Sri Kanchi Mahaswami’s Discourses

(English translation by P.N. Ramachandran)

(The Mahaswami – late Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati Swami is considered a saint of the recent times. His discourses on various topics while on a visit to Madras in 1930’s are indeed the benchmark.)

All living beings do not like death. They desire deathless state. But each moment, some living beings either die or are born. It is stated in our epics that there had existed certain sages and seers, who had the bliss of deathless state. But these sages do not elucidate for us the cure/medicine for the disease termed as death. Such seers will not come seeking us out; nor can we go in search of them. But Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada had taught us about such a rare medicine.

We must search out for this medicine while still alive. Nothing may be possible after death. Our faith is that the dead do take rebirth. If there is no birth, there is no death either. If there were death, we would have been born earlier.

We cannot obtain the (death-conquering) medicine, even after death. We might have taken many janmas (births). It is apparent that we did not then undertake any effort to obtain this medicine. For, after death indeed, comes birth! Thus the disease of birth-death has been following us like a chain.

Sri Krishna has declared in the Bhagavad Gita

Jaathasya hi dhruvo mrityur dhruvam janma mritasya cha

(Bhagavad Gita II 27)

If the birth-death cycle constitutes a pleasure, one need not contemplate the deathless state. But the facts are different.

Man has verily been endowed with a body. Simultaneously with the body, man will suffer the pangs of hunger and thirst, and feelings of anger etc. To satisfy these, much work has to be undertaken. Many belongings have to be acquired. This leads to attachment to property. If there is opposition to this attachment, one feels anger, hatred etc.

One labours daily just to satisfy the basic instincts of hunger, thirst etc. At times one indulges in forbidden acts. One tells lies; one deceives others. There are medicines to cure other diseases. But this disease (hunger and thirst) is different.

Hunger arises regularly from time to time. Those leading well-regulated lives will get other bodily diseases only rarely. But no medicines have been indicated for hunger-less and thirst-less states in any Siddha (an indigenous system of medicine) text.

Hunger will remain as long as the body remains. If the body is given up, one can rid oneself of this troublesome hunger.

This birth itself is a serious disease. Deathless state is the best. What is the method to attain this high state? This indeed is Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada’s teaching.

The sages of all religions have taught us methods for this. But these medicines differ from one another. In a way all methods are commendable. They may all contain attractive elements. But the medicine (death-less state) evolved by these medicines may only grant transitional peace. The root cause of the disease may still be there. Only if that is removed will one be saved from a recurrence of the disease.

One may take quinine as a cure for malaria, under doctor’s advice. Fever may come down. But, will it not be better to look out for a more effective medicine to have a permanent cure from this malaria fever?

Thus our Acharya accepts the various methods but enunciates a better medicine. One should undertake that Amrita (deathless) method even one’s bodily parts such as eyes, ears, nose etc. are in good order and are rendering healthy service; One should attain permanent bliss. What is that superior way or method?

One should undertake beneficial acts even when one’s bodily parts are in good health. Sri Acharya’s superior way or method also is to be undertaken only while the mind and the body is in a state of good health.

Those who perform daily pooja (ritualistic worship) recite Purusha-Sooktam (hymn) mantras (incantation with words of power); one of these is

Tamevam vidvaan amritha iha bhavathi. Nanyah pantha vidyathe ayanaaya

(Purusha-Sooktam Sec 2:2)

One who has fully known the Great Person (the image of Atma or soul) attains in this janma (birth) itself the glorious death-less life. There is no other path to attain this grand state.

Amrita means moksha (liberation). Those who attain this state do not have birth or death. Hence it has been called “death-less” state.

The body too comes into being when a person is born. The body alone is the cause of the (birth-death) disease. This position had obtained since the beginning of humanity. There have been great souls who have cured themselves from the disease-causing body by taking suitable medicine. We do need the fruit of their experience. The disease and its remedy have been set out in the time-less Vedas.

In the quotation from the Purusha Sooktam cited earlier, the word ‘iha’ denotes that the death-less state can be attained even while a person has the body (i.e. is alive.) This is indeed the best path. Sri Acharya too has stated this is so. Why?

We do not know whether this state can or cannot be attained after death. Those who have so attained this state after death, would not re-attain life to narrate their experience to us; nor could they do so. The way for this state of amrita is knowledge of the self.

This birth itself is intended for assisting others. The dharma sastras also lay down that one should succour one’s relatives. At the same time one should try to gain knowledge about one’s atma (or soul) and about raising the level of the atma. It is not enough to get caught in the samsaara (the world or the constantly repeating cycle of birth and death.) Life’s attachments disturb any occasional spiritual thoughts. How far these concerns will help one, spiritually speaking?

Excessive attachment to property is the principal obstruction to one’s spiritual growth. Ajnana (ignorance or lack of knowledge of the eternal and the real) is another cause. One worries about matters not concerned with oneself. One should reduce such worries. If one gradually reduced one’s attachments to relatives and friends, the effect of various factors to cause worry for the mind and body will decrease. One should gradually cultivate the realization that this misery and loss are not one’s own. If one starts feeling that the body is not one’s own, the bodily diseases will not obstruct one’s spiritual growth.

Sri Bhagavatpada thus established that getting oneself rid of the physical body while still being with it (i.e. while still alive), is amrita or moksha (liberation) –

Tadethat asareerathvam mokshakaamyam

(Sootra Bhaashya – I, I, 4)

One may have many friends. So long as they are considered close to us, one is affected by their happiness and grief: which are thought as one’s own and thus cause us grief. But the same friends may turn out to be one’s enemies at a different point of time. Then one does not bother about their happiness and grief: one may even wish them more misery. Why does one think thus? – Because the self-esteem (which earlier looked upon them as one’s own) had disappeared.

One should look upon one’s body also in a similar manner. If there is a small injury or wound on a once-lovely body, how much grief does on feel for it? If one falls sick and does not have bath for some days, how much feeling of aversion does one get?

For any auspicious event in a neighbourhood, there may be a decoration with plantain trees, which may fade out in a day or two. Then these trees are discarded without a second thought. One should look upon the flesh-and-blood body in an even worse category. Persistent thought about “I” (oneself) only leads to increased affection for the physical body. One should constantly practice thinking thus: “All qualities such as love, hate and anger are attributes of the physical body, not “mine” (the atma or soul): All instincts such as hunger and thirst pertain to the physical body, not to “me” (the atma or soul)”. Then the love of the physical body will gradually decrease and, at a stage, cease to exist altogether.

The Upanishads assert, “Our atma (soul) is quite pure”. Paramaatma (supreme soul or god) is omnipresent, pure and full of bliss. Our atma is but an image of paramatma. Therefore, we should all realize the true doctrine that we are images of the paramatma. One should, with discretion, understand that the body, which is seen by us and its connected entities, are distinct from “us” (ematma)

Tam svaacchareerat pravrheth munjaadiveshikaam dhairyena
Tam vidyaacchukram amritham tam vidyaacchukram amritham iti

(Kathopanishad, II, iii, 17)

The fully ripe stalk is pulled out of the cultivated crop. Similarly one should unerringly separate the atma (image of god) from one’s body. One would then know that the atma (image of god, that has thus been separated from the body) is pure and immortal.

If one is to have death-less life, the disease (the body) has to cease to exist. God is called ananga (He who does not have physical body or shape). One should continue to look upon oneself as that God (soham). Some repeat the mere sound – incantation soham (I am He), while performing ordinary acts such as sitting down or standing up.

It will be better if one understands the meaning of this incantation and then repeats it. “I am god” – This thought would then gradually become steady in one’s mind.

Sri Sankara Bhagavatpad’s golden advice is – Happiness and misery will not affect the person who exists bereft of the physical body. This advice constitutes the medicine/remedy prescribed by Sri Sankara to enable us to conquer death. This is the exquisite teaching to attain the grand death-less state.

Sri Bhagavatpada has elaborated this advice in I, I, 4 of Brahmasootra Bhashya

Life-principle is termed as atma or jeevan (soul). Souls are generally categorized into kaunaatma, mityaatma and mukhyaatma. Kaunaatma is one who shows commiseration in a relative’s grief or misery. Love of one’s own person, face etc. and excessive pride in one’s own personality and ability is known as mityaatma.

One should realize that the body and the soul are distinct and separate from one another and that the soul is the image of the paramaatma (supreme soul or God). If this thought ripens into practical knowledge and experience, at that the stage, the Brahmam (supreme soul) becomes the atma (individual soul). This state is known as mukhyaatma.

The reader would have appreciated by now the best among the three states. One should advance beyond the first two states of kaunaatma and mityaatma and strive to approach the third state of mukhyaatma. If this stage were reached while still alive, one would have attained the grand state of death-less life. This is the ideal of those born as human beings.

“I” am Brahmam (supreme soul). “I” am the image of Brahmam – If this knowledge is attained, then relatives, misery, self-esteem and attachment to one’s own body – all these entities/qualities will disappear of themselves.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna has taught to Arjuna the way to attain the ideal state of oneness with Brahmam or Paramatma (supreme soul or God).