Yoga, Enlightenment and Perfection
His Holiness Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Mahaswamigal was a pre-eminent sage and savant who adorned the Sringeri Sharada Peetham, estabished by Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada, as its 35th Pontiff. He was born on November 13, 1917, and was initiated into Samnyasa on May 22, 1931 by His Holiness Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahaswamigal, a thoroughly detached and introverted jIvanmukta (one liberated even while living). With the direct guidance of God and His Guru, He intensely engaged in spiritual practices right from the day of His saMnyAsa and these culminated in elightenment and establishment in the Supreme brahman on December 17, 1935. Acharyal had kept the details to Himself till decades later, when, in His infinite kindness, He made an exception and divulged them to the author, His disciple.
His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Mahaswamin, the 35th pontiff of Sringeri Sharada Peetham is best described by the following extract from the book itself.
About svanubhavah (realization of brahman) and brahmAtmana samsthithiH (firm establishment in brahman), which characterises jIvanmukti (liberation while living), occurring at one stroke for a renunciant, it is said in the vAsanAkShayaprakaraNa of the jIvanmukti vivekaH:
In the case of a person who has performed meditation to the extent of realizing the prescribed object of meditation [such as a form of God] and thereafter strives for knowledge of the Truth, by virtue of his firm obliteration of mental tendencies and dissolution of the mind, the renunciation of a knower (vidvat saMnyAsa) and jIvanmukti occur automatically on the dawn of the realization of the Truth. Such indeed is the person who is pre-eminently fit for enlightenment and considered by the scripture.
The book starts off with a benedictory foreword in Sanskrit, with an English translation, by the present Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Sringeri, Sri Bharathi Theertha Mahaswamin. The book details out in great depth the entire spiritual practices of His Holiness from the time of His renunciation in 1931 as a boy of 14 to its culmination in 1935 with His firm establishment in and as brahman. This period of four years shows the Acharya’s incredible practices in bhakti, karma yoga, specific yogic practices like kundalini yoga and nAda anusandhAna, intense reflection on vedAntic scriptures, how he initiated deep meditation and moved through savikalpa samAdhi and finally to nirvikalpa samAdhi. His Holiness had never divulged these practices for decades till He recounted them to the author, His disciple.
Since the events recounted in this book spans less than five years, for the benefit of seekers, the author has included an account of the whole life of His Holiness. This is from an essay penned by and a discourse given by the current Jagadguru Sri Bharathi Theertha about His Guru Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha. There is also an essay about the life of Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi, the 34th pontiff and the Guru of Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha since He played a pivotal role in shaping the spiritual practices of His Holiness. There is also a chapter on the childhood of the Acharya leading up to the point of His renouncing the world to enter into monkhood. The above form the first part of this amazing book.
Part II of the book contains a further 11 chapters each detailing various practices of the then young Guru. Each chapter begins with a background and the events that led to the contents of that particular chapter. The one on hatha yoga is the first among them. It recounts how Lord Shiva instructed the young renunciant on the intricacies of hatha yoga, in dreams, on seven successive nights starting with the very night of His taking to saMnyAsa. The entire chapter is peppered with quotations from authoritative yoga texts like the hatha yoga Pradipika and explanations of various Asana-s, bandha-s, pranayama etc. Practitioners of yogic disciplines will find this chapter a veritable treasure house of information.
The chapter on Devotion and karma yoga shows how the young Acharya was initiated into various mantra-s by His Guru and how he practiced karma yoga. There is also an appendix to this chapter containing an exposition of karma yoga through parables. A wonderful account of the Acharya consciously dedicating each and every action of His – daily – to the Lord is detailed beautifully here.
The chapter titled Exposure to kundalini yoga explains how the young Acharya’s first experience of kundalini and the various chakras happened. The Guru uses quotations with explanations from rare texts on kundalini yoga like the Shatchakra Nirupana of Purnananda, a yogi. This is followed by the chapter on how the He moved into dhyAna, Initiating deep meditation. This is followed by meditation and samAdhi on Divine Forms and Ascent of the kundalini and Descent of Nectar. The expositions are very detailed and as said earlier, practitioners of yoga and meditation will find this book to be a treasure trove.
Chapters 11 through 14 detail the account of how His Holiness moved from saguNa to nirguNa, the Lord with Forms to the Formless Reality. These chapters are named From Divine Forms to Formless Reality, Intense Reflection and Focus on brahman, Enlightenment and Establishment in brahman and ends with the chapter on how His Holiness played a human role while being firmly established in and as brahman for the rest on His earthly life. This last chapter is titled The Divine Drama that Followed. These chapters reveal how the Jagadguru’s intense contemplation on the non-dual brahman strictly conformed to traditional scriptural based reflections under the guidance of God and Guru. The Acharya takes a scriptural statement from, say, the Taittiriya Upanishad and dwells on it deeply, steadily but firmly destroying all doubts. These chapters are filled with detailed accounts of His incredible analyses of scriptural statements, His firm conviction in them, and then meditating upon them till He is firmly established in them.
Here is another extract. Even though Acharyal had been repeatedly sitting in nirvikalpa samAdhi, the pinnacle of yoga, He reflects deeply as follows:
‘Suppose a person who is adept at yoga, feels he is established in the Atman when he is in samAdhi but that he deviates to some extent from the Reality when he emerges from samAdhi and engages in activity. Such a person is not free from avidya. samAdhi and distraction are conditions of the mind and not of the atman. The atman is changeless and of the nature of consciousness. samAdhi and distraction do not affect it in anyway…He who has fully realized that he is the changeless Reality remains established in the Reality and unaffected regardless of whether his mind is in a focused, agitated or dull condition.
‘O son of Pandu, he (who has gone beyond the three guNa-s) neither dislikes illumination, activity and delusion (the effects of sattva, rajas and tamas respectively) when they appear, nor does he long for them when they disappear. (bhagavad gItA (XIV.22))’
I should confirm to these words of the Lord and not become attached to nirvikalpa samAdhi under the delusion that for its duration I become one with brahman…’
The author goes on to show how His Holiness even eschewed the need for nirvikapla samAdhi on the way to getting established in brahman. Many are such examples through out the book with quotations from the upaniShad-s, the bhagavad gItA, prakaraNa grantha-s like pa~nchadashi etc. The chapters on non-dual reflection and meditation are brilliant and could be used by readers as a practical guide on how to contemplate.
There are books on bhakti yoga, karma yoga and then there are books on vedAnta, j~nAna yoga. The uniqueness of Yoga, Enlightenment and Perfection…is how all three are integrated culminating in the firm establishment in Truth as seen in His Holiness. The entire book shows in a nice progressive way how the Sage moved from one stage of His spiritual practice to the next under the divine guidance of His Guru, who Himself was a jIvanmukta par excellence. If the chapters on yoga teach the intricacies of yoga, asana-s, bandha-s etc, the chapters on His vedAnta vichAra (reflection on vedAnta texts) shows how one should perform intense manana (reflection).
The last page of the book contains three verses composed on Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha by His own Guru, Jagadguru Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi. What could a more fitting testimony to His Holiness, the subject of this book, than these verses themselves!
This book is a must-have in one’s personal library. I give this book 5*