Each 'Choose-day' we will investigate the process by which we can reassess our activity and interaction with the world of plurality and become more congruent within our personality.
Among the smaller works of Shri Shankaracharya is the Prashnottari, a series of short questions and answers helpful to aspirants on the path of self-realisation. It may have been a satsang which was recorded faithfully by a disciple, or it may have been Shankar-ji's compilation from the sort of questions which get asked over and over by people who might be looking for the 'quick fix' - and finding that the answers remain consistent with the wider teachings and that there is no escaping the basics! When we choose to start taking control of our own lives, we also have to accept that it requires effort. Here follows a loose translation; the Guru's responses are in italics. They are typical of a mahatma's answers and can seem curt; but the sincere questioner will then take the response and meditate upon it, for no word is wasted by a Guru, every syllable holds meaning. Therefore, no explanation is going to be added to these stanzas. It is being left to you, who have been reading regularly here, to cogitate upon the deeper essence. The answers are not, of themselves, necessarily obscure - but the repercussions of absorbing and making choices according to understanding of them can be large indeed.
प्रष्णोत्तरि /prashnottari - question-answer.
1. O compassionate Guru, kindly tell me this. What refuge is there for me who am being drowned in the midst of the boundless sea of worldly life?
The long boat in the form of the lotus feet of the Lord of the Universe.
2. Who, Indeed is bound? He, who is attached to objects of sense.
What is complete liberation? Dispassion towards objects of sense.
Which is the terrible hell? One's own body.
Which is the heavenly state? Cessation of desire.
3. What ends the cycle of births and deaths? Self-realisation, born of a study of the Vedas.
What is the cause of liberation? The same as just stated.
Which is the one door of hell? Lust.
What leads to heaven? Non-violence to living beings.
4. Who sleeps happily? He who is absorbed in Samadhi.
Who is awake? He who discriminates between truth and untruth.
Who are the enemies? One's own senses, which, however, when conquered, themselves become friends.
Who is rich? He who is quite satisfied.
Who is alive yet dead? He who is not industrious.
What can be immortality? Desirelessness which gives happiness.
6. Which are the fetters? The feeling of "I" and "mine".
What intoxicates like wine? Lust.
Who is stark blind? He who is affected by Cupid.
What is death? One's own ill fame.
7. Who is a Guru? He who gives salutary advice.
Who is a disciple? One who is devoted to the Guru.
What is chronic illness? The cycle of births and deaths, O good man.
What is the remedy for it? Reflection alone.
8. Which ornament is the best of ornaments? Character.
Which is the most holy water? One's own mind well purified.
What should here be given up? Gold and Lust.
What should always be heard? The words of the Guru and the Vedas.
9. What are the means of attaining to the Eternal? Company of saints, gifts, reflection and contentment.
Who are the saints? Those who are free from all desire, whose delusion is gone and who are firmly rooted in the reality of Shiva.
10. What indeed is the fever of living beings? Anxiety.
Who is a fool? He who has no discrimination.
Which is the pleasant duty? Devotion to Shiva and Vishnu.
What is life? That which is quite free from blemish.
11. What indeed is knowledge? That which enables one to attain the state of the eternal.
What is true wisdom? That which is the cause of complete liberation.
What is the profit? That alone which is Self-knowledge.
By whom is the world conquered? By him, indeed, who has conquered his mind.
12. Who is the bravest of the brave? He who is not afflicted by the arrows of cupid.
Who is intelligent, resolute and balanced? He who is not deluded by the glances of the other sex.
13. Who is more poisonous than poison? All objects of sense.
Who is always unhappy? He who is attached to the objects of the sense.
Who is blessed? He who does good to others.
Who is worthy of worship? He who is firmly rooted in the reality of Shiva.
14. What, under all circumstances, should a learned man not do with effort? Attachment and sinful action.
And what should he do? Study and practice of Dharma.
What is the root cause of mundane life? Anxiety.
15. Who is the wisest among the wise? He who is not deceived by the other sex.
Which indeed is the chain (that binds) living beings? Lust..
Which is the divine vow? Complete humility.
16. What is very difficult for all to give up? Evil desire.
Who is a beast? One who is without learning.
17. With whom should one neither live nor associate? Fools, the mean, the cruel and the sinners.
What ought to be done quickly by a person desirous of final liberation? Association with saints, selflessness and devotion to the Lord.
18. Which is the root of littleness? Begging.
Which is the root of greatness? Absence of begging.
Who indeed is born? He who has no re-birth.
And, who is dead? He who has no death again.
19. Who is dumb? He who is not able to say the right word at the right time.
Who is deaf ? He who does not listen to right and salutary advice.
20. What is the one reality? Shiva, the one without a second.
What is the best of all? Best conduct.
Which pleasure ought to be given up? Sexual pleasure.
Which is the best gift? Freedom from fear ever.
21. Who is the most formidable of enemies? Lust, with anger, untruth, greed and desire.
Who is not satisfied with the enjoyment of the objects of sense? That lust itself.
What is the origin of sorrow? The feeling of "mine".
What is true action? Ever doing good to beings.
Which act does not cause repentance? The worship of Shiva and Krishna.
23. Whose annihilation leads to liberation? The mind's.
Wherein is no fear at all? In final liberation.
Which is the most poignant dart? One's folly itself.
Who should be worshipped? Guru, God and the aged.
24. What should be done quickly by the intelligent man with effort when the god of death has approached him to take away his vital breath? Contemplation, with speech, body and mind, of the lotus feet of Shri Krishna Who is the Giver of happiness and Slayer of Death.
25. Who are the thieves? The seeds of evil desire.
Who shines in an assembly? He who is very learned.
Who gives happiness like the mother? Right knowledge.
What increases by giving? Right knowledge.
26. Whence, indeed, should fear be entertained? From people's blame and the forest of worldy life.
Who is a very dear brother? One who helps in adversity.
And who is a father? One who gives all protection.
27. By knowing what, does nothing remain to be known? The grace of Shiva, which is blissful wisdom.
By knowing what is the world known? The Eternal which pervades all and is all.
28. What is difficult to obtain in the World? The Sadguru, association with saints, enquiry into the Eternal, sacrifice of everything and Self-realisation.
Who is difficult for all to conquer? Cupid.
29. Who is the most beastly of beasts? He, who having made an intensive study of the Shastras, does not practise Dharma and has no self-knowledge.
30. What is fleeting like lightning? Wealth, youth and life.
Which is the best gift of all? That which is given to a worthy recipient.
What should not be done even when the vital breath chokes the throat? Sinful action.
And what should be done? The worship of Shiva.
31. What should one think of intensely day and night? The unreality of worldly life and the reality of the blissful Supreme Spirit.
What is action? That which pleases Shri Krishna.
Wherein should confidence never be placed? In the sea of mundane life.
32. May this garland of gems, by the name Prashnottara, when worn about the throat or the ears, presently increase the charming bliss of the learned, even like the stories of Vishnu and Shiva !