An Avadhuta is a liberated soul, one who lives in the realization of the Self. The Avadhuta Gita is a text of extreme advaita or nonduality: “There is no you, no me, nor is there the universe. All is verily the Self alone.” Authorship is ascribed to Dattatreya, a legendary figure who is seen as an incarnation of God.
Out of the eight chapters, 4, 5, 6, and 7 end with the same verse (there are slight differences). Here are two translations from the final verse of Chapter 4:
“In Self, there is no spell, no talisman, nothing to learn, no prosody to study. Swimming in the sea of oneness, Avadhoota Dattatreya sings in his delight of a pure heart, the grandeur of truth.” (Avadhoota Gita, with English translation by Shree Purohit Swami. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi, 1988.)
“There is verily no versification where one knows nothing. The supreme and free One, absorbed in the consciousness of the homogenous Being and pure of thought, prattles about the Truth.” (Avadhuta Gita, Song of the Free, translated and annotated by Swami Ashokananda. Sri Ramakrisha Math, Mylapore, Madras, 1988.)
Negation: Nothing to know, no knower
Each verse begins with a statement of negation: “In Self, there is no spell, no talisman, nothing to learn, no prosody to study,” says one translation. “There is verily no versification where one knows nothing,” says the other.
Fusing these two verses and the earlier verse — “There is no you, no me, nor is there the universe. All is verily the Self alone” — this portion of the verse could be paraphrased to say that there is nothing to learn and nothing to be known, as there is no knower.
Confessions of Nonduality
The second portion of each verse is a confession of nonduality: “Swimming in the sea of oneness…,” declares one translation. The other says, “The supreme and free One, absorbed in the consciousness of the homogenous Being and pure of thought….”
Initially, knowledge and the knower were negated. Now the condition of nonduality is confessed. The first translation prefers the term “oneness.”
Using the terms “absorbed,” “homogeneous,” “pure,” the second translation seeks a description that, in comparison, is more exact and intimate, closer to a description of non-separation or “not-two-ness.”
Singing in delight, or just prattling?
The third portion of each verse describes the nature of talking about nonduality: The one translation reads, “Avadhoota Dattatreya sings in his delight of a pure heart, the grandeur of truth.” The other is, “[Dattatreya] prattles about the Truth.”
One translator speaks of singing in delight of a pure heart and the other speaks of prattling. The translator who uses “prattles,” says in a note, “The transcendental Reality cannot be adequately spoken of. Whatever Dattatreya has been saying about It can only be prattle.”
What does it mean, to prattle?
The Oxford English Dictionary says
[< PRATE v. + -LE suffix 3. Compare Middle Dutch, early modern Dutch protelen to mutter, to grumble, Middle Low German pr telen, pr telen to chatter, to babble, to cackle.]
a. To talk in a foolish, childish, or inconsequential way; to chatter at length, esp. about unimportant matters. Now freq. with on.
1532 T. MORE Confut. Tyndale in Wks. 533/2 So he dooeth but prattle & prate of feling fayth, without the feling of any fayth at all. 1557 Bible (Geneva) 3 John 10 If I come, I wyl declare his dedes whych he doeth, pratteling against vs with malicious wordes. 1594 T. BOWES tr. P. de la Primaudaye French Acad. II. 118 Those that cease not to prattle and babble about vaine and vnprofitable matters. 1644 MILTON Areopagitica 16 They must not be suffer’d to prattle as they doe, but must be licens’d what they may say. 1692 J. LOCKE Some Thoughts conc. Educ. §35 He had the Mastery of his Parents ever since he could Prattle. 1722 D. DEFOE Moll Flanders 237, I talk’d to [the pretty little child], and it prattl’d to me again. 1778 JOHNSON Let. 15 Oct. (1992) III. 128, I never said with Dr. Dodd that I love to prattle upon paper, but I have prattled now till the paper will not hold much more, than my good wishes. 1833 C. LAMB Pop. Fallacies xii, in Last Ess. of Elia 256 The children of the very poor do not prattle..there is no childishness in [their]..dwellings. 1866 W. D. HOWELLS Venetian Life xvii. 252 The barber here prattles on with a freedom..respected by the interlocutory conte under his razor. 1920 D. H. LAWRENCE Women in Love xxi. 316 They talked and prattled at random. 1990 Esquire May 162/3 He’ll merely prattle on about how unimportant money is.
The nature of prattle: the heart and authenticity
There’s no argument that whatever is said about Self, or It, is prattle. However, can prattle be sung in the delight of a pure heart? Yes, as poets have for thousands of years, or as a child does: “I talk’d to [the pretty little child], and it prattl’d to me again.”
Can prattle bear authenticity? Again, the Oxford English Dictionary provides an answer: “He had the Mastery of his Parents ever since he could Prattle.”
Here, then, is a suggested fusing of the third sections of the two verses: “Avadhoota Dattatreya prattles in his delight of a pure heart, about the Truth.”
A paraphrase of the entire verse
“In Self, there is nothing to learn, nothing to express or confess, nothing to know, and no knower. The free One, swimming in the sea of Self, absorbed in the consciousness of the homogenous Being, and pure of thought, prattles in his delight of a pure heart.”
What’s your paraphrasing? Leave a comment.