Adventures in Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy and science of spirit. We are one you and I; are you curious why?..


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Saadhana Panchakam - 1

Hari OM

'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta


FIVE VERSES ON SPIRITUAL PRACTICE. Written by Sri Adi Shankaraachaarya, this small 'hymn' of instruction is packed full of pointers to enhance ourselves in pursuit of knowledge.

Forty simple instructions, to be precise.  Each  श्लोक /shloka (verse) is broken into eight separate points.  We shall take our time over this.  It is a foundational text.  Last week when the basic texts were given, one 'set' which was not mentioned is the   प्रकरण  ग्रन्थ /prakarana grantha; pra - first, before or early; karana - actions, doings; grantha - text.  Bhashya-kaara wrote many such texts in order that the benefits of advaita could reach a greater audience.  Just as in any subject you care to name, there must be foundations laid for improved understanding, correcting misconception, setting a framework of discipline and tuning the thinking process.

In some respects the Saadhana Panchakam (SP), could also be considered an advanced text.  By listing the forty सोपान  /sopaana (steps), the aachaarya is assuming certain understanding is already in place; ie, that of what is the purpose of life.  In Sanskrit tradition this has always been, and remains, very clear.  Once born, we must go through the four stages of life;  ब्रह्मचार्य /brahmachaarya (childhood),  गृहस्त /grhasta (householder),  वान प्रस्थ /vaana prastha (retirement),  संयास /sanyaasa (withdrawal). [We shall be looking at these in detail on Choose-days.] Following this path, spiritual adherence is built into each area of life as the ultimate purpose is to traverse संसार/samsaara (ocean of life) in the best manner we can with a view to gaining liberation from the endless cycle of rebirth. Even if you do not subscribe to the idea of more than one life, the study of spiritual philosophy and the application of at least some of the principles can only be of  benefit. 

In the study group situation, SP is often used as a first approach text even for those entirely new to vedanta. This is because it is uncompromising.  It is clear. It is practical.  Similar things will be found in all paths of knowledge. Furthermore, (one of the great joys of vedantic study), the steps can be applied within your own familiar backgrounds...especially shloka one of SP.

Over the next few weeks we shall make this text our study.  At the beginning of each shloka, the whole stanza will be given. You are encouraged to listen to the audio and make attempts to emulate the chanting. This is mainly to get the mind working in something of the Sanskrit, that it becomes more comfortable. Following this, each  पाद /paada (sentence) within the shloka will be analysed. Please do not simply read; take notes, raise questions, ponder further!

वेदो नित्यमधीयतां तदुदितं कर्म स्वनुष्ठियतां
तेनेशस्य विधीयतां-अपचितिः काम्ये मतिस्त्यज्यतां।
पापौघः परिधूयतां भवसुखे दोषोऽनुसंधीयतां
आत्मेच्छा व्य्व्सीयतां निजगृहात्तुर्ण्ं विनिर्गम्यताम्॥

vedo nityamadhIyatAM taduditaM karma svanuSThiyatAM
teneshasya vidhIyatAM-apacitiH kAmye matistyajyatAM.
pApaughaH paridhUyatAM bhavasukhe doSo.anusaMdhIyatAM
aatmecChaa vyvsIyatAM nijagR^ihAtturNM vinirgamyatAm..

Study the Vedas daily
Perform duties and actions given by them (scriptures) diligently
Dedicate all action as worship unto Lord
Renounce all desires in the mind
Wash away the hoards of sins in the bosom
Recognise that the pleasure of sense-objects are riddled with pain
Seek the self with consistent endeavour
Escape from the bondage of 'home'.

Today we shall take up the first of these only.  It is something which is familiar. In every form of learning, not least that of how best to live life, we have to take advice from those who went before.  This may take the form of instruction from our elders.  More than this though, is the philosophy provided in our scriptures.  Whatever your chosen scripture is.

Often-times, we run from this.  Somewhere inside we have found scripture to be harsh, forced upon us, used as a weapon rather than a guide.  There are some of us who reject scriptures simply because we are seeking to reject the institution which has brought them to us; there are others who have a love for spiritual pursuit but for some reason are dissatisfied, believing there is something more than is being presented.  The need of spirit remains among many, even when they reject the idea of religion…. They reach for the 'new age' and 'self-help' books and oracles of all kinds.  There is nothing in 'new age' which does not come from the ancient wisdoms; there is nothing self-help which benefits other than that which properly helps us understand Self. (You will have noted, it is hoped, that capitalised Self is used when the greater soul is being addressed and not the small 's' of the ego-self.)

In context of SP, then, the scriptures are the Vedas and in the deeper context of advaita, the Upanishads.  To read and reflect fully, taking in the so ancient yet surprisingly modern ideas we find there, is to bring sparks of inspiration and/or solace to our hearts.  Truly, the more we read of the shruti and smriti, it is amazing how the very nature of mankind is portrayed before us; all these centuries and we are constantly relearning the truth of us! To become absorbed in the reading is not only edifying for the intellect, it stays with us.  We can continue to ponder throughout our daily life and the teachings can become our armour against the vicissitudes of life.

Those of you who are musicians know, not to practice daily tends to bring rust to our performance.  Housewives know, work not done immediately becomes large and daunting; the more it is left the worse the task becomes and the more we turn our back on it. The school student pays a price for only seeking to be out with friends when the assignment is to be done.

As for any of these, to read scriptures on a daily basis, especially when new at it, can seem like a chore. The more it is practiced however, the easier it becomes and, indeed, we find a gap, an emptiness, when for any reason it is missed. 

It does not have to be a long passage.  It can be only one verse.  What is important is that it is thought about at more than word-glance level.  There will be the 'upfront' meaning; then the meaning contained in each word; there can be the pertinence to our lives to be assessed; there can be comparison.  What to choose?  Where to begin? You can make a commitment right here and now! Take up a scripture of your own choosing.  Look one up online if you wish.  Flick the pages (or scroll screen) until you find that there is a natural pause.  Your eye will fall on a part of the passage before you. Do not question why, for now, simply read one verse, or a few, but not more than a dozen.  Ponder what you have read.  At this stage, consider only these two things; 1) did the reading have any particular significance for you and 2) what was the key message you got from the reading?

Seek to do this each day; allot a period of time dedicated to this, either early morning or in the evening before eating, say. Regular time aids regular behaviour.

First of Navratri

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Hari OM
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