Bhoothanatha Geetha (or Bhutanatha Gita) is a very rare Sanskrit text. We are greatly indebted to Mr. V. Aravind Subramanyam for working all his life to find the old manuscripts of this book, translate it and make it available with English and Tamil translations. . The book can only be directly ordered from him by sending a DD or cheque to his residence in Coimbatore Tamil Nadu. It is not available elsewhere. I got a copy of it yesterday and I want to share what I found in it. Mr. Aravind Subramanyam, due to his earnest love for Dharama Sastha, always adds Maha Sasthru Priya Dasan before his name. He has also written a complete purana called Sri Maha Sastha Vijayam.
Boothanatha Geetha is much shorter than Bhagavad Gita but conveys the key points of Advaita Vedanta. It has 132 verses in 8 short chapters. Bhagavad Gita is a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. Similarly, Bhoothanatha Gita is a conversation between Prince Manikanta who was considered as the avatar of Dharma sastha and Rajasekharan, the king of Pandalam.
Boothanatha Geetha has certain uniqueness that other texts don’t have. To explain that, I will comment on some of the important verses from the book.
Boothanatha Geetha is written in much simpler Sanskrit. So, it is easier than Bhagavad Gita, if you want to read the text in the original. The first sloka is very simple and with basic knowledge of Sanskrit, one can understand it:
janma mrtyAdi duhkhAnAm nAzAya mahIpate
karmano nAzanam mukhyam tadupAyam nizamyatAm
Meaning: Oh King, destroying one’s karmas is important for the destruction of the suffering that arises from the cycle of birth and death. You can hear the way for it from me.
The text has 8 chapters. The first chapter Brahma Lakshana Yoga starts with this sloka and proceeds to explain the nature of Brahman, the absolute reality.
Chapter 1 – Brahma Lakshana Yoga
Here is the eighth sloka which talks about it:
AdimadhyAntarahitam svayam jotih parAtparam
avyayam nirgunam rAjan kAladezAdi varjjitam
citganam nityamAnandam tatbhinnam nAsti vastu bho
asitatvamaham taccetyAmnAyah parikIrtitah
Oh king! Brahman has no beginning, no middle and no end. It shines on its own and is the greatest of the greatest. It is imperishable, attributeless and beyond space & time.
It has been described in the scriptures that it is conscious and always in bliss. Nothing other than that exists! It is you and it is also me.
(It is interesting to note that the line ‘citganam nityamAnandam tatbhinnam nAsti vastu bho’ is a description of sat-cit-ananda or truth-consciousness – bliss. citganam = conciousness; nityamAnandam = bliss; tatbhinnam nAsti vastu bho = truth).
These lines also combine two mahavakyas, ‘tat tvam asi’ (You are that) and ‘aham brahmasmi’ (I am Brahmam’ together by saying ‘asi tat tvam aham’ (that exists as you and I). A good sloka for memorization for people who are learning Sanskrit. This sloka is similar to a lot of verses in Sankhya Yoga, the second chapter of Bhagavad Gita.
If Brahman is all that exists, then how do we explain the multiplicity in the existence? In the next few slokas, Manikanta attempts to clarify this doubt with the famous example of gold and gold ornaments found in Chandogya Upanishad.
In Chandogya Upanishad, Svetakethu’s father teaches him ‘tat tvam asi’ (you are that) and proceeds to explain with this example:
“Just as, my dear, by one clod of clay all that is made of clay is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is clay; “Just as, my dear, by one nugget of gold all that is made of gold is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is gold; “And just as, my dear, by one pair of nail—scissors all that is made of iron is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is iron—even so, my dear, is that instruction.”
Manikanta must have been well versed and quite familiar with Chandogya Upanishad and even some Buddhist texts as we will see.
Manikanta explains that just like gold ornaments with different shapes are essentially gold and nothing else, all the myriads of names and forms that we see is essentially Brahman and nothing else. The multiplicity is seen due to Maya (illusion or unreal).
In 12th sloka, the king questions, “What you are saying now seems to be contradictory to what you said before. If Brahman is all that exists, then where does maya come from?. How do the scholars of Advaita accept this contradiction? “
This would remind us of Arjuna’s confusion when he complains to Krishna in Gita 3.1 that Krishna seemed to be contradicting himself.
Manikanta then explains that maya is nothing but the idea of a separate self. When you see something as me or mine, it is maya. This illusion has no beginning but it has an end. It is due to this illusion, one perceives or feels himself different from Brahman. Manikanta then encourages the king to investigate and see if there is really any truth in saying things like ‘this is my hand’, ‘this is my leg’ etc. He asserts that if one investigates carefully, one can know that there is no such thing as ‘mine’.
Manikanta also quotes the famous analogy of crystal to explain the relationship between Brahman and Maya. Maya doesn’t stick to Brahman even though it appears to be, just like a red flower placed on a crystal makes the crystal to appear red, even though the crystal itself doesn’t have the quality of the redness. At the same time, the color exists inseparable from the crystal just like maya is in a sense inseparable from Brahman.
Chapter 2 – Brahma Jnana Yoga
The second chapter is Brahma Jnana Yoga. Manikanta begins by explaining how the three gunas or trimurties sattva (Brahma), rajas (Vishnu) and tamas (Shiva) originated from Brahman.
In this chapter, Manikanta talks like Buddha. Buddha used to discourage metaphysical questions which are about the origin of the world, the origin of maya or the origin of suffering.
In Buddhist texts, there is a parable called the parable of a poisoned arrow. This parable was said as a response when someone asked how suffering originated in the first place:
“It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a brahman, a merchant, or a worker.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me… until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short… until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored… until I know his home village, town, or city… until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow… until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated… until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.
“In the same way, if anyone were to say, ‘I won’t live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that ‘The cosmos is eternal,’… or that ‘After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,’ the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Tathagata.
- “Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions to Malunkya” (MN 63), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.063.than.html .
Manikanta says something similar in Chapter 2 , verse 6:
yastvagAdhe mahAkUpe patito bhUnnrpottama
tasmAdArohanopAyam avicintya samUDhadhih
tatra sthitvA cintayeccet kUpasyotbhavakAranam
katham tIram ca samprAptum zaktah sabhavati prabho
The greatest of kings! If some one falls down inside a deep well, is there any use in thinking about the reason the well was there in that place? How can you escape from the well if you don’t think about the way to escape from it?
Manikanta in many places, discourages useless questions and mere reading of scriptures without striving to know the truth in one’s experience.
Then Manikanda stresses the importance of a satguru. He says ‘samyag vettum param brahma kAryam satguru sevanam (2.7)’, which means if one wants to know the truth of Brahman in once’s experience, serving a satguru is mandatory. We will see who this satguru is, in a moment.
Manikanta then says that without the help of satguru. people end up like the blind men arguing about the shape of an elephant. The story of the blind men and the elephant is very famous in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. The doctrine of Anekantavada is based on this story, which you can read about here: Logic And Spiritual Enlightenment – An Overview of Anekantavada, Saptabhangivada (Seven Valued Logic) and Syadvada of Jainism
Manikanta also goes ahead and narrates the story. (The version Manikanta narrates only has two blind men, but in other versions they are more). Two blind men once wanted to know about an elephant. So, each of them went near an elephant to touch and feel it so that they can find out the shape of the elephant. One guy touched the ears of the elephant while the other person touched the trunk. After that, both of them were perfectly convinced that they knew everything about the elephant and its shape. The guy who touched the ears argued that the elephant looks like a fan where as the guy who touched the trunk insisted that an elephant looks like a long pipe. Seeing these people fighting, a person with the perfect eye sight came and explained to them what an elephant really looks like.
Manikanta ends this chapter by conveying the difference between meditating on and worshipping the formless and attributeless truth (nirguna brahman) and a deity with a form (saguna brahman). These verses are similar to the verses in the 12th chapter (Bhakti Yoga) of Bhagavad Gita where the conversation is about the same topic. Manikanta says that one who meditates on the formless, attributeless Brahman will attain liberation in this life and become Jivan Muktas. People who worship the divine in a form will attain liberation after their death. Adhi Shankara in his commentary on Bhagavad Gita also conveys the same while interpreting the verses in chapter 12 of Gita.
Chapter 3 – Gunatraya Yoga
This chapter talks about Panchikarana, a Vedantic theory that talks about how matter came into existence from five elements (panchabhutas).
Chapter 4 – Tattva Vijnana Yoga
There is something interesting to note in the beginning of this chapter. Manikanta begins by saying that there are 96 tattvas which exist in nature. A tattva is nothing but a smallest indivisible unit or element of what appears in our consciousness. For example, memory is a tattva, ego is a tattva, perception of sight is a tattva etc. When you observe the contents of your consciousness, it is possible to come up with many such tattvas. But the number of tattvas vary by tradition. For example, Bhagavad Gita talks about 8 tattvas. Samkhya school identifies 24 tattvas and Shaiva Siddhanta tradition identifies 36 tattvas. There is one tradition that talks about 96 tattvas. It is nothing but the tradition of Siddhas who specialized in both spiritual matters and herbal medicine. Since Manikanta too talks about 96 tattvas here, it is possible that he was also a Siddha who had mastered siddhis and the art of medicine.
The purpose of the description of these tattvas is to not to commit them to memory as a bunch of information. Enumerating these tattvas are only useful to see that they are not ‘you’ or ‘yours’. In other words, these are tools for self-inquiry rather than a collection of facts. As a mere collection of information, it is useless. So, if one is longing to get liberated, he needs to take care to see that he doesn’t identify with a whole bunch of information.
Citta Suddhi – Purification of the mind
Manikanta then begins to explain how the mind gets unpurified. When we make any decision we use our intellect or the sense of discrimination. But this intellect when influenced by rajas (desire and activity leading to fulfilling the desires) and tamas (lethargy, hatred and anger born out of that hatred) grabs your attention away to multiple things. Intellect eventually gets multibranched because of myriads of desires and fears. That is why there is a lot of self-conflict and that is the reason why human beings suffer a lot from cognitive dissonance.
Gita talks about this too:
vyavasayatmika buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana
bahu-sakha hy anantas ca buddhayo ‘vyavasayinam – Gita 2.41
Meaning: A person who has achieved one pointedness (by purifying his mind) has an intellect which has just a single branch. But the intellect of the people who have not achieved such one-pointed devotedness is many branched.
While explaining, Manikanta suddenly reminds him that it is useless to just read these things and say things like ‘there are 96 tattvas’, ‘the scriptures say so’ etc. It is a waste of time to talk about things he knows only by reading and not by his experience.
Then Manikanta uses an analogy to explain what is mandatory for the purification of the mind. Let us say the mind is like a milk; and the impurities are like water. If you want to get rid of all the water and get pure milk, the only choice you have is to heat it. No amount of adding anything or trying to remove anything will get rid of the water. Simply reading the scriptures is like trying to heat the milk without fire. If there is no fire, then no matter how long you wait, the water will be still there. Manikanta says that a guru’s words and guidance is like the fuel which can create the fire. Only when the scriptures burn in the fuel of the guru’s words, the impurities of mind will evaporate and the mind will get purified. A seeker should listen to guru’s words and do meditation according to what he taught.
Then Rajasekharan asks, ‘How do I find a satguru? How would I know that he is satguru? Since you know a lot of scriptures, please explain’. It is important to note that Rajasekharan still insists to hear what is written in the scripture. He doesn’t seem to be wanting to know what Manikanta knows by his experience. This is the reason why Manikanta throughout this Gita insists the futility of mere intellectual debates without attempting to directly know the truth by experience.
So Manikanta defines who a ‘satguru’ is by listing four qualities of a satguru:
- He doesn’t have any attachments.
- He is peaceful and calm.
- He loves his disciples.
- He knows the truth by experience.
There is another thing to note here. People believe that Kabir who lived in 15th century was the one who coined the word ‘satguru’ and who was also called as a satguru for the first time. Because there were no references to the word ‘satguru’ in any other older scriptures. But Manikanta lived in 10th or 11th century AD. No body has dated Bhoothanatha Gita yet, but assuming that it was written down right after his life, it is probable that Manikanda was the one who was called as satguru for the first time and who probably used that word for the first time.
Manikanta then defines the quality of a seeker:
- He has realized that life is prone to suffering.
- He is longing to get freedom and prays sincerely for emancipation.
Then he defines the quality of a scripture (sastra). A scripture is a book which gives the path to destroy the following 8 qualities called as ashtaragas:
- kama — lust
- krodha — anger
- lobha — greed
- moha — delusory emotional attachment or temptation
- mada — pride, hubris, (being possessed by)
- matsarya — dissatisfaction
- asooya – jealousy
- thrshna – Craving (a very acute form of desire)
A warning about fake gurus!
Then comes a beautiful sloka which says something that no other scripture has said to my knowledge. It warns about gurus who are after your money!
guravo bahavassanti zishyANAm dhana hArakAh
durlabho deziko rAjan teshAm santapahArakAh (4.20)
Meaning: There are plenty of so called gurus who take away your money. But the gurus who can take away your misery are very rare!
Finally, Manikanta offers you a solution. Since it is very rare to find such gurus, he says that he himself is both Guru and God for a person who shows selfless devotion to him. What this sloka actually conveys is, dharmasastha is satguru! If you don’t have a guru and can’t find one, just be devoted to sastha! Devotion purifies the mind and the divine as the satguru is always there as the inner light in every being.
Chapter 5 – Karma Vibhaga Yoga
This chapter discusses three types of karmas and how karmic material travels from one body to another body. Certain themes from Chandogya Upanishad appear here too. Here Manikanta insists that one should safeguard his body and not neglect it just because it is going to die own day. Because this body is the instrument which helps you to enjoy the four purusharthas of life: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. At the same time, he also says that the purpose of having this human body is to realize the truth.
He then lists the qualifications for a seeker. In Vedanta there is a concept called sadhana chatushtaya which lists qualifications of a seeker. This sloka just lists four simple qualities that a seeker should have as qualifications : 1) Vairagya – non-attachment 2) Guru Bhakthi – devotion to guru, in this case Dharmasastha. 3) Shama – tranquility of the mind 4) dhama – control of senses.
The chapter ends as Manikanta stresses the importance of devotion in the last few slokas. Devotion purifies the mind as well as helps the person to develop the above mentioned qualifications.
Chapter 6 – Bhakthi Vibhaga Yoga
This chapter once again stresses the importance of devotion. It talks in detail about the three gunas and three type of devotees.
Chapter 7 – Karmakarma yoga
In this chapter Rajesekharan asks important questions.
Here is the essence of his question: ‘If someone is absorbed in the pleasure of Brahman and has no craving, then how will he be motivated to do any action at all? How can he deal with things in practical life as before without anything driving him from the inside?’
Manikanda replies that a person who exhibits feats by climbing a big staff are able to do so effortlessly because their mind is one pointed. When you attain one pointedness through self-realization, you will have more efficiency to do your actions. He lists people such as Janaka, Sukha, Gargi and Katwanga as examples of people who continued to live their married life after their self-realization.
Then he talks about the impermanence of the worldly things and how liberation is the only thing which is permanent. He says that this world is a stage for dramas and Brahman is the one who runs the show; night is the screen and sun is the light; we are are actors; karmas are the musical instruments and the desires are the music. Once a person starts to look at life this way, he will be able to develop vairagya (non-attachment) very quickly.
Chapter 8 – Varna Vibha Yoga
Manikanda talks about four varnas. The slokas are like rewritten verses of Purusha sukta. It talks about how people from different varnas were born from different parts of purusha.
He then says that being a householder is better than being a wandering monk, forest ascetic or a bachelor. These verses seem to echo what some older grihya sutras say. They also favoured married life over asceticism.
Manikanda then warns the king to not to read various scriptures and get confused. He says that whatever that has been conveyed so far is the essence of the scriptures and that he didn’t have to read anything else.
Finally he declares ‘sarvajnoham sarvagoham sarvasAkshyahameva bho’ which means I am the omniscient, omnipresent and a witness of everything. He asks the king to meditate on him all the time and promises him liberation.
Thank you for reading. I could only write this because of grace! I sat this morning and resolved to write a detailed post on Bhutanatha gita and let everyone know about this text. I wanted that to happen on this Diwali day itself. I hope this answer gave a complete introduction to Bhoothanatha gita. I wish you a happy and peaceful Diwali!
(People who want to purchase this book can find details on Mr. V. Aravind Subramanyam’s blog: http://shanmatha.blogspot.com/2011/04/bhoothanatha-geetha.html )