Advaita Bodha Deepika is a traditional text and a masterpiece, summarising the methods and techniques of advaita vedanta. It was a favourite text of Sri Ramana Maharshi and was often recommended by him. Here is what it says about how to attain liberation, the following is from Chapter 3:
17…Master: With complete stillness of mind, samsara will disappear root and branch. Otherwise there will be no end to samsara, even in millions of aeons (Kalpakotikala).
18. Disciple: Cannot samsara be got rid of by any means other than making the mind still?
M: Absolutely by no other means; neither the Vedas, nor the shastras nor austerities, nor karma, nor vows, nor gifts, nor recital of scriptures of mystic formulae (mantras), nor worship, nor anything else, can undo the samsara. Only stillness of mind can accomplish the end and nothing else.
19. D: The scriptures declare that only Knowledge can do it. How then do you say that stillness of the mind puts an end to samsara?
M: What is variously described as Knowledge, Liberation, etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.
D: Has any one said so before?
20 M: Sri Vasishta had said…
Beloved Ramana Maharshi says the same in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 141:
All the jnana* scriptures that teach the way to redemption proclaim in unison that restraining and stilling the mind is the best means for liberation. This is also emphasised by jnanis*. If, after a certain amount of study, one knows this to be the inner purport of the scriptures, one should then direct ones whole effort towards that [practice]. What is the use of continuously studying more and more scriptures without doing this?
*Jnana, literally meaning knowledge, refers to the teachings of spiritual liberation, whereas jnani, literally ‘knower’, refers to the spiritually liberated sage.
In Ramana’s ‘Who am I?’, the question as to the nature of Jnana arises and is simply answered:
Questioner: What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?
Ramana Maharshi: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight.
The Katha Upanishad states the same, in verse 2.3.10:
When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahma-Vidya or Self Knowledge].
Shankara’s commentary on this above verse (Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10) states the following:
‘At the time when the five senses…, together with the mind…, which is now no longer functioning and thinking, are at rest in the Self alone, after turning away from objects, and with the intellect…no longer engaging with its functioning, that they call the highest state [Brahma-Vidya or Self-Knowledge].’
Earlier in the Katha Upanishad we see the following verse:
The Lord created the senses out-going: therefore, one sees outside and not the Self within. Some intelligent man, with his senses turned away (from their objects), desirous of immortality, sees the Self within.
~ Katha Upanishad 2.1.1
In his commentary on this above verse (Katha Upanishad 2.1.1), Shankara writes:
‘…the perceiver sees the external objects which are not-Self/not the Atman, such as sound, etc., and not the Self within. Though this is the nature of the world, some (rare) discerning man, like turning back/ reversing the current of a river, sees the Self within…The group of sense organs, beginning with the ear, should be turned away from all sense-objects. Such a one, who is purified thus, sees the indwelling self. For it is not possible for the same person to be engaged in the thought of sense-objects and to have the vision of the Self as well.‘
In his commentary on Katha Upanishad verse 1.2.20 Sri Shankara writes:
‘…One whose intellect has been withdrawn from all objects, gross and subtle, when this takes place, this is known as ‘inactivity of the sense organs’. Though this ‘inactivity of the sense organs’ one sees that glory of the Self. ‘Sees’ means he directly realises the Self as ‘I am the Self’ as thereby becomes free from suffering’
The Amritabindu Upanishad equates the controlled/stilled mind with Jnana (knowledge) and liberation:
2. It is indeed the mind that is the cause of men’s bondage and liberation. The mind that is attached to sense-objects leads to bondage, when unattached from sense-objects it tends to lead to liberation. So they [the sages] say.
3. Since liberation is based on the mind devoid of desire for sense objects, therefore, the mind should always be made free of such desire, by the seeker after liberation.
4. When the mind, with its attachment for sense-objects annihilated, is fully controlled within the heart and thus realises its own essence, then that is the Supreme State (Brahma-Vidya or Self-Knowledge is gained).
5. The mind should be controlled [made still] so that it becomes merged in the heart. This is Jnana (knowledge) and this is Dhyana (meditation). All else is argumentation and verbiage.
The Advaitic giant, Sri Gaudapada, (Shankara’s guru’s guru) writes in his Mandukya Karika:
‘The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman’ Chapter 3, verse 35
And in verse 37 of the same chapter he writes:
[Atman is] beyond all expression by words and beyond all acts of mind; It is all peace, eternal effulgence free from activity and fear and attainable by samadhi’ Chapter 3, verse 37
In the wonderfully authoritative Advaita Vedanta text Yoga Vasistha it is written:
The rock-like state in which all thoughts are still and which is different from the waking and dream states, is one’s supreme state [Brahma-Vidya or Self-Knowledge].
And elsewhere in the same Yoga Vasistha it is said:
Just as the great ocean of milk became still when the Mandara Mountain (with which it was churned by the Devas and the Asuras) became still, even so the illusion of samsara comes to an end when the mind is stilled.
And again from Yoga Vasistha…
He who casts away from his mind all objects ofperception and, attaining perfect quiescence, remains still as space, unaffected by sorrow, is a liberated man; he is the Supreme Lord.
Shankara states the same multiple times, eg, in Vivekachudamani, and also in his many commentaries, eg. in his commentary upon the Kena Upanishad – in his introduction to the Kena Upanishad Shankara writes:
And [the Self] being eternal, it is not to be secured by any means other than the cessation of ignorance. Hence the only duty is to renounce all desires after the realisation of the unity of the indwelling Self and Brahman.
The key to nonduality and yoga
In brief: How to attain liberation
The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation
Shankara on Samadhi (stillness of mind)
Ramana Maharshi: a quick and simple method to self-realisation
7 thoughts on “Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?”
Dear Tom, what about the many daily activities one has to do in order to generate money and keep the body alive and in general to take care of the many practicalities of daily living?
I find it very hard to be still while having to be proactive in the world.
Is it possible to be still for someone who is involved in the world? Or is it only for those who left the modern world?
Or perhaps I am misunderstanding what you mean by ‘be still’.
Could you please clarify this?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Dear Amir, thanks for your question, which is of course highly relevant to most, especially those who are reading this (or any) blog using the internet. The short answer is that this is perfectly applicable in the midst of daily life. You will perhaps be surprised how life continues despite the thoughts being much less.
I have written several articles on this and a video or 2 too, see here: https://tomdas.com/?s=daily
Let me know if any of these was particularly useful, or feel free to come back at me if they were not so helpful to you 🙂