What are Dhyana and Samadhi (Zen/Chan Master Hui Neng, Platform Sutra) | Ramana Maharshi

The following is excerpted from The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as the Platform Sutra), Chapter 5 entitled ‘On Dhyana’. My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

Learned Audience, what are Dhyana and Samadhi? Dhyana means to be free from attachment to all outer objects, and Samadhi means to attain inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects, our inner mind will be perturbed.

Tom: we can see Hui Neng has succinctly defined both Dhyana and Samadhi. In the next line he is essentially saying that these two are one and the same, in that when there is no attachment (ie. Dhyana), there will also be peace (ie. Samadhi):

When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be in peace.

Tom: See if you can see the parallel with Sri Ramana Maharshi stating in ‘Who Am I?’:

‘Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one’s hold on the Self constitutes jnana (knowledge). But really vairagya and jnana are one and the same.’

Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in.

He who is able to keep his mind unperturbed, irrespective of circumstances, has attained Samadhi.

Tom: Sri Ramana Maharshi states in ‘Who Am I?’: ‘If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?’

In the above two lines Hui Neng hints that your True Nature, or what Hui Neng refers to as Essence of Mind, is already ‘unperturbed’, and essentially is always undisturbed and ‘pure’. Realisation of this naturally leads to Freedom:

To be free from attachment to all outer objects is Dhyana, and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to deal with Dhyana and to keep our inner mind in Samadhi, then we are said to have attained Dhyana and Samadhi. The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure.” Learned Audience, let us realize this for ourselves at all times. Let us train ourselves, practice it by ourselves, and attain Buddhahood by our own effort.

Realisation of Essence of Mind through ‘thoughtlessness'(Zen (Chan) Master Hui Neng) | Ramana Maharshi

The following is taken from The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as the Platform Sutra), Chapter 2 entitled ‘On Prajna’. My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

The wisdom of Buddhas, past, present and future, as well as the teachings of the twelve sections of the canon are immanent in the mind, but in case we fail to enlighten ourselves, we have to seek the guidance of the pious and learned.

Tom: the essential teaching is within ourselves or ‘immanent in the mind’. Only if we do not enlighten ourselves with our own inner wisdom do we need the external teacher (‘the pious and the learned’)

On the other hand those who enlighten themselves need no extraneous help. It is wrong to insist upon the idea that we cannot obtain liberation without the assistance of the pious and learned. It is by our innate wisdom that we enlighten ourselves, and even the extraneous help and instruction of a pious and learned friend would be of no use so long as one is deluded by false doctrines and erroneous views.

Tom: ie. it is possible for illumination to occur without an outer teacher as the true wisdom of enlightenment is our very nature. How can this be done? All we have to do is realise our true nature, what Hui Neng here calls ‘Essence of Mind’, and we will certainly and immediately be Buddhas, let us see:

As we introspect our minds with Prajñā, all erroneous views will disappear of themselves, and just as soon as we realise Essence of Mind we will immediately arrive at the Buddha stage.

Tom: Hui Neng states that if we look within at our true nature or ‘minds’ with Prajna, all erroneous views or ignorance will disappear spontaneously, and this is realisation of Essence of Mind or True Nature, and this is also the same a Buddhahood or enlightenment. So, how ‘introspect with prajna’? Hui Neng will explain. Prajna means wisdom or insight:

When we use Prajñā for introspection we are illuminated within and without and are in position to know our own nature. To realise our own nature is to obtain fundamental liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain the Samadhi of Prajñā, which is ‘thoughtlessness’.

Tom: Hui Neng explains that realsing our true nature is liberation. This is also known as ‘thoughtlessness’. What is this ‘thoughtlessness’? Let us see:

What is ‘thoughtlessness? ‘Thoughtlessness’ is to see and to realise all dharmas (things) with a mind free from attachment. In action Prajñā is everywhere present yet it “sticks” nowhere. What we have to do is to so purify the mind that the six vijnanas (aspects of consciousness sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mentation) in passing through their six sense-gates will neither be defiled by nor attached to their six sense-objects. When our mind works freely without any hindrance and is at liberty “to come” or “to go, “then we have attained the intuitive insight of Prajñā, which is emancipation. To enable one to attain such a mental state of freedom is the function of intuitive insight.

Tom: In summary Hui Neng is stating that when the find functions free from attachment to both gross and subtle objects, that is liberation. This non-attachment is also known as ‘thoughtlessness’. We can see this is in keeping with the Buddha’s more classical teachings which essentially state the same. We can also see this is in keeping with the Vedanta teachings in which lack of identification with and attachment to the body, mind and world is the same as Self-Realisation.

Sri Ramana Maharshi states the following in Maharshi’s Gospel, Chapter 3 entitled ‘Mind Control‘:

Questioner: Does Bhagavan condemn dvaita Philosophy?

Sri Ramana Maharshi :Dvaita can subsist only when you identify the Self with the not-Self. Advaita is non-identification.

Now Hui Neng will tell us what not to do:

To refrain from thinking of anything, in the sense that all mental activity is suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden; this is an extremely erroneous view. (Discriminative thought which leads to desire and attachment, or to aversion and defilement, is to be controlled in the interests of intuitive thought which leads to self-realisation and freedom.)

Those who understand the way of ‘thoughtlessness’ will know everything; they will have the experience that all the Buddhas have had, and they will attain Buddhahood.


Tom: later on in the same chapter Hui Neng quotes a long verse that he composed himself for the benefit of those listening to him – here are a couple of excerpts I have chosen to quote here:

To illumine our gloomy tabernacle, which is stained by defilement,

We should constantly set up the Light of Wisdom.


Erroneous views keep us in defilement

While right views remove us from it,

But when we are in a position to discard both of them

We are then absolutely pure.

… and….

Right views are called ‘transcendental’;

Erroneous views are called ‘worldly’.

When all views, right or erroneous, are discarded

Then the essence of Bodhi appears.

This stanza is for the ‘Sudden’ School.

Can drugs and psychedelic substances lead to non-dual realisation or enlightenment? (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

Question: A well-known author has written a great deal about the use of certain drugs which enable man to arrive at some visionary experience of union with the divine ground. Are those experiences helpful in finding that state of which you speak?

Jiddu Krishnamurti: You can learn tricks, or take drugs, or get drunk, and you will have intense experiences of one kind or another, depressing or exciting. Obviously the physiological condition does affect the psychological state of the mind; but drugs and practices of various kinds do not in any way bring about that state of which we are talking. All such things lead only to a variety, intensity and diversity of experience – which we all want and hunger after, because we are fed up with this world. We have had two world wars, with appalling misery and everlasting strife on every side; and our own minds are so petty, personal, limited. We want to escape from all this, either through psychology, philosophy, so-called religion, or through some exercise or drug – they are all on the same level.

The mind is seeking a sensation; you want to experience what you call reality, or God, something immense, great, vital. You want to have visions; and if you take some kind of drug, or are sufficiently conditioned in a certain religion, you will have visions. The man who is everlastingly thinking about Christ, or Buddha, or what not, will sooner or later have experiences, visions; but that is not truth, it has nothing whatever to do with reality. Those are all self-projections; they are the result of your demand for experience. Your own conditioning is projecting what you want to see.

To find out what is real, the mind must cease to demand any experience. So long as you are craving experience, you will have it, but it will not be real – real in the sense of the timeless, the immeasurable; it will not have the perfume of reality. It will all be an illusion, the product of a mind that is frustrated, that is seeking a thrill, an emotion, a feeling of vitality. That is why you follow leaders. They are always promising something new, a Utopia, always sacrificing the present for the future; and you foolishly follow them, because it is exciting. You have had that experience in this country, and you ought to know better than anyone else the miseries, the brutality of it all. Most of us demand the same kind of experience, the same kind of sensation, only at another level. That is why we take various drugs, or perform ceremonies, or practise some exercise that acts as a stimulant. These things all have significance in the sense that their use indicates that one is still craving experience; therefore the mind is everlastingly agitated. And the mind that is agitated, that is craving experience, can never find out what is true.

Truth is always new, totally unknown and unknowable. The mind must come to it without any demand, without any knowledge, without any wish; it must be empty, completely naked. Then only truth may happen. But you cannot invite it.

Hamburg, Germany 4th Public Talk 14th September 1956

Ramana Maharshi: the path to self-realisation (Padamalai)

Tom Das

The following verses are taken from Padamalai, a record of teaching statements from Ramana Maharshi which were taken down by one of his foremost devotees, Muruganar. This version I am quoting from is translated by Dr T. V. Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and David Godman – my deep appreciation to them in making this wonderful and instructive work more widely available.

In their translation they have changed the order of the verses and grouped them thematically. The following verses are taken from the chapter entitled ‘The Self’.

My comments are interspersed in italics in grey.

padamalai godman ramana

Self-knowledge

5. True jnana* is only the removal of wrong knowledge. Only this is useful for liberation.

*Jnana is a Sanskrit word that means knowledge. It is etymologically related to the words gnosis and knowledge. In a spiritual context it implies the height of spiritual knowledge. In an Advaita/non-dual context it is synonymous with self-realisation, liberation/freedom…

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Neo-advaita and the highest ‘teachings’ of Advaita Vedanta (ajata vada) – are they the same?

In Advaita Vedanta it is said that the Ultimate Truth is that Maya never existed, and that there never was a world (Jagat), individual person (Jiva), or a God (Isvara). See here for an example of this teaching. Here in Guru Vachaka Kovai we have Sri Muruganar stating the same:

‘…I have known that in truth there is never in the least any attainment of bondage, liberation, and so on, which are fabricated when one imagines one is separate from reality’ Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 1241

Someone recently made a comment to me that this sounds remarkably like Neo-Advaita, to which my response was as follows:

They sound remarkably similar because on the verbal level both traditional and neo-Advaita talk about Ajata Vada (the view that there is no maya, no objects truly exist, and therefore no true meaning, no seeker, no teaching, no teacher, etc) as being the ultimate truth, but traditional advaita also talks about teachings from vivarta vada (world is a projected illusion) and shristi dristi vada (world is real) viewpoints and prescribes self-enquiry as a (paradoxically) valid method for this to be realised on these latter 2 levels for those who cannot fathom ajata vada. Upon this realisation it is ‘realised’ there was never a seeker and no real realisation either. Sri Ramana Maharshi explains it more fully here if you are interested.

Shankara – If I am Brahman already, why the need for effort? Advaita Vedanta

If You are That, if all is already Brahman, why the need for effort? Here is what Shankara has to say about this in his masterpiece Vivekachudamani. What do you think these verses from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani are trying to convey?

If you are interested in my view, I explain more about this teaching here.


62. A disease does not leave off if one simply utter the name of the medicine, without taking it; (similarly) without direct realisation one cannot be liberated by the mere utterance of the word Brahman.

63. Without causing the objective universe to vanish and without knowing the truth of the Self, how is one to achieve Liberation by the mere utterance of the word Brahman?- It would result merely in an effort of speech.

64. Without killing one’s enemies, and possessing oneself of the splendour of the entire surrounding region, one cannot claim to be an emperor by merely saying, ‘I am an emperor’ merely in an effort of speech.

65. As a treasure hidden underground requires (for its extraction) competent instruction, excavation, the removal of stones and other such things lying above it and (finally) grasping, but never comes out by being (merely) called out by name, so the transparent Truth of the self, which is hidden by Maya and its effects, is to be attained through the instructions of a knower of Brahman, followed by reflection, meditation and so forth, but not through perverted arguments.

66. Therefore the wise should, as in the case of disease and the like, personally strive by all the means in their power to be free from the bondage of repeated births and deaths.

Also see:

Ramana Maharshi on Jiddu Krishanmurti’s Choiceless Awareness

Advaita Bodha Deepika – vital teachings for Self-Realisation that are often missing in modern non-dual and Advaita Vedanta teachings

Turn Within? Really? Isn’t this dualistic and doesn’t this just strengthen the ego?

Q. How should a beginner approach Enlightenment or Spirituality? | Sri Ramana Maharshi

A visitor asked, “What should one, who is an absolute beginner, do in this (i.e., spiritual) line?”

Bhagavan: The very fact that you put this question shows you know what to do. It is because you feel the want of peace, that you are anxious to take some steps to secure peace. Because I have a little pain in my foot, I am applying this ointment.

Visitor: What is the method to be adopted for securing peace?

B: The conception that there is a goal and a path to it, is wrong. We are the goal or peace always. To get rid of the notion that we are not peace is all that is required.

V: All books say that the guidance of a Guru is necessary.

B: The Guru will say only what I am saying now. He will not give you anything you have not already. It is impossible for anyone to get what he has not got already. Even if he gets any such thing, it will go as it came. What comes will also go. What always is will alone remain.

The Guru cannot give you anything new, which you have not already. Removal of the notion that we have not realised the Self is all that is required. We are always the Self. Only, we don’t realise it.

The Asramam compounder asked some questions about his experiences during meditation. Bhagavan explained that the Self is the one reality that always exists and it is by its light all other things are seen. We forget it and concentrate on the appearances. The light in the hall burns, both when persons are present there and when they are absent, both when persons are enacting something as in a theatre and when nothing is being enacted. It is the light which enabled us to see the hall, the persons and the acting.

We are so engrossed with the objects or appearances revealed by the light that we pay no attention to the light. In the waking state or dream state, in which things appear, and in the sleep state, in which we see nothing, there is always the light of consciousness or Self, like the hall-lamp always burning.

The thing to do is to concentrate on the seer and not on the seen, not on the objects, but on the Light which reveals them

Day by Day with Bhaghavan, 16th September 1945, Afternoon

Ramana Maharshi: No Thoughts – A selection of quotes on Silence

Tom Das

ramana-maharshi faceSri Ramana Maharshi

All of the following quotes were written by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi himself (as opposed to being recorded or compiled by someone else – of course translations from the original Tamil are presented here). Most of the quotes are taken from his short masterpiece ‘Who Am I?’, but I have also included two verses from Upadesa Saram (which he also wrote) which explains, in concise form, a method for liberation (click on the above links to find the texts together with them in PDF format for download).

If you read the quotes below carefully, you will see that Ramana also explains the nature of Jnana (Knowledge or Wisdom) and what it means to ‘abide as the Self’ or ‘resolve the mind in the Self’.

!Om Guru Ramana!


No thoughts

All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent

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Deep sleep is Brahman – the three states according to the Birhadaranyaka Upanishad with commentary by Shankara

(I’ve just typed this up quite quickly so, as usual, apologies for any spelling or grammatical mistakes)

The teaching of the three states (ie. the waking, dream and deep sleep states) is a staple Vedanta teaching and often the source for this teaching is cited as being the Mandukya Upanishad. However, the three states are presented and analysed in the earlier-written Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, especially in section 4.3.

Section 4 of the Brihadarankaya Upanishad consists of a conversation between King Janaka and the Sage Yajnavalkya. Now for those of you who have not encountered Sage Yajnavalkya, he is quite a character at times, demonstrating the dry humour present in many of the Upanishads. Here is an example from Section 3.1 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the next verses, verses 4.3.2 to 4.3.6 Yajnavalkya reveals that the Self is the Ultimate Reality upon which all stands. You can see that Yajnavalkya does not give the ultimate answer straight away, but only when pressed by King Janaka does he eventually reveal the Self as the true answer he is looking for. My reading of this is that Sage Yajnavalkya only wants to give the teaching to those who are truly intererested, who are truly enquiring, and not to those who merely accept the first answer given to them:

4.3.2.    “Yajnavalkya, what serves as light for a man?”  “The light of the sun, O Emperor,” said Yajnavalkya, “for with  the sun as light he sits, goes out, works and returns.”  “Just so, Yajnavalkya.” 

4.3.3.    “When the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, what serves as light for a  man?”  “The moon serves as his light, for with the moon as light he  sits, goes out, works and returns.”  “Just so, Yajnavalkya.” 

4.3.4.    “When the sun has set and the moon has set, Yajnavalkya, what  serves as light for a man?”  “Fire serves as his light, for with fire as light he sits, goes out,  works and returns.”  “Just so, Yajnavalkya.” 

4.3.5.    “When the sun has set, Yajnavalkya and the moon has set and  the fire has gone out, what serves as light for a man?”  “Speech (sound) serves as his light, for with speech as light he  sits, goes out, works and returns. Therefore, Your Majesty,  when one cannot see even one’s own hand, yet when a sound is  uttered, one can go there.”  “Just so, Yajnavalkya.” 

4.3.6.    “When the sun has set, Yajnavalkya and the moon has set and  the fire has gone out and speech has stopped, what serves as  light for a man?”  “The self, indeed, is his light, for with the self as light he sits,  goes out, works and returns.” 

4.3.7 “What is this Self”….

In the next few verses Yajnavalkya teachings that the Self floats between two states, the dream state and waking state, but remains unaffected by theses states, returning to the state of deep sleep when not in dream or waking. All this time Yajnavalkya receives more and more cattle from King Janaka for his teachings! Here is a description of the dream state by Yajnavalkya, in which he explains the dream is a mere unreal projection:

4.3.9 and 4.3.10 ….”And when he dreams, he takes away a little of the impressions of this all-embracing world (the waking state), himself makes the body unconscious and creates a dream body in its place, revealing his own brightness by his own light-and he dreams.  In this state the person becomes self-illumined. There are no real chariots in that state, nor animals to be yoked  to them, nor roads there, but he creates the chariots, animals  and roads. There are no pleasures in that state, no joys, no  rejoicings, but he creates the pleasures, joys and rejoicings.  There are no pools in that state, no reservoirs, no rivers, but he  creates the pools, reservoirs and rivers. He indeed is the agent. 

Similarly in verse 13:

4.3.13.    ‘In the dream world, the luminous one attains higher and lower  states and creates many forms – now, as it were, enjoying  himself in the company of women, now laughing, now even  beholding frightful sights. 

Next Yajnavalkya describes how the Self, referred here by the term Purusha, which literally means ‘supreme being’ or ‘supreme person’ (think ‘higher-self’), floats between two states, the dream state and waking state, but remains unaffected by theses states, returning to the state of deep sleep when not in dream or waking. He receives cattle for his teachings here:

15.    Yajnavalkya said: “The entity (purusha), after enjoying himself  and raoming in the dream state and merely witnessing the  results of good and evil, remians in a state of profound sleep  and then hastens back in the reverse way to his former  condition, the dream state. He remains unaffected by whatever  he sees in that dream state, for this infinite being is unattached.”  Janaka said: “Just so, Yajnavalkya. I give you, Sir, a thousand  cows.  Please instruct me further about Liberation itself. 

16.    “Yajnavalkya said: “That entity (purusha), after enjoying  himself and roaming in the dream state and merely witnessing  the results of good and evil, hastens back in the reverse way to  his former condition, the waking state. He remains unaffected  by whatever he sees in that state, for this infinite being is  unattached.”  Janaka said: “Just so, Yajnavalkya. I give you, Sir, a thousand  cows.  Please instruct me further about Liberation itself.”  

17.    Yajnavalkya said: “That entity (purusha), after enjoying  himself and roaming in the waking state and merely witnessing  the results of good and evil, hastens back in the reverse way to  its former condition, the dream state or that of dreamless sleep. 

18.    “As a large fish swims alternately to both banks of a river – the  east and the west – so does the infinite being move to both  these states: dreaming and waking. 

19.    “As a hawk or a falcon roaming in the sky becomes tired, folds  its wings and makes for its nest, so does this infinite entity  (purusha) hasten for this state, where, falling asleep, he  cherishes no more desires and dreams no more dreams. 

So we can see in the above verses Yajnavalkya has described the three states and how the Self remains unaffected by the 2 states of waking or dreaming. Now Yajnavalkya proceeds to teach more about the Self, comparing it to the ecstacy of sexual orgasm in which one loses all knowledge of the body mind and world, one loses all sense of fear and misery, and one feels completely and totally fulfilled, not desiring anything more and with no trace of suffering:

21.    “That indeed is his form-free from desires, free from evils,  free from fear. As a man fully embraced by his beloved wife  knows nothing that is without, nothing that is within, so does  this infinite being (the self), when fully embraced by the  Supreme Self, know nothing that is without, nothing that is  within.  “That indeed is his form, in which all his desires are fulfilled, in  which all desires become the self and which is free from desires  and devoid of grief. 

Yajnavalkya then goes on to say that with realisation of the Self, everything is no longer what it appeared to be, and the Self is untouched by karma – good deeds and bad deeds – and also untouched by any suffering:

22.    “In this state a father is no father, a mother is no mother, the worlds are no worlds, the gods are no gods, the Vedas are no the Vedas. In this state a  thief is no thief, the killer of a noble brahmin is no killer, a chandala is no chandala, a paulkasa is no paulkasa, a monk is no monk, an ascetic is no ascetic.  “This form of his is untouched by good deeds and untouched by  evil deeds, for he is then beyond all the woes of his heart. 

He then states that even in deep sleep the Self exists as pure consciousness, not conscious of any object, for there are no objects in deep sleep, but conscious somehow nonetheless, for it’s nature is imperishable eternal consciousness:

23.    “And when it appears that in deep sleep it does not see, yet it is seeing though it does not see; for there is no cessation of the  vision of the seer, because the seer is imperishable. There is  then, however, no second thing separate from the seer that it  could see. 

The above verse is essentially repeated for all the senses and mind, but then culminates at verses 31 and 32. I have here included the full sanskrit and Shankara’s commentary for these important verses. The verses state that when objective phenomena appear, ie. in the dream or waking states, it appears as if we can see something separate from us or perceive something separate from us. This apparent perception is due to ignorance or illusion. However, when we return to deep sleep, that is the Self:

Verse 4.3.31:

यत्र वा अन्यदिव स्यात्, तत्रान्योऽन्यत्पश्येत्, अन्योऽन्यज्जिघ्रेत्, अन्योऽन्यद्रसयेत्, अन्योऽन्यद्वदेत्, अन्योऽन्यच्छृणुयात्, अन्योऽन्यन्मन्वीत, अन्योऽन्यत्स्पृशेत्, अन्योऽन्यद्विजानीयात् ॥ ३१ ॥

yatra vā anyadiva syāt, tatrānyo’nyatpaśyet, anyo’nyajjighret, anyo’nyadrasayet, anyo’nyadvadet, anyo’nyacchṛṇuyāt, anyo’nyanmanvīta, anyo’nyatspṛśet, anyo’nyadvijānīyāt || 31 “||

31. In the waking and dream states, when there is something else, as it were, then one can see something, one can smell some-thing, one can taste something, one can speak something, one can hear something, one can think something, one can touch something, or one can know something.

Shankara’s commentary on 4.3.31:

It has been said that in the state of profound sleep there is not, as in the waking and dream states, that second thing [ie. objects] differentiated from the self which it can know; hence it knows no particulars [ie. objects] in profound sleep. Here it is objected: If this is its nature, why does it give up that nature and have particular knowledge [of objects]? If, on the other hand, it is its nature to have this kind of knowledge, why does it not know particulars [ie. objects] in the state of profound sleep? The answer is this: When, in the waking or dream state, there is something else besides the self, as it were, presented by ignorance, then one, thinking of oneself as different from that something—although there is nothing different from the self, nor is there any self different from it—can see something. This has been shown by a referrence to one’s experience in the dream state in the passage, ‘As if he were being killed, or overpowered’(IV. iii. 20). Similarly one can smell, taste, speak, hear, think, touch and know something.

Verse 4.3.32:

सलिल एको द्रष्टाद्वैतो भवति, एष ब्रह्मलोकः सम्राडिति हैनमनुशशास याज्ञवल्क्यः, एषास्य परमा गतिः, एषास्य परमा संपत्, एषोऽस्य परमो लोकः, एषोऽस्य परम आनन्दः; एतस्यैवानन्दस्यान्यानि भूतानि मात्रामुपजीवन्ति ॥ ३२ ॥

salila eko draṣṭādvaito bhavati, eṣa brahmalokaḥ samrāḍiti hainamanuśaśāsa yājñavalkyaḥ, eṣāsya paramā gatiḥ, eṣāsya paramā saṃpat, eṣo’sya paramo lokaḥ, eṣo’sya parama ānandaḥ; etasyaivānandasyānyāni bhūtāni mātrāmupajīvanti || 32 ||

32. In the deep sleep state, it becomes (transparent) like water, one, the witness, and without a second. This is the world (state) of Brahman, O Emperor. Thus did Yājñavalkya instruct Janaka: This is its supreme attainment, this is its supreme glory, this is its highest world, this is its supreme bliss. On a particle of this very bliss other beings live.

Shankara’s commentary on 4.3.32:

When, however, that ignorance which presents things other than the self is at rest, in that state of profound sleep, there being nothing separated from the self by ignorance, what should one see, smell, or know, and through what? Therefore, being fully embraced by his own self-luminous Supreme Self, the Jīva becomes infinite, perfectly serene, with all his objects of desire attained, and the self the only object of his desire, transparent like water, one, because there is no second: It is ignorance which separates a second entity, and that is at rest in the state of profound sleep; hence ‘one.’ The witness, because the vision that is identical with the light of the self is never lost. And without a second, for there is no second entity different from the self to be seen. This is immortal and fearless. This is the world of Brahman, the world that is Brahman: In deep sleep the self, bereft of its limiting adjuncts, the body and organs, remains in its own supreme light of the Ātman [the Self], free from all relations, O Emperor. Thus did Yājñavalkya instruct Janaka. This is spoken by the Śruti.

How did he instruct him? This is its supreme attainment, the attainment of the individual self.

The other attainments, characterised by the taking of a body, from the state of Hiraṇyagarbha down to that of a clump of grass, are created by ignorance and therefore inferior to this, being within the sphere of ignorance. But this identification with all, in which one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, knows nothing olse, is the highest of all attainments such‘as identity with the gods, that are achieved through meditation and rites. This too is its supreme glory, the highest of all its splendours, being natural to it; other glories are artificial. Likewise this is its highest world; the other worlds, which are the result of its past work, are inferior to it; this, however, is not attainable by any action, being natural; hence ‘this is its highest world.’ Similarly this is its supreme bliss, in comparison with the bther joys that are due to the contact of the organs with their objects, since it is eternal; for another Śruti says, ‘That which is infinite is bliss’ (Ch. VII. xxiii. 1). ‘That in which one sees something. . . . knows something, is puny,’ mortal, secondary joy. But this is the opposite of thathence ‘this is its supreme bliss.’ On a particle of this very bliss, put forward by ignorance, and perceived only during the contact of the organs with their objects, other beings live. Who are they? Those that have been separated from that bliss by ignorance, and are considered different from Brahman. Being thus different, they subsist on a fraction of that bliss which is perceived through the contact of the organs with their objects.


Tom’s concluding remarks:

We can see that in the above two verses Shankara and Yajnavalkya are stating that:

-The Self cannot be attain by various karmas or works, for these are relating to objective phenomena only which occur only in the dream and waking states. ie. works or practices can only occur in the waking or dream states.

-However, the Self already is, it is already our True Actual Nature, naturally unattached and unaffected by it all, naturally beyond desire and suffering, its nature being happiness or bliss and oneness in which there is no sense of other.

– In deep sleep, when there are no adjuncts, ie. objective phenomena such as body or mind, then there is only the Self. Shankara states ‘this is spoken by shruti’, shruti referring to the revealed scriptures that are the vedas and upanishads, meaning that this teaching comes from the highest authority.

– All else, ie. all objective phenomena, are created and presented to us by ignorance, and so we are separated from the Bliss of Brahman by our seeing of objects ‘outside of us’.

The Upanishad tell us Thus did Yājñavalkya instruct Janaka

Note that a clear and direct method for realisation is not given in this section of the Upanishad, although it is hinted at. For more on this see here which is where the instruction for liberation is given in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad by our friend Sage Yajnavalkya.

Note that this above section of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad also tallies with and is indirectly explained further by Sri Ramana Maharshi’s method of wakeful-sleep, a wonderful and simple explanation of the path to liberation.

Is scriptural study a means to liberation or self-realisation? | Upanishads | Shankara | Advaita Vedanta

Hopefully by the end of this post you will see why this is an ironic link 😉 : Recommended Reading: Books for Enlightenment, Liberation and Self-Realisation

Some say that studying the scriptures is a means to liberation. However, what do the scriptures themselves say? According to Advaita Vedanta, the highest authority are the teachings of the Upanishads.

The Self is not known through study of the scriptures, nor through subtlety of the intellect, nor through much learning; but by him who longs for the Self is the Self known. Verily unto him does the Self reveal its True Nature.

Katha Upanishad, verse 1.2.23

Let us look and see what Shankara’s commentary on the above verse says:

The Self (Atman) is not to be attained or known through the study of many scriptures, not through the intellect or through grasping the meaning of texts, nor by any amount of mere learning. How is it then to be known? It is explained that that Self that is desired and longed for by the seeker, by that Self which is the seeker himself, that Self can be known. The meaning is that for one who longs for only the Self, being free from desire [for objects or objective phenomena], the Self reveals its True Nature.

The next verse in the Katha Upanishad reads as follows:

By learning, one cannot know the Self, if he desist not from evil conduct, if he control not his senses, if he quiet not his mind, and practice not meditation.

Katha Upanishad, verse 1.2.24

Similarly, Shankara’s commentary on the above verse again echoes the meaning of the verse with a few additions:

One who has not turned away from evil conduct, ie. from sinful acts prohibited and not permitted by the scriptures, who is not peaceful of mind, ie. who has not turned away from the activity of the senses, whose mind is not quiet and still, ie. whose mind is scattered; whose mind is not at rest, ie. whose mind, though calm and concentrated, is engaged in looking forward to the fruits of this concentration, cannot attain the Self that is spoken of. Only through knowledge of Brahman, meaning he alone who has turned away from bad conduct, who is free from the activity of the senses, whose mind is collected, and whose mind is at rest, even in respect of the fruits of its being so collected, taught by a teacher, attains the Self above described through Knowledge. This is the idea.

We can see here how Shankara hints at what he means by Knowledge – he clearly does not mean knowledge in the intellect, but equates knowledge with turning away from objective phenomena and clinging to the Subject-Self. In his other commentaries Shankara explains this in more detail.

As a slight aside, we can see how Shankara advises that we are to turn our attention within, away from all gross and subtle objects, in order to realise the Self in his commentary on Katha Upanishad eg. in verse 2.1.1 – Shankara writes:

‘…The group of sense organs, beginning with the ear, should be turned away from all sense-objects. Such a one, who is purified thus, sees the indwelling self. For it is not possible for the same person to be engaged in the thought of sense-objects and to have the vision of the Self as well.

Going back to our original point about scriptural study, it is worth noting the the first of the verses quoted above is the also repeated in another Upanishad, the Mundaka Upanishad:

The Self is not known through study of the scriptures, nor through subtlety of the intellect, nor through much learning; but by him who longs for the Self is the Self known. Verily unto him does the Self reveal its True Nature.

Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.3

Shankara’s commentary on this verse is instructive and unequivocal that the purpose of this verse is to refute the notion that scripture is a primary means of self-knowledge. Here is Shankara’s commentary on Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.3:

If thus the realisation of the Self (Atman) is the greatest gain of all, it may be thought that a means such as scriptural study should be largely employed for its attainment. This verse is intended to dispel that notion. The Self which has been explained and whose realisation is the highest object of human desire cannot be attained by means of much study of the Vedas and the scriptures (Sastras). Similarly not by the intellect, ie. not by a retentive memory of the purport of writings; nor by much learning, ie. by much hearing. By what then could the Atman be attained is explained. The Supreme Self (Paramatman) whom this knower wishes to attain, by that longing for that alone can that Brahman be attained; not by any other means, because his nature is always attained. What is the nature of this knower’s attainment of the Atman is explained. As pot’s form is revealed where there is light, so the Atman, concealed by ignorance, reveals its true nature when there is knowledge. The jist of this verse is that is the sole means for realising the Self is the longing for realisation of the Self (Atman) such that all other desires [for objective or worldly phenomena] are renounced.

Again, Shankara hints that the nature of Knowledge or Jnana is revealed when we turn towards the Self in such a way that we lose interest in all other phenomena.

We can see a similar sentiment expressed by Sri Ramakrishna in that the yearning for Truth or God is the key:

Sri Ramana Maharshi was always clear on this point too, namely that scriptural study is only useful to point us towards turning within and abiding as the Self. Let us see what he says in the masterpiece text Guru Vachaka Kovai, the most authoritative text on Sri Ramana’s verbal teachings:

Those who do not dive into the Heart
And there confront the Self in the five sheaths hid

Are only students answering out of books
Clever questions raised by books,
And not true seekers of the Self.

Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 391

Holding in their hands the mirror,
The scripture which declares ‘The Self
Alone is to be known’, many
Alas, study with care the text
And commentaries;
only few
Seek the Self and gain true life.

Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 1157

In the above verse, Sri Ramana likens the scriptures to a mirror, implying their value and importance in recognising one’s true nature. We are not saying the scriptures are worthless – far from it! The scriptures contain valuable information to direct us on our quest for liberation. It is just that we need to move beyond them and turn within and abide as the self.

Far different from the scholar learned
In books of wisdom is the Seer.

Those who seek freedom from the bondage
Of ignorance had better leave
Scholars alone and enter the presence
Of Seers
established in the Self
Supreme.

Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 1158

The innocent girl-bride thinking that
Betrothal is full conjugal union
Is filled with joy. Even so the learned
Who have yet to turn within and taste true bliss
Claim that the verbal wisdom which they prattle
Is advaita jnana
[non-dual knowledge].

Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 599

Those who from books have learnt about
The truth supreme
esteem themselves
Supreme in wisdom, and fail to seek
The Knower
and taste the bliss of Self,
But test and measure the silent sage.
What folly this!

Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 600

Lastly, here is a direct quote from Chapter 1 of beautifully sublime Sri Ramana Gita:

Question: Is study of the scriptures enough by itself to liberate those desirous of knowledge, or is spiritual practice according to the Master’s injunctions also necessary?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The seeker of knowledge does not achieve his end merely by a study of the scriptures. Without meditation (upasana) there cannot be attainment for him; this is definite. Experiencing the natural state, during spiritual practice, is called upasana, and when that state becomes firm and permanent, that itself is called knowledge (jnana). When discarding sense-objects, one abides in one’s own true nature as a flame of jnana, this state of being is termed the natural state (sahaja sthiti). In the firm, natural state, through that Supreme Silence, free from all vasanas, the jnani knows himself as such without any doubt.

In Brief: how to attain Liberation

Do we need to turn away from the world of objects to realise the Self? Upanishads & Shankara’s commentary