Adi Sankaracharya was in search of a guru. When he found one, the guru asked him – ‘who are you?’ Adi Sankaracharya replied by singing Niravana Shatkam. Nirvana Shatkam answered the question in six verses. The answer essentially meant ‘I am nothing but pure awareness and my true nature is everlasting joy’. The six verses elaborated this meaning in negative where Adi Shakaracharya described what he is NOT. He said ‘I am not my body nor intellect nor my surroundings, nor my relationships and so on’. In a way he dis-identified himself from everything physical and metaphysical that we as human beings know, can imagine or perceive about our existence. Here is Nirvana Shatkam in English transliteration and translation.

Niravana Shatkam is written in a very musical composed six verses and is a joy to listen. But does its meaning have any practical significance in today’s life of our youth and adults?

On first look the answer may seem to be a no. On closer look, I started to see a different picture and found it highly relevant for everyone in today’s busy life and that is what fascinated me and prompted me to write this article.

Here is Nirvana Shatkam in English transliteration and translation.
By Adi Sankaracharya, Translated by P. R. Ramachander

Mano budhyahankara chithaa ninaham,
Na cha srothra jihwe na cha graana nethrer,
Na cha vyoma bhoomir na thejo na vayu,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

Neither am I mind, nor intelligence ,
Nor ego, nor thought,
Nor am I ears or the tongue or the nose or the eyes,
Nor am I earth or sky or air or the light,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of nature knowledge and bliss

Na cha praana sangno na vai pancha vaayuh,
Na vaa saptha dhathur na va pancha kosa,
Na vak pani padam na chopastha payu,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

Neither am I the movement due to life,
Nor am I the five airs, nor am I the seven elements,
Nor am I the five internal organs,
Nor am I voice or hands or feet or other organs,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of nature knowledge and bliss

Na me dwesha raghou na me lobha mohou,
Madho naiva me naiva matsarya bhava,
Na dharmo na cha artha na kamo na moksha,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

I never do have enmity or friendship,
Neither do I have vigour nor feeling of competition,
Neither do I have assets, or money or passion or salvation,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of nature knowledge and bliss

Na punyam na paapam na soukhyam na dukham,
Na manthro na theertham na veda na yagna,
Aham bhojanam naiva bhojyam na bhoktha,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

Never do I have good deeds or sins or pleasure or sorrow,
Neither do I have holy chants or holy water or holy books or fire sacrifice,
I am neither food or the consumer who consumes food,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of nature knowledge and bliss

Na mruthyur na sankha na me jathi bhedha,
Pitha naiva me naiva matha na janma,
Na bhandhur na mithram gurur naiva sishyah,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

I do not have death or doubts or distinction of caste,
I do not have either father or mother or even birth,
And I do not have relations or friends or teacher or students,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of nature knowledge and bliss

Aham nirvi kalpo nirakara roopo,
Vibhuthwascha sarvathra sarvendriyanaam,
Na chaa sangatham naiva mukthir na meyah
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

I am one without doubts , I am without form,
Due to knowledge I do not have any relation with my organs,
And I am always redeemed,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of nature knowledge and bliss

This article deals with my interpretation of Niravana Shatkam with focus on its relevance in modern life. It is encouraged that you have basic understanding of Nirvana Shatkam before reading further. If the above description is not adequate, please read Appendix 1, which has some more details and also provides several references.

Significance in today’s life

Nirvana Shatkam looks like a highly philosophical or abstract writing. Clearly spiritual minded people, especially the followers of Adwait philosophy can draw and have drawn lot of inspiration from it. It is a piece from Indian religious literature which is highly regarded and discussed in religious circles.

Does Nirvana Shatkam have any relevance for those who are not much into spirituality? On first sight the answer seems to be no, but a closer examination reveals a different picture. This is what I explore below.

The main line in Niravana Shatkam, repeated after every verse is ”Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham”. Chidananada means a state of everlasting joy. Shivoham means ‘I am Shiva’. Shiva personifies pure awareness. So the essence of first line is ‘I am nothing but pure awareness and my true nature is to be always in the state of everlasting joy’. Reflect on this sentence again. ‘I am nothing but pure awareness and my true nature is to be always in the state of everlasting joy’. Can you take away any positive message from it? If not, just ponder over the question ‘What is your true nature?’ Contrary to Nirvana Shatkam, is your true nature to be unhappy? If that was the case then you would start feeling uneasy if you were not unhappy for some time. Is your true nature to be angry, anxious or stressed out. The answer to all of these is again no. ‘True nature’ is something which you always strive to achieve or look forward to. Is it not happiness in some way, an underlying goal, in everything we do in life? I don’t mean that we are self centered – that would at best be a narrow view . Even if we are working for our family or for welfare of society, it gives us inner satisfaction.

Now reflect on how anyone can be in the state of everlasting joy all the time. Many scriptures would suggest that to achieve this, one needs to take the path of ‘Sanyasa’ in some form. But to most of us, circumstances do not allow that and even if they did, that path would not be the path of choice. In practical life, the true happiness comes when we are able to live life centered around our deepest values and recognize and realize our dreams and ambitions. ‘Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham’, by saying ‘everlasting joy’ is our true nature, encourages and liberates us to work towards achieving this life. We all may have different dreams and ambitions and our definition of ‘true happiness’ may be personal and individual. But to most of us, it would in some way include living in harmony with nature, working towards well being of ourselves and our family, enjoying and being the best in different roles (child, parent, friend, relative), contributing to the mankind, and so on. So striving for ‘everlasting joy’ is not only our true nature but is also a very desirable way of life and so is a good path to follow. To make this point clear, consider what would happen if we found that our true nature is individual progress at any cost, even if it includes harming or killing others. Our conclusion would probably be that although it is true nature, but it is not what we should follow and we should instead follow some different path where at least we are not threatened by one another.

Let’s now look at the six verses of Nirvana Shatkam. All six verses, without the main line, convey the same essential thought, which is the dis-identification of our core ‘self’, or what we call ‘I’, from everything else, physical or metaphysical. Verse 1 dis-identifies from ego, thought, physical body parts (ear, nose, eyes) and surroundings (earth, sky, air). Verse 2 further dis-identifies from more abstract things like ‘movement due to life’ and ‘seven elements’. Verse 3 dis-identifies from feelings of animosity or friendship and physical possessions. Verse 4 dis-identifies from nature and verse 5 further dis-indetifies from relationships and also talks of continuation of life (Even death does not change me). Verse 6 concludes by saying I don’t have any shape or form.

The verses thus detach the ‘self’ from everything – material, thoughts, relationships etc. In fact anything that we as human beings can think and possibly perceive is detached from self. As an example, my body does not make me. Instead I ‘have’ a body. My habits do not define me. I ‘possess’ those habits. I am not, even in part, identified by the relationships I have with various people. Another way to look at it is that if something changes in my surroundings, environment, physical body, habits, relationships or in anything else I as human being can perceive, it does not mean that ‘I’ have changed in anyway. Taking it a step further, it also means that I may chose to change any of these things around me and that will not change my identity in any way.

Now reflect on such an outlook towards life. It essentially gives tremendous freedom for change. As human beings we all have strong sense of ‘identity’ and we try to protect it with all our power under all circumstances. Many times the ‘protection of identity’ becomes a road-block in our own growth. Often we resist change, mainly because we feel the change will in some way change us. ‘I can’t exercise regularly, that is just not me’. In the context of Nirvana Shatkam, it would be rephrased as ‘I have the habit of not exercising. I can change it and that won’t mean that my identity has changed’. ‘I just can’t be good at marketing. I am not a people person’ would change to ‘I am not able to do well in marketing, because currently I don’t have good people skills’. Look, how Nirvana Shatkam allows any level of change while fully protecting our identity, thus opening doors for unlimited progress and growth.

Putting the two together, what is the ultimate message? The main line entitles us to work on creating an ideal life around us based on our values, dreams, goals and ambitions. Since our true nature is ‘everlasting joy’, if we, for any reason, are not in that state, then that is not normal and it is ok to work towards achieving it. It essentially provides strong justification and encouragement to individuals to work towards realizing their full potential and thereby creating an ideal life around them. The six verses, by detaching ‘self’ or ‘individual identity’ from everything, physical or metaphysical, give us freedom to make any level of change. Many times ‘change’ involves temporary discomfort and that is one reason people resist change. By ‘dis-identification’, the six verses make it little easier to go through any temporary hardships. By encouraging change, which may be temporary discomfort, and working towards ‘everlasting joy’, Niravan Shatkam also emphasizes the importance of long term happiness over short term pleasures.

The concept of ‘everlasting joy’ is as relevant to smaller goals. When we achieve any goal, it gives us some happiness for ever. Say a child, by couple of years of rigor, gets into a sports team of choice. The child will enjoy the team only for few years before growing out of it. But the thought of being able to make the team by hard work and overcoming competition will be a source of satisfaction and happiness for ever. A number of such goals achieved can truly result in ‘everlasting joy’ throughout life. No doubt goals are a result of not only hard work, but also of short term sacrifices (which would be called a ‘change from natural state’ in context of Nirvana Shatkam). However, any pain or discomfort from these sacrifices, which is already reduced by viewing it in light of Nirvana Shatkam, is temporary. Later when we reflect on the success of goals, the associated sacrifices are never a source of pain. On the contrary that pain is also a reflection of will power and resolve and so more often becomes a further source of pride and joy. As an example, to anyone, who achieves success at the cost of many hardships in childhood and professional life, the thought of those hardships is not a source of ‘permanent pain’. On the contrary, it is actually a source of ‘permanent pride and happiness’.

In essence, Nirvana Shatkam encourages us to work towards creating a life where we are fulfilling our dreams and ambitions, using our full potential and moving towards self actualization. This will move us towards achieving ‘everlasting joy’ which is our true nature. In our pursuit to achieve true nature, we should not be afraid to make any level of changes, because short term discomfort, if any, due to these changes will not affect our identity or ‘real us’ in any way.

Niravana Shatkam is written in a very musical composed six verses and is a joy to listen. But does its meaning have any practical significance in today’s life of our youth and adults? On first look the answer may seem to be a no.

On closer look, I started to see a different picture and found it highly relevant for everyone in today’s busy life and that is what fascinated me and prompted me to write this article.

Frequently raised objections(FROs)

1.Adi Shankaracharya was a proponent of Adwait Vad. Nirvana Shatkam is a reflection of the same philosophy. I don’t believe in Adwait Philosophy, so I don’t agree with anything in Nirvana Shatkam.

Whether we realize it or not, visualization plays a key role in our life. More often than not, we visualize things which are unreal, imaginary or fictitious. Many goal striving people use their ultimate goal as visualization. They visualize as if they have already achieved the goal and this visualization actually helps them really achieve the goal. Dr. Maxwell Maltz in his book ‘Psycho Cybernetics’ not only extensively propagates this approach but also beautifully illustrates it based on the working of the conscious and sub conscious brains. In most guided meditations, subjects are asked to visualize things like ‘you are in front of the lake’ or ‘you are flying in the sky’ or ‘your body is becoming weightless’ or ‘your body is becoming very heavy and getting buried in ground’ and so on. As such, small children mostly live in an imaginary world. For them Santa is real. They read fairy tales. In all these examples, visualizations are based on totally unrealistic things, but they are not only serving the purpose at hand are but in some cases essential.

Adi Shankaracharya was a proponent of ‘Adwait Philosophy’ and Nirvana Shatkam is in a way reflection of this philosophy. I personally have very limited understanding of this philosophy. According to my understanding, in Adwait philosophy, there is only one God who is the ultimately reality. Everything that exists in nature, living or non living is manifestation (not just created by) of same God. So all of us are Gods, but are manifest as human beings. This philosophy has followers but there are also lot more people who have different views. Within Hinduism itself there are many streams of thought and many of them do not agree with Adwait philosophy. Further, there are people who believe in other religions and then there are theosophists who do not believe in any religion and look at everything based on reasoning. Clearly many of these people would not see Nirvana Shatkam as text of any importance.

Such differences in opinions are however not important here. The main question is that if we believe and live by the message of Nirvana Shatkam, what positive effects will it have on us and what will be the downside. In this regard, as we have seen in the main article, Nirvana Shatkam provides a very powerful visualization for positive changes.

On further note, when it comes to questions related to God and our existence, there are many beliefs but no definite answer. Also in any foreseeable future, at least in our life time, we, in all likely-hood, will not have a definite answer to any of these questions. Even if at some point of time, science established beyond reason the truths about our existence and all questions related to God got answered and as a raw fact, and content of Nirvana Shatkam was proved to be untrue, it would not directly have any effect on the usefulness of using Nirvana Shatkam’s message as a visualization tool.

2. I don’t believe in the contents of this passage. I don’t think a man is just ‘awareness’. I believe that humans are composed of body, mind, awareness, soul, intellect and also have surroundings, relationships etc as integral part.

On lines of the answer to previous question, focusing on the purpose of this article, it does not really matter what you believe in or what the truth is. Irrespective of your beliefs, if you use Nirvana Shatkam as a visualization tool, the way you would use mental imagery like ‘you are flying the sky’ in guided meditation, you would tend to benefit tremendously. Ironically, your beliefs, however reasonable or well accepted may be, will come in your way and make it more difficult for you to visualize and hence benefit from the message of Nirvana Shatkam.

3. Nirvana Shatkam undermines the importance of good relationships in our lives, especially the following lines.
I do not have either father or mother or even birth,
And I do not have relations or friends or teacher or students,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of nature knowledge and bliss

On cursory look the objection does seem to have some merit. I personally had similar feelings about it, when I first got exposed to it. Along with other things, the above lines directly say ‘I have no father or mother’, which seems neither true nor something good for visualization.

On closer look though, I got a very different insight. Essentially, Nirvana Shatkam is not about achieving goals in one or more isolated areas. It refers to being or working towards achieving a state of ‘total bliss’. Viewed in this light, one gets the true essence of Nirvana Shatkam. How many of us can really feel blissful if our relationships with loved ones are not good? If our parents or family members have lost trust and love for us, can we truly feel blissful? Probably not. And this is especially true if bad relationships are somewhat a consequence of our own habits. So, bad relationships become a road-block in our own road to achieving total bliss. Viewed in this light, Nirvana Shatkam, rather than undermining, actually encourages us to work towards improving our relationships.

On the other hand, let’s say you have an old friend and over time you two have grown in different directions. You no longer enjoy each other’s company. Your friend no longer provides you with enrichment in any way. Or let’s say his attitude towards life is different from yours and you feel that he is no longer a good influence on your children. In this case, probably there is nothing wrong if you reduce your association with him. Nirvana Shatkam, by saying ‘I have no relationships’ in fact encourages such move and attempts to eliminate any feeling of guilt you might have in this process.

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