Study of Vedānta deals with the renunciation of desires of mind, control of mind and to finally transcend the mind.
In order to apply the teaching of Upaniṣads in our practical life, one needs to attain sufficient purification of mind. Predominant guṇa of mind has to be sattva guṇa as it alone has the ability to turn the extrovert mind introvert and then merge the introvert mind in the heart i.e. the source of everything i.e. Brahman. Advaita vedānta as propagated by Śrī Ādi Śankarāchārya jī is a path of renunciation. The upaniṣads presume that one has to be clear in the basic terminology and concepts of the śāstras. However, for new students, it might be difficult to grasp the concepts easily. For example, one must know what is mana (mind), buddhi, ahɑmkāra, chitta, jīva, Brahman, panchakośas, three types of śarīras etc. In order to develop sufficient inner purity and to explain the basic terminology used in śāstras, Śrī Ādī Śankarāchārya jī composed many prakaraṇa grantha often known as introductory texts to advaita vedānta. Other prominent āchāryas like Śrī Vidyāraṇya Svāmī, Sadānanda and Dharmarāja Adhvarīndra also composed prakaraṇa granthas.
Please find the list of the prominent prakaraṇa granthas. Please note that the list is not exhaustive.
Panchādɑśī of Śrī Vidyāraṇya Svāmī
Vedānta sāra of Sadānanda
Vedānta Paribhāśā of Dharmarāja Adhvarīndra
Dɑśasloki or Nirvāṇa Dɑśaka (considered as poem and not a grantha)
Sopāna Panchaka or Sādhana Panchaka or Upadeśa Panchaka (considered as poem and not a grantha)
Vākyasudha (Dṛg-Dṛśya-Viveka) by Bhāratī Tirtha or Vidyāraṇya or Ādi Śankarāchārya
Jīvan Mukti Viveka by Śri Vidyāraṇya Svāmī
Advaita Makaranda by Śrī Lakshmidhara Kavi
Brahmajñānāvalī mālā (considered as poem and not a grantha)
Atma Ṣhaṭaka or Nirvāṇa Ṣhaṭaka (considered as poem and not a grantha)
Prabodha Sudhākara (Lesser known work eulogizing Kṛṣṇa Bhakti)
Sadāchāra (Lesser known work)
There are many other works like Praṇava Bodha, Mahāvākya Vivekā, Advaita Makaranda of Lakshmiḍhara Kavī (Laxmidhar Kavi) and many more. There is also Dakshiṇāmurtī Stotra which has a commentary by the name Mānasollāsa. Svayamprakāṣa and Svāmī Rāma Tīrtha have also written commentary on it. Commentary by Svayamprakāśa is known as Tatvasudhā. This great work teaches the importance of maun and is for the advanced mumukshus and not for the beginners.
First five are considered as very important for the study. One must atleast study Tattva Bodh, Panchikaraṇa and Vivekachuḍāmaṇi. Atma Ṣhaṭaka is also very important (though it falls within the category of poem). Study of these 7 granthas is more than enough for one’s spiritual study. However, studying other granthas is also helpful. Many concepts appear to be repeated in more than one grantha. Study of Viveka-Chuḍāmaṇi is extremely important.
Reading of all the Prakaraṇa Granthas is not necessary. The essence of Upanishads and Gītā has to be known, which can be learned from a competent āchārya or by listening to their discources.
Tattva Bodha explains the basic terms like what is mana, what is jīva , what are the panchakośas etc. This is the first text to be studied.
Ātma Bodha gives clarity on our true nature and on advaita sthiti. It’s study helps in understanding the commentaries by Ādi Śankarāchārya on Gīta and Upaniṣads.
Aprokshānubhuti deals more with the sādhanā or meditation.
Panchikaraṇa teaches how to jagat (world) and the bodies were created.
Vivekchuḍāmaṇi, true to its name, is really a gem of wisdom. It is said by the wise that correct and indepth study of Vivekachuḍāmaṇi can lead one to moksha. With 580 slokas, it is too long text as a prakaraṇa grantha. The beauty of Vivekchuḍāmaṇi is that many types of chandas (meters – traditional way of singing slokas) are used in its composition like standard chandas Anuṣhṭupa (in which Gītā is sung), āryā, rathodvatā, Shārdūlvikrīḍita (shardul means lion, kriḍā means play. Shārdūlvikrīḍita means that which is sung like playing lion cubs), Upjāti, Śikhariṇī, Īndravajā (or Īndravajra), Śālīnī, etc. Chanda Anuṣhṭupa and Chanda Upajāti are the most commonly used chandas.
Upadeśa sahasri, as the name indicates consists of 1000 upadeshas or slokas. It helps understand Upanishads and the concept of vivarta and advaita. For new students, it may be difficult to grasp all the concepts given in this text. This grantha is considered important for those who wish to take indepth study in the Śankara Bhāśyas on Prasthāntrayī.
Vākya Vritti explains Mahāvākya ‘Tat tvam asi‘
Panchadaṣi of Śrī Vidyāraṇya Svāmī consists of 15 chapters. It is considered as manual of advaita. Though a big text, it helps clear many concepts. This text is useful for those who have also read philosophy of other sampradāyas like Vaishṇava sampradāyas, etc. It refutes claims that are contrary to advaita but in a positive and simple way rather than engaging in hair splitting logic. Those who have not read the polemical works whose aim is sva-mata-vistāra and para-mata-bhanga i.e. to propagate one’s philosophy and objecting and discrediting the views of other philosophies. These debates went on mostly between Dvaita, Advaita and Visiṣṭadvaita – all philosophical sampradāyas based on vedānta. However, the new student will not even become aware in the first reading.
Vedānta sāra of Sadānanda is another useful text and is helpful is clearing advaita concepts and will make you comfortable when one reads works of other sampradāyas and Śankara Bhāśyas (on Prasthāntrayī)
Vedānta Paribhāṣa of Dharmarāja Advarīndra, though a parkaraṇa grantha is not suiable for a new student. Those having certain background in advaita and have read works of other sampradāyas may find it helpful in understanding the objections raised and refutations by Advaita sampradaya. This work can be skipped and only those interested in deep study for scholarly purpose can take up this text.
Daśa sloki, as the name suggests, consists of ten slokas. They explain the nature of Atman in a clear and precise way. These slokas were spontaneously composed by Ādi Śankarāchārya. There is an interesting story behind the composition of Daśa sloki. It is said that the life of Ādi Śankara was very short and he was supposed to live only upto eight years. He repeatedly requested his mother to allow him to take sanyāsa. His father had already left his physical body. His mother didn’t allow him to take sanyāsa. Once, when he was eight years old, Śankara (his birth name) along with his friends was swimming in a river. Suddenly a crocodile attacked him. Other boys immediately ran to his mother and and informed her of incident and she ran towards the river saying, ‘This kid always wanted to take sanyāsa. Instead of getting killed by crocodile, let my son take sanyāsa and live longer’. When she reached the spot, boys reminded her of what she was saying while running towards Śankara. She nodded yes and immediately the crocodile left and vanished in thin air. Śankara swam the towards the shore and returned back safely. He now reminded her of her vow and so she painfully allowed him to take sanyāsa. Now, the young Śankara went in search of a guru and found āshrama of Śrī Govindapāda, a Self Realised saint and scholar on Śhāstras. When the saint came out of meditation. He saw a young boy in front of him and inquired, ‘Who are you’. Young boy, in his humbleness, spontaneously created daśa sloki as an answer. These were the first composition of Śrī Ādi Śankarāchārya even before he officially became a sanyāsin.
These slokas are worth studying as they deal with the nature of ātman. The young boy was already Self Realised even before formal initiation into sanyāsa. After sanyāsa, he was asked by his guru Śrī Govindapāda to revive the dying sanātana dharma by writing the commentaries on the Gītā and Upaniṣads. He became popular as Āchārya Śankara or Śankarāchārya. Since his successors too took his name as the honorific title adding it to their monastic name, in order to distinguish the great Āchārya, who established the four main pithās or mathas, known as amnaya pithās, he is being called as Ādi Śankarāchārya or simply Ādi Śankara (while referring him in their compositions or while citing any reference of Śankara Bhāṣya or during polemical debates). Ādi means ‘first’. So he is the first Śankarāchārya or the found of four pīthas. Kanchi matha is the fifth pitha established by Ādi Śankara as per their records.
His Guru also knew of the short life span of Ādi Śankara and so his life span was increased to another eight years. After attaining sixteen years of age, he met Bhagavāna Śankara in the form of a Chānḍāla who then asked him to write the commentary on Brahmasūtras or Vedānta Sutrās. After finishing the commentary, Ādi Śankara offered it to Bhagavāna Śiva and humbly requested him to wait for another muhurata so that he can leave his body in the divine and auspicious presence of Bhagavāna Śankara. To this Bhagavāna Śiva said, that ‘Your work is not yet finished and you need to spread this knowledge of vedānta to all cornors of Bhārata and refute the non-vedic elements or corruptions spread in the society’. Āchārya’s life was further increased by 16 more years giving him total 32 years of life. Thus started the Digvijaya Yātra of Ādi Śankara, who remained undefeated in his lifetime while engaging in debates and spreading dharma and the message of vedanta to every corner of Bhārata. In order to further spread his work, and for the sake of sanyāsins, before taking Mahasamadhi i.e. leaving physical body, he established four āshramas known as amnaya pīthās and gave charge to each of his four main disciples. Before departing the physical world, he gave few instructions which are his last instructions to a sincere mumukshu. These last instructions are known as Sopāna Panchaka.
Sopāna Panchaka consisting of five stanzas are the last instructions to a sincere mumukshu (seeker of truth). They focus on studying vedas and upon attaining sufficient inner purity must leave this samsara without delay and live the life as a sanyāsin and strive to achieve Jñāna and moksha.
Śata sloki is considered as the essence of Prasthāntrayī Bhāṣya
Vākyasudha (Dṛg-Dṛśya-Viveka) describes the difference between the seen and seer i.e. kshetra (field or object of observation) and kshetrajña. In explaining some concepts it takes the approach known as Anvaya-Vyatireka meaning to first presume and then disagree with the presumption. This type of approach is also known as Adhyāropa Apavāda meaning superimposition of a concept and then it’s negation. It’s authorship is disputed. The authorship of this work is attributed to Bhāratī Tirtha or Vidyāraṇya or Ādi Śankarāchārya. Bhagavad Gītā Chapter 13 is also known as Kshetra-Kshetrajña-Yoga and is the first chapter in teaching Jñāna Mārga which consists of chapters 13 to 15. Chapter 16 and 17 are called as Pariśiṣhta i.e. they are the barometers of our spiritual progress. Chapter 18, known as Moksha Sanyāsa Yoga is known as Upasaṁhāra or the summary and conclusion. Wise says it contains the essence of all 17 chapters and gives it’s final conclusion. As a last chapter, it also gives phala-shruti meaning it eulogizes the benefits or fruits of reading and following the path of Gītā.
Svātmanirupaṇam is another work which explains the concepts of Advaita Vedānta, a way to approach like adopting jahadājahada lakshaṇa (Jahad-ajahad lakshaṇa is also known as bhāga – tyāga lakshaṇa) explains the approach and expands the Mahāvākya Tat-Tvam-Asi. Those interested in deeper study of Advaita and Śankara Bhāśyas may also find this text useful.
Jīvanmukti Viveka composed by Śrī Vidyāraṇya Svāmī, is very helpful in understanding what is the state of a Jīvanmukta and also Videha mukti. The text explains three conditions necessary for being a Jīvan mukta. It clears many doubts as how one can be free from the cycle of birth and death while still living in the physical body.
Advaita Makaranda composed by Śri Lakshmidhara Kavi is for advanced sādhakas. It is not for absolute beginners. It presents essence of vedānta in a clear way. It is for those who wish to do manana and wish to clear their doubts that remain after studying Upaniṣads and Gītā.
Brahmajñānāvalī mālā is the short composition explaining the true nature of Brahman. It is composed as a poem and not as a grantha. However it is useful for a sincere mumukshu (seeker of truth). It is in this composition that the famous phrase of Śrī Ādi Śankara 'Brahma Satya Jagan-mithyā' is mentioned in sloka 20. It is also present in Nirālamba Upaniṣada - 28
ब्रह्म सत्यं जगन्मिथ्या जीवो ब्रहैव नापरः (निरालम्बोपनिषद - २८)
"Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya Jivo Brahmaiva Na Aparah" - Nirālambopaniṣda - 28 (Nirālamba Upanishad - 28)
Ātma Ṣhataka (Shatak) or Nirvāṇa Ṣhataka is a compositions of six stanzas. It is an extremely important work. It explains Vivārta vāda, an important vāda adopted by Advaita to explain its position. This work explains the ‘Neti-Neti’ in a clear and precise way. It is one of the best composition and should be regularly read and memorized by a sincere sādhaka, as it is useful in his or her nididhāsana or while chanting OM. It is important to turn the mind inward and detach from all worldly matters and attachments. It also helps in not tuning our mind in subtle experiences like experiencing pancha kośas and always being a witness. First three lines of stanza describes what is not ‘I’ or ‘Self’. The last line of every paragraph is very important – ‘Chidānanda Rupo Śivoham Śivoham’. It describes our true nature. After reading reading three lines, one may ask question, then ‘Who Am I?’ and the response to it is the last i.e. fourth line saying ‘Chidānanda Rupo Śivoham Śivoham’. If followed diligently, it can help one know one’s true nature. Though an independent composition or a poem, it can be practically applied by only an advanced sādhaka.
Prabodha Sudhākara is a lesser known work and a rare one of it’s kind attributed to Śrī Ādi Śankarāchārya jī. It describes and eulogizes dvaita bhakti and considers Kṛṣṇa bhakti as the supreme. It is also useful for a sādhakā to develop, shraddha, bhakti, samarpaṇa and sharaṇāgatī.
Sadāchāra is another lesser known work and a rare one of it’s kind attributed to Śrī Ādi Śankarāchārya jī emphasizing on moral conduct in a vedāntic way, which is helpful in one‘s sadhana. One has to rise from tamas to rajas to satva. One‘s actions has to be of sātvika in nature in order to purify the mind and make it ready for advaita sādhanā. ‘sad’ generally means, that which is good. ‘Āchāra’ means behaviour or conduct. So general meaning of Sadāchāra is good [moral] conduct. However, ‘sad’ also means ‘truth’, which is sat-chit-ānanda or Brahman. Hence Sadāchāra can be described as the conduct which leads one towards realising one’s true nature. Śrī Hansarāja jī Mahārāja (Hansaraj ji Maharaj) has written a Marathi commentary in Ovi chanda which is also very useful for the sincere seekers.
To conclude, first study select few Prakarana Granthas starting with Tattva Bodha, Panchikaraṇa , Ātma Bodh and Aparokshānubhuti. You may take a few more if you like. Viveka Chuḍāmaṇi has to be studied compulsorily. Then study Bhagavad Gītā along with Viveka Chuḍāmaṇi (Viveka Chuḍāmaṇi and Gīta has to be repeated many times. I found it useful when I studied them together). Then go to Study Upaishads leaving the bigger ones like Chāndogya and Brahadāraṇya. Maṇḍukya is very precise and useful for those chanting OM (strictly user the initiation and guidance of a competent Guru). Later can study other Upaniṣads like Īṣā, kena, Kaṭha, Muṇḍaka, Praśna, etc.
Brahmasutras are only for elite classes and not for beginners or even intermediate students. They are to be studied only under the guidance of a competent āchārya.
Sādhanā is the main thing to do and it is the only thing that will lead one to Ātma Jñāna. Abhyāsa and Vairāgya are the two wings of freedom that you need to have.
After Understanding Advaita and Prakarana Granthas, lets understand an important technique taught by traditional Guru-s adyAropa apavAda