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Athmopadesha Shathakam Verse-31

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Athmopadesha Shathakam (One Hundred verses of Self-Instruction)
Translation & explanation of Verse-31

Without prior experience there is no inference;
This is not previously perceived with the eye;
Therefore, the existence of this all-supporting substance ‘dharmi’;
Is never known through inference.

(“Anubhavamaadiyil onnirikkil allaathe-
Anumithiyillithu munnamakshiyaale
Anubhaviyaathathukondu dharmmiyuntennu
Anumithiyaal ariveelarinnjitenam”)

Key message:-
In this verse followed by the next two verses, Sree Narayana Guru provides the Methodology to assist us in our search for truth. This comes as a very rare treasure to the readers due to its significance. There are three fundamental questions we can ask about the world in which we find ourselves. The first is “what is matter?” furthermore “how does it originate?” and “how does it function?” We see things which we consider to be concrete and existing outside of us. They are part of our experience and can be seen, touched, heard, tasted and smelled. But the origin point is not easy to determine.

The second question is “what is life?” “How does it originate?” What particular quality in matter caused it to live?

The third question is “what is consciousness?” “How does it originate?” and how is it different from life itself? What is the extent of consciousness? How deep is it, and how far can it be stretched? What are its foundations? Naturally the additional consideration arises of what is not consciousness.
The entire gamut of psychology comes under the question of “what is consciousness?” All of biology comes under “what is life?” and the entire world of physics and chemistry comes under the consideration of “what is matter?” These three questions lead us to make ongoing probes into the nature of our universe.
A fourth question comes as a natural corollary. “What do you want to find out?” If it is truth, how do you discern it? You set out to find some great truth. Are you sufficiently familiar with truth to know it when you come face to face with it?

Take an orange for example. How do we know an orange is an orange? What really exists, what is the truth of it? We see a spherical shape, orange coloring and a kind of skin on the outside. When we peel it, the inner contents are juicy. It has a particular smell and taste. We can analyze the orange into its many constituent properties. These are called ‘dharmas’. If we take it for granted, these properties exist, only one thing will still be missing: the orange. Our analysis has only come across shape, taste, color, touch and smell. We do not experience the orange when we touch it; we are only experiencing touch. Or we are experiencing color and shape. Then where is the orange? It is only a composition we have made in our minds out of all its properties, and it is termed as ‘Dharmi’.

Thus, we have a synthetic understanding which integrates many divergent factors. If we go further into the constituents of a thing, they are synthesized of still more basic properties. So what you see is not what is inherent in a substance, but only what is inferred about it. In the example of a flower, Dharmam refers to its color, shape, odor, beauty, size, weight etc. The flower is the thing which facilitates all these ‘dharmas’ to sit or exist. Therefore, the flower is ‘Dharmi’. In this verse, Guru advises us how to know ‘Dharmi’. It is the Supreme Truth, which is protecting all the worldly experiences and act as Saviour. The most important message from this verse is that merely from inference, we cannot know this ‘Dharmi’.

Without prior experience there is no inference;
This is not previously perceived with the eye;

(“Anubhavamaadiyil onnirikkil allaathe-
Anumithiyillithu munnamakshiyaale”):

In this verse, Guru is saying that in order to really know “Brahmam”, the Absolute, you have to experience it at least once. It should be as real as berry in the palm of your hand. Only if you experience it, can you truly be knower of the Absolute.

There have always been disputes going on among people who are steeped in ignorance. And what is their method? They use inferences. Nothing is fully known to them. They see only a little bit and then assume the rest. Pedagogues in our university classes, schools, churches and other social institutions rant and glow solely on the basis of the blatant assumptions of their pre-selected inferences. Guru says you should have to truly experience a thing in order to know it, and what you are here trying to discern does not come under that category. It is not a ‘dharma’, a property which sustains a thing as it is. Rather, it is that which contains all properties, ‘Dharmi’. To arrive at the Absolute is a very frustrating challenge. All the pride of our understanding and learning must be taken away from us. At this point, Guru wants us to know that whatever knowledge we have gained so far is relativistic understanding which has some value in our interpersonal transactions, but won’t help us to know the Self.

Therefore, the existence of this all-supporting substance ‘dharmi’;
Is never known through inference.

(“Anubhaviyaathathukondu dharmmiyuntennu
Anumithiyaal ariveelarinnjitenam”):

Two methods have been adopted by the Rishis of the Upanishads to arrive at what is not known. They share the assumption that there cannot be many truths. Truth should be one, without a second. It cannot have a beginning and an end. The first two methods of the Rishis are to affirm everything. They go on repeating ‘Asthi, asthi’; meaning “and this, and this”. They say, what I see is also truth; what I hear is also truth; what I touch is also truth; what I think is also truth; what I imagine is also truth; what cannot be imagined is also truth”. Anything which comes within the frame of awareness is affirmed as also being true.

The other method is to go on denying everything, ‘Nethi, nethi’; meaning “not this, not this”. After denying everything, you come to a certain mystical silence in which you cannot further deny anything and yet you know that you cannot deny the existence of that state. You are enveloped and engulfed by an undeniable experience.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Yanjavalkya uses the method of negation, while in the Chandokya Upanishad, Aruni uses the method of affirmation. With either method, you arrive at the same truth.
There are two basic types of people, introverts and extroverts. Introverts tend to be withdrawn, introspective and contemplate; extroverts overt, externally minded and craving action. Clearly the method of negation is more suitable for introverts and that of affirmation more suitable for extroverts. In either case, both accept that there is truth to be found. Without ever having experience the totality of truth, they feel its existence. Such intuition is not supported by any reasoning. It does not come as part of emotional life. It is, as if the very truth of being reveals itself through its own beingness.

Concluding message:
If you are fully merged into that pure state, there is no ideation of the subject as ‘I’. Words become useless. One knows that sublimity of height, the oceanic depth and the boundlessness of infinity. Only after fully knowing what that is, will you be able to look upon this world as a passing show, a shadow without substance. At the same time, once you are fully convinced of that, it is a sheer joy to come and play this game of Indra. This is only a preliminary entry into the true path. We have to go a few steps more, and they are given in the next couple of verses. It requires more meditation and contemplation.

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