Shankara’s way to Enlightenment, with verses from Atma Bodha

Atma Bodha is a short text attributed to Shakara and was written approximately 1400 years ago. It literally means ‘Self Knowledge’ (atma = self, bodha = understanding or knowledge) and it outlines a methodology to lead a seeker from suffering to liberation. Incidentally, bodha is the same root word that forms the word Buddha, which means ‘the one who knows or understands’.

It comprises a class of scriptures called prakarana granthas. Prakarana means ‘procedure’ or ‘task’ and grantha means ‘text’. Taken together prakarana grantha means ‘instruction manual’. These instruction manuals were written for those who do not have the capacity or time to read the voluminous traditional texts such as the vedas and upanishads or for those who were looking for a synopsis of their vedantic studies, and so give us a summary teaching which we can practically apply to our lives.

Ramana Maharshi thought this text important enough to translate it from Sanskrit to Tamil so that Tamil-speaking locals who could not understand Sanskrit could still benefit from its teachings. In his introduction to his translation, Ramana describes Shankara as the one who brings forth enlightenment. Similarly in the Inchegarei Sampradaya, the lineage to which Nisargadatta Maharaj belonged, Shankara is considered an enlightened sage and his writings are studied as a matter of course.

Below are some selected quotes from Shankara’s Atma Bodha. We will see how in these quotes the basic methodology (after the entry criteria for this teaching are briefly alluded to) is:

1) Firstly viveka, or distinguishing between what is Brahman and what is not. Brahman is identified as the unchanging subject and the world of objects (ie. the body, mind and world) is said to be not-Brahman. This is an artificial duality that is temporarily set up in order to counter and remove the deeply ingrained belief in the doer-entity or ego (ahamkara). We will see how this duality is later resolved into non-duality and furthermore into non-conceptuality.

2) Once the subject-object distinction (viveka) has been properly made then this knowledge or understanding is to be practised. This is done by the practise of identification with the subject, Brahman, and turning away from the phenomena that arise in our awareness.

3) Eventually, after long practice of this, the doer-entity that we once took ourselves to be is seen to be an illusion. This ignorance is removed.

4) Once the doer-entity is seen to be unreal, then the interpretive notions of subject and object can also be done away with. Having completed their purpose, the concepts of subject and object are also seen to be false beliefs and are allowed to fall away.

5) Everything is ‘resolved into Brahman’, not literally, but in the way we label reality. Before, at the first step of viveka,  the unchanging subject was considered Brahman/Atman and the changing world of objects (the mind, body and world) were said to be not-Brahman/Atman. Now ignorance is removed, everything is seen to be Brahman and the duality set up by viveka is removed.

6) Eventually we stop needing to label reality at all. What we are left with is just this, this present experience, devoid of concepts of self or reality or even Brahman. So simple, so direct, how can it be put into words?

Verse 5. The knowledge [I am Brahman], when unceasingly practiced, drives out all ignorance, then itself disappears.

Shankara - the knowledge then itself disappears

37. The mental impression ‘I am Brahman’, created by ceaseless practice, destroys ignorance and the resultant suffering, just as medicine destroys disease.

Shankara - I am Brahman destroys ignorance (1)

41. There are no distinctions such as ‘Knower’, the ‘Knowledge’ and the ‘Object of Knowledge’ in the Supreme Self

Shankara- there are no distinctions in the Supreme Self.

64. All that is perceived, or heard, is Brahman and nothing else

Shankara- All that is perceived is Brahman and nothing else

Jesus: How to pray

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Alternative translation

“Whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees from the hidden place will reward you.”

(International Standard Version)

Here is the context of the quote:

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets so that they might be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their recompense.
But you when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father, the One in secret. And your Father, the One seeing in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

Matthew 6:5-8

Bhagavad Gita: the most secret teaching

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Lord Krishna states this is his most secret teaching: to love Him, to devote ourselves to Him, to be with Him knowingly.

He is already in each of our hearts, He is already everywhere and everything, everything is already done by Him.

Here knowledge, scripture and philosophy all crumble as, through our devotion, the heart opens. All are consumed by Him, and all we are left with is Him in all His glory.

We never were. All there ever was was Him.

❤ ❤ ❤

As Jesus said when asked:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And he [Jesus] said to him,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the greatest and first commandment.”

Matthew 22:36-38

❤ ❤ ❤

Also, as Shankara sung in his Bhaja Govindam:

“Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda,
Oh fool! Other than chanting the Lord’s names, there is no other way to cross the life’s ocean.”
(Govinda is another name for Krishna. Literally it means ‘protector of cows’ referring to Krishna’s youth as a cow herd.)

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So, all that’s left for me do to is bow down and praise Him

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Hare Krishna!

Om Namah Shivaya!

May all beings be happy and well!

Praise be to God!

❤ ❤ ❤

See also:

Was Jesus ever born?

The pre-eminent form of worship

 

Buddha: Why do spiritual people fight with each other?

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“Why is it that, Master Kaccana, that ascetics fight with ascetics?”
“It is, brahmins, because of attachment to views, adherence to views , fixation on views, addiction to views, obsession with views, holding firmly to views that ascetics fight with ascetics.”
Anguttara Nikaya

Today’s spiritual scene is in many ways the same as it has always been: while some people wake up to things as they are and go beyond words and scripture, others stay fixed in their views, cling to their scriptures and concepts, and in doing so remain stuck in suffering and samsara.

So, why are so many spiritual people arguing with each other? Master Kaccana was one of the Buddha’s main disciples and was said to be the most skilled in espousing the dhamma (the teaching). He says it simply: people are wedded to their concepts, their views, their scriptures and their ideas, and that is why they fight with each other.

The true dhamma cannot be spoken. The true teacher knows their words are ultimately untrue and that words are merely conceptual pointers, indicators, and not descriptions of what is. The true teacher is not wedded to a particular teaching method, or a particular form of words, and naturally adapts the teaching to the situation at hand. A single word, a prescription for practice, a gesture, a glance, a lecture: the teaching comes to us in many forms.

If we truly listen, the living teacher constantly teaches the living teaching. The teaching is inseparable from our hearts and the life we find ourselves living: it is none other than daily life.

The teaching is here, already. Are we open to it?

 

 

Zen Master Huang Po: how to remove our illusions

Q: Illusion can hide from us our own mind, but up to now you have not taught us how to get rid of illusion.

zen circle

A: The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory. Illusion is not something rooted in Reality; it exists because of your dualistic thinking.

If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as ‘ordinary’ and ‘Enlightened’, illusion will cease of itself. And then if you still want to destroy it wherever it may be, you will find that there is not a hairsbreadth left of anything on which to lay hold.

This is the meaning of: ‘I will let go with both hands, for then I shall certainly discover the Buddha in my mind’.

The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory…If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as “ordinary” and “Enlightened,” illusion will cease of itself.

Q: If there is nothing on which to lay hold, how is the Dharma [The Teaching, Enlightenment] to be transmitted?

A: It is a transmission of Mind with Mind.

Huang Po Zen Teachings

Q: If Mind is used for transmission, why do you say that Mind too does not exist?

A: Obtaining no Dharma whatever is called Mind transmission. The understanding of this implies no Mind and no Dharma.

Q: If there is no Mind and no Dharma, what is meant by transmission?

A: You hear people speak of Mind transmission and then you talk of something to be received. So Bodhidharma [the first Zen patriarch, the ‘founder of zen’] said:

The nature of the Mind when understood,
No human speech can compass or disclose.
Enlightenment is naught to be attained,
And he that gains it does not say he knows.

If I were to make this clear to you, I doubt if you could stand up to it.

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 32)

Zen Master Huang Po: stuffing yourself with knowledge

zen mountains

If you now set about using your minds to seek Mind, listening to the teaching of others, and hoping to reach the goal through mere learning, when will you ever succeed? Some of the ancients had sharp minds; they no sooner heard the Doctrine proclaimed than they hastened to discard all learning. So they were called, ‘Sages who, abandoning learning, have come to rest in spontaneity’.

In these days people only seek to stuff themselves with knowledge and deductions, seeking everywhere for book-knowledge and calling this ‘Dharma-practice’ [true practice of The Way]. They do not know that so much knowledge and deduction have just the contrary effect of piling up obstacles. Merely acquiring a lot of knowledge makes you like a child who gives himself indigestion by gobbling too many curds.

Merely acquiring a lot of knowledge makes you like a child who gives himself indigestion by gobbling too many curds.

Huang Po Zen Teachings

Those who study the Way according to the Three Vehicles [the 3 main Buddhist schools of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism] are all like this. All you can call them is people who suffer from indigestion. When so-called knowledge and deductions are not digested, they become poisons, for they belong only to the plane of samsara [the plane of suffering, the unenlightened state]. In the Absolute, there is nothing at all of this kind.

So it is said: ‘In the armoury of my sovereign, there is no Sword of Thusness’. All the concepts you have formed in the past must be discarded and replaced by void…The canonical teachings of the Three Vehicles are just remedies for temporary needs. They were taught to meet such needs and so are of temporary value and differ one from another. If only this could be understood, there would be no more doubts about it.

Above all it is essential not to select some particular teaching suited to a certain occasion, and, being impressed by its forming part of the written canon, regard it as an immutable concept. Why so? Because in truth there is no unalterable Dharma [Teaching, Teaching method] which the Tathagata [The Buddha; a term the Buddha often referred to himself by] could have preached. People of our sect would never argue that there could be such a thing. We just know how to put all mental activity to rest and thus achieve tranquillity. We certainly do not begin by thinking things out and end up in perplexity.

Because in truth there is no unalterable Dharma…We certainly do not begin by thinking things out and end up in perplexity. 

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 30)

Zen Master Huang Po: Studying the Way

Huang Po Zen Teachings

Regarding this Zen Doctrine of ours, since it was first transmitted, it has never been taught that men should seek for learning or form concepts. ‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech. It is a method of arousing people’s interest in the early stages of their development

In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied. Study leads to the retention of concepts and so the Way is entirely misunderstood. Moreover, the Way is not something specially existing; it is something called Mahayana Mind – Mind which is not to be found inside, outside, or in the middle. Truly it is not located anywhere.

‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech…In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied.

The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts. This implies that if you were to follow the empirical method to the utmost limit, on reaching that limit you would still be unable to locate Mind.

The way is spiritual Truth and was originally without name or title. It was only because people ignorantly sought for it empirically that the Buddhas appeared and taught them to eradicate this method of approach.

The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts.

Fearing that no one would understand, they selected the name ‘Way.’ You must not allow this name to lead you into a mental concept of a road. So it is said, ‘When the fish is caught we pay no more attention to the trap.’

When body and mind achieve spontaneity, the Way is reached and Mind is understood.

A shramana [seeker, monk] is so called because he has penetrated to the original source of all things. The fruit of attaining the shramana stage is gained by putting an end to all anxiety; it does not come from book-learning.

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 29)