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One Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction

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Item Code: NAU764
Author: Nataraja Guru
Publisher: Narayana Gurukula, Kerala
Language: English
Edition: 2006
Pages: 300
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 290 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

South India’s prominent seer and revaluator of ancient wisdom, Narayana Guru (1854-1928) composed a number of mystical texts to elaborate his revaluations. The best known of these is Atmopadesa Satakam (One Hundred Verses of Self Instruction). It embodies a holistic philosophy embracing all aspects of existence, consciousness and value sense. The Guru is recognized today as one of the most important masters and catalysts for change in India’s history.

About the Author

Nataraja Guru (Dr. P. Natarajan MALT, DL it (Paris), MRST) was a direct disciple of Narayana Guru. His contribution to philosophy is in his reinterpreting Brahmavidya, the ancient traditional wisdom of India, as An Integrated wisdom Science of the Absolute understandable in terms familiar to the modern science.

The present commentary tries to look at Atmopadesa Satakam more from the side of Western Philosophy than from the Eastern, while not losing sight of the sweetness and profoundity of the latter.


One Hundred philosophical verses constituting a wisdom text of rare value written by the Guru Narayana (1854-1928) in Malayalam, are presented here for the first time in a modern English translation with suitable comments by one of his disciples.

The text is entitled Atma-Upadesa, which means teaching about or of the Self. The subject of the work is contemplative Self-realization or "knowing oneself’ as better understood in the Socratic context, as pertaining to the central problem of wisdom itself.

Instead of being in the form of a dialogue, as is more usually the case either in India or in ancient Greece, as between a teacher and a pupil, the two counterparts involved in the wisdom teaching situation are brought more unitively together here by the Guru. This is perhaps more consistent both with the matter and the method of the unitive wisdom treated in this "century of verses" or satakam, as it is named here.

The poet Bharthari has similar verse sequences known in the Sanskrit tradition. Sankara’s Atma-bodha and Upadesa-Sahasri are also kindred compositions. Highly reminiscent of this form of writing too, are the works of Tamil poets such as Tevdram (Garland of God) and Tiruvasagam (Holy Sentences) of the Nalvars (Four Saints) so popular in South India. The Bhagavad Gita also, a song and a science at once, pertaining to the Absolute, does not fall outside the class of composition intended by the Guru in this instance. The present composition is thus a wisdom discourse addressed to and about one’s own Self. Further, as we shall explain presently with reference to the text of the very first verse, the author has in mind a work of a scriptural or canonical status wherein he seeks to present a revaluation of the whole field of wisdom. It is meant to be both scientifically precise and capable of being chanted as an elevating scripture like the Vedas themselves, by the less strictly intellectual or merely academic votary of "Self-knowledge."

The nature of the opening verse calls for some preliminary remarks. There is a tacit Sanskrit convention which requires that the first words should indicate the content, relation and subject-matter of the whole work succinctly, and indicate clearly the kind of approach and the nature of the problems envisaged. It is usual also in works of a serious kind in India, either to bow down to the Guru or to invoke God or some principle representing the Absolute or the Most High, in one form or another. In Kalidasa’s Sakuntalam, the very first verse has been subjected to a most elaborate scrutiny in the light of such a convention. It 1s also permitted to omit addressing a definite member of the Hindu pantheon by name, and to allude only indirectly (as in Sakuntalam) to some hidden principle, representative of the Absolute, according to the authors’s original concept. Buddhist works refer to "the Enlightened One" in various forms. Sankara’s Vivekachidadmani begins by invoking his Guru’s name.

The Guru Narayana is able to conform to these tacit conventions in a manner which both conforms and bypasses its demands in a delicate and distinctive middle way which is all his own. The first letter with which the work begins is the vowel "A" which, according to the Gita (X. 33) represents the Absolute. The pointed reference to repeated prostrations to the Absolute subjectively and objectively conceived at once in the first verse, fulfils the requirements of an initial invocation without doing so in any closed theological or deistic sense. The dignity of philosophy is not compromised by the demands of any theology which might not be fully in keeping with the "‘free critic" that a man should correctly consider himself to be.

The purpose and scope of the work, as also the central question, the problem or the doubt it confronts us with as a whole requires to be clearly indicated, also according to classical Indian convention. Here too the Guru satisfies this tacit requirement masterfully. One notices here that the central substantial core in oneself referred to in the opening verse, lends itself to be considered both as the subject- matter as well as the object-matter of the philosophy of the Guru at one and the same time. Duality is thus not only avoided but unity established by means of the neutral normative notion of the Absolute which is adorable in, through and by oneself.

The neutral unitive Absolute, irrespective of any cosmological, psychological or theological bias, thus occupies a central place in the work. The task that the Guru places before himself in the ninety eight intervening verses, is to arrive once more, after facing all relevant problems, in the hundredth verse, at a unitive and neutral experiential awareness of the Absolute. A close vision of the Self would be the compensation for the strenuous effort that the study of these verses might have cost the student when he finally is able to put down the book and see everything in it in its perfect perspective and symmetry.

The luminous and illuminating Self conceived thus non-dually is not merely of passing academic interest. It must hold the centre of all human interest when all other interests have given place to better ones in the spiritual progress of man. The adorable Absolute Value would be represented by the Self, while it would banish philosophical doubts of a merely intellectual order.

Such are some of the initial ideas with which we have to launch our study of this philosophical masterpiece of our time. It lends itself as the basis of a new world outlook which is neither Eastern nor Western, neither ancient nor modern, neither academic nor religious, neither pragmatic nor sentimental. Let the Guru be praised for such an open and dynamic outlook, is the note of prayer with which we shall ourselves enter here into the actual task of translation and comment, in a spirit of leisurely detachment. We shall adhere as near to the original text as permissible without making readability suffer, and we shall comment generally and textually, item by item, giving Eastern or Western references, thus bringing the discussions into line and up-to-date.


The one hundred verses of this book have their original in Malayalam verses from the pen of Narayana Guru himself. Narayana Guru’s earliest writings were clothed in a mythological language de- pending much on the gods or goddesses of what is sometimes called the Hindu pantheon including Siva, Vishnu, Subrahmanya or Kali. Even in those, the case for Advaita Vedanta could be seen showing itself from behind, as it were, the thin superficial veneer of a conventional style adopted by him evidently for purposes of the common devotee to whom he had necessarily to address himself in those temple-movement days. Later years gave a more positivist orientation to his writings and getting rid even of the esoteric implied in his Siva-Satakam (One Hundred Verses to Siva).

We see him in this present work attaining to a philosophical context of Self-realization rather than that of adoration of any deity, steering clear of local or traditional colorations. He approximates thus for the first time to the open and dynamic style of the Upanishads themselves where the teachings centre round the absolute value called Self or the Atman and not any god to adore as hitherto. An open reference to the Upanishads could even be found in verse 14. This work of the Guru thus emerges early in his writing career fully echoing the spirit of the Upanishads, where the centre of interest or value moves, as it were, from an outside locus into the domain of the Absolute Self. The limitations of the understanding of the devotees to whom these verses had to cater, however, kept him within the limits of a religious scriptural form without gaining a fuller status as an open and critical philosophical work as revealed only later in such works as Brahmavidya-Pancakam and the Darsana-Madld, which are the more finalized fruits of his life of contemplation of the Absolute from all the three perspectives of cosmology, theology and psychology. Even the voice of obligation in which a certain course of behavior, faith or understanding, whether ethical or religious, is not transcended here. It is in fact a confection in which the Upanishadic teaching is treated also as a way of life. Such a way of life has a fully open and dynamic character, instead of being closed or static as in hide-bound religion or ethics.

The reader could profitably read the book by the present commentator The Philosophy of a Guru* which enables him to enter in the further implications of this work which is meant to be both a scriptural composition recommending a way of life as well as the clarification of the highest problems of Advaita Vedanta itself.

It would be helpful for the reader also to remember that the cryptic language which comes to evidence in almost every natural group of verses, inevitably yields up its secret when subjected to a structural analysis which we have recommended many times elsewhere. Esoteric will become lit up to have a fully scientific status when subjected to such a schematic scrutiny. If the verses or the comments should still retain a certain strangeness from conventional norms, the excuse could be found perhaps in the attempt to lay the foundations of a type of literature fully emancipated from the possible prejudices and mental conditions belonging to limited spheres of time or clime. Conventions cannot be respected side by side with an open, scientific or universal outlook.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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