Sree Narayana Guru's

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A spiritually oriented life is a pilgrimage from Dwaita (the concept of duality) to Advaita (the realization of nonduality). Duality is the beginning and non-duality is the culmination of this journey in life. Dwaita (duality) sees the devotee (atma) and God (Paramatma) as two separate entities. In the advaita philosophy there are no two entities, but just one, i.e. God (The Supreme Self). For this journey towards realization of one’s unity with God, the seers have recommended two paths:- (1) Jnanamarga or Vicharamarga (The path of knowledge or path of contemplation) and (2) Karmamarga (the path of action) or Upasanamarga (the path of worship). Both these paths ultimately lead to Moksha (liberation). Liberation is the realization or attainment of Godhood. When one achieves liberation, he has reached the state of non-duality.


Guru introduces these two paths in Darsanamala.



(Yoga has been summed up two types- Jnana and Karma yogas. The details of all other yogas are contained in these two forms of yoga.)


Jnanamarga (or the path of knowledge) is suited to those who have renounced this world, taken sanyasa, and become a recluse. Karmamarga is more appropriate for the common man. It has four components called the Purusharthas (human values or aims in life). They are Dharma (ethical value) artha (wealth or possession) kama (instinctual desire) and moksha (liberation). Out of these, Dharma is the path to reach the destination of Moksha. Artha and Kama are the attractions or distractions on both sides of the path of Dharma. The Karmama rgaexhorts us to perform such actions that fall within the purview of righteousness. When such actions are performed as an offering to one’s chosen deity or Guru, it becomes Upasana (worship).


Moksha is not death or the end of one’s life. As mentioned in Daivadasakam (stanza 7), it represents the Supreme Bliss in the form of Ultimate Knowledge (Truth), i.e. ‘you are the Truth, Knowledge and Bliss’. This is also described in Atmopadesa-satakam (stanza 4) as


(Within the radiance of that great omnipresent Awareness, one should merge and become that alone.)


Even after acquiring this knowledge of the Supreme, a person could continue to live in this world. Great men like Sree Narayana Guru are such noble souls. This state is called Jivanmukta (liberated even when alive). Such Jivanmuktas can choose to lead the life of a householder or that of a recluse. Sages like Vasista, or Agasthya, were Jivanmukthas, who led the life of a householder after attaining the Supreme Knowledge of Advaita.


The compositions of Gurudeva has to be examined or interpreted in the light of the above mentioned concepts and premise. That is:


I)Upasanamarga (the path of worship). This is performing one’s duties, as an offering or submission to God, in ways appropriate to the attainment of liberation. The devotee has to understand here both Dharma and Bhakti (devotion). This path is most suitable to the large majority of people. The various modes of Upasana include Prarthana (fervent prayer of request or plea), Bhajan (singing of praise of the Lord), Archana (offering of flowers), Japa (repetition of a sacred name or mantra), and Dhyanam (meditation ).


Dharma/Srinarayana Dharma


A devotee should recognize his duties for a righteous living. After this, he has to perform his assigned duties or actions and avoid forbidden ones. Study of Dharmasastra assists in this exercise. From the discourses given by Sree Narayana Guru, his disciples have written down what is called Sreenarayana-dharmam. A devotee has to begin from this point. Along with this, he can also learn from the other compositions of Guru, which include, Dharmam, Sadacharam, Dathapaharam, Jeevakarunya-panchakam, Anukamba- dasakam, Jathinirnayam, Jathilakshanam etc. Dharmasastra has said ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma’ i.e. Non-violence is the noblest of virtues. The principle or philosophy of Ahimsa has been included in the two works of Guru, i.e., Jeevakarunya-panchakam, and Anukamba- dasakam.




Even by studying or knowing about Dharma and Adharma (absence of righteousness or virtue); it is difficult to follow the rules of doing the right actions and avoid the wrong ones. Therefore a devotee lives with the constant prayer to God to guide him with the right mental disposition. This is how a devotee evolves into the Karmamarga. Karma+Bhakti (i.e. righteous action with devotion to God) is Upasana (worship). Guru has written a number of compositions of varying length, with all of them giving importance to the spiritual enjoyment of devotion, to enable the devotee to praise the Lord and plead for his assistance to follow the right path with heartfelt devotions. Among these, three are written in order to clarify the principle of devotion. These are- Daivadasakam, Pindanandi, and Kundalinippattu.




Gurudeva has expounded the philosophy of Padabhakti (devotion at the feet of the Lord) in this work. In other words, to cross the ocean of Samsara (endless births and deaths), a devotee seeks refuge at the feet of the Lord. When a devotee struggles in the midst of the ocean (of Samsara), Lord has only to offer his feet for him to hold and to take him to the bank of safety . The idea behind the line 'bhav¡bdhikko-r¡vivan to¸i ninpadam.' (Your foot is a steam-ship to cross the ocean of Samsara) is this philosophy of Padabhakti.




To elucidate the principle of Saranagati (total refuge in or surrender to God), Guru has used this work. ‘Saranagathi’ is one of the levels in the depth of devotion. At this level, the devotee perceives that everything occurs according to the will of the Lord. At this point, he eschews hi ego sense, and submits everything to God as His possessions. Such a submission is contained in the stanza:


(I submit everything. Oh, Sambho, having thought and understood that everything will take place according to Your will’).




In this composition, Guru clarifies the fundamental Truth regarding Divine Play (Lila). Here, the ‘snake’ refers to the devotee. God is the snake-charmer. Just as the snake-charmer makes the snake to dance or sway to the tune of his pipe, the Creator plays with his creations to sway to his entertainment. This is Lila or Thiruvilayadal. ‘Aadu Pambey’ (O! snake dance) is an invitation to the devotee to take part in the Divine Play’. ‘Punam Thedu Pambey’- means search for the Eternal Truth. The snake houses itself in its pit. Similarly the source of all family of creations is the Supreme Soul (Paramatma). Here Guru advises the devotee in a subtle or discrete manner to search for his source or origin of existence. A devotee must understand this fundamental principle to take part in the Divine Play. Without this understanding a devotee cannot play his role, in the way the Lord wants him to do. To this end, the devotee has to understand what is Dharma (the rules of play) and live accordingly. It is not just leading a life, but living the role in the Divine Drama, serving the Lord’s intention. Guru’s approach is spiritual and not Tantric. So interpreting ‘snake’ as ‘Kundalini’ is not correct.


II) Vicharamarga 


The following visionary compositions of the Guru can be included under this head, i.e. Atmopadesa-satakam, Darsanamala, Advaita-deepika, Vedanta-sootram, Brahmavidya-panchakam, Isavasyoupanishad Bhasha.


In Vicharamarga (or Jnanamarga), in order to attain Sayujyam (oneness with the Lord), the devotee with the aid of contemplation, discriminates between Nitya (permanent) and Anitya (transient). Nitya refers to the Absolute and Anitya to nonpermanent nature which is the characteristic of Maya (delusion). All names and forms (manifestations) are anitya in nature. They create delusions in mankind just as the golden deer created a desire to possess it in Sitadevi, through delusion.


Man is under the false impression that he can attain Bliss from objects of desire (names and forms) using his sensory organs. Thus he gets fettered, due to his attachments to worldly objects. True freedom is liberation from such attachments created by sensual desires. The desire to possess endearing objects, the good and bad, all arise through the action of Indriyas (sense organs). In order to get release from such attachments, one should control his senses. This has been referred to in stanza 1 and stanza 8 of Atmopadesa-satakam, using the appropriate figures of speech.



(Rising even above knowledge of the knower, what within his form, as equally outside, shines radiantly, to that core, with the eyes five restrained within, prostrating in adoration, one should chant again and again.) (Stanza-1.)



(Enjoying the five fruits, such as light (form), mounted on a foul-smelling gun barrel (body), and cunningly flying to one after other, are five birds (senses). Having cut and brought them down, that radiant inner awareness should fill one’s entire being.) (Stanza-8.)


Darsana means a view or sight. This does not refer to the ‘sight’ or ‘view’ used in common parlance. It is the inner view or insight. Many writers use the words ‘Gurudeva darsanangal’, in the plural form of view or sight. It is improper to do so. Just as there only one ‘Vedanta-darsanam’, Gurudeva-darsanam has been built on the premise of one ‘view’ or doctrine. Therefore it is not correct to look at Guru’s works from many angles. Also it is not correct to interpret each stanzas of visionary compositions like Atmopadesa-satakam with a different view. This may create the wrong impression that Guru had multiplicity of views and not just one. If one understands the ‘core’ behind his works, a commentator will be able to provide his explanation, with the ‘one’ and only view or perceptive that was conceived by Guru in the hundred stanzas in Atmopades-satakam. When a wheel of fire is spun the sparks fly all around. But the source is one and the sparks are only of one kind. In Guru’s works, from the ‘Fire of Knowledge’ sparks can be seen emerging, but the source being one, Vedanta, which enlightens everything around.




(Innumerable sparks arise, though unreal as real, from Awareness, causing the appearance of world. So apart from Awareness there is no other thing. This one should know. This knowledge brings the state of oneness.) (Atmo-89.)


Guru has placed before the devotees both Upasanamarga and Vicharamarga. Both are spiritual in their nature. Each devotee has to choose his path of preference, according to his ability and inclination. However, between the two, Vicharamarga may be considered as superior. Just as a cotton ball catches fire fast, one can attain liberation quickly through this path. He can also continue to be a Jivanmukta which is a state of ‘being in the world but not of it’.


In the Sastras (spiritual treatises) this is called Sadyonmukti (instant liberation).Guru and Ramanamaharshi lived here as Jivanmuktas. Guru has mentioned about this mukti (liberation) in Atmopadesa-satakam (stanza 16 and 35). On the other hand, the liberation achieved through Upasanamarga is Kramamukti (stagevise liberation). This path is most suitable to householders. While such people attain mukti in stages as they progress in the path of worship, those who are eligible for Vicharamarga achieve liberation in one leap like an acrobat, or by soaring high like a bird to reach the destination.


While the two paths may seem different in the initial stages, as a devotee nears the final goal, this difference becomes less and less perceptible and will finally appear as one. A reader can get convinced on this fact by examining Guru’s works minutely.Guru does not advocate or stands for any one of these paths to achieve liberation. Whichever path he chooses, the devotee has to adhere to it and become reformed as a noble soul. The people who at first brand Guru as an Advaitin and then ask ‘why the Guru, an Advaitin, installed idols’, seem to forget this truth.


There is plenty of milk in the Kshera-sagara (ocean of milk) of Gurudarsanam. But do you have the correct container to dip and draw out some milk from this ocean?