Advaita Vedanta is widely regarded as the most rational and logical system of Indian Philosophy. The history of Advaita Vedanta begins with Karika of Acharya Gaudapada (grand guru of Adi Shankara) and ends with Madhusudan Saraswati’s Advaitasidhi. In the words of Swami Prabhananda, “Advaita Vedanta is the pinnacle of Indian thought, and Sanskrit texts dealing with Advaita Vedanta are the crest jewel of Sanskrit literature. What had once been a philosophy known only to the elite in India, was made available to all throughout the world when Swami Vivekananda’s illuminating lectures in the West on Advaita Vedanta were published.”
Adi Shankaracharya (788–820) is regarded as the greatest exponent of Advaita Vedanta. He systematised the works of preceding philosophers of Advaita Vedanta. Adi Shankar is undoubtedly the most reknowned of India’s saintly philosophers. In the words of Swami Mukhyananda, “Shankara was a great towering personality who, within the course of a short life of thirty-two years, brought about a thorough revolution in the social, religious, spiritual, and philosophical life and thought of India. He laid the foundation of modern Hinduism on a composite, comprehensive, and all-inclusive universal basis. He had such a brilliant mind, scientific viewpoint, and rational approach that he appeals to the people of today. He appears just as modern, in many respects, as if he were living today, for he was concerned with eternal universal thoughts.” Shankara wrote masterly commentaries on the Upanishads, Brahma-sutras, and Bhagavad Gita. He also composed soul-stirring hymns and brilliant treatises like Vivekachudamani, Atmabodha and Tatvabodha.
The Vivekachudamani ( विवेकचूडामणि) is one of the great works of Adi Shankara, which expounds the Advaita Vedanta philosophy and is in the form of 580 verses. The title Vivekachudamani translates to Crest Jewel of Discrimination. In the words of Swami Ranganathananda, “the central theme of Vivekachudamani is God in its transcendental, impersonal aspect- beyond mind and duality. In this book we are given a remarkable exposition of man’s journey from creatureliness and dependence to lordliness and independence. Anyone who studies this book verse by verse will be acquiring a type of knowledge which is of the nature of illumination. The mind becomes illumined. We begin to see things clear. This is the great purpose of human life, and this book helps us in this great work.”
Adi Shankara’s synthesis of Advaita Vedanta is summarised in the following quote from the Vivekacūḍāmaṇi:
‘In half of a sloka (sentence) I state what has been stated by millions of texts; that is, Brahman alone is real and this jagat(world) is mithyä (illusion), and the jiva(individual self) is non-different from Brahman.’
The ATMABODHA (Self-Knowledge), composed by Adi Shankara, is a short but important treatise on Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of monistic Vedanta. It consists of only sixty eight verses in Sanskrit. In the words of Swami Nikhilananda, “The very name of the book – Atmabodha, or self-knowledge- suggests its perennial interest and universal value. Self-knowledge is vital. All other forms of knowledge are of secondary importance: for a man’s action, feeling, reasoning and thinking are dependent upon his idea of the Self. His view of life will be either materialistic or spiritual according to his conception of himself. If he regards himself as a physical creature, and his soul (provided he believes in such a thing) as subservient to material ends, then he is a materialist; he follows the ideal of material happiness, devoting himself to the attainment of power and the enjoyment of material pleasures. Whenever a large number of people follow such an ideal, society becomes materialistic and there ensue bloodshed, war and destruction. If, on the other hand, a man regards himself as a spiritual entity and believes that his material body should be utilised to serve a spiritual end, then he is spiritual. He follows the path of unselfishness, consecration and love, and thus becomes a force to promote peace and happiness for all. Therefore, it behoves everyone to cultivate Self-Knowledge at all times. Self-Knowledge serves the practical purpose of destroying pain and suffering (which are always caused by ignorance of the Self) and also the positive end of helping everyone enjoy supreme peace and blessedness here and always.”
For the beginners of Advaita Vedanta( Non-dual Vedanta), Atmabodha is the best book, because it is short, sharp, simple, rational and terse, yet in melodious Sanskrit.
Invite Swami Sacchidananda Saraswati for discourses & lectures on Advaita Vedanta, Vivekachudamani, Atmabodha.