Verse 1 & 2
Om shrI gurubhyo namaH.
upadesha sAhasrI is a comprehensive text composed by bhagavAn shaMkarA. upadesha means teaching. Generally, this word is taken to mean initiation, an event where the guru initiates the disciple into a mantra. For following the mantra chanting as a discipline, no understanding is required by the disciple. In the context of this text upadesha means vedAntik enquiry using logical reasoning and understanding. A regular, consistent, progressive and systematic teaching is upadesha. This text has two parts - Prose part (gadya bhAga) and metrical part (padya bhAga). We will be taking the metrical part for discussion. sAhasri literally means 1000 but there are around 670 verses in this text covered in 19 chapters and the word 1000 has been used to indicate that there are many verses.
The first chapter is titled upodghAta prakaraNam. upodghAta means introduction and prakaraNam means subject matter.
The first chapter is the introduction chapter which talks about the main theme of the book. It spreads out the scope of the whole text and the benefit of learning the text. Even in our secular education, it is very common to come across introduction to a degree program where the main course of study is laid out apart from the prerequisites, scope and benefits of learning. This chapter serves that very purpose by exploring the theme, range, need and effectiveness of the teaching.
chaitanyam sarvagam sarvam sarvabhUtaguhashayam
yatsarvaviShayAtItam tasmai sarvavide namaH --- (1)
chaitanyam = consciousness; sarvagam = all – pervading; sarvam = all; arvabhUtaguhashayam = resides in the hearts of all beings; yatsarvaviShayAtItam = transcends all objects; tasmai = to that; sarva vide = witness of all ; namaH = prostrations
I bow down to that witness of all, which is pure consciousness, all-pervading, all, resides in the hearts of all beings, transcends all objects.
Usually the first verse of all major texts are verses of salutation. Such verses are called mangala shloka-s. There are three ways in which these opening verses of salutation are written. A) The author gives blessings to humanity in general B) A statement of truth (higher truth) is specified C) Prostrations are offered to the Lord. This introductory verse is of the third kind. The author usually offers prostrations for completion of the text without obstacles.
shrI shaMkara offers his prostrations to the witness of all (sarva vide namaH). Witness (sAkshI) is that principle which illumines everything by its mere presence without any modifications to itself. He goes on to explain the nature of that witness using some more words.
That witness is of the nature of pure consciousness since its nature is in the form of awareness. I know that I know English and I know that I do not know Chinese. This basic knowledge is because of awareness which is nothing but consciousness, the Atma.
This Pure consciousness resides in the heart of all beings. The higher nature within all of us is the Atma which is the Witness of all, also called brahman. This may raise a doubt in the student’s mind that Atma is within the confines of the body. The student might try to objectify Atma. To dismiss this doubt shrI shaMkara uses the words sarvagam (all pervading), sarvam(all), sarvaviShayAtItam(transcending all objects). This Atma which resides in the heart of all beings is all- pervading(sarvagam), not only beyond ones’ body but also beyond every other object in the creation(sarvaviShayAtItam). It cannot be limited by any object. A common analogy to understand this would be the space in a pot. The space is within the pot and also outside of it. The boundaries of the pot do not limit space. This analogy should not be extrapolated to call Atma same as space. It is just an analogy. How is Atma sarvam (all)? It being the material cause it has to be everything. The clay is the material cause of the pot and the whole pot is nothing but clay. To this pure consciousness, I bow.
samApayya kriyAH sarvA dArAgnyAdhAnpUrvikAH
brahmavidyAmathedAnIm vaktum vedaH prachakrame ---(2)
samApayya = after making the person finish; kriyAH = rituals; sarvA = all; dArAgnyAdhAnpUrvikAH = (rituals are) preceded by begetting a wife and kindling the fire; brahmavidyAmathedAnIm vaktum vedaH prachakrame = Now, thereafter, the veda-s begin to teach the knowledge of brahman.
Now, thereafter, the veda-s begin to teach the knowledge of brahman after making the person finish all rituals preceded by begetting a wife and kindling the fire.
An introduction precedes any kind of study whether sacred or secular. Introduction is very important for the student to know what he is studying and what he will achieve by undertaking the study. There are four factors involved in any sacred study technically called anubandha chatuShtayam. anubandha means that which is connected to the teaching as a prelude to the teaching process. The four factors are:
1) adhikAri – person to whom the text is directed
2) viShaya – subject matter
3) prayojanam – benefit that student gains from the study
4)sambandha – Connection between the knowledge gained and benefit enjoyed, how knowledge produces the benefit.
shrI shaMkara is indicating the student who can learn this subject of brahman. He is the one who has attained purity of mind by following the rituals enjoined in the veda. The subject matter is knowledge of brahman and the connection is freedom from ignorance and its consequent effects.
Why did shrI shaMkara use the word atha (thereafter). The word ‘thereafter’ in this context speaks volumes. After diligently following the karma kAnda (the initial part of the veda-s), the seeker has gained all the necessary qualifications required to gain knowledge. What are these qualifications? They are discrimination (viveka), dispassion (vairAgya), calmness (shamAdiShaTkasampatti -, the six fold wealth viz, shama – tranquility of mind, dama – control of sense organs, uparama – doing one’s own duty, titikShA- patience and forbearance; shraddhA – faith, samAdhAnam – focus) and desire for liberation (mumukShutvam). These four qualities are called sAdhana chatuShTayam .
One discriminates between Atma and anAtma and seeks the real. This is called viveka, discrimination. The aspirant learns to live consciously and introspectively. One can attach to the higher only when one dissociates from the lower. The distaste for lower objective pleasures of life is called vairAgya. A calm mind set is technically called shamAdiShaTkasampatti which includes the six fold wealth viz, shama – tranquility of mind, dama – control of sense organs, uparama – doing one’s own duty, titikShA- patience and forbearance; shraddhA – faith, samAdhAnam – focus. The fourth important quality is a burning desire for liberation. A person is said to have mumukShutvam when he is extremely thirsty for this knowledge.
Once the seeker has gained these qualifications his mind pure with an ability to concentrate and understand subtle concepts. The karma portion of the veda-s are necessary to provide one with purity of mind (chitta shuddhi) through karma and concentration of mind (chitta ekAgrata) through upAsana (worship, japa and prayer). At this stage continuing karma is not going to help him. The purpose of karma is to purify the mental equipment and once that objective has been achieved there is no longer any relevance to karma. The logical consequence should be a shift to knowledge since karma cannot give liberation. The veda sanctions a person to quit karma and enter into the portion dealing with knowledge. shrI shaMkara also used the word ‘now’; now, since he has attained the prerequisites he is fit enough to understand the upaniShad-s. The seeker is fit to enter into vedAntik enquiry, this is the import.
There are two ways of pursuing vedAntik enquiry; one is to remain in the householder’s stage and reduce karma and concentrate more on vedAnta. The second option is to become a renunciate, giving up karma totally. Both ways are equally good depending on what situation one is in life
How can one enter the life of rituals in the first place? There are certain conditions for one to be able to follow them. Rituals can be done only after one enters the householder’s stage. Though karma has a broader meaning in the present day context but karma enjoined by the veda is rituals. The first stage is the brahmacharya stage, where one learns the veda-s. If this bramhachAri wants to do rituals he has to enter the householder’s life. He has to beget a wife (dAra). The first qualification for a person to do karma is a wife. The next word in the verse is Agni AdhAna. There is a lot of significance given to fire (agni). A special fire is kindled for the performance of any ritual. This fire is kindled in a special way and even during that process special mantras are chanted. This process is called agni AdhAna. This fire has to be kept alive throughout the life of the householder. Once the person dies, he has to offer his body to this very same fire (someone else does that for him). The same fire with which he lived a householder’s life and performed rituals is used to cremate his body.
shrI shaMkara uses these words dAra and agni AdhAnam because these were the two main prerequisites for one to enter the karma ritual. Thus he enters karma, performs all the enjoined duties and attains purity of mind. After this, now, the veda itself gives him the liberty to fully give up the karma (renunciate) or reduce them (remaining a householder). Thus a person enters the knowledge portion of the veda.
References: Talks by svAmi paramArthAnanda