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Athmopadesha Shathakam Verse-10

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Athmopadesha Shathakam (One Hundred verses of Self-Instruction)
Translation & explanation of Verse-10

“Who sits there in the dark? Declare!” says one;
Whereupon another, himself intent to find in turn
Asks, hearing the first, “Who may you even be?”
For both the word of response is but One.

(“Irulirippavanaaru cholka neeyennu
Oruvanurappathu kettu thaanumevam
Arivathinaayavanodu neeyumaarennu
Arulumithin prathi vaakyamekamaakum”):

Key message-
The two men sitting in the dark, questioning each other in the name of knowledge about the Self in each, represent a dialectical situation by which the Guru in this verse enters the heart of the subject of the present work. Wisdom has always been enshrined in dialogues between two persons, a teacher and a student. Here, the counterparts are brought together closely as dialectally interchangeable factors, with all extraneous elements eliminated as in arranging a laboratory experiment. Guru’s method of approach is fully alive to the requirements of the age of science and of free criticism based on equality of status between the counterparts.

“Who sits there in the dark? Declare!” says one;
Whereupon another, himself intent to find in turn
(Irulirippavanaaru cholka neeyennu
Oruvanurappathu kettu thaanumevam)

If you close your eyes and try to visualize your existence from inside, it is hard to decide where the boundaries and limitations of your body actually are. You can feel certain vague sensations here and there, but from inside with your eyes closed you cannot see where the outer periphery of the skull is. In fact, everything merges into a kind of total darkness. Yet the clarity of your idea of existence is not the least affected. It remains the same.

We are asked to imagine a situation where we can reduce the input of all our sensory data to just the voice that we hear. Touch, smell, taste and sight are to be removed from our mind. In such a situation you are fully aware of your own existence, and you recognize it by saying “I”. In this special state, suppose you sense that another person is also present. To make sure you ask, “Who is there?” You get an answer, “I”. How do you understand what you heard when you head “I”? You understand it by turning to your own concept of ‘I’. The other person understood your ‘I’ by comparing it to his experience of the term. With this understanding, have you gone beyond your own knowledge to any extent? Not at all.

We live in the age of science. Sree Narayana Guru also lived in the age of science. Therefore, the peculiarity of this age must have been in Guru’s mind. The modern sciences’ approach is to understand the nature’s principle through experiments. But few questions arise here: Is the experimental method possible-enough to search for one’s Self-realization? How do we bring our Self and examine in the laboratory?

But in the modern scientific experiments, the scientists do not obtain the principles directly. It is the information that received from the experiment; not the principle. With these data, the scientists make the calculations and logical thinking, resulting in inferences and conclusions. Hence the scientific process consists of four stages namely – Experiment, Observation, Thought and Inference.

It can also be seen that in modern science, all experiments are not held in the laboratories. For the researches of inner atomic structure and configuration, researches on space and inner principles of the universe, the scientists have concluded based only on experimental approach. The cosmic theory arrived on universal principles from such experiments is termed as ‘Theoretical physics’.

Sree Narayana Guru too makes an experimental approach combined with normative method to know the Supreme Self, by gathering the required data. In the verses which follow, that thought process is expanded. Finally in verse-27, Guru concludes with a clear definition of Supreme Self. So the experiment presented in the current verse-10 and the thought based on this data will continue till verse-27.

Asks, hearing the first, “Who may you even be?”
For both the word of response is but One.

Arivathinaayavanodu neeyumaarennu
Arulumithin prathi vaakyamekamaakum

There is a great demand on our consciousness all the time of it to transmute and transform into whatever conceptual idea is presented to us through the perception of the five senses. For instance I may say, “I have seen a blue lotus. It was very beautiful”. On hearing this, you have to think of a lotus flower and also of the color blue. You have to recall an experience when you enjoyed something, possibly not even a flower at all, and transfer that enjoyment together with the other concepts. Then you make a composition of all of them in your mind before you can imagine how I experienced the blue lotus. Only then can you say, “Yes, I understand. It must have been very beautiful.”

This process sounds a bit intellectual, but the inner perception involved is not entirely intellectual. It is to be approached from within, and not from outside in the academic manner. It can be fully understood only by silently absorbing oneself into the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-feeling greater psyche which belongs to everyone. This opens up the floodgates of love, and you become one with all. The counterpart of this is to close doors and create exclusions and inclusions.

The dark room is meant for selection and control purposes as in laboratory experiments. The reference to two men, instead of referring to the self in one man, is like bringing in the control elements in the experimentally conceived critical situation by which he is ‘to prove scientifically’ to himself the reality of the Self.

To know oneself has been accepted both in the East and in the West, in both ancient and modern times, as constituting the core of wisdom. Knowing oneself is hindered by the outward-going eye which sees other objects beside oneself. By referring to the self in two persons at the same, time, the Guru makes an epochal innovation by which he lays the foundation from the rapprochement and unification of two branches of wisdom, the physical and the metaphysical, which, by being treated hitherto separately, have lost their full influence in enriching human knowledge to the limit of its possibilities.

On careful examination of this verse, we find that the Guru takes pains to give in detail the agonizing stages in the dialectical situation portrayed in the metaphysical experiment that he describes. The resolution of the paradoxical duality of the two persons into the one of the last line, does not take place without effort or earnestness. A thirst for more knowledge is implied on one side and the inclination to remain quite on the other. If the first man did not insist on knowing, the silence would have remained unbroken and wisdom would not have resulted. Active seeking of wisdom is a form of agony or thirst for knowledge which represents the knocking at the door to open, to put it in the biblical idiom. One has to want to know badly before knowledge can result. The duality then becomes transcended. The two partial selves merge into unity in the Absolute.

The experimental approach Guru made is not impossible for the common man like the modern scientists. It can be tried by all people and also without experimenting it; we can understand the theory well.

This thought process brought by the Guru has to be followed by us with utmost care and concentration. In other words, completely believing the words of Guru. In Vedanta philosophy, this is termed as “Shraddha”. In addition to be more concentrative on Guru’s thoughts, we also need to sharpen our thinking abilities and be immensely curious for the search.

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