Q. Hello Tom , Thank you for your efforts in helping us. I have a doubt: Sri Nisargadatta Mahraj says that YOU ARE BEYOND THE EXPERIENCER – I understand that experiences changes but the experiencer is constant, but what can be beyond the experiencer, and does that mean we avoid experiences of our lives and even spirtiual realisation is a sort of experience, as we feel more peaceful and joyful, please explain this to me.
Great question. The ego is both the experiencer AND the doer. These are both Maya (ie. illusion or fiction) or part of the waking dream. What you are, the Self, is beyond this Maya or waking dream.
Sometimes the Self is said to be the Witness, but this is not actually true, for it is the (fictional) ego that witnesses things/objects, it is also the ego that thinks, that emotes, etc.
The Self is devoid of all phenomena.
This can only really be understood fully by doing Self-Enquiry, eg. as per Sri Ramana’s instructions in the text Who Am I?
eg. See here verse 7 from the Mandukya Upanishad which explains that the Self is not the witness/observer of objects and also the Self is devoid of phenomena (note Turiya is another name for the Self (Atman means Self), as is also explained in the verse):
‘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, nor that which is a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness nor is It unconsciousness. It is unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible, uninferable, unthinkable and indescribable. The essence of the Consciousness manifesting as the self in the three states, It is the cessation of all phenomena; It is all peace, all bliss and non—dual. This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). This is Atman and this has to be realised.’
Objection: The assumption that thought is an actual thing and that thought has a source, arises only in the realm of imaginary separation. There is, by definition, no way to determining the imaginary source of an imaginary thing.
Tom: Whilst it is true that thought is ultimately an illusion, and trying to get rid of thought is also more of the same illusion, there is a logical flaw in this objection, as follows: thoughts may be imaginary, but that does not mean their source is imaginary. Fiction or imagination can have a real source. The teaching is to locate that Source (the Self) and abide there in Pure Being, which is devoid of thought, until the tendency to imagine duality (ie. thought) ceases.
Here are two quotes to illustrate the above points, one from Sri Shankara, and one from Sri Ramana:
‘The binding, and the getting rid of bondage, are both mirages. The belief that bondage of the Real, is, and the belief that it has ceased, are both mere things of thought‘
~Sri Shankara, Vivekachudamani verses 571 and 572
‘All doubts will cease only when the doubter and his source have been found. There is no use removing doubts. If we clear one doubt, another doubt will arise and there will be no end of doubts.‘
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, verse 4.4.20, states the following:
20. It [Brahman] should be realised in one form only, (for) It is unknowable and eternal. The Self is taintless, beyond the (subtle) ether, birthless, infinite and constant.
Here we can see that the Upanishad is stating that Brahman is unknowable. So what of Self-Knowledge or knowledge of Brahman that is so often spoken about? Shankara explains this contradiction in him commentary on this verse:
The knowledge of Brahman too means only the cessation of the identification with extraneous things (such as the body). The relation of identity with It [Brahman] has not to be directly established, for it is already there. Everybody always has that identity with It, but it appears to be related to something else. Therefore the scriptures do not enjoin that identity with Brahman should be established, but that the false identification with things other than That should stop. When the identification with other things is gone, that identity with one’s own Self which is natural, becomes isolated; this is expressed by the statement that the Self is known. In Itself It is unknowable – not comprehended through any means. Hence both statements are consistent.
We can see that Shankara is stating that Brahman is indeed unknowable, and that Jnana, or knowledge, only signifies the cessation of identification with extraneous things, ie. loss of identification with objects, specifically the body-mind. We do not need to affirm our identity as Brahman, as we already are and always have been and always will be Brahman. Any affirmation of Brahman would simply be on the level of thought or concepts, and so it would be Maya, or more ignorance. But once the false identification has been removed, then the Self naturally shines as itself, and this lack of wrong-knowledge, or lack of wrongly identifying as the body-mind, is what is called ‘Jnana’ or ‘knowledge’.
There are several views on this topic, but in this post we will see what the Advaita scriptures say and what Shankara has written on this in his commentaries.
In some texts that are attributed to Shankara, such as Vivekachudamani, the case is clearly presented – these texts clearly state that Samadhi is definitely required for Self-Realisation to occur. Whilst this is the most widely held view, and by far the dominant traditional view for at least the last one thousand years and more, and also the view of the four Shankara Mathas that have been entrusted with handing down Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta tradition to each generation, there are a minority who state that Vivekachudamani is not a genuine work of Shankara.
Therefore in this post we will look at what was written by Shankara in his commentaries, the authorship of which is not in doubt:
Please see this link hereto read the discussion of this topic.
Section 3 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.
The Guru wants to get paid!
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!
According to Advaita Vedanta, what is meant by Samadhi? And is this Samadhi necessary for Self-Realisation?
If you read the following carefully, you will see that Sri Gaudapada (in his Mandukya Karika) and Sri Shankara (in his commentary upon the Mandukya Karika) are both stating the following:
The Self is realisable through Samadhi
In Samadhi there are no thoughts present
In Samadhi there are no gross or subtle objects present
This Samadhi is not a state of mind, for the mind (and other objects) are not present in Samadhi
This Samadhi leads to Jnana (Knowledge)
Whilst this is clearly explained in texts such as Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (see herefor the series of verses in Vivekachudamani that emphasise the need for Samadhi) and many other Advaita texts, there are a minority who dispute the authorship of these texts saying it was not the original Shankara but a later Shankara that wrote these other texts. So here I will quote from Gaudapada’s Karika (Gaudapada’s commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad) and Shankara’s commentary on this.
Both Gaudapada and Shankara are considered authorities in Advaita Vedanta and in the case of these texts there is no dispute in the authorship – ie. everyone agrees that Gaudapada authored the Mandukya Karika and that Shankara’s commentary on this was actually authored by Shankara – so we can be clear this is the correct teaching that represents their views. Let us see:
1. The Self is realisable only through Samadhi
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
Some people translate the last phrase differently, but when we look at Shankara’s commentary on the verse, we can see the meaning is made clear, ie. the above translation is the correct one – the Self is attainable by Samadhi. In fact Shankara goes further, he states the Self is only realised through Samadhi:
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)…
[Edit: since writing this article it has been pointed out to the me that the underlined word ‘only’ does not appear in the original Sanskrit, but this was an overzealous addition by the translator of this verse, Swami Nikhilananda, when he translated the commentary into English]
2. In Samadhi no thoughts are present
Now others will say that Samadhi doesn’t mean that all thoughts should cease, as that is yogic samadhi, and vedanta samadhi is something different in which thoughts and objects of perception can be present. However, what do Gaudapada and Shankara say? If we read carefully and slowly we will see that this question is also clarified:
In the next verse Gaudapada writes in verse 3.38 of his Mandukya Karika that all thoughts have stopped and that this leads to Jnana (Knowledge). Note that this verse is a continuation following on from the previous verse which has just stated the Self can be realised by Samadhi:
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
~Gaudapada, Mandukya Karika 3.38
We can see the emphasis is on cessation of all thoughts (‘all mentation stops’), implying this is what will happen in Samadhi. Then self-knowledge is established, the verse goes on to say, ie. once all mentation has stopped, then self-knowledge is established. Shanakra states this Self-Knowledge is unborn, meaning it was never created and is not subject to birth and death. This self-knowledge is also homogenous, meaning there are no differences in it whatsoever. This is another way of stating there are no objects perceived, for the presence of objects would make it heterogenous, not homogenous. Note that thoughts are also objects.
Again, some state this is not the correct interpretation of the verse, and that homogenous does not mean there are no objects present, but let us see what Shankara has to say in his commentary on the above verse:
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.
Again, we can see that Shankara is clear that there are no thoughts, and therefore no mind (as mind is just the presence of thoughts, or the movement of thinking).
3. In Samadhi there are no gross or subtle objects present
Shankara also states clearly that Jnana (Self-Knowledge) arises in the absence of any objects being present in the above quote, the commentary on verse 3.38.
Later on we see this same theme being repeated, ie. that there are no objects or appearances present in this Samadhi which leads to Brahman-Realisation (ie. Liberation):
‘…when the mind becomes quiescent and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman’ ~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika 3.46
Shankara clarifies this further in his commentary on Mandukya Karika 3.46:
‘When the mind brought under discipline by the above-mentioned methods, does not fall into the oblivion of deep sleep, nor is distracted by external objects, that is to say, when the mind becomes quiescent like the flame of a light kept in a windless place; or when the mind does not appear in the form of an object – when the mind is endowed with these characteristics, it verily becomes one with Brahman.’
~ Shankara in his commentary on Gaudapada’s Mandukya Karika 3.46
We can see that Shankara is stating in Samadhi, which was earlier advocated as the means to liberation, is devoid of objective phenomena when he writes ‘the mind does not appear in the form of an object’ above. We can also see that he is stating there are no thoughts in Samadhi, when he writes ‘when the mind becomes quiescent’.
Anandagiri, a 13th century commentator on Shankara’s works, confirms this in his comments on Karika 3.46: ‘The external objects are nothing but the activities of the mind itself.’
So we can see that mind activity and external objects are one and the same, and that samadhi is devoid of both
4. This Samadhi is not a state of mind, for the mind (and other objects) are not present in Samadhi
So we can see that Samadhi is not simply a state of mind – Shankara states it is the absense of mind and thought and objects. How can samadhi be a state of mind if there is no mind present in Samadhi? Samadhi is beyond the mind. Samadhi is the Self.
States of mind come and go, and the mind, being an object, is a part of Maya. However Samadhi is to abide as Self.
This is the meaning of nididhyasana – to abide as Self, the pure Consciousness that we already are. It is explained in detail in traditional advaita texts like Vivekachudamani and Advaita Bodha Deepika, and Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings point us unwaveringly to this same teaching too.
5. This Samadhi leads to Jnana (Knowledge)
Well I have no further quotes for you in this section – you should hopefully already be able to see from the quotes given above that Jnana arises from Samadhi, and this Samadhi is devoid of thoughts and objects. However, in this section I will re-present the above quotes with the emphasis on Samadhi leading to Jnana. In order to do this I have abbreviated some of the quotes (as indicated by ‘…’), the unabbreviated versions being present above:
Eg. here Gaudapada states the Atman can be attained through Samadhi.
‘The Self (Atman)…is attainable by Samadhi.’ ~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika 3.37
Shankara goes further and states that only Samadhi leads to Knolwedge in his commentary on the above verse:
‘…The Self (Atman)…can be realised only by the knowledge arising out of…Samadhi.’
Then Gaudapada also states that when all thought ceases Knowledge arises:
‘…where all mentation stops. Then knowledge is established in the Self…’ ~Gaudapada, Mandukya Karika 3.38
Shankara’s commentary on this above verse 3.38 unsurprisingly states the same:
…in the absence of any object, knowledge (Jnanam) is established in the Self…’
So hopefully we can now clearly see that, according to Gaudapada and Shankara:
The Self is realisable only through Samadhi
In Samadhi there are no thoughts present
In Samadhi there are no gross or subtle objects present
This Samadhi is not a state of mind that comes and goes, for the mind (and other objects) are not present in Samadhi
It is only this Samadhi that leads to Jnana (Knowledge)
I hope the above verses are of help for you. The above is just one of a series of articles I have written on this topic – please see below for some of the other posts that discuss this further.
Here we will see, using quotes from Gaudapada, Shankara, the Upanishads and Sri Ramana Maharshi that the same essential teaching is taught regarding the reality of the waking and dream states – namely that they are both equally unreal, that both waking and dream are dream!
Tom: Here is verse 1 from chapter 2 of Gaudapada’s Mandukya Karika (Gaudapada’s four chapter commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad), my comments are in red:
2.1. Harih Aum. The wise declare the unreality of all entities seen in dreams, because they are located within the body and the space therein is confined.
Tom: Gaudapada is essentially stating something we already know, namely that we dream of many things, but all these things we dream of are not actually real. They are all projections of the mind, which is what Gaudapa means by ‘located within the body and the space therein is confined’
2.2. The dreamer, on account of the shortness of the time involved, cannot go out of the body and see the dream objects. Nor does he, when awakened, find himself in the places seen in the dream.
Tom: Again, Gaudapada is stating what we already know about dreams. Shankara in his commentary on this verse explains this means that if we dream of going to a far away land many hundreds of miles away that would take several months to travel to, there is not enough time in dream, which only lasts a few hours, to actually travel there. Similarly, when we wake from the dream, we do not find ourself in this dream location far away.
2.3. Scripture, on rational grounds, declares the non-existence of the chariots etc. perceived in dreams. Therefore the wise say that the unreality established by reason is proclaimed by scripture.
Tom: Gaudapada in verses 2.1 and 2.2 has shown that the many things perceived in dreams are not real on the basis of our own experience. Now he is stating the same based on scripture, referring to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.10, which states, referring to a dream about chariots:
‘There are no chariots, nor animals to be yoked to them, nor roads there, but he creates the chariots, animals and roads. There are no pleasures, joys, or delights there, but he creates the pleasures, joys and delights. There are no pools, tanks, or rivers there, but he creates the pools, tanks and rivers. For he is the agent’.
The idea from Gaudapada is that if we dream of a chariot, that chariot is not real, as confirmed by scripture. Note that the teaching that is given in the next two verses is essentially the same as the teaching given in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3(please see this link for more).
2.4. The different objects seen in the confined space of dreams are unreal on account of their being perceived. For the same reason, ie. on account of their being perceived, the objects seen in the waking state are also unreal. The same condition ie. the state of being perceived exists in both waking and dreaming. The only difference is the limitation of space associated with dream objects.
Tom: Gaudapada is now equating the dream and waking states, stating that just as dream objects are perceived but not real, the same is with the waking state objects – they are also perceived yet utterly unreal. Does this mean we are to consider the waking state as unreal as a dream? The answer is yes, let us see:
2.5. Thoughtful persons speak of the sameness of the waking and dream states on account of the similarity of the objects perceived in both states on the grounds already mentioned.
Tom: The translation used thus far is that of Swami Nikhilanananda of the Ramakrishna Order. Swami Gambhirananda, also of the Ramakrishna Order, translates the last line of verse 2.5 as ‘the wise say that the dream and the waking states are one’.
In his commentary on Gaudapada Karika verse 2.5 (above) Shankara states ‘…therefore discriminating people speak of the sameness of the states of waking and dream.’
We can see that Gaudapada and Shankara are both explicitly stating that the waking state is another form of the dream state, and whilst we often distinguish between waking and sleep, they are actually both dream states, and all that is perceived within waking and dream are equally unreal.
Again, note that this teaching is also given in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3
We see the same teaching given much more concisely in Shankara’s masterpiece, Vivekachudamani:
170. In dreams, when there is no actual contact with the external world, the mind alone creates the whole universe consisting of the experiencer etc. Similarly in the waking state also; there is no difference. Therefore all this (phenomenal universe) is the projection of the mind.
Tom: We can see that Shankara is saying that the mind projects both the dream state and the waking state. Note that this is essentially equating the mind with maya. Shankara goes on to reiterate this view in subsequent verses:
171. In dreamless sleep, when the mind is reduced to its causal state, there exists nothing (for the person asleep), as is evident from universal experience. Hence man’s relative existence is simply the creation of his mind, and has no objective reality.
177. The mind continually produces for the experiencer all sense-objects without exception, whether perceived as gross or fine, the differences of body, caste, order of life, and tribe, as well as the varieties of qualification, action, means and results.
Tom: Above we can see that Shankara has equated Mind with Maya. Now he will equate Mind with Ignorance. We can deduce that all three, Mind-Maya-Ignorance, are just three names for the same phenomenon:
180. Hence sages who have fathomed its secret have designated the mind as Avidya or ignorance, by which alone the universe is moved to and fro, like masses of clouds by the wind.
Sri Ramana Maharshi
Like Shankara and Gaudapada, Sri Ramana also equates ignorance and maya, and he further says the same phenomenon is also called ego, jiva, conceit, and impurity – ie. all these various words mean the same thing, and that this ignorance is essentially the ‘I am the body idea’ – see here, taken from the text Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry) in the answer to question 3:
Sri Ramana Maharshi:…Therefore, the ‘I-consciousness’ which at first arises in respect of the body is referred to variously as self-conceit (tarbodham), egoity (ahankara), nescience (avidya), maya, impurity (mala), and individual soul (jiva).
In question 10 of the same text, Vichara Sangraham (Self Enquiry), Sri Ramana says the following:
Question: If the entire universe is of the form of mind, then does it not follow that the universe is an illusion? If that be the case, why is the creation of the universe mentioned in the Vedas?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: There is no doubt whatsoever that the universe is the merest illusion. The principal purport of the Vedas is to make known the true Brahman, after showing the apparent universe to be false. It is for this purpose that the Vedas admit thecreation of the world and not for any other reason…this world arose like a dream on account of one’s own thoughts induced by the defect of not knowing oneself as the Self…That the world is illusory, everyone can directly know in the state of Realisation which is in the form of experience of one’s bliss-nature.
In the text Nan Yar? (Who Am I?), Sri Ramana writes:
Sri Ramana Maharshi:…The world should be considered like a dream.
Question: Is there no difference between waking and dream?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Waking is long and a dream short; other than this there is no difference. Just as waking happenings seem real while awake, so do those in a dream while dreaming.
So, what now? Now we must put the teachings into practice to realise the truth of them: