Inner development

The Aparokshanubhuti is an important work of Adi Shankaracharya where he expounds on the necessity of acquiring emotional and spiritual maturity through a focused and disciplined way of life.

There are many practical tips for ordinary people to develop themselves. The opening words are like a clarion call when he says that men should first perform their duties according to their social order and stage in life.

When this is done, it helps man in acquiring the four basic qualifications for the attainment of knowledge. The first is developing control over material desires, a healthy disregard for excessive material pleasures, which, Shankara says need to be looked at with as much contempt as that for the excreta of a crow.

The second qualification is that man becomes able to differentiate between things that really give him peace and happiness and those that are transitory in nature.

This is called discrimination. The third is acquiring control over the senses, which enables him to keep negative emotions like anger, greed, hatred and arrogance at bay. The fourth is the ability to endure the dualities of life like sorrow and happiness.

When these four prerequisites are achieved, man’s mind is ripe for receiving instructions in higher matters. Here, the supportive instructions of a guru  are indispensable, faith in which is a must for any progress.

At this stage, with the aforementioned combination of inner conviction and the tea-cher’s guidance, man needs to embark on a process of enquiry. Without curiosity, there can be no acquisition of knowledge, just as an object in darkness can be perceived only if it is illumined by the light from a lamp.

Shankara here talks the language of metaphysics. He says ignorance is all pervasive, which is true in our everyday experience, too. Ignorance dissolves in the wake of knowledge. The various thoughts that float about in the mind as well light that pervades on the dawn of clarity or knowledge are due to the same underlying cause, the divine power.

This, he says, is akin to the ea-rth which is the underlying cause behind the existence of the mud pot. Man’s enquiry must be along these lines. If he constantly strives in this direction, he finally arrives at the conclusion that he is none other than the unchanging, undecaying, eternal, blemishless and pure divinity or Brahman as called in Vedantic language.

The only thing that prevents man from understanding his true nature is the inborn ignorance, his ego that misleads him into thinking that he is se-parate and his self or soul is separate. True wisdom lies in realising this intrinsic non-difference. Shankara give various examples here.

A rope is mistaken for a snake, an ear-ring that is basically gold, a pot that is basically earth, a sword that is fundamentally iron, etc. “Contemplate, enquire, maintain silence, firmness of vision and thrive’ says Shankara.

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