Hari Om! Namaste!!
This is a Vagartha article that unleashes profound esoteric perspectives by delving deeper into meanings of words and message.
Shri Shankaracharya Bhagavatpadah
Shri Shankara Bhagavatpadah was one of Great Masters of our era, who unequivocally established supremacy of our Vaidika Dharma(Practice of the ) over other prevailing atheistic paradigms. He showed the right path at the right time, when people were almost leaving our sacred Vedic duties, mislead by wrong philosophical theories and left-hand practices.
Before we move on to his mystical teaching, let us pray him with devotion for kind blessing to enlighten the meaning of his sweet Graceful words.
Shriti-Smriti-Puranam alayam karunaalayam |
Namami Bhagavatpadam Shankaram Lokashankaram ||
Meaning: We salute Shri Shankara Bhagavatpadah for his kind Grace. He is compassionate. He is the abode to Scriptures Vedas, Smritis and Puranas. He did auspicious tasks for the good of the Universe.
Contributions of Shri Shankara Bhagavatpadah
There are several. We are unable to discuss them comprehensively. Shri Shankara Bhagavatpadah’s most famous contributions are his commentaries on ten principal Upanishads, Bhagavdgita and Brahma Sutras. By these elaborate writings, he provided the clear guidance to those who are on the path of the Highest Knowledge.
He also composed several prayers addressed to many deities including Soundarya Lahari, which is one of the most popular and powerful hymns on Shridevi. He summarized his teachings in various stotras(verses) like Charpata panjaraika, Dwadasha Panjarika, Upadesha Panchakam and so on.
Upadesha Panchakam (Five Verses of Secret Teaching)
Upadesha Panchakam (also referred to as Sadhana Panchakam) consists of five verses. It is a nectar of teaching and command to his disciples. Are you still reading? 🙂 OK. By now, many of us are wondering:
What is the mystical teaching of Shri Bhagavatpadah?
It is a portion of the first verse of Shri Bhagavatpadah’s composition on his teachings, Upadesha Panchakam. It goes like this:
Vedo nityam adheeyatam taduditam karma swanushteeyatam | – Upadesha Panchakam 1
Regular Meaning: Study the Vedas daily. Perform duties ordained by them diligently. Shri Bhagavatpadah commands us to study the Vedas and to do everything in accordance with them. What a great statement for our Great Master!
Looks like very simple, right? It is not so. 🙂 Read further to discover more and convince yourself!
To appreciate the verse fully, we need to know a little bit about our holy Vedas. So, let us have a brief discussion on that next.
The Vedas: Sound Form of the Ultimate Reality
As we know, the Vedas are not written. So, they are called Apaurusheya, meaning not authored by human beings. They were experienced and heard by our Rishis (Great Sages) in deep meditation. This why they are also called Shrutis(that which are heard). They contain mantras which are the sound form of the Absolute.
The Vedas consist of four major portions: Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishat. First two parts are collectively called Karma Kanda(branch of rituals/work). They deal with the mantras and rituals. They are related to Karma Yoga.
Last two parts of the Vedas are together called Jnana Kanda(branch of Knowledge). They deal with inner meanings of Vedic rituals and also the Highest Knowledge. They form the fundamentals of Jnana Yoga.
Deeper Meanings and Insights
After understanding these basics, we are fully equipped now to grasp esoteric meanings of this mystical statement of our revered Great Master Shri Shankara Bhagavatpadah.
When Great Masters(Gurus) say anything, they choose the words very strategically to imply several shades of deeper interpretations. As a Great Kashmiri Shaivate Master Shri Abhinavagupta Padah puts it:
Vande vichitrarthapadam chitram taam Gurubharateem |
Meaning: I salute the beautiful speech of the Guru(Master), which contain words to provide wonderful and mystical meanings!
What a great saying! Every word of Guru’s speech is packed with power and extraordinary meaning. Their words are seeds from which a big Banyan tree with branches of different meanings can potentially be grown.
Although, the branches of Banyan tree are different, they still contribute to make a big tree! In the context of speech of Great Masters, many a times, different shades of meanings contribute to strengthen the big picture, i.e. overall meaning. We can easily understand this interesting phenomenon clearly as we go along.
But, for this to happen, we need to pray the Masters to bestow their kind Grace to flash those mystical meanings in our intellect. In this article, we will try to unearth different insights by the Grace of Shri Bhagavatpadah himself. We need not necessarily be very grammatical in the arrangement of words or form of words(vibhakti, pratyayas etc.). So, purists may please excuse us.
OK. Come along! Let us take a holy dip in the enchanting pond of sacred knowledge! 🙂
- Vedo nityam : The Vedas are eternal. As we discussed above, the Vedas are a form of the Universal Self and are timeless. Here meaning of word nityam is eternal.
- Vedo nityam tat; Also, tat nityam, Vedah: The Vedas are same as that. What is that? In Upanishads, the word Tat (that) refers to the supreme Brahman(a.k.a God, Universal Self). Our Master tells us with authority that the Vedas are nothing but God! Period.
- Vedo nityam adheeyatam: Study the Vedas daily. Here nityam means daily. Since the Vedas consist of mantras, which are the sound form of the Absolute, we need to chant*/study them everyday. This is a form of worship/meditation to merge with the Universal Self. Kimartham? (Why?)
- Vedo nityam adheeyatam, Tat uditam: Study the Vedas daily,(then) Individual Self rises. How do we get this meaning? The Taittiriya Upanishat says: Tat twam asi, i.e. you(Individual Self) are nothing but the Universal Self.
Why should we rise ourselves? We are same as God. We are nothing but the Universal Self, caged in a body with limited powers due to ignorance and past karmas. We need to rise and merge with God to become God. This is the single most important purpose of yoga and human life. The message is loud and clear: arise from the sleep of ignorance, study the Vedas to rise yourself to God! We need to consider the meaning of uditam as rise. Compare: udita = risen; udaya = rise; sooryodaya = Sun rise etc.
- Vedo nityam adheeyatam, (tada) Tat uditam (bhavati), (tasmin twam) swanushteeyatam: Study the Vedas everyday. (Then,) That Highest Knowledge arises(in you). Establish yourself properly (in That) i.e. Universal Self.
In this shade of meaning, Tat means the Highest Knowledge and the Universal Self. Here swanushteeyatam means establishing properly in one thing. This interpretation clearly outlines the path of knowledge(Jnana Yoga).
Sanskrit word swanustana (root: su + anu + stha ) means establishing oneself properly following certain rules. In this case, those rules are prescribed in the Vedas. The prefix su to means properly. The master strategically uses this prefix to advise us to establish in the Self properly and also to follow the Vedas properly. The prefix anu means to follow. It is used by the Master to command us to follow the Vedas. stha means to establish oneself.
- Vedo nityam adheeyatam, tat uditam (syat): Study the Vedas daily. That knowledge will arise(automatically within you!). What happens if you study the Vedas? The knowledge of that i.e. the Universal Self arises within you on its own. In other words, study and contemplation of the Vedas bestows us the Highest Knowledge by completely erasing our ignorance.
So, we need to study the Vedas daily. This phrase inspires us to take up Jnana Yoga to merge with the Universal Self. It also refers to Jnana Kanda, i.e. last two portions of the Vedas, viz. Aranyaka and Upanishat, which deal with the Highest Knowledge.
- Tat uditam karma swanushteeyatam: Do the work properly as prescribed by the Vedas. Here the word Tat refers to the Vedas. Contextual meaning of the word uditam is ordained or prescribed. Shri Bhagavatpada commands us to follow Karma Yoga without attaching ourselves to the fruits of the work.
The word swanushteeyatam means doing properly. So, the properly indicates doing the work by following the desire-less Karma Yoga path, i.e. doing the work without attaching ourselves to the results of the work. This phrase of the great teaching of our Master refers to Karma Kanda portion of the Vedas(viz. Samhita and Brahmana).
- Vedo nityam adheeyatam, taduditam karma swanushteeyatam | : Study the Vedas to get the Highest Knowledge to rise yourself and merge with the Universal Self. Also, do the work or rituals as dictated by the Vedas.
From discussion #6 and #7 above, it is evident that our Great Master refers to all four portions, i.e. Jnana Kanda and Karma Kanda of the Vedas. The esoteric message here is that knowing the Vedas is not enough. But, practicing our duties as prescribed by the Vedas is also equally important. Conversely, we need to practice the duties prescribed by the Vedas to purify ourselves first. Then we are ready to move ahead to achieve the real goal of traditional yoga, i.e. to access the Highest Knowledge to merge with the Universal Self.
There are two major paths of yoga, i.e. Jnana Yoga(path of knowledge) and Karma Yoga(path of work/duty). One is for ascetics(sanyasis) and the other for the householders(grihasthas) respectively. So, the entire statement suggests us to integrate both the paths which deal with knowledge and duty to merge with the Universal Self. It also commands that both ascetics and householders must follow the Vedas diligently.
OK. It had been a very long discussion on a simple but profound teaching of our Great Master Shri Shankaracharya Bhagavatpadah. Let us walk the path commanded by the this Great Master with his kind guidance!
* Note: Traditionally, chanting of the Vedas is not for everybody. There are certain restrictions. This is to maintain original phonetics, intonation and rhythm intact. If you are interested, you need to approach an adept Master to check your eligibility first.
However, understanding the teachings of the Vedas by reading the commentaries, translations etc. is recommended for everybody, except chanting. We will not be entertaining any further question or discussion on this.
Om Namah Shivaya ||