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Lamp of Non-duality (Advaitha Deepika) Class I

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Sree Narayana Guru’s original works, whether philosophical poems or hymns, are all imbued with the essence of non-dualistic (Advaitha) perception. In the Athmopadesa Sathakam, (One Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction) in the Malayalam language, he presents his philosophy of non-dualism comprehensively with all relevant philosophical problems dealt with his own original and systematic way. In the Sanskrit work Darsana Mala, (Garland of Visions) he follows, on the other hand, more or less the traditional way, though the garland-shaped structural scheme is something hitherto not conceived by any predecessor of the Vedantic tradition. Summarizing the core of Vedanta philosophy in five verses is what he does in Brahmavidya Panchakam (The Science of the Absolute in Five Verses). His other purely philosophical works are Arivu (Consciousness), Sloka-thrayi (Triad of Verses) and Advaitha Deepika (Lamp of Non-duality), each answering a specific major problem that arises from the Advaitha philosophy.
The first eight verses of Advaitha Deepika, the work we examine here, give stress to one basic stance crucial to Vedanta: that one causal Reality alone has real existence, and that Reality in essence is pure and unconditioned Consciousness. The world, according to this view, is unreal. Then arises a problem: even after becoming fully convinced that the world is unreal, it continues to be perceived by the senses; why is it so? The next seven verses answer this question succinctly, and the last two verses give us directions as to what kind of spiritual discipline enables us to solve this problem for ourselves.
The finality (Self-realization) of Vedantic teaching is not derived from logic. So too, the solution to the problem raised is not based purely on logical reasoning. It is rather the intuitive penetrative eye of dialectical wisdom that resolves the problem.
The fixed idea that the world exists as it appears to be is the root cause of all problems in life. Vedanta teaches: what really exists is not the world, but is Consciousness or Athma alone. What appears as the world, including the problems in life that form a part of it, are simply imageries that appear and disappear in the Consciousness-Reality because of its own Maya. Treating them seriously is the mistake we make. Contemplation on these lines makes life peaceful, contended and stable. Giving a helping hand to seekers who tread this contemplative path is the sole purpose of this short commentary.
Translation & explanation of Verse-1
Names in their thousands, mental images in their thousands,
And the corresponding inalienably emerging objects in their thousands –
These together constitute the world.
As long as not reflected on properly, it seems real,
Just as dreams persist to seem real so long as the dreamer does not awaken;
But when he awakens, the entire dream becomes merged into himself.

(“Per aayiram prathibhayaayiram ingivattil
Aaral ezhum vishayam aayiramam prapancham
Oraaykil nerithu kinaavunarum varaikkum
Neram unarnnalavunarnnava namashesham”):
Advaitha Deepika (Lamp of Non-duality) is the name of this philosophical poem. Dvaitha (duality) is the state in which one perceives or admits two realities or more-than-one reality. Advaitha is the opposite of Dvaitha, and means the state in which not two is perceived. A perception constituted of countlessly multiple entities is the world we are familiar with. Considering all such apparent entities as real on their own is what Dvaitha signifies in Indian Philosophy. Advaitha, on the other hand, is the perception of one underlying Reality in all that appears as many. Then the question arises, “What is that one all-underlying causal Reality?” This question is where the real search begins.
Deepa means “lamp” and Deepika is a little lamp. A little lamp, when lit, makes a bit of the surrounding area clearly perceptible. Here too is lit a little lamp – the lamp of non-dual perception, shedding light within a clearly conceivable area of thought. As a result, a basic doubt gets resolved. This is a doubt that arises from the very core of what Vedanta ultimately teaches: why does the world continue to be perceived by the senses even after one becomes convinced that it is unreal?
Seekers have always emerged throughout the world. Two are the questions they try to answer: “Who am I?” “From where did this world come into being?” Though seemingly different, the two questions are mutually complementary. Finding an answer to the former takes one to the conviction that the Reality that underlies one’s own being is what constitutes the essential content of the whole world as well. Conversely, the search for the causal source of the world answers the question “Who am I?” also, for every individual is an inalienable part of the world. The one Reality that underlies the being of oneself and the being of the world thus becomes, revealed. To live as an embodiment of that Reality is known as Sakshathkaara, the nearest English word being “Realization”.
Sree Narayana Guru adopts a different approach in each work to unveil his philosophical vision. The Athmopadesa Sathakam, (One Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction), the most important and most comprehensive of his Malayalam compositions, is an attempt to answer the question “Who am I?” In Advaitha Deepika, on the other hand, the reflections begin as a search for the causal Reality that underlies the world-appearance. A specific question issuing from the conclusion thus arrived at, is then asked in verses 9 and 10, and answering it is what the rest of the work does.
That this world is an aggregate of countless names (nama) and forms (roopa) is a classical concept as old as the Upanishads, the most ancient source books of Vedanta. Going still deeper than this traditional concept, the Guru here thinks of the world as constituted of innumerable names, innumerable mental images and the correspondingly innumerable objects of perception.
What modern science thinks of as the world is the sum total of all physical entities physically perceived by our sense organs. And that physical world is boundlessly expansive. Do the objects thus perceived really exist as they are perceived? We are not sure. Even if granted that they do exist so, they do not become part of the experienced world unless an experiencing mind or consciousness functionally exists. And in that mind numerous ideas should get formulated, each corresponding to an object. This domain of ideas or mental images has to be as extensive as the objective world. World-experience thus is a two-faceted functional situation in which the endlessly expanding perceptible objects form one facet, and the corresponding endlessly expanding world of mental images forms the other. One facet is meaningless without the other.
Every object in the perceptible world has a corresponding image in the perceiver’s mind. The Guru calls it prathibha, literally, “a corresponding bright image”. Every image thus formulated is usually given a name. Whenever the name is articulated, it helps recall the image of the object. So too, encountering the same or the same type of objects again recalls back the former mental image and the name, enabling us to recognize the encountered object. As far as man, the living being who communicates through languages using words, is concerned, the inseparable oneness of these three - names, mental images, external objects-constitute the experienced world.
Ideas get formulated in our minds; names doubtlessly are devised by minds; and the external perceptible objects, as we will see soon, are nothing but mind or consciousness-substance manifesting itself. The three, in short, are nothing but one unconditioned Consciousness becoming variously conditioned. Therefore, what really exists is none of these three, but one unconditioned Consciousness alone. This truth becomes revealed to an enlightened seeker. Until thus enlightened, the world as it appears would seem real; the mental images would seem real; the names would seem real.
One of the peculiarities of human mind is that it dreams. Scenes common as well as uncommon in ordinary life are often seen in dreams. They may be believable or unbelievable, pleasant or unpleasant. They are all mere dreams, not real. Yet their being unreal becomes revealed only upon waking. Until then all those scenes would be counted as real. Where do those seemingly real scenes disappear upon waking up? Nowhere else than in the one who was dreaming, those scenes thus do not just cease to exist but only disappear in the dreamer who continues to exist.
Human mind and human life pass alternately through three states: waking, dreaming and sleeping. All of these and their experiences are nothing but various dream-scenes seen by one unconditioned Consciousness. A dream has no existence apart from the dreamer’s mind, itself assuming the form of dreams. This world is an eternal dream dreamt by the one pure and unconditioned Consciousness, also called Chith.
No dreamer is aware of the fact that what he sees is a mere dream. So too, one who is engrossed in the world-experiences that pass through the alternating three states, does not realize that what one continuously perceives is a prolonged dream, that those scenes are not real on their own. This ignorance, in Vedanta, is known as ajnaana. Waking up from this ignorance is comparable to the waking of a dreamer. Only on this waking up one realizes that what one was till then perceiving as the world is merely one pure Consciousness (Chithu) manifesting itself variously, and that its existence is merely dream-like. Who we imagine ourselves to be, is simply part of that dream.
Whose dream is this, called the world? Of the one pure and unconditioned Consciousness or Chithu. Whose Consciousness is it? No one’s; it is simply the non-dual Consciousness that unfolds itself as all experiences. Though ultimately inconceivable, when conceptualized, it can be seen as cosmic as well as individuated, in the former apect it is known as Brahmam (the Absolute) and in the latter as Athma (the Self). The cosmic aspect at times is also called Ishvara (God) or Parameswara (the Supreme God) as the context demands, thus it could also be said, this world is a dream dreamt by Parameswara, as the Guru himself conceives in the beginning verse of the Darsana Mala, his most important philosophical poem in the Sanskrit language. He says:
In the beginning, non-existent indeed was this world. Thereafter the dream-like upsurge of everything was caused by Parameswara by His sheer will. (Verse-1)
Woken up from this dream, what remains would be Parameswara alone, Brahmam alone, Athma alone, I alone. In the absence of this “I”, in the absence of the perceiving “I”, the very existence or non-existence of this perceptible world is of no relevance. Such is the line of reflection in the next verse.

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