Episode 11 - Mandukya Upanishad and meaning of AUM

Episode 11 - Mandukya Upanishad and meaning of AUM

Hello listeners, I am Krishna with HinduLit. A podcast on Indian literature, mythologies, and history.

Today's narration is on the Mandukya Upanishad and the meaning of AUM according to this ancient scripture. The Upanishads are a collection of 108 essays and stories. According to some historians, the earliest Upanishads were written before the period of Buddha around the 6th century BCE. The later versions were written as late as the 15th century CE. Of these Upanishads, the oldest and most popular are the 12 written between the 6th century BCE through the 1st century CE. They are the Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Kausitaki, Kena, Katha, Isha, Shvetashvatara, Mundaka, Prashna, and finally the Mandukya.

The Mandukya is said to have been composed sometime during the first century of the CE. As with much ancient literature that has some religious significance to the general populace, we find that the dates assigned by historians differ from the dates assigned to them in discussions of these works of literature’ in importance and place in a mythological or spiritual context. This difference in chronology is interesting as some claim that certain western historians’ are biased towards shoe-horning Indian history & literature, around a Christian or Abrhamaic timeline, and are therefore in contrast to the interpretation of the eastern religious practitioners who assign more ancient dates to the scriptures and observe a different chronology. I will table that topic for discussion in a future podcast when I have done further research and given it some due diligence.

[short pause]

The Mandukya Upanishad is a short poem of 12 verses surrounding the word AUM (spelled A-U-M). It is sometimes written as OM (O-M). AUM is a chant often vocalized during prayer and meditation. If you have attended temples, sermons, or perhaps even Yoga studios, you are sure to have come across the word.

Symbolically, it is written to look like the number 3 with a tail attached to the number’s midpoint. Resting a little above the tail is a crescent moon lying on its side like a bowl and within the bowl, there is a levitating dot.

The Mandukya Upanishad says that the word AUM stands for the Supreme Reality. As a symbol, it stands for what was, what is, and what will be. AUM also represents what lies beyond past, present, and future.

The Mandukya then goes on to say that the Brahman, another word for the Supreme Reality, is all and that the self is also Brahman. This self has four states of consciuousness namely the Vaishnavara, the Taijasa, the Prajna, and finally the Turiya.

The first state, the Vaishnavara, is the state of consciousness where our senses are directed externally or to the external world. It is what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. The 'A' in AUM stands for this state, the Vaishnavara. Those who master this sense can succeed in achieving their desires and thus achieve greatness.

The second state is the Taijasa where our senses are directed inward and where one enacts impressions of past deeds and present desires. This state is referred to as a dream state in the Mandukya, but I think it means a state where we are using our imagination and mentally discussing our thoughts, concerns, and desires. Generally, this is a state that can be achieved voluntarily and on command. The 'U' in AUM stands for this state, the Taijasa. By mastering this sense, one achieves wisdom.

The third state is the Prajna, a state of consciousness often ex perienced during deep sleep. The Mandukya calls this a state where there is no mind and no separation, and the sleeper is not conscious. I think what the Mandukya is expressing is a state of mind that we achieve during deep sleep where your mind is functioning and giving you thoughts and experiences but they are not brought upon voluntarily and on command unlike the 2nd state of consciousness. The Mandukya says, however, that it is possible to be conscious in this state, and it says that when one becomes conscious in Prajna, they will open the door to a state of abiding joy. The 'M' in AUM stands for this state, the Prajna. Those who master this sense can find their true stature and inspire those around them to grow. It is the state of a leader.

The fourth and final state is called the Turiya, or the superconsciousness state. This state, the Mandukya says, is neither inward nor outward and it is beyond the senses and intellect. This is than God and is the supreme goal of life. The Mandukya says that this is infinite peace and love and we must achieve this.

The Turiya state is represented by AUM and stands for the super consciousness state. This state, the Mandukya says, is without parts, beyond birth and death, and is the symbol of everlasting joy.

[short pause]

That ends our summary on the Mandukya Upanishad. Let's discuss this a little further.

The supreme reality mentioned in the Mandukya is presumed to refer to God. Some may prefer to refer to it as universal energy, perhaps because they do not prefer to identify with a personified deity. To the well-seasoned spiritualist, this may be a distinction without a difference. Spiritualists can be either theistic or non-theistic in nature, but they share a similar goal, that is to reach a state of enlightenment. An theistic spiritualist might call this enlightened state, god-realization, while a non-theistic one may choose not to.

The self refers to oneself or yourself. It simply means you, the person. If you are someone who believes in the concept of a soul, the self can be thought of as the soul.

The fourth state or the superconscious state is said to be achievable through meditation or similar practice. Many meditators chant the word 'AUM'. There is no mention in the Mandukya that one must chant AUM to achieve the super conscious state, but it is generally believed to be a useful focusing term. If you are meditating and chanting AUM, I hope this summary from the Mandukya aids in your understanding of the chant and the state that you are trying to achieve.

[short pause]

With that, we have reached the end of this podcast episode. I hope you enjoyed it. Please join me again next time for another podcast on Indian literature, mythologies, and history.



  1. Easwaran, Eknath, The Upanishads 2nd Edition.
  2. Olivelle, Patrick, Upanishads (Oxford World's Classics).

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