Śaṃkarācārya (Shankaracharya) composed Ātmabodhaḥ (आत्मबोधः), which comprises of 68 couplets. He says in the introductory couplet that he is composing this for the sake of those who have purified themselves through austerities and now seeking Liberation (mokṣa). Bhagavad Gītā says “The sacrificial rites performed as per the scriptural directives, with a focused mind and without any attachments to the fruits of such rites are sattvic in nature and are to be performed as a duty. When sacrificial rites are performed with publicity, with an intent on the fruits of rites, they belong to rajasic nature. Sacrificial rites performed in violation of Śāstras, with no food offered in charity, without payment to those who perform such sacrificial rites, without recitation of mantras and without faith belong to tamasic nature.” Ātmabodhaḥ (Atma bodha) is meant for these spiritual seekers, through knowledge.
Spiritual knowledge is completely different from Scriptural knowledge or ritualistic knowledge. Only spiritual knowledge leads to Liberation. This does not mean that Scriptural and ritualistic knowledge will not lead to Liberation. They will also lead to Liberation, but not in this birth, but in subsequent births. Our resolute is to get Liberated in this birth itself and we do not want to experience the pains of transmigration. For attaining Liberation, one has to rigorously follow sādhana catuṣṭaya, which comprises of intellect to differentiate between the reality and the delusion (nitya-antiya vastu viveka); complete renunciation. There cannot be partial renunciation for those who seek Liberation. Renunciation has to be total in all aspects, freedom from all worldly desires, indifference to worldly objects and to life itself, not only in this birth, but also in subsequent births (ihāmutrārtha phala bhoga vairāgya). The third one is classified into six parts. They are calmness, self-control, desisting from sensual enjoyment or any worldly action, forbearance, absolute concentration and faith (ṣaṭsampatti). The fourth is desire for Liberation (mumukṣā).
Only a person, having sādhana catuṣṭaya is eligible for Liberation. Ātmabodhaḥ (Atma bodha) means, teachings to realize the Ātman, which is eternal. We are also Ātman, but we are not able to realize the Ātman within (since it is eternal, It is both within and outside; everything is Ātman, hence It is known as Omnipresent). As jīva, we are deluded by innate ignorance. Kṛṣṇa concluded Bhagavad Gītā by saying, “Arjuna, the Lord abides in the hearts of all beings, causing them to revolve according to their karmas as if attached to a machine, by His cosmic delusion known as māyā, Take shelter in Him completely, and by His mere grace, you shall obtain supreme peace and the eternal abode.”
Liberation cannot be attained without the knowledge about the Self. In Advaita, knowledge always means knowledge about the Self. There is no other way to realize the Self. Self-realization is not a tough path; in fact, it is much easier than ritualistic path. All that is needed in Self-realization is knowledge. Patañjali in his Yoga Sūtra (II.28) says, “By the practice of different parts of yoga, the impurities are being destroyed, knowledge becomes effulgent up to discrimination.” Therefore, mind can be purified by constant practice. Practice here means retraction and withdrawal of mind from thought processes. When one does not have desires and attachments, there cannot be any thoughts. Śāstras cannot give Liberation and followers of Śāstras do not attain mokṣa in this birth. They have to transmigrate to attain mokṣa. In fact, one of the ancient treatise “Prabodha Candrodaya” says, “These fools are deceived by lying Śāstras and are fed with allurements of hope.” Let us take an example for this. Astrology is one of the Śāstras (jyotiṣa Śāstra). We resort to astrology when we are in trouble. In order to avert the upcoming malicious events, some remedies are prescribed. If these remedies are effective, then Law of Karma becomes ineffective. Still, we perform astrological remedies thinking that such remedial measures will prevent upcoming malicious events. It is only the psychological effect on us that works and definitely not the remedy that we have done. This is further confirmed by Lord Shiva in Adhyātma Ramāyaṇa. “When this knowledge of identity of the two Self-s (Paramātman and Jīvātman) arises through Upaniṣad saying ‘I am That’, then avidyā (also known as māyā) with all her off-shoots is destroyed. There I no doubt on this. Knowing this, my devotee attains to my Self (sāyujya or absorption into Brahman). Those who ignore this mahāvākya (I am That or ahaṁ Brahmāsmi; A true Guru after imparting the highest knowledge to his disciple says ‘Tat tvaṁ asi’ and the disciple who, after attaining the highest knowledge affirms ‘ahaṁ Brahmāsmi’ with completed knowledge. There is no use of deceptive affirmation as the goal of Liberation will not be achieved. Hence, the Guru-disciple relationship is considered as sacred), roll in abyss of Śāstras. Theirs is neither knowledge nor emancipation, even after hundreds of transmigration.”
Therefore Ātma bodha is a standalone Scripture, which imparts pure knowledge for attaining Liberation. Śaṃkarācārya (Shankaracharya) composed this, taking into account the prevalently wide spiritual ignorance, which is innate in nature. He also wanted to save people from descending into the well of spiritual ignorance and from the hands of self-proclaimed preceptors, who started exploiting these ignorant paśu-s (an uninitiated persons into Knowledge.
This is yet another masterpiece from Śaṃkarācārya (Shankaracharya) and now he begins his teachings. (1)