In this, the 10th shloka Sankara gives us the code to happiness and peace. This shloka also has a unique Construction – the last word of the previous line becomes the first word of the succeeding line forming a sequential chain of words that runs like this: 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 4-5. This constructional elegance would be impossible in the English language and dare I say in any other language. This stanza is testimony not just to Sankara’s mastery of Sanskrit but also an example of the dexterity and beauty of the Sanskrit language.
There is an old story in the Srimad Bhagavata called “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk – Samudra Manthan” – a story that has been the subject of much derision and ridicule by even Hindus without understanding the deep allegorical significance of the story. This story is particularly relevant to this shloka:
This story is set at a time when the Asuras (the dark forces) are in the ascendancy and the Devas (forces of good) are on the decline. The Devas and Asuras both dwell within each one of us as the good/noble versus bad/evil tendencies. Vishnu the Atman/Soul tells the Devas that if they want to get the upper hand then they must churn the “ocean of milk” which refers to our mind/brain in order to get the Amrita (Nectar) of immortality i.e. self-realization/realization of the supreme truth. Vishnu the atman, advises the Devas that initially they have no choice but to have the Asuras also as their allies in the churning and then slowly get rid of them later. The Atman (Vishnu) further advises them to use Mandara mountain as the churning rod and Vasuki the serpent as the rope that would help in turning the rod of Mandara. Mandara here (in my opinion) is a reference to Spinal Cord-Brain where it is believed all spiritual activity/growth occurs – where the 7 notional Chakras or seats of higher consciousness are located. Vasuki again in my opinion represents the nerve plexus‘ that “snake” around the spinal cord and direct the outward action and inner perceptions of our sense organs and their associated centers of perception – and these can be brought under control through the practice of pranayama (special breathing techniques), pratyahara (withdrawal), and meditation. He finally tells them to repose faith in him – the atman/soul and that he would guide them through the entire process provided they didn’t give up and pushed on towards their ultimate goal.
The Asuras and the Devas begin the churning process – initially wild and dangerous animals float to the surface, a reference here to the emergence of our vilest and basest thoughts embedded deep in our psyche. After a brief pleasant period (which is also typical of the meditational process), there emerges the vicious poison Halahala or Kalakuta that threatens to choke and destroy the Devas and Asuras – again an allegorical reference to the great himalayan wall one must surmount to get to the other side. The Devas and Asuras turn to Shiva (the willpower) he who had burnt all desires and applied the ash on his body as Samba-Siva. Shiva swallows the poison a reference to the assertion of the human will essential to sustain progress. After this emerge several pleasant things – a reference here to Siddhis or powers which also need to be rejected before finally emerges Amrita (Nectar). Vishnu, the atman through the veiling power of his maya in the form of Mohini leads the Asuras away and the Devas finally realize the true nature of their own selves – the nectar of their own divinity…
Now to the shloka, transliteration, translation, and purport:
निस्सङ्गत्वे निर्मोहत्वम् ।
निश्चलतत्त्वे जीवन्मुक्तिः ॥
सत्सङ्गत्वे (Associating with that which is good) निस्सङ्गत्वं (leads to dissociation with that which is bad). निस्सङ्गत्वे (Dissociation, Detachment) निर्मोहत्वम् (Clarity, Free from delusion). निर्मोहत्वे (Clarity) निश्चलतत्त्वं (Steady, Firm, Immovable) निश्चलतत्त्वे (Firm, Immovable) जीवन्मुक्तिः (Freedom, Realization)
“When you associate with that which is good; you dissociate yourself from that which is bad/harmful to you. This dissociation/detachment leads you to clarity and frees you from delusion. Clarity breeds a steady, firm immovable resolve that opens the door to Freedom and peace, right here in this very life...”