The first chapter, which contains 28 verses, disowns the body.
Any amount of spiritual practice or study of Scriptures does not lead to liberation, unless one pursues dispassion (total detachment and devoid of emotions). There is a reference to a triad, which comprises of dispassion, knowledge and devotion. Dispassion is objectivity (judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices; not influenced by strong emotion, and so able to be rational and impartial) and detachment. Though all humans have dispassion in different degrees, detachment from the material world has to be complete (complete in the sense that one should not always remain in the material world). Even a minutest impression of attachment or desire will manifest in huge proportions. Dispassion is directly related to one’s ego, the thought of doership. (Practically, dispassion is not 100% possible in normal life. Therefore, the best possible thing is to annihilate the thought of doership. This, over a period of time will increase dispassion.) Human body is identified with “I” and “mine”, which are associated with sensory organs (this is dealt with in the second chapter). When dispassion is developed, “I” and “mine” wane away, depending upon the intensity of dispassion. When one develops dispassion, he automatically seeks spiritual knowledge, which takes him forward in the path of devotion. Hence it is said that dispassion, knowledge and devotion form a perfect triad.
Prabodhasudhākara then proceeds to explain the formation of human foetus, which develops based on its karma. Then the process of birth is described which says that the child is pushed out of the womb by powerful air (prāṇa) and once the child is out, its sufferings (due to karma) begins. It also says that the foetus is baked by digestive fire known as jaṭharāgni. (The underlying meaning is that the pains of life begin even in the form of foetus.) There is a reference to number of forms such as humans, animals, birds, insects, etc and the total of all such forms is given as 80,400,000 (shapes and forms). Human birth is attained through evolution. The highest form is human birth is attained out good karmas (it means less karmic imprints). If this opportunity is not utilized to understand and realize the Self and the perishable nature of the bodies (gross, subtle and causal), then no purpose of this birth is achieved. (It is believed that human birth is the last birth, as liberation can be attained only through human mind; but this does not mean that the current birth is the last birth; there could be further births also, which purely depends upon one’s karmic account.) It is also said that even wise men do not understand this (even though one realizes the Self, still downfall is possible due to dispassion). The duration of life is very short (compared to fraction of a second in this Scripture, to signify how short the life is); the gift of human birth cannot even be compared to tons of gold (wealth). If this life is not utilized for the purpose it is intended for, then there could be no greater loss than this. (Realisation of the Self and ultimate liberation can happen only in human birth and hence it says that this precious life should not wasted by constantly dwelling on the material pleasures.) Animals and other creatures suffer more because of their inability to communicate. But human beings have the capacity to communicate. This is cited as the major difference between man on one side and animals, etc on the other side. Every person who is born undergoes sufferings either through body or mind (mental pain, financial constraints, health issues, etc). Having known this, why should one suffer? A man knows that his physical body is susceptible to aging and ultimate death. The beauty is only skin deep and everything that lie beneath the skin is only filthy. Why should one concentrate on the skin and the filth under the skin, knowing amply well that they are subject to disintegration?
Not realizing that every part of the body within the skin is foul smelling, one proceeds to pamper his external body with cosmetics. By doing so, he ties to prevent the inherent foul smell. Those who are spiritually ignorant appreciate this deceptive external presentation. A wound in the body that is not attended for a few days becomes infected causing bad odour. A body that is adorned with fragrance and flowers is ultimately burnt on wooden logs (there is no reference to burial). All those who are seated on high pedestals (king, etc), those who are always addicted material joy and happiness are also not spared from the jaws of death. Not understanding the reality, such ignorant men refer to their bodies as “I” forgetting that in reality “I” means only the Self within. Where is the comparison between the purity of the Self within, which is nothing but Sat and Cit (perpetual existence and purity of consciousness) and the gross body that decays over a period of time, leading to death.
The first chapter ends here. In a nutshell, the first chapter says that one should not attach more importance to the body. Human life is considered as the final step towards Liberation and one should not waste his time in seeking material pleasures. Going with other Scriptures, it would be appropriate to say that one should not seek too much of material pleasures, as such pleasures cause addiction and attachment and therefore dispassion is not possible. The world evolves on a continuous basis and what was applicable in 8th century (during which period Śaṃkarācārya lived) cannot be applied in the 21 century, though the essence of the conveyance remains the same. There is always a room for maneuvering the interpretations of great Scriptures like Prabodhasudhākara to suit the conditions prevailing at the time of interpretation. If this is not done, the underlying revelations of these great Scriptures would be lost forever.
The next chapter deals with sensory objects.
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