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Athmopadesha Shathakam Verse-27

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Athmopadesha Shathakam (One Hundred verses of Self-Instruction)
Translation & explanation of Verse-27

Sitting in the dark, that which knows is the self;
What is known then assumes name and form,
With the psychic dynamism, senses, agency of action and also action;
See how it all comes as ‘mahendra’ magic!

(“Irulil irunnariyunnataakumaathmaavu-
Arivathuthaanatha naamaroopamaayum;
Karanamodindriya karthrukarmmamaayum-
Varuvathu kaanka mahendra jaalamellaam”)

Key message:-
In this verse, the Guru is equating the Self and the world to a grand magic. Here the magic is in the way things are experienced. When we experience things they are there; and when we do not experience them they are not there. Ultimately, we cannot say whether they are or are not. They are, otherwise we would not experience them. But at the same time, they are not: if they really existed they should continue, but they don’t. That is a great magic.

Vednatic method consists of first dividing the knower from knowledge. The “subject-matter” of philosophy and the “object-matter” of philosophy should not be recklessly mixed-up. This would result in a grave initial error in the search for wisdom about the Self or the Absolute. It is for this reason that the Guru insists in this verse on drawing clearly the line dividing knowledge from the Self. When the knower has been demarcated properly, it will be possible to make the further sub-division between what is known and neutral knowledge, intimately connected with the central Self distinguishable.

Sitting in the dark, that which knows is the self;
What is known then assumes name and form
(“Irulil irunnariyunnataakumaathmaavu-
Arivathuthaanatha naamaroopamaayum”):

There is a general notion that Self is non-definable. Hence in Vedantic literature, when there is a situation to define the Self, it is a common practice to define about non-self. Thus after explaining the characteristics of Self, they conclude that whatever not belonging to non-self is called Self. Sree Narayana Guru gets away this practice and directly defines the Self in this verse. This can be considered as Guru’s unique contribution to Vedantic thought.

The Self is that knowledge which brings illumination to one’s existence even when it is placed in the thick of darkness. This same knowledge assumes names and forms and engages in action equipped with mind and senses, for the entire world like the miraculous performance of a magician.

The word ‘Irul’ in this verse can be seen in two ways. When we close our eyes, darkness comes. But we do not miss our consciousness in such darkness. Similarly, we need to assume that all other senses go into darkness in the respective areas. Then, we do not know about the outside world. However, our ‘I’ consciousness will continue to be brightened. Thus the senses and inner organs while supporting to perceive all worldly things are in darkness, that which knows in the darkness by itself is termed as ‘Self’. Verse-8 clarifies this further.

It is a well-known fact that there is no answer for the query where the place in which this Self in the process of knowing. There is no specific place where Self dwells. At the same time, all that exists in the universe dwell in the Self. In Upanishads, this anonymity is considered as a cave. This cave does not have a particular location, but a darkness which cannot be determined or seen. This is the second meaning of darkness mentioned above. This is how illuminating Self know by itself while in darkness. We need to admit this irony at the same time. However, irony is observed on the level of ordinary intellect. But this knowledge is beyond the logical thinking. The Self is indefinable and indescribable because of this irony. In the attempt to understand the Self, it will be experienced as a major wonder or ‘Mahendrajaalam’.

With the psychic dynamism, senses, agency of action and also action;
See how it all comes as ‘mahendra’ magic!
(“Karanamodindriya karthrukarmmamaayum-
Varuvathu kaanka mahendrajaalamellaam”):

The Sanskrit name of ‘karana’ is an instrument of understanding. The magician comes with his five children for entertainment. He is the mind itself, and his children are the five senses: onlookers as it were. Together they start a big magic show. The senses are really more like angels than children, so they are called ‘Indira’, a name derived from Indra, the shining one. Even though the eye, for instance, is made up of inertial matter like skin, water and nerves which by themselves have no ability of knowing anything, the eye is sensitive to sunlight and it can clearly see everything. It is like a ‘Deva’, a luminous angel. So all five senses are called ‘Indriya’or ‘Devas’.

Concluding message:
The Guru has given here the two aspects of a non-dual reality. It is non-dual, and yet it contains a duality. The dual aspects are the pure Self that hides in the dark as an unknown entity; and the so-called non-Self, consisting of this grand magical world of name and form placed in time and space, where there is a centralized “I’ identity which is asking questions, recalling memories, making judgments, and assuming roles and thereby getting into various peripheral identifications.

This is highly paradoxical. The non-Self should be the not known, but it is the known. The Self, the knower of everything, is not known. It is as it is sitting in darkness. At least once in a while you should move away from the grand magic of your life, sit quietly and meditate, and try to penetrate beyond the cloud of unknowing. This will lead to observe introspectively the nature of the residue called the Self when outward objective sense impressions are effectively eliminated from what the Self should properly mean in a contemplative context.

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