All aspects of birth and death, our own and the effect of other people's upon us, together with the meaning of the subject in relation to the whole cosmos are covered in this book, compiled from questions and answers taken from discourses with His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati.
(Paperback, 95 pages)
(Scroll down to see review below.)
The book is a compilation of answers to questions put to Shantanand Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math (1953-1980) by Dr Francis Roles and members of the Study Society who accompanied him on visits to Shantanand's Ashram in India.
This book may be merely a brief 63 pages in length but the quality of the material in it makes it quite precious, not least because the Advaitic philosophy of birth and death have never been revealed in this profound mind-transforming way before, changing old attitudes, converting fear and grief into joy and happiness, as well as de-mystifying ages of obscurity on the subject.
Shantanand examines the fear of death, suggesting that there is nothing to fear if you fulfil the purpose of having a human life... which is to open your inner eye and see your real Self. Why? because the individual is part of the Absolute and is eternal as long as the Absolute is eternal... which of course is timeless. It is only because of slavery to Maya that this is not realized. If realized, one would be happy. We have forgotten who we are... and the only solution is self-remembering.
Shantanand’s exposition of Advaita philosophy took the form of some direct teaching of its principles mixed with an endless supply of stories which contain allegories and meanings the listener has to work at to discover the insights they innocently contain. The book is a repository of several delightful yet enigmatic stories, which play upon the advaitic principle that everything is the opposite to what it appears. There are stories about a neglected grandfather, about an African money-lender whose loan to an Indian had to be returned, a story about Krishna as a child, etc all of which have profound subtle meanings concerning attachment, the influence of wrong customs, and the difference between ordinary and divine births. Shantanand reveals it is Maya which makes things appear the opposite to what they are.
Other teachers of Advaita have intimated before that the world is a show, simply a theatrical production being performed all around one, in truth you, the Self, and in fact no one, is ever born nor ever dies, and that birth and death are merely the appearance and disappearance of forms in time, but Shantanand teaches these ideas with a gentle warmth and love which few have ever manifested before. The book explains the reason why we appear to be endlessly born and reborn, and the forces which maintain this cycle, as well as the factors determining the next life. Shantanand frequently intimates the necessity of coming within a circle of good company to have the possibility of escaping the flux of movement which runs through creation, and of finding moments of stillness in which things are seen as they are. Therefore by regarding the increasing of stillness as practical work, known as sadhana, the book contains many subtle suggestions for work towards self realization, for those who are drawn towards it.
Shantanand intimates that all one can do is prepare oneself for death, since it is natural for whatever is born to face death, which is simply the conscious discarding of the body, a process resembling the throwing away of worn and torn clothes. The final part of the book discusses the idea that there is no time limit for self realization, which takes as long as it takes, but once the connection has been made there is always a guide who stays with the disciple until Self Realization is reached. So ends a book which has the power to dispel many ancient illusions.
J W | Neath, Wales | May 2013