By Swami Harshananda
Upadeśasāhasri literally means ‘a treatise of a thousand teachings’.
A theoretical treatise on any system of philosophy is generally called as ‘prakaraṇa’. The Upadeśasāhasri is one among the several prakaraṇas on Advaita Vedānta written by Śaṅkara. It is a very important one among the group. It is a fairly big work and consists of two sections known as Gadyaprabandha and Padyaprabandha. Gadyaprabandha has 116 sections divided into three prakaraṇas and the Padyaprabandha has 675 verses spread over nineteen prakaraṇas. Though it is universally accepted that the metrical section is a genuine work of Śaṅkara, there are differences of opinion regarding the authorship of the prose section.
It is the section divided into three parts. Each section individually is termed as a prakaraṇa. They are:
- Śisyabodhavidhi prakaraṇa
- Kutasthādvayātmabodha prakaraṇa
- Parisañkhyāna prakaraṇa
The contents of these three sections practically correspond to the three aspects of advaitic sādhana. They are:
- Śravaṇa - listening to the teachings of Vedānta
- Manana - deep reflection on the same
- Nidi-dhyāsana - meditation on the ātman
The third prakaraṇa deals with repeated meditation on the truths discovered in the first two prakaraṇas. They are:
- Separation of the jīva from the body-mind complex
- Ultimate identity of jīva with Paramātman or Brahman.
It is metrical section. A very brief summary of the nineteen prakaraṇas are:
It is the prakaraṇa 1 having 26 verses. The gist of it's teachings are as follows:
- Ajñāna leads to identification with the body.
- This leads to the performance of karma, experiencing its results, and rebirth.
- This whole process is termed as sansāra or transmigration.
- Hence the destruction of the sansāra by destroying ajñāna is necessary.
- The science of Brahman or Brahmavidyā is therefore taken up to destroy the sansāra.
It is prakarana 2 having 4 verses. This section deals with:
- Assertion of the existence of the ātman by denying the body-mind complex as not being one’s real nature.
It is prakarana 3 having 4 verses. This teaches us:
- Understanding of oneself
- Understanding of the ātman
- Being is the Paramātman in real sense
- Being is itself vidyā which dispels avidyā.
It is the prakarana 4 having 5 verses. It teaches us:
- Identification with the body is bondage.
- The awareness that one is the spirit, beyond it, is liberation.
It is the prakarana 5 having 5 verses. The gist of this section is:
- Not accepting ātmajñāna by the buddhi
- Thinking that it leads to the giving up of the karmas prescribed for one’s varṇa and āśrama, is the real aparādha committed by the buddhi.
- This can be rectified by retaining the ‘I-consciousness,’ to the exclusion of all that is not “I”.
- Then only one experiences directly that one is Paramātman.
It is the prakarana 6 having 6 verses. The gist of this section is:
- When a man loses his hand, his sense of ‘I-ness’ in that is lost.
- Similarly if one can drop off all the adjectives or qualities that really do not belong to one’s essential nature, he will realize that he, as the knower, is the ātman.
It is prakaraṇa 7 having 7 verses in all. The teachings of this section are:
- The ātman knows everything through the buddhi in which its consciousness is reflected.
- It is this Śākṣī-caitanya that is the ātman, the same as Brahman.
It is prakaraŚa 8 with 6 verses. It is given in the form of a dialogue between the ātman and the mind. The moral of this section is:
- All the apparent activities of the jīvātman are due to its wrong association with the mind.
- In its essential nature, the jīvātman is really the ātman, pure and unattached.
It is prakarana 9 with 9 verse. The teaching of this section is:
- Description that the ātman is extremely sukṣma and also sarvavyāpi by using Upaniṣadic type of logic.
It is prakarana 10 with 4 verses. The moral of this section is:
- The ātman is pure consciousness of the nature of dṛk and has no object to be known.
- He is one without a second.
It is prakaraṇa 11 with 6 verses. The moral of this section is:
- It declares that consciousness is the natural and essential characteristic of the ātman.
It is prakarana 12 with 19 verses. The gist of this section is:
- It is due to sunlight that one sees one’s own body and not due to the light of the body itself since it has no light of its own.
- Similarly the mind that appears as the conscious knower, appears so only due to the reflection of the pure consciousness in it.
It is prakaraṇa 13 with 27 verses. The moral of this section is:
- It tries to prove that the ātman in his essential nature is beyond the senses, vital airs, mind, intellect, and even the body.
- He is eternal, ever pure consciousness.
- Due to ignorance, people identify themselves with these non-Self items and suffer.
It is prakarana 14 with 50 verses. The moral of this section is:
- It proves that the ātman is draṣṭṛ and is the ever-present reality.
- Everything else is dṛśya, the seen, and hence non-eternal.
It is prakarana 15 with 54 verses. The moral of this section is:
- If Brahman and jīva are different and if jīva becomes Brahman, then it dies, giving rise to Brahman.
- But who is it that becomes Brahman, if it were not already so? Hence one has to accept that the jīva has always been Brahman.
It is prakarana 16 with 74 verses. The gist of this section is:
- The ātman is the jñātṛ, the knower; all else, including the body-mind complex is the jñeya.
- The body, the senses, the mind and the intellect are all lighted up by the light of the ātman.
- Hence they are able to function.
It is prakarana 17 with 89 verses. The summary of this section is:
- The greatest benefit one can get in life is from ātmajñāna or knowledge of the ātman.
- This is possible only through the Vedas.
- The nature of this knowledge is that one is eternal, pure consciousness.
It is prakarana 18 with 233 verses. This is the longest section. The moral of this section is:
- Culminating in the highest philosophy of Advaita Vedānta by a detailed exposition of the mahāvākya tat-tvam-asi
It is prakarana 19 with 28 verses. It is also known as Ātmamanassarhvāda-prakaraṇa. The summary of this section is:
- It is cast in the form of a conversation between the Self and the mind, the former advising the latter about the true nature of himself.
On the whole, this is a comprehensive and authentic treatise of Advaita Vedānta. Rāmatīrtha has written a lucid commentary called Padayo-janikā on the whole work. Two more glosses by Ānandajñāna and Bodhanidhi are known to exist though not printed till now.
- He lived in A. D. 788-820.
- Gadyaprabandha is the prose section.
- Padyaprabandha is the metrical section.
- Ācārya means spiritual teacher.
- Jīva means individual soul.
- Ajñāna means nescience.
- The three states of consciousness are jāgrat or waking state, svapna or dreaming and suṣupti or deep sleep state.
- Ajñāna means nescience.
- Vidyā means knowledge.
- Avidyā means ignorance.
- Buddhi means the intellect.
- Aparādha means mistake.
- Buddhi means intellect.
- Śākṣī-caitanya means supervisory consciousness.
- Sukṣma means subtle.
- Sarvavyāpi means all-pervading.
- Dṛk means the seer.
- Draṣṭṛ means the seer.
- Jñeya means the known.
- Chāndogya Upanisad 6.8.7 to 6.16.3
- He lived in 17th Century A. D.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore