"Full many a ray of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness to the desert air."
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Atma Bodha - verse 01

सदाशिव समारम्भाम शङ्कराचार्य मध्यमाम्‌ ।
अस्मदाचार्य पर्यन्ताम वन्दे गुरु परम्पराम्‌ ॥

sadāśiva samārambhām śankarācārya madhyamām |
asmadācārya paryantām vande guru paramparām ||

Beginning with the eternal Shiva, through the master Shankara, till our teacher, I bow to the lineage of the gurus.

Shiva is the first guru, the lord of the Yogis, the first teacher with the ultimate knowledge of the Brahman. Shiva is the destroyer, following the creation by Brahma that is nurtured by Vishnu. At a personal level, He is the destroyer of the ego, the identifier of the individual, to allow the person to see the Real. And, at the universal level, he is responsible for destruction, dissolution and salvation so that Brahma can create the world again. Shiva represents the Supreme Consciousness. The path to Shiva is the introspective path to seek the Self.

Shankaracharya established Advaita (non-duality) as the dominant school of philosophy in India. In a short lifespan of thirty-two years, he has composed an impressive volume of work : bhāṣya - commentary on the Geeta, the Upanishads and the brahmasutras, stotram – hymns in praise of deities, and prakaraṇa - brief expositions in prose and verse. 

Atmabodha is one of the prakaraṇa grantha that explains the knowledge of the Self in sixty-eight verses in a simple manner. Shankara starts with explaining the attributes of the seeker in the first stanza. He goes on to explain samsāra – the world, māyā – illusion, and the nature of the ātman – the Self.  He then describes the brahman – that after knowing which nothing needs to be explained. Whereas Shankara says that bhakti – devotion leads to salvation, and karma – action is necessary, he advocates jnāna – knowledge, as the direct means of liberation. He explains complex concepts with intense clarity, and holds experience as the ultimate teacher. Whereas it is possible to acquire knowledge through a study of the scriptures, the role of the guru is to guide the seeker, accelerating the progress along the path of knowledge.    

My understanding is based on the study of the commentary by Gurudev, Swami Chinmayananda-ji, with other commentaries posted on the Internet as reference and books, as well as group discussions with a study group at the Chinmaya Mission in Dallas, co-ordinated by Swami Sarveshananda.

तपोभिः क्षीणपापानां शान्तानां वीतरागिणाम्‌ ।
मुमुक्षूणामपेक्ष्योऽयमात्मबोधो विधीयते ॥१॥

tapobhih kṣīṇapāpānām śāntānām vītarāgiṇām |
mumukṣūṇāmapekṣyoyamātmabodho vidhīyate ||1||

I am composing the ātma bodha, this treatise of the Knowledge of the Self, for those who have purified themselves by austerities and are peaceful in heart and calm, who are free from cravings and are desirous of liberation.

As is the ancient tradition of spiritual works on Sanatana Dharma, this first verse defines the anubandha chatuṣṭaya that comprises of:
  1. viṣayah (subject matter) – atma bodha (knowledge of the Self). If this is not the subject of your interest, stop right now and go no further.
  2. prayojana (purpose of the text) – liberation. If this is not what you are looking for, abandon further reading of this composition.
  3. adhikārī (eligible seeker of knowledge) – purified by austerity and peaceful in heart and calm of mind, free from craving. These are the qualities of the seeker who will gain from the knowledge in this composition.
  4. bodhya-bodhaka-sambandha (relationship of the seeker of knowledge to the use and knowledge matter in the text) – the seeker who is desirous of salvation will find the knowledge of the Self in this book directly leading them to liberation.   
Shankara has defined the attributes of the seeker of liberation as sadhanacatuṣṭaya (four-fold qualifications) both in Tattwa Bodha and Vivekachudamani, which clearly explains what is expected of a seeker.
(i)            viveka (discrimination) – ability to differentiate between Real and Unreal
(ii)           vairāgya (dispassion) – ability to detract from the world
(iii)          śamādisādhanasampatti (inner wealth starting with śama)
a.    śama – mastery over the mind  
b.    dama – restraint of external sense organs
c.    uparati – strict observance of one’s dharma (duty)  
d.    titikṣā – endurance of the pairs of opposites – heat and cold, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow
e.    śraddhā – faith
f.     samādhāna – single pointed focus of the mind on the Self
(iv)         mumukṣutva (burning desire for liberation) – need for  

The verses of the ātma bodha can be categorized by topic.
01        : four descriptors of the work
02-05   : means of emancipation
06-12   : samsāra (world)
13-19   : śarīra (embodiments)
15-19   : adhyāsa (
26-30   : ahamkāra (ego)
31-36   : neti-neti (a list of what not to do)
37-39   : sādhanā (seeking)
40-46   : ātma bodha (self-realization)
47-53   : vision of a jnānī and characteristics of a jivanmukta (liberated soul)
54-68   : brahman (supreme consciousness) 

Next : Atma Bodha verses 02-05                                                                   

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