Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?

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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…


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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 [Brahman].


The Advaitic giant, Sri Gaudapada, 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


Also see:

The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation

Ramana Maharshi: be still

Ramana Maharshi: a quick and simple method to self-realisation

False enlightenment

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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). 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 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’.

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


 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Shankara in the 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.

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.

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.

The mind must be stilled:

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:

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:

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.

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.

Drowning the mind implies its death, meaning the death of ignorance:

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.

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

Again, Shankara says we must end the mind:

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.

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

Manonasa, 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.!

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.

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

 

Shankara – summary of the path to enlightenment

Towards the beginning of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, he summarises the entire vedantic path in 3 verses. The 509 verses that follow these 3 verses are mere elucidation on these 3 verses.

Verse 69 indicates the fruit of the path – the end of suffering (‘bondage of samsara’):

69. Listen attentively, O learned one, to what I am going to say. By listening to it thou shalt be instantly free from the bondage of Samsara.

The first step on the path is vairagya, or dispassion. This leads to a calm mind in which the ego is not allowed to act out:

70. The first step to Liberation is the extreme aversion to all perishable things, then follow calmness, self-control, forbearance, and the utter relinquishment of all work enjoined in the Scriptures.

Then the teachings are heard (sravana), reflected upon (manana), followed by a period of meditation on the Self (nididhyasana) for the ‘Muni’ (jewel) which is nothing other than moksha (liberation). Notice the stress on the ‘long, constant and unbroken meditation’. Then follows the nirvikalpa state (samadhi) which in turn leads to Nirvana (liberation or extinguishment of desires/egoic vasanas):

71. Then come hearing, reflection on that, and long, constant and unbroken meditation on the Truth for the Muni. After that the learned seeker attains the supreme Nirvikalpa state and realises the bliss of Nirvana even in this life.

This is the vedantic path in a nutshell. 

For the entire text of Vivekachudamani click here.

Who Am I? (Nan Yar?) by Sri Ramana Maharshi

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There are many versions of this text titled ‘Who am I?’ (Nan Yar in the original Tamil), all with subtle variations, but this one I have selected below is the only version I know of that was written by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi himself.

The framework for this essay originated from a series of answers that a philosophy graduate Sivaprakasam Pillai wrote down in 1902 after asking Bhagavan a corresponding series of questions whilst at Virupaksha cave on Arunachala, and was first published by Sri Pillai 21 years later in 1923.

Sometime in the mid-1920s, Bhagavan removed the questions and fashioned the answers into an essay form and he also added an introductory paragraph on the nature of happiness. It is the English translation of this essay which is found below.

The resultant essay was on sale in pamphlet form at the ashram and served to provide an introduction and practical summary of instructions for self-enquiry or Bhagavan’s ‘direct path’ to liberation. Many times when people asked Bhagavan questions, he asked them to read this essay first, and only ask further questions if they still had any afterwards.

Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya Om

 

Who Am I?

Every living being longs always to be happy, untainted by sorrow; and everyone has the greatest love for himself, which is solely due to the fact that happiness is his real nature. Hence, in order to realize that inherent and untainted happiness, which indeed he daily experiences when the mind is subdued in deep sleep, it is essential that he should know himself. For obtaining such knowledge the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ in quest of the Self is the best means.

‘Who am I?’ I am not this physical body, nor am I the five organs of sense perception; I am not the five organs of external activity, nor am I the five vital forces, nor am I even the thinking mind. Neither am I that unconscious state of nescience which retains merely the subtle vasanas (latencies of the mind), while being free from the functional activity of the sense-organs and  of the mind, and being unaware of the existence of the objects of sense-perception.

Therefore, summarily rejecting all the above-mentioned physical adjuncts and their functions, saying ‘I am not this; no, nor am I this, nor this’ — that which then remains separate and alone by itself, that pure Awareness is what I am. This Awareness is by its very nature Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss).

If the mind, which is the instrument of knowledge and is the basis of all activity, subsides, the perception of the world as an objective reality ceases. Unless the illusory perception of the serpent in the rope ceases, the rope on which the illusion is formed is not perceived as such. Similarly, unless the illusory nature of the perception of the world as a objective reality ceases, the Vision of the true nature of the Self, on which the illusion is formed, is not obtained.

The mind is a unique power (sakti) in the Atman, whereby thoughts occur to one. On scrutiny as to what remains after eliminating all thoughts, it will be found that there is no such thing as mind apart from thought. So then, thoughts themselves constitute the mind. Nor is there any such thing as the physical world apart from and independent of thought. In deep sleep there are no thoughts: nor is there the world. In the wakeful and dream state thoughts are present, and there is also the world. Just as the spider draws out the thread of the cobweb from within itself and withdraws it again into itself, in the same way the mind projects the world out of itself and absorbs it back into itself.

The world is perceived as an apparent objective reality when the mind is externalized, thereby forsaking its identity with the Self. When the world is thus perceived, the true nature of the Self is not revealed: conversely, when the Self is realized the world ceases to appear as an objective reality.

By a steady and continuous investigation into the nature of the mind, the mind is transformed into That to which ‘I’ refers; and that is in fact the Self. Mind has necessarily to depend for its existence on something gross;  it never subsists by itself. It is this mind that is otherwise called the subtle  body, ego, jiva, or soul.

That which arises in the physical body as ‘I’ is the mind. If one inquires whence the ‘I’-thought in the body arises in the first instance, it will be found that it is from hrdayam (literally ‘I am the Heart), or the Heart. That is the source and stay of the mind. Or again, even if one merely continuously repeats to oneself inwardly ‘I-I’ with the entire mind fixed thereon, that also leads one to the same source.

The first and foremost of all thoughts that arise in the mind is the primal  ‘I’-thought. It is only after the rise or origin of the ‘I’-thought that innumerable other thoughts arise. In other words, only after the first personal pronoun, ‘I’, has arisen, do the second and third personal pronouns (‘you, he’ etc.) occur to the mind; and they cannot subsist without the former.

Since every other thought can occur only after the rise of the ‘I’-thought and since the mind is nothing but a bundle of thoughts, it is only through the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ that the mind subsides. Moreover, the integral ‘I’-thought, implicit in such enquiry, having destroyed all other thoughts, gets itself destroyed or consumed, just as the stick used for stirring the burning funeral pyre gets consumed.

Even when extraneous thoughts sprout up during such enquiry, do not seek to  complete the rising thought, but instead, deeply enquire within, ‘To who has  this thought occurred?’ No matter how many thoughts thus occur to you, if you  would with acute vigilance enquire immediately as and when each individual  thought arises to whom it has occurred, you would find it is to ‘me’. If then you enquire ‘Who am I?’ the mind gets introverted and the rising thought also subsides. In this manner as you persevere more and more in the practice of Self-enquiry, the mind acquires increasing strength and power to abide in its Source.

It is only when the subtle mind is externalized through the activity of the  intellect and the sense-organs that gross name and form constituting the world appear. When, on the other hand, the mind stays firmly in the Heart, they recede and disappear. Restraint of the outgoing mind, and its absorption in the Heart, is known as introversion (antarmukha-drishti). The release of the mind, and its emergence from the Heart is known as bahirmukha-drishti (objectiveness).

If in this manner the mind becomes absorbed in the Heart, the ego or ‘I’,  which is the center of the multitude of thoughts, finally vanishes and pure Consciousness or Self, which subsists during all the states of the mind, alone remains resplendent. It is this state, where there is not the slightest trace of the ‘I’-thought, that is the true Being of oneself. And that is called Quiescence or Mouna (silence).

This state of mere inherence in pure Being is known as the Vision of Wisdom. Such inherence means and implies the entire subsidence of the mind in the Self. Nothing other than this, and no psychic powers of the mind such as thought-reading, telepathy, and clairvoyance, can be Wisdom.

Atman alone exists and is real. The threefold reality of world, individual soul, and God is, like the illusory appearance of silver in the mother of pearl, an imaginary creation in the Atman. They appear and disappear simultaneously.  The Self alone is the world, the ‘I’ and God. All that exists is but the manifestation of the Supreme.

For the subsidence of mind there is no other means more effective and  adequate than Self-enquiry. Even though by other means the mind subsides, that is only apparently so; it will rise again.

For instance, the mind subsides by the practice of pranayama (restraint and  control of breath and vital forces); yet such subsidence lasts only as long as  the control of breath and vital forces continues; and when they are released,  the mind also gets released and immediately, becoming externalized, it continues to wander through the force of its subtle tendencies.

The source of the mind is the same as that of breath and vital forces. It is really the multitude of thoughts that constitutes the mind; and the ‘I’-thought  is the primal thought of the mind, and is itself the ego. But breath too has its origin at the same place whence the ego rises. Therefore, when the mind subsides, breath and vital forces also subside; and conversely, when the latter subside, the former also subsides.

Breath and vital forces are also described as the gross manifestation of the mind. Till the hour of death the mind sustains and supports these forces in the  physical body; and when life becomes extinct the mind envelops them and carries them away. During sleep, however, the vital forces continue to function,  although the mind is not manifest. This is according to the divine law and is intended to protect the body and to remove any possible doubt as to whether it is dead or alive while one is asleep. Without such arrangement by nature,  sleeping bodies would often be cremated alive. The vitality apparent in  breathing is left behind by the mind as a ‘watchman’. But in the wakeful state  and in samadhi, when the mind subsides, breath also subsides. For this reason (because the mind has the sustaining and controlling power over breath and vital forces and is therefore ulterior to both of them), the practice of breath control is merely helpful in subduing the mind, but cannot bring about its final extinction.

Like breath control, meditation on form, incantations, invocations, and  regulation of diet are only aids to control of the mind. Through the practice of  meditation or invocation the mind becomes one-pointed. Just as the elephant’s truck, which is otherwise restless, will become steady if it is made to hold an  iron chain, so that the elephant goes its way without reaching out for any other object, so the ever-restless mind, which is trained and accustomed to a name or form through meditation or invocation, will steadily hold on to that alone.

When the mind is split up and dissipated into countless varying thoughts,  each individual thought becomes extremely weak and inefficient. When, on the contrary, such thoughts subside more and more till they finally get destroyed, the mind becomes one-pointed and, thereby acquiring strength and power of endurance, easily reaches perfection in the method of enquiry in quest of the  Self.

Regulation of diet, restricting it to satvic food taken in moderate  quantity, is of all the rules of conduct the best; and it is most conducive to the development of the satvic qualities of the mind. These, in their  turn, assist one in the practice of Atma vichara or enquiry in quest of  the Self.

Countless vishaya-vasanas (subtle tendencies of the mind in relation  to objects of sense gratification), coming one after the other in quick succession like the waves of the ocean, agitate the mind. Nevertheless, they too subside and finally get destroyed with progressive practice of Atma dhyana or meditation on the Self. Without giving room even to the thought  which occurs in the form of doubt, whether it is possible to stay merely as the very Self, whether all the vasanas can be destroyed, one should firmly and unceasingly carry on meditation on the Self.

However sinful a person may be, if he would stop wailing inconsolably: ‘Alas! I am a sinner, how shall I attain Liberation?’ and, casting away even the thought that he is a sinner, if he would zealously carry on meditation on the  Self, he would most assuredly get reformed.

So long as subtle tendencies continue to inhere in the mind, it is necessary to carry on the enquiry: ‘Who am I?’. As and when thoughts occur, they should one and all be annihilated then and there, at the very place of their origin, by the method of enquiry in quest of the Self.

Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one’s hold on the Self constitutes jnana(knowledge). But really vairagya and jnana are one and the same. Just as the pearl diver, tying stones to his waist, dives  down into the depths and gets the pearl from the sea bed, so every aspirant  pledged to vairagya can dive deep into himself and realize the precious Atman. If the earnest seeker would only cultivate the constant and deep  contemplative ‘remembrance’ (smrti) of the true nature of the Self till he has realized it, that alone would suffice. Distracting thoughts are like the enemy in the fortress. As long as they are in possession of it, they will certainly sally forth. But if, as and when they come out, you put them to the sword the fortress will finally be captured.

God and the Guru are not really different: they are identical. He that has earned the Grace of the Guru shall undoubtedly be saved and never forsaken, just  as the prey that has fallen into the tiger’s jaws will never be allowed to escape. But the disciple, for his part, should unswervingly follow the path shown by the Master.

Firm and disciplined inherence in the Atman, without giving the least scope  for the rise of any thought other than the deep contemplative thought of the Self, constitutes self-surrender to the Supreme Lord. Let any amount of burden be laid on Him, He will bear it all. It is, in fact, the indefinable power of  the Lord that ordains, sustains, and controls everything that happens. Why then should we worry, tormented by vexatious thoughts, saying: ‘Shall we act this way? No, that way,’ instead of meekly but happily submitting to that Power?  Knowing that the train carries all the weight, why indeed should we, the  passengers travelling in it, carry our small individual articles of luggage on our laps to our great discomfort, instead of putting them aside and sitting at perfect ease?

That which is Bliss is also the Self. Bliss and the Self are not distinct and  separate but are one and the same. And That alone is real. In no single one of  the countless objects of the mundane world is there anything that can be called happiness. It is through sheer ignorance and unwisdom that we fancy that happiness is obtained from them. On the contrary, when the mind is externalized,  it suffers pain and anguish. The truth is that every time our desires get fulfilled, the mind, turning to its source, experiences only that happiness which is natural to the Self. Similarly in deep sleep, in spiritual trance (samadhi), when fainting, when a desired object is obtained, or when evil befalls an object considered undesirable, the mind turns inwards and enjoys that Bliss of Atman. Thus wandering astray, forsaking the Self, and returning to it again and again is the interminable and wearisome lot of the mind.

It is pleasant under the shade of a tree, and scorching in the heat of the sun outside. A person toiling in the sun seeks the cool shade of the tree and is  happy under it. After staying there for a while, he moves out again but, unable to bear the merciless heat of the sun, he again seeks the shade. In this way he  keeps on moving from shade to sun and sun to shade.

It is an unwise person who acts thus, whereas the wise man never leaves the shade: in the same way the mind of the Enlightened Sage (Jnani) never exists apart from Brahman, the Absolute. The mind of the ignorant, on the other  hand, entering into the phenomenal world, suffers pain and anguish; and then, turning for a short while towards Brahman, it experiences happiness. Such is the mind of the ignorant.

This phenomenal world, however, is nothing but thought. When the world recedes from one’s view — that is when one is free from thought — the mind enjoys the Bliss of the Self. Conversely, when the world appears — that is when thought occurs — the mind experiences pain and anguish.

Not from any desire, resolve, or effort on the part of the rising sun, but merely due to the presence of his rays, the lens emits heat, the lotus blossoms, water evaporates, and people attend to their various duties in life. In the proximity of the magnet the needle moves. Similarly the soul or jiva, subjected to the threefold activity of creation, preservation, and destruction  which take place merely due to the unique Presence of the Lord, performs acts in  accordance with its karma (fruits of past actions, in the present life), and  subsides to rest after such activity. But the Lord Himself has no resolve; no  act or event touches even the fringe of His Being. This state of immaculate aloofness can be likened to that of the sun, which is untouched by the activities of life, or to that of the all-pervasive ether, which is not affected by the interaction of the complex qualities of the other four elements.

All scriptures without any exception proclaim that for attaining Salvation the mind should be subdued; and once one knows that control of the mind is their final aim it is futile to make an interminable study of them. What is required for such control is actual enquiry into oneself by self-interrogation: ‘Who am I?’ How can this enquiry in quest of the Self be made merely by means of a study of the scriptures?

One should realize the Self by the Eye of Wisdom. Does Rama need a mirror to recognize himself as Rama? That to which the ‘I’ refers is within the five  sheaths (physical, vital, mental, knowledge-experience, and bliss), whereas the scriptures are outside them. Therefore, it is futile to seek by means of the  study of scriptures the Self that has to be realized by summarily rejecting even the five sheaths.

To enquire ‘Who am I that is in bondage?’ and to know one’s real nature is alone Liberation. To keep the mind constantly turned within, and to abide thus in the Self is alone Atma-vichara (Self enquiry), whereas dhyana (meditation) consists in fervent contemplation of the Self as Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss). Indeed, at some time, one  will have to forget everything that has been learnt.

Just as it is futile to examine the rubbish that has to be swept up only to  be thrown away, so it is futile for him who seeks to know the Self to set to work enumerating the tattvas (classifications of the elements of existence) that envelop the Self and examining them, instead of casting them away. He should consider the phenomenal world with reference to himself as merely a dream.

Except that the wakeful state is long and the dream state is short there is  no difference between the two. All the activities of the dream state appear, for  the time being, just as real as the activities of the wakeful state seem to be while awake. Only, during the dream state, the mind assumes another form or a  different bodily sheath. For thoughts on the one hand, and name and form on the other, occur simultaneously during both the wakeful and dream states.

There are not two minds, one good and the other evil. It is only the vasanas or tendencies of the mind that are of two kinds, good and favorable, evil and unfavorable. When the mind is associated with the former it is called good, and when associated with the latter it is called evil. However evil-minded other people may appear to you, it is not proper to hate or despise them. Likes and dislikes, love and hatred, are equally to be eschewed. It is also not proper to let the mind often rest on objects or affairs of mundane life. As far as possible one should not interfere in the affairs of others.  Everything offered to others is really an offering to oneself; and if only this truth were realized, who is there that would refuse anything to others?

If the ego rises, all else will also rise; if it subsides all else will also subside. The deeper the humility with which we conduct ourselves, the better it is for us. If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?

Shankara: characteristics of a perfected sage or Jnani

Shankara shankaracharya

Om!

Praise to Sri Shankara!

Praise to those custodians of this wonderful knowledge and teaching!

Praise to the Self,

One and supreme in all its effulgent glory!

May we all be happy and free!

May we all realise the Self!

Om!

In his text Vivekachudamani Shankara writes 18 verses describing the Jnani (literally ‘knower’ or ‘one who knows’) or perfected sage, starting at verse 535. My comments are in blue throughout.

Unattached and self-satisfied:

In these first few of these verses, the theme is a lack of attachment to the phenomenal world. Shankara uses phrases such as ‘he is neither grieved nor elated by sense objects’…’neither attached nor adverse to them [sense objects]… ‘without anxiety or humiliation’…’without fear’…’unattached to external things’…’experiences all sorts of sense objects as they come’. We can see that while the sage is (naturally) unattached, there is also no attempt to be detached either (which would actually be a form of attachment or striving).

Often detachment from sense-objects is emphasised at the level of a seeker engaging in sadhana (spiritual practice), but now there is no ignorance, there is no need to emphasise either detachment or attachment. A natural state of balance has been naturally achieved now the distorting/unbalancing effect of ignorance is no longer at play:

535. Satisfied with undiluted, constant Bliss, he is neither grieved nor elated by sense-objects, is neither attached nor averse to them, but always disports with the Self and takes pleasure therein.

536. A child plays with its toys forgetting hunger and bodily pains; exactly so does the man of realisation take pleasure in the Reality, without ideas of “I” or “mine”, and is happy.

In these above 2 verses, it is interesting to note that the flip-side of natural detachment is a natural resting in the ‘undiluted, constant Bliss’ of the Self. The Sage, completely satisfied by the self, does not notice or mind the suffering of the body. The resultant natural side effect of this is lack of both attachment and aversion to sense objects. Note that this means there is no need for supression of emotions or feelings or fear of any other phenomena.

The next 2 verses comment on the free-living aspect of the Jnani. The jnani is without self-image and finds the earth to be their home. Being without self-image, they do not necessarily dress or look a certain way (‘wears no outward mark’), and they allow what comes to come, and what goes to go. This last point is the same as stating there is no attachment or aversion to sense objects, and in verse 538 it is compared to the innocence of a child:

537. Men of realisation have their food without anxiety or humiliation by begging, and their drink from the water of rivers; they live freely and independently, and sleep without fear in cremation grounds or forests; their clothing may be the quarters themselves, which need no washing and drying, or any bark etc., the earth is their bed; they roam in the avenue of the Vedanta; while their pastime is in the Supreme Brahman.

538. The knower of the Atman, who wears no outward mark and is unattached to external things, rests on this body without identification, and experiences all sorts of sense-objects as they come, through others’ wish, like a child.

You can’t tell a jnani by clothes, behaviour, sex or age:

539. Established in the ethereal plane of Absolute Knowledge, he wanders in the world, sometimes like a madman, sometimes like a child and at other times like a ghoul, having no other clothes on his person except the quarters, or sometimes wearing clothes, or perhaps skins at other times.

The sage can enjoy sense objects, but fundamentally cares not for them:

540. The sage, living alone, enjoys the sense-objects, being the very embodiment of desirelessness – always satisfied with his own Self, and himself present at the All.

The many appearances of a Jnani:

Not caring one iota for self-image, the Jnani may appear in multiple forms, but cares not about whether they are a king or a pauper, well revered or despised:

541. Sometimes a fool, sometimes a sage, sometimes possessed of regal splendour; sometimes wandering, sometimes behaving like a motionless python, sometimes wearing a benignant expression; sometimes honoured, sometimes insulted, sometimes unknown – thus lives the man of realisation, ever happy with Supreme Bliss.

542. Though without riches, yet ever content; though helpless, yet very powerful, though not enjoying the sense-objects, yet eternally satisfied; though without an exemplar, yet looking upon all with an eye of equality.

The ‘eye of equality’ naturally arises when one does not prefer one set of sense-objects (ie. experiences) over another set. This lack of preference naturally occurs when one realises the Self and is satisfied as the Self.

The next verse juxtaposes the relative (doing, experiencing, possessing a body, limited)  with the absolute (inactive, untouched, unidentified, omnipresent), indicating that we can speak of reality using either set of langauge:

543. Though doing, yet inactive; though experiencing fruits of past actions, yet untouched by them; though possessed of a body, yet without identification with it; though limited, yet omnipresent is he.

The next verse goes one step further, showing that in truth the Jnani is nothing but the absolute in which there is not even the idea of a body, despite the appearance of one appearing:

544. Neither pleasure nor pain, nor good nor evil, ever touches this knower of Brahman, who always lives without the body-idea.

545. Pleasure or pain, or good or evil, affects only him who has connections with the gross body etc., and identifies himself with these. How can good or evil, or their effects, touch the sage who has identified himself with the Reality and thereby shattered his bondage ?

Just as the sun appears to be ‘swallowed’ and destroyed when it sets, a jnani appears to have a body and act. In reality, just as the sun is not ‘swallowed’ or destroyed at sunset, the jnani is ever-bodiless, as are all of us. It is only ignorance that makes us believe otherwise:

546. The sun which appears to be, but is not actually, swallowed by Rahu, is said to be swallowed, on account of delusion, by people, not knowing the real nature of the sun.

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.

549. As a piece of wood is borne by the current to a high or low ground, so is his body carried on by the momentum of past actions to the varied experience of their fruits, as these present themselves in due course.

This next verse employs the beautiful imagery of comparing the Self to a pivot on a potter’s wheel. Whilst the pedal on moved, the pivot remains stationary, just as the two ends of a sea-saw move, but the pivot remains still amidst the movement. Similarly, whilst this world-appearance seems to be full of motion, the Self/Jnani is eternally still, at peace and free:

550. The man of realisation, bereft of the body-idea, moves amid sense-enjoyments like a man subject to transmigration, through desires engendered by the Prarabdha work. He himself, however, lives unmoved in the body, like a witness, free from mental oscillations, like the pivot of the potter’s wheel.

Next the imagery of a passive witness or ‘unconcerned spectator’ is utilised.  This is to convey the point that the jnani is without egoic or volitional desire (‘unconcerned’, without ‘the least regard’) but is aware (‘spectator’):

551. He neither directs the sense-organs to their objects nor detaches them from these, but stays like an unconcerned spectator. And he has not the least regard for the fruits of actions, his mind being thoroughly inebriated with drinking the undiluted elixir of the Bliss of the Atman.

The Jnani cares not about meditation or any other sadhana. The Jnani has transcended ignorance, meditation and sadhana only being required as a remedy for ignorance. When ignorance is no longer present (ie. seen to never have been real), and when the egoic tendencies (vasanas) to identify as a ‘me’ or body-mind have gone, then what need is there for meditation? Just as what need is there to prepare and implement a cure when the disease has now gone?

552. He who, giving up all considerations of the fitness or otherwise of objects of meditation, lives as the Absolute Atman, is verily Shiva Himself, and he is the best among the knowers of Brahman.

The Jnani is only ever Brahman (there is only Brahman), regardless of appearances that may suggest otherwise:

553. As an actor, when he puts on the dress of his role, or when he does not, is always a man, so the perfect knower of Brahman is always Brahman and nothing else.

For the entire text of Vivekachudamani click here.

Om!

Praise to Sri Shankara!

Praise to those custodians of this wonderful knowledge and teaching!

Praise to the Self,

One and supreme in all its effulgent glory!

May we all be happy and free!

May we all realise the Self!

Om!