Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

A Spiritual Journey through the Vivekachudamani
V. Subrahmanian

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(Posted to the Advaitin Egroup July 2006.)

Srigurubhyo NamaH

sadAshiva-samaarambhAm shankaraachaarya-madhyamaam |
asmad-Achaarya-paryantaam vande guruparamparaam ||

In the Prashnottara-ratna-maalikaa, 'A jewelled necklace of Questions and Answers', Shri Shankarabhagavatpaada commences the discourse with the question: Who is a Guru? and replies: A Guru is:

(a) a Self-realized person and (b) one who constantly endeavours for the upliftment of the disciple.

This matchless, crisp definition of a Guru speaks volumes on the true nature and worth of a Guru. While only he who has known first-hand the Truth can successfully communicate the same to a seeker, the definition also informs us that apart from the Ultimate Welfare of the disciple, the Self-realized Guru has no other 'purpose' in this world. He has accomplished the Supreme, and therefore has no personal or worldly longing to fulfil. Being beyond all wants, he has no real purpose to serve in the world which he has known for sure is just an appearance without any content. Yet, out of boundless compassion, he takes upon himself, as it were, the endeavour of leading a seeker on the path of liberation. To such an Exalted Guru there is nothing in the three worlds that a disciple can give as return for the guidance received. The only 'dakshina', fee, that the Guru is worthy of being offered is the proper assimilation of the teaching he gives and becoming enlightened.

On this Gurupurnima day, here is a humble dedication at the Lotus Feet of the Guru. The Acharya's Vivekachudamani, the Crest Jewel of Discrimination, is a Vedantic work dear to the heart of every true seeker after liberation. It contains over 500 verses delineating every aspect of the Vedantic doctrine. In a dialogue form, the work leads the disciple from the elementary stage to the ultimate state of liberation and jivanmukti. An attempt is made here to trace the spiritual journey of a disciple through this work in a selection of verses. By no means a substitute for the full work, this selection gives an idea of the content of the work. If it enthuses the reader to dive into the full work and benefit from the lofty ideas it contains, the purpose of this 'selection' would be worth the while.

A Spiritual Journey Through the vivekachUDAmaNi.


1.I bow to Govinda, whose nature is Bliss Supreme, who is the Sadguru, who can be known only from the import of all Vedanta, and who is beyond the reach of speech and mind.

The Lofty Goal:

2. For all beings a human birth is difficult to obtain, more so is a male body; rarer than that is Brahmanahood; rarer still is the attachment to the path of Vedic religion; higher than this is erudition in the scriptures; discrimination between the Self and not- Self, Realisation, and continuing in a state of identity with Brahman – these come next in order. (This kind of) Mukti (Liberation) is not to be attained except through the well-earned merits of a hundred crore of births.

3. These are three things which are rare indeed and are due to the grace of God – namely, a human birth, the longing for Liberation, and the protecting care of a perfected sage.

The Requisites for the Journey: The qualifications of a Seeker:

17. The man who discriminates between the Real and the unreal, whose mind is turned away from the unreal, who possesses calmness and the allied virtues, and who is longing for Liberation, is alone considered qualified to enquire after Brahman.

18. Regarding this, sages have spoken of four means of attainment, which alone being present, the devotion to Brahman succeeds, and in the absence of which, it fails.

19. First is enumerated discrimination between the Real and the unreal; next comes aversion to the enjoyment of fruits (of one's actions) here and hereafter; (next is) the group of six attributes, viz. calmness and the rest; and (last) is clearly the yearning for Liberation.

20. A firm conviction of the mind to the effect that Brahman is real and the universe unreal, is designated as discrimination (Viveka) between the Real and the unreal.

21. Vairagya or renunciation is the desire to give up all transitory enjoyments (ranging) from those of an (animate) body to those of Brahmahood (having already known their defects) from observation, instruction and so forth.

22. The resting of the mind steadfastly on its Goal (viz. Brahman) after having detached itself from manifold sense-objects by continually observing their defects, is called Shama or calmness.

23. Turning both kinds of sense-organs away from sense-objects and placing them in their respective centres, is called Dama or self-control. The best Uparati or self-withdrawal consists in the mind-function ceasing to be affected by external objects.

24. The bearing of all afflictions without caring to redress them, being free (at the same time) from anxiety or lament on their score, is called Titiksha or forbearance.

25. Acceptance by firm judgment as true of what the Scriptures and the Guru instruct, is called by sages Shraddha or faith, by means of which the Reality is perceived.

26. Not the mere indulgence of thought (in curiosity) but the constant concentration of the intellect (or the affirming faculty) on the ever-pure Brahman, is what is called Samadhana or self-settledness.

27. Mumukshutva or yearning for Freedom is the desire to free oneself, by realising one’s true nature, from all bondages from that of egoism to that of the body – bondages superimposed by Ignorance.

28. Even though torpid or mediocre, this yearning for Freedom, through the grace of the Guru, may bear fruit (being developed) by means of Vairagya (renunciation), Shama (calmness), and so on.

31. Among things conducive to Liberation, devotion (Bhakti) holds the supreme place. The seeking after one's real nature is designated as devotion.

32. Others maintain that the inquiry into the truth of one's own self is devotion. The inquirer about the truth of the Atman who is possessed of the above-mentioned means of attainment should approach a wise preceptor, who confers emancipation from bondage. Approaching the Guru:

The characteristic marks of a SadGuru:

33. Who is versed in the Vedas, sinless, unsmitten by desire and a knower of Brahman par excellence, who has withdrawn himself into Brahman; who is calm, like fire that has consumed its fuel, who is a boundless reservoir of mercy that knows no reason, and a friend of all good people who prostrate themselves before him.

34. Worshipping that Guru with devotion, and approaching him, when he is pleased with prostration, humility and service, (he) should ask him what he has got to know:

35. O Master, O friend of those that bow to thee, thou ocean of mercy, I bow to thee; save me, fallen as I am into this sea of birth and death, with a straightforward glance of thine eye, which sheds nectar-like grace supreme.

36. Save me from death, afflicted as I am by the unquenchable fire of this world-forest, and shaken violently by the winds of an untoward lot, terrified and (so) seeking refuge in thee, for I do not know of any other man with whom to seek shelter.

37. There are good souls, calm and magnanimous, who do good to others as does the spring, and who, having themselves crossed this dreadful ocean of birth and death, help others also to cross the same, without any motive whatsoever.

38. It is the very nature of the magnanimous to move of their own accord towards removing others' troubles. Here, for instance, is the moon who, as everybody knows, voluntarily saves the earth parched by the flaming rays of the sun.

39. O Lord, with thy nectar-like speech, sweetened by the enjoyment of the elixir-like bliss of Brahman, pure, cooling to a degree, issuing in streams from thy lips as from a pitcher, and delightful to the ear – do thou sprinkle me who am tormented by worldly afflictions as by the tongues of a forest-fire. Blessed are those on whom even a passing glance of thy eye lights, accepting them as thine own.

40. How to cross this ocean of phenomenal existence, what is to be my fate, and which of the means should I adopt – as to these I know nothing. Condescend to save me, O Lord, and describe at length how to put an end to the misery of this relative existence.

The Teaching Commences:

41. As he speaks thus, tormented by the afflictions of the world – which is like a forest on fire – and seeking his protection, the saint eyes him with a glance softened with pity and spontaneously bids him give up all fear.

42. To him who has sought his protection, thirsting for Liberation, who duly obeys the injunctions of the Scriptures, who is of a serene mind, and endowed with calmness – (to such a one) the sage proceeds to inculcate the truth out of sheer grace.

43. Fear not, O learned one, there is no death for thee; there is a means of crossing this sea of relative existence; that very way by which sages have gone beyond it, I shall inculcate to thee.

44. There is a sovereign means which puts an end to the fear of relative existence; through that thou wilt cross the sea of Samsara and attain the supreme bliss.

45. Reasoning on the meaning of the Vedanta leads to efficient knowledge, which is immediately followed by the total annihilation of the misery born of relative existence.

46. Faith (Shraddha), devotion and the Yoga of meditation – these are mentioned by the Shruti as the immediate factors of Liberation in the case of a seeker; whoever abides in these gets Liberation from the bondage of the body, which is the conjuring of Ignorance.

47. It is verily through the touch of Ignorance that thou who art the Supreme Self findest thyself under the bondage of the non-Self, whence alone proceeds the round of births and deaths. The fire of knowledge, kindled by the discrimination between these two, burns up the effects of Ignorance together with their root.

The Questions asked by the Disciple:

48. Condescend to listen, O Master, to the question I am putting (to thee). I shall be gratified to hear a reply to the same from thy lips.

49. What is bondage, forsooth ? How has it come (upon the Self) ? How does it continue to exist ? How is one freed from it ? What is this non-Self ? And who is the Supreme Self ? And how can one discriminate between them ? -- Do tell me about all these.

The Guru Replies:

50. The Guru replied: Blessed art thou ! Thou hast achieved thy life's end and hast sanctified thy family, that thou wishest to attain Brahmanhood by getting free from the bondage of Ignorance !

51. A father has got his sons and others to free him from his debts, but he has got none but himself to remove his bondage.

52. Trouble such as that caused by a load on the head can be removed by others, but none but one's own self can put a stop to the pain which is caused by hunger and the like.

53. The patient who takes (the proper) diet and medicine is alone seen to recover completely – not through work done by others.

54. The true nature of things is to be known personally, through the eye of clear illumination, and not through a sage: what the moon exactly is, is to be known with one's own eyes; can others make him know it ?

55. Who but one's own self can get rid of the bondage caused by the fetters of Ignorance, desire, action and the like, aye even in a hundred crore of cycles ?

56. Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realisation of one's identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.

404. Even before the realisation of the highest Truth, the universe does not exist in the Absolute Brahman, the Essence of Existence. In none of the three states of time is the snake ever observed in the rope, nor a drop of water in the mirage.

405. The Shrutis themselves declare that this dualistic universe is but a delusion from the standpoint of Absolute Truth. This is also experienced in the state of dreamless sleep.

406. That which is superimposed upon something else is observed by the wise to be identical with the substratum, as in the case of the rope appearing as the snake. The apparent difference depends solely on error.

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

408. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is something of the nature of eternal Knowledge and absolute Bliss, which has no exemplar, which transcends all limitations, is ever free and without activity, and which is like the limitless sky, indivisible and absolute.

The Culmination of the Practice:

479. Realising, at a blessed moment, the Supreme Truth through the above instructions of the Guru, the authority of the Scriptures and his own reasoning, with his senses quieted and the mind concentrated, (the disciple) became immovable in form and perfectly established in the Atman.

480. Concentrating the mind for some time on the Supreme Brahman, he rose, and out of supreme bliss spoke as follows. Expression of the Glory of Realization:

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is !

482. The majesty of the ocean of Supreme Brahman, replete with the swell of the nectar-like Bliss of the Self, is verily impossible to express in speech, nor can it be conceived by the mind – in an infinitesimal fraction of which my mind melted like a hailstone getting merged in the ocean, and is now satisfied with that Essence of Bliss.

483. Where is the universe gone, by whom is it removed, and where is it merged ? It was just now seen by me, and has it ceased to exist ? It is passing strange !

484. In the ocean of Brahman filled with the nectar of Absolute Bliss, what is to be shunned and what accepted, what is other (than oneself) and what different ?

485. I neither see nor hear nor know anything in this. I simply exist as the Self, the eternal Bliss, distinct from everything else. Loving Thanksgiving:

486. Repeated salutations to thee, O noble Teacher, who art devoid of attachment, the best among the good souls and the embodiment of the essence of Eternal Bliss, the One without a second – who art infinite and ever the boundless ocean of mercy:

487. Whose glance, like the shower of concentrated moonbeams, has removed my exhaustion brought on by the afflictions of the world, and in a moment admitted me to the undecaying status of the Atman, the Bliss of infinite majesty !

488. Blessed am I; I have attained the consummation of my life, and am free from the clutches of transmigration; I am the Essence of Eternal Bliss, I am infinite – all through thy mercy ! The Guru's parting Advice:

575. I have today repeatedly revealed to thee, as to one's own son, this excellent and profound secret, which is the inmost purport of all Vedanta, the crest of the Vedas – considering thee an aspirant after Liberation, purged of the taints of this Dark Age, and of a mind free from desires.

576. Hearing these words of the Guru, the disciple out of reverence prostrated himself before him, and with his permission went his way, freed from bondage.

577. And the Guru, with his mind steeped in the ocean of Existence and Bliss Absolute, roamed, verily purifying the whole world – all differentiating ideas banished from his mind.

578. Thus by way of a dialogue between the Teacher and the disciple, has the nature of the Atman been ascertained for the easy comprehension of seekers after Liberation.

579. May those Sannyasins who are seekers after Liberation, who have purged themselves of all taints of the mind by the observance of the prescribed methods, who are averse to worldly pleasures, and who are of serene minds, and take a delight in the Shruti – appreciate this salutary teaching !

Dedication of the Journey to the Acharya:

580. For those who are afflicted, in the way of the world, by the burning pain due to the (scorching) sunshine of threefold misery, and who through delusion wander about in a desert in search of water – for them here is the triumphant message of Shankara pointing out, within easy reach, the soothing ocean of nectar, Brahman, the One without a second – to lead them on to Liberation.

ShankaarUpeNa macchittam pankIkR^itamabhUd yayA | kinkrI yasya saa mAyA shankarAchAryam Ashraye ||

( With the mind sullied by doubts, I take refuge in the Great Guru Shankaracharya for whom the deluding Maya is just a servant)

Bhava Shankara Deshika me sharanam.

(O Acharya Shankara! Be my Refuge.)

Om Tat Sat


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