Once Swami Tadrupanand said during the discourse of Gita "Now-a-days it has become a trend to read, listen or learn Gita, without having the knowledge of the Prakaran Granthas". These Prakaran Granthas are the stepping stones of advaita vedanta. Gita is the essence, i.e. in prescie or concise form. So it contains everything, but not in the elaborate form but in brief. These granthas were created by Sri Adi Shankaracharya and familiarize us with the technical terminology and concepts of spirituality, specially in the advaita vedanta. So before reading Gita, one must read and understand these preliminary texts.
As Gita is a concise form, it does not explain the meaning of the words like Mana (mind), five Indriyas (five senses), Shraddha, (faith), Sharnagati (surrender), etc. We use these words in our day to day life and take it for granted their raw meaning. But moksha shastras (texts for salvation) have different meaning. For example the word mind is explained by Sri Adi ShankaracharyaSri Ramana Maharshi as "mind is mothing but continous flow of thought".
These words are explained in the prakaran granths. These granths (texts) were written by a great saint of advaita vedanta Sri Adi Shankaracharya, who is considered as a divine incarnication. The some of the names of these texts are:
1. Tatvabodha: This book explains what is mind, body and intellect, five different pranas in our body, five senses, five bodies. It also explains in brief the evolution of this universe by the philosophy of transformation of formless to the form. It is called as 'Panchikaran Prakriya'. It explains four values or tools that one needs if he has to attain moksha and also shatsampatti (six treasures of qualities). It also explains us about moksha.
2. Vivekchudamani: These is a must read for the ones who's goal is only and only "Moksha" and nothing else. Schools of advaita vedanta like Jnana Ashram of Swami Tadrupanand and Chinmaya Mission at Powai, Mumbai Teach this to the new aspirants. This books sticks arround non-duality and tends to be repetitive. The one who just reads for curiosity and with only intellect finds it boring to read it again and again daily. This book explains about "moksha" in more detail then Tatvabodh and is a step by step guide leading to salvation. It gives the clarity, induces dispassion in the society, strenthens our goal of Moksha. Series of verses explains "Brahma Bhavana" which is very important. Later part of the book contains verses on Moksha.
This book is available at Chinmaya mission and manan ashram affiliated to swami Tadrupanand). It contains with word to word translation of sanskrit verses, along with detailed explanation of these verses.
3. Aprokshaanubhuti: Another text in this series. Emphasizes more on Dhyan (meditation).
This book also available at manan ashram
5. Bhaja Govindam:
This book also available at Chinmaya mission and manan ashram.
6. Dakshinamurti stotra: this book is on Lord Shiva. It emphasizes on the importance of a Guru, and sings songs in praise of a guru. Lord Shiva is considers as the destroyer of 'ajnana' ignorance and giver of knowledge 'jnana'.
This book also available at Chinmaya mission and manan ashram
Books written by Swami Tadrupanand (manan ashram)
In our Traditional teaching, Sanyas is not given directly to new comers. They are given a white cloth. First they are taught "Prasthantari"
Prasthantari includes, Prakaran granths (with basics of sanskrit), Bhagawat Gita, Upanishands, Vedas and Brahmasutras.
In Chinmaya Mission and Jnana ashram (Swami Tadrupanand's ashram) such a course is conduated. This course is for 2 1/2 years. Students are taught theses texts, they are trained how to sing bhajans, chant mantras. They re not allowed to meet their family members. However there are religious trips to holy places. After the completion of th course, if the Acharya has a confidence in the students (sadhakas), then only he will give a sanyas. Such a system is common in himalayas.
There are three kinds of sanyas in our system
1. Vidvand sanyas: This is the type explained above. So sadhak has a 'gyan' knowledge and with proper understanding, he renounces the world with the help of burning desire of libration.
2. Vividisa sanyas: In this type of sanyas, due to some unfavourable conditions, a person takes a sanyas trying to escape from the situation. Sometimes after listening some discourse or reading spiritual books which are generally not for the 'common public', (like astavakraa gita, updeshsar, satdarshan chalisa, brahma sutras, etc) the person does not understand it correctly and takes the sanyas. This is termed as 'smashaan vairagya'. This is the temporary state of mind and so such a kind of sanyas is generally unsuccessful, as the mind is not that pure to meditate, read spiritual texts, and try to stay with the god all the day (brahmacharya), which a sanyasi is supposed to do.
3. Apaat sanyas: In this type, the sanyas is given to those who are on death bead and with to leave their body with only one wish " I want to be one with god" or "god realization is the only goal of my life".
There are fours ashrams in our systems
1. Brahmacharya ashram (1 to 25 years): One develops moral values, learns all shastras. He cannot marry in this period.
2. Grustha ashram (26 to 50 years): One lives a social life and has to accept the responsibility to provide basic necessities of the family members. With religious background he has to earn fair money in a religious way and should not make his religion a business (remember char purusharthas in cronological orders i.e. dharma, artha, kama and moksha). With this fair money he is free to buy his comforts and lead a happy life.
3. Vanprastha ashram (51 to 75 years): One has to reduce social activities and dedicate more and more time for god or self realization. One should develop dispassion in the society and worldy matters and increase the quest for libration.
4. Sanyas ashram: (75 to 100 years): One has to renounce the world and devote the rest of his life for libration.
Char Purushanthas - Dharma (religion), Artha (money), Kama (desires), Moshka (libration)
Each one of us has to climb a ladder of these Char Purushanthas. Their order is very important.
First, come dharma, so one has to live religious life, be helpful to others, develop moral values, read religious books, perform religious ceremonies and pujas, etc. With religious background he has to earn fair money in a religious way and should not make his religion a business. Then comes Kama, so one can fulfill his/her desires with this fare money and leave social life. The last one is the best and the final one, Moksha'. Sri Ramakrishna said, " Until we have dissatisfied desires of the worldly affairs, we cannot have the burning desire of liberation". So by following this path, one can extinguish these desires and empty the mind so now the mind searches for peace. It is in this phase that the devotion towards god, surrenderance, and desire to be free and to know one true nature are embedded and cultivated. Now the mind only desires for peace and so finds this world as without any essence. Mind begins to search for peace, and with this searches for the true SELF.
Other important things to remember while reading these granthas:
Each word has a 'vachiarth' and a 'lakshiarth'. Let us take the example given by Swami Sukhbodhananda:
A person points a finger to the idol of Lord Krishna and says "This is a statue of Lord Krishna"
In this case, the finger pointing towards the idol is called as 'vachiarth'. It helps us to give direction. But we do not keep on looking at the tip of finger but look in the direction pointer by the finger. Thus we bypass the finger (as it has done it's work of giving direction) and look at the idol. This idol is the 'lakshiarth'. The finger is important but not the destination. The destination is the idol of lord Krishna.
In the same way each word in the shastras contain these to meaning. In Swami Tadrupanand's words, the words are the containers (as they carry the meaning) and the hidden meaning is the essence (i.e. the content). So he says leave the container and catch the content.