It is well known that Shankara had written many precise and specific treatises on Advaita Vedanta for the benefit of the followers within his Ashram system. “Atma jnAna upadesha vidhi” (“The Way To Impart Self-knowledge”) is a much valued and revered prakaraNa grantha among the saints but not that popularly known outside the circle of monks. Swami Ananda Giri has a special love for this text.
I give below a short Review of this monograph of Shankara written by Mahamandaleshwar brahma Shri Maheshananda Giri Maharaj, Pontiff of the Shri Dakshinamurti Peetha, Varanasi, India, published in 2004.
“[AtmajnAnopadeshapadhati] seems to be a shorter edition of the prose section of the UpadesasahasrL But Anandagiri’s comments here are much more exhaustive and refreshing. On a number of topics he throws new light. He also clearly states that the work is from the pen of bhAShyakara himself. But he feels that the name of the work is only Atma-jfiana. The book is considered by him as the essence of all the Upanishads. He begins by indicating the meaning of ‘now’ in the text along the lines laid down by bhAShyakara in brahmasUtra . This particular style is followed all along. Teaching is defined as that which is received by the teacher from an unbroken succession. He clearly enunciates, basing himself on the firm foundation of Apastamba, that abhyudaya is only a shadow of puruShArtha.
The text goes on to teach the discrimination between the knower and the known. Giri beautifully illustrates the similarity of fire and AtmA by calling attention to the fact that in both cases their association with adjuncts make them useful. ‘While the master is awake, the soldiers cannot sleep’, is another analogy from this text taken verbatim by Suresvara and further elaborated by him. At the end of the first chapter Giri condenses the whole chapter into a small verse and this practice is followed in the successive chapters.
The second chapter starts with the question about the nature of AtmA. AcArya answers it in a very exhaustive way. Different from all that is seen and experienced as five sheaths, AtmA is the all-pervasive, innermost, subtlest, eternal, partless, qualityless, actionless, egoless, desireless, self-effulgent being who is witness of all the minds and is situated in the heart. A more concise definition cannot even be imagined. Giri explains each one of them with gusto. The text itself also, after giving the nature of AtmA thus in a nutshell, discusses the inner relationship and also answers certain objections. Between the text and comments the answer is as exhaustive as it should be.
For example the text merely says that the mind and Consciousness are related. The commentary makes it a point to point out that the relation is only a superimposition, since both do not belong to the same category of existence. The next question is ‘how can actionless cause action’? The ·answer is given by the illustration of a magnet. Just as a magnet makes iron-pieces behave as magnets, without itself changing or acting; similarly AtmA makes ego, senses, etc. behave as conscious beings without in any way itself acting or changing. Mere presence is all that is needed.
The third chapter analyses the three states of consciousness. The definition of deep sleep is quite enlightening. The text defines it as ‘the mind devoured by the Consciousness’. Giri explains ‘the Consciousness’ as ‘unknown Consciousness’ i.e. Consciousness covered by ignorance. Scholars will see how necessary the comments become at such crucial points. Without this explanation liberation and sleep may seem to be identical.
The fourth chapter deals with the problem that it is the mind that goes through the three states and not the Self. These states only clearly demonstrate the purity of the Self. Here Sankara clearly states that even the scriptures only remove superimposition, the wisdom dawns by itself. Sankara adds that the grace of guru is the only direct cause of the removal of ignorance. Giri maintains that this is the method of teaching (paddhati) inherited by Sankara from Govinda. This is a very important statement and shows why this text was selected by Giri for such an exhaustive dealing and also why it was not publicized much, for a paddhati according to the orthodox traditions must be received orally. Giri goes on to point out that even man of this age will attain salvation through wisdom and that no more need be taught for attaining the Knowledge of Brahman. He again asserts that all the scriptures have been dealt with here in a nutshell and by mastering this work one knows the secret of all the scriptures.
Thus we find that this is one of the most important works of the Great Master.”