From the Book:
As an inspired missionary, Adi Sankara could not rest content with merely producing exhaustive and splendid commentaries upon the Upanishads, the Geeta, and the Brahma Sutras. He was anxious to communicate this knowledge to the children of the Rishis, the spiritual seekers of the world. In his infinite love, he conceived many textbooks to serve the need of students at different levels of intellectual understanding on the subtle meaning of the texts and the techniques for the seekers' spiritual progress within. Here is a short, fifty-three-verse-text meant for students who have already cultivated in themselves the necessary inner purification to take off into contemplative flights.
Through devotion and dedicated service of the world around, when the inner psychological extrovertedness gets curbed, the mind gets surcharged with its own dynamism. Such an alert and quiet mind manifests its contemplative faculties, and to such a contemplative student Sankara is prescribing the direction of his take-off
The Upanishads have given out the four 'great statements' (the Mahavakyas), and Vedantic students of contemplation reach out to new dimensions of awareness, through steady and intense contemplation upon the deep and inner significance of these intuitional statements. Of these four statements, in this textbook the discussion is on "That Thou Art," ("Tat Tvam Asi").
Bhashya, is a literature in which the Acharya not only explains every word in the mantra (statements of the scriptures), but also explains his own words, inasmuch as he has to logically convince the students why he has interpreted words of the mantra as he has done.
But to explain each word in the mantra as lucidly as the teacher can, is called a "vritti". When these vrittis are again commented upon and brought out vividly for the total understanding of the student, at his level, the literature is called "vartikam,"
Here is Vakya Vritti. A book conceived and given out by Sankara in the form of a dialogue where a student approaches a teacher, with a confession that the statement "That Thou Art" doesn't add up to any vivid understanding in his mind. The teacher, with all love, is patiently elucidating what exactly the scripture means by the world employed in this significant, sentence.
Books that help us to open up and enter freely into the subtle world of thoughts, dealt with and severely expounded in the scriptures, are called Prakriya books. Sankara has authored many such elementary textbooks and prescribed them for the Vedantic students. Each of these books has a different and distinct standard; each is meant for a different type of student.
The most elementary text of this type can be Tattwa Bodh. The topics dealt with and explained in Tattwa Bodh are again elaborated on a large canvas in Atma Bodh. These ideas discussed therein and vividly brought to us in these two readers in Vedanta, are spread in dazzling colours, on the high walls and wide ceilings of the splendorous Palace of Knowledge, in Acharya's Vivekachoodamani.
The anxious teacher must have felt that though these three textbooks will introduce any student to a clear glimpse of the silent and peaceful fields of the Advaita philosophy, they do not fully initiate him into the subtle mysteries and irresistible beauties of the mystic statements of the Vedas-the mahavakyas.
The Vedantin accepts the four Great Statements of the Vedas as the Mahavakyas. They define and declare the Infinite Brahman; they advise the seekers upon the means of gaining that Transcendental Experience; they faithfully reflect the student's own direct moments of realisation; and they echo the thunderous roar of the seeker's confirmation of the Self.
"Consciousness is Brahman" (Pragyanam Brahman) is the definition of the Ultimate Reality behind the ever-changing phenomenal world of things and beings. "That thou art" (Tat twam asi) is the teacher's advice. The student, in his seat of meditation, realises subjectively in himself that "this Self within is Brahman" (Ayam Atma Brahma). Last comes the hallelujah that sings in the bosom of the now liberated sage in the student, and he in his sense of fulfilment and bliss immeasurable, confirms in a mad roar of joy and wonder, "I Brahman am" (Aham Brahmasmi).
Of these four Mahavakyas, the statement containing the entire instruction of the teacher is "That thou art". Therefore, this Mahavakya of mere three words must have, in its mysterious gestion and an unsuspected volume of magnificent imports. An ordinary student, with all his studies of the Upanishads, may not be able to handle, all by himself, this mantra efficiently and effectively in his seal of meditation, un lease he is helped to open this treasure-chamber, and is fully instructed how to enter and move amidst its fabulously rich, but confusingly laid out, labyrinth of thought.
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