Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi (stillness of mind), Manonasa (destruction of mind), and Liberation

Shankara shankaracharya

The following are quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani on the Mind, samadhi (stillness of mind), manonasa (destruction of mind) and it’s relationship to moksha (liberation). There are many false teachings around, so I hope you find these teachings to be helpful and instructive.

Vivekachudamani is one of the most important in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. Attributed to Shankara, for centuries it has traditionally been used as a practice manual for seekers of spiritual liberation. Many mahatmas (great souls) have considered this text to contain all that is required to know in order to attain liberation.

Swami Chinmayananda, that great Sanskrit scholar and traditional teacher of Advaita Vedanta, said Vivekachudamani contained the distilled wisdom from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita and presents it in a systematic readable form for a seeker of liberation, in which both ‘the goal and path are exhaustively dealt with’. He wrote of Vivekachudamani that ‘no other help is needed’ other than this text on the quest to liberation.

A very young (and already enlightened) Sri Ramana Maharshi also translated the entire text into Tamil for the benefit of his companions and devotees who were unable to read Sanskrit, in what was perhaps Ramana’s first spiritual work. The fact that Ramana wrote very little yet bothered to translate this in its entirely, that this was the first scripture he chose to translate, and that this is the longest of the scriptures he ever translated (to my knowledge) perhaps gives you an indication of the significance of this text. Ramana himself wrote an introduction to his own translation and in it he said that Vivekachudamani explained ‘in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path’ and also that Vivekachudamani contained the essence of Shankara’s commentaries on the triple canon of Vedenta (Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Brahma Sutras), in an easy to read form.

Indeed, there is nothing in Vivekachudamani that cannot be found in the Vedantic triple canon.

So here is some of what Shankara says about Mind and Liberation, my comments are in italicised red:


The mind is ignorance

First Shankara equates mind with ignorance, saying they are one and the same, hinting the mind must be destroyed (manonasa), a theme that is taken up again later on:

169. There is no Ignorance (Avidya) outside the mind. The mind alone is Avidya, the cause of the bondage of transmigration. When that is destroyed, all else is destroyed, and when it is manifested, everything else is manifested.

Shankara in these next two verses repeats that mind is synonymous with ignorance and the cause of bondage or suffering.

179. Man’s transmigration is due to the evil of superimposition, and the bondage of superimposition is created by the mind alone.

180. Hence sages who have fathomed its secret have designated the mind as Avidya or ignorance, by which alone the universe is moved to and fro, like masses of clouds by the wind.

The mind (ie. ignorance) creates the world

Then he states the world is but an illusion projected by the mind, like a dream:

170. In dreams, when there is no actual contact with the external world, the mind alone creates the whole universe consisting of the experiencer etc. Similarly in the waking state also; there is no difference. Therefore all this (phenomenal universe) is the projection of the mind.

This is essentially equating the mind with maya.

171. In dreamless sleep, when the mind is reduced to its causal state, there exists nothing (for the person asleep), as is evident from universal experience. Hence man’s relative existence is simply the creation of his mind, and has no objective reality.

172. Clouds are brought in by the wind and again driven away by the same agency. Similarly, man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and Liberation too is caused by that alone.

177. The mind continually produces for the experiencer all sense-objects without exception, whether perceived as gross or fine, the differences of body, caste, order of life, and tribe, as well as the varieties of qualification, action, means and results.

Stay away from the mind

Shankara warns the seeker to stay away from the mind:

176. In the forest-tract of sense-pleasures there prowls a huge tiger called the mind. Let good people who have a longing for Liberation never go there.

Manonasa (destruction of the mind)

Shankara teaches us that the mind eventually must die, and the method of how to do this:

277. The Yogi’s mind dies, being constantly fixed on his own Self.

What happens when we do not follow this teaching?

309. Even though completely rooted out, this terrible egoism, if revolved in the mind even for a moment, returns to life and creates hundreds of mischiefs, like a cloud ushered in by the wind during the rainy season.

325. If the mind ever so slightly strays from the Ideal and becomes outgoing, then it goes down and down, just as a play-ball inadvertently dropped on the staircase bounds down from one step to another.

326. The mind that is attached to the sense-objects reflects on their qualities; from mature reflection arises desire, and after desiring a man sets about having that thing.

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

502. How can there be merits and demerits for me, who am without organs, without mind, changeless, and formless – who am the realisation of Bliss Absolute? The Shruti also mentions this in the passage “Not touched”, etc.!

Shut out the world, focus attention on Brahman

327. Hence to the discriminating knower of Brahman there is no worse death than inadvertence with regard to concentration. But the man who is concentrated attains complete success. (Therefore) carefully concentrate thy mind (on Brahman).

328. Through inadvertence a man deviates from his real nature, and the man who has thus deviated falls. The fallen man comes to ruin, and is scarcely seen to rise again.

335. When the external world is shut out, the mind is cheerful, and cheerfulness of the mind brings on the vision of the Paramatman. When It is perfectly realised, the chain of birth and death is broken. Hence the shutting out of the external world is the stepping-stone to Liberation.

339. To realise the whole universe as the Self is the means of getting rid of bondage. There is nothing higher than identifying the universe with the Self. One realises this state by excluding the objective world through steadfastness in the eternal Atman.

The need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi

Shankara, over many verses, makes it clear that the mind must be totally stilled in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, in which there is awareness present without thoughts and other objects:

341. To the Sannyasin who has gone through the act of hearing, the Shruti passage, “Calm, self-controlled.” Etc., prescribes Samadhi for realising the identity of the universe with the Self.

Shankara drums home the necessity of Samadhi over many verses, here using the phrase ‘barring those’ to clearly state that only through nirvikalpa samadhi can egotism be destroyed (and liberation attained). He makes it clear that in nirvikalpa samadhi no objects/phenomena will be present, and there will be ‘no oscilation of mind‘.

342. Even wise men cannot suddenly destroy egoism after it has once become strong, barring those who are perfectly calm through the Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Desires are verily the effect of innumerable births.

344. …But the victory is undoubtedly (complete and) free from obstacles when there is no oscillation of the mind due to the unreal sense-objects.

The term Samadhi refers to a state of mind that is stilled but also aware and not asleep:

353. When the Atman, the One without a second, is realised by means of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi, then the heart’s knot of ignorance is totally destroyed.

354. Such imaginations as “thou”, “I” or “this” take place through the defects of the Buddhi. But when the Paramatman, the Absolute, the One without a second, manifests Itself in Samadhi, all such imaginations are dissolved for the aspirant, through the realisation of the truth of Brahman.

355. The Sannyasin, calm, self-controlled, perfectly retiring from the sense-world, forbearing, and devoting himself to the practice of Samadhi, always reflects on his own self being the Self of the whole universe. Destroying completely by this means the imaginations which are due to the gloom of ignorance, he lives blissfully as Brahman, free from action and the oscillations of the mind.

Shankara again stresses the importance of Samadhi, stating those alone are free or liberated.

356.Those alone are free from the bondage of transmigration who, attaining Samadhi, have merged the objective world, the sense-organs, the mind, nay, the very ego, in the Atman, the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.

357. Through the diversity of the supervening conditions (Upadhis), a man is apt to think of himself as also full of diversity; but with the removal of these he is again his own Self, the immutable. Therefore the wise man should ever devote himself to the practice of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, for the dissolution of the Upadhis.

Again, Shankara uses the word only to drive home the importance of Samadhi:

360. The truth of the Paramatman is extremely subtle, and cannot be reached by the gross outgoing tendency of the mind. It is only accessible to noble souls with perfectly pure minds, by means of Samadhi brought on by an extraordinary fineness of the mental state.

361. As gold purified by thorough heating on the fire gives up its impurities and attains to its own lustre, so the mind, through meditation, gives up its impurities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and attains to the reality of Brahman.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi refers to the complete absence of ‘mind waves’ or modifications of consciousness, in which there is only pure awareness or consciousness present devoid of thoughts and perceptions. Again and again Shankara states that it is Samadhi of the Nirvikalpa variety (ie. no thoughts and no objects) that leads directly to self-realisation :

362. When the mind, thus purified by constant practice, is merged in Brahman, then Samadhi passes on from the Savikalpa to the Nirvikalpa stage, and leads directly to the realisation of the Bliss of Brahman, the One without a second.

363. By this Samadhi are destroyed all desires which are like knots, all work is at an end, and inside and out there takes place everywhere and always the spontaneous manifestation of one’s real nature.

How much clearer can Shankara make the case for the essential practice of Nirvikalpa Samadhi?

364. Reflection should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing, and meditation a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection, but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.

Shankara continues to stress the importance of the thoughtless aware state of samadhi, or, to put it more simply, being still of mind:

365. By the Nirvikalpa Samadhi the truth of Brahman is clearly and definitely realised, but not otherwise, for then the mind, being unstable by nature, is apt to be mixed up with other perceptions.

Drown or destroy the mind by turning away from the world and fixing in on Brahman

Drowning the mind implies its death, meaning the death of ignorance. As Shankara has already equated mind with ignorance, this is the same as manonasa (destruction of the mind) and the same as self-realisation:

366. Hence with the mind calm and the senses controlled always drown the mind in the Supreme Self that is within, and through the realisation of thy identity with that Reality destroy the darkness created by Nescience, which is without beginning.

375. The extremely dispassionate man alone has Samadhi, and the man of Samadhi alone gets steady realisation; the man who has realised the Truth is alone free from bondage, and the free soul only experiences eternal Bliss.

376. For the man of self-control I do not find any better instrument of happiness than dispassion, and if that is coupled with a highly pure realisation of the Self, it conduces to the suzerainty of absolute Independence; and since this is the gateway to the damsel of everlasting liberation, therefore for thy welfare, be dispassionate both internally and externally, and always fix thy mind on the eternal Self.

377. Sever thy craving for the sense-objects, which are like poison, for it is the very image of death, and giving up thy pride of caste, family and order of life, fling actions to a distance. Give up thy identification with such unreal things as the body, and fix thy mind on the Atman. For thou art really the Witness, Brahman, unshackled by the mind, the One without a second, and Supreme.

378. Fixing the mind firmly on the Ideal, Brahman, and restraining the external organs in their respective centres; with the body held steady and taking no thought for its maintenance; attaining identity with Brahman and being one with It – always drink joyfully of the Bliss of Brahman in thy own Self, without a break. What is the use of other things which are entirely hollow?

379. Giving up the thought of the non-Self which is evil and productive of misery, think of the Self, the Bliss Absolute, which conduces to Liberation.

Continuously meditate on Brahman

380. Here shines eternally the Atman, the Self-effulgent Witness of everything, which has the Buddhi for Its seat. Making this Atman which is distinct from the unreal, the goal, meditate on It as thy own Self, excluding all other thought.

381. Reflecting on this Atman continuously and without any foreign thought intervening, one must distinctly realise It to be one’s real Self.

382. Strengthening one’s identification with This, and giving up that with egoism and the rest, one must live without any concern for them, as if they were trifling things, like a cracked jar or the like.

383. Fixing the purified mind in the Self, the Witness, the Knowledge Absolute, and slowly making it still, one must then realise one’s own infinite Self.

384. One should behold the Atman, the Indivisible and Infinite, free from all limiting adjuncts such as the body, organs, Pranas, Manas and egoism, which are creations of one’s own ignorance – like the infinite sky.

398. When the mind-functions are merged in the Paramatman, the Brahman, the Absolute, none of this phenomenal world is seen.

More on Samadhi

Again, Shankara says we must end the mind (Manonasa):

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

408. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is something of the nature of eternal Knowledge and absolute Bliss, which has no exemplar, which transcends all limitations, is ever free and without activity, and which is like the limitless sky, indivisible and absolute.

409. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is devoid of the ideas of cause and effect, which is the Reality beyond all imaginations, homogeneous, matchless, beyond the range of proofs, established by the pronouncements of the Vedas, and ever familiar to us as the sense of the ego.

410. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is undecaying and immortal, the positive Entity which precludes all negations, which resembles the placid ocean and is without a name, in which there are neither merits nor demerits, and which is eternal, pacified and One.

411. With the mind restrained in Samadhi, behold in thy self the Atman, of infinite glory, cut off thy bondage strengthened by the impressions of previous births, and carefully attain the consummation of thy birth as a human being.

Shankara again makes it clear that when he speaks of Samadhi, he is speaking of that aware state in which there are no objects or ‘limiting adjuncts’ present:

412. Meditate on the Atman, which resides in thee, which is devoid of all limiting adjuncts, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thou shalt no more come under the round of births and deaths.

480. Concentrating the mind for some time on the Supreme Brahman, he rose, and out of supreme bliss spoke as follows.

More on Manonasa

Manonasa (destruction of the mind), a synonym for moksha, is declared by this scripture:

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

502. How can there be merits and demerits for me, who am without organs, without mind, changeless, and formless – who am the realisation of Bliss Absolute? The Shruti also mentions this in the passage “Not touched”, etc.!

Ajata (‘unborn’)

Here Shankara repeats the line found in Guadapada’s Karika, which itself is a repetition of the Upanishadic verse:

574. There is neither death nor birth, neither a bound nor a struggling soul, neither a seeker after Liberation nor a liberated one – this is the ultimate truth.

True vedanta

This is the true vedanta:

575. I have today repeatedly revealed to thee, as to one’s own son, this excellent and profound secret, which is the inmost purport of all Vedanta, the crest of the Vedas

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5 thoughts on “Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi (stillness of mind), Manonasa (destruction of mind), and Liberation

  1. “Hence with the mind calm and the senses controlled always drown the mind in the Supreme Self that is within, and through the realisation of thy identity with that Reality destroy the darkness…”

    🙏

    This is beautiful, Tom. Thank you. I really thought my path involved mostly self-inquiry, but I am so drawn to abidance and even devotion, chanting and something like prayer these days. My mind has never been so quiet. And to be honest, I’m not sure I have ever been so at peace. I have been a troubled one, from an early age. I cannot even begin to describe what it means to be truly and deeply at peace, untroubled by the constant perturbations of thoughts. And to think there is more to come. 🙏❤️

    In stillness,

    Josh

    Liked by 1 person

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