Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The Song of the Vedas (Shruti Gita)
Professor V. Krishnamurthy

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(Annotation & Commentary: V. Krishnamurthy)

[Note on transliteration of Sanskrit words. Generally I follow the Itrans scheme – except in the case of ‘Sh’ for which I use ‘shh’ as in ‘purushha’. The usual ‘sh’ for the first Sanskrit consonant in ‘Shankara’ or ‘shAstra’ is used either with capitals or without.]

The vedas are collectively called Shruti in Sanskrit; for they were only heard,  revealed or rediscovered by yogic powers, not remembered as a written work. The piece Shruti-GItA occurs in the 87th chapter of the tenth book of ShrImad-BhAgavatam. The BhAgavatam is narrated by Sage Shuka to King Parikshit. At one point in the narration the latter asks a legitimate question:

How at all do the vedas talk of the attributeless Brahman while their main concern throughout is the detailed description of the Gods with their attributes, qualities,  deeds and of the sacrifices which link the humans with the divines?

In answer to this, sage Shuka narrates a story, the main content of which is the Shruti-GItA. It appears once Narada (the wandering stage of the three worlds) went to the sage Narayana in BadarikASrama, and asked the same question. In answer to it Narayana quoted what he said was Sanandana's answer to the same question in a celestial seminar (referred to as brahma-satram, that is, the yajna performed to understand the Brahman) in one of the divine worlds, called jano-loka, when Narada was away in another portion of the world, called Shveta-dvIpa.

According to Sanandana, the vedas sang the praise of the Lord in his nirguNa (= attributeless) state at the beginning of creation, even before the creator Brahma had been created.  It was actually done by the Shruti to wake up the Lord from His cosmic Sleep (yoga-nidrA) at the beginning of the kalpa. The 28 verses (#s.14 to 41 of chapter 87 of Book X of the BhAgavataM) that pour forth in this connection from the Shruti constitute a gold mine of vedantic hymns, which are, in the content of their meaning as well as in the language of their expression, as profound and authentic as would befit the prestigious stature of the very vedas that  constitute the ultimate source for everything in Hinduism, its philosophy and metaphysics.

The whole passage, though difficult as a piece of literature, shows an all-embracing humility, which recalls to one's mind the reference to Shruti in LalitA-sahasra-nAma through the name:


The word Shruti is feminine in Sanskrit. The Shruti personified as women are said to bow down at the  feet of the divine Mother.  This prostration is what is referred to here. When Shruti falls at the feet of the Mother of the universe, her head naturally touches the divine feet of the Mother. The dust of the divine feet is crimson in colour since the divine feet are always painted that way. The crimson dust sticks to the head of Lady Shruti exactly at the parting of the front hair. Thus arises the name: *The Divinity, the dust of whose lotus feet has crimson-coloured the parting of the hair on the head of Shruti*. This is the literal meaning of the above name of Mother Goddess. More importantly, the dust of the divine feet on the head of Shruti is an indication that even though Shruti may be of vast content and knowledge, Her knowledge of the divine Mother could only be a speck! This does not mean, however, that our reading of the vedas could be of no use in our spiritual path. In fact, without the vedas and the grand pronouncements in the vedas we have no way of ever knowing 'That Thou Art'! A quick, though inadequate, summary of a selected ten of the 28 verses of the Shruti-GItA with their characteristic use of Upanishadic concepts and expressions,  is attempted below. The purport of each verse that is selected is given first in a rather condensed form and then we follow it up with an explanation, meanings of difficult word-combinations and a  commentary.  We follow, as far as possible, the commentary by Nilakanta (pronounced ‘nIlakanTha’).

Verse 14 (of the 87th chapter) : Shruti-GItA – 1

jaya jaya jahy-ajAM ajita dosha-gRRibhIta-guNAM
tvam-asi yad-AtmanA samavaruddha-samasta-bhagaH /
aga-jagad-okasAM akhila-shakty-avabodhaka te
kvacid-ajayA-'tmanAca carato'nucaren-nigamaH

Oh Unconquered Lord, You are the One endowed with all the glories. Oh awakener of all the powers in the souls! You are the only One who can overpower the beginningless mAyA, your own Shakti, which keeps all beings ( with mobile or  immobile bodies )  under its spell and which  has taken on itself the three guNas along with their nature  (of throwing souls into bondage). At the beginning of creation, you  with your mAyA as well as  all by yourself you sport; so do we,  the vedas,  speak of You.

dosha-gRRibhIta-guNAM  -  (Her) who has taken over the characteristic (three) guNas for their 'evil purpose' .
aga-jagad-okasAM - :  aga, unmoving; jagat, moving; okasAM, (in the case of) embodied souls.

It is significant to note that, at the very beginning of creation, even before creation starts,  the vedas have already recognized Him as the progenitor of mAyA. It is the beginningless Ignorance  (anAdy-avidyA)  that through the three guNas obscures the blissful state of the jIva and makes the beings unaware of their eternal state.  You can do it because, we, the vedas  say, know that you can be in both the states, the state of being in Your own Self and also the state of being in unison with Her. Nilakanta rightly comments that this verse has encapsuled the entire store of scriptural knowledge.

Verse No.15 (of Ch.87) : Shruti-GItA- 2

yata udayAstamayau vikRRiter-mRRid-ivA-vikRRitAt /
ata RRishayo dadhus-tvayi mano-vacanA-caritaM
katham-ayathA bhavanti bhuvi datta-padAni nRRiNAM

The wise recognize this Universe to be Brahman, because it is Brahman that is the residual. It is from and into Brahman that the universe emanates and dissolves - just as from earth earthenware rise and fall. Therefore when we glorify any God  by words contemplated by the mind, and names spoken by the tongue  the praise has to go only to you. Placing one's foot on a mountain does not mean that one is keeping his feet not on Earth.

etat upalabdhaM bRRihat :- This visible universe is Brahman
mano-vacanA-caritaM  :- executed by the mind and the speech.
ayathA:- not (placed) on Earth.
vacana-AcaritaM (the essence of Vedanta)
(is in you)
(the sages)   
mano dadhuH
(fixed their mind) 
(tvayi  = in your Ultimate Form).

It is Brahman that is the residual after everything is gone. So the cause is to be known, not the effect. Knowing the cause, we know everything that has to be known. Before manifestation, and after dissolution, whatever is existent is the Absolute Truth. The vedas in their text talk of different Gods, but these are only names and forms. All of them ultimately go only to the Permanent Absolute.

The beautiful analogy of the step on the mountain being  the same as a step on Earth, is cited here.  This analogy, to my limited knowledge,  appears to be available nowhere else in the vast scriptural literature of Hinduism.  That shows the originality of the vedas; they don't repeat what everybody else says; they have their own original way of expression! This verse by itself is enough to quell the doubting critic  of the vedas, in connection with the mention, in the vedas, of  the various gods, agni, varuna, vayu, soma, surya, indra, etc.  The  criticism is usually of the following kind. Throughout the vedic literature one finds that sometimes it is varuNa, the Divinity representing Water, sometimes it is agni, the fire-God and some other times it is indra the Lord of the divines  that is eulogised with superlatives.  For instance here are some vedic quotes:

agnir-mUrdhA divaH : Fire-God is the King of the Divine World.
sUrya AtmA jagatas-tasthushhashca : The Sun-God is the soul of the mobile as well as the immobile.
indro yAto'vasitasya rAjA : Indra is the King of the mobile and the immobile.
Apo vA idam sarvaM : Water is this Universe.

The earliest western readers who came into contact with such literature  propounded the thought process that during the vedic times it was all pantheism or polytheism and only later, almost at the end of the first millenium B.C. that the One God idea came up. This thought process may be a welcome line of research in occidental thinking. But if you look at the superlatives being used in the same manner and language for each vedic deity in all Hindu religious literature one cannot but conclude that the last words are those passages where each such deity is considered as only one expression of the same many-faceted supreme Almighty.  And here is the verse in the Shruti GItA which should put an end to any wild speculations of the uninformed reader.

Verse No.17 (of Ch.87): Shruti-GItA – 4

dRRitaya iva shvasanty-asubRRito yadi te'nuvidhA
mahad-aham-Adayo'NDam-asRRijan-yad-anugrahataH /
purushha-vidho'nvayo'tra caramo'nna-mayAdishu yaH
sad'asataH paraM tvam-atha yad-eshh-vavasheshham-RRitaM//

People live (justify their existence) only if they follow your commandments or else they simply breathe like bellows. You are That by Whose Grace mahat-tattva and aham-kAra have brought into being this egg-like universe; it is you who animate the (five) sheaths (koshas)  assuming the shape of those sheaths  in sequence  and permeating them  although You are the Ultimate substance underlying everything, beyond the gross as well as the subtle, that which remains as the Reality.

anuvidhAH:-  followers, devotees.
eshhu  (bAdhyamAneshhu api) avasheshhaM :- that remains even after these physical, etc. sheaths have disappeared.
anvayaM:  anu + ayaM :  according to this one.;  loosely, 'sequence'.

Reader, be ready now for something very profound.  Recall that the vedas are now talking (to you) in person. The vedas contain the most profound ideas in themselves. So when pouring out the praise on the Absolute, they pull out from their armoury 'without mercy'! This verse pulls out a beautiful analysis from the taittirIya-Upanishad, known as the panca-kosha analysis.

The Upanishad mentions  the physical sheath first. And then it says there is a vital sheath within. Within that again there is the mental sheath; again, the intellectual sheath within; and finally within that, the sheath of bliss. All these five sheaths are permeated by Brahman.  But according to the Upanishad the reality is not so simple as we have presented it just now.  In its characteristic stately style the Upanishadic presentation goes as follows.

The Brahman that has permeated in everything can be 'visualised' in the purushha, namely our own person. First we have the physical body. We seem to understand it well.  This physical body is made up of the food that we consume.  What we see as this body is the corporeal self (anna-maya kosha). Within this corporeal self there is a subtler self called the vital self (prANa-maya kosha). It  (the vital self) fills the corporeal self like heat filling a metal piece put in the fire. So the vital self (or sheath, kosha) permeates the corporeal self totally. The upanishad uses the word 'purushha' for each of these 'selves'.  So the vital purushha fills up the corporeal purushha. Within the vital 'purushha' there is the manomaya purushha (the mental self). Within the latter one there is the vijnAna-maya purushha (the intellectual self). And within the vijnAnana-maya there is the Ananda-maya purushha (the blissful self).  The word 'within' here  in each case is an understatement, a failure of words. In each case the succeeding sheath fills up the preceding one. Each 'purushha' follows the preceding one, is more subtle than the preceding one, and fills up the preceding one. This  subtle sequencing is referred to by the terminology 'anvayaM purushha-vidhaH' repeatedly by the Upanishad. In each case the particular purushha is imagined to be a bird with wings, head, tail, etc. We do not need  these details here.

In a 'pseudo-scientific' way we may understand the whole sequencing as follows. In every cell of the body it is the life-force that is functioning. This life-force in every cell sends responses to the mind from every sensation it receives. So the mind is permeating the life-force in every cell. But there is an agent of the mind, who cognizes that it is 'I' and that it is the owner of all these sensations and responses. That is the vijnAna-maya self.  He is the agent and experiencer.  He is proximate, in a metaphorical sense, to the Atman, the pure Spirit within.  But it is not itself the pure Spirit. It has the notion of agency. Stripped of this notion of agency it is only the experiencer of joy. That is the bliss-self (the Ananda-maya kosha).  Even this is not the Atman. The Upanishad says that the Atman is the support, base, substratum of even this Ananda-maya-kosha.

Coming back to our verse no.4 of Shruti-GItA, we notice that the same words 'purushha-vidhaH anvayaH' are used as in the Upanishad. Why not? It is the Upanishads (i.e., the vedas) that are speaking! So the vedas are saying here that You, the Absolute, who are the final  (carama) support  for the sheaths of Self, starting from the physical self, going all the way upto the bliss-self, each succeeding one having the same extent of permeation as the preceding one -- as described in the panca-kosha analysis.

Verse No.18 (of Ch.87):  Shruti GItA – 5

udaram-upAsate ya RRishi-vartmasu kUrpa-dRshaH
parisara-paddhatiM hRRidayam-AruNayo daharaM /
tata udagAd-ananta tava dhAma shiraH paramaM
punar-iha yat-sametya na patanti kRRitAnta-mukhe //

Out of the many paths chalked out by the Seers,  men of gross vision contemplate  on (the spiritual center) in the abdomen, while the sons of the sage Aruna contemplate on the cavity of the heart, the organ from which the veins and arteries branch out. Thence proceeds upwards, O infinite Lord, the artery leading to the head (in fact, to You). Reaching this path men do not fall again into the jaws of Death here.

kUrpa-dRRishaH  : Those whose vision is clouded by the quality of rajas and therefore cannot see the subtleties of the Spirit
kUrpa also means 'subtle' . If we take this meaning then kUrpa-dRRishaH will mean those who have a subtle vision; they start with meditation on the maNipUraka located on the sushhumna-nADi opposite the navel  and rise up.
parisara-paddhatim  :  that which is the royal route for the nADis which are spread in all quarters.

The meditation referred to is the standard path of rAja-yoga  which makes the kundalinI rise through the six cakras and finally reach the sahasrAra cakra in the head.  It is the meditation on the Absolute attributeless Brahman.

Verse No.19 (of Ch.87):  Shruti GItA – 6

sva-kRta-vicitra-yonishhu vishanniva hetutayA
taratamatash-cakAs-syanalavat-sva-kRtAnukRtiH /
atha vitathAs-vamUshh-vavitatham tava dhAma samam
viraja-dhiyo'nvayanty-abhivipaNyava ekarasam

Entering, as it were, the diverse types of living organisms evolved by yourself, though (as a matter of fact) You already existed in them as their (material) cause, and assuming those forms, You shine (through them) as high or low like fire. Therefore, men of unclouded judgment, who do not expect any (worldly or other-worldly) reward of their actions, recognize your true nature as the one immutable, undifferentiated and uniform substance in those unreal forms.

taratamataH : in the small and in the great; almost;  both in the high and in the low.
abhivipaNyavaH :  those who have divested themselves of all attachment, either here or hereafter, either in this world or in the other worlds.
analavat cakAsi : Fire though undifferentiated in itself assumes diverse shapes according to the shape of the logs of firewood. Recall from Katha U. II.2.9: "Just as fire, though one, having entered the world, assumes separate forms in respect of different shapes, similarly, the Self, inside all beings, though one, assumes a form in respect of each shape; and yet it is outside".

As a mathematician, this author knows, and all scientists would know it, how tightly, at the same time without loss of precision, one has to word a  research paper for publication in technical journals.  Particularly for certain prestigious journals in mathematics, there cannot be a single unnecessary word, or extra explanation that does not add substance to the content. Here the Shruti GItA has been worded in this tight fashion. In all the 28 verses of the Shruti GIta there is not a single unnecessary word. And here is an example of the precision with which the vedas speak. We refer to the word 'iva' (meaning, ‘as it were’) in the verse . Even the upanishad only says 'Having created (the universe), He entered it'.

The 'iva'  is emphasized as the intended meaning, only through the commentaries.

Verse No.20 (of Ch.87):  Shruti GItA – 7

tava purushham vadanty-akhila-shakti-dhRRito'msha-kRRitam /
iti nRRigatim vivicya kavayo nigamAvapanam
bhavata-upAsate'nghrim-abhavam bhuvi vishvasitAH

The Vedas speak of the purushha dwelling in these bodies shaped by itself, though, as a matter of fact, it is not limited by anything which is of the nature of cause and effect as a part,  made as it were out of you,  the wielder of all potencies. Having thus determined the nature of the Purushha, the wise on this earth, full of faith, adore your feet at which acts enjoined by the vedas are offered  and which put an end to rebirth.

sva-kRRita-pureshu  : In the dwellings (bodies) brought on by one's own past karma.
a-bahir-antara-samvaraNam  :  bahih = external, antaH = internal; Here these words refer to the external 'effect' and internal 'cause'. The 'a' prefix is for negation. So the composite word means: that which is not limited or covered by anything of the nature of cause and effect.

Verse No.24 (of Ch.87):  Shruti GItA – 11

ka iha nu veda batAvara janma-layo'grasaram
yata udagAd-RRishhir-yam-anu devagaNA ubhaye /
tarhi na san-nacAsad-ubhayam na ca kAla-javah
kimapi na tatra shAstram-avakRshhya shayIta yadA

Alas! What individual of posterior birth and death can possibly know You, who are anterior to all and from whom came forth Brahma, after whom appeared the two classes of Gods. When, you repose after having withdrawn everything,  there exist at that time neither the gross phenomena nor the subtle nor the product of both nor the flux of time nor anything else nor the scriptural texts.

na sanna cAsat  : (na sat na ca asat )  Here sat stands for the concrete  (gross) space - elemental fundamental. asat stands for the subtle mahat principle from which the space element evolved. Recall Gita: XIII – 12: "the beginningless supreme brahman, called neither Being nor non-Being".

Recall the passage from the Rgveda, quoted later in the yajurveda also:

ko addhA veda ka iha pravocat /
kuta AjAtA kuta iyam visRRishhTih /
arvAgdevA asya visarjanena /
athA ko veda  yata AbabhUva

Who knows that absolute really directly?  Who will be able to expound it?
Where would these creations have come from (but from Him)?
Deities lower than that Absolute would not know about  Creation.
Therefore, wherever this Creator Brahma originated that probably knows.
Maybe not.

Verse No.26 (of Ch.87):  Shruti GItA – 13

sadiva manas-trivRRit-tvayi vibhAty-asad-AmanujAt
sad-abihmRRishanty-asheshham-idam-AtmatayA''tma-vidah /
na hi vikRRitim tyajanti kanakasya tadAtmatayA
sva-kRRitam-anupravishhTam-idam-AtmatayA-vasitam //

All this universe consisting of the three guNas which is a projection of the mind, including the jIva, though unreal, appears as real being superimposed on you. The knowers of the Self recognize this entire universe to be real because of its being a projection of their very Self. Just as those in quest of gold do not reject its modification (in the form of ornaments) so is this universe  concluded to be their very self inasmuch as it is evolved and interpenetrated by the Atman.

Nobody rejects the goldness of the ornament because it is an ornament and not just gold.

Verse No.31 (of Ch.87):  Shruti GItA – 18

na ghaTata udbhavah prakRRiti-purushhayor-ajayoh
ubhaya-yujA bhavanty-asubRRito jala-budbudhavat /
tvayi ta ime tato vividha-nAma-guNaih parame
sarita ivArNave madhuni lilyur-asheshha-rasAh //

There is no such thing as the birth of prakRRiti or of purushha.  Both of them are (declared to be) beginningless. Living beings come into existence when the two come to be united, just bubbles appear on water through the interaction of air and water. They get merged in You the final cause, just as rivers disappear into the sea  or as nectars of flowers get dissolved into honey. 

ubhaya-yujA : the two things that are apparently united here are the Self and non-Self. In fact, one is mistaken for the other.

Does prakRRiti become the individual soul?  No. Because the latter  is not inert. Does purushha become the soul? No. Because the former  is immutable (nirvikAri) . A bubble does not arise in the ocean  by just  water alone nor by just air alone.  prakRRiti and purushha are both beginningless, they have no origin or birth. But by the adjunct of Ignorance,  they appear as the individual soul. There is no change of form in reality. It is not the change of svarUpa (inherent phase, aspect or conformation). The svarUpa-lakshaNa (Definition as it is)  of theUltimate is always the same.  So the origination of the soul is because of the upAdhi  (adjunct) and the dissolution is also along with the adjunct.

Verse No.36 (of Ch.87):  Shruti GItA – 23

sata idam-uthitam sad-iti cenna nu tarka-hatam
vyabhicarati kva ca kva ca mRRishhA na tathobhayayuk /
vyavahRRitaye vikalpa ishhito'ndha-paramparayA
bhramayati bhAratI ta uru-vRRittibhir-ukta-jaDAn //

That this universe is real because it has evolved from Reality, will not hold logical analysis. When the effect of a cause shows up, sometimes it varies from the cause very much,  sometimes the effect is false while the cause is relatively more real. The universe is in fact a product of both Brahman and avidyA; thereby also it is not real. Just for the sake of phenomenal functioning the illusory reality of the universe is accepted. The Vedic texts declaring the effect of rituals etc. are only traditional ways of deluding dullwitted persons into faith. They are valid only till the Illumination of the Absolute sets in.

vyavhRRitaye : for carrying on worldly transactions.

This verse goes through all the objections which other schools of thought may raise for establishing the permanence or reality of the universe  and the worldly rules regulations and rituals and their other-worldly meritorious effects.

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