Shankara on life skills

Sadhana Panchakam is one of the minor works of Adi Shankaracharya.

Concealed in its apparently asceticism-oriented exposition are many practical tips for ordinary mortals to lead an emotionally balanced, spiritual quotient, wisdom-charged life. Shankaracharya reflects on the various steps to achieve this state of mind. Whether by design or intent, almost every seemingly profound thought is followed by another which speaks about the common mistakes that everyone commits. Shankara commences with the injunction to men to read the scriptures and carry out the duties ordained by them in a spirit of dedication to the Lord, casting aside the egoistic impulse to think that they are the doers and must therefore enjoy the fruits of their labours also. Refraining from excessively indulging in material pleasures will reduce sinful actions. “Remember that with pleasure comes pain, too. Constantly endeavour to escape from this bondage of the senses,” says Shankara.

Instead of wasting time in useless, arguments with people who are blind to the higher things in life, Shankara advises mankind to resort to the companionship of men of wisdom, for such interaction not only helps in increasing one’s knowledge, but also infuses them with a positive attitude to better their lives. Cultivation of virtues like mental tranquility and equipoise in the face of life’s dualities is an indispensable aid to a faith infused, practical and wise way of life. Here, the guidance of a learned master, who is himself a man of wisdom, who has ‘walked the talk’, who can translate the scriptural declarations into tangible measures is crucial.

Worldly affairs are vital for existence, not to be neglected. But, when man is always immersed in them without respite, there is no time for reflection on higher matters. To justify this, men resort to twisted logic, perverse debates, etc. “Renounce your pride, quietly devote at least some time to introspection, assert your intrinsic powers of discrimination and rationalisation, shed your misconceptions and delusions and stop criticising wise men,” avers Shankara. Is not a diet prescribed for curing illnesses?

Even for this affliction of materialism, a diet of fasting, simple living, contentment (not a lazy attitude), sense control and a worldly wise awareness to be careful about the so called helping hands and kindness of others will help in great measure. When these steps are followed, a sense of calm, an inner stability and happiness prevails. This mental solitude enables man to see the divine all around him.

He realises that the world that he sees is but a projection of that one, immutable, indescribable power that controls the universe. He then proceeds in the right direction in the wisdom to better his present and future lives, and also mitigate the ill effects of his actions in previous lives. “This is a continuous process, a lifelong ‘Sadhana’, which when followed scrupulously, diligently, with faith will make man a better person,” says Adi Shankaracharya.

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