Ozhivil Odukkam, which can be translated as ‘Subsiding into the Self through the elimination of obstacles’, or ‘Ceaseless abidance in the Self’, is a 15th century Tamil text that was regularly cited with approval by Ramana Maharshi. Though it is widely held to be a Saiva Siddhanta text, primarily because an early commentary interprets it that way, an examination of the original verses indicates that its primary aim is to point out the truth of the Self that lies beyond all religious and sectarian divides.
Because of the high esteem Sri Ramana held the work in, there have been many previous attempts by devotees to bring out commentaries or translations. Bhagavan himself asked Muruganar to write a commentary that brought out its advaitic import, but he never (it seems) got beyond writing two introductory verses. Munagala Venkataramaiah, the compiler of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, made a preliminary English translation, but it was never published.
Bhagavan noted once that he had read or listened to many scriptural works and that his mind automatically retained a few important portions or images that he would later give out to his own devotees to illustrate his own teachings. Several of the Ozhivil Odukkam verses fall into this category, even when Sri Ramana did not mention the text explicitly.
For example, Bhagavan’s often-repeated analogy that the Guru is like the appearance of a lion in the dream of the elephant originally appears in verse two of this work:
What course of study might the mature disciple] adopt to achieve the loss of his personal self if the sadguru does not cast his glance [of grace upon him]? He is like an elephant in musth, who becomes quite still, without the slightest tremor, when in his dream the enduring great lion that is the sadguru appears before him on his path.
Robert Butler has translated all the verses of Ozhivil Odukkam and added explanatory notes that are occasionally derived from an early commentary on the work. Here is Robert’s commentary on this portion of the text:
The verse states that the destruction of ego cannot be achieved by the aspirant unless by the grace of the guru. We are presented with the image on an elephant dreaming it is in musth, charging wildly through the forest, as we may imagine, until a powerful lion, its traditional nemesis, appears on its path, and it comes to a sudden halt and stands completely motionless, transfixed by the lion’s gaze. In the same way, the personal self, the jiva, rushes about wildly in the dreamlike world of the mind and senses until it is brought to stillness by the glance of the guru and comes to rest in its true nature as the Self, the state of kevalam in which the triad of knower, known and knowledge is entirely transcended.
However long and arduous the sadhana, the sadhaka must abandon all his efforts and surrender himself to the guru, who is the embodiment of divine grace. It should be noted, however, that Kannudaiya Vallalar [the author of the text], like Ramana himself, did not, as far as we know, follow any living guru, but attributed his realisation entirely to Jnanasambandhar who lived several centuries before his time.
Without specifically citing the original verse, Bhagavan commented approvingly on this idea in a reply he gave which appears in Letters from Sri Ramanasramam (18th May, 1947) in a section entitled ‘Seeing a Lion in a Dream’. Part of his reply to a questioner reads:
‘…they [devotees] may some day get a lion’s dream called Guru Kataksham [grace of the Guru] in an intense manner. They get startled and obtain jnana. Then there will be no more dreams and they will not only be wakeful at all times but will not give room for any dreams of life but will remain alert until that true and real knowledge is obtained. These lion’s dreams are unavoidable and must be experienced,’ said Bhagavan.
The previous day (17th May 1947) Suri Nagamma recorded another instance of Bhagavan referencing a striking image that appears in verse 132 of Ozhivil Odukkam:
Who has attained liberation by studying and learning the holy texts, which themselves are insufficient to contain all the religious systems with their commentaries and interpretations? To do so is like going to the lengths of covering the sky with a canopy and the earth with leather when setting out on a journey, instead of simply wearing sandals and taking an umbrella.
Again, the original source is not cited. I think it likely that Suri Nagamma, the recorder of Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, was not familiar enough with the imagery to realise that Bhagavan was citing an ancient Tamil text when he spoke in this way. Her native language was Telugu, and Ozhivil Odukkam was an obscure Tamil text that she was unlikely to have come across.
One intriguing idea that Bhagavan did directly note came from Ozhivil Odukkam can be found in verse 123 which reads:
Having exhausted themselves by activities, aspirants come to the Guru seeking jnana. He alone is the true jnana-bestowing Guru who, possessing the wealth of bliss, produces the crop of bliss in them so that they wander without volition and without doing anything. But the Guru who occasions the least rising of their ego through his instructions is both Brahma, he who possesses the ability to create the world, and Yama too, the god of death.
Since Brahma is the god of birth and Yama the god of death, the verse is implying that gurus who get their disciples involved in unnecessary activities, physical or mental, instead of directing them towards jnana, will be responsible for them being reborn.
Muruganar must have heard Bhagavan cite the text or explain the implications of this verse. This is his rendering of it in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 127:
The Guru who instructs the disciple, who has taken complete refuge in him, by giving one more prescription for action, instead of directing him towards jnana, and who leads him into activities, saying ‘These should be done,’ is for the disciple [equivalent to] the coming of cruel Yama and Brahma. Only he who consummates them [the disciples], transforming them into those who have done all that needs to be done, enabling them to attain the true benefit of this birth, is the grace-bestowing, divine Guru.
Bhagavan referenced this verse in a reply he gave to a visitor who asked for instructions on what to do:
Question: Our grasp is only intellectual. If Sri Bhagavan be pleased to direct us with a few instructions we shall be highly benefited.
Bhagavan: He who instructs an ardent seeker to do this or that is not a true master. The seeker is already afflicted by his activities and wants peace and rest. In other words, he wants cessation of his activities. Instead of that he is told to do something in addition to, or in place of, his other activities. Can that be a help to the seeker? Activity is creation; activity is the destruction of one’s inherent happiness. If activity be advocated the adviser is not a master but the killer. Either the Creator (Brahma) or Death (Yama) may be said to have come in the guise of such a master. He cannot liberate the aspirant but strengthens his fetters. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 601)
The same idea appears in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 27th March 1946, afternoon. On that occasion Bhagavan did give the textual source of the idea:
The truth is, all karma of whatever kind will lead to fresh bondage. That is why it is said in Ozhivil Odukkam that the Guru who prescribes fresh karma or action of any sort, i.e., rituals or sacrifices to one who after trying various karmas comes to him for peace, is both Brahma and Yama to the disciple i.e., he only creates fresh births and deaths.’…
Who is the author of Ozhivil Odukkam, and what is known of him? Major Chadwick, while writing an introduction to the translation by Munagala Venkataramaiah that was never published, summarised two of the hagiographical tales that have come down to us:
One version of his life has it that Kannudaiya Vallalar [the author of Ozhivil Odukkam] was the son of Meykanda Sivachariar, an acharya of the Saiva Siddanta School. The son, through divine grace, became enlightened, and wrote Ozhivil Odukkam, which saw no use for traditional Saiva concepts such as charya, kriya, and yoga padas. At every step of his work Kannudaiya Vallalar affirmed direct realisation, aparokshanubhuti, not traditional practices. This was, of course, a rude shock to his father, but it could not be helped. Perhaps the father was very happy that his own son was able to destroy the feeble foundations of the house he had built apparently for others. Another version of Kannudaiya Vallalar’s biography is that Vallalar was born in a rich family in Sirkazhi in Tanjavur District, the birthplace of Thiru Jnanasambandhar Swamigal. Merely hearing about the glowing light of Sri Thiru Jnana Sambandhar Swamigal along with the thought that he was blessed to be born in that sacred place made Kannudaiya Vallalar love Sri Thiru Jnanasambandhar as his Guru, deeming him to be identical with God. This love of the Lord in the form of Guru led him to samadhi, illumined him and later gave him Self-knowledge.
Every day Vallalar went into the temple for quiet abidance and then returned home to sing one verse that set forth the nature of the natural state, sahaja bhava. He used to be escorted home by his torchbearer, Kandan. On the day that the 253rd [and final] verse [of Ozhivil Odhukkam] was completed, Kandan had stayed at home due to thunder and rain. When Vallalar had finished his meditation and called ‘Kanda’, Lord Subrahmania himself took the form of the servant Kanda and escorted him home, torch in hand. After he had reached his house, the real servant stepped forward to beg his master’s pardon. Then Kannudaiya Vallalar knew that the earlier manifestation was the gracious play of Skanda. That night he completed the work and presented it to the ripe and discerning souls in the neighbourhood. The following morning he threw away all his possessions and became an avadhuta. There are also other versions of his life, but there is no space in this small preface to go into further details.
This new translation by Robert Butler is an outstanding addition to the series of Tamil philosophical texts that Sri Ramanasramam has been publishing from time to time. It is available in India from the Sri Ramanasramam Book Depot, and outside India from this site.
Here is one final verse that illustrates the teachings that comprise the original text, along with Robert’s illuminating commentary on them:
That Sivam (the Self) is not known unto itself (1) nor does it know anything that is other than itself.(2) If it possessed thought then there would be for it the absence of thought, forgetfulness. [Therefore it does not possess thought]. There is for it no birth or death. The five divine operations unfold in its mere presence. (3) The blissful voice of the Vedas and Agamas gives only the merest hint of its nature.
- taṉṉai aṟiyādu – [That Śivam] does not know itself. That whose very nature is pure knowingness, consciousness, cannot, by definition, know itself. It can only be itself. As Sri Ramana points out in v. 33 of Ulladu Narpadu, the very question as to whether the supreme reality, the substratum of the individual consciousness, can know itself is an occasion for ridicule:
eṉṉai aṟiyēṉ [n]āṉ eṉṉai aṟindēṉ [n]āṉ
eṉṉal nagaippukk[u] iḍaṉ āgum – eṉṉai?
taṉai viḍayam ākka iru tāṉ uṇḍō oṉṟāy
aṉaivar aṉubūdi uṇmaiyāl.
To say ‘I do not know myself’ or ‘I have known myself’ is an occasion for ridicule. Why so? Can there be two selves, with one making the other its object, when it is the experience of everyone that they are one?
- vēṟu uṇḍāy tāṉ aṟiyādu – It does not know [anything] as existing separate[ly from itself]. By the same token, because Śivam contains and transcends all that is or ever could be, there cannot be anything separate from itself, which it knows or which knows it. Again Sri Ramana makes a similar point in v. 12 of Ulladu Narpadu:
aṟidaṟk[u] aṟivittaṟk[u] aṉṉiyam iṉṟ[u] āy avirvadāl
tāṉ aṟivu āgum.
Since it shines without anything other which it knows, or which makes it known, the Self is [true] knowledge.
- cannidikkē añcu toḻil ām – Through its mere presence, the five [divine] operations take place. The five operations of the deity are creation, preservation, destruction, veiling and granting of grace. In presiding over the creation, preservation and destruction of all the worlds through the agency of māyā, the deity is comparable to the sun, which, by virtue of its mere presence, gives rise to all worldly activities whilst remaining uninvolved in them.