The importance of spiritual practice to attain liberation | Sri Ramana Maharshi | Sri Shankara

The following is from a text written by Shankara called Vivekachudamani, as translated by Sri Ramana Maharshi. We will see the following points being made:

  1. Merely stating ‘I am Brahman’ does not in itself lead to liberation. Similarly we can infer that by mere affirmation of other similar spiritual slogans such as saying ‘I am free’ or ‘I am already the Self’ or ‘there is no ego/self’ or ‘all is already one’, etc, mere affirmation of these does not lead to liberation.
  2. In order to attain liberation, ignorance must be removed and the Self must directly be experienced.
  3. Similarly, merely by hearing the truth ‘I am Brahman’ , liberation is not (usually) attained
  4. One must first hear the truth from someone who has experienced the truth first-hand (for only they will be able to tell you the way to truth)
  5. Then one must meditate upon the truth heard and experience the truth directly though constant meditation.
  6. Unless this practice is carried out, maya (aka ignorance) will not be removed and liberation will not be attained.
  7. Every effort must be made to root out ignorance for liberation to result

‘Just as a person’s sickness is not removed without taking medicine, so too his state of bondage is not removed by scriptural texts such as “I am Brahman” without his own direct experience of the Self. One does not become a king by merely saying, “I am a king”, without destroying one’s enemies and obtaining the reality of power.

Similarly, one does not obtain liberation as Brahman Itself by merely repeating the scriptural text “I am Brahman”, without destroying the duality caused by ignorance and directly experiencing the Self.

‘A treasure trove hidden under the ground is not obtained by merely hearing about it, but only by being told by a friend who knows it, and then digging and removing the slab that hides it and taking it out from below the ground.

Similarly, one must hear about one’s true state from a Guru who knows Brahman, and then meditate upon It and experience It directly through constant meditation.

‘Without this, the true form of one’s own Self, that is hidden by maya [“that which is not”], cannot be realised through mere argumentation. Therefore, those who are wise themselves make every effort to remove the bondage of individual existence and obtain liberation, just as they would to get rid of some disease.’

Also see: Sri Ramana Maharshi: the necessity of Meditation

Guru Stuti by Shankara translated into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi | Advaita Vedanta Summarised

Have you ever wished that the entire Advaita Vedanta teachings were summarised in a very short traditional text, say eight verses long? Well here are eight verses of a work called ‘Guru Stuti’ or ‘Praise to the Guru’ written by Adi Shankara about 1400 years ago, and translated into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi. If you read it carefully you will find the essence of the entire teaching is briefly given.

Here the Tamil verses and English translation of these are presented. My commentary is in italiscised red – I have tried to keep my commentary brief and I hope it does not intrude on the beauty and terse nature of the text, enjoy!


Guru Stuti

Written by Sri Shankara, translated into Tamil By Sri Ramana Maharshi

Introduction written by Sri Ramana Maharshi

When Sankaracharya was going about the country debating with the exponents of the various schools of thought and overcoming them he once came to the town of Mahishmati in the north where Mandana Mishra the exponent of Vedic rituals lived. He overcame him in debate but his wife refused to concede victory until she was also defeated. So, Sankarachaiya argued with her and defeated her in all subjects except erotics. He then asked for a respite of one month and after shedding his body in a cave under the custody of his disciples, entered into the dead body of King Amaruka and sported among the hundred queens in the guise of their husband. When the disciples found that the period specified by their Guru had already expired they grew anxious. So some of them went to him in the disguise of minstrels and sang the following hymn to remind him.


1. Nēti-nēti yādi vākkā niḍē-dittu mūrttā p;ūrttam
Ēdumē taḷḷar killā edaissuva svarūpa māga
Vōdaruñ sādu vānōr uḷḷattil koḷḷu vārgaḷ
Ādimei aṛivā nanda avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

1. That is the Truth which the wise realize as the Self, the residuum left over on withdrawing from external objects, with or without form (ether, air, fire, water and earth), by a careful application of the scriptural injunction ‘not this, not this’ — Thou art That!

Tom: The truth, which is your very own Self, your own True Nature, is realised by those who withdraw their attention from all external objects. How to withdraw one’s attention? Through applying the teaching of ‘neti-neti’. What remains is the Self, devoid of objects and duality and suffering – You are That!

‘With or without form’ I think refers to the need to withdraw attention from both gross objects (with form, eg. tables, chairs, experiences) and subtle objects (without form, eg. thoughts, feelings, imaginings, etc), or alternatively it could mean to withdraw from all objects perceived (with form) or imaginary (without form).


2. Uttiyāṅ kutti-nālē umiye num aindu kōsam
Buddhi-yāṛ pirittup pinnarp porundi-ḍum arisi pōlum
Ettinai sattukkaḷ kaṇḍu idayattil anuba vippar
Astamil nitta siddha avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

2. That is the Truth which, after generating the fundamentals (ether, air, fire, water and earth), and entering the world, lies hidden beneath the five sheaths, and which has been threshed out by the wise with the pestle of discernment, just as the grain is recovered by threshing and winnowing the chaff — Thou art That!

Tom: The Truth, or the Self or Brahman, generates or creates the five elements (the ‘fundamentals’), and pervades its own creation whilst simultaneously underlying the creation as the substratum. The wise, with discrimination (viveka) discover the Self, the substratum, by separating it from and discarding the five sheaths that constitute the body-mind-ignorance ‘covering’.

In the preceding verse it is said one’s attention is turned away from objects by ‘neti-neti’, whereas here it is said that it is with discernment or discrimination. We should therefore see that ‘neti-neti’ and discrimination go together.


3. Poṛi-gaḷām parigaḷ tammaip pulan-gaḷil viḷaṅgun dōsha
Aṛivenuṅ kasai yaḍittē ahamugak kayiṭṭṛāl īrttav
Aṛivaṛi aṛijñar ettil aṇaitton-ḍṛāyp piṇit tiruppar
Aṛiporuṭ katīta māna avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

3. Just as wild horses are broken-in by whipping and stabling them, so also the unruly senses, straying among objects, are lashed by the whip of discrimination, showing that objects are unreal, and are tethered by the rope of pure intellect to the Self by the wise. Such is the Truth — Thou art That!

Tom: All objects, gross and subtle, are illusory, unreal! Do not attend to them! The intellect should hear this teaching and, using discrimination (viveka), transcend itself and unceasingly realise itself as Self by tethering the senses to the Self, ie placing ones attention onto the Self – you are That!


4. Pūkkaḷi ninḍṛu vēṛāyp porun-diḍuñ sūtti rampōḷ
Jākki-ra mādi yāna sar-vattum vēṛa dāna
Sāk„hiyā nōkki yādais sattukkaḷ agatta ṇaivar
Ākkamu nīkka millā avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

4. The Truth has been ascertained by the wise to be the substratum which is different from the waking, dream and deep sleep states, and from its own expanded modes, which indeed are held together by it like the flowers strung together on a garland — Thou art That!

Tom: you are That – you are the Substratum-Subject-Self that is devoid of objects and thoughts, that is without the three states of waking, dreaming and deep dreamless sleep! You are different to these superimpositions!


5. Kaṭaka maku-ḍādi yāvuṅ kana-kamē yāgumā pōḷ
Jaḍa chittā mulagam yavuñ chaṭṭṛumē binna minḍṛi
Suḍarumav vaḍivā yenḍṛu choṭṭṛi-ḍum vēdam yadai
Aḍinaḍu muḍi villāda avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

5. That is the Truth which the scriptures show to be the primal cause of all, elucidating the point clearly by such texts as ‘Purusha is all this’ and ‘like gold in ornaments of gold’ — Thou art That!

Tom: Purusha here means Self. You are That Self. This verse indicates that the Self is the primal cause of all manifestation, and that the quoted verses are to support this idea.


6. Inanilit tanuvil yānā ilaṅgu-van ēkanȾ yenḍṛu
Anisa-mum vēda vādi āyinōr muyaṛchi yōḍum
Inimai-yāi eḍuttu raippar ettat-tuvattai nanḍṛāi
Anartta-mil edārtta māna avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

6. The Truth has been forcefully proclaimed by the scriptures in such texts as ‘He who is in the sun, is in man.’ ‘He who shines in the sun, shines in the right eye’ — Thou art That!

Tom: The Self, which is the nature of Self Knowledge, is all pervading


7. Arumaṛai vākki nālē ahatti-niṛ shraddai yōḍum
Arun-tavam yāgan dānam ādinal aṛaṅga ḷālē
Arumaṛai yavargaḷ ettai aṛin-diḍa avāvu ginḍṛār
Arumaṛaip poruḷāi ninḍra avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

7. What pure brahmins seek so eagerly by the recitation of the Vedas, by religious gifts, by earnest application of their hard- earned knowledge and by renunciation, is the Truth — Thou art That!

Tom: the Self is coveted by many. It is attained by those who are pure, through renunciation, and by Knowledge – you are that Self!


8. Sānti muda lāna vuṭṭṛu santa-tan tannāṛ ṭannil
Āynde-dai aṛijñar kaṇḍav aṛivinba meyyā enḍṛu
Mīndela muḍittoḷir-var migu bavak kēda nīttē
Āzhndaṛi tatva māna avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

8. That is the Truth which the valiant have gained by seeking, with controlled mind, with abstinence, penance, etc, and by diving into the Self. Realizing it, they are considered to be heroes with their highest purpose accomplished. That is the transcendental Sat-Chit-Ananda after gaining which there is nothing more to worry about since perfect peace reigns — Thou art That!

Tom: the valliant, meaning those who bravely turn inwards, away from gross and subtle objects, and undertake Self-Enquiry, those whose minds have become peaceful and quiet, those who Dive Inwards – they realise the Self, which is the Truth. They are the True Heroes, as compared to what society considers to be wordly heroic deeds. Once this inward path has been undertaken, and the Self is Realised, that is the end of the path – there is no more to be done! What had needed to be done has been done! That is realisation. That is liberation. That is the end of suffering. That is perfect eternal Peace. You are That!


Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Outro

On hearing these verses the Acharya bade his disciples go away and promptly came out of the body of the King and re-entered his own. He then went to the wife of Mandana Misra and, after defeating her, made her and her husband his followers. Thereafter he went on his way enlightening the whole world.


Om Tat Sat

Vivekachudamani by Sri Shankara: Resources and PDF downloads | Translation by Sri Ramana Maharshi | Advaita Vedanta | Crest Jewel of Discrimination

Here are some resources and links relating to this superb traditional Advaita Vedanta text that gives us a step-by-step method for Self-Realisation and Liberation.

Attributed to Sri Shankara, written approximately 1400 years ago, Vivekachudamani (‘The Crest Jewel of Discrimination’ or the ‘The Highest Treasure of Wisdom’) was also recommended by Sri Ramana Maharshi who said this text explains ‘…in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path‘:

Shankara’s Vivekachudamani as translated by Sri Ramana Maharshi: https://tomdas.com/2019/03/04/vivekachudamani-as-translated-by-sri-ramana-maharshi/

Sri Ramana’s introduction to Vivekachudamani where he summarises the entire path to liberation: https://tomdas.com/2019/02/25/ramana-maharshis-introduction-to-shankaras-crest-jewel-of-discrimination-vivekachudamani-and-summary-of-its-teachings/

The 10 most important verses of Vivekachudamani as selected by Sri Ramana Maharshi: https://tomdas.com/2020/05/14/the-ten-most-important-verses-of-shankaras-vivekachudamani-according-to-sri-ramana-maharshi/

Is Vivekachudamani sexist? https://youtu.be/VPZw6cgczLw

A more traditional verse by verse translation of Vivekachudamani by Swami Madhavananda: https://tomdas.com/2018/10/01/vivekachudamani-crest-jewel-of-discrimination-by-shankara/

A more accurate verse by verse translation of Vivekachudamani with word for word transliteration and translation by Achyarya Pranipata Chaitanya:

Q. Is it your view that Nirvikalpa Samadhi leads to Liberation? | Advaita Vedanta | The 108 Upanishads PDF Download

See below for the link to download the 108 Upanishads as a PDF file

Tom: note this is not my view, but the view of Vedanta, ie. the Upanishads, also known as Shruti. The Upanishads and Jnanis state this again and again in various ways. The highest authority in the Vedanta teachings are the Upanishads. In fact, strictly speaking, ‘Vedanta’ simply refers to the teachings found in the Upanishads. If we actually read the Upanishads for ourselves – there are 108* classical Upanishads – we will see this same teaching being given again and again.

eg.

The knot of ignorance in the heart is broken completely only when one sees his Self as secondless through Nirvikalpa Samadhi

~ Adhyatma Upanishad 1.17

Hasn’t Guru Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi told us that all paths must end in Silence, also known as Nirvikalpa Samadhi, also known as Jnana, which is nothing other than the Pure Objectless Self!

However, to answer your question directly, it is also my own view. My views on this remain unchanged – what made you think otherwise?**

Namaste and Pranams 🙏

*There are classically 108 Upanishads, all of which are considered to be authoritative in Vedanta teachings. However 10-12 of the Upanishads have more recently been designated ‘Major Upanishads’ as these are the ones that Sri Shankara wrote commentaries upon, and the remaining 96-98 Upanishads are often referred to as ‘Minor Upanishads’. However strictly speaking the so-called Minor Upanishads are no less important than the so-called major ones, and traditionally many think the Minor Upanishads are for the more advanced students of Vedanta. Often the ‘Minor’ Upanishads teach a very clear and direct approach to Vedanta, so perhaps Shankara just commented on those Upanishads that were less easy to understand? Either way, read them for yourself if you get the chance. You can find them here:

**This reply was given to someone who thought my views on this matter had changed

Q. Why do the Upanishads repeatedly state the Self is located ‘within the body’ in the ‘Heart’ or ‘Cavern of the Heart’? | Advaita Vedanta

Tom: Why do the Upanishads constantly repeat and say the Self is located within the body, in the ‘heart’ or ‘cavern of the heart’ within the body? Why is this repeated time and time again? At the same time it is said the the Self is nothing to do with the body? And at the same time it is said the Self is All, everywhere? It is because the Upanishads and vedanta scriptures again and again tell us to turn our attention away from objective phenomena and towards the Divine Within, which is nothing but Our True Self, the I Am, the Subject.

ie. It is only to help us turn within that the scriptures say ‘it is in the heart, located in the body, the size of a thumb’, etc, etc.

eg. from the Katha Upanishad:

2.1.12 The Puruṣa (Self), of the size of a thumb, resides in the middle of the body as the lord of the past and the future, (he who knows Him) fears no more. This verily is That.

and

2.3.17. The Purusha of the size of a thumb, the internal atman, is always seated in the heart of all living creatures; one should draw him out from one’s own body boldly, as stalk from grass; one should know him as pure and immortal; one should know him as pure and immortal.

See this post where Sri Ramana makes the teaching clear: Remove Nama-Rupa (Name & Form) to reveal Sat-Chit-Ananda (the Self)

Shankara teaches two methods to ‘attain liberation’ (Self-Knowledge or Atma-Jnana) | Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS) | Advaita Vedanta

Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS) was a great Sanskrit scholar who made an extensive study of Shankara’s writings and commentaries and subsequently wrote many books on Advaita Vedanta. According to SSS, there are essentially 2 methods to ‘attain liberation’ outlined by Sri Shankara:

1. Firstly, in those who are ripe, merely hearing (sravana) a teaching equating oneself with Brahman, will result in liberation. For some who are slighlty less ripe, some repeated contemplation (manana) upon this teaching will be required too. (Tom’s addition: A ripe mind may be a mind that is rendered extremely pure and subtle by long and sustained spiritual practice, or a mind may be ripe due to other more mysterious factors including ‘God’s Grace’.)

2. Secondly, for those who are not able to ‘attain liberation’ merely by hearing +/- contemplating a teaching such as ‘you are that’, one must also undergo prolonged meditation (nididyasana) which will directly result in liberation.

We can see that Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi broadly states the same here.

SSS in his text the Theory of Vedanta writes on p. 153:

‘In addition to Karma and Upasana, there is a kind of concentrated contemplation called the Adhyatma-Yoga which leads to immediate intuition [of Brahman, ie. Self Realisation]’

You can see that SSS is stating that this Adhyatma-Yoga is not classified as ‘karma’ or action, and is also not classed as Upasana (meditation on objects), but is something else that is a direct means of knowledge or liberation.

SSS writes in ‘The Method of Vedanta’ p. 147:

‘The aim of the one practising sustained meditation (nididhyasana) is different [to Upasana, defined here as meditation on forms/objects]. He tries to attain direct vision of reality (here in this very world) by turning his mind away from all else [ie. all objects]. And there is the difference — as against upasana — that after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done. It is this sustained meditation that is referred to at Kathha Upanishad I.ii.12 by the name ‘Adhyatma Yoga’. In the Gita it is sometimes called ’Dhyana Yoga’ (e.g. XVI11.52). In the Mandukya Karikas it is called ’restraint of the mind’ (G.K.III.41, etc.). Its nature is described there in that latter work. Everywhere its result is described in the same way as right metaphysical knowledge, and from this comes immediate liberation (sadyo-mukti).’

You can see that SSS defines Upasana as meditation upon objects, and that this is considered to be action or karma (and so will not directly lead to realisation), whereas nididhyasana is a special type of meditation which involves turning away from objects, and this type of meditation is not considered to be ‘karma’ or action, but a direct means to knowledge (as karma pertains to objects only, not to the actionless subject).

Here again this is stated more clearly in the introduction to the text Adhyatma Yoga:

‘The subject dealt with here viz. Adhyatma Yoga, also known as Dhyana Yoga, Mano-nigraha Yoga, Samadhi Yoga and Nidhidhyasana, is treated these days as a Kartru Tantra Sadana. But in the Shankara Bhashya throughout, this Adhyatma Yogi or Dhyana Yoga is treated as a Vastu Tantra Sadhana’

Kartru Tantra Sadana means action, which being limited, will therefore not lead to something unlimited (ie. liberation or the Self). Vastu Tantra Sadhana means something that will lead directly to the Supreme Truth (Vastu), ie. that which is a means of Knowledge or Liberation.

In summary, SSS writes on p 143 of The Method of Vedanta’:

‘the highest kind of candidate is able to acquire immediate intuitive vision that his Self is the Absolute from merely hearing the relevant upanishadic texts once. These people who realize the goal by merely hearing the texts once have nothing further to do…

‘…But those who are not able to acquire intuitive knowledge of the meaning of the texts in their own direct experience have to go on hearing the texts and reflecting over them to remove the doubts that prevent their meaning being understood, and they have to continue with this until intuitive knowledge arises. For we see that those of dull understanding acquire knowledge through diligent repetition…

‘…But those who cannot acquire intuitive knowledge of reality by hearing and reflection alone have to resort to sustained meditation also. In any case, the general rule is that hearing and the rest have to be continued until there is intuitive knowledge of reality. For attainment of intuitive knowledge of reality is their purpose’

To see how SSS and Shankara define meditation or nididhyasana, see here: What is Vedantic Meditation?

I bow down to my Own True Self! | Yoga Vasistha

Here is a prayer or salutation that was read out by someone at Satsang this Thursday. It is taken from the wonderful text Yoga Vasistha, where it is referred to as a prayer:

Salutations to that reality in which all the elements, and all the animate and inanimate beings shine as if they have an independent existence, and in which they exist for a time and into which they merge.

Salutations to that consciousness which is the source of the apparently distinct threefold divisions of knower, knowledge and known, seer, sight and seen, doer, doing and deed.

Salutations to that bliss absolute (the ocean of bliss) which is the life of all beings whose happiness and unfoldment is derived from the shower of spray from that ocean of bliss.

~Vasistha’s Yoga (translated by Swami Venkatesananda)

As you can see, the prayer is naturally divided into three sections, with each one corresponding to Sat-Chit-Ananda (Reality-Consciousness-Bliss), which refers to the Self, ie. what we truly are, or Brahman, the Divine Absolute. So this is really a prayer to God, Brahman, or a Prayer to Ourself:

I bow down and worship my Own True Self!

Can the mind or thoughts be controlled? Bhagavad Gita | Advaita Vedanta

Many say that (1) the mind (ie. thoughts) cannot be controlled and (2) the mind need not be controlled for liberation to result. Here is what is written in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 6, verses 35 and 36:

Arjuna: The mind is very restless, turbulent, strong and obstinate, O Krishna. It appears to me that it is more difficult to control than the wind.

Lord Krishna said: O mighty-armed son of Kunti, what you say is correct; the mind is indeed very difficult to restrain. But by practice and detachment, it can be controlled.

Note the teaching here is clear – the mind can be controlled. Just practice is required. To find out more, please read Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita which explains the meaning of ‘controlling the mind’, the method of doing so, and the result (Moksha)

🙏

Grace of God vs Sadhana (practice) for attaining moksha (liberation)

‘It is mainly through enquiry (vichara) that he who is competent achieves knowledge of the Self; circumstance, time, and the grace of the Lord are but aids to the quest.’

~ Shankara (Vivekachudamani)

Tom: Some say that grace of god is required for liberation and so slacken and shy away from their sadhana. Grace of God is certainly needed, but Grace of God is always here. Shankara reminds us that it is Sadhana ie. Self-enquiry, that is the foremost factor that leads directly to liberation

🙏