The true meaning of Jnana (Self-Knowledge) is revealed by Sage Vasistha, taken from the wonderful and highly authoritative traditional Advaita text, the Yoga Vasistha.
At Rama’s request, VASISTHA narrated the following story:
Once upon a time there was a king named Bhagiratha who was devoted to dharma. He gave liberal gifts to the pious and holy ones and he was terror to the evildoers. He worked tirelessly to eradicate the very causes of poverty. When he was in the company of the holy ones his heart melted in devotion.
Bhagiratha brought the holy river Ganga from the heavens down to the earth. In this he had to encounter great difficulties and propitiate the gods Brahma and Siva and also the sage Jahnu. In all this he suffered frequent frustrations and disappointments.
He, too, was endowed with discrimination and dispassion even at an early age, O Rama. One day while remaining alone he reflected thus: “This worldly life is really essenceless and stupid. Day and night chase each other. People repeat the same meaningless actions again and again. I regard only that as proper action which leads to the attainment beyond which there is nothing to be gained; the rest is repeated foul excretion (as in cholera).” He approached his guru Tritala and prayed, “Lord, how can one put an end to this sorrow and to old age, death and delusion which contribute to repeated birth here?”
Tom – here below the first teaching will be dispensed. The teaching says that suffering will end when the self is known. How to know the self? One has to abide as the Self for a long time:
TRITALA said: Sorrow ceases, all the bondages are rent asunder and doubts are dispelled when one is fully established in the equanimity of the self for a long time, when the perception of division has ceased and when there is the experience of fullness through the knowledge of that which is to be known. What is to be known? It is the self which is pure and which is of the nature of pure consciousness which is omnipresent and eternal.
BHAGIRATHA asked: I know that the self alone is real and the body, etc., are not real. But how is it that it is not perfectly clear to me?
Tom – how often we have heard the teaching, we have heard the words, we may know the theory, but still we do not know! Let us listen to Tritala’s response, in which he will tell us the true nature of Knolwedge and the means to it:
TRITALA said: Such intellectual knowledge is not knowledge! Unattachment to wife, son and house, equanimity in pleasure and pain, love of solitude, being firmly established in self-knowledge—this is knowledge, all else is ignorance! Only when the ego-sense is thinned out does this self-knowledge arise.
BHAGIRATHA asked: Since this ego-sense is firmly established in this body, how can it be uprooted?
TRITALA replied: By self-effort and by resolutely turning away from the pursuit of pleasure. And by the resolute breaking down of the prison-house of shame (false dignity), etc. If you abandon all this and remain firm, the ego-sense will vanish and you will realise that you are the supreme being!
VASISTHA continued: Having heard the teachings of his teacher, Bhagiratha decided to perform a religious rite as a prelude to total renunciation of the world. In three days he had given away everything to the priests and to his own relatives, whether they were endowed with good nature or not. His own kingdom he handed over to his enemies living across the borders. Clad in a small piece of loin-cloth, he left the kingdom and roamed in countries and forests where he was totally unknown.
Very soon, he had attained the state of supreme peace within himself. Accidentally and unknowingly Bhagiratha entered his own previous kingdom and solicited alms from the citizens there. They recognised him, worshipped him and prayed that he should be their king. But he accepted from them nothing but food. They bewailed, “This is king Bhagiratha, what a sad plight, what an unfortunate turn of events!” After a few days he left the kingdom again.
Tom – in the following paragraphs we will see some hints, in bold type, as to how life is for the apparently self-realised sage:
Bhagiratha once again met his teacher and the two of them roamed the country all the time engaged in spiritual dialogue: “Why do we still carry the burden of this physical body? On the other hand, why should it be discarded? Let it be as long as it will be!” They were devoid of sorrow and of rejoicing, nor could they be said to adhere to the middle path. Even if the gods and sages offered them wealth and psychic powers, they spurned them as blades of dry grass.
In a certain kingdom the king had died without an heir and the ministers were in search of a suitable ruler. Bhagiratha, clad in a loincloth, happened to be in that kingdom. The ministers decided that he was the person fit to ascend the throne, and surrounded him. Bhagiratha mounted the royal elephant. Soon he was crowned king.
While he was ruling that kingdom, the people of his previous kingdom approached him once again and prayed that he should rule that kingdom also. Bhagiratha accepted. Thus he became the emperor of the whole world. Remaining at peace within himself, with his mind silenced, free from desires and jealousy, he engaged himself in doing appropriate action in circumstances as they arose.
Once he heard that the only way to please the souls of his departed ancestors was to offer libation with the waters of the Ganga. In order to bring the heavenly Ganga down to earth, he repaired to the forest to perform austerities, having entrusted the empire to his ministers. There he propitiated the gods and the sages and achieved the most difficult task of bringing the Ganga down to earth so that all the people for all time to come might offer libations to their ancestors with the waters of the holy Ganga. It is only from that time that this sacred Ganga which adorned the crown of lord Siva’s head began to flow on the earth.
Tom – traditionally the river Ganges, here called the Ganga, its Sanskrit name, springs from the head of Lord Shiva. In the picture below we can see the out-shoot of water from the crown of his head which is the source of the Ganga:
VASISTHA continued: Even so, Rama, remain in a state of equanimity like king Bhagiratha. And, like Sikhidhvaja, having renounced everything, remain unmoved. I shall narrate to you the story of Sikhidhvaja. Pray, listen. Once there were two lovers who were reborn in a later age on account of their divine love for each other…[and so the wonderful Yoga Vasistha continues with its interweaving stories all explaining in different ways to paths to Realisation…]
Just a reminder that there will be an ONLINE SATSANG tonight at 8pm GMT (UK time). This is instead of the usual Kingston meeting. Due to the current coronavirus situation all face-to-face or in-person meetings are being cancelled and we will be meeting online on Thursdays until further notice.
Details of the meeting and how to join can be found here https://www.meetup.com/Non-duality-Kingston-London/
Hope to see you there!
Direct pointing in 3 mins!
A man from Cocanada [Kakinada] asked:
‘My mind remains clear for two or three days and turns dull for the next two or three days; and so it alternates. What is it due to?’
Sri Ramana Maharshi:
It is quite natural; it is the play of brightness (sattva), activity (rajas) and darkness (tamas) alternating. Do not regret the tamas; but when sattva [peace] comes into play, hold on to it fast and make the best of it.
Taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk number 52
Tom: here the advice is clear; when you are peaceful, take advantage of this peace and make the most of it – abide in this peace and know yourself to be beyond all.
In the text Kaivalya Navaneeta (The Cream of Liberation; a 16th century traditional advaita text that was often recommended by Sri Ramana Maharshi), four types of liberated sages are described starting at verse 94.
Understanding these descriptions can help explain and reconcile the different views of liberation one may come across, such as whether or not the body and world appear after liberation, what type of lifestyle a liberated sage would exhibit and whether or not they would experience any kind of afflictive or suffering-causing emotions at all. My comments are in italicised red:
94. The wise, remaining like ether and liberated even here, are of four classes, namely Brahmavid (i.e. a knower of Brahman), vara, varya, and varishta, in order of merit.
Tom: The four types of liberated sage are called Brahmavid, Vara, Varya and Varishta. First we will discuss the Brahmavid or or ‘knower or Brahman’ (Vidya is Sanskrit for knowledge). The phrase ‘remaining like ether’ refers to the previous verse 93 and means the wise sage abides as consciousness, fully liberated.
95. The Brahmavids who by steadfast practice have gained clear realization of Brahman, continue to perform even the hard duties of their caste and stage in life, exactly as prescribed by the shastras for the benefit of others, without themselves swerving from their supreme state.
96. Should passions rise up they disappear instantly and cannot taint the mind of the Brahmavids who live in society detached like water on a lotus leaf. They look ignorant, not showing forth their knowledge, and remain mute owing to intensity of inward Bliss.
Tom: the first type of liberated sage is called the Brahmavid. They continue to be fully engaged in society and the world whilst simultaneously being liberated. Occasionally afflictive emotions and passions arise but they are short lived and do not affect the Brahmavid. They may seem like an ordinary person with nothing particularly special about them, but they are often outwardly quiet.
97. Prarabdha, i.e., karma which is now bearing fruit, differs according to the actions in past incarnations. Therefore the present pursuits also differ among jnanis, who are all, however, liberated even here. They may perform holy tapas; or engage in trade and commerce; or rule a kingdom; or wander about as mendicants.
Tom: Prarabdha essentially refers to the destiny of the particular body mind based on its previous actions, ie. its karma . This verse states that the actions of the (body of the) jnani or sage (jnani literally means ‘knower’, ie. ‘knower of truth’ or ‘knower of Self’) varies depending on what the activities the body did prior to realisation. So the sage may, for example, perform holy penance, or engage in the world, or be a ruler, or a wandering monk. Basically there is no fixed description of what a sage would do in daily life in terms of their ‘occupation’.
98. They would not think of the past or future; would partake of what comes unsolicited; would not wonder, even if the sun turned into the moon, or at any other marvel, whether the sky were to spread its shoots down like a banyan tree or a corpse were to be revived; nor would they distinguish good and bad, for they always remain as the unchanging Witness of all.
Tom: the last point on the Brahmavid is that they are unaffected by whatever appears to happen, no matter how marvelous, calamitous or ridiculous. Why? Because they are liberated, ‘fixed’ as the Self, remaining as the ever-unchanging ‘Witness of all’.
Now let us look at the other three classes of Jnani or Liberated Sage:
99. Among the other three classes, the vara and the varya remain settled in samadhi. The vara feels concern for the maintenance of the body; the varya is reminded of it by others; the varishta never becomes aware of the body, either by himself or through others.
Tom: Here the vara and varya are both aware of the body at times whilst the fourth type of Jnani, the varishta, is not even ever aware of the body at all, even though others may perceive him as a body. The vara has a desire to maintain the body, whilst the varya occasionally becomes aware of their body if someone else prompts them.
So which of these types of liberation is best? Let us see…
100. Although there are distinguishing characteristics in the lives of the different Sages, who are themselves very rare in the world, yet there is absolutely no difference in the experience of Liberation. What can be the use of the hard-won samadhi? The Brahmavid, who is outwardly active, seems sometimes to feel the misery of calamities, whereas the others remain in unbroken Bliss.
Tom: Here it is made clear: all of these four types of sage are rare, and all are the same in that they are all fully liberated. They all in theirselves have the same essential experience of Liberation, the differences being only superficial and present from the point of view of other non-liberated people.
However a point is raised that is dealt with in the next verse. The Brahmavid may appear to suffer and stress like the unliberated, whereas the other three categories of liberated sage are lost in eternal Peace and Bliss. How can this be? How can the Brahmavid be said to be truly liberated?
101. Now if the Brahmavids live like the ignorant, how are they free from the cycle of births, and how is their ignorance gone? The all-pervading ether remains untainted by anything; the other four elements are tainted by contact with objects. So it is with the Brahmavid and the ignorant.
Tom: The answer given is that, as Consciousness, the Brahmavid remains unaffected and untouched by whatever seems to happen in the world of objects that we ordinarily call life.
Tom’s summary: So we can see there are various types of liberated sage that are all fully and totally liberated, but appear different to each other only from the point of view of ignorance or the ‘unliberated’. Some jnanis are active in the world and appear to stress and suffer, some are immersed in constant experiential bliss, some are totally unaware of their body or only aware of it to some degree, and others seem to have a need to look after their body. Some appear to be holy sages, other just ordinary mundane people int he world. However, all of this does not matter from the point of view of Liberation – Liberation is only One. Know Thy Self!
All are welcome to join me in an ONLINE satsang this Thursday 8pm GMT (UK time). See the link below for details and how to join.
We meet ONLINE on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month.
Best wishes to you all
The following dialogue is taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk number 265, my additions are in red:
Questioner: There are said to be sadeha mukta (liberated in body) and videha mukta (liberated without body).
Sri Ramana Maharshi: There is no liberation, and where are muktas [the liberated ones]?
Questioner: Do not Hindu sastras [scriptures] speak of mukti [liberation]?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Mukti is synonymous with the Self. Jivan mukti (liberation while alive) and videha mukti (liberation after the body falls) are all for the ignorant. The Jnani [liberated one] is not conscious of mukti or bandha (bondage).
Bondage, liberation and orders of mukti are all said for an ajnani [ignorant or unliberated one] in order that ignorance might be shaken off.
There is only mukti and nothing else.
The following is the taken from Vichara Shangraham, a text attributed to Sri Ramana Maharshi. Vichara Sangraham is often translated simply as ‘Self Enquiry’ and literally means ‘A compendium of (Self) Enquiry’. This excerpt is very the last section of the text:
Question: What are the characteristics of the jivan-mukta (the liberated in life) and the videha-mukta (the liberated at death)?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: ‘I am not the body; I am Brahman which is manifest as the Self. In me who am the plenary [absolute] Reality, the world consisting of bodies etc, are mere appearance, like the blue of the sky’. He who has realized the truth thus is a jivan-mukta.
Yet so long as his mind has not been resolved, there may arise some misery for him because of relation to objects on account of prarabdha (karma which has begun to fructify and whose result is the present body) [ie. due to destiny], and as the movement of mind has not ceased there will not be also the experience of bliss.
The experience of Self is possible only for the mind that has become subtle and unmoving as a result of prolonged meditation. He who is thus endowed with a mind that has become subtle, and who has the experience of the Self is called a jivan-mukta. It is the state of jivan-mukti that is referred to as the attributeless Brahman and as the Turiya.
When even the subtle mind gets resolved, and experience of self ceases, and when one is immersed in the ocean of bliss and has become one with it without any differentiated existence, one is called a videha-mukta. It is the state of videha-mukti that is referred to as the transcendent attributeless Brahman and as the transcendent Turiya. This is the final goal.
Because of the grades in misery and happiness, the released ones, the jivan-muktas and videha- muktas, may be spoken of as belonging to four categories — Brahmavid, vara, variyan and varishtha. But these distinctions are from the standpoint of the others who look at them; in reality, however, there are no distinctions in release [liberation] gained through jnana [self-knowledge].