The following is a condensed rendering of a translation by Swami Amritananda of an ancient Sanskrit text. It is specifically intended for Westerners, modifying the original so the meaning can be easily understood. Published by permission of Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India, publisher of the original translation.
Sanatsujatiya is part of the great Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and so gains its narrative relevance from the events that precede it. War between the blind king Dhritarashtra and the opposing enemy seemed inevitable. While waiting for diplomatic messages to be delivered to the enemy by couriers, Dhritarashtra became fearful of the impending death and destruction and asked the sage Vidura to give him council. Vidura spoke about the ethics that govern the common human goals of duty, wealth, and fulfilment of desire. After hearing this discourse Dhritarashtra saw the situation in a new light, but felt there had been something of importance left unsaid, so he asked Vidura for further knowledge. The question implied that Dhritarashtra was seeking knowledge higher than moral laws and worldly wisdom. Vidura explained that he was not competent to explain the higher knowledge. He then invoked the celestial being Sanatsujatiya to tell the king about Brahma Vidya – the knowledge of the Immortal Self.
After greeting Sanatsujatiya, the king asked him about death, the after life and immortality. Sanatsujatiya began the discourse, saying:
“O king! Some, believing in the reality of life and death, say immortality can be attained by the performance of rituals. Others, claiming higher knowledge, say immortality cannot be the result of action, and that death is a delusion. These things have been argued about since the beginning of creation. The learned say that ignorance of the Immortal Self is death. My view is that false knowledge causing unawareness of the Self is the real death. Awareness of the Self is immortality. Ignorance comes from the ego and manifests itself as death, desire and delusion. This false knowledge is believed in, so the knowledge of the Supreme Soul is lost.
“Those who are thus deluded depart from this world at the death of the body but must return, for the performance of action causes attachment to its results. Thus the embodied soul gets attached to the senses, loses the means of uniting itself with the Supreme Soul and undergoes repeated cycles of birth and death. Such action cannot produce immortality.
“This attachment to sense-life causes delusion. Delusion causes attachment to the impermanent and the ephemeral. This is death. It is this that causes us to forget our real nature.
“Attention fixed upon sense-life causes desire, and desire fulfilled leads to endless repeating, or if thwarted causes unhappiness and anger. The wise do not get lost in sense-life and so are not subject to desire, anger and death.
“Those who realize the impermanence, impurity and suffering inherent in sense-life give it up and overcome death. Those wise ones are free of impelling desire. Others, engrossed in the senses alone and identified with the body, destroy the knowledge of the Self. One who is desire-free destroys karma—good and bad—and so becomes free of birth and death.
“Those immersed in sense-life and identified with the body live in darkness so deep that they do not realize it. Their life is hollow and without significance, for those who make a God of worldly life and do not study the scriptures are already dead.
“By realizing the Supreme Soul death is conquered, while death conquers those identified with bodily life only.”
“Does the karma of our good actions destroy the karma of the bad?”
“The wise who know the Supreme Self are free of both merit and sin, but others experience the fruit of both. When they die the fruits of their actions go with them and they enjoy the results in heaven. The wise offer all their acts to God without cherishing desire for the fruits and so store merit that counteracts sin. They may then go to subtler celestial spheres and attain Self-knowledge, but others return to this world when the fruits of their actions are exhausted. Those who perform good actions without attachment to the fruits, offering them to the Lord, attain the highest knowledge.
“In life, they are quiet and humble. Few can recognize them. They like to retire to a quiet place and live simply, independent of all. They know that the Supreme Soul is beyond duality and relativity and cannot be an agent of action. The deluded, however, identifying the Supreme Soul with the gross or subtle bodies, make a grave error. Those wise ones who do not superimpose relative properties upon the Supreme Soul are free from sorrow, and are serene and humble. They are indifferent to praise and blame. They do not seek worldly riches but treasure the virtues extolled by the scriptures. They are unassailable and unshakable, for they are the embodiment of the grace of God. There are none greater in this world.
“Honor and humiliation may come to the wise, but they are indifferent to both. Those who seek honor and are attached to sense enjoyment only become entangled and bound.
“The wise know of six doors leading to the eternal bliss of the Supreme Soul, difficult to pass through. They are truth, rectitude, humility, sense control, purity and knowledge. They free the wise from pride and delusion.’
“O Sanatsujatiya, how can one practice this in this world?”
“All that you ask me O king, has austerity as its basis. It is through austerity that the knowers of the scriptures attain the Supreme, the Immortal.
“There are twelve defects, which, when overcome by austerity and discipline give rise to the twelve excellences which lead to Supreme knowledge. The defects are anger, lust, greed, delusion, indulgence in sense pleasures, lack of kindness, malice, pride, grief, attachment, envy and disgust. There are also seven kinds of wickedness such as being engrossed in worldliness, harassing others, being covetous, earning money dishonestly, defending incorrect knowledge, indulging in the senses, and cruelty to one’s spouse. These are as dangerous as wild beasts and should be avoided.
“The twelve excellences are knowledge of the truth, serving others, mind control, knowledge of the scriptures, absence of jealousy, abstaining from immoral acts, forbearance in happiness and misery, compassion, performance of sacrifices, giving gifts, avoiding temptations, and control of the senses. Those endowed with these qualities are blessed indeed. Even having some of these excellences one will attain knowledge of the Supreme for they lead to the eight merits of truth, meditation, concentration, inquiry, indifference to worldly objects, not stealing, celibacy, and abstention.
“O king! One should practice austerities free from defects and reap the fruit of abundant truth. Be one with truth! The worlds are established in truth. In truth is immortality.
“If one frees oneself from the bondage of the senses, their objects and the thoughts of past and future, then one is supremely happy. I have answered your questions O king!’
“But what of those who are wise in knowledge and understand all the scriptures?”
“Scriptures make the knowledge of the Supreme and the ways to it known, but the Supreme truth as one’s real nature is not realized by them. The cultivation of excellences may be motivated by covetousness and become ends in themselves. Also, all these things are in the realm of the known, but the realization of the truth is beyond the known.
“Therefore one should realize that desires leading to action obscure the Immortal Being, but when they are dropped and the attention is centered it is attained. The seer then becomes omniscient and immortal.”
“O Sanatsujatiya, you have spoken of the ways to the Supreme. Now please tell me of That which is little heard of in this world.”
“This knowledge is not easily acquired O king. It should be contemplated by the intuitive faculty of the mind in one pointed concentration achieved by self-discipline. It comes to those who are devoted to their Guru, for practicing the disciplines the Guru teaches leads to immortality. The Guru shows how to separate the body and mind from the Supreme Soul and remain centred there. It is said, ‘the parents give birth to the body but the Guru gives life everlasting’ – therefore the disciple should revere, honor and serve the Guru. Only then does this knowledge I am about to reveal become fruitful.
“The Immortal Being is not in earth or in heaven and has no color or form. It does not abide in the scriptures or hymns but is realized as the Self by those who possess the twelve excellences. It is beyond affirmation and negation, is subtler than the subtlest, greater than the greatest. Everything exists in It. The knower of the Supreme Soul realizes Him by the Yoga of knowledge and becomes immortal. It is pure effulgence of great splendor. It is worshiped by the Gods. Because of It the sun shines. The pure cause multiplies Itself and becomes the effect. No light can light It for It is That which lights all other lights. The wise say that the Supreme Soul, which is fullness, becomes the individual soul which is fullness. Fullness is not diminished.
“As everything has its existence in space, as have waves in water, so this entire universe exists in Immortal Being and at the end of the cycle of creation is dissolved back into the Eternal. That effulgent being is eternal, free from birth, suffering, old age and death. The gross, subtle and causal worlds are that Being’s chariot; the wise ones are Its wheels. The controlled senses of the wise, turned inward, take them to the Light. This Immortal Being is beyond the senses, world and analogy, though the pure in heart, mind and intellect, can realize the truth and become immortal.
“Others are like the honeybee which flies from flower to flower engrossed in seeking nectar. Similarly, embodied beings go from life to life, transmigrating in the subtle body which is the attribute of the Primeval Being. That is the Lord of everything. It enters into every being though only the wise see the Eternal shining in the temporal.
“Others, engrossed in the life of the senses suffer repeated births and deaths. In their infatuation for the senses they deny their real nature. They cannot see that the Supreme Self is their real nature. The Supreme Self is the same in the ignorant as in the wise, the same in liberation or bondage, but only those who practice spiritual disciplines attain the Source of Bliss.
“There is no death for those who are one with truth. For them there is no mortality or immortality, no reality or non-reality, no being or non-being, for they transcend all the opposites.
“The Supreme Soul abides in the realm of the heart, though it manifests the universe. From It are born the five elements, the enjoyer and the enjoyed, energy, mind and body. Hence It supports all beings. It is immortal and glorious. All beings are born in It and at death merge into It once more. So great is It that It supports the earth, heaven, the universe, soul, and God.
“Those with a pure mind, free from attachment and aversion become illumined by It, though It is beyond sight. They see the same Self in all beings and know no sorrow, delusion or misery. Awareness of the Supreme Self is all-fulfilling, ever-new joy, for it is oneness with all existence. • • •
RUSSELL ATKINSON, a retired Naturopath and teacher of Hatha and Raja Yoga, is associated with the Ramakrishna Vedanta Societies in Australia. THEAKO@WESTNET.COM.AU