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Athmopadesha Shathakam Verse-29

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Athmopadesha Shathakam (One Hundred verses of Self-Instruction)
Translation & explanation of Verse-29

For the man who offers his mind-flowers to worship God
There is no other work to do;
Pick flowers of the forest; or, if not that,
By ever-repeating the maya-formula, maya will disappear.

(“Manamalar koythu mahesha pooja cheyyum
Manujanu mattoru vela cheythitenda
Vanamalar koythum athallayaykil
Mayaa manuvuruvittumirikkil mayamarum”)

Key message:-

A series of intermediate forms of meditative self-discipline are passed in quick review here, so that the Guru could pass on to subjects of more seriously contemplative import. There is the constant question put by spiritual aspirants about the regimes or disciplines to get rid of error and arrive at wisdom. Here, the Guru adopts the analogy of the idol worship of South Indian temples where, instead of graded sacrifices leading up to the culminating wisdom sacrifice, there is the flower-offering. The flowers represent the blossomings of the mind which are impediments to real wisdom.
The mind is defined by Adi Sankara as the seat of representative functioning (‘Samkalpa’) and wrong resolves (‘Vikalpa’). The mind’s functioning have to be sublimated from the lower to the higher levels by graded self-disciplines, before wisdom could abolish the possibility of errors of judgment in respect of values or realities that affect our lives by their attractions and repulsions. This constant conflict of interests in which we are caught each moment of our lives, has to be made fluid and flexible in the light of higher contemplative wisdom. When the possibility of error weakens, wisdom prevails more and more. Ritualistic requirements for self-discipline can be overlooked in such a case.

For the man who offers his mind-flowers to worship God
There is no other work to do;
(“Manamalar koythu mahesha pooja cheyyum
Manujanu mattoru vela cheythitenda”):

When the Sun rises and illuminates the day, countless millions of things seem to exist. We become occupied with one task or another in order to actualize some hidden urge.  Like waves on an ocean, these urges come one after another, and we are impelled, sometimes even despite our resistance, to do actions. Days and nights come alternately, and our moods and attitudes change accordingly. 

It is hard for us to remember that we are of a divine origin and our pure state is of the Absolute. Our senses go out and feed on the fruits of enjoyment, and in this way we go away from the center of our beingness. We begin to think the only thing in life is the gratification of our urges. The desire for gratification envelops our whole being like a creeper which is blossoming all the time with some modifications of mind. Somewhere deep down in us is a spark of consciousness which is consistently shining, but it is covered over with the great darkness of ignorance. Our light is feeble, and even what little light there is, is colored by our own egoistic tendencies. The Self itself is mistaken for our ego, and we get into various ego trips.

Our ego is motivated by latent urges. The actualization of an urge takes place in the concrete world of phenominal manifestation.  There, objects of interest are considered to be the source of our enjoyment. In this way, we cut ourselves off from the real source of all existence, knowledge and bliss, and make a fragmentary world. Like a man thrown into a desert land, we go from one mirage to another, always thinking that the water that can quench our life’s thirst is outside of us. Search as we will, we never find it. When we mistake an object as a source of joy and having lost the inner vision to see the oneness of all, we fight with our own brothers and sisters. 

Since objects are limited, we become competitive, elbowing into the thick of the fray, pushing people out of our path, and becoming totally selfish. This is the scourge of ‘maya’, from which we want to escape. How do we go about it? In the 12th chapter of Bhagavat Gita, Krishna considers one possibility after another: if you can do this one, do it. If not, try this one. If you are not fit for that, there are still other alternatives. In the Bible, Jesus uses several analogies to describe the Kingdom of God. If a certain analogy does not agree with you, there is another one. He embraces several paths leading to the same goal. If you have a temperamental difference with one of them, don't get disappointed. There is still a path for you.

In the present verse, the Guru is offering three such paths, as described below:

The first one is ‘manamalar koythu mahesha pooja cheyyum’- Every word in it is pregnant with meaning. For one who sacrifices the blossoms of the mind to the Supreme Lord, there is no other duty to perform: -
This path is for one who has really advanced in spiritual growth, who knows the expressions of his mind are flowers to be offered. When a person comes closer and closer to his realization, this world no longer appears to him as a terrifying experience. It is filled with pure joy. Everything appears as sweet, fragrant and beautiful as a freshly blossomed flower. When your mind is such that, modifications of it become beautiful like a flower, consider it as worthy of being offered to the very Lord who is the gardener of your life.

Pick flowers of the forest; or, if not that,
By ever-repeating the maya-formula, maya will disappear.
(“Vanamalar koythum athallayaykil
Mayaa manuvuru vittumirikkil mayamarum”):

The second path is ‘Vanamalar koythu’: This one is an obvious act, such as gathering flowers from the forest and engaging in ritualistic propitiation. For a beginner in the state of adoration or worship, it is a spiritual necessity to actually go and gather flowers and make an offering in front of the sacred picture of his God Head. When we look deep into ourselves spiritually, we see a real depth which has no end. So we need symbols like these, only to gain the new dimensions of mind that we seek. Once you catch on and become very profound, they are no longer necessary; it takes you in getting the new mode of relating yourself to the Unknown.

The third alternative path is ‘Mayaamanuvuruvittu’: This is for a contemplative who steadily avoids all snares of phenomenal illusion by exercising proper discernment. For such people, idol worship seems to be too odd. For such rationally inclined people, Narayana Guru reminds them to have a closer look and then they would realize the need of guidance of some basic dictum. For instance, the Upanishad mahavaakya “Tat tvam asi” meaning “you are That”. When a Guru calls his disciple and says the above mahavaakya to use as his key, the student meditates: “How am I the whole Absolute? I am confined in this body”. That is his ‘maya’. To get out of that ‘maya’, he has to ponder on the nameless in the place of what has a name, the formless in the place of what has a form, the imperishable in the place of what is perishable, formless beauty in the place of what is merely ugly or pretty, eternal joy in the place of mere happiness or misery. He goes on doing this in so many ways. Slowly he pushes away the transient, the fleeting, the momentary, the perishable, the superficial. Then that phenomenality will give way to him, and he will come to the numenon, the ever-numinous.

Concluding message:
The Guru has pointed out these three pathways, but in between them are many shades and varieties of search. In all of them, the central idea is the same. Philosophers in both the East and the West have written volumes and volumes of instruction, but when we carefully examine them, they all boil down to the same thing. We have to find out for ourselves what that central theme of dictum is, which we can endlessly repeat with fresh new insights and thus gain a key to get into the essence of any life situation. Then the world will change.

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