Mandukya Upanishad Links AUM with Consciousness

Categories : Spirituality

Mandukya Upanishad belongs to Atharva Veda and is the shortest among old Upanishads consisting of only 12 Mantras. However, in its effectiveness, it occupies the top place among the Upanishads. It is linked to Rishi Manduk, who espouses the idea of four stages of human consciousness. The Upanishad is also linked to Manduk (Frog) which remains in hibernation for about 8 months and starts croaking in unison with the advent of the rainy season. A frog is not so disciplined to climb steps one after another. It may jump from the first step to the third or fourth step in a go. Perhaps similar is the condition of thoughts of humans.

Human consciousness has been linked with AUM in this Upanishad. AUM consists of three syllables A, U and M. The fourth part is the Anuswar / Chandravindu (dot in the crescent) for stretching the sound of M. This stands for the sound which resounds in the Universe and for which a pictorial sign has been specially created. This sign is not a part of a regular alphabet. It also symbolises Brahma.

Man is the most perfect creation of the creator. The Upanishad visualises him as consisting of seven limbs and nineteen mouths. The metaphorical statement about such parts is associated mainly with a man in his waking state who has been addressed as Vaisvanara. He is a Vaisvanara because he leads all creatures of the Universe to enjoy various objects in diverse ways. The metaphoric seven limbs have been related to a larger size man (Virat) which may be similar to the Vishwarup of Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The seven limbs are described in Chhandogya Upanishad (5/18/2).

  • Effulgent region-Head.
  • Sun as the eye.
  • Air as the Vital breath.
  • Space is the middle part of the body.
  • Water as the Kidney.
  • Earth as feet.
  • Avahaniya fire as the mouth.

Similarly, 19 mouths of the Vaisvanara mentioned in the Upanishad consist of the following.

  • 5 sense organs (hearing, touch, sight, smell and taste)
  • 5 organs of action (speech, handling, locomotion, generation and excretion)
  • 5 types of Vayu, Vital breath (Pran, Apan, Saman, Udan, Vyan)
  • 4 minds (manas), Intellect (Buddhi), Self-Sense (Ahankar) and Thoughts (Chitta)

A man equipped with all these characteristics faces transformations during the different phases of consciousness. The transformations have been skilfully analysed. Therefore, the concept has been repeated in many subsequent Upanishads in association with AUM. The meanings of the 12 mantras of the Upanishad are given below. The secret messages associated with the mantras are available in the Mandukya Upanishad Karika of Gaudpadacharya who was the Guru of Adi-Shankaracharya’s Guru.

Mantra 1: AUM, this syllable is all this an explanation of that is the following. All that is the past, the present and the future, all this is the syllable. AUM, and whatever else there is beyond the three-fold time, that too is the syllable AUM.

Mantra 2: All this is verily Brahma. The self is Brahma. This same self has four quarters.

Mantra 3: The first quarter is Vaisvanara whose sphere of activity is the waking state, who cognises external objects, who has seven limbs and nineteen mouths and who enjoys gross material objects.

Mantra 4: The second quarter is Taijasa whose sphere of activity is the dream state, who cognises internal objects has seven limbs and nineteen mouths and who enjoys the subtle objects.

Mantra 5: The third quarter is the state of Pragya which is the state of deep sleep. There is neither any dream nor desire in this state. This is the state of bliss.

Mantra 6: This state is the lord of all, the knower of all and the inner controller – the source of all. This is the beginning and the end of beings.

Mantra 7: This is the Turiya state which neither cognises the internal nor the external objects. It cognises nothing. This state is incapable of being spoken of, ungraspable, without any distinctive marks, unthinkable, unnameable, the essence of the knowledge of oneself, the peaceful, the benign and non-dual. This is the fourth quarter of the self. He is to be known.

Mantra 8: This is the self which is of the nature of the syllable AUM regarding its elements. The quarters are the elements, the elements are the quarters, namely the letter, A, the letter U and the letter M.

Mantra 9: Vaisvanar whose sphere of activity is the waking state is the letter A. The first element is either from the root ap to obtain or from being the first. He who knows this, obtains, verily all desires.

Mantra 10: Taijas whose sphere of activity is the dream state, is the letter U, the second element from exaltation or intermediateness. He who knows this is blessed with births in the family who remain knowers of Brahma.

Mantra 11: Pragya whose sphere of activity is the state of deep sleep, is the letter M, the third element either from root mi to measure or because of merging. He who knows these measures all this and merges all this in himself.

Mantra 12: The fourth is that which has no elements, which cannot be spoken of into which the world is resolved, benign, non-dual (a reference perhaps to anuswar for stretching M). Thus, the syllable AUM is the very self. He who knows it thus enters the self with his Self.

(In the Turiya state the mind remains withdrawn from objects but becomes one with Brahma who is free from fear and who is all round illumination).


  • The Principal Upanishads – S. Radhakrishnan
  • Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudpad’s Karika – Swami Chinmayanand