Feb 24 2017

Shankara – Nirvana Shatakam

Published by at 9:19 am under Poetry

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!

— from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by Ernesto /

In the Hindu calendar, this is Maha Shivaratri, the Great Night of Shiva, honoring the god Shiva and the awakening of life and light and enlightenment in the world. So I thought we should honor this special night with one of the great poems in the Shiva tradition by one of the most important philosopher-saints of Hinduism, Adi Shankara.

These lines are a distillation of Advaita Vedanta, the vision of non-dual reality. Advaita is the realization that underlying 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, in fact, 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 often speak of Shiva. Shiva is the favored god of meditators, yogis, ascetics, those 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 asserts, “I am,” throughout. By reading this poem, we repeat with him, “I am… I am…” Doing so, 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 the full Reality we seek.

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 thought.

He also states we are not the qualities or preferences of the personality. The things that tug at us or repel us, they are not what we are, and they are not fundamentally real. 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. Superficial ideas of identity would tell us 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 we thought we were can be lost, yet what we are fundamentally remains. 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

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) 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
More Books >>


Shankara, Shankara poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Shankara

India (788 – 820) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

Shankara (or Sankara, often referred to reverently as Adi Shankara or Shankaracharya) is a central figure within Advaita Vedanta (nondualist Hinduism). The name Shankara is an epithet associated with the god Shiva — “giver of joy.” Adi Shankara was an important philosopher, sage, holy man, and poet who, more than any other figure, unified the nondualist teachings into an essential philosophical tradition within Hinduism.

Shankara was born in the Kerala region of India. His father died while he was still young, and he was raised by his mother. He showed early brilliance in his study of the Vedas and other sacred texts and by the age of 8 he left home to seek a guru and receive initiation into sannyasa, wishing to renounce the world and live a monastic life.

The young monk grew into a gifted scholar and holy man. He traveled extensively, engaging in philosophical debates, spreading the essential truths of the nondual nature of reality.

Shankara is also remembered for reorganizing monastic structures within Hinduism, and many monastic lineages trace their roots back to Adi Shankaracharya as their founder.

More poetry by Shankara

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Shankara – Nirvana Shatakam”

  1. Christineon 24 Feb 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Hi Ivan 🙂 – I have a question…

    When the poem says – “I am knowledge” – how does one interpret “knowledge?” I see from the poem that it is not “intellectual knowledge” of the mind… But does it refer to a “deeper knowing”? Is it “Divine Knowlegdge”? Would you explain… Thanks

  2. Ivan M. Grangeron 24 Feb 2017 at 2:16 pm

    You are absolutely right, Christine, he is not writing about intellectual knowledge. The word used can also be translated as “gnosis.” In other words, he is talking about the deep and holistic “knowing” that we recognize in profound spiritual states of enlightenment.

  3. Christineon 24 Feb 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you! Am resonating ))))))

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