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Verses on a Blank Slate

Sant Jnaneswara
1275-1296

Translated from Marathi by Aliashesh

About myself

I always wanted to write. My friends' encouragement led me to write and publish. I owe a lot to them.
Writing gives me tremendous satisfaction, as I am able to express myself better in this form. My penname is a curious amalgam of two names: Ali and Ashesh. In 1994, I attended a devotional quawwali
concert, dressed in a long jacket and a fur cap. That prompted the revered host to remark that I
resembled Nawab Ali Ahmed Khan. I took that as a compliment and a blessing. In the same year, later,
I attended a programme during which my facilitator said that it was rebirth for me and he would give
me the name Ashesh meaning without keeping anything back. The poems that I wrote in that period
were published under the name Aliashesh. It is with this name that all my subsequent poetry is
published.
These verses were published first on my blog from 2005 to 2008. It is only now in 2015 that they are
coming out in the form of an eBook.

Pune
20 January 2015

About Changdev Pasashti

or

65 verses
In reply to Changdeva

Introduction
Jnaneswara, younger brother of Nivruttinath, is regarded as the great spiritual leader of Varkari sect in
Maharashtra that unified the Vedantic traditions of salvation through knowledge and worshipful works
with the native Indian Natha tradition of salvation through devotion. The Nathas were spiritual
masters who had achieved self-realization and passed it on to their successors in an unbroken chain.
Jnaneswaras elder brother Nivruttinath was one such master in the Natha sect. He initiated
Jnaneswara into the mystical practices of that sect. Their two younger siblings, brother Sopandev and
sister Muktabai were also drawn into mysticism at a young age, following the death (by suicide) of both
the parents. The four siblings wandered from place to place, as they were excommunicated, until at
Paithan, Jnaneswara demonstrated his mastery of the Vedas before an assembly of pundits in a
miraculous manner. His recital of the sacred hymns influenced a buffalo nearby, who reportedly joined
in the chants. Their travails having thus ended, Jnaneswara on the directive of his mentor,
Nivruttinath, started his exposition on the Bhagavad-Gita. During their wanderings the four had
received support and help from the downtrodden castes. Jnaneswara carried on his expositions in a
language they could understand. His fame as a realized soul possessing miraculous powers spread far
and wide.
It reached a hathayogi of great repute, known as Changdeva. Changdeva had extended his life span by
the practice of hathayoga, in which physical postures and practices were supposed to dissolve the bodyconsciousness of the mind. Changdeva had tamed a tiger and used it as the beast of travel. When he
heard about Jnaneswara, he scoffed at his miraculous powers. He sent him a blank paper as a message,
signifying among other things that Jnaneswara was still green behind ears and blank in wits. In reply
Jnaneswara composed sixty-five verses, put them to the blank paper and sent it back to Changdeva.
When he read the verses, he was overcome with guilt of having insulted a great soul and immediately
started for Alandi riding his tiger. When the news of his arrival in Alandi reached Jnaneswara, he
moved to welcome Changdeva. Little did Jnaneswara realize that the wall, on which he was perched,
had started moving. Seeing this spectacle, Changdeva got down, prostrated before the young boy,
Jnaneswara and surrendered his ego completely. The beauty of the verses lies in the tender quality of
affection with which Jnaneswara wins over the arrogance of the hathayogi.
I am thankful to my friend, Shirish Kulkarni, who suggested that I translate this work of Sant
Jnaneswara. This is the third work of translation, following that of Haripaath (To the Being) and
Taatiche Abhang (Verses to the Brother Open the Door). It is an occasion of great joy for me. But for
Shirish, I may never have turned to this important work of Jnaneswara, which reaches the pinnacle of
poetry and philosophy.

Verse 1

May the lord of the eternity


do good to us
he who stays hidden
to project the sound-lights-motions of the world;
when he comes out in the open
the whole show is finished.

Changdeva, you have created this wonderful scene of sending me a blank message. If you think, you
are playing this prank or trick on me, think again. It is the Lord that makes us play these games by
endowing us with the ego. Where will our ego be when he touches us? What games will we play then?

Verse 2
Whenever he appears
He is unseen.
Whenever out of sight
he spins illusions.
He simply is,
Neither appearing nor
hiding.
He is not something that can be
stuffed.
These happenings and worldly matters that you wish to put me in are simply reminders that the
Essence that is our Lord is going out of sight. Isnt it befitting us that we lose not connection to his
ineffable presence?

Verse 3

When he multiplies forms


He remains formless
and is the entire
Universe when forms
there are none.
You and me are but different forms made of the universal essence. If I identify with the form and look
at you in your form, the essence slips out of my grasp. Going beyond forms we are but shoots of the
same Supreme Eternity.

Verse 4

Gold does not lose


its goldness
in becoming ornaments.
The Supreme Essence
does not detract
in its worldly manifestation.
You seem to engage in the exercise of fixing superiority and inferiority. That is fine. Remember we
are of the same substance and essence, though manifest in different personalities.

Verse 5

Do the waves on the surface


shield the water from our view?
In the same way
the Supreme forms
the entirety of the world.
I am different from you in what I have done and what I do in the world. But am I different from what
you are in essence? Can we not be in touch with that of which we are made?

Verse 6

In this immeasurable World, molecules


do not lose their earthiness
and pulsations of the world
do not overshadow
the one Essence.
We go about our affairs in different ways. You have followed your own path of Hath yoga and so
have I walked the way of Realization under our respective mentors. That should not rob us of the
awareness of the essential unity of our beings. The world manifests in a hundred ways the same truth
of the essence.

Verse 7

The moon only appears in the garment


of the phases. Vanish it cannot.
The fire is not
separate from
the flame of the lamp.
We undergo transitions and changes; we rise and fall to rise again. Yet the Eternal principle remains
unaffected.

Verse 8

Its ignorance
that gives rise to
this notion that
I the observer am separate
from the world that I observe.
It is not so and you know it.
Changdeva, you know very well that our perception stems from the notion that I am separate from
that which I perceive. And you know that we get caught up in the web of illusions. You also know that
IT simply IS.

Verse 9-10
Cloth is the name
given to what otherwise
is yarn in warp and weft.
A pot is earthen in the same way.
We perceive each other
as objects
of perception,
but it is possible only
because there is the Supreme
Reality of which we are made
and beyond us.
Let us not get entrenched in the you and the me in the ordinary way of perceiving situations.
Instead, see the whole reality of which we are parts and in which the game of perception goes on.

Verses 11-12

Ornament in name,
it is in reality only gold;
Organs there are many,
but the person is one.
Light falls on earth
and shows up different objects.
But that is an impression.
Light remains one.
Do you see it is the same energy and same matter of which we are made? It is a sheer appearance
that we are different beings.

Verse 13

Impressions gather
around the form of the world
in the light that sheds itself,
like pictures
shown on the wall
which alone is there.
Impressions gathered by the senses can fool us into believing that they constitute the world. But
Changya, we can go on projecting, painting or putting up pictures on a wall. It doesnt matter to the
wall, isnt it?

Verse 14

The vessel that we use


to make jaggery from
cane juice
cannot take the sweetness.
The impressions that we
form of the world
cannot take its essence.
Look at it this way. You have followed many practices to attain the ultimate. Now you know their
nature and would not equate them with the ultimate happiness. Would you? Rather know their real
nature as another set of worldly impressions.

Verse 15

Light fills the chandelier


and takes its shape.
The cosmic energy
fills the being
and flows through it.
Mistake it not for
the personal expression.
Both of us are expressing the Universal self, you in your own way (through the blank paper) and I in
mine (through these verses). Let us not lose sight of That which flows through us.

Verses 16-17-18

Though happiness and sorrow


do not stick to us,
in a moment of excitement
we see ourselves as happy or sad
giving rise to objects of seeing.
These impressions conjure up
the seer, like the reflection
bringing to life the (separate) person.
This three-way split impression of the seen,
the seer and the seeing
we establish by flowing with
impressions.
In treating me and the message to me as separate from you, you are also treating yourself as
somebody separate from this flow of energy. What is this excitement about?

Verse 19

In the turns and twists


of the yarn
there is nothing but the yarn;
In the same way, the seer, the seen
and the seeing are not threesome
but one and the same trinity.
The three-way split is an appearance, but in essence we are together, one and the same, but appear
made and unmade of the same.

Verses 20-21

When you see your face


in the mirror,
do you attribute seeing
to the mirror?
Futile is such
seeing of impressions.
I am the seer, the seen
and the seeing. Distinctions
lead to impressions,
Sages have said.
When you delve deeper into perceptions, you realize that perceptions are nothing but confirmations
of your impressions, which take off from the distinction of you as separate from the reality.

Verses 22-25

Scenes conjured up
make for the seer of the world
And seeing is lame
to bridge the gap
between the seer and the seen.
When there is nothing to see
what use of sight?
When there is nothing to see
where is the seer?
Thus the scene brings along
The sight and the seer.
Once dissolved, the other
two disappear as well.
So the one reality
divides itself into three
and once the illusion goes,
its the same reality back again.
The underlying process of seeing, scene and the seer escape our attention. The act is what brings the
categories into existence. So dear Changdeva, attend to this a little, will you?

Verses 26-27

And before the mirror is there,


you have a face
that
standing before the mirror
watches its reflection.
Watching seems like
seeing self,
but it is not.
Changya, we are like mirrors to each other. Dont get fooled by the reflections that we are different
beings. Different persons, yes

Verse 28-29

So if you fix
on the seen outside,
it is different from you
the seer.
Everything you see
the seeing is within.
It is like the sound
separate from the instruments
the fire, apart from the wood,
Beyond the details, which
we swallow, when we experience.
If you just stay with the experience of hearing a sound, beyond the myriad forms and tunes, there is
the sound and that is within you. Beyond our specific differences, there is just the experience of
touching another human being. And that is within us.

Verses 30-33

You cant put it in words


nor know it;
You can be it
while it is there.
Its like not being
able to see your
own wounded pupil
in the eye.
No use trying to
gather its knowledge.
There is nothing to
not know and what is there
to know?
So lets converse
in silence
such that all there is
gets spoken
without words.
What do you want to know from me? What do you want to tell me? You know it very well what there
is to know and not know, dear Changdeva.

Verses 34-37

Several realizations later


the real remains one,
like water from
the foam, waves after waves.
You are, so you are able to see
even when to see,
there is nothing.
Just being there,
just seeing and
just experiencing the experience
links you
unbroken
to the antiquity of
this knowledge.
Let us
both listen
to that voice.
Let us just immerse ourselves in the being and hear what there is to hear. Otherwise, this dialogue of
me and mine with you and yours would go on pointlessly.

Verses 38-40

Says Jnanadeva,
you listening to me is
like
clasping
ones palm by the palm
words listening to words
taste tasting itself
light looking at itself.
or gold dressed in gold
face becoming mirror to face,
So is our dialogue
with each other.
When we center in our being, where is the need for me to tell you anything? We just enjoy that state.
Even this description is misleading. Its like saying that I look at myself in your mirror and you do the
same.

Verses 41-43

The mouth cannot


satiate itself
when it tastes
its own sweetness.
Thats the way
each others company
we relish.
On the pretext
of meeting you
I would touch the supreme
Being.
Meeting you
its true form
the mind
would See.
And the courtesies
I might just forget.
All said and done, meeting you is still an attraction, for it will give me the experience of unison. My
only worry is I might just forget to extend due courtesies, if overcome with joy.

Verses 44-47
The thought
in your case
does not arise:
what shall I do,
what shall I say,
what shall I think
or
what shall I not do
not say and not think.
In your name and
thanks to you
I give up my Self
and so the thought
of what to do and what not
to.
Like salt absorbs
not when dissolved
in water,
in my worldly frame
I will remain not
as I meet you in
your being.
I am fortunate that I am in dialogue with a realized soul such as you. I have no worry, no plan, no
message, no measure, since in your Being, transcended are action and inaction, thought and
thoughtlessness, speech and silence. Everything simply melts into the Being.

Verse 48

Once woken up
how can I sense
the sleep?
In seeing you
there is no
face, mine
and yours only seeing.
You have awakened in me that seeing of the seeing which is a pure flow beyond the self and as such
beyond separateness.

Verses 49-50

In the darkness after


the sunset
I am there still
experiencing it.
When you meet me
it is the same.
There is experiencing
beyond
the you and the me.
In the duality of the world, and me, there are phases of presence and absence of things. In the
Oneness of experience, there is only that continuity of experience. With you, the experience alone
jingles, not this division of you and me (that leads to discord of you against me).

Verses 51-53

The eye rejoices


in witnessing
scenic wonders
and with that sight
in darkness
gropes without stumbling.
Scenes emerge and fade
the sight does not.
Being the experience
of oneness.
Our persona the pictures
that appear and fade.
Let us rejoice in the meeting.
Amid the transience of the world, permanent is the Being that experiences and not the Person who is
but an amalgam of experiences, emerging and fading. Let us meet to touch the level of Being and not
simply as Persons.

Verses 54-56

Its the palate that


delights, delicacies a pretext.
Its me that I admire,
the mirror a means,
the image but an impression.
I stuffed here
theses and postulates
and with
the alphabet of silence
composed this prelude
to our meeting.
Its only a means,
if you wish to look at yourself,
like a lamp needs light, its own,
to be able to see.
I have composed all this merely as a means, an image of your self and mine to see in this mirror.

Verses 57-59

May this dialogue


open our eyes
to meet our Self
in our Selves.
Like in the deluge
its the ocean everywhere,
where does one search for source of the river?
Says Jnanadeva
your existence is real
without the particularities
of name and form.
Rejoice in the living self
and be happy.

Verses 60-61

Dear Changya
when the whole wealth
of knowledge is unloaded
in front of your house,
sweep all questions
to the backyard.
Changya
this reply is only an indulgence
of my Guru;
Like a mother to her child,
he feeds me with these
delicacies with so much
fondness.

Verses 62-63

It was like Jnanadeva


sitting face to face with
Lord Krishna,
two mirrors
facing each other
discovering both
can see with eyes.
Where is the separateness?
Same way
make these verses
a mirror unto you.
And rejoice in the joy
of the Being.

Verses 64-65

Is it possible
to be ignorant of
that which does not exist?
Would you be ignorant of
what you see in front?
How then that ignorance
of what exists?
There is sleeping
beyond sleep.
There is an awakening
beyond waking up.
Jnanadeva says, tried I have
to run a thread through them.