Select Works of Sri Sankaracharya, tr. by S. Venkataramanan, , at sacred-texts.com
The main object of this publication is to present, in simple English, some of the works of Sri Sankaràchàrya in which he tried to expound, in a popular style, the philosophy of the non-dualistic Vedànta of which he was the well-known founder. With this view the present translation has been rendered free of technical words and phrases, and, in some instances, literal and technical accuracy has been purposely sacrificed in order to make the translation readable and comprehensible by itself independently of the text. It is however hoped that the juxtaposition of the Samskrit text and the English translation will serve the double object of enabling the student of Samskrit to understand the text better and to correct, by a reference to the text, any defect of expression in the translation as an inevitable result of the attempt to garb it in a popular style. To those that have had no training in metaphysics or dialectics and have neither the leisure nor the capacity to read the original standard works of Sankara,—mostly elaborate commentaries on the Vedànta aphorisms, the Bhagavad-gíta and the Upanishads—a publication of this kind should be specially helpful for a proper understanding of the broad outline of Sankara's philosophy of non-dualism. The main feature of that philosophy, as will be apparent from a study of the following pages, may be summed up very briefly as follows.
[paragraph continues] Samsára or phenomenal existence, whose mar factor is the bondage of births and deaths it succession, is unreal and is the result of illusion.—the ignorance by which the only and absolute reality, the Supreme Self, is mistaken for the unreal world, in the same way as a rope may be mistaken for a serpent in the dusk of the evening. Both bondage and liberation are thus illusory, for, since there is no real bondage at all, how can there be a liberation from it? Yet, liberation or moksha is relatively spoken of and can only result from a thorough knowledge of the reality behind and beyond and underneath and within the unreal. Sankara emphasises the fact that such knowledge is not a mere theoretical one which can be gathered from books or lectures, but is of the nature of direct realisation or actual experience. The sole source of this knowledge is a clear and accurate understanding of the Vedic text "That thou art," but, however much one may analyse its meaning by means of his own reason or with the aid of commentaries, the direct realisation of the self cannot take place unless the Vedic text in question reaches the student through the mouth of a spiritual teacher (the guru). It is then, and only then, that the disciple realises in a flash, as it were, "I am Brahman," the individual soul is seen, at all times and in all conditions, to be identical with the Supreme Self, and the knowledge springs up that all this is indeed the Self and there is naught but the Self. This is the highest goal of spiritual endeavour, the moksha or liberation of the
[paragraph continues] Vedanta philosophy. Further detail would be out of place in a short preface of this kind, but the translator feels bound to call attention to one very prominent teaching of Sankara which will be evident from a perusal of the present publication,—namely, that devotion to a personal God (Saguna-Brahman) is not inconsistent with the true Vedanta philosophy, but, on the other hand, spiritual perfection or liberation is impossible without the grace of God attainable by devotion and the grace of the Master (guru) who alone can reveal the true nature of the Self to the ardent aspirant for the Absolute that is beyond all word and thought.