In this post I would like to point out some differences between the so-called ‘Direct Path’ teachings of Rupert Spira on one hand, and the traditional Advaita Vedanta Teachings and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi on the other. Whilst these teachings may all seem on the surface to be pointing to the same thing, and they may seem quite similar in many ways, they actually are quite different in many important aspects and do not lead to the same end in my view. ie. they do not both lead to liberation.
I would like to note that the purpose of this article is not to criticise anyone, but simply to point out differences that are present in the teachings and my view on these difference and the consequences thereof. I hope that this will provide benefit for those who are genuinely seeking liberation that is free from suffering.
I would also like to say that I am not some Advaita Vedanta fanatic either – I am simply interested in what actually works. I understand that everyone has their own unique journey, and their own relationship with teachers and teachings. I also acknowledge that many varied teachings and practices can be of help and assistance to us on our spiritual journey (please explore this blog for examples of this). However it is also useful to acknowledge that not all teachings are equally helpful and not all teachings point directly at liberation. Some can even steer us away, apparently at least.
Personally, I have found the traditional teachings of Advaita Vedanta, and especially Sri Ramana’s exposition of them, to give us everything we need on the path to genuine Liberation. You can find the teachings neatly summarised in this book which, in my view, explains clearly and unambiguously the true direct path in full.
Recommended Reading: books for enlightenment, liberation and self-realisation
How to end suffering and why other ways tend not to work
Sravana, manana, niddidhyasana, self-abidance (samadhi)
Personally I find that Rupert Spira’s teachings may be useful for aspects of sravana (listening) and manana (contemplation/ thinking/ reflecting upon the teaching) phases of traditional Advaita in which the teachings are given and contemplated upon and realisation remains predominantly on the level of the mind. However in my view they do not really engage fruitfully or deeply enough with the main part of the teachings of Sri Ramana and Advaita Vedanta, which is Nididhyasana (meditation), or turning away from objects in order to abide as the self and thereby attain liberation.
Traditional Vedanta and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi teach that the purpose of Sravana and Manana are to teach the seeker how, and to convince the seeker to engage in the main practice of Nididhyasana, and this in turn leads to self-abidance (Samadhi) and it is this which results in knowlege (Jnana) or liberation (Moksha).
Shankara makes this clear in verses 364 and 365 of Vivekachudamani:
364. Reflection (Manana) should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing (Sravana), and meditation (Nididhyasana) a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection (Manana), but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.
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.
For more verses like this, see here.
Sri Ramana Maharshi states the same in the introduction he wrote for his own translation of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani as follows:
‘…the natural and changeless state of Nirvikalpa samadhi is produced by unswerving vigilant concentration on the Self, ceaseless like the unbroken flow of oil. This readily and spontaneously yields that direct, immediate, unobstructed, and Universal perception of Brahman, which is at once knowledge and experience and which transcends time and space. This perception is Self-realisation.’
Otherwise, without abiding as the Self, the teachings remain on the level of the mind, infinite nature of the Self is not revealed, and the ‘Ananda’ or blissful aspect of the self is not realised, meaning that suffering and the sense of duality and ego are not actually removed and ignorance continues. More on this below.
Here is another example from Sri Ramana Maharshi, taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 226:
A visitor from Tirukoilur asked if the study of the sacred books will reveal the truth.
Sri Ramana Maharshi.: That will not suffice.
Devotee.: Why not?
Sri Ramana Maharshi.: Samadhi alone can reveal it. Thoughts cast a veil over Reality
and so it cannot be clear in states other than Samadhi.
Devotee.: Is there thought in Samadhi? Or is there not?
Maharshi.: There will only be the feeling ‘I am’ and no other thoughts.
Devotee.: Is not ‘I am’ a thought?
Maharshi.: The egoless ‘I am’ is not thought. It is realisation. The meaning or significance of ‘I’ is God. The experience of ‘I am’ is to Be Still.
Integration of teachings after realisation
In Advaita Vedanta teachings and with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, both are clear that once the Self or Pure Consciousness is fully realised through the process of turning away from objects and abiding as Self – what Rupert Spira terms the ‘inward-going’ path – ignorance is totally and completely gone, and that is the final end of duality, suffering and the spiritual path.
There is no need to integrate this thereafter according to Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana, as this would simply be more ego-ignorance and would mean that the Self was not truly realised – ie. it would mean that duality was not really eradicated and the ego and the consequent suffering were still present, and that self-realisation had not really occurred. Once the Self is realised, the (apparent) ego-entity is no more, so there is no entity present that could ‘face outwards’ or re-integrate.
However Rupert Spira states what he calls the ‘inward path’ of Advaita Vedanta is only one half of the journey, and that we then have to ‘turn outwards’ and engage in what he calls some kind of ‘outward facing’ path to re-integrate this knowledge – see the quotes section below for an example of Rupert Spira saying this. This is a commonly held view among many contemporary teachers, but this view is seldom found in traditional teachings paths, and for good reason, so I hope it is useful to highlight the differences in the teachings for the seekers who are trying to wade through what’s on offer.
What about going back into the world after realisation?
According to Advaita Vedanta, after Self-realisation, the appearance of ‘going into the market place/world’ thereafter may or may not happen – that depends on your karma – but it is spontaneous, not a practice and beyond your choosing. It is also irrelevant from the point of view of Realisation.
If the going back into the market place/world does happen, automatically all will be seen as One, because the Self has truly been realised, meaning no ignorance/duality is left. There is no need to re-integrate. This is why the Advaita Vedanta texts emphasise self-enquiry/going within only, knowing that once that is done, that is all that needs to be done.
See here for the types of liberated sage/liberation according to Advaita Vedanta.
What about removing the vestiges of ignorance after Realisation?
Some people say that in order to root out the last remaining vestiges of ignorance, after Realisation once must turn out towards the world and re-integrate.
According to Advaita Vedanta, this simply means that ignorance is still present and so Realisation has not truly been attained. The remedy is to pursue Self-Enquiry, the ‘inward-facing’ path until ignorance has truly been rooted out, and not to cease the primary practice and ‘turn outwards towards objects’ (See the quotes section below for examples of this teaching from both Sri Ramana and Traditional Advaita Vedanta).
Once Ignorance has truly been rooted out, the Self is genuinely realised, and all is spontaneously seen as One without the need for further practice or integration or any ‘outward-facing path’.
A summary of the respective teachings
A summary of Rupert Spira’s teachings could go something like this: You are Consciousness; in essence you are not the body, mind or world but that Consciousness which is aware of them; however the body-mind and world are also simply made or fabricated from that very Consciousness that you are. That’s the entire teaching basically. Note that these are essentially the teachings that are found in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Ramana Maharshi’s Nan Yar (Who am I?), whereas the rest of Nan Yar? describes the main part of the actual teaching.
Rupert Spira teaches that meditation is a useful part of the path to calm the mind and to recognise the Consciousness that you are, but that meditation itself does not lead to realisation and this recognition of your true self as consciousness is only the first part of a much longer journey.
Traditional Advaita Vedanta and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, as found in these texts, also states you are Consciousness and that all objects are also Consciousness, but then go further. They state that in order to realise:
(1) your essential nature is consciousness
(2) the nature of consciousness, which now, through ignorance, appears to be limited, is actually infinite and limitless
(3) the entire phenomenal world, including the body and mind, is an illusion
(4) the blissful nature (Ananda aspect) of the Self, ie. in order to remove suffering
(5) and in order to remove all sense of duality and separation
…in order to genuinely realise the above for oneself one must turn away from the world and abide as the Self, the Self being what you truly are. Once the Self has been realised, there is no entity left that could then progress on another phase of the journey such as re-integrating with the objective world. Self-Realisation is total extinguishment (ie. nirvana, nirvana meaning extinguishment) of the ego and duality.
Without turning within, the limitless infinite nature of consciousness is not revealed, not truly – the so-called ‘knowledge’ of infinite consciousness remains only conceptual, intellectual, and consciousness still appears limited. Similarly, without turning within, away from phenomenal objects, the ananda or blissful aspect of the Self does not manifest, and so consciousness appears dry and without love or bliss.
In the traditional Advaita Vedanta text, Vivekachudamani, we find that only the first part of the text describes what is in essence a form of Rupert Spira’s teaching, but with a few notable and important differences, such as the Self is more often than not emphasised as being the Subject rather that both subject and object. This is because the bulk of the text is focussed on Nididhyasana (Meditation) as this is the actual means to Liberation. Thinking of the Self as being purely the Subject aids this mediation process which aims to turn one’s attention away from objects and towards the Subject and thus realise its infinite and blissful nature. Without this practice duality and suffering continue.
To see this teaching in the Upanishads, see here for a collection of quotes I have put together: Do we need to turn away from the world of objects to realise the Self?
I highly recommend viewing this video below in which I go into further detail which perhaps makes the above clearer easier to understand:
Quotes – Traditional Advaita Vedanta
Eg. see these quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, a very important text from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, that sternly illustrates this point. (Note that there are probably some better quotes than these from the Advaita scriptures – please let me know if you know any – I have just quickly put these together):
413. After the body has once been cast off to a distance like a corpse, the sage never more attaches himself to it, though it is visible as an appearance, like the shadow of a man, owing to the experience of the effects of past deeds.
414. Realising the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss, throw far away this limitation of a body, which is inert and filthy by nature. Then remember it no more, for something that has been vomited excites but disgust when called in memory.
415. Burning all this, with its very root, in the fire of Brahman, the Eternal and Absolute Self, the truly wise man thereafter remains alone, as the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss.
416. The knower of Truth does no more care whether this body, spun out by the threads of Prarabdha work, falls or remains – like the garland on a cow – for his mind-functions are at rest in the Brahman, the Essence of Bliss.
417. Realising the Atman, the Infinite Bliss, as his very Self, with what object, or for whom, should the knower of Truth cherish the body.
485. I neither see nor hear nor know anything in this. I simply exist as the Self, the eternal Bliss, distinct from everything else.
522. From the perception of unreal things there is neither satisfaction nor a cessation of misery. Therefore, being satisfied with the realisation of the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, live happily in a state of identity with that Reality.
523. Beholding the Self alone in all circumstances, thinking of the Self, the One without a second, and enjoying the Bliss of the Self, pass thy time, O noble soul!
524. Dualistic conceptions in the Atman, the Infinite Knowledge, the Absolute, are like imagining castles in the air. Therefore, always identifying thyself with the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thereby attaining Supreme Peace, remain quiet.
547. Similarly, ignorant people look upon the perfect knower of Brahman, who is wholly rid of bondages of the body etc, as possessed of the body, seeing but an appearance of it.
548. In reality, however, he rests discarding the body, like the snake its slough; and the body is moved hither and thither by the force of the Prana, just as it listeth.
Quotes – Sri Ramana Maharshi
Sri Ramana Maharshi also states many times that all one needs to do is turn inwards, and that no outward going path is thereafter required. The following are Ramana’s teachings as recorded in Guru Vachaka Kovai, a text which is widely regarded as the most authoritative collection of Sri Ramana’s verbal teachings:
630. Having felt the sun’s fierce heat
The wise one tarries in the shade,
And those who know the triple fire
Raging in the world will never
Leave the Heart and turn again
Towards the world
949. Those who with ego dead have gained
Being, transcending bliss, have nothing
Further to attain, no effort
To be made, no deed to do,
For life’s fulfilment they have reached.
950. When one abides in one’s true state
As effortless Eternal Goodness
One has no further work to do.
All deeds accomplished, such a one
Enjoys the perfect peace of bliss.
1179. Diving within enquiring “Who
Am I? Who sees between the creeds
Some differences?” the Self alone
Abides and the poor ‘I’ fades out.
In that still silence can there be
A sense of difference?
1180. In that great Silence there is no
Sense of difference. But is there then
A feeling of non-difference? No.
The non-duality extolled
By Seer’s is nothing but the absence
Of all sense of difference.
1223. Firm, steady abidance in
The peace serene gained by the quest
For Self, the Awareness, the sole ground
Supporting all appearances,
And consequent relinquishment
Of all objects as unreal,
This alone is mukti.
1224. Unless there is a final end
Of so called “knowledge” of things out there,
One cannot gain release from bondage
To the sense-created world.
This “knowledge” being destroyed by firm
Abidance in the Self, then what
Remains is mukti, bliss supreme
1237. While brightly shining in the hearts
Of sages who have left behind
All treacherous triads and now abide
As That alone, advaita’s grandeur
Cannot be by the mind perceived,
Like this false, trivial, dualistic,
1238. Siva, who is Pure Awareness
Transcending thought, is only known
To seers heroic who with minds
Extinct abide thought-free within
The heart, and not to those whose minds
Are still engaged in thought.
Also Bhagavan Sri Ramana’s teachings are recorded in Sri Ramanaparavidyopanishad:
411. Whoever obtains awareness of the real Self, for him this worldly life comes to an end. The others continue to wander here as before, remaining without awareness of the real Self.
554. These men do not know the truth of the transcendental state beyond time, in which the world has not come into being. Non-duality has neither beginning nor end. Duality, with space and time, is unreal, always.
569. In that state doubts do not arise since the sage is ever firm in his awareness of the true Self. There he remains without affirmations and vacillations, immersed in the depths of peace, the mind having become extinct.
585. By the dawn of right awareness of the real Self, the ego, the root cause of the appearance of forms, has been lost. Therefore for the sage, all forms are unreal, and hence this talk of forms is foolishness.
596 Our Guru, Sri Ramana, tells us that the real siddhi [special power][to be striven for] is to be firmly established in the natural state of the real Self, which is ever-present in the Heart; nothing else.
613. The true meditation on the supreme reality [the Self] is only to remain as the Self in the thought-free state. This ‘meditation’ can neither be given up, nor taken up by the sage.
663. The sage never comes back to samsara. Samadhi is his natural state. There is no moment when he is without samadhi. Hence it is called sahaja [natural].
664. The sage, remaining uninterruptedly in his natural state of samadhi, never swerving from it as a jivan mukta, is able to be active in the world, just as the sages of old such as Sri Sankaracharya did.
In ‘Who Am I?’ Ramana states:
As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required.
Sri Ramana more fully explains his position here (please see the post for the full context) when he states:
In reality, saying ‘We must see Brahman in everything and everywhere’ is also not quite correct. Only that stage is final, where there is no seeing, where there is no time or space. There will be no seer, seeing and an object to see. What exists then is only the infinite eye.”
Lastly I would like to direct you to a very important chapter of the traditional text Advaita Bodha Deepika, as recommended by Sri Ramana Maharshi which explains aspects of this teaching in further detail. For most, without the understanding given in this chapter, liberation will be unlikely to result. Conversely, putting these teachings into practice sets one onto the true Direct Path.
Quotes – Rupert Spira
Contrast the tone and content of the above verses with Rupert Spira who states that once Self or Pure Consciousness is realised, that is only one half of the journey, and we then have to turn outwards again and ‘re-integrate this understanding with our objective experience’. This re-integration, according to Advaita Vedanta, is simply more ignorance, more suffering, more duality, and means that the genuine realisation of Self has not really occurred at all. Here is what Rupert Spira writes in his book ‘Being Aware of Being Aware’ on pages 9-11:
The inward-facing path, or Direct Path, in which the mind turns its attention away from objective experience towards its own essence or reality, is, in my experience, best elaborated in the Vedantic tradition, which details with great precision both the philosophy and the practice of this investigation. In this way the Vedantic tradition provides direct means for accessing the essential, irreducible nature of one’s mind and the source of lasting peace and happiness…
…However, it is important to recognise that the inward-facing path explored in this book is only half the journey. Once the essential, irreducible nature of the mind has been recognised, and its inherent peace and unconditional joy accessed, it is necessary to face ‘outwards’ again towards objective experience, realigning the way we think and feel, and subsequently act, perceive and relate, with our new understanding.
The culmination of the inward-facing path is the recognition of the presence, the primacy and the nature of awareness – or, in religious language, spirit or God’s infinite being – the intuition of happiness which transcends all knowledge and experience. However, it is not yet the full experiential understanding in which awareness itself, or God’s infinite being, is known and felt to pervade and saturate all knowledge and experience, and indeed to be its sole substance and reality. It is to recognise the transcendent nature of awareness but not its immanence.
If we do not reintegrate this understanding with our objective experience, then a fragile alliance will persist between our essential, irreducible nature of pure awareness and all objects and others. This often manifests as a denial or rejection of embodied life in the world and may readily become a refuge for any lingering sense of a separate self. The process by which this reintegration or establishment takes place, although implicit in the inward-facing or Vedantic tradition, is, in my opinion, best elaborated in the Tantric tradition, and is an exploration that lies beyond the scope of this book
Can you perhaps see how the ego and duality/separation is retained in this latter exposition of Rupert Spira’s? When there is no ego, what entity is left to re-integrate? Or to put it differently, what entity is going to face outwards again once the Self has been realised?
Prior to the quote I included a link to the full text from which the quote is taken so you can see the full context. The fact that Rupert Spira writes that the ‘outward facing’ aspect of the teaching is ‘beyond the scope of this book’ also implies, to me at least, that this aspect of the path cannot easily be dealt with in a few paragraphs.
Does this even matter?
Well for many this doesn’t really matter! If you are drawn to the so-called ‘Direct Path’ as per Rupert Spira or similar teachings, the chances are that these teachings will benefit you. They are not bad teachings, per se. I just do not find them to be ultimately liberating. But that doesn’t mean they are not good or beneficial. There are many teachings that are worse and some I may even recommend you avoid, but Rupert Spira’s ‘Direct Path’ is not one of these.
However the problem with stating that ‘turning inwards’ is only one part of the journey is that seekers ‘turn back’ towards the objective world too soon, without really having realised the Self, but only having a relatively superficial knowledge of ‘sat-chit’ (Being-Knowing or Being-Consciousness) without having ‘dived deep within’ to realise the limitless Ananda that is true Moksha.
The true teaching urges you to carry on turning inwards until the Self is fully realised. Once this has occurred, there is no longer any duality, and no-entity remains which could ‘turn outwards’ again and reintegrate with the objective world.
As Sri Ramana writes in ‘Who Am I?’:
Q. How long should Inquiry [ie. turning inwards] be practised?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required.
A teaching that teaches that ‘turning within’ is only half the path is likely a teaching that doesn’t encourage one to go within far enough to genuinely realise the Self.
Please note that I am not some fundamentalist Advaita-pushing, scripture pushing-pandit here – I am merely interested in which teachings actually work, and I have found the teachings of Sri Ramana to be fully liberating, and these teachings are in line with the Advaita Vedanta scriptures from what I can see.
What about Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism?
What does this mean about the Tantric path? Well, if by tantra you mean Pratyabhijna (recognition) or the system of Kashmir Shaivism, which is what Rupert Spira is referring to when he says tantra, when you read the Pratyabhijna scriptures you find that the method is essentially the same as the Vedanta Path and the Path of Sri Ramana – ie. one must turn within until the Self is realised. That is all! No need to re-integrate back into the world or turn outwards again.
The only difference is the philosophical or conceptual framework from which this is done. In essence it is the same path. Again, what is written in the scriptures is not always the same as what is taught by the teachers. I explain more about this here, and you will also find Sri Ramana’s view on Kashmir Shaivism in that same post.
How to know your essential nature is consciousness?
There is another issue with teachings, such as Rupert Spira’s ‘direct path’, and forms of Advaita Vedanta that do not emphasise nididhyasana/ meditation and samadhi or what Sri Ramana Maharshi calls Self-Enquiry (Atma Vichara): they do not give a genuine methodology with which one can discover one’s true nature to be Consciousness.
They only posit that ‘You are Consciousness’ and give philosophical reasons why this must be so, together with a rather superficial exploration of one’s own experience. Add in some dodgy logic and, hey presto, suddenly we are to believe that not only is our true nature consciousness, but the entire world is also the nature of consciousness.
However, it should be fairly obvious that it is impossible to either prove or disprove on philosophical grounds alone that your nature is consciousness, or that the ground/nature of the entire universe is consciousness.
Similarly, it is also impossible to know your own fundamental nature to be consciousness by a simple exploration of your own experience. Whilst it may seem that, experientially, all arises in consciousness, that doesn’t mean that everything actually does arise in consciousness. One thing that both daily experience and science teaches us is that things are not always as they appear. To use a rather simplistic example, just because it appears that there are lots of little people inside a TV screen, that doesn’t mean that there actually are lots of little people inside the TV screen. Or just because it appears that the moon changes shape over a twenty-eight day cycle, it doesn’t mean that the moon is actually changing shape on a daily basis in this way. There are countless more examples like this.
Similarly, just because it appears from our subjective viewpoint that everything appears in our consciousness, and that consciousness is all there is, and that the only constant in our experience is consciousness or ‘I AM’, that doesn’t mean that is how the universe is actually structured.
So, how to know your true nature? Traditional Advaita Vedanta as recorded in scriptures such as Shankara’s Vivekachudamani and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi give us an actual method that we can follow, and by which we can discover our True Nature for ourselves. Namely, through turning within and attending to the Subject-Self, we can discover for ourself the Truth, the One Reality. We discover this by losing ourselves and becoming only That which we always were.
Note, as we have mentioned above, whilst Rupert Spira and others with similar teachings do often advocate meditation and turning inwards, it is not emphasised as the main practice whereby realisation is fully gained. Compare this with the teachings of the Upanishads, for example. We have already noted that Rupert Spira cites turning inwards as being a part of a larger schema after which one has to again turn outwards and reintegrate with the objective world. This implies, to me at least, that the extent to which turning inwards is advocated is insufficient to gain a true realisation of Self, as once the Self is truly realised – full stop. It’s all done. Nothing else needed. And no entity present that could turn back towards objects and ‘reintegrate’.
Without going through this turning within type process and continuing and persevering with it until ignorance is rooted out, true realisation does not occur, and so the teachings reside predominantly on the level of the mind/concepts/beliefs, and suffering continues.
Without Abiding as Self and discovering for oneself, Advaita becomes just a bunch of conceptual beliefs such as ‘I am consciousness’ – and ignorance, duality and suffering are not truly destroyed. We have not actually realised the infinite blissful nature of Our Self. We must go beyond the mind and gain the True Experience for ourself of Pure Being in which there is no duality, no ‘me’. Then the Self is revealed as All and One and the ego-I that was seeking is no more.
In verse 356 of Vivekachudamani, Shankara writes:
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.
With this discovery of our True Self comes the immediate ending of suffering and duality, but this discovery does not occur if we remain purely on the conceptual level with the ego-mind-duality-ignorance-suffering remaining intact.
The Amritabindu Upanishads says:
The mind severed from all connection with sensual objects, and prevented from functioning out, awakes into the light of the heart, and finds the highest condition.
The mind should be prevented from functioning, until it dissolves itself in the heart. This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, all else is mere argumentation and verbiage
It is only through Nididhyasana/meditation, that the Ananda aspect of Sat-Chit-Ananda is revealed, as opposed to the emphasis on Sat and Chit aspects only, both of which self-evident without the need for meditation – ie. we already know we exist, sat, and that we are conscious, chit, without any great spiritual practice, but the Ananda or blissful and infinite aspect of Atman-Self can only be genuinely discovered through attending to the Subject-Self. This is also the culmination of the paths of Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion) and the other Yogas too.
Understanding this we also start to understand why traditional scriptures are often worded differently and structured differently to these other contemporary teachings that ultimately teach something different. They are structured this way in order to effectively and efficiently guide us to the Truth that already IS, the Truth that we already ARE.
For supporting quotes relating to this from Advaita Vedanta see the section called ‘The need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi’ in this article: Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi and Liberation.
There is also an entire chapter from the traditional Advaita Vedanta text ‘Advaita Bodha Deepika’ that speaks to this point, see here: Advaita Bodha Deepika – Vital Teachings for Self-Realisation
We can see the same teachings in the Upanishads here: Do we need to turn away from the world of objects to realise the Self?
For supporting quotes from Sri Ramana Maharshi, see the section entitled ‘The only true practice/teaching’ in this article: Ramana Maharshi: how to abide as the Self
Ramana also summarises the entire path in this post: Ramana summarises the entire spiritual path
Of course, what you do with the above information is up to you. Have a look and see what teachings are right for you at this time in your journey. Just because teachings are not ultimately liberating, does not mean that you will not benefit from them – they may be right for you at a certain point in time – everything has its place, as it were. So I am not recommending you do not engage with the so-called ‘Direct Path’ teachings of Rupert Spira and similar teachings – if these teachings are something you are drawn to, then by all means explore them – the teachings probably have some role to play for you if you are drawn to them.
However if you ask me, as always, I recommend you follow the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi – my view is that we are so very lucky to have them – in my view they are a complete teaching that give us everything we need for liberation. You can find a complete exposition of his teachings here for free. Other teachings may seem similar to Sri Ramana’s, but as we explore further and dive deeper into the teachings, we find subtle differences, and these differences can make all the difference!
So if you are able to and are so inclined, I encourage you to take Ramana as your Guru and follow his teachings.
33 thoughts on “Rupert Spira’s ‘Direct Path’ vs Traditional Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana Maharshi”
664. The sage, remaining uninterruptedly in his natural state of samadhi, never swerving from it as a jivan mukta, is able to be active in the world, just as the sages of old such as Sri Sankaracharya did.
This is Not turning away from the world but Overcoming the world. You as a doctor know this in reality. Sitting in a cave is not enlightenment without the fullness of Divine Presence reconciling All things with True Perception , with unconquerable Joy. This Samadhi. Being in the world but not of the world. Abiding in Christ.
“And no entity present that could turn back towards objects and ‘reintegrate’.
Rupert would also say the outward facing path has no separate entity present. It Is Absolutely and Always the activity of The One Spirit. AkA Consciousness.
Why the need for an outward-facing path once the Self has been (fully) realised?
I would have to say because the True Self faces in All directions.
The RS quoted above “The culmination of the inward-facing path is the recognition of the presence, the primacy and the nature of awareness – or, in religious language, spirit or God’s infinite being – the intuition of happiness which transcends all knowledge and experience. However, it is not yet the full experiential understanding..” seems clearly to be stating that the end of the “inward facing path” is not full realization although it is very close.
Without attempting to analyze carefully the English wording -in context -that Rupert Spira (RS) has used in his attempts to convey the method of liberation; my understanding is that he is advising as per traditional Advaita Vedanta i.e. that three qualifications are absolutely necessary for Self Realization viz. Anvaya/ Vyatireka and Niddidyhasanam.
Vyatireka is the negation process (Neti Neti being the common expression and Via Negativa in serious Christianity) which is identifying and ceasing identification with that which we are not. Having completed this the student will be very awake but a sense of separation remains; then the Anvaya process is called for to see (integrate) that all that which was negated is in fact MySelf – Advaita (whereas previously particular attractive and changing objects were identified with). Without this “integration” there is apparently likelihood that a remaining rudimentary sense of a separated self will expand. Nididhyasanam is serious/deep consideration which is necessary in the abovementioned process; without it it’s easy to appreciate the logic of, for example ” I cannot be that which I am observing” (Mananam) but not carefully consider it’s ramifications.
It’s outside of my experience but one answer to the apparent contradiction between RS’s and Ramana’s teaching may be that the Anvaya process usually follows naturally and very rapidly and thus is not always mentioned.
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“The point of this teaching is the realisation of a total freedom, which is already wholly and completely present.
The emphasis is on facilitating a genuine practical realisation in the midst of daily living.”
What is this ? But the outward facing path?
It means you don’t have to retire from your daily life into a cave in the mountains, or something similar
I quite enjoy your analysis of teachings of other teachers.
I have a couple of questions on the following lines:
“in order to remove all sense of duality and separation”
“total extinguishment (ie. nirvana) of the ego and duality.”
Sri Ramanaparavidyopanishad 569:
“In that state doubts do not arise since the sage is ever firm in his awareness of the true Self. There he remains without affirmations and vacillations, immersed in the depths of peace, [the mind having become extinct.]”
Can you elaborate a bit more on the “extinguishment of …duality”?
When you mean, the removal of all sense of duality, you do not mean the inability to distinguish such as black/white, hot/cold, but rather, the core sense of separation between subject-object, between Awareness and objects that arise “within Awareness” has been extinguished?
Do the phenomena that arises as “Tom”, the thoughts, the feelings, sensations, and the world of objects … these all continue to arise, but the felt-sense of the “separate thinker/feeler” is no longer experienced?
Or do you mean something else entirely?
In a related note, in many of the classic Advaita texts, there is mention of manonasa, the extinction of mind. But surely, concepts and thought-forms must continue to arise – do they mean the extinction of the separate-I that seems to be the thinker of the thoughts?
many thank you’s. I experience Stillness, cessation of all thoughts and cessation of the process-of-selfing daily, with a great reduction in suffering, but I cannot say the total sense of subject-object duality has been eradicated – so these posts are of great interest.
I think I answer your questions here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkOpDDvwZwk and here https://youtu.be/9lEB9Cg294g
Thank you Tom. I agree with what you write about the teachings of Rupert Spira and other so called “neo-adviata teachings” elsewhere. I’ve been immersed in neo-advaita teachings for periods and can recognize that they do have their value depending on where you are on the path. Since Sri Ramana was my first contact with advaita I tend to gravitate back to his teachings again and again after exploring other teachings / teachers for a while.
When it comes to the question of returning to the marketplace / the world after realisation I would keep that one open. Does it even matter? From where this is written, there is only the bliss of being pulled in and consumed by grace. Whether the world remains or disappears for ever seems irrelevant in this “honeymoon phase” where the lover sees the beloved and realises they were never separated. The world seems like a rather dull place compared to this. The world being there is ok, but it would be equally ok if it were not. It seems less substantial than before being swept away by grace. I don’t know if that makes sense or not 🙂
There might very well come a phase after this honeymoon where “being in the world but not of it” is an actuality. I can’t tell from here. But if it does, it seems to me it must come not from some desire by an individual for it to be so, but spontaneously. If there is a premeditated desire or strategy to “return to the world” (or re-integrate…as it is called) the work is not fully done yet, it seems.
I have complete faith it the teachings of our beloved guru, Sri Ramana, and as you say – we are very lucky to have them in our day and age. We are also fortunate to have people like you reminding us of how precious this really is. Once again – thank you!
Perhaps the Actuality is as Jesus said” going in and out and finding pasture” That is … going in and out of pure consciousness as we participate in the play of Creation.
Hi Tom, I see your point of view, but if you see the history of the assumed, ‘Enlightened’ teachers, and their disciples, who have come to the west… their ‘so called ‘ Enlightenment ‘, couldn’t hold up in the face of’ the world ‘, with all the temptations.. Imagine Ramana in a modern day city, having to make a living etc… With pressure and stressful situations.. Your teaching seems relevant in a cultural setting, where societal support is available… To assume that Ruperts teaching, is not sufficient, may be presumptuous..
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Ruperts teachings cannot be underestimated. They can be easily integrated with Ramana Maharishis method of self-abidance, for they are much the same. In fact, they make self-abidance much simpler.
Rupert teaches the inward facing path as a means to come to know the I Am as inherent, absolute peace, joy and love. Ramana Maharishi, of course, says the same. Resting in the I, in every spare moment, as the qualities of peace are revealed, and continuing here, as often as possible, until we collapse into the Self.
But Rupert has taught that we don’t have wait for a spare moment to abide as the I Am. The outward-facing path is one that unites the knowing of our true nature as infinite awareness with the knowing of the world. We come to know that we are this infinite knowing, that all appears in this knowing and all is made of only this knowing that we are.
In short, all experience becomes one. We see only the Self in all. This knowledge and experience is wonderfully freeing.
This experience of oneness, indivisible unity, is love itself, flowing freely.
Now, in love with all, seeing the Self in all, we abide wholly and only in the Self, in the I Am, no matter what we do. All shines with this knowing.
We rest here, having unified the inward and outward facing paths, seeing only the I Am in the world and in our everyday life, just as we see in ourself. Overtime, through self-abidance, the Light of the I Am burns, consuming itself, revealing the Absolute alone.
This is exactly as Ramana Maharishi’s teachings have said, but the world is no longer seen to take us out of the I Am, but all is seen as only the substratum – all brings us equally close to the Self. The world shines with the Self, and this is all we know, whether turned inward or outward. That is what Rupert teaches.
I think the merging of their pointers are incredibly powerful. Resting in the I Am, we see ourself. Looking outward, we come to know only this same I Am in all. The world transforms and is known as one with the Self, and thus, self-abidance becomes second-nature. Then, with time, the I Am burns itself in its own light, and the Self is revealed in its entirety, as the Absolute.
I have found great peace this way, whether in the world or within, and have been centred on self-abidance throughout. So I can vouch for this method:)
Apologies for the auto-correct blunder:)
Thank you for sharing your experiences of these teachings – it is much appreciated, namaste
I really appreciate your blog by the way. It’s a treasure!
Keep being as you are, it’s very helpful:)
I would also add that Rupert Spira has definitely said to abide as the I Am alone, many, many times. He simply has said that the world doesn’t ever have to outshine the I Am. That is all.
You mentioned several times in this post that the outward-facing path is meant to take one towards the world, but that is categorically not true. Rupert Spira has been constantly teaching to abide in your own being *as often as possible, and ideally all the time*. That is the goal, if any.
The outward-facing path is meant so we may see the I Am in all, so we may be abiding in our own being, whatever we may be doing.
The two paths, are more or less than same. The only difference is Rupert does not necessarily believe that the I Am can be dissolved, while Ramana Maharshi does. That is where we simply have faith and find out for ourselves.
I have faith the I Am most certainly can be dissolved, but that process of dissolution is much easier, and gentler with the outward-facing path, as we no longer have to run from the world.
Yes, teachings dealing with objects are much easier to utilise – I call these ‘savikalpa teachings’ – they are lovely teachings and are very beneficial but not, for most, ultimately liberating. I speak about it more in this video here, and how to ‘correct the error’, please take a look when you can:
I was not aware about the difference between Rupert and Ramana on whether or not the I AM can be dissolved, so that is interesting to hear. Can you provide a quote to further explain?
Lastly, have you read The Path of Sri Ramana before? If you haven’t, suggest you do. You can find a copy here:
Best wishes & I hope you are doing well with your sadhana
I’ve realized a lot more than I knew back when I wrote that comment. Apologies for my ignorance:)
I can definitely see the importance of your words now, and ultimately, they are the truth.
Rupert Spira was taught that which was passed down from Atmananda Krishna Menon, a liberated being. Atmananda emphasized the need to be in meditation at all times, steady ones attention in pure consciousness. He made this easier to do this for his devotees by simply telling them to see all – all objects – as pure consciousness. Therefore, wherever one looks, one finds pure consciousness and is always in mediation.
This is a book (.pdf) on Atmanada’s teachings, if you’d like to check it out: http://tinyurl.com/8ybgwvy
This is what I believe Rupert teaches as well, but there seems to be some miscommunication where the importance of pure meditation, as in abiding in pure consciousness, thereby gradually stilling the mind, has been lost. Instead, Rupert teaches that one must always be aware of awareness at all times – which is quite right – but thoughts are seen as something that can come and go, where we can think as we please, as long as attention does not go there, and instead rests in awareness.
Now, this is possible and becomes easy with practice, but of course, the ego is still there, in tact, though slowly being eroded by this attention to awareness. But there is still some interest in thought, which keeps away the experience of pure being, and therefore liberation.
On the topic of I Am, all I meant was that Ramana knows that the ‘I’ sinks into ‘I-I’, as steady attention to awareness sinks into the Heart, whereas Rupert believes the ‘I-I’ is found immediately when one abides in awareness.
Rupert is a wonderful, articulate, loving teacher, no doubt. I admire him, and I believe he had helped many, including myself, on this path. Maybe for some, the teachings of a liberated being may ring as most true as we progress.
Thank-you for responding to my messages and I hope we may have the courage and love to see our liberation all the way through.
This was meant to be a reply to your April 11, 2021 post, Tom:)
Hi Tomdas – interesting series of reflections. I wonder what you think about the quite friendly and apparently unanimous dialog between Swami Sarvapriyananda and Rupert Spira: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhYKqblybXs&t=3279s
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I haven’t watched the link but both RS and SS seem to make the same error/a similar error, in my view. Have you read my post on Swami Sarvapriyananda? See here: https://tomdas.com/2021/05/08/does-swami-sarvapriyananda-teach-the-same-as-swami-vivekananda-and-sri-ramakrishna-swami-dayananda-swami-satchidanendra-saraswati/
Essentially, their entire teaching can be summarised as: You are Consciousness, and all that appears (including the body and mind) is also Consciousness. As far as I can tell, that’s pretty much the entire teaching. There is no real emphasis of the subject-Self or turning towards the Self as a means to Self-Knowledge, so the main or essential sadhana that gives rise to liberation is not actually given/taught at all.
This is why I think it is best to stick with Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, which are very clear and, in my view, they give us the true essential and liberating Vedanta teaching that is so easily distorted by those still attached to the body-mind.
I recommend reading The Path of Sri Ramana or The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss if you are not already familiar with the teachings or Sri Ramana, both of which can be found here: https://tomdas.com/2020/10/19/recommended-reading-books-for-enlightenment-liberation-and-self-realisation/
Namaste and well wishes
Actually, both Rupert and Swamiji say that there is much more to their teaching (Swamiji often refers implicitly to much more complex teachings of Ramakrishna, and in the link I posted Rupert acknowledges similar more complex teachings).
Then why don’t they present this in every video?
in fact, you could take excerpts from Ramana and make the same claim. Ramana in fact, noted many times that in many of his comments to disciples that are unrecorded he said things that, if we saw all of them, would seem contradictory and woefully inconsistent.
In fact, Ramana had his own limitations, and clearly did not understand the teachings of Sri Aurobindo as presented to him. This is why Kapali Sastry eventually left Ramana. I would add, it is fairly clear that Sastry did understand the full range of Ramana’s teachings, because some years after leaving Ramana, Sastry wrote an extensive commentary on one of Ramana’s teachings, which were personally approved by Ramana himself.
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Well I am happy to be corrected by yourself. What are the other aspects of the teachings of RS and SS? With thanks
I’l leave RS and SS for those who have more expertise in that area. Regarding Sri Aurobindo:
There was an interesting exchange between Ramana and Sri Aurobindo disciple Dilip Kumar Roy. Dilip was describing the ‘descent of the Mahashakti” and Ramana’s now somewhat “famous” reply was, “The Divine is everywhere; where can the Divine descend from and to.”
This is one of many examples of Maharshi’s conflation of absolute and reality ways of seeing things.
Actually, regarding Ramakrishna and SS’ understanding, SS referred to, I believe, (possibly only one time, and I don’t recall where) Ramakrishna’s statement to Vivekananda that “Rama and Krishna are here in this body, and NOT in your Vedantic sense.”
That is a recognition of the Purushottoma that I haven’t seen in Maharshi’s teachings. If Sri Aurobindo is too obscure (his writings are VERY challenging and really can’t be read through the mind in the ordinary sense), Lucilorn’s ‘The Incredible Reality of You” has a more accessible way of talking about this.
Apologies, but I’m not sure of the point you’re making in this thread…every dialogue has a context, and we may not be aware of the entire context.
The key is to realise the Self…and how to do that. Or how to ‘attain liberation’ in which there is no suffering or duality…What is the means to attain liberation?
All the Advaita texts tell us that we must turn within, attend to the Self, discover what we are by going within. Sri Ramana says the same. Shankara says the same. Buddha says the same. All true spiritual teachings that teach the path to liberation eventually come to this universal teaching. However Rupert Spira and Swami S say something quite different, something more akin to neo-advaita which, unlike vedanta, does not emphasise the Subject-Self.
In Vedanta, the Upanishads are the highest authority – eg. from the Amritabindu Upanishad, verses 2-5:
2. Mind alone is the cause of bondage or liberation; lost in enjoyment it leads to bondage, emptied of the objective it leads to liberation.
3. As mind emptied of the objective leads to liberation, one desirous of liberation must always try to wipe off the objective from the plane of his mind.
4. The mind severed from all connection with sensual objects, and prevented from functioning out, awakes into the light of the heart, and finds the highest condition.
5. The mind should be prevented from functioning, until it dissolves itself in the heart. This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, the rest is all mere concoction of untruth.
As you can see from the above, it is a rather radical teaching, perhaps not for everyone, but it is the path to liberation, at least as laid out in the Vedic tradition. I am open to other ways of sharing this, but again, not sure about the exact point you are trying to make
Hey Tom, seems like this could take a LONG time. Why don’t we leave it at, “I love your blog and we see things differently.” Thanks for taking the time to respond.
Thanks – I agree – that’s probably a good idea 🙂
I appreciate your above comments and kind words
Well wishes & a deep bow to you
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Can’t help thinking tryout devotion to Ramana Maharsi has biased your views towards other teachers. I do think Rupert Spiras teaching has differences from traditional Vedanta Advaita by incorporating elements of Shaivism or Tantra. But perhaps this is mostly a matter of emphasis as there have been other Advaita teachers with similar views and emphasis. In my own experience, “integration” of realization is important and necessary, especially when leading a busy lifestyle in the world. Thanks.
I agree completely. Spira doesn’t bother with Nididyasana. Ramana said that only in rare, ripe cases would hearing, Sravana be enough. But that is what’s being taught by Spira. They seem to equate intellectual “recognition” with being “done”.
The phrase Self realization has been removed from this teaching. I find that people can get “something” from listening to Spira, but agree this so called direct path, is not direct at all, and won’t lead to actual Liberation
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As far as I’m aware , the Direct Path that’s be attributed to Rupert Spira actually originates with Atmananda Krishna Menon. So, may I ask why you haven’t addressed the teachings of Atmananda Krishna Menon first?