from her but he did not concede. Finally, Parvati transformed herself into ten forms and with them blocked all the ten doors of the house and foiled his attempt to leave. Interpreted in Tantrika way the allegory suggests that the body is the house, Shiva, the self, ten doors, body’s ten openings – two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, mouth, anus, penis or vagina, and ‘brahmarandhra’ – an aperture at the top of the head, and Parvati’s ten forms with which these ten doors were blocked, the ten Mahavidyas. Allegorically, with the help of Mahavidyas the adept can lock self into the body ensuring long life.


Kali-related myth is a more recent tradition appearing in a section of contemporary vernacular Tantrika literature. As the myth goes, in Sata or Satya-yuga, Shiva lived with Kali. One day Shiva declared that he was tired of Kali’s untidy habits and would not live with her anymore. Kali did not react nor stopped him from doing so. Shivawent away and roamed from one place to other; however, wherever he went he found a form of Kali facing him. Not Kali alone, nine other forms, many of them identical to Kali, encountered him. The Shakta tradition acclaims that from his encounter with these forms Shiva attained ultimate knowledge – ‘maha vidya’ in its ten forms. He realised that in one form or the other the Great Goddess was present everywhere and at all times. These forms thus became known as Mahavidyas.

Some iconographic representations, in many of which the centrally located Devi, usually Mahishasuramardini Durga, has Mahavidyas surrounding her, link the origin of Mahavidyas with Mahadevi’s battle against demons. In one set of illustrations such demon is Mahisha, and in other, these are Shumbha and Nishumbha. As various myths contained in the Devi-Mahatmya and other early Puranas have it, once the mighty demon Mahisha, or identically the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, defeated gods and ousted them from their land. Unable to confront them gods approached Brahma who disclosed that no male shall ever be able to kill these demons. Thereupon gods approached Mahadevi and prayed her for rescuing them and their land from the notorious demons. Mahadevi promised them to help and waged a war against demons. As the third Canto of the Devi-Mahatmya has it, too formidable to defeat, Mahadevi created her own different forms, mainly SaptaMatrikas and Nava Durgas for confronting them. Shumbha challenged Mahadevi to combat him singly which she accepted adding that her battle companions were just her different forms. The third Canto also mentions creation of a group of goddesses having resemblance with Mahavidyas, though the text does not name them as such. However, the tradition developed from various iconographic representations of Mahavidyas contends that it is either from Nava (nine) Durgas, that is, nine plus one, or from the group of goddesses mentioned in the third Canto that the concept of Mahavidyas evolved.


In yet another myth the origin of Mahavidyas is linked with Shatakshi, the goddess having one hundred eyes. Shatakshi and demon Durgama related myth occurs in the DeviBhagavata Purana. Once upon a time, demon Durgama gained control over the universe and forced gods into subservience. They appealed to Mahadevi to redeem them from Durgama’s clutches. On their prayer Mahadevi appeared in a female form having one hundred eyes. The pitiable plight of gods, human beings and the earth moved her to tears. She produced from her body fruits and vegetables and distributed them among the starving beings suffering from drought. This gave her Shakambhari name. After so relieving the mankind, gods and all beings she resorted to arms against demons and a fierce battle ensued. In its course the goddess created several groups of subsidiary goddesses, Mahavidyas being among them. Around its concluding part the text alludes to Mahadevi as Durga, obviously for defeating demon Durgama.

Number Names and Nature of Mahavidyas

The number and names of Mahavidyas appearing in the Brahaddharma Purana and Maha Bhagavata Purana are almost unanimously accepted. Accordingly, Mahavidyas are ten in number and their names, as appear in these texts, are Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhuwaneshvari, Bagala, Dhumavati, Kamala, Matangi, Sodashi and Bhairavi. The tradition also has some variants. Niruttara Tantra talks of eighteen Mahavidyas, and Narada Pancharatna speaks of their innumerable forms, at least seventy lacs. Devi Bhagavata also deviates from Maha Bhagavata Purana and Brahaddharma Purana. Devi Bhagavata contends their number to be thirteen and their names as Kalika, Tarini, Tripura, Bhairavi, Kamala, Bagala, Matangi, Tripura-Sundari, Kamaksha, Tuleja-devi, Jambhini, Mohini, and Chinnamasta.


Kali, the foremost of Mahavidyas, is not merely the first of them but also the prototype of the group. Other Mahavidyas are sometimes considered as only Kali’s forms. In general, Kali is perceived as having awful appearance with a figure jet black in complexion, gaunt, wrinkled and uglylooking. She has repulsive fangs, shakes the world with her laughter, dances madly, wears garlands of corpses, sits or stands on a dead body, usually Shiva’s supine figure, feeds herself on fresh human blood and lives in cremation ground. She takes delight in imparting destruction and working for instability.


However, despite her ugly appearance Kali has not been for centuries the favorite deity merely of violence-edict warriors, thieves, plunderers, insensitive tribes and charmers but also of poets, dramatists, sculptors and others all over the land. By one name or other she features in Kadambari, a play by the seventh century dramatist Banabhatta, in another seventh century work Gaudavaho by Vakpati, and in Malati-Madhava, a Sanskrit classic by the eighth century poet Bhavabhuti.


The eleventh century temple at Padaoli in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh has a large size sculptural panel devoted to her, and the Sikhs’ tenth guru Guru Gobind Singh dedicated to her a long narrative poem. The Kali-cult emerged so powerfully in Bengal that it completely transformed its art, textile designing and the character of rituals.


The tradition perceives black goddess Kali as the power of time for it is her who releases and withdraws it. She signifies abyssal darkness which contains all unknown, all known and all that can be known, and thus she is the ultimate knowledge; it is from this abyssal darkness that all forms rise and into which they disappear and thus she is the ultimate reality. She manifests the truth of contrasts, the death and the sex, the ugly and the beauteous, the timed and the timeless. Kali is personified wrath, whether Sati’s or that of Durga, Parvati or of other goddesses. Wrath is not merely her instrument for undoing a wrong. She herself is the wrath, the cosmic rage against a wrong, and this is truly Kali’s essence. She does not attempt at winning over the male, his ego, arrogance or wrong, by any bewitching female charms or grace but by obstructing, terrifying and undoing him.

The unpredictable Kali stands on a point ahead of which on one side is the accepted, and on the other, ‘not acceptable’, loathsome, polluting, feared or forbidden. While she challenges and shatters the accepted, she embodies into her being the polluted, loathed and feared and thus, when meditated on, releases the adept from clutches of conventionality, all that is worn out, has rotted or is rotting, and prepares his mind to accept the reality as a whole, ugly and fierce in special. When invoked and pleased, she endows the Tantrika with such powers as undo every kind of wrong, whether affected by man or by nature in any form whatever.


Tara, who as a rule is listed as number two among Mahavidyas, is second to none among them except Kali. Not so much in Hindu or Brahmanical pantheon as in the Buddhist, Tara has a much wider presence outside the Mahavidyaperiphery. Alike she has an early presence datable to around the fourthfifth centuries of the Common Era and emerges thus much before the Mahavidya-cult evolved. With an appearance identical to Kali she has always enjoyed considerable popularity and importance in Hindu pantheon, especially among Tantrika deities. In iconographic manifestations, like Kali, the naked bodied Tara is also associated with Shiva and is often represented as standing on his supine body, and sometimes as copulating. Of the Tantra Tara is as potential a deity as Kali. Besides her place in Hindu tradition she is the central deity of the Buddhism, especially the Tibetan, where she is worshipped almost like a national deity. Tara also occupies a significant position and wields considerable influence in Jainism. She has strong Vaishnava links and is claimed to have been created to defeat the thousand headed Ravana.\

mahavidya tara

Not merely in the Buddhist myths that portray Tara as the goddess of tempestuous seas helping the masses wade their path to safety and redemption, even in Hindu and Jain traditions she is revered as the goddess who guides out of troubles and all kinds of turmoil. Almost all theologies equate sea with life, miseries, misfortunes and trials with sea’s uncertainties and upheavals, and a being, with the sailor paddling a boat across it. Thus, allegorically Tara, the goddess of tempestuous oceans, is also the goddess who helps the being wade across all difficulties and misfortunes occurring in life and attain salvation. In some texts, Tara is also seen as the potential of re-creation, which equates her with Saraswati possessing such potential in Hindu tradition. In Jain tradition Tara and Saraswati merge into each other. Here Tara has highly diversified role and form. Brahaddharma purana perceives Tara as representing time, the same as does Kali.

Apart such similarities, the Buddhist Tara is somewhat different from the Tara in Hindu tradition, particularly the Tantrika. Except rarely, in Buddhism, Tara has been conceived as a benevolent, compassionate, gentle and spirited young woman eager to help her devotees and to protect them from every harm.


On the contrary, as one of the Mahavidyas, which is essentially a Hindu context, Tara is always fierce, often having a form which strikes with horror, and as exceptionally moody and harmful. Wrath is not unknown to Buddhist Tara. She sometimes gets angry and plunders harm. In the like way, though rarely, Hindu Tara is benevolent and compassionate.


Chinnamasta, one of the three most popular deities of Tantrism, other two being Kali and Tara, seems to have developed out of Vajrayogini cult of Tibetan Buddhism. Vajrayogini, an early Tantrika deity of the Tibetan Buddhism, has a form exactly identical to Chinnamasta. Chinnamasta is a creation of shocking imagery – gruesome decapitation of her own being representing life’s cessation for feeding further life, copulating couple under her feet perceived as feeding the goddess with life’s energy, bloodconsuming nude females and cremation ground all around. In her form she combines life, sex and death, and all in a dramatic and stunning manner manifesting the ages-old idea that they – life, sex and death, are inseparably entwined and are parts of a unified system. Chinnamasta manifests the truth that it is in destruction of life that the life is nourished, that life necessitates death, and that sex is the ultimate instrument of perpetuating more life; and further, that this life would decay and pave the way for death, and then again from death to life.

mahavidya chinnamasta

Chinnamasta is thus the symbol of the process of recycle from life to death and back and all in unceasing continuity. Various Tantrika hymns invoke Chinnamasta as Digambari – nude, symbolically the one with no coverings of illusion, and as full-breasted, suggestive of the motherhood being ceaseless in her and of her role as the eternal preserver. She wears a garland of severed human heads symbolising wisdom and power and sometimes a pair of shears or a sword. Texts have prescribed for her blood red complexion with which she symbolises life in its incessant flow. In her usual iconography she holds her severed head in her left hand. One of the three jets of blood that spurt from her neck streams back into the mouth of her own severed head, and other two, into those of the yoginis – Dakini and Varnini, all suggesting that death nourishes life and thus the process of recycle continues. The copulating couple under the feet of the goddess is usually Kamadeva, the personified sexual desire, and his wife Rati. Chinnamasta, standing on their backs draws from the couple, as also from the lotus on which the couple lies, life’s energy and channels it for perpetuating more life.


Amongst all Devi forms, even Durga and Kali who sustain and promote life from the sacrifice offered to them by their devotees, Chinnamasta destroys her own life to sustain and promote it beyond her in forms other than her. More than Annapurna or Shatakshi who only gives, Chinnamasta is one who receives life from the copulating couple and with far greater vigour passes it on to others and is thus a greater giver and more accomplished model of cosmic unity – the life that the lovemaking couple represents, the death which reveals in decapitating herself and the nourishment which manifests in feeding the flanking yoginis.

Other Mahavidyas

Other seven Mahavidyas, namely, Sodashi or Tripura-Sundari, Bhuwaneshvari, Bhairavi, Dhumavati, Bagala, Matangi and Kamala, have relatively limited role and significance both in Tantrika practices as well as worship traditions.

mahavidya sodari

Sodashi, also alluded to in some texts as Tripura Sundari, the most beauteous in three worlds, and as such having three forms defining three stages – Tripura-bala, the virgin, TripuraSundari, the beauteous, and Tripura Bhairavi, the terrible, is perceived as one with timeless youth and beauty, though not without frowns or angry looks. She is sometimes seen as the embodiment of sixteen modifications of desire and at other time as one created to arouse Shiva to sexual activity so that his creative powers could stimulate the world. In Hindu pantheon she seems to have emerged in around eleventh-twelfth centuries and had perhaps a few temples too, with one at Tehara near Bheraghat, Jabalpur, in Madhya Pradesh, devoted to her. Like Kali and Tara, Tripura-Sundari is also perceived as swaying all gods, though perhaps with her paramount beauty, not by Kali-like superior power. This superior position of Sodashi reflects in her iconography in which Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Indra or Yama are represented as supporting on them the throne on which she sits as its four legs.

mahavidya kamala

The lotus goddess Kamala as Shri makes a debut in the Shri Sukta in the Rig-Veda; as Lakshmi she has considerable presence in Buddhist sculptures datable to third-second century B. C. to second century A. D. and in Hindu pantheon and Puranas all through from fifth-sixth century onwards. The DeviMahatmya part of the Markandeya Purana has devoted to her a full Canto by the name Mahalakshmi. As Mahavidya she does not enjoy the same prestige as she enjoys as Lakshmi in worship tradition. As in Vaishnava tradition, Kamala is invoked in Tantrika rituals for riches, especially the hidden treasures of bygone days.

mahavidya dhumavati

Like Chinnamasta Bagalamukhi, Dhumavati and Matangi are rarely mentioned except as Mahavidyas. They are broadly Tantrika deities and are seen mostly in Tantrika contexts. Except that in some of the Tantrika pithas – seats, such as at the Pitambara Pitha, Datia, in Madhya Pradesh, where Dhumavati has her independent shrine, an individual structure devoted to any of them, or even a smaller one of the status of a sub-shrine, is a rarity. At some Tantrika pithas these goddesses along with other Mahavidyas are carved or painted, inside or outside, on the sanctum walls of the main deity shrine. In Himalayan regions such representations are more common. Bagala, the goddess with a crane-like face, goldcomplexioned and elegantly attired and bejewelled, is a powerful Tantrika deity who paralyses and thus destroys all negative forces that obstructs adept’s progress or well being. Toothless Dhumavati with long pendulous breasts, having pale complexion, wearing white but mudded attire, and riding a crow-driven cart, manifests unsatisfied desires and hence has been conceived as a widow. She has a largecrooked nose and quarrelsome nature and uses diseases as her weapon to punish the wicked.

mahavidya matanjiMatangi, usually a beautiful young woman with dark or black complexion, spreads music and education enabling human beings to acquire liberating wisdom. She manifested the power of domination.

mahavidya tripura bhairavi

The tradition considers her as an outcaste goddess. Bhairavi, capable of multiplying herself into infinity of beings and forms and broadly a fierce goddess, the consort of Bhairava, has been conceived identically to Bhairava, both in form as well as mental frame. She has complexion as bright as a thousand rising suns. She wears garland of skulls and garments made from skins of demons she killed and she has her feet and breasts covered with blood.

Though better known as the goddess of the Mahavidya group, Bhuwaneshvari is also known in context to Vishnu’s boar incarnation and a few other myths. Broadly, the large breasted and pleasantly smiling Bhuwaneshvari represents substantial forces of the material world and is revered as one the world is whose extension.

mahavidya bhuvaneswari

Worship of Mahavidyas

Except Kali, Tara and Tripura-Sundari, as also Kamakhya, a Mahavidya in some texts, who are in worship from early times the tradition of Mahavidyas’ temple worship has never been not in prevalence. The Mahavidyas are usually the objects of Tantrika worship of which there are many methods, the more popular among them being Vamachara path characterised primarily by the Pancha tattva, or pancha makara – the ritual performed by five forbidden or highly polluting things, namely, meat, fish, wine, ‘mudra’, a type of grain that has hallucinogenic properties, and intercourse with a woman.

FOR FURTHER STUDY: • Tantrasara • Shaktapramoda • Shaktisangama-tantra • Guhyatiguhya-Tantra • Chamunda-tantra • Shrimad Devi Bhagavata, Chaukhambha Sanskrit Pratishthan, Delhi • Devimahatmyam, tr. By Devadatta Kali, Delhi • Dahejia, Vidya : Devi, The Great Goddess, Washington D.C. • Menzies, Jackie : Goddess, Divine Energy, Art Gallery, NSW • Kinsley, David : Hindu Goddesses, Delhi • Hawley, J. S. & Wulff, Monna Marie (ed) : Devi, Goddesses of India, Delhi • Rosen, Steven J. (ed) : Vaishnavi, Delhi • Mookarjee, Ajit & Khanna, Madhu : The Tantrika Way, Boston • Kanwar Lal : Kanya and the Yogi, Delhi • Daljeet Dr., and Jain, P. C. : Indian Miniature Painting, New Delhi • Jain, P. C. : The Magic Makers, New Delhi • Upadhyaya, Padma : Female Images in Museums of Uttar Pradesh and Their Social Background, Delhi

This article by Dr. P. C. JAIN AND DR. DALJEET