त्वदन्यः पाणिभया-मभयवरदो दैवतगणः
त्वमेका नैवासि प्रकटित-वरभीत्यभिनया ।
भयात् त्रातुं दातुं फलमपि च वांछासमधिकं
शरण्ये लोकानां तव हि चरणावेव निपुणौ


tvad anyah panibhyam abhaya varado daivata ganas-
tvam eka naivasi prakatita varabhity abhinaya
bhayat tratum datum phalam api ca vancha samadhikam
saranye lokanam tava hi caranav eva nipunau
Other arms than yours can confer protection or boon;
You alone do not act overtly, by gesture, the promises of refuge or boon
What is more, your feet, o sole refuge of the world of beings,
Are alone expert indeed in yielding boons more than asked for.
This verse has its setting in the world of Hindu iconography. A visit to an Indian museum, such as the famous one in Madras which is filled with bronze figures and statues of divinities, would verify for the reader the intention of the author here; while a visit to some of the temples of South India would be even more convincing for those seriously interested in the study of such images. Each image is meant to tell you something. The votary generally looks at the image from a short distance outside the temple doors, while camphor bits are waved before the icon. When a man goes to the temple for worship, he has in his mind a prayer most dear to him at that moment, referring to one of the four sets of values reviewed in the previous verse, where the prayer for wisdom denoted the most superior aspirant. In the many temples of South India there are multitudes of believers who bow before such images, asking for favours from the variety of divine representations or presences. All prayers are bound to be answered, for the simple reason that it could not be otherwise. Humanity would not have continued to build so many houses of prayer the world over if experience had proved that all prayer amounted to nothing at all. Man has had many centuries to test such an experience. If God had been dead and ineffective, man would have removed God from his life long ago.
Even the Russian dictionary contains the word "God", which shows that, rightly or wrongly, faith in the efficacy of prayer still persists. Religion is a necessity for man, though not in the same sense as food. Other hungers also need satisfaction. Even if there were no God, we might have to create one and put him in place.
In this verse the author purposely brings into relief a pointed contrast involving a question that has an important and direct bearing on the philosophy of Advaita, especially that represented by Sankara. This point is, however, not one of doctrinal importance, but one that has to be understood in the methodology proper to Advaita philosophy. The question here is whether one has to give primacy to cause or to effect in the philosophical enquiry that would take one to the truth of the manifested world of appearance. Each manifestation has a cause lurking behind it which is not manifest. In our enquiry we can travel positively from effect to effect ad infinitum, which is the way of the Vaiseshikas (atomists) and others. But there is another way, distinguished as the via negativa, which depends upon the philosophical dictum omnis determinatio negatio (all specification is negation) of Spinoza.
This way of enquiry, which is an approach to truth by eliminating the extraneous, is recommended by the Upanishads and is there called neti-neti. By this method we arrive at the source of all manifestation at the negative limit, or Alpha Point, of the vertical axis. Otherwise, if we follow the positive way of giving primacy to effects rather than causes, we soon land ourselves in a world of plurality of effects in the visible world. We have, as Bergson puts it, to do violence to ourselves in the effort of philosophizing, and not only enter into the heart of the reality that we are examining, but sink to its point of origin by a process of eliminating the plurality of horizontal manifestations.
Translated into the language of iconography, this methodological principle is underlined by Sankara here in Verse 4. At the negative limit, marked by the feet of the goddess in this image-language, resides the origin or source where individual manifestations merge into unity. Mathematical structuralism, in the context of complex numbers, is familiar with this same idea when it puts the square root of minus one at the bottom of the vertical axis, as understood with the help of the Cartesian coordinates.
Thus, the Absolute Goddess is negativity; while there could be innumerable classes and sub-classes of divinities which could answer prayers or grant benefits in an endless variety of gestures or favours.
While at the numerator end the possibilities are located in the infinity of possible effects; when the locus is fixed in the denominator aspect, at the feet of the Goddess, we could think of the one and unique end result or benefit of Absolute Wisdom alone accruing to the votary, seeker or supplicant, to the exclusion of all other miscellaneous benefits that ordinary human beings might be interested in. Praying for particular favours is called upasana and, because the value implied therein is paltry and transient, the absolutist Vedantin, who is most whole-hearted, discountenances all such devotional conduct and prefers only to know the truth. Such are some of the methodological and doctrinal secrets which Sankara wants to insist upon in this verse.
The reference to "more-than-asked-for boon" in this verse may require some explanation. Ordinary prayer is answered according to the mechanistic law of action and reaction being equal and opposite, following an arithmetic form of justice of a "tooth for a tooth" order. On the other hand, when one says that if a man asks for your shirt, give your coat also, there is a generosity which is not arithmetical. The good Samaritan and the father of the prodigal son have a sense of generosity which is of a higher order than a merely quantitative justice. Bergson distinguishes between Natural Justice, with a capital letter, and the justice which is measured out quantitively between the two sides of a set of scales. Absolute Justice is natural and open-minded in its generosity. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Absolutist attitude has been compared to that of a gambler and follows the law of "partial stimulus: total response" It is in this sense that the "more-than-asked-for boon", given by the grace of a Goddess enjoying an absolutist standpoint, contrasts with relativistic items of benefit derived from lesser classes of divinities.
In the second line, it is understood that hand gestures are part of the stone language by which the icons communicate to the votary. Generally it is by gesture with one or more hands that the response from the side of the deity is conveyed to the devotee.
Such gestures are called mudras and the wisdom-gesture given by a Guru to a disciple is the highest of them. There are four well-known gestures, each given by one of Shiva's four hands. The varada, that of boon-giving or benediction, is one. The gesture of protection is called abhaya, in which the hand points at the foot to indicate that the devotee should surrender himself to the feet of the divinity for refuge. Another hand can carry a weapon, which is indicative of the anger or punishment involved. The fourth hand might carry a flame or some other symbolic item. Vishnu's four hands are distinguished by the conch, discus, mace and lotus. Subrahmanya is recognized by his lance, and Rama by his bow. The rosary and book belong to Saraswati, while Kali can have many arms and hands, as in Chamundi. Four monomarks, held by four hands in which are bow and arrow, noose and goad, belong to the structuralism of the Absolute Goddess portrayed here, as presented to us in Verse 7 and others, where this kind of language of hand-gestures in stone is referred to. The foot or the twin feet have primacy over all such numerator monomarks, where even bow, arrow, noose and goad could help us recognize numerator or hypostatic values. Existence has primacy over essence, at least for methodological requirements.

(A Cartesian coordinate system specifies each point uniquely in a plane by a pair of numerical coordinates, which are the signed distances from the point to two fixed perpendicular directed lines, measured in the same unit of length. Each reference line is called a coordinate axis or just axis of the system, and the point where they meet is its origin usually at ordered pair (0,0). ED.)





The subject of this verse is the Prime Potent Power or Pradhana.
This is no other than the Devi.
tvad anyah - other than yours
panibhyam - by hands
abhaya varado - which give protection or boon
daivata ganah - classes of divinities
tvam eka naivasi - you alone are not thus
prakatita varabhity abhinaya - in not acting overtly, by gesture, boon-granting or refuge
bhayat tratum - to save from fear
datum - to grant
phalam api ca vancha samadhikam - more than asked-for-boon
saranye lokanam - o refuge of the worlds
tava hi caranav eva nipunau - your feet alone are expert
Here, there is a reference to the world of bronze figures of goddesses, with hands making many different gestures, each representing one of the deity's attributes - promising refuge or bestowing benefits.
He is saying, "These hands are not Yours, o Devi, abolish them. You, o Devi, speak to me a different language, the language of Vedanta". (Not the language of dualistic religious worship. ED.)
Think of all the possible gestures, boons or benefits from the gods on the Numerator side and abolish them.


The Devi's feet are at the bottom of the vertical axis - the square root of minus-one.
They are a place of refuge.
Here we have one cause, her feet, as against multiple effects
Go to the negative side, the source of all things, at the feet of the Devi this is the way to salvation, the "more than asked-for boon".

It is the Denominator which saves; go to the Denominator cause, not to the Numerator effect.













The Devi in this verse is the Prime Potent Power or Pradhana.
Her feet are compared to a lotus.


Pradhana (prime potent power) is a term used by Samkhya philosophy and is referred to in Narayana Guru's Darsana Mala in the section called Maya Darsana, in Verse 1:


1. na'vidyate ya sa maya vidya'vidya para'para
tamah pradhanam prakrtirbahudha saiva bhasate

What is not real, that is Negation (Maya),
Which by itself, as by science-nescience,
Transcendence-immanence, darkness and prime potency
Of nature, in many forms looms.


Here Pradhana is translated as "Prime Potency of Nature".

Maya is the name for the Negative Absolute.

(An editorial note on Maya:

Maya is perhaps the most difficult concept to grasp in Sankara's Advaita Vedanta. Nataraja Guru often said that there is a paradox at the core of the Absolute, and the Advaitic view of Maya may indeed appear paradoxical.


In other schools of philosophy, and in common speech in India and elsewhere, Maya is dismissed as "illusion" and as an obstacle to enlightenment which is almost looked upon as morally bad.


A typical quotation: "Maya or Māyā: a term found in Pali and Sanskrit literature, has multiple meanings and can be translated to mean something of an "illusion" (or more accurately a "delusion"). (our underlining. ED)


The position of Advaita is much more subtle.

Some definitions of Maya in the Guru's writings:


"Maya is the principle of indeterminism."


"Whatever is postulated as the cause of the unreal, spoken of in the most generic of categorical terms in philosophy, as against theology, is to be laid at the door of Maya. It is the basis of duality or synergic antinomies. The nearest Western equivalent is the Negativität of Hegel's system."


"Maya is the universal category of error"


Perhaps the most difficult to grasp is what is stated in Verse 97 of the present work, the Saundarya Lahari, and its commentary:


Verse 97:
"As the Goddess of the Word, Veda-knowers speak of You as Brahma's wife
Lakshmi is Vishnu's wedded one,
and the Mountain Daughter is Shiva's consort;
Certain others as the unattainable and boundless fourth state refer to You;
While you remain as the great Maya, making the universe go round, as Queen of the Ultimate Absolute."
(Our underlining. ED)
The Goddess is here praised in several ways: as the consort of each of the three gods and as the fourth state of consciousness (turiya) which is defined in the Guru's writings as follows:

“Turiya, the fourth or deepest flux of consciousness, where subject and object merge in the Absolute that is within and without…”


"Turiya - Absolute Consciousness"
“Turiya, the fourth, which has fully absolutist status.”

“Turiya, completely absolute, beyond any relativity.


“What transparent awareness has, turiya consciousness that is.” (Narayana Guru)

Maya is equated to the Devi - the Negative Absolute - Universal Concrete Beauty.
Universal Concrete Beauty is better than an abstraction such as Turiya.
Maya, instead of being reviled as in other, dualistic and relativistic philosophies, in Advaita Vedanta is to be seen as  "... the great Maya, making the universe go round, as Queen of the Ultimate Absolute."
See also the Kena Upanishad, as quoted at the bottom of the commentary to Verse 97, as indeed the entirety of that commentary.)

In Verse 1 of Maya Darsana, Narayana Guru itemises all the possible kinds of negative error (Maya): they are seven in number:

A pair called vidya-avidya (science-nescience):

(Or knowledge and ignorance in colloquial language. ED)




Another pair called para-apara (transcendence-immanence).

Transendence: existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.

Immanence means that the divine encompasses, or is manifested in, the material world.





Three other items are included under Maya in Verse 1:


pradhana or prime potent power,

and tamas or darkness.


Tamas is one of the three gunas or modalities of nature, the dark or dull, also described as tragic or inert.

The Guru further defines the 1st item in the verse on Maya - Vidya - Science, as  the error of knowledge, wrong judgement, logic etc.

The 2nd - Avidya - Nescience, is described as giving too much importance given to the immanent, nescience, ignorance.

3rd - Para
4th - Apara
5th - Tamas


The 6th item - Pradhana - could be seen as the seed containing the oak-tree, where space is abolished

The 7th - Prakriti - is a centripetal force of becoming, it expands up the vertical axis.


The first 4 verses demonstrate the following principles:

Verse 1: Vertico-horizontal reciprocity. (Complementarity, compensation, cancellability)
Verse 2: Phenomenal functions of creation, subsistence and destruction fitted into context.
Verse 3: The four sectors of values with the corresponding types.
Verse 4: The square root of minus-one: the negative pole of the Devi's feet


(The square-root of minus-one is at the bottom of the structure at the negative pole of the vertical axis - it can be used interchangeably with the feet of the Devi, Pradhana, Prime Potent Power, Negativität etc, as a monomark in this verse. ED)

Sankara is not concerned with numerator values and boons, but with the bottom of the vertical axis, the square root of minus-one.

In Vedanta - negative ontology has primacy over positive teleology.

Karana is cause, Karya is effect; Vedanta goes from effects to cause.
"Ontological reality is at Your feet, not in Your hands".
Sankara is a Satkaranavadin, not a Satkaryavadin, that is, he is a believer in the reality of causes and not of effects.





Another version:

other than yours
by hands
conferring refuge and boons
the whole ensemble of divinities (demiurges)
you alone are not like that
(hand gestures are not important to the Devi, her feet will do.)
exhibiting dramatic action of (conferring) boon or refuge
to save from fear
to confer benefit
as also to confer favours in surplus to what has been prayed for
of all possible worlds, o the sole refuge
yours indeed, the (pair of) feet are expert in
(put your faith in the feet, the square root of minus-one;
not in the hands of numerator gods.)


In Vedanta, we go from the multiplicity of effects, which are horizontal, to the cause which is vertical.
This is a fundamental aspect of Vedanta: go from effect to cause.

This is Vedantic methodology: causes before effects - Satkaranavada, as opposed to Satkaryavada

The Advaita Vedanta of Sankara is based on the method of reasoning where one travels from effects, which are pluralistic and positive, to a common subjective cause in terms of one's own self-consciousness.

Theologically understood, the divinities in any religion, Greek or Hindu, are recognised by their functional or operational overt positive values, which have hedonistic, pluralistic or essentially hypostatic significance.
These enter positively or negatively as protection or benefits of worship, devotion or contemplation.
One is granted what one prays for.
As the Absolute Value comprehends all varied flavours or essences, conceptually understood through various scriptures of the world, and inclusively covers them all, it is but right to think of it, the Absolute Value, as the seed at the bottom of a vertical parameter of reference. At this negative vertical point, ontological richness prevails to a maximum degree of intensity at the core of a really-experienced sub-consciousness, which is not merely verbose predicative representation.
The elimination of positive effects by way of giving primacy to cause is the negative way of arriving at, or attaining, the Absolute, which could otherwise be empty of all real content.
The universal concrete attains reality in the most scientific form where the duality of physics is effaced and its paradox vanishes, melted or absorbed into the totality of the homogeneous matrix of the Absolute.
The present series of verses presupposes a slightly negatively-tilted perspective, as is proper to Vedantic methodology.
Those terms or expressions in the verse such as "other arms", "sole refuge", "worlds of all beings" are meant to underline the contrast between the relative and the absolute, and combine such opposites as boons and protection from fear.
The words "alone", "unique" and "overt" have also to be noted. Absolute generosity is reflected in the words "more than asked for boon".
The ambivalence or dichotomous implications based on antinomian principles, the ramified sets and double assertion are all to be recognised in the pluralistic gods under reference, and in "what is more", respectively.
Metalinguistic poetry tallies here with protolinguistic structural imagery.




Theological divinities are many. They can protect votaries and confer boons in various pluralistic, relativistic or hedonistic contexts known to non-Vedantic or dualistic scripture.
This involves representing the non-dual Absolute Value that has rich ontological value, but only negligible teleological or hypostatic significance in Vedanta.
While the range of the ramified sets of gods or demigods, which are numerous, can grant hedonistic, relativistic or pluralistic benefits or security, at the bottom of the vertical parameter of all values, rich ontology of real or universally concrete values comprise and comprehend all the miscellaneous and conceptual values of the hypostatic or axiological intentionalities and expectations.
It is at the existent level that all essences merge into a unique value-factor.
As in the case of atomic structure, the neutrino or neutron is richer in negative content than the electron particle.
Indigence prevails on the plus side.
Innate subjectivism on the negative side is more important than analytic or positive objectivism on the positive side.
Sankara gives value to the Absolute through beauty-content.
Concrete Beauty is female
The male is abstraction.
Sankara disregards the branches - he goes to the root.
The root is the Universal Concrete - the source of all causes.
The feet of the Goddess are more important than the hands with all their mudras (gestures).