Adi Shankara Acharya spent a significant portion of his life gathering the scriptures and writing commentaries on them. When someone dedicates themselves to such a task, there’s always a limitation on the direct guidance they can provide to people.

To deal with that limitation, many Acharyas wrote independent works called Prakarana Granthas or Expository Texts. In these, the sages extracted the essence of the Vedas and presented them in an easy-to-understand format.

The Sadhana Panchakam is one such Prakarana Grantha, which Adi Shankara composed towards the end of his short life of 32 years. His disciples requested him for a brief text compiling his path to spiritual life. At that point, the pontiff wrote these five verses summarizing the Sadhana part of his teachings.

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In this series of posts, we’ll go through the Sadhana Panchakam chant, one verse at a time. Sadhana means austerities, and Panchakam means the five verses. Scholars refer to these five verses as the Advaita Pancharatnam or the five gems of Advaita philosophy.

Before you read further, 
– Relax 
– Deep breathe for a few minutes. 
– Then, try to keep a calm mind.
– Offer obeisance to your Guru.
– Absorb this verse with that attitude.

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Verse 1:

वेदो नित्यमधीयतां तदुदितं कर्म स्वनुष्ठीयतां
तेनेशस्य विधीयतामपचितिः काम्ये मतिस्त्यज्यताम् ।
पापौघः परिधूयतां भवसुखे दोषोऽनुसन्धीयता-
मात्मेच्छा व्यवसीयतां निजगृहात्तूर्णं विनिर्गम्यताम् ॥१॥

vedo nityamadhīyatāṃ
taduditaṃ karma svanuṣṭhīyatāṃ
teneśasya vidhīyatāmapacitiḥ
kāmye matistyajyatām
pāpaughaḥ paridhūyatāṃ
bhavasukhe doṣo’nusandhīyatā-
mātmecchā vyavasīyatāṃ
nijagṛhāttūrṇaṃ vinirgamyatām ॥1॥

1: Read the Vedic scriptures daily.
2: Perform your actions with adherence to the Vedas.
3: Dedicate the (results) of your acts to the Divine.
4: Start purifying the mind by removing your desires.

5: Work towards removing your (internal) impurities.
6: Recognize that (attachment to) pleasures causes pain.
7: Endeavor routinely to discover your Inner Self.
8: Strive to let go of the affinity to your abode (body).

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Notes: 

  • Each verse of this hymn lists eight steps of Sadhana. That adds up to a total of 40 instructions in five verses.
  • This hymn has the structure of a ladder. We can work on mastering one step at a time. When we get through the 40 steps, we can live like a lotus in this muddy pond called the world.
  • The first verse lists the eight fundamental steps of Sadhana. Only those who work towards these are considered genuine seekers.
  • In the first step, read the Vedic scriptures doesn’t mean that we merely chant them. It means that we contemplate the essence of the Vedas. In today’s context, this can also be interpreted as read some uplifting content.
  • In Step 7, Inner Self means the Divine that resides within us.
  • In Step 8, the word “abode” can have a couple of meanings. It could either be letting go of affinity to your body. Or, it could mean letting go of attachment to your home and family. We can consider it as both.
  • A word of caution in Step 8: The sage isn’t asking us to disown or physically leave our home and family. He is suggesting that we become non-attached to everything happening around us. The same applies to the body as well. Letting go of affinity to the body doesn’t mean that we stop taking care of it. It means that we don’t get overly obsessed with it.

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Image: Photo by Rui Xu on Unsplash

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You can read the next verse here: Verse 2

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