Two months after I met my guru, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, I heard the Ātmabodha by Shankarācarya. I was in a car, with one of my teacher’s oldest students, George B. As he drove, George popped a cassette into the stereo and off we zoomed down the highway. I remember how somber we were, as we had just dropped our teacher off at the airport. Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati would go on long tours for months at a time. That day he was embarking his next big tour and would be gone for a while.
As we drove home on those busy, rainy New Jersey highways, we listened to Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati’s voice ringing out through the speakers. It filled the car with a profound sense of peace. I was enthralled and immediately asked, “What is this?” George told me it was our teacher chanting the Sanskrit verses of the Ātmabodha, the text on Self-Knowledge. “Text on Self-Knowledge?” I thought. I never knew there was such a thing. Our teacher’s chanting made such a big impression on me that to this day I can still hear the verses he sang.
Recently, I was re-reading the Ātmabodha again in preparation for my new course and I lingered on this verse:
Tāvat Satyam Jagad Bhāti Śuktikā-Rajatam Yathā
Yāvan Na Jñāyate Brahma Sarvādhishtānam Advayam
As the appearance in the mother-of-pearl seems to be real silver when the true nature of the shell is not perceived, in the same way this sense-perceived universe appears to be tangible, eternal and real as long as the substratum, Brahman, pure awareness, is not realized.
Translation by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati
In the Ātmabodha, Shankarācarya dispels the confusion that happens as you walk along the spiritual journey. He clarifies and sheds light on the nature of reality. The word for reality in verse 7 is Brahman. Brahman means the highest expansion, limitless reality. While knowing a few words on a mental level like ‘Brahman’ and ‘reality’ is a good start, for meaningful transformation you have to work to actually connect with Brahman. The Rishis tell us over and over again to go beyond the world of the senses and feel Brahman. But instead of feeling this innate freedom, we often feel limited, either physically and or emotionally. How? Because we identify with what we are not. Shankarācarya reminds us to not take what appears to be real as the real. In the verse above, he says, it would be natural to get confused and misunderstand what is real silver and what is false silver, but stay vigilant and know that the life of the body and mind are not reality. Have courage and pursue beyond them into the experience of your true form, limitless awareness. Throughout the text, Shankarācarya delves further into what a life of misidentification looks like and what a life illumined is.
To work with this discussion on Brahman in your Luminous Soul practice, start with small steps. Each day pay attention to and become clear about what is your body mind reality. Then notice what you feel when you watch all as a witness beyond your body and your thoughts. Practice connecting with what you are beyond the mind without rejecting your ordinary life. This month, I invite you to be curious about what lies beyond the body and mind. Each day, engage the process of distinguishing and feeling what lies beyond for 8 min. Let what I have said in this article sit in your field of awareness.
Be courageous. Take small steps and you will and discover your true form which is with you always, real peace.
2018 Luminous Shabda Inc., Manorama
Photo by Brady Bellini