The importance of Manana (contemplating the teachings)

This is a very important verse from Shankara. Most people concentrate on the point being made about samadhi when reading this verse, but note how it states that manana is ‘one hundred times’ superior to sravana.

Yesterday in Satsang, we were talking about manana and how we can do this more effectively, and how this naturally will lead to nididhyasana and then samadhi and then full realisation. You will start to find that the motivation to do practice will increase.

Thinking about the teachings, seeing the tricks the ego keeps on playing on you to perpetuate itself, seeing the very nature of the ego for yourself, writing this all down and reflecting upon it means the ego has less room to manoevure. Write down all your thoughts, write down all your insights, get it all on paper.

At this point in the teaching it is helpful to do this as the mind, being very fickle and forgetful will quickly forget the insights you have previously made, thus perpetuating itself.

As you engage with this aspect of the teaching, you will see how just powerful it indeed is, how the ego has less and less room to move in, how the ego weakens naturally, and how peace and love more and more come into you, merging with your very Being.

Namaste 🙏

Quieten your mind! (Shankara on Nirvikalpa Samadhi and Brahma-Vidya/Self-Realisation) Swami Chinmayananda’s commentary on Vivekachudamani

Vivekacchudamani Vivekachoodamani Shankara Swami Chinmayananda

Tom: I highly recommend this version of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, which is complete with detailed commentary by Swami Chinmayananda on every verse in case there is any doubt of the meaning of the text. You can download a copy of the text here but I recommend you buy a print copy:

Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, verse 366:

  1. By nirvikalpa samadhi the true nature of Brahman is clearly and definitely manifest, never otherwise, for then, the mind being unsteady, is apt to be mixed with other perceptions.

Swami Chinmayananda’s Commentary:

In the condition of nirvikalpa samadhi alone can this great Reality be apprehended with certainty. With cent per cent certainty you apprehend the Truth when all the waves and ripples in your mind have ended. Sankara is positive and declares, ‘Never by any other method’; bringing the mind to quietude is the only method.

To quieten the mind there are many methods. You may quieten your mind through devotion, or through knowledge, or through karma-yoga or through pranayama. Whether standing on the head or sitting down, whether by going to the Himalayas or by living in your own home – you have the freedom to choose these – but your mind you must quieten.

The mind’s nature is to be constantly active. ‘Thought flow’, it is called. Therefore, it is impossible to realise the changeless Self with the mind, which, by its very nature is unstable. Whenever you try to grasp anything through the mind and intellect, the object of knowledge gets entangled in your own thought patterns. Pure Self can never be understood, so all that you understand about the Atman through the mind and intellect is Saguna Brahman and not Nirguna Brahman.

The unconditioned Absolute is never understood; you just become It when the mind ends. As long as you look at It through the mind. It is only the conditioned, the limited (Saguna) version of the eternal absolute Self.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questioner: Does Bhagavan condemn dvaita Philosophy?

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

Now Hui Neng will tell us what not to do:

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

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

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

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

We should constantly set up the Light of Wisdom.

Erroneous views keep us in defilement

While right views remove us from it,

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

We are then absolutely pure.

… and….

Right views are called ‘transcendental’;

Erroneous views are called ‘worldly’.

When all views, right or erroneous, are discarded

Then the essence of Bodhi appears.

This stanza is for the ‘Sudden’ School.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also see:

Ramana Maharshi on Jiddu Krishanmurti’s Choiceless Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.3.7 “What is this Self”….

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

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

Similarly in verse 13:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 4.3.31:

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

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

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

Shankara’s commentary on 4.3.31:

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

Verse 4.3.32:

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

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

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

Shankara’s commentary on 4.3.32:

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

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

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

Tom’s concluding remarks:

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

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

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

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

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

The Upanishad tell us Thus did Yājñavalkya instruct Janaka

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

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

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

Also see: Do we need to turn away from the world of objects to realise the Self?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom: Shankara first summarises the teachings of the previous chapters, explaining how the world of objects is a creation of ignorance or maya, (ie. objects are illusion) and this is different to True Knowledge. Note that Knowledge is equated as being the same as The Self when devoid of any objective phenomena.

Shankara’s Commentary:

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

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

Tom: Shankara then goes on to say that the world of objects cannot lead to liberation and must be renounced or given up. All actions or karmas, such as rituals, or any doing or thinking all belong to the domain of ignorance, ie. the realm of objective phenomena, so they are not able to lead to the Self, which is the objectless Subject.

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

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

Tom: Shankara goes on to make an emphatic statement about liberation and desire, and then a perhaps even more emphatic statement about liberation obliterating all karmas, all ignorance and all the effects of ignorance (ie. the appearance of separate objective phenomena and suffering). Lastly he states the importance of renunciation for liberation, a theme found throughout Shankara’s commentarial works.

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

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

Verse 2.4.1:

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.2:

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.3:

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.4:

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.5:

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

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

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

Tom: in this famous verse Shankara comments how the thing that is most dear to us is the Self and so the Self alone is most worthy to be realised. The method of sravana (hearing the teaching of the Self), manana (thinking about the teaching of the Self) and nididhyasana (meditation on the Self) is said to be the way to realise the Self. Later in this chapter what exactly nididhyasana is will be explained by use of several examples. Note that Shankara is clear that sravana alone will not lead to liberation.

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

Verse 2.4.6:

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

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

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

Tom: Here in the next few verses everything is said to be nothing other than the Self. Later, these objects/maya will need to be removed for the Pure Self, ie. Self Knowledge, to be revealed. Note that when Shankara refers to Knowledge, he is referring to the Pure Self in which there is no trace of objective phenomena, and not some knowledge in the mind which has already been discarded or dismissed as being within the realm of ignorance.


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

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

Verse 2.4.7:

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.8:

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.9:

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.10:

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.11:

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

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

Tom: Shankara will now describe how everything is to be dissolved in Brahman. Just as all rivers flow to the ocean, where they are no longer discernible as separate rivers, we are to merge or dissolve everything into Pure Consciousness so that all that remains is Pure Consciousness. The word homogenous is used to indicate the lack of any differentiation whatsoever, differentiation already above being shown to be a product of ignorance. We can also see that the words ‘merge’ and ‘dissolve’ refer to ‘destruction’ of objective phenomena so that only the ‘one and homogenous’ consciousness remains or as Shankara also puts it ‘there are no more limiting adjucts’, limiting adjuncts here being another term for objects or objective phenomena.

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

Tom: Shankara states this merging or dissolution or destruction should occur until differences ‘can no longer be distinguished’. This dissolution should be for all objective phenomena, which includes the body, the sense organs and the mind. ie. all objective phenomena are to be dissolved until differences ‘can no longer be distinguished’ like various rivers flowing into the ocean.

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.12:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom: Shankara now explains again that all the objective phenomena, when destroyed, the sense of being a separate individual is also destroyed, and this is realisation of the Self.

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

Tom: Shankara has stated above that individualisation (ie. duality or separation) is destroyed when the various objects, such as body, sense-organs and sense-objects (ie. body and world), have been ‘destroyed’ or removed, just like when bubbles and foam (ie. duality) are destroyed all that remains is the non-dual water. He now continues to affirm that any sense of individual identity is lost with liberation:

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

Verse 2.4.13:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 2.4.14:

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

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

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

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

Shankara drives the point home by also stating that in the Self, there are no actions, nothing that could produce an action (ie. no objects) and therefore no possibility of results. This is tantamount to stating that both space (in which objects appear) and time (in which actions occur) are both illusion conjured up by ignorance. Earlier in his introduction to this section Shankara has already stated that liberation results in obliteration of ignorance together with all of its effects when he writes: ‘…the attainment of knowledge, which obliterates all action with its factors and results, and ignorance together with its effects…’ so Shankara is clearly stating that the illusions of time and space and all objective phenomena are ‘obliterated’ in liberation.

Lastly Shankara states that the Self is not actually known at all, for what could know it? The implication is that the Self, the Subject, merely IS, and this is enough. Note here how Shankara again affirms that the body is an appearance ‘conjoured up by ignorance’ and that when the body appears, there is duality so to speak, and with it suffering. He then goes on to reiterate and summarise the same teachings we have already heard to drive the point home in case you were not listening properly first time round!

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Why does traditional Advaita Vedanta reject Ramana Maharshi’s Self Enquiry as a method to attain liberation

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.



Why faith IS required for liberation | Advaita Vedanta

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

But what if this faith is not present?

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

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

What is the definition of faith?

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

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

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

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


Also see:

Ramana Maharshi: how to abide as the Self

Shankara: How to Meditate for Self-Realisation

Shankara: How to realise the Self (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Commentary)

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

In Shankara’s commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, in his introduction to the text he writes:

Just as the normal state of a man, afflicted by disease, consists in his getting cured of the disease, similarly the normalcy of the Self, stricken with identification with misery, is regained through the cessation of the phenomenal universe of duality…since the phenomenal world of duality is a creation of ignorance, it can be eradicated through knowledge…

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 Self (Atman) is beyond all expression by words beyond all acts of mind; It is absolutely peaceful, it is eternal effulgence free from activity and fear and it is attainable by Samadhi
~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika 3.37

Shankara’s commentary from the above verse from Gaudapada 3.37 states:

…The Self (Atman) is denoted by the word Samadhi as it can be realised only by the knowledge arising out of the deepest concentration (on its essence), Samadhi. Or the Self (Atman) is denoted by Samadhi because it is the object of concentration, the Jiva concentrates his mind on the Self (Atman)…

In the next verse Gaudapada writes in verse 3.38 of his Mandukya Karika:

There can be no acceptance or rejection where all mentation stops. Then knowledge is established in the Self and is unborn, and it becomes homogenous

Shankara’s commentary on this verse 3.38 is as follows:

…therefore there is no rejection or acceptance in It, where thought does not exist. That is to say, how can there be rejection or acceptance where no mentation is possible in the absence of the mind? As soon as there comes the realisation of the Truth that is the Self, then, in the absence of any object, knowledge (Jnanam) is established in the Self, like the heat of fire in fire. It is then birthless (ajati) and becomes homogenous.

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

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 [Brahma-Vidya or Self Knowledge]
~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 [Brahma-Vidya or Self-Knowledge].’

In his commentary on Katha Upanishad verse 1.2.20 Sri Shankara writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Reading: Books for Enlightenment, Liberation and Self-Realisation

Whilst there are many wonderful books and texts to read, I want to focus here on books and scripture that:

  1. comprehensively deals with the path to liberation
  2. in a clear and unambiguous way that is easy to understand for the true and genuine seeker of liberation
  3. with few/minimal detours
  4. but still provides the necessary depth of teaching
  5. in order to effectively bring about Liberation

Where possible I have provided a link to Downloadable PDF versions of each of the books recommended in the sections below. I recommend you obtain a copy of all of the books recommended. Towards the end of this post I also give a suggested order in which you can read the books.

I hope you find these resources to be of value

Best Wishes & Namaste


How to read the books

The point of this list of books is not for you to simply read lots of books!

As I have only selected books which each contain the entire teaching required for liberation, a deep study of any single one of the above texts is all that is required.

The purpose of the books is to outline the essential cause of suffering and the remedy for it. The theory given in the books is then meant to be put into practice. Once the essential teaching has been understood and the desire to put the teachings earnestly into practice has arisen, there is no need to read more and more, as this can get in the way of actual practice.

However, if the teaching has not been understood or the strong desire to put the teachings into practice has not arisen, then the recommendation is to continue reading, but to read slowly. Take your time, study the teachings presented, make sure you understand them step by step but fully and deeply. Take your time to ensure you not only intellectually understand the texts but that your understanding sinks deeper into the feeling or experiential level where it can actually result in a lasting change. Staying with a single powerful quote and allowing that quote to penetrate into the depths of your being, so lasting change is created, is more useful than reading an entire volume and understanding the theory on a superficial intellectual level only.

Put the teachings into practice. If you have read the teachings several times but find you are not putting them into practice, it means that you probably haven’t grasped the depth of the teachings and perhaps you are relating to them predominantly on an intellectual level only. This may be a signal that you should slow down and take more time over each teaching point before moving on to the next teaching. Alternatively it may be a signal to speak directly to a teacher about such matters to seek clarity about the teachings.

The books

Texts by Sri Ramana Maharshi

Ramana gave many varied teachings to those who approached him. He naturally and spontaneously adapted the teachings to the level of the seeker before him, and some of these teachings therefore seem contradictory, and this can give rise to confusion about what Sri Ramana’s actual teaching was. However, in the short texts that Sri Ramana himself wrote, we see a very clear, unambiguous and consistent teaching that outlines the direct and true path to liberation.

Many state that the short text, Who am I?, written by Sri Ramana Maharshi contains all you need to attain liberation. And I would agree!

Together with two more of Sri Ramana’s writings, Upadesa Saram (The Essence of Instruction) and Ulladu Narpadu and Supplement – click on the links for downloadable PDF versions – a comprehensive set of teachings for liberation is given to us in concise form by Sri Ramana Maharshi.

The above three texts can also all be found in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, which also contains other beautiful works including Sri Ramana’s translation of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, itself another recommended text (see below).

The Path of Sri Ramana

This is the text I most commonly recommend reading and the book I recommend you read firstThe Path of Sri Ramana by Sri Sadhu Om. Sri Sadhu Om spent several years with Sri Ramana and many consider this book to be an authority on Sri Ramana’s teachings and how to put them into practice. This text explains in detail the entire path to liberation in a way that is easy to understand.

Whilst the three texts from Sri Ramana Maharshi mentioned in the section above contain all the teachings needed, I have found that many people are unable to understand or even see what these short texts are saying despite it all being laid out. This may be in part due to the concise nature of Ramana’s own words, together with some technical terms and a language barrier, but also because the ego-mind will not always allow the true teachings to be seen.

The Path of Sri Ramana explains all the teachings clearly and in detail so the true teaching cannot be missed or ignored by the ego-mind that may be trying to distort or alter the teachings in order to avoid its own demise. It also clearly explains what the path is NOT, and so keeps the seeker away from paths that seem or appear to be similar to the true path, but are actually routes to more delusion rather than Liberation.

The Path of Sri Ramana also is one of the few texts that not only explains the path of Knowledge (Jnana) but also clearly outlines the path of Love & Devotion (Bhakti) and the path of Karma (action) in a clear and logical manner.

Another text that is also of value is the wonderful Sadhanai Saram (The Essence of Sadhana or Spiritual Practice), also written by Sri Sadhu Om. This text contains many gems and the teachings are given through a series of verses grouped by topic. I recommend you read the Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 and 2 before you read Sadhanai Saram to gain the full benefit of the text.

Guru Vachaka Kovai (Garland of Guru’s Sayings)

Whilst not strictly written by Sri Ramana, the text Guru Vachaka Kovai was extensively checked and amended by Sri Ramana. It was written by one of his closest devotees, Sri Muruganar, and is widely considered to be the most authoritative collection of verbal teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. The foreword of the book published by Sri Ramana Ashram states the following about Guru Vachaka Kovai:

[Guru Vachaka Kovai] provides the most precise, systematic and authoritative exposition of Sri Bhagavan’s teaching, explaining step by step the theory, the practice and the experience of jnana, the Truth supreme which is Being as Life Eternal, Pure Awareness, Perfect Bliss. Thus, the most comprehensive collection of the Maharshi’s sayings is Guru Vachaka Kovai…

My recommendation is, after having read the introduction and introductory verses, to start with the verses towards the end of the book which deal directly with the nature of liberation and work your way towards the front of the book.

Sri Ramana Gita

I also recommend the Sri Ramana Gita

Traditional Vedanta Texts

Whilst there are many wonderful traditional scriptures that one can read, there are a few traditional texts that clearly explain the entire path unambiguously for the genuine seeker of liberation, with minimal detours as possible.

Traditionally the most important of these is Vivekachudamani written by Sri Shankacharya. This is arguably the single most important scripture in Advaita Vedanta. Whilst Vedanta is primarily based upon the Upanishads, the teachings in the Upanishads are not always clearly and systematically explained. There are also different ways of interpreting these texts, and many Traditional lineages themselves have very questionable interpretations of the texts, and this can give rise to doubts. One danger is that one may end up engaging in too much extensive scriptural study, which in itself may take decades – even then one may still have doubts!

Vivekachudamani summarises and systematises the teachings of the Upanishads and has been used as a gold-standard for Advaita Teachings since it was written approximately 1400 years ago. The repetition present in the verses, the way the same topic is often spoken of in different ways, and the way the teaching is present throughout the text (ie. the teachings are given at the beginning, middle and end of the text) means that the true meaning of the text cannot easily be distorted, altered, misunderstood or wrongly interpreted.

Whilst most scholars and traditionalists agree that Vivekachudamani was likely written by Shankara, some dispute the authorship of the text and state it was written by a later Shankaracharya in the same lineage. Regardless of who the author was, there is not a single teaching present in Vivekachudamani that cannot also be found in the Upanishads, which are the source texts for Vedanta, and of course the authors of the Upanishads also remain unknown to us. Countless sages in the last 1400 years, including Sri Ramana Maharshi, have also testified the greatness of this text, stating this text teaches the way to liberation.

Sri Ramana Maharshi also translated the entirety of Vivekachudamani into Tamil and wrote an introduction to the text in which he states that Vivekachudamani reveals the direct path to liberation. Both of these by Sri Ramana are also recommended. Many other sages over the centuries have also praised Vivekachudamani as clearly showing the true path to Liberation.

Another traditional text that shows us the complete path is Advaita Bodha Deepika. It too is a text that was recommended by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, and so I also recommend you read it. Whilst Vivekachudamani clearly explains the correct path, this text not only does this, but it also describes why other (false) paths do not work and how to avoid them. Some people find it to be more accessible as it is written in a question and answer format in prose, rather than in verse (Vivekachudamani is written in verse form).

In the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramana has translated several traditional Advaita texts himself, all of which are recommended. These include texts from both the Vedanta and Tantra traditions (the Agamas are the source texts for several Hindu Tantric schools).

There are many other wonderful traditional Advaita texts such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Avadhuta Gita, Ashtavakra Gita, Ribhu Gita, Uddhava Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, etc, and these are also well worth reading, but the last one I want to mention here is the wonderful Yoga Vasishta. This is one of the most important traditional texts in Advaita Vedanta in which the teachings are clearly and unambiguously explained in a systematic way. It is also of historical interest as it is one of the few Vedanta Scripture that clearly gives us an idea of what Vedanta was like prior to Shankara. You can read about it more in the link I have just provided above and you will also find further links to key teachings from the text which are also well-worth exploring.

Other contemporary books

You may find that some of your favourite spiritual books do not feature on this list. It may be that I simply haven’t come across that book, but it also may be that I have come across it, but have not included it here as I do not feel it fulfils the criteria I have set out at the top of this post.

As you (hopefully) become familiar with the teachings presented in the above texts – they all present the same essential teaching by the way – you may start to see how these teachings are often NOT the same as other teachings that are more widely available in today’s contemporary spiritual marketplace. Initially it may seem that all non-dual teachings are pointing to the same essence in their own way, but as you become more familiar with the teachings, you will start to see differences emerge, and these differences can make all the difference!

Here are some more contemporary books that I also recommend. Again, the same essential teaching that is given in the above texts are also given in these.

First is The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss by Michael Langford. This book’s tone may not be for everyone, but wonderful teachings are presented nonetheless. As well as outlining a path to liberation, this book also outlines various strategies the ego-mind uses to ‘prevent’ liberation from occurring. Understanding these ‘ego preservation strategies’ is very useful, especially if you can see them operating in yourself and put and end to them. Also highly recommended by the same author are the books ‘Seven Steps to Awakening’ and ‘The Importance of Practice and Effort’.

Another book I’d like to tentatively recommend is Happiness and the Art of Being by Michael James. I hesitate to and only tentatively recommend this book as it is the one book on this list I haven’t actually fully read myself – I’ve only skimmed through it and read the first few pages of the introduction – but I have been very impressed by what I have read thus far, so hence it makes this list. I feel the author has a wonderful understanding of Sri Ramana’s teachings and manages to shines a light on the true Vedanta rather than many of the ‘drier’ intellectual (ie. false) versions of Vedanta that are currently in circulation. He also studied Ramana’s teachings directly with Sri Sadhu Om, who wrote the Path of Sri Ramana (see above), and has made his own translations of Sri Ramana’s works including Guru Vachaka Kovai, so I feel fairly confident the teachings will be in line with the above teachings. There are also many gems and detailed insights in this book I have found when skimming through that I have not found elsewhere, which is another reason this book makes the cut. The author has made the book available for free online on the link above, but if you are able to, I encourage you to make a donation to help support the author.

A suggested reading order

All of the above texts contain the same essential teaching presented in slightly different ways, so if you find that you are drawn to one particular book, it is generally good to read that one first, as that is the text you will be most motivated to read. However here is my suggested reading order:

  1. The Path of Sri Ramana Part 1 & 2 by Sri Sadhu Om – these two books clearly describe the entire spiritual path and form a great foundation for beginners and advanced seekers alike. If these texts are put into practice, no further books are required.
  2. Sadhanai Saram by Sri Sadhu Om – this is sometimes referred to as ‘part 3’ of the above and consolidates the above teachings as well as giving further clarity to the path
  3. Who am I?, Upadesa Saram and Ulladu Narpadu & Supplement – all by Sri Ramana Maharshi. These short texts will be more fully appreciated and easier to understand having read the above 3 books by Sri Sadhu Om.
  4. The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss by Michael Langford
  5. Seven Steps to Awakening, compiled by Michael Langford
  6. Vivekachudamani by Shankara
  7. Advaita Bodha Deepika
  8. Guru Vachaka Kovai
  9. Sri Ramana Gita
  10. Advaita texts translated by Sri Ramana in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi
  11. Yoga Vasistha
  12. Happiness and the Art of Being

Q. I don’t really care for Sri Ramana or Vedanta, etc – I just want very clear teachings on liberation in plain language without any mystical mumbo jumbo – what books do you recommend?

In this case I recommend you read ‘The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss’ by Michael Langford. This is a wonderful and straight-forward presentation of the teachings stripped of mysticism and obscure language. However – these teachings may be too direct for some – you were warned!

Michael Langford has created another compilation called ‘Seven Steps to Awakening’ which is a collection of quotes from various sources which give a traditional and scriptural backing to the teachings given in ‘The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss’. These two books work very well together.

Q. My main interest is in Advaita Vedanta teachings – which books are best?

The best introduction to the Vedanta teachings I have come across are actually The Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 & 2. After this, I would recommend the traditional texts Advaita Bodha Deepika and then Vivekachudamani, followed by the traditional Advaita texts Sri Ramana translated that can be found in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, and then Yoga Vasistha. Lastly I would recommend you read Happiness and the Art of Being which is also a very good text on Vedanta teachings.

My main interest is in Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Teachings – what do you recommend?

I would recommend the Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 & 2, then Sadhanai Saram, followed by the suggested reading order I gave above.

Q. Why is my favourite spiritual book not on your list of books?

It may be that I haven’t read it, or it may be that it doesn’t in my view fulfil the criteria I have outlined at the top of the post.

Q. I know you have written various blog posts on Zen and Buddhism. Why do texts from these traditions not feature on your list?

Yes, I have written several posts on Zen and Buddhism – please see the hyperlinks in the question above for examples. I do think they are wonderful traditions but I haven’t found a book from those traditions that gives a complete teaching with sufficient detail that fits the criteria at the top of the post without also creating much ambiguity and confusion about the path. Many of the texts fall short in my view, which is not to say the traditions themselves fall short necessarily, although they may depending on how they are taught. I have found that the above recommended texts are much clearer and more straightforward, and therefore more effective. However I will let you decide!

Q. What about books by Nisargadatta Maharaj such as ‘I Am That?’

Whilst I Am That is a very good book that has inspired many, I have found that the teachings vary a lot depending on whom Nisargadatta Maharaj is speaking to. This is because this book, and others like it, are a record of conversations, so the teaching given varies according to the context it was given it. This means that the highest teaching is not always taught. What then often happens is that the ego-mind or the reader often finds a way to latch onto the lower teachings and use this as a means to perpetuate itself – this is often done unconsciously without the reader realising this. The terminology used such as the use of the phrase ‘I AM’ can be very confusing for some, as sometimes it refers to what Ramana would call the ‘I thought’ or ego, whereas in other parts of the book ‘I AM’ refers to the Self or the Absolute. Basically the essential teaching is not always clearly taught in my view, so hence I do not recommend it. However, if one has read the above recommended books first, then these varying teachings found in books such as ‘I Am That’ will not cause the reader confusion as the essential teaching has already been understood.

The same could be said for Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, which is also a record of conversations, so although Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi is also a wonderful book, I do not recommend it here for those who want to go directly for liberation as the essential teaching is not always clearly given. We are however very lucky that Sri Ramana wrote several short texts himself which clearly point the way to liberation without the need to wade through large collections of recorded conversations.

Best wishes and Namaste!