Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad

In the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad we find the following

Not one with awareness within (nāntahprajñaṃ) not one with awareness
without (na bahihprajñaṃ), not one with awareness of both, not a mass of
awareness (prajñānaghanam), not awareness nor non-awareness (na prajñaṃ). They consider the fourth quarter [of brahman thus]:
unseen, supramundane, ungraspable, without characteristic, unthinkable,
indescribable, whose essence is the perception of the one self, the stilling
of the manifest world (prapañcopaśamaṃ) calm (śāntaṃ) auspicious,
nondual (advaitaṃ) That is the self, that ought to be perceived

We see something similar in Snp 4.11

“Na saññasaññī na visaññasaññī,
Nopi asaññī na vibhūtasaññī;
Evaṁ sametassa vibhoti rūpaṁ,
Saññānidānā hi papañcasaṅkhā”.

“Without normal perception or distorted perception;
not lacking perception, nor perceiving what has disappeared.
Form disappears for one proceeding thus;
for concepts of identity due to proliferation spring from perception.

Are both texts talking about the same meditative experience (the formless), but with the difference being that for Snp it is seen through the lens of emptiness whilst for the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad through the lens of the Self?


Several academics have dated the Mandukya Upanishad to the early centuries of the Common Era. The Japanese academic of Vedic, Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, Hajime Nakamura has dated the Mandukya Upanishad to “about the first or second centuries A.D.” The scholar of South Asian religions, Richard E. King too has dated the Mandukya Upanishad at the first two centuries of the Common Era. Indologist and Sanskrit scholar Patrick Olivelle states, “we have the two late prose Upanisads, the Prasna and the Mandukya, which cannot be much older than the beginning of the common era” Wikipedia

Still waiting for @sujato to post his take on this passage! Haven’t had any sutta nipāta posts these last days.

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Bhante @Sujato does have these notes in his Snp4.11 translation, and I believe he talked about this issue in this series: Seminar Series for Sutta Lovers: The Sutta Nipata (Atthakavagga)

“Without normal perception or distorted perception;
[Following Niddesa.]
“Na saññasaññī na visaññasaññī,
not lacking perception, nor perceiving what has disappeared.
[From the following verses we can infer that these enigmatic lines refer to an advanced state of samādhi, probably the formless attainments. These are not “normal” as they have no sense-perception or defilements; they are not “distorted” as they are free of hindrances; they are not the non-percipient realm; and they do not perceive what has disappeared, namely the rūpa or the sukha of lower absorptions.]
Nopi asaññī na vibhūtasaññī;
That’s how to proceed so that form disappears:
Evaṁ sametassa vibhoti rūpaṁ,
for concepts of identity due to proliferation spring from perception.”
[In MN 18, we have the sequence perception, thought, proliferation, then papañcasaññāsaṅkhā. This suggests that papañca causes saṅkhā, as per Bodhi.]
Saññānidānā hi papañcasaṅkhā”.


This still seems quite characteristic of the somewhat vague arahattaphala samādhi. No defilements, no hindrances, not non-percipient yet not perceiving all that is gone. The arahattaphala samādhi is described as not perceiving any of the normal meditative perceptions and yet still perceiving / meditating. Add this to the context of the stanza and the following discussion, it being a formless attainment is definitely possible but it doesn’t knock the other idea out of the water; they both seem just as possible as of now.

Also, as a note, Bhikkhu Anālayo has pointed out that rūpa may well be shorthand for nāmarūpa due to metrical constraints. Nāmarūpa is said to be the condition for contact in the sutta, not just rūpa, and they ask how contacts do not contact. They also ask where it all disappears. Likewise, Ven. Ñānadīpa argued that papañcasankhā could refer to nāmarūpa here. I do not agree with that, but the point being, two translators have suggested on different grounds that this refers to nāmarūpa in some way. Moreover, there is definitely plenty of room for papañcasankhā in the formless attainments; the main Buddhist position is that other contemplatives turned these meditative states into all kinds of views based on… contact! (DN 1) So the idea that they are the escape from contact and papañca does not make sense.
Considering the metre and the statement that contacts are dependent on nāmarūpa right before, plus the fact that we know contacts do not ‘not contact’ nor do they cease with formless attainments, this is even more reason to think IMO that this is referring to the arahattaphala samādhi. Still, a possibility, but one I don’t see good reason to be false.

There is also precedent for this samādhi being referenced in the Sutta Nipāta. In AN 3.92, the Buddha describes the special ego-less immersion (quite similar to the cessation of papañcasankhā, which is bound up / caused by conceit and ego), and says that he was referring to it in the Parayana.

I would say it is either nevasaññānāsaññā or arahattaphala samādhi. The latter is much more a solution to dukkha, quarrels, etc. in line with the point of the teaching; the former is possible on linguistic grounds as well. I think, as Bhikkhu Anālayo has said, that it makes most sense to understand it as referring to the arahattaphala samādhi, but the person did not understand and asked if it was nevasaññānāsaññā or some other mystified meditation attainment, to which the response is that one must transcend notions of existence / rebirth, knowing their dependency.


Thanissaro points out Sutta nipata 4.11 cannot be referring to the formless:

“One not percipient of perceptions not percipient of aberrant perceptions, not unpercipient, nor percipient of what’s disappeared:[2] for one arriving at this, form disappears — for objectification-classifications[3] have their cause in perception.”

Taking into account the preceeding question, “How do pleasure & pain disappear?” I believe it refers to this, which according to the sutta can in fact lead to the formless :

“If he wants, he remains percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not loathsome. If he wants, he remains percipient of unloathsomeness in the presence of what is loathsome. If he wants, he remains percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not loathsome & what is. If he wants, he remains percipient of unloathsomeness in the presence of what is loathsome & what is not. If he wants — in the presence of what is loathsome & what is not — cutting himself off from both, he remains equanimous, alert, & mindful.”—Samyutta Nikaya 46.54

•The practical application is comprehensively explained by Nyanaponika in “The Roots of Good and Evil,” p 74.

I would like to read both these arguments. Can you point me to them?