Sacred Texts Journals Hindu Articles












VOL. IX.--1880.

[Bombay, Education Society's Press]
{Scanned and edited by Christopher M. Weimer, April 2002}

p. 25



   The poem, of which I give the text and translation below, is one which is very well known in India, but has never been printed in Europe. Most educated natives know it by heart, and it is universally considered as one of the best summaries of the Vedânta doctrines. Its authorship is uncertain; but there are two commentaries upon it, each of which curiously enough is ascribed to Šankara Âchârya, the celebrated Vedantist teacher of the eighth or ninth century. Dr. Hall in his Bibliographical Index ascribes the poem to Hastâmalaka. The twelfth stanza is quoted in the Vedânta-sâra (the only quotation which I have noticed from the work), and Hastâmalaka is mentioned as the author in the Vidwan-manoranjinî Commentary on the Vedânta-sâra by Râmatîrtha-yati. Hastâmalaka is celebrated as one of Šankara's earliest disciples; and he is afterwards said to have founded a modified form of Vedântism recognizing Vishnu as the supreme Brahma. It is probable, however, that the title of the poem has no reference to any author, as hastâmalaka may simply mean 'a myrobalan in the hand,' and thus be used metaphorically to signify something very plain and obvious, as the round fruit on the open palm. The phrase is thus used in the Vajrašuchi Upanishad (Weber's ed. p. 213, 10), where the true Brâhman is described as the 'contented man, free from desires and passions, who sees everything as visibly before him as a myrobalan on the palm of his hand' (karatalâmalakam iva)1; and this is the interpretation which one of my Pa.n.dits in Calcutta gave to the title.

   The ultimate identity of the individual and the supreme soul is the great tenet of the Vedânta. 'That art thou' (tat twam asi) is the first lesson of the neophyte, and the last vision of the perfected mystic. The one supreme soul alone exists; all the separate consciousnesses of individuals are but the reflection of the one soul on the multitudinous 'internal organs' which are the creation of 'ignorance' or illusion. To reach reality we must strip off the successive veils--the waking world first (where the soul is disguised by the gross effects) and the world of dreams next (where it is disguised by the subtle effects), till we reach that of sound sleep. Here for the time the individual soul does attain its real nature, but its inherent delusion remains latent, and is still capable of being called out into actuality. Only the knowledge of the highest truth, as taught in the Vedânta, can abolish ignorance, and so destroy personality in its germ.2

   The soul's real nature, as identical with Brahma, is always described as 'essentially existent, intelligence, and joy'; but though defined as essentially intelligence, this intelligence is not exercised on any object, as all objects, as well as the internal organ or 'mind' which cognizes transient perceptions, are produced by 'ignorance' and therefore unreal. There is a striking verse of the Yoga-vâšish.ta3:--

   "As would be the pure nature of light if all that is illumined by it, as space, earth, and ether, were annihilated, such is the loneliness of the pure-essenced spectator (soul), when all objects, as I, thou, and the three worlds, have passed into non-existence."

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   1. 'Who art thou, my child, and whose, and whither goest thou? What is thy name, and whence art thou come? Tell me all this clearly to gladden me,--thou fillest my heart with gladness.'

   2. 'I am not a man nor a god nor a demi-god, no Brâhman, Kshatriya, Vaišya, nor Šûdra; no student, nor householder, nor anchorite, nor religious mendicant; innate Knowledge am I.

   3. 'That which is the cause of the action of mind, eye, and the rest, as the sun is the cause of the movements of living beings, but which itself is void of all conditioning disguises, like the infinite ether,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   4. 'That which being itself one, unchangeable, and essentially eternal knowledge (as fire is essentially heat), is the substratum which bears, as they act, the mind, eye, and the rest,--which are mere Ignorance6,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   5. 'The reflection of the face seen in the mirror is nothing in itself as separated from the face, so is the personal soul in itself nothing, the reflection of Intelligence on the internal organ,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   6. 'As the reflection vanishes when the mirror is not, and the face remains alone, apart from all delusion, so that Soul which remains without a reflection when the understanding is not,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   7. 'That which abiding aloof from mind, eye, and the rest, is itself mind, eye, and the rest to mind, eye, and the rest, and whose nature mind, eye, and the rest cannot reach,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   8. 'That which, being one, shines forth self-manifested, possessing pure intelligence, and itself essential Iight, and which yet appears as though variously modified in various internal organs, as the one sun shines reflected in the water of different vessels--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   9. 'As the sun, illumining countless eyes, illumines at the Same moment the object to each, so that Soul, the one intelligence, which illumines countless internal organs,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   10. 'As the bodily sense illumined by the sun grasps the form of the object, but when unillumined grasps it not, so that by which the one sun must be itself illumined to illumine the sense,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   11. 'As the one sun seems many in the agitated waters, and even when reflected in still waters must be yet recognized as really separate, so that which, though really one, p. 27 seems many in the restless internal organs,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   12. 'As he whose eye is covered with a cloud thinks in his delusion that the sun is clouded and has lost its light, so that soul which seems bound to him whose mind's eye is blind,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   13 'That which being in itself one, is strung through all things and with which nothing ever yet comes in contact, and which, like the ether, is always pure and uncontaminated7 in its nature,--that Soul, essentially eternal perception, am I.

   14. 'As the pure crystals appear different by the presence of a disguiser,8 so thou too appearest different by the diversity of individual minds; as the moonbeams appear to be tremulous in the water, so thou too, O, appearest to flicker in our world!'

   Of the two different commentaries on the Hastâmalaka, ascribed to Šankara Âchârya, one was printed at the end of the Calcutta edition of the Vedânta-sâra, in 1853; there is a MS. of the other in the India Office Library, belonging to the Gaikwâ.d collection, and copied Samvat 1563 (A.D. 1506). Both profess to claim Šankara Âchârya as their author, but both, especially the latter, are far too diffuse to vindicate their claim to have been written by the greatest philosophical author that India has produced. As a specimen of each I subjoin the introductory passage, in which each professes to explain the origin and object of the poem. Neither gloss comments on the first two stanzas, as found in our present text; both begin their explanations with the third.

   The commentary in the E. I. Library (MS. 2532) thus opens: "a certain student, who had attained supreme knowledge, and who had assumed the last body before absolute emancipation, having been ejected from home by his relations because he seemed obstinately dumb, was pointed out by his father, and accordingly asked by the author of the commentary (on the Vedânta-Sûtras; i.e. Šankara), 'who art thou?' Desiring that others also might have a dignity like his own. he proceeded accordingly to describe his own pre-eminence, and to declare himself in the following stanzas (i.e. beginning with the third)"

   The other Commentary opens with the following introduction:

   "All beings here have an instinctive desire to obtain happiness and to escape pain; now a certain person, possessed of a pre-eminent amount of merit, and considering worldly happiness as only so much pain from its inseparable connection with pain and from its transitoriness, becomes thoroughly disgusted with all mundane existence, and in his disgust he strives to escape from its bonds; and his teacher, telling him that the ignorance of the soul's nature is the cause of all mundane existence, and the knowledge thereof the cause of its abolition, instructs him accordingly in the knowledge of the individual soul."

   Neither of these opening paragraphs gives any hints as to the author or the real circumstances of the composition of the poem. A Bengali translation inserts a curious legend, that Šankara, in the course of his wanderings as a religious reformer, met one day in the road a certain beautiful youth, whom he addreased in the words of the first verse, and who repeated the remainder of the poem as his reply; but there seems no authority for this story.

   There is a curious parallel to the Hastâmalaka in an ode of the great Persian mystic Shamsi Tabrîz, quoted by Erskine in the first volume (p. 108) of the Bombay Literary Society's Transactions:--

   "What advice, O Musalmâns, as I do not know myself;
   I am neither Christian nor Jew, nor am I a fire-worshipper nor Musulmân.
   I am not from the East nor the West, nor am I of land or fire,
   I am not from the country of 'Îrâk, nor am I from the land of Khurâsân.
   I am neither of water nor air, nor am I of fire or earth;
   I am not of Adam or Eve, nor am I of the inhabitants of paradise.
   My place is no place, my sign is without sign:
   I have neither body nor soul,--what is there then? I am the soul of my beloved."10

Journals Hindu Articles


p. 25

1. Cf. also Vijnâna-bhikshu, Comm. on Sânkhya Sûtra, p. 96, 2 infr.

2. There is a remarkable passage in Hippolytus' Philosophumena I. p. 29.--{Greek: touto dè tò fws ó fasi lógon tòn ðeòn, autòus mónous eidénai Braxmanas légousi, dià tò aporripsai mónous thn kenodoksían, ó esti xitwn ths psuxhs ésxatos}.

3. Quoted in Vijnâna-bhiksu's Comm. on Sânkhya Sûtra, p. 97.

p. 26

6. The MS. Comm. takes it differently:--"that which being itself one, unchangeable, and essentially eternal knowledge, is the substratum which bears as they act, the mind, eye and the rest; which are mere ignorance,--as the fire is the substratum that bears the heat,--that Soul; essentially, &c.

p. 27

7. The printed Comm. explains achchha as amûrtta, the MS. as samsargarahita.

8. As the China rose reflected in it.

10. From The Journal of Philology, Vol. VI. (1876) pp. 161-169.