Now it is true that Sri Ramana often said that we should ‘be still’ and that this is the practice, but what did he mean by ‘be still’? If we read and examine Sri Ramana’s written work ‘Who Am I?’, we will see what Sri Ramana means when he says ‘be still’ or ‘keep quiet’. Note that we can trust the teachings in ‘Who Am I?’ as an authentic rendition of Sri Ramana’s teachings as they were written by Sri Ramana himself.
Let us see: the first time we come across the notion of quieting the mind in ‘Who Am I?’ is as follows:
‘When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition’s and of all actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear.’
Now on the face of it this is quite a strange statement for Sri Ramana to make: that the world will disappear when the mind is still. Clearly, when Sri Ramana states that the mind is to be quiet, he is perhaps using these words in a different way to how they are normally used. How can it be that when the mind becomes quiet the world disappears?
Well earlier in ‘Who Am I?’ Sri Ramana explains that it is the mind is a power that creates or projects the entire body, mind and world, so to ‘be quiet’ means not just to still the ordinary thinking mind, but to still this world-projecting power, ie. to remove all of Maya. Ramana repeats this, see here, also from ‘Who Am I?’:
Question: When will the realization of the Self be gained?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer
Question: Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: There will not be.
I have a video here which explains the importance of this teaching. It fundamentally explains why some teachings are liberating and others are not:
Whilst some teachings may encourage us to still the mind, Sri Ramana is emphasising removing the entire body-mind-world from our consciousness. We can see that Sri Ramana’s teaching is far more extreme than many others – it is this extreme teaching that is needed to remove ignorance and realise the Self.
Sri Ramana emphasises Self-Enquiry as the only sadhana that will lead us to Liberation. Again, Sri Ramana’s teaching is more narrow and prescriptive in this way, as he maintains that Self-Enquiry is the only way. Let us see what else Sri Ramana writes in ‘Who Am I?’:
Question: Are there no other means for making the mind quiescent?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Other than inquiry [Vichara; Self-Enquiry], there are no adequate means.
We can see that Sri Ramana is stating that sadhana or self-enquiry is essential to make the mind quiet, so that when Sri Ramana is asking us to ‘be still’ or ‘keep quiet’, he is actually asking us to do Self-Enquiry.
Tom: Sravana refers to hearing the teaching.Manana refers to reflecting upon and thinking that teaching which has been heard.Nididhyasana refers to prolonged meditation upon the Self, which culminates in Samadhi.
Here is a quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk no. 249:
The effects of sravana may be immediate and the disciple realises the truth all at once. This can happen only for the well-advanced disciple.
[Tom: in other places Sri Ramana explains that this means that the advanced/ripe seeker immediately goes into Samadhi, which is the same as abiding as the Self, as soon as the teaching is heard]
Otherwise, the disciple feels that he is unable to realise the truth, even after repeatedly hearing it. What is it due to? Impurities in his mind: ignorance, doubt and wrong identity are the obstacles to be removed.
(a) To remove ignorance completely, he has to hear the truth repeatedly, until his knowledge of the subject-matter becomes perfect
(b) to remove doubts, he must reflect on what he has heard; ultimately his knowledge will be free from doubts of any kind;
(c) to remove the wrong identity of the Self with the non-self (such as the body, the senses, the mind or the intellect) his mind must become one-pointed. All these things accomplished, the obstacles are at an end and samadhi results, that is, Peace reigns.
Some say that one should never cease to engage in hearing, reflection and one-pointedness. These are not fulfilled by reading books, but only by continued practice to keep the mind withdrawn.
The aspirant may be kritopasaka or akritopasaka. The former is fit to realise the Self, even with the slightest stimulus: only some little doubt stands in his way, it is easily removed if he hears the truth once from the Master. Immediately he gains the samadhi state. It is presumed that he had already completed sravana, reflection, etc. in previous births, they are no more necessary for him.
For the other all these aids are necessary; for him doubts crop up even after repeated hearing; therefore he must not give up aids until he gains the samadhi state. Sravana removes the illusion of the Self being one with the body, etc. Reflection makes it clear that Knowledge is Self. One-pointedness reveals the Self as being Infinite and Blissful.
Q. Why do we suffer? Tom: Because we seek (something different to ‘what is’)
Q. Why do we both suffer and seek? Tom: Because we take ourself to be a separate vulnerable body-mind entity. So long as we do so we are compelled to both suffer and seek.
Q. Why do we take ourself to be a separate body-mind entity? Tom: Because we believe our thoughts that tell us so (ie. it is a belief that we are a body-mind entity – note that I call this belief ‘the ego’)
Q. What is the solution? Tom: The solution is to stop this type of thinking.
Q. How can we do that? A. We find, perhaps after much trial and error, there is only one essential method that consistently works, and that is to take one’s attention away from objective phenomena and place it upon the first person, the ‘I AM’, the Subject-Self. This practice is called Self-Enquiry. This process is explained in detail in the book The Path of Sri Ramana – Part 1
Q. My mind is too busy for this method Tom: Then try another preliminary practice such as mantra recitation, devotion, chanting, watching the breath, hatha yoga, etc, as suits you – try another calming practice first – preferably a practice you are drawn to, and then when the mind is calm go straight back to Self-Enquiry.
Q. What about other teachings or methods? Tom: You will find that other teachings methods (methods other than Self-Enquiry) at most only lead to a temporary effect that comes and goes. Don’t take my word for this, you can find out for yourself.
Q. Why do other methods not work? Tom: Other methods, which involve attending to objects (gross or subtle objects such as thoughts, feelings, the breath, or other objects) invariably give rise to egoic ‘body-based’ thinking as the ego only survives when it can think of objective phenomena. And when we attend to objective phenomena you will see that the ego always finds a way to rise and ‘take control’ or ‘take the reins’ and posit itself as the true ‘I’.
Q. Isn’t this quite an extreme practice? Tom: Yes, it is this extreme practice that is required, for most people, for the ego to end.
Q. Doesn’t this practice just perpetuate the separate ego-I? Tom: No, that too is just another belief, that all practice necessarily perpetuates the ego-I. Try it – with consistent daily application results are quickly seen.
Q. Ok thanks! Tom: You’re most welcome. Let me know how it goes!
318. By thinking of my Lord, thought waves came to a complete rest. I was freed from attachment to action I performed. I separated from potential associations that approached me. I merged everywhere with mauna, the virtuous conduct of abiding as being.
319. Because thinking of my Lord yielded bliss for me, I realised that my Lord is the very form of bliss. By experiencing my lord through the mauna-consciousness in my heart, I too became, with delight, that [bliss]
320. Because the thought of our Lord destroys completely all other thoughts, devotees will come to experience the grace that is supreme tranquillity thought that thought of our Lord. The potency of the supreme power of our Lord’s mauna will destroy the ego of true devotees, bestowing on them the experience of our Lord’s very own real nature, the Self, jnana.
313. Why seek a tapas other than true love, the melting of the mind that comes from meditating on my Lord?
314. No other tapas is required for those whose minds have dissolved by meditating on the Lord.
315. Melting within by repeatedly thinking of him in a loving way became the cord with which the Lord tied me to himself. His ultimate real nature, existing as the unique pure being, surged forth as pure consciousness, absolutely blemishless grace.
The above verses are from The Shining of my Lord by Sri Muruganar
Guru Vachaka Kovai, Verse 659:
659. Those people who lack consciousness of being, the natural light [I am], and who consequently come, through ignorance, under the spell of karma and suffer, will have their delusion ended and reach the Self, the supreme reality, through meditation on a divine form that is dear to them.
Since sattva-guna [the constituent of prakriti which makes for purity, intelligence, etc.] is the nature of mind, and since the mind is pure and undefiled like ether, what is called mind is, in truth, of the nature of knowledge.
Tom: Often the Self is said to be beyond the three gunas (Tamas, Rajas and Sattva). Here Sri Ramana tells us that pure sattva, or pure mind, which is the utterly and totally peaceful mind in its natural state, is actually the Self.
When it stays in that natural [i.e. pure] state, it has not even the name “mind”. It is only the erroneous knowledge which mistakes one for another that is called mind.
Tom: This pure sattva, unlike mixed sattva, is completely devoid of any rajas and tamas, and so is beyond all the gunas.
What was originally the pure sattva mind, of the nature of pure knowledge, forgets its knowledge-nature on account of nescience, gets transformed into the world under the influence of tamo-guna [i.e. the constituent of prakriti which makes for dullness, inertness, etc.], being under the influence of rajo-guna [i.e. the constituent of prakriti which makes for activity, passions, etc.], imagines “I am the body, etc.; the world is real”, it acquires the consequent merit and demerit through attachment, aversion, etc., and, through the residual impressions [vasanas] thereof, attains birth and death.
Those crazy-minded people who do not know as real anything other than the objects of the senses, and who are thereby ruined, will term the jnana that flourishes luxuriantly through dispassion towards sense-objects ‘dry Vedanta’
Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 148
The way to the Truth Within (ie. jnana, meaning wisdom or knowledge), which, for practical purposes, is within each and everyone of us, has always meant we have to turn away from sense-objects, as well as mind-objects (ie. turn away from both gross and subtle objects).
However, for those tamasic and rajasic ones, who are attached to the sensory world of objects, they would call this type of teaching ‘dry’ or ‘life-opposing’ or ‘life denying’. However it is these so-called ‘life-affirming’ teachings that actually keep one in Maya-Samsara-Suffering, for the ‘life’ that is affirmed is simply ‘Maya’ (illusion) and continued suffering.
They who only know the sense-objects, and they who consider these as being real, they betray their underlying attachment to body-mind. How so? It is this underlying attachment to body-mind, and thinking body-mind to be real, that actually causes the world to also appear to be real, and for the sense-objects to thereafter gain so much importance.
These people are ‘crazy-minded’ and ‘thereby ruined’ according to Sri Ramana, his somewhat harsh tone driving the point home emphatically in a compassionate attempt to reveal the true path to liberation.
Let us take heed, and turn away from body-mind-world and discover the Treasure that lies deep within us. Let us reject the small, temporary life of Maya-suffering and instead let us come upon and merge into Life Eternal Within, wherein we become One with Him, Our Beloved.
Here we will see, using quotes from Gaudapada, Shankara, the Upanishads and Sri Ramana Maharshi that the same essential teaching is taught regarding the reality of the waking and dream states – namely that they are both equally unreal, that both waking and dream are dream!
Tom: Here is verse 1 from chapter 2 of Gaudapada’s Mandukya Karika (Gaudapada’s four chapter commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad), my comments are in red:
2.1. Harih Aum. The wise declare the unreality of all entities seen in dreams, because they are located within the body and the space therein is confined.
Tom: Gaudapada is essentially stating something we already know, namely that we dream of many things, but all these things we dream of are not actually real. They are all projections of the mind, which is what Gaudapa means by ‘located within the body and the space therein is confined’
2.2. The dreamer, on account of the shortness of the time involved, cannot go out of the body and see the dream objects. Nor does he, when awakened, find himself in the places seen in the dream.
Tom: Again, Gaudapada is stating what we already know about dreams. Shankara in his commentary on this verse explains this means that if we dream of going to a far away land many hundreds of miles away that would take several months to travel to, there is not enough time in dream, which only lasts a few hours, to actually travel there. Similarly, when we wake from the dream, we do not find ourself in this dream location far away.
2.3. Scripture, on rational grounds, declares the non-existence of the chariots etc. perceived in dreams. Therefore the wise say that the unreality established by reason is proclaimed by scripture.
Tom: Gaudapada in verses 2.1 and 2.2 has shown that the many things perceived in dreams are not real on the basis of our own experience. Now he is stating the same based on scripture, referring to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.10, which states, referring to a dream about chariots:
‘There are no chariots, nor animals to be yoked to them, nor roads there, but he creates the chariots, animals and roads. There are no pleasures, joys, or delights there, but he creates the pleasures, joys and delights. There are no pools, tanks, or rivers there, but he creates the pools, tanks and rivers. For he is the agent’.
The idea from Gaudapada is that if we dream of a chariot, that chariot is not real, as confirmed by scripture. Note that the teaching that is given in the next two verses is essentially the same as the teaching given in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3(please see this link for more).
2.4. The different objects seen in the confined space of dreams are unreal on account of their being perceived. For the same reason, ie. on account of their being perceived, the objects seen in the waking state are also unreal. The same condition ie. the state of being perceived exists in both waking and dreaming. The only difference is the limitation of space associated with dream objects.
Tom: Gaudapada is now equating the dream and waking states, stating that just as dream objects are perceived but not real, the same is with the waking state objects – they are also perceived yet utterly unreal. Does this mean we are to consider the waking state as unreal as a dream? The answer is yes, let us see:
2.5. Thoughtful persons speak of the sameness of the waking and dream states on account of the similarity of the objects perceived in both states on the grounds already mentioned.
Tom: The translation used thus far is that of Swami Nikhilanananda of the Ramakrishna Order. Swami Gambhirananda, also of the Ramakrishna Order, translates the last line of verse 2.5 as ‘the wise say that the dream and the waking states are one’.
In his commentary on Gaudapada Karika verse 2.5 (above) Shankara states ‘…therefore discriminating people speak of the sameness of the states of waking and dream.’
We can see that Gaudapada and Shankara are both explicitly stating that the waking state is another form of the dream state, and whilst we often distinguish between waking and sleep, they are actually both dream states, and all that is perceived within waking and dream are equally unreal.
Again, note that this teaching is also given in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3
We see the same teaching given much more concisely in Shankara’s masterpiece, Vivekachudamani:
170. In dreams, when there is no actual contact with the external world, the mind alone creates the whole universe consisting of the experiencer etc. Similarly in the waking state also; there is no difference. Therefore all this (phenomenal universe) is the projection of the mind.
Tom: We can see that Shankara is saying that the mind projects both the dream state and the waking state. Note that this is essentially equating the mind with maya. Shankara goes on to reiterate this view in subsequent verses:
171. In dreamless sleep, when the mind is reduced to its causal state, there exists nothing (for the person asleep), as is evident from universal experience. Hence man’s relative existence is simply the creation of his mind, and has no objective reality.
177. The mind continually produces for the experiencer all sense-objects without exception, whether perceived as gross or fine, the differences of body, caste, order of life, and tribe, as well as the varieties of qualification, action, means and results.
Tom: Above we can see that Shankara has equated Mind with Maya. Now he will equate Mind with Ignorance. We can deduce that all three, Mind-Maya-Ignorance, are just three names for the same phenomenon:
180. Hence sages who have fathomed its secret have designated the mind as Avidya or ignorance, by which alone the universe is moved to and fro, like masses of clouds by the wind.
Sri Ramana Maharshi
Like Shankara and Gaudapada, Sri Ramana also equates ignorance and maya, and he further says the same phenomenon is also called ego, jiva, conceit, and impurity – ie. all these various words mean the same thing, and that this ignorance is essentially the ‘I am the body idea’ – see here, taken from the text Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry) in the answer to question 3:
Sri Ramana Maharshi:…Therefore, the ‘I-consciousness’ which at first arises in respect of the body is referred to variously as self-conceit (tarbodham), egoity (ahankara), nescience (avidya), maya, impurity (mala), and individual soul (jiva).
In question 10 of the same text, Vichara Sangraham (Self Enquiry), Sri Ramana says the following:
Question: If the entire universe is of the form of mind, then does it not follow that the universe is an illusion? If that be the case, why is the creation of the universe mentioned in the Vedas?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: There is no doubt whatsoever that the universe is the merest illusion. The principal purport of the Vedas is to make known the true Brahman, after showing the apparent universe to be false. It is for this purpose that the Vedas admit thecreation of the world and not for any other reason…this world arose like a dream on account of one’s own thoughts induced by the defect of not knowing oneself as the Self…That the world is illusory, everyone can directly know in the state of Realisation which is in the form of experience of one’s bliss-nature.
In the text Nan Yar? (Who Am I?), Sri Ramana writes:
Sri Ramana Maharshi:…The world should be considered like a dream.
Question: Is there no difference between waking and dream?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Waking is long and a dream short; other than this there is no difference. Just as waking happenings seem real while awake, so do those in a dream while dreaming.
So, what now? Now we must put the teachings into practice to realise the truth of them:
Tom: Is Self-Enquiry really the only way? Let us see! Bold type has been added by myself for emphasis, and my comments are in red as usual. The following is taken from Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, no. 159, and records a conversation that took place on 29th November 1947:
This afternoon, a devotee asked Bhagavan, “Swami, forgaining Realization, is the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ the only way?”
Bhagavan answered him: “Enquiry is not the only way. If one does spiritual practice (sadhana) with name and form, repetition of holy names (japa), or any of these methods with grim determination and perseverance, one becomes THAT. According to the capacity of each individual, one spiritual practice is said to be better than another and several shades and variations of them have been given. Some people are a long way from Tiruvannamalai, some are very near; some are in Tiruvannamalai, while some get into Bhagavan’s hall itself.
For those who come into the hall, it is enough, if they are told as they step in, ‘Here is the Maharshi’, and they realize him immediately. For others they have to be told which route to take, which trains to catch, where to change, which road to turn into. In like manner, the particular path to be taken must be prescribed according to the capacity of the practiser (sadhaka).
These spiritual practices are not for knowing one’s own Self, which is all-pervading, but only for getting rid of the objects of desire. When all these are discarded, one remains as one IS.
That which is always in existence is the Self — all things are born out of the Self. That will be known only when one realizes one’s own Self.
So long as one has not that knowledge, all that is seen in this world appears as real.
Supposing a person sleeps in this hall. In his sleep he dreams of going somewhere, loses his way, wanders from one village to another, from one hill to another, and during that time, and for days together, searches without food or water. He suffers a good deal, enquiries of several people and finally finds the correct place. He reaches it, and feeling that he is stepping into this hall, greatly relieved, he opens his eyes with a startled look. All this will have happened within a short time and it is only after he wakes up that he realizes that he had not been anywhere.
Our present life is also like that. When the eye of knowledge is opened, a person realizes that he remains ever in his own Self.”
The questioner asked further: “Is it true that all spiritual practices, as is said, merge into the path of Self-enquiry?”
It is said that only he who has the assets of the four kinds of spiritual practice is fit for Vedantic enquiry. Of the four categories of practice the first is the knowledge of the Self and the non-Self (atma and anatma). That means a knowledge that the Self is eternal (nitya) and that the world is unreal (mithya).
How to know this is the question. It is possible to know this by enquiry as to ‘Who am I?’ and what is the nature of my self! Usually this procedure is suggested at the beginning of the spiritual practice, but generally it does not carry conviction. So all sorts of other spiritual practices are resorted to and it is only ultimately, as a last resort, that the practiser takes to Self-enquiry.
The alphabet A B C D E, etc., are learnt while young. If it is stated that these letters are the fundamentals for all education and that there is no need to study for B.A. or M.A., will people listen to such advice? It is only after studying and passing these examinations that it will be realized that all that has been studied is contained in those fundamental letters A B C, etc. Are not all the scriptures contained in the elementary thing, the alphabet? That it is so, is only known after learning by heart all the scriptures.
It is the same with every one of these things. There are a number of rivers, some flow straight, some wind and twistzig-zag, but all of them ultimately become merged in the ocean. In the same way, all paths become merged in the path of Self-enquiry, just as all languages become merged in Silence (mouna).
Mouna means continuous speech; it does not mean that it is a vacuum. It is the speech of self ,identifying with the Self. It is Self-luminous. Everything is in the Self. In Tamil Nad a great person composed and sang a song the purport of which is, ‘We are like a screen, and the whole world appears like pictures on it. Silence is full and all-pervading’.
It is said that the suffering can only end when the Self is realised, and that the Self can only be realised through Jnana, which means ‘knowledge’. This ‘knowledge’ is tantamount to and synonymous with liberation itself. So, what is this Jnana? Often the word is not clearly defined in vedanta scriptures so the exact meaning of the word is lost. Many people think that jnana refers to knowledge in the intellect or mind, but this is an incorrect understanding.
For those of you who are familiar with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, you will know that Sri Ramana makes the meaning clear for us: Jnana is just another word for the Self. The Self ‘knows’ itself by Its-Self. Jnana just means being the Self, devoid of objects or any arising phenomena.
However, what do the traditional scriptures say? Well, as usual, they same the same as Sri Ramana. Jnana just means Being Self, devoid of all arising phenomenal objects. In Gaudapada’s masterpiece, his commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad also known as Mandukya Karika or Gaudapada Karika, the entirely of Vedanta is unfolded and explained. We also have Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada’s writing to guide us further.
Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada
One other advantage about using Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada’ Karika is that whilst the same teachings are often given in shorter simpler texts written by Shankara (ie. the prakarana granthas or ‘instruction manuals’), some people (usually those who disagree with the teachings of these shorter texts!) debate whether or not Shankara actually wrote the shorter texts. Whilst most scholars still think that it is highly likley that Shankara did write these prakarana granthas, there is enough of a minority who disagree.
However this is not the case with Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada Karika – there is almost universal agreement that this is clearly an authentic work of Shankara’s. In the quotes below I have used the translation from Swami Gambhirananda taken from the book ‘Eight Upanishads with the commentary of Sankaracarya’, which is one of the more literal translations available. This does make it slightly harder to read at times, but it means the meaning, once deciphered, is generally clearer.
Gaudapada’s Karika is composed of four chapters. In the first two chapters Gaudapada relentlessly drives home the point that all phenomenal arisings in the waking state are utterly illusory, just like in a dream all objects in the waking state are projected imaginings, and are a product of Maya. This includes all subtle objects such as knowledge in the intellect, which is said to be more Maya. ie. knowledge in the intellect and ignorance are both ignorance and illusion. In Shankara’s commentary he agrees with this and further supplements Gaudapada’s reasoning (see chapter 2 verses 1-19 and verses 31-36 of Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s commentary for this).
In fact in verse 2.5 Gaudapada encourages the seeker to consider the waking and dream states to be a single dream state rather that two distinct states called waking and dream, with Shankara again agreeing in his commentary on this verse. This is why the Self is said to be beyond both knowledge and ignorance.
Knowledge vs experience
Note that some people contrast intellectual knowledge with experience, stating that intellectual knowledge is what is needed rather than experiences, which come and go. However, note that according to Gaudapada’s framework, intellectual knowledge is just a subtype or class of experience, as it too comes and goes and is subject to change, hence all intellectual knowledge ultimately is just maya or dream-like illusion. It should be obvious to us if we discern – what is ordinarily called knowledge, ie. knowledge in the mind or intellect, is actually just a form or type of experience!
So back to Jnana. How does Gaudapada define this? How does Shankara define this? We see a definition in Chapter 3 verse 33, as follows:
33. They say that the non-conceptual knowledge (Jnanam), which is birthless, is non-different from the knowable (Brahman). The knowledge that has Brahman for its content is birthless and everlasting. The Birthless is known by the Birthless.
Shankara starts his commentary on this verse as follows:
The knowers of Brahman say that absolute Jnanam, knowledge, which is akalpakam, devoid of all imagination (non-conceptual), and is therefore ajam, birthless…
We can see that here both Gaudapada and Shankara are stating that the nature of Jnana is basically the same as the Self, as follows:
-It is non-conceptual, ie. not of the intellect or mind. The work Gaudapada uses is akalpakam, which means without kalpas or without thought/concepts/imaginings. Earlier in Gaudapada Karika Gaudapada has in several successive verses driven home the point that the entire waking state is born of imagination (kalpa), so to state that Jnana is akalpalkam means that is it without any dream or waking state objects whatsoever. Shankara in his commentary has taken this meaning of the word kalpa to mean ‘imaginings’ in this sense.
-It is birthless and everlasting; and what is birthless and everlasting apart from the Self?
-It is known by itself (the birthless is known by the birthless), ie. it is the Self that ‘knows’ the Self by Its-Self. Here I have put the word ‘know’ in quotes as it is not knowledge in the normal sense, as knowledge in the mind is necessarily conceptual, but here we are speaking of or pointing to a non-conceptual ‘knowledge’, the word ‘knowledge’ being used for want of a better word to describe something that is essentially beyond description.
Later in his commentary on the same verse Shankara writes:
By that unborn knowledge, which is the very nature of the Self, is known – It knows by Itself – the birthless reality, which is the Self. The idea being conveyed is that the Self being ever a homogenous mass of Consciousness, like the sun that is by nature a constant light, does not depend on any other knowledge (for Its revelation).
Again, we can see that idea is that the nature of Self is Knowledge/Jnana, in the same way the nature of the sun is to shine.
The word ‘homogenous’ means without any variation whatsoever, ie. without any subtle or gross objects arising in the consciousness.
No phenomenal arisings in the Self/in Jnana
Shankara continues his commentary on Gaudapada’s Karika verse 3.33, commenting that with Self-realisation all ideation has been driven out of the mind, and that there are no external objects of perception present either. The mind becomes still, and the still mind is no-mind – it is verily the Self, Jnana:
It has been said that when the mind is divested of ideation by virtue of the realisation of Truth that is Brahman, and when there is an absence of external objects (of perception), it becomes tranquil, controlled, and withdrawn, like fire that has no fuel. And it has further been said that when the mind thus ceases to be mind, duality also disappears.
Gaudapada and Shankara have already stated that Jnana is akalpakam. Shankara explains in his commentary that this word akalpakam means that it is devoid of all imagination. It should be noted that in Chapter 2 Gaudapada has said that everything that arises in both the waking and dream states is due to imagination (kalpa), eg. in verses 2.10-2.12, so it should be clear that by stating Jnana is akalpakam it means it is without any objects.
In his commentary on verse 3.33 above, Shankara is stating that realisation occurs when the phenomenal arisings, gross and subtle, have all ceased to arise, duality disappears, ie. Jnana is attained, or the Self has been realised. He is building on the previous two verses from Gaudapada, 3.31 and 3.32 which have already established this:
3.31 All this that there is – together with all that move or does not move – is perceived by the mind (and therefore all is is but the mind); for when the mind ceases to be the mind, duality is no longer perceived.
3.32 When the Truth of Atman has been realised, the mind ceases to think; then the mind attains the state of not being the mind. In the absence of things to be perceived, it becomes a non-perceiver.
You will also see that Jnana is being equated with a still mind – a mind that is no longer active – and a still mind that never moves again is no longer the mind – it is the Self. Again, for those of you who are familiar with Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, he has already made all of this clear to us. For those of you who are not convinced, we have Shankara’s commentary on these verses to make it all the clearer for us:
Shankara’s commentary on verse 3.31:
This duality as a whole, that is mano-drsyam, perceived by the mind; is nothing but the mind, which is itself imagined – this is the proposition [Tom: ie. meaning of the verse]. For duality endures so long as the mind does, and disappears with the disappearance of the mind.
For when the mind ceases to be mind when, like the illusory snake disappearing in the rope, the mind’s activity stops through the practice of discriminating insight and detachment, or when the mind gets absorbed in the state of sleep, duality is not perceived. From this non-existence is proved the unreality of duality. This is the purport. How does the mind cease to be the mind? This is being answered [in the next verse and commentary]:
We can see that Shankara is equating the mind with Maya and with ignorance , something that is commonly done in vedanta texts – eg. in Shankara’s Vivekachudamani. Shankara states that it is the mind that projects all of duality (as per Chapter’s 1 and 2 of Gaudapada’s Karika which states the same), and that duality ceases when the mind ceases. Shankara states that through discrimination (viveka) and detachment (vairagya) the mind’s activity stops, and so it is the still or unmoving mind that is the result of viveka and vairagya, which is exactly the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. When the mind is no longer active, duality is not perceived, Shankara’s states, like in deep sleep.
Shankara’s commentary on verse 3.32:
The Truth that is Self…The Truth of the Self which follows from the instruction of the scriptures and teacher, when as a consequence of that, there remains nothing to be thought of, and the mind does not think – as fire does not burn in the absence of combustible things. At that time it attains the state of ceasing to be the mind. In the absence of things to be perceived, that mind becomes free from all illusion of perceptions. This is the idea.
Again, we see that Shankara is stating that the practice of viveka and vairagya (discrimination and renunciation) leads to the mind becoming still and this gives rise to realisation of Truth that is Self. Thereafter the mind stops thinking ‘as fire does not burn in the absence of combustible things’.
He, like Ramana, states that the mind feeds on sense objects or ‘things perceived’. In the ‘absence of things to be perceived‘, the mind no longer has any food or fuel and so burns out. This gives us the imagery of the flame of mind/egotism being extinguished, ie. nirvana, which literally means extinguishment (of a flame or fire).
Deep Sleep vs Stillness of Mind (Samadhi)
We have already covered 3.33 above. The next two verses, verse 3.34 and 3.35 explain the difference between the still or controlled mind and Deep Sleep – it is important note this only has to be done as Gaudapada has explained (and Shankara has agreed) that there are no gross or subtle objects present when the mind is stilled/controlled.
The natural question is therefore what is the difference between the Still Mind and Deep Sleep? If there were objects present when the mind is still, why the need to point out the difference between the Still Mind and Deep Sleep? Or surely the response would simply be that when the mind is controlled, objects are still or can still be present. However this is not the explaination given by Gaudapada, and Shankara is even stronger in his commentary.
I will not go into these verses here, as we are straying from the essence of this post, but you are welcome to look them up yourself. Sri Ramana Maharshi has given his own explanation of the difference between the still mind and deep sleep which you can read hereif you wish, and you will find that it is essentially the same explanation given by both Gaudapada and Shankara.
A Practical Method for Self-Realisation
Thereafter next few verses carry on along similar lines reiterating similar points – you can find some of them here.
Finally Gaudapada ends chapter three in a marvellous crescendo by describing a practical method to attain liberation for those who remain stuck in Maya (Shankara in his commentary states that the method is for those who remain unliberated and fearful), which you can read on this link below.
You will see that Gaudapada is stating that the means to liberation is to control, or make still, the mind. We can infer that this is also the way to Jnana. He then outlines a method on how to still the mind, pointing out what the still mind is and what it isn’t:
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, verse 4.4.20, states the following:
20. It [Brahman] should be realised in one form only, (for) It is unknowable and eternal. The Self is taintless, beyond the (subtle) ether, birthless, infinite and constant.
Here we can see that the Upanishad is stating that Brahman is unknowable. So what of Self-Knowledge or knowledge of Brahman that is so often spoken about? Shankara explains this contradiction in him commentary on this verse:
The knowledge of Brahman too means only the cessation of the identification with extraneous things (such as the body). The relation of identity with It [Brahman] has not to be directly established, for it is already there. Everybody always has that identity with It, but it appears to be related to something else. Therefore the scriptures do not enjoin that identity with Brahman should be established, but that the false identification with things other than That should stop. When the identification with other things is gone, that identity with one’s own Self which is natural, becomes isolated; this is expressed by the statement that the Self is known. In Itself It is unknowable – not comprehended through any means. Hence both statements are consistent.
We can see that Shankara is stating that Brahman is indeed unknowable, and that Jnana, or knowledge, only signifies the cessation of identification with extraneous things, ie. loss of identification with objects, specifically the body-mind. We do not need to affirm our identity as Brahman, as we already are and always have been and always will be Brahman. Any affirmation of Brahman would simply be on the level of thought or concepts, and so it would be Maya, or more ignorance. But once the false identification has been removed, then the Self naturally shines as itself, and this lack of wrong-knowledge, or lack of wrongly identifying as the body-mind, is what is called ‘Jnana’ or ‘knowledge’.