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The mind that is to know the Self || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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एषोऽणुरात्मा चेतसा वेदितव्यो यस्मिन्प्राणः पञ्चधा संविवेश । प्राणैश्चित्तं सर्वमोतं प्रजानां यस्मिन्विशुद्धे विभवत्येष आत्मा ॥

eṣo'ṇurātmā cetasā veditavyo yasminprāṇaḥ pañcadhā saṃviveśa prāṇaiścittaṃ sarvamotaṃ prajānāṃ yasminviśuddhe vibhavatyeṣa ātmā

This Self is subtle and has to be known by a thought-mind into which the life-force has made its fivefold entry: all the conscious heart of creatures is shot through and inwoven with the currents of the life-force and only when it is purified can this Self manifest its power.

~ Verse 3.1.9

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Acharya Prashant (AP): “The Self is subtle and has to be known by a thought-mind into which the life-force has made its fivefold entry: all the conscious heart of creatures is shot through and interwoven with the currents of the life-force and only when it is purified can the Self manifest its power.”

This verse can be tricky if you don’t pay attention. See, prāṇa refers to the life-giving presence of air in the body. The tradition has it that the air that you take in—it’s a way of looking at the anatomy—divides itself into five and nurtures five parts of your body.

So, this prāṇavāyu that you inhale gets divided into mukhyaprāṇa , then apāna , samāna , vyāna , udāna . Mukhyaprāṇa is what nurtures the blood. Similarly, the other parts of the body are nurtured and powered by the other forms of prāṇa . Samāna , for example, nurtures the bones—it’s a way of saying—and then there is the nervous system, and then there is the flesh, and there is a subcategory of prāṇa that nurtures each of these.

So, when it is said that we are talking of pañcaprāṇa , we are actually talking of the human body, because the five forms of prāṇa are ultimately nurturing and powering the five parts of the body—the five parts being referred to here are blood, bones, nervous system, flesh and fat, and bodily juices—and we have the five the five forms of prāṇa corresponding to them. We have prāṇa * —which is the main * prāṇa , *mukhyaprāṇa*— apāna , udāna , vyāna , samāna .

So, what is the verse saying here? The verse is saying that the Self can be known only by a mind that has been purified of the effect of the body, and the mind is always dominated by the body; the currents of prāṇa permeate the mind; the mind is interwoven with prāṇa .

Now, let’s re-look at the verse. “The Self is subtle”—so far so good—”and has to be known by a thought-mind.” Now, the Self has to be known by a mind; the mind has to enter the Self. But what is the characteristic of the mind that will know the Self? Pay attention. “The mind into which lifeforce has made its fivefold entry.”

Now, the mind has to know the Self, but this mind that has to know the Self—which is a huge challenge—has been penetrated by five descriptions of the body, which is being referred to as pañcaprāṇa here. So, this mind is therefore not capable of knowing the Self because the pañcaprāṇa are dominating it.

“The subtle mind, the subtle Self, has to be known by a thought-mind into which the lifeforce has made its fivefold entry.”

So, now the mind is a bit handicapped. The mind does not have its whole power available to it. The mind, you could say, is obfuscated; the mind is loaded, burdened.

“All the conscious heart of creatures…” So, the best that you are, the conscious heart—the heart is the center of consciousness. In spiritual parlance, hṛdaya or heart is the very center of consciousness. “The conscious heart of creatures is shot through”—oh, but the best that you have is shot through and interwoven with the currents of lifeforce, and therefore there is a problem. Our heart is not fully functional, which means our consciousness is not fully functional. Heart is the center of consciousness.

Our consciousness is not fully functional because the pañcaprāṇa are dominating it. This basically means the body is dominating the mind. We go back to the beginning where we described how each of the prāṇas is related to one aspect of the body, be it the nervous system, the flesh, the bones, blood, hormones and juices, these things. So, all that is just the body.

So, when we say that prāṇa is dominating the mind, or has pierced and penetrated the mind, what we actually mean is that the body has dominated the mind. Therefore, prāṇa , here, is just a euphemism for the body.

So, the verse is effectively saying:

You cannot know the Self, the Truth, with a mind that is body-dominated and body-identified. If you want to really know the Self, then you will have to purify the mind, and purification of the mind implies getting rid of body-identification.

What is body-identification? Being a slave to all that the body does to you, brings to you, offers to you. What does the body offer to you? The feeling that I am this (pointing at his body) . ‘I am this’, the feeling; ‘I need to do this’, the emotional upsurge; ‘I want this’, the force of desire—all of that is founded in the body. The more you relate to that, succumb to that, and power all of that, the more difficult you make it for yourself to know the true Self. That’s the import of this verse.

Questioner: At one place you have said that the mind dominates the body, but today you have said that the body dominates the mind. Can you please clarify?

AP: You see, the mind itself is a product of the body. It is but obvious that the mind will be subject to all kinds of bodily tendencies and impurities. Where does the mind come from if not the body? Destroy the body and then show me the mind. Once you burn down the body all you have is ashes—where is the mind now?

So, consciousness arises from the body itself; the body is another name for consciousness, the body is another name for bodily consciousness. You know, body and mind are like mother and son—a great son, a brilliant son, a son who must be birthed by the mother, brought up by the mother, nurtured by the mother, but should not remain fastened to the mother. That’s what all illustrious sons do, don’t they?

Look at what Acharya Shankara did. He lost his father at a very early age, and then he was all his mother had. But when he was hardly ten, not even quite a teenager, he decided to leave the mother. That’s what the ideal mind must do after a certain point in time: leave the mother, respectfully take her permission and leave.

And the mother was not very willing, because Prakriti is never willing to let go of consciousness. Acharya Shankara is consciousness—symbolically we are talking here—and his mother is Prakriti . So, there is Prakriti and there is chetana . Acharya Shankara represents consciousness, chetana ; the mother represents Prakriti , and Prakriti is the mother of chetana .

So, mind comes from body, we know that. As the mind gets mature, as Acharya Shankara attained certain intelligence, he approached his mother, he said, “I want to go.” The mother was not very willing. So, then there is an elaborate story: the gods helped him, it is said. Of course, all that is just symbolic. So, there was this crocodile who caught the little Acharya and there was this condition put that the crocodile would leave the kid alive only if she allows him to go away for the sake of Dharma .

So, Prakriti does not let go of our child easily; the body does not let go of the mind easily. She is the mother. But she can be convinced, you know. You need to have that desire, and maybe a few clever tricks up your sleeve—that helps. Mothers are never easy. Even Acharya Shankara had to plan out a few things.

So, that’s what. On one hand, you have to remember that without the body there is nothing called the mind; on the other hand, the mind cannot remain forever in the lap of the body. The mind has to give up its physical association; that itself is growth, maturity, and the purpose of life.

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