(Translated by Achyarya Pranipata Chaitanya)
Invocation (verse 1)
1 My salutations to Sri Sad-Guru Govinda who is of the nature of Bliss Supreme, who can be known only through the import of the essence of Vedanta and who is beyond the reach of the known instruments of perception.
Glory of Spiritual Life (verse 2)
2 For all living creatures, a human birth is indeed rare; much more difficult it is to attain full manhood; rarer than this is a Sattvic attitude in life. Even after gaining all these rare chances, to have steadfastness on the spiritual path as explained in Vedic literature is yet rarer; much more so to have a correct understanding of the deep import of the scriptures. Discrimination between the Real and the unreal, a personal realization of spiritual Glory and ultimately to get fully established in the living consciousness that the Self in me is the Self in all—these come only later on, and culminate in one‘s liberation. This kind of a perfect liberation cannot be obtained without the meritorious deeds of many millions of well-lived lives.
Unique Graces in Life (verse 3)
3 Very rare indeed are these three things and happen only due to the utmost Grace of God—a human birth, a burning desire for liberation, and the blessed refuge of an illuminated sage.
Miseries of the unspiritual person (verses 4-7)
4 Is there a man who, having somehow obtained this rare human birth, together with masculine temperament and also a complete knowledge of the scriptures, is foolish enough not to strive hard for Self-realisation? One verily commits suicide, clinging to things unreal.
5 Is there a greater fool than the person who, having got the rare chance of a human birth and there too, the masculine qualities of the head and heart, falls short in his efforts to realize his own highest good?
6 Let erudite scholars quote all the scripture, let gods be invoked through sacrifices, let elaborate rituals be performed, let personal gods be propitiated—yet, without the realization of one‘s identity with the Self, there shall be no liberation for the individual, not even in the life times of a hundred Brahmas put together.
7 It is clear that liberation cannot be the result of good works, for Sruti itself declares that there is no hope for immortality by means of wealth.
Means of wisdom (verses 8-13)
8 Therefore, the learned seeker who is striving to gain this liberation and who has renounced all his desires for pleasures in the external sense-objects, should duly approach a good and generous Master and must live attuned to the true significances of the words of the Master.
9 Having ascended the path of yoga through continuous and right discrimination, one should lift oneself from the ocean of change and finitude wherein one has come to be drowned.
10 May the wise and learned man give up all actions motivated by desires and start the practice of realization of the Self and thereby attain freedom from the bondage of birth and death.
11 Actions help to purify the mind but they do not, by themselves, contribute to the attainment of Reality. The attainment of the Realis brought about only by Self-Inquiry and not in the least by even ten million acts.
12 The fear and sorrow created by the delusory serpent in the rope can be ended only after fully ascertaining the truth of the rope through steady and balanced thinking.
13 Neither sacred baths nor any amount of charity nor even hundreds of pranayamas* can give us the knowledge about our own Self. The firm experience of the nature of the Self is seen to proceed from inquiry along the lines of the salutary advices of the wise.
*Breath regulation exercises
The fit student (verses 14-17)
14 Ultimate success in spiritual endeavours depends chiefly upon the qualifications of the seeker. Auxiliary conveniences such as time and place all have a place indeed, but they are essentially secondary.
15 Therefore, a true seeker of the Self should proceed with his inquiry after duly approaching a Master who is established in the experience of the Self and who is an ocean of compassion.
16 One who has a keen memory and can argue for the scriptures and refute arguments against them, is fit for receiving Atma-vidya or the knowledge of the Self.
17 He alone is considered qualified to enquire after the supreme Reality, who has discrimination, detachment, qualities of calmness etc., and a burning desire for liberation.
The four-fold qualifications (verses 18-30)
18 Great sages have spoken of four qualifications for attainment which, when present, succeed in the realization of Brahman and in the absence of which the goal is not attained.
19 (While enumerating the qualifications), first we count the ability to discriminate between the Real and the unreal; next comes a spirit of detachment from the enjoyment of the fruits of actions here and hereafter; after that is the groups of six virtues beginning with calmness; and the last is undoubtedly an intense desire for liberation.
20 A firm conviction that Brahman alone is Real and the phenomenal world is unreal is known as discrimination between the Real and the unreal.
21 The desire to give up all transient enjoyments gained through seeing, hearing, etc., and also experiences gained through equipments ranging from a mortal body to the form of Brahma is called “detachment.”
22 The tranquil state of mind when it rests constantly upon the contemplation of the goal after having again and again detached itself from myriad sense objects through a process of continuous observation of their defects, is called Sama.
23 Steering both kinds of sense organs (of knowledge and action) away from their sense objects and placing them in their respective centers of activity is called dama (self-control). The best uparati (self-withdrawal) is that condition of the thought-waves in which they are free from the influences of external objects.
24 Titiksa or forebearance is the capacity to endure all sorrows and sufferings without struggling for redress or for revenge, while always being free from anxiety or lament over them.
25 That by which one understands the exact import of the scriptures as well as the pregnant words of advice of the preceptor is called sraddha* by the wise; by this alone does Reality become manifestly clear.
*Sraddha: Though normally translated as “faith,” sraddha signifies the ability to embrace truth.
26 Samaadhana or one-pointedness is that condition when the mind is constantly engaged in the total contemplation of the ever-pure Brahman; and it is not gained through any curious indulgence of the mind.
27 Mumuksutva is the burning desire to free oneself, by realizing one‘s true Self—from all bondages from that of egoism to that of identification with the body—which are bondages imagined due to ignorance.
28 Even though slight or moderate, this longing for liberation may bear fruit through the grace of the Guru and through detachment, calmness of mind etc.
29 Calmness and other practices have their meaning and they bear fruit indeed, only in one who has an intense spirit of renunciation and yearning for liberation.
30 Sama etc., become as ineffectual as a mirage in the dessert in him who has a weak detachment and yearning for freedom.
Bhakti firm & deep (verse 31)
31 Among the means and conditions necessary for liberation, devotion (bhakti) alone is supreme. A constant contemplation of one‘s own Real Nature is called devotion.
Courtesy of approach and questioning (verses 32-40)
32 Others say that bhakti means a constant enquiry into the Truth of one‘s own Self. One who has the above mentioned qualifications and is desirous to know the Truth of the Self should, therefore, approach an illumined Teacher for redeeming himself from bondage.
33 A teachere is one who is well-versed in the scriptures, pure, unafflicted by desires, a perfect knower of the Supreme, who continously abides in the Supreme, who is as calm as the fire that has burnt up its fuel, who is a spontaenous ocean of mercy that needs no cause for its expression, an intimate friend to all good people who surrender to him.
34 Worship that Teacher with deep devotion and when the Teacher is pleased with your surrender, humility and service, approach and ask for what you must know.
35 O Master, O friend of all who reverently surrender unto thee, thou ocean of mercy, I salute thee; save me, fallen as I am into this sea of worldly existence, with a direct glance from thy eyes which shower nectarine Grace Supreme.
36 I am burning in the blazing infernal fire of this world-forest; I am being tossed around by the cruel storms of misfortune; I am terrified (within and without)—O Lord! save me from death; I have taken refuge in you, for I know no other shelter.
37 There are peaceful and magnanimous saints who —like the spring season—are ever doing good to the humanity. They have crossed the dreadful ocean of (embodied) existence through their own efforts and without any (personal) motives, they help others to cross it.
38 Indeed, it is the very nature of the magnanimous ones to help remove the troubles of others, even as the moon of its own accord cools the earth scorched by the flaming rays of the sun.
39 O Lord, thy nectarine speech, sweetened by the elixiric Bliss of Brahman, pure, cooling, issuing in streams from thy lips as from a water-vessel, and pleasing to the ear—do thou shower upon me who am tormented by worldly afflictions as by the flames of a forest fire. Blessed are those who have received even a passing glance from thy eyes, accepting them under thy protection.
40 How to cross this ocean of worldly existence? What is to be my ultimate destination? Which of the many means should I adopt? I know nothing of these. O Lord! Save me and describe in all details how to end the misery of this earthly existence.
Loving advice of the Guru (verses 41-47)
41 As he speaks, afflicted by and seeking protection from the blaze of the fire of samsara*—the noble Teacher looks at him in all pity and kindness and spontaneously bestows upon him protection from fear.
*Samsara denotes worldly existence. This is an important term in Indian philosophy and must be understood clearly. Hinduism takes the worldly existence (conditioned by time, space, and causality) as bondage. That is, the cycle of births and deaths is referred to as the ocean of samsara (bhavasaagar), i.e., ocean of repeated births and deaths and all that goes in between. To seek freedom from the bondage of becoming is considered to be the supreme end of life, the param-purushartha.
42 To him, who, thirsting for liberation, has sought the protection of the Teacher, and who abides by scriptural injunctions, who has a calm mind and a serene heart , the Master should give out the knowledge of the Truth with utmost kindness.
43 Fear not, O learned one! There is no danger for you. There is a way to cross over this ocean of relative existence. I shall instruct you in the very path by which the ancient Seers have reached the Beyond.
44 There is a supreme means by which you can put an end to the fear of relative existence; by that you will cross the sea of samsara and attain the Bliss Supreme.
45 The highest knowledge arises from an inquiry into the meaning of the Vedanta. By this knowledge, immediately a total annihilation of all sorrows of birth and death takes place.
46 Faith, devotion and the practice of meditation—these are declared in the scriptures as the chief factors that help a seeker to attain liberation. Whoever pursues these is liberated from the bondage* of the body mysteriously forged by spiritual ignorance.
*Bondage of the body means false identification of the body with one‘s Self. This is considered to be the basic ignorance in Vedanta and the root cause of Samsara, the endless cycle of births and deaths.
47 You are indeed the supreme Self but due to your association with ignorance you find yourself under the bondage of the not-self, which is the sole cause of the cycle of births and deaths. All the effects of ignorance, root and branch, are burnt down by the fire of knowledge, which arises from discrimination between these two—the Self and the not-Self.
Note: This verse admirably sums up the entire teachings of Sankara. As pointed out in the previous verse, the false identification of the Self with the non-Self is considered to be the root cause of Samsara. When through self-inquiry this false identification removed, it is called liberation.
Questions of disciple (verses 48 & 49)
48 The disciple said: Kindly listen, O Master, to the questions that I now raise. Hearing their answers from your lips, I shall feel entirely blessedly gratified.
49 What, indeed, is bondage? How has it come? How does it continue to exist? How can one get out of it completely? What is this not-self? Who is the supreme Self? And what is the process of discrimination between these two (Self and not-self)? Please explain all these to me.
Intelligent disciple appreciated (verse 50)
50 The Guru replied: Blessed you are. For you wish to attain the absolute Brahman by freeing yourself from the bondage of ignorance. Indeed, you have fulfilled your life and have glorified your family.
Glory of self-effort (verses 51-55)
51 A father has his sons and others to save him from his financial debts, but there is no one other than oneself to redeem one from one‘s bondage.,
52 Exhaustion and fatigue caused by carrying a load on the head can be relieved by others coming to one‘s help. But none save one‘s own self can end the pangs caused by hunger etc.
53 The patient who faithfully follows the right diet and takes the proper medicine alone is perceived to recover from illness; no one recovers because another undergoes the treatment.
54 The true nature of Reality is to be known by a first-hand personal experience through the eye of clear understanding, and not through the report of learned men. The beauty of the moon is enjoyed through one‘s own eyes. Can one appreciate it through the description by others?
55 Who else, but oneself can help rid oneself of the bondage caused by the chains of ignorance, desire, action, etc.—even in a hundreds of millions of years?
Knowledge of the Self, Its beauty (verses 56-61)
56 Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by action, nor by learning, is liberation possible. Only by the realization of the oneness of the Brahman (Absolute) and the Atman (Self) is liberation possible, and in no other way*.
*Sankara takes his unqualified stance on Advaita (non-dualism) in this categorical verse. The reason liberation is not attained by Yoga, Sankhya or action (yoga) is because these systems postulate duality, which is ultimately the product of ignorance. Unless one realizes one‘s identity with Brahman, one is still operating within the domain of duality and is thus not released from the bondage of separative existence. Also, see verse 6. Says a key verse in Mandukyopanisad (I.7.xvii): ?Mayamatram idam dwaitam, advaitam parmarthah:? This duality is mere illusion. Non-duality alone is the Supreme Reality.
57 The beauty of the veena and the proficiency of one playing on its chords serve but to please an audience; they do not, by themselves, ever prove sufficient to confer full sovereignty.
58 Loud speech in a stream of words, the efficiency in expounding or commenting upon the scriptures, erudition—these bring only a little joyous, material satisfaction to the scholar; but they are insufficient to bring about liberation.
59 Without knowing the supreme Reality, the study of the Sastras is futile. Having known the supreme Reality, the study of the Sastras is equally futile.
60 The labyrinth of words is a thick jungle which causes the mind to wander, in its own confusion. Therefore, true seekers of Brahman shouldearnestly set about to experience the Real Nature of the Self.
61 For him who has been stung by the serpent of ignorance, the only remedy is the knowledge of Brahman. Of what use are the Vedas and the scriptures, mantras and medicines to such a victim of poison?
Direct experience: Liberation (verses 62-66)
62 A disease is not cured by merely repeating the name of the medicine, without taking it.Similarly, without direct realization, none can be liberated by a mere utterance of the word “Brahman.”
63 Without achieving the dissolution of the world of perceptions and without realizing the Truth of the Self, how can one achieve full liberation by a mere repetition of the word, ?Brahman?? Surely it will result only in a wasteful effort of speech.
64 Without eliminating his enemies and without bringing the splendor of the whole kingdom under his sway, by merely repeating, ?I am the Emperor,? one cannot become an emperor.
65 A treasure hidden deep below under the earth can be found only when the exact site it known, excavations carried out and the earth, stones, etc., covering it are removed; never can it come out by merely calling its name. Similarly, the pure Truth of the Self, hidden by illusion (Maya) and its effects, can be attained through the instructions of one who is knower of Brahman, followed by reflection, meditation etc. But never can the Self emerge and manifest itself by repeating perverted reasoning.
66 Therefore, thewise seeker should, as in the case of illness etc., strive hard by every means at his disposal to be free from the bondage of repeated births and deaths.
Discussion on Questions raised (verses 67-71)
67 The questions you have raised today are excellent, accepted by those well-versed in the Scriptures, aphoristic, full of hidden meaning and such that are fit to be known by all seekers.
68 Listen attentively, O learned one, to what I shall now tell you. Listening to it you shall be liberated completely from the bondage of worldy existence (Samsara).
69 The first step to liberation is the complete detachment from impermanent things. Then follow calmness, self-control, forbearance, and complete renunciation of all selfish actions.
70 Thereafter come ?hearing,? then reflection on what has been heard and, lastly, long, constant, and continuous meditation on the Truth for the wise one. Ultimately, that learned one attains the supreme Nirvikalpa* state and realizes the Bliss of Nirvana in this very life.
*Nirvikalpa Samadhi is attained by means of one-point absorption of the mental activity (cittav?tti) in the Self in such a way that the distinctions (vikalpas) of the tripartite process (triputi) of knower, known, and knowing get dissolved.
71 Now I am going to describe the discrimination between the Self and the not-Self most elaborately—it is what you ought to know. Listen to it properly and thendecide about it well in your mind.
Gross Body (verses 72-75)
72 Composed of the seven ingredients—marrow, bones, fat, flesh, blood, dermis and epidermis, and consisting of the following parts—legs, thighs, chest, arms, back and the head:
73 This body, the seat of delusion, expressing in terms of ?I? and ?mine,? is termed by the wise as the gross body. Sky, air, fire, water, and earth are the subtle elements.
74 Having united with parts of one another, they become gross, and become the cause for the formation of the gross body. Their subtle essence constitutes the sense-objects, five in number, such as sound etc., which contribute to the enjoyment of the experiencer, the individual ego.
75 Those thoughtless ones who are bound to these sense-objects by the stout ropes of attachment so very difficult to cut asunder, come and go, carried up and down by the compelling force of the envoy (of the reactions) of their own past actions.
Sense objects: a trap (verses 76-82)
76 The deer, the elephant, the moth, the fish and the honey-bee—these five meet death because of their bondage to one of the five senses. What then is the condition of a person who is attached to all five?
77 Sense-objects are even more virulent in their tragic effects than a king cobra. Poison is fatal to one who swallows it, but the sense-objects kill him who merely looks at them. with his eyes.
78 One who is liberated from the terrible bonds of desires for sense-objects, so very difficult to renounce, is alone fit for liberation and none else, even if well-versed in all the six schools of philosophy.
79 Those who have only an apparent dispassion and are trying to cross the ocean of worldy existence are caught by their throats by the shark of desire which violently dragging them along, drowns them in the middle of the ocean.
80 He who slays the shark called ?sense-objects? with the sword of mature dispassion crosses the ocean of samsara unobstructed.
81 Know that mortality soon overtakes a foolish man who walks the dangerous path of sense-pleasures. Whereas one who walks the right path according to the instructions of well-meaning and noble Gurus, along with his own reasoning faculty—he achieves the end; know for certain this to be true.
82 If indeed you have a craving for liberation, avoid sense-objects from a distance as if they were poison; and with respectful reverence, daily cultivate the nectarine virtues of contentment, compassion, forgiveness, straightforwardness, calmness, and self-control.
Note: To those desirous of liberation, Sri Sankara in this verse first tells what needs to avoided, viz, attachment to sense gratification. He then enumerates moral virtues that need to be cultivated such as contentment, compassion, sincerity, self-control etc. Interestingly, almost same verse occurs at the very beginning of Ashtavakra Gita (1.2), albeit more directly, in which sage Ashtavakra enjoins king Janaka: ?If you aspire after liberation, my child, shun the objects of the senses as poison and seek forgiveness, sincerity, kindness, contentment, and truth as nectar. This is the only verse in the entire Ashtavkra Gita that focuses on the do‘s and don‘ts of moral excellence. The rest of the book is devoted to describing the state of the realized ones.
Fascination for body criticized (verse 83-86)
83 This body is essentially an instrument for realizing the Paramatman. He who does not constantly use it for liberating himself from the bondage born of beginningless ignorance but constantly seeks to gratify it, destroys himself.
84 Whoever seeks to realize the Self by devoting himself to the gratification of the body, is like one who proceeds to cross a river, holding on to a shark, mistaking it for a log of wood.
85 For a student seeking liberation, infatuation with the body etc. is a “tragic death.” He alone deserves liberation who has totally conquered this attachment.
86 Conquer this great attachment to your body, wife, children etc. By conquering these, sages reach the supreme State of Lord Vishnu.
Gross body condemned (verses 87-91)
87 This gross body is most offensive as it is composed of skin, flesh, blood vessels, fat, marrow and bones and also it is ever filled with urine and faecal matter.
88 Made up of the gross elements formed by the combination of the subtle elements and ordained by past actions, this gross body is the instrument of experience for the Self. The state in which it perceives gross objects is its waking state.
89 The individualized ego identifying itself with this body, enjoys gross objects such as garlands, sandal-paste, women etc. of an endless variety by means of the sense-organs. Therefore this body has the greatest play in the waking state.
90 Know this gross body, on which depend all dealings with the world outside, is just like the house of the householder.
91 Birth, decay and death are the essential properties of the gross body; fatness etc., childhood etc., are its different conditions; it has rules of caste and orders of life; and it is subject to a variety of diseases and it is this body that meets with different kinds of treatment such as worship, dishonour, honour, etc.
Organs of perception and action (verse 92)
92 The ears, skin, eyes, nose, and tongue are organs of knowledge, for they help us gain the knowledge of the external objects. ( The organ of speech, hands, legs, anus and genitals are the organs of action due to their tendency to work
Inner instruments (verses 93-94)
93 The “inner organs” are called, according to their respective functions as mind, intellect, ego and chitta. Mind is so called by reason of its considering the pros an cons of a thing; intellect by reason of its function of determining the truth of objects.
94 The ego is so called by reason of its identification with the body as one‘s own self and chitta from its function of constantly illumining the things of its interest.
The five pranas (verse 95)
95 One and the same Prana becomes Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana, and Samana according to its functions and modifications, like gold, water etc.
Subtle body: effects (verse 96-101)
96 The five organs of action beginning with speech, the five organs-of-perception beginning with the ear, the group of five pranas, the five elements starting with space, along with the discriminative intellect etc. and also ignorance, desire, and action—these eight “cities” together constitute the subtle body.
97 This subtle body, listen carefully, also called the Linga Sarira, produced from the subtle elements is possessed of the latent impressions (vasanas), and it causes an individual to experience the fruits of one‘s past actions. It is the beginningless limitation superimposed on the Self and brought about by its own “ignorance”
98 Dream is the state when this (subtle body) is distinctly in expression, where it expresses all by itself. In dream, the intellect by itself revels as the agent of experiences etc., due to the various impressions gathered by it during its waking state.
99 In this condition, the supreme Self shines in its own glory, with the intellect as its only limitation, witness of everything uncontaminated in the least by the activities of the intellect. Since it is entirely unattached, it is not tainted by any action that its apparent conditionings may perform.
100 As the tools of a carpenter are his instruments, so this subtle body is an instrument for all activities of the Self (Atman), which is of the nature of Knowledge Absolute. This Self, therefore, is perfectly unattached.
101 Blindness, weakness, or sharpness of the eye are conditions merely due to its defect or fitness. So too, deafness, dumbness etc., belong to the ear etc. These attributes can never belong to the Self (Atman), the knower.