The Mental and Gnostic Self
The exact nature of the manomaya kosha and vignanamaya kosha in Taithria Upanishad, mental and gnostic self is a matter of controversy among commentators. Most of the modern commentators equate manomaya kosha with the Chitta-Manas the lower mentality and Vignanamaya Kosha with the Buddhi, the intelligence. But the imagery of these two sheaths in Taithria Upanishad suggest a very different picture.
Let us examine the original conception of these two sheaths as it was formulated in the Taithria Upanishad. The manomaya kosha is described in the following words.
“Now there is yet a second and inner self which is other than this that is Prana, and it is made of Mind—. Yajur is the head of him and the Rig-veda is his right side, Sama-veda is his left side; Adesha is his spirit which is the self of him; Atharvan is his lower member, whereon he rests abidingly”.
And the description of Vignanamaya kosha, the gnostic self runs like this “Now there is yet a second inner self which is other than this which is of Mind and it is made of Vignana—-. Faith, Sraddha is the head of him; Right, Rta is his right side; Truth, Satyam is his left side; Yoga is his spirit which is the self of him; Manas is his lower member whereon he rests abidingly”.
To understand the meaning of the above verses we have to get behind the symbolic and imaged language of the ancient seers. The meaning of the imagery of Vignanamaya Purusha will be clear and revealing to all those who are familiar with the terminology of vedic mysticism. Here we find some of the terms used by vedic sages for the highest supramental worlds of Surya: Sathyam, Rtm, Brhat, Truth, Right, the Vast. The Vedic word Brhat is replaced by the word Mahas. We will discuss this imagery of Vignanamaya Kosha in greater detail in our next article. The Upanishad says further that this Vignanamaya is the inner Self and other than that of the Mind. It says Yoga is his spirit which is the Self of him. All these imagery very clearly shows Vignanamaya is not the intellectual mind but a supramental faculty beyond the belt of mental consciousness.
So, a first preliminary analysis of the imaged description of the Manomaya and Vignanamaya Koshas in Taithria Upanishad gives the impression that these are respectively the centers of lower and higher knowledge apara and para vidya, as they are called in Mundaka Upanishad. Manomaya is the centre of apara vidya, or lower knowledge, that is knowledge acquired through the intellect, the scientific, intellectual and analytic knowledge. It includes all the sixty four arts and sciences listed in the Indian tradition and also the intellectual and verbal knowledge of the Vedas. Vignanamaya is the centre of para vidya, intuitive knowledge by identity by which the supreme Reality or Self beyond mind is known, not intellectually through the abstract idea, but becoming one with it through inner communion, experience and realisation.
Now let us again examine little more deeply and closely the imagery of Taithria Upanishad and see whether it confirms to the conclusions of our first preliminary investigations.
While describing Manomaya Purusha Upanishad says, Yajur is the head, Rigveda is his right side, Samaveda is his left side, the Adesha is his spirit and self and Atharvan Angirasa is his lower member. And the corresponding imagery for Vignanamaya Purusha runs like this. Faith, Sraddha is the head of him; Right, Rta is his right side, Truth, Sathyam is his left side, Yoga is his spirit and self and Mahas is his lower member. To the discerning eye the contrasting imagery is striking and revealing. The imagery of Manomaya represents the outer form and that of Vignanamaya, the inner spirit and core of Vedic knowledge.
The names of the four Vedas described as the limbs of Manomaya represent the outer name and form of the vedic knowledge, that is as we have already said, the analytic, intellectual and verbal knowledge of the Vedas or in other words apara vidyas. We must remember here that in the Vedic tradition the Veda represents the source of all knowledge spiritual as well as secular, para and apara vidya. But an intellectual and analytic knowledge of the scriptures is not considered as para vidya but only as a part of apara vidya. As Mundaka Upanishad states:
“There are two types of knowledge to be known as declared by those who know Brahman, the higher and lower knowledge. Of these apara Vidya is that of Rigveda, the Yajurvedas, Samaveda, Atharva vedas and of phonetics, virtuals, grammar, etymology, prosody and astrology. And the higher para vidya is that by which the Imperishable is known”.
And in the Chandogya Upanishad, when Narada approaches Sanathkumara to learn Brahma Vidya, the later asks Narada to tell him first what he knows. Narada first mentions the four vedas and then gives a long list of the various arts and sciences he has learned. But Sanathkumara is the least impressed and dismisses all the immense learning of Narada as mere verbiage. “What you know Narada” says Sanathkumara is nothing but Names” which means apara vidya acquired through the intellect and which is made mostly of verbal knowledge made of word and abstract ideas. In the same Upanishads Narada admits frankly that he was only a mantra-vid, the knower of words and not atma-vid knower of the Self. Now we can see why Taithria Upanishad mentions the names of the four vedas as the limbs of the Manomaya Purusha. They represent as we have said already, apara vidya or in other words, the knowledge of the outer word-form mantra-vid and not the knowledge of the spirit and soul Atma-vid.