Upadesa Saara is a short text of 30 verses written by Ramana Maharishi in simple Sanskrit, which was originally written by him in Tamil under the name “Upadesa Undhiyar”. Maharishi wrote this text originally in Tamil in response to the request of his disciple Muruganar. The request was made under these circumstances. Muruganar was writing a puranic story in Tamil. There occurs a situation in the story which can be described as follows:
In the forest known as Taruka Vanam there lived a few grihastha rishis who were staunch karma-kandis. They believed that the world and the Vedas are eternal and that karmas give karma phala by themselves. According to them Vedic rituals give all the benefits during and after life and they by themselves are sufficient to get Moksha, the eternal, infinite Bliss of Liberation. They did not attach any importance to Jnana Kanda portion of Vedas. But they were men of pure minds as they were focused sincerely on rituals. Once they were assembled for performing a Vedic ritual. Lord Siva felt compassion for them. He wanted to reform their outlook and make them realise that Karma alone cannot confer the eternal infinite happiness of Moksha as mere actions do not remove ignorance of one’s own nature and it is only through Jnanam, that a person can get rid of all sorrow and sufferings. Lord Siva came to the forest as a young handsome Brahmachari seeking bhiksha. Lord Vishnu also came to His assistance as Mohini, a beautiful damsel. The assembled rishis were distracted by the Mohini and as she started moving away from them they followed her forgetting the purpose for which they had assembled. Suddenly the Mohini vanished and the rishis ashamed of their distraction went back, only to find their wives following the young Brahmachari almost in a trance. The Rishis became angry and tried to destroy the Brahmachari employing all the mantras and rituals they knew. When they failed, they realized that the young person is not an ordinary one but Lord Himself and they surrendered to Him praying that He remove their weakness. Then Lord Siva appeared in his true form, praised their devotion to rituals and then told them that the real purpose of his Leela was to make them understand the inadequacy of rituals alone to confer Moksha and the limitations of Karma and to make their Jnanam complete by imparting them the true knowledge of their Real Self, which alone can liberate them from Samsara and lead to Moksha.
Muruganar who had been writing the story felt at this stage that Maharishi is the fit person to write that portion of Lord Siva’s teaching extolling the path of Jnanam to the rishis and so made the request to Maharishi to write this portion. First Maharishi wrote in Tamil under the title “Upadesa Undiyar” and then at the request of other devotees rewrote it himself in Sanskrit, Telugu and Malayalam. This work “Upadesa Saara” can be taken as a sequel to the study of Tattva Bodha, that was discussed in eight blogs earlier, starting from SadhanaChathushtayam. This is a book that deals with both Vedantic teaching and sadhanas and so can be be classed as a Prakarana Grantha, a descriptive text. This work deals with Karma yoga, Bhakthiyoga including Upasana yoga, Ashtanga yoga and Jnana Yoga, but the main emphasis here is on Athma Jnanam. In the first 15 verses, Maharishi has laid down the paths of selfless Karma, Bhakti and Yoga, while the remaining 15 verses (Verses 16 to 30) are devoted to the path of Self-Inquiry.
Here all paths, including the puja and japa part of worship to a personal God, pranayama, etc., are dealt with as they all help in purifying the mind and makes it fit to pursue Self-enquiry. As Swami Paramathmananda usually emphasises, Karma yoga, Upasana yoga & Ashtanga yoga give Jnana yogyatha, preparing the mind for Self-knowledge and Jnana yoga enlightens a person through this knowledge.
Even though Maharishi always emphasised the path of Self-Inquiry, which is a direct path to Self-Realization, he knew that it wasn’t an easy method and that it required maturity of understanding. This is why he talked about other paths. He clearly stated on one occasion to his disciple: “If, however, the aspirant is not temperamentally suited to Vichara Marga, he must develop bhakti to an ideal – may it be God, Guru, humanity in general, ethical laws, or even the idea of beauty. When one of these takes possession of the individual, other attachments grow weaker, i.e. dispassion develops.... In the absence of enquiry and devotion, the natural sedative pranayama may be tried. This is known as Yoga Marga... If an aspirant be unsuited temperamentally for the first two methods --- he must try the Karma Marga. His nobler instincts become more evident and he derives impersonal pleasure. His smaller self is less assertive and has a chance of expanding its good side...”
Upadesa Saara, was chanted before Maharishi daily together with the Vedas and continues to be chanted before his shrine even now.