Upadesa Pancakam – III

उपदेश पञ्चकम्

Upadeśa pañcakam of Ādi Śaṅkarācārya – Part III

S. Yegnasubramanian



In the third sloka that was discussed in the previous article, the author dwelt upon the instructions for Vanaprasthasrama and briefly mentioned about śravaṇam, mananam and nidhidhyāsanam.

क्षुद्व्याधिश्च चिकित्स्यतां प्रतिदिनं भिक्षौषधं भुज्यतां

स्वाद्वन्नं न तु याच्यतां विधिवशात् प्राप्तेन सन्तुष्यताम् ।

शीतोष्णादि विषह्यतां न तु वृथा वाक्यं समुच्चार्यताम्

औदासीन्यमभीप्स्तां जनकृपानैष्ठुर्यमुत्सृज्यताम् ॥ ४ ॥

The author adds some more instructions in this verse, which are conducive to nidhidhyāsanam, particularly regarding the  fundamental needs of life.  Because, whether one is a jñāni or ajñāni, gṛhastā or sanyāsi, food is a must. The Acharya  considers here a sanyāsi. He says,

क्षुद्व्याधि — here, the author is considering hunger as though it is a disease because,

  1. Both cause uneasiness
  2. Both require remedy – medicine or food
  3. Both are taken only when there is a need
  4. Both are used to the extent to remove the disease
  5. In both, taste is not given importance

So He says,

क्षुद्व्याधिश्च चिकित्स्यतां, प्रतिदिनं  — may you treat the disease of hunger regularly.  How?

भिक्षौषधं भुज्यताम्  —  by taking the medicine of bhikṣā. And if he is a gṛhastā, he can also observe some rules – like,

  1. Eating only when you are hungry
  2. Eating only to satiate the hunger
  3. Eating without complaining about taste, and

स्वाद्वन्नं न तु याच्यताम्  — may you not ask for delicious dishes, which encourage dehābhimāna (body-consciousness). In the previous slokas, the author said, “dehe ahaṃ mati rujyatāṃ”. And,

विधिवशात् प्राप्तेन सन्तुष्यताम् — may you be satisfied with whatever comes by chance, and in this context, vidhi means prārabdha.

Both jñāni and sanyāsi have got prārabdha;  so whatever prārabdha brings, may you be satisfied with that. This is with respect to food.

शीतोष्णादि विषह्यताम्  — may you put up with the opposite experiences, like heat and cold. In the Gita, the Lord said, nir-dvandva: to be free from pairs of opposites such as – hot/cold, victory/defeat, gain/loss, birth/death, association/disassociation, praise/disgrace, which depend upon time, space, and prārabdha.

Previously, the Acharya gave instruction regarding the eating tongue; now He gives, another instruction regarding the talking tongue. He says,

वृथा वाक्यं न तु समुच्चार्यताम्  —  may you not utter even a single word without necessity.

As the saying goes, when it is not necessary to talk, it is very much necessary –  not to talk! All spiritual sādhanās, begin from the tongue.

yogasya prathamadvāraṃ vāṅnirodhaḥ  —  In general, one should say a word which has been well edited, processed and well monitored. Even if one wants to tell something, one should make sure whether the listener values one’s words. There is nothing wrong to try to communicate. But it should be given up if the listener has no value for it.

जनकृपानैष्ठुर्यमुत्सृज्यताम्  —

  • janakṛpā — love/compassion of people. Some set of people may love you, admire, glorify you, and
  • naiṣṭhuryam — another set of people may be cruel to you; may be critical. For example,  even Lord Krishna was not spared; some people like Sishupala criticized Lord Krishna. Similarly Rama also was criticized by people. When Rama and Krishna  themselves are not spared, what to talk of an ordinary person!

औदासीन्यमभीप्स्ताम्  — may you desire to remain aloof and not join any groups, which are typical symptoms of saṃsāra – expressed as, audāsīnyam here;

audāsīnyam or udāsīna bhāva  –People may put one in various groups – that one cannot help. But one should not consciously get involved in groupism. This becomes more important in the case of a sanyāsi.  So one can love all;  move will all; but not join any group. People may love one or hate one;  but one should make sure not to develop rāga or dveśa, towards any of them. So,

utsṛjyatām  — may you forget all such treatments without clinging on to them.


एकान्ते सुखमास्यतां परतरे चेतः समाधीयतां

पूर्णात्मा सुसमीक्ष्यतां जगदिदं तद्बाधितं दृश्यताम् ।

प्राक्कर्म प्रविलाप्यतां चितिबलान्नाप्युत्तरैः श्लिष्यतां

प्रारब्धं त्विह भुज्यताम् अथ पर, ब्रह्मात्मना स्थीयताम् ॥ ५ ॥


In the previous sloka, Sankaracharya gave certain instructions which are complimentary to nidhidhyāsana. They are supportive sādhanās – the primary one being dwelling upon the teaching. If one follows those instructions, the mind will remain poised or tranquil and the mind will become free from extravert thinking. That means, the mind will get quality time, and during such times, the Acharya says,

एकान्ते सुखमास्यताम्  — may you be seated in a secluded place so that one is not bothered by any one, and

परतरे चेतः समाधीयताम्  — may you fix your mind upon the supreme Brahman

(cetaḥ — mind; samādhīyatām — may you fix)

पूर्णात्मा सुसमीक्ष्यताम् — may you see the fact that ātmā  is ever pūrṇaḥ. That means, one doesn’t miss or lack anything in life.

Then what  about the world?  As long as the world – anātmā is there, ātmā cannot be pūrṇaḥ. Because they both will constitute duality. So, as long as I see the world anātmā as diff from me, I, the ātmā will be limited.  And so Sankara says, may you negate anātmā, the world, in the vision of ātmā. Then, how is it possible? By having the vision that ātmā as cause – kāraṇam which is satyam, and seeing the anātmā as mithyā. So, He says,

जगदिदं तद्बाधितं दृश्यताम्  — May you negate this  world by the vision of ātmā.

tad bādhitaṃ — tena ātmanā bādhitaṃ dṛśyatām — may you see this very clearly and this alone Sankara has said:

brahma satyaṃ jaganmithyā
jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ |
anena vedyaṃ sacchāstram
iti vedānta ḍiṇḍimaḥ ||

And once a person has pursued nidhidhyāsanam, for sufficient length of time, then the jñānam becomes established in oneself. and then, this vision becomes spontaneous without requiring any more effort. As spontaneous as the knowledge of oneself as a human being or a male or female,  ahaṃ brahmāsmi also becomes as spontaneous, and that is called jīvan muktiḥ. At this stage, even nidhidhyāsanam is not required any more.

In the last two lines, Sankaracharya  instructs to lead a life of a jīvan muktiḥ and then, at the time of death, one becomes a videha muktaḥ also. To help us understand jīvan muktiḥ and videha muktiḥ, Sankaracharya introduces the three-fold karmās, namely, saṃcita karmā, āgāmi karmā and prārabdha karmā. The following principles constitute the law of karma:

  1. Every action has got two types of results, known as, the dṛṣṭa-phalam, the visible result and the adṛṣṭa-phalam, the invisible result.
  2. The invisible result or the adṛṣṭa- phalam is of two types su-adṛṣṭa or puṇya and the other is dur-adṛṣṭa called pāpa.
  3. Which action produces puṇya or pāpa is determined by śāstrās only.
  4. Puṇya and pāpa will later give pleasurable and painful experiences respectively.
  5. The gap or the duration required for puṇya or pāpa to produce the respective experiences, is unpredictable by us – it is inherent in them.  It is like different seeds sprouting after different  duration of time. Because, that being the nature of the seed, it cannot be questioned.
  6. Since the time taken cannot be predicted, some of the puṇyapāpa, may not fructify throughout this janmā, because of which, an individual dies with puṇyapāpa balance.
  7. For experiencing the balance puṇyapāpa, one requires punar-janmā – which is only a natural extension. However,  in the next janmā, even though one exhausts some of the puṇyapāpa, one also acquires some more, thus accumulating more puṇyapāpa. Thus every jīvā, has got a huge stock of puṇyapāpa, accumulated in countless janmās ,which is called saṃcita puṇyapāpa or saṃcita karmā.
  8. Out of that huge bundle of saṃcita puṇyapāpa, only a portion gets ready for fructification, and that portion  is called prārabdha saṃcita puṇyapāpa or prārabdha karmā, which alone is responsible for the present birth, present type of body, male or female, healthy or sick, born to rich or poor parents and even the duration of life.
  9. And when one  exhausts the prārabdha, whatever fresh puṇyapāpa one acquires, is called āgāmi. And in the āgāmi also, some portion may fructify in this janmā itself and some may not, which will join the saṃcita bundle at the time of death. Thus, prārabdha and a part of āgāmi are experienced in this janmā.
  10. After death, from saṃcita bundle, another portion fructifies, which will become prārabdha – and punarapi maraam punarapi jananam cycle of an ignorant person continues for ever.

Since the subject is about  the law of adṛṣṭa-phalam, it has not yet been scientifically proved. Thus the law of karma is accepted by us based on the śāstric teaching only. The acceptance of the law of karmā has got many advantages:

  • The law of karma alone can explain the disparities in the world. They may be attributed to genetics which will lead to the question, why should the genetics be like that? So, the law of karma helps in explaining the differences  in humans or animals etc.
  • The law of karma helps in accepting some of the painful experiences for which we don’t see any immediate reason. If one can see the reason, law of karma is not even required . Often we are not able to see  any reason;  in such cases, the law of karma will point out, that it is the prārabdha, which is the result of the past life that is fructifying now. The effect is visible now, but the cause is not; and so, one doesn’t feel any injustice in one’s suffering.
  • If one accepts the law of karma, one can take charge of one’s  future; because one knows that one alone  is  responsible for the  present condition because of  past action. It is not determined by fate, or chance or god, but is determined by oneself. Present “me” is the product of past “me”, and the future “me” will the product of the present “me”. And therefore one can take charge of one’s future. If the law of karma is not accepted, every thing has to be explained based on chance; and if everything is in chance, then the future also will be determined by chance, then, why should one work for at all? It will be all chance; and, so law of karma helps one  to understand that one has  a free will to determine one’s future.
  • We can introduce moral order in society only with the help of the law of karma. Because, in society, many times, the moral, righteous, conscientious ones often suffer, while many other immoral ones seem to enjoy. When one understands that these are driven by prārabdha, these disparities can be also appreciated. This is with respect to an ajñāni.

In the case of a jñāni,  the Acharya says,

प्राक्कर्म प्रविलाप्यतां चितिबलात्  — citi balaṃ means jñānbalaṃ – by the strength of knowledge, may you burn, destroy

pravilāpyatāṃ means may you dissolve – what?

prākkarma — saṃcita karmā; so, may you dissolve all the saṃcita karmā by the strength of knowledge; like a dreamer dissolving all the dream-karmās by waking up.

Then what about āgāmi karmās?

नाप्युत्तरैः श्लिष्यतां —  may you not be affected by by the āgāmi karmā, because of your egolessness – ahaṅkāra abhāvāt –  just as the lotus leaf is not affected by the water, even though it is in the midst of water.

Here  uttaraiḥ means  āgāmi karmābhiḥ. śliṣyatāṃ — may you not be tainted.

Thus, saṃcita is burnt; and one has insulated from āgāmi also. The karmā will produce phalam in the relative world, but this jnani will not be wet by that.  Then what about the prārabdha?

प्रारब्धं त्विह भुज्यताम् — may prārabdha be experienced  by you in this janmā itself; and so, the  experiences of pain and pleasure will be there,  but the jñāni does not claim them as his experiences because, he does not consider himself as the secondary illuminator – ahaṅkārā, but owns up his nature of primary illuminator, the ātmā,  in front of which awareness all  these experiences will appear insignificant.

So,  a jñāni also goes thru the same type of problems,  but because of his higher vision, the sufferings lose their dimension, and appear very small. Upto this is jīvan muktiḥ – now, the author talks about videha muktiḥ.

अथ — there after; i.e when the prārabdha has been exhausted,

परब्रह्मात्मना स्थीयताम् — may you remain eternally as param brahma. Because, what has gone is ahaṅkāra – the mind, body complex.  But  jñāni is not the ahaṅkāra, but  is the primary illuminator, Brahman. Just as after breaking a pot, still the space continues; similarly, after the death of the jñāni’s body, the primary illuminator, ātmā, continues. The difference is, previously when the pot was around, the space was given a name, pot-space; when the pot is broken, only the name is withdrawn – but space remains. Similarly, when the body is around, the ātmā is given a specific name,  so-and so –  title etc., and when that is gone, that name is withdrawn – but ātmā continues. Therefore the Acharya says,  parabrahmātmanā sthīyatām — may you remain for ever as Brahman. This is videha muktiḥ, which is the final accomplishment.

To summarize, the Acharya talked about  four stages –

  1. Brahmacarya-āśrama   –    veda adhyayanam
  2. Gṛhasta – āśrama –   karmayoga
  3. Vānaprastha-āśrama – upāsana, and
  4. Sanyasa-āśrama – śravaṇam-manana-nidhidhyāsana- jñānayoga

Once a person goes thru all these four stages, he attains jīvan muktiḥ and videha muktiḥ. Whether a person physically goes through stages are not, one has to mentally go through.

Thus is concluded the sādhana pañcakam or upadeśa pañcakam of Adi Sankaracharya.

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