Q. Why I don’t see Samadhi as a way to Liberation (Moksha) | Advaita Vedanta | Shankara | Ramana Maharshi

Question: Why I don’t see Samadhi as a way to know Aham Brahmasmi [I Am Brahman, ie. Self Knowledge or liberation]. First of all let me discuss what is Samadhi and the types of Samadhi which are possible. Samadhi simply means having your mind concentrated. So Samadhi is of the following types. Savikalpa Samadhi and Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Savikalpa Samadhi means that our mind has become one with the object on which we concentrate. Nirvikalpa Samadhi means that all thoughts are rejected. This means that even Sushupti [deep sleep] is not present in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. What remains is the Pure “I” unassociated with anything. Now both Samadhis do not give the knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi, reason is this. Savikalpa Samadhi mind is merged with object. There is no recognition of “I am the universal”. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi there remains Pure “I” but however the only interpretation possible post coming out of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is that “I am different from body and mind” this is very much possible. But it does not give the knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi I am the whole, the objects are not merged into the subject. But however the Samadhi is useful in Brahma Vidya, so Gaudapada suggests that as long as your mind works you see the world, if your mind does not think you see no world. Hence the world is Mithya. Hence practice of Samadhi makes the conviction of Vedanta stronger. But Samadhi per se will not give us knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi. Then what gives knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi is the methodology of superimposition of the Shastra and then removal by it. This helps is gain the knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi.

Response from Tom: A key scriptural method for the attainment of Moksha is superimposition and removal – but what does it mean? It is a technical way of saying using a thorn to remove a thorn and then throwing both away. The first thorn is ignorance, ie. that which causes duality and suffering – the scriptures tell us that this same ignorance is also known as Maya. The teaching/scripture is also a thorn, ie. a form of ignorance/maya, which is a form of superimposition. The difference is that it is the one part of Maya that if followed leads out of Maya. The scripture tells us to remove all superimposition by attending to the Self. This total removal of superimposition (ie. all objective phenomena), which also means eventually discarding the scripture/teaching itself, eventually leads to ‘Jnana’ or ‘Knowledge’. This total removal of superimpositions (ie. objects) is also called Nirvikalpa Samadhi. It is also called ‘Silence’.

eg. from the Amritabindu Upanishad: ‘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 [Brahman]. 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.’

eg. from Gaudapada Karika: ‘When the mind…remains unshakable and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman.’

However the thinking mind cannot comprehend how such a ‘void-like’ state such as Nirvikalpa Samadhi can lead to ‘knowledge’, as all it knows is the subject-object knowledge of the thinking mind (ie. ego). ie. all the mind knows is duality, therefore it cannot understand how something like nirvikalpa samadhi can lead to realisation. The mind therefore creates a new version of the teaching that is non-scriptural and states there is no need for samadhi/total removal of objective phenomena from the mind, even though the scriptures clearly state time and time again this is needed. The mind’s new teaching, which doesn’t work, ie. it does not reveal the Self that we are, perhaps makes more sense to the mind but usually is more complex and has many more concepts than the simpler more direct original teaching that actually works.

The scripture/true teaching is like a treasure map. We have to have faith in it and follow it and it will lead us to the treasure. But the mind, if it is not able to see how the map works, creates a new version of the map that makes sense to it (ie. makes sense to the ego-mind), but this version of the map only leads to more Maya, so suffering does not end and liberation is not ‘perceived’. In following the ego-made treasure map, the ego feels more secure, but the treasure of the Self that we already are is not revealed.

From Katha Upanishad: ‘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]’

Shankara writes in his commentary on Katha Upanishad:

‘…One whose intellect has been withdrawn from all objects, gross and subtle, when this takes place, this is known as ‘inactivity of the sense organs’. Though this ‘inactivity of the sense organs’ one sees that glory of the Self. ‘Sees’ means he directly realises the Self as ‘I am the Self’ as thereby becomes free from suffering’

And again from Shankara’s commentary on Katha Upanishad:

‘…the perceiver sees the external objects which are not-Self/not the Atman, such as sound, etc., and not the Self within. Though this is the nature of the world, some (rare) discerning man, like turning back/ reversing the current of a river, sees the Self within…The group of sense organs, beginning with the ear, should be turned away from all sense-objects. Such a one, who is purified thus, sees the indwelling self. For it is not possible for the same person to be engaged in the thought of sense-objects and to have the vision of the Self as well.’

From Amritabindhu Upanishad:
‘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.’

There are so many other quotes like this, but I hope you get the point. What is needed is faith in the scriptures and then to follow them. Only then, once the teaching is put into practice, is it realised how Nirvikalpa Samadhi can directly lead to Jnana or Realisation. Otherwise we are doing the equivalent just standing on the sidelines talking about playing tennis without ever picking up the racket!

‘Strenuously withdrawing all thoughts from sense objects, one should remain fixed in steady, non-objective [ie. subjective] enquiry. This, in brief, is the means of knowing one’s own real nature; this effort alone bring about the sublime inner vision.’
~Sri Ramana Maharshi

‘…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.’
~Sri Ramana Maharshi

Wishing you well

Namaste
⁠🙏⁠🕉⁠


Deep Sleep and Self-Realisation | Falling asleep during Self-Enquiry

Tom: In the following quotes Sri Ramana Maharshi gives us a teaching on the correct relationship between Deep Sleep & Self-Realisation or Jnana:

Questioner: Sushupti [deep sleep] is often characterised as the state of ignorance.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: No, it is the pure state. There is full awareness in it [deep sleep] and total ignorance in the waking state. It is said to be ajnana [ignorance] only in relation to the false jnana prevalent in jagrat [the waking state].

Really speaking jagrat [the waking state] is ajnana [ignorance] and sushupti [the sleep state] prajnana [wisdom]. If sushupti is not the real state where does the intense peace come from to the sleeper?

It is everybody’s experience that nothing in jagrat can compare with the bliss and well-being derived from deep sleep, when the mind and the senses are absent. What does it all mean? It means that bliss comes only from inside ourselves and that it is most intense when we are free from thoughts and perceptions, which create the world and the body, that is, when we are in our pure being, which is Brahman, the Self. In other words, the being alone is bliss and the mental superimpositions are ignorance and, therefore, the cause of misery. That is why samadhi is also described as sushupti in jagrat [sleep in the waking state]; the blissful pure being which prevails in deep sleep is experienced in jagrat, when the mind and the senses are fully alert but inactive.

~ Guru Ramana, pp. 112-13

Tom: Here are some verses from Sri Ramana Maharshi taken from Guru Vachaka Kovai that make similar points, namely that deep sleep is not actually ignorance at all but actually the Self. It is only our belief that the waking state is Reality (and that we are the body-mind) that makes us feel that Deep Sleep is a state of total ignorance. It is actually Pure Knowedge:

455.

Having experienced fully the great bliss of the sublime state of sleep where no other object exists, it is sheer ignorance not to value that state and to regard it as one’s salvation, but instead to desire something else, imagining it to be one’s defence against the misery one experiences.

457.

The ignorance of forgetfulness which makes you say that the waking state is a state of illumination makes you [also] declare that sleep is a sheath [kosa] of ignorance. If the belief that the waking state is the illustrious and unique state of truth goes, then sleep will become, and shine as, pure non-duality.

461.

Only in an intellect that has developed a desire for the waking state will the eminent state of deep sleep, which is all bliss, be classified as a state of ignorance: ‘I did not know anything during sleep.’ By failing to enquire into and realise the true experience that exists and shines in the same way forever, one becomes deluded and thinks, ‘I am the one who woke up’. If that powerful sheath of the intellect, the ignorance that is experienced in the waking state, is destroyed by the sword of vichara [that leads to the knowledge] ‘I am not the one who woke up’, then the eminent state of sleep will shine, remaining as pure bliss, its ignorance destroyed.

Tom: We see the same teaching in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. The following is from talk number 314:

Again, sleep is said to be ajnana [ignorance]. That is only in relation to the wrong jnana prevalent in the wakeful state. The waking state is really ajnana [ignorance] and the sleep state is prajnana [full knowledge].

Tom: Here Bhagavan Ramana explains that the waking and dream states are mere projections of the minds habitual tendencies (vasanas), and when these are removed, only Deep Sleep remains, and this Deep Sleep is nothing but the Self (here called Turiya, the ‘forth’ state.):

460.

If the beginningless, impure vasanas that remain as the cause for waking and dream leave and perish, the state of sleep [previously perceived as] void-like and dull, and which led us into a state of ignorance and suffering, will become the transcendent state of turiya.

Tom: What about if we fall asleep during Self-Inquiry, what then? Bhagavan Ramana reassures us as follows:

462.

If the illumination that is awareness of your being exists so firmly that it remains unshaken until sleep overpowers you, then there will be no need to feel jaded and disheartened, lamenting, ‘Oh, the forgetfulness of nescient sleep has come and unsettled me!’

Tom: Note that the word nescience in the above verse is just a synonym for ignorance, the root meanings of the words being the same, ie. not-knowing. Ignorance negates the Greek word ‘gnosis’, which means knowledge, and nescience negates the Latin word ‘scientia’ which also means knowledge.

The above verses allow us to more fully understand the somewhat cryptic but important verse in the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, verse 69. It also reveals to us the depth of knowledge present in the Bhagavad Gita:

What all [ignorant] beings consider as night, is the day for the wise,

And what all [ignorant] beings see as day, is the night for the sage.

Tom: We can see that the above verse from the Bhagavad Gita is saying that most people consider deep sleep as being total darkness and ignorance, whilst the Sage considers this to be Knowledge, ie The Self. Conversely, what most people consider to be the ‘waking state’ is actually considered by the Sage to be a state of pure ignorance and delusion.

The waking state is considered by most to be a state in which we know things (other objects) and in which we ‘live our life’ as a human being – this is the meaning of ‘day’ for most people. The sage considers this ‘day time’ or ‘waking state to be pure illusion and delusion, or ‘maya’.

Because most people identify as being the body-mind in the waking state, and because most people consider the waking state to be a worthy state in which we experience ‘real life’ and gain ‘worthy life-experiences’, they therefore consider deep dreamless sleep as being a dull dark state full of ignorance. However the sage, who has lost the ego-identification as body-mind, sees Deep Dreamless Sleep only as the Pure Self in which there is only Perfect Love-Being-Bliss devoid of space, time, creation, body, mind, thoughts and concepts.

This same teaching that Bhagavan Ramana has made so clear to us above is also given in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, see here for details

Also see: Ramana Maharshi: the method of wakeful sleep (Jagrat Sushupti) to attain liberation

Let us give thanks and gratitude to Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi for his wonderfully clarifying teachings!

!Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya Om!

Samadhi and Meditation: Yoga vs Vedanta

Q. Would you say that samadhi is a mental state? If so would Self Realisation be possible while not in that state after experienced?

Tom: Samadhi is not a mental state. Mental states come and go and are part of maya (illusion). Samadhi is beyond this. Samadhi is abiding as Self.

Q. I’m not clear on this for myself. From my understanding there are many jivas the world considers Self Realized that did not constantly operate out of a state of absorbtion/samadhi but were able to access it at will. I think that if Realisation is confined to samadhi only one could be justified in forgoing the Advaita path and shravana (hearing the teachings) and manana (reflecting upon the teachings) aspects altogether and aspire straight to a more meditative or Raja yoga path.

Tom: Regarding your first point, the Jnani is not the body-mind, but the eternal Self Within. There is only one Jnani – the Self. This Self is also called ‘Samadhi’. It is non-dual. It cannot be understood properly by the mind. This is why the Self can only be attained by Samadhi. The various so-called ‘realised-jivas’ are just illusion, or maya, appearance.

See a quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi here:

A Swami asked: I feel toothache. Is it only a thought?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes.

~Talks 451

Questioner: Now there is the Sino-Japanese war. If it is only in imagination, can or will Sri Bhagavan imagine the contrary and put an end to the war?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The Bhagavan of the questioner is as much a thought as the Sino-Japanese war. (Laughter.)

~Talks 451

Now regarding your second point about yoga and meditation vs vedanta and sravana (hearing the teachings) and manana (reflecting upon the teachings):

⁠’Fools, not the learned, speak of Sankhya [the path of knowledge] as being different to Yoga. Anyone who properly resorts to even one of these obtains the results of both’
⁠~Bhagavad Gita 5.4

⁠’The State that is reached by Sankhya is also reached by Yoga. He truly sees who sees that Sankhya and Yoga are one’
⁠~Bhagavad Gita 5.5

Krishna goes on to explain the path of yoga in the rest of chapter 5 and particularly in chapter 6 and how that leads directly to realisation.

⁠So yoga is another way. Have not all the great sages proclaimed this? It seems to be only the modern teachers with an intellectual appraoch who say otherwise. Sri Ramana Maharshi has said this – see the text he wrote called Self-Enquiry (Vichara Sangraham) where he describes how Raja Yoga can lead to liberation. Sri Ramakrishna, who was initiated and was taught Advaita Vedanta in a traditional way, also said the same, as did his disciple Swami Vivekananada. The purpose of Sravana and Manana is just to teach Nididhyasana (meditation). The purpose of all teachings is to come to Silence (mouna). Silence is just another word for Samadhi, or the Self, and is represented by the sacred symbol ‘Om’ above.​

⁠’All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.’
⁠~Who am I? by Sri Ramana Maharshi

⁠See how much time Sri Ramana spends on Sravana and Manana in his teachings and writings – he always emphasised Nididhyasana, whereas the modern intellectual-type teachers of ‘Advaita Vedanta’ emphasise and spend most of the ri time on Sravana and Manana. Why do you think this is?

⁠As I said above, this point is also explained in the Bhagavad Gita Chapters 5 and 6 where Krishna explains how yoga leads to Moksha.

⁠It is also explained in a traditional text that Sri Ramana Maharshi recommended – Advaita Bodha Deepika – see Chapter 3 where this is also explained.

Please see these above texts if you wish to explore this further.

Eternal Happiness is the Goal

The world progresses by intellect. All that is great in this world is just a manifestation of the intellect. What is the goal towards which the world is moving? What is the world striving for? Careful observation will show that all are striving for happiness. From the smallest ant to the greatest emperor, everyone is tirelessly working. For what? For happiness, and happiness alone! Everyone is anxious that he or she should live in happier circumstances than those at present. It is this anxiety which impels man to work. This craving for happiness is not wrong; it is indeed desirable!

But since men are constantly endeavouring to obtain more happiness, it is evident that happiness in full has not yet been obtained. Man is constantly trying to accumulate such sources of pleasure as food, dress, house, employment, wife and children, because he believes that happiness will be derived from these sources.

But the happiness which man thus obtains is fleeting and impermanent. For a while there seems to be happiness, but then it fades away. It we analyse the various ways by which man obtains happiness, we will come to a general conclusion : the happiness sofar found by him is that which has been experiened through the five sense-organs, namely the eyes, ears, tongue, nose and skin. Thus, down through the ages, human effort has been directed only towards acquiring objects for the satisfaction of these five senses.

When his eyes see pleasurable things, man derives happiness; when those things vanish, he becomes gloomy.

When his ears hear pleasing music or words, man is happy; when those pleasurable sounds are denied him, he sinks into sorrow. Like sight and hearing, the sensations of touch, taste and smell are also experienced by man as either happiness or misery. Although these five senses seem to give happiness, they do not give it uninterruptedly.

By watching too many cinema shows, the eyes become impaired. Further, since the various other pleasing sights come to an end, it is impossible for man to watch them constantly. The same is the case with the happiness experienced through the sense of hearing. How long can a man listen to a concert? Either the concert will come to its natural end, or else the individual will have to leave the place on account of some other work. Thus there is an end to the happiness experienced through the sense of hearing.

Similar is the case with the sense of smell; in fact, the continuous enjoyment of strong and pleasant odours may at length produce a headache or bleeding from the nose.

Moreover, those things from which pleasant odours emanate lose them rapidly. We find the same to be true about the sense of taste. Can one stuff one’s stomach beyond its capacity with even the tastiest dish? Beyond a certain limit the tongue finds even that tastiest dish repulsive. Hence, even taste does not give permament happiness. Let us now consider the sense of touch. When a silky-soft flower touches the body, there is a sensation of pleasure, but the flower withers away rapidly. Moreover after a while we become accustomed to the sensation and it ceases altogether to give us pleasure. The same is also true of a cool breeze and other such things. Hence, the pleasure experienced through the sense of touch also cannot be permanent.

Therefore, the happiness acquired through anyone of these five senses cannot be enjoyed continuously; beyond a certain limit, they may actually become sources of pain instead of pleasure. Hence, the foregoing scrutiny can only lead us to the conclusion that the permanent and perfect happiness sought by man cannot be obtained through the five senses.

It is certain that everyone wants happiness in full, untainted by even an iota of sorrow. This can in no way be denied. However, no one has so far been able to obtain such happiness by gratifying the five senses. It is thus quite clear that up till now perfect happiness has not been obtained in spite of all the world’s progress and endeavours through the above-mentioned means. Yet, is such perfect happiness impossible? No! One can have it here and now. There is nothing wrong in all living beings aspiring for perennial and full happiness, untainted by sorrow. The desire for happiness is not wrong! Happiness must be obtained! It is in fact the Supreme goal (purushartha) for all human beings! But the means to obtain it which have been charted and followed by people up till now are wrong. The defect is only in the means and not in the goal. That is why man is not able to enjoy perfect happiness despite the herculean efforts he has made to achieve it.

The paths leading people to the perfect happiness which is desired by one and all are the religions that have come into existence on earth. Religion (mata) is the principle or path found by mind (mati). The purpose of all religions is to show mankind the best means for achieving perfect happiness. But unfortunately now-a-days, though various religions point out their own distinct roads towards this great objective, every man – regardless of his religion – is stopped on the way and is prevented from obtaining happiness on account of religious bigotry and also of not knowing the true significance of religious tenets.

“With true love and faith, follow that religion in which you have belief and turn within; do not jump outwards, criticising and arguing against other religions on account of bigotry for your own religion.”

Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 991

At this juncture mankind needs a proper guide. Such guides, the Great Ones, are generally called by people Avatarapurushas, that is, God in human form. They are those who have achieved and are well settled in that perfect happiness which is the goal of mankind. They ever remain effortlessly in that blissful state, and also help others to obtain it. Among thoseJnana-Gurus, the most recent one is Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, who lived as the world Guru (jagat guru) on the southern slope of Arunachalam, the sacred Hill. What did Sri Ramana Bhagavan teach the world? What is the supreme benefit which mankind can derive from His Teaching? Let us see.

What is the ultimate objective for which man, by means of his intellect, has been ceaselessly working in different fields of endeavour throughout so many ages? Is it not for happiness? It is to achieve this very end that Sri Bhagavan has shown us a direct path which is His own unique discovery, and which is at the same time the quintessence of all the paths paved by those Great Ones who came before Him. It will be found at the end of this research how His Teaching is the direct path, like the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle, and an easy one to folIow.

Now, who is fit to follow this path to bliss which Sri Bhagavan has shown? Are the brahmins alone fit to follow It? Or are Hindus alone qualified to follow it? Is Bhagavan Sri Ramana a Guru for Hindus only? Does He propagate a particular religious faith which is already in the world, or is it an altogether new religion? Such questions may arise in the mind of the reader.

The path of Sri Ramana is meant for anyone who craves for happiness. Is there anyone in the world who does not want happiness? Even one who denies the existence of God will not admit that he does not want happiness.

Therefore, an atheist can also obtain perfect happiness through the path of Sri Ramana. No human being is excluded from this path. Sri Ramana is not a preacher of any religion; He belongs to no religion or country! Since He shows the way to perfect bliss, which is the common aim of the whole world. He is the Jagat Guru, and since, unbound by the tenets and traditions of any religion, He teaches one and all the path to obtain the common aim, bliss eternal. He is indeed the ‘Loka Maha Guru’ – the Guru for the whole world! People of all religions have come to Him and have been benefited. Moreover, no matter to which religion one belongs, one feels in one’s heart, “Sri Ramana is the Guru of my own religion!”, and has devotion to Him.

Therefore, let us see what is the path of Sri Ramana.

The above is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Path of Sri Ramana (Part 1)

Guru Ramana Vachana Mala (PDF download)- a wonderful text on the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi

Guru Ramana Vachana Mala is a small but wonderful text that concisely and accurately summarises the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. It also clarifies areas of the teaching that may not be otherwise clear for the seeker. It also summarises the essential Vedanta teachings, as per verse 3 of the text.

Click here to download Guru Ramana Vachana Mala in PDF format

The text consists of 349 selected verses compiled together by Sri K. Lakshmana Sarma (who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Who?’), who was not only intimate with Sri Ramana’s teachings, but also a scholar in Vedantic studies and also fluent in the Tamil, Sanskrit and English languages. The verses are helpfully organised by topic and about 300 of these verses are taken from the text Guru Vachaka Kovai which is widely thought of as being an authoritative text on Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings.

Whilst the verses in Guru Ramana Vachana Mala do not go into great detail on the method of Self-Enquiry compared to other recommended texts, they are very illuminating nonetheless and give great clarity on areas of the teaching that may otherwise not be clear for the seeker. I therefore highly recommend this book, but I also recommend that you read this together another of the recommended texts pertaining to Sri Ramana, such as The Path of Sri Ramana which explains the process of Self-Enquiry in greater detail.

Sri Lakshmana Sarma was in close contact with Sri Ramana Maharshi for over 20 years and was also good friends with Sri Muruganar (who wrote Guru Vachaka Kovai). He was also one of only two people who received private tuition by Sri Ramana Maharshi on the teachings (the other person was Muruganar) and he was known for constantly checking his understanding of the teachings with Sri Ramana to ensure that his understanding was accurate.

These above factors, together with the fact that this text was first published during Sri Ramana’s lifetime means we can be confident that the teachings presented here are true to Sri Ramana’s vision.

The true meaning of Satsang | Where is Guru? | Advaita | Non-duality

The teacher who is going to deliver you from bondage, from suffering to liberation, where is this teacher? Where is Guru? Where are you? Is there another outside you who is going to liberate you? And what is satsang really?

This video was recorded live during a Satsang meeting with Tom Das and put together by volunteers.

See https://tomdas.com/events for further information.

Advaita Vedanta: Is samadhi required for Self-Realisation according to Shankara and the Upanishads?

There are several views on this topic, but in this post we will see what the Advaita scriptures say and what Shankara has written on this in his commentaries.

In some texts that are attributed to Shankara, such as Vivekachudamani, the case is clearly presented – these texts clearly state that Samadhi is definitely required for Self-Realisation to occur. Whilst this is the most widely held view, and by far the dominant traditional view for at least the last one thousand years and more, and also the view of the four Shankara Mathas that have been entrusted with handing down Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta tradition to each generation, there are a minority who state that Vivekachudamani is not a genuine work of Shankara.

Therefore in this post we will look at what was written by Shankara in his commentaries, the authorship of which is not in doubt:

Please see this link here to read the discussion of this topic.

Self enquiry and Self surrender | Sri Ramana Maharshi

Self-enquiry is diving into the Self, Self-surrender is letting go of body, mind and world. Both these ways lead to Self-abidance and Liberation/ Self-Realisation.

This video was recorded live during an online meeting and put together by volunteers;

For further information visit: https://tomdas.com/events/

The Humour of the Upanishads | Advaita Vedanta

Dry Upanishadic Humour

Section 3 of the Brihadarankaya Upanishad consists of a conversation between King Janaka and the Sage Yajnavalkya. Now for those of you who have not encountered Sage Yajnavalkya, he is quite a character at times, demonstrating the dry humour present in many of the Upanishads. Here is an example from Section 3.1 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

3.1.1:   Om. Janaka, Emperor of Videha, performed a sacrifice in which gifts were freely distributed among the priests. Brahmin scholars from the countries of Kuru and Panchala were assembled there. Emperor Tanaka of Videha wished to know which of these brahmins was the most erudite Vedic scholar.  So he confined a thousand cows in a pen and fastened on the  horns of each ten padas of gold. 

3.1.2:    He said to them: “Venerable brahmins, let him among you who is the best Vedic scholar drive these cows home.”  None of the brahmins dared. Then Yajnavalkya said to one of  his pupils: “Dear Samsrava, drive these cows home.” He drove them away. The brahmins were furious and said: “How does he dare to call  himself the best Vedic scholar among us?” Now among them there was Asvala, the hotri priest of Emperor Janaka of Videha. He asked Yajnavalkya: “Are you indeed the  best Vedic scholar among us, O Yajnavalkya?” He replied: “I bow to the best Vedic scholar, but I just wish to  have these cows.” Thereupon the Hotri Asvala determined to question him. 

Here we have a scenario in which King Janaka effectively sets up a challenge to see who the best Vedic Scholar is, with the prize being one thousand cows. However before the challenge has even begun, Sage Yajnavalkya simply asks one of his students to take the cows. When challenged by the other scholars to see if he is really the most knowledgeable in the Vedas, Yajnavalkya dryly replies that irrespective of who the best scholar is, he just wants the cows! For me this demonstrates the humour, irony and rebellious spirit that is present throughout many of the Upanishads, but this humourous aspect of the teaching is often missed when the approach becomes overly intellectual and analytical.

The Guru wants to get paid!

Anyway, back to the three states and section 4 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. In section 4.3 Yajnavalkya goes to King Janaka with the intent of not speaking, but because he had previously made a promise to King Janaka that he will answer any questions King Janaka asks, we obtain the dialogue of section 4.3 which pertains to the three states. In Shankara’s commentary on these verses he explains that the real reason Yajnavalkya visits King Janaka is to gain more wealth and cattle from the King, and throughout the following dialogue King Janaka keeps on gifting increasing numbers of cattle to Sage Yajnavalkya.

4.3.1 Yajnavalkya called on Janaka, Emperor of Videha. He said to  himself: “I will not say anything.”  But once upon a time Janaka, Emperor of Videha and  Yajnavalkya had had a talk about the Agnihotra sacrifice and  Yajnavalkya had offered him a boon. Janaka had chosen the  right to ask him any questions he wished and Yajnavalkya had  granted him the boon.  So it was the Emperor who first questioned him. 

Shankara’s commentary on the above verse reads as follows:

‘Yajnavalkya went to Janaka, Emperor of Videha. While going, he thought he would not say anything to the Emperor. The object of the visit was to get more wealth and maintain that already possessed….’

Note how this is contrary to how many nowadays state that a true teacher would not accept money or material objects for their teaching. In this, the oldest, longest and perhaps the most authoritative of Upanishads, we have the reverse situation! Again, such is the often dry humour of the Upanishads!

The above in an excerpt from a longer post which you can find here: Deep sleep is Brahman – the three states according to the Birhadaranyaka Upanishad with commentary by Shankara