A Prayer for Absolute Knowledge Jñāna

A Prayer for Absolute Knowledge Jñāna

A unique hymn to the Goddess of Learning for material as well as spiritual wisdom

We have many hymns in our dharma for praying to the divine seeking benefits for physical life, such as wealth, health, longevity, offspring and victory. But there are few hymns that pray for only absolute knowledge and pure mind.

One such beautiful and powerful prayer is Kamalajadayita Ashtakam, a garland of eight verses addressed to Goddess Sarasvati as Devi Sharadamba, who embodies highest knowledge and wisdom. Kamalaja means the lotus born.

From Mahavishnu's navel, a lotus appeared, and on it appeared Brahma, the creator. Kamalaja-dayita refers to the beloved of Brahma, Sarasvati, the embodiment of knowledge.

The hymn was authored by Sri Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharati Mahaswamigal, the 3rd 33 Jagadguru of Sringeri Peetham.

With an extraordinary mastery of Sastras, this great personage shone as a great tapasvin and yogi. He established beyond doubt Kaladi as the birthplace of Adi Sankara, determined the actual site and consecrated a temple in his honour as well as for Sri Sharadamba. Kamalaja-dayita Ashtakam is an intense prayer of this yogi that is relevant for all spiritual seekers.

The hymn has eight slokas of four lines each. The first three lines in every verse glorify Vak Devi (the Goddess of Speech), and the fourth line is a refrain in all the verses ending as “Vidyam suddhamscha buddhim kamalaja-dayite satvaram dehi mahyam”, Oh darling of the lotus born, please give me readily the knowledge and pure intellect.

This repetition emphasises the importance of knowledge, and pure intellect which is essential to receive such knowledge, retain it and assimilate it. Naturally, it becomes essential to understand the true meaning of the word 'Knowledge' (Jñāna) and why it is important.

Three Pillars of Knowledge

Our sanatana dharma stresses that the purpose of human life is to attain liberation (moksha), and knowledge about Brahman is the only means of such attainment. This knowledge has three pillars: Atman, Brahman and Moksha.

While we are aware of our existence as the body, it needs a certain amount of contemplation to realise our existence as mind and intellect. The three factors, Body, Mind and Intellect, are like electrical appliances which cannot function without an activating energy. This energy that indwells all beings and activates the Body, Mind and Intellect is known as Atman. Without Atman, the body has no awareness.

This real Self or Atman is beyond the attributes associated with human beings in terms of race, gender, and nationality. Our scriptures declare that this vast energy of Atman does not have birth or death, even though the body takes birth and dies causing an endless cycle of life, death and rebirth, called the samsara.

Reflection of Brahman 

The scriptures declare that this individual energy of Atman is only a reflection of the grand reality, which is an omnipresent, eternal energy source that pervades the entire universe, going by the name Brahman. Brahman is the source of all that exists, but is itself devoid of any quality or form (nirguna, nirakara). There is the repeated scriptural declaration, “Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam Brahma”, meaning Brahman never changes, is knowledge, and is infinity. Taittiriya Upanishad describes Brahman as

“Know that from which all beings originate, emerge; That in which all beings rest; and That into which all beings finally merge - That is Brahman.”

Kena Upanishad describes Brahman beautifully as,

“That which speech does not illumine, but illumines the speech; that which cannot be thought by the mind, but by which mind is able to think; that which eye cannot see but by which eye is able to see.”

Adi Sankara has encapsulated the descriptions of Brahman as the soul existing in all beings, there being no difference between the Atman in the individual and the absolute Brahman pervading everything, everywhere. The Ultimate Liberation Moksha refers to the freedom of Atman from the cycle of birth and rebirth, signifying that liberation is the state of identifying oneself with Brahman.

Our scriptures emphasise that moksha is possible only when the individual sheds his false identification with the body, mind and intellect, and gains knowledge about  his true Self.

This realisation or identification is called Atmajnana, which is the same as Brahmajnana. Adi Sankara repeatedly says “It is knowledge and knowledge of Brahman alone which is the means of moksha”. He says in Viveka Chudamani that without knowing the supreme Reality, the study of the Sastras is futile. Once the supreme Reality is known, the study of the Sastras is equally futile.

It is thus clear that, not the knowledge of Brahman, but only the realisation or experiencing is possible. One cannot understand Brahman intellectually, it needs to be realised. Sankara holds that Brahman, although it is a reality, cannot be the object of perception and knowledge.

Our understanding of any fact is an intellectual process that  heavily depends on the sense organs, words of descriptions, examples etc. Because Brahman is beyond what sense organs can sense, beyond what any words can describe, beyond any comparison, efforts to understand Brahman intellectually is futile, and only realisation is possible.

The Upanishads make it clear that the higher knowledge of the Self is not to be gained by study of the scriptures or learning, nor through the intellect. The Self reveals itself to one who longs to know the Self. Sankara says anubhava is the pramāna, which alone enables one to have direct access to Brahman or the Absolute reality.

Appeal to the Goddess of Knowledge Here is where the seeker's bhakti or devotion to the higher power takes hold. As  the major hurdle in the path of a sadhaka is his attachment to the body-mind complex, this attachment needs to be attenuated, and ultimately got rid of.

Through spiritual practices such as Sadhana-chatushtaya, Atmanatma-viveka, and Nityanithya vastu viveka etc., there is a blossoming of such discrimination and wisdom that gradually leads the seeker to the direct experience of the Atman.

This is the path to knowledge that the Jagadguru shows through  the hymn Kamalaja-dayita Ashtakam. He prays for the knowledge that gives moksha. In addition to vidya, he is asking the Divine Mother to bless the devotee with chitta suddhi, a refined and pure intellect, which is a mind fit for reception, retention and internalisation of this knowledge. And, his prayer to Her is to grant this immediately, satvaram.

Householders' Dharma

It is difficult for householders to be totally free of the sense of possessiveness. For the same reason, grihasthashram continues to be a fertile field of bondage and misery. The householders should have constant association with saints to awaken and maintain the fire of higher life.

Sri Sankara has sung “satsanghatve nissangatvam” (detachment through attachment with the Enlightened). It is to grant this good fortune that paramahamsas constantly wander about with begging bowls. It is only contact with the detached that the attached people can become free of attachment.

by Janaradhanan

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