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Vedanta Retreat, Manjakkudi, 1–9 Dec 2016

A Vedanta Retreat for Arsha Vidya UK students was once again held in Manjakkudi, Pujya Swami Dayananda's ancestral village. The first nine richly rewarding days of December were spent listening to Pujya Swamini Atmaprakasanandaji unfolding Brahmajnanavalimala and the Hastamalaka Stotram.

Brahmajnanavalimala (a garland, mala, of words, avali, on brahma jnana) is attributed to Adi Shankara. In 21 exquisite first-person-singular verses it describes the characteristics of one who knows brahman and gives the very essence of Vedanta. Each verse, when properly understood, is more than suitable for nididhyasanam.

The Hastamalaka Stotram (a stotra whose meaning is as obvious and accessible as a malaka, gooseberry, in the palm of one's hand, hasta) has a beautiful story behind it. Once, Adi Shankara came upon a village in which a man brought his thirteen-year-old son before him explaining that the boy had been dumb from birth, had no likes or dislikes, nor a sense of honour or dishonour and was completely inactive. Shankara asked the boy questions about himself (which form the first verse) and, to the astonishment of all present (in the next 13 verses) the boy expressed, in the most rich and profound non-dual declarations, the nature of the self — each verse ending resoundingly with "I am of the nature of pure knowledge." Naturally, the boy became one of Shankara's disciples.

The unfoldment of these two extremely advanced texts provided the most memorable and deeply satisfying study sessions that any long-term seriously comitted student could ever wish for.

Our stay naturally included trips to local temples and of course to the Swami Dayananda schools on our doorstep. One school visit included attending a homa blessing a newly built canteen. Another visit (to a nearby village) coincided with an annual music festival in which it seemed everyone was taking part!

All too soon it was time to leave, some returning home, some travelling to Sringeri to meet the Shankaracarya.

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