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Facts and figures || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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अग्नीर्मूर्धा चक्षुषी चन्द्रसूर्यौ दिशः श्रोत्रे वाग्विवृताश्च वेदाः । वायुः प्रणो हृदयं विश्वमस्य पद्भ्यां पृथिवी ह्येष सर्वभूतान्तरात्मा ॥

agnīrmūrdhā cakṣuṣī candrasūryau diśaḥ śrotre vāgvivṛtāśca vedāḥ vāyuḥ praṇo hṛdayaṃ viśvamasya padbhyāṃ pṛthivī hyeṣa sarvabhūtāntarātmā

Fire is the head of Him and His eyes are the sun and moon, the quarters His organs of hearing and the revealed Vedas are His voice, air is His breath, the universe is His heart, earth lies at His feet. He is the inner Self in all beings.

~ Verse 2.1.4

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Acharya Prashant (AP): “Fire is the head of Him and His eyes are the sun and moon, the quarters His organs of hearing,” by ‘quarters’ it means the directions, “and the revealed Vedas are His voice, air is His breath, the universe is His heart, earth lies at His feet. He is the inner self in all beings.”

Very tempting. What do you want to do with this? We want to sketch this thing out, don’t we? And that will make it so convenient for us. We will say, “This is the Upanishad in picture. What have I done? I have picturised the Rishi’s vision!”

Listen to the picture. “Fire is the head of Him.” Do you visualize fire at the head, flames and all? And flames as the hair, bunch of hair rising up as the flames, golden hair? “Fire is the head of Him and the eyes are the sun and moon.” Do you see that? I suppose you have already seen that in some very fancy…that is what artists are paid to do, no?

“And His eyes are the sun and moon, the directions His organs of hearing.” From all directions stuff is coming to him and he is hearing everything, nothing is hidden. That is how it is in the picture. “And the revealed Vedas are His voice.” And the fellow is speaking out, and what you have flowing out is a stream of Vedas! Seeing that very vividly in front of your eyes? “The air is His breath.” And he decides to exhale and the entire universe is filled up of air. Where is our atmosphere coming from? His exhalation!

“The universe is His heart.” And so you take this portion (points towards the chest) and you show the different galaxies and the suns and the moons and the stars here. Now, you don’t even bother to check how is it possible that the air is being exhaled out here (points outwards) but the universe is here (points towards the chest) . So, there is some kind of a logistical mismatch; you require a carrier to carry the stuff from here to here. But you are not supposed to question holy images.

“The universe is His heart, earth lies at His feet.” So, the universe is here (points towards the chest) but the earth is out of the universe and the earth is at the feet. And you look at this image and you go totally holy; from head to toe you start feeling holiness! You just bow down, you prostrate, and you say, “This is the magic of creation, the secret of everything, that I have known and seen just now!”

Just like you have those images that show how the jīvātman (individual soul) comes out of your body when you are dying, and then moves from here to there and visits the various lokas (worlds), and then comes back to some pregnant woman and enters her womb and is reborn as that baby, and then that baby again goes through the cycle of growing up and decaying and dies once again, then again the jīvātman starts doing its mischief.

So, this great verse is susceptible to being mischievously used in that fashion, and I am cautioning against that. Please don’t do that. That is what we have done. Anything great, we pick it up and we utilize it in our own infantile and dimwitted ways. And we think we have done a great job; we feel we are doing a service to holiness.

This description is just to bring home the last point: “He is the inner Self in all beings.” Do not take it literally, please. Several such instances you come across in the scriptures; they are not to be taken literally. And not merely the Upanishads, you will find them everywhere. In fact, they are not so much found in the Upanishads. The Upanishads are more precise; they try to stay clear of artistic expressions as much as possible. But still, the seer is also a poet. At times he either gets carried away, or there is sometimes no option but to express it figuratively.

So, these are figures, not facts. We know the difference between taking something literally versus figuratively. (Pointing at the verse in question) This is not a fact. Brahman is not a man or a woman or anybody; Brahman has no body at all. Therefore, Brahman is going to neither inhale nor exhale. Therefore, Brahman has no chest to seat the universe. Therefore, Brahman needs no floor to stand upon. And Brahman does not maintain hair of all things, let alone inflamed hair. That is very potent imagination and inspiration for a hair stylist, but not for a spiritual seeker. Let the hair stylist be inspired. Flames as hair! We will see that in the Golden Globes this year.

So much effort goes into somehow convincing the student that the body is not everything, but there sits something within the student that is so eager to turn into a body even that which cannot have a body. Why? Because the student thinks that he is a body. Therefore, everything has to be bodily. “I am the body. For me the body is everything, the highest, the central, so how dare there exist something beyond the body? I won’t admit it.”

What is this verse for? This verse is there to imply that the entire creation is due to Him, into Him, originating from Him, and dissolving into Him. No less, no more.

This is one thing that the seeker of Truth must learn very early in his journey: how to sift fact from fiction, fact from figures. Spirituality has suffered a lot, India has suffered a lot, because we just could not make that distinction. We just do not know, for example, what the real meaning of Shiva consuming the great poison is. A lot of people believe that there actually was some great sea or ocean that was churned by the deities and the demons, and out of that churning emerged a great cow, a great treasure, and finally great poison. We start taking those things literally. A lot of us believe that actually on top of a mountain sits a metaphysical deity called Shiva, and in believing that way we totally miss the essence of Shiva.

The message being conveyed in the scriptures is so subtle, so difficult to grasp for the mind, that at many places symbols have to be used. Those symbols have to be understood as symbols.

The spiritual seeker must learn that art of decoding very early in his journey. You must know what is merely symbolic and what is literal. Otherwise, it is the worst of blunders to read a scripture and take a code at its face value.

Questioner: In the first verse, we said that we are not the body, or that the body is not the real ‘I’ and the real ‘I’ is different. Is it matching with what Jesus said, that “I and the Father are one”? Is it coming from the same thing?

AP: Once you understand the Upanishads very clearly, you will be astonished at the clarity of meaning that will emerge from all the great scriptures of the world. That is the reason I am in love with the Upanishads: because they are so central, so primary. And if you miss the Upanishads, then understanding the other scriptures becomes difficult; you miss their meaning as well.

So, irrespective of what persuasion you come from, what belief you come from, the Upanishads are a must. And once you have this key with you, you will be able to unlock the real meanings of all scriptures. And what’s more, you will find that all scriptures, at a deep level, have a certain concurrence, a certain consonance. And if you don’t know the Upanishads, you will feel as if the various scriptures are quarreling with each other. They are quarreling with each other only as “I am coming” quarrels with “ Main aa raha hoon (I am coming)”.

You do not know the key to decode the great books and you keep reading them. What does the Father stand for? What does the son stand for? And what does the holy spirit stand for? And when he says, “I am the Truth, the light, and the way,” what do these three stand for?

That real thing can be understood, in my humble opinion, best via the Upanishads. I am not saying only via the Upanishads, but if you know the Upanishads, even the Bible will open up like never before.

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