'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta.
We are now studying Aatmabodha. As always, with each week, you are encouraged to review the previous teachings and spend some time in contemplation of the meanings as the affect your life. Please do consider purchasing the text.
The next text to be studied is AATMABODHA (आत्मबोध), the investigation and journey towards understanding of the truth our being. Each and every Sanskrit text could be introduced this way, to be fair; however, remember that these prakarana grantha (beginners' texts) written by Adi Shankara have a very logical process behind them. Whilst it may seem that the same things are being said over again, with each text the level - or depth - increases. The lift of the intellect and spirit happens so gradually with this schema, that one can come to the very highest and most comprehensive texts with as little pain as possible and one is inclined to think it has all been heard before!
Certainly, if even an average education is behind one, it is possible to dive into the likes of Vivekachoodamani, Bhagavad Gita and even Kaivalya or Prashnopanishad and gain some insights; however there is a risk. Just as anyone indeed can get behind a vehicle's steering wheel and find the on switch and even work the gears (or rely on the auto!)… it does not mean that one has a full understanding of the effect of driving that vehicle out in traffic. There are established rules and behaviours and without proper, professional training then testing and licensing, there is danger lurking with every inch you travel. Even after all the official stuff, you may believe you are the best driver in the world, but risk remains unless you are fully focused on the road and the task of driving. Similarly, with advanced philosophical study, if appropriate learning has not taken place to fill in the details, it is possible to make assumptions about what is read which may lead to a fall in spiritual travel, or lead one down a path which, albeit intellectually interesting, does not take one to the intended goal. Scenic routes are fun but time-wasting and fraught with even further distractions!
If we have decided that we want to raise ourselves morally and spiritually, then we need to minimise the side tours. Society can challenge us and often, (no blame attached, everyone is doing it), we too rely on external methods of coping; movies to watch, unhealthy foods to stuff our feelings down with, alcohol or drugs to numb the agonies - only to discover that these things ultimately do not satisfy or pacify and we get sucked into seeking more and more.
It takes strength of character (or perhaps a reaching of 'rock bottom' which prompts the call for something else) to turn one's mind towards analysis of life, hard as truth can be; to analyse scientifically, to observe keenly, how the world of objects and the inner instruments of experience in us are related. We find that the upanishads have the tools and formulae to assist us in this endeavour. Vedanta is the science of life and explains the art of living. It tells us the goal, the destination of life, as well as providing the wherewithal for us to embark on the path to reach that goal. However, access to the various writings can be daunting for those starting out. Not only is the language 'high', but so are the concepts. If you tell a jungle person who has never seen an aeroplane that Man can fly, he may be fascinated and get ideas to try it himself, but without all the knowledge and understanding that you, the modern urban dweller have, there is risk to life and limb. Then comes the next thing of asking you for help to build a flying machine. You the urban dweller now realise that as much as you know, you don't have the specifics or skills to do this either! You might manage to put a glider together, but true, powered flight is beyond you and you would need to study further in order to achieve that particular goal.
Knowledge can be gained, but it must be gained in an orderly and logical fashion. For this reason Sri Adi Shankara understood that to reach as many people as possible with the magnificence of Vedanta, he need to lead them more gently into the texts through some introductory writings of his own. The shaastras - the technical manuals of the science - are fine for those who already know the terminology and basic formulae, but for those who need to gather that basic information first, we have the likes of TattvabodhaH and now Aatmabodha. Whilst they are not scriptures (shaastras) in and of their own right, they are read as such, being written in similar language albeit much more simply. Nothing in the prakarana grantha is 'original'; rather, they take down some essential points of the shaastras and provide introduction and instruction on how to read these things and what to look for in them. With TattvabodhaH we had a lot of technical terms covered. This continues in Aatmabodha, but a deeper look at the concepts of Vedanta is now undertaken; expanding on earlier mentions. Think of it in terms of a child's first having to learn the letters of the alphabet before forming words - and only when words are fully understood can they be intelligently formed into sentences… Even if we have, till now, been 'following religion', it is possible that we have not been satisfied by it. This may in part be due to having used that religious visitation as simply another form of distraction from doing the hard work of truly looking at ourself. It may be that we have never thought that we could look into the texts ourselves, leaving it all to the the monks and philosophers. Vedanta demands that we 'get real' about who we are as the jiva we currently identify as, and then press on to understand the Aatman we truly are. It demands that each individual do this for themselves - with the guidance of the aachaarya - for the journey to 'God'/Self is a solitary one. Aatmaabodah takes us one more step of that particular journey.