Sri Shankaracharya established the profound validity of the holistic perspective of Advaita by his brilliant commentaries on the Prasthana Traya - the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Gita. But since these are scholarly and technical and a little hard for the ordinary aspirant to digest, he gave us, in his infinite compassion, a series of Prakarana Granthas or treatises wherein the Truth is presented in a very lucid form without, however, any dilution. In this genre the pride of place goes to Vivekachudamani, the Crest Jewel of Discrimination. In 580 mellifluous verses that are a joy to chant, the Acharya narrates a sustained dialogue between a Guru and a Sishya on the human predicament, the nature of Ultimate Reality and the means of attaining freedom from the trammels of Samsara. To study the Chudamani is indeed to feel wafted to realms of marvelous peace and certainty.
There are a few good English translations of this classic available, but the uniqueness of the volume we are presenting to our readers is that it echoes the personal experiences of that rara avis, a Jivanmukta. Swami Turiyananda, a direct monastic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, was noted as much for his simplicity and austerity as for his deep scholarship and intuitive wisdom. A supremely practical Vedantin, he lived what he taught. He spoke not as a scribe but as one with authority. We are indebted to pravrajika Brahmaprana of the Sarada Convent, Santa Barbara for making the class notes of the great Swami's talks available to the larger reading public in the East and the West. She is to be particularly thanked for editing what happens to be the only English translation of a Vedantic text by a direct disciple of that Prophet of Harmony. Sri Ramakrishna.
Ida Anwell (Ujjvala), a pioneer American devotee who met Swami Vivekananda in the West and later became the disciple of Swami Turiyananda, was a witness to the early Ramakrishna-Vedanta movement in America. In fact, she took down in shorthand thirteen of Swami Vivekananda's lectures (which were later published in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda) and was asked by Swami Turiyananda to keep notes, carefully transcribed in her own handwriting, would make available to us one of the very few translations of a scripture by a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna?
Swami Turiyananda's translation of the Vivekacudamani is freestyle, but follows in paragraph-form Shankara's verse-by-verse format. It appears that, at times, Swami Turiyananda would splice several verses together into one "gist" verse, whereas at other times he would skip a verse altogether. But, by and large, ida Ansell's notes show us that Swami Turiyananda presented and translated most of Shankara's verses.
As it is a well-known fact that the Swami chanted regularly before his American ashrama students, and in order to make available Swami Turiyananda's translation to a wider audience, it seemed fitting to preface each English verse with its corresponding, numbered, transliterated Sanskrit verse. This format will enable students of the Vivekacudamani to locate particular verses more easily and to follow Swami Turiyananda's translation, if need be, along with the more literal and extensive translations of Swamis Madhavananda and Prabhavananda and others.
For the convenience of the reader, Swami Prabhavananda's translation of the verses that Swami Turiyananda had omitted has been inserted and every instance is preceded by an asteric mark.
In order to preserve Swami Turiyananda's original meaning of the text, only such changes have been made in punctuation, spelling, syntax, and word choice as are in accord with contemporary modern English usage. It is clear in reading Swami Turiyananda's presentation, that his translation borders on a commentary. Throughout this translation commentary, there are instances where the Swami's particular word choice demonstrates his capacity to reveal an original interpretation and unique angle to Shankara's scriptural classic. The questions that Swami Turiyananda himself raised in his class, and were subsequently noted down by Ujjvala, have been culled out and utilized as topic headings in the Vivekacudamani in italics.
This edition of the Vivekacudamani gives a glimpse into how Swami Turiyananda transmitted the spiritual tradition of India to the American devotees at Shanti Ashrama at the turn of the century. Shanti Ashrama continues to be a unique place of pilgrimage where devotees gather to meditate and to remember Swami Turiyananda and his contribution to Vedanta in America.
Of Related Interest:
Life of Shankaracharya - The Adventures of a Poet Philosopher
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