Shankara: how to Realise the Self (commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)

(This post is a long read, but definitely worthwhile if you are interested in understanding the teachings as given in the most authoritative of Vedanta Scriptures, with a commentary by Shankara himself. You can just read my comments in red together with text in bold if you wish to obtain an overview first, and then you can always dig deeper into the text if you want to read the original teachings in more detail)

Tom: Here in Shankara’s Commentary on the Brihandaranyaka Upanishad (which is said to be the oldest and longest of the Upanishads), Shankara shows how this Upanishad is stating that first we are to intellectually know that ‘All objects are one with consciousness’, and then we are to go beyond this and realise the pure consciousness that we are devoid of all objects and appearances and know ourselves as That.

Shankara states that by associating with or attending to objects ignorance and suffering are perpetuated, and by turning our attention away from objects and merging all in the Self, all that remains is Pure Consciousness, homogeneous and One.

When that pure consciousness is known by being That, it cannot even be said to be consciousness anymore, the world consciousness just being a clue where we, in duality, should attend to, but once realised it is simply the Pure Unalloyed Self beyond dualistic concepts of consciousness and the like.

We can see that these teachings are in fact the same teachings given in other texts such as Shankara’s masterpiece Vivekachudamani (in which the Upanishadic teachings are all neatly summarised) and the same as the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, eg. as given presented in the text The Path Of Sri Ramana.

Bold type has been added by myself for emphasis and my comments are in italicised red.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section IV – Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi

Tom: Shankara first summarises the teachings of the previous chapters, explaining how the world of objects is a creation of ignorance or maya, (ie. objects are illusion) and this is different to True Knowledge or The Self.

Shankara’s Commentary:

‘The Self alone is to be meditated upon’ (I. iv. 7); ‘Of all these, this Self alone should be realised” (Ibid.), for ‘It is dearer than a son’ etc. (I. iv. 8).[1]In the course of explanation of the above passages already introduced, the aim of knowledge and its relation to that aim have been stated in the sentence. ‘It knew only Itself as, “I am Brahman.” Therefore It became all’ (I. iv. io). Thus it has been mentioned that the inner Self is the domain of knowledge. While that of ignorance is relative existence, which consists of the ends and means of rites with five factors, which again depend on the division of men into four castes.; it is by nature alternatively manifest and unmanifest like the tree and the seed, and is made up of name, form and action. This relative existence has been dealt with in the passage beginning with, ‘He (who worships another god thinking), “He is one, and I am another,” does not know’ (I. iv. io), and concluded in the passage, ‘This indeed consists of three things: name, form and action’ (I. vi. i). One aspect of it is in accordance with the scriptures and makes for progress leading up to the world of Hiraṇyagarbha; while the other aspect is not in accordance with the scriptures and causes degradation down to the level of stationary objects. All this has already been shown in the section beginning with, ‘Two classes of Prajāpati’s sons,’ etc. (I. iii. 1).

In order to show how a man disgusted with this domain of ignorance can qualify himself for the knowledge of Brahman, which deals with the inner Self, the entire domain of ignorance has been concluded in the first chapter.

Tom: Shankara then goes on to say that the world of objects cannot lead to liberation and must be renounced or given up.

But in the second chapter, after introducing the inner Self, which is the domain of the knowledge of Brahman, in the words, ‘I will tell you about Brahman’ (II. i. 1), and ‘I will instruct you about Brahman’ (II. i. 15), the Śruti has taught about that Brahman, the one without a second devoid of all differences, by eliminating, in the words, ‘Not this, not this,’ all material qualities summed up in the word ‘truth,’ which by its very nature comprises action, its factors and its results. As part of this knowledge of Brahman, the Śruti wishes to enjoin renunciation.

Rites with five factors such as wife, son and wealth constitute the domain of ignorance, because they do not lead to the attainment of the Self. If a thing calculated to produce a particular result is applied to bring about a different result, it frustrates its purpose. Running or walking is not the means to appease one’s hunger or thirst. The son and the rest have been prescribed in the Śruti as means to the attainment of the world of men, of the Manes and of the gods, not as means to the attainment of the Self. They have been mentioned as producing those specific results. And they have not been enjoined on the knower of Brahman, being classed by the Śruti as rites with material ends, in the passage, ‘This much indeed is desire’ (I. iv. 17). And the knower of Brahman has already attained all desires; he cannot for that very reason have any more desires. The Śruti too says. ‘We who have attained this Self, this world’ (IV. iv. 22).

But there are some who hold that even a knower of Brahman has desires. They have certainly never heard the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, nor of the distinction made by the Śruti that the desire for a son and so forth belongs to an ignorant man, and that with regard to the domain of knowledge, the statement, ‘What shall we achieve through children, we who have attained this Self, this world?’ and so on, is applicable. They do not also know the contradiction, based on incongruity, between the attainment of knowledge, which obliterates all action with its factors and results, and ignorance together with its effects. Nor have they heard Vyāsa’s statement (on the subject). The contradiction rests on the opposite trends of the nature of rites and that of knowledge, which partake respectively of ignorance and illumination. On being asked, ‘There are two Vedic injunctions: Perform rites, and give up rites. What is the goal of knowledge, and what of rites? I wish to be enlightened on this. So please instruct me. These two (it seems) are mutually contradictory and run counter to each other’ (Mbh. XIl^. ccxlvii. i-2), Vyāsa replied, thereby showing the contradiction, ‘Men are bound by rites and freed by knowledge. Hence sages who have known the truth never perform rites,’ and so on (Ibid., verse 7). Therefore the knowledge of Brahman leads to the highest goal for man not with, but without the help of any auxiliary means, for otherwise there would be contradiction all round. It is to show this that renunciation of the world, which consists in giving up all means, is sought to be enjoined as a subsidiary step. For at the end of the fourth chapter it has been asserted, ‘This much indeed is (the means of) immortality, my dear’; and we have also a sign for inference (about this) in the fact that Yājñavalkya, who was a ritualist, renounced the world.

Moreover, the knowledge of Brahman as a means to immortality has been imparted to Maitreyī, who was without the means to perform rites. Also wealth has been deprecated. If rites were means to immortality, the derogatory remarks about wealth would be out of place, since on it rites with five factors depend. If, however, rites are desired to be shunned, then it is proper to decry the means to them. Besides (in the state of knowledge) there is an absence of the consciousness about caste, order of life, etc., which are the qualifications for the performance of rites, as we see in the passages, ‘The Brāhmaṇa ousts one’ (II. iv. 6; IV. v. 7), ‘The Kṣatriya ousts one,’ etc. (Ibid.). When one ceases to consider oneself a Brāhmaṇa, a Kṣatriya, or the like, there is certainly no room for such injunctions as that this is the duty of Brāhmaṇas, or that this is the duty of Kṣatriyas, for there are no such persons. For a man who does not identify himself as a Brāhmaṇa, a Kṣatriya, or the like, rites and their accessories, which are the effects of that consciousness, are automatically dropped because of the giving up of that consciousness. Therefore this story is introduced with a view to enjoining renunciation of the world as part of the knowledge of the Self.

Verse 2.4.1:

मैत्रेयीति होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः, उद्यास्यन्वा अरेऽहमस्मात्स्थानादस्मि, हन्त तेऽनया कात्यायन्यान्तं करवाणीति || 1 ||

maitreyīti hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ, udyāsyanvā are’hamasmātsthānādasmi, hanta te’nayā kātyāyanyāntaṃ karavāṇīti || 1 ||

1. ‘Maitreyī, my dear,’ said Yājñavalkya, ‘I am going to renounce this life.’ Allow me to finish between you and Kātyāyanī.[2]

Shankara: The sage Yājñavalkya addressing his wife, Maitreyī, said, ‘Maitreyī, I am going to renounce this householder’s life —I intend to take up the life of renunciation, which is the next higher life. Hence I ask your permission.—The particle ‘are’ is a vocative.—Further I wish to finish between you and my second wife, Kātyāyanī, i.e. put an end to the relationship that existed between you through me, your common husband; by dividing my property between you I will separate you through wealth, and go.’

Verse 2.4.2:

स होवाच मैत्रेयी, यन्नु म इयं भगोः सर्वा पृथिवी वित्तेन पूर्णा स्यात्कथं तेनामृता स्यामिति; नेति होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः, यथैवोपकरणवतां जीवितं तथैव ते जीवितं स्यात्, अमृतत्वस्य तु नाशास्ति वित्तेनेति ॥ २ ॥

sa hovāca maitreyī, yannu ma iyaṃ bhagoḥ sarvā pṛthivī vittena pūrṇā syātkathaṃ tenāmṛtā syāmiti; neti hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ, yathaivopakaraṇavatāṃ jīvitaṃ tathaiva te jīvitaṃ syāt, amṛtatvasya tu nāśāsti vitteneti || 2 ||

2. Thereupon Maitreyī said, ‘Sir, if indeed this whole earth full of wealth be mine, shall I be immortal through that?’ ‘No,’ replied Yājñavalkya, ‘your life will be just like that of people who have plenty of things, but there is no hope of immortality through wealth.’

Shankara: Thus addressed, Maitreyī said, ‘Sir, if indeed this whole earth girdled by the ocean and full of wealth be mine, shall I be immortal through that, i.e. through rites such as the Agnihotra, which can be performed with the entire wealth of the earth? The particle ‘nu’ indicates deliberation. The word ‘Katham’ (how) indicates disbelief, meaning ‘never’; or it may have an interrogative force, in which case it should be construed with the slightly remote words, ‘Shall I be immortal?’ ‘No,’ replied Yājñavalkya. If the word ‘how’ indicates disbelief, Yājñavalkya’s word ‘No’ is an approval. If it has an interrogative force, his reply means, ‘You can never be immortal; as is the life of people of means filled with materials of enjoyment, so will your life be; but there is no hope, even in thought, of immortality through wealth, i.e. rites performed with wealth.’

Verse 2.4.3:

स होवाच मैत्रेयी, येनाहं नामृता स्यां किमहं तेन कुर्याम्? यदेव भगवान्वेद तदेव मे ब्रूहीति ॥ ३ ॥

sa hovāca maitreyī, yenāhaṃ nāmṛtā syāṃ kimahaṃ tena kuryām? yadeva bhagavānveda tadeva me brūhīti || 3 ||

3. Then Maitreyī said, ‘What shall I do with that which • will not make me immortal? Tell me, sir, of that alone which you know (to be the only means of immortality).’

Shankara: Thus addressed, Maitreyī said in reply, ‘If this is so, what shall I do with that wealth which will not make me immortal? Tell me, sir, of that alone which you know to be the only means of immortality.’

Verse 2.4.4:

स होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः, प्रिया बतारे नः सती प्रियं भाषसे, एहि, आस्स्व, व्याख्यास्यामि ते, व्याचक्षाणस्य तु मे निदिध्यासस्वेति ॥ ४ ॥

sa hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ, priyā batāre naḥ satī priyaṃ bhāṣase, ehi, āssva, vyākhyāsyāmi te, vyācakṣāṇasya tu me nididhyāsasveti || 4 ||

4. Yājñavalkya said, ‘My dear, you have been my beloved (even before), and you say what is after my heart. Come, take your seat, I will explain it to you. As I explain it, meditate (on its meaning).

Shankara: When rites performed with wealth.were rejected as a means to immortality, Yājñavalkya, seeing that Maitreyī concurred with his views, was pleased and said, ‘O Maitreyī, you have been my beloved even before, and now you say what is just after my heart. Therefore come and take your seat, I will explain to you what you desire—that knowledge of the Self which confers immortality. But as I explain it, meditate, or desire to reflect steadfastly, on the meaning of my words.’ The particle ‘bata’ is suggestive of tenderness.

Verse 2.4.5:

स होवाच: न वा अरे पत्युः कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवति । न वा अरे जायायै कामाय जाया प्रिया भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय जाया प्रिया भवति । न वा अरे पूत्राणां कामाय पुत्राः प्रिया भवन्ति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय पुत्राः प्रिया भवन्ति । न वा अरे वित्तस्य कामाय वित्तं प्रियं भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय वित्तं प्रियं भवति । न वा अरे ब्रह्मणः कामाय ब्रह्म प्रियं भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय ब्रह्म प्रियं भवति । न वा अरे क्षत्रस्य कामाय क्षत्रं प्रियं भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय क्षत्रं प्रियं भवति । न वा अरे लोकानां कामाय लोकाः प्रिया भवन्ति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय लोकाः प्रिया भवन्ति । न वा अरे देवानां कामाय देवाः प्रिया भवन्ति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय देवाः प्रिया भवन्ति । न वा अरे भूतानां कामाय भूतानि प्रियाणि भवन्ति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय भूतानि प्रियाणि भवन्ति । न वा अरे सर्वस्य कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति । आत्मा वा अरे द्रष्टव्यः श्रोतव्यो मन्तव्यो निदिध्यासितव्यो मैत्रेयि, आत्मनो वा अरे दर्शनेन श्रवणेन मत्या विज्ञानेनेदं सर्वं विदितम् ॥ ५ ॥

sa hovāca: na vā are patyuḥ kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati | na vā are jāyāyai kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati | na vā are pūtrāṇāṃ kāmāya putrāḥ priyā bhavanti, ātmanastu kāmāya putrāḥ priyā bhavanti | na vā are vittasya kāmāya vittaṃ priyaṃ bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya vittaṃ priyaṃ bhavati | na vā are brahmaṇaḥ kāmāya brahma priyaṃ bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya brahma priyaṃ bhavati | na vā are kṣatrasya kāmāya kṣatraṃ priyaṃ bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya kṣatraṃ priyaṃ bhavati | na vā are lokānāṃ kāmāya lokāḥ priyā bhavanti, ātmanastu kāmāya lokāḥ priyā bhavanti | na vā are devānāṃ kāmāya devāḥ priyā bhavanti, ātmanastu kāmāya devāḥ priyā bhavanti | na vā are bhūtānāṃ kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavanti, ātmanastu kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavanti | na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvaṃ priyaṃ bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya sarvaṃ priyaṃ bhavati | ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo maitreyi, ātmano vā are darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñānenedaṃ sarvaṃ viditam || 5 ||

5. He said: It is not for the sake of the husband, my dear, that he is loved, but for one’s own sake that he is loved. It is not for the sake of the wife, my dear, that she is loved, but for one’s own sake that she is loved. It is not for the sake of the sons, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of wealth, my dear, that it is loved, but for one’s own sake that it is loved. It is not for the sake of the Brāhmaṇa, my dear, that he is loved, but for one’s own sake that he is loved. It is not for the sake of the Kṣatriya, my dear, that he is loved, but for one’s own sake that he is loved. It is not for the sake of the worlds, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of the gods, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of the beings, my -dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of all, my dear, that all is loved, but for one’s own sake that it is loved. The Self, my dear Maitreyī, should be realised—should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. By the realisation of the Self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.

Tom: in this famous verse Shankara comments how the thing that is most dear to us is the Self and so the Self alone is most worthy to be realised. The method of sravana (hearing the teaching of the Self), manana (thinking about the teaching of the Self) and nididhyasana (meditation on the Self) is said to be the way to realise the Self. Later in this chapter what exactly nididhyasana is will be explained by use of several examples.

Shankara: With a view to teaching renunciation as a means to immortality, Yājñavalkya creates a distaste for the wife, husband, sons, etc., so that they may be given up. He said, ‘It is not for the sake or necessity of the husband that he is loved by the wife, but it is for one’s own sake that he is loved by her.’ The particle ‘vai’ (indeed) recalls something that is well-known, signifying that this is a matter of common knowledge. Similarly it is not for the sake of the wife, etc. The rest is to be explained as before. Likewise it is not for the sake of the sons, wealth, the Brāhmaṇa, the Kṣatriya, the worlds, the gods, the beings, and all. The priority of enumeration is in the order of their closeness to us as sources of joy; for it is all the more desirable to create a distaste for them. The use of the word ‘all’ is for including everything that has and has not been mentioned. Hence it is a well-known fact that the Self alone is dear, and nothing else. It has already been said, ‘This (Self) is dearer than a son,’ etc. (I. iv. 8). The present text serves as a detailed commentary on that. Therefore our love for other objects is secondary, since they contribute to the pleasure of the Self; and our love for the Self alone is primary. Therefore ‘the Self, my dear Maitreyī, should he realised, is worthy of realisation, or should be made the object of realisation. It should first be heard of [sravana] from a teacher and from the scriptures, then reflected on [manana] through reasoning, and then steadfastly meditated upon. [nididhyasana]’ Thus only is It realised—when these means, viz. hearing, reflection and meditation, have been gone through. When these three are combined, then only true realisation of the unity of Brahman is accomplished, not otherwise—by hearing alone. The different castes such as the Brāhmaṇa or the Kṣatriya, the various orders of life, and so on, upon which rites depend, and which consist of actions, their factors and their results, are objects of notions superimposed on the Self by ignorance—based on false notions like that of a snake in a rope. In order to destroy these he says, ‘By the realisation of the Self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and’meditation, all this is known.’[3]

Verse 2.4.6:

ब्रह्म तं परादाद्योऽन्यत्रात्मनो ब्रह्म वेद, क्षत्रं तं परादाद्योऽन्यत्रात्मनः क्षत्रं वेद, लोकास्तं परादुर्योऽन्यत्रात्मनो लोकान्वेद, देवास्तं परादुर्योऽन्यत्रात्मनो देवान्वेद, भूतानि तं परादुर्योऽन्यत्रात्मनो भूतानि वेद, सर्वं तं परादाद्योऽन्यत्रात्मनः सर्वं वेद; इदं ब्रह्म, इदं क्षत्रम्, इमे लोकाः, इमे देवाः, इमामि भूतानि, इदं सर्वं यदयमात्मा ॥ ६ ॥

brahma taṃ parādādyo’nyatrātmano brahma veda, kṣatraṃ taṃ parādādyo’nyatrātmanaḥ kṣatraṃ veda, lokāstaṃ parāduryo’nyatrātmano lokānveda, devāstaṃ parāduryo’nyatrātmano devānveda, bhūtāni taṃ parāduryo’nyatrātmano bhūtāni veda, sarvaṃ taṃ parādādyo’nyatrātmanaḥ sarvaṃ veda; idaṃ brahma, idaṃ kṣatram, ime lokāḥ, ime devāḥ, imāmi bhūtāni, idaṃ sarvaṃ yadayamātmā || 6 ||

6. The Brāhmaṇa ousts one who knows him as different from the Self. The Kṣatriya ousts one who knows him as different from the Self. The worlds oust one who knows them as different from the Self. The gods oust one who knows them as different from the Self. The beings oust one who knows them as different from the Self. All ousts one who knows it as different from the Self. This Brāhmaṇa, this Kṣatriya, these worlds, these gods, these beings, and this all are the Self.

Tom: Here in the next few verses everything is said to be nothing other than the Self. Later, these objects/maya will need to be removed for the Pure Self, ie. Self Knowledge, to be revealed.


Objection: How can the knowledge of one thing lead to that of another?

Reply: The objection is not valid, for there is nothing besides the Self. If there were, it would not be known, but there is no such thing; the Self is everything. Therefore It being known, everything would be known. How is it that the Self is everything? The Śruti answers it: The Brāhmaṇa ousts or rejects the man who knows him to be different from the Self, i.e. who knows that the Brāhmaṇa is not the Self. The Brāhmaṇa does so out of a feeling that this man considers him to be different from the Self. For the Supreme Self is the Self of all. Similarly the Kṣatriyathe worldsthe gods, the beings, and all oust him. This Brāhmaṇa and all the rest that have been enumerated are the Self that has been introduced as the object to be realised through hearing etc. Because everything springs from the Self, is dissolved in It, and remains imbued with It during continuance, for it cannot be perceived apart from the Self. Therefore everything is the Self.

Verse 2.4.7:

स यथा दुन्दुभेर्हन्यमानस्य न बाह्याञ्छब्दाञ्छक्नुयाद्ग्रहणाय, दुन्दुभेस्तु ग्रहणेन—दुन्दुभ्याघातस्य वा—शब्द्ō गृहीतः ॥ ७ ॥

sa yathā dundubherhanyamānasya na bāhyāñchabdāñchaknuyādgrahaṇāya, dundubhestu grahaṇena—dundubhyāghātasya vā—śabdō gṛhītaḥ || 7 ||

7. As when a drum is beaten one cannot distinguish its various particular notes, but they are included in the general note of the drum or in the general sound produced by different kinds of strokes.

Shankara: But how can we know that all this is the Self now? Because of the inherence of Pure Intelligence in everything, we conclude that everything is That. An illustration is being given: We see in life that if a thing cannot be perceived apart from something else, the latter is the essence of that thing. As, for instance, when a drum or the like is beaten with a stick etc., one cannot distinguish its various particular notes from the general note of the drum, but they are included in, taken as modifications of, the general note: We say these are all notes of the drum, having no existence apart from the general note of the drum. Or the particular notes produced by different kinds of strokes are included in the general sound produced by those strokes: They cannot. be perceived as distinct notes, having no separate existence. Similarly nothing particular is perceived in the waking and dream states apart from Pure Intelligence. Therefore those things should be considered non-existent apart from Pure Intelligence.

Verse 2.4.8:

स यथा शङ्खस्य ध्मायमानस्य न बाह्याञ्छब्दाञ्छक्नुयाद्ग्रहणाय, शङ्खस्य तु ग्रहणेन—शङ्खध्मस्य वा—शब्द्ō गृहीतः ॥ ८ ॥

sa yathā śaṅkhasya dhmāyamānasya na bāhyāñchabdāñchaknuyādgrahaṇāya, śaṅkhasya tu grahaṇena—śaṅkhadhmasya vā—śabdō gṛhītaḥ || 8 ||

8. As when a conch is blown one cannot distinguish its various particular notes, but they are included in the general note of the conch or in the general sound produced by different kinds of playing.

Shankara: Similarly, as when a conch is blown, connected or filled with sound, one cannot distinguish its various particular notes, etc.—to be explained as before.

Verse 2.4.9:

स यथा वीन्̣आयै वाद्यमानायै न बाह्याञ्छब्दाञ्छक्नुयाद्ग्रहणाय, वीन्̣आयै तु ग्रहन्̣एन—वीन्̣आवादस्̣य वा—शब्द्ō गृहीतः ॥ ९ ॥

sa yathā vīṇāyai vādyamānāyai na bāhyāñchabdāñchaknuyādgrahaṇāya, vīṇāyai tu grahaṇena—vīṇāvādaṣya vā—śabdō gṛhītaḥ || 9 ||

9. As when a Vīṇā[4] is played on one cannot distinguish its various particular notes, but they are included in the general note of the Vīṇā or in the general sound produced by different kinds of playing.

Shankara: Similarly, as when a Vīnā is played on, etc. The dative case in ‘Vināyai’ stands for the genitive. The citation of many examples here is for indicating varieties of genus; for there are many distinct kinds of genus, sentient and insentient. It is to show how through a series of intermediate steps they are included in a supreme genus, Pure Intelligence, that so many examples are given. Just as a drum, a conch and a Vīṇā have distinct general and particular notes of their own, which are included in sound in general, so during the continuance of the universe we may know all things to be unified in Brahman, because the varieties of genus and particulars are not different from It.

Verse 2.4.10:

स यथार्द्रएधाग्नेरभ्याहितात्पृथग्धूमा विनिश्चरन्ति, एवं वा अरेऽस्य महतो भूतस्य निह्̣स्वसितमेतद्यदृग्वेदो यजुर्वेदह्̣ सामवेदोऽथर्वाङ्गिरस इतिहासह्̣ पुराणम् विद्या उपनिस्̣अदह्̣ श्लोकाह्̣ सूत्रान्यनुव्याख्यानानि व्याख्यानानि; अस्यैवैतानि निःश्वसितानि ॥ १० ॥

sa yathārdraedhāgnerabhyāhitātpṛthagdhūmā viniścaranti, evaṃ vā are’sya mahato bhūtasya niḥsvasitametadyadṛgvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo’tharvāṅgirasa itihāsaḥ purāṇam vidyā upaniṣadaḥ ślokāḥ sūtrānyanuvyākhyānāni vyākhyānāni; asyaivaitāni niḥśvasitāni || 10 ||

10. As from a fire kindled with wet faggot diverse kinds of smoke issue, even so, my dear, the Ṛg-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sāma-Veda, Atharvāṅgirasa, history, mythology, arts, Upaniṣads, verses, aphorisms, elucidations and explanations are (like) the breath of this infinite Reality. They are like the breath of this (Supreme Self).

Shankara: Likewise it may be understood that the universe, at the time of its origin as also prior to it, is nothing but Brahman. As before the separation of the sparks, smoke, embers and flames, all these are nothing but fire, and therefore there is but one substance, fire, so it is reasonable to infer that this universe differentiated into names and forms is, before its origin, nothing but Pure Intelligence. This is expressed as follows: As from a fire kindled with wet faggot diverse kinds of smoke issue. The word ‘smoke’ is suggestive of sparks etc. as well—meaning smoke, sparks, etc., issue. Like this example, O Maitreyī, all this is like the breath of this infinite Reality, the Supreme Self that is being discussed. ‘Breath’ here means, like the breath. As a man breathes without the slightest effort, so do all these come out of It. What are those things that are spoken of as issuing from It as Its breath? The Ṛg-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sāma-Veda, Atharvāṅgirasa, i.e. the four kinds of Mantras. History, such as the dialogue between Urvaśī and Purūravas—‘The nymph Urvaśī,’ and so on (Ś. XI. iv. 4. 1); it is this Brāhmaṇa that is meant. Mythology, such as, ‘This universe was in the beginning unmanifest,’ etc. (Tai. II. 7). Arts, which treat of music, dancing, etc.—‘This is also Veda,’ etc. (Ś. XIII. iv. 3. 10-14). Upaniṣads, such as, ‘It should be meditated upon as. dear,’ etc. (IV. 1. 3). Verses, the Mantras occurring in the Brāhmaṇas, such as, ‘Regarding this there are the following verses’ (IV. iii. 11; IV. iv. 8). Aphorisms, those passages of the Vedas which present the truth in a nutshell, for example,. ‘The Self alone is to be meditated upon’ (I. iv. 7). Elucidations —of the Mantras. Explanations, eulogistic passages. Or ‘elucidations’ may be of the ‘aphorisms’ above. As the passage, ‘The Self alone is to be meditated upon, or the passage, ‘He (who worships another god thinking), “He is one, and I am another,” does not know. He is like an animal (to the gods)’ (I. iv. 1o), has this concluding portion of the present chapter as its elucidation. And ‘explanations’ may be of the Mantras. Thus these are the eight divisions of the Brāhmaṇas.

So only the Mantras and Brāhmaṇas are meant.[5] It is the eternally composed and already existent Vedas that are manifested like a man’s breath—without any thought or effort on his part. Hence they are an authority as regards their meaning, independently of any other means of knowledge. Therefore those who aspire after well-being must accept the verdict of the Vedas on knowledge or on rites, as it is. The differentiation of forms invariably depends on the manifestation of their names.[6] Name and form are the limiting adjuncts of the Supreme Self, of which, when they are differentiated, it is impossible to tell whether they are identical with or different from It, as is the case with the foam of water. It is name and form in all their stages[7] that constitute relative existence. Hence name has been compared to breath. By this statement it is implied that form too is like breath. Or we may explain it differently: In the passage, ‘The Brāhmaṇa ousts one…. all this is the Self’ (II. iv. 6; IV. v. 7), the entire world of duality has been spoken of as the domain of ignorance. This may lead to a doubt about the authority of the Vedas. In order to remove this doubt it is said that since the Vedas issue without any effort like a man’s breath, they are an authority; they are not like other books.

Verse 2.4.11:

स यथा सर्वासामपां समुद्र एकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां स्पर्शानां त्वगेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां गन्धानां नासिके एकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां रसानां जिह्वैकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां रूपाणां चक्षुरेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां शब्दानां श्रोत्रमेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां संकल्पानां मन एकायनम्, एवं सर्वाषां विद्यानां हृदयमेकायनम्, एवं  सर्वाषां कर्मणां हस्तावेकायनम्, एवं सर्वाषां आनन्दानामुपस्थ एकायनम्, एवं  सर्वेषाम् विसर्गाणाम् पायुरेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषांअध्वनाम् पादवेकायनम्, एवं सर्वेषां वेदानां वागेकायनम् ॥ ११ ॥

11. As the ocean is the one goal[8] of all sorts of water, as the skin is the one goal of all kinds of touch, as the nostrils are the one goal of all odours, as the tongue is the one goal of all savours, as the eye is the one goal of all colours, as the ear is the one goal of all sounds, as the Manas is the one goal of all deliberations, as the intellect is the one goal of all kinds of knowledge, as the hands are the one goal of all sorts of work, as the organ of generation is the one goal of all kinds of enjoyment, as the anus is the one goal of all excretions, as the feet are the one goal of all kinds of walking, as the organ of speech is the one goal of all Vedas.

Tom: Shankara will now describe how everything is to be dissolved in Brahman. Just as all rivers flow to the ocean, where they are no longer discernible as separate rivers, we are to merge or dissolve everything into Pure Consciousness so that all that remains is Pure Consciousness. The word homogenous is used to indicate the lack of any differentiation whatsoever, differentiation already above being shown to be a product of ignorance.

Shankara: Moreover, it is not only at the time of its origin and continuance that the universe, on account of its non-existence apart from Pure Intelligence, is Brahman, but it is so at the time of dissolution alsṇ. Just as bubbles, foam, etc. are non-existent apart from water, so name, form and action, which are the effects of Pure Intelligence and dissolve in It are non-existent apart from It. Therefore Brahman is to be known as Pure Intelligence, one and homogeneous. So the text runs as follows—the examples are illustrative of dissolution— As the ocean is the one goal, meeting place, the place of dissolution or unification, of all sorts of water such as that of rivers, tanks and lakes. Likewise as the skin is the one goal of all kinds of touch such as soft or hard, rough or smooth, which are identical in nature with air.[9] By the word ‘skin,’ touch in general, which is perceived by the skin, is meant; in it different kinds of touch are merged, like different kinds of water in the ocean, and become nonentities without it, for they were merely its modifications. Similarly that touch in general, denoted by the word ‘skin,’ is merged in the deliberation of the Manas, that is to say, in a general consideration by it, just as different kinds of touch are included in touch in general perceived by the skin; without this consideration by the Manas it becomes a nonentity. The consideration by the Manas also is merged in a general cognition by the intellect, and becomes non-existent without it. Becoming mere consciousness, it is merged in Pure Intelligence, the Supreme Brahman, like different kinds of water in the ocean. When through these successive steps sound and the rest, together with their receiving organs, are merged in Pure Intelligence, there are no more limiting adjuncts, and only Brahman, which is Pure Intelligence, comparable to a lump of salt, homogeneous, infinite, boundless and without a break, remains. Therefore the Self alone must be regarded as one without a second.

Similarly the nostrils, i.e. odour in general, (are the one goal) of all odours, which are modes of earth. Likewise the tongue, or taste in general perceived by the tongue, of all savours, which are modes of water. So also the eye, or colour in general perceived by the eye, of all colours, which are modes of light. So also (the ear, or) sound in general perceived by the ear, of all sounds, as before. Similarly the generalities of sound and the rest are merged in deliberation, i.e. a general consideration of them by the Manas. This consideration by the Manas again is merged in mere consciousness, i.e. a general cognition by thè intellect. Becoming mere consciousness, it is merged in the Supreme Brahman, which is Pure Intelligence. Similarly the objects of the motor organs such as different kinds of speaking, taking, walking, excretion and enjoyment are merged in their general functions, like different kinds of water in the ocean, and can no more be distinguished. These general functions are again nothing but the vital force, which is identical with intelligence. The Kauṣītakī Upaniṣad reads, ‘That which is the vital force is intelligence, and that which is intelligence is the vital force’ (III. 3).

Objection: In everyone of those instances the mergence of the objects only has been spoken of, but not that of the organs. What is the motive of this?

Reply: True, but the Śruti considers the organs to be of the same category as the objects, not of a different category. The organs are but modes of the objects in order to perceive them, as a light, which is but a mode of colour, is an instrument for revealing all colours. Similarly the organs are but modes of all particular objects in order to perceive them, as is the case with a lamp. Hence no special care is to be taken to indicate the dissolution of the organs; for these being the same as objects in general, their dissolution is implied by that of the objects.

It has been stated as a proposition that ‘This all is the Self’ (II. iv. 6). The reason given for this is that the universe is of the same nature as the Self, springs from the Self, and is merged in It. [Tom: we can see here that the word ‘merge’ is synonymous with the notion of dissolution – ie. the universe springs from the Self and is then dissolved back into, or merged back into, the Self; we can see that to ‘merge’ means the reverse of creation, ie. disolution.] Since there is nothing but Intelligence at the time of the origin, continuance and dissolution of the universe, therefore what has been stated as ‘Intelligence is Brahman’ {Ai. V. 3) and ‘All this is but the Self’ (Ch. VII. xxv. 2), is established through reasoning. The Paurā-ṇikas hold that this dissolution is natural.[10] While that which is consciously effected by the knowers of Brahman through their knowledge of Brahman is called extreme dissolution, which happens through the cessation of ignorance. What follows deals specially with that.

Tom: The next verse deals with what in bold above is referred to as ‘extreme dissolution’

Verse 2.4.12:

स यथा सैन्धवखिल्य उदके प्रास्त उदकमेवानुविलीयेत, न हास्योद्ग्रहणायेव स्यात्, यतो यतस्त्वाददीत लवणमेव, एवं वा अर इदं महद्भूतमनन्तमपारं विज्ञानघन एव | एतेभ्यो भूतेभ्यः समुत्थाय तान्येवानु विनश्यति, न प्रेत्य संज्ञास्तीत्यरे ब्रवीमीति  होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः || 12 ||

sa yathā saindhavakhilya udake prāsta udakamevānuvilīyeta, na hāsyodgrahaṇāyeva syāt, yato yatastvādadīta lavaṇameva, evaṃ vā ara idaṃ mahadbhūtamanantamapāraṃ vijñānaghana eva | etebhyo bhūtebhyaḥ samutthāya tānyevānu vinaśyati, na pretya saṃjñāstītyare bravīmīti  hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ || 12 ||

12. As a lump of salt dropped into water dissolves with (its component) water, and no one is able to pick it up, but whencesoever one takes it, it tastes salt, even so, my dear, this great, endless, infinite Reality is but Pure Intelligence. (The self) comes out (as a separate entity) from these elements, and (this separateness) is destroyed with them. After attaining (this oneness) it has no more consciousness.[11] This is what I say, my dear. So said Yājñavalkya.

Tom: Just as a lump of salt dissolves completely into water so that it’s very form is destroyed, its essence remains. Similarly, the Self, the Essence is revealed as being different from the diverse array of forms that appear. When this Essence is realised, thus far it has been denoted as being the Subject-Consciousness, but this is only in relation to objects, but when the objects are no longer present and the Self is Truly Revealed, this Self can no longer be thought of as even Consciousness.

Shankara: An illustration on the point is being given: As a lump of salt, etc. The derivative meaning of the word ‘Sindhu’ is water, because it ‘flows’ That which is a modification or product of water is ‘Saindhava,’ or salt. ‘Khilya’ is the same as ‘Khila’ (a lump). A lump of salt dropped into water, its cause, dissolves with the dissolution of (its component) water. The solidification of a lump through its connection with particles of earth and heat goes when the lump comes in contact with water, its cause. This is the dissolution of (the component) water, and along with it the lump of salt is said to be dissolved. No one, not even an expert, is able to pick it up as before. The particle ‘iva’ is expletive; the meaning is, none can at all pick it up. Why? Whencesoever, from whichsoever part, one takes the water and tastes it, it is salt. But there is no longer any lump.

Tom: Shankara explains that association with or attending to the various objects or adjuncts creates the ignorance of thinking you are a small separate limited entity.

Like this illustration, O Maitreyī, is this great Reality called the Supreme Self, from which you have been cut off by ignorance as a separate entity, through your connection with the limiting adjuncts of the body and organs, and have become mortal, subject to birth and death, hunger and thirst, and other such relative attributes, and identified with name, form and action, and think you are born of such and such a family. That separate existence of yours, which has sprung from the delusion engendered by contact with the limiting adjuncts of the body and organs, enters its cause, the great Reality, the Supreme Self, which stands for the ocean, is undecaying, immortal, beyond fear, pure, homogeneous like a lump of salt, Pure Intelligence, infinite, boundless, without a break, and devoid of differences caused by the delusion brought on by ignorance.

Tom: We can clearly see here that Shankara is stating that devoid of objects/ignorance, the pure Self is revealed. Again below Shankara states the same, namely that when the separate objects have merged back into or dissolved into their cause, ie. the Self, the Reality is revealed.

When that separate existence has entered and been merged in its cause, in other words, when the differences created by ignorance are gone, the universe becomes one without a second, ‘the great Reality.’ Great, because It is greater than everything else and is the cause of the ether etc.; Reality (Bhūta)—always a fact, for It never deviates from Its nature. The verbal suffix ‘kta’ here denotes past, present and future. Or the word ‘Bhūta’ may denote truth; the expression then would mean: It is great and true. There may be things in the relative world as big as the Himalayas, for instance, created by a dream or illusion, but they are not true; hence the text adds the qualifying word ‘true.’ It is endless. Sometimes this may be in a relative sense; hence the text qualifies it by the term infinite. Pure Intelligence: Lit. a solid mass of intelligence. The word ‘Ghana’ (a solid mass) excludes everything belonging to a different species, as ‘a solid mass of gold or iron.’ The particle ‘eva’ (only) is intensive. The idea is that there is no foreign element in It.

Question: If It is one without a second, really pure and untouched by the miseries of the relative world, whence is this separate existence of the individual self, in which it is born or dies, is happy or miserable, possessed of the ideas of T and mine,’ and so on, and which is troubled by many a relative attribute?

Reply: I will explain it. There are the elements transformed into the body, organs and sense-objects, consisting of name and form. They are like the foam and bubbles on the limpid water of the Supreme Self. The mergence of these elements down to sense-objects in Brahman, which is Pure Intelligence, through a discriminating knowledge of the Truth has been spoken of—like the emptying of rivers into the ocean. From these elements called ‘truth,’ i.e. with their aid, the self comes out like a lump of salt. As from water reflections of the sun, moon and so on arise, or from the proximity of such limiting adjuncts as red cotton-pads a transparent crystal turns red and so forlh, so from the limiting adjuncts of the elements, transformed into the body and organs, the self comes out clearly as an individualised entity. These elements, transformed into the body, organs and sense-objects, from which the self comes out as an individual, and which are the cause of its individualisation, are merged, like rivers in the ocean, by the realisation of Brahman through the instruction of the scriptures and the teacher, and are destroyed. And when they are destroyed like the foam and bubbles of water, this individualised existence too is destroyed with them. As the reflections of the sun, moon, etc. and the colour of the crystal vanish when their causes, the water, the red cotton-pad, and so on, are removed, and only the (sun), moon, etc., remain as they are, so the endless, infinite and limpid Pure Intelligence alone remains.

Tom: Shankara has stated above that individualisation (ie. duality or separation) is destroyed when the various objects, such as body, sense-organs and sense-objects (ie. body and world), have been ‘destroyed’ or removed, just like when bubbles and foam (ie. duality) are destroyed all that remains is the non-dual water.

After attaining (this oneness) the self, freed from the body and organs, has no more particular consciousness, This is what I saymy dear Maitreyī. No more is there such particular consciousness as, ‘I so and so am the son of so and so; this is my land and wealth; I am happy or miserable.’ For it is due to ignorance, and since ignorance is absolutely destroyed by the realisation of Brahman, how can the knower of Brahman, who is established in his nature as Pure Intelligence, possibly have any such particular consciousness? Even when a man is in the body,[12] particular consciousness is impossible; so how can it ever exist in a man who has been absolutely freed from the body and organs? So said Yājñavalkya —propounded this philosophy of the highest truth to his wife, Maitreyī.

Verse 2.4.13:

स होवाच मैत्रेयी, अत्रैव मा भगवानमूमुहत्, न प्रेत्य संज्णास्तीति; स होवाच न व अरे’हम् मोहं ब्रवीमि, अलं वा अरे इदं विज्ञानाय ॥ १३ ॥

sa hovāca maitreyī, atraiva mā bhagavānamūmuhat, na pretya saṃjṇāstīti; sa hovāca na va are’ham mohaṃ bravīmi, alaṃ vā are idaṃ vijñānāya || 13 ||

13. Maitreyī said, ‘Just here you have thrown me into confusion, sir—by saying that after attaining (oneness) the self has no more consciousness.’ Yājñavalkya said, ‘Certainly I am not saying anything confusing, my dear; this is quite sufficient for knowledge, O Maitreyī.’

Tom: Maitreyi is confused when Yajnavalkya tells her what was previously indicated as being Pure Consciousness is not actually Consciousness at all. Shankara explains this further below stating that when the limiting adjuncts (ie. objects) have been ‘destroyed’ (ie. removed by meditation or nididhyasana), then the notion of consciousness, which implies a limited body and a subject-object relationship, is also destroyed. This is further explained in the next verse too.

Shankara: Thus enlightened, Maitreyī said, ‘By attributing contradictory qualities just here, to this identical entity, Brahman, you have thrown me into confusion, revered sir.’ So she says, ‘Just here,’ etc. How he attributed contradictory qualities is being explained: ‘Having first stated that the self is but Pure Intelligence, you now say that after attaining (oneness) it has no more consciousness. How can it be only Pure Intelligence, and yet after attaining oneness have no more consciousness? The same fire cannot both be hot and cold. So I am confused on this point.’ Yājñavalkya said, ‘O Maitreyī, certainly I am not saying anything confusing, i.e. not using confusing language.’

Maitreyī: Why did you mention contradictory qualities—Pure Intelligence and, again, absence of consciousness?

Yājñavalkya: I did not attribute them to the same entity. It is you who through a mistake have taken one and the same entity to be possessed of contradictory attributes. I did not say this. What I said was this: When the individual existence of the self that is superimposed by ignorance and is connected with the body and organs is destroyed by knowledge, the particular consciousness connected with the body etc., consisting of a false notion, is destroyed on the destruction of the limiting adjuncts of the body and organs, for they are deprived of their cause, just as the reflections of the moon etc., and their effects, the light and so forth, vanish when the water and the like, which form their support, are gone. But just as the sun, moon, etc., which are the realities behind the reflections, remain as they are, so that Pure Intelligence which is the transcendent Brahman remains unchanged. That has been referred to as ‘Pure Intelligence.’ It is the Self of the whole universe, and does not really pass out with the destruction of the elements. But the individual existence, which is due to ignorance, is destroyed. ‘Modifications are but names, a mere effort of speech,’ says another Śruti (Ch. VI. i. 4-6 and iv. 1-4). But this is real. ‘This self, my dear, is indestructible’ (IV. v. 14). Therefore this ‘great, endless, infinite Reality’—already explained (par. 12) —is quite sufficient for knowledge, 0Maitreyī. Later it will be said, ‘For the knower’s function of knowing can never be lost; because it is immortal’ (IV. iii. 30).

Verse 2.4.14:

यत्र हि द्वैतमिव भवति तदितर इतरं जिघ्रति, तदितर इतरं पश्यति, तदितर इतरम् श्र्णोति, तदितर इतरमभिवदति, तदितर इतरम् मनुते, तदितर इतरं विजानाति; यत्र वा अस्य सर्वमात्माइवाभूत्तत्केन कं जिघ्रेत्, तत्केन कं पश्येत्, तत्केन कं शृणुयत्, तत्केन कमभिवदेत्, तत्केन कं मन्वीत, तत्केन कं विजानीयात्? येनेदम् सर्वं विजानाति, तं केन विजानीयात्? विज्ञातारम् अरे केन विजानीयादिति ॥ १४ ॥
इति चतुर्थं ब्राह्मणम् ॥

yatra hi dvaitamiva bhavati taditara itaraṃ jighrati, taditara itaraṃ paśyati, taditara itaram śrṇoti, taditara itaramabhivadati, taditara itaram manute, taditara itaraṃ vijānāti; yatra vā asya sarvamātmāivābhūttatkena kaṃ jighret, tatkena kaṃ paśyet, tatkena kaṃ śṛṇuyat, tatkena kamabhivadet, tatkena kaṃ manvīta, tatkena kaṃ vijānīyāt? yenedam sarvaṃ vijānāti, taṃ kena vijānīyāt? vijñātāram are kena vijānīyāditi || 14 ||
iti caturthaṃ brāhmaṇam ||

14. Because when there is duality, as it were, then one smells something, one sees something, one hears something, one speaks something, one thinks something, one knows something. (But) when to the knower of Brahman everything has become the Self, then what should one smell and through what, what should one see and through what, what should one hear and through what, what should one speak and through what, what should one think and through what, what should one know and through what? Through what should one know That owing to which all this is known—through what, O Maitreyī, should one know the Knower ?

Tom: The idea here is that as long as you know or sense something (ie. know any object), that is ignorance. Ignorance creates or, as Shankara states, ‘conjures up’, objects such as the body and sense organs, and so there is an appearance of duality. But in the Pure Self, there are no objects, and no means to know objects – ie. no knowing and no known – only the knower remains.

Shankara drives the point home by also stating that in the Self, there are no actions, nothing that could produce an action (ie. no objects) and therefore no possibility of results. This is tantamount to stating that both space (in which objects appear) and time (in which actions occur) are both illusion conjured up by ignorance.

Lastly Shankara states that the Self is not actually known at all, for what could know it? The implication is that the Self, the Subject, merely IS, and this is enough.

Why then is it said that after attaining oneness the self has no more consciousness? Listen. Because when, i.e. in the presence of the particular or individual aspect of the Self due to the limiting adjuncts of the body and organs conjured up by ignorance, there is duality, as it were, in Brahman, which really is one without a second, i.e. there appears to be something different from the Self.

Objection: Since duality is put forward as an object for comparison, is it not taken to be real?

Reply: No, for another Śruti says, ‘Modifications are but names, a mere effort of speech’ (Ch. VI. i. 4-6 and iv. 1-4), also ‘One only without a second’ (Ch. VI. ii. 1), and ‘All this is but the Self’ (Ch. VII. XXV. 2).

Then, just because there is- duality as it were, therefore one, he who smells, viz. the unreal individual aspect of the Supreme Self, comparable to the reflection of the moon etc. in water, smells something that can be smelt, through something else, viz. the nose. ‘One’ and ‘something’ refer to two typical factors of an action, the agent and object, and ‘smells’ signifies the action and its result. As for instance in the word ‘cuts.’ This one word signifies the repeated strokes dealt and the separation of the object cut into two ; for an action ends in a result, and the result cannot be perceived apart from the action. Similarly he who smells a thing that can be smelt does it through the nose. The rest is to be explained as above. One knows something. This is the state of ignorance. But when ignorance has been destroyed by the knowledge of Brahman, there is nothing but the Self. When to the knower of Brahman everything such as name and form has been merged [dissolved] in the Self and has thus become the Self, then what object to be smelt should one smell, who should smell, and through what instrument? Similarly what should one see and hear? Everywhere an action depends on certain factors; hence when these are absent, the action cannot take place; and in the absence of an action there can be no result. Therefore so long as there is ignorance, the operation of actions, their factors and their results can take place, but not in the case of a knower of Brahman. For to him everything is the Self, and there are no factors or results of actions apart from It. Nor can the universe, being an unreality, be the Self of anybody. Therefore it is ignorance that conjures up the idea of the non-Self; strictly speaking, there is nothing but the Self. Therefore when one truly realises the unity of the Self, there cannot be any consciousness of actions, their factors and their results. Hence, because of contradiction, there is an utter absence of actions and their means for the knower of Brahman. The words ‘what’ and ‘through what’ are meant as a fling, and suggest the sheer impossibility of the other factors of an action also; for there cannot possibly be any factors such as the instrument. The idea is that no one by any means can smell anything in any manner.

Even in the state of ignorance, when one sees somethingthrough what instrument should one know That owing to which all this is known? For that instrument of knowledge itself falls under the category of objects. The knower may desire to know not about itself, but about objects. As fire does not burn itself, so the self does not know itself, and the knower can have no knowledge of a thing that is not its object. Therefore through what instrument should one know the knower owing to which this universe is known, and who else should know it? And when to the knower of Brahman who has discriminated the Real from the unreal there remains only the subject, absolute and one without a second, through what instrument, O Maitreyī, should one know that Knower?

Why faith IS required for liberation | Advaita Vedanta

I have heard some Advaita Vedanta teachers say that there is no need for faith in Vedanta. However, what do the Advaita scriptures say?

Here we shall look at some selected quotes from Shankara and the Bhagavad Gita below which state both the importance and necessity of faith on the Path to Liberation, and explore why this is the case.


Why is faith important? Simply put, because without sufficient faith one will not have the dedication, love and perseverance to continue with self-enquiry (vichara), until liberation is attained. And Self-Enquiry, as taught by the Upanishads, by Shankara and by Sri Ramana Maharshi, is the only practice that ultimately leads to Moksha.


There are some teachers that say faith is not required for Vedanta as one can discover this all for oneself like a scientist can discover the various laws of nature.

Whilst this truth needs to be discovered for oneself and realised for oneself, I have noticed these teachings that push out the need for faith tend to be the teachings that predominately stay on the level of the mind. They tend to teach that prolonged meditation on the Self/Self-Enquiry is not required for liberation, and that essentially one can come to liberation through qualities such as having a keen intellect combined with exploring the nature of our present experience only.

This being the case, these teachings alone do not lead to the end of individuality, duality and suffering – ie. they do not actually lead to Moksha (liberation) at all, and the ego-separation remains.


Some say that Shraddha, the Sankrit word for faith, does not refer to blind faith or mere belief, but to a ‘faith pending results’, similar to the ‘faith’ required for a science student to follow a scientific experiment in order to discover the truth it yields.

Whilst there is some truth in this, it is not the whole truth, and also note that the scriptures do not define faith in this way (see the quotes section below). It is true that faith, as spoken of in the Advaita scriptures, is not the end goal in itself, meaning one doesn’t simply believe in God or in a dogma or creed of some kind and leave it at that, which would be rather superficial and on the level of the intellect predominantly. Rather faith is a ferry to take us to the shore of liberation, and this liberation is the goal, and this goal of liberation or God must be ‘experienced’ or ‘realised’ or ‘known’ for oneself, for want of a better phrase.

However, the faith spoken of in the Vedanta scriptures is much deeper than what has been described above. It is not just a mere willingness to try something until you see the results, like a scientist, or even a simple trust that the teachings will show you the way, but something that throbs in our very core, a deep conviction, in our very heart, in our Being. It is a deep resonance, a magnetic pull, intertwined with an intuitive knowing.

This faith cannot be taught, but is something that at some point in our journey springs into our very Being and takes us Home to Liberation. Perhaps it comes to us having listened to and studied the Advaita (or similar) teachings for some time, or perhaps faith dawns after having experienced the various ups and downs of life, or perhaps it comes to us unasked for, as Divine a Gift from God, a Gift of His Grace.

This true faith is inextricably linked with Bhakti, or devotional love of the Divine, which culminates in love to be with Self as Self, otherwise known as Self-Enquiry or Dhyana (meditation).

For me this Faith arose through the Presence and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, and for that I am forever grateful. His Presence and His Teachings unfailingly guide Homeward those who have come under His Spell and Grace. He is the Lord, He is the very Self, he resides within your very Heart – turn inwards and dis-cover (ie. uncover and reveal) your identity with Him.


Let us see what kind of person, according to Vedanta, attains Jnana, or ‘divine knowledge’, otherwise known as liberation:

Bhagavan Lord Krishna states in the Gita Chapter 4, verse 39: ‘Those whose faith is deep and who have practiced controlling their mind and senses attain divine knowledge.’

But what if this faith is not present?

Lord Krishna also states in the Gita in the next verse, chapter 4, verse 40: ‘But persons who possess neither faith nor knowledge, and who are of a doubting nature, suffer a downfall. For the skeptical souls, there is no happiness either in this world or the next.’

In Chapter 5, Krishna further states in verse 17: ‘Those whose intellect is fixed in God, who are wholly absorbed in God, with firm faith in Him as the supreme goal, such persons quickly reach the state from which there is no return, their sins having been dispelled by the light of knowledge.’

What is the definition of faith?

Shankara defines faith and states it is necessary for realisation in Vivekachudamani: ‘Acceptance by firm judgment as true of what the Scriptures and the Guru instruct, is called by sages Shraddha or faith, by means of which the Reality is perceived

Shankara also writes in Aparokshanubhuti that Shraddha is required for liberation and defines Shraddha as follows: ‘Implicit faith in the words of the Vedas and the teachers (who interpret them) is known as Shraddha

Lets leave the last quote of this post to Bhagavan Sri Krishna, this time from the last verse of Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita where he states: ‘Of all yogis, those whose minds are always absorbed in me, and who engage in devotion to me with great faith, them I consider to be the highest of all.’

Remove Nama-Rupa (Name & Form) to reveal Sat-Chit-Ananda (the Self)

Here we will see how a clear teaching is given and then distorted by the mind, only for Bhagavan Sri Ramana to make clear the essential teaching again in order to keep us on the clear and direct path. The following passage is taken from Day by Day with Bhagavan, page 193, recounting events from 10th April 1946:

Dr. Masalavala gave Bhagavan a letter addressed to him by a friend of his. Bhagavan perused it. Some portions of it were not cogent. With other portions there could be no quarrel.

The letter said that all is contained in asti (sat), bhati (chit), priya (ananda), nam and rup, that the first three constitute reality, and the rest the fleeting and unreal; that jnana consists in seeing only the reality and not the nam-rup, that the first three constitute aham and the next two constitute idam (this).

Tom: we can see here the teaching of ‘nama, rupa, sat, chit, ananda’. ‘Nama’ means name, ‘rupa’ means form, ‘sat’ means being or reality or truth, ‘chit’ means consciousness or knowingness and ‘ananda’ means happiness or bliss. Note that here the word ‘priya’ (which means beloved) is used instead of the more commonly used ‘ananda’,

The first two of these, nama-rupa (name and form) constitute the entire observable world of objects, including trees, cars, people, buildings (ie. gross objects), but also subtle objects such as thoughts, feelings, emotions, spiritual experiences, dreams, visions, etc, etc. These objects, gross and subtle, come and go, and together can be considered to be Maya (illusion).

The latter three, sat-chit-ananda, refers to the Self, the Unchanging Ever-Present Reality, the Pure Consciousness that you are. The text clearly states that Jnana (knowledge, ie. spiritual knowledge or liberation) consists of seeing only Reality and not nama-rupa, ie to remove objects and abide only as Self.

In the next line Ramana agrees that sat-chit-ananda refers to ‘aham’, aham meaning ‘I’, as the true ‘I’ is the Self, and nama-rupa refers to ‘idam’, idam meaning ‘this’, referring to all perceived phenomena, ie. all objects, gross or subtle:

Bhagavan agreed and said, “‘I’ and ‘this’ between them exhaust everything.” The letter also said that seeing Brahman alone in everything and everywhere is jnanottara bhakti. With reference to this, Bhagavan said, “This is a matter of mere words, whether you call the stage of seeing only Brahman, jnanottara bhakti or bhakti-uttara jnana.

Tom: Jnanottara bhakti means ‘Bhakti (love), which is higher than Jnana (knowledge)’. This term is often used by schools of vedanta that prefer Bhakti and state that Bhakti is superior to Jnana (knowledge). Bhakti-uttara Jnana means the opposite, namely ‘Jnana which is higher than Bhakti’. Ramana here makes it clear that this is all just linguistic juggling, implying that there is no need to quibble about which is higher, Jnana or Bhakti. In fact they are, ultimately, one and the same.

In reality, saying ‘We must see Brahman in everything and everywhere’ is also not quite correct. Only that stage is final, where there is no seeing, where there is no time or space. There will be no seer, seeing and an object to see. What exists then is only the infinite eye.”

Tom: many teachers state that we should see everything as Brahman and Brahman in everything, and this is true Jnana or Liberation. Here Sri Ramana corrects this mistaken view, stating that we must eventually go beyond this too and renounce name and form in order to discover and abide as the pure Self, devoid of objects, devoid even of notions or perception of time and space. That is which there are no triads of object, subject or seeing. In that ‘place’, there is only the Self and no objective universe whatsoever. Nama and Rupa are completely removed, as per the original teaching stated above.

This is where our sadhana should take us!

We should not get off the sadhana train at an earlier stop thinking we have reached the destination!

In Who Am I? Ramana is asked the following:

Question: How long should inquiry be practised?
Sri Ramana: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required

Let us give thanks to Sri Ramana’s teachings that point out the direct path and encourage us not to leave the sadhana early and remain caught and bound in Maya’s clutches!

To learn more about this path please see:

The entire path explained: the Path of Sri Ramana

The Shining of My Lord – Quotes explaining the Essential Spiritual Practice

The following quotes, taken from the publication ‘The Shining of my Lord’ by Sri Muruganar, clearly and concisely explain the direct path to Self-Realisation.

In this context, the words ‘sadhana‘ and ‘tapas‘ both essentially mean spiritual practice.

Swarupa‘ means your own true nature, referring to the Self, the Ultimate Reality that you ARE.

The word ‘pure’ in the phrase ‘pure consciousness’ refers to consciousness devoid of any objects or arising phenomena, a reference again to the Self, your Swarupa.

I recommend you listen to this video in which the following quotes are read aloud for you, as this can often result in the same teachings being heard in a different and more powerful way:

502. The sadhana is to withdraw the mind from the sense objects of the world, which arise through the ignorance of taking the body to be ‘I’, and fix it in the feet of the Lord’s grace, pure consciousness. For those who are fully convinced of the efficacy of this sadhana, and who are able to practise it, there will be no need to abandon it to perform any other great tapas

503. Until everything shines wholly as swarupa, eschew all [perceived phenomena] as your enemies.

508. Those who abide as pure consciousness will experience the truth, the Self that exists as their own intimately close associate, but if the mind is allowed to move about among the senses through the pathways of the five senses, life will become shameful, losing its beauty.

509. If consciousness leaves the heart and manifests outwardly, it will experience perplexity through the false and deceitful sense objects. If it becomes extremely clear and remains firmly settled in consciousness-the-supreme, pure grace, and then merges with it, life will become blissful.

516. The ego deserves to be stigmatised whereas the Self alone deserves to be worshipped and saluted. Save and protect yourself completely from the treacherous maya, whose form is the ego, by the daily practice of abidance in the pure Self in order that the abidance may become firm and habitual.

492. For those who keenly desire as their principal priority a merger with the beauty of grace, the swarupa that abides in the heart as pure consciousness, it is not even slightly acceptable to have any connection with objects enjoyed by the senses, which are concepts of the fake entity, the deluding consciousness.

417. If we perform sadhana to the limit of our abilities, the Lord will accomplish for us that which is beyond our capabilities. If we fail to do even that which is within our capabilities, there is not the slightest fault in the grace of the Lord.

423. Devotion exists in many different forms, varying according to the quality of the devotee’s mind. However, only devotion to grace, the swarupa that shines as pure consciousness, enables one to reach directly the unsurpassed state of the supreme.

Do we need to turn away from the world of objects to realise the Self? | Advaita Vedanta | Sri Ramana Maharshi | Shankara


Also see:

Ramana Maharshi: how to abide as the Self

Shankara: How to Meditate for Self-Realisation

Here is what the Vedanta scriptures, such as the Upanishads and the writings of Sri Shankara and Sri Gaudapada say, together with quotes from Sri Ramana Maharshi:

Dwelling on external objects will only increase evil propensities, so wisely recognising this fact, one should abandon external objects and and constantly attend to one’s true nature within, the Atman [the Self].
~ Shankara, Vivekachudamani

Turiya is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both…It is the cessation of all phenomena…This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). This is Atman and this has to be realised. ~Mandukya Upanishad

When the mind…remains unshakable and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman.
~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika

When the mind, after realizing the knowledge that Atman alone is real, becomes free from imaginations and therefore does not cognize anything, for want of objects to be cognized, it ceases to be the mind.
~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika

The mind severed from all connection with sensual objects, and prevented from functioning out, awakes into the light of the heart, and finds the highest condition. The mind should be prevented from functioning, until it dissolves itself in the heart. This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, the rest is all mere concoction of untruth.
~ Amritabindu Upanishad

The Lord created the senses out-going: therefore, one sees outside and not the Self within. Some intelligent man, with his senses turned away (from their object), desirous of immortality, sees the Self within.
~ Katha Upanishad 2.1.1

In his commentary on this above verse (Katha Upanishad 2.1.1), Shankara writes:

‘…the perceiver sees the external objects which are not-Self/not the Atman, such as sound, etc., and not the Self within. Though this is the nature of the world, some (rare) discerning man, like turning back/ reversing the current of a river, sees the Self within

In his commentary on the next verse of the Katha Upanishad, verse 2.1.2, Shankara writes:

The natural tendency to see external objects, which are not-Self, is the cause of ignorance, the obstacle to the realisation of the Self. The desire of external/outward enjoyments pertaining to this world and the next, which are presented by ignorance, is another obstacle. The realisation of the Self being impeded by these two, ignorance and desire, men with little intelligence pursue only external objects of desire….This being so, the intelligent, knowing the certain immortality of concentration in the inner Self

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]
~Katha Upanishad 2.3.10

Shankara’s commentary on this above verse (Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10) states the following:

‘At the time when the five senses…, together with the mind…, which is now no longer functioning and thinking, are at rest in the Self alone, after turning away from objects, and with the intellect…no longer engaging with its functioning, that they call the highest state.’

That which is not seen, though within us, is called the eternal and indestructible Self.
~ Yoga Vasishta

After knowing that by which you know this world, turn the mind inward, and then you will realise the effulgence of the Self.
~ Yoga Vasishta

As long as the objective universe is perceived one does not realise the Self.
~ Yoga Vasishta

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, Sri Ramana Gita

If, on the contrary, you withdraw your mind completely from the world and turn it within and abide thus, that is, if you keep awake always to the Self, which is the substratum of all experience, you will find the world, of which alone you are now aware, just as unreal as the world in which you lived in your dream.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Maharshi’s Gospel

Q. When will the realization of the Self be gained?
Sri Ramana: When the world which is what-is-seen [ie. objects] has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer.
Q. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
Sri Ramana: There will not be.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition’s and of all actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear…All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

Therefore, when the world appears, the Self does not appear; and when the Self appears the world does not appear.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

When the mind comes out of the Self, the world appears.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense organs, the gross names and forms appear; when it stays in the heart, the names and forms disappear. Not letting the mind go out, but retaining it in the Heart is what is called “inwardness” (antarmukha). Letting the mind go out of the Heart is known as “externalisation” (bahir-mukha). Thus, when the mind stays in the Heart, the ‘I’ which is the source of all thoughts will go, and the Self which ever exists will shine.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom [Jnana] means the appearance of no object.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

Q. How long should inquiry be practised?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the inquiry “Who am I?” is required
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

Also see: Ramana Maharshi: how to abide as the Self, the world is not real, attend to yourself

Sadhanai Saram (the essence of spiritual practice): Devotion and Self-Enquiry | Ramana Maharshi | Advaita Vedanta

The following are the first 21 verses from Sadhanai Saram (The Essence of Spiritual Practice) by Sri Sadhu Om. These initial verses beautifully display both devotion to Bhagavan and the path of Self-Enquiry.

You can download the full text of Sadhanai Saram here as a PDF file


  1. O Sri Ramana, bestow Your Grace upon me so that I may in experience flawlessly attain the unequalled and unsurpassed essence of the practice (sadhana) of Self-knowledge, the excellent path “Who am I?” which you have discovered to be the central and foremost among all the various paths.
  2. O Sri Ramana, the Heart, who through Your Grace protects me at every moment by guiding me along the correct path, rise from within and teach me the true import of Your divine and unequalled teachings so that I may know them in their undefiled pristine purity.

The Greatness of This Birth

  1. Among countless births, one like this birth of ours is very rare to achieve. Ah! When Lord Ramana has assumed a sacred body on earth, we have attained the blessed boon of becoming slave to His Holy Feet.
  2. However many crores of births they may take, it is indeed very difficult for anyone to have the opportunity of gaining such a great benefit as that which is gained in this birth of ours, in which we have come to the Feet of Bhagavan Ramana, who is a rare treasure for the world. So great is the benefit of this birth.

The Wealth of Sri Ramana

  1. The wealth of the almighty Sri Ramana’s enlightenment (Jnana) is a treasure that is ever available to be plundered by all people who want it; and, however much it is plundered, it will never decrease even in the least. However, only good people who are true devotees know how to plunder it; and though other people who are too immature go near that treasure, they cannot see anything there.

The Grace of Sri Ramana

  1. Sri Ramana, the Bestower of Grace, will never give the least dissatisfaction to those who weepingly pray to Him, “Make me Your possession.” I know that our Lord uses countless inexpressible tricks in order to protect and save those who have become His slaves.
  2. What our Lord uses to save us are tricks of Grace. Even by the skill of our intellects, it is impossible for us to know all those tricks. If He wishes, even an ocean will enter and disappear into a mustard seed. Therefore, as soon as the glance of Sri Ramana’s Grace falls upon us, the Supreme Reality will be revealed.
  3. Since He is not bound by time or even by the limitation of place, He will not wait for some suitable time or suitable place to bestow His Grace upon His devotees. He has far greater compassion than even a compassionate mother, who has no plan that she will give her baby milk to drink only when it cries (and hence, even without our crying for it, He will bestow His Grace upon us of His own accord).
  4. O Bhagavan, innumerable are the wrongs (the mistakes and misfortunes) from which I, this poor creature, have escaped by Your Grace unknown to myself. You know all of them, but I do not know anything except enjoying the bliss of being saved by Your Grace.
  5. O Sri Ramana, those who have taken refuge at Your Feet are protected perfectly not only on one or two occasions but on more than a crore of occasions. From many incidents that happen in their life, this is a truth that is clearly known to the hearts of Your devotees.
  6. The state of abiding in the Heart as the Heart as it is (that is, as the adjunctless and thoughtfree existence-consciousness “I am”) is the ineffable and most excellent state. He, who nurtures the fruit of such Self-abidance by sowing the seed of clarity of mind and by watering it with divine Grace, is only our Self-realized or Celestial Preceptor (Sadgurudeva), Sri Ramana.
  7. We and all our possessions, beginning with the body, are in truth only the possessions of Sri Ramana. When the responsibility of saving us and protecting our possessions is borne by Him alone, why should we worry about anything in our life on this earth thinking it to be either pleasure or pain? Where is any such thing as wrong, evil, harm or suffering now?

All That He Does is Happiness for Me

  1. The almighty Sri Ramana, who exists within the heart of everyone, who unfailingly helps me at all times, and who cannot be banished from my mind even for a moment, has brought me close to Him only to take me as His slave. Therefore, whatever He now does with me is only happiness for me; how can anything that He does hereafter appear to me as something undesirable or painful?

Leave it to Him

  1. He knows the best of all,
    Leave it to Him, be calm;
    Believe Him most of all,
    Then rests the mental storm.

Explanatory paraphrase: Our Sadguru (Selfrealized Guru, or guide) Sri Ramana, alone knows what is best for us. Therefore, entrusting all our burdens and cares to Him, we should always remain peaceful and calm. If we believe Him more than we believe anyone or anything else, knowing that He alone is the Supreme all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving reality, then, at that very moment, we will attain that perfect pace in which the raging storm of thoughts will have come to an end, forever.

Grace Alone is of Prime Importance

  1. The ego is only a trivial entity; besides, it is unreal (asat) and powerless (asakta). It is a mere adjunct which rises and subsides. Therefore, what foolishness it is to think, “The spiritual practice (sadhana) done by the strength of this ego will by itself bestow the goal of life; the supreme power of divine Grace is not of any consequence (and is not necessary in order for one to attain the goal)”!

Note: Not believing Grace, but thinking one’s own individual effort alone to be of very great consequence, is mere foolishness.

  1. Is not the unreal help which one unreal man renders to another unreal man, experienced by everyone in this world as real? Therefore, O Sadguru, the embodiment of Grace, the sole reality, is it impossible for You to save me by dispelling the unreal ego? What doubt or wonder is there in Your being able to help me thus?

Note: A man or jiva is merely an unreal appearance, and hence whatever help he may seem to render to another man is also unreal. But when such unreal help rendered by an unreal man is experienced by everyone as real, why should we doubt the ability of the Sadguru, who alone is truly real, to render us the real help of destroying the unreal ego? Such help from the Sadguru will certainly be experienced by us as more real than the help that we feel is rendered to us by others.

  1. Unless our Lord, Sri Ramana, who is the form of God, Himself bestows His divine Grace, who can by his own effort attain that heroic state of firmly abiding as Self, having clearly known one consciousness other than the body to be the real “I”?

What is Worthy to be Desired?

  1. The great wealth that exists in enlightened sages (Jnanis) is only the subtle secret of how to be still, abiding in perfect peace as the mere thoughtfree existence-consciousness “I am.” Therefore, how wretched it will be if one greedily desires to attain from them mere worldly pleasures, such as gold, wealth or fame, which will only make one suffer in delusion.

Sense-Pleasures are Worthless

  1. Instead of eating the fruit that is in your hand, why do you desire to eat the unreal fruit which is seen in a mirror and which is merely a reflection of the fruit in your hand? Is the reflected fruit an object which can be eaten and give real enjoyment? Similarly, instead of drowning deep within the heart by keenly attending to Self and thereby enjoying the bliss of Self which is ever shining there, why do you desire to enjoy the pleasures experienced through the five senses of this perishable body, which are merely an unreal reflection of the true happiness within you?

Endeavor and Result

  1. For those who seek (and make effort to attain) Self, not only Self but also all other benefits will automatically be attained in full. But if one desires and makes effort to attain worldly objects (either through worldly endeavors or through spiritual practices), know that they will be attained only partially and to the extent of one’s endeavor, and that Self will not be attained at all.

The Goal

  1. If we deeply ponder over the natural yearning of all living beings to remove their miseries (through some means or other), it will be decidedly known that the sole aim for which the whole world is striving is only to remain always in perfectly imperishable bliss.

Rupert Spira’s ‘Direct Path’ vs Traditional Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana Maharshi

In this post I would like to point out some differences between the so-called ‘Direct Path’ teachings of Rupert Spira on one hand, and the traditional Advaita Vedanta Teachings and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi on the other. Whilst these teachings may all seem on the surface to be pointing to the same thing, and they may seem quite similar in many ways, they actually are quite different in many important aspects and do not lead to the same end in my view. ie. they do not both lead to liberation.

I would like to note that the purpose of this article is not to criticise anyone, but simply to point out differences that are present in the teachings and my view on these difference and the consequences thereof. I hope that this will provide benefit for those who are genuinely seeking liberation that is free from suffering.

I would also like to say that I am not some Advaita Vedanta fanatic either – I am simply interested in what actually works. I understand that everyone has their own unique journey, and their own relationship with teachers and teachings. I also acknowledge that many varied teachings and practices can be of help and assistance to us on our spiritual journey (please explore this blog for examples of this). However it is also useful to acknowledge that not all teachings are equally helpful and not all teachings point directly at liberation. Some can even steer us away, apparently at least.

Personally, I have found the traditional teachings of Advaita Vedanta, and especially Sri Ramana’s exposition of them, to give us everything we need on the path to genuine Liberation.



Also see:

Recommended Reading: books for enlightenment, liberation and self-realisation

How to end suffering and why other ways tend not to work

Sravana, manana, niddidhyasana, self-abidance (samadhi)

Personally I find that Rupert Spira’s teachings may be useful for aspects of sravana (listening) and manana (contemplation/ thinking/ reflecting upon the teaching) phases of traditional Advaita in which the teachings are given and contemplated upon and realisation remains predominantly on the level of the mind. However in my view they do not really engage fruitfully or deeply enough with the main part of the teachings of Sri Ramana and Advaita Vedanta, which is Nididhyasana (meditation), or turning away from objects in order to abide as the self and thereby attain liberation.

Traditional Vedanta and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi teach that the purpose of Sravana and Manana are to convince the seeker to engage in the main practice of Nididhyasana, and this in turn leads to self-abidance (Samadhi) and it is this which results in liberation.

Shankara makes this clear in verses 364 and 365 of Vivekachudamani:

364. Reflection (Manana) should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing (Sravana), and meditation (Nididhyasana) a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection (Manana), but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.

365. By the Nirvikalpa Samadhi the truth of Brahman is clearly and definitely realised, but not otherwise, for then the mind, being unstable by nature, is apt to be mixed up with other perceptions.

For more verses like this, see here.

Otherwise, without abiding as the Self, the teachings remain on the level of the mind, infinite nature of the Self is not revealed, and the ‘Ananda’ or blissful aspect of the self is not realised, meaning that suffering and the sense of duality and ego are not actually removed and ignorance continues. More on this below.

Integration of teachings after realisation

In Advaita Vedanta teachings and with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, both are clear that once the Self or Pure Consciousness is fully realised through the process of turning away from objects and abiding as Self – what Rupert Spira terms the ‘inward-going’ path – ignorance is totally and completely gone, and that is the final end of duality, suffering and the spiritual path. There is no need to integrate this thereafter according to Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana, as this would simply be more ego-ignorance and would mean that the Self was not truly realised – ie. it would mean that duality was not really eradicated and the ego and the consequent suffering were still present, and that self-realisation had not really occurred. Once the Self is realised, the (apparent) ego-entity is no more, so there is no entity present that could ‘face outwards’ or re-integrate.

However Rupert Spira states what he calls the ‘inward path’ of Advaita Vedanta is only one half of the journey, and that we then have to ‘turn outwards’ and engage in what he calls some kind of ‘outward facing’ path to re-integrate this knowledge – see the quotes section below for an example of Rupert Spira saying this. This is a commonly held view among many contemporary teachers, but this view is seldom found in traditional teachings paths, and for good reason, so I hope it is useful to highlight the differences in the teachings for the seekers who are trying to wade through what’s on offer.

What about going back into the world after realisation?

According to Advaita Vedanta, after Self-realisation, the appearance of ‘going into the market place/world’ thereafter may or may not happen – that depends on your karma – but it is spontaneous, not a practice and beyond your choosing. It is also irrelevant from the point of view of Realisation.

If the going back into the market place/world does happen, automatically all will be seen as One, because the Self has truly been realised, meaning no ignorance/duality is left. There is no need to re-integrate. This is why the Advaita Vedanta texts emphasise self-enquiry/going within only, knowing that once that is done, that is all that needs to be done.

See here for the types of liberated sage/liberation according to Advaita Vedanta.

What about removing the vestiges of ignorance after Realisation?

Some people say that in order to root out the last remaining vestiges of ignorance, after Realisation once must turn out towards the world and re-integrate.

According to Advaita Vedanta, this simply means that ignorance is still present and so Realisation has not truly been attained. The remedy is to pursue Self-Enquiry, the ‘inward-facing’ path until ignorance has truly been rooted out, and not to cease the primary practice and ‘turn outwards towards objects’ (See the quotes section below for examples of this teaching from both Sri Ramana and Traditional Advaita Vedanta).

Once Ignorance has truly been rooted out, the Self is genuinely realised, and all is spontaneously seen as One without the need for further practice or integration or any ‘outward-facing path’.

A summary of the respective teachings

A summary of Rupert Spira’s teachings could go something like this: You are Consciousness; in essence you are not the body, mind or world but that Consciousness which is aware of them; however the body-mind and world are also simply made or fabricated from that very Consciousness that you are. That’s the entire teaching basically. Note that these are essentially the teachings that are found in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Ramana Maharshi’s Nan Yar (Who am I?), whereas the rest of Nan Yar? describes the main part of the actual teaching.

Rupert Spira teaches that meditation is a useful part of the path to calm the mind and to recognise the Consciousness that you are, but that meditation itself does not lead to realisation and this recognition of your true self as consciousness is only the first part of a much longer journey.

Traditional Advaita Vedanta and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, as found in these texts, also states you are Consciousness and that all objects are also Consciousness, but then go further. They state that in order to realise:

(1) your essential nature is consciousness

(2) the nature of consciousness, which now, through ignorance, appears to be limited, is actually infinite and limitless

(3) the entire phenomenal world, including the body and mind, is an illusion

(4) the blissful nature (Ananda aspect) of the Self, ie. in order to remove suffering

(5) and in order to remove all sense of duality and separation

…in order to genuinely realise the above for oneself one must turn away from the world and abide as the Self. Once the Self has been realised, there is no entity left that could then progress on another phase of the journey such as re-integrating with the objective world. Self-Realisation is total extinguishment (ie. nirvana) of the ego and duality.

In the traditional Advaita Vedanta text, Vivekachudamani, we find that the first part of the text describes what is in essence a form of Rupert Spira’s teaching, but with a few notable and important differences, such as the Self is more often than not emphasised as being the Subject rather that both subject and object. This is because the bulk of the text is focussed on Nididhyasana (Meditation) as this is the actual means to Liberation. Thinking of the Self as being purely the Subject aids this mediation process which aims to turn one’s attention away from objects and towards the Subject and thus realise its infinite and blissful nature. Without this practice duality and suffering continue.

Quotes – Traditional Advaita Vedanta

Eg. see these quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, a very important text from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, that sternly illustrates this point. (Note that there are probably some better quotes than these from the Advaita scriptures – please let me know if you know any – I have just quickly put these together):

413. After the body has once been cast off to a distance like a corpse, the sage never more attaches himself to it, though it is visible as an appearance, like the shadow of a man, owing to the experience of the effects of past deeds.

414. Realising the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss, throw far away this limitation of a body, which is inert and filthy by nature. Then remember it no more, for something that has been vomited excites but disgust when called in memory.

415. Burning all this, with its very root, in the fire of Brahman, the Eternal and Absolute Self, the truly wise man thereafter remains alone, as the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss.

416. The knower of Truth does no more care whether this body, spun out by the threads of Prarabdha work, falls or remains – like the garland on a cow – for his mind-functions are at rest in the Brahman, the Essence of Bliss.

417. Realising the Atman, the Infinite Bliss, as his very Self, with what object, or for whom, should the knower of Truth cherish the body.

485. I neither see nor hear nor know anything in this. I simply exist as the Self, the eternal Bliss, distinct from everything else.

522. From the perception of unreal things there is neither satisfaction nor a cessation of misery. Therefore, being satisfied with the realisation of the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, live happily in a state of identity with that Reality.

523. Beholding the Self alone in all circumstances, thinking of the Self, the One without a second, and enjoying the Bliss of the Self, pass thy time, O noble soul!

524. Dualistic conceptions in the Atman, the Infinite Knowledge, the Absolute, are like imagining castles in the air. Therefore, always identifying thyself with the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thereby attaining Supreme Peace, remain quiet.

547. Similarly, ignorant people look upon the perfect knower of Brahman, who is wholly rid of bondages of the body etc, as possessed of the body, seeing but an appearance of it.

548. In reality, however, he rests discarding the body, like the snake its slough; and the body is moved hither and thither by the force of the Prana, just as it listeth.

Quotes – Sri Ramana Maharshi

Sri Ramana Maharshi also states many times that all one needs to do is turn inwards, and that no outward going path is thereafter required. The following are Ramana’s teachings as recorded in Guru Vachaka Kovai, a text which is widely regarded as the most authoritative collection of Sri Ramana’s verbal teachings:

630. Having felt the sun’s fierce heat
The wise one tarries in the shade,
And those who know the triple fire
Raging in the world will never
Leave the Heart and turn again
Towards the world

949. Those who with ego dead have gained
Being, transcending bliss, have nothing
Further to attain, no effort
To be made, no deed to do,

For life’s fulfilment they have reached.

950. When one abides in one’s true state
As effortless Eternal Goodness
One has no further work to do.
All deeds accomplished, such a one
Enjoys the perfect peace of bliss.

1179. Diving within enquiring “Who
Am I? Who sees between the creeds
Some differences?” the Self alone
Abides and the poor ‘I’ fades out.
In that still silence can there be
A sense of difference?

1180. In that great Silence there is no
Sense of difference. But is there then
A feeling of non-difference? No.

The non-duality extolled
By Seer’s is nothing but the absence
Of all sense of difference.

1223. Firm, steady abidance in
The peace serene gained by the quest
For Self, the Awareness, the sole ground
Supporting all appearances,
And consequent relinquishment
Of all objects as unreal,
This alone is mukti.

1224. Unless there is a final end
Of so called “knowledge” of things out there
One cannot gain release from bondage
To the sense-created world.
This “knowledge” being destroyed by firm
Abidance in the Self
, then what
Remains is mukti, bliss supreme

1237. While brightly shining in the hearts
Of sages who have left behind
All treacherous triads and now abide
As That alone, advaita’s grandeur
Cannot be by the mind perceived,
Like this false, trivial, dualistic,
Thought-created world.

1238. Siva, who is Pure Awareness
Transcending thought, is only known
To seers heroic who with minds
Extinct abide thought-free within
The heart, and not to those whose minds
Are still engaged in thought.

Also Bhagavan Sri Ramana’s teachings are recorded in Sri Ramanaparavidyopanishad:

411. Whoever obtains awareness of the real Self, for him this worldly life comes to an end. The others continue to wander here as before, remaining without awareness of the real Self.

554. These men do not know the truth of the transcendental state beyond time, in which the world has not come into being. Non-duality has neither beginning nor end. Duality, with space and time, is unreal, always.

569. In that state doubts do not arise since the sage is ever firm in his awareness of the true Self. There he remains without affirmations and vacillations, immersed in the depths of peace, the mind having become extinct.

585. By the dawn of right awareness of the real Self, the ego, the root cause of the appearance of forms, has been lost. Therefore for the sage, all forms are unreal, and hence this talk of forms is foolishness.

596 Our Guru, Sri Ramana, tells us that the real siddhi [special power][to be striven for] is to be firmly established in the natural state of the real Self, which is ever-present in the Heart; nothing else.

613. The true meditation on the supreme reality [the Self] is only to remain as the Self in the thought-free state. This ‘meditation’ can neither be given up, nor taken up by the sage.

663. The sage never comes back to samsara. Samadhi is his natural state. There is no moment when he is without samadhi. Hence it is called sahaja [natural].

664. The sage, remaining uninterruptedly in his natural state of samadhi, never swerving from it as a jivan mukta, is able to be active in the world, just as the sages of old such as Sri Sankaracharya did.

In ‘Who Am I?’ Ramana states:

As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required.

Sri Ramana more fully explains his position here (please see the post for the full context) when he states:

In reality, saying ‘We must see Brahman in everything and everywhere’ is also not quite correct. Only that stage is final, where there is no seeing, where there is no time or space. There will be no seer, seeing and an object to see. What exists then is only the infinite eye.”

Quotes – Rupert Spira

Contrast the tone and content of the above verses with Rupert Spira who states that once Self or Pure Consciousness is realised, that is only one half of the journey, and we then have to turn outwards again and ‘re-integrate this understanding with our objective experience’. This re-integration, according to Advaita Vedanta, is simply more ignorance, more suffering, more duality, and means that the genuine realisation of Self has not really occurred at all. Here is what Rupert Spira writes in his book ‘Being Aware of Being Aware’ on pages 9-11:

The inward-facing path, or Direct Path, in which the mind turns its attention away from objective experience towards its own essence or reality, is, in my experience, best elaborated in the Vedantic tradition, which details with great precision both the philosophy and the practice of this investigation. In this way the Vedantic tradition provides direct means for accessing the essential, irreducible nature of one’s mind and the source of lasting peace and happiness…

However, it is important to recognise that the inward-facing path explored in this book is only half the journey. Once the essential, irreducible nature of the mind has been recognised, and its inherent peace and unconditional joy accessed, it is necessary to face ‘outwards’ again towards objective experience, realigning the way we think and feel, and subsequently act, perceive and relate, with our new understanding.

The culmination of the inward-facing path is the recognition of the presence, the primacy and the nature of awareness – or, in religious language, spirit or God’s infinite being – the intuition of happiness which transcends all knowledge and experience. However, it is not yet the full experiential understanding in which awareness itself, or God’s infinite being, is known and felt to pervade and saturate all knowledge and experience, and indeed to be its sole substance and reality. It is to recognise the transcendent nature of awareness but not its immanence.

If we do not reintegrate this understanding with our objective experience, then a fragile alliance will persist between our essential, irreducible nature of pure awareness and all objects and others. This often manifests as a denial or rejection of embodied life in the world and may readily become a refuge for any lingering sense of a separate self. The process by which this reintegration or establishment takes place, although implicit in the inward-facing or Vedantic tradition, is, in my opinion, best elaborated in the Tantric tradition, and is an exploration that lies beyond the scope of this book

Can you perhaps see how the ego and duality/separation is retained in this latter exposition of Rupert Spira’s? When there is no ego, what entity is left to re-integrate?

Prior to the quote I included a link to the full text from which the quote is taken so you can see the full context. The fact that Rupert Spira writes that the ‘outward facing’ aspect of the teaching is ‘beyond the scope of this book’ also implies, to me at least, that this aspect of the path cannot easily be dealt with in a few paragraphs.

Does this even matter?

Well for many this doesn’t really matter! If you are drawn to the ‘Direct Path’ or similar teachings, the chances are that these teachings will benefit you. They are not bad teachings, per se. I just do not find them to be ultimately liberating. But that doesn’t mean they are not good or beneficial. There are many teachings that are worse and some I may even recommend you avoid, but Rupert Spira’s ‘Direct Path’ is not one of these.

However the problem with stating that ‘turning inwards’ is only one part of the journey is that seekers ‘turn back’ towards the objective world too soon, without really having realised the Self, but only having a relatively superficial knowledge of ‘sat-chit’ (Being-Knowing or Being-Consciousness) without having realised the limitless Ananda that is true Moksha.

The true teaching urges you to carry on turning inwards until the Self is fully realised. Once this has occurred, there is no longer any duality, and no-entity remains which could ‘turn outwards’ again and reintegrate with the objective world.

As Sri Ramana writes in ‘Who Am I?’:

Q. How long should Inquiry [ie. turning inwards] be practised?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required.

A teaching that teaches that ‘turning within’ is only half the path is likely a teaching that doesn’t encourage one to go within far enough to genuinely realise the Self.

Please note that I am not some fundamentalist Advaita-pushing, scripture pushing-pandit here – I am merely interested in which teachings actually work, and I have found the teachings of Sri Ramana to be fully liberating, and these teachings are in line with the Advaita Vedanta scriptures from what I can see.

What about Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism?

What does this mean about the Tantric path? Well, if by tantra you mean Pratyabhijna (recognition) or the system of Kashmir Shaivism, which is what Rupert Spira is referring to when he says tantra, when you read the Pratyabhijna scriptures you find that the method is essentially the same – ie. one must turn within until the Self is realised. That is all! No need to re-integrate back into the world or turn outwards again.

The only difference is the philosophical or conceptual framework from which this is done. In essence it is the same path. Again, what is written in the scriptures is not always the same as what is taught by the teachers. I explain more about this here, and you will also find Sri Ramana’s view on Kashmir Shaivism in that same post.

How to know your essential nature is consciousness?

There is another issue with teachings, such as Rupert Spira’s ‘direct path’, and forms of Advaita Vedanta that do not emphasise nididhyasana/ meditation and samadhi or what Sri Ramana Maharshi calls Self-Enquiry (Atma Vichara): they do not give a genuine methodology with which one can discover one’s true nature to be Consciousness.

They only posit that ‘You are Consciousness’ and give philosophical reasons why this must be so, together with a rather superficial exploration of one’s own experience. Add in some dodgy logic and, hey presto, suddenly we are to believe that not only is our true nature consciousness, but the entire world is also the nature of consciousness.

However, it should be fairly obvious that it is impossible to either prove or disprove on philosophical grounds alone that your nature is consciousness, or that the ground/nature of the entire universe is consciousness.

Similarly, it is also impossible to know your own fundamental nature to be consciousness by a simple exploration of your own experience. Whilst it may seem that, experientially, all arises in consciousness, that doesn’t mean that everything actually does arise in consciousness. One thing that both daily experience and science teaches us is that things are not always as they appear. To use a rather simplistic example, just because it appears that there are lots of little people inside a TV screen, that doesn’t mean that there actually are lots of little people inside the TV screen. Or just because it appears that the moon changes shape over a twenty-eight day cycle, it doesn’t mean that the moon is actually changing shape on a daily basis in this way. There are countless more examples like this.

Similarly, just because it appears from our subjective viewpoint that everything appears in our consciousness, and that consciousness is all there is, and that the only constant in our experience is consciousness or ‘I AM’, that doesn’t mean that is how the universe is actually structured.

So, how to know your true nature? Traditional Advaita Vedanta as recorded in scriptures such as Shankara’s Vivekachudamani and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi give us an actual method that we can follow, and by which we can discover our True Nature for ourselves. Namely, through turning within and attending to the Subject-Self, we can discover for ourself the Truth, the One Reality. We discover this by losing ourselves and becoming only That which we always were.

Note, as we have mentioned above, whilst Rupert Spira and others with similar teachings do often advocate meditation and turning inwards, it is not emphasised as the main practice whereby realisation is fully gained. Compare this with the teachings of the Upanishads, for example. We have already noted that Rupert Spira cites turning inwards as being a part of a larger schema after which one has to again turn outwards and reintegrate with the objective world. This implies, to me at least, that the extent to which turning inwards is advocated is insufficient to gain a true realisation of Self, as once the Self is truly realised – full stop. It’s all done. Nothing else needed. And no entity present that could turn back towards objects and ‘reintegrate’.

Without going through this turning within type process and continuing and persevering with it until ignorance is rooted out, true realisation does not occur, and so the teachings reside predominantly on the level of the mind/concepts/beliefs, and suffering continues.

Without Abiding as Self and discovering for oneself, Advaita becomes just a bunch of conceptual beliefs such as ‘I am consciousness’ – and ignorance, duality and suffering are not truly destroyed. We have not actually realised the infinite blissful nature of Our Self. We must go beyond the mind and gain the True Experience for ourself of Pure Being in which there is no duality, no ‘me’. Then the Self is revealed as All and One and the ego-I that was seeking is no more.

In verse 356 of Vivekachudamani, Shankara writes:

356. Those alone are free from the bondage of transmigration who, attaining Samadhi, have merged the objective world, the sense-organs, the mind, nay, the very ego, in the Atman, the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.

With this discovery of our True Self comes the immediate ending of suffering and duality, but this discovery does not occur if we remain purely on the conceptual level with the ego-mind-duality-ignorance-suffering remaining intact.

It is only through Nididhyasana/meditation, that the Ananda aspect of Sat-Chit-Ananda is revealed, as opposed to the emphasis on Sat and Chit aspects only, both of which self-evident without the need for meditation – ie. we already know we exist, sat, and that we are conscious, chit, without any great spiritual practice, but the Ananda or blissful and infinite aspect of Atman-Self can only be genuinely discovered through attending to the Subject-Self. This is also the culmination of the paths of Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion) and the other Yogas too.

Understanding this we also start to understand why traditional scriptures are often worded differently and structured differently to these other contemporary teachings that ultimately teach something different. They are structured this way in order to effectively and efficiently guide us to the Truth that already IS, the Truth that we already ARE.

For supporting quotes relating to this from Advaita Vedanta see the section called ‘The need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi’ in this article: Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi and Liberation.

There is also an entire chapter from the traditional Advaita Vedanta text ‘Advaita Bodha Deepika’ that speaks to this point, see here: Advaita Bodha Deepika – Vital Teachings for Self-Realisation

For supporting quotes from Sri Ramana Maharshi, see the section entitled ‘The only true practice/teaching’ in this article: Ramana Maharshi: how to abide as the Self

Ramana also summarises the entire path in this post: Ramana summarises the entire spiritual path


Of course, what you do with the above information is up to you. Have a look and see what teachings are right for you at this time in your journey. Just because teachings are not ultimately liberating, does not mean that you will not benefit from them – they may be right for you at a certain point in time – everything has its place, as it were. So I am not recommending you do not engage with the so-called ‘Direct Path’ teachings of Rupert Spira and similar teachings – if these teachings are something you are drawn to, then by all means explore them – the teachings probably have some role to play for you if you are drawn to them.

However if you ask me, as always, I recommend you follow the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi – my view is that we are so very lucky to have them – in my view they are a complete teaching that give us everything we need for liberation. Other teachings may seem similar to Sri Ramana’s, but as we explore further and dive deeper into the teachings, we find subtle differences, and these differences can make all the difference!

So if you are able to and are so inclined, I encourage you to take Ramana as your Guru and follow his teachings.

!Sri Ramana’s teachings show us the true Advaita Vedanta!

!Sri Ramana’s teachings are the true ‘Direct Path’!

!Sri Ramana’s teachings guide us unfailingly to Liberation!

!!Om Namo Bhagavate

Sri Ramanaya Om!!

Self-Enquiry is not Neti-Neti | Atma Vichara | Ramana Maharshi

Neti-Neti (‘not this, not that’) is a traditional teaching that teaches us to negate all phenomenal objects as being not-self (anatman). This is also known as the via negativa (negative way) as it points to what we are NOT. The basic idea is that through negating or discarding what we are not, what we are, that which is Nameless and beyond concepts, is revealed.

This is in contrast to the via positiva (positive way), which points out what WE ARE and directs us to recognised THAT and abide as THAT.

Whilst many teachings contain both via negative and positiva, you will see that in Advaita Vedanta and the teachings of great sages like Sri Ramana Maharshi, the via positiva is often emphasised but the via negativa is also explained. In other teachings, such as in many Buddhist texts, the via negative is often emphasised, but the via positiva teachings are also present.

Why is this? I’ve noticed that the via-negativa teachings are more attractive to those with a more intellectual inclination – and that is because negation is an activity of the intellect or mind. It by itself can only take you so far. However it is the via positiva (only if done correctly) that leads one to transcend the mind. Let us see Bhagavan Ramana explain this:

Cease all talk of ‘I’ and search with inward diving mind whence the thought of ‘I’ springs up. This is the way of wisdom. To think, instead, ‘I am not this, but That I am,’ is helpful in the search, but it is not the search itself.

Sri Ramana Maharshi, Ulladu Narpadu (Forty Verses on Reality), Verse 29

When the Vedas have declared, ‘Thou art That’ – not to seek and find the nature of the Self and abide in It, but to think ‘I am That, not This’ is want of strength. Because, That abides forever as the Self.

Sri Ramana Maharshi, Ulladu Narpadu (Forty Verses on Reality), Verse 32

The above verses are more fully explained in the text The Path of Sri Ramana in Chapter 7. Here is an excerpt from page 126:

That is why it is impossible for the mind to negate anything by thinking ‘I am not this, I am not this’ (neti, neti).- On the other hand, if our (Self’s) attention is directed only towards ourself, our knowledge of our existence alone is nourished, and since the mind is not attended to, it is deprived of its strength…

Here on the next page, page 127, it states:

‘If we are told, ‘Abandon the east’, the practical way of doing so would be to do as if told, ‘Go to the west’! In the same manner, when we are told, ‘Discard the five sheaths, which are not Self’, the practical way of discarding the non-Self is to focus our attention on ourself. ‘What is this I?’ or ‘Who am I?’. ‘

Thinking ‘I am not this, not this’ (neti, neti) is a negative method. Knowing that this negative method is just as impractical as saying, ‘Drink the medicine without thinking of a monkey’. Sri Bhagavan has now shown us the practical way of drinking the medicine without thinking of a monkey, by giving us the clue, ‘Drink the medicine while thinking of an elephant’, that is, He has reformed the ancient negative method by giving us the positive method ‘Who am I?’…

Thus Bhagavan Ramana has declared categorically
that Self-attention alone is the correct technique of eliminating the five sheaths!

Now let us see Sri Ramana explain this to two seekers who have both read the traditional texts and have been practicing neti-neti but who have not been able to progress in their sadhana. This following is taken from the book Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 197:

Gul and Shirin Byramjee, two Parsi ladies of Ahmedabad, arrived this day. They spoke at night to Maharshi: “Bhagavan! We have been spiritually inclined from our childhood. We have read several books on philosophy, and are attracted by Vedanta. So we read the Upanishads, Yoga Vasishtha, Bhagavad Gita, etc. We try to meditate, but there is no progress in our meditation. We do not understand how to realise. Can you kindly help us towards realisation?”

Ramana Maharshi: How do you meditate?

Questioner: I begin to ask myself “Who am I?”, eliminate body as not ‘I’, the breath as not ‘I’, the mind as not ‘I’ and I am not able to proceed further.

Ramana Maharshi: Well, that is so far as the intellect goes. Your process is only intellectual. Indeed, all the scriptures mention the process only to guide the seeker to know the Truth. The Truth cannot be directly pointed out. Hence this intellectual process. You see, the one who eliminates all the ‘not I’ cannot eliminate the ‘I’. To say ‘I am not this’ or ‘I am that’ there must be the ‘I’. This ‘I’ is only the ego or the ‘I-thought’. After the rising up of this ‘I-thought’, all other thoughts arise. The ‘I-thought’ is therefore the root-thought. If the root is pulled out all others are at the same time uprooted. Therefore seek the root ‘I’, question yourself “Who am I?”; find out its source. Then all these will vanish and the pure Self will remain ever.

Questioner: How to do it?

Ramana Maharshi: The ‘I’ is always there – in deep sleep, in dream and in wakefulness. The one in sleep is the same as that who now speaks. There is always the feeling of ‘I’. Otherwise do you deny your existence? You do not. You say ‘I am’. Find out who is.

Questioner: Even so, I do not understand. ‘I’, you say, is the wrong ‘I’ now. How to eliminate this wrong ‘I’?

Ramana Maharshi: You need not eliminate the wrong ‘I’. How can ‘I’ eliminate itself? All that you need do is to find out its origin and abide there. Your efforts can extend only thus far. Then the Beyond will take care of itself. You are helpless there. No effort can reach it.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 197

The Most Direct Means To Eternal Bliss by Michael Langford

This is a wonderful book that clearly shows the way to liberation and also nicely points out some of the many ways the ego tries to preserve itself. Its tone may not be for everyone, but it is well worth the time to read and put into practice.

The author has made this text freely available online but I encourage you to buy the latest edition of the book yourself in paperback to support the author of this text.

Click on the link below to download the book in PDF format.

The Most Direct Means To Eternal Bliss PDF

There are several other books from the same author, all of which are also worth exploring, including the following titles:

-The Seven Steps To Awakening

-The Importance of Practice and Effort