Question. Why do the traditional Advaita-Vedanta schools based solely on the Upanishads and Vedanta scriptures, etc, reject Ramana’s Self-Enquiry approach as a method to attain liberation?
Tom: I do not think this is true. Ramana’s teachings are the same as those found in the Upanishads and Vedanta Scriptures & Ramana teaches us the true Vedanta in my opinion.
However, there are several teachings that claim to teach Vedanta in a traditional way but do not really go beyond the mind or beyond duality, and so suffering and ignorance does not end. Their teachings distort the scriptures in my view. My advice therefore is to stick to Sri Ramana’s teachings. However, what teachings you prefer is of course for you to decide.
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?
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.
SOME TEACHERS SAY FAITH IS NOT REQUIRED
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.
‘FAITH PENDING RESULTS’?
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.
QUOTES FROM THE VEDANTA SCRIPTURES
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.’
Question: Dear Tom, how are you? I read your articles about Tony Parsons and Rupert Spira and I was wondering how you feel about the teachings of Byron Katie. Do you think with her saying ‘loving what is’, that she actually means devotion to the Self? Could this be the same? ‘Loving what is’ is like a surrender to what is, just like Bhakti devotion right?
Is loving what is, kind of the same thing as giving it to God? The same surrender? I ask this question because I hope the the teachings of Byron Katie can help, but Sri Ramana is the one for me and I think I just want the teachings to be the same
Tom: Hi _____, I’m well thanks. To answer your question, please note that most teachings that you are drawn/attracted to, as long as they are not unethical, are probably good teachings for you. There are many wonderful and varied teachings that can help us in a variety of ways. There are many ways of reducing ignorance and thinning the ego, and this will lead to less suffering and more happiness, relatively speaking. So any teaching that you are drawn to is probably right for you for now.
That said, there only very few teachings are ultimately liberating, that is, only very few teachings direct us to actually truly ending the ego and so ending duality and suffering completely by tackling the root issue.
Not everyone’s ego-mind is able to accept this ‘ultimate teaching’ initially, due to attachment to worldly things and the body-mind, so often there is a process by which we gradually let go of worldly things and the body-mind until the ego-mind is ripe enough to be open to and fall in love with this True Teaching. Until then we will, generally speaking, be more attracted to other more-worldly type teachings that direct our attention to various gross and subtle objects.
Here is an article of mine that outlines the method to attain liberation in brief and also goes through several common objections to this teaching, as well as citing various ‘spiritual authorities’ in support of the teaching.
If you haven’t already, I also recommend you read The Path of Sri Ramana as it clearly explains both what the True Teachings are and what they are not in clear and simple language.
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 ofseeing 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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-ignoranceand 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.
HoweverRupert 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?
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.
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.
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!