Sree Narayana Guru's

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JNANA(Science of Consciousness)



These are one hundred verses of teaching about or of the Self, written by Guru Narayana of south India. The original verses are in Malayalam, the local language.


Self or Atman is above empirical knowledge. It is present within and without. It is like a mathematical entity. Therefore it can be known only through contemplation.


Sree Narayana Guru advises that Atman can be known, not through the senses, but from within oneself. He wants us to close our five senses and prostrate repeatedly before starting the study and then start reading this poem. This means, the people who are tempted by external objects cannot get insight into this subject.


Stanza 1.


arivilumeriyarinjitunnavan tha-

nnuruvilumothu purathumujjvalikkum

karuvinu kannukalanchumulladakki-

tterutere veenu vanangiyotidenam.


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.



Atmopadesa-satakam has been started with the word ‘Arivu’ (knowledge, Awareness). This word has been liberally employed in place of Atma (the Self) in this work. It must be recognized that the knowledge mentioned in the first stanza refers to ‘common knowledge’. The other meaning ‘Supreme Knowledge’ or ‘Awareness’ has been introduced in the fourth stanza. In this stanza the word ‘Karu’ is used to indicate the soul.



The Awareness (Karu) mentioned here shines both in the man’s inner Self (Atma) and also in his external world. Awareness is like fire. Hence it is described as illuminating or shining. To get Awareness, one has to look inwards or introspect. In fact, it is an internal realization or a pilgrimage. Hence it is said that the five senses which are directed externally must be closed. ‘Theru therey’ should be understood as ‘without losing time’. It means, all these years were wasted somehow. At least now, try to attain your goal without squandering away your time.


To find the truth about Atma, the grace of god is essential. Hence the advice to go on one’s knees and contemplate. Only one who has conquered his ego can become humble. An egoist cannot understand and reach this principle. This has been clarified in sloka 12 (valiyorahantha vara varam tharenam). The word “othidenam” refers to the way Vedas are chanted to get divine knowledge. Hence this is equivalent to Vedic studies. This has been mentioned also in stanza 53 (mayamatiyaruvan mananam thutarannitenam).


Control your five eyes:


This is a cardinal advice, which those who want to gain knowledge about Self have to understand with full concentration. From where did all these creations take place? Who am I really? With such hundreds of questions a seeker of truth approaches his Guru (preceptor ). The Guru gives the advice ‘tat twam asi’ (That Thou Art) and directs the search for the answers (truth) to his internal self. In other words, the Guru suggests that he should close his five eyes (external sense organs). Thus a seeker of the Truth reaches his destination through a pilgrimage by controlling his external senses.


Just like water, the natural tendency of the senses and the mind is to flow towards lower things, just like animals. If they are not controlled, man will also descend to the same fate as the piglets in a sty. But if they are detracted from the names and forms (objects) and directed towards the Atma, there are endless possibilities. Just as Guru, the Nara (man) can become Narayana (divine man). Only by directing his mind and senses inwards a man becomes pure. Just as crude oil is refined, a man has to refine himself by such introspection. Otherwise he will degrade to the level of an animal, just as what is said in stanza 6 ‘One has to wake, then go to sleep, has to eat food or mate’. What differentiates man from other animals, is his ability to control his desires and feelings. Is ‘lust’ not a natural and basic instinct? If it is not controlled, what is the difference between a man and an animal?


Stanza 2.


karanavumindriyavum kalembaram to-

ttariyumaneeka jagathumorkkilellam

paraveli thanniluyarnna bhaanuman tan-

thiruvuruvaanu thiranju theridenam.


The inner organ, the senses, and counting from the body, the many worlds we know, are all, on thought, the sacred form of the supreme Sun risen in the sky beyond. By relentless search one should attain to this.



This stanza dwells on the aspect that everything, like the mind, external senses, and body, which are within the ambit of knowledge of man, are really that ONE Principle (Paramathma). ‘Paraveli’ means ‘chidakasam’. There are three planes of perception, the plane of the body (mahakasam), the plane of the mind (chittakasam) and the plane of the Self (chidakasam).




In this stanza, the Supreme Truth has been described as the “Sun in the plane of Self”. We are all familiar with the sun in our sky. As far as we are concerned this sun is only ONE without a second. The Truth that we are going to learn in this scripture also refers to the principle of ONE. In order to familiarize with the ‘ONE’, the Sun has been used as a simile. “thiranju theridenam” means it should be understood by finding it through search.




The sun mentioned here is imaginary . Therefore the divine form of sun is also hypothetical. Such hypothetical or abstract usages can be seen also in stanza 24 (atmaroopam), in sloka 48 (sattathanu), in sloka 69 (atmapratima) and in sloka 86 (ritharoopam). In the plane of Satchitananda (Truth-consciousness-bliss), there is no form, body, or image. What exists here is only Satchitanandam (Awareness)


In the 10th stanza of ‘Apavadadarssanam’ Gurudeva says, ‘Everything is Satchitanandam. There is no plurality. One, who sees plurality in this world, goes through the cycle of birth and death’.


Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma” (All this is, indeed, Bhraman). This stanza has delved into this Upanishad Principle, i.e., whatever is seen as creations is the creator Himself. Daivadasakam stanza 5 also echoes this fact. In the eyes of duality we see only creations. In non-duality (advaita) there is no two like the creator and the creations. Here duality refers to the undeveloped state and non-duality to the developed state. Spirituality is a pilgrimage from duality to non-duality. In advaita the world of names and forms (manifested world) becomes meaningless.


Stanza 3


veliyilirunnu vivarthamingu kaanum

velimuthalaya vibhutiyanchumorthal

jalanidhi thanniluyarnnidum tharanga-

valiyathupoleyabhedamay varenam.


These phenomenal aspects such as the sky, which as existing outside is here seen to be. By contemplation one should bring to non-difference. As the sea is to the waves that rise in rows thereon.



All creations (names and forms) are embodiments of the 5 elements (viz earth, water, fire, air and space) or their combinations. The names and forms are those that indicate manifestations. ‘vibhoothi anchum’ refers to the 5 elements. The human body is composed of these 5 elements (Panchabhootas). ‘Veliyil’ means outside the Brahmatatva. One who is reposed in Brahmatatva (in Awareness) is known as a Bramajnani (one who knows Brahman).


Vivartham (appearance).


If one sees a rope in dim light and mistakes it for a snake it is called vivartham (appearance). Appearances are due to Maya (delusion / illusion) or ajnanam (nescience). In this case the veiling power of Maya conceals the rope and the projecting power of Maya showed it as a snake to the viewer.



The Upanishad principle ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma’-‘All this is indeed Brahman’, is dealt with here in another way. The creations are not different from the creator. Names and forms (creations) are the waves in the ocean of Satchitananda. Just as the rows of waves are not different from the ocean, it must be realized that names and forms (manifestations) are not different from Satchitananda (Awareness).




Mundaka Upanishad-III.ii.9 says “Brahmaveda Brahmaiva Bhavathi” (One who knows Brahman, becomes Brahman itself).

The Gurusthuthi


        Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu

        Guru Devo Maheswarah

        Guru sakshat Param Brahman

        Thasmai shri Gurave namah.


also says the same.



There are many who rake disputes on the issue whether Sree Narayana Guru is a Hindu or not. Those who do this have not understood ‘Who a Guru is’. The Guru is a Hindu to a Hindu, Christian to a Christian, Muslim to a Muslim, a rationalist to a believer in rationalism, a revolutionary to a revolutionary, and a social reformer to a social reformer. Therefore the way we see a Guru depends on our perception. At first the person does not understand the Guru. It is like the story of the blind men and the elephant; each had his own perception of the elephant. When we use the word Guru, it means ‘Knower of the Truth”. Guru is Brahman with a form (Pratyaksha Brahmam). Any other interpretation other than this falls short of its real meaning.




arivumarinjitumarthavum pumanta-

nnarivumoradi mahassu mathramakum;

viralathavittu vilangumammahatha-

marivilamarnnathu mathramayitenam.


Knowledge, the object known, and the knowledge of the knower, together make one primal glory. Within the radiance of that great omnipresent Awareness, one should merge and become that alone.



Knowledge, knower and the known as a whole is called ‘triputi’ (the triad). Triputi or the concept of three exists is duality. When these three get destroyed in the Primal Glory (divine light), the Self reaches the plane of Awareness. The same concept appears in stanza 14 (With all-filling glory, the light, that ever brighter shines, rid of three fold view). The primal glory is the same as Super Consciousness or Jnanam (Awareness). It is Omnipresent. It is in you, in me, in the pillar and in the rust (dust). This Omnipresent Awareness is fire. Since it has radiance, it is called shining.



Just as a toy made of salt merges in the sea, when it tries to fathom its depth, the seeker of Truth who goes after Satchitananda (to know it), merges with it and become one and That alone. That is non-duality. Then there are no two entities- God and the devotee. This has also been stated in stanza 7 as ‘Do not wake anymore, and without sleeping, remain as Awareness.’


Saguna and Nirguna Brahman

(The Supreme with and without attributes)


In the illustration, the Brahman with a form and attribute is shown with a picture inside. The vertical figure, without a picture, represents Brahman without form or attributes.



Guru has used the word Awareness to mean Atma (Self) for the first time, in this stanza. Just as an artiste in a Kathakali performance enters the stage step by step, Guru, has brought Awareness, the prime performer into the scene.




ulakarurangiyunarnnu chinthacheyyum

palathumitokkeyumuttuparthu nilkkum-

vilamathiyatavilakkudikkayum pin-

polikayumillithu kandu poyitenam.


People in this world, they sleep, wake and think various thoughts. There dawns a priceless lamp, which never shall dim again, led by this, one should go forward.



People sleep at night. They wake in the morning. In between, they think of many things. That is the basic nature of man. The priceless lamp that looks at all these as the universal witness is Atma (Self). It does not rise or set at all. It means, it has no beginning or end. With this knowledge,continue your journey towards liberation, as a pilgrimage to merge with Awareness and become That alone.



In the second stanza, Awareness has been described as the sun that has risen in the plane of Self. Since the sun, known to the common man, rises in the morning and sets in the evening, there is a likelihood of thinking the same about the sun of Awareness. It is perhaps, due to this reason, the Guru has again emphasized that the priceless lamp does not rise or set.


Must be observed and proceeded


Life is a journey towards liberation through the path of Dharma (social righteousness). On the two sides of this path there are scenes relating to possessions and desires (Artha and Kama). For a celibate, who has chosen the path of contemplation these are just passing glimpses. The one who gets entangled in the world of possessions and desires, falls to the level of a frog in the well. A person may see these sights but should not look at them. He should not entertain the thought of possessing them. When one only sees and proceeds there is no attachment to them. But when he thinks ‘Why not I have these (worldly pleasures or possessions)’ attachment starts. That becomes a bond. It causes a hindrance to the journey towards liberation. Hence the advice, to just see and proceed.




 unaranaminniyuranganam bhujichee-

 tanamasanam punaraenamennivannam

 anayumaneka vikalpamakayala-

 runaruvathulloru nirvikara roopam.


One has to wake, then go to sleep, has to eat food or mate, thus do temptations keep coming, one after other. Who could there be, therefore to wake, unto that Reality’s one and changeless form.



Waking, sleeping, consuming food, hugging, and other activities are natural animal instincts. Most people spend their time on these activities and many other false notions about life. They do not perceive anything beyond possessions and desires. That means such people sleep cozily under the cover of ignorance. No one wakes from the sleep of desires or infatuations. Awareness has no transformation. It has no particular affinity or hatred towards anything.


Who wakes up to understand


Is it enough if man progresses in life just by waking, sleeping and hugging, like animals? If this is so, then will he not also degrade himself to the level of a caged animal? This is the relevance of Guru’s question, ‘Who could there be, therefore to wake?’


The sages have affirmed that human life is unique. It is in this life that man gets a chance to seek and find Truth. Without wasting a lifetime going after possessions and desires, and controlling the 5 senses, if a man looks inwardly, there are endless possibilities. Naran (the common man) can even become Narayanan (the divine man). But nobody recognizes this Truth, and nobody comes forward to know it. Hence Guru has asked the rhetorical question ‘Who wakes?’ to indicate, ‘nobody wakes’.






pranavamunarnnu pirappozhinju vazhum

munijanasevayil moorthi nirthitenam.


Do not wake anymore, and without sleeping, remain as Awareness. If you are not fit for this today, then keep yourself in the service of those contemplatives, who live awakened to AUM and free from births.


Here, the plane of experience has been divided into two as (1) the waking state, and (2) the sleeping state. Waking indicates Rajas (activity),



and sleeping indicates Tamas (inertia). Do not go into Rajas or Tamas, but remain as Awareness, i.e. remain in Satva (pure state), just as you use a balance to maintain equilibrium.



If you are not fit for this, then engage in the service of those who have understood AUM (Pranava mantra) and become Jeevanmukta (liberated while still alive).


The path of contemplation, and the path of devotion


In this stanza ‘Do not wake anymore, and without sleeping, remain as Awareness’. refers to the Vichara marga or Jnana marga (path of contemplation or path of knowledge). Vicharamarga is the path of understanding spiritual principles or Truth by contemplation. In this path you are advised to be aware of Truth (Awareness). If you are not suited for this, then the advice is Upasana marga (the path of worship and karma). Upasana marga involves duality i.e. God and devotee as two entities. Those who have understood the Pranava manthra (AUM) are those who have understood the Truth (Brahmajnanis) and have become liberated in this life itself. (Brahmaveda Brahmaiva Bhavati- Anyone who knows Brahman becomes Brahman. Mundaka Upanishad-III.ii.9). Depending on his ability, one can choose anyone of the two paths. Of these two, the path of contemplation is definitely superior. Atmopadesa-satakam is a composition dealing with the Vichara marga.


There are some people who question why, Guru, who believes in advaida, has installed idols. The answer to this is to see Guru not as an advaitin, but as Guru itself. He is a visionary who has known Truth and is capable of showing the Truth to others. The path of advaita (non-duality) is not suitable to all. The path of worship and karma is prescribed to them. The Guru does not see people as believers in non-duality or as believers in duality. He sees all as humans. For the benefit of mankind, Guru has utilized the spiritual power and energy to install idols, whenever requested by devotees (to meet their needs). But he has chosen the Satvic idols and dismissed demonic ones.




olimutalam pazhamanjumundu narum

nalikayileri nayena mariyadum

kilikaleyanchumarinju keezhmarikkum

velivuruveentiyakom vilangitenam.


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.


The fruits of fire (‘oli’-light) and others refer to the five elements, (earth,



water, fire, air, space). The barrel that stinks with these elements is the human body. The five birds that fly cunningly are the five sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue and skin). These should be controlled by withdrawing them from sensual objects. This control is referred to as ‘having cut and brought them down’. This Inner awareness should fill in one’s Self with radiance.



Nalika’ refers to the barrel of the gun. The body has been compared to the obnoxious odour emanating gun barrel; when it is filled with gunpowder and fired. The human body, like the gun barrel, is a long tube extending from the mouth to the anus. It stinks because the ignorant people eat both what should be eaten and what should not be. The approach of other sense organs is also similar. It sees both what should be seen and what should not be. It hears what should be heard and what should not be. It tries to know what should be known and what should not be. Thus they become foul smelling. We are accustomed to the word “naarri” used to call those people (in a derogatory sense) who poke their nose into unnecessary things. The jnani eats what should be eaten, and avoids those foods that are prohibited to be eaten, sees what should be seen and avoids what should not be. This is called vivekam (discriminatory skill). This discriminative nature and the resultant actions have no place in the life of an ignorant man. Therefore he ends up as a man of no consequence. His life is a failure or waste.




irupuravum varumaravasthayeppoo-

thorukodivannu padarnnuyarnnumevum

tharuvinadikku tapassucheytu vazhum

naranu vara narakam ninachidenam.


The alternating two states of waking and sleeping, with the blossoming creeper (dream) on it, make one tree. Remember that hell does not come to the man, dwelling in contemplation, beneath that tree.



Here the first two lines refer to the states of waking and sleeping. The ‘widespread wine in blossom’ is dream. The tree is the tree of illusion (Maya), also referred to in stanza 51 as ‘Mayamaram’. One who dwells in contemplation under this tree sits inAwareness. There is no question of hell for him. The usage of the phrase ‘pootha oru kodi vannu padarnnuyarnnu mevum tharu’ (the tree with widespread wine in blossom) can be compared to the concept of Aswatha tree mentioned in chapter 15 of Bhagavad Geeta. This is also the stanza that racks the brains of commentators.


When commenting on this stanza, relating it to Yogasastra (the science of body and mental discipline), one cannot ignore what Guru has said as Jnanayoga and Karmayoga in his other work, Darsanamala.


 jnanam karmeti loke asmin

dvidha yogah samasatah

anayor yogavistarah

 sarvah parisamapyate.




(In short we can say that in this world there are two types of yoga, Jnana and Karma. These two contain all the details of Yoga.)


Irupuravum Varumaru Avastha

(The alternating two states of waking and sleeping)


By splitting this as ‘Varum Aaru Avastha’ (coming six types of states) it has become a difficult concept to tackle. This has to be understood just as the usage of ‘Varumaru Illa’ in sloka 5 of Anukamba-dasakam. It is only a peculiar Malayalam usage.


varum aaru vidhm vikaravum

varumaru illa arivinnitinnu ner

uruvam udal vittu keerthiyam

uruvarnniganukamba ninnidum.


(Those phases six that life do overtake


Invade not wisdom’s pure domain;


Likewise the Mercy quality, when human


form has gone,


As good reputation’s form endures.)




irulilirippavanaru cholka ni” ye-

nnoruvanurappathu kaettu thanumevam

arivathinayavanodu “neeyumaare”

nnarulumathin prathivakyamekamaakum.


’’Who sits there in the dark? Declare’’ says one. Upon hearing the first, himself intent to know, in turn asks ‘’who may you even be’’. For both, the word of response is but One.




Two persons who are in dark, cannot see each other. Hence, when one of them asks ‘Who are you’, the other replies ‘It is I’. Since they are brothers-in-atman, they can recognize each other by the voices. When both have the same replay ‘I’, they are ONE. In other words ‘you’ and ‘I’ become same. The next stanza is a continuation of this stanza.