Nirvana Shatakam

by Shankara

English version by Ivan M. Granger


I am not mind, not intellect, not ego, not thought.
I am not the ears, the tongue, the nose or the eyes, or what they witness,
I am neither earth nor sky, not air nor light.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I am not the breath of prana, nor its five currents.
I am not the seven elements, nor the five organs,
Nor am I the voice or hands or anything that acts.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I have no hatred or preference, neither greed nor desire nor delusion.
Pride, conflict, jealousy -- these have no part of me.
Nothing do I own, nothing do I seek, not even liberation itself.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I know neither virtue nor vice, neither pleasure nor pain.
I know no sacred chants, no holy places, no scriptures, no rituals.
I know neither the taste nor the taster.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I fear not death. I doubt neither my being nor my place.
I have no father or mother; I am unborn.
I have no relatives, no friends. I have no guru and no devotees.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Free from doubt, I am formless.
With knowledge, in knowledge, I am everywhere, beyond perception.
I am always the same. Not free, not trapped -- I am.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Truly, I am Shiva, pure awareness.
Shivo Ham! Shivo Ham!

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This is one of the most important poems by the great Hindu philosopher-saint, Shankara. These lines are a distillation of Advaita Vedanta, the vision of non-dual reality. This is the realization that when we truly see and know, we recognize that underlying and supporting the complex diversity of creation is a single Unity. And within that Unity, even the individual is in no way separate or different from that vast Divine. This is why Shankara keeps returning to his refrain:

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!


You might ask, why Shiva? If all is One, why then identify with just one god from among the many gods in the Hindu pantheon?

Some schools of Advaita Vedanta do tend to avoid the theistic language of gods and, instead, speak only of the Self -- the immense Self that is at once the heart of every individual and also the heart of all Being.

But when adherents of Advaita do speak of gods, they usually speak of Shiva. Shiva is the favored god of meditators, yogis, ascetics, those on on the path of gnosis. Shiva is seen as pure Being, the fountain of all being. When Shankara repeats, "I am Shiva!" he is declaring that he finds no separation between his individual self and the center of all selves.

I am...

Shankara says "I am" throughout. By reading this poem, we enter into his realization. We take on his awareness. His declaration of what he is and is not becomes our own.

I am not mind, not intellect, not ego, not thought...

Much of this poem is a list of what Shankara realizes we are not.

This is an expression of the ancient practice of neti neti -- not this, not that. It is a spiritual examination of everything, while slowly recognizing that no single thing contains us.

We are not the mind or intellect. We are not the senses or the organs through which we perceive the world. We are not the elemental building blocks of the body or the mind.

He also states we are not the qualities or preferences of the personality. The things that tug at us or that repel us, they are not what we are, they are not fundamentally real either. Relationships, family, even life and death -- none of these things define us or truly tell us who we are.

Shankara has basically negated everything: the body, the mind, desires and fears, relationships, even the hope for liberation itself. What then is left? That's the question that resonates throughout. Surface ideas of identity would say that nothing remains and one has hit a dead end. Not so. Something remains. When all the rest has been swept aside, something remains. All the things you thought you were can be lost, yet you fundamentally remain. Beneath it all there has always been that glowing Self, steady, aware, at rest, blissful, invulnerable. And it says simply, "I am."

Free from doubt, I am formless.
With knowledge, in knowledge, I am everywhere, beyond perception.
I am always the same. Not free, not trapped -- I am.


In celebration, we can sing with Shankara --

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Truly, I am Shiva, pure awareness.
Shivo Ham! Shivo Ham!



Recommended Books: Shankara

Shankara's Crest Jewel of Discrimination Upadesa Sahasri: A Thousand Teachings Shankara and Indian Philosophy Ramana, Shankara and the Forty Verses: The Essential Teachings of Advaita Saundarya Lahari of Sri Sankaracarya





Nirvana Shatakam