Crown Jewel of Sagacity: Adi Shankara’s Viveka Chudamani
Vivekachudamani was composed by Shree Shankaracharya and is considered a sublime text and scripture dealing with the essence of advaita, non-dualism or monistic philosophy. It is difficult to say as to when this was composed and by which Shankaracharya. Adi Shankara was born, according to recent research in our country (we need not go by British historians and certainly not by oriental scholars like Max Mueller, the German), in the year 509 B.C. at Kaladi in today's Kerala. Shankaracharya is the position of the pontiffs at the four peethas in different parts of our country established by Adi Shankara. The hoary text that goes as a dialogue between the preceptor and the guru explains the basic concepts of a very important system of belief.
While translating Shankara Bhagavatpaada's Vivekachudamani into Tamil (eventually included in the complete works of Sri Ramana Maharshi) Sri Ramana of Tiruvannamalai mentioned the need for translations. The sacred seer knew about many commentaries. He noted that though there are many seekers intent upon realizing the Bliss of Liberation, mukti, they do not have the scholarship for studying them.
The bulk of Indic scriptures and sacred texts are in classical Sanskrit. To bring these into easy access, there have been umpteen renderings of these highly venerable texts in almost all Indian languages. Not merely rendering but even abridgements are not uncommon. Conveying the basic import is found to be essential.
Viveka is a technical term in advaita philosophy and has no single word translation-equivalent in English. It is basically a sense of enlightened sense of proportion. It involves the faculty of distinguishing and even classifying things according to their features, qualities and properties. It involves knowledge, judgement and wisdom. It refers to sagacity, judiciousness, discrimination and discretion in matters relating to the realm of the spirituality. It is a true understanding of sat and asat, terms which are basic to the understanding of Reality.
Very recently there has been a very slim and selective rendering of Vivekachudamani by Professor Vedula Subrahmanya Sastry, formerly Head of the Dept of Telugu of Andhra University. Another singular contribution of Professor Vedula is a short glossary of Vedantic terms in Teligu with brief explanations and succinct elucidation of very seminal concepts. For those who know English the following explanations of important terms may be of some immediate practical use.
A great scholar both in Telugu and the language of the sacred text, Sanskrit, Professor Vedula Subrahmanya Sastry, rendered the essence of Shree Shankara's teaching in it in simple Telugu for the enthusiasts of spiritual enlightenment. Mine is an attempt to put across a rough and ready rendering of that book for readers in English. Any lapses in the rendering are mine and I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the revered Professor for his large-hearted assent to this, my little project.
An Ardent Prayer
sarvavedanta siddhanta gocharam tamagocharam
govindam paramanandam sadgurum pranatosmyaham 1
Salute I Govinda, the preceptor par excellence, the one with the form of paramananda, the One not seen by the sense organs and the One manifest in the theory of Advaita, which can be called the essence of all Vedanta.
jantoonaam narajanma durlabhamatah punsthvam tato vipratha
tasmatdvaidika dharma marga parathaa vidvatvamsmatparam
atmaanaatma vivechanam swanubhavo brahmatmana sansthithi
muktirno shatakoti janma sukruthai punyairvina labhyate 2
Among the millions of living beings, it is very rare to be born as a human being. In that, to be born as a male, into a family belonging to the order of the dutiful brahmins is more difficult and rare.
Even among them being one interested and dedicated to Vedic dharma and being learned, being able to discriminate between Atman and Unatman, getting realised to experience the Atman, and being a resident in the feeling of 'I am Brahman' are increasingly difficult and surely rare. This would come by only owing to the merit (punya) acquired over some crores of births by getting liberation from the bonds of Sansara.
In birth even as a Brahmin, it is not easy to get the desire for liberation from Sansara. Service to Guru, the preceptor is hard to come by. These can be obtained only from the grace of God. Being born as a Brahmin, accomplished in Vedic lore and learning, if one does not make a sincere effort to be liberated from the bonds of Sansara, surely he is Ajnaani, one unknowing and ignorant. He would be considered as one who has killed himself. There could never be a more ignorant man than the one thinks that this very rare birth is only to experience worldly things and the comforts offered by the senses and the sense organs. One can be very learned. One may offer worship to many deities, perform pious deeds. But all those are of no avail. Liberation from Sansara is possible only when through Jnaana one experiences Brahman. In no other way is salvation possible in any number of births. Shruti, Veda, says clearly that in no other way is liberation possible.
Kartavya What is to be done.
One learned in Shastras and Vedas should try for salvation. One should give up all pleasures and comforts that the senses may provide. One should take refuge at the feet of the Guru, the preceptor. Then one should bear in mind and act meticulously as taught by the Guru.
The sadhaka, aspirant, should keep his chitta vrittis, the wanderings and wavings of his mind firmly under control. He should be committed seriously to attain selfrealization. Though in the ocean of Sansara he should uplift himself.
(Glossary of important Vedantic terms for understanding)
Glossary of Vedantic Terms
Ajnaana is to think that there could be a thing which is not Brahman. It is ajanaana to think that the body is ‘me’; that the external, visible world is true and everlasting: to see the serpent in the rope. The ‘knowingness’, or jnaana is to realize tattwa jnaanaardha, attaining metaphysical understanding.
Adhikaari: Adhikaara is power or authority that comes from one’s qualifications, abilities or deserts, having qualities of deserving. Adhikaari is the one who has adhikaara. He who has scholarship, who is an intellectual with the ability to look within and see atma, the self, and the one who can discriminate between appearance and reality having richness of saadhana chatushthaya is adhikaari (See anubandha chatushthayam below)
Adhishthaanam: It is the thing that causes bhranti, illusion owing to ajnaana. This is what the world is to parabrahma. In rope-serpent illusion this is the rope for the serpent.
Aadhyaasa: Attributing in a thing some thing that is not there really. The senses, praana, life force, manas, myness, ahamkaara, comforts, the five elements and the five sheaths, pancha koshas and the entire universe down to the body which are non-self or anaatma are supposed to be the person.
Anirvachaneeyam: That which cannot be described either as sat or asat. This is caused by bhranti or illusion. If it is sat like Brahman, it does not have pain. If asat it is not seen. As such brahman is anirvachaneeya. The kid of a barren woman is not seen. It is bhranti, illusion.
Anubandha chatushthayam: 1) Capacity to discriminate between nitya and anitya, eternal and non-eternal 2) renunciation of fruit here in this world 3) the six qualities like shama, dama, etc., and 4) mumukshatwam, quality of yearning for liberation. These are the four essential qualities or items of equipment for attaining liberation which is called mokshapraapti.
Annamayakosham: The Physical Sheath. The gross body, sthoola sareera is born of anna, sustained by it and dies without it. The body has five koshas, and this is one. Avashtaatrayam: the three states of jagrat (wakefulness), swapna (dream) and sushupti (deep sleep)
Avidya: the power of parameshwar, Supreme Being, a compound of three gunas, attributes of sattwa, rajas and tamasaavyaktam: this is avidya itself, called maya also. This is having the three gunas or attributes. This is the causal body for the atman.
Ashtha paashaas: Eight bonds: daya, lajja, bhayam, shanka, jugupsa, kulam, sheelam, jaati. These are: compassion, sense of shame, fear, doubt, disgust, caste, character and race, respectively.
Ashthavasuvulu: avidya, kamam, karma, and the five elements Earth, Water, Light, Air, Sky. Kamam is desire, karma is action. Avidya is already explained.
Asat: That which is not found anywhere in all the three worlds: the horn of a hare and the son of a barren woman.
Ahamkaara: the affection for “I” and ‘me’; the sense of ‘myness’. This is the basic bondage or shackle in samsara. This is called ‘egosense’ or ‘myness’ also. Antahkarana: Roughly, the inner sense of discretion. Manas, buddhi, chittam and ahamkaram are called the foursome of antahkaranachatushthayam
Aakaasham: One of the five elements. It is pure, flawless, of all pervading quality. This is given as example of the atman. According to the context ghatakash and patakaash are understood: sky in the pot etc.
Atman: ever wandering, that which experiences the fruit of action. It is the absolute reality. It is used to signify jeeva and manas also. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says it is the one which is worthy to be seen, known, worth contemplating and worth retaining. The Upanishads say that it is pure, pristine, without action and without limbs or organs.
Anandamya kosha: This is a sheath where there is the reflection of the micro quality of bliss. This affection results when something dear is enjoyed. The meritorious, punyatmas, experience this by merely having the body.
Avaranashakti: This is the quality of tamoguna which covers a thing. This is the basis for a man to have samsara.shrams: brahmacharya (celibate), grihastha (family, house holder) vaanaprastha (old age) and samnyasa (ascetic)
Idriyas: (memory to the atman) five jnaanendriyas and five karmendriyas, senses and sense organs.
Eshwar: The one who has maya as means, upadhi, stationed in all beings. With maya he dictates and disciplines all while being above maya.
Uparati: keeping chittavritti firmly under control without allowing it to stray into vishayas or external things or Maya
Upadhi: base. For Eshwar maya is the base. For jeevi the five koshas like annamaya kosha are the base.
Oormis: waves The waves in the ocean of samsara: those relating to praana are hunger and thirst, to the manas griefs and enticements; to deha, the body birth and death. These six are shadoormis.
Karma is the activity of the senses. This is of three types: sanchita, praarabda and aagaami. Sanchita is experiencing the fruit of actions, which has been brought forward from the previous birth; prarabda is experiencing the fruit of actions in this birth and aagaami is experiencing the fruit of actions performed in this birth in the birth to come. There is another division: nitya, naimittika,
kaamya, nishiddha karmas. What is to be done every day is nitya karma; that which is done for a purpose is naimittika and that which done with a desire is kaamya and that which is prohibited by the scriptures is nishiddha karma. In yet another division they are of three types: maanasika, vaachika and kaayika, performed with the mind, the speech and the body.
Karmendriyas: legs, anus, genital are the five used in speech; taking and giving; walking; excretion and procreation.
Kaarana sareera: Prakriti with three attributes (tri gunas) becomes kaarana sareera for the atman. its sthiti, being or existence, is the state of deep sleep, sushupti.
Kootastha: koota is an implement on which a goldsmith flattens gold into a thin leaf. It is stable and unmoving. The person who remains unmoved like that is a kootastha. Koshas: the sheaths like praanamayakosha etc. They are five as explained earlier.
Chittam: That which signifies, conveys, makes known. It makes known sabda sparsa rasa roopa gandha to be experienced by the subject.
Chidaabhaasa: Chit is chaitanya, consciousness. Paramaatama, the Supreme Being. Aabhaas is image. Chidaabhaas is the chaitanya that is reflected in the chitta. This is the Jeeva.
Jhadajahallakshana: When the meaning of the word used does not strictly refer to the purported thing. Devadaata seen somewhere at some other time can be recognized as Devadatta in a different place at a different time with the application of jahadajahallakshnana. The Supreme Being is omniscient. Jeeva is limited in knowingness. If the respective qualities are removed, ignored, and if only chaitanya is reckoned, the condition of (advaita) monism – non duality is arrived at. Jeeva, that is Jeevaatma, is equated with Paramatma.
Jnaana: knowingness, coupled with discrimination and wisdom.
Jaagradavastha: State of wakefulness
Jignyaasa: The desire to know is jignyaasa.
Jeevanmukta: The one liberated while alive. Steeped in the conviction that jeevatama and paramatma are one, when chittavritti, the goings about of chitta are minimal, the condition is called prajna. The one with that prajna is jeevanmukta. The purport, meaning, is that while being alive the one who is free from the bonds of samsara is a jeevanmukta. With avarana, covering, destroyed, he lives with prarabda alone with equanimity.
Jeevatma: Jeevudu is called jeevatma also. He is anaadi, without beginning, ahamkari, steeped in ego-sense, and goes on carrying out acts. He acts according to his past vasanas, tendencies. He experiences the fruit of his deeds, good and evil. Jnaanendriya: Senses which take in sabda, roopa, sparsa, rasa, gandha. These are the skin, eye, ear, tongue and nose.
Tat twam asi: This is mahavakya, a grand declaration from Chandogyopanishad. Tat is ‘paramatma’, twam is ‘you’ asi is ‘are’. That thou art. The meaning is that jeeva is paramatma and the two are not different at all.
Tamoguna: This is the attribute of darkness. This engenders produces, moha, enticement, evil attraction.
Taapa-s; Taapa is feeling of severe heat. These are of three types: adhyaatmika, adibhautika and adhidaivika: The grief of the manas owing to attractions/enticements is adhyatmika; the grief accruing from serpents, tigers, etc is adibhautikam; the grief accruing from fire, thunderbolt or excessive rain etc is adhidaivikam.
Titiksha: Patience, tolerance, the absence of any thought of revenge and the fortitude to bear insult or harm constitutes titiksha.
Triputi: The knower, the thing to be known and knowingness together are triputi. There is another tripuiti too: the seer, the seen and the scene Damam: The restraint of the external senses by keeping the senses in their places without allowing them to stray about in various vishayas, things that attract.
Drishyam: The scene which is seen. The sthoola deham and the world around are all seen and form a scene. According to shastra, all that is liable to be destroyed. Dhyanam: To divert and concentrate all the movements of chitta as a stream towards the goal - the Supreme Being.
Nityaanityavastuvivekam: It is certain that Brahman is nitya and jagat is mithya. This is viveka, discrimination or sense of judgement.
Nidhidhyaasanam: This is akin to dhyanam and akin to nirvikalpa samadhi.
Nirvikalpa samaadhi; Keeping the manas unwaveringly on the paramatma after restraining the occupations of the senses is nirvikalpasamadhi, It demands the cultivation of equanimity in the mind and thus in the self.
Parabrahmam: This is one: Truth, Jnanam. It is limitless and endless. This is also called paramatma.
Puryashthakam: 1. Karmendriyas – five sense organs; 2. jnanendriyas , sense pereceptions – five; 3. vaayus like praana etc.–five; 4. mahabhootas, five elements like the Earth 5. antahkaran,– mano, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara; 6. avidya compound of the three gunas. 7. kaama, desire and 8. karma, action. All these comprise sookshma sareera.
Pancha kosha-s: Five sheaths: annamaya, praanamaya, manomaya, vijnaanamaya and anandamaya. These are different from atman and are called anatman.
Pancha bhoota-s: Five elements: Earth, Water, Light, Air, Sky, bhoomi, apas, tejas.vaayu and aakasha.
Pancheekaranam: Uniting into five. Each element joins all the others to make a mahaaboota, mega element. The elements thus divided go to form the sthoola sareera, the gross body.
Prajna: Immersed in the feeling that jeeva and eswar are one and the same and restraining the manas from straying according to the pulls of the chitta is prajna.
Pratyayam: Pratyayam means jnaana, knowingness.
Pratyagaatma: That which enters every body. This means paramatma and jeeva. Praagabhaavam: The state of not being. The state of the pot before it becomes pot is its pragbhava.
Praanamaya kosham: Vital Sheath. Praana conjoined with the five sense organs, karmendriyas, is pranamayakosha. Filled with this the annamaya kosha goes about in all actions. This is anatman, non-atman.
Prana-s: Praana is only one. In view of its operating in various parts of the body it is of various types of vaayu: prana, apaana, vyaana, udaana and samaana.
Bandham: Obtaining the feeling of atman in anatma, non-atman, like the body. Bandham: is the feeling that “I” is the body. This feeling/belief creates the troubles of birth and death.
Buddhi: Conjoining with matter, this creates the knowledge of matter.
Brahman: That which grows, expands.
Bhakti: The best instrument in the equipment for man to get liberation, moksha. Bhakti is making the manas coalesce into its own form of pratyagatma. Some say that it is contemplating its own form of atma tatwa, nature of atman.
Bhaava vikaara: the changefulness of the thing. These are of six kinds: birth, stay, growth, mutation, decay and death. Atman des not have these vikaraas, changes. Only anatman has these.
Bhranti: This is aadhyaasa itself. Taking one thing to be another, construing or taking the rope to be a serpent or to take the body, anatman, as atman.
Mananam: Subtle enquiry contemplating something heard from the guru as a message or upadesha with some proofs.
Manas: That which has sankapa, intention, and vikalpa, alternative.
Manomayakosham: Mental Sheath. Manas, along with the other koshas, is called manomayakosha. This spreads intopranamayakosha and flourishes in pride. This is anatman.
Mahat: Buddhi, the cause of ahamkara.
Maya: That which is not true. This is the power of pararameswar. This is without beginning, anaadi. This is prakriti with the three gunas, attributes. This is known as avidya also. It is this that engenders this universe. This is inexplicable, indefinable, the upadhi, base for parameswar.
Mithya: That which is not there but appears to be there. In rajju sarpa bhranti the rope appearing as serpent is bhranti. It is like water in a mirage. This is adhyaasa, the universe being seen in Brahman.
Mishrasatwam: This is satwa with a little mixture of rajas and tamas. This is the base for linga sareera or sookshma sareera.
Mukti: Getting rid of the tendencies that have been there long with strength is liberation. Mukti kaaranam: The cause of liberation. To be rid of bondage, the faith that aham brahmasmi becomes the reason. It is because of this that the knowing ones, jnaani-s experience absolute bliss.
Muni: One who has total restraint of speech, one committed to dhyana and a knowing one, jnaani, is a muni.
Mumuksha: The desire to get rid of samsara; .the wish to be liberated.
Mumukshu: The one who wishes to be liberated and seeks to get moksha.
Moola prakriti:That which is the compound of the three gunas. This is base for the emergence of the universe.
Moksham: The undoing of the cord that ties the heart to avidya; liberation from avidya: getting self-realization.
Yati: The one who restrains his manas and senses.
Yoga: That which joins. It unites manas with paramatma. It restrains the activities of the manas.
Rajogunam: The inspiration for man to act, perform deeds. Kama. Krodha etc are the qualities, dharmas, of rajo guna.
Rajju sarpa bhranti: this is an illusion: seeing a serpent in a rope. The root cause of this is ajnaana. When the real thing is known the illusion disappears. Rope appears as rope. When one can see atman, the illusion disappears. The body is seen and realized as anatman.
Lingas: That which reveals the subtle. There are six lingas that would help in determining the meaning of the Upanishads. These are 1. upakrama upasamharas, 2 abhyaasam, 3. apoorvata, 4. phalam, 5. artha vaadam and 6. upapatti.
Lingasareeram: The subtle body is also called sookshma sareera. This has the earlier tendencies, poorva vasanas. Owing to ajnaana this is the base for jeeva. It stays till moksha is attained. Only when this is gone there is moksha.
Varnadharmas: Deeds to be performed according to the ‘birth’ of individuals.
Vasanas: These are called samskaras also. For flowers etc these occur owing to nearness or contact. Some are inherited by the jeevi. There are three types: loka vasana, shastra vasana and deha vasana. Mukti is to get liberated from these. These stand in the way of acquiring jnaana.
Vijnaanamaya kosham: Intellectual Sheath. This is a sheath that is the reflection of the chaitanya, consciousness, in all the three states of wakefulness, dream and sleep. This is a changeful quality of prakriti.
Vichaara: deep and steady enquiry.
Vishayas: These are the base for the activity of the senses perceptions. Since these go about the vishayas, attractions and sensory objects, these would be a hindrance for self-realization, atma darshana.
Vikshepa shakti: the power that makes the manas go about in many directions. Vairagyam; This is a state of having no desire; a kind of total non-attachment, freedom from sense attractions and enticements.
Shamam: Restraint of manas to keep it steadily on pratyagatma.
Shareeratryam: The three bodies: sthoola sareeram, sookshmasareeram and linga sareeramn.
Shamadi shatkam: the six qualities shamam, damam, uparati, titiksha, shraddha and samaadhanam.
Shuddhastwam: total, complete, pure satwam with the other two gunas being totally absent. Experiencing absolute bliss in contemplating is the absolute reality. The one with this quality enjoys ananda, bliss.
Shraddha: Having total faith in what is taught by the guru as truth. It is only through this that there could be self-realization.
Shravanam: Determining the purport of Vedic pronouncements with requisite investigations like upakramaupasamhaara in the Vedantic tradition.
Shadoormulu: The six oormi-s: hunger and thirst; grief and attraction; birth and death are the six oormi-s.
Shad bhaava vikaaras: the six mutations, changes that a thing undergoes: birth, being, change, growth, decay and death.
Sat:The everlasting, eternal, atman.
Satwa gunam: the most important and valuable among the three gunas. This is the most important for self-realization. From this emerges jnaana, knowingness: knowledge and wisdom.
Samadhanam: Keeping the buddhi steadily in shuddha brahman, that is, pratyagatma. Samadhi: Keeping the manas still and unwavering like an upright flame when there is no wind going beyond the knower and the dhyana.
Samyak jnaanam: The knowingness, jnaana of the truth that brahman and atman are just one and the same and are not at all different.
Swapnavastha: Jeeva being in the sookshma sareera shines. While in the wakeful state, the functions are performed by the senses, while in the dream-state, buddhi alone performs them all gets ‘doership’, kartrutva.
Saadhana chatushthayam: nityanitya vastu vivekam, ihaamutraphalabhogam, shama and the five other qualities in shamaadi shatkam and mumukshatwam. sushupti: deep sleep. This is a state where the senses and the buddhi are all lost to merge in antahkarana. Buddhi is there as a seed.
sthoola sareeram: Bones, marrow, brain, flesh, blood, organ of touch and skin along with feet, thighs, breast bottom, shoulders make this sthoola sareera.
Explanation of terms relating to Atman
Akhandam: the full, without limbs.
Akriyam: with no work
Aksharamdviteeyam: that which has no destruction
Advaitam: non-dualism, monism
Anantam: that which has no end
Anaadyantam: that which is without beginning or end.
Anupaadeyam: which has nothing inside or outside that is worth keeping
Anaashrayam: that which has no foundation or basis
Aniroopyaswaroopyam: that which has shape that cannot be described
Anirvachaneeyam: that which can not be described or defined
Anupaadeyam: that which is not worthy to be grasped
Apratarkyam: that which is beyond imagination
Aprameyam: that which cannot be measured
Avikaaram: that which has no change or mutation of any kind
Asangam: that which has no company and that would not mix with anything
Asat: that which is not to be found all the three loka-s
Aheyam: That which has nothing to be left
Anandaghanam: solid bliss
Yekarasam: that which is bliss alone
Chidghanam: solid consciousness, jnana
Nityam: that which is there at all times
Niranjanam: that which is not laved
Niravadyamyam: flawless, perfect
Nivrvikalpam: without any different thinking
Nirakaram: without shape
Niraakriti: without shape
Niraalambam: without foundation or base
Nirdwayam: with none second
Nirgunam: without gunas like tallness or shortness
Nishkalam:, having a single form or shape with no divisions,
Nishkriyam: with no gesture or action
Prjnaanaghanam: solid jnana
Manovachamagocharam: that which is not seen by manas or speech
Budhham: form of jnaana
Satyam: ever living
Sat samrudhham: full of that which is there in all the three lokas, sat
Sarvatomukham: all pervasive
Sadghanam: solidified sat
Sarvaateetam: transcending all
Sartvaatmakam: that which is all
Sookshmam: that which is not perceived by the senses
Svatahsiddham: formed or emerged naturally
Dr V.V.B. Rama Rao (b.1938) is a retired ELT, English Language teaching, professional with more than sixty books in all genres both in English and Telugu besides hundreds of
essays, articles and book reviews in both the languages. He can be accessed on email@example.com