Many times I have been asked by friends, acquaintance and strangers on how I can read a serious text on Vedanta. When I would suggest a particular text to someone for reading – very often I am met with surprised looks as if I am suggesting to them a text in Greek or Latin. In one such encounter last week, I heard yet again someone tell me that they feel they are not yet prepared (in fact the word they used was eligible) for such serious reads. This set a thought in motion – Is there a way to understand and choose a right book. While I have picked books in both Vedanta and Business based on the interest that the subject under examination evinces from me, I was sure there ought to be a better formula. Especially in area like Vedanta where the central theme remains the same, how does then one choose and connect with a particular text? Are there truly eligibility criteria for studying certain texts? And not too surprisingly I found the answers to these in a material I was reading related to the subject.
Study of any Vedantic text is influenced by four preliminary consideration which are known through the term ‘Anubandha-Catustaya’ . The four considerations are also explained in every text of the vedantic repository – to ensure when you pick one to study – it is the most appropriate one for you. The four considerations are:
1. ‘Adhikari’ – Person qualified to receive the knowledge in the text
All texts of Vedanta from the ‘prakarana-granthas’ or introductory texts to the ‘Upanisads’ or the highest texts on the subject, state at the beginning of their writing who the ideal student for the study is. It is very interesting that this description contains qualities that are present in the ideal seeker. When one reads this, he/she must not misunderstand that all others are not eligible to study the text. It should be understood that as one prepares to initiate study into the text, they must attempt to develop and hone those qualities suggested for the study. This also only suggests that a person with these qualities will receive the maximum benefit from the text.
Example: In ‘Atma-bodha’ the author Sri Adi Sankara clearly states the qualities of the ideal seeker for the book namely: pure of heart, peaceful and calm, free from worldly cravings and desirous of Liberation.
2. ‘Visaya’ – the subject matter under consideration
All texts of Vedanta also clearly state the scope of the text up front. This is the subject matter that is being discussed in the text.
Example: The ‘Atma-bodha’ itself clearly states the intent or subject matter of the text namely ‘Self Knowledge’.
3. ‘Prayojana’ – the result or ‘phala’ out of the study
Any study is done for some result. This is the third element that is stated at the beginning of all works. What will the seeker get when he / she completes the successful study of the text? This is the ‘phala’ or ‘prayojana’.
Example: In ‘Atma-bodha’, the result of study for the sincere seeker is ‘moksha’ or Liberation.
4. ‘Sambandha’ – the relationship between the subject and the Text
This fourth element is slightly subtle to understand. This element describes the relationship between the subject matter or ‘visaya’ and the text or ‘grantha’. It may surprise the first time reader as to why such a relationship needs to be explained. Analogy: You are hungry and there is food all around. If you do not know that food is the solution for hunger, you will not seek it and keep searching. In a similar fashion, the relationship between the subject and the book is explained so as to motivate us to take action of picking up the text.
Example: In ‘Atma-bodha’ the word ‘vidhiyate’ explains this relationship between the subject and the text. The relationship described is ‘jiva-brahma-aikya’ or the identity of self with Brahman. Once the student knows that the purpose of the study is to attain moksha, which can be achieved through the understanding of the ‘jiva-brahma-aikya’ and he / she also knows that the ‘Atma-bodha’ is expounding this same subject, it motivates the seeker to carry forward the study with even more perseverance.
Most of the time, the above four aspects of ‘anubandha-catustaya’ is misunderstood as eligibility criteria for study. On the contrary if we understand that these are pre-requisites, then we can take them positively as qualities to be concentrated upon before we begin study. We will also ensure that we analyze the texts and the subject matter under consideration before we begin detailed study. All of this is important for the student because it helps them choose the right text for learning and also prepare themselves as suggested before getting onto the study.
The journey of discovering one’s SELF is something that is a highly personalized journey. The choice of the right text, and preparation by us to study it in earnest can propel us in the right direction and with the right speed!