Twelve years ago, almost to the day in May, in the same place which has now been re-built as the Hilton Garden Inn, Nanuet, NY, Shubhraji gave her first talk in Rockland on Bhaja Govindam by Adi Sankara. While that was great vedantic advice to us materialists smitten by the glitter of the world, “Pratah Smarami” also by Sankara, lays bare the essential tenets of Vedanta in three terse verses that Shubhraji explained over a two- day series of talks. Vedantins of the tri-state area of the US, we have come a full circle, having in the interim heard numerous talks by Shubhraji on karma, bhakti, gyana and the pure advaita of the Upanishads!
How beautifully and effortlessly Sankara says it all! One can imagine this young renunciate on the banks of a placid river, brimming with knowledge and pouring it out in poetic adoration, several centuries ago. The morning sun for him personifies the shining effulgence of the Self while at the opposite end is the example of the rope that is mistaken for a snake, much as we often take this world of plurality to be the “be all and end all” of our existence. To Sankara who began following his spiritual calling at the tender age of 8, it was very easy. He considered the jagat (the creation) to be mithya (an illusion) and Brahman to be the satya (truth). Living in the world and dealing with all the day to day problems, we find this hard to practice. “If you understand, even intellectually, this game of life, you can live in joy,” says Shubhraji. Everything has a beginning and an end but Consciousness is permanent and the world plays and dissolves into it, she adds.
Sankara chooses to meditate at dawn (hence the title Pratah Smarami) on that essence which shines in the heart as the Self. This is the goal of the sages, he says. Answering the question, “what am I?” he concludes that I am that silent witness to my three states of dream, wakefulness and deep sleep. We are not, he declares, just a collection of elements, we are that illuminating Supreme. Morning is a very powerful time when the mind is quiet and we can plug in directly to the universal energy and raise our conscious awareness. When this is done, atman beams through our equipment, explains Shubhraji. We are so limited by our belief systems and live in mistaken identity. We are in bondage when we let the problems of our mind rule our lives. We need to go “home to Om.” There in our hearts, we can find the radiating, effulgent atman. In fact, says Shubhraji, when negative thoughts are replaced by positive energy, health, wealth and lessening of tensions automatically takes place in our lives.
The second verse talks of the God of Gods – unborn, transcendent, the highest, one that Sankara admits, words cannot describe. The Vedas themselves have only given indications of the highest truth through the use of the words “neti, neti” (not this, not this). Yet, observes Sankara, even for such meager words of praise to arise in our mind, one needs the “anugraha” or that wondrous “grace” from Him. Shubhraji clarifies that nothing can happen without grace. Self effort is important, but along with it there should be surrender and a call for His grace. In prayer we sublimate our minds and by meditation lift it up, to try and make that connection. Ask God for what you need, but add “Oh Lord, give this to me if it is for my highest good”, she says.
The final verse is a sun salutation from Sankara. He describes the sun in one phrase – beyond darkness. The glow of the sun and its radiance lights up and nourishes our world, yet it does not discriminate or take any credit. The sun shines for all, so long as we open the windows to enjoy its bounty. In the same way, we need to reach out to the Supreme to enjoy His impartial grace. Sankara refers to this entity as Purushottamman, the one who resides in this 9-gated “puri” or abode, our body. He is the infinite, ultimate Self. Our senses are always looking outward for gratification and our avidya (lack of knowledge) often causes us to project our fears, for example viewing an innocent rope as a snake, says Sankara. The solution for this says Shubhraji, is hearing the truth through study of vedantic scriptures and having the guidance of a good teacher. Then she says, simply do the meditation of “I am”. Do not be caught up in this world.
Reciting the Morning Prayer each day is a great way to remind ourselves of the real and unreal and bring into focus what we really need to seek in life.
[Shyamala Shankar : Rockland County, NY]
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