Tatva Bodh of Adi Shankaracharya
Lectures by Swami Nikhilanandaji, Part -1
Tatva Bodh was written by Adi Shankaracharya. Shankaracharyaji salutes his guru Shri Krishna before he starts the text. This is important because before we undertake any study of the scriptures, we have to surrender our ego and identify with the Supreme Reality.
Tatva Bodh is not a text for those who are curious or for those who want worldly knowledge. It is not merely a book of theories to be read. It is meant for people who desire Moksha. We all have desires that we try to fulfill in our past time because we think we get happiness when they are fulfilled. The degree of happiness is proportionate to the intensity of the desire. But there are always more unfulfilled desires than fulfilled desires. These desires always give rise to restlessness. Where there is restlessness, there is no peace. Example: “I want water. I am thirsty.” Once this desire has entered your mind, you can not sit peacefully. You go to where this water and drink it or if there is none, you think about where to go and get some.
It is natural that we have desires and they propel us. It is even written in the scriptures. (Kaama cheshta – everything is propelled by desire) The rishis analyzed these desires and wondered if one can fulfill all his desires, will he be happy. They classified the desires into four types.
1. Desire to be secure (Survival instinct):
This is the first and foremost desire among all living beings. We want to survive. This desire arises from deep within us. Eons ago, the caveman lived in caves and killed animals to survive. Today, we desire to own a house, car, and credit cards to feel secure. (Arthapurushaartha – desire for security)
We think money will provide security and so we desire to earn more, own a house with security alarms and smoke detectors. Or we may be physically, socially and financially secure but we feel psychological insecurities. “Why won’t he smile at me? Why doesn’t she like me? Let me make cookies for her.” We may also feel intellectual insecurities. We then use philosophy to feel more secure. “I am an Advaiti. I am a Hindu. I am a Muslim.” We may join a movement or a mission to feel intellectually secure. We must take care to not just calm our insecurities but try to learn and move towards the goal.
We also feel secure doing what a lot of people do. We feel more secure with a crowd. We do not want to be alone. Even if God is there and everyone is going towards Him, we prefer to go with everyone rather than go alone to God.
These insecurities will remain with us until we have “atma gnana”. Therefore, in Bhagavad Gita, Bhagwan says “Have faith in me. I will make you secure. I will take care of all your needs.” “Yogakshemaam vahaamyaham” – whatever needs to be protected, I shall protect.” Till we understand the greatness of God and till we understand that the greatest security is God within us, we will be insecure and desire for security.
2. Desire to gain pleasure:
This is a very strong desire. Almost everything is propelled by these two desires – security and pleasure. We are propelled by fear or pleasure and so many religions use this – “Do this and go to heaven. Don’t do this, you will go to hell.” They create fear or give pleasure to make people do things. There are pleasures at all levels: physically, senses etc. The drawback is pleasure is always followed by pain. There is insecurity in the pleasure - “Will we feel it tomorrow?” Also, a person who always seeks pleasure becomes dull. His thinking capacity is diminished because he becomes totally focussed on acquiring pleasures. It is said in the scriptures: If you want to gain knowledge, forget about pleasure. If you want to gain pleasure, forget about knowledge.
Even after trying to gain security and pleasure, we are not happy. So, we desire to gain a superior type of security and happiness – that which is more lasting. This is the third ty pe of desire.
3. Desire to be good:
This is the desire to become a better and more righteous person. There is pleasure in eating but there is more pleasure in feeding others. There is pleasure in being protected but there is greater pleasure in protecting others. This indicates rise of Dharma and goodness and giving up of selfishness. We should try to gain security without making the other person insecure. We should try to be happy without making others miserable.
Dharma says – “Live and let live.” If you want to gain something, do so by adhering to certain rules (“niyams”) so that you do not harm others. Even the worst person has this desire to be good in him. He has the potential that is deep within him and that is inborn in him to be a saint. The Gita says the moment an evil person desires to be good, he becomes a saadhu. (Example: Valmiki)
When a person follows Dharma, he feels more secure and happier in this world. This seems very strange but is true. A dharmic person feels very secure (Example: Sitaji, Ramji). An adharmic person feels very insecure. (Raavan, despite all his strength and wealth he felt insecure all the time.)
Dharmorakshathi rakshathaha One, who follows Dharma, is protected by Dharma. He feels God, Goodness, Righteousness is on his side and so he gains unshakeable strength. Nothing can affect him. Mahatma Gandhi was small, frail, without money, without even the full complement of garment to cover his body, not owning even as much earth as might be held on the point of a needle, yet he was so much stronger than the mightiest of empires. The British feared him.
One who follows truth: His words gain power, even the Gods must obey him. Example: Anasuya. When someone approached her for help, her husband was cursed to die at sunrise the next day, Anasuya had the power to stop the Sun from rising because she followed dharma.
When a person follows dharma, he feels more secure and happier, he feels joy in just being and existing (Example: Mahatmas). They work not because of sense of duty and not because of aspiration but because of inspiration.
But a Dharmic person still feels a sense of bondage, a sense of limitation by rules. He will have to be born in this body, eat, sleep and drink with this body. Living in this world becomes bondage. Mumukshatwam (desire to be free from bondage) arises in him.
4. Desire to gain Moksha:
This is the desire to free from bondage of desires, body etc. It is subtlest of all desires. Example: No matter how much pleasure we gain from being awake, we do not want to turn away from sleep. We always want rest and sleep. A mumukshu is one who has intense desire for freedom, liberation and Moksha. The Tatva Bodh is written for such a mumukshu. This liberation that he seeks can be gained from knowing the Self. There is no need to go elsewhere or outwards. The liberation lies within. Knowing the true self is freedom.
Transcribed by Neena Venugopalan