Friday, February 3, 2012

PROLOGUE TO MAHAANAARAAYANA UPANISHAD


 

PROLOGUE TO MAHAANAARAAYANA UPANISHAD

DISCOURSE BY N.RSRINIVASAN, AUGUST 2012
Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad forms part of Krishna Yajurveda and also part of Taittareeya Aaaranyaka. This Upanishad contains a collection of Mantras used in ritualistic contexts found in various Vedas and Upanishads. There is a wrong feeling that this Upanishad only belongs to Vishishtaadvaita followers and therefore has not received much attention from the followers of Advaita and Dvaita philosophy. Therefore it is not easy to find many translations and explanations of this very concise and informative Upanishad. This contains only 150 Mantras, a bit longer than Vishnusahasranaama but very much smaller than Bhagavadgeetaa. It is very convenient to use this for daily chanting (Paraayana). This will take hardly half an hour in the mornings and similar duration in the evenings. With practice the timing could even be shortened. The beauty about it is it will take you through all Vedas and other Upanishads from which mantras have been included in this Upanishad either in full form or as suitable extraction. At the same time it gives the exposition of Brahman and Creation in a masterly way in the beginning. It concludes with various forms of worship discussing their merits but ultimately recommends Nyaasa or Saranaagati as the best. We all know that Lord Krishna concludes Bhagavadgeetaa with the following famous sloka consoling Arjuna while at the same time giving him his divine assurance:
“Sarva dharmaan parityajya maamekam saranam vraja | aham tvaam sarva paapebhyoe mokshyishyaami maa suchah ||18-66|| Setting aside all Dharmas, just surrender completely to My will with firm faith and loving contemplation. I shall liberate you from all sins or the bonds of Karma. Do not grieve. {As you all know Bhagavadgeetaa often times echoes Upanishads}.
Ramanuja administered three famous mantras to his followers; these are 1. The above sloka from Geetaa; 2. Om Namoh Naaraayanaaya 3. Sreeman Naaraayana charanam saranam  prapadye. He elaborated on these three mantras in his Rahasya-traya-saara.
Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad contains a number of short Sooktas from various Vedas in full and some in short form. Sooktas are Vedic hymns which are noble thoughts (Su=well uktam=said) on Supreme Principle (Brahman) and its glorification. These include Purushasooktam, Naaraayan sooktam, Durga sooktam, Tvarita Rudram, Brahmopaasanam, Panchaanana Upaasanam, Medhaa sooktam, Aghamarshana sooktam, Mrittikaa sooktam and others.
It includes all mantras that are recited daily during morning and evening prayers popularly known as Sandhyaavandanam, invocation mantra of Gayatri, farewell Mantra to Gayatri, Popular Gayatri Mantra used in Upaakarma and Sandhyavandanam, mantras chanted at the mealtime etc.
It also contains various Gayatri Mantra on deities, exposition of Brahman and various mantras used in daily homa rituals and Yajnas.
It includes important mantras used in the Shodasa Upachaaraa Pooja of deities in temples during Abhishekam (bathing ritual), Aarati (waving of lamp), Naivedayam (offering food, praanaahuti) Kshamapanam (repentance) and Vedic Mantras praising Brahman. (Please refer to Pooja Rituals Discourse earlier circulated)
Both Sankara and Ramanuja have quoted elaborately from this Upanishad in their Vedantic discussions. Mahaanaaraayana Upanishd is an authoritative work in describing the nature the Supreme Principle—Brahman of Sankara and Sriman Naaraayana of Ramanuja and therefore occupies an exalted status in the group of Upanishads. That is why the followers of Vishishtaadvaita consider this among the Major Upanishads though not popular with the followers of Advaita philosophy.
Sayana one of the major commentators of Upanishads states:”whatever was left over to be mentioned in respect of Karma, Upaasana and Jnaana—after the recital of the Samhitas and Brahmans of the Vedas, is brought together in this short compilation of work.  The first mantra in this Upanishad is as follows:
“Ambhasya-paare bhuvanasya madhye naakasya prishthe mahatoe maheeyaan | Sukrena jyotee(ga)mshi samanu-pravishtah prajaapatis-charati garbhe antah ||
The One who is greater than the great (anoraneeyaan mahatoe maheeyaan) resides in the vast ocean, in the atmospheric region and on the surface of the celestial abode. He having entered into the luminary bodies (The Sun, the Moon, the stars, the Fire etc) with his own light, this Lord of the Universe is moving within the spiritual heart of all people. [The Lord resides in the milky ocean to become accessible to the Gods like Brahma, Indra and others. He is in his own form in his eternal abode Sri Vaikuntha, granting the bliss of his Communion to the liberated]
It is this Mantra that has later inspired later puraanas to compose the Sloka; “Saantaakaaram bhujagasayanam paddmanaabham suresam” meaning of which you all know and also the sculptors to carve out the Image of Vishnu reposing on Adisesha floating on the Ocean and looking at the never-ending space and cosmos above. This mantra also makes this Upanishad a favorite of Vaishnavites, which Advaitins have not explored well. But deep down it also describes “Sadyojata” instant born Lingodbhavamoorti Lord Siva and his five aspects of Panchaanana which Vaishnavites interpret as applicable to Lord Narasimha, the “Kambodbhava”, instantly born out of the pillar. It elaborately deals with Devi aspect including Durga Sookta and a famous Mantra from Sri Sooktam used in everyday worship and mantra for holy dip in rivers glorifying various river deities. Thus this Upanishad caters to the Bhakti thirst of all devotees drawn from Vaishanava, Saiva and Sakta schools of thought and so plays the role of common Paaraayana (chanting) treasure for all Hindus who eagerly yearn for spiritual evolution. The added advantage is in about 150 Mantras it gives you bird’s eye view of all Vedas dealing with creation, progressive steps for spiritual evolution, repentance, meditation and salvation.
The texts of this Upanishad is obtained in two recensions—The Andhra School rendering and the Dravida School rendering. There are differences in their rendering as to the reading, additions and omissions of passages. Ramakrishna Math deals with Andhra version while my discourses are based on Dravida version as I had easy access to its translation into English from Dr. N.S. Ananta Rangacharya. Ramakrishna Math includes the Andhra version in its compilation of Mantra Pushpas which are good for   chanting and for conducting Homas. It contains some Mantras which are not in the Dravida version but excludes also some. Where needed help has been taken from Andhra version.
For those who have had no opportunity to learn Vedas (Vedaabhyaasa) regularly this Upanishad is a boon to study Vedas and Upanishads even late in life as it deals in a capsule form covering all the essential mantras from Vedas. It not only quotes from all Vedas and Upanishads but also introduces us to Brahman to start with and discusses in the end various modes of worship and their merits.
The essentials   mantras in this Upanishad are covered under four categories. They are: I.  Sooktas    II.  Vedic mantras in daily use; III. Homa Mantras IV. Expounding Brahman
I.                    Sooktas from Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad
1)      Medhaa Sooktam
2)      Mrittikaa Sooktam
3)      Doorvaa Sooktam
4)      Durgaa Sooktam
5)      Aghamarshan Sooktam
6)       Narayana Sooktam
7)      Purusha Sooktam
II.                  Vedic Mantras from Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad
1)      Gayatree Mantraah
2)      Bhoodevi Mantraah
3)      Sandhyaavandana Mantraah
4)      Aatmaanusandhaana Mantrah
5)      Panchbrahma-Panchaanaaa Mantraah
6)      Sivoepaasana Mantraah
7)      Shanti Mantraah
8)      Satru Nivaarana Mantraah
9)      Mrityunjaya Mantra
10)   Trisuprana Mantraah
III.                Homa Mantras from Mahaanaaraayan Upanishad
1)      Viraja Homa Mantras
2)      Vyaahrtiti Homa Mantras
3)      Kamokaarsheet-Manyurakaarsheet  Homa Mantras
4)      Vaisvedeva Homa Mantras
IV.                Expounding Brahman
1)      Hiranyagarbha Ityashtau
2)      Vaisvedeva mantraah
3)      Aapah Devataa mantraah
4)      Aaditya Devataa Mantraah



ANALYTICAL CONTENTS OF MAHAANAARAAYANA UPANISHAD
Let us discuss in detail the rich contents of this Upanishad: MNU starts with the words “Ambhasyapaare”—one who is present in the shoreless waters and dwells on describing Brahman and glorifying him. It describes Brahman as Prajapati-God transcendent and Immanent. He is the Ultimate Divine Principle called Prameswara or Prajapati. He is described as Aksharabrahman, the Self-supporting Final Cause of the Universe. Seers realize the All-pervading in the Ether of their heart. He is responsible for the order of Cosmic Evolution.       All-sustaining Brahman is the Omni cent form of Nature. He is Ritam and Satyam and He alone is God of all gods.  As Prajaapati He is Divine Purusha and the source of Time with all its divisions. The Divine Being is called Mahad Yasas.  He has none above Him and is Limitless.
After describing Braahman thus it says Immortality is attained through meditation in the heart. Knowledge of God alone leads to Liberation or release from samsara. The unborn Prajapati is born diversely. Minor devatas (gods) submit to the Knower of the Supreme.
It then dwells on Hiranyagarba Sookta--Paramatman is the Time-binding Experiencer in all living beings. The Supreme Divine Being is Eka Deva and works out the entire Universe.  The Universe is held together in God. God is the web and woof of creation. It mentions of a Gandharva named Vaena as the one who taught these after realizing the Immortal. The Knower of God deserves highest honor. God is the friend, parent and the Ordainer.
It then talks about God –Realization—a simultaneous experience of identity. The mantras then deal with supplication for Intellectual Powers. It contains prayer to Agni for granting specific needs. Then we   come across Rudra Gayatri. It then talks about ancestry and significance of Gayatris—Gayatri of Mahadeva, Vinayaka, Nandikeswara, Shanmukha, Garuda, Brahma, Narayana, Narasimha, Aditya, Agni and Durga.  One may recall here other Gayatris from Agamas and Tantras.
It then describes in Durvasooktam religious importance of Panic (Durva) grass employed in Hindu rituals. MNU says repetition of proper ritual acts deepens religious life, multiplication of progeny and social transmission.  
Then comes the Mrittika Sooktam—Prayer to Earth and Self-purification by it. The earth is glorified and implored for favors.
Then we come across Satrujaya Mantras. It stresses on supplication to Lord Indra (Vyahrirti of Brahman) for fearlessness and well-being. It describes the real nature of Indra as described in Rigveda Samhita. It also repeats the most popular Mantra for well-being. Then there are prayers to Indra and Soma. Vaena is described as the symbol of Supreme Reality. Mother Earth is implored to grant bliss and end sorrows. Then comes an invocation to Mother Earth glorified as Sri.
Then   we have   mantras welcoming values and exorcizing dis-values.   We then come across a bunch of prayer mantras on  various devatas—well being sought from Indra; Prayer for fitness to sacrifice and destruction of enemies : prayer on Lord’s feet (Charanam Pavitram) and one’s own moral conduct to save from misery; prayer addressed to Indra for safety;  propitiation of Water and Herbs; how Vedas help the common  people.
We then come across Aghamarshana Sookta—its philosophy and import; prayer to Varuna for purity; right livelihood – expiations of transgression; salutations to Agni, Indra and Varuna ; counteracting adverse effects of water; expiation of the sins of gluttony and greed and the principle lying underlying it; Invocation to ten deified Rigvedic rivers; A Creationist hymn from Rigveda; a prayer to total purity; Oblation of finite Self into Infinite Brahman; Varuna the sin-effacer; Soma as Umamaheswara and the King of the universe.
Then comes the popular Durga Sooktam—hymn to Durga: Atri’s perpetual prayer for the peace and safety of all directed to Mother Earth; Prayer to Fire-god for happiness and fortune; prayer to Indra and Vishnu   for devotion; Mantras chanted while making oblations to increase food.
Then we have Mahaavyahriti Homa Mantras chanted for destroying sin; mantras for offering oblations for greatness (Jnaanapraapti); prayers for the attainment of Knowledge; prayers for removing obstacles in the path to higher knowledge (Jnaanapraapti); Prayer for the retention of Scriptures learnt (Vedaa-vismaraana); moral and spiritual discipline eulogized as Tapas (Tapah Prasamsaa) and approval of meritorious work (prasamsa) and censure (ninda) of the opposite kind. 
Then we have number of mantras called Daharavidya (knowledge of Brahman) the central theme  of this Upanishad-- Grace of God is necessary condition for seeing him; God is the source of life, body and environment; the best instances of the type remind us of divine glory; Bondage of nature and release from it; Hamsa mantra  (a mystic  incarnation of Vishnu)  and its non-dualistic meaning; Prjaapati as God, transcendental and immanent; prayers to Savitar for plenty; fitness for spiritual illumination engendered through sacrifices;  The greatness of divine names; The greatness of Vedantic Knowledge; a prayer for unbroken thought of  God; The greatness of Purusha comparing him to a tree (Aswattha); Vedanta, Yoga and Sanyaasa as methods of release from transmigration; The place where God is to be worshipped; Maheswara—who is He?
We then move on to the popular Narayanasooktam—His nature, glory, his residence in the heart; and his identity   with the universe and all Gods.
We then move on to Aditya meditated as Para-Brahman—Worship of the Supreme Being in the Solar Orb; the glory of the Sun; Aditya designated by Pranava and worshipped as Brahman.
This is followed by Mantras for the consecration of Siva Linga;   Panchabrahman mantras which at the same tame applicable to Panchanana—Sadyojata--Siva for release from transmigration, Vamadeva-Siva, Aghora-Siva, Isana, the  Lord  of All and prayer for his blessings and Pasupati-Siva;  obeisance  to   Brahmapurusha the Androgynous (Hiranyagarbha) Form; obeisance to Rudra at the heart with hymns. 
It then moves on to the  material of the sacrificial ladle and says sacrifices lead to inner purity; a mantra prescribed for counteracting evil; a formula for the Praise of the   Earth as Aditi  (Bhoodevata KA mantra).
Then we come across    sacred hymns that contributed to Sandhyavandana Mantras-- Water (Aapah) is eulogized as the Omnific[NS1] ent cause; invocation of Water for Self-purification; Self-oblation unto the True and Immortal Light., Sun as the Divine unto whom Self-oblation is made; The Pranava identified with Brahaman with some details; invitation to Gayatri Mantras—the Mother of Vedas: day-to-day removal of sins;  Invocation to Gayatri and personification of the Gayatri Mantra; worship of Gayatri; Vyahritis (emanations), Gayatri, Gayatri-siras and Praanaayaama; details about Gayatri as to its significance; Farewell to Gayatrei devi (official send-off).
Then comes Adityadevata Mantra—oblation of Praanas to Soma followed by Trisuparna Mantras—Mental power necessary to reach Brahman; prayer to Savitar to remove the sleep of illusion; prayer to Savitar for heralding what is auspicious; Madhumantras which stress upon the need of true discipline, Supreme Knowledge and salubrious environment; invocation for obtaining Intelligence quoted from other Vedas: the glory of Trisuparna; Fire-worship as mystic communion.
This is followed by Medhaa Sookta—Prayer to the deity of Medhaa. Intelligence and Wealth must combine; Importance of speech guarded by intelligence; prayers to Indra,   Sarasvati, Aswins, Gandharvas and Apsaras for intelligence; Agni, Indra and Surya supplicated for intelligence.
Mrityunivarana Mantra then follows—prayer for longevity, safety, sinless and wealth; Death! Go back, do not strike us!  May we live long brilliant life!; Fear of Yama and accusation of others prayed away; Longing for the path of Liberation; power of Yajna to take one across the sea of death; Death placated for granting safety.
A prayer to Prajapati; a prayer to Indra  then follows.
 Mrityunjaya Mantra (Trayambakam Yajaamahe)--Rudra is implored not to hurt; Rudra is saluted to spare one’s belongings:
 Paapanivaaraka Mantra--The power of Yajna to loosen death-traps; death includes many snares; Oblations to remove offences done to Gods and people; it also says individual is responsible for the offences of the group also.
Vasupraarthanaa Mantra--Prayer to remove hostile spirits.
Kamokarsheet Manyurakarsheet (Upaakarma) Mantras:  Desire made the scapegoat; Kaama—the philosophy behind this term; Anger (Manyu) made the scapegoat; the philosophy behind this term Manyu.
Virajaahoma Mantras—Burnt offerings of sesame for benefits; Preparation of Sanyaasa; Sesame for oblation; the level of the community influences the individual’s moral stature; the oblation known as Virajaa for Self-purification; a possible indication that the oblation may be offered by either sex; hidden egoism; hunger and thirst; asceticism implied in Sannyaasa;  Efface misfortune; adversity and poverty; Lakshmi and Alakshmi.
Then follows thirty-seven Ablator mantras for (Homa) Baliharana.
This is followed by a series of Praanaahuti Mantras for food offering to God and Meal-time Mantras; Importance of food for all living beings;  Rudragana prayed for safety; The Supreme Truth; Puruh and Puh; Brahman as all God; Sraddha—a deity to be worshipped; Praanaagnihotra; Food-seeking instinct spiritualized; Amritahoma; The container and cover of food (amritopastaranamci—pidhaanamaci); Final Mantra completing Pranaagnihotra; Purusha of the size of the thumb is satisfied by repast.
Then follow a series of various prayer mantras—Avayavasvasthataa praarthanaa mantra; Indra-sapatarshi  samvaada mantra; ,Hridyaalambhana   mantra; Devataapraananiroopana mantra;  Agnistuti mantra; and Abheeshta-yaachanaa mantra-- God is the true enjoyer,  person only an instrument; satisfaction of  a repast must bring remembrance of God;  Enjoy what is granted to us by God; Prayer to remove the bondage of ignorance; lapse of Ahankara, sign of maturity; Unity of Vishnu and Siva: Manifoldness of Agni, the Divine; Yajna personified and venerated; Brahman in the Braahmana;
Then comes Paratattva Nirupana— Logic of Spirituality. Truthfulness as supreme means of Liberation; sugar-coating Truth as untruth; religious fast as Tapas (austerity) ; sense-control as Tapas; tranquilization of mind as Tapas; giving selfless as  Tapas; religious righteousness (dharma) as foundation of all; procreation; the five Maha Agnis; Agnihotra as means of Liberation; Yajna    leads people to the status of Gods in Heaven; Maanasa-inward worship-its importance; How Yajna prepares one to be an Aatmayaajin; Sannnyaasa declared to be supreme; Two different views of Nyaasa.
 Sauparneya Aruni’s question to his father--Tapas is behind great achievements; Sense-control: its greatness and inaccessibility ; Calmness of Mind as means of Liberation; Selfless-gift  as the shelter of sacrifice;  Dharma or Justice is the defense of the oppressed; Procreation as the foundation of races; The conception of three-fold debts; Why sacrificial fire is important? Agnihotra-the beacon of heaven; Yajna as a potent weapon; the Value of inward concentration; Sannyaasa eulogized as the Supreme; a panegyric upon food; The scale of values: Sun, Rain, Flora, Food, Strength, Power, Tapas, Faith; Sense-control; Reflection; Calmness; Remembrance; Direct Realization and Bliss; knowledge of the Aatmapurusha leads to Liberation; Brahman as giver of all light; Prescription for meditation as given to Sannyasins.
Lastly Jnaanayajna—Atmaayajna and its ingredients: Correspondences between Bahir-yajna (outward sacrifices) and Antar-yajna (inward sacrifices); Aatmayajna is a development of Upaasana (meditation);  The Upanishad concludes with the Complete Cycle—Birth to Release.