Let us return to the quiet of Nature to help quieten our mind.
word for word translation
(Pronunciation note. A dot under a letter or a bar above it, called diacritics, are important, for they indicate proper pronunciation. Please read my webpage “Pronouncing the Sanskrit.”)
The Upanishads and samādhi.
By tradition, the religion presents the Upanishads in obscure language that is difficult to use, or even incomprehensible. This is a great loss, for the Upanishads, such as māṇḑūkya upaniṣad (Mandukya Upanishad), describe the experience of the ancient Rishis or sages of deep meditation or samādhī and the insights that come from samādhī. They are also describe the pathway to samādhī.
This calls for a new translation of the Upanishads that is clear and useful. This I have done. But there are additional challenges we face, when we try to make sense of the Upanishads.
The consciousness of samādhī is quite opposite to the consciousness of trying to get info off the net, when our minds are busy if not impatient to get what we seek. So to understand this webpage, we need to somehow slow down, relax, let go of the agitation, and head towards inner quiet. Then we have better chance of (perhaps) understanding what samādhī actually is. Let me give description to edify.
samādhī is especially important in the Path to spiritual Liberation. So Buddha lists samādhī as the eighth and culminating Factor in his Noble Eightfold Path. More precisely, sammā samādhi (perfection in samādhī) is the eighth factor. Similarly, Patanjali lists samādhī as the eighth and culminating Principle in his ast-aṇga (eight limbed) Yoga.
To approach samādhī takes much effort, so Buddha lists samma vāyāma (perfection of effort) as the sixth factor in his Noble Eightfold Path. In addition, to approach samādhī we need to learn to hold the mind steady, and withdraw our attention from disturbance and distraction. Therefore Patanjali lists dhāraṇa as the sixth Principle in his Astanga Yoga. dhāraṇa means “hold still, place, retain”, and dhāraṇa also means “withdraw” as a dictionary word. So when we practise dhāraṇa, we learn to hold the mind still, place our attention on our meditation object, and retain our attention there. We also withdraw our attention from distraction and disturbance.
The word samādhī does not feature in the māṇḑūkya upaniṣad, for it precedes both Buddha and Patanjali. It also predates the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagavantam, upon which Prabhupada’s Vedabase dictionary is based. māṇḑūkya upaniṣad may have been composed thousands of years before Buddha and Patanjali, and its Sanskrit is archaic. We need to extrapolate from the dictionary meanings, especially for the key words svapna and supta in verse 4. The dictionary translates these as “sleep”!
The word samā-dhī is formed from samaḥ = even or balanced, and dhī = mind. Thus samādhī literally translates as “even-minded-ness”. In addition, dhi = “hold, have”, thus samādhi translates as “hold the mind steady”, “have the mind balanced”. The dictionary gives additional meaning thus : samādhi also translates as “collecting, bringing together, union” and “completion, conclusion”. Thus samādhi means to collect and bring together our attention, stabilise the mind, unite heart and mind with Deity, and thus accomplish our Goal in spiritual practice.
In samādhī the mind is still, focussed, bright, clear, alert, and very happy to be like this. samādhī is the absolute opposite to compulsive thinking. samādhī is the very opposite of saṃsāra (heedless wandering), where the mind is allowed to wander, unguided and unguarded, and inevitably stray down dark paths where suffering lurks in ambush. In samādhī our attention stays with our chosen meditation object, enjoys this stability, and is not pushed nor pulled by destabilising urges.
samādhī is not an act of will, and we cannot make our mind enter samādhī thru sheer wishful thinking. samādhī arises because the conditions needed for samādhī have been sufficiently cultivated. Let me now discuss the Path to Peace.
Sacred texts like Bhagavād Gītā and māṇḑūkya upaniṣad
are intended to take the mind towards Inner Peace
that is refreshing, rejuvenating and liberating.
So please do not be driven nor tempted
to read this webpage continuously or hurriedly,
anxious to “know” what the māṇḑūkya upaniṣad means.
Be compassionate to your mind,
and take rest to allow the Dharma to soak in.
Perhaps one section is enough for this visit.
Best wishes from Mike B.
Chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita is entitled “Bhakti Yoga” or the Yoga of Devotion to spiritual practice. It begins by describing the Pathway to samādhī thus –
BG 12. 8
mana ādhatsva mayi buddhiṁ niveśhaya
mind still Presence thinking surrender
Let the mind be still. To Presence, allow the thinking to be surrendered. (Allow your thinking to be guided by Presence.)
nivasiṣhyasi mayy eva na sanśhayaḥ
live in Presence fully no doubt
Live in Presence fully (Be fully Present in this moment.) Have no doubts (about your practise).
BG 12. 9
atha chittaṁ samādhātuṁ na śhaknoṣhi mayi sthiram
if thinking in samādhī (is) not able (to be) steady
If you are not able to steady your thinking in samādhī,
abhyāsa yogena tato
return practice then
then practice repeatedly returning your attention to Presence.
The word “meditate” comes from the Latin meditare = frequent. The foundations of daily meditation practice involve frequently returning to our meditation object, as frequently as our attention wanders away. It also involves staying with our meditation, and frequenting it. I publish a Course in Meditation on this website, which describes these basic Principles of meditation training.
Returning to the meditation object is called vitakka (vitarka), and staying with the chosen object is called vichāra. vitakka and vichāra are two essential faculties or powers of mind that we cultivate and need to approach samādhī. When our mind is well focussed and no longer wandering, and disturbing thoughts no longer arise, then we shift our priorities to enjoying and valuing the experience of meditation. This joy of meditation is called ānanda, and the happiness of meditation is the primary attraction of meditation. To enjoy stillness and silence, to enjoy focus and clarity, to enjoy the bright, stable, and alertness of samādhī.
Thus the experience of samādhī is very healing and reassuring. It is most refreshing, rejuvenating, renewing. samādhī is the ideal recreation, for it re-creates our spiritual essence (sugandhim). I spend as much of my time in the neighbourhood of samādhī as I can, for it is a delight that far surpasses mundane “pleasure.”
The joy or ānanda of meditation is the very opposite to the sensory bombardment of the screen, and a wonderful refuge and sanctuary from it. The two are quite incompatible, the more one moves towards towards sensational screen “entertainment”, the more one moves away from the joy or ānanda of meditation. The degree to which the screen has invaded people’s non-work time is quite serious, as well as the increase in the intensity of the sensationalism, over the last 50 years. It helps to explain the increase in mental disease in our modern world. I have never owned a TV set in my life, and I have never wanted one.
māṇḑūkya upaniṣad and prajn͂aḥ = pra-jn͂āna
The Upanishads in general and the māṇḑūkya upaniṣad in particular describe prajn͂aḥ = pra-jn͂āna. The first thing that Ananda Wood discusses in his treatise “Interpreting the Upanishads” is the etymology of the word pra-jn͂āna. The j of jn͂āna = jnyāna is almost silent, and is omitted in Pali. Thus our deputy Abbott at the monastery was called Ajahn Nyāna-Dhammo, which means the (deputy) Abbot who Knows Dharma.
Proper understanding of the word pra-jn͂āna helps explain the themes discussed in the Upanishads.
jn͂āna is an important Sanskrit word, for it translates as “know” and “know how” -
- knowing how to detect defilements at an early stage, before they can proliferate, invade our mind, and hijack our will, and
- knowing how to let go of defilements, and allow them to diminish, dissolve, dissipate and thus cease to trouble us, and
- knowing how to initiate, cultivate and strengthen the spiritual Qualities or bodhyaṇga, and
- knowing how to protect the bodhyaṇga from self sabotage.
The Sanskrit prefix pra- is also significant, for it has double translation –
- pra- can translate as “before”, in the sense of the English word “precede”, and
- pra- can also translate as “forward, onward” in the sense of the English word “proceed”.
Thus the word pra-jn͂āna is usually translated as “pure consciousness,” for it is an essential foundation for the experience of samādhī.
- pra-jn͂āna is the consciousness and know-how that precedes samādhī and is necessary to approach samādhī, and
- pra-jn͂āna is also the consciousness and know-how that proceeds and continues throughout samādhī. pra-jn͂āna is needed to support and sustain samādhī.
However, verses 3 & 4 of māṇḑūkya upaniṣad gives further meaning to prajn͂āna by prefixing it with the words bahiṣ = of the outer, and antar = from the inner.
- bahiṣ-prajn͂āna can translate as “worldly wisdom,” and
- bahiṣ-prajn͂āna can translate as “knowing how to conduct ourselves wisely in daily life.”
- antar-prajn͂āna can translate as “positive attitude to our daily life”, and
- antar-prajn͂āna can translate as “wise reflection and understanding of our daily life”
Verse 7 also gives additional meaning to the word jn͂āna, using the prefix vi which means “inwardly” or “objectively”. This gives the following meanings –
- vi-jn͂āna can translate as “know objectively” or
- vi-jn͂āna can translate as know when defilements are active in our heart and in our mind, without getting ensnared in them,
- vi-jn͂āna can translate as “Being conscious and wakeful”.
vijn͂āna is an essential component of the enlightened human Being. So Buddha lists vijn͂āna (viññāṇa) as the fifth and culminating category or khanda of body and mind. vijn͂āna appears in verse 7 of māṇḑūkya upaniṣad as vijn͂eyaḥ in the expression “ātmā vijn͂eyaḥ” which means
“the higher self should be known without clinging to it,” or
“We will know the higher self when we are Being conscious.”
māṇḑūkya upaniṣad and ॐ aum.
The Rishi or sage who composed māṇḑūkya upaniṣad in the deeps of time was evidently reciting the ॐ aum mantra to access samādhī. He opens māṇḑūkya upaniṣad with a declaration that can be taken as a mantra, to gently nudge the mind towards Deity, towards refreshing and rejuvenating inner quiet and rest, when reciting the sacred yet simple sound ‘aaa-ooo-mmm.’ (-ooo- is pronounced as in caught, bought, for). I don’t want this opening mantra to be taken as a prescribed religious belief, as something that you have to believe in to be in it. So I have interpolated this opening declaration to make it more accessible to us non-Hindus.
Nevertheless, this statement lent new meaning to the word a-kṣara. kṣara means “melting away, moveable, perishable, like water.” Now akṣara also means “the sacred sound ॐ aum”. I hope this helps to explain the meaning of lines 4 and 6 of verse 1.
The Sage deep in samādhī. Note the composure of the face, and the smile of ānanda.
ॐ aum iti etat akṣaram. idaṃ sarvaṃ.
the sound this is the this is the All
“Let us perceive the sound ‘aaa-uuu-mmm’ as the Imperishable.”
“Let us perceive the sound ‘aaa-uuu-mmm’ as Deity that pervades All.”
tasyo upa -vyākhyāna
here is go with explanation
Here is an explanation to accompany (this mantra)
bhutaṃ bhavat bhaviṣyat
arise exist future cessation
The arising, existence and the future cessation of all Beings
sarva aum kāra eva.
all depend upon surely.
all surely depend on ॐ aum, the Imperishable.
yat ca ānyat trikāl ātītaṃ
that & different these gone
That which has gone beyond arising, existing and dissolution,
tat api aum kāra eva
that also aum comes from surely
that also depends on ॐ aum, the Imperishable, surely.
sarvaṃ hi etat brahman ayam ātmā brahman
universe is pan-theistic is higher
2) The universe is (pervaded by) pantheistic Deity, and the higher self is also (part of) pan-theistic Deity.
ayam ātmā catur ayāt
our higher four supports
self favourable destinations.
Our higher self has four supports or favourable destinations.
jāgarita sthāna bahiṣ -prajn͂aḥ
wakeful firmly outer pure consciousness
3) When we are firmly established in wakefulness and have pure consciousness (prajn͂aḥ),
sapt-āṅga ekonavimśati mukhaḥ
seven factors nineteen directions
then we will know how to properly conduct ourselves in the world (bahiṣ-prajn͂aḥ), in its “seven factors and nineteen directions”, and
(note : ‘bahiṣ-prajn͂aḥ’ literally means “pure knowing of how to operate in the outer (instrumental case)”)
sthūla bhuk viśva -nara
physical enjoy all-pervading Being
and we can know how (bahiṣ-prajn͂aḥ) to enjoy this worldly life, and know (bahiṣ-prajn͂aḥ) the All-pervading Being (pantheistic Deity.)
This is the first foundation (of the higher self.)
svapna sthāna antar -prajn͂aḥ
visualisation firmly meditative pure
4) When we are firmly established in meditative visualisation, and we have pure consciousness (prajn͂aḥ),
(By “visualisation” (svapna = supta) I mean perceiving, assessing, and valuing the people, pursuits, possessions and places of our lives in a wise, insightful manner. Literally, our “mental image” of our world. Hence su-supta means “supreme insight.”)
sapt-āṅga ekonavimśati mukhaḥ
seven factors nineteen directions
then we will have a positive and wise attitude towards the world (antar-prajn͂aḥ) in its “seven factors and nineteen directions”,
(note : ‘antar-prajn͂aḥ’ literally means “pure knowing from within (ablative case).”)
pravivikta bhuk taijaso
solitary, enjoy illuminating,
and we can know (antar-prajn͂aḥ) how to enjoy illuminating solitude, know how to enjoy the radiance of seclusion from mental noise, defilement and disturbance.
This is the second foundation (of the higher self.)
yatra supta na kan͂cana kāmam
that latent no whatsoever destabilising
5 a) When there is no latent or unmanifest destabilising urges whatsoever,
svapna paśyati suṣuptam
meditative visualisation supreme
then our meditative visualisation will be a supreme insight.
suṣupta sthāna ekī bhūtaḥ
supreme stable one, Being
insight posture at-one-ment
5 b) When the supreme insight is a stable posture,
prajn͂āna -ghana eva ānanda -maya
pure complete delight full of
consciousness favourable enjoyment
one will surely have complete pure consciousness that is complete and favourable, and one will be full of delight and enjoyment. Our Being will be at-one with supreme insight, pure consciousness and enjoyment. (This is atonement.)
hi ānanda -bhuk
when delight possess
When we possess such delight and are rewarded by it,
cetaḥ -mukhaḥ prājn͂a.
heart entrance, pure consciousness.
mind mouth of
our heart and mind is the entrance or ‘mouth’ of pure consciousness.
This is the third foundation (of the higher self.)
Verse (6) now describes the Silent Mind of samādhī. It uses indirect language “this is entirely … ” By not naming samādhī, we gently nudge the mind towards it, by describing its characteristics.
eṣa sarva īśvara
this is entirely pure
eṣa sarva jn͂a
this is entirely pure knowing
eṣo antar -yāmin
this is indwelling Guide
and the origin of all.
prabha āpyayau bhūtānām
It is the arising & ceasing of all that exists.
Verse (7) describes the Silent Mind of samādhī in a different way. This verse equates the Silent Mind of samādhī with brahman, where brahman is best understood to be Deity unmanifest, and not known nor understood by the ego or lower self. I publish a treatise on the ego on this website.
Hinduism has innumerable words and Names for Deity, to try to give form to the formless, to try to make the Immortal understandable to mortal humans like us. Of all these Names and words for Deity, brahman is the most refined presentation of Deity.
brahman is unknown and ungrasped by the busy-ness of the thinking mind, intent on trying to understand Mike’s interpretation of māṇḑūkya upaniṣad. brahman has no characteristics that the ego knows. brahman transcends worldly wisdom and meditative skill. It even transcends wisdom and stupidity, for it is beyond mortal limitations.
The key word used to describe brahman in verse 7 is advaita = beyond duality, beyond the sense of separation between the ego and other people, beyond the separation caused by class, language, culture. advaita means ‘united with Mother Nature.’ advaita is the unifying experience, Being at-one with the Divine and the goodness of other people.
na antaḥ -prajn͂a na bahiṣ -prajn͂a
beyond worldy wisdom beyond meditative skill
na ubhayatas -prajn͂a
beyond both consciousness types
na prajn͂āna ghanaṃ
beyond insight, complete &
na prajn͂aṃ nāprajn͂am
beyond wisdom & stupidity
a-dṛṣṭam a-vyavahārvam a-grāhya
not been seen not yet practised not yet grasped
a-lakṣaṇam a-cintyam a-vyapadeśyam
without inconceivable undefined
It is without characteristics, inconceivable and undefined to the ego.
eka ātma pratyaya sāraṃ
at one higher understanding essence of,
It is a powerful understanding of the higher self at-one with Divinity, that is the essence of the higher self.
prapan͂cāt -upa-śāmaṃ śāntaṃ
from noise great relief peaceful
It is a great relief from mental noise, and it is still.
It is Deity beyond duality.
(This is) the fourth foundation (of the higher self.)
manyante ātmā vijn͂eyaḥ
It is said the higher should be known consciously,
that self without clinging to it.
ātmāya adhi -mātraṃ
moving towards simply transcendent
adhyakṣaram aum -kāra
the sacred sound aum reciting
8) Reciting the sacred sound ॐ aum takes us towards the higher self. It is simply transcendent;
ca mātrā pādā
and the whole foundation
aaa kāra uuu kāro mmm kāra
reciting ‘aaa’, reciting ‘uuu’, reciting ‘mmm’.
and reciting ‘aaa’, reciting ‘uuu’, reciting ‘mmm’ is the whole foundation to ॐ aum mantra meditation.
I am indebted to Stephanie Simoes who provided the Sanskrit of māṇḑūkya upaniṣad, in word-for-word translation, when she was a graduate student of Brock University.
She is at –
Her word-for-word translation of māṇḑūkya upaniṣad, is at –
I looked up the meaning of most words in the māṇḑūkya upaniṣad in the following online dictionary –
https://sanskritdictionary.com This remarkable resource for the Dharma gives listings from six different dictionaries. You type your entry using the International Agreement for Sanskrit Transliteration, which I use for all scripture quotes on this website. As does Stephanie. Please read my webpage “Pronouncing the Sanskrit.”
If you do not have the IAST spelling, you can use another online dictionary that will offer several different spellings, and you take your pick. This is
https://www.learnsanskrit.cc This will give the Devanagari, which you can enter into https://sanskritdictionary.com
A Clear and Comprehensible Translation
Please remember that the Upanishads were composed in an earlier era, and their Sanskrit is archaic. Whereas dictionary translations tend to be classical Sanskrit of a later epoch in Indian history. When the latter are used to translate Upanishad like māṇḑūkya upaniṣad, all sorts of strange interpretations arise. By tradition, the religion presents the Upanishads in obscure language that can confuse more than clarify. To the point of being (almost) incomprehensible.
This gives a misleading impression that the Upanishads are obscure, esoteric, and only the elite can understand them. Indeed, for very many centuries the Upanishads were reserved only for the Brahman priestly caste, who felt the need to be in charge of the religion. New scriptures were developed in more recent millennia for the common people. These are Purana, which uses the ancient tradition of story telling, where Names for Deity become the names of people in stories that are often imaginative and magical.
This is a great loss, for the Upanishads express important spiritual insights that arise from deep meditation. The Upanishads were not composed to be obscured with confusing obfuscations. The Upanishads can be easy to use and understand, if priority is given to a translation that is sensible, comprehensible and helpful. To achieve this, the translator needs to extrapolate considerably from the dictionary translation, or rely on other info sources, and adjust word sequence and grammar. This I have done.
The works of religious scholars are the starting point, not the final word in my interpretation of sacred scripture and mantra. I adapt Hindu themes out of their origins in prescribed belief and doctrine, and into a form that works for me. I hope it works for you too.
Best wishes from Mike B.
Discussion on this webpage is ©Copyright by Mike Browning, 2021. The Sanskrit comes from ancient tradition, belongs to no one person, and therefore is in the Public Domain. This also applies to its translation into English.
You are permitted and encouraged to copy text from this webpage and use as you see fit, provided it is not harmful to mantra-translate.