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Namaskaar. This is a brief introduction to atma bodha written earlier this
morning on the eve of Shankara jaya.nti. The sanskrit text has been
transliterated by Kim Poulsen. Please let me know of any corrections,
suggestions, and opinions in the introduction and I will place the text
with the transliterated text in the jaguar sanskrit site. Thanks.
References include my notes from the translations by Swami Nikhilananda; TMP
Mahadevan; Vidyaratna Menon and the sanskrit commentary by Swami
Krishnandasrami. Transliteration is by Kim Poulsen.
namaH shriisha.nkara gurupadambujanmane .
-- modified verse of paJNchadashii
`I bow at the lotus feet of the Guru, Shankara, whose function
is to eliminate the alligator of moha (delusion) with all its branches.'
Atma Bodha, meaning self knowledge, was composed by Adi Shankara.
Biographies of Shankara, who lived in the 8th century (approximately),
To quote Sri Radhakrishnan `The Advaitism of Shankara is a system
of great speculative daring and logical subtlety. Its austere
intellectualism, its remorseless logic, which marches on indifferent to
the hopes and beliefs of man, its relative freedom from theological
obsessions, make it a great example of a purely philosophical scheme. It
is impossible to read Shankara's writings, packed as they are with serious
and subtle thinking, without being conscious that one is in contact with a
mind of a very fine penetration and profound spirituality. With his acute
feeling of the immeasurable world, his stirring gaze into the abysmal
mysteries of the spirit, his unswerving resolve to say neither more nor
less than what could be proved, Shankara stands out as a heroic figure of
the first rank in the somewhat motley crowd of the religious thinkers of
Shankara taught us to love Truth, respect reason and realize the
purpose of life. Twelve centuries have passed, and yet his influence is
His influence on Indian philosophy is so enormous that most of the
later philosophies that evolved in India had either to agree with him or
disagree with him, quoting him nevertheless.
Shankara, in his indisputable style, allows a place for Karma and
Bhakti while emphasising the prime necessity of GYAna for the realization
of the Self.
In Vivekachudamani, he goes on to say that Bhakti is one of
the most conducive causes to liberation. Similarly, in the third verse of
atma bodha, he says that karma is not opposed to ignorance, though it can
not destroy ignorance. Undoubtedly a great religious reformer and
philosopher, Shankara embraces within his fold all pantheism while
maintaining the principle of non-duality.
Though Shankara is famous for his bhashyas (commentaries) on the
prasthaanatrayii (bhagvad gItA, brahma suutras, and upanishhads), he has
composed a large number of stotra-s (hymns in praise of various gods) and
also prakaranas (brief expositions in prose and verse). Atma Bodha falls
into the last category. A rare but an excellent commentary of this work in
Sanskrit has been provided by Swami Krishnandasrami and has been
translated in to english by Vidyaratna Menon. Other noteworthy
translations of the text are by Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Nikhilananda,
TMP Mahadevan, and Parthasarathy, to name a few.
The text of atma bodha avoids the technicalities found in the
vedas, but conveys the message of jnana yoga (the path of knowledge) to
the layman. In a short compendium of sixty eight stanzas, the knowledge of
the Self is described in an unique and simple style. Shankara starts with
the requirements of the aspirant, and goes on to explain the nature of
Samsara, the embodiments of the soul, the influence of maya and the
superimposition of Atman. He describes the meditation technique based on
'Aham Brahmasmi', and elucidates the fruits of Self-realization and the
state of the jivanmukta (liberated soul).
Since the realization of the Self can not be had from books or
scriptures, Shankara insists on the neccessity of instruction by a
Self-realized Guru (teacher). The intense desire to liberate and the
effort required by the sadhaka (aspirant) is emphasized. If there is no
effort, there can not be a result. As Sri Radhakrishnan says `People in
our society have resolved to renounce nothing, but wish to enjoy the fruit
of renunciation.' The vedanta kesari puts it 'The goal we desire [should
be] to reach the ideal society of the prophets, a society of just,
peaceful, morally and intellectuially progressive community of non
attached and responsible individuals, the means we adopt therefore must be
worthy of the ends. Then only the real age of millennium will dawn wherein
one feels that the whole world is one's family of kith and kin, a place
for nothing but love and fellow feeling, in short a vasudevakuDumbakam.h
[universe as a family].'
Commenting on the first verse of Atma Bodha, the sanskrit
commentator, Swami Krishnandasrami, remarks that Sri Shankaracharya
composed the three great bhashyas (of the upanishhads, gItA, and brahma
suutra) for the guidance of people qualified by birth, environment,
circumstances, and mental, moral and spiritual development. Out of great
compassion for the rest of the masses, Shankara composed atma bodha for
explaining the knowledge of the Self.
The treatise of the knowledge of self, atma bodha, is meant for
those whose sins have been destroyed by religious austerities, who are
calm, devoid of attachment and are mumukshu-s (persons desirous of
Moksha). The qualified are those who have the four fold requisities, 1.
viveka (discrimination between real and unreal) 2. non-attachment (i.e
indifferent to the results of one's action) 3. mumukshu-s (desire for
emancipation) 4. the six fold qualities,
a. saama (restraint of internal senses)
b. daama (restraint of external senses)
c. uparati (control of senses, without jumping
from one object to another)
d. samadhana (mind constantly on the Self)
e. titikshaa (indifferent endurance)
f. shraddhaa (faith).
The rest sixty seven verses may be roughly classified in to the following
subjects, means for emancipation (2-5), samsara (6-11), various sariras
(embodiments) (12-18), Adhyasa (14-18), Ahamkara (25-29), Doctrine of
neti-neti (30-36), Sadhana (37-39), self-realization (40-46), vision of a
GYAni and characteristics of a jivanmukta (47-53), and finally the nature
of Brahman (54-68).
May the great acharya, one of the greatest persons to grace this
planet, Shankara, make us aware of His grace.