Here and now

life les­sons from adi Shankara

Governance Now - - LIFE NOTES -

The mind of­ten goes blank – no thoughts, no sense of self. This does not last long; we ‘wake’ up and get back into the nor­mal mode with the first-per­son-sin­gu­lar in the role of pro­tag­o­nist, think­ing of the past or the fu­ture, plan­ning, fan­ta­sis­ing, imag­in­ing di­a­logues. Or the in­ces­sant back­ground noise in the head, if noth­ing else. That blank state, the one with­out the weight of a sep­a­rate iden­tity of the self – iso­lated from the rest of the world, is at the heart of most spir­i­tual tra­di­tions of the hu­mankind. Be it Chris­tian mys­ti­cism or Su­fism, the dif­fer­ence ar­guably is in how one can achieve that state, and how one ex­presses it: the ex­pe­ri­ence it­self of merg­ing one’s iden­tity with the whole re­mains the same. Bud­dhism would call it Shun­y­ata, with ni­hilis­tic un­der­tones. The Hindu tra­di­tion (ar­guably) calls it Ad­vaita, non-du­al­ity, with di­vine over­tones. This no­tion of Ad­vaita – sim­ply put, one­ness with the uni­verse – goes back to the Vedanta, that is, the Upan­ishads, the gist of which is the Bhag­vad Gita. Adi Shankaracharya (‘the orig­i­nal or the first Shankaracharya’) re­vived or sys­tem­a­tised it in the sev­enth/eighth cen­tury. He also penned scores of short verses sum­maris­ing the vi­sion of Ad­vaita. Not only they are beau­ti­ful, the added ad­van­tage with them is that thanks to their brevity and po­etry, they can be eas­ily com­mit­ted to mem­ory and thus read­ily serve in the time of need.

Nan­ditha Kr­ishna has put to­gether a se­lec­tion of them in You Are The Supreme Light (Aleph Book Com­pany), which also has the added ad­van­tage of aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing pro­duc­tion. Here are some rep­re­sen­ta­tive gems:

For those well versed with Shankara’s works, this is an edi­tion that one can keep handy to dip in for in­spi­ra­tion at any time. For the unini­ti­ated, it will serve as an ex­cel­lent, reader-friendly in­tro­duc­tion. One would only wish that if the edi­tion had also pre­sented the San­skrit text it would have helped recita­tion, though at the cost of dou­bling the num­ber of pages. The ex­cit­ing se­ries, ‘Life Les­sons’, prom­ises to be a trea­sure trove, with a vol­ume on ‘Life Les­sons from Moin­ud­din Chishti’ (Be Present in Ev­ery Mo­ment) al­ready pub­lished. n

– Ashish Me­hta

When thoughts are ab­sent, the present seems eter­nal. When thoughts are ab­sent,

the Self dis­ap­pears. Re­flect on the mean­ing of the Upan­ishads,

take refuge in the Truth of Brah­man. Avoid per­verse ar­gu­ments, but fol­low the

un­bi­ased logic of re­vealed works. Al­ways be ab­sorbed in the knowl­edge that ‘I am Brah­man’.

Re­nounce pride.

Give up to­tally the ten­dency to

ar­gue with the wise.

Photo: ashish me­hta

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