Down Ribbon: Celestial Truths Part-3
(S.G.V. Ramanan, Bengaluru)




Part III– Contents of this part :


Ch.19 - Varna Dharma and Jathis-1

Ch.20 - Varna Dharma and Jathis-2

Ch.21 - Ten Upanishads-1

Ch.22 - Ten Upanishads-2

Ch.23 - Bakthi Marga-1

Ch.24 - Bakthi Marga-2

Ch.25 - Bakthi Marga-3

Ch.26 - Bakthi Marga-4

Ch.27 – Bakthi Marga-5 Adi Sankara’s Shatpadi Sthothras-1

Ch.28 – Bakthi Marga-6 Adi Sankara’s Shatpadi Sthothras-2

Ch.29 – Bakthi Marga-7 Adi Sankara’s Shatpadi Sthothras-3

Ch.30 – Bakthi Marga-8 Adi Sankara’s Shatpadi Sthothras-4


A 4-Part series.


(Access other 3 parts by clicking the link below)


Part 1

Part 2

Part 4



Chapter 19

Varna Dharma and Jathis - 1


One of the most controversial and least understood subjects is Varna Dharma prescribed in Hindu religion. The numerous castes and sub-castes that plague the society today are confused with Varna Dharma. The Mahaswamy has taken pains to explain the four Varnasrams and clears the confusion in the minds of people about this. He has also dispelled the misunderstanding that one Varna people are superior to others. Some of his thoughts on the subject are presented in this and the next Chapters.

(Before getting into his explanations, I would like to share my humble thoughts on this. While giving my views, it should not be understood that I doubt or question Mahaswamy’s erudite thoughts and explanations. In India, in a large majority of cases, the practice of following the avocations of their parents and forefathers is still in vogue. Examples of this are mostly found in the villages and amongst the agriculture and business communities, skilled artisans, sculptors etc. It is true that in some cases, children from these communities have taken up different avocations; these are more of an exception than a rule. On the other hand, for various reasons, Brahmins by birth, have in a large majority of cases, chosen to discard their traditional avocation and taken up different ones to suit their temperament and nature. – I am one of them – This, according to Mahaswamy, was not a welcome feature; during his life time, he took various measures to encourage them to study Vedas and stick to the profession assigned to their varna (community) largely to benefit the society as a whole. It is a mute question how far he has succeeded in this. This is true of the Kshatriya community also. Few of them have chosen the country’s defence establishments. Some have gone into the field of politics; in one way, seen in the modern context, this can be termed as a role similar to Kshatriyas.

Some years back, while he was at the helm of Tamil Nadu Government. Rajaji tried to promote this varna dharma. Unfortunately, this was not welcomed with enthusiasm. There is some validity in the argument that children have better advantage in following the vocations followed by their parents and this applies largely to skilled jobs. But the society which is being evolved now, have different views. They tend to believe that even skilled jobs can be learnt through educational institutions and one need not learn the jobs from their parents.

 What I am doing in this Chapter is to present the views of Mahaswami which is a reflection of what is contained in Vedas and Manusmruti. I do not want to dwell on this subject any more. Please read further. -Ramanan)

Varna Dharma and Jathis

“There are four Varnas- Brahmins, Kshtriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras. Within each, there are many Jathis. Among Brahmins there are Iyers, Iyengars, Raos and so on. In the fourth Varna there are Mudaliars, Pillais, Reddys, Naikkers, Nayudus, Goundars, Padayachis, etc”.

“The Sastras, lay down separate rights and practices for the four Varnas.”

“Hindus today feel ashamed of the fact that a religion of which they have otherwise reasons to be proud (because it once belonged to the whole world) should have so many differences in it. Other religions have their own do’s and don’ts. The 10 Commandments are meant for all Christians, so are the injections of the Quran for all Muslims.”

But in Hinduism, the do’s and don’ts are not the same for all; what one man does as the part of his dharma becomes adharma if done by another. For instance, it is Dharma for one man to wear the sacred thread and chant the Vedas, while the same is adharma for another. If the person, who chants the Vedas, does not bathe and keep his stomach empty he will be guilty of adharma. Another however, need not necessarily bathe nor observe fasts.”

(The Mahaswamy then begins to enumerate the various questions asked like why there is discrimination, why there are constant irritants and why at all the Varna system-sgvr).

“Our religion is still alive in spite of all its differences and in spite of the fact that people are troubled by doubts about the same. Some are at heart, proud of Hinduism, but would like all Hindus to form a single class without any distinction as is the case with the followers of other religions.  (Some explain :) Krishna Paramatma, says in the Gita, that the vocation are assigned to the people according to differences in nature, and not according to their birth. Hence they hold caste to be a blot on our religion and believe that the system of hereditary occupations did not originally obtain but was a later invention.”

(The Mahaswamy   begins to examine each one of these objections. -sgvr)

Jathis according to Vedas and Gita

“I will give firm proof in support of the view that jathi is based on birth and not on the nature or quality of individuals. …. The Samskaras (like upanayana and chaula) are based on birth and performed in childhood. So it would be absurd to claim that one’s vocation is based on one’s nature of qualities.”

“It is jathi dharma that goes to make the inner guna (inner quality or nature) of an individual. So, Sri Krisna’s dictum in the Gita that the Chaturvarna division is in accordance with gunas and the idea that caste is based on birth are one and the same. There is no conflict between the two.”

“Lord Krisna speaks in the Gita of samadharshana, samachiththa and sambuddhi from the yogin’s point of view, but by no means does he refer to Samakarthavya as applied to our worldly experience. … Some argue that, according to the Lord, jathi is not based on birth but on the individual qualities of people. When do we come to know about the qualities that distinguish and individual and what age does he reveal his real nature? How are we to determine this and impart him the education and training necessary for the vocation that will be in keeping with his qualities? (Here he quotes the example of a Brahmin and says :) If a man’s occupation were to be fixed until after his character and qualities are formed, it would mean a waste of his youthful years. Even if he were to learn a job or trade at a late age, it would mean a loss not only to himself but also to society. The Lord speaks again and again that we must be constantly engaged in work and that we must not remain idle even a moment. How then would He approve of an arrangement in which every individual has to be without any work until the vocation is determined according to the character?

“From the very beginning he (Yudhistra) was averse to war and anxious to make peace with the kauravas by accepting a mere five villages instead of half the kingdom. Despite this nature of Yudhistra, Lord Krisna encouraged him to wage a war against kauravas and also later subjugate all his neighbouring kingdoms to become an imperial ruler and perform the Rajasuya (yaga). (These were totally against Dharamaputra’s inner character and temperament). (Still), Sri Krisna Paramatma makes such a man practice his dharma of a Kshatriya. All this shows that by swardhama, the Lord means the jathi’s dharma. He did not also deprecate Bhima and other men for having taunted Dronacharya and others for having forsaken the dharma of their birth. Thus we have confirmation that by swadharma, the Lord means the jathi dharma by birth. …. (Here Mahaswamy quotes the example of Rishis and Brahmins  like Visvamitra, Parsurama and Dronacharya etc. who practiced dharma according to their nature. Then he says :)  … Castes like this are extremely rare, and are exceptions to the rule of Jathi dharma. On the whole, we see that the Lord functions on the basis that whatever be the outward qualities of individuals, their inner quality is in keeping with the hereditary vocations.”

Everybody must have the conviction that he is benefited by the occupation to which he is born. When people in the past had this attitude, they were free from greed and feelings of rivalry. Besides, though they were divided on the basis of their vocations, there was harmony amongst them.  ……. Whatever the view of reformers today, in the olden days, an individual’s ability to do a job was in accordance with his guna; and if one practiced his calling according to one’s guna, it was only when he followed the old dharma. Now it has become topsy-turvy.”

Even according to psychologists, heredity and environment play a crucial part in determining a man’s character, abilities and attitudes. …..  These two factors-heredity and environment –were greatly instrumental in shaping a person’s guna and vocation. …. According to Gandhiji, ‘The Gita does talk of varna being according to guna and karma, but guna and karma are inherited by birth’. So, ‘Krisna Paramatma’s practice is not at variance with his doctrine’ is confirmed by Gandhiji. … Sri Krisna establishes that an individual owes his jathi to his birth. There should be the slightest doubt about it.”

Vocations and Guna

(Thereafter, Mahaswamy maintains and gives illustrations to prove that ‘vocations according to guna’ is actually not in practice. For the sake of brevity, I am omitting these illustrations. -sgvr)

If we examine how much the natural inclination and qualities of a man have to do with the work he likes to do, we will discover that in 90 out of 100 cases, there is no connection at all between the two. ….. How many get the job for which they think they are suitable and for which they have the natural aptitude? Not even 10 per cent. …… The majority of people do not choose their jobs according to their inborn character. They somehow learn to adjust themselves to their work whatever it happens to be. On the whole, there is competition for jobs which are paying. Would it not be ridiculous if ‘swardhama’ comes to mean the job or vocation that brings the maximum money for the minimum work?”

Wrong Notions about Brahmins

“A wrong notion has gained currency that in the Varnasrama system, the Brahmin enjoys more comfort than others, that he has more income and that he has to exert himself less than others. In the order created by Sastras, the Brahmin has to make as much physical effort as the peasant. The Brahmin has to wake up at four in the morning and bathe in cold water, rain or shine, warm or cold. Then without a break, he has to perform one rite after another: Sandhyavandana, Brahmayajna, aupasana, puja, vaisvadeva and 21 other sacrifices. If you sit before sacrificial fire for four days you will realize how difficult it is with all the heat and smoke. How many are the vows and fasts the Brahmin has to keep and how many are the ritual baths. Other castes do not have to go through such hardships.”

The Dharmasastras are not created, for his convenience or benefit, or to ensure that he has a comfortable life. They impose on them the most stringent rules of life. There is also proof of the impartiality of the Dharmasastras in that a Brahmin, who is expected to be proficient in all the arts and all branches of learning, can only give instructions in them; but he cannot take up any for his livelihood however lucrative it may be and however less demanding than the pursuits of Vedic dharma. ….The Brahmin must be conversant with the fourteen branches of Vedic lore. … He must give instructions in these subjects for the appropriate castes. His own vocation is the study of Vedas and he must have no other source of income. … He is permitted to receive Dakshina  to maintain himself and he must be content with  it however small the sum may be.”  (The Swamiji also narrates a Brahmin’s life, compares it with that of a peasant and concludes that a Brahmin’s life is harder and more difficult. - sgvr)

“Love must spring from the heart, so too the sense of unity. Unity is not achieved by all jathis becoming one. What do we see in western countries where inter-marriages is not prohibited and where all people mix together? There is much rivalry and jealousy among people there. According to our sastras, everyone in the past performed his duty and helped the others to perform theirs and this was how they remain united. … It seems that we are all confused and do not have a proper appreciation of our different dharmas.”

(This subject will continue in the next Chapter.-sgvr)

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol 2, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-795-817) . (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


Table of Contents





Chapter 20

Varna Dharma and Jathis - 2



In the earlier Chapter (#19), I gave Mahaswamy’s explanations on Varna Dharma. In it, he had rejected the theory of one Dharma for all Varnas as is prevalent in other religions and explained the basis for different dharmas. He also clarified a wrong notion that Gita’s definition of Varna Dharma and that contained in Vedas are different. Further, he dispelled the misunderstanding that one Varna people are superior to others.

This Chapter contains very interesting arguments. According to him, Hinduism has survived countless years because of Varnasrama dharma. He points out that the binding factor in the past uniting people despite differences in vocations was faith in scriptures and temple. Unless differences are maintained outwardly, the affairs of the world will be conducted neither in a disciplined manner nor in a proper manner.

He gives the functions of Brahmana Varna and  emphasizes the importance  of this varna-which is near extinction- being revived in its true form to prevent all-round decay. At the same time, he also goes at length to tell us the importance of the fourth Varna, (praised even by the great Maharishi, Vyasa) and says: The labour put in by the Sudra will cleanse him inwardly and through it he easily achieves perfection.

The functions of the four varnas, the ultimate purpose of varna dharma and Swamiji’s other thoughts on the subject are presented below:

Strength of Unity

The Mahaswamy argues that despite so many jathis and each living separately from the rest, unity did exist in the past. He says: “The binding factor in the past was faith in our religion and its scriptures. The temple strengthened this faith and the sense of unity, the temple which belonged to the whole village or town and which is situated at the centre. (In olden days) People had the sense of togetherness in the presence of Iswara as his children. In festivals all jathis took part in contributing to their success in various ways. …. It was a time when people were divided in their callings but were one at heart; people’s faith in Sastras and in the temples was a great unifying force. Today, ironically enough, hatred and enmity are spread between the various jathis in the name of unity. That is the reason why nowadays the cry against the caste has become a cry against the Vedic Dharma and temples.”

“The Sastras teach us that even in such a world (with so many differences), we must be filled with love for all. For all creatures and must look upon all as the same without regarding one as inferior or superior to the rest. It means the attitude of non-difference is in love and in not in karma. We must always feel inwardly that all are one and we must be permeated with love for all. But in Karma there must be differences, such is the teaching of the Sastras.”

“Oneness must be a matter of feelings, not our actions. Unless differences are maintained outwardly, the affairs of the world will be conducted neither in a disciplined manner nor in a proper manner. It is only then Atmic enquiry can be practiced without confusion and without being mentally agitated. In Sanatana Dharma worldly life has been systemized as though it was real for the very purpose of its being recognized and experienced as unreal.”

“In this worldly life, (just like in music where ragas were formed from saptasvaras), from the four Varnas, numerous jathis were born. Separate dharmas separate customs and rites, evolved for these jathis. (Here Swami ridicules the other religions’ theory that Varnas are unjust and says :) If you pass to reflect on the subject, you will realize that if our civilization has survived from prehistoric times until today, it is only because of these very differences in our society, the differences according to Varna Dharma.”

The Eternal Religion

“The moral and ethical injunctions in other religions are applicable to all their followers. In Hinduism too there is a code of conduct meant for all Varnas and jathis. In addition to this, there are separate dharmas for all jathis with different vocations. There is no intermingling of these vocations and their corresponding dharmas. This fact is central to Hinduism and to its eternal character.”

“(If Hinduism has survived countless years, it is because) it is being supported by something that we do not seem to know, something that is not present in other faiths. It is because of this ‘something’, that inspite of all differences, it is still alive. This something is Varnasrama dharma. In other religions, there is a common dharma and we think that is the reason for their greatness. These religions touched the heights of glory at one time and at other times they are laid low. (Here Swamy talks about the downfall of Geek and Chinese religions and the experiences of Christianity and Islam in several periods and concludes :) Hinduism is a witness to all such changes in other religions and it is subject to attack from inside and outside. Yet it lives-it refuses to die.”

Functions of the Four Varnas

According to the canonical texts, the Brahmin must perform Vaisvadeva everyday in front of his house-the offering of bali to the Panchama is part of this rite. The goal of vedic works is the happiness of all mankind. Indeed the happiness of all the worlds (Lokah samastah sukino bhavanthu).The sound of Vedas creates universal well being, so too vedic sacrifices”

“As a ruler, the kshatriya wages wars and does policing work for the security of all citizens. The vysyas too serve the society-to think that he takes home all the profits he makes is unfair. The Lord speaks of the dharma of vysyas in the Gita. ‘The third Varna has three duties-raising the crops, cow protection and trading-and it carries them out for the welfare of all people. The vysya ploughs the field and grows crop for the benefit of the entire community. Similarly, the milk yielded by his cow is meant for general consumption and for sacrifices. A vysya must also take care to see that the calves have their feed of milk. As a trader he procures commodities from other places to be sold locally.”

“However rich a man may be, he cannot sustain himself with money alone. He has to depend on traders for essential goods. Trading is the dharma of vysyas and it is an offence on their part not to practice it. Similarly Brahmins would be committing a sin if they give up the vedic rituals and earned money by doing other types of work.”

The Fourth Varna’s Advantages

The dharma of the fourth Varna involves much physical exertion and effort in its practice. Outwardly it may seem that its members do not enjoy the same stautus and comforts as others do. But they are comparatively free from the discipline and rituals to which the rest are tied down. In the past, they had more contentment than the other castes, living as they did by the side of the Lord. Vyasa himself says: ‘The age of Kali is no way inferior to other ages nor the Sudras inferior to other castes. Kali is indeed elevated and Sudra also elevated.’ In other yugas or ages, Bhagwan could be attained with difficulty by meditation, austerities and puja. But in kali yaga, he is reached by the mere singings of names. The other three Varnas, because of their intellectual superiority or power as a ruler, or wealth, are likely to have self pride and tend to stray from the path of dharma; hence they cannot attain Atmic liberation easily. A member of fourth Varna, on the contrary is humble. The first three Varnas are ordained to learn Vedas and to perform Vedic rites, to efface their ego and making them deserve the grace of Iswara. It is only with the regimen of this discipline that the medicine called Vedic dharma will be efficacious. So, the first three Varna people must be ever careful about their religious practices. The fourth Varna is free from most of these restraints. The labour put in by the Sudra will cleanse him inwardly: it is his vedic observance; it is his God.; and through it, he easily achieves perfection. This is why Vyasa proclaimed, raising both the hands, ‘sudra saduh’. I repeat that the Brahmin’s means of livelihood was in no way better than the sudras, nor did he enjoy more comforts than the members of the fourth Varna.

(Then the Acharya puts the onus of responsibility on the community as a whole and the Government, to provide Sudras with enough food, clothing, and shelter and says that they must be found guilty if they don’t do this.. –sgvr)

“In my view, ‘ahamkara’  or ego- is a cover for all such ideas as ‘self respect’, ‘status’, etc. If you look at this from the angle that ‘Sudra’ does not have the self pride associated with the Brahmin, the Kshatriya and the Vysya, you will realize the truth of Vyasay’s dictum, ‘Sudrah Saduh’ ……… …. Since the well being of mankind is dependent on the performance of a variety of jobs, there is no question of one job being inferior to another job. If everybody does the work allotted to him thinking it to be an offering to Iswara, all will be rewarded with inner purity, so says the Sastras. When work is accomplished in a spirit of dedication to God, the mind will be cleansed. And this inner purity is a means to becoming aware of self realization.”

“You may look at your work from two angles; one from that of dignity of labour according to which no work is degrading and another from consecrating your work, whatever it may be, to God. In either case ‘self respect’ has no place in it. If there is neither vanity nor ego-sense in doing one’s duty or work, there will be  no cause for anger, no reason to feel one is assigned a particular set of religious practices and not another. One would then be willing to accept the religious injunctions which are related to one’s vocation. It must be noted that if a Brahmin enjoys bodily comforts in the same manner as a Kshatriya or a Vysya, his Mantras will cease to be efficacious. If a labourer observes fast like a Brahmin, he will not be able to do his duty which consists of physical work. ……. Sastras are mindful of the conveniences and comforts of each jathi. If you realize this, you will understand the meaning of the saying, ‘Sastraya cha sukhaya cha’. You will also appreciate many a sastric rules and realize that that there must be some inner meaning for those rules which cannot be comprehended.”

“In the olden days, even unlettered people knew it was a sin to adopt the vocation and duties of another jathi because it was injurious to the society. ….. The mingling of jathis, they realized would damage the system of vocations, the system that was devised for the good of all society. For thousands of years, all jathis have lived according to this system, finding happiness and fulfillment in it. If they have not found such happiness and fulfillment, they would have surely rebelled against the system.”

The Havoc done by the British

“After the advent of the British rule, Brahmins lost their royal grants of land but got jobs in the Government. With the introduction of machines and increased urbanization, the handicrafts were destroyed and village life received a setback. …… This shook the very foundations of the system of four Varnas and the British used the opportunity to introduce new principle of egalitarianism and the race theory. People lost their faith in the Sastras and with it there was a change in outlook. If by the grace of Iswara, the old system is restored, the work done by every individual- from the Brahmin to the Panchama- will bring in inward purity to all. Besides, there will be realization that each, according to his hereditary occupation, will contribute to the general welfare of the mankind. We will then feel proud of Varna dharma instead of feeling ashamed of it- and we will also develop a deep respect for those who created it.”

The Ultimate Purpose of Varna Dharma

“Whatever be the situation today-and whether or not we can return to the old order- it is not right to claim as people nowadays do, that the old order was unjust, that it was created by the vested interests for their own good and convenience. We must be able to convince the critics that there is nothing like Varna dharma to help people attain inner purity. They must also be made to realize that this Dharma, apart from helping society to function in a disciplined and harmonious manner, will bring well being to all and help the growth of culture.”

Brahmana Dharma

The Mahaswamy here points out that there is a function higher (and more important) than all these, which has to be performed by Brahmana Varna, which is almost on the verge of extinction.  That is:  To teach dharma by precept and practice, the dharma that is the foundation of all activities, to invoke divine powers through the Vedic Chants for the good of all mankind, to create high ideals through their own austere life, to nurture the Atmic strength of the community, to promote the arts, and to nourish culture. ….. The need for Brahmana dharma is not widely recognized because of its subtle and intangible character. Indeed, it is the dharma that gives meaning to life and creates a path for the fulfillment of life. ….. Of what use is the material prosperity without Atmic and cultural advancementWhatever confused way the functions of other Varnas are carried out, the Brahmin must function in the right manner as pathfinder for others by living a life of simplicity and sacrifice, performing vedic rites and creating worldly and Atmic well being of mankind. …. This jathi must be revived in its true form so as to prevent the general decline of the nation and all-round decay. The Brahmin jathi must not live a life of self indulgence. On the contrary, it must perform rites all through the day for the welfare of the society. Brahmins must live austerely, with love for all in their hearts. If they are restored to their way of dharma, our society in its entirety will be brought to the path of dharma and will be saved.”

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol 2, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-818-826) . (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)



Table of Contents





Chapter 21

Ten Upanishads – 1


In the previous Chapters ( # 8 -15), I had covered the fourteen abodes of knowledge, including the four Vedas, Upa-Vedas and Upangas. This Chapter deals with an important subject, namely Upanishads, which is very essence of the Vedas. On this subject, number of books has been published giving detailed description and analysis of the principles underlying the thoughts, purely on metaphysical plane.

The usual questions that arise in all human beings with spiritualistic thoughts are: ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is the relationship between me and the Paramatman?’The answer to these questions is in the Upanishads. To the seekers, these are the direct means of realizing the basic truth of the oneness of Jivatman and Paramatman (the Advaitic principle expounded by Adi Sankara).  “The chief objective of these texts is enquiry into the Ultimate reality and the attainment of the stage in which one becomes wise enough and mature enough to sever oneself from all karma”. It is on this basis that the Vedas are divided into the Karmakanda and the Jnanakanda, the part dealing with works and the part dealing with knowledge (enlightenment), respectively. (The two are also spoken of as the Purvamimamsa and the Uttaramimamsa.) Upanishads come within the realm of Jnanakanda and represent the ultimate purpose of Vedas.

Veda vs Vedanta

The rituals mentioned in the Karmakanda of the Vedas are sought to be negated in the Jnanakanda which is also part of the same scripture. While Karmakanda enjoins upon you the worship of various deities and lays down rules for the same, the Jnanakanda constituted by the Upanishads ridicules the worshipper of deities as a dull witted person no better than a beast.  Krishna Paramatma directs his criticism (in the Gita) against those who claim that the Karmakanda of the Vedas alone mattes, that the Jnanakanda does not serve any purpose. In this context, I have to refer here briefly, Mahaswamy’s clarifications that Lord Krishna’s statement is not understood in the right perspective and that Veda and Vedanta to do not contradict each other. “The Vedas and Vedanta are not at variance with one another. The Karmakanda prepares us for the Vedanta or the Jnanakanda. The former has to do with this world and with many deities and its adherents are subject to three Gunas. But it is the first step to go beyond the three gunas and sever oneself from worldly existence. If we perform the rites laid down in the Karmakanda , keeping in mind their true purpose, we shall naturally be qualifying for thr Jnanakanda…..  (Lord Krishna)He seems to attack the Vedas themselves; In realty he finds fault with those who are, in his words, ‘veda-vadha-ratah’, those who are deceived by flowery accounts of the Vedas without realizing their true meaning and those who do not exert themselves to rise to the level of experiential jnana. …. To plunge into Vedanta without first going through a life of Vedic discipline is neither wise nor in keeping with reality. It is equally wrong to remain confined to the Karmakanda and refuse to make an effort to acquire Vedantic knowledge.”

The Ten Upanishads

This subject is a big ocean and what is attempted here is to give a glimpse of the ten Upanishads, culled out from the Mahaswamy’s lectures. (This exercise of condensing the thoughts of Swamiji to a few pages is done with due care. Wherever absolutely necessary, I have added some notes- if any confusion arises in this presentation, readers are requested to go through the original for needed clarification.-sgvr)

Let us now see what the Swamiji says:

“The Vedas find expression in the Upanishads. Indeed, the Upanishads are called ‘Vedanta’. They form the final part of Vedas, in two ways. They throw light on the meaning and the purpose of the Vedas and represent the end of the scripture in more than one sense; while their text forms the concluding part of Vedas, their meaning represents the Ultimate Truth of the same. The Upanishads are the sikhara, the summit of our philosophical (and metaphysical) system.”

’Upa-ni-shad’ means to sit nearby. They are the teachings imparted by a guru to his student sitting by his side (at his feet). You could also take it to mean ‘that which takes one to the Brahman’. … Such teachings are NOT meant to be imparted to those who are not sufficiently mature and capable of cherishing their value. The words ‘Upansisat’ occurring in them means a ‘Rahasya’ , that which is to be held as a secret.”

Mahaswamy says that the Upanishads are different from other philosophical systems of the world. “In other countries, philosophers try to comprehend the Truth on an intellectual plane. Their philosophical systems do not go beyond making an intellectual enquiry. (On the other hand), the Upanishadic enquiry is different, its purpose being to experience the Truth perceived by the mind or the intellect. They consist of mantras, the sacred syllables, and their sound is instinct with power. This power transforms the truths propounded by them into inward reality. In Karmakanda (of the Vedas), a way of life is prescribed for the seeker with actions and duties calculated to discipline and purify him (and give him inward maturity). After leading such a life and eventually forsaking all action, all Vedic karma, he meditates on the Truths of Upanishads. Instead of mere ideas on intellectual perception, these truths will then become a living reality. The height of these truths is that there is no difference between the individual self and the Brahman.”

“When a Sanyasi is initiated, he is taught four Mantras, the four Maha Vakyas. ….. When it comes to achieving the highest ideal, the supreme goal of man, you have no alternative to the Upanishads and their Maha Vakyas. The four Vakyas proclaim the identity of individual self (jivatman) with the Brahman. These Vakyas occur in four different Upanishads.”  They are:

1. ‘The Brahman means realizing the jnana that is the highest’ (Prajnanam Brahma’-Aithareya Upanishad of Rig Veda.

2. ‘I am the Brahman (Aham Brahmasmi)’-Brahadaranyaka Upanishad of Yajur Veda.

3. ‘That thou art’ or ‘The Paramatman and you are one and the same” (Tat tvam asi) -Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda

4. ‘This self is the Brahman-(Ayam Atma Brahma)’ –Mandukya Upanishad of Atharva Veda.

The Mahaswamy then explains each one of the ten principle Upanishads. “Sankara Bhagavadhpadha selected ten out of the numerous Upanishads to comment upon from the non-dualistic point of view. Ramanuja, Madhva and others who came after him wrote commentaries on the same based on their own philosophical points of view.” (Note: The Upanishads are believed to be larger in number-Two hundred years back, an ascetic from Kanchipuram wrote commentaries on 108 Upanishads.)

  1. The Isavasya Upanishad

“The Isavasya Upanishad, (occurring towards the end of the Samhitha of Shukla Yajurveda), proclaims that the entire Universe is pervaded by Isvara and that we must dedicate all our works to him and attain the Paramatman.  …..  To a child (having a toy elephant made of wood), the wood is concealed, revealing the elephant; to the grown up, the animal is hidden revealing the wood. Similarly, all this world and the five elements are made of the timber called the Paramatman. We must learn to look upon all this as the Supreme God head. Thirumoolar, a Tamil saint poet says in one of his poems that, because of our being accustomed to seeing the five elements all the time, we must not forget that the Paramatman is hidden in them. We must recognize that it is indeed he who pervades them and learn to see that everything is in the nature of Isvara. Sankaracharya expresses exactly the same idea in his Bhasya (commentary). This Upanishad commences with the statement:  ‘Live a hundred years performing Vedic rites. But do so in a spirit of dedication to Isvara. Then it will not keep you bound’. So, it will be wrong to believe that the Upanishads teach inaction.”

  1. The Kenopanishad

“This Upanishad occurs in Jaimini Sakha of the Sama Veda and contains a story about Devas. The celestials in their arrogance failed to recognize the Supreme Being whose crown and feet are unknown. Ambika then appeared to give instruction in jnana to Indira, the king of Devas. She explained to him that all our power emanated from the one Great Power, from the one Mahasakti. …….It is in this Upanishad that we see Amba appearing as Jnanambika (the Goddess of jnana).”

“We can see our body as an object; we can know about it, know whether it is well or ill. It follows that there is an entity other than it that sees it, the subject called ‘we’. That which sees is the Atman. The subject called Atman cannot be known by anything else… The Atman, that is the true ‘we’, can only be the subject and never the object. … We say ‘Atmajnana’ which literally means ‘knowing the Atman’. But this phrase is not used in the sense of subject knowing an object. ‘Atmajnana means the Self experiencing itself, and that is how ‘jnana’ or ‘knowing’ is to be understood. This is the reason why the Kenopanishad says that ‘he who says that he knows the Atman does not know it’. It goes on: ‘He, who says that he does not know, knows. He, who thinks that he knows, does not know.’”

  1. The Katopanishad

“This occurs in the Katha Sakha of the Krishna Yajur Veda. This Upanishad contains the teachings imparted by Yama to the Brahmacharin Nichiketas. It begins as a story and leads up to the exposition of profound philosophical truths. The Gita contains quotations from this Upanishad.”

The concluding part of this Upanishad explains in depth the subject-object relationship mentioned in the previous Upanishad. It says:

“In the manner in which we remove the ear of grain from the stalk or pith from the reed, we “must draw the subject that is Self from the object that is the body, ‘Desire, anger, hatred, fear, all these appertain to the mind, not to the Self. Hunger, thirst and so on appertain to the body-they are not ‘mine’. By constant practice, we must learn to reject all such things that do not belong to the Self by ‘objectifying them.’ If we do so with concentration, in due course, we will be able to overcome the idea that has taken root in us that the body and the mind constitute the ‘we’. We can then exist as the immaculate Self without the impurities tainting the body and the mind.”

“During our life in this world itself-during the time we seem to exist in our body-we must learn to treat the body as not ‘me’, ‘not mine’. Moksha  or liberation does not necessarily mean ascending to another world like Kailasa or Vaikunta. It can be attained here and now. What is Moksha ? It is everlasting bliss that comes of being freed from all burdens. He who lives delighting in his Self in this world itself without any awareness of his body is called ‘jivanmukta’. The supreme goal of Vedas and Vedanta is making a man ‘jivanmukta’.

Krishna Paramatma speaks of the same idea in the Gita. He who, while yet in this world, controls his desire and anger before he is released from his body, he will remain integrated and achieve everlasting bliss. If you realize the Self, as an inner experience, while yet in this world, at the time of your death, you will not be aware that your body is severed from you. (Because, even when you are live, the body does not exist for you). There is no death for the man who has absolute realization that his body and the mind being not ‘he’. (The death is only for the body.)’”

“The man who has no death thus becomes ‘amrta’ (immortal). This idea occurs throughout the Upanishads. …. Unlike other philosophies where a man has to go to some other world for such a bliss, Sankara Bhagavathpadha establishes that true liberation can be won in this world itself if one ceases  to identify oneself totally with the body and remain rooted in the Self.  …… To remain bodyless, disincarnate, does not mean committing suicide. When we reduce our desires little by little, a stage will reached when they will be totally rooted out. When they are thus eradicated, consciousness of the body will naturally cease too. The Self alone will remain then, shining. To arrive at such a state is not necessary to voyage to another world.”

“A jivatman(individual self) is divided into three parts in association with the ego: “gaunatman, mityatman and mukyatman’. …… It is part of human nature to believe that one’s children and friends are the same as oneself and that their joys and sorrows are one’s own. That is what is meant by gaunatman. Gauna denotes what is ceremonial and or what is regarded as formality. We know that our children and friends are different from us and yet we want to believe that they are our own.”

“The ‘I’ feeling in relation to the body which is closer to us than our children and friends is mityatman.”

“There is a state in which the pure Self is seen separate from the body (and the mind) and identified inwardly with the Brahman.  It is called mukyatman.”

“When the first two are separated from us, we will be freed from attachments to our children, friends and the body as well as its senses. The realization will dawn then that “I am the Brahman”. Now there will be nothing for us to do.”

The Swamiji, then refers to a number of mantras in this Upanishad which are popular quotes. Example, Swamy Vivekananda’s  mantra  “Arise, Awake’ to rouse people of India. There is a mantra which states that the Self cannot be known either by learning or by the strength of ones own intellect.”

“Then there is a mantra, at the time of deeparadhana.  “Sun does not shine there, nor the Moon, nor the stars. There is no flash of lightning. Agni too does not shine there. When He (Paramatman) shines everything shines; all this shines by his light. ‘All our knowledge is derived from that Great Light. With our limited knowledge,we cannot shed light on that Reality.”

“Later, Katopanishad says: If all desires of the heart are banished, a man can become immortal and realize the Brahman here itself.”

  1. Prasnopanishad

The next three Upanishads, Prasnopanishad, the Mundakopanishad and the Mandukyopanishad are from Atharva Veda.

This Prasna means question. This Upanishad answers all questions relating to the origin of the various creatures, deities that sustain them,  how life imbues the body, the Truth about wakefulness, sleep and the state of dream, purpose served by being devoted to OM, and the relationship between the Supreme Godhead and the individual Self.

  1. Mundakopanishad

“Mundana means ‘tonsure’. Only Sanyasins, ascetics with high degree of maturity are qualified to study the Mundakopanishad-that is how it came to be so called. This Upanishad speaks of Aksharabrahma, akshara meaning ‘imperishable’ and also ‘sound’.  .. The source of all sound is ‘Pranava’, or ‘Omkara’. Prnava is particularly efficacious to attain the Akshrabrahman..’

One Mantra in the Mundkopanishad asks us to string the bow of ‘Omkara’ with the arrow of the Atman and hit unperturbed the target called ‘Brahman’. Like the arrow, you must be one with the Brahman. In this Upanishad, the individual self and the Paramatman are compared to two birds perched on the body that is the pippala tree. The Jivatman (individual self) alone eats the fruit (of karma) and the  Paramatman bird is merely a witness. This is the basis of the biblical story of Adam (Atman) and Eve (jiva). Adam does not eat the apple (pippala) but Eve does.”

“The motto of the Union of India –‘Satyameva Jayate’- is taken from this Upanishad.”

“The Mundakopanishad speaks of the jnanin thus: ‘Different Rivers with different names lose their names and forms in the ocean. Similarly, the knower (jnanin) freed from name and form unites with the Brahman.’”.

  1. The Mandukyopanishad

“‘Manduka’ means frog. In the Mandukyopanishad, the way is shown to reach the Thuriya or the forth state from the state of wakefulness through the state of sleep and dream. (Swamiji here explains how the name frog came to this Upanishad- Two reasons given by him for this word are. One: as frog jumps, this Upanishad also jumps from one argument to another. Two: The sage associated with this is Varuna who took the form of a frog.- I have left out details-sgvr.)

“Though the text is short with only twelve mantras, it is packed with meaning and has acquired a special place among seekers. It demonstrates the oneness of the individual self and the Brahman through the four feet (padas) of Pranava. There is a famous passage occurring towards the end of this Upanishad which describes the experience of the Thuriya or the fourth state in which all cosmos is dissolved in ‘Siva-Advaitha’ (Sivo’dvaita).

(The rest (four Upanishads) will be covered in next Chapter # 22-sgvr)

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol 2, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-249-289) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


Table of Contents






Chapter 22

Ten Upanishads - 2


In the previous Chapter (# 21), I covered the first six Upanishads. In this, I would give a brief description of the remaining four. These Upanishads are important ones giving very high philosophical guidance for all spiritual seekers; they require careful reading and understanding.

7. The Thaithiriya Upanishad

This Upanishad is associated with a story where at the instance of his Guru (Vaisampayana), sage Yajnavalkya took the form of a gander and threw out the Vedas learnt by him; the other disciples of the Guru assumed the form of tittri birds (partridges) and consume the spitted knowledge. …… “The Thaithiriya Upanishad is perhaps studied more widely than any other Upanishad. Many mantras employed in rituals are taken from it. There are three parts to it-‘Sikshavalli’, ‘Anandavalli’, and ‘Bruguvalli’.(these are explained below:-sgvr)”

Sikshavalli: “This contains matters relating to education rules of the Brahmacharyasrama (the celibate student’s stage of life), its importance, order of vedic chanting, meditation of Pranava. The ‘Avahanti Homa” prescribed here, is performed by the Acharya to ensure that the disciples come to learn from him without any let or hindrance. (Swamiji says here that this sacrifice has given new lease life to decayed Vedic schools). Sikshavalli mentions ‘Atmaswarajya’ that is eternal, unlike the political Swarajya, we are familiar with.”

“This Upanishad contains exhortations to students like ‘Satyam vadha, dharmam chara’ (Speak he Truth, do your duty according to Dharma). Students are urged not to neglect the study of Vedas at any time. They are asked to marry and beget children so that Vedic learning will be kept up from generation to generation. The other important mantras are: ‘Mathru-dhevo bhava, pithru-dhevo bhava, acharya-dhevo bhava, Athithi-dhevo bhava’ (Venerate your mother as a God; similarly treat your father as a God; your teacher as a God; and also your guest as a God)’. The importance of Charity and Dharma is specially stressed here.”

Aananda valli: This part talks about a multiplication table, in which each successive type of bliss is a hundred fold greater than that of the previous one. The highest form of bliss of ‘ananda’ in this table is Brahmananda (the bliss of realizing Brahman) which is experienced by the Jnanin. Among the celestials, the degrees of bliss known to Indira, Brahaspati and Prajapati are given separately. The Devas do not take effort to attain the highest state of blessedness, and they look forward to the gains to be made from us. (Here it is interesting to note that according to Swamiji, the celestials do not like the humans who realize the self, since the latter will not perform any sacrifices and other rites to please the deities-sgvr)

“Different sheaths (kosas) of a man are mentioned in this Upanishad. The first is the ‘Annamaya kosa’ (the sheath of food), the flesh that grows with the intake of food. Inside it is the ‘Pranamaya Kosa’ (the sheath of vital breath). Then comes the ‘Manomaya kosa’ (the sheath of mind) that gives rise to thoughts and feelings. The fourth is the ‘Vijnanamaya kosa’ (the sheath of understanding). And finally, is the fifth, the ‘Anandamaya kosa’ (the sheath of bliss). It is here that the Self dwells in blessedness. Each sheath is personified as a bird with heads, wings,  body, and belly-there is a philosophical significance in this. This Upanishad contains the oft quoted mantra (Yatho vacho ….’). It says: ‘He, who knows the bliss of the Brahman, from which speech and mind turn away unable to grasp it, such a man does not have to fear anything from anywhere.’”

Bruguvalli: “This is the teaching imparted by Varuna to his son Brigu. …. Varuna encourages his son to ascend step by step through his own experiments and experience. Brigu performs austerities and thinks that the sheath of food is the truth. From this stage he advances gradually through the sheaths of breath, mind and understanding and arrives at the conclusion that the truth is the sheath of bliss. He realizes by experience that the Atman (the nature of bliss) is the ultimate truth. This Upanishad does not reject the factual world represented by the sheath of food. While being yet in this world, taking part in its activities, we must strive to make life more dharmic, as a means of Atmic advancement. That is why even those who have attained the sheath of bliss are admonished not to speak ill of food and are advised to grow more. The Upanishad concludes with a mantra which says: ‘I am food, I am food, the one who eats it.’”

  1. The Aithareya Upanishad

This name is derived from the sage who propagated this. The Upanishad says: “A jiva (individual self) originating in the father enters the womb of the mother. He is born in this world and goes through his life of meritorious and sinful actions. Then he is born again and again in different worlds. Only by knowing the Atman does he find release from the bondage of phenomenal existence.”

Prajnana, a direct perception of Atman, is spoken of in high terms. It is not merely that one attains the Brahman through such jnana (prajnana)- the fact is such prajnana itself is Brahman.  And this is the Mahavakaya of the Rig veda referred to earlier. ‘Prajnanam Brahma’.”

  1. The Chandogya Upanishad

The Chandogya and Brahadaranyaka Upanishads are the last two of the major Upanishads and are also the biggest. They are bigger than all other eight put together. In these two Upanishads, the teachings of a number of sages are put together.

“‘Chandogya’ means one who sings the Saman. This belongs to Sama Veda. The introductory mantras of the Chandogya Upanishad refer to Omkara as ‘udgita’ and explain how one is to meditate on it. A number of vidyas are mentioned in it which helps in different ways in knowing the Ultimate reality. ‘Dahara Vidya’ is the culmination of all these; it means perceiving the Supreme Being manifested as the transcendent outward sky in the tiny sphere of our heart. A number of Truths are expounded in this Upanishad in the form of stories.” (Like the story of Raikva, Satyakama, Svetaketu, Narada etc.)”

“In the character of Svetaketu who was proud of his learning, his father teaches him to be humble and in the end imparts to him the mantra ‘Tat tvam asi’ (That thou art), the mantra which proclaims the non-difference between the individual self and the Brahman. ‘Tat tvam asi’ is the Mahavakya of the Sama Veda.”

“In the case of Narada, Sanatkumara teaches him to go from purity of form to purity of the inner organs.(‘Antah-karanas’) That is the time when all ties will snap and bliss reached.”

“Another story illustrates how different students benefit differently from the same teachings according to the degree of maturity of each. Prajapati gives the same instruction to Indira, the king of celestials and to Virochana, the king of Asuras. This is what Prajapati teaches: ‘He who sees with his eyes, he is the Self.’ He subtly hints at the object behind the eye i.e., knowledge, etc. and that is the basis of all these. Without understanding this, the two sees themselves in a mirror and take the reflection to be the Self. You see only the body in the mirror and Virochana comes to the conclusion that, that is the Self. It is from this idea that atheism, materialism and the Lokayata system developed. Although Indira also took this kind of wrong view from his reflection, eventually (similar to the story of of Bhrigu-in the Thaithiriya Upanishad- advancing from the sheath of food to the sheath of bliss), Indira goes in gradual stages from the gross body to the subtle body of sleep and later to the Thuriya or fourth state mentioned in Mandukyopanishad-the thuriya is the Self.”

10.   The Brahadaranyaka Upanishad

“This comes last. ‘Brahad’ means great. It is indeed a great Upanishad forming part of Sukla Yajur Veda..  ………. This consists of six chapters. The first two are the ‘Madhukanda’, the next two are the ‘Muni-kanda’ in the name of Yajnavalkya, and the last two are the ‘Khila-kanda’. Madhu may be understood as that which is full of the flavour of bliss. If we have the realization that all this world is a personification of the Parabrahman , it would be sweet like nectar to all creatures- and the creatures would be like honey to the world. The Atman would then be nectar for all. This idea is expressed in the Madhu-kanda.”

It is in this Upanishad that the celebrated statement “the Atman is ‘neither this, nor this’ (‘Nethi, neti’)” occurs. The Self cannot be described in any way. ’Na ithi’ that is ‘neti’. It is through this process of ‘Nethi”, ‘neti’ that you give up everything-the cosmos, the body, the mind, everything- to realize the Self. After knowing the Atman in this manner you will develop that the phenomenal world and all its creatures are made up of the same essence of bliss.”

“The first kanda contains the teachings received by the Brahmin Gargya from the kshatriya Ajathasathru.  This shows that kings like Ajathasathru and Janaka were knowers of the Brahman. We also learn that women too took part on an equal footing with the sages in the debate in royal assemblies on the nature of the Brahman. There was for instance Gargi in Janaka’s assembly of the learned.”

“Another instance is that of Maitreyi, the second wife of Yajnavalkya, a Brahmavadini, who received instructions from her husband. This occurs in Madhu and Muni kandas of this Upanishad. Yajnavalkya proceeds to enquire into the concept of love and affection and reveals what is meant by the idea of someone being dear to someone else. He says: ‘A wife is dear to her husband not for the sake of his wife but for the sake of his Self. So is a husband dear to his wife for the sake of her Self. The children too are dear to us not for their sake but for the sake of Self. So is the case with our own wealth. We have affection for a person or an entity because it pleases our Self. It means this itself is of the nature of affection, of love, of joy. It is to know this Self independently of everything else that we forsake all those who are dear to us and take to Sanyasa. When we know IT, the Self or the Atman, we will realize that there is nothing other than IT. Everything will become dear to us. To begin with, when we had affection for certain people or certain things, we had dislike for certain other people or certain things. If we cease to be attached to those people or to those things that we loved and realize the Atman, then we will become aware that there is nothing other than the Atman. Then, we will dislike none again, and will love all without any distinction.’”

The muni-kanda contains Yajnavalkya’s disputations on the Ultimate reality with those in Janaka’s assembly. … According to the concept of Antaryamin (Inner controller) belongs to visihtadvaita (qualified non-dualism).  “Though Yajnavalkya accepts the concept on a certain level, at all other times his views are entirely in consonance with non-dualism. In his concluding words to Maitreyi, he remarks:

Even if you be a little dualistic in your outlook, it means that you look at something other than yourself. But when you have experienced the Self experientially, all these other things cease to exist. That which is the source of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and so on- how can you see, hear, taste, smell That?’

“Expounding non-dualism, Yajnavalkya tells Janaka: ‘Like water mingled with water all become one in the Paramatman.’ ‘He who is freed from all desire exists as the Brahman even when he is in this world (with his body) and when he dies is united with the Brahman.’”

The two concluding chapters that form the Khila-kanda  of this Upanishad brings together scattered ideas. Swamiji then illustrates a story in this kanda which shows how the same teaching is interpreted differently according to the degree of the maturity of the aspirants. (I have omitted this-sgvr. Please see p. 287 ibid).

Swamiji then refers to a mantra in the concluding part of this Upanishad which, according to him, is extremely interesting and comforting. The mantra says: ‘If a man suffers from fever, it must be taken that he is practicing austerities (tapas). If he recognizes illnesses and afflictions to be tapas, he passes on to a very high world.’ He then explains how this is interesting and comforting. He says: “By observing vows, by fasting, by living an austere life and by suffering physically, we will become less attached to the body, and the sins accumulated in our past lives will diminish. Tapas is a way of expiating the sins of past lives. The offences committed with our body are wiped away by the very body when it undergoes suffering (that is by bodily tapas). That is why the Puranas speak of great men having performed austerities.” Here, Swamiji quotes the example of Ambika Herself having undertaken such austerities in the severe cold of the Himalayas and in the midst of fires burning all around Her.

Understanding our limitations in undertaking such severe austerities, Swamiji says: “Since ours is not a disciplined life, we keep suffering from one ailment or another. The Upanishad mantra seems to be directed to us: ‘You must learn to think that the affliction you are suffering from is tapas. If you do so, you will be freed from your sins and liberated.’ Though the message is not given in such plain terms, such is the meaning of the mantra.”

When we keep lamenting that we are unable to expiate our sins-when we are unable to perform Tapas- we may take comfort from the fact that when we suffer from a disease, it is God’s way of making us perform austerities.”

 “When you get high fever, you must comfort yourself that God has given you the fever as a substitute for the panchagni-tapas you are unable to perform. You will due in course learn to take such an attitude and develop the strength to suffer any illnesses.  ‘Let the illness take its course.’ When we fall ill as a means of reducing our burden of sin, is it right to seek a cure for it. … In this, the biggest gain is we reach a high mental status of treating suffering as not suffering. This is called ‘Titiksai’. All this is briefly indicated in the Upanishad mantra.”

In the last chapter of the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad, we have strong proof of the fact that Vedanta is not opposed to the karmakanda. Here, mention is made of the panchagni-vidya and the rites to be performed to beget virtuous children (supraja).

(This Chapter concludes the ten Upanishads.-sgvr)

 (Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol 2, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-249-289) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


Table of Contents







Chapter 23

Bakthi Marga-1


In Chapter  #  16 and 17, which dealt with Dharmas common to all, the Mahaswamy referred to Puja as one of the Common Dharmas and said “Every family must perform Puja to Isvara.” This is indicated as one of the rituals to be performed by all human beings irrespective of the Varnashram one belongs. Doing Puja is an expression of deep faith (Bakthi) in Parameswara or in one or more deities (Ishta Devata). Though every one of us know what Bakthi is, few know what is true Bakthi and how does this true Bakthi lead to salvation; these are eminently handled and answered by the Mahaswamy in his lectures.

Let us first see what is Bakthi yoga and then get into his description of Bakthi.

Bakthi Yoga

The individual soul gets released from its prison or bondage through different ways. Bakthi Yoga, the way of devotion, is one of them.

Bakthi yoga is a relationship of Trust and Love to a personal God. The devotee directs his whole being to God, with humility, obedience, readiness to serve, compassion and gentle love. Devotee longs to surrender himself, resources, self-will and experiences passivity. This is done through contemplation, conversation and singing His praise, His goodness, power and wisdom and doing all acts as His Service.

In the lower stages, the Hindu prays for wealth and life (material comforts). Later, it is meditation, identifying oneself with the good cause which is the God' s cause. In the higher stages, God is the final satisfaction. Then, Bakthi takes the form of not only believing in God and to Love Him, but also becomes its own reward.


The Supreme Being to whom our prayers are directed is described in the Vedas as "unmanifest, unthinkable and unchanging, neither existent nor non-existent." He is immutable and unthinkable; He is the Lord of the Universe. Though He is the source of all that is, He is himself unmoved forever. Another reference made in the Vedas about the Supreme Being is given below:

"He is the God who is in fire, in water, who pervades the entire Universe, He who is in plants, in trees, to Him we make our obeisance again and again"

Only spiritual experience can provide us with proofs of the existence of this Supreme Being.

The world is the platform where we witness active struggle between good and evil and God is fully aware of and deeply interested in restoring order in the world whenever evil forces dominates and try to destroy all that is good. He pours out his wealth of Love in helping mankind to resist and come out of "all that makes for error, ugliness and evil."

The Real is supra cosmic, eternal, spaceless, timeless Brahman who supports this manifestation in space and time. He fills our being, illuminates our understanding and sets in motion its hidden springs.

Bakthi Yoga then is an expression of our belief in the Supreme Being and is a means of getting released from the cycle of birth and death.

Mahaswamy’s Explanations on Bakthi

After this brief introduction, I shall now describe Mahaswamy’s thoughts on the subject.

Just like the arguments in Brahadaranyaka Upanishad which examines the ‘Atman’ through the expression ‘Neti’, here the Mahaswamy first tells us which are not ‘true Bakthi’.  He says:

What is Bakthi?

“When we look at Nature which produces several useful things by combining different things in different ways and also when we look at the worldly life, it is clear that all these things have been created with this or that object and there must be a great power operating them. ….. (Just as we are unable to identify the person who made the plantain tree and with what instruments), we cannot show the person who created the mountain, stars, the moon etc.”

“We are thinking that man is a capable person who knows everything. … Man who thinks he is capable must know the highly capable one who has made all these and himself, because the one to be known is not only highly capable but also very good. Apart from planning and creating all these, He is also the one with great benevolence who protects all these. If we realize that our capability is what He has given and pray to Him, he will do us good.”

“We are the mark of identification for the existence of a Lord who is the creator…. He has created a greater wonder than all that has been done by so many people in this city by their capabilities. Everything in the Universe is the mark of that ‘great thief.’ Just as a thief remains in hiding, He also remains in hiding. Vedas repeatedly ay that He is hiding inside a cave. Our Heart is that cave. Hiding within us but doing so many wonders outside. The Lord makes us wonder and go in search of Him. That search for Him is Bakthi.’

The Reasons for our Prayer

  1. To Get Relief

“Generally all people do prayers only to get relief from pain and troubles. This they think is Bakthi. If the Lord wants, He may give us pain and troubles in much less proportion to our sins. But, we do not have the qualification to force Him to remove our problems. This is because He only has given these fruits in return for our karma. Therefore, much better than this (asking Him to remove problems), we could pray that, even if difficulties come, we should have the mental attitude not to ‘mind’ them (or the capacity to withstand them). But, even such a prayer is not true Bakthi.”

  1. To Solve Day to day Problems

“When we place our difficulties before Isvara, it amounts to our thinking that He is ignorant of it. That is, we try to diminish the omniscience of Isvara who knows everything. When we pray ‘Remove this difficulty; or change the mental attitude which becomes concerned (or gets affected) on account of the difficulties’, it also means that He does something on our asking. That is, we are devaluating His compassion that flows automatically. A prayer which introduces fault in the jnana and compassion of which the Lord is the ocean, is not true Bakthi. But, we gain a little peace of mind through this as the load in our mind gets reduced temporarily. We get the humility and give up the ego that we, on our own, can achieve everything; we beseech the Lord for redressing our grievances.- that is good. He may, ignoring the devaluation we did of his jnana and compassion and even overlooking our karmas respond to our prayer. But, in human life, if one difficulty goes another will come. Therefore, there will be no end to pray to Him for redressal of our worldly day to day problems.”

After examining Bakthi in this manner, Mahaswamy says:

  1. True Bakthi

Bakhti is surrender (Saranagathi) with the thought, ‘Let things happen in the way you have allowed’. If a man does not think of asking anything for himself, the dirt in the mind will be wiped out and it will become clear like a mirror. Then, we can be full of happiness. ……….. It is possible for us to surrender only to the Lord of all worlds, (to whom alone all the properties belong), and say while praying: ‘Everything is yours. There is no such thing as mine.’ By this alone we will get peace.”

  1. Bakthi with Love

“One more reason for practicing devotion (to Lord) is that there is no happiness, if we live without showing love. By experience we know that the happiness gained by showing love is not found in anything else. But, to whomsoever we may show love, one day or the other, we get separated from him/her or he/she may leave us. The love which is full of joy turns into grief. Isvara is the only one who is permanent who will not leave us. If love is turned to Him, it will keep giving happiness permanently. When this love attains perfection, everything will be seen as He only. ….. Since he is everything, let us show love to all without consideration of high and low. Bakthi alone helps in preventing us from wasting our life without showing love.”

(This is an interesting thought. “TO LOVE GOD’ is a concept which has been promoted by several saints. I am reminded of a verse of one of the four great Saivite saints, where he says: Chanting God’s name (Namasivaya) showing deep love towards Him, completely surrendering oneself  and shedding tears, will get His bountiful benefits and lead them to the Dharmic path. This is a free translation and one such verse reads as under in Tamil:

(‘Kathalaahik kasinthu kanneer malhi Othuvaarthamai nanneRikkuyppathu naathan naamam namsivayavE’)

Three things happen in deep Bakthi. Firstly, you begin to love God intensely and feel one with Him always. You come to a stage when without chanting His name or do prayers to Him, you feel left out and miserable. Secondly, you surrender unto Him completely and shed your ego fully. –Your body actually shrinks and you feel humble, tiny and a non-entity. Thirdly, you are in a state of ecstasy when tears come out of your eyes. This is what the Saivite saints convey in some of their verses.-sgvr)

Then, Mahaswamy enumerates the benefits of Bakthi. “By Bakthi, we can get rid of our worldly problems step by step; or we can elevate our attitude in such a way that we ignore the problems; we can remove the blemishes of the mind, we can prevent the mind from vacillating and bring it under concentration. ….. He will release us from worldly life and at the end give us moksha.”

The Mahaswamy also talks about Bakthi without reason (or expectation). Here are his thoughts:

The Highest Form of Bakthi

Although Bakthi is practiced for several reasons, the highest is doing Bakthi for attaining Mukthi’ or Moksha, (release). The view of the advaitha Acharyas, including Sankara, is that it is only through jnana, moksha can be obtained. …….But the Supreme Acharya has composed several Bhakthi sthothras. He had gone on pilgrimages to kshetras and bathed in holy waters. He has laid down the worship of six different murthis and, thereby established Shanmatha. Why?.......”

“The mind does not know the nature of the Atma (soul). Mind itself has come from Atma. So, how can such a mind measure the Atma? Only when the mind disappears the identity of the soul is revealed.  But our mind keeps wandering. Therefore, we have to channelize, in one directions, the thoughts that fly in different directions.. It is for this that Bakthi has been laid as a means. When the thought is concentrated in Isvara, the mind concentrates on Him uninterruptedly, like the flow of the oil from a container. As this state becomes stronger and stronger, the mind will start disappearing. This way, Bakthi helps jnana. That is why Sankara made Bakthi as a step to attain jnana.”

“Even amongst ‘Brahma Jnanis’, some were ‘Bakthas’ (devotees). It is their Bakthi which has no reason and they had nothing to gain by practicing it. … Even then, enjoying the power of the divine play of Brahmam which appears as Isvara and looking at Isvara as a murthi they like, they shower the highest form of love on it without expecting anything in return…. This is the Bakthi that follows the attainment of mukthi.

The Mahaswamy then explains the stages by which mukthi is attained.

“In the first stage, each one should do his karma (duty) according to the Sastras without questioning ‘Is this required or not?’. By this, likes and dislikes become less in mind and the mind gets cleansed. As dirt gets removed, the mind gets involved with Isavara more and more and gets channelized. This is Bakthi the second stage. When Bakthi ripens, jnana is attained. This is the ultimate stage.”

“We need not on our own give up Karma or Bakthi. Just as a ripe fruit falls off from a stem on its own, when Karma and Bakthi attain fullness, they will slip away on their own. They will, on their own accord take us to mukthi.”

Adi Sankara’s Explanation of Bakthi

Bhagavadhpada has beautifully described the characteristics of Bakthi in Sivananda Lahiri,  by giving five examples. The slokam is ‘Angolam nija bija’.  It means the following: ‘The way the azhinjil seed sticks to the tree from which it came, the way the needle is drawn by a magnet, the way a chaste lady (pathivrithai) is immersed in the thoughts of her husband, the way a creeper winds around a tree and grows, the way a river joins the ocean- to keep the mind immersed all the time on the holy feet of ‘Pasupati’ in the same manner is Bakthi, says Acharya.”

(Here the Mahaswamy explains each one of this example- these are given in Annexure -sgvr)

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol.1, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-349-403) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


Bakthi Defined by Adi Sankara

“There is a tree called Eru Azhinjil.  When its unripe fruit falls to the ground it will break. Immediately, the seeds will gradually move, due to some kind of pull and will stick to the tree. It is said that after sticking to the tree, the seed will disappear into the tree from which it came. We, who have got separated from Bhagwan, should, in the same manner, keep moving towards Him and at the end, stick to Him and be one with Him. The next example is that of the needle that gets drawn towards the magnet. By this example, Adi Sankara shows that, just as the needle that joins also gets the magnetic properties and draws towards it other iron articles, the Bhaktha (devotee) will also get the qualities of the Bhagwan. The next example is that of the Pathivrata (the chaste lady). From this we learn that as the chaste lady’s thoughts, talk, activities and all else are centered about her husband, our mind, speech, activities and all else shall be about Bhagwan . In the moola sloka (root sloka), he refers to ‘Pathi’(husband) as ‘Vibhu’. By this he makes us understand that, instead of thinking of Bhagwan, as being in one place, we should think of His pervading all over and as everything. The next example is that of the creepers. Even if, with great effort, we separate a creeper from the support pole on which it stands winded, within a short time with great effort, it will wind itself around the pole. This example makes it clear to us that, whatever be the hindrances that take away our mind from its thoughts on the Isvara, we should firmly stick to our goal. The last comparison is that of the river and the ocean. This is the ultimate ‘Advaitha’ (highest form of Advaitha). It is the ocean from which the rains come and which becomes the river. Both are no different from each other. A river, on whichever top of the mountain it originates, runs and runs tirelessly and, at the end, mixes with the ocean, looses its exclusive name and form and becomes the ocean itself. The ocean goes forward and receives it. That is why the river water is saltish even a little ahead of the ocean. In the same way, if we practice true Bakthi, Bhagwan who is the ocean of mercy will come forward, admit us to His good grace and make us Himself.”

–pp-398-399  ibid


Table of Contents






Chapter 24

Bakthi Marga - 2


In the last Chapter  # 23, I dealt with Bakthi Marga, giving a glimpse of Mahaswamy’s thoughts on the subject.  

Most of us have no clear idea what we mean by the Lord, what is Easvara Thathwa, idol worship, why we worship at temples etc. This Chapter and the next will give his further explanations on these and other related questions.

What is meant by Lord (Swami)

“‘Swami’ means ‘possession’; He is the rightful owner of a property, which is the Universe. We, who are in it, are also His property. All things that are there belong to Him exclusively… Truth is that all this-including us and others who claim ownership- is His property only. If He is not there, this Universe will not be there and we will not be there. The property over which we claim right of ownership will not be there too.”

“The basic material with which we make all things (including what scientists have claimed to produce or reveal) is His property; we only give new shapes and do not do anything new. …. If it is asked, ‘make the elements’ ‘make the atoms’, it is an impossible task. Can the Scientist, who makes so many machines and bowls, make one small leaf? …… If we, who are Swami’s property, leave everything to Him, for Him to conduct things as He likes, we have no load of worries; it is happiness.”

“We are worrying ourselves in the name of ‘I’, ‘I’.- if we understand truly it belongs to Him, then there will be  no worry. It is absolute peace. The very word Swami has such a connotation which reminds us that we are His property, that He has the right to distribute it in the manner He likes. It is this realization which is the highest goal of Bakthi, namely ‘Saranagathi’ (surrender).

Isvara Thathwa (The Godhead Principle revealed by Nature)

In this Mahaswamy elaborates the characteristics of Swami.

In creation, different kinds of energies are spread in different things (and in different strengths). If we look at Nature, we find the ‘Sakthi’ (energy) of one, more than another; yet another has still greater energy. It goes on and on in this manner. We have some physical power (energy). (Likewise, we have some mental power also).”

 Mahaswamy gives here example of varying physical powers and mental strength of animals and human beings. Then he concludes: “If we think on these lines, there must be a basic thing which is complete both in mental and physical power. We call that thing as ‘Swami’. From Nature in which the power/energy goes on increasing from one thing to another, we go to the principle of Godhead.”

We see in Nature pairs of opposites too. If there is severe winter, there is severe summer. If there is night there is day. Opposite to sweetness is bitterness. Opposed to love is enmity. In everything in Nature, there is the opposite. If we think on these lines, we come to the nature of man’s mind. It is getting immersed in ugly things and being in a state of sorrow; be worried without satisfaction. As opposed to this, there must be one thing which is free from ugly feelings, free from sorrow, and in a state of permanent peace, happiness and satisfaction. That one thing is ‘Swami’.”

“In Nature everything keeps on changing. Only some changes are visible to our eyes. ………….. As opposed to this, there must be something which is changeless. That is called ‘Swami’.”

Always, we are in a state of unlimited wants (and are at low levels). (On the other hand) Paramathma has no wants and is all powerful and is at a high level ….. He is great not only in power and jnana, but is also great in kindness. That is why, if we meditate on Him, he fills up our low level. To remove our wants and make us full, it is possible only by that which itself is full. He is such a benevolent murthi. ……….. If we worship Him, he removes our wants and at the end, gives the fullness in which nothing is needed. At that stage, that which is at a raised level (the Lord) would have filled the pit (in which we are), and would have become equal to IT and become ITSELF.”


The Form and the Formless

“Even if a thing is not perceived by our four sense organs, we say the thing exists even if one sense organ perceives it. … Let us think whether there could be a thing which cannot be perceived at all by all the five sense organs. Scientists say it is only the electromagnetic waves that are spread over the whole universe. But, even though we cannot know it by any of the sense organs, if through certain experiments, it is demonstrated that it is spread all over and also in our body and brain, we believe it. There is a great intelligence which has created these sense organs and all the things that can be perceived by the sense organs and put them in an order. We call it God. It is also spread all over like electricity. It is spread inside us also. Sense organs have come out of it and function in the manner it operates them and controlled by it. ….. That each one of these sense organs should function in a particular manner is the regulation ordained by that great power (Parashakthi). When in this manner, the sense objects are subject to control of the great power, will that great power be subject to the control of the sense organs? This is why we are unable to perceive God through any of our sense organs.”

“God is not only supremely powerful, He is supremely compassionate…. Just to prove Himself before those who argue that there is no God, he will not take a form and present Himself. To those who yearn to see Him, who believe ‘God is there, we should experience Him’, to them alone he puts on several forms so that the devotees can enjoy by using their sense organs. (Mahaswamy quotes the example of electricity here and says :) If the devotees have the filament of Bakthi in their heart, that is the bulb and (if) the switch of Sraddha is put on, the formless (Invisble) God will show himself as Divya Mangala Jyothi. …. If we seek God day and night, completely giving up all other desires and engage ourselves in devotion to Him, we can realize the Supreme which is invisible.”

 Karma and Bakthi

“There are some who carry out diligently the Karmas (duties) laid down in the vedhas. There are those who perform puja, utsav (festivals), bhajans etc well. (Each of them think that performing karmas or pujas, as the case may be,  is the best.), If we look at what (Sankara) Acharya has said in Sopna Panchakam, it appears that Karma should be performed as worship of Isvara. Karma has to be performed and Isvara also should not be forgotten. Karmas should be performed as an offering to the Lord. This is a very high state. It is not easy for the ordinary people to do the Karma without attachment, concentrating the mind on Isavara and offer the fruits of Karma to Him. … Therefore, Karma and Bakthi are needed separately. In course of time, the high state of doing things as an offering to the Lord will be gained. Or it may happen that puja itself may become some one’s Karma or Puja and Karma may stop and he may reach the state of Supreme joy. (Brahmanandam)”

“The Lord will not show His grace to someone merely because he praises Him and offers worship to Him. He will have greater affection for only those who carry the Karmas enjoined by Him. But, if the one who keeps doing work only (Karma Marga) without any love in his heart, he cannot have the full joy of the Lord’s affection.”

If the Karma that we perform is not to be wanting in any manner or be improper, it should be performed with the following feeling. ‘This world has been created by the Lord. All the people are subjects of the Lord who is the King Emperor of all the worlds. Therefore, they are all our own. …… All of us are His children. Vedha Dharma has allotted different tasks to each of us only with the object that this world family of so many children should live in unity and with cordiality. We should perform them without thinking of personal gains and without personal desires and with the thought that ‘it is our duty to ensure that the Lord’s family is conducted properly.’ When this feeling comes, there would be devotion to the Lord, in it. Only if Karma is performed with the feeling of devotion, we can gain the grace of the Lord fully. Till such time the stage is reached when Karma itself is performed as worship of the Lord, in the early stages, it is necessary to conduct separately Puja, Bhajans etc.”

(In the next Chapter, we will see Mahaswamy’s thoughts on idol worship, worship at temples etc.-sgvr)

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol.1, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-349-403) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


Table of Contents






Chapter 25

Bakthi Marga - 3


This Chapter is in continuation of the previous two and will give Mahaswamy’s explanations on idol worship and temples.  Other related questions like Ishta Devata, offerings to the Lord, Bhajans etc., will be covered in the next Chapter.

Idol Worship

The Paramathma who is everything bestows His grace in whatever form we worship Him. Gradually he elevates our mental state…. If it is said the Paramathma is beyond all qualities, then there is no scope  or the people to dwell on that. … But, if it is said ‘Imagine this (Vigraha) to be Paramathama it will appear possible to imagine so. (Here, Mahaswamy points out the difficulty of the mind in reconciling to certain things, which are not easily acceptable to it. At another lecture (elsewhere), he talks about the need for a form to get the mind concentrate and do worship. It is difficult for the mind to do this in a formless state or abstract form. Only when the mind is transcended, this becomes possible. Till then, a definite form has to be there. -sgvr)… The mind gets attached only to known things. Therefore, when an idol is made of a female form with overflowing compassion and beauty and we are told, ‘Imagine that Paramathama has come in this as mother’, the mind can accept it and become deeply involved.”

“It is from the highest thing without qualities, the infinite benign qualities have come. It is from Paramathma without form that all forms are formed. If consistent with each quality, an appropriate form with symbols, weapons etc. is shown as murthi, the mind gets involved in it. The Paramathma principle which we cannot understand (easily) is made possible for us to worship in the manner we can understand. ….. The idols are not our imagination. Paramathma himself has shown the Rishis and the Mahans, the forms, the mantra, the rules (of worship) etc. Paramathma has really become these murthis and He has also shown the mantras, yantras and thanthras to reach Him.

“In the end, a state is reached in which there is no mind and it is transcended. It is in this state, (which is beyond the mind) it is possible to experience the Paramathma without form and qualities. …. For most people, worship is the means to attain jnana….. Let jnana be attained or not. When worship is done now, it has to be done with love. This love, this Bakthi, will give us a lot of contentment. Because of that, we will experience God’s boundless love. That itself is great bliss.”

Worship at Temples

“It is our duty to show gratitude to the Lord who has provided with so much food, clothing and other necessities to man who cannot create even a bit of grass. …. It is as a token of our expressions of gratitude that we should show Him our food before we eat it. … We have to offer a variety of clothes and jewelry to the Lord by whose grace we are able to wear them. It is not possible for all people to perform puja at home and make valuable offerings to the Lord. It is for this reason that temples have come up where the entire community can join and do common worship and make offerings to the Lord.”

“In ancient times, the great Rishis, through the power of mantras, invoked the Supreme (which is omniscient), into certain idols, and made them specially present. Temples were developed around such idols. (Mahaswamy here deplores the utter neglect of the Temples, and short comings in their upkeep and maintenance-sgvr).”

He then says: “We have forgotten very small subtle ‘Dharmas” … We have to ensure that every Siva temple and Vishnu temple in every place is maintained properly and that worship takes place there. This is our first duty. There are great sayings in our country about the huge benefits arising from going to the temple and worshipping, praying to Lord Siva, serving Lord Vishnu etc.”

He then deplores the thought of altering the procedures laid down for temple worship. “Temples have been built using mantras and following agamas; and procedures have been evolved for worship and Pujas. If we meddle with electrical equipment, our body will perish. In the same manner, if we interfere with the temple, which is for the welfare of the soul, the soul will fly away. … In the temple, there is power to withstand the lack of anachara to some extent. But, if we are determined to make it totally anachara (neglecting religious observances), we will only be losers. What is required is that the existing shortcomings in acharas in the temples should be remedied, but we should not introduce new things which are not in the agama Sastras.”

“The rules that have been followed from the time of the kings who have built these temples and up to now should be protected as they are. If we conduct ourselves properly, conduct worship with true devotion and explain with real kindness, all people will accept it.”

Purity of Temples

Talking about the atmosphere in temples which should be pure and peaceful, he says: “It should be such that except the thought about the Lord, all other thoughts must be forgotten.” He then decries the tendency to reduce the serene atmosphere through renting out premises in and around for shops, for cigarette stalls, office buildings, cottages, etc.  He then refers to Government control of temples and the unhygienic and unclean environment of temples including inner precincts. He also refers to several unacharas taking place inside temples. (I have omitted details here-sgvr)   “In many Kshetras, cottages, excursions etc. have only increased merry making rather than promoting Bakthi. On the whole, we are indulging in the shrine of Venkataramana and other deities, in such disrespectful conduct (abacharam), which we cannot bear (even) at our own homes. …… In such an atmosphere, our power to imbibe the presence of the Lord decreases. Because of this (unholy) environment, our Bakthi decreases.”

Temple and Divine Acts

 “Megasthenes who came to India two thousand years back has recorded how virtuous our people were. …. The environment that prevailed in those days is responsible for the mental attitude of that time. In the temples there were discourses (Pravachans) on Mahabharata and other stories dealing with virtuous conduct, in order to guide people in the right path. The State gave special grants for this.  Regular dramas and village dramas enacted in the streets were all based on divine subjects. People had just enough time to carry out their jobs, go to temples and listen to these discourses.”

He then points out how the society has changed now and how a variety of dangerous things like cinema, story books etc., which are contrary to Dharma, have multiplied. He gives detailed account of our present state and how the country has deteriorated in the absence of cultural values and promotion of Dharmic conduct through them. He then gives the solution:

“To put an end to these, there is only one way; temples should be made the centre of social life as in olden days. Old arts of divinity should be nurtured. The Holiness (Sannidhyam) created by great people (Maha Purushas) should be protected by mantras and the rules of Agama Sastras. If we create the holiness of the temples, do their renovation with the help sculptors who know the Sastras, arrange for puranic discourses all the time in temples of village deities, the pujari narrating the Mahabharata story etc., we will contribute to the welfare of the country. .. The whole world will gain from it all prosperity.”

Importance of Bakthi and Temples

It is not enough to have hospitals and cure people of bodily diseases. What is more important is to ensure that bad thoughts do not take shape in their minds. …. If, without devotion, discipline and sense of sacrifice, only mental faculty is improved through education that will only pave way for indulging in dishonest acts cleverly and escaping. … The goal is that he should be good person. Just as hospitals and schools are important, more than these, temples should necessarily be there to make him good. For us to become good, meditation on the Lord and puja are necessary.”

“There is a view that to be a good person, Bakthi is not necessary. But, in practical life, to cleanse the soul that is tossed by several kinds of selfish desires, there is no greater aid at all than Bakthi. Over several yugas (eons), the devotional feeling that ‘There is God who is all powerful and is a witness to everything, who gives us the fruits of our action’ has been a great support to keep man on the path of ‘Dharma’. The goal of Bakthi is to make a man good (and help him to gain the ultimate jnana, and to get released from the cycle of birth and death). ….. There is no greater social service than constructing a temple tower (gopuram), make it visible to all and remind them of God.”

(Will be continued in the Next Chapter)

 (Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol.1, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-349-403) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


Table of Contents






Chapter 26

Bakthi Marga - 4


This Chapter is in continuation of the previous three  and will give Mahaswamy’s explanations on Ishta Devata, Offerings to the Lord,  Bhajans etc.,

Ishta Devata

The usual criticism against Hindu religion is the multiplicity of deities. Here Mahaswamy refutes it and says: “Reality is that no Hindu who knows his religion thinks that there is more than one Swami. …. This one Swami with great power, who controls and operates the Universe, has the compassion and competence to take many forms.  …..  It is for attracting all people each with a particular attitude, mental disposition (and temperament), make them practice devotion, cleanse their mind and help their concentration that Paramathma has come as deities in different forms. Whichever deity it is, ultimately it is Paramathma only. …… Our great people have given us the mantras, the ways of worship etc., appropriate to each form. If we observe these strictly, we can also be the recipient of the grace of the particular deity (Devata).The deity will give us release from the worldly chain and also bless us in respect of our worldly life, till we become ripe for such relief.”

He then gives examples of deities according to mental disposition.  “For one who wants to relate to Paramathma as a child to mother, there is worship of Ambal. For one who wants to get immersed in total peace, there is Dakshinamurthi. For one who wants to express devotion through singing and dancing there is Krishna Paramathma. The worship of a favourite deity practiced in our religion shows the way for fancying the great power in a murthi according to the liking our mind. … As we progress and as true Bakthi gets generated, the same deity will bless us to leave it in the thought ‘why should there be a separate mental attitude for us (and why not see everything as Paramathma?)’”

(There is a parallel in Vedic Astrology. According to this Sastra, a specific deity is assigned to give special benefits to the individual, depending on the lagna he is born in. For example, for those born in Kumbha lagna, the God which gives maximum benefit is Lord Vishnu, for Meena lagna people, it is Ambal, for Mesha lagna it is Lord Siva, for Mithuna lagna people it is Goddess Mahalakshmi. Like this, there are specific Gods/Goddesses for other Lagnas. This does not mean other deities would not grant benefits to that individual. The mind gets drawn to these deities more easily and his/her devotion becomes stronger, facile and more direct-sgvr.)

Mahaswamy cautions here that “when each one worships his own favourite deity, the favourite deities worshipped by others should not be thought to be inferior. We should have the clear understanding that in the same way that the Paramathma bestows His grace in the form we worship, he bestows his grace on others too who worship other forms.”. He then refers to the Puaranic emphasis on a particular deity as superior to others and says: “It is not the intention of those who wrote the Puranas to denigrate other deities. The object of the Puranas is that the one who worships the particular deity should, without vacillation, develop utmost attachment to it.”

“Even when the Paramathma takes different forms to suit the attitude of devotees, it takes different to forms depending on different activities.” –As an example, he names the Thrimurthi’s Brahma, Vishnu and Siva.- “Kalidasa and Bana refer to these deities as three forms of the same power (Shakthi). “What applies to these three also applies to the thirty three crore Devas … Therefore, it is meaningless to quarrel about the superiority of one deity over another. .. There have been serious quarrels off and on between the Saiva and Vaishnava sects which are the prominent ones. If we think about this deeply, we will realize that the Gods of these two sects namely Parameswara and Maha Vishnu are (one and) the same.”

The Five Senses and Five Offerings

“It is the five senses, seeing, hearing smelling, tasting, touching that make it possible to enjoy everything in life. … The five elements namely ether, air, fire, water and earth which are energies of the Universe are the support to the five jnanendriyas.  It is the Lord who has given us the five senses (and created the five elements to support them.) It is by His grace that we get all the enjoyment.  The Lord has created this Universe and given us the five sense organs to enjoy the beauties of His creation. Therefore, it is our duty and also ‘Dharma’ to enjoy through the sense organs with the thought of God.”

“We have to first offer these enjoyments to Him and then accept them as His Prasad. If we get used to this practice, we will attain the maturity to understand that nothing that cannot be the Lord, should be enjoyed through our sense organs.”

“The five offerings (Panchobhacharas) were introduced with the thought and attitude that all the things of the world which we enjoy with the five sense organs (Panchendriyas) should be offered to Paramesawara (the Lord). Both in the temple puja and puja performed at homes, at least five offerings shall be made to the Lord. Applying sandal paste to the murthi, to do archana with flowers, to show incense (Dhup), to do diparadhana (with lamp or by burning camphor) and to make food offering (neyvedyam)-these make the Panchobhacharas. Of these, applying sandal symbolizes earth, the flower symbolizes ether, dhup symbolizes air, deepam symbolizes fire, neyvedyam symbolizes water which is ‘amrut’(nectar). Thus, the five elements are within the Panchobhachara. It is from the five elements that all things which are experienced by the five sense organs are born. Therefore, in Panchobhachara, the Lord, the Universe, and the individual soul come together.”

Nama Sankirthana (Singing Lord’s Name)

“Just like meditation, japa, puja, yagna, pilgrimages, the practice of singing Lord’s name as a group (bhajan), has also been in vogue for a long time. For the individual soul to communicate with Paramathma, ‘bhajan’ has been practiced from ancient times. … Bhajan has the specialty of several people joining together and performing an act of devotion on the basis of social life. …. Bhajans sung as pleasant music accompanied by instruments attracts every heart easily and directs it to the thoughts on the Lord. ….. At a time when everything including our Vedas, agamas and religious disciplines (acharas), has declined, if there is one aspect of our religion which has not declined but has been growing, it is bhajan only. Today, the ‘Satsang’ groups functioning in every place for our religion are only ‘bhajan groups.”

Recommending Bhajans, the Mahaswamy also says: “All the power that God has, His name also has. Holy songs have been given by the great men, who have earned punya, and who, through their nama sankirtan, had the direct darshan of the Lord face to face: By singing these songs, sin vanishes and we earn punya.  … In the Sastras including the Bhagavatham, it has been said that, in Kali Yuga, when it is not possible to undertake difficult sadanas and there is no energy for it, the means to moksha is nama sankirtana”

“All people in the house (keeping aside the congregation of people), should sit in the puja room or before a lamp lit for the purpose, and sing Bhajans. ……. Each one should perform his religious observances without fail and along with them, do bhajans also. It does not matter if one does not know the technique of music, knowledge of raga or have a good voice. The attitude of Bakthi is important.”

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol.1, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-349-403) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


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Chapter 27

Bakthi Marga-5 (Adi Sankara’s Sthothra-1)


The essence of Mahaswamy’s explanations on Bakthi Marga has been mostly covered in the earlier four Chapters. In this Chapter, I am attempting to give a gist of one of the famous devotional hymns of Adi Sankara namely, Shatpadhi Sthothras which promotes Bakthi Upasana. Mahaswamy has chosen this among others for several reasons, such as its poetic beauty and content.

Sri Adi Sankara Bagavadhpadha has written Advaita commentaries and won admiration of scholars all over the world.   …. The Advaita philosophy discussed in all these is a great one. ……  However, this philosophy, which is the ultimate truth, seems beyond the reach of most of us. Although, after reading Acharya’s arguments, we are satisfied at the level of the intellect that Advaita is the truth, when it comes to experiencing (practicing) Advaita, we are far from it. …..  The Acharya knew that the Advaita Bashya and Prakarana Grantha he wrote, would not alone help us… He,(therefore) comes down from his peak to our level, holds our hands and take us step by step. This is the reason why the Acharya has ordained Bakthi Upasana (devotional worship) for us, like Karmanushtana that he prescribed. Since we do not know how to engage in Bakthi or do prayers, he himself has composed several soul stirring devotional hymns on various deities and blessed us. He has composed ‘Soundarya Lahari’ on Ambal and ‘Sivananda Lahari’ on Siva. He has also composed several short sthothras on ‘Ishta Devata’ which are suitable for prayer to each of such Devata and get their blessings.”

Shatpadhi Sthothra

“One such Sthothra, known as Shatpadhi Sthothra, is on Maha Vishnu,-the Lord who preserves and protects the world. It is full of great thoughts, very touching and is a pleasure to recite. If we retain it well in our minds, we will know the Acharya, Maha Vishnu and ourselves too. Knowing ourselves in the proper way is Advaita. This Sthothra will take us to such a peak.”

Mahaswamy then elaborates the technical details of these Sthothra, the grammar of it and starts with his explanations and meanings of the six slokas forming part of it.

What do We Pray for?

“In the first sloka, the Acharya teaches us as to what are the various things we must ask and pray for. … In the world we live in we have innumerable sufferings, problems, mental stress, sorrows, physical ailments, mental agony, financial problems, fear, poor reputation-we suffer from innumerable things like this. We seek various ways to get over these.”

One View: “Some people think that praying to God for all these mundane things is not right. ‘Our problems are the result of our Karmas. It is God who has punished us by giving us these difficulties, and reduces our Karma. Therefore, we should not at all pray to Him for such worldly things. God himself knows what He should give us, when and how. Hence we should not pray to Him for anything (other than the joy of thinking of Him.) Using Bakthi as an instrument to fulfill our little desires, instead of deriving higher satisfaction is wrong. If at all, we can pray for something, it should be only for our self purification.”

Bhagawan’s View: Krishna Paramathma says in the Gita: ‘There are four types of people who worship me or pray to me. The first one is an ‘Artan’, Second, a Jijnasu,. Third,  Artharthi and the Fourth Jnani.

“Artan prays to God to overcome the innumerable problems (like mental agony, physical ailments, poverty etc.) and reduce the burden of sorrow and sadness. “Lord, please unload this burden on me’.”

Jijnasu, a sadhaka seeking jnana,   prays to God, because it is Bhagawan who sows the seed of jnana….. The Jijnasu does not even have to ask ‘Give me knowledge’. He just has to meditate on the Bhagawan and be happy. His mind will achieve concentration and will on its own get involved in the Nirguna, Arupa (formless), Sathya of the Bhagawan. Jnana is a state where there is no separate consciousness of the Jivathma, which merges with the ultimate truth. In such a state, there is no pooja or meditation. The Jijnasu prays God to reach that stage only.”

The third Artharthi who is desirous of wealth and who is not in poverty (unlike the one in the first category) pays for more things and comforts, as he is not satisfied with what he already has. In this category are included all those who seek money, position, power, reputation, fame etc.”

Bhagawan includes Jnani  in the fourth category. .. It is true that in the Jnana, Samadhi stage, the Baktha is not different from the Bhagawan, He does not always remain in ‘nirvikalpa samadhi’, without any awareness about the external around him. At such times, the jnani  enjoys the sport of the very same formless/attributeless thing, with which he had submerged. … The jnani sees the Paramathman in everything he sees and enjoys it saying ‘This too is its form, its sport (Leela)’. The jnanai  is in bliss and all the time enjoying the ‘paramathma rasa’ in everything he sees. He is full of love towards the Paramathma without any reason or prayer (asking for anything) because he can only love everything. This indeed is the Bakthi of the purest kind. (See earlier Chapter where Mahaswamy conveyed this.-sgvr)”

The Bhagawan speaks about this Artan and the Artharthi  in the same manner as He speaks about the Jijansu, who is seeking jnana, and the jnani who is already attained Jnana. He praises these four types of people as ‘Sukhruthina Jana’: that is, people who have performed Punya (virtuous acts) and also says ‘they are praiseworthy.’ The question is: Why did Bhagawan refer not only to the Jnani and the ones who seek jnana, but also to the one who prays to Him to overcome worldly miseries (Artans) , and the one who is seeking even more comforts Artharthis), as His Bakthas and call them as those who have performed Punya, praiseworthy etc?” 

(Mahaswamy answers this question in the following paragraphs. While providing answer, he gives different viewpoints.- sgvr)

Justification for Worldly Prayers

A Maya controls this entire world and we keep thinking the world is real; our body is real and lead our lives in that belief. … We suffer today, here and now because we have a problem. Do we not face disappointment when we do not get what we want? Even if we want to control our mind thinking that all this is karma, and continue doing only our duty, and remain light without any expectation (as the Bhagawan says in the Gita), there is gnawing feeling in the mind that does not allow us to remain so.We believe that there is a God. He is managing the entire Universe. He is ruling the world according to the laws of Dharma. He is the embodiment of compassion. He forgives all our misdeeds and is the ocean of mercy. Has he not caught us in the cover of Maya? What is wrong if we pray to Him to dispel all our miseries in the world? This is one opinion.”

“There are very few people who remain like the water on the lotus leaf unaffected by anything. Ninety percent of the people are those who suffer from problems of the world and who pray that they should be able to overcome these problems. God has the power and the right to sort out all their problems. He certainly has the kindness and compassion required for it. Therefore praying unto Him and sharing our problems with Him is very right; this is another opinion.”

“We cannot achieve anything; ‘Iswara shakthi is above everything’. This is the belief with which the Artan (the one who is suffering) prays to God. Is this not a good attitude?  If a man, who is always conscious of ‘I’, realizes at some time that he cannot achieve anything without His grace, believes in this, becomes humble, submissive and prays to God, it is indeed commendable. We can assume, therefore, that God has called such people too as those who have virtuous deeds and worthy of praise, because they possess this commendable attitude.  ….. We should not desire anything ‘Adharmic’ (not in line with Dharma). If the desires are reasonable and in line with Dharma, even Bhagawan would accept such desires at that stage.”

Then talking about the next category of people namely, Artharthi, Mahaswamy explains:

“The Dharma Sastras say that we must restrict our needs to things without which we cannot live. This is the highly laudable principle of ‘Aparigraham’. Therefore, if one has enough wealth (artham) to lead a comfortable life and yet he is praying to God for more, he is indeed greedy; therefore it is wrong. … We need a lot of money for a lot of good things such as charitable and social work, renovating temples, building schools and hospitals etc. Only if we have kind hearted wealthy men who have enough money over and above their needs, would we get funds for these projects. If, an Artharthi prays to Bhagawan not for himself but to donote the excess over his needs. We can assume that Bhagawan  would accept such a prayer.”

“Even during the perid of Varnashrama Dharma, Dharma Sastras suggested to Vysyas ‘to brave crossing oceans to make money’, (unlike in the case of Brahmins who were ordained not to cross oceans). In the process of doing so, if they (Vysyas) indulged in a little bit of luxury, the charity that they do will compensate for this ‘dosha’ (imperfection).As they keep on giving, they might on their own start disliking luxuries and their wishes would be more to help others than to seek comfort for themselves.”

It is not necessary to be jnani or a jijnasu. It is enough if an Artan or Artharthi believed in God and goes to Him. His prayers will elevate him little by little and his desires will diminish, in course of time. Thereafter, it might occur to him to pray only for ‘jnana vairagya’ (knowledge of self discipline) rather than alleviation of problems, suffering, diseases etc. Then even this prayer might stop. It would be the highest state of sheer joy derived out of Bakthi.”

“Thus, there are grounds for justifying worldly prayers. In a sloka in Soundarya Lahari, the Acharya says: Ambal grants literacy, wealth, attractive physical appearance and such worldly things in the initial stages. Subsequently, She helps in eliminating attachments of various kinds and finally delivers the ‘Parmananda’ (highest bliss). Hence there is nothing wrong in making worldly prayers up to a certain stage.”

(Maha Periaval,s further explanations of Shatpadhi Sthothras will continue in the next Chapter-sgvr)

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol.4, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-651-753) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


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Chapter 28

Bakthi Marga-6 (Adi Sankara’s Sthothra-2)


Last Chapter began with a gist of one of the famous devotional hymns of Adi Sankara namely, Shatpadhi Sthothras which promotes Bakthi Upasana. This Chapter continues Mahaswamy’s thoughts on this subject.

Unfulfilled Prayers and Atheism

“We continue our Bakthi although we do not get the desired results. It is because we realize the joy of Bakthi even in our little devotion. Thus, even if prayers are not answered, we do not give up on God. … Mostly, atheists are by nature non-believers. There are very few who have become atheists because they were disappointed that their Bakthi did not yield the benefits they desired. Even if one starts engaging in Bakthi seeking worldly benefits, it is never destroyed. That is why Krishna Paramathma says: ‘Even if you are not a Jnanai or Jijnasu, since you have trusted me and come to me for some reason or another, you too are a Baktha.’ And therefore He includes with great compassion Artan and Artharthi too as Bakthas.”

Praying for Athma Shreyas

“Even if we do not pray for any worldly things, until the time we truly attain that stage, ‘we have no wants, we do not have to pray for anything’, we must keep praying to Bhagawan for Athma Shreayas (Athmic well being). That (by itself) will give us relief for our yearning. Bhagawan knows as to what is required for our Atma Abhvruddhi (Athmic Development). He would give us without our asking.”

“In the first sloka, the Acharya explains all that we should pray for to attain Athma Shreayas. Here he shows how to pray as Jijnasu, neither as Artan nor as Artharthi.”


There is a popular misconception that Lord Siva alone gives Jnana and Moksha. Maha Vishnu also does this. “As if to educate such people, he (Adi Sankara) prays for preliminary things necessary for ‘Chtita Suddhi’ in the very first sloka. He particularly shows how to pray to Maha Vishnu for Jnana.”


To Cleanse the Mind

“Unless the mind is cleansed, nobody can be happy. Hence, the Acharya starts the Shatpathi Sthothra with a prayer to help us achieve that. … The mind is constantly chasing something or the other. ….. If the mind remains contended and satisfied, without such yearning and chasing, it means that the mind is alright. .. It might seem that everything is fine with us. We may have plenty of money, education and worldly comforts. Yet, if we have four small holes like, discontent, anger, envy, and tears, not visible to the eye, we cannot hold the nectar for happiness, within.”

“That is why the Acharya has shown in the very beginning of the Sthothra, that we must get rid of the pressure arising out of bad feeling, impurities and make it pure. He has shown that if we pray to Bhagawan that way, we can achieve that (purity of mind) because of His compassion. The sloka starts with the words ‘AVinaya Apanaya’. Avinaya is the exact opposite of Vinaya (which is about being humble respectful polite etc). Avinaya is about arrogance, disrespect etc. The Acharya prays to the Sakshath Maha Vishnu to remove that from us. When Acharya prays ‘Remove avinaya’, it really means ‘Instil vinaya (humility)’”

Vinaya is a combination of several qualities. Humility, respect, gentle manners, giving in for others, absolutely no arrogance. True education must instill this Vinaya…. Vinaya is the first quality that a man should possess. If Avinaya vanishes, discipline appears on its own.”

“In olden days, when they talked of culture, they thought of Vinaya as its most important characteristics. … This was the first lesson that the Guru taught to his students. (Padmapadha, the disciple of Adi Sankara calls his disciples as Vineyan.). Similarly, the King too paid special attention to installing humility on his subjects (as much as he paid attention to their welfare in other aspects). ..What is surprising about our Acharya himself is that not only were his sishyas humble vineayas, but as a Jagadguru he was more humble.”  Here,  Mahaswamy goes at length to describe him as the personification of humility of Adi Sankara; he gives an example of how, at the end of Soundarya Lahari (which is an extraordinary composition for many reasons), he pleads to Ambal in an apologetic tone saying:

‘Mother, you are the ocean of sound, ocean of words. I have described you in hundred slokas. This is like the devotees taking a handful of water from Mahasamudram in Rameswaram (Sethu Thirtha), and perform abhishekha for the very same sea.’

“Thus, the Acharya who is the incarnation of Paramaeswara, mingles with us (who have no power) and starts the Shatpadhi Sloka with ‘Avinaya Apanaya’ (remove lack of Vinaya). This is just to teach us how to pray.”

“If we attain humility, that is enough. All the other good qualities will follow.” Mahaswamy refers here to Thiruvalluvar’s Kural on humility. (It is quoted below in the text box-sgvr):

Compare here the emphasis placed on humility by the Great Poet Thiruvalluvar.

“Learning, good birth and wealth are not reduced but enhanced by becoming humility of deportment.” (125)

Explanation: No doubt, it is necessary for every human being to be humble.  Here, the poet emphasizes further that one’s learning, the family background or the wealth he/she acquires should not make him/her proud of such achievements On the other hand, such persons should all the more be humble despite erudition, good family background and wealth, as their humility will enhance the value of these acquisitions.

In the Society, we have known many learned/wealthy people who are humble and are being respected and revered more than those who show pride and haughtiness. In Purana, Lord Rama and Hanuman are said to have exhibited this throughout;  on one occasion when Ahalya’s curse was to be removed by the celestial touch of  His feet, Lord Rama felt shy of touching the stone to which Ahalya was transformed; he touched the stone gently lest it would hurt the women; after this transformation, he never showed any pride in achieving this.

In Kural  121,Thiruvalluvar says:

‘Humility will make one immortal and the absence of it will push one into darkness’.

-(See Chapters on Thirukkural)


Two kinds of Discipline

“Controlling the senses to bring them in line with good things and not allowing them to run amock is one kind of discipline. This is called ‘Samam’. ‘Dhamam’ is ,as Appar Swamigal has explained, is how to engage each part of the body in service to God. For example, ‘Oh head, bend in obeisance’. Combining Dhama to Sama people,often usethe expression ‘Sama Dhamadhi’. Dhamam is about disciplining the mind. In the two kinds of disciplines, Sama is merely to control the senses from straying to wrong things and Dhama is to control the very thought that arises inside. …. We may not do anything wrong and we could control the senses. Yet if the mind is imagining wicked things and reveling in evil thoughts, then there is no use with external discipline. Dhama means internal discipline.”

“Achieving the internal discipline is, however, very difficult. Only if we practice Sama, which is external discipline can we get to Dhama. … First we must sincerely wish and yearn that ‘All Vasanas and old tastes must completely vanish from the mind.’ In order to achieve this at least externally, we must practice not enjoying things through the senses. As progress in that slowly,  we might achieve a little Dhama to bit by bit. The Vasanas in the mind too would start reducing. We must be determined and persistent. Then, the Paramathma will ultimately see our sraddha (sincerity) and atharanga suddhi and grant us His Dharshan. Either it could be His Saguna , Karunya Lavanya Rupa (a form with attributes full of compassion and beauty) or it could be formless state where we experience His Jnanananda in our Athma as Athmaswarupa.”

“The Bhagawadpadha prays to the Bhagawan for both Shanthi (the state of Sama) and Dhanti (the state of Dhama) in the Shatpadhi sthothra. Before controlling the mind and behavior one must have the quality to be simple, respectful and humble.  Even praying to the Bhagawan for Sama and Dhama, is possible only if there is vinaya. Adi Sankara therefore prays to Lord Vishnu as follows:

‘I need Dhanti, Dhama for the mind. Grant me that. Control my mind. I need Shanthi for my senses which keep running after the mirage called sensual pleasures. Control that and grant me Sama.’

(Maha Periaval’s further explanations of Shatpadhi Sthothras will continue in the next Chapter-sgvr)

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol.4, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-651-753) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


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Chapter 29

Bakthi Marga – 7 (Adi Sankara’s Sthothra – 3)


The previous two Chapters  gave a gist of the first sloka in the famous devotional hymns of Adi Sankara namely, Shatpadhi Sthothras. This and the next ones will deal with the Mahaswamy’s explanations on the remaining five slokas.

The Second Sloka

“This sloka describes the feet of Bhagawan (comparing it with Lotus flower). This elegant sloka is replete with such beautiful combination of words and phrases that one feels like repeating it again and again. In a sloka that describes the feet of Bhagawan, even the words are as soft as petals of flowers. Here is the sloka in English:

Divya DhunI MakaranthE                                                                           

Parimala Pari BhOga SatchidanandhE                                                         

 Sripathi Padharavindhe                                                                                    

 Bhava Bhaya KhEthachhidhE  VandhE

“The Acharya has composed the lines poetically using Andhya Prasam, -Makarandhe, Anandhe, Aravindhe, Vandhe- and made it easy for us to learn by heart.  Lakshmi, who has the Lotus as her seat, is holding on to Bhagawan’s lotus feet on ‘Seshaparyanga’ (Adishehsha who is His bed), in Kshirabdi (ocean of milk). Our Acharya refers to Lakshmi too in an indirect manner and helps us to have a Dharshan  of the divine couple.” (Here, Mahaswamy gives detailed explanations on the sloka, which are omitted for want of space. -sgvr) 

While describing Maha Vishnu’s feet,  Acharya says that ‘Bhagawan’s feet cuts and throws away the sorrow called fear of ‘Samsara’.Samsara creates not just fear, but also pain, sorrow and exhaustion. Acharya therefore, says: ‘I prostate before the feet that destroy fear and sorrow from Samsara.’


Advaita Acharya speaks Bakthi and Dhvaivatham

“In the third sloka, the Acharya discusses a very important philosophical concept. The Samsara drama is going on only because we think Paramathma and Jivathma  are different from each other. Advaitha says that the two are not different but the same. This is the Siddhantha established by the Acharya.” 

Here, Mahaswamy explains the intermediate State till one attains Jnanam and the true purport of the third Sloka which advocates Bakthi. It is in this context, Adi Sankara is quoted as a Bhaktha. Let us see the explanation.

“When there is no work, when everything has subsided by itself, then the Adavaitic state is attained and there is no difference between Jiva and Brahmam. …. It is the Brahmam that has projected itself as so many creatures, the world and the karya prapancha through Maya sakthi. Karya Prapancha is not the ultimate truth. The actionless-Brahmam is the support for it. Merging with that Brahmam is the eternal truth. … But the very Brahmam comes as Iswara and tells the Jnani: ‘Even if everything seems for you as one (and the only one), take note of the differences in the practical situation and do something good for the world by giving the right Upadesa’ . Thus, it (Iswara) pushes even the Jnani (like the Acharya) into selfless karma in the service of others. It was in that state that Acharya had engaged in Bakthi to Iswara, the Mahasakthi .”

As long as we are in this world, and till the experience of Jnana  is attained, there is the all powerful Iswara who rules the world and there are jivas who are insignificant in power. In such a state, if the Jiva with insignificant or  little power equates himself with Iswara and thinks ‘Iswara and I are one’, and practices Abedha, that is wrong. (This is how Acharya would have thought.)”

“He (Acharya, therefore) takes great care to see that Advaita is not wrongly used to confuse people in the practical world; he emphasizes: ‘It should never be thought Paramathma is dependent on Jivathma (just as the waves belong to the sea and not the sea to the waves.)’”

“Although Acharya  established the Siddhantha that Jiva and the Brahmam are the same’, in this sloka (taking into account the practical state),  he advises that, one should not even by mistake think that he is Isvara, but is only a miniscule part of Him. Therefore, one should remain respectful and humble. He prays to God with utmost humility and does not lag behind Saiva- Vaishnava devotees in this attitude. He remains the embodiment of Vinaya when he prays to God. (Vinaya was preached by him in the first sloka)”

It is clear here that the Acharya was not at all dogmatic about his philosophy. When not being in the state of his goal of Advaitha, he himself tells the jivas not to bring in Advaitha there. …..  If there is a bliss being the Paramathma itself, there is also a bliss in engaging in Bakthi to Him. While practicing Bakthi, only if we understand ‘He is the Lord; we are His possessions; we have to remain ever so humble towards Him’, can we get that bliss. That is why our Acahrya says with great humility: ‘If you are a big ocean, I am just a little wave in that. I do not exist without you. I am your possession.’ In praying like this, he does not, even a bit, lag behind Ramanuja and Madhava.

Fourth and Fifth Slokas

In the fourth sloka the way in which the Acharya has braided the words is unparalleled. This sloka has both grace and depth of meaning. (I have omitted the detailed portrayal of this sloka for want of space-sgvr) 

After describing the stories of Bhagawan’s  lifting  of the mountains on two occasions  to punish the proud Indira  and for churning the Kshirasagara and the story of  Vamanavatara,  Mahaswamy quotes Adi Sankara’s prayer to  Bhagawan:  ‘Once your Darshan is available, can it happen that Samsara (and the cycle of life and death) does not disappear?’ This question form of prayer places a great emphasis on the immense benefit one derives from Bhagawan’s Dharshan, which removes the very cycle of life and death and free him from Samsara Bandha.

In the fifth Sloka, Acharya pleads with Baghawan thus: Parameswara!,You keep protecting the world through Matsya and other incarnations.  I am terrified (afraid) because of Samasara Thapa; I too have to be protected by you.

In usual parlance, the word ‘Parameswara,’ refers only to Lord Siva. The Sanskrit dictionary as well as Kalidasa’s poems confirms this.   Acharya who is an Advaithi, has non-dualistic feeling even while addressing Bhagawan. Asking a question who is a Bhagawan, he answers saying: ‘It is the one and only Athma who is Sankara and Narayana’ He does not show even a bit of difference between Hari and Hara. For him, Narayana too is Maheswara (that is Parameswara), as much as Sankara is. Therefore, he addresses Maha Vishnu as Parameswara and prays: ‘I have to be protected by you.’

(Maha Periaval’s explanations of the remaining Shatpadhi Sthothras will be continued in the next Chapter-sgvr)

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol.4, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-651-753) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


Table of Contents





Chapter 30

Bakthi Marga – 8 (Adi Sankara’s Sthothra – 4)


The previous three Chapters gave a gist of the first five slokas in the Adi Sankara’s Shatpadhi Sthothras. This will deal with the Mahaswamy’s explanations on the last sloka.

The Sixth Sloka

“Like the fourth one, our Acharya has composed this sloka with sweet words that end with the sound ‘ndha’. Here is the sloka in English:

Damodara GuNamandhira                                                                             

Sundara vadhanaravindha Govinda                                                                

Bhavajaladhi Mathana Mandhara                                                                                  

 Paramandharam Apanaya thvam me.

“In the first two lines, he calls out to the Bhagawan. He uses two names ‘Damodhara’ and ‘Govinda’. There are ‘Dwadasa Namas’ (twelve names) which are important for MahaVishnu. ‘Namam’ is the name of the symbol Vaishnavas wear on their foreheads. Staunch believers wear them in twelve places on the body, forehead, chest, abdomen, shoulder and wrist, even today. (Likewise, Vibhuthi is worn by Saivas). The concept is this: We must think of the twelve names of Maha Vishnu that we are fond of and wear the twelve ‘Namams’. For each of the twelve names, we must have one ‘Namam’ on the body. While wearing the Thiruman (Namam) we must think of the Bhagawan who is the world and who measured the world.”

“Everyone repeats these twelve names during the Achamana (in Sandhyavandana). We touch the face, eyes, nose, ears, shoulder, heart and head while repeating these names. The twelve names are: Kesava-Narayana-Madhava-Govinda-Vishnu-Madhusudhana-Thrivikrama-Vamana-Sridhara-Hrishikesa-Padmanabha-Damodara. (Interestingly, we do not find the names of the two incarnations -Avathara Purushas- Krishna and Rama. Kesava, Govinda, however are Lord Krishna’s names.)”

Mahaswamy then, explains the meaning of some of these names. These are given briefly below:

Damodhara:  He who has an abdomen tied with ropes. This comes from the story of Balakrishna being tied with a rope by Yashoda for his pranks .He is aparadhina who is bound by the devotion of His Bhakthas. Yet, if someone thinks with arrogance that “I can tie you down’, He shows that ‘I will not be bound by that. When I decide out of my compassion and kindness to do so, then only, I will be bound’. A philosophical perspective is: ‘Dama Udharan’ means ‘He who has the abdomen in which everything resides. That is, he holds everything inside Him’.

Govinda:  It is said that ‘Govindan’ means ‘Some one who tames the Indriyas and rules over them.’ In this context ‘Go’ refers to Indriyas.

Madhavan: This name is as sweet as honey. Good looking and sweet (pleasant) attitude. This too is a special name for Lord Krishna and Maha Vishnu. Another meaning is ‘Lakshmi’s Husband’ –‘Ma’ means Lakshmi and ‘Dhavan’ means husband).

Madhusudhana: Maha Vishnu killed the demon Madhu and hence the name. This usually refers to Lord Krishna.

Hrishikesa: Hrishikam refers to the Indriyas. The ‘Isa’ who tames and rules over the Indriyas is Hrishikesa.

Of the twelve names, the four names Narayana, Vishnu, Sridhara and Padmanabha directly denote Maha Vishnu. Thrivkrama and Vamana refer to the Vamana Avathara. The remaining six names are most commonly used as Krishna’s names. Acharya starts the first sloka with Vishnu and ends up the last with two names Damodara and Govinda.

Nirguna and Gunanilaya (Attributess and Abode of Attributes)

In the first line of this sloka, the Acharya calls the Bhagawan as ‘GuNamandhiran’ that is some one who is the abode of ‘Anantha Kalyana Guna’ (infinite number of auspicious qualities). …. This does not mean that he has forgotten Nirguna. Nor is he contradicting it. In the case of seven colours in the VIBGYOR, they become plain white, when all the colours are joined; similarly, the Brahmam with all attributes also becomes the attributeless Nirguna Vasthu.

Here, the Bhagawan appearing with Guna (attributes) and Rupa (form), is described by the Acharya as: ‘He is a GuNamandhira and  has a beautiful lotus like face’.

“Staunch Advaithins, not just in speech, but those who had experienced Advaitha, have relished describing Bhagawan’s Rupa Saundarya (beautiful form) and derived great joy from it. Many Advaithins who are Bhakthas have been mostly devotees of Lord Krishna.”

 (Mahaswamy gives examples of several staunch Advaithins like Lila Sukhar, Madhusudhan Saraswathi, etc, who had composed several slokas and Sthothras on Lord Krishna and other deities.)

Unique Name-Govinda

“He, who is Arupa (formless), appears in a beautiful form that we like so that we can pray to Him with devotion. When the Arupa gets a form, it also gets a name. The formless must get a name as soon as it acquires a form-as we say Nama-Rupa. The Acharya  addresses it as ‘Govinda’.”

The name Govinda is very special and unique. Govinda Nama seems more special than ‘Hara’ Nama. Every one (Saivites as well as Vaishnavites) recites. In th case of Govinda Nama (unlike Hara Nama), the very first person says: ‘Sarvarththa Govinda Nama Sangirthanam.’ ….. If some one asks me what is the most unique name in Hindu Religion, I would say it is ‘Govinda.”

“The name ‘Govinda’ was given to Bhagawan, who is the ruler of all the worlds, when He came down to earth with great compassion, herding the cows with utmost simplicity, and when He blessed all the cowherds and the Gopis with great compassion and love. … After Indira was taught a lesson for his arrogance by Lord Krishna, Indira came to the Lord, fell at His feet and apologized. Then, he named the Lord as ‘Govinda’ and performed coronation ceremony for Him, implying He was the protector of all lives. (‘Go’ not only denotes cow, but also all living beings). .. Govinda is the Indira of the ‘Go’s’. Vinda means pursuing something and attaining it. ‘Go’ not only refers to animals, but also earth, space, speech, and all Indriyas.Govinda Nama’ indicates that it is the destination for all these reaching finally the Paramathma.”

One more reason for ‘Govinda’s Name’ being unique is that it is the favourite of Acharya .In his Bhaja Govindam, he has dealt with how a man should lead his life, philosophical advice, discrimination, etc, which are common to all Saivites and Vaishnavites. Instead of saying generally worship Paramathma, he says: ‘worship Govinda’ and (like Andal) utters the name thrice at the beginning of the verse itself.

“In another way too it is special, in Achamana, the name ‘Govinda appears both at the beginning while taking water as well as at the time of uttering the twelve names of Maha Vishnu and touching the body.”

An interesting thought given by Mahaswamy on the name of ‘Govinda’ is briefly as under:

“It appears Bhagawan had indeed two grievances and it got removed when he became ‘Govinda’.”

 Rama Pattabhishekam was compared by Valmiki to the Coronation of  Devendra. Lord Rama might have been irked by this comparison to the person like Indira who misbehaved with Ahalya leading to a curse on her.  That Valmiki compared Him- a man of integrity and fidelity- to a philanderer who had sinned was His (first)  grievance.  The second grievance might have been  Valmiki comparing Him with some one like Indira who was defeated in a battle by Indrajit ,(who was later defeated by Rama.)

The grievance of Bhagawan’s mind got removed only in Krishnavathara, when that very Indira fell at His feet, performed the coronation for Bhagawan and named Him Govinda.”

(Though this appears to be a somewhat farfetched explanation attributing grievances to Bhagawan who is beyond all these human traits, what is to be understood here is the importance given to Krishnavathara and the emphasis on the name ‘Govinda’.-sgvr)

Essence of Sixth Sloka

Addressing the Bhagawan by the name Govinda, the Acharya says: ‘You are the Mandhara mountain who churns the Samsara Sagara and delivers the I Thathva (as Amruta) from the Samsara Samudra’.  

Here Mahaswamy gives detailed explanations on the churning of Samsara Sagara and getting the nectar of Moksha.

“When the ocean of milk was churned, first the poison came. Then only Amruta came out.  Only after they churned continuously and removed all the bad things did they finally get to Amruta. We need to churn our life and Samsara this way, It has its own waves. Kama-Krodha etc., are its various ways that are turbulent. Iswara thathva too is inside it like Amruta. If we churn the Samsara Sagara thouroughly, and get rid of the poison such as Kama-Krodha etc, first, then we will get the divine experience, Iswara Sakshathkara called Amruta. First we must collect all bad things, not for enjoying the; but to throw them out. Performing pujas, going on pilgrimages, reading Sthothras, meditating, contemplating etc., are forms of Bhagawan’s grace. By Sadhana such as these, we must first churn the ocean of life, collect the poison and throw it out before obtaining Amruta.”

“When we churn with the churning rod, we witness so much turbulence, and have to put in so much effort. In exhausting our previous karma and getting rid of all our old vasanas, in churning things, we must experience the hard knocks of life. We will get salvation only after several such trials and testing times. If we understand that Bhagawan Himself is causing such turbulence, so that we may get our salvation later, our fear, tears, diffidence and exhaustion will vanish.”

“Therefore, let us not lament that we have various problems and doshas. Let us lead our lives thinking about Bhagawan, engaging in Bhakthi, performing all the prescribed karmanushtanas, serving others as much as we can. Then all these doshas will vanish by themselves.”

“Everyone has an opportunity to develop step by step. The only thing we have to ensure is that the rope of Bhakthi, does not slip from the churning rod…. The concept here is that we must derive Amruta-the everlasting Mokshananda- from this Samsara Sagara with the help of Bhakthi.”

“The first sloka in ‘Shatpadhi’ starts with crossing Samsara and ends with churning the Samsara in the last sloka.”

The Seventh Sloka – Phala Sruthi

In this sloka, the Acharya has not explicitly spelt out the benefits of reciting the sthothra out of humility, but has implied it. He says: ‘Oh Narayana, you are full of compassion. I surrender unto your two feet. Let the Shatpadhi Sthothras with six slokas always reside in the lotus of my mouth.’

This prayer is done by the Acharya  on behalf of all of us.  We will get Bhagawath Anugraha if we keep repeating the six slokas of the Shatpadhi Sthothras. If that happens our Jiva which is a shat-Padha consisting our mind and the five Indriyas, will forever remain in the lotus feet of the Lord.”

“It is evident in many places here that the Acharya has composed this in a state of extreme Bhakthi and allowed those feelings to influence his works, rather than the differences between Dwaivatha, Vishishtadhvaitha and Advaitha. Even in the end, he does not give prominence for Jnana Marga, which is so important to Advaitha. Instead, he only advocates ‘Saranagathi’, which is important for Bhakthi.”

( Maha Periaval’s explanations of the six Shatpadhi Sthothras end here-sgvr)

(Excerpts from the book entitled “Voice of God”-Vol.4, published by Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy Peetarohana Shatabdi Mahotsava Trust, Mumbai-2006 –pp-651-753) (Italics, highlighting and underlining are mine-sgvr.)


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(…Continued in Part IV)