ADI SANKARAR’S FIVE QUESTIONS
At the end of the
marathon debate with Adi Sankarar in the city of
Proceeding on his journey through the region now known as Karnataka, Adi Sankarar camped in a village called Srivali, where a resident Prabhakara by name called on him along with his 13-year-old son who had been without speech for the previous 11 years. When a child, the boy had fallen into a river and was resuscitated by a yogi. The child, however, seemed to have lost his speech thereafter. He was always contented and happy and carried out instructions like an automaton. The grieving father pointed out, “See, Sir, I asked him to prostrate at your feet and he is still lying on the ground in that position. He would get back to his feet only when specifically told to do so”.
Listening to the account, Adi Sankarar, in a flash deduced the actual condition of the boy. He himself lifted the lad and looking into his eyes addressed him kindly: “Who are you standing in front of me now? Whose son are you? Whither are you bound? What is your name? Where indeed have you come from? Answer me in a manner to gladden my heart”.
The boy, who had been dumb for 11 long years broke into a torrent of spontaneous poetry and in 13 four-lined verses, he revealed his real identity as the Absolute, the One without a second. The Self stood explained as clearly as a berry (nellikkai) held in the palm of one’s hand. The berry is called amla and the hand is hasta in the Sanskrit language. Overjoyed at the boy’s exposition, Adi Sankarar himself gave the title Hastamalakam to the collection of the boy’s poem. The lad was also named Hastamalakan and Adi Sankarar did him the honour of authoring a commentary on the work called Hastamalakiyam.
Today we are taking up this unique scripture for our study and the copy of poems in your hand is a masterly translation provided by Bhagavan Ramana Maharishi. Are we not twice-blessed?
Prima facie, the queries put by Adi Sankarar could be answered with the bio-data of the boy; but that would have been an exercise in redundancy. And that was not what the Master wanted. The questions were cardinal in nature and so merited a profound reply. That was what the boy proceeded to deliver in accordance with the bidding that the answer should be in a manner ‘to gladden’ the Preceptor’s heart. As Ramana Maharishi has said, a diligent disciple is one who is alert even to a look from the Master. Hastamalakan was a model for Guru-bhakti and no wonder, he was eminently deserving of the Master’s Grace.
Hastamalakan’s father Prabhakara was overjoyed on listening to his son speaking and after paying obeisance to Adi Sankarar he took the boy home. He came back on the next day to report disconsolately that the son had resumed his total silence on leaving the presence of Adi Sankarar. The Master told the father, “Your son will not be of any use to you, don’t you see? Leave him here as my disciple and return with the proud thought that your offspring is to be of service to the whole of humanity”.
The five seminal questions were put by Adi Sankarar not merely to the tongue-tied boy before him, but to all of us seekers, enmeshed that we are to various degrees in the coils of the world-process.
By the first two questions, “Who are you standing in front of me?” and “Whose son are you?” the message that is sought to be conveyed is, “you are not the badges that you sport. A professional actor on the drama-stage knows and is never unaware of the fact that despite all the make-up on him, he is in reality neither monarch nor mendicant but an ordinary citizen like any member of the audience and the role he dons is only for a brief duration and that too for the sake of livelihood. Are you less intellectual than an artiste that you should want to be known by your adjuncts or upadhis? Minus these upadhis, what or who are you? Have you ever paused to ponder over this?
By the question, “What is your name?” it is made clear, ‘For the purpose of introducing yourself, do not be content with chanting “Abhivadhayae” which is but a tutored ritual. You have responded to many names in the past and your present name was thrust on you a few days after your birth. If you are not your continuously changing roopam (form) neither are you your naamam (name). Your form and name are no different from your dress’.
By the remaining two questions, “Whither are you bound?” and “Where did you come from?” it is pointed out that worldly life is akin to a journey with the Earth being a chatram. Any journey should have a purpose and a destination. Have you identified these and are you heading in the right direction?
The five questions are elaborated before each one of you and you should touch your heart and come out with appropriate answers. After you do this homework we shall see the replies given by that inspired lad Hastamalakan who proved to the world that Realisation can be attained to by anyone born on this Earth, simply by virtue of the seeker being a human being endowed with the sixth sense to which all that is required as additive and catalyst is spiritual earnestness.
— Excerpt from Sage TGN’s Talk on Hastamalakam