The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita

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Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi

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In this article we will look at a Buddhist text that deals with the last step of the Noble Eightfold Path, Samma Samadhi (Right concentration). When we look at the method the Buddha actually prescribed, as written in the Pali texts, we cannot help but notice the similarity to the Yogic and Vedic teachings on meditation and to Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry. As always, if one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

If one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

The earliest written Buddhist teachings come to us in the form of the Pali Suttas, or the Buddhist texts written in the Pali language, and when we read them, one of the most important and most often repeated teachings we come across is the teaching on Samma Samadhi or Right concentration, the final step of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Again and again we find the Buddha exhorting his followers to practice Samma Samadhi.

In the Magga-Vibhanga Sutta (SN 45.8), the Buddha gives an overview of the Noble Eightfold Path and defines in brief what each of the eight steps entails. Here is how he defines Samma Samadhi, or Right Concentration:

And what, monks, is Samma Samadhi?

There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.

With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’

With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This, monks, is called right concentration.

Here the Buddha has introduced us to the Pali word Jhana, which is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word Dhyana. Interestingly (for me, at least), it is from the word Dhyana that the Chinese word Ch’an comes, which in Japan became known as Zen, and as Son in Korea. All these words mean essentially mean meditation.

In Yoga and Vedanta traditions, the word Dhyana refers usually to concentrative meditation in which one’s attention is made to focus on some kind of object, gross (eg. a physical object) or subtle (eg. the breath or a sound/mantra), in order to eventually turn the attention away from body mind and world. This in turn allows a different aspect of one’s consciousness to come naturally into focus, namely pure consciousness which is devoid of objects/phenomena. This is called Samadhi in yoga and vedanta. This Samadhi ‘experience’ is not a usual experience, as it is devoid of objects that can be experienced, and cannot be understood without entering into it and ‘experiencing’ it first hand. This process of turning away from body/mind/world and experiencing pure consciousness is the hallmark of the Vedic method of meditation, as described in the Vedas (Gayatri mantra), the Upanishads, the Yoga sutras, The Bhagavad Gita (See chapter 6 for the main exposition), the agamas and various subsequent Advaita Vedanta texts (ie. the Prakarana Granthas – see Panchadasi or Vivekachudamani). Here is a brief quotation from the authoritative Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10:

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 [Brahman].

Similarly we see the same teachings from Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi, see here for an example.

Now the Buddha uses the same equivalent word as Dhyana, but in Pali: Jhana. The Jhanas are often taught as being states of concentration and absorption, and as I stated above, the Buddha repeatedly encouraged his followers to take up this practice. There are typically said to be 8 or 9 Jnanas, depending on how you want to divide them up, and when combined with the teachings on wisdom (Panna in Pali, Prajna in Sanskrit), they are said to lead to nirvana, or total and complete liberation from suffering.

Now let us look at one of the main Buddhist texts that deals with the Jhanas and how to access them, the Jhana Sutta. The Buddha states that the ending of the mental defilements (Pali: Asava) depends on the Jhanas. It should be noted that the ending of the Asava, or mental defilements, is tantamount to total liberation (nirvana), the ending of suffering (Dukkha) or what in early Buddhism is known as becoming an Arahant.

My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

The Jhāna Sutta  (AN 9:36)

First the Buddha makes it clear that liberation, or ending of the Asava, depends on attaining the Jhanas, or absorptive meditative states:

“I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana… the second jhana… the third… the fourth… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.

The Buddha then tells us how to enter the first Jhana. We should turn away from sense pleasures, from negative qualities, our thought should be one-pointed and we should remain mindful:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

The Buddha proceeds, in what could be thought to be a very Vedic way of phrasing things. Of course, it is actually also a very Buddhist way of phrasing things too, the two paths being so similar in many ways: first he identifies all phenomena that appear in our experience/awareness – these are the five Buddhist skandas (ie. form, sensation, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness), which are loosely similar to the five koshas of vedanta.

Secondly he applies the Buddhist teaching of the 3 marks of existence to them (ie. (1) they are temporary, (2) attachment to them causes suffering, and (3) they are not-self).

And thirdly, lastly, and most crucially, he advises one turns the mind away from these phenomena and ‘incline his mind to the property of deathlessness’, what in Vedic teachings would likely be termed the Self (Atman) or the Absolute (Brahman).

“He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness [ie. the five skandas], as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self [i.e the three marks of existence]. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'”

In the last sentence of the above paragraph, the Buddha uncharacteristically uses some positive terminology, ie. describing the absolute/ultimate in positive terms of what it is: he uses the words ‘This is peace, this is exquisite’, expressing the wonder and positivity of this state. Then he, more characteristically, adopts the usual negative terminology which describes the absolute in terms of what it is not: the lack of mental activity, the lack of acquisitiveness, the end of craving, lack of passion, lack of bondage or suffering. It is clear he is referring to nothing else but total and complete liberation, or nirvana.

The buddha continues, this time stating the same teaching again, but preceding it with the metaphor of an archery student. The idea is that through practice, one gets better at entering the Jhanas, just as the achery student improves through practice. The implication is that what at first seems difficult, perhaps impossible at first, such as highly developed archery skills, becomes possible and second-nature with repeated practice. Everyone can do this.

We also have to think why the Buddha chose an archer specifically to demonstrate this idea of the importance of practice. The other aspect of the archery metaphor is that the archer is one-pointed in intent, having picked a single target and focussing in on that, and over time and after correctly applying themselves, eventually is able to hit the bulls eye – they reach the goal of nirvana through having a clear aim, focus, practice and concentration:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Now we see another important phrase: ‘Staying right here’. The Buddha points out, just as in the vedic scriptures, that this state is to be abided in. Abiding in this state leads to the end of the mental defilements. In Vedic or Vedanta terms we could say that Abiding as the Self leads to the destruction of the vasanas (habitual mental tendencies):

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana] . Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.”

(Similarly with the second, third, and fourth jhana.)

So basically the Buddha is saying that either all of the mental defilements will be destroyed through this practice of the first four Jhanas, and thus lead directly to liberation, or some of the mental defilements will be destroyed, leading to becoming a one-returner, ie. someone who is to born once more in a heavenly realm where they will then attain nirvana without being reborn a second time.

The teaching then repeats for the the remainder of the Jhanas. The next three Jhanas (Jhanas 2-4) are covered using the same wording as above. The last five Jhanas, also called the formless Jhanas, have a subtly different wording, as follows:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite space,’ enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

We can see that the basic teaching is the same. The emphasis now is not on form (which is not mentioned – only the latter four of the five skandhas are now mentioned), but on ‘complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form’ and disappearance of resistance, and ignoring any thoughts or notions of multiplicity. This about a deep letting go in which effort and duality are both let go of.

The teachings continues is the same way as with the first four Jhanas above:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space [the fifth Jhana]. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana]. Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.

(Similarly with the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness [the sixth Jhana] and the dimension of nothingness [the seventh Jhana].)

For the last two of the nine Jhanas, the Buddha recommends you receive direct teachings yourself from someone who has mastered these already:

“Thus, as far as the perception-attainments go, that is as far as gnosis-penetration goes. As for these two dimensions — the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception [the eighth Jhana] & the attainment of the cessation of feeling & perception [the ninth Jhana, sometimes said to be Nirvana itself] — I tell you that they are to be rightly explained by those monks who are meditators, skilled in attaining, skilled in attaining & emerging, who have attained & emerged in dependence on them.”

The key to nonduality and yoga

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See if you can spot the common themes from the following 🙂


From Ramana Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’:

Q. What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?

Ramana: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight


From Advaita Bodha Deepika (one of Ramana’s favourite traditional scriptures), Chapter 3:

17. Master: With complete stillness of mind, samsara will disappear root and branch. Otherwise there will be no end to samsara, even in millions of aeons (Kalpakotikala).

18. Disciple: Cannot samsara be got rid of by any means other than making the mind still?

M.: Absolutely by no other means; neither the Vedas, nor the shastras nor austerities, nor karma, nor vows, nor gifts, nor recital of scriptures of mystic formulae (mantras), nor worship, nor anything else, can undo the samsara. Only stillness of mind can accomplish the end and nothing else.

19. D.: The scriptures declare that only Knowledge can do it. How then do you say that stillness of the mind puts an end to samsara?

M.: What is variously described as Knowledge, Liberation, etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.

D.: Has any one said so before?

20-27. M.: Sri Vasishta had said…


Also from Chapter 3 of Advaita Bodha Deepika:

29-30. D.: How can the mind be made still?

M.: Only by Sankhya. Sankhya is the process of enquiry coupled with knowledge. The realised sages declare that the mind has its root in non-enquiry and perishes by an informed enquiry.

D.: Please explain this process.

M.: This consists of sravana, manana, nididhyasana and samadhi, i.e., hearing, reasoning, meditation and Blissful Peace, as mentioned in the scriptures. Only this can make the mind still.

31-32. There is also an alternative. It is said to be yoga.

D.: What is yoga?

M.: Meditation on Pure Being free from qualities.

D.: Where is this alternative mentioned and how?

M.: In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Sri Bhagavan Krishna has said: What is gained by Sankhya can also be gained by yoga. Only he who knows that the result of the two processes is the same, can be called a realised sage.

33-34. D.: How can the two results be identical?

M.: The final limit is the same for both because both of them end in stillness of mind. This is samadhi or Blissful Peace. The fruit of samadhi is Supreme Knowledge; this remains the same by whichever process gained.


From Ramana Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’:

All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.’

Also see:

Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?

The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation

Ramana Maharshi: be still

Ramana Maharshi: a quick and simple method to self-realisation

False enlightenment

Shankara: Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realization of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.

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Q. Tom, I appreciate this essay very much. I once got into quite an intense discussion with my Vēdānta teacher over this topic. We had just completed Panchadasi. The need for Silence (Samadhi) in conjunction with Self Inquiry was quite explicit in the text. And as you mention the Upanishads state the same.

I do have a question for you. In Vivekachudamani, Shankara makes contradictory statements about attainment. On one hand he extols the importance of meditation and knowledge. And then he seems to negate them. “Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realization of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.” (verse 56).

Krsna in Gita specifically says one can attain self realization by either approaches. (I understand that self realization, by some definitions is but a stage on the way to Unity.) This might be another conversation.

Is not realization of Brahman the final result of Yoga and Knowledge? If we understand Yoga to be Samadhi, which purifies deep rooted vasanas resulting in calmness. And Knowledge arrived at, on one hand, through direct experience in meditation and on the hand through scriptural study, finally resulting in discrimination between self and non self…

Then further on he extols Niddhyasana (long unbroken meditation/Nirvakalpa Samadhi) as the last step after hearing and contemplating the teachings. Patanjali defines Samadhi as Yoga. So Yoga seems to enter the picture again.

How do we reconcile these apparent contradictions?


 

Tom: Hi, this is a great question and thankfully is easily resolved in the context of the text Vivekachudamani.

Some modern Vedanta teachers insist that in Vedanta words are used in a very precise way, but for anyone who has read the scriptures in Sanskrit for themselves, nothing could be further from the truth. In the original Sanskrit language, the same words are used in a variety of different ways depending on the context, and it is up to the reader to discern this. eg. words such as Atman, Jnana, etc are used in a variety of ways, and traditional commentaries such as Shankara’s commentaries acknowledge this too.

It is usually quite easy to discern the meaning of the words you when you look at the context – usually this simply means to look at the verses either side of the verse in question. In most Vedanta texts, as with most texts in general, a single point is often made across a series of thematically related verses (or sentences). In Vedanta texts, the beginning and end of a section is not clearly marked, but they are easy to spot if you are looking for them:

Now with this in mind, lets look at Vivekachudamani verse 56, which you raise:

56. Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realisation of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.

Firstly, note the preceding verses that are in this section, starting at verse 51:

51. A father has got his sons and others to free him from his debts, but he has got none but himself to remove his bondage.

52. Trouble such as that caused by a load on the head can be removed by others, but none but one’s own self can put a stop to the pain which is caused by hunger and the like.

53. The patient who takes (the proper) diet and medicine is alone seen to recover completely – not through work done by others.

54. The true nature of things is to be known personally, through the eye of clear illumination, and not through a sage: what the moon exactly is, is to be known with one’s own eyes; can others make him know it?

55. Who but one’s own self can get rid of the bondage caused by the fetters of Ignorance, desire, action and the like, aye even in a hundred crore of cycles?

The theme is clearly that one has to do the work for oneself in order to attain liberation, and that no other, sage or otherwise, can do this work for you.

Now lets look at the verses that follow verse 56 in the same section:

57. The beauty of a guitar’s form and the skill of playing on its chords serve merely to please a few persons; they do not suffice to confer sovereignty.

58. Loud speech consisting of a shower of words, the skill in expounding the Scriptures, and likewise erudition – these merely bring on a little personal enjoyment to the scholar, but are no good for Liberation.

59. The study of the Scriptures is useless so long as the highest Truth is unknown, and it is equally useless when the highest Truth has already been known.

60. The Scriptures consisting of many words are a dense forest which merely causes the mind to ramble. Hence men of wisdom should earnestly set about knowing the true nature of the Self.

61. For one who has been bitten by the serpent of Ignorance, the only remedy is the knowledge of Brahman. Of what avail are the Vedas and (other) Scriptures, Mantras (sacred formulae) and medicines to such a one?

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’.

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.

The theme here is a warning against superficial teachings and the lack of true spiritual practice. This is a warning about teachings that do not recommend meditation and deep spiritual practice and a warning against teachings of no-effort, such as what is sometimes nowaday called neo-advaita. Let us see:

Merely repeating the words (verse 58) and intellectual study of the scriptures (verses 59-61) is not enough. Just proclaiming ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am That’ (verse 62 and 64) is not enough. We have not only to read the teachings but put them into practice (‘take the medicine’ cf. verse 62).

Verse 63 lays it out more clearly – what is the practice we have to do? What is the medicine we have to not only read about but actually swallow? We have to efface the body, mind and world and enter into Samadhi (’cause the objective world to vanish’).

This is emphasised in verse 65 where Shankara once again recommends the path of sravana – hearing the teachings, manana – reflecting upon the teachings and nididhyasana – meditation as described in verse 63.

Verse 66 then encourages the seeker to make effort to strive along this path, and not to fall short, not to follow paths that are mere verbal talk without ‘causing the objective world to vanish’ (verse 63).

So in conclusion, it is clear, from the context, that Shankara is admonishing superficial teachings only, and not the true path that he subsequently goes on to explain and recommend.


Lastly, let us look to someone who always preached the true Vedantic teachings, from their heart, but also as found in the scriptures, our Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. What does he write in ‘Who am I?’, questions 4 and 5?

Question 4. When will the realization of the Self be gained?
Ramana Maharshi: When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer.

Question 5. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
Ramana Maharshi: There will not be.

 

The Union of Meditation and Self-Enquiry – The two paths of Vedanta – Panchadasi by Vidyaranya Swami

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Traditionally there are two paths to liberation according to Advaita Vedanta (Nondual Vedanta). In Panchadasi, a traditional advaita vedanta text, Vidyaranya Swami refers to them as the path of Meditation and that of Self-Enquiry.

Panchadasi was written by Vidraranya Swami (1380-1386) over 600 years ago and contains the essence of the vedanta scriptures over 15 chapters (‘pancha’ means 5 and ‘dasi’ means 10, so together they refer to 15 chapters).

This following excerpt from chapter 1 gives an overview of the vedantic path to moksha. The next excerpt from chapter 9 shows how the 2 vedantic paths in the title are in fact the same. I have then chosen a few more excerpts from subsequent chapters aimed at encourging the seeker in their sadhana (spiritual practice) and extolling the virtues of meditation.

My comments are interspersed in red and bold type has been also added by myself for emphasis.

Best wishes

Tom


Overview of the path – from Chapter 1:

1.40. By discrimination of the subtle body (and recognition of its variable, transient character), the sheaths of the mind, intellect, and vital airs are understood to be different from the Self, for the sheaths are conditions of the three gunas, and differ from each other (qualitatively and quantitatively).

This indicates that the mind is able to discriminate (viveka – ie. to differentiate the unchanging self from the changing gross and subtle objects experienced) between the self and the gross and subtle bodies – ie. the body and mind. However the mind cannot so easily discriminate the self from the causal body in which the latent tendencies remain dormant. For this meditation is helpful, as follows:

1.41. Avidya (manifested as the causal body of bliss sheath) is negated in the state of deep meditation (in which neither subject nor object is experienced), but the Self persists in that state; so it is the invariable factor. But the causal body is a variable factor, for though the Self persists, it does not.

This is referring to samadhi, in which the subject-object duality has been removed. Also see Chapter 9 verse 126 of Panchadasi:

‘When meditation on the attributeless Brahman is mature it leads to Samadhi. This state of intense concentration at case leads on to the Nirodha state in which the distinction between subject and object is eliminated.’

This experience in meditation allows one to realise that the causal body also is not the Self:

1.42. As the slender, internal pith of munja grass can be detached from its coarse external covering, so the Self can be distinguished through reasoning from the three bodies (or the five sheaths). Then the Self is recognised as the supreme consciousness.

1.52. The Self is untouched by doubts about the presence or absence of associates, connotations and other adventitious relationships, because they are superimposed on it phenomenally.

Like a mirror is untouched by the contents of the reflection, like the cinema screen is untouched by the scenes in the movie, the Self remains untouched and unaffected by life.

Now Vidyaranya tells us of the advaitic path, consisting of sravana, manana, nididhyasana and samadhi. Shankara does the same here.

1.53. The finding out or discovery of the true significance of the identity of the individual self and the Supreme with the aid of the great sayings (like Tat Tvam Asi) is what is known as sravana. And to arrive at the possibility of its validity through logical reasoning is what is called manana.

Sravana, literally meaning hearing, means to hear or listen to the teachings. To thereafter think about the teachings and their logic is called manana.

1.54. And, when by sravana and manana the mind develops a firm and undoubted conviction, and dwells constantly on the thus ascertained Self alone, it is called unbroken meditation (nididhyasana).

Sravana and manana naturally lead to unbroken meditation, or nididhyasana. This eventually leads to removal of the subject-object duality and culminates in samadhi:

1.55. When the mind gradually leaves off the ideas of the meditator and the act of meditation and is merged in the sole object of meditation. (ie. the Self), and is steady like the flame of a lamp in a breezeless spot, it is called the super-conscious state (samadhi).

1.56. Though in samadhi there is no subjective cognition of the mental function having the Self as its object, its continued existence in that state is inferred from the recollection after coming out of samadhi.

There is no experience as such in samadhi, as the mind (and memory) does not temporarily exist, so the state is not known as such at the time. The next verse tells us that it persists dependent upon ‘effort and will made prior to its achievement’ and through ‘constant efforts’:

1.57. The mind continues to be fixed in Paramatman in the state of samadhi as a result of the effort of will made prior to its achievement and helped by the merits of previous births and the strong impression created through constant efforts (at getting into samadhi).

1.58. The same idea Sri Krishna pointed out to Arjuna in various ways e.g., when he compares the steady mind to the flame of a lamp in a breezeless spot.

He is referring to Krishna’s teaching to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6 verse 19:

‘Just as a lamp in a windless place does not flicker, so the disciplined mind of a yogi remains steady in meditation on the self.’

1.59. As a result of this (nirvikalpa) samadhi millions of results of actions, accumulated in this beginningless world over past and present births, are destroyed, and pure dharma (helpful to the realisation of Truth) grows.

1.60. The experts in Yoga call this samadhi ‘a rain cloud of dharma’ because it pours forth countless showers of the bliss of dharma.

1.61. The entire network of desires is fully destroyed and the accumulated actions known as merits and demerits are fully rooted out by this samadhi.

1.62. Then the great dictum, freed from the obstacles (of doubt and ambiguity), gives rise to a direct realisation of the Truth, as a fruit in one’s palm – Truth which was earlier comprehended indirectly.

The above 4 verses indicate how powerfully purifying nirvikalpa samadhi is in rooting out the habitual tendencies to identify with the body-mind, when gives rise to direct realisation of the Truth or Liberation.

1.63. The knowledge of Brahman obtained indirectly from the Guru, teaching the meaning of the great dictum, burns up like fire all sins, committed up to that attainment of knowledge.

1.64. The direct realisation of the knowledge of the Self obtained from the Guru’s teaching of the great dictum, is like the scorching sun, that dispels the very darkness of Avidya, the root of all transmigratory existence.

1.65. Thus a man distinguishes the Self from the five sheaths, concentrates the mind on It according to the scriptural injunctions, becomes free from the bonds of repeated births and deaths and immediately attains the supreme bliss.

In summary, the path is viveka (differentiating the unchanging self from the changing objects experienced) plus unbroken meditation on the self.


We see a similar reasoning given in Chapter 9:

The unity of meditation and self-enquiry – From Chapter 9:

9.126. When meditation on the attributeless Brahman is mature it leads to Samadhi. This state of intense concentration leads on to the Nirodha state in which the distinction between subject and object is eliminated.

‘Nirodha’ is the term used in yoga to indicate what in vedanta is known as nirvikalpa samadhi. Ceaseless meditation on the Self leads to the knowledge ‘I am Brahman’:

9.127. When such complete cessation of mental activity is achieved, only the association-less entity (Atman) remains in his heart. By ceaseless meditation on It based on the great Sayings, arises the knowledge ‘I am Brahman’.

9.128. There is then a perfect realisation of Brahman as the immutable, association-less, eternal, self-revealed, secondless whole, as indicated in the scriptures.

The author backs up his above statements by showing how the same ideas are present in the Holy Upanishads which are the most important texts in Vedanta teachings and hold the highest authority:

9.129. The Amritabindu and other Upanishads recommend Yoga for the same object. It is clear therefore that meditation on the attributeless Brahman is superior to other types of worship.

A warning for those who give up their meditation:

9.130. Those who give up meditation on the attributeless Brahman and undertake pilgrimages, recitations of the holy formulas and other methods, may be compared to ‘those who drop the sweets and lick the hand’.

Here the questioner points out the 2 main vedantic paths to liberation, one being meditation or yoga, the other being self-enquiry. The following verses indicate that the higher and quicker path is self-enquiry, but both paths are actually the same in the end:

9.131. (Doubt): This applies also to those who meditate on the attributeless Brahman giving up enquiry into Its nature. (Reply): True, therefore only those who are not able to practise enquiry have been asked to meditate on the attributeless Brahman.

9.132. Those who are very fickle-minded and agitated do not have the knowledge of Brahman by the practice of enquiry. Therefore control of the mind is the chief means for them. By it their mind becomes free from distractions.

9.133. For those whose intellects are no longer distracted nor restless but are merely covered by a veil of ignorance, the analytical system called Sankhya (intellectual enquiry) is prescribed. It will quickly lead them to spiritual illumination.

The above verse indicates that for enquiry to work, the mind must already be pure and stable and with only a small amount (‘a veil’) of ignorance. If not, then a calming practice, such as meditation, karma yoga or surrender/bhakti are required.

9.134. ‘The state of spiritual balance is obtainable by both the Sankhyas (those who follow the path of enquiry) and the Yogis (those who practise meditation). He really knows the meaning of the scriptures who knows that the paths of enquiry and meditation are the same’.


The path of meditation

Continuing with Chapter 9, here follows several statements from Shruti (ie. the Upanishads), the most authoritative Vedanta texts, extolling the virtues and efficacy of the path of meditation

9.138. So the future life of a man is determined by the nature of his thoughts at the time of death. Then as a devotee of the Personal God is absorbed in Him, so a meditator on the attributeless Brahman is absorbed in It and obtains Liberation.

9.140. As by meditation on the Personal God knowledge of the nature of Ishvara arises, so by meditation on the attributeless Brahman, knowledge of Its nature arises and destroys the ignorance which is the root of rebirth.

9.141. A meditator becomes Brahman who is ‘unattached, desireless, free from body and organs and fearless’. Thus the Tapaniya Upanishad speaks of liberation as the result of meditation on the attributeless Brahman.

9.142. By the strength of meditation on the attributeless Brahman knowledge arises. So the scriptural verse, ‘Verily there is no other path to liberation (except knowledge)’ does not conflict with this.

9.143. So the Tapaniya Upanishad points out that liberation comes from desireless meditation. The Prasna Upanishad also says that by meditation with desire one enters into the region of Brahma.

9.146. Such a worshipper, by virtue of his meditation on the attributeless Brahman, enters the world of Brahma and there obtains direct knowledge of Brahman. He is not born again, he gets ultimate release at the end of the four Yugas.

9.147. In the Vedas meditation on the holy syllable Aum in most places means meditation on the attributeless Brahman, though in some places it means meditation on Brahman with attributes.

9.148. Pippalada being asked by his pupil Satyakama says that Aum means Brahman both with and without attributes.

9.149. Yama too, questioned by his pupil Nachiketas, replied that he who meditates on Aum knowing it as the attributeless Brahman obtains the fulfilment of his desires.

9.150. He who meditates properly on the attributeless Brahman gets direct knowledge of Brahman either in this life or at the time of death or in the world of Brahma.

9.151. The Atma Gita also clearly says that those who cannot practise discrimination should always meditate on the Self.

9.152. (The Self as if says): ‘Even if direct knowledge of Me does not seem to be possible, a man should still meditate on the Self. In the course of time, he doubtlessly realises the Self and is freed’.

9.153. ‘To reach treasures deeply hidden in the earth, there is nothing for it but to dig. So to have direct knowledge of Me, the Self, there is no other means than meditation on one’s Self’.

9.155. Even if there is no realisation, think ‘I am Brahman’. Through meditation a man achieves even other things (like the Deities), why not Brahman who is ever-achieved?

A stark warning not to stop meditating before the goal is reached:

9.156. If a man, who is convinced by his experience that meditation, practised day by day, destroys the idea that the not-Self is the Self, nevertheless becomes idle and neglects meditation, what difference, tell us, is there between him and a brute ?

9.157. Destroying his idea that the body is the Self, through meditation a man sees the secondless Self, becomes immortal and realises Brahman in this body itself.

9.158. The meditator who studies this Chapter called the ‘Lamp of Meditation’, is freed from all his doubts and meditates constantly on Brahman.


From Chapter 11:

Chapter 11 further focuses upon the role of meditation as opposed to inquiry:

11.110. In the Maitrayani Upanishad of the Yajur Veda, sage Sakayanya spoke of the great bliss experienced in Samadhi to the royal sage Brihadratha while discoursing on Samadhi.

11.111. ‘As fire without fuel dies down and becomes latent in its cause, so the mind, when its modifications have been silenced, merges in its cause’.

11.112. ‘To the mind fixed on Reality, merged in its cause and impervious to the sensations arising from the sense-objects, the joys and sorrows (together with their occasions and materials) experienced as a result of the fructifying Karma seem unreal’.

11.114. ‘Through the purification of his mind a man destroys the impressions of his good and evil Karma and the purified mind abiding in Atman enjoys undiminishing bliss’.

11.115. ‘If a man were to focus his mind on Brahman, as he commonly does on the objects of senses, what bondage would he not be free from ?’

11.116. ‘Mind has been described as of two types, pure and impure. The impure is that which is tainted by desires, the pure is that which is free from desires’.

11.117. ‘The mind alone is the cause of bondage and release. Attachment to objects leads to bondage and freedom from attachment to them leads to release’.

11.118. ‘The bliss arising from absorption in the contemplation of the Self, when all sins and taints are washed off through the practice of Samadhi, cannot be described in words. One must feel it in one’s own heart’.

11.119. Though it is rare for men to keep their minds long in the state of absorption (Samadhi), still even a glimpse of it confers conviction about the bliss of Brahman.

11.121. Such a man ignores the bliss experienced in the state of mental quiescence and is ever devoted to the supreme bliss and meditates on it.

11.122. A woman devoted to a paramour, though engaged in household duties, with all the time be dwelling in mind on the pleasures with him.

11.123. Similarly the wise one who has found peace in the supreme Reality will be ever enjoying within the bliss of Brahman even when engaged in worldly matters.

11.124. Wisdom (Jnana) consists in subjugating the desires for sense-pleasure, even when the passions are strong and in engaging the mind in meditation on Brahman with the desire to enjoy the bliss.

In Ramana’ Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’, the question as to the nature of Jnana arises and is simply answered:

Questioner: What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?

Ramana Maharshi: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight.

See here for more

11.125. A man carrying a burden on his head feels relief when he removes the load; similarly a man freed from worldly entanglements feels he is in rest.

11.126. Thus relieved of burden and enjoying rest, he fixes his mind on the contemplation of the bliss of Brahman, whether in the state of detachment or experiencing pain or pleasure according to fructifying Karma.

11.130. Enjoying both the bliss of Brahman taught in the scriptures and the worldly bliss unopposed to it, the Jnani of truth knows them both in the same way as one who knows two languages.

11.131. When the Jnani experiences sufferings, he is not disturbed by them as he would have been before. Just as a man half-immersed in the cool water of the Ganges feels both the heat of the sun and the coolness of the water, so he feels the misery of the world and the bliss of Brahman at the same time.


And to finish, one of my favourite verses here:

From Chapter 13:

13.3. The world is born of bliss, it abides in bliss and is merged in bliss. How then can it be anything other than this bliss?

 

Has anyone else spotted this glaring error in the Bhagavad Gita? (and how to solve it)

One of my favourite spiritual books is the Bhagavad Gita. It, perhaps, is the reason I stumbled into my love of what could be called Eastern Spirituality or Eastern Mysticism, and the Gita was one of the first few holy texts I read. It contains a number of different but intricately related teachings that, together, knit the fabric for a beautiful teaching. It also has an epic and somewhat unusual setting, for a spiritual text at least, namely the battleground of Kurukshetra in which Arjuna is seeking advice prior to going into battle from his charioteer, Krishna. It just so happens that Krishna is in fact God incarnate, and so a wonderful dialogue and spiritual discourse commences.

I do not consider the Gita to be a perfect text, for a number of reasons which I will not delve into in this post, but for many years it has seemed to me that there is a glaring error in its current format, one that I have not heard much of, and one that can be easily rectified. In fact, when this error is seen and rectified, the Gita, in my opinion, is much more satisfying to read, albeit still with its imperfections.

What is the error? It is that Chapters 3 and 4 are the wrong way round. It took me a while to figure this out, and I wonder if this idea has occurred to other people too? A quick google search has not revealed to me that other people have noticed this. However, surely for any discerning reader, the transition from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3 is jarring in the very least. I remember feeling this jarring sensation when I first read the Gita, but as I said, it took me a while to figure out its resolution.

Let me explain:

Chapter 1 sets the scene of the ensuing battle, and it is in Chapter 2 that the main spiritual teaching begins. After Arjuna collapses in a fit of despair, panic and disillusionment and asks Krishna for help, Krishna gives a broad outline of the main teachings of the Gita. Krishna tells Arjuna that he need not fear, that the essence of him is eternal and indestructible, and that he should perform his noble duty with honour. Krishna, still in Chapter 2, then goes on to describe the path to spiritual liberation, the path of yoga in which one should be equanimous of mind amidst daily life and also practice withdrawing the senses and enter into a meditative samadhi in which the mind is controlled and allowed to become still, unphased by sense-objects and desires. Krishna spends a considerable number of verses on this theme, finally stating that this will lead to the attainment of Brahman, or the Absolute or God, in which there is no suffering or delusion.

However, when we come to chapter 3, seemingly oblivious to what Krishna has just instructed him, Arjuna asks him a completely unrelated question:

3.1 O Krishna, if you say that knowledge is superior to action, why ask me to fight in this terrible battle?

Krishna has not spoken in any great length about knowledge thus far, the main emphasis of the teaching being on yoga and meditative samadhi. Krishna has also not explicitly said that knowledge is superior to action, something that comes later in chapter 4 (4.33, see below). Admittedly, in the next verse of chapter 3 Arjuna does say he is confused:

3.2 My mind is confused, your words seem contradictory. Please clarify to me which path will lead me to the greatest good?

If we take the question at face value, Arjuna is implying that Krishna has taught two seemingly opposed teachings and Arjuna is unsure of how these can be reconciled. However, thus far, there has not been any substantive conflicting teaching given. Of course, all these issues are easily and happily resolved when we simply switch the position of Chapters 3 and 4. Before we look at how this resolution occurs, lets see Krishna’s response to Arjuna, still in Chapter 3:

3.3 Krishna said: Arjuna, as I have told you before, there are two paths of faith: the path of knowledge (Jnana Yoga) for the philosophically inclined, and the path of action (Karma Yoga) for the active.

Without swapping Chapters 3 and 4 around, this verse makes little sense. Krishna has not yet outlined two yogas, that of Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga. He does, however, outline these in Chapter 4.

Let us now look at Chapter 4 – what I think should actually be Chapter 3. If we recall, Chapter 2 ends with Krishna speaking at length on the path of meditative yoga in which the senses should be withdrawn, the mind controlled and stilled, and desires for sense-pleasures effaced. This, Krishna says, will lead to Brahman, or God. Chapter 4 opens as follows, logically continuing from this conclusion in Chapter 2:

4.1 Krishna said: I taught this eternal yoga to Vivasvan [the sun god]; Vivasvan taught it to Manu [the father of humanity]; Manu passed it to King Iksvaku

This makes complete sense as the start of Chapter 3 and would avoid the jarring switch to Arjuna’s question about the two paths that are not described until later on in the current text. What Krishna explains in Chapter 4 is a logical continuance of explaining the origins of the yoga described in the latter part of Chapter 2.

In Chapter 4, Krishna goes on to reveal to Arjuna that he, Krishna, is not merely a trusted friend and charioteer, but actually God-incarnate who manifests in every age when he is needed to impart spiritual wisdom to humanity. He briefly describes the benefits of worshipping Him and other Gods, and introduces and explains the teaching on the path of action or Karma Yoga starting at around verse 4.14 to around 4.32.

Then, starting at verse 4.33 through to the last verse 4.42, Krishna introduces and explains the path of knowledge (Jnana). Verse 4.33 is particularly important, as it implies that Jnana is a higher path than that of Karma:

4.33 Better than sacrifice of material goods is sacrifice in Jnana, for action culminates in Jnana

This now makes sense of Arjuna’s question in 3.1 when he states that Krishna has placed knowledge higher than action. The last two verses of the chapter, verses 4.41 and 4.42, are also potentially quite confusing, as 4.41 states that action should be renounced, while 4.42 encourages Arjuna to stand and fight:

4.41 One who has given up action through yoga, and has dispelled doubts by knowledge, one who lives in the Self, is not bound by action (karma).

4.42 Therefore, Arjuna, with the sword of knowledge (jnana) remove the doubts in yourself, and taking refuge in yoga, stand and fight.

Given this context, with Krishna having just explained the two seemingly different paths of karma yoga and jnana yoga, and then ended his discourse by stating actions are to be renounced (4.41), and then to stand and fight (4.42), it is completely understandable that Arjuna is confused. His questions in verses 3.1 and 3.2 (see above) make complete sense now and we lose that jarring sensation that was previously present when we go from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3. Krishna’s response in 3.3 also makes more sense in this context, as if we switch chapters 3 and 4, Krishna has just told Arjuna of the two paths: ‘Arjuna, as I have told you before, there are two paths…jnana yoga…and karma yoga..’.

Chapter 3 (what should in my view be Chapter 4) then explains and extols the virtues and benefits the path of karma yoga more fully.

At the start of Chapter 5 Arjuna continues along this line of questioning, asking Krishna:

5.1 First you recommend giving up work [ie. chapter 2 in which sense withdrawal is advocated] and then you recommend work in yoga [ie. chapter 3 in which karma yoga is advocated]. Please tell me clearly which path is best.

Again, this makes more sense if Chapter 3 was actually Chapter 4 – otherwise why wait a whole chapter before asking this question? The whole thing flows much more like a normal conversation with Chapters 3 and 4 swapped around. Chapter 5 then says how both paths lead to the same goal, but that the path of action/Karma Yoga is superior.

Only at the end of Chapter 5 is the topic of meditation and withdrawal of the senses from the sense objects again taken up in verse 5.26-5.28.

Chapter 6 then goes on to explain how both paths end up with the mind being stilled, and that to start off with, the path is yoga in action, but the path ends with stillness of mind (verse 6.3). The rest of Chapter 6 is devoted to the path of meditation and stillness of mind, with a few verses now introducing the teachings of Bhakti (devotion to or love of God) in verses 6.29-6.32.

With just the simple swapping around of chapters 3 and 4, in my view the potency and philosophical narrative of the Bhagavad Gita greatly enhanced. Themes are introduced in a wonderfully natural and logical way, with one theme leading into another –  a beautiful and coherent development of ideas, as follows: from an overview of the teachings in Chapter 2, to an introduction to the two main paths in Chapter 4, then firstly focussing on the path of action in Chapters 3 and 5, and then to the more advanced path of meditation in Chapter 6, and then the introduction to Bhakti, a theme that is progressively developed in the next 6 chapters (chapters 7 to 12).

So my suggested order is as follows:

  • Chapter 1: the battle scene is set and Arjuna falls into panic and despair at the thought of going to war.
  • Chapter 2: reassurance given to Arjuna by Krisha who also gives an overview of the path, with a large focus on the yoga of renunciation, stillness of mind and meditation in the latter part of the chapter.
  • Chapter 4: Krishna explains how this yoga has been taught to previous generations and then introduces the two paths of Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
  • Chapter 3: Arjuna asks which of these two paths is superior. Krishna explains the value of Karma Yoga and explains this more fully.
  • Chapter 5: Arjuna persists with his question about which path is better, and Krishna states both paths lead to the same goal, but Karma Yoga is better.
  • Chapter 6: Krishna then states that beginners start with Karma yoga, but as one advances stillness of mind and the yoga of meditation becomes more important. Themes of Bhakti are introduced.
  • Chapter 7-12: The theme of Bhakti is further introduced and the nature of God and devotional worship is elaborated upon.
  • Chapters 13-18: the path of knowledge, special or specific teachings, and concluding instructions are given.

So, what do you think? Is the way I am looking at it correct? Even though I have been reading and studying these texts for over 20 years, I do not consider myself to be an expert and I am not a sanskrit scholar either. My suggestion is to simply swap around chapters 3 and 4 when you read the Bhagavad Gita. Please let me know your views in the comments.

Namaste and Hare Krishna!

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti!

Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?

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Advaita Bodha Deepika is a traditional text and a masterpiece, summarising the methods and techniques of advaita vedanta. It was a favourite text of Sri Ramana Maharshi and was often recommended by him. Here is what it says about how to attain liberation, the following is from Chapter 3:

17…Master: With complete stillness of mind, samsara will disappear root and branch. Otherwise there will be no end to samsara, even in millions of aeons (Kalpakotikala).

18. Disciple: Cannot samsara be got rid of by any means other than making the mind still?

M: Absolutely by no other means; neither the Vedas, nor the shastras nor austerities, nor karma, nor vows, nor gifts, nor recital of scriptures of mystic formulae (mantras), nor worship, nor anything else, can undo the samsara. Only stillness of mind can accomplish the end and nothing else.

19. D: The scriptures declare that only Knowledge can do it. How then do you say that stillness of the mind puts an end to samsara?

M: What is variously described as Knowledge, Liberation, etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.

D: Has any one said so before?

20 M: Sri Vasishta had said…


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Beloved Ramana Maharshi says the same in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 141:

All the jnana* scriptures that teach the way to redemption proclaim in unison that restraining and stilling the mind is the best means for liberation. This is also emphasised by jnanis*.

If, after a certain amount of study, one knows this to be the inner purport of the scriptures, one should then direct ones whole effort towards that [practice]. What is the use of continuously studying more and more scriptures without doing this?

*Jnana, literally meaning knowledge, refers to the teachings of spiritual liberation, whereas jnani, literally ‘knower’, refers to the spiritually liberated sage.

 


In Ramana’s ‘Who am I?’, the question as to the nature of Jnana arises and is simply answered:

Questioner: What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?

Ramana Maharshi: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight.


The Katha Upanishad states the same, in verse 2.3.10:

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 [Brahman].

 


The Amritabindu Upanishad equates the controlled/stilled mind with Jnana (knowledge) and liberation:

2. It is indeed the mind that is the cause of men’s bondage and liberation. The mind that is attached to sense-objects leads to bondage, when unattached from sense-objects it tends to lead to liberation. So they [the sages] say.

3. Since liberation is based on the mind devoid of desire for sense objects, therefore, the mind should always be made free of such desire, by the seeker after liberation.

4. When the mind, with its attachment for sense-objects annihilated, is fully controlled within the heart and thus realises its own essence, then that is the Supreme State (Brahman is gained).

5. The mind should be controlled so that it becomes merged in the heart. This is Jnana (knowledge) and this is Dhyana (meditation). All else is argumentation and verbiage.


The Advaitic giant, Sri Gaudapada, (Shankara’s guru’s guru) writes in his Mandukya Karika:

The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman’ Chapter 3, verse 35

And in verse 37 of the same chapter he writes:

[Atman is] beyond all expression by words and beyond all acts of mind; It is all peace, eternal effulgence free from activity and fear and attainable by samadhi’ Chapter 3, verse 37


Also see:

The key to nonduality and yoga

The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation

Ramana Maharshi: be still

Ramana Maharshi: a quick and simple method to self-realisation

False enlightenment

Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi (stillness of mind), Manonasa (destruction of mind), and Liberation

Shankara shankaracharya

The following are quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani on the Mind, samadhi (stillness of mind), manonasa (destruction of mind) and it’s relationship to moksha (liberation). There are many false teachings around, so I hope you find these teachings to be helpful and instructive.

Vivekachudamani is one of the most important in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. Attributed to Shankara, for centuries it has traditionally been used as a practice manual for seekers of spiritual liberation. Many mahatmas (great souls) have considered this text to contain all that is required to know in order to attain liberation.

Swami Chinmayananda, that great Sanskrit scholar and traditional teacher of Advaita Vedanta, said Vivekachudamani contained the distilled wisdom from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita and presents it in a systematic readable form for a seeker of liberation, in which both ‘the goal and path are exhaustively dealt with’. He wrote of Vivekachudamani that ‘no other help is needed’ other than this text on the quest to liberation.

A very young (and already enlightened) Sri Ramana Maharshi also translated the entire text into Tamil for the benefit of his companions and devotees who were unable to read Sanskrit, in what was perhaps Ramana’s first spiritual work. The fact that Ramana wrote very little yet bothered to translate this in its entirely, that this was the first scripture he chose to translate, and that this is the longest of the scriptures he ever translated (to my knowledge) perhaps gives you an indication of the significance of this text. Ramana himself wrote an introduction to his own translation and in it he said that Vivekachudamani explained ‘in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path’ and also that Vivekachudamani contained the essence of Shankara’s commentaries on the triple canon of Vedenta (Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Brahma Sutras), in an easy to read form.

Indeed, there is nothing in Vivekachudamani that cannot be found in the Vedantic triple canon.

So here is some of what Shankara says about Mind and Liberation, my comments are in italicised red:


The mind is ignorance

First Shankara equates mind with ignorance, saying they are one and the same, hinting the mind must be destroyed (manonasa), a theme that is taken up again later on:

169. There is no Ignorance (Avidya) outside the mind. The mind alone is Avidya, the cause of the bondage of transmigration. When that is destroyed, all else is destroyed, and when it is manifested, everything else is manifested.

Shankara in these next two verses repeats that mind is synonymous with ignorance and the cause of bondage or suffering.

179. Man’s transmigration is due to the evil of superimposition, and the bondage of superimposition is created by the mind alone.

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.

The mind (ie. ignorance) creates the world

Then he states the world is but an illusion projected by the mind, like a dream:

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.

This is essentially equating the mind with maya.

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.

172. Clouds are brought in by the wind and again driven away by the same agency. Similarly, man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and Liberation too is caused by that alone.

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.

Stay away from the mind

Shankara warns the seeker to stay away from the mind:

176. In the forest-tract of sense-pleasures there prowls a huge tiger called the mind. Let good people who have a longing for Liberation never go there.

Manonasa (destruction of the mind)

Shankara teaches us that the mind eventually must die, and the method of how to do this:

277. The Yogi’s mind dies, being constantly fixed on his own Self.

What happens when we do not follow this teaching?

309. Even though completely rooted out, this terrible egoism, if revolved in the mind even for a moment, returns to life and creates hundreds of mischiefs, like a cloud ushered in by the wind during the rainy season.

325. If the mind ever so slightly strays from the Ideal and becomes outgoing, then it goes down and down, just as a play-ball inadvertently dropped on the staircase bounds down from one step to another.

326. The mind that is attached to the sense-objects reflects on their qualities; from mature reflection arises desire, and after desiring a man sets about having that thing.

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

502. How can there be merits and demerits for me, who am without organs, without mind, changeless, and formless – who am the realisation of Bliss Absolute? The Shruti also mentions this in the passage “Not touched”, etc.!

Shut out the world, focus attention on Brahman

327. Hence to the discriminating knower of Brahman there is no worse death than inadvertence with regard to concentration. But the man who is concentrated attains complete success. (Therefore) carefully concentrate thy mind (on Brahman).

328. Through inadvertence a man deviates from his real nature, and the man who has thus deviated falls. The fallen man comes to ruin, and is scarcely seen to rise again.

335. When the external world is shut out, the mind is cheerful, and cheerfulness of the mind brings on the vision of the Paramatman. When It is perfectly realised, the chain of birth and death is broken. Hence the shutting out of the external world is the stepping-stone to Liberation.

339. To realise the whole universe as the Self is the means of getting rid of bondage. There is nothing higher than identifying the universe with the Self. One realises this state by excluding the objective world through steadfastness in the eternal Atman.

The need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi

Shankara, over many verses, makes it clear that the mind must be totally stilled in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, in which there is awareness present without thoughts and other objects:

341. To the Sannyasin who has gone through the act of hearing, the Shruti passage, “Calm, self-controlled.” Etc., prescribes Samadhi for realising the identity of the universe with the Self.

Shankara drums home the necessity of Samadhi over many verses, here using the phrase ‘barring those’ to clearly state that only through nirvikalpa samadhi can egotism be destroyed (and liberation attained). He makes it clear that in nirvikalpa samadhi no objects/phenomena will be present, and there will be ‘no oscilation of mind‘.

342. Even wise men cannot suddenly destroy egoism after it has once become strong, barring those who are perfectly calm through the Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Desires are verily the effect of innumerable births.

344. …But the victory is undoubtedly (complete and) free from obstacles when there is no oscillation of the mind due to the unreal sense-objects.

The term Samadhi refers to a state of mind that is stilled but also aware and not asleep:

353. When the Atman, the One without a second, is realised by means of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi, then the heart’s knot of ignorance is totally destroyed.

354. Such imaginations as “thou”, “I” or “this” take place through the defects of the Buddhi. But when the Paramatman, the Absolute, the One without a second, manifests Itself in Samadhi, all such imaginations are dissolved for the aspirant, through the realisation of the truth of Brahman.

355. The Sannyasin, calm, self-controlled, perfectly retiring from the sense-world, forbearing, and devoting himself to the practice of Samadhi, always reflects on his own self being the Self of the whole universe. Destroying completely by this means the imaginations which are due to the gloom of ignorance, he lives blissfully as Brahman, free from action and the oscillations of the mind.

Shankara again stresses the importance of Samadhi, stating those alone are free or liberated.

356.Those alone are free from the bondage of transmigration who, attaining Samadhi, have merged the objective world, the sense-organs, the mind, nay, the very ego, in the Atman, the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.

357. Through the diversity of the supervening conditions (Upadhis), a man is apt to think of himself as also full of diversity; but with the removal of these he is again his own Self, the immutable. Therefore the wise man should ever devote himself to the practice of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, for the dissolution of the Upadhis.

Again, Shankara uses the word only to drive home the importance of Samadhi:

360. The truth of the Paramatman is extremely subtle, and cannot be reached by the gross outgoing tendency of the mind. It is only accessible to noble souls with perfectly pure minds, by means of Samadhi brought on by an extraordinary fineness of the mental state.

361. As gold purified by thorough heating on the fire gives up its impurities and attains to its own lustre, so the mind, through meditation, gives up its impurities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and attains to the reality of Brahman.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi refers to the complete absence of ‘mind waves’ or modifications of consciousness, in which there is only pure awareness or consciousness present devoid of thoughts and perceptions. Again and again Shankara states that it is Samadhi of the Nirvikalpa variety (ie. no thoughts and no objects) that leads directly to self-realisation :

362. When the mind, thus purified by constant practice, is merged in Brahman, then Samadhi passes on from the Savikalpa to the Nirvikalpa stage, and leads directly to the realisation of the Bliss of Brahman, the One without a second.

363. By this Samadhi are destroyed all desires which are like knots, all work is at an end, and inside and out there takes place everywhere and always the spontaneous manifestation of one’s real nature.

How much clearer can Shankara make the case for the essential practice of Nirvikalpa Samadhi?

364. Reflection should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing, and meditation a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection, but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.

Shankara continues to stress the importance of the thoughtless aware state of samadhi, or, to put it more simply, being still of mind:

365. By the Nirvikalpa Samadhi the truth of Brahman is clearly and definitely realised, but not otherwise, for then the mind, being unstable by nature, is apt to be mixed up with other perceptions.

Drown or destroy the mind by turning away from the world and fixing in on Brahman

Drowning the mind implies its death, meaning the death of ignorance. As Shankara has already equated mind with ignorance, this is the same as manonasa (destruction of the mind) and the same as self-realisation:

366. Hence with the mind calm and the senses controlled always drown the mind in the Supreme Self that is within, and through the realisation of thy identity with that Reality destroy the darkness created by Nescience, which is without beginning.

375. The extremely dispassionate man alone has Samadhi, and the man of Samadhi alone gets steady realisation; the man who has realised the Truth is alone free from bondage, and the free soul only experiences eternal Bliss.

376. For the man of self-control I do not find any better instrument of happiness than dispassion, and if that is coupled with a highly pure realisation of the Self, it conduces to the suzerainty of absolute Independence; and since this is the gateway to the damsel of everlasting liberation, therefore for thy welfare, be dispassionate both internally and externally, and always fix thy mind on the eternal Self.

377. Sever thy craving for the sense-objects, which are like poison, for it is the very image of death, and giving up thy pride of caste, family and order of life, fling actions to a distance. Give up thy identification with such unreal things as the body, and fix thy mind on the Atman. For thou art really the Witness, Brahman, unshackled by the mind, the One without a second, and Supreme.

378. Fixing the mind firmly on the Ideal, Brahman, and restraining the external organs in their respective centres; with the body held steady and taking no thought for its maintenance; attaining identity with Brahman and being one with It – always drink joyfully of the Bliss of Brahman in thy own Self, without a break. What is the use of other things which are entirely hollow?

379. Giving up the thought of the non-Self which is evil and productive of misery, think of the Self, the Bliss Absolute, which conduces to Liberation.

Continuously meditate on Brahman

380. Here shines eternally the Atman, the Self-effulgent Witness of everything, which has the Buddhi for Its seat. Making this Atman which is distinct from the unreal, the goal, meditate on It as thy own Self, excluding all other thought.

381. Reflecting on this Atman continuously and without any foreign thought intervening, one must distinctly realise It to be one’s real Self.

382. Strengthening one’s identification with This, and giving up that with egoism and the rest, one must live without any concern for them, as if they were trifling things, like a cracked jar or the like.

383. Fixing the purified mind in the Self, the Witness, the Knowledge Absolute, and slowly making it still, one must then realise one’s own infinite Self.

384. One should behold the Atman, the Indivisible and Infinite, free from all limiting adjuncts such as the body, organs, Pranas, Manas and egoism, which are creations of one’s own ignorance – like the infinite sky.

398. When the mind-functions are merged in the Paramatman, the Brahman, the Absolute, none of this phenomenal world is seen.

More on Samadhi

Again, Shankara says we must end the mind (Manonasa):

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

408. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is something of the nature of eternal Knowledge and absolute Bliss, which has no exemplar, which transcends all limitations, is ever free and without activity, and which is like the limitless sky, indivisible and absolute.

409. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is devoid of the ideas of cause and effect, which is the Reality beyond all imaginations, homogeneous, matchless, beyond the range of proofs, established by the pronouncements of the Vedas, and ever familiar to us as the sense of the ego.

410. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is undecaying and immortal, the positive Entity which precludes all negations, which resembles the placid ocean and is without a name, in which there are neither merits nor demerits, and which is eternal, pacified and One.

411. With the mind restrained in Samadhi, behold in thy self the Atman, of infinite glory, cut off thy bondage strengthened by the impressions of previous births, and carefully attain the consummation of thy birth as a human being.

Shankara again makes it clear that when he speaks of Samadhi, he is speaking of that aware state in which there are no objects or ‘limiting adjuncts’ present:

412. Meditate on the Atman, which resides in thee, which is devoid of all limiting adjuncts, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thou shalt no more come under the round of births and deaths.

480. Concentrating the mind for some time on the Supreme Brahman, he rose, and out of supreme bliss spoke as follows.

More on Manonasa

Manonasa (destruction of the mind), a synonym for moksha, is declared by this scripture:

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

502. How can there be merits and demerits for me, who am without organs, without mind, changeless, and formless – who am the realisation of Bliss Absolute? The Shruti also mentions this in the passage “Not touched”, etc.!

Ajata (‘unborn’)

Here Shankara repeats the line found in Guadapada’s Karika, which itself is a repetition of the Upanishadic verse:

574. There is neither death nor birth, neither a bound nor a struggling soul, neither a seeker after Liberation nor a liberated one – this is the ultimate truth.

True vedanta

This is the true vedanta:

575. I have today repeatedly revealed to thee, as to one’s own son, this excellent and profound secret, which is the inmost purport of all Vedanta, the crest of the Vedas

Shankara – summary of the path to enlightenment

Towards the beginning of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, he summarises the entire vedantic path in 3 verses. The 509 verses that follow these 3 verses are mere elucidation on these 3 verses.

Verse 69 indicates the fruit of the path – the end of suffering (‘bondage of samsara’):

69. Listen attentively, O learned one, to what I am going to say. By listening to it thou shalt be instantly free from the bondage of Samsara.

The first step on the path is vairagya, or dispassion. This leads to a calm mind in which the ego is not allowed to act out:

70. The first step to Liberation is the extreme aversion to all perishable things, then follow calmness, self-control, forbearance, and the utter relinquishment of all work enjoined in the Scriptures.

Then the teachings are heard (sravana), reflected upon (manana), followed by a period of meditation on the Self (nididhyasana) for the ‘Muni’ (jewel) which is nothing other than moksha (liberation). Notice the stress on the ‘long, constant and unbroken meditation’. Then follows the nirvikalpa state (samadhi) which in turn leads to Nirvana (liberation or extinguishment of desires/egoic vasanas):

71. Then come hearing, reflection on that, and long, constant and unbroken meditation on the Truth for the Muni. After that the learned seeker attains the supreme Nirvikalpa state and realises the bliss of Nirvana even in this life.

This is the vedantic path in a nutshell. 

For the entire text of Vivekachudamani click here.