Friday, May 20, 2011

Tattuvaraya: Amrita Saram

This installment in the series on Tattuvaraya and Sorupananda comprises a sample of verses from a vedantic work by Tattuvaraya entitled Amrita Saram (The Essence of Nectar). The work (over 280 verses) is too long to include in full, but I think the selection we have chosen is representative of Tattuvaraya’s basic message. Many common vedantic images and ideas are there, but once in a while Tattuvaraya comes up with some quite novel ideas and interpretations.

All the translations are by T. V. Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and myself.

1 Reverence to the Lord

To those who possess the eye of jnana, Sorupan, the reality, is the effulgence of jnana-ananda. But to those who possess only the physical eye, he [that reality] is the world. His golden feet which are unattainable even by the gods in heaven are, on this day, easy for me to attain.

In the first verse Tattuvaraya salutes his Guru, Sorupananda, equating him with the bliss of jnana.

5 The greatness of the jnani’s words

What does it matter to what caste they [jnanis] belong? What does it matter which religion they belong to? What does it matter which type of verses they have sung? Only the words of those who have renounced the mind are pure words. All the rest lead only to rebirth.

6 Name of the work

A whole lifetime will not suffice for anyone to comprehend clearly the truth through studying the Vedas and Agamas. By studying this work [though], the heart will abide in the ocean of amrita [nectar]. It is therefore given the name Amrita Saram [The Essence of Nectar].

7 Expression of modesty

When formerly the three gods explained the import of the utterances of the Vedas, the world could not comprehend. Now, if I claim that I am going to declare this truth for the world to know, I will be like the firefly that says, ‘I will dispel and destroy the dense darkness that exists as high as heaven’.

8 Declaring the good [or beneficial] path

Knowing them to be transient, renounce the thought of life here and hereafter. Walk the path of virtue. Turn back the mind. Seek the Self-realised. Hasten to know the true nature of reality.

9 That which is rare

It is rare indeed to obtain a human birth. Even if one gets it, it is more rare to study the jnana scriptures. Rarer still is to become one who possesses renunciation. But rarer than that is to become one possessing knowledge of reality.

10 The characteristic of a jnani

The jnani knows that consciousness alone exists, and that there is nothing that is not consciousness. He knows consciousness entirely through consciousness. He is the Lord who exists without knowing or not knowing. He is indeed the Supreme Reality declared by the Vedas.

11 The jnani’s actions

For both the jnani and the ajnani external conduct in activities such as eating look identical. But the mind of jnani is quite different. Though the breast of a woman is the same for both her baby and her husband, their mental development [leads to] different [results].

Elsewhere in his writings Tattuvaraya expands on the idea in the last sentence by saying that when a lady’s breast is fondled by her baby it gives milk, but when it is fondled by her husband she feels intense joy, and she desires immediate union with him. For the ajnani actions are undertaken to yield sensory pleasures, but those same actions, if performed by a jnani, yield the bliss of the Self.

12 The jnani’s conduct

Will he think ‘This is good,’ or ‘This is bad’? Is not the entire world food for the jnani? Could there be any rule whereby a fire raging in the forest might discriminate between trees, thinking, ‘One good and another bad’?

13 Greatness of the jnani

Space is extremely vast, but the great maya that gave birth to it is mere clay in the hands of Iswara. If one ponders over it, there is no one greater than Siva, but the one who has contained Siva in his mind is greater than Siva Himself.

14 Greatness of service to the jnani

Whenever the powerful jnani asks God to manifest, God, eager to appear, will be waiting expectantly to serve him wherever he goes. Who indeed is there equal to those who serve the jnani?

15 Greatness of puja to the jnani

When the jnani eats, everyone in the universe has eaten. [Even] Brahma, Vishnu and Siva have eaten. He who worships a perfect jnani, regarding him as Sivam, has indeed feasted his eyes fully on the Supreme Being and worshipped Him.

16 Those who revile the jnani

Those who revile the powerful jnani, those who listen to it [the abuse], those who do not get angry hearing the abuse, those who permit the jnani to be abused, and those who do not leave the company of these four, thinking it best to keep away from them – these are the five deadly sinners.

17 Improper conduct

Those cruel hypocrites who have not removed the faults in their deluded minds, claiming, without having gained the true jnana born of yoga, that they are abiding as the one reality merely for the sake of food, will not attain liberation, and neither will those who hold them in their thoughts [their followers].

‘For the sake of food’ denotes any kind of material benefit that is gained from pretending to be enlightened.

20 The cause of the world

They will say ‘Atoms are the cause’; ‘Great maya is the cause’; ‘A combination of atoms is the cause’; ‘The five elements are the cause’; ‘The gunas are the cause.’ Let them say any cause to be the cause. Not asking ‘What is the cause of this world?’ is the real cause of the world.

21 Cause and effect are not different

Do not say that this impermanent world is apart from the eternal reality. Before becoming an ornament, when it is an ornament, and when the ornament is remelted and made again into a lump of gold, it is only gold.

22 Cause and effect are not different

The Lord is the underlying screen that is His one Self, which is the pure light of jnana ananda. On it He, the Self, traced, by means of Himself, the picture of the world of multiplicity, girt by the roaring ocean. He looked upon it and was well pleased.

25 The quality of all-pervasiveness

The Eternal One creates the 84 lakhs of different species and abides within them all, just as empty space enters into and occupies all the countless pots that have [ever] been made.

Some Hindu texts posit that there are 8.4 million (84 lakhs) of species in which one can incarnate.

26 Destruction

The body comprising the five elements will be destroyed in the elements. The five elements, beginning with space, will be destroyed in maya. Great maya, the darkness, in which multiplicity has ended, will be destroyed by the jnana that arises here [in this world], saturated with the light of being.

27 The cause of birth

Like the transparent, shining and colourless crystal which takes on the colour of the object that is adjacent to it, the knower [the crystal] becomes [i.e. takes on the appearance of] the adjacent objects [body and mind]. Since births come to an end when the knower knows his real nature, the fundamental cause of birth is ignorance of one’s real nature.

35 The base nature of the body

When their prana leaves men who are getting attached to land [wealth and women], they are given the name ‘corpse’ and removed for burial. In an instant worms come and infest this body. Is there in this body any place as tiny as the tip of the sesame seed that remains free from fault.

37 The despicable nature of enjoyment

The asuna bird, the elephant, moth, fish and bee get ruined respectively by a craving for sounds, touch, sight, taste and smell. How disgusting! Won’t humans, possessed by worries, lose their power through their appetite for not one, but all these five cravings, beginning with sound.

41 The base nature of swarga [heavenly worlds]

[Lying with celestial damsels is] lying with prostitutes. Drinking ambrosia is nothing but getting drunk on intoxicating liquor. When in one day of Brahma crores of devas are born and die, what is the glory that those who rule the deva world attain?

42 Impermanence

There is not a single thing that remains permanently in this world. This is what all the three gods declared. This is also the doctrine of those other religions that war with each other. Therefore, only impermanence is permanent.

44 Renunciation

Those who want to bring to an end this birth in which one is caught in ignorance should realise that even the body is superfluous, and renounce completely. For those who do not, it is not easy to attain liberation, which is freedom from taking birth and dying.

The verse includes an indirect reference to Tirukkural 345: ‘For those who seek an end to birth, the body itself is a superfluous burden. What then can we say of other forms of attachment?’

80 The argument that prarabdha is supreme

If the body is a result of karma, then it would mean that the body existed before to perform the karma. If karma is eternal, then liberation will never be attained. The fundamental cause of prarabdha is ignorance.

82 Taking kaya kalpas

We have not known anyone who lived for ever in this sea-girt world through kaya kalpa medicines. Why are you afflicting yourself, strengthening the body, which is as unstable as a water bubble, and which causes ruination to one and all?

Kaya kalpas are medicines that aim prolong the human lifespan or produce physical immortality.

83 Caste

Freedom from the primal ignorance is the caste of the rare tapasvins. Will they make even the slightest mention of differences in caste? Only those who possess jnana belong to the noble caste and lineage, and deserve to be worshipped. The rest are low-caste people.

84 Bathing in holy water

Will the defilement of a mind that is not established in dharma be cleansed through water that is external [to itself]? The holy rivers are for the body only. Otherwise they are powerless. For the mind to become cleansed of defilement and to shine, the holy water one bathes in is consciousness.

85 Puja

Those lacking wisdom and thirsting for bliss, while standing in the flood of endless supreme bliss that abides in the heart, will bathe in water, collect water for abhishekam, gather flowers, cleanse the precincts with cow-dung, and eventually perform puja.

86 Knowing the many paths

You who are a tapasvin seeking the truth! Let all the many paths declare ‘This alone is the way! This alone is the way!’ What is the path through which the consciousness that knows all these paths can be known? That path, which is declared by the Vedas, is the way of liberation.

87 Learning sastras

Those who have failed to grasp the true import of the holy scriptures they read and have therefore not come to know consciousness as it really is will not go anywhere near the truth, even if they read crores and crores of scriptures.

88 Attempting to know by measurement

It is through consciousness that all measures have to be known. He who desires to know consciousness through measures, all of which have to be known through consciousness, is like one who wants to burn fire with firewood.

89 Disputation

In the way of disputation, when one wins, pride greatly swells. When one loses, sorrow waxes a lot. [The conclusions of] disputation are not something that remain permanent. The only benefit is tearing one’s head off and getting a sore throat.

92 The noble way

If the truth is known clearly, then that path which remains without conflict with any other path will be the path of becoming sat. If there is God’s grace, it is easy to attain. In the absence of God’s grace, it will be difficult for everyone.

95 Sathya [truthfulness]

If you ask ‘What is the practice of truthfulness?’ then they say it is to utter that which does not cause harm to any being. But those who have realised the truth declared at the end of the Vedas, which speak a lot about purity, say that truth [sathya] is only the Supreme, the Imperishable One.

The first sentence refers to Tirukkural 291: ‘If you ask, “What is truth?”, it is to utter words that are entirely free of any harmful effect.’

Yamas and niyamas are codes of conduct for dealing with people and the world. In this selection verses 95-100 explain the inner significance of some of the yamas.

96 Ahimsa [non-violence]

Ahimsa is not to inflict suffering on any living being. The Self-realised know that realising that the Self is not destroyed by weapons, wind, water, fire, etc. is ahimsa to oneself.

97 Asteya [non-stealing]

They say that to steal a thing either through force or deceit is theft. But if we are to declare the doctrine of jnanis, stealing is to regard the body, which does not belong to one, as ‘I’ and ‘mine’.

98 Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya is to avoid the company of women, but those who truly possess brahmacharya are the ones who have become one with Brahman, which is extremely difficult to attain.

99 Arjava [honesty], dhriti [steadfastness] and daya [compassion]

Arjava [honesty] is to view completely as one mother, father, son, daughter, wife, and evil enemies. Dhriti [steadfastness] is conviction in the way of the Vedas. Daya [compassion] is to have love like a mother [towards her children].

100 Kshama [patience]

If you want to conquer those who have done evil to you, always bear with them patiently without entertaining hatred. If you have to entertain hatred [towards something], kill that one thing ‘anger’. He who can do it will be freed from all dangers.

103 Tapas

Tapas is curtailing one’s food through vows and tormenting the body. But the tapas to end births is enquiring ‘Who am I?’ ‘Through what did I get this birth?’ ‘What is the nature of liberation in which one becomes Sivam?’

Verses 103 and 104 elaborate on two of the ten niyamas.

104 Santosham [contentment]

Contentment is to be satisfied by acceptance of whatever one gets. But the Vedas’ words say that contentment is the happiness of experiencing truly the Supreme in the heart, forsaking all the states that are spoken of, beginning with Brahma Loka.

117 Ridiculing siddhis

There will be trouble for those who contemplate the wealth of siddhis, beginning with anima. Without realising that ashtanga yoga is a step towards attaining jnana, they are crazy, like those who lift an iron wall, using [flimsy] sugarcane as a lever, and willingly gather bran.

Anima, the first of the eight listed siddhis, is the ability to shrink oneself to a minute form.

Bran is the skin of the rice seed that is removed during milling. The combination of the two images in the final sentences indicates that an immense amount of pointless activity is invested in gaining siddhis that ultimately have little or no use.

127 The six defects

Food and drink are the prana’s. Happiness and misery are for the mind. The trouble of growing old and dying are for the body. If one [knows the truth, one] knows these are not for the Self.

129 The three malas

The three defilements anava [ego], maya and karma, which remain closely merged with the jiva, not allowing the jiva to know his real nature, are like the tip [germ], bran and husk. These jointly constitute the seed of birth which gives rise to embodiment.

137 The three attachments

All relationships that arise constitute attachment to offspring. All the sankalpas constitute attachment to the world. All the sense objects enjoyed constitute attachment to wealth. These three attachments will leave if one sees the reality.

148 Tattvas

If one knows the truth of the indestructible reality, then the rest of the various tattvas cease to exist. Then why are these mentioned and discussed? If people with defective vision see the moon as many, does it become many for that reason? Is not the cool moon one only?

159 The mahavakya

In the three words ‘That you are’ ‘That’ refers to Brahman, ‘you’ refers to jiva, the word ‘are’ refers to the union of Brahman and jiva, achieved through casting off the limitation, the body.

165 The difference between the jiva and the Supreme

In the body there are two, a knower and a witness, known as jiva and Iswara. The differences that can be ascribed as base and excellent qualities exist through limitations, but their swarupa is identical.

The implication of the original Tamil, which is hard to convey in a literal translation, is that once the jiva comes into existence with a limited outlook, the opposite and complementary entity, Iswara, comes into existence with no limitation on it.

167 The Supreme

He is the cause of everything and the Lord of everything. He is the source, sustainer and destroyer of everything. He is none of these many things, but they cannot exist apart from him. He pervades within and without, and knows all.

168 Jiva and the supreme are not different

If the limitations are destroyed, the jiva and the supreme are identical. Their limitations of base and excellent are only an appearance. It is like seeing the space within a pot and unlimited space as different. But look, consciousness is one only.

169 Cause of maya

If one seeks to know the fundamental cause of maya, which is not known [directly], it will be impossible to know it through consciousness. If you can know and tell me the cause of darkness with the help of a lamp, then you can know the cause of ignorance through consciousness.

171 The world

This world, a delusory dream, consisting of infinite differences, is seen as different from oneself, and as if real [in the sleep of maya]. When the sleep of maya ends, how can this world, which is destroyed in jnana, come into existence? Can there be dreaming after one wakes up from sleep?

172 The world

Despite fire existing within wood, it rots on earth, becoming a prey to white ants. This is similar to what happens in the absence of the shining of the Self. Will the miseries arising from the world exist if the Self, which is jnana, shines through [the grace of the] Sadguru. If fire is generated in wood, can the wood exist?

The fire within the wood denotes the hidden power of the Self within each being. The ‘shining of the Self’, channelled through the form of the Sadguru, brings out the latent fire within the wood.

173 The primacy of jnana

If the three paths charya, kriya and yoga do not become steps towards jnana, then they will become inferior states of liberation and be destroyed. To merge with the liberation that destroys identification with the body, there is no way other than the eye of jnana.

The practices of charya, kriya and yoga are part of the Saiva Siddhanta tradition. Kriya is worshipping Siva inwardly and outwardly, charya is rendering service in a temple and worshipping there, and yoga denotes inward meditation on Siva.

174 The characteristic of jnana

Jnana is to know consciousness without the knowing that takes the form of knower, knowing and object of knowledge. This occurs when knowledge of the mind and the senses, which know though the various sense organs, have all subsided.

175 The greatness of jnana

The rare Vedas position karma, which tosses one about, at the bottom. But they wear jnana on their heads without any contradiction and confusion. Only they know the greatness of jnana. The rest do not.

176 Jnana puja

To bathe in the tears of bliss, to worship strewing beautiful flowers of love, offering oneself as consecrated food, to view all the chid and jada appearing before one as Sivam – this is the puja to Siva.

178 The power of jnana

Do all the innumerable punyas and papas that attach to one exist when the fire of jnana is kindled? Is there anything that remains unburnt along with ignorance? When a forest is caught in a fire, does any tender tree survive?

179 Slipping from yoga

If a jnana sadhaka happens to die midway [through his sadhana] without merging with the reality through yoga, he will not enter the evil worlds but will gain and experience all the fruits attained by those who have performed virtuous sacrifices. Thereafter, he will be born again and attain liberation through yoga.

181 The means for liberation

Karma performed without desiring its fruits, listening to [expositions of] jnana scriptures, shanti, and renunciation are the means to attain a Guru. He is the means to gain the hard-to-attain liberation.

182 The Guru’s characteristic

O Lord! I am not any of those things beginning with the body, which is a prison, and ending with mind. The Vedas declared ‘You are That!’ But if you ask, ‘What am I?’, the Guru will declare, ‘You are this. See!’

183 The greatness of the Guru

God remains in the heart concealing himself, but the Guru, dispelling ignorance, reveals God. Tell me, who is the liberal benefactor? Is it he who bears the formless form, or he who took the form of the Guru, so that that formless form might be seen?

184 Incompetent gurus

The office of guru performed by those who do not have knowledge of reality is like the following: achieving pregnancy though intercourse in a dream, trying to make a cloth from the hair of a sea-turtle, trying to light a fire with a firefly, trying to make a bow with the horn of a hare, and obtaining milk from a bull.

185 The mature disciple

He who has realised in his mind the impermanence of the body, he who feels like one caught in a raging fire, or like the frog in the mouth of an angry cobra – his heart is like the prey caught in the tiger’s clasp.

186 The immature disciple

They do not have tapas, purity, truth and compassion. They do not worship the feet of the Guru. They do not believe in reality. They are eager to make money. Their thoughts are on enjoyments. It is not proper to bestow grace on these.

187 The immature disciple

The teaching which for some leads to clear attainment will for some others lead to perverse understanding. Though pure water is all the same, when the cow consumes it, she yields milk, but when the cobra consumes it, it yields poison.


Subramanian. R said...

Dear David,

I completed Amrita Saram. Verse 16speaks about those who revile Jnanis. They are the worst sinners.
I remembered Perumal Swami. He suffered towards the end of his life and told Sri Bhagavan that he should forgive him. He also added that he was sure to go to hell. Sri Bhagavan said: "I have already forgiven you but have not forgotten you. Even if you go to hell, I shall be there with you."

Verse 80. Prarabdha is only out of ignorance. This is a new idea. I should still ponder over it.

Verse 148, on Tattvas. Sri Bhagavan has also said to Sivaprakasam Pillai: Instead of throwing away all the tattvas as a garbage, who will investigate the garbage that is hiding one?

All Brahma Jnanis think and write alike.

David Godman said...


Regarding the 'prarabdha is ignorance' idea, prarabdha pertains to the body and not to the Self. The 'I am the body' idea is the fundamental ignorance. 'I have prarabdha' is the idea that grows out of the underlying ignorant assumption that one is a body in the first place. It is in this sense that prarabdha is deemed to be ignorance.

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David,

Yes. This is what Anon., asked in the previous part. GVK 1146 and Sri Bhagavan's Upadesa Manjari also explain the same thing. I understood it only after seeing
Anon.,'s post

Anonymous said...

Yes Yes I agree. As soon as I wrote it I understood the mistake.I am the body is the primal ignorance on top of which all other ignorance sits.Eeshwara and Karma are for those who know it and on top of 'I am the body'.Although I do not like the use of the word 'Ignorance' there is no other way of conveying the paradox and that is the convention.But they all do arise and dissolve'Simultaneously' i.e 'I am Body' and 'Karma' arise simultaneously.


Subramanian. R said...

Amrita Saram - Verse 1:

Sourpan's golden feet is unattainable even by gods.

I find comparison in Padamalai
Verses 826 and 1273: [Page 185
of David Godman's English translation.

826: The truth one oneself, which shines as the nearest of the near, is itself attita [the transcendental state] that is beyond the utmost beyond.

1273: Those who dwell in the trsanscedental state, will surpass even the gods, and will exercise their rule over the all pervading esplendent kingdom of heaven [Parandama].

Subramanian. R said...

Amrita Saram - Verse 9:

That which is rare....

Sri Sankara's [and Sri Bhagavan's
Tamizh prose translation] begins like this only:

It is indeed very difficult to obtain a human body. Even though one does, it is very difficult to become a brahmin [Sri Bhagavan's meaning of brahmin is different; it is not caste]. Even if one becomes one, it is still moe difficult to walk in the path of Vaidika dharma, in which Vedas are chanted. Still more difficult is to become a perfect scholar, and more difficult again to undertake enquiry into the Self and the non-
Self. Yet more difficult than all this is to obtain wisdom born of the experience of the Self. Liberation in the form of abidance as the Self, born of that wisdom, is not to be attained except as a result of righteous actions perfomred through crores of births. However, even though all the above qualifications may not be obtained, liberation is assured through the grace of the Lord, if only three conditions are obtained: that is a human birth, intense desire for liberation, and association with sages.

Subramanian. R said...

Amrita Saram - incompetent gurus:

Tattuvarayar speaks with some unheard of similes. Like obtaining pregnancy through intercourse in dream, making a cloth out of hair of sea turtle, horn with hare's horn, and fighting fire with firefly. KaNNudaiya VaLLalar in Ozhivil Odukkam says that such an incompetent guru is like a blind man leading a blind man [disciple]. Tirumular says some milder similes in Tantra 7. I have given some verses in Open Thread.

I remember McIver going to some guru who in turn caused Arthur Osborne [who did not want to go to him] great difficulties on a evening, when he was working in the garden. The incident is fearsome and horripilating. Arthur just chanted Arunachala Siva, Arunachala Siva, the all-cure mantra, which drove away the inexplicable animal or a ghost, which was sitting on his neck with immense weight and Arthur began to gasp for breath after some time. After the mantra chanting, the said creature left him and disappeared. Arthur reported this to Sri Bhagavan and He said, 'they will do only such things.'