Jnaneshwar was a Marathi saint, poet and mystic born in 1275. He is the author of two major works of Marathi spiritual literature. The first was written when he was only sixteen, and is a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita called ‘Jnaneshwari’. The second is called ‘Amritanubhava’, ‘The Nectar of Wisdom’, and is indeed the fruit of his own understanding and realisation. Jnaneshwar lived an intensely spiritual life and was a precocious writer. He was able, through his first-hand experience of truth, to reject the formatted religious orthodoxy, and use the common language of vernacular Marathi for his expression. He is deeply loved and appreciated to this day in Marathi culture and can be compared to Adi Shankara. His life is mythical, travelling with his equally religious brothers and sisters, and punctuated by extraordinary events and meetings. In 1296, he voluntary ended his short life in what is called ‘sanjivan-samadhi’. He was only 21. The text presented here is made of various portions of his writings, the bigger part being excerpted from a poem called ‘The Union of Shiva And Shakti’. With beautiful poetic accents and images, we are invited to see again and again how the world is not just an illusion to be pushed away in favour of a pure abiding in consciousness, but is the dance of consciousness itself, the Divine Play:
It cannot be spoken of or spoken to;
by no means may It be comprehended by the intellect.
It is that one pure Consciousness who becomes everything,
From the gods above to the earth below.
Objects may be regarded as high or low,
But the ocean of Consciousness, ever-pure,
Is all that ever is.
Though the shadows on the wall are ever changing,
The wall itself remains steady and unmoved.
Likewise, the forms of the universe take shape from Consciousness,
The eternal, primordial One.
Sugar is only sugar,
Even though it may be made into many forms.
Likewise, the ocean of Consciousness is always the same,
Though it becomes all the forms of the universe.
Various articles of clothing are made from the same cotton cloth;
Likewise, the varied forms of the universe are creatively fashioned
Of the one Consciousness,
Which remains forever pure.
Whatever form appears,
Appears because of Him.
There is nothing else here but the Self.
It is the gold itself which shines
In the form of a necklace or a coin;
They are made of nothing but gold.
In the current of the river or in the waves of the sea,
There is nothing but water.
Similarly, in the universe, there is nothing which exists
Or is brought into existence
Other than the Self.
Whether appearing as the seen,
Or perceiving as the seer,
Nothing else exists besides the Self.
The absolute Void became the primal Person (Purusha);
And She derived Her existence from Her Lord.
Shiva formed His beloved Himself;
And without Her presence,
No Person exists.
Because of Her form,
God is seen in the world.
Yet it was He Who created Her form of Himself.
When He embraces Her,
It is His own bliss that Shiva enjoys.
He is the Enjoyer of everything,
But there is no enjoyment without Her.
She is His form,
But Her beauty comes from Him.
By their intermingling,
They are together enjoying this feast.
Shiva and Shakti are the same,
Like air and its motion,
Or gold and its lustre.
Fragrance cannot be separated from musk,
Nor heat from fire;
Neither can Shakti be separated from Shiva.
If night and day were to approach the Sun,
Both would disappear.
In the same way, the duality of Shiva and Shakti
Vanishes, when their essential unity is seen.
Since He appears because of Her,
And She exists because of Her Lord,
The two cannot be distinguished at all.
When He awakes,
The whole house disappears,
And nothing is left.
They became two for the purpose of diversity;
And both are seeking each other
For the purpose of becoming one.
Each is an object to the other;
And both are subjects to each other.
Only when together do they enjoy happiness.
The lover, out of boundless love,
Has become the Beloved.
Both are made of the same substance
And share the same food.
Out of love for each other, they merge;
And again they separate for the pleasure of being two.
When sleep comes to an end,
Aman returns to his senses.
Now my individuality has come to an end,
And I have returned to Shiva and Shakti.
Salt gives up its salty taste
To become one with the ocean;
I give up my individual self
To become Shiva and Shakti.
When the covering is removed,
The air inside a plantain tree merges with the air outside.
And this is how I honor Shiva and Shakti,
By removing all separation and becoming one with them.
Out of Supreme love they swallow up each other
But separate again for the joy of being two.
They are not completely the same,
But neither are they different.
No one can tell exactly what they are.
How intense is their longing to be with each other.
This is their greatest bliss.
Never, not even in jest,
Do they allow their unity to be disturbed.
They are so averse to separation
That even though they have become this entire world,
Never for a moment do they let a difference come between them.
They created a difference to enjoy this world.
When that “difference” had one glimpse of their intimacy
It could not help but merge back
Into the Bliss of their eternal union.
They become two for the sake of a divine play,
But in every moment they seek to become one again.
How can we distinguish these two from each other?
He appears because of Her,
And She exists because of Him.
To capture light we take hold of fire.
To capture the Supreme Shiva
We must take hold of Shakti.
An object has a reflection:
When looking we see two images,
Yet there is only one thing.
Likewise, this world is a reflection of the Supreme Lord.
We may see two,
Yet only One exists.
Out of pure emptiness
She gives rise to the entire world.
Everything depends on Her.
Yet She exists only because of Her Lord.
Merged in unity, there was nothing to do.
So Shakti, the bringer of good fortune,
Created this world for the sake of divine play.
She reveals Her Lord’s splendor
By melting Herself and becoming everything;
And He glorifies Her
By hiding Himself completely.
He is so mysterious and subtle,
That while apparent
He cannot be seen.
It is by Her grace alone that He comes into being.
While He is sleeping,
She gives birth to all that exists
And all that does not exist.
When She is sleeping,
He has no form at all.
He is hidden, and cannot be found without Her.
For they are mirrors, each revealing the other.
She is His very form,
But Her radiance comes from Him.
Blending into one,
They enjoy the nectar of their own union.
Shiva and Shakti are one,
Like air and the wind,
Like gold and its luster,
Shiva and Shakti cannot be separated.
They are like musk and its fragrance,
Like fire and its heat.
In the light of the Sun
There is no difference between day and night.
In the Light of the Supreme Truth
There is no difference between Shiva and Shakti.
I honor the union of Shiva and Shakti,
Who devour this world of name and form
Like a sweet dish.
All that remains is the One.
Embracing each other they merge into One,
As darkness merges with the light
At the breaking of dawn.
When we discover their Unity,
All words and all thoughts dissolve into silence,
Just as when the Universal Deluge comes,
The waters of the ocean, and those of the Ganges,
Merge into one…
The air and the wind will merge into the endless sky;
The sun and its light will merge into the Universal Fire.
With a true vision of them,
The seer and the seen merge into one.
Again, I honor the two who are one.
They are like an ocean of knowledge.
And only those who throw themselves in,
Can drink of their waters.
I appear separate from them
Just so I can honor them.
But that separation is not real,
It is only in name.
Text by Saint Jnaneshwar (1275-1296)
Photo by Dean Moriarty / Pixabay
This text is for the bigger part excerpted from Jnaneshwar’s Amritanubhava, ‘The Nectar of Wisdom’, and from a letter he wrote to the Yogi Changadev.
Please visit the website of Swami Abhayananda ‘The Mystic’s Vision’ where his book
‘Jnaneshwar: The Life and Works of the Celebrated Thirteenth Century Indian Mystic-Poet’ is available online.
– ‘Jnaneshwar’s Gita: A Rendering of the Jnaneshwari’ – by Swami Kripananda – (SYDA Foundation)
– ‘The Philosophy of Jnanadeva’ – by B. P. Bahirat – (Motilal Banarsidass)
– Saint Jnaneshwar (Wikipedia)
– The Mystic’s Vision (Swami Abhayananda)
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