Mundaka Upanishad

aka Mundakopanishad

"The Mundaka Upanishad belongs to the Atharva-Veda. It is also called a Mantra Upanishad because it is written in verse. But it is not, like the Mantra section of the Vedas, intended to be used in the sacrifices or rituals. The Mundaka Upanishad teaches the Knowledge of Brahman.

The word mundaka is derived from a root that signifies shaving. The instruction given in this Upanishad has the sharpness of a razor; it cuts off a man’s error and ignorance, like a razor. The name also suggests that this Upanishad is meant only for the shaven-headed sannyasins, who renounce all the actions prescribed for householders and devote themselves to the cultivation of Brahmavidya, or the Knowledge of Brahman.

The Mundaka Upanishad and the Prashna Upanishad, both belonging to the Atharva-Veda, are said to be complementary. What is briefly stated in the one is elaborated in the other.

The importance of the Mundaka Upanishad can be recognized from the fact that this is the only Upanishad of the Atharva-Veda which contains a verse (I. i. 6.) directly used by Badarayana Vyasa in constructing an aphorism (I. ii. 11.) of the Vedanta Sutras, the most authoritative book on the Vedanta philosophy."

- Swami Nikhilananda

"The Mundaka-Upanishad forms a part of the Atharva-Veda. It has been called a Mantra-Upanishad as it is composed of verses in the form of Mantras or prayer-chants. Commentators observe that these Mantras are not for the purpose of ceremonial worship as are those of the Karma-Kanda or sacrificial portion of the Vedas.

This Upanishad lays particular emphasis upon the means of attaining Brahma-Vidya or knowledge of the Absolute. The question is asked: “What is that, Sire, by knowing which everything else becomes known?” The sage answered that to acquire the Highest Wisdom, one must transcend the vanity of lower knowledge. Supreme Wisdom cannot be attained by superficial study of the Scriptures, nor by observing religious rites, nor by good works. It can only be realized by the man of meditation one who has been purified through the practice of discrimination and renunciation.

It is difficult to trace the meaning of the title “Mundaka.” The literal translation of the word is “shaven-head.” This may imply that the author of the book was a Rishi or seer with shaven-head or it may indicate that the Upanishad itself is shorn of all non-essentials like the mind illumined by Brahma-Vidya."

- Swami Paramananda

"Mundaka literally means a razor, or one with shaven head, i.e., a Sannyasin. The Upanishad is so called probably for two reasons; first, because it cleanses the soul by destroying all its super-imposed ignorance, even as a razor shaves the head; secondly, because it strongly advocates the Sannyasa life in preference to the house-holder’s.

It belongs to the group of Upanishads attached to the Atharva Veda, belonging most probably to the Shounakiya Shakha of the Veda, as the Upanishad was given out to Shounaka. Shankara calls it Mantra-Upanishad inasmuch as it is in verse. But for that reason, it should not be understood that its utility lies merely in chanting on the occasions of sacrifices like any other Mantra portions or Samhitas of the Vedas; or, in other words, it should not be taken as a Karmanga. It is divided into three parts with two chapters in each. The speciality of the Upanishad is that its exposition of the Brahma-Vidya is at once direct and most lucid. Shvetashvatara is the only other Upanishad of its kind. If the reader would follow closely the teachings of the Upanishad in meditation, he is sure to find himself ultimately at the very gate of the transcendental Brahman."

- Swami Sharvananda

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