Tripura Rahasya was considered by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi as one of the greatest works that expounded Advaita philosophy. He often quoted from it and regretted that it was not available in English. As a consequence Sri Munagala Venkataramaiah (now Swami Ramanananda Saraswathi) took up the work of translation in 1936 as another labour of love, adding just one more English translation to his already extensive store. This was first published in parts in the Bangalore Mythic Society's Journal (Quarterly) from January 1938 to April 1940 and afterwards collected into book form, of which five hundred copies were printed and privately circulated. The Asramam has since taken over the copyright and made it one of their official publications.
The work, originally in Sanskrit, is widely known in India and has been translated into a number of local languages, but I do not know of any previous translation in English. It is regarded as one of the chief textbooks on Advaita, the reading of which alone is sufficient for salvation. Sri Ananda Coomaraswami quotes from it with appreciation in his book, Am I My Brother's Keeper?
I for one much appreciate the present translation, which will now be easily available for all who know English. Sri Ramanananda Saraswathi has put us under a great obligation by his painstaking work. It will surely be a gratification to him to know that his labour of love has at last found a permanent abiding place and will not be lost to future generations, for many of whom it must become a spiritual textbook.
Back of the Book
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi often quoted from the Tripura Rahasya and considered it to be one of the greatest works expounding the traditional teaching of Advaita.
This book is not to be picked up, read through and put away. The verses are full of Divine nectar which will quench the thirst of any earnest seeker who repeatedly reflects on their meaning and in right earnest, attempts to implement the teaching.
In this fascinating scripture, through stories and analogies, the entire spectrum of spiritual pursuit and attainment is laid out in clear terms. Every sadhaka, serious about attaining the supreme goal of life, should apply his or herself to the teachings of the Tripura Rahasya.
Sri Tripura Rahasya is an ancient work in Sanskrit which has been printed all over India. The latest and best edition was brought out in the Kashi Sanskrit Series in 1925. The book is said to have been printed once before and issued in loose leaves. There was also an edition in book form printed in Belgaum towards the end of last century.
The esteem in which the work is held for its sanctity may be gauged from an account of it given in the Preface to the Mahatmya Khanda. Mahadeva originally taught the Highest Truth to Vishnu, who in turn taught Brahma in the celestial regions. Later Vishnu incarnated on Earth as Sri Dattatreya, the Lord of the Avadhutas (the naked sages), and taught it to Parasurama with the added injunction that it should be communicated to Haritayana who would later seek the Truth from him. Parasurama thus realised the Self by the guidance of Sri Datta and dwelt on the Malaya Hill in South India.
In the meantime, a Brahmin, by name Sumanta, living on the banks of the Sarasvati, had a son, Alarka by name, who used to hear his mother being called "Jaayi Aayi" by his father. Being a child, he too addressed his mother ''Ai''. He died in his childhood, and his last words on his death-bed were ''Ai, Ai" only. This sound is however sacred to the Goddess. Having been uttered in all innocence and purity of mind, it conferred unexpected merit on the dying child. He was later born as Sumedha, a son to Haritha. Haritayana is his patronymic. His spirituality developed as he grew up and he sought Parasurama to learn the highest good from him, who in turn imparted to him the knowledge which he had gained from Dattatreya. Parasurama told him also that his Master had predicted the compilation of the knowledge of the Highest Truth by Haritayana for the benefit of mankind.
Haritayana was worshipping Sri Minakshi in the temple at Madurai in South India. Narada appeared to him and said that he had corne from Brahmaloka in order to see what Haritayana was going to present to the world in the form of an Itihasa containing the Supreme Spiritual Truth. Haritayana was bewildered and asked how the Saint expected it of him. Narada said: "There was an assembly of saints in Brahmaloka. Markandeya asked Brahma about the Sacred Truth. Brahma said that it would be brought out by you in the form of a holy book. So I carne to ask you about it." Haritayana was at a loss and pleaded inability to reproduce the Sacred Truth learned from Parasurama. Narada then meditated on Brahma who appeared before them and asked what the matter was. When Narada put the whole matter before him, he turned to Haritayana and blessed him, endowing him with the ability to produce the book at the rate of four chapters a day. He also referred to Haritayana's past and attributed his present inability to remember what he learnt to the casual and undisciplined utterance of the sacred syllable in his past incarnation. Brahma further enjoined Narada to be the first to read Haritayana's work when it was completed.
The work was thus written by Haritayana and is also called after his name Haritayana Samhita. It is said to consist of 12,000 slokas in three sections - The Mahatmya Khanda (Section on the Greatness of Sri Devi), Jnana Khanda (Section on Supreme Wisdom), and Charya Khanda (Section on Conduct). Of these the first consists of 6,687 slokas; the second of 2, 163 slokas; and the third is not traceable. The section on 'Greatness' contains the prelude to the work and later treats mostly the manifestations of the Supreme Being as Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Lalita, Kumari, etc., and their exploits, found in Brahmanda Purana, Markandeya Purana and Lakshmi Tantra. Its contents mostly cover the ground of Durga Saptasati and of Lalita Upakhayana.
Sri Vidya (worship of the Supreme Being as Goddess) has a very holy tradition traced to the Vedas. There are two principal divisions, known as Kadividhya and Hadividhya. The former was practised by Indra, Chandra, Manu, Kubera, etc.; it is the simpler of the two and also more common. The other was practised by Lopamudra and approved of the wise. Tripura Rahasya, otherwise Haritayana Samhita, begins with (Salutations to Aum) and ends with (Tripura is only Hrim). Aum is well known as the sacred syllable signifying the Highest Being in the abstract; Hrim is the sacred symbol of the same as the Goddess. The contents of the book are thus enclosed by these two symbols - the most sacred in the Vedas and this text is equally sanctified.
In Sutra Bhasya (the commentary on Brahma Sutras), Sri Sankara has used the story of Samvarta as found in Tripura Rahasya, in his commentary on (apica smaryate) 'Sutra', with approval.
There is a lucid commentary in Sanskrit on Haritayana Samhita. It is named Tatparya Dipika and written in 4932 of Kali Era (i.e. 1831 A. D.) by one Dravida Srinivasa, son of Vydianatha Dikshita of the village of Mahapushkara in South India.
As for its philosophy, there is no real reason to distinguish it from Vedanta. Scholars however call this system the Tantri or the Sakta, and point out some apparent differences between this and Advaita Vedanta. This system teaches that the Supreme Reality is no other than Abstract Intelligence. 'Intelligence' signifies Self-luminosity and 'Abstraction' denotes its unlimited nature. No other agent can be admitted to exist apart from It in order to reveal It. The apparent variety is only due to Vimarsa, the gross aspect of Its absolute freedom known as Svatantra, which at times unfolds the Pure Self as the Cosmos and at other times withdraws Itself and remains unmanifest.
Abstraction and manifestation are inherent in the Pure Self; these two aspects are given the names Siva and Sakti, respectively. There cannot be manifestation beyond the Supreme Intelligence; therefore Cosmos and the Self are only the same, but different modes of Reality. Realisation of the Truth is thus quite simple, requiring only constant remembrance on these lines that Reality is not incompatible with the world and its phenomena, and that the apparent ignorance of this Truth is itself the outcome of Reality, so that there is nothing but Reality.
Creation and Dissolution are cycles of Self-expression and Abstraction due to Svatantra. There are no sankalpa- vikalpas (modifications) in the state of dissolution and the Self remains as Chit in absolute purity and unchanging. The Self is uniform and undivided. The dispositions of the individuals of the previous kalpa (creation) remain uncog- nised but potential, awaiting to become manifest in the alternating mode. The tendency in the direction of mani- festation is Maya which later displays as Avidya (ignorance) when the predispositions are in their full swing. Chit, Maya and Avidya are thus the same Reality. Cosmos is an expression in the medium of consciousness and thus not unreal as some would have it.
Here the Reality of the Cosmos is on account of the medium of expression, i.e., consciousness, which does not contradict the statement that forms, ete., are unreal. There is thus no fundamental difference between Tantra and Vedanta. Yet the Pandits say that Maya is made subservient to Brahma in Vedanta, that its application is limited to gross manifestation and that it is therefore gross which in ultimate analysis resolves itself into void; whereas according to Tantra, Maya is an aspect of Reality and should resolve itself into Chit on ultimate analysis. This cannot be a valid objection. For, where does the above void rest? It must resolve itself into Chit.
The favourite example of the world being an image reflected in consciousness, as images in a mirror is common to both systems. vide in "Dakshinamoorti Stotra' of Sri Sankara.
Without trying to find differences where they do not exist, let the earnest student apply the infallible test of the peace of mind brought about by the different modes of expression of the Reality and be satisfied and happy.
Brahma Sutras (79)
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