Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Mandukya part 2

Commentary by JAMES SWARTZ


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An ancient Sanskrit text on the nature of Reality
James Swartz © 1996

Read Part 1

The aim of the Mandukya is to analyze the creation [Note 10] and arrive at truth, the limitless I. But the analysis of the creation, as modern science will testify is daunting because every advance in knowledge opens up a new area of ignorance. So the Upanishad takes a shortcut. By equating the limitless I, Consciousness, with the world, as it does in the first mantra – “The whole cosmos is the word AUM” – we come to understand the world by inquiring into the Self.

The world as we know it is not a strange Sanskrit term. Physically we see it as matter, the elements in various permutation combinations, and psychologically we understand it as subtle matter: thought, feeling, perception, knowledge, memory, dreams, fantasies, etc.

In what sense is everything we experience the word AUM? Words are sound symbols. Of what is AUM the symbol? Modern science tells us that matter is just energy in a state of motion, vibration. The energy that becomes different types of matter by vibrating at different frequencies is symbolized in Vedic science as AUM because, it is said, this sound encompasses all the sounds the voice box is capable of creating. While the idea is logical, the fact that mind and matter are vibrating energy, not the symbol, concerns us here.

What is the nature of this energy? Just as matter is energy in a state of vibration, energy is Consciousness apparently vibrating. While energy is a moving form of Consciousness, Consciousness itself is energyless, all-pervasive, and unmoving. So how does the unmoving Consciousness, AUM, become dualistic, capable of movement? The best explanation I’ve found is that from Consciousness’ point of view there is no dualistic, vibrating, energy-filled universe. But from the point of view of a mind, seen through a vibrating mind, the universe apparently dances.

Nonetheless, because our bodies and minds are insentient matter, they can only be moved by something else. And that something else is Consciousness. The materialist view, which has arisen because the senses are taken as the sole means of knowledge, that mind evolved from matter is patently illogical since evolution implies a conscious agent. Though unmoving by nature, Consciousness is capable of inspiring movement in Its vehicles.

Are the vehicles different from Consciousness? Is the spider different from its web? Though apparently different from the spider, the web, being part and parcel of the spider, is non-separate from it. It is the spider minus the intelligence to create and manipulate its creation. Likewise the universe, AUM, though apparently a vast field of vibrating subtle and gross matter, is nothing but subtle and gross forms of Consciousness. How far, the sages say, is the wave from the ocean?

Seen through the filter of time the limitless I is said to be the cause of which the universe is an effect. Is the cause separate from its effect? The effect is the cause in a different form, just as a pot is not separate from the mud that sustains it. If we are little pots of consciousness how far can we be from the Consciousness that sustains us? How far can we be from the Consciousness that sustains all pots?

In this sense, the whole universe is Consciousness, symbolized by the word “AUM.”

The Mandukya’s definition of AUM, the limitless I, is: “That which exists in all periods of time, past, present and future, before the past and after the future.” And we can add a secondary definition: That which exists in all states of consciousness and beyond is AUM. Anything not conforming to this definition isn’t real. Experienceable, yes, temporarily existent, but only seemingly real. Since all forms of Consciousness, mind and matter, don’t fit the definition, for the purpose of someone striving for Self knowledge they are not the limitless I. To discover myself as the limitless I, I have to see who I am minus the body and mind. When I’m one hundred percent convinced I’m the limitless I alone, I can take back the forms without suffering limitation.

Since only one I fits the definition and It is present and accounted for, its analysis is straightforward. If, for example, I wish to understand the nature of water I needn’t drink from every river, lake, and ocean in the world. I need only analyze one drop. If the creation is the limitless I, I need only inquire into myself to find out the nature of everything.


As human beings we have three ‘egos’ or experiencing entities. The first, the waking state ego, (See the bottom left third of fig.1) is Consciousness [Note 12], the limitless Self, shining through the body-mind-intellect bundle experiencing the world of material objects and the subtle world of feelings, emotions, thoughts, ideas, memories, etc.

sleeper-waker-dreamer diagram

Fig. 1

Everyone primarily views his or herself as a waker. When I say “me” in conversation, I am referring to myself as a waking state entity. The belief that I am a waker, and, as our analysis will show, it is only a belief, comes with the conviction that the waking state physical, emotional, and intellectual objects are real.

The waker’s consciousness is turned outward, the Self shining through the senses, mind, intellect, illumining their respective objects. When idealistic metaphysics claims there is no world apart from the perceiver, it is simply saying that the Self doesn’t see a world unless it shines through the body, mind or intellect, not that the physical world doesn’t exist. Though existing independently of the waker’s perceptions, it doesn’t exist apart from Consciousness, the Self.

The waker, vishwa, is a consumer of experience. The Sanskrit literature describing the waker calls it “the one with thirteen mouths.” [Note 13] The “thirteen mouths refer to the ten senses, mind, intellect, and ego. These instruments are mouths in that, powered by the momentum of past experiences, they aggressively seek experience in the present. The physical body consumes matter, the five elements [Note 14] in various permutation combinations; the mind constantly chews emotion; the intellect eats ideas; and the ego gobbles any experience it believes will make it feel whole, adequate, and happy.

The dreamer, ( the lower right side of fig.1) consciousness turned inward [Note 15] enjoys a world similar in some respects to the waking state world and radically different in others. In the dream state The Self illumines only subtle objects, a replay of the vasanas [Note 16] (note the small “v’s” circling the Self in the waking and dream states. [Note 17] ) gathered in the waking state expressing in pictorial form. In the waking state the vasanas express as the waker’s thoughts and feelings. Like the waker, the dreamer believes he or she and his or her world is real. The dreamer is equipped with the same instruments for experience as the waker: dream senses to consume dream objects, a dream mind to emote and feel, a dream intellect to think dream thoughts, and a dream ego to go about the business of experiencing the dream life.18 The dreamer is referred to in the Upanishad as taijaisa, the “shining one,” a term indicating its nature as Consciousness. All dreams appear in light, even though the waking senses are inactive, because the Self, Consciousness, is shining through the dreamer, just as it shines through the waker.

Sleep is defined as the state, saturated with happiness, where one loses consciousness, doesn’t desire any external objects, doesn’t see any internal objects, and is both Self and self-ignorant.

The sleeper is called pragna or mass of consciousness. In the other states consciousness flows outward and inward but in sleep it looses direction and becomes formless. The sleeper ego is extremely subtle, its presence indicated by the fact that we experience limitlessness and bliss. In the waking and dream states bliss is sporadic because it is broken by many divisions of thought and feeling. We know of the sleeper’s experience because it reports a good sleep after transforming into a waker. Were the waker actually a different ego from the sleeper, or the dreamer, it wouldn’t recall the experience of sleep or dream.

The deep sleep state is free of both waking and dream egos and objects because the vasanas projecting them have become dormant; hence it is referred to as the “seed” state. When the “seeds” sprout, one becomes a waker or a dreamer and experiences the appropriate world.

Because we don’t remember being conscious in it, the sleep state is often thought to be a void by metaphysicians and philosophers. In fact Sanskrit literature refers to it as ‘the womb,’ because our waking and dream worlds emerge from it. When you wake up in the morning your whole life is neatly laid out consistent with the day before, the same language you spoke yesterday on the tip or your tongue, indicating that previous experience had simply entered a dormant state. The dormant potential of the sleep state containing the macrocosmic vasanas [Note 19] is called Ishwara, the Creator, in Vedantic literature. With reference to the microcosmic vasanas [Note 20] the sleeper is called pragnya.

The sleep state is also known as the gateway between the waking and the dream states because it functions as a kind of closet with two doors where the dreamer can don the guise of the waker to appear on the waking stage. And vice versa. Though a minor point, even in cases where one seems to be awakened directly out of a dream by a noise, for example, the dreamer passes through the sleep state. A motion picture image of a stationary object is actually dozens of individual images passing so fast they seem to be a solid object. Similarly, we can’t trust our experience in this case because the change is so fast we don’t notice it.

Though they seem so, the three selves are not actually separate entities but apparently distinct entities created when the limitless I associates with a given state of consciousness. Associated with the waking state, the Self ‘becomes’ [Note 21] a waking state personality, suffering and enjoying as the case may be, the limitations of the physical world, the senses, mind, intellect, ego, unconscious, and self-ignorance. The dreamer suffers the limitations of the mind, the unconscious, and self-ignorance. And the sleeper, the Self apparently merged into the unconscious, suffers only self-ignorance and limitless bliss.

These three states and egos are known to everyone and constitute the totality of the limited I’s experience. An interesting question posed by this analysis, and the point of the Upanishad, is “Who am I?” If I’m the waking ego, which I’ve been totally convinced I am, what happens to me when I become a sleeper? I willingly surrender everything essential to my idea of myself (my body, mind, intellect, and all my physical possessions) and turn into a mass of limitless Consciousness [Note 22].

Yet I don’t seem to be content as a sleeper ego, the blissfully ignorant subtle being, because I sacrifice that status to suffer and enjoy the world created by my vasanas in waking or dream states. My dreamer identity is obviously equally insufficient because I always leave it to become a sleeper. So my status as any one ego or ego aspect is limited and my true identity open to question.

Furthermore, if identity is happiness, any ego identity is limited since the happiness experienced in sleep disappears in the waking state. Dream happiness dissolves on waking, and waking happiness cannot be transported into sleep or dream.


10 The three selves, their instruments, and fields will be presently explained.
11 Om is a sound symbol of the limitless I. In a scientific sense the verse means that the whole world is made of Consciousness in a state of vibration.
12 The word “Consciousness” as defined in Vedic texts is consciousness devoid of modification, thought and feeling. In the West the term refers to the modifications taking place in consciousness. I have capitalized it to make the distinction clear.
13 In fact the text says nineteen mouths because it includes the “five pranas,” the physiological systems and “chitta”, memory.
14 Air, fire, water, earth, and space. These elements are called the Virat, the macrocosmic gross body.
15 Consciousness can’t in fact turn inward or outward because it is allpervasive, like space. The consciousness referred to is the mind.
16 The impressions of past experience, also termed “samskaras” in spiritual literature.
17 See Chapter 2 Meditation, The Science of the Self, by the author.
18 The substance of the dream field, thought and feeling, are drawn from the macrocosmic mind, Hiranyagargha.
19 The impressions of the experience of all beings over limitless time. Creation, according to Vedanta, is simply the recycling of unmanifest experience.
20 The personal subconscious, impressions of a particular individual.
21 The limitless I never becomes a limited experiencer in fact, but seems to be an experiencer when associated with a particular upahdhi.
22 One of the most common Sanskrit terms for limitlessness is “ananda, which literally means “without an end” and is generally rendered in English as “bliss.” The sleep state is a blissful experience because consciousness is not broken up into thoughts, feelings, and perceptions as it is in the waking and dream states.

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Page last updated: 14-Jan-2013