Thought for the week

S. V. Subrahmanian svsubrahmanian at YAHOO.COM
Sat Nov 17 18:23:28 CST 2001

Nov 17, 2001
                     || Om Sri lalitAmbikAyai namaH ||
               || Salutations to Divine Mother Sri Lalitha ||

[What I write here is nothing new.  Many might already know on their own or
through books.  But when such knowledge is confirmed by a generally accepted
independent authority like Sri Sankara it gives us a sense of confidence in
what we think or do.  I write the following with this intent.]

Students of SAstras would find on many occassions in their study that there is
a description of a list of qualities of a saint, devotee or a man of
self-knowledge.  Many of us (if not all), have a tendency to look at them as
eulogies of the mahAtmA who is being described.

One such example is the description of stitaprajna in the bhagavad-gItA.  Sri
Krishna starting from the 55th Sloka to the 72nd, narrates the laxaNas of a
stitaprajna.  laxaNa in this context and in a general sense means defining
characteristics.  So what Sri Krishna described are the defining
characteristics of a stitaprajna (one whose understanding is firmly established
in the knowledge that “I am brahman”).

Since Arjuna asks Sri Krishna as to how a stitaprajna can be identified, we may
have a tendency to treat these defining characteristics as yardsticks by which
we can fathom the spiritual attainment of sanyAsis.  We try to recollect such
verses and examine the lives of saints or their behavior to check if they are
really enlightened or not and if we find that one or two characteristics are
missing, we brand them as charlatans.  This is not a correct attitude towards
the study of scriptures.

Some others, might treat these as eulogies with which one can glorify or praise
Gurus or sanyAsis.  Even though such an attitude can develop reverence towards
men of self-knowledge, that too is not the intended purpose of AchAryAs giving
us such a list of qualities of mahAtmAs.

Then why do SAstras give us such descriptions of mahAtmAs.  Sri Sankara answers
this question in his bhAshyam of b.gItA:

sarvatraiva hi AdhyAtma SAstrE krutArta laxaNAni yAni tAnyEva sAdhanAni
Everywhere in the scriptures, those very characteristics of mahAtmAs, are the
ones that have been taught as the means too (for attainment of self-knowledge),
to be cultivated by the sAdhaka.

So whenever we come across such descriptions, Sri Sankara encourages us to
think of them as stepping-stones for our own evolution.  This is a significant
shift in perspective, from an outward looking mind to an inward looking mind.
Instead of finding gaps between what is said and what is practised by others,
we should measure such gap in our own lives.  This seems to be Sri Sankara's

Also, note that Sri Sankara clearly says "sarvatra" meaning SAstreshu sarvatra
ie., everywhere in the SAstras.  So such a perspective is valid not only for
b.gItA but wherever we encounter such a description.

And what is the basis of such an interpretation?  Sri Sankara continues to

yatna sAdhyatvAt
Since they can be attained through effort

Since these very qualities that are being described, can be attained by
sAdhakas through effort (such an interpretation is valid).  That makes His
interpretation tight and complete.  The nice thing about Sri Sankara's
commentary is that he is not only keen on teaching us  the right meaning, but
also pointing out the right perspective.

So whenever we encounter such descriptions, we should urge ourselves to put
into practice atleast a few of them.

Have a nice weekend.


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