For many who may criticise Sri Adi Sankaracharya about his adherence to the realisation of the non-dual reality, a verse from the Vivekachoodamani comes as a stunner. It says, ‘Moksha Sadhana Samgryam Bhaktireva Gareeyasi’ (among all the means to know the truth and attain liberation, bhakti or devotion is the best).
Before you may express surprise about the Master of Vedanta talking of bhakti comes the clarification about it in the very next line: ‘Swaswarupavasandhanam Bhaktirityabhidheeyate’ (constantly meditating on one’s true self is called bhakti).
Though bhakti may be the royal path to self-realisation, it is not the devotion that is commonly understood. We understand the devotion by which a devotee prays to god, surrenders or communes with the divine especially to ask for something—a promotion, an expensive object, clearance of visas, a luxurious house, to marry this person or that, a business deal or the desired employment.
Here, meditation upon the self is called bhakti and that is the best among all paths to realisation. Empowered with practice of devotion, the supreme path, the seeker after liberation needs to approach a Master who knows the truth. This is the way to be free of the bondage of existence.
The Master outlines the qualities of a Guru. He needs to be well-versed in the Shastras on self-realisation. His mind must be free of a tendency for sinful thoughts and consequent expression as actions. He must be a person who should not be persecuted by desires.
He is the supreme among the knowers of the truth. He must have withdrawn his mind into the contemplation of the Brahman. His mind must be free of waves of thoughts, like a steady fire which does not need to be stoked by fuel.
Seekers are of many kinds and the preceptor needs to have not just extreme patience but the compassion that is causeless, almost the size of an ocean.
Such a person will be worshipped by the good. Having worshipped such a Guru with great devotion, the student must approach him quietly, ask him questions about the Brahman and continue serving him. When the Guru is pleased at his service and devotion, he must ask him questions about the Atman or Self, which alone needs to be known.
The next two verses have lilting music. It is the prayer of the devotee who is desperate about knowing the truth. “O Master, I salute you who is the friend to all those who bow down to you. You are an ocean of compassion. I have fallen into this great ocean called existence.
Lift me up with as much effort as looking through the corner of your eye which constantly rains the nectar of compassion.”
The writer is Sevika, Chinmaya Mission, Coimbatore (www.chinmayamission.com);