S N Sastri, Tuesday, February 15, 2011 4:16 am

hastAmalakIyaM (1 of 3)

hastAmalakIyaM of hastAmalaka, disciple of shrI shaMkara bhagavatpAda (Essence of vedAnta in twelve verses)


According to tradition, shrI shaMkarAcArya had four disciples, one of whom was named hastAmalaka. This was not his original name, but was given to him by the AcArya. How he became a disciple of shrI shaMkara is described beautifully in the work entitled ‘shaMkara-digvijaya’ by svAmI vidyAraNya. It is said therein that during his stay at the famous temple at mUkAmbikA the AcArya happened to visit a nearby village named shrIbali. In that village there was a brAhmaNa by name prabhAkara who was noted for his learning and the regular performance of the rites enjoined by the veda-s. Though he was quite wealthy and was respected by all, he was not happy because his only son was dumb and behaved like a congenital idiot. On hearing that the great AcArya had come to his village, he decided to take his son to the AcArya in the hope that the latter’s blessing would cure his child and make him a normal, intelligent boy. He went to the AcArya and prostrated before him and asked his son to do the same. The boy prostrated, but did not get up for quite a long time. The AcArya, in his unbounded compassion, lifted up the boy. The father then told the AcArya, O Sir, this boy is now seven years old, but his mind is totally undeveloped. He has not learnt even the alphabets, not to speak of the veda-s. Boys of his age come and call him to join them in play, but he does not respond. If they beat him he remains unaffected. Sometimes he takes some food, but sometimes he does not eat at all. I have completely failed in my efforts to teach him. When the father had said this, the AcArya asked the boy Who are you? Why are you behaving in this strange manner, as if you are an inert thing?

To this the boy replied, I am certainly not an inert thing. Even an inert thing becomes sentient in my presence. I am of the nature of infinite Bliss, free from the six waves (hunger, thirst, grief, delusion, old age and death) and the six stages (birth, existence, growth, change, decay and destruction). The boy then expounded the gist of all the upaniShad-s in twelve verses, which became famous under the name ‘hastAmalakIyam‘. As the knowledge of the Atman was as clear to him as an Amalaka fruit (Indian gooseberry) in one’s palm, the name ‘hastAmalaka’ was given to him. The AcArya then told the father of the boy This apparently dumb son of yours knows the truth of the Atman by virtue of his practices in past lives. He is totally free from all attachment and any sense of I-ness with regard to the body. Let this boy come with me. So saying, the AcArya took the boy along with him as his disciple.

Subsequently, while explaining to his other disciples how this boy had attained Self-knowledge even at this very young age, shrI shaMkara says, One day, when he was a two-year old child, his mother had taken him along with her when she went to the river for her bath. She left the child on the bank under the care of a j~nAnI who happened to be sitting there. The child accidentally fell into the water when the j~nAnI was in deep meditation. When the mother came back after her bath she was shocked to find that the child was dead and she began to cry. Moved by pity for her the j~nAnI, by virtue of his yogic power, entered the body of the child, casting off his own mortal coil. The child thus became a realized soul.   

Tradition holds that shrI shaMkara was so impressed by the profundity of these twelve verses that he himself wrote an elaborate commentary on them. In this commentary shrI shaMkara refers to hastAmalaka, his own disciple, as the ‘AcArya’. This is testimony, not only to the great merit of hastAmalaka’s verses, but also to the magnanimity of the guru, shrI shaMkara. The explanation of these twelve verses, given in the following paragraphs, is based on shri shaMkara’s commentary.




shrI shaMkara , at the commencement of his commentary on hastAmalakIyam, says that the desire of every living being on this earth is to enjoy happiness all the time and to be always free from sorrow. The activities of all creatures are directed towards achieving these two objectives. But a rare human being, who has accumulated an abundant store of puNya in past lives, realizes that all happiness derived from sense-objects is transitory and is bound to be followed by sorrow. As a result, he develops total detachment towards all sense pleasures and strives to bring an end to saMsAra, the continuous cycle of birth and death. Since ignorance of one’s Self (AtmA) is the root cause of saMsAra and only Self-knowledge can put an end to saMsAra, hastAmalaka, referred to here by shrI shaMkara as the ‘AcArya’, teaches Self-knowledge in the following twelve verses.    

nimittaM manashcakShurAdipravRRittau

nirastAkhilopAdhirAkAshakalpaH |

ravirlokaceShTAnimittaM yathA yaH

sa nityopalabdhisvarUpo’ham AtmA ||1

yah– That which, manashcakShurAdipravRRittau-for the functioning of the mind, eye, and other organs, nimittam– (is) the cause, yathA– just as, raviH– the sun, lokaceShTAnimittaM– (is) the cause of the activities of all living beings, nirastAkhilopAdhiH– when devoid of all limiting adjuncts (upAdhi), AkAshakalpaH– is like space, saH– that, nityopalabdhisvarUpaH– which is of the nature of eternal consciousness, AtmA– self, aham– I (am).

1. I am the AtmA (Self) which is of the nature of eternal Consciousness and which is the cause of the functioning of the mind, eye and all other organs, in the same way as the sun is the cause of the activities of all beings on this earth. But when not associated with the limiting adjuncts (in the form of the body, mind and sense-organs), I, (Self) am like space. 

Eternal Consciousness-
— The Self (Atma) is Pure Consciousness which is present without any change in all the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. It is because of this eternal Consciousness that the sense organs appear sentient and are able to reveal their respective objects such as form, sound, smell, etc, in the waking state. In dream the sense organs are dormant, but the mind projects various objects and experiences them in the light of this same eternal Consciousness. In deep sleep the mind is also dormant, but the Self, which is pure Consciousness, exists without any change. This is proved by the fact that one remembers, on waking up, that one slept happily and did not know anything. Only what has been experienced previously by a person can be subsequently remembered by him. Therefore it is clear that the Self existed during deep sleep also.

Cause of the activities of the mind, etc.-
The mind and all the organs are insentient. It is only by the light of the pure Consciousness which is reflected in the mind, that the mind acquires sentiency. This can be compared to a mirror on which the reflection of the sun falls. If the mirror, with the reflection of the sun on it, is turned towards a dark room, the room becomes lighted. It would then appear as if the light belongs to the mirror itself. In the same way, the mind, which receives the reflection of the consciousness of the Self, appears as if it is itself conscious. The eye and all other organs, which receive the reflection of consciousness from the mind, also appear, in turn, to have consciousness. It is because of this that it is said in this verse that the Self is the cause of the activities of the mind and organs.

But the Self is actionless. It neither acts, nor does it prompt the mind and organs to act. The Self is the cause only in the sense that in its mere presence the mind and organs act. This is explained by the analogy of the sun being considered as the cause of the activities of all beings. When the sun rises, everyone begins his work in its light, but the sun does not make anyone act in any particular manner. The sun merely provides the light for all activity. What kind of activity a person engages in depends on himself alone. The sun is not at all involved in it. The sun neither benefits nor suffers because of the activities of any person. In the same way, the Self gives the mind and organs sentiency, which makes them capable of performing action, but the Self does not make any one act in any particular manner. The Self is neither benefited by the virtuous actions of any person, nor is it adversely affected by any evil deeds of any one.

When not associated with the limiting adjuncts the Self is like space-
Even the statement that the Self is the cause of the activities of the mind and organs is made only from the empirical  (vyAvahArika) standpoint. From the standpoint of ultimate truth (pAramArthika) the Self has no connection whatever with the limiting adjuncts (called upAdhi) in the form of the body, mind and organs. The method adopted in vedAnta to impart the knowledge of brahman is known as the method of superimposition (adhyAropa) and subsequent denial (apavAda). The Self cannot be directly described by words because it has no quality, activity or relationship with anything else. A substance which has a quality, such as redness, bigness, etc, can be described by reference to that quality. A person who performs a particular activity such as cooking can be described by reference to that activity, as a cook, etc. A stranger can be identified by reference to his relationship with a known person. Because of the absence of any of these qualities the Self cannot be described at all by any words. The method of superimposition and subsequent denial has therefore to be resorted to. The Self appears, because of our ignorance of its real nature, to be limited by the body, mind and organs. On the basis of this apparent limitation it was first said that the Self is the cause of the activities of the mind and organs.

But from the point of view of ultimate reality, since the Self alone is real in the absolute sense, it can have no association with the mind, etc, which are not real from the absolute point of view, just as an object experienced in dream cannot have any association with an object known in the waking state. Space, which is infinite, is referred to as pot-space, room-space, etc, when it is looked upon as limited by a pot, a room, etc, but these do not really limit space. In the same way the Self, which is pure consciousness, is all-pervading and is not limited by the body, mind, etc. It is only because of our ignorance of its real nature that we consider the Self as limited and separate in each body. By this comparison with space it is also shown that the Self is unattached and is not affected by the pleasures and pains experienced by the body and mind, in the same way as space is not destroyed or affected by the destruction of the pot or by any damage to it.

Are the mind, eye and other organs not capable of functioning on their own, without the help of the Self? What is meant by the statement that the Self is of the nature of eternal consciousness? These questions are answered in verse 2. 


manashcakShurAdInyabodhAtmakAni |

pravartanta Ashritya niShkampamekaM

sa nityopalabdhisvarUpo’ham AtmA ||2

abodhAtmakAni– Which are insentient, manashcakShurAdIni– the mind, eye and other organs, yaM– whom, niShkampaM– who is change-less, ekaM– one only, agnyuShNavat– like the heat of fire, nityabodhasvarUpaM– of the nature of eternal awareness, Ashritya– depending on, pravartante– function, saH– that, nityopalabdhisvarUpaH– which is of the nature of eternal consciousness, AtmA– self, aham– I (am).

2. I am the Self which is of the nature of eternal consciousness, which is changeless and one only (non-dual), whose very nature is eternal awareness, in the same manner as heat is the very nature of fire, and depending on which the mind, eye and other organs, which are all insentient, function.

Changeless and non-dual—
The one, non-dual Self dwells in all bodies. It is ever the same and is not subject to any change whatsoever.

Heat is the very nature of fire. Heat and fire are inseparable. Heat is not an attribute of fire. An attribute is a quality which can be found in more than one substance. For example, colour is an attribute, because it can be found in many different flowers and even in other substances. But heat can never be seen separately from fire. In the same way, consciousness does not exist anywhere other than in the Self. Consciousness is therefore the very nature of the Self and not an attribute.

The mind, eye and other organs are all insentient and are therefore incapable of functioning on their own. It is only because of the reflection of the Self, which is pure consciousness, in the mind, that the mind appears to be conscious, just as the moon appears to be bright only because of the reflection of the sun’s light on it. All the organs function only because they are enlivened by the Self.

Part 2

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