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Four Birds in One Sloka: Adi Sankara and Nature

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Adisankara 3.jpg

By S.Swaminathan

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).

Green Cockroach

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.

Ankola Tree

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.

Contact authorat : [email protected] or [email protected]

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

Sri Sankara is known for quoting commonplace examples to explain intricate
Advaitic philosophy. In all his granthas and bhasyas, he has handled many

Here are some examples "

1. If you say 'medicine, medicine ', your illness will not be cured. You will have to
take the medicines to cure the disease. By mere words or scriptures, you wont
realise your self. You will have to do sadhana and experience it. ( Viveka choodamani)
2.When you wear a necklace but have forgotten to notice it and search every
where you wont find it. It is there with you always. Likewise do not search for
Atma outside. It is there in you. ( Atma bodha )
3. When you stand before a mirror, you can see your prathibimbam. But, if the
mirror is broken, you cant see your reflection, but you are safe and are not
broken. Likewise Atma is ever present in purest form.
4. In upadesa sahasri, he quotes the example of ten people, who are ignorant.
After they cross the river, they count to see whether all of them have safely
crossed the river. He doesn't count himself, but count all the others . They are only
nine. Fortunately an old man who was passing by sees their confusion and
tells them to count again including the man who counts. Then they are satisfied
that they are ten. This is sheer ignorance and the passer-by is the Guru who
guides them.

There are many in almost all his works. It will be a big thesis. Oyster shell and
silver, rope and snake, mud and the various pots made out of it are all the common
examples used in Advaita vedanta.
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Dear Sri Ranganathan


Your fourth point has given me some new information.This story was used by Veeramamunivar in his Paramartha Guru KathaikaL. He came from Europe to India to spread Christianity in Tamilnadu and changed his name. I thought that was his original idea.

All your quotes make very interesting reading. I am not very proficient in Sanskrit.I need someone's help to distinguish between two great Sankaras: Adi Sankara and Abhinava Sankara. If any one is well versed in Sanskrit, that person can differentiate between the writings of Two Sankaras. This will clear the misunderstanding about the age of Sankara.

In my post "Sankara's age through Tamil literature", I have proved he lived before Christ (in BC).Kanchi Paramacharya also argued the same way.But Sringeri and other Mutts differ.But one thing is very clear: whether he lived yesterday or two thousand years ago, he is one of the greatest philosophers the world has ever seen.
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