(Source: Voice of the Guru, Sri Sankara Bhagavadpadcarya’s Soundarya lahari, an exposition by Pujya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swami, 68th Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2001)
Although maya and jnana, are opposed to each other, maya can be an instrument for jnana if senses and mind are involved in unsullied love and beauty. So pujas and hymns are prescribed so that we will be blissfully immersed in Amba’s remembrances. If our mind became one-pointed in this manner, it would be easy to engage ourselves in reflections that are necessary, part of jnana.
If we adhere to the path of devotion as shown by the Acharya, we will be able to follow the path of jnana easily making use of the very instruments of the world of Maya.
Those who are capable of keeping their minds and senses under control and who are passionless and detached do not have to employ their senses and mind in the performance of puja and other rites connected with devotion. They can realize Brahman using short- cut method of shaking off Maya through spiritual practice. In teaching to them, the Acharya stresses that Maya is to be discarded as worthless for achieving the goal of self realization and focus on self enquiry and practice. He exhorts others to involve their minds which are caught in the noose of Maya by being addicted to petty pleasures, in pure matters that give joy and belong to higher plane like remembrance of the Lord, Puja, listening to stories of the divine, and worship in temples. By following this path of devotion, they will eventually become mature and qualify for the path of jnana . That is why the Acharya extols Maya as Mahamaya. Puja, singing of hymns are meant for those who cannot yet cast off Maya as taught by Advaita. Such people should regard Maya as Divine sport of Parasakti, All objects of the world which sway our minds and senses and all those things which we enjoy and become spoilt must be involved in the worship of Mahasakti who rules over Maya through pujas, recitation of hymns, worshipping at temples, japa and meditation. In these ways these very objects must be rendered pure.
There is five fold worship of Amba called pancopacara- the offerings of perfumes (sandal paste), flowers, incense, lights and naivedya. The purpose is to associate the five elements and five senses with the divine. We employ the faculty of speech for singing Amba’s praises, our ears to listen to divine stories and our eyes for darshan of the Lord(or Amba). We throw ourselves down prostrate ourselves before Amba, perform anga pradakshina and engage in meditation and japa. All these acts belong to acts of devotion .When we are caught in Maya, devotion is a means to using the very objects of Maya for worshipping Mahasakti.
Things connected with Maya cannot be easily done away with. Except those who are mature, detached and possess discrimination, all the other persons are lured by the world, through their senses and suffer from the attachments caused by them. Those who are immature cannot sever such ties and feel dejected and lose hope. That is why the objects are not discarded but given a divine connection and in due course they will cease to affect us. If you touch a live electric wire with bare hands you will get a shock; but if you wear gloves, nothing will happen to you. Similar is the case with Maya and objects of Maya. If you deal with them wearing the gloves of devotion they will not affect you.
The effort to do away with Maya through instruments of Maya, is a part of sadhana for Advaitic realization. It is not something new. Even the act of guru imparting upadesa to a disciple is dualistic in a sense. But it is a means of attaining non dualistic realization. For example, a man is dreaming and hears a lion roaring. He gets up in fright and even if it is a dream he comes to his waking state. Even the lion in the dream is able to bring him to wakefulness. So the guru who teaches his disciple in his dualistic state takes him to the wakefulness of jnana. When any dualistic subject used for divine purposes qualifies one to take the path of jnana, would not practices pertaining to other systems, their rites their sastras do the same? With this view Acharya composed Soundaryalahari.