Shankara the Great

‘Adi Shankara and his disciples’ – by Raja Ravi Varma, 1904 – Wikimedia

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अहं निर्विकल्पो निराकार रूपो, 
विभुत्वाच सर्वत्र सर्वेन्द्रियाणाम् । 
न चासङ्गतं नैव मुक्तिर्न मेयः, 
चिदानन्दरूपः शिवोऽहम् शिवोऽहम् ।

ahaṃ nirvikalpo nirākāra rūpo
vibhutvā ca sarvatra sarvendriyāṇaṃ |
na cāsaṅgataṃ naiva muktir na meyaḥ
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo’ham śivo’ham |

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The early spiritual works produced in India were anonymous, probably stated by some ancient sages whose identities got lost. There is one name though that rose and was brought to fame and excellence, a teacher whose life has been narrated in many hagiographies and legends. His name: Adi Shankara, or Shankaracharya. His work as a philosopher and religious reformer is considered prominent in the unfolding of Hinduism. He is also known for having formulated and codified the ancient spiritual current of Non-duality, called in India Advaita Vedanta.

India’s most celebrated teacher was born in Kerala, in a village called Kaladi, in the accepted year of 788. Everything is uncertain about Shankara, since his numerous biographies were written centuries after his death and were designed to build a legend around his life. The name ‘Shankaracharya’ means the teacher ‘acharya’ of the way to bring about happiness (‘sham’ means ‘auspicious’ and ‘kara’ ‘maker’). He died at the early age of 32. A short life that nevertheless allowed him to travel widely all over India, initiating debates, founding monasteries ‘Matha’, and writing numerous pieces of work among which commentaries of ancient texts like the Brahma Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Principal Upanishads. 

Amongst the many works authentically attributed to him is the Atmashatkam, also known as Nirvanashatkam. The legend says that Shankara, aged only eight at the time, wrote this devotional poem of six slokas as an answer to his newly found guru Govindapada who asked him the simple question “Who are you?”. This is a very striking and moving exposition of everything that we are not, everything that has been wrongly attributed as being our identity. Through experientially discarding every such thing, one comes to dawn on the simple realisation of our true nature, namely the Self or, as it is named in this translation, ‘the auspicious, love and pure consciousness’. This was concluding each stanza in the original Sanskrit as ‘I am Shiva! I am Shiva!’ (Shivoham)…

I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, 
nor the reflections of inner self. 
I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. 
I am not the seven elements or the five sheaths. 
I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, 
the auspicious, love and pure consciousness.

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A discovery of the ancient teachings of Adi Shankara… (READ MORE…)

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A Perfect Bull’s-eye

‘Defender. Cloud-archer.’ – Nicholas Roerich, 1937 – WikiArt

The Mullah Nasruddin is what could be called a sublime idiot. He is a liar, irreverent, a disturber of peace. But he is also ingenious, free, full of wit, a timeless figure whose stories have spread and been adapted the world over. In the Sufi tradition, they were used for study purposes. “There is the joke, the moral — and the little extra which brings the consciousness of the potential mystic a little further on the way to realisation.” writes Idries Shah.

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The Mullah Nasruddin brought his students to the fair so that they could watch him compete in the archery contest. Before his first shot, the Mullah fixed his cap military style and, assuming a soldier’s posture, drew the bow and fired. The arrow missed the target completely, and the crowd roared with derisive laughter.

Then he picked up the bow again, this time with little strength, and shot the second arrow. It flew straight, but landed far short of the mark. Again, the onlookers guffawed. For the last of his three allotted shots, Nasruddin nonchalantly turned to face the target, aimed, and let fly. It was a perfect bull’s-eye.

The crowd went wild, then fell into a stunned silence. Nasruddin chose the moment to take his prize and indifferently started to walk on. 

But his students and the astonished throng demanded an explanation. 

Nasruddin complied and told them, “For the first shot, I was identified with a soldier, face-to-face with the enemy. Fear made the arrow miss. With the second shot, I became like the man who, having failed miserably with the first shot, was so anxious and eager he could not concentrate. He simply had no power.”

“And the third shot?” inquired a brave soul. “Who fired that one?” 

“That? Oh, that was me.”

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Nasruddin’s pointers:
Nasruddin makes the point perfectly clear. Why is it that to be ‘me’, I think that I have to do something? I have to pretend, imitate, add, subtract, hide, and god knows what else. I make such efforts, such desperate attempts, at being myself, and yet it’s not really working. I fail again and again at being just myself. I am only myself plus. But simply being my plain, simple self, I’m not. I miss the mark. And then I find ways to reconcile my various fabricated selves into an acceptable one. One that would make a little sense, that would have some kind of logic, that would  be presentable to the world. Well, it seems that there is too much thinking that goes into it, isn’t there? So how can I be ‘me’? Nasruddin is almost discarding this ‘being me’, brushing it aside very matter-of-factly. He seems to imply that ‘being me’ is the simplest thing to achieve. It’s not even worth considering. I am ‘me’ by only ‘being’. There is no ‘more’ in simply being. And don’t think that this is too easy, too universal, not enough the fancy ‘me’ that you’ve been trying to be for so long — and all along failing it so miserably. Listen carefully: This ‘being’ is the ‘me’ that has been perfectly designed for the ‘you’ that you truly are. No ‘me’ could ever be more ‘you’ than this me-being, this ‘I am’. This ‘being’ will make your life easier, happier. You will never miss the mark with ‘I am’. For the mark is yourself. And see for yourself: by being my most precious, simple self, I already am that, that I am. See? This is a perfect bull’s-eye! Nasruddin knew it all along. What clever man he is! Always hitting the target — as far as his true Self is concerned!

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The Nasruddin’s story is borrowed from ‘365 Spirit: A Daily Journey for Your Soul’ – by Aaron Zerah – (A to Z Spirit Publishing).

‘Nasruddin’s pointers’ is by Alain Joly

Bibliography:
– ‘365 Spirit: A Daily Journey for Your Soul’ – by Aaron Zerah – (A to Z Spirit Publishing)
– ‘Every Day is a Blessing: 365 Illuminations to Lift the Spirit’ – by Aaron Zerah – (Grand Central Publishing)
– ‘As You Grieve: Consoling Words from Around the World’ – by Aaron Zerah – (Sorin Book, U.S.)
– ‘The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin’ – by Idries Shah – (ISF Publishing)
– ‘Nasreddin Hodja: 100 tales in verse’ – by Raj Arumugam – (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)

Websites:
A to Z Spirit (Aaron Zerah’s website)
Nasreddin Hodja (Wikipedia)
The Idries Shah Foundation
Nicholas Roerich (Wikipedia)

Suggestions:
Self Recognition (An interrogation by Nasreddin Hodja…)
I Am Nobody (The newly discovered identity of Nasreddin Hodja…)
Hodja Tells the Truth (A story where Nasreddin Hodja tells the truth…)

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The Price of Immortality

‘Evening’ – Caspar David Friedrich, 1824 – WikiArt

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Death doth not trouble me. 
‘Tis through that door I come
Unto the place which long 
hath been my spirit’s home
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~ Angelus Silesius 

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There is one thing in life that is haunting us. This is the fact of our certain death. And yet, considering that we all know that we are going to die, most people don’t actually worry that much about it. How come that people who believe that they are solely their body can stay so cool when waiting for a certain death? They should be terrified. This should come as some unbearable news. But it’s not. Even though we don’t look forward to dying, we nevertheless take the news with a remarkable composure. We don’t mind that much if you ask me. Why is that? 

Is it that we have deep down the intuition of our immortality? If I say ‘I’m going to die’, how does it feel? Am I saying the truth? Do I really know this for certain? Or am I casually repeating something that I have learned and has now become a deeply ingrained belief? But this being said, don’t let us be mistaken. Most of the time, we push death far away and numb ourself to its dreadful reality. And the fear of death is conditioning and bending our lives in the most ruthless manner. What a paradox it all is! But in that paradox lies the whole riddle of life and death, of suffering and happiness, of love and God. Death is a portal to our true nature. One that is inescapable. Who is it that is going to die? Or rather what is it? Let’s have a look at it…

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An exploration of the nature and meaning of death… (READ MORE…)

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Ablaze with the City

Look they are here
Roaming along the street
My wandering thoughts
Among the fallen leaves
The abandoned litter
And a creaky bicycle passing by

Listen it is here 
Visiting among the trees 
A random feeling 
Among the neatly parked cars 
A stray panting dog
And birds flapping above my head

See and feel it now
Ablaze with the city
The aliveness of being
Gently taking its place
Down from the cobbled alley
To its soaring among the clouds

You had a sweet friendship with it
Amongst the busy crowd
You felt its warm embrace
And its soft company
Between the blast of a horn 
And the gust of a passing truck

As you crossed the avenue
Meeting glances from the cafe
It rose to a presence so vast
That you felt enlarged with it
Like a long standing friendship
That burst into a sudden love

You knew it was home
Where you wanted to be
As the first large drops of rain
Began tapping against your coat
You opened your heart to it
Disappearing within its space

Now the whole city was glowing
And the few happy rays of a sun
Sent rainbow lights amongst it all
There was a hum and a throbbing 
It was the life surrounding you
The whole place, the whole of it, was you

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Text and photo by Alain Joly

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Suggestion:
Voices from Silence (other poems from the blog)

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The Little Monsters

Here is a reminder inspired from the words of Rupert Spira. It is necessary and terribly efficient to look into these matters for ourselves. This is why I like to share here the parts of a spiritual teaching that sounds like ‘something to do’, something to experiment and verify for ourselves:

Just experience the raw sensation, for example of fear, without thought, without the labelling. Instead of covering it up, turn around and face it. Let the feeling come totally to you. Face it, keep living with it, keep opening yourself to it so fully, until there is not the slightest resistance to it. Ask yourself: Can I live with this feeling for ever? You have to be able to answer ‘yes’ to that question. Then see what remains of it. Be very careful not to turn this into a practice that you undertake in order to get rid of unpleasant feelings. Make it just a loving contemplation to discover the truth of your being, the dissolution of this feeling being a side-effect, a by-product…’

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Further exploring on the subject:

Observation is like a flame which is attention, 
and with that capacity of observation, 
the wound, the feeling of hurt, the hate, 
all that, is burnt away, gone
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~ J. Krishnamurti 

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Fall in love with this secret humanity. Know that darkness is NOT darkness, only scared fragments longing to come into the light, beings who want love, and attention, and breath, and inclusion in the larger picture of Self. […] Illuminate. Radiate. Make it safe for the little monsters to come out of hiding. Let them know they are beautiful. And worthy. And not monsters at all.”
~ Jeff Foster

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In simple openness which is welcoming you will come to accept and get to know your negative feelings, desires and fears. Once welcomed in non-directed attention these feelings will burn themselves up, leaving only silence.”
~ Jean Klein (‘I Am’)

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You never remain with any feeling, pure and simple, but always surround it with the paraphernalia of words. The word distorts it; thought, whirling round it, throws it into shadow, overpower it with mountainous fears and longings. You never remain with a feeling, and with nothing else: with hate, or with that strange feeling of beauty.” […] Try to remain with a feeling, and see what happens. You will find it amazingly difficult. Your mind will not leave the feeling alone; it comes rushing in with its remembrances, its associations, its do’s and don’ts, its everlasting chatter. […] Can you look without the movement of the mind? Can you live with the feeling behind the word, without the feeling that the word builds up? If you can, then you will discover an extraordinary thing, a movement beyond the measure of time, a spring that knows no summer.” 
~ J. Krishnamurti (Commentaries on Living, Series III – Chapter 37 – ‘Aloneness Beyond Loneliness’)

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The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each 
has been sent as a guide from the beyond
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~ Rumi

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The photo is by Alain Joly

Bibliography:
– ‘Presence’, Vol. I & II – by Rupert Spira (Non-Duality Press)
– ‘Commentaries on Living, I, II & III’ – by J. Krishnamurti – (Quest Books,U.S.)
– ‘The Way of Rest: Finding the Courage to Hold Everything in Love’ – by Jeff Foster – (Sounds True)
– ‘I Am’ – by Jean Klein – (Non-Duality Press)
– ‘The Essential Rumi’ – Translated by Coleman Barks – (HarperOne)

Websites:
Rupert Spira
J. Krishnamurti
Jean Klein (Wikipedia)
Jeff Foster
Rumi (Wikipedia)

Suggestions:
Fleeing to God (other pointers from the blog)
A Day at Brockwood Park (Homage to J. Krishnamurti)
Rumi (Homage to Rumi)
A Secret Love Affair with Life (text by Jeff Foster)

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Overlooking You

So you have abandoned me
At least it feels like it
You have let me drift on the shores
Of helplessness and suffering

For you were too humble
Never showing your qualities
When I needed specificities
Preferences as good and bad
That’s why I didn’t notice you

You were reaching far and wide
Never complying to any border
When I wanted something to rely on
That was solid and densely felt
That’s why I missed your embrace

You had no place in time to be
Never travelling in linearity
When I desired to grasp you so
Within a thought or a moment
That’s why you left elusively 

You had no care for a distance
Always standing so merged and close
When I liked you slightly remote
To catch you in my wilful gaze
That’s why I overlooked you

You had no taste for the personal
Always averse to belonging
When I sought you in my puny self
And discarded the world for it
That’s why I shrugged at your beauty

You kept away from conditions
Always shining unreservedly
When I expected you in the bright
Not in the dark and the lowly
That’s why I misunderstood you

You were with me shining and clear
Always loving all beings and things
When I was torn in suffering
And thought you had abandoned me
I must have simply looked away

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Text and photo by Alain Joly

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Suggestion:
Voices from Silence (other poems from the blog)

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The Song of Ashtavakra

Photo by Nick Kenrick.. on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I’m sharing here the Ashtavakra Gita, in the translation of John Richards. This is a famous song and landmark of non-duality in India. It has been composed in Sanskrit as a dialogue between the eminent sage Ashtavakra and his brilliant disciple Janaka, also king of Mithila. It was allegedly written around the third Century BC although some scholars dated it in the eighth Century AD, at the period of Shankara. The author is unknown and the characters are borrowed from the ancient epics of India. ‘Ashtavakra’ means ‘eight bends’, for he has a deformed body. This is a short work of 300 verses, and was one of the favourites of Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. In this dialogue, the process of enlightenment is easily dealt with, for Janaka is, in Ramesh Balsekar’s words, “a superbly ‘ripe’ disciple, one who is just waiting for that one quick spark of initiation into Truth that brings about sudden enlightenment.” The dialogue quickly moves to be an exposition of truth by two equally enlightened beings. Yet, a process is here at work, between the guru and his disciple, between truth and the slow movement towards full understanding, between the one reality and the many roads and aspects that lead to a total and definitive grasp of it…

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अष्टावक्रगीता

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Chapter I

Instruction on Self-Realisation

King Janaka asks the question that provoked Ashtavakra’s plain and direct exposition of truth…

Your real nature is as the one perfect, free, 
and actionless consciousness, the all-pervading witness 
– unattached to anything, desireless and at peace. 
It is from illusion that you seem to be involved in samsara
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Janaka asked:

How is knowledge to be acquired? How is liberation to be attained? And how is dispassion to be reached? Tell me this, sir.

Ashtavakra replied:

If you are seeking liberation, my son, shun the objects of the senses like poison. Practise tolerance, sincerity, compassion, contentment and truthfulness like nectar.

You are neither earth, water, fire, air or even ether. For liberation know yourself as consisting of consciousness, the witness of these.

If only you will remain resting in consciousness, seeing yourself as distinct from the body, then even now you will become happy, peaceful and free from bonds.

You do not belong to the brahmin or any other caste, you are not at any stage, nor are you anything that the eye can see. You are unattached and formless, the witness of everything – so be happy.

Righteousness and unrighteousness, pleasure and pain are purely of the mind and are no concern of yours. You are neither the doer nor the reaper of the consequences, so you are always free.

You are the one witness of everything, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this.

[…]

Continue reading the beautiful teaching of Ashtavakra… (READ MORE…)

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