by Srikanth_S

Śri Śaṅkarācārya, the great Vedantic teacher, has written commentaries on some Upaniṣads, Brahmasūtras and Bhagavad Gīta. He also composed numerous devotional songs besides writing short texts such as Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, Ātmabodhah etc. Unlike in commentaries, where he had to confine himself within the precincts of the context of certain texts, in the short works that he authored, he could give unrestrained freedom to his own thought and words on the subject of Vedanta. Therefore, these short texts act as mirrors reflecting that great teacher’s mind that help us to realize the Self by using his thoughts and words to guide our lives.

A series of posts in this blog will be put up in next few months pertaining to the text आत्मबोधः Ātmabodhah. It literally means, “Self-Knowledge” (आत्मनः बोधः). It can also mean: “Knowledge alone is Self” (आत्मैव बोधः).

Verse 1

तपोभि: क्षीणपापानां शान्तानां वीतरागिणाम्।
मुमुक्षूणामपेक्ष्योऽयमात्मबोधो विधीयते॥१॥
tapobhih kṣīṇa-pāpānāṃ śāntānāṃ vīta-rāgiṇām।
mumukṣūṇām-apekṣyo’yam-ātma-bodho vidhīyate॥1॥

तपोभि: tapobhih – with self-control, क्षीणपापानां kṣīṇa-pāpānāṃ- without sins, शान्तानां śāntānāṃ – peaceful, वीतरागिणाम् vīta-rāgiṇām – no desires, मुमुक्षूणाम् mumukṣūṇām – liberation, अपेक्ष्य: apekṣyah – desirous of,  अयम् ayam – this, आत्मबोध: ātma-bodhah – Self-Knowledge, विधीयते vidhīyate – intended for.

I am composing this Atma-Bodha for those who are desirous of liberation and are purified with self-control, moral, serene, free from cravings of sense pleasures.

In Vedanta, any scripture should at the outset clarify the four requisites (Anubandha):
1. अधिकारि adhikāri – the qualified student
2. विषय viṣaya – the subject matter
3. प्रयोजन prayojana – the utility of the subject
4. संबन्ध sambandha – the relation between the subject and that particular scripture

The verse states that the a qualified student (adhikāri) should have self-control, be moral, calm-minded, renounce the sense pleasures with intense desire for liberation. The subject matter (viṣaya) is Self and the utility of the subject matter (prayojana) is liberation. The theme of the scripture is the knowledge of the Self (sambandha) [1]. Elsewhere, Śaṅkarācārya talks about the four requisites for a qualified student in Vedanta, usually called साधन चतुष्टयम् sādhana catuṣṭayam:

1. विवेक viveka – discernment between what is real and unreal
2. वैराग्य vairagya – renunciation of desires
3. षट् सम्पत्ति ṣaṭ sampatti – six noble traits i.e. शम śama: control of mind/thoughts,  दम dama: control of sense-organs/actions, उपरति uparati: cessation of desires for objects,  तितिक्षा titikṣā: endurance of afflictions, श्रद्धा śraddhā: firm conviction of one’s ideal, समाधान samādhāna: stead-fastness
4. मुमुक्षुत्व mumukṣutva – desire for liberation.

Although tapah is usually loosely translated as austerity, it actually means control of senses and mind with intense focus on the goal of Self-realization. Perhaps tapah is strongly linked to the idea of austerity because self-control is not an easy endeavor for ordinary folk. In this world, everyone does austerity for some worldly goal – parents for children, student for getting education, artists/scientists/sportsmen in their own field etc. However, tapah is not just any ordinary austerity for a worldly goal, it is specifically meant to be those that are performed for Self-realization.

Bhagavad Gita states three austerities [XVII, 14-16]: austerity of mind (thoughts), speech and body (actions). The austerity of body includes rituals, respecting the wise, cleanliness, uprightness, continence and non-violence.The austerity of speech includes uttering words that are truthful, beneficial and pleasant. The austerity of mind involves serenity, self-control, pure thoughts, silence [2].

Morality is a requisite trait as it has the foundation of unselfishness implying less assertion of one’s ego with greater expansiveness in one’s perception of oneself and therefore, a ripe state of mind for Self-Knowledge. Calmness of mind is required for paying good attention to the subject besides having clarity of thought. Renunciation of desires is needed to effectively put into practice what has been heard. The rudder that directs all the actions through these traits towards Self-realization i.e. the quest for liberation, is paramount.

1. Swami Sundarachaitanya’s discourse on Atmabodha in Telugu
2. Atmabodhah – Self-Knowledge, An English translation of Sankaracharya’s Atmabodhah with introduction, comments and notes, Swami Nikhilananda, Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 1947.