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.”



12 thoughts on “AtmajnAnopadeshavidhi

  1. Dear Ramesam,

    I have not heard of this text (and it is not listed in the prakaraNa grantha-s at Wikipedia – Do you have any more information?

    I have, of course, heard of Anandagiri but I have been unable to find out much about him from any source.

    I have to say that, reading through the review, a number of points struck me as alien to Shankara: AtmA is not the ‘innermost’ of the sheaths and is not ‘situated in the heart’; finally I don’t think I am aware of anywhere where Shankara says that scriptures ‘only remove superimposition’ whereas I am definitely aware of several places where he says that scriptures are the only source of knowledge.

    Best wishes,

  2. Hi Dennis,

    Atmajnanopadesavidhi aka Atmopadesha-vidhi or Balabodhini is one of the many works attributed to Shankara that are not accepted as genuine by most modern scholars. S. K. Belvalkar classes it as a work which is “usually but not convincingly, supposed to belong to Shankara’s authorship.” G.C. Pande in his study of Shankara’s life and works regards it as likely spurious. Based on the colophon, Paul Hacker rejects it outright. It is mentioned by Dasgupta in his history who comments (p. 78), “The main reasons why a number of works which were probably not written by [Shankara] were attributed to him seem to be twofold; first, because there was another writer of the same name, i.e. Shankaracharya, and second, the tendency of Indian writers to increase the dignity of later works by attributing them to great writers of the past. The attribution of all the Puranas to Vyasa illustrates this very clearly.” Atmajnanopadesavidhi has been translated into English with Anandagiri’s explanatory notes by Swami Jagadananda along with ‘Vakyavritti’. It’s published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai. Only the latter work appears in the title.


  3. Dear Dennis,

    The very purpose of my post is to highlight this particular prakaraNa grantha which is NOT taught to everyone (nor by everyone!) and, hence, is not popularly known to all. I am not surprised that you did not “hear” about it.

    2. You can see that it is now listed at the Wikipedia!
    Links are also given to a 1941 publication by Swami Jagadananda of RK Order and also the Sanskrit text published by Mahesh Institute of Varanasi, India in 2004.

    3. Re: Your observation: “I have to say that, reading through the review, a number of points struck me as alien to Shankara: …”

    I am afraid, you are not at all correct there in what you say.

    i) Re: “AtmA is not the ‘innermost’ of the sheaths”:

    Shankara himself writes at taittirIya 2.2.1:

    “अन्नमयादिभ्य आनन्दमयान्तेभ्य आत्मभ्यः अभ्यन्तरतमं ब्रह्म विद्यया प्रत्यगात्मत्वेन दिदर्शयिषु शास्त्रम् अविद्याकृतपञ्चकोशापनयनेन …”

    Meaning: brahman is the inmost of all the selves beginning with the physical sheath and ending with the blissful one … (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).

    ii) Re: “not ‘situated in the heart’”:

    Shankara himself writes at 15.15, BGB:

    सर्वस्य च प्राणिजातस्य अहम् आत्मा सन् हृदि बुद्धौ संनिविष्टः ।

    Meaning: “I dwell in the hearts (buddhi) of all sentient beings as their Self.” (Translation: A.M. Sastri).

    Also see: 13.17, BGB. 10.20, BGB.

    Also see:

    2.3.24, BSB : हृदि ह्येष आत्मा पठ्यते वेदान्तेषु ,

    Because this Self (soul) is mentioned in the Upanishads as existing in the heart …

    3.6, prashna : हृदि ह्येष आत्मा’ (प्र. उ. ३ । ६) (For this Self is in the heart);

    स वा एष आत्मा हृदि — chAnd 8.3.3; (That Self, that is such, is in the heart).

    There are far too many more references to list!

    iii) Re: “only remove superimposition’”:

    First of all, you cannot delete part of that sentence. The full sentence says: “Sankara clearly states that even the scriptures only remove superimposition, the wisdom dawns by itself. ”

    The reference here is to the apophatic (via negativa) teaching through “neti neti” as brihadAraNyaka says.

    अथात आदेशो नेति नेति’ — 2.3.6, brihat

    Meaning: Now therefore the description (of Brahman): ‘Not this, not this.’ (Translation: Swami Madhavananda).

    Also, एष नेति नेत्यात्मागृह्यो — 4.5.15

    Meaning: This self is That which has been described as ‘Not this, not this.’

    Once the superimposed not-Self is eliminated,

    पुरुषः स्वयं ज्योतिर्भवति ॥ — 4.3.9, brihat

    Meaning: “In this state the man himself becomes the light. (Translation: Swami Madhavananda).


    P.S. : The Hotline to Shankara seems to have broken today!!!

  4. Dear Ramesam,

    I refer you to Rick’s post regarding authorship.

    Regarding ‘innermost’, that is not the literal meaning. The idea is that one gives up identification with successively more subtle aspects of the mithyA, vyAvahArika body-mind and ends up with the satyam, pAramAthika Atman. And that is NOT the Anandamaya koSha!

    Ditto, Atman is not ‘in the heart’. This idea arose simply because it was thought in those days that the intellect was situated in the heart and was an allusion to the fact that enlightnment takes place in the mind. Yes, there ARE lots of references! (Please do not bother contradicting this again – I know you do not accept it.)

    And yes, of course we have to negate those things that we think we are FIRST, so that shruti can then tell us what we ARE. But the fact that you are Brahman is not something that is going to spontaneously arise in the mind!

    Best wishes,

    P.S. So it would seem…

  5. Hi Rick,

    Nice to see your intervention re: the Authenticity of the Authorship of AtmajnAnopadeshavidhi. As you, undoubtedly, may not be unaware, such studies on the authorship of the centuries old works are always speculative, especially if those publications are from arm-chair academicians. The tradition increasingly doubts the reliability of such research papers because of their approach, methodology and even the analytical tools used in arriving at the conclusion to “certify” the authenticity of a work.

    Dr. V. Sundaresan, after an exhaustive work using ‘PancIkaraNa’ as a case study, concludes towards the end of his paper: “To insist every genuine text must conform to BSBh is a very restrictive requirement that is not satisfied even by the commentaries.”

    He continues to say, “A critical outlook must therefore be accompanied by a constructive engagement with tradition. There is no justification for assuming that no prakaraNa text is genuine. Much fundamental work still needs to be done, in the form of Shankara’s undisputed texts. A study of the important prakaraNa texts in conjunction with the commentaries may also offer other useful insights into the structure of Advaita Vedanta thought.” — Phil of E & W, 52, 2002, pp: 1-35.

    The less we say about the opinions of people like KSD, the better it is.

    When well-known tIkakAra like the early 13th CE Anada Giri considers a text to be genuine work of Shankara and commented on it, it is hard to dispose it off with a wave of the hand. Further, when Swami Maheshananda Giri said that this text is derived from the Prose part of upadesha sAhashrI, it becomes difficult to think that some minor author would have had the audacity to design and push it as a new prakaraNa grantha and is unrelated to Shankara.

    all the best,

  6. Hi Ramesam,

    Your remarks are well taken and it’s prudent not to be over-confident when ascribing or denying Shankara’s authorship of a disputed text. Serious scholars, however, do not assume that no prakarana text is genuine; nor do they lack a constructive engagement with the tradition (at least not the ones that I know). They tend to follow the relevant evidence where it leads and do not dispose of an putative attribution with a wave of the hand. Certainly reasonable persons can disagree about such matters and probably should. In any case, the most important thing for most of us is not whether a work is correctly attributed Shankara, but rather to what extent it can help us understand things a bit more clearly and contribute to what I consider an enlightened outlook, i.e. away from an ego-centered viewpoint to one centered in the Real.


  7. Dear Rick,

    “In any case, the most important thing for most of us is not whether a work is correctly attributed Shankara, but rather to what extent it can help us understand things a bit more clearly and contribute to what I consider an enlightened outlook, i.e. away from an ego-centered viewpoint to one centered in the Real.”


    I couldn’t have said it any better!
    Thank you.

    A couple of other thoughts I may like to share here.

    It is near impossible to try to look for modern verbiage or idiom in the millennia old ancient texts or judge them based on modern concepts.

    Secondly, in the times of Shankara and earlier, the oral tradition of transmission of texts supported by necessary hand gestures and iterations for correct intonation, recital etc. was so strong that it’s equally impossible to corrupt or introduce spurious words into a grantha. No grantha, whether a prakaraNa or main book, is even touched or recited unless a man has had his bath, meditation and prayer in order to retain the purity, sanctity and holiness of the grantha, It was unlike anything in the modern day. One cannot overlook these aspects too before we easily dispense away with a text as genuine or not.

    all the best,

  8. “It is near impossible to try to look for modern verbiage or idiom in the millennia old ancient texts or judge them based on modern concepts.”

    I think that’s unavoidable and indeed necessary to some extent if a tradition is to remain relevant for modernity. Certainly it has been the case for all the world’s major religions.

  9. No, Rick.
    Looks to me that you misread me.
    Yes, please, by all means, interpret and understand the ancient texts and what they are trying to reveal in one’s own modern language and idiom. But my point is that we cannot condemn an ancient text because it followed the idiom of its day!

    I hope you also consider the fact that some of the great ancient spiritual systems disappeared without a trace like the Pharo’s philosophies of Egypt, Zoroastrianism, Mayan philosophy, Mesopotamian cultures etc. etc. all over the world; but Vedantic thought and its philosophy did not in spite of continued invasions and attacks. That is only because of its strength of incorruptibility and retaining its purity.

  10. Ramesam
    A very potent piece by Shankara. I had the pdf version from Swami Jagadananda but never read it.
    First time heard about the metaphor of movershi0 of magnet moving iron by sheer viscinity.
    Interesting that at the end it seems to make a bold statement ” Self is not provable” ” Vedas- not even by them it is proved” 4.11
    And then finally in 4.13 “a man of knowledge knows within himself that he has attained Self Knowledge”
    The direction, I see personally, is pointing towards direct path…
    And also the last verse 4.14 is very difficult to swallow for many of the neo vedantins
    “An aspirant after self knowledge wakes up from deep sleep of ignorance… the grace of teacher”. Even Shankara accepted grace as the final nail.

  11. Dear Vijay,

    Thank you for your observations.
    I fully agree with your succinct statement that ‘Atma jnAna upadesha vidhi’ is a “A very potent piece by Shankara.”

    As the title indicates, it’s more of a manual for “How to teach” Advaita. It is much revered in the tradition, but the general readers are usually unaware.

    First off, let me express my thanks to you for sharing a copy of Swami Jagadananda’s translation. It’s been quite useful.

    I was initially confused by the citation given by you as 4.11, 4.14 etc. as the Original of Shankara was a prose text and did not have these numberings. I now see that the Translator has sequentially numbered the sentences for ease of translation.

    Yes, as you referred to in your e-mail, there is a “Confusion” in the minds of some of the Western readers who depend on mere English translations of the Upanishads, regarding the role of ‘intellect’ in knowing brahman. Such a confusion arises because of a misinterpretation of the kaTha mantra 2.6.12, as pointed out by the Swami Ji that the Self can be known by the “pure intellect.” Shankara, with his large foresight, anticipates such misinterpretations and points out toward the end of the Chapter 2 of this work that the intellect, even after its transformation into Oneness, does contribute to the superimposition of itself being an ‘object’ to the Self.

    Shankara is also unequivocal in his declaration that “just as the Sun cannot be illuminated by any of the objects that he illuminates, intellect can never illuminate the Self. In the last two sentences of the chapter 2, Shankara reiterates that the Self can never be an object to the intellect.

    Swami Jagadananda links this discussion at the Ch 2 to the Chapter 4 where Shankara says that even the Vedas cannot establish the existence of the Self. Self is self-evident. What the scripture can do is at best, as pointed out by Shankara, that it proves “the Knowledge of Oneness of brahman and the Self by way of negating the qualities of not-Self imposed on the Self.”

    Shankara adds further that “Vedas are the proofs not by producing an effect, but by revealing the unknown meaning, which is the oneness of the ‘implied meaning’ of the two words, viz., tat and tvam.”

    The 12th line in the Ch 4 is a summary of the entire thrust of this booklet, encompassing many mantras from brihat, IshAvAsya, Setaswatara etc. as pointed out by the Swami Ji.

    I agree with what you say with regard to the next 2 lines (4.13 and 4.14).

    Overall, as you suggest, this short text is a very potent and unique prakaraNa grantha from Shankara.


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