7.2: JUST ONE PRAYER-SHLOKA IS ENOUGH FOR ALL OF VEDANTA
shrI vaidyanAthAya namaH shivAya //
This simple verse, of 44 syllables, coming from Vaidyanatha-ashhTakaM is, in my opinion, so full of Vedantic content that I have chosen to elaborate upon it. This can be used as a spring-board to float great flights of spiritual imagination, and for nidhidhyasana. This is the Iceberg itself! Not the 'TIP' !
First, an elementary translation into English:
NamaH shivAya : Prostrations to Lord Shiva
shrI vaidyanAthAya : (known as) Shri Vaidya-nAtha, the Lord of all doctors and doctoring, -- (who is)
sahasra-nAmne : (known by) thousands of names
trimUrti-rUpAya: and of several triads of forms
yogIshvara-dhyeya-padAmbujAya : seers of yoga – object of meditation – Lotus feet --- that is,
the Lotus Feet that constitutes the object of meditation by yogic saints
jagan-mayAya : pervading (manifesting) as the perceptible universe; and
vedAnta-vedyAya : the (only) One to be known from all VedAnta.
Now for the elaborations.
IN A NUTSHELL.
In my opinion this innocent-looking verse contains a mine of Vedantic import. First of all the ‘namaH shivAya’ mantra one of the foremost mantras of Hindu religion and philosophy, is imbedded in it. Noelaboration is needed. If we put aside also the personal name ‘VaidyanAthaya’ the other five (impersonal) epithets that govern the name of the Absolute indicate the only five ultimates to which everything may be reduced, namely, sat, cit, Ananda, and nAma and rUpa, as a penultimate step to the final reduction to The advaitic One and Only One. In fact, if one keeps meditating on this shloka one can run through several concepts of advaita, including the concept of mAyA. We shall take these one by one below. We are going by the style of Shankara’s advice in LaghuvAkyavRtti (#17) – repeated by Vidyaranya in his PanchadashI (XIII – 83): “Thinking of that; Talking of that; Mutually reminding one another of the same thing; Being involved only in that – This is known as the practice of the subject of Brahman. (BrahmAbhyAsaM). So say the Wise”:
*tac-cintanaM tat-kathanaM anyonyaM tat-prabodhanaM.
Etad-eka-paratvaM ca brahma-abhyAsaM vidur-budhAH*.
He transcends everything. He can be known only through the declaration of the Vedas. And they declare ‘ahaM brahma asmi’. It is finally the ‘I’ that transcends everything. That transcendent entity is the essential common content of That as well as This. Any attempt to know It has to be done only through the teaching of Vedanta and the spiritual message of the Guru. It is the Ultimate Knowledge that Vedanta directs you to. The Gitacharya makes this astounding declaration in no uncertain terms:
“That which is known by all the Vedas (and by all forms of knowing) am I. I am indeed the knower of Veda and the maker of Vedanta”
*vedaishca sarvair-ahameva vedyo vedAntakRd-veda-vid-eva cAhaM* (XV – 15).
Therefore *vedAnta-vedyAya*. It is something different from dharma and adharma *anyatra dharmAt anyatra adharmAt*, it is different from cause and effect *anyatra kRtAkRtAt*, different from the past and the future *anyatra bhUtAt, anyatra bhavyAt*.
But does it mean then that there is nothing else to be known? What about this visible universe which impacts on us in thousand-and-one ways? In any knowledge of things, we cannot ignore this perceptibility of this universe. Is it not so?
The answer is: No. The perceptibility of the universe is only a transitory phenomenon. Its transitoriness is exactly what makes it less real than the substratum of Brahman on which it is superimposed. This is where we go to the next epithet: jagan-mayAya.
But before we do that, note that the concept of transcendence is the *vyApakatvaM* that the Upanishads are never tired of speaking whenever they refer to the Absolute. Of the two processes by which we have to convince ourselves about the concept of the Absolute, this is the vyatireka process, meaning, the aloofness of the Effect from the Cause.
Incidentally this is the ‘sat’ aspect of the five fundamentals mentioned earlier. The next one is the ‘cit’ aspect.
*jagan-mayAya*: The universe is full of Him. It is He that shows Himself as the universe. So learn to see Him in the universe. *yo mAm pashyati sarvatra* ( He who sees Me everywhere and in everything …) says the Lord (VI – 30). He who sees only the elephant in the wooden elephant (Recall the classic quote in Tamil of Tirumoolar) is only a child in the spiritual plane. The world appears; but it only appears. The elephant appears in the wooden structure; but if you look carefully and take off the elephant appearance from the wood, slowly, gradually, steadily and concentratedly, you will only see the wood. The wood is not now seen ‘behind’ the elephant, not seen as the ‘substratum’ but seen as the only substance that is there. It requires conviction and concentration to get the view of the wood to the exclusion of ‘the elephant’. This is what every advaitic seer wants us to see. And they say: *yaH pashyati sa pashyati*. He who sees (thus), sees!
To see this, at least intellectually, the Kapilopakhyanam of Srimad Bhagavatam gives a telling example. The reflection of light on a wall from a pool of water or a glass, takes our attention to the source of the reflection, namely, to the pool or the glass. But that source itself has an original source, namely the sun in the sky. In the same way the consciousness of the I-sense that we all have must first be traced to the source,the JIva. But that again is not the final source. The ultimate source is the Bundle of Consciousness, that is Brahman.
This is the immanence that the Vedas repeatedly emphasize. What is emphasized is that what we see is not a transformation of Brahman like what was milk earlier is now the curd that we see and taste. The universe is not the result of a *pariNAma* of Brahman. Brahman never undergoes any change. It is Brahman itself that is appearing as the universe. The rope appearing as the snake.
The immanence is the antaryAmitvaM that the Upanishads speak of very often. Of the two processes by which we have to convince ourselves about the Absolute, this is the anvaya process, meaning, the continuity of the Cause in the Effect.
Brahman appears as the Universe. Brahman also appears as JIva. In both cases the reality of the substratum gives an apparent reality to what is superimposed on it. But the two appearances, when the Ignorance vanishes, do not vanish the same way. When Ignorance vanishes, what appeared as the Universe is now known to have been Brahman only. So the Realisation comes that the Universe was only an appearance. On the other hand, when the JIva realises its Brahman-hood, the Jiva appearance does not vanish; the Jiva still remains but now remains as Brahman.
Well, it all seems to be too academic. How do we really ‘experience’ it? Only by resorting to the Lord for guidance. And so we go to the next epithet: *yogishvara-dhyeya-padAmbhujAya*.
Throughout the vast literature of Vedanta, resort to the Lord’s help is a sine qua non. Without the Lord’s Grace Ultimate mokshha is not going to happen. It is not the Effort of Man but the Grace of the Almighty that brings mokshha. His Lotus Feet has to be meditated on and nididhyAsana done with His Grace will open the Gates of Realisation. The ‘Gate of Realisation’ is only another way of saying ‘Ignorance has ended’. Ignorance whose origin is shrouded in mystery – and will ever remain so, in spite of all our erudition, scholarship and logic – has a definite end. That is the end to which we are all striving. The sure way to strive is to hold on to the padAmbhuja (Lotus feet) of the Lord. *mAm-ekaM-sharaNaM vraja* says the Lord as the final message of the Gita.
This is the Ananda aspect because Meditation itself is Bliss.
The joining together of the two extremities – the Feet of the Divine with the head of the devotee – is what is esoterically symbolised by the joining of the palms in the traditional Hindu way of worship. The right palm denotes the feet of the Divine and the left palm denotes the head of the devotee. Succession of poets over the centuries have not only sung the greatness of the Divine Feet, but have sung greater glories of the dust under the Divine Feet (cf. Soundarya-lahari #2: tanIyAmsaM pAmsuM tava caraNa-pangkeruha-bhavaM …) and even of the sandals of the divine feet. Tulsi waxes eloquent on the divine sandals: “they are the two syllables of the tAraka mantra – Rama – to ferry humanity across the ocean of samsAra” (*Akar jug janu jIv jatan ke*) (Ram Charit Manas, Ayodhya kand, #316)
The Lord is in three forms: the standard elementary meaning is, they are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. But the Vedantic tenor of this shloka reminds us that it is not just the conventional meaning of tri-mUrti that is implied here but an esoteric intrpretation of everything that is three-fold. The three guNas, Satva, Rajas and tamas – all the combinations of which give you the entire world of experience;
the three states of awareness, jAgrat, svapna and sushhupti which together give us all our world of experience but still not the Absolute state;
the three facets of activity, by the body (*kAyena*), by the speech (*vacasA*) and by the mind (*manasA*) but still the Absolute is not accessible to any of these;
the three portions of time, past (*bhUta*), present (*bhavat*) and future (*bhavya*);
the three syllables that make up the mystic word *Aum* that represents Brahman itself;
the three giant strides that the Lord took to measure all the three portions of universal space;
the three yogas, Karma, bhakti and jnAna
the three Vedas that spend all their words on Him but still fail to show Him to us, though it is The Absolute that is the bottomline of all the Vedas!
Recall Bhattatiri’s verse (98 – 9) in this connection. Also Kamba Ramayanam: Iranian vadaip-paDalaM Verse 251 beginning with *mUnru avan guNangaL ..*
The thousand names that try to describe Him do not complete the delineation; because it can never be completed. He is *acintyaM* (not delimited by thought-process), *aprameyaM* (not delimited by any counting or measuring process) *avyapadeshyaM* (not indicatable by any indicator), *avyavahAryaM* (not relatable) . The word ‘sahasra’ only indicates the non-enumerability of His names and qualities. He actually has no name and that is why any name fits Him! Each name says something of its content about the Absolute. Since there are infinite things to say about the Absolute, the count of names is endless. The power of each name has been extolled to the skies. But the power comes from the fact that the name represents the Absolute. In the standard prayer that one recites from the Vedas while doing the ritual of daily bath, one has the statement “aham asmi brahma aham asmi” meaning I am Brahman, Brahman am I. Without resorting to this ultimate statement of Existence no power, human or divine, can wash off the sins of the human mind. The jnAnAgni – Fire of Self-Wisdom – is what extinguishes all the actions and their imprints.