Wizardly Images in the Mundaka Upanishad
Mundaka means shaved head, so perhaps this Upanishad is named so because it is knowledge that shaves us of ignorance. It has three mundaks/shavings (parts).
The first mundaka’s first khand (section) says Brahman grows by meditation. By this means matter or food is produced. From food comes breath, mind and all that’s true. Finally, from the work we do in this world, come results, good or bad, which are immortal.
Fire’s 7 Tongues
The first mundaka’s second khand goes on to beautifully name the 7 tongues of fire-
- Kali (black)
- Karali (terrific)
- Manogav (swift as thought)
- Sulohit (very red)
- Sudhumravarn (purple)
- Sphulingini (sparkling)
- Vishwarupi (having all the forms in the world)
The second mundaka’s first khand continues the fire imagery. Like sparks from a fire, we come in this world from Brahman.
Brahman’s beard is fire
His eyes- the sun and the moon
His ears- space
His breath, the wind.
His heart, the universe.
His feet, the earth.
Take a Bow
The next khand has a fantastic image.
Take the Upanishad as your bow
Put upon it your self,
The arrow you’ve sharpened with devotion.
Draw yourself back
Concentrating on Brahman. L
You’ll hit the mark- Brahman.
Bye Bye Birdie
The third mundaka’s first khand has a famous image.
Two birds who are inseparable friends, sit on a tree.
One eats its fruit, the other doesn’t.
On the same tree a man sits, weighed by his impotence- anisha.
When he sees the other, isha (Brahman) and knows his glory, he is sad no more.
What a beautiful way of illustrating that Brahman is us and we are Brahman.
The third mundaka’s first khand says, even the knowledgeable can’t get to Brahman. That which you look for, you find. I’d interpret this as you need to be humble to reach Brahman. You need self-knowledge, for the self is Brahman. Brahman chooses who is deserving. His body then becomes Brahman’s body.
This echoes the counter intuitive verse in the Isha Upanishad we saw yesterday, where the ignorant and knowledgeable alike can cross death.
I’ve only touched on certain poetic parts of this Upanishad that struck me. Many concepts are similar to the ones we’ve discussed, about the nature of Brahman. As Yamini mentioned in her comment day before yesterday, the Upanishads cover the same pool of concepts, whether they’re the lesser known ones or the main ones.
I first looked at Max Muller’s translation of this Upanishad. Some words and concepts puzzled me, so I hopped over to Swami Krishnananda’s commentary and also peeped in the original!