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Introduction to some of the Indian Scriptures by Swami Atmananda Saraswatiji


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The word of God & the fundamental source book of all the tenets of Hinduism

Just as science is a compendium of knowledge about which no one can boast to be a father, but is a treasure of knowledge of this objective world to which so many scientists the world over have contributed, so also the facts of life coming down to us as Vedic philosophy does not have any one person from who is said to be its sole author. There were thinkers & seers, all equally great, who have together contributed to it being what it is. If at all we have to say who is the father of this treasure of knowledge then the finger obviously is turned to that one non-dual reality, which has manifested the truth through the medium of these various dedicated seers. Almost every mantra in Vedas have their respective Rishis who was said to be the one who realised that fact. Even today we have all the details of each and every Rishi - the seer. The treasure of knowledge thus brought about is today called as VEDAS. Vedas are the basis of Sanatan Dharma. Just as today there is great respect towards science, and therefore the moment someone says that this is what science says then the whole way of looking at something changes, so also there was a time when the people of India looked upto Vedas. It commanded so much respect that to say something is written in Vedas was tantamount to taking that as real & truth. Sri Veda Vyas ji is said to have compiled and organised the various mantras in what is today known as Vedas. On the basis of its chanting methodologies the mantras were compiled in four volumes called the Four Vedas. The Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharvana Vedas. The followers of Sanatan Dharma believe that Vedas have been revealed by God himself at the beginning of creation, but the western scholars believe that Rig Vedas was revealed somewhere in between 5000 to 10000 years BC, and it thus becomes the oldest available litrature to man.

From the point of view of the subject matter of Vedas they have three distinct parts. They are Mantra Section, Brahmana Section, and the final Upanishad Section. The Mantra Section comprises the revelations of the great Rishis, the Brahmana Section deals with the application of mantras for our day to day use, they thus deal with elaborate rituals, do's & dont's etc, while the last section of Upanishad deals with the philosophy of the Vedas. Upanishads do not prescribe any do's & dont's, they rather ask a person to just relax and thoroughly understand the things of life deeply & thoroughly. Upanishads are in the form of dialouge between a teacher and his desciple. They being the last section of the Vedas they are also called as the - Vedanta.

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The philosophical section of the Vedas

………..Upanishads are that section of Vedas, which reveal its philosophy. They represent the culmination of Vedic thought and are thus also called Vedanta. They are mostly in question and answer form. There are many such discussions and therefore many Upanishads. They are all indeed a treat to read, they transport the reader to a different dimension all together. They are highly inspiring. All Upanishads expound & reveal the one non-dual reality. As the reality is one therefore the essence of everyone & everything is that one reality alone. The Atman is thus revealed as the Brahman. The real essence of all finite things & beings is the infinite, transcendental, imperishable and blissful reality. Discovering yourself as that one non-dual reality of this cosmos is the highest possible state which can be ever imagined. Upanishads reveal that Brahman has a divine, incomprehensible power called Maya. Wielding this power the Lord projects fields of experiences just as the mind projects the dream world. Whatever is created by Maya is seen but is not really there, just as the mirage-water. Not knowing this fact a person takes all this ephemeral objective world as real and thus not only starts taking him or herself as this objectifiable body-mind complex but also starts seeking fulfillment in this perceptible world. This seeking of permanence in the impermanent world is called samsara, an endless trip. Ending of samsara is possible only by knowing the Self as Self and the non-self as non-self. The moment this knowledge dawns all seeking ends, and one awakes to a state of total fulfillment. Knowledge alone redeems thunder the Upanishads, while karma and devotion facilitate bringing about of the right state of mind to get knowledge. These Upanishads should never be studied by oneself but only through a competent teacher, who is Srotriya & Brahma-nishtha, i.e. one who has awakened to the state of total contentment within and also is aware of the methodology of Upanishads properly. He alone can rightly interpret what each word and line means and still more important as to what is the implication between the lines.

………..Upanishads are Pramana for knowing the Self. Pramana means that which is the means of knowledge. Upanishads are unanimously accepted by all the different sects of Hinduism as the 'means of knowledge' for the knowledge of Self, just as direct perception is the means of knowledge to know the forms & colors of the things outside. Having known color etc. of an object directly with our own eyes we never require any other means to substantiate this knowledge. That is what is meant by pramana. The Self which is the very knower behind all knowledge is not available to be known by any other means of knowledge. It is not an object of perception and therefore Pratyaksha Pramana (Direct Perception) is not applicable and so also any other pramana which depend on direct perception in some way or the other. Upanishads are sabda-pramana and are independently capable of revealing the Self when expounded by a competent teacher to a competent student. One should do the sravana of Upanishads, which means that the real vision & message of Upanishads should be discerned with the help of a teacher. Unlike the Karma-kanda of Vedas the Upanishads do not have any do's or don'ts, they are just revelatory in nature. They reveal the truth, which is an end in itself. Being pramana they are looked upon as definite as the principles of science. There is nothing more higher than the Upanishadic reference on something. This is taken with greatest reverence.

………..The word Upanishad is formed from the root 'sad' with prefixes upa and ni. There are three meanings of the root, to loosen, to lead somewhere and to destroy. Upanishad represents that knowledge which loosens something pertaining to the self (something very near), it loosens our various misapprehensions regarding ourselves, and finally it leads us to the direct knowledge of the truth of ourself. Basically Upanishad means knowledge and not a class of literature or text. The word is used for texts only in a secondary way. Taking secondarily it to be a class of text, then we have various Upanishads. All of them are equally respectful, but today some of them are referred to as the major Upanishad and some are called the minor ones. The reason for this is simply that on some Upanishads we have very beautiful commentaries by our great Acharyas. Because of this it is easy to get proper insights into the vision of Upanishads, and thus they are preferred to be studied first. That is the only reason why they are referred to as major Upanishads. The Upanishads on which Sri Adi Sankara has written his bhashyas are Isa, Katha, Kena, Aitreya, Taittreya, Mundaka, Mandukya, Prasna, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka. The division of these major Upanishads in the Four Vedas is as follows :

Rig Veda - Aitreya

Sama Veda - Kena and Chandogya

Yajur Veda - Isa, Katha, Taittreya and Brihadaranyaka

Atharva Veda - Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukya

………..These ten upanishads become a 'must-study ' for all those who want to discern the real purport of Upanishads. It is needless to say that these Upanishads should always be studied along with their commentaries (bhashyas) and that also through a competent teacher alone.

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The Bhagwad Gita

The Art & Science of living the Vedic tenets in our workfield

………..Bhagwad Gita is like a pendant in the necklace called Mahabharata. Like a pendant it is beautiful and also almost in the center of the famous epic. Bhagwad Gita or in short Gita consists of 18 chapters which are in fact chapter numbers 25 to 42 of the Bhishma Parva of Mahabharata. It is a philosophical dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna and consists of seven hundred shlokas. Gita is one of the three basic texts of Vedanta philosophy. It is called Smriti Prasthan. The other two being Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, called Sruti prasthan and Yukti Prasthan respectively. Upanishads are the fundamental texts (the Pramana granths), while Brahma Sutras talk the language of logic. Gita deals basically with the translation of the Upanishadic vision in our day to day life. Even though the discourse of Gita was given on the first day of the great Mahabharata war, but the present text as we have it was given out by Sanjay (the charioteer) to King Dhritrashtra on the tenth day of the war. When the King heard that Bhishma Pitamah had fallen his surprise knew no bounds, he then asked Sanjay to describe to him the details of all the incidents which took place on the battlefront of Kurukshetra. Earlier the great sage Ved Vyasa had offered to the King some divine vision with which he could see all details of the war. The King politely refused. He was in a strange state of mind. On one hand because of some very great warriors like Bhisma and Karna on his side and also larger number of soldiers on his side he was confident of the win, yet deep down he had his own fears about the consequences of the war because he knew he had time & again resorted to various unrighteous means. He would certainly not prefer to see the end of his own sons and would certainly not like the world to know that he was watching the show when the sons of Pandu were being killed. So he declined the unique offer of the sage and instead suggested to let Sanjay have that divine vision, by which he could not only see & hear things outside, but also what others were thinking and feeling. Two people heard this divine discourse directly. Arjuna and Sanjay. One directly by Lord Krishna and other because of the grace of a Sage, indicating thus the total identity of the Sage and God.

………..The names of all the eighteen chapters come to us as some yoga, like Vishada Yoga, Samkhya Yoga, Karma Yoga etc. for the first, second & third chapter respectively. None of these names are originally found in the Mahabharata. They are a later interpolation by some Acharya and later publishers. However they got acceptability and thus have carried on, giving identity to each chapter. Even though they do give an inkling about the subject matter of each chapter but like any name they are conditionings too. We hereafter tend to look only for the message suggested by the name, and take that alone as the intended message.

………..Regarding the subject matter of Gita there have been quiet a few opinions by various commentators. The best indication on this point has given by someone who points out that if we look at the first and the last word of the text then strangely enough the real subject matter gets beautifully revealed. Looking at the beginning and the end of a text to discern its real purport has been an old practice. The first word of Gita is Dharma and the last word is Mama. When we combine these two words then we form the sentence Mama Dharma, meaning My Dharma. The term Dharma not only means righteousness or goodness, but also the essential nature of anything without which it cannot retain its independent existence. Here the word Dharma implies the latter. In fact one who is faithful to his essential nature alone can be truly & spontaneously righteous & good. Gita thus reveals to me My Dharma, what is my essential nature, knowing which I revel in the peace & silence within, facilitating not only contentment but also free, selfless & creative action.

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Some FAQ's about Bhagwad Gita

Swami Atmananda

1. Who is the real author of Bhagwad Gita - Lord Krishna or the author of Mahabharata Sri Ved Vyasa ?

………..Discernment of authorship of a text may have its own importance & purpose for a scholar, but has little relevance to someone whose very philosophy & goal of life is to transcend the very sense of doership and discover identity with Lord himself. If someone is an authority on Vedanta then it is obviously implied that the said man of knowledge has not only transcended his or her sense of doership but has also discovered his total identity with Lord. Writing s of such a person alone are worth reading. Such a Mahatma directly knows himself as the self of all, he alone functions in & through all bodies at any time & at any place. This being the case the very question of authorship of texts like Gita becomes redundant. From the point of view of Ved Vyasa he himself is Lord Krishna and Lord Krishna is Ved Vyasa. Vedanta is only bothered about the eternal truths of life rather than the conditionings of personalities, places or time. What Gita says is the same as what Upanishads are saying. The author of both are essentially same. If Vedas have been revealed by God himself then Gita too has been revealed by God himself. The pen certainly have been that of Ved Vyasa but he himself says that he has no identity other than Brahman himself. The teachings of Gita can never be of any individual whose perspective is conditioned in any way whatsoever. Let those who cannot understand all this keep discussing as to who is the real author, such questions are of no relevance or interest either to any seeker of truth and of course never to any siddhas, who either invariably forget to write their names or freely use any mouth to express what needs to be expressed.

2. How much time did the discourse of Lord Krishna last ? Is it practical to imagine that both the armies kept on waiting for all that time ?

………..As we know the present text as we have it today was a dialogue between Sanjay and King Dhritarashtra on the tenth day of the war. Sanjay described to the blind King that very important incidence of the first day. He gave all the details right from the kind of army formation to the smallest symptom of psychological breakdown in Arjuna. If we keep aside all such descriptive details of first, eleventh and eighteenth chapters, and also the statements of Dhritrashtra and Sanjay, then also the chanting time of shlokas is reduced to less than an hour. Now it is upon us to imagine whether Lord Krishna and Arjuna were talking to each other in shlokas or sentences. If they were not chanting shlokas there on the battlefront then the entire dialogue could not have lasted for more than half an hour.

………..To wait for just half an hour at that critical juncture was worth it for both the armies. If Arjuna was giving reasons why not to fight then it was worth while for the Kauravas to wait, they saw a faint possibility where they could have won the war without even shooting a single arrow. The wait of Kauravas did ultimately prove to be too costly for them, because the psychological breakdown of Arjuna which was masterminded by Kauravas so very effectively was not only set right by Lord Krishna, but in fact with his Song Divine he brought out of that dejected Pandava a highly motivated soldier for the cause of Dhrama. If only Kauravas had understood who really was Lord Krishna then the situation could never have come to such pass, and having got the situation, when they saw Arjuna with Krishna then certainly they should not have waited.

3. Is there any relevance of the discourse given on the battlefield of Kurukshetra in helping solve the problems of our modern day ?

………..Gita is ‘Krishna-cure’ for ‘Arjuna disease’. Whoever has that problem will be definitely transformed by this divine discourse. Hinduism, says Poojya Swami Chinmayananda, is never bothered about any history. That which is a matter of our interests is only His-Story. Gita does not comprise of any story whatsoever, it is purely a philosophical discussion. Like any other such discussion it is relevant at all times & places. It talks of mind, emotions, relationships, motivations and perceptions. None of these change with time. Human being is essentially same, and so it is equally relevant today, if not more relevant than it was at any point in time.

………..The problem of a modern day man sitting in the midst of plenty & mind boggling advances in the field of science & technology is that in the midst of various comforts he or she is sitting all alone. Very lonely. The moral values have broken down, reliability has come down to its lowest ebb, selfishness and dissatisfaction of man has made the lives of most of the people in many parts of the world hell. Flora & fauna are disappearing, many species have become extinct, pollution has reached such levels that people are wondering what kind of world are we going to pass on to our children. The main culprit of all this destruction and imbalance is man alone, who has become blind & senseless. He doesn't know inspite of all his information as to what is his real goal. The mind is deluded, lost. Today he desperately needs some direction, to not only help him bring out the best in him, but also enlighten him to know the facts of life. Man today may be knowing something about the objective world, but the subjective world is totally unknown to him. It is this subjective ignorance which is creating the havoc we see around. Texts like Gita fill this vacuum. So Gita is indeed desperately needed today. Gita doesn't provide any do’s & don'ts but simply the understanding of life. If Gita was written today by some modern day author, then the author could have easily kept its name something like :

‘The Art of right & quick decision making’.

‘Bringing out the best in you’.

‘Right action as a spring board to the transcendental’.

‘Compendium of translating Holistic vision in our day to day life’.

‘The infinite potentials of right action’.

‘Rooting out the Stress - the Holistic way’.

‘From action to actionlessness’.

‘Managing self for excellence’.

‘Spontaneous creativity’.

‘Motivation that lasts & leads’.

………..All these above possible names are not my suggestions proposing amendment to the name of Srimad Bhagwad Gita, which is as beautiful as the text itself, but only to indicate the subject matter of the text and show its relevance in our modern day superficial existence. The question of its irrelevance comes only in the minds of those people who do not know what Gita is all about. They are people who need to be ignored - for they know not what they say.

4. Which are the available commentaries on Bhagwad Gita, and which is recommended to start ones study ?

………..There are various commentaries on Gita. We can broadly divide them into two categories, viz. Ancient and Modern. Some well known commentaries of these categories are :

A. Ancient commentaries as per the Advaita Vedanta tradition (all in Sanskrit)

  1. Bhasya on Gita by Sri Adi Sankaracharya
  2. Commentary by Sankarananda
  3. Commentary by Madhusudan Saraswati
  4. Subhodhini Commentary by Sridhar
  5. Commentary on bhashyas by Anand Giri
  6. Commentary by Nilkantha
  7. Commentary by Venkatnathiya

B. Modern day commentaries

In English : ( First three recommended for beginners)

  1. Holy Gita by Swami Chinmayananda
  2. Commentary by Swami Chidbhavananda
  3. Commentary by Sri Jayadayal Goenka (original in Hindi)
  4. Commentary by Swami Dayananda
  5. Commentary by Maharshi Mahesh Yogi
  6. Commentary by BG Tilak (Original in Marathi)
  7. Commentary by Dr. Radhakrishnan
  8. Gita As it is by Prabhupada
  9. 9. Commentary by Rajneesh (Osho)

In Hindi : (All recommended)

  1. Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda (Original in English)
  2. Commentary by Sri Jayadayal Goenka
  3. Commentary by Swami Akhandananda (Vrindavan)
  4. Commentary by Swami Vidyananda (Kailash Ashram, Rishikesh)
  5. Sadhaka Sanjeeveni by Swami Ramsukhdas
  6. Commentary by Swami Bhagwatananda (Prayag)

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Brahma Sutras

Complete Vedanta philosophy in shart aphorishms

In the good old days of Vedic times, when there were no paper or pens around study of various subject was conducted in an all together different format. The wisdom of men of knowledge of any field was passed on to the posterity in the form of short sutras. The student had to first learn these sutras ‘by heart’, for there was no way out. Books were made out of various barks and leaves, and were indeed a great luxury. Later students who showed sincerity and hard work were accepted for subsequent teaching and elaborations by the teacher. Sutra means aphorism. Short, crisp & pregnant sentences. They are like capsule or seeds in which the whole tree resides. They had to be slowly ‘opened & unfolded’ by the teacher. Thus today we have sutras of all the basic texts of grammer, dharma, bhakti, yoga, sankhya, nyaya, or vedanta. The sutras which reveal the fundamentals of Vedanta philosophy or Brahma Vidya are called ‘Brahma Sutras’ or the ‘Vedanta Sutras’.

Brahma Sutra was written by none other than Bhagwan Sri Ved Vyasa, the celebrated author of Mahabharata and thus the Bhagwad Gita. Brahma Sutras along with Upanishads and Bhagwad Gita constitutes the ‘Prasthan trayi’ or the ‘three pillars’ of Vedantic scriptures, which till date all students of Vedanta study. Brahma Sutra is called the Yukti Prasthan, because it logically reconciles and explains the various questions & doubts which may possibly come while going through the Upanishads, the basic pramana granths. Whatever possible inconsistencies which may come to our mind while studying Upanishads are sorted out here, and a clear cut vision or philosophy of Vedanta is thus propounded.

All good teachers always take into consideration the level of student while communicating with them, and thus at first glance their may appear some inconsistency amongst the teachings of various Upanishads, which are but different dialogues between different students and teacher. Thus inspite of the fact that texts like Upanishads were around, necessity of text like Brahma Sutra was felt by Bhagwan Sri Ved Vyasa. The commentary of Sri Adi Sankara on Brahma Sutras further provides greater insights and depths into each Sutra. His commentary or Bhasya is like a crest jewel out of his various immortal works. It is indeed a masterpiece, and today study of Brahma Sutras is never said to be complete without the study of the Bhasya of Sri Adi Sankara on Brahma Sutras. Brahma Sutras should best be studied after completing the study of all Upanishads and that also through a proper teacher.

Brahma Sutra has in all 555 sutras. They are divided into Four Chapters (Adhyaya), which subsequently have four sections (Padas) each. Each section has various sub-sections (called adhikarans), which deal with one topic each. In all there are 191 adhikarans in the text. One adhikaran may have number of sutras, and the number of sutras per adhikaran varies. The names of the four chapters of Brahma Sutras are Samanvaya, Avirodha, Sadhana and finally the Phala adhyaya. Today, with all the modern means of communication at our disposal, the necessity of a student to learn these sutras by heart may not be there, yet the text is a masterpiece and should be studied by all students of Vedanta philosophy.

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A scripture par excellence for one & all

………..Some texts have such an impact on the psyche of people that they become instrumental to carve out a whole new movement & culture. Ramayana, the great, immortal Hindu scripture is one such text. Ramayana was originally written by Sage Valmiki. As the very name suggests it reveals the story of Lord Rama. God when he manifested in this world as the son of King Dasaratha. This great & extremely beautiful scripture reveals the ways & means to fulfill all the four goals of human life in a very simple yet profound language & style. It not only talks about the do's & don'ts to make the best of our lives, but also shows that Godhood with its omniscience & omnipotence can manifest while in this very human body, inspite of all its limitation of time & space, and also tells what exactly is implied by Godliness in our day to day activities. The body is no way an obstacle to awaken to the state of timeless dimension of Godhood within, it is rather a doorway helping us to awake to the transcendental realms within. Godhood is revealed as a state of total contentment in & by one's Self. Ramayana reveals the Sthita-Pragna in action.

After the immortal work of Sage Valmiki there were renderings of this text in various other Indian languages, out of these Ramcharitmanasa of Goswami Tulsidas, Adhatma Ramayana of Veda Vyasa and the Kamban Ramayana in Tamil have become very well known. In North India Ramcharitmanasa has become synonymous with all what religion stands for. It's popularity is just astounding. It has effectively achieved what no other modern means of communication has ever attained. It has taken the message of righteous & holistic living to the remotest part of the country and carved out a whole culture. It has & is still guiding & inspiring millions of people, and the faith towards the text was one of the reason of the great popularity & success of the recent TV serial on Ramayana. It is indeed one of the greatest literary work of the whole world.

The basic format of all Ramayana are same with some differences here & there. The Ram-charit-manasa of Tulsidasji also has eight chapters, but are called Sopana's - the steps to go to the river in ghats. Sage Valmiki called them as Kand's. Tulsidasji has used an allegory of a Lake. There is a beautiful, divine Lake of the 'story of Lord Rama', revealing his character, values, vision, compassion & knowledge etc. There are four ghats on this lake, and on each of these four ghats a pair of teacher & student are sitting and discussing some facts of life. The thrust of the discussion on each ghat is Gyana, Bhakti, Karma & those incapable of all the above. Lord Shiva is the teacher on the first ghat, predominantly revealing the secrets of Gyana, Kak Bhushundi is on the second discussing Bhakti, Sage Yagnavalkya is the teacher on the third talking predominantly about Karma, and Goswami Tulsidas sits on the fourth ghat talking specifically about those people who for any reasons are incapable to tread any of the above paths. All of these teachers are teaching their students taking the story of Lord Rama as the basis. The story is one but underlying messages are many. Irrespective of the level of person, he or she will discover that the text is as though specifically answering my queries. As the story continues we find occasional references of statements by these four teachers interpolated in the story. If anyone can cull out & separate the statements of all these four teachers from the text, then he will certainly have a compendium of tips to students of Gyana, Bhakti, Karma or to the fourth kind. It is a unique style. One story simultaneously catering to different students. To descend into this lake of the Story of Lord Rama, there are eight steps each, these are its chapters.

Ramayana is something to be studied thoroughly & not merely read or chanted, and that also with a truly open mind. Even though the very chanting or even the hearing of the text is a great experience by itself. It will indeed be a great tragedy if someone has missed out on this immortal, epoch making text. The direct fruit of the study of the text is to be blessed by the devotion to the one, all-pervasive, divinity called God. You cannot but fall in love with God, such is its profound effect. Our salutations to those Sages who have blessed us with such immortal literature.

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The Yoga Vasishtha

A Masterpiece

The earliest work in Sanskrit on Vedanta of the highest order is the Vasishtha Maha Ramayana or Yoga Vasishtha. This monumental work is one without a second in Sanskrit literature. Vasishtha, the great sage, taught the principles of Vedanta to his royal pupil, Sri Rama, the victor of Ravana and hero of the epic, Ramayana. He narrated beautiful and interesting stories to illustrate the principles. The book is written in the language of Valmiki. It is the crest-jewel of all the works on Vedanta. It is a masterpiece. A study of the book raises a man to the lofty heights of divine splendour and bliss. It is really a vast store of wisdom. Those who practise Atma Chintana or Brahma Abhyasa or Vedantic meditation will find a priceless treasure in this marvellous book. He who studies the book with great interest and one-pointedness of mind cannot go without attaining Self-realisation. The practical hints on Sadhana are unique. Even the most worldly-minded man will become dispassionate and will attain peace of mind, solace and consolation.

READ MORE -- LINK 1 ----- LINK 2

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A comprehensive introductory text of Vedanta philosophy

Panchadasi is a very beautiful, complete & also a very well known Post-Sankara Vedanta classic, it is a comprehensive manual of a student of Vedanta, and as Dr. TMP Mahadevan calls 'a veritable mine of Vedantic treasure'. It was written somewhere around 1380 AD by Sri Vidyaranya Swamiji and gets its name because of having 15 chapters. Panchadasa-prakarana. Vidyaranya Swami in his purva-ashram was said to be one of the ruler of Vijayanagaram Empire, and proved to be a very good ruler. He obviously encouraged education & learning to great heights. Later he took to the life of a Sanyasi and also became the head of Sringeri Math for 10 years. He was the Sankaracharya of that Math from 1377 to 1386, only that at that time those who were sitting on that seat were not called Sankaracharyas.

The fifteen chapters of Panchadasi are grouped into three quintads. Three groups of five chapter each. They are the viveka-panchaka, the dipa-panchaka, and the anand-panchaka. As their names themself indicate the first part deals with the discrimination of the real from the unreal, the second deals with revealing the self as Pure consciousness, and the third dwells on the blissful nature of Self. Sri Vidyaranya Swami uses all the logic at his command, yet the thrust of the text is only to provide knowledge to the student. He does not use the dialectics to merely prove the others wrong. It therefore becomes a very complete book for a student of Vedanta. It is like a must-read, and like any other specialized book should be studied through a teacher.

Among the commentaries on this great text, we have a old & a well known Sanskrit commentary by Sri Ramakrishna. Today there are quiet a few translations a & commentaries available on Panchadasi both in English & also in Hindi.

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Dialogue about the truth of life with the Lord of Death

In the Oct 98 issue of Vedanta Sandesh we had introduced the Upanishads in this very section. Now from this issue onwards we shall briefly introduce the various Upanishads which are have commentaries written by our great Acharyas. In this issue we will talk about the famous Katha Upanishad or Kathopanishad.

Kathopanishad is an Upanishad found in the Yajur Veda. It is in the form of a story & dialogue between a young Brahmin boy called Nachiketas and the Yamaraj - the Lord of Death. The Upanishad has two chapters, and each of the chapter has three section each called Vallis. So in all the Upanishad has six sections. In the entire Upanishad there are 120 mantras. The Upanishad has commentary on it by Bhagwan Sri Adi Sankaracharya.

The story goes that there was a pious Brahmin called Vajasravas who decided to perform a special ritual in which the person is supposed to give all his property & wealth to others. With great fanfare the ritual was announced & subsequently performed. When he was finally giving out his cows to various people then his attachment towards his son made him give only old & unproductive cows and was keeping back good cows for his son. This was not liked by the son, who could see that because of the attachment of the father to his son he was compromising with his vow. The son approaches his father and puts forward a question that 'O Father ! to whom will you be giving me'. Indicating therein that attachment for me should not come in the way of performing this great ritual which he himself had desired to do. The father obviously did not like the question and ignored the boy. But the persistence of Nachiketas made him very angry, and he said that 'I am going to give you to Yamaraj'. This was more in the tone of 'Get lost', or 'Go to hell'. But the boy took the words very seriously and retreated from there. He started thinking, Why is my father giving me to Lord of Death, Is it that I was not a good boy or a good student ? Have I not performed my duties properly ? etc. He finally decides to go & meet Yamaraj - in person. The story does that the boy manages to reach the palace of Yama, who was incidently out. The boy decided to sit outside and without partaking any food or water kept on waiting for three days. When Yama finally came he was very happy to see the austere decision of the boy and decided to give him three boons.

As a first boon the boy asked for the well being of his father & others at home. He asked that 'when I finally go home my father should not only recognise me but also forgive me'. As the second boon he asked for the the knowledge of attaining heavens. The third boon forms the real basis of the entire Upanishad. He asked Yamaraj as to what happens after death, some say that there is existence after death & some say that it is not. You being the Lord of death are the best person to help me eliminate this doubt. Before answering the boy the Lord Of Death tests the boy a lot to see whether the boy is reaaly interested in this question pertaining to this secret of life. When he got satisfied then he starts his great discourse which forms the crux of this immortal scripture. The thrust of the discourse is not to tell about the journey & lokas of the jiva, but to reveal the immortality to the Self. The Self is revealed as the timeless, transcendental divinity which if realised ends this cycle of life & death.

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A highly revered Upanishad from Yajur Veda

Isavasya Upanishad is an Upanishad found in the mantra section of Yajur Veda. Being in the mantra section it is highly revered by one & all, including those who take only the mantra section as the real Veda (the Arya Samaji's). This is one of the smallest Upanishads but on which highest number of commentaries have been written. Everyone has been drawing great inspiration from it. It has only 18 mantras and has a very fine & famous commentary written on it by Bhagwan Sri Adi Sankaracharya.

The Upanishad starts with the famous invocation of 'Purnamadah purnamidam', which has in itself the entire message of the Upanishad. It reveals that all 'this' what is perceived is that infinite reality, 'that' cause from which all this has manifested is also that. If we negate the roles of effect & cause of 'this' & 'that', then all that which remains is one non-dual reality alone.

In the first section of the Upanishad there are three mantras. The first mantra reveals the truth of life to a person who has a predominantly sattwic mind. It thunders that one should realise that there is only one divinity which exists & pervades all that is. Awakening to that realm is possible by letting go all that we hold on. This is facilitated by realising that nothing is really our's. The second mantra addresses itself to a rajasic person. It says that live an active, dynamic & selfless life. Never get attached & dependent on anything, yet work & serve on. Let no selfish motivations creep in. Living thus such a man also takes to the road of divinity & fulfillment. The third mantra addresses a man who is predominantly tamasic. It says that a person who insists on taking oneself to be that which he or she is not, condemns himself to a life of pain & despair. They will helplessly suffer.

In the second section (4th to 8th mantra) the 'nature of atma' and the 'fruits of true knowledge' are revealed. Atma is revealed as the transcendental & also the immanent reality - that which pervades all, yet is untouched by all. Grief and pain are transcended only by the true knowledge of Self. For an awakened one there is no occasion or question of any delusion.

In the third and fourth section (comprising the next six mantras) the Upanishad talks about the necessity of intelligent combination of karma & upasana in our sadhana, for the process of making the mind pure & sattwic. One should neither ignore action nor meditation. In meditation also one should intelligently include turning ones attention on the part & whole. One who does not follow this balanced approach faces drastic negative consequences.

In the fifth and the last section, the Upanishad reveals some beautiful & positive prayers. The prayers aim at invoking God's grace to help eliminate thte ignorance of Self and awaken to the limitless divinty within. The death of the finite & the awakening to the infinite. As is the case with all Upanishads this one too should be studied from a right teacher (one who is Shrotriya & Brahma-nishtha) with the help of the bhashya written by Sri Sankara, so as to understand the right implication of each word and suggestion. Given such a chance the vision expounded in the Upanishad will be a turning point in life. It will indeed be the greatest treat we can ever imagine.

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Mandukya Upanishad

Revelation of the ultimate truth by analysing the three states

Mandukya Upanishad is an Upanishad found in the Atharvana Veda. It is basically one of the smallest Upanishad containing only 12 mantras, yet it is one of the most respected and important Upanishad. Before the advent of Sri Adi Sankara his paramguru Sri Gaudapadacharya wrote a commentary called Karika on this Upanishad. This Karika has become so important and famous that today it is seen as a part of the Mandukya Upanishad itself. Sri Sankara thus wrote his Bhashya on both the Upanishad and Karika shlokas as a single text.

There are two things extremely famous about this Upanishad. One this Upanishad reveals the methodology of realising Brahman as OM. OM is revealed both as the end and the means. It is verily a commentary on OM. The viveka which is followed to discern the truth is the 'Awastha-traya-viveka' i.e. discrimination based on the three states of consciousness. Secondly this Upanishad has in it one of the four Mahavakyas which have been choosen from the four Vedas. "Ayam Atma Brahma" i.e. This Atma alone is Brahman. In Muktiko Upanishad we have the briefest and yet the most glorious review on Mandukya wherein it is said that "Mandukya alone is sufficient for an aspirant to reach liberation" (Mandukyam ekam kevalam mumukshunaam vimuktaye).

The Upanishad along with Karikas (total of 215 shlokas) is divided into four chapters called Prakaranas. The Agama Prakarana (has 12 mantras & 29 shlokas of Karika), Vaithathya Prakarana (has 38 shlokas), Advaita Prakarana (has 48 shlokas), and the Alatshanti Prakarana (has100 shlokas). The first chapter contains all the twelve original mantras, and the non-dual reality has been revealed here purely on the basis of the scripture. From second prakarana onwards we have an independent commentary on these mantras. In the Vaithathya Prakarana we have Sri Gaudapadacharya revealing the world as ephemeral. by equating the waking state to the dream state. The approach is purely logical. In the third i.e. the Advaita Prakarana we have the teacher revealing the non-dual reality again purely on the basis of logic and then also validating it by appropriate scriptural statements. In the last chapter called Alata-shanti prakarana, we have not only the summarisation of the entire book but also some unique things. In this chapter the Theory of Causality is shattered to pieces, the illusiory world is compared to a rotating firebrand which presents illusions of circles which are not really there, and the Self is thus revealed as the one non-dual reality itself, free from all cause-effect relationships.

One thing which has become a hallmark of this Upanishad is the Theory of Ajatavada. Normally some scriptures give some theory of creation, only to later prove the creation to be ephemeral, while here Gaudapada appears to be very uncompromising. He doesnt like going the longer way, he declares right from the beginning itself that there is no creation whatsoever. He considers the compassionate effort of some to temporarily accept the creation as a compromise. He thunders the raw truth uncompromisingly.

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Kena Upanishad

An enquiry into 'that' which enlivens our faculties

Kena Upanishad comes in the Sama Veda. The Upanishad gets its name from the first word of the text Kena ishitam patati... . It is in the form of a dialogue between a good, intelligent seeker and a man of knowledge. The Upanishad has four sections. The first two sections reveal the Brahma Vidya - the knowledge of the ultimate truth, and third & fourth reveal a story through which some important facts pertaining to faith towards God, the implication of believing in him, the methodology of inculcating greater devotion towards him etc. are revealed. The first two sections are highly philosophical, subtle & also lucid, while the last two section have a great simplicity about them. Like a mother the Sruti appears to be catering to all kinds of people with equal concern & compassion. For the first time we see see in the Upanishad itself a clear reference to the manifestation of the formless in the form of a form to help eliminate some erroneous conclusions. We have the seed of the principle of Avatar, which has been greatly elaborated in our subsequent litratures.

The question of the student pertains to the inquisitiveness of that because of which our various instruments & faculties, which are all created from inert matter, are able to act & perform their respective functions. What is it which enlivens them ? Is it simply the chemistry of these inert organs or is it some-thing which transcends all this perceptible creation - is the implication of the question. Without beating about the bush the great Rishi immediately comes to the point and says that which enlivens all these faculties is that which even though is the very essence of all these faculties but it is not something which can be objectified by these faculties themself. Every instrument facilitates a subject to percieve an object, and not the subject itself. That because of which our faculties can perform their respective function, but that which is never objectified by these faculties is the thing which enlivens them all. There is no instrument which can objectify the subject, yet it is known - very intimately, by proper understanding. Consciousness transcends all matter & things created from it. It is the timeless, eternal truth. It is our very essence, our very Self. It is realised as our very self, and never as something extraneous. He who knows oneself as that 'life' which is even though very clearly known yet is never objectied knows that which enlivens all our faculties. Pure conciousness is not something which is created by any chemistry of matter, it is only the manifestation of life which does require appropriate instruments. The commentary on the Upanishad by Sri Adi Sankara is a great treat to read, like any of his other commentary too.

The story revealed in the third & fourth section pertains to an incident when after a great war between Devatas & Asuras the devatas won with flying colors. As usual there was the blessed hand of the divine essence behind all their victory, but they in their thoughtless arrogance took themself as the real cause of victory. Gloating in their arrogance all the devatas had assembled to celebrate their victory and were talking about just their power & glory. At that time a Yaksha manifested in front of them, something which none of them had ever seen. When Agni etc devas were sent to enquire then during their conversation the great Agni could not even burn a small blade of grass kept in front by the great Yaksha. The ego shattered, they realised their folly and learnt a great & important lesson of their life.

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Sri Ram Gita

A divine dialogue between Sri Ram & brother Laksman

Sri Ram Gita is a profound and very beautiful treatise of Vedanta found in the Uttarakand of Adhyatma Ramayana. It is an Upanishad-like philosophical dialogue between Sri Ram & Laksman. In all there are 62 shlokas in this text and is the 5th chapter of this section of Ramayana. Adhatma Ramayana in turn is part of the Brahmanda Purana which is written by the one & only Veda Vyasa, who was the medium to reveal to us the famous Srimad Bhagwat Gita too.

The story goes that when Lord Rama had come back to Ayodhya and was ruling there as the King Rama, then once the events took such a turn that he in his wisdom thought it necessary to send Sitaji to the forest in the Ashram of Valmiki. She was pregnant at that time. This could not be digested by Lakshmana and he got very disturbed by this act of Lord. On one hand was this strange decision and on the other was his great faith & respect towards his elder brother that he will always take the right decision. Even though Lord Rama would have been missing his consort but overall he carried out his life with ease & conscentiousness. This all the more made the younger brother inquisitive about how does he handle such heart-shaking events with ease. He knew he was not insensitive, so what was the source of his strength. One day seeing the right conditions & mood he approaches his elder brother like a student and puts forward some great questions which would facilitate him also to transcend this realm of change. Lord happily goes about answering them and this is what constitutes the Ram Gita, giving out the secret of his strength, equipoise & ability to take even big decisions with ease.

As the basic dialogoue in the text is between Lord Shiv and Parvatiji, the first shloka of Sri Ram Gita is by Lord Shiva himself who continues to narrate the story to Parvatiji. How did Lakshmanan approach the Lord with his question ? What question did he ask ? all these important details too are given out elaborately by Lord Shiva.

Lord Ram begins his discourse right from the beginning. The beginning of our spiritual journey is from the field of ones actions & responsibilities. What ever responsibilities are bestowed to us on the basis of our stage of life and inner inclinations should be accepted with grace and one should learn to go about fulfilling ones responsibilities with full attention & involvement. That should be viewed as worship itself, and having attained a particular non-reacting intelligent mind one should approach a teacher for deeper insights. Lord reveals the limitation of Karma to take us to the transcendental. A free mind alone can inquire. Later he starts the detailed upadesha of the secret of realisation. The sravana of the Mahavakyas is followed by deep reflections on the purport of sruti. Sravana & Manana eliminates the ignorance of Self and the possible subsequent doubts regarding the nature of Self. The vision revealed, the only sadhana which is thereafter required is Niddidhyasana. Constant & intense awareness of our real truth. For the purpose of meditation of this divine essence, Lord suggests taking resort of OM, and reveals its secret too. An enlightened person himself attains Godhood. Such a person alone is totally free, appropriately called the Jivanmukta.