sivah saktya yukto yadi bhavati saktah prabhavitum
na ced evam devo nakhalu kusalah spanditum api
atastvam aradhyam hari hara virincadhibhir api
pranantum stotum va katham akrtapunyah prabhavati
Shiva united with Shakti becomes able to manifest
If otherwise, this god knows not even how to pulsate.
How then could one of ungained merit be able to bow to, or even praise
One such as you, adored by Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma.
This opening verse squarely poses the paradox of life. Sanskritic literary convention requires that the beginning of any work must indicate:
  1. the subject matter or content of the work,
  2. the context of the work, i.e. where it belongs in relation to other disciplines and kinds of literature,
  3. the overall purpose of the work,
  4. the type of person to whom the work will correctly apply.
These requirements are correctly kept in mind by Sankara in this opening verse of the "Saundarya Lahari".
A paradox always implies two rival positions, both of which could be true alternatively or when taken together dualistically. The wise man, the poet, the philosopher, or the spiritual guide have to face this paradox which lurks at the very core of life as its most central problem. It is of a highly subtle, speculative or philosophical order. Other problems belong to human life in its numerous everyday aspects. In every case an enigma lurks between two factors, such as appearance and reality, mind and matter, theoretical and practical, noumenal and phenomenal etc., as an endless series of antinomies. Man and woman, father and mother, husband and wife, cause and effect, are conjugates of the same kind; their relation in every case being of a subtle and enigmatic order. Even a word and its meaning belong to each other inseparably; for they cannot be thought of disjunctly from each other.
The Bhagavad Gita refers to this duality by its own terms, as the field (kshetra) and the knower of the field (kshetrajna). By abolishing the duality between them one attains the Absolute. Thus we come to a notion - the Absolute - which is the same as the Brahman in Vedantic philosophy, with which Sankara is most directly concerned. It is well known that he stood for Advaita Vedanta, a strictly non-dual philosophical position which admits of no reality outside itself. The doctrine of the "Saundarya Lahari" is the same philosophy that he has elaborated in all his great commentaries (bhasyas), although here it is presented in a non-verbose, visible and colourfully real protolinguistic form. Failure to appreciate this fact has made most scholars and authorities treat this work as pertaining only to the discipline of Tantra, rather than of Vedanta, thus resulting in a wholly wrong estimation . We have explained this fact in our "generalities" above. Sankara makes Shiva and Parvati represent between them the highest of human values, as easily recognizable even in everyday conjugal life known to all humankind anywhere in the world.
Shiva is not a demiurge here, but has his place as the counterpart of his own negative aspect, as represented by Parvati. The relation is a subtle and enigmatic one. The word and its meaning belong together. The word is merely nominalistic or conceptual, but its meaning must refer to human experience without being a mere abstraction. We call the abstraction a concept, while the experienced aspect of the same would be a percept. Thus nominalism and perceptualism, which Vedantins refer to more simply as "name and form" (nama-rupa) meet and fuse together, cancelling out into what we appreciate as the meaning, which is neither a concept nor a percept, but is the result of the two-sided participation between these two opposite sides.
To give an example; truth and beauty can be thought of as human values resulting from the participation and cancellation of what is visible with what is intelligible. The status of the resultant meaning, represented by the words "Truth" and "Beauty", written with capital letters, falls under the aegis of the Absolute. All human values can be treated in this way, as Spinoza says: sub specie aeternitatis.
In the "Saundarya Lahari", Sankara combines the beauty of Shiva and Parvati so as to give them together the human value of Beauty with a capital letter, by which it attains to an overwhelming absolutist status, as suggested by the title of the work itself. Sankara's aim here is to give to the abstract notion of the Absolute the content of absolute beauty. In doing so he reveals himself as a man of superior poetic genius, by virtue of which the Absolute, otherwise a mere abstraction, comes to have a concrete, real and visible, as well as a truly experienceable, content.
Colour is a reality, and the twilight colour, magenta, has a special status among all other colours, for it results from the meeting of the infra-red and the ultra-violet. We find as the central theme of each of the hundred verses the personification of the value of absolute Beauty in the form of the Goddess who is directly related with the colour magenta (aruna) (e.g. see Verses 23, 50, 84, 92, 93, 98). Thus, the author intends here to bring together two aspects: something fully real and visible on the one side, that is, the colour magenta; with, on the other side, as its counterpart, a highly thin and mathematical abstraction which also represents the Absolute, not in visible, but in purely intelligible terms. The universal concrete and the universal abstract are thus inserted into the same neutral or unified ground. By intersection we could say that magenta, as a universal reality, has a horizontal reference, where it inseparably participates at the core of the field of consciousness with its own vertical parameter of a highly fourth-dimensional order. Such theoretical matters will become clear as we proceed. Lesser degrees of abstraction and generalisation could be given as an endless series of intermediate positions. In a hierarchy of values, each position could then represent one item of value always coming under the aegis of the Absolute, when correctly placed and cancelled out within the four-fold structural situation. What we must understand is that Shiva and Parvati, who are mythological figures or divinities of the Hindu pantheon with specific functions attributed to them in the traditional literature of Hinduism, are here being exalted by Sankara to the position of two ambivalent abstract principles - their intimate participation having a complementarity, a reciprocity, a compensation and a cancellability between them.
All overt action or activity is horizontal in status, and therefore must be relegated to the domain of the negative existential principle, which is the function of Parvati. Her reference is at the negative vertical limit of the four-fold structural whole previously described. This participation between Shiva and Parvati takes place at the very core of the total situation, ground or field. Shiva, as the positive principle within this same field, is to be visualized as a thin vertical parameter, having its reference at the hypostatic or positive vertical limit of this quaternion situation. No kind of action, except in the most purely mathematical sense, applies to him. He is a kind of "unmoved mover" of Aristotle, which, like the catalyst in chemistry, while acting, is not really acting at all.
The distinction here can be compared to a time-like and a space-like function. Horizontal action is space-like, while vertical action is time-like, spending itself in duration, which is partly conceptual in status. If we abstract this paradox of concept and percept even further, it abolishes itself by double assertion or by double negation, both of which attain that Absolute which is beyond paradox. Such are some of the subtleties which must be kept in mind by the intelligent reader who examines the content of this century of verses, starting from this very first one. Without doing so, the reader is likely to make the error of treating this work as a theological or cosmological scripture, or even a textbook of Tantra, meant only for religious or philosophical study by persons lesser in their cultural interests than the uncompromising Advaita Vedantin, like Sankara himself, who is to be kept in mind as the adhikari (the type of person for whom these verses are meant). It is in this sense that Sankara takes care to indicate that he is outside the scope of that kind of Vedic religious orthodoxy which thinks in terms of holiness or meritorious works when he says that he is incapable of praising or even saluting the Absolute Principle of Beauty here intended. The way of works and merit is unequivocally rejected by him in this verse as being outside his scope or intentions. We have to read this first verse together with the last verse of this series, where he again washes his hands of any intention to present a specific religious doctrine, which ordinary religious people might infer that he is tacitly supporting. The Absolute is proven by itself, and should be left alone to declare its glory to the world.
In this very first verse the reader can see that Sankara wishes to emphasize the necessity of thinking of Shiva and Shakti as belonging together to the one and only unitive content which is that of the value called Absolute Beauty. It is a great mistake to separate the functions of the twin counterparts that are meant to enter into a unified non-dual function here. Mother-worshippers in India are likely to make the mistake of saying that the beauty of the three worlds represented by the Goddess, sometimes referred to as Shakti or Tripura Sundari, is to be given primacy over the Shiva principle. They tend to forget that the basic cancellability of status between these two counterparts - male and female, positive and negative, vertical and horizontal, conceptual and perceptual etc. - is all-important to be kept in mind throughout the unfolding of this sequence of verses. To forget this idea is to fall into the error of duality, the most repugnant attitude for Advaita Vedanta. The Kaulins and perhaps the Samayins, were just such Shakti-worshippers, whose unilateral position Sankara must have wanted to correct and revalue by undertaking the present work.
Another point to notice in this verse is that when Shiva is not united with Shakti, he has no function at all. Some commentators say he has become sava - a dead body - when he is not united with the feminine principle. This is to forget that a correlating parameter running through the whole universe and able to ordain it, making cosmos out of chaos, is as important as any other function or aspect of the same Absolute.
Here, a form of pure verticalized action is implied as running through the world like the guiding thread of Ariadne, without which Theseus would never have been able to ascend out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur. Even the Mandukya Upanishad, which eliminates all functions and even predications when it refers to the highest Absolute in its final verdict - describing the ultimate Absolute as removed multi-dimensionally beyond all taint of relativity or predicability - still retains a certain auspicious value or attribute, referred to there as santam sivam advaitam (peaceful, auspicious, non-dual). A further qualification is mentioned immediately anterior to these final epithets by the words prapancopasanam referring to that principle which abolishes the phenomenal world, that is, all that has a horizontal reference. Thus it is of great importance to clearly distinguish the implied paradox from the very start, so as to finally abolish it correctly without violating the requirements of an absolutist epistemology, methodology or axiology. Science and mathematics, physics and metaphysics, the visible and the intelligible, are all counterparts that have to be treated as belonging together to an Absolutist whole.
There is in this verse a reference to the three gods: Brahma,Vishnu and Shiva, who have three distinct functions to perform within the totality of the field in which Shiva and Parvati live together. The value of the union itself is the ground of the Absolute, and the three functionaries are to be inclusively contained therein as having only a secondary importance. With any number of other gods, permissible under the aegis of the Absolute, this eternal union of male and female represents the resultant of the absolute value of Beauty. In mathematical terms this union is just a cancellation taking place between the vertical and horizontal parameters, the latter of which can be thought of as a curved or asymptotic line or perimeter, while the former could be a straight line or parameter. The three main functionaries represented here are fully justified and they could be recognized even by strict scientifically minded persons when we treat them each as having the status of a factor with a function belonging to it, as when we say that y = f(s) in algebra. Thus, the mythological personifications can be disregarded as merely incidental to the exigencies of language. Other monomarks could be chosen to refer to these same functions, which are creation, preservation and destruction. These three functions are inevitable concepts in the context of the cosmological, psychological and axiological processes taking place in the universe within the self and the non-self, when thought of in most general and abstract terms. Mythology is less positive than mathematics, as Auguste Comte would put it. The positively-minded modern person need not take mythology seriously. These demiurges could be treated as monomarks for the three functions understood in the abstract, where the grand process of becoming in the universe can be thought of as coming under the inevitable functional phases or aspects of beginning, enduring and disappearing, to one or other of which three phases any process, inner or outer, must conform.
These three gods or demiurges belong to the Vedic religious context. Vedanta is outside mere Vedism, but does not conflict with it, just as a well could be hidden within an expansive lake. Vedism, with its distinctions of meritorious actions and sin, based on the notions of the sacred and the profane, could be inclusively transcended or submerged within the scope of the more open and generous dynamism of the Advaitic outlook. We have to distinguish the two limiting points within the scope of spiritual progress. Just so does the River Rhone expand into the lake of Geneva at one end but pass out at the other as a thin stream again - to use one of Henri Bergson's favourite examples. One could place oneself at the lower, expanding limit of the river or at the upper, contracting limit of the lake, in a vertical perspective, without coming into conflict with less absolutist, religious disciplines which are vitiated by hedonistic or relativistic considerations.
This first verse marks the lower limit. By the time the discussion reaches the last verse, spiritual progress through works has attained to its maximum maturation; thus effectively abolishing its own importance; just as the same water can transcend to become a simple river again. The three gods thus come into the picture only between the lower and the higher limits of the total situation to be kept in our minds here. Sankara himself prefers not to enter into the context where merits and demerits or causes and effects, or obligations and taboos, come into interplay within these two limits. The effects of good works accrue only at the upper limits. Sankara, at the start here, correctly places himself before any action or reaction of cause and effect begins to operate. He wishes to remain a strict absolutist, in keeping with his own neutral and normalized position, giving equal importance to both cause and effect, but taking his stand preferably before the causes even begin to operate. He is thus removed from all taint of the phenomenal process of becoming. Transcending this, he is again seen, at the end, to be outside the scope of the four-dimensional set-up in which alone good and bad could interact. This is the reason why he takes care to underline in this verse that he is one of unaccomplished merits, unlike the demiurges who are caught within the process and strive to attain the positive limit which is the culminating point of all meritorious actions.
Vedanta is a negative way (nivritti marga). That is a further reason why this description, evidently applicable to himself as well as to the correct reader, is treated as being outside the scope of both merit and demerit taken together. When speaking of himself in this manner, we are also justified in thinking that he is indirectly referring to the adhikari - the kind of person to whom this work applies - which refers to any member of the public having the same status as himself in the total situation to be visualized here. This could only be done by what is called extrapolation in mathematics. Thus, the subject matter of this work - the value of Beauty under the aegis of the Absolute - is correctly seen in the context of Vedantic tradition, which transcends the Vedic context in which the three gods aspire for perfection by works of religious merit, as being placed at the positive top limit of the structural vision. As a Vedantin, Sankara himself takes his position initially on the negative side of the total situation, opposed to all aspiration, as is in keeping with the nivritti marga (negative path) of Brahmavidya, the Science of the Absolute - as understood in the Upanishadic context. In the Upanishadic tradition there is a reference in Kena Upanishad (3rd Kanda) to the situation in which the three gods - Agni, god of fire, Vayu, god of wind and Indra, the chief of the gods - stand puzzled about the nature of a Supreme Spirit that presents itself in vacant space before them. This is the positive Absolute, which is approached closest by Indra, the best of the demiurges. The same space then suddenly reveals the beautiful form of Uma (as Parvati is also called), the daughter of the Himalayas, representing the negative aspect of the same Absolute without contradiction or mutual exclusion.
The beauty of Uma (The Devi, or Parvati), here treated as interchangeable in value with what the Absolute represents, thus affords us a correct precedent acceptable to the teachings of the Upanishads, of which the Saundarya Lahari could be treated as a correct continuation.
Shiva worship is proto-Aryan and chiefly of South Indian origin, but the Upanishadic tradition blends both Aryan and proto-Aryan and Dravidian cultures, as is unequivocally implied in Verse 75. These comments on this first verse are to be taken as important preliminary clarifications for the understanding of the remaining verses also.
(See bottom of this page for the relevant extract from Kena Upanishad. ED)


EDITORIAL NOTE: these notes, as they are taken from different sources, do not present a sequential whole - there are repetitions and near-repetitions in many places. Rather than over-edit and perhaps lose something, we have left them as they are. Anyway, this is a very difficult and subtle subject and repetition will probably help understanding.

A word-for-word translation in the Guru's handwriting.


Shivah = Shiva (numerator factor).
Shaktya = with Shakti - the phenomenal factor in the centre of the Absolute.
Yukto-yadi = when united, unified (i.e. when participating vertically and horizontally with each other).
Bhavati Shaktah = becomes able (Shiva).
Prabhavitum = to realize himself, become fully himself, attain full plenitude.
Nachedevam devah = if likewise this god.
Nakhalu kushalah = is not capable indeed
Spanditumapi = even to oscillate like a straw (?) to or (illegible)
Atah stvam = thus to or for you.
Aradhyam = worthy of worship
Harihara virinchadhibhir api = (illegible)
Prananthum = to adore
Stothum va katham = even to praise, how.
Akritapunya = one who has no merits of good acts.
Prabhavati = become specified.


EDITORIAL NOTE: throughout this commentary, where the Guru's notes, as extracted from the source material found in saundarya lahari/notes (see saundarya lahari/index) are used, there are many passages that were taken down by students in a form which is not immediately clear to the general reader - that is, to anyone who was not a full-time student of the Guru's and familiar with the background material. Therefore we have provided explanatory notes - clearly labeled "EDITORIAL NOTE and/or signed "ED.", and written in italics, and we have also corrected or reconstructed some structural diagrams. Without this, we think that it would be impossible to make these brief notes understandable. THESE ADDITIONAL NOTES AND MODIFICATIONS REFLECT OUR PERSONAL OPINION AND ARE IN NO WAY TO BE TAKEN AS DIRECT STATEMENTS OF THE GURU. However, we have been studying and teaching this text for 44 years and hope that they will clarify matters.


According to Purva Mimamsa, the first verse of a work must say:
1) What subject you are dealing with.
2) How does it relate to other subjects?
3) Does it lead to salvation?
 All of this is stated in Verse 1.
(Purva Mimamsa: For purposes of classification, Vedic lore has been divided into Purva, or former, earlier; and Uttara, later, divisions. This division has to be understood both in the historical and literary sense. The Purva Mimamsa (Earlier Critique) is where ritualist injunctions and obligatory rules are discussed critically by Jaimini. (see Uttara Mimamsa).

Vedas: The early Sanskrit writings in praise of Indra, Varuna and phenomenal gods of nature; later displaced by the philosophical concept of the Absolute Brahman in the Upanishads. The four chief Vedas are the Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharvana. ED)

The Main Themes of Verses 1 to 10:

Verse 1 - Vedanta is radical; do not ask me to come into the temple, there are no rituals in Vedanta.

 (Sankara places himself outside the ritualistic, relativistic or religious context of the three gods. The Advaita Vedanta he represents is concerned with wisdom, not ritual actions of worship. ED)


Verse 2 - In Vedanta the world is a monde affiné as Bergson calls it - a flux; a world of particle physics, not as actual as it seems.


Verse 3 - Put Absolute Beauty at the bindu (central locus) of the quaternion, do not put a comparative or relativistic goddess there: there is a fourfold structure.


Verse 4 - In Vedantic Methodology primacy is given to cause - do not get lost in effects. There is a borrowed light of Absolute Beauty, a reflected glory as when Vishnu takes on a women's form as Mohini. (And seduces Shiva. ED)
(Verse 5 - Erotic occasionalism; the arrow of Eros can hit Shiva if it is aimed vertically.


Verse 6 - There is a four-dimensional abstraction and generalization.


Verse 7 - The Goddess as Purushika with four limbs bearing noose and goad, bow and arrow.


Verse 8 - Conic sections: getting away to the negative side is .....(? - the original faded manuscript appears to read " the negative side is loud" which seems meaningless ED)


Verse 9 - There is a stable ascending series of cross-sectional positions known as Chakras.


Verse 10 - There are ramified sets of values within the Absolute on the positive and negative sides:

Two trees of Porphyry, one growing upwards and the other downwards, representing existential and subsistential values.
(Here are examples of trees of Porphyry, by way of illustration only. ED)



Sankara is dealing with Shiva and Shakti (literally "power" - another name for the Devi): this is the content of Verse 1.
a) This verse deals with the conceptual and phenomenal aspects of the universe.
Sankara says: "I am not writing this for my salvation, I am already a brahmavit (a knower of the Absolute)".
(Sankara's Advaita Vedanta or Brahma Vidya (Science of the Absolute) is outside the context of salvation - all it is concerned with is understanding. The phrase "Unitive Understanding" is sometimes used as a translation of "Advaita Vedanta". ED)
b) There is a paradox between Para and Apara Brahman, (the immanent and the transcendent absolute) as between mind and matter, the conceptual and the phenomenal, reality and appearance.

Shakti, (the Goddess or Devi) is the specific manifestation of Shiva.
Shiva is living vertically and becomes manifested when united with the Devi.
c) If Shiva is not united with the Devi, he cannot have even the slightest vibrating horizontal movement.
(To give the reader some familiarity with what Shiva and the Devi represent in the Indian tradition, we present below some representations from classical sculpture; from medieval art and from popular folk-art prints. ED)

d) The three gods, in the process of becoming, are in charge of creation, preservation and destruction - the three functions of nature - and the Devi is in charge of them.

(To assist the reader, as above, here are some representations of these three gods. ED)

(Brahma: One of the members of the Indian pantheon as the first creator and source. He is four-faced, representing the four directions (with an up and down, zenith-nadir fifth sometimes added). As creator he is distinguished from the neutral Brahman, the Absolute, which is no god, but a philosophical Reality. ED)

(Vishnu: The second of the so-called Hindu Trinity, of which Brahma the creator is first and Mahesvara or Shiva is the last. Shiva is also the destroyer. Vishnu is referred to as the preserver, although taken by themselves each of them is in turn preserver and destroyer. These result from the fusing of three cosmological and psychological currents of religious thought in India. ED)

(Shiva: The ancient hero-God from the times of prehistory, associated with radical virility and renunciation. He is an unconventional god like Dionysius, wearing skins and dancing in ecstasy, drunk with cosmic consciousness. He is the most ancient and the most important figure of the Indian pantheon, and occupies his seat in Benares and Kailasa. ED)
The Devi's task is to manifest the world.
The two parameters, vertical and horizontal, are revealed here, together with the subtle participation between them, and Sankara says he will focus on the negative aspect of the Absolute and treat of the lower Absolute (Apara-Brahman), not the higher (Para-Brahman).
(Para: Beyond; pertaining to the Ultimate or Supreme; as opposed to the immanent here-and-now aspect of reality which is apara. It could mean transcendent. (cognate with the English word "far").
The Devi, as manifester of the perceptual world, can be equated with Apara-Brahman, the negative perceptual aspect of the Absolute and the subject of the Saundarya Lahari. ED)

But, Sankara says, "I am outside the picture, I belong to no context".
(Sankara is saying he is a Vedantin, concerned with the Science of the Absolute (Brahma-Vidya) not a ritualistic Vedic practitioner (Brahmin).

Brahmin: One who conforms to the religion of the Vedas and initiated or confirmed by the bestowal of the sacred thread which causes him to be known as a "twice-born" (dvija) and fit thereby to assist at ceremonies of burnt offerings to the Gods of the Vedas. Socially he is the highest of the types of castes, statically viewed, in the Indian world of caste hierarchies, the others being Kshatriya (warrior), Vaishya (merchant) and Shudra (servant). Vedic learning and ritual accompanied the Brahmin as priest in the formation of society as it stratified with the penetration of the Aryans into the Indian matrix, about 1500 BC. ED).

Shiva and Parvati.

Absolute Beauty is the result of cancellation.
Beauty emerges when two sides meet and cancel.

Creation, which exists, subsists and has value, is beauty.

Fill your mind completely with overwhelming Absolute Beauty and you are a mystic.

You meditate on the Devi and establish a bi-polar relationship with the Absolute.

A yogi can meditate on a certain abstract principle of Absolute Beauty, leading to an understanding without logic - through the emotions and intuition- something you can experience: then you will establish a relation between the Non-Self and the Self which will cancel out into a joy forever.
All proper meditation is erotic; anyone who says that it is not so does not know what he is talking about.
The contribution of Indian Civilization to spirituality is Erotic Mysticism - it was not repressed by patriarchal and prophetic religions that frowned on sensuality.