Adi Sankaracharya has written another important prakarana grantha or a text that dwells on one or few points spoken of in the Upanishads. Like Tattwa Bodha, which means knowledge of the essence of one’s self, dealing with different layers of essence in the human being starting from body, vital air, mind, intellect and ignorance of our true self, Atma Bodha is knowledge of our true self. This was dealt with in one sentence at the end of Tattwa Bodha and is the major topic in Atma Bodha.
The first verse in the Atma Bodha starts with an auspicious word called ‘tapas’ or austerity. Austerity increases our store of vital energy. To do any activity, this vital energy store is very important. An image of ‘tapas’ which the word triggers in the mind is hence a very auspicious one and it is called mangalacharanam or an auspicious beginning. Well begun indeed is half done.
When we want to know details of a subject, we go to that section in the library or a book store. If I wish to get self-help, I go to that rack or category of books. If I wish to know about physics, I search under that subject head.
In the same way, our traditional scriptures had a method by which students can identify what is the topic they are searching for and what is the right book to read. It is called anubandha chatushtaya.
Besides having an auspicious word to begin a text, tradition demands that four aspects must be present while introducing a text. They are ‘Adhikari’—the student who is fit for reading the text. For instance, the one who has completed Class XII with majors in Botany, Zoology, Physics and Chemistry is a fit student to apply for MBBS. One cannot study commerce and economics and apply for an engineering degree.
In the same way, a fit person to study the Atma Bodha is one whose restless mind has been denuded due to consistent practice of austerities. They are peaceful of mind and devoid of desires and attachments to the objects of the world outside.
The vishaya or the content of the text is Atma Bodha or knowledge of one’s own self—who I am. The connection between the adhikari and the vishaya—i.e, the fit student and knowledge of self is the sambandha or relationship.
The fourth aspect is called phala or result of reading the book. The result of reading this text called Atma Bodha is the mumukshu or one who desires freedom of mind will get the desired knowledge and means to that goal of liberation by meditating on this book.