Here and now: Life lessons from Adi Shankara

Life lessons from Adi Shankara's book 'You are the supreme light'

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Ashish Mehta | November 2, 2018 | Delhi


#Adi Shankara   #self help   #life lesson   #You are the supreme light  
Photo: Ashish Mehta
Photo: Ashish Mehta

The mind often goes blank – no thoughts, no sense of self. This does not last long; we ‘wake’ up and get back into the normal mode with the first-person-singular in the role of protagonist, thinking of the past or the future, planning, fantasising, imagining dialogues. Or the incessant background noise in the head, if nothing else. That blank state, the one without the weight of a separate identity of the self – isolated from the rest of the world, is at the heart of most spiritual traditions of the humankind. Be it Christian mysticism or Sufism, the difference arguably is in how one can achieve that state, and how one expresses it: the experience itself of merging one’s identity with the whole remains the same. Buddhism would call it Shunyata, with nihilistic undertones. The Hindu tradition (arguably) calls it Advaita, non-duality, with divine overtones.

This notion of Advaita – simply put, oneness with the universe – goes back to the Vedanta, that is, the Upanishads, the gist of which is the Bhagvad Gita. Adi Shankaracharya (‘the original or the first Shankaracharya’) revived or systematised it in the seventh/eighth century. He also penned scores of short verses summarising the vision of Advaita. Not only they are beautiful, the added advantage with them is that thanks to their brevity and poetry, they can be easily committed to memory and thus readily serve in the time of need. 

Nanditha Krishna has put together a selection of them in You Are The Supreme Light (Aleph Book Company), which also has the added advantage of aesthetically pleasing production. Here are some representative gems:
 
When thoughts are absent,
the present seems eternal.
When thoughts are absent,
the Self disappears.

****
 
Reflect on the meaning of the Upanishads,
take refuge in the Truth of Brahman.
Avoid perverse arguments, but follow the
unbiased logic of revealed works.
Always be absorbed in the knowledge that 
‘I am Brahman’.
Renounce pride.
Give up totally the tendency to 
argue with the wise.
 
For those well versed with Shankara’s works, this is an edition that one can keep handy to dip in for inspiration at any time. For the uninitiated, it will serve as an excellent, reader-friendly introduction. One would only wish that if the edition had also presented the Sanskrit text it would have helped recitation, though at the cost of doubling the number of pages. The exciting series, ‘Life Lessons’, promises to be a treasure trove, with a volume on ‘Life Lessons from Moinuddin Chishti’ (Be Present in Every Moment) already published. 

The column appears in November 15, 2018 edition

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