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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Shankara (Vivekachudamani)

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

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Sri Suresvara – Advaita Vedanta Summarised – |Download Naishkarmya Siddhi as PDF

From performance of the daily rituals comes merit (dharma), from merit comes destruction of sin, from this comes purity of mind, from this comes a correct evaluation of transmigratory life, from this comes indifference to it, from this comes desire for liberation, from this comes a search for the means to the latter, from this comes the renunciation of all ritualistic action and its accessories, from this comes practice of yoga, from this the focusing of the mind within, from this a knowledge of the meaning of texts like ‘That thou art’, from this the eradication of nescience [ignorance], from this establishment in the Self alone, according to the texts ‘Verily, being the Absolute (Brahman), he attains the Absolute’* and ‘Released, he is released’**.
~Suresvara (Direct disciple of Adi Shankara) from the text Naishkarmya Siddhi 1.51

*Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV.iv.6
**Katha Upanishad II.ii.1

The entire text of Sri Suresvara’s Naishkarmya Siddhi can be downloaded here as a PDF:

Tom’s comments:

I chose this verse as it forms a concise summary of the Advaita Vedanta teaching presented in the text. (There are also many other important points made in the text). We can see the progession to liberation Sri Suresvara outlines is as follows:

  1. Performance of selfless actions (daily rituals) leads to accrual of merit
  2. Merit leads to a pure peaceful (Sattvic) mind
  3. The pure mind is able to accurately reflect and understand that all objects are transient and temporary and so not lasting fulfillment or happiness can be derived from them
  4. This leads to Vairagya or dispassion for sense-pleasures
  5. Vairagya leads to desire for a lasting fulfilment that is not based on the temporary objects, ie. liberation
  6. Desire for liberation leads to a search for a method to attain it
  7. Which leads to renunciation of all action (becoming still) and focusing one’s attention on the Self within
  8. This leads to an understanding of ‘Thou Art That’ as is written in the scriptures, or that our true nature is that of Pure Objectless Consciousness, the Eternal Subject. This is the same as the removal of ignorance
  9. This is Moksha, liberation

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti Om

Q. How can I or Atman be beyond the EXPERIENCER as well as the doer? | Nisargadatta Maharaj

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.

Tom:

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.’

~Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 7

For more see here in this post and also follow the links cited in the post:

Both thought and trying to get rid of thought are illusory mirages of separation

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.

~Sri Ramana Maharshi, Day by Day with Bhagavan

Shankara: The Self or Brahman cannot be known!

A definition of Jnana by Shankara

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 his 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. Jnana is not of the mind and is not for the jiva or individual.

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’.

In Ulladu Narpadu verse 12, Sri Ramana Maharshi writes:

True Knowledge is being devoid of knowledge as well as ignorance of objects. Knowledge of objects is not true knowledge. Since the Self shines self-luminous, with nothing else for It to know, with nothing else to know It, the Self is Knowledge. Nescience It is not.

In Upadesa Saram verse 27, Sri Ramana Maharshi writes:

That is true knowledge which transcends
Both knowledge and ignorance,
For in pure knowledge
Is no object to be known.

The above is an excerpt from the following post which further explores this topic: What exactly is Jnana (knowledge) according to Shankara and Gaudapada and the scriptures?

Advaita Vedanta: Is samadhi required for Self-Realisation according to Shankara and the Upanishads?

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 here to read the discussion of this topic.

The Humour of the Upanishads | Advaita Vedanta

Dry Upanishadic Humour

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!

The above in an excerpt from a longer post which you can find here: Deep sleep is Brahman – the three states according to the Birhadaranyaka Upanishad with commentary by Shankara