Mandukya Upanishad class notes—Invocation
Oh Gods, may we hear with our ears what is auspicious.
May we, who are engaged in sacrifice, with our eyes see what
May we, singing praises, live with healthy bodies
and with perfect limbs our allotted days.
May Indra of great fame, most ancient of wisdom listeners,
be gracious unto us.
May the all-knowing, all-illumining Nourisher (sun) be
gracious unto us.
May Aruna and Garuda be gracious unto us.
May Brihaspati, the Lord of the Word, be gracious unto us.
new class got off to an auspicious start, with a deep meditation both during
the reading and after it in silence. Our discussion emerged gently and
respectfully out of the swirl of the infinite we found ourselves basking in.
Contributions from a variety of angles enhanced the general understanding in an
inspiring fashion. Nitya’s meditative presentation promises to be a unique and
thrilling excursion for us to embark on together.
invocation appears to be a later addition. Of the major Upanishads, only the
Taittiriya has an invocation in conjunction with the original. Regardless, it
is a lovely and appropriate opening that ushers us into a receptive state of
mind to begin our study.
crucial thing about the invocation from the Gurukula perspective is that the
gods are aspects of the psyche. In cultural settings where external deities are
taken for granted, it requires a conscious effort to redirect our attention
inward, subtracting the garish imagery conjured up by artistic representations
invocation is definitely in the form of a prayer to the gods, but it is
intended to prime our focus to be as alert as possible. The Mandukya is short
and intense, so with an unprepared mind it might go right by in a flash. The
invocation is a brief waking up exercise, a poetic version of: “Listen
carefully; look carefully; get yourself in a sublime mood.”
course, if we’re busy praying, we might not listen and look as carefully as we
might. That means that we should use the prayer as a prod to listen more
intently, and then be still. It reminds me of early in the Gita when Arjuna
asks Krishna for instruction and then lapses into silence, ready to hear what
he has to say. To amplify this, Nitya brings in an allegory from the
Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads:
The Indian rishis think of a perennial struggle going
between the devas and the asuras [gods and demons]. According to
the story, the shining ones thought of overpowering the demons by consecrating
the ear with the divine vibrations of AUM. When the demons came to know of this
intention they filled the ear with inauspicious sounds. From that day, man
hears with his ear both the auspicious and the inauspicious.
prayer of the invocation urges us to tune out the inauspicious thoughts,
sights, and words that clutter our mind so we can fully attend to the mystical
teaching of the Mandukya. Curiously, Aum is the auspicious sound that is both
the subject of the Upanishad and the means to approach it alertly.
finds that prayer is a good way to access the inner divine state. It is an
acknowledgement that our normal awareness is confined to a small room, so to
speak, and we are reaching out to a galactically vast holistic perspective.
Whether we pray outwardly or inwardly, it humbles our ego and invites more of
our capacity to participate in the whole of life.
seems to me that whether we pray to our inner resources or a pictorial image of
a deity, the result is the same: tuning in to a greater reality of which our
conscious awareness is only a small appendage. The only caveat is that we are
not supposed to relinquish our efforts to an external force and then sit back
and wait for it to perform for us. We are the performer. We are the
participant. The whole point is to draw us in, all of what we are, in. In a way, imagining it as being “just
can seem more constrictive than if we picture a vast god spread across the sky.
We have to keep in mind we are infinite beings with finite awareness. Our
meditations are the exploration and gradual annexation of the unknown
territory. No matter how far we have already come, we have barely begun.
contribution may be very small, but it should be as bright as possible while it
lasts. Nitya often made this point, and refers to it here also:
We are not static dumb pieces
sitting here and mirroring the play of light and shade outside us. We are
active participants in the game of life that is going on. We are burning out
like the sacrificial fire; the candle that burns radiates its golden beams and
the incense stick that burns gives away itself in fragrance. We burn out and
become this civilization: humankind. Such is its history, art and literature,
science and technology and everything that goes to posterity. It is in this
sense that the rishi calls himself a man of sacrifice. He is not praying to a
god outside. The prayer is addressed to the best in him to give him both
direction and encouragement.
course, you all remember the beautiful finale of That Alone, verse 20, where
Nitya puts the same idea impeccably:
belong to the same overmind of beauty. Not with your ego but with your spirit.
Participation in it will reveal to you the divine artist in you, the divine
musician in you, the divine intelligence, the divine creator, the divine lover,
the divine unifier, the divine peacemaker within you. It’s such a blessing to
be in this world, to be born here and to live here. This body of ours will fall
away just like a candle burning out. But before it burns out the candle gives
off a lot of light. What does it matter that it is eventually extinguished? It
has lived its moment of light. We live surrounded by smoke and darkness. Make
up your mind that you will live this day, each coming moment, in all its worth
and beauty, and that you will share it with all. This is the great teaching the
Guru offers us.
added how much she loved the idea of receptivity implied in the invocation.
This is a lovely refinement of the idea of prayer. Where prayer reaches out,
even if it reaches in, receptivity does not have to go anywhere. It is a
stilling of psychological impediments in order to invite in whatever auspicious
factors impend. In a way it is the flip side of prayer, its negative counterpart.
As Jan realized, it takes courage and wise grounding to be receptive. Much of
our conscious mind is set up to block out receptivity, but if we can open up in
trust and confidence the blocks will melt away. And, as they melt away, we
naturally open up more. There is a positive feedback loop involved.
loved the word auspicious, one that is not common outside spiritual writings,
and inspired by her enthusiasm we adopted it as a symbol of our joint
undertaking. Andy knew the word derives from the ancient practice of
foretelling the future by observing the flights of birds. There is a positive
oracular aspect to auspiciousness. It means propitious, favorable, promising
success. The word implies something good is coming along, which is perfect for an
invocation. Viewed in the right light, almost everything is auspicious.
further pondered the phrase “we who are engaged in sacrifice.” What does that
mean? Obviously we aren’t performing any external displays, rites or rituals.
Andy thought of sacrifice as an ecological gesture, meaning that it was
something performed for the benefit of the whole environment. That could well
be the outcome of focusing on the Mandukya Upanishad, but for now we are
performing the wisdom sacrifice, what Krishna in the Gita stated unequivocally
was the best type. Of course it is equally global in character. Andy was also
ruminating on the Gita’s rich take on sacrifice, so I’ll include this summing
up from Chapter IV, Jnana Yoga:
many and varied are the sacrifices spread in front of the Absolute. Know them
all as originating in action. Thus understanding them, you shall gain release.
to any sacrifice with (valuable) objects is the wisdom sacrifice; all actions
have their culmination in wisdom, Arjuna.
this by prostration, by searching questioning, and by service; they will
instruct you (duly) in wisdom—those wise ones who can see the basic principles.
known this, Arjuna, you will not give way to delusion thus any more; by this all
beings without exception will be seen by you in the Self and thus in Me.
friend Jaya made a beautiful contribution, in addition to chanting the Sanskrit
for us: even from a scientific point of view life is miraculous. Take a tree.
It breathes in carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen, exactly what we humans need
in order to breathe ourselves. Just looking at a tree you would never know
this, but invisibly it is freely supplying us with an essential element for our
own life. How many more beneficial aspects like this abound in the world?
slyly adds an adumbration of the meaning of Aum in his last sentence:
In conclusion, we want to have
peace from the world of our transactions, the world of our subjective ideation,
and the deep-rooted urges and incentives of life. The prayer, therefore, closes
AUM śāntih śāntih
AUM Peace Peace
we will soon see, ‘A’ symbolizes the world of transactions, ‘U’ the world of
subjective ideation, and ‘M’ the deep-rooted urges and incentives of life
(vasana). The silence following the chanting of Aum implies the peace that
pervades these three states. May the peace of Aum reverberate in your life from
this day forward!
always, thoughts and questions are welcome from anyone, though I reserve the
right to select appropriate passages for sharing. Let me know if what you
submit is personal and not for public circulation.
This is from the commentary on
the invocation in an alternate version being prepared by Michael Brumage, which
I will share in its entirety when it’s done:
To experience the visible there should be proper eyes to
see, proper ears to hear, and a sturdy system so structured that has the
strength to uphold its attention fully focused on the truth, however strenuous it
is, nonflagging at any time. Here the student is commissioned by the divine
gods who are eager to disgorge ill health, weakness, darkness and doubts, and
shape the student into a perfect model with receptivity and strength. The
student will hereafter have a goal, a path to go to that goal, and a light
which continuously shows the path to walk. Therefore it is said, sthirair anagair tustuvamsas tanubhih vyasema
A person is not alone. Sri Aurobindo says, “The divine
is interested to make a person a perfect receptacle to fill with wisdom.”
The purpose of all gurus is the same – to make the world a better world, to
make people better people, with better minds, better receptivity. Hence the
motive is only to light another candle like the candle which burns within one
person so that two people share knowledge, wisdom, and light.
where Aruna (daughter Emily’s middle name) and Garuda came from the text, I
looked into it. Aruna and Garuda respectively emerge from tarksyo and arishtanemih in
a somewhat obscure reference, yet this is in fact correct. The root arishta means unhurt, safe from injury
or damage. Tarkshya was originally a horse, then morphed into a bird and thence
to Garuda. Garuda did, in fact, bring the divine soma or amrita to earth, in a
parallel myth to Prometheus, as related in The Golden Apples of Immortality, my
interpretation of Hercules’ eleventh labor, set in the Edenic Garden of the
Here’s an excerpt from it:
like Prometheus, the divine eagle Garuda brought the nectar of the gods, soma,
from heaven to earth. In the Indian context, our true birthright is the amrita,
the immortal nectar of pure existence. Mrita is death, a-mrita is
the opposite of death. Interestingly, amrita is associated with the soma plant,
which is a “food of the gods,” that allows you to truly see. Ambrosia,
the nectar that waters and nourishes the Garden of the Hesperides, is a closely
related word that means exactly the same thing as amrita. It is quite
possible that amanita of the amanita muscaria mushroom is also a related
word, though that’s purely speculative—the kind of musing that munching a magic
feature an eagle and depict the transmission of something special from the gods
to humans. In the Western version it engenders terrible consequences, but in
the Indian version it is an event to celebrate. Their gods of old loved soma
dearly, and drank it whenever they could, but they didn’t want to share it with
humans any more than their Western counterparts did. Yet after Garuda delivered
the goods, no one was punished. In the West, no good deed goes unpunished.