Advaita Makaranda points to our present experience-the experience of the ordinary soul-and shows how the highest truth is revealed even there, if only we look. As Swami Vivekananda said, "Don't seek God, just see Him." The Advaita Makaranda teaches us to see the Truth, here and now.
The Advaita Makaranda by Lakmidhara Kavi is an overlooked diamond, hidden in the treasury of Vedanta literature by the wealth of larger precious stones cut by more well-known Acaryas of the tradition. Small but pure and finely cut, it has a unique appeal and deserves wider recognition. Swami Tejomayanandaji of the Chinmaya Mission brought this jewel to the notice of the English-reading public over thirty years ago through a translation and commentary on the work, which is still in print and much recommended.
Why, then, this translation and commentary? For the simple reason that, as the present translator-commentator read the text, he saw so much meaning embedded in the text that he began translating and commenting in his head, and decided that he might as well put it down in digital ink. How many fine translations are there of the Gild? Of the Upanisads? And yet there is room for countless more, even now. Though short, the Advaita Makaranda can't possibly be exhausted by a single translation and commentary, however good; nor by two or three.
Various categories of texts are found in the Vedanta tradition, aside from the Upanisads and Bhagavad-GTO. Some, like the Brahma-Sutra with .afikara's commentary, are primarily concerned with bringing out the philosophical import of the Upanisads, while also arguing against opposing schools of thought. This had a critical importance: without such texts, the grand Advaita tradition might not have withstood the storms raised by opposing schools of thought on the sea of Indian philosophical life, nor the storms that blew in from foreign oceans of thought. And such texts are essential for the sadhaka as well, for clarifying the understanding and destroying the sarigaya rakasa-the demon of doubt.
There are other texts; like the Vivekacdadmard and the Paricada§f, which teach the principles of Vedanta for the purposes of the sadhaka, not primarily for polemical purposes nor to establish a philosophy. That is, such texts are primarily for the purpose of §ravaria and manana-hearing and reflection. The two texts just mentioned, in particular, teach the principles of Vedanta in great detail so that the mind of the sadhaka can understand thoroughly the phenomenal self (jivdtman), the noumenal Self (Atman), the universe of experience (jagat), and their interrelationships, in order to bring both deep conviction and a fundamental change to the interpretation of experience, which in time leads to a change of perception, and thence to higher experience.
There are small, specialized prakarana granthas which teach particular aspects of Vedanta, such as Vdkya Vrtti, Laghu Vakya Vrtti, Drg-Dr§ya-Viveka, and Pankikaranam. And there are unique texts, extraordinarily beautiful, such as the Agdvakra Sarhhitd, the Avadhdta Grtd, and Ribhu Gad, which are songs of enlightenment, and which speak directly to the highest Self They aren’t concerned with the details of psychology or epistemology or cosmology; nor are they polemical; they speak the highest truth directly to the Self of the reader.
And then there is the rare text like Advaita Makaranda. Extremely short, too short for dividing into chapters, it has only 28 verses. Of those, the first is a pranarna mantra, saluting God and guru, and the last is arthavdda or eulogy; and so, effectively there are 26 verses setting forth the teaching. Its special feature is the approach: it doesn't present a philosophy, there are no polemical arguments, it doesn't teach the detailed principles about the jiva and jagat (individual self and the world) for strengthening the detailed understanding, nor does it set out spiritual practices (sadhana), and it isn't a hymn of enlightenment like the Astavakra Samhita. Rather it points to our present experience-the experience of the ordinary souland shows how the highest truth is revealed even there, if only we look. As Swami Vivekananda said, "Don't seek God, just see Him." The Advaita Makaranda teaches us to see the Truth, here and now.
Let's look at a classical example given in the Vedanta literature: that of mistaking a rope for a snake. In half light, I see a rope on the ground and mistake it for a snake. It's not a thought but a misperception: perhaps I even think I see a skin pattern and colour. Immediately I jump back and turn to run, my heart in my throat, my blood pressure high, and my breathing panicked. The rope has at no point turned into a snake; it is purely a case of misperception, involving the projection of a snake onto a perfectly innocent rope. This example is used to explain how it is that, though wesee only the Atman, the one reality, we project the vision of a diverse, material world onto it: the Atman has never changed, only our perception has made it seem other than what it is.
But now let us look at an extension of this example that was developed and much used by John Dobson, a well-known amateur astronomer and lifelong Vedantin. Now, if the rope is three feet long, I see a three-foot snake, not a ten-foot Burmese python. If the rope is half an inch in diameter, the snake I see is also half an inch in diameter, not an eight-inch diameter anaconda. Why? Because I'm actually seeing something, and that something is the rope of those dimensions. Similarly, if the rope is coiled, I see a coiled snake; if straight, a snake lying straight. The rope is, as it were, showing through the snake.
And so it is with our misperception of the Atman. Each of us, even now in our apparent ignorance, is the Atman, each of us is perfect, fully illumined, not potentially divine but actual divinity here and now, whatever our apparent state of bondage. Moreover, each of us is seeing nothing but the same Atman; but somehow I misperceive it as my psycho-physical being and as this objective, material world of diversity. The Self is luminosity itself; how can it be hidden? The Self is the truth of all truths; how can we not know it? The Self is pure consciousness itself; how can we forget it? We can forget it, we can't not know it, it can't be hidden. And so the Advaita Makaranda tells us how that truth is revealed in our own experience, here and now, much as the rope shows through the snake; and that understanding becomes a direct path to realization.
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