Kill two birds with one stone, goes the English saying. But Adi Sankara got four birds with one stone, nay, in one Sloka. The greatest exponent of Advaita philosophy was very close to Nature and none of his hymns goes without a simile about nature. His famous simile, rope and snake, occurs in scores of places in his Viveka Chudamani. He mentioned innumerable birds, animals, insects and plants. Some of them are very interesting because nobody knows the truth about those animals and plants. A superman, as he was, travelled several thousand miles by walk through the length and breadth of India.
Here is a hymn from his Sivanandalahari:
Lord of Gauri! As the swan loves the lotus bed, the Chataka bird the dark cloud, the Koka bird the sun every day and the Chakora bird, the moon –even so, O Lord of beings, my mind desires your lotus feet, which are to be reached through the path of knowledge, and which yield the bliss of perfection.
The longing of the devoted mind for god is compared to the longing of the Swan for the lotus tank, of the Cataka bird for the rain bearing clouds, of the Chakravaka bird for the sun and of Cakora bird for the moon. Swans feed on lotus stalks. Cataka birds are believed to drink only rain water. Chakravaka looks for sun light eagerly and Cakora birds are believed to live on moon light.
In another sloka of Viveka Chudamani (sloka 76) he says:
The deer, the elephant, the moth, the fish and the black bee—these five have died, being tied to one or other of the five senses, viz. sound etc., through their own attachment. What then is in store for man who is attached to all these five senses. (Deer by sound, elephant by skin, moth by light, fish by bait and bee by honey are trapped).
Shankara says some interesting thing about cockroach turning green in Viveka Chudamani sloka 358. The man who is attached to the Real becomes Real, through his one pointed devotion. Just as the cockroach thinking intently on the bhramara is transformed in to a brahmara. This is a popular belief that the cockroach, through fright, does actually turn green when caught by the worm known as Bhramarakita.
In Sivanandalahari (sloka 61),he says:
Just as the seeds of Ankola tree (azinjil in Tamil, Alangium hexapetalum) go and attach themselves to the tree, the needle sticks to the magnet, the chaste woman to her lord, the creeper to the tree and the river to the ocean, even so if the flow of mind reaches the lotus-feet of the Lord of souls and remains there always, that is called devotion.
Snake and Rope
Since the philosopher Pyrroh, who accompanied Alexander the Great to India and Kalidasa used Sankara’s favourite simile about rope and snake, Adi Sankara must have lived before these people. Sangam Tamil Literature also had indirect references to Sankara.
Sankara used Crocodile, Python, Silk worm, Cockroach, Fire fly, Tiger in addition to ocean, river and mountain to illustrate his teachings.
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Please read my other articles on the same subject:
1. Let Nature be your teacher: Wordworth and Dattatreya
2. Adi Shankara’s date through Tamil Literature (in Tamil)
3. Lie Detector in Upanishads
4. Animal Einsteins-part 1 and part 2