Have you ever wished that the entire Advaita Vedanta teachings were summarised in a very short traditional text, say eight verses long? Well here are eight verses of a work called ‘Guru Stuti’ or ‘Praise to the Guru’ written by Adi Shankara about 1400 years ago, and translated into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi. If you read it carefully you will find the essence of the entire teaching is briefly given.
Here the Tamil verses and English translation of these are presented. My commentary is in italiscised red – I have tried to keep my commentary brief and I hope it does not intrude on the beauty and terse nature of the text, enjoy!
Written by Sri Shankara, translated into Tamil By Sri Ramana Maharshi
Introduction written by Sri Ramana Maharshi
When Sankaracharya was going about the country debating with the exponents of the various schools of thought and overcoming them he once came to the town of Mahishmati in the north where Mandana Mishra the exponent of Vedic rituals lived. He overcame him in debate but his wife refused to concede victory until she was also defeated. So, Sankarachaiya argued with her and defeated her in all subjects except erotics. He then asked for a respite of one month and after shedding his body in a cave under the custody of his disciples, entered into the dead body of King Amaruka and sported among the hundred queens in the guise of their husband. When the disciples found that the period specified by their Guru had already expired they grew anxious. So some of them went to him in the disguise of minstrels and sang the following hymn to remind him.
1. Nēti-nēti yādi vākkā niḍē-dittu mūrttā p;ūrttam
Ēdumē taḷḷar killā edaissuva svarūpa māga
Vōdaruñ sādu vānōr uḷḷattil koḷḷu vārgaḷ
Ādimei aṛivā nanda avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān
1. That is the Truth which the wise realize as the Self, the residuum left over on withdrawing from external objects, with or without form (ether, air, fire, water and earth), by a careful application of the scriptural injunction ‘not this, not this’ — Thou art That!
Tom: The truth, which is your very own Self, your own True Nature, is realised by those who withdraw their attention from all external objects. How to withdraw one’s attention? Through applying the teaching of ‘neti-neti’. What remains is the Self, devoid of objects and duality and suffering – You are That!
‘With or without form’ I think refers to the need to withdraw attention from both gross objects (with form, eg. tables, chairs, experiences) and subtle objects (without form, eg. thoughts, feelings, imaginings, etc), or alternatively it could mean to withdraw from all objects perceived (with form) or imaginary (without form).
2. Uttiyāṅ kutti-nālē umiye num aindu kōsam
Buddhi-yāṛ pirittup pinnarp porundi-ḍum arisi pōlum
Ettinai sattukkaḷ kaṇḍu idayattil anuba vippar
Astamil nitta siddha avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān
2. That is the Truth which, after generating the fundamentals (ether, air, fire, water and earth), and entering the world, lies hidden beneath the five sheaths, and which has been threshed out by the wise with the pestle of discernment, just as the grain is recovered by threshing and winnowing the chaff — Thou art That!
Tom: The Truth, or the Self or Brahman, generates or creates the five elements (the ‘fundamentals’), and pervades its own creation whilst simultaneously underlying the creation as the substratum. The wise, with discrimination (viveka) discover the Self, the substratum, by separating it from and discarding the five sheaths that constitute the body-mind-ignorance ‘covering’.
In the preceding verse it is said one’s attention is turned away from objects by ‘neti-neti’, whereas here it is said that it is with discernment or discrimination. We should therefore see that ‘neti-neti’ and discrimination go together.
3. Poṛi-gaḷām parigaḷ tammaip pulan-gaḷil viḷaṅgun dōsha
Aṛivenuṅ kasai yaḍittē ahamugak kayiṭṭṛāl īrttav
Aṛivaṛi aṛijñar ettil aṇaitton-ḍṛāyp piṇit tiruppar
Aṛiporuṭ katīta māna avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān
3. Just as wild horses are broken-in by whipping and stabling them, so also the unruly senses, straying among objects, are lashed by the whip of discrimination, showing that objects are unreal, and are tethered by the rope of pure intellect to the Self by the wise. Such is the Truth — Thou art That!
Tom: All objects, gross and subtle, are illusory, unreal! Do not attend to them! The intellect should hear this teaching and, using discrimination (viveka), transcend itself and unceasingly realise itself as Self by tethering the senses to the Self, ie placing ones attention onto the Self – you are That!
4. Pūkkaḷi ninḍṛu vēṛāyp porun-diḍuñ sūtti rampōḷ
Jākki-ra mādi yāna sar-vattum vēṛa dāna
Sāk„hiyā nōkki yādais sattukkaḷ agatta ṇaivar
Ākkamu nīkka millā avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān
4. The Truth has been ascertained by the wise to be the substratum which is different from the waking, dream and deep sleep states, and from its own expanded modes, which indeed are held together by it like the flowers strung together on a garland — Thou art That!
Tom: you are That – you are the Substratum-Subject-Self that is devoid of objects and thoughts, that is without the three states of waking, dreaming and deep dreamless sleep! You are different to these superimpositions!
5. Kaṭaka maku-ḍādi yāvuṅ kana-kamē yāgumā pōḷ
Jaḍa chittā mulagam yavuñ chaṭṭṛumē binna minḍṛi
Suḍarumav vaḍivā yenḍṛu choṭṭṛi-ḍum vēdam yadai
Aḍinaḍu muḍi villāda avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān
5. That is the Truth which the scriptures show to be the primal cause of all, elucidating the point clearly by such texts as ‘Purusha is all this’ and ‘like gold in ornaments of gold’ — Thou art That!
Tom: Purusha here means Self. You are That Self. This verse indicates that the Self is the primal cause of all manifestation, and that the quoted verses are to support this idea.
6. Inanilit tanuvil yānā ilaṅgu-van ēkanȾ yenḍṛu
Anisa-mum vēda vādi āyinōr muyaṛchi yōḍum
Inimai-yāi eḍuttu raippar ettat-tuvattai nanḍṛāi
Anartta-mil edārtta māna avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān
6. The Truth has been forcefully proclaimed by the scriptures in such texts as ‘He who is in the sun, is in man.’ ‘He who shines in the sun, shines in the right eye’ — Thou art That!
Tom: The Self, which is the nature of Self Knowledge, is all pervading
7. Arumaṛai vākki nālē ahatti-niṛ shraddai yōḍum
Arun-tavam yāgan dānam ādinal aṛaṅga ḷālē
Arumaṛai yavargaḷ ettai aṛin-diḍa avāvu ginḍṛār
Arumaṛaip poruḷāi ninḍra avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān
7. What pure brahmins seek so eagerly by the recitation of the Vedas, by religious gifts, by earnest application of their hard- earned knowledge and by renunciation, is the Truth — Thou art That!
Tom: the Self is coveted by many. It is attained by those who are pure, through renunciation, and by Knowledge – you are that Self!
8. Sānti muda lāna vuṭṭṛu santa-tan tannāṛ ṭannil
Āynde-dai aṛijñar kaṇḍav aṛivinba meyyā enḍṛu
Mīndela muḍittoḷir-var migu bavak kēda nīttē
Āzhndaṛi tatva māna avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān
8. That is the Truth which the valiant have gained by seeking, with controlled mind, with abstinence, penance, etc, and by diving into the Self. Realizing it, they are considered to be heroes with their highest purpose accomplished. That is the transcendental Sat-Chit-Ananda after gaining which there is nothing more to worry about since perfect peace reigns — Thou art That!
Tom: the valliant, meaning those who bravely turn inwards, away from gross and subtle objects, and undertake Self-Enquiry, those whose minds have become peaceful and quiet, those who Dive Inwards – they realise the Self, which is the Truth. They are the True Heroes, as compared to what society considers to be wordly heroic deeds. Once this inward path has been undertaken, and the Self is Realised, that is the end of the path – there is no more to be done! What had needed to be done has been done! That is realisation. That is liberation. That is the end of suffering. That is perfect eternal Peace. You are That!
Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Outro
On hearing these verses the Acharya bade his disciples go away and promptly came out of the body of the King and re-entered his own. He then went to the wife of Mandana Misra and, after defeating her, made her and her husband his followers. Thereafter he went on his way enlightening the whole world.
Om Tat Sat