Contrary to what some say about Sri Ramana Maharshi, he was very well-versed in the traditional Vedanta Scriptures including the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras and Shankara’s Commentaries upon these, often quoting verses verbatim by memory. The earliest of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’s written works was his translation of Shankara’s Crest Jewel of Discrimination (Vivekachudamani in Sanskrit). He wrote it when he was still very young and was living in Virupaksha Cave. This was also to remain the single largest work of Sri Ramana’s.
In his introduction to the Vivekachudamani, Ramana explains that Vedanta, as written in the triple cannon (Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita) points the way to attaining liberation, and that Shankara wrote commentaries on these three texts to make clear the path. However, Ramana also noted that for those who did not have the capacity for such scholarship, Shankara wrote the essence of his length commentaries and collated them together in the form of Vivekachudamani.
Below is Ramana’s introduction to the text, which gives in brief an overview of its teachings. Bold-type has been added by myself for emphasis of some key points. In another post I will post the full text of Ramana Maharshi’s translation of Vivekachudamani:
Introduction to Vivekachudamani, as written by Sri Ramana Maharshi:
Every being in the world yearns to be always happy and free from the taint of sorrow, and desires to get rid of bodily ailments, etc., which are not of its true nature. Further, everyone cherishes the greatest love for himself, and this love is not possible in the absence of happiness. In deep sleep, though devoid of everything, one has the experience of being happy. Yet, due to the ignorance of the real nature of one’s own being, which is happiness itself, people flounder in the vast ocean of material existence, forsaking the right path that leads to happiness, and act under the mistaken belief that the way to be happy consists in obtaining the pleasures of this and the other world.
Unfortunately, however, there is no such happiness which has not the taint of sorrow. It is precisely for the purpose of pointing out the straight path to true happiness that Lord Shiva, taking on the guise of Sri Shankaracharya, wrote the commentaries on the Triple Canon [Prasthana Traya] of the Vedanta, which extols the excellence of this bliss; and that he demonstrated it by his own example in life. These commentaries, however, are of little use to those ardent seekers who are intent upon realising the bliss of liberation but have not the scholarship necessary for studying them.
It is for such as these that Sri Shankara revealed the essence of the commentaries in this short treatise, The Crown Gem of Discrimination [Vivekachudamani], explaining in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path.
Sri Shankara begins by observing that it is hard indeed to attain human birth, and that, having attained it, one should strive to achieve the bliss of liberation, which is really only the nature of one’s being. By jnana or spiritual knowledge alone is this bliss to be realised, and jnana is achieved only through vichara or steady enquiry. In order to learn this method of enquiry, says Sri Shankara, one should seek the Grace of a Guru; and he then proceeds to describe the qualities of the Guru and his disciple and how the latter should approach and serve his master. He further emphasises that in order to realise the bliss of liberation one’s own individual effort is an essential factor. Mere book learning never yields this bliss; it can be realised only through Self-enquiry or vichara, which consists of sravana or devoted attention to the precepts of the Guru, manana or deep contemplation and nidhidhyasana or the cultivation of equanimity in the Self.
The three bodies, are non-self and are unreal. The Self, that is the Aham or “I” is quite different from them. It is due to ignorance that the sense of Self or the “I”-notion is foisted on that which is not Self, and this indeed is bondage. Since from ignorance arises bondage, from knowledge ensues liberation. To know this from the Guru is sravana.
The process of manana, which is subtle enquiry or deep contemplation, consists in rejecting the three bodies consisting of the five sheaths [physical, vital, mental, intellectual, and blissful], as not “I” and discovering through subtle enquiry of “Who am I?” that which is different from all three and exists single and Universal in the Heart as Aham or “I”, just as a stalk of grass is delicately drawn out from its sheath. This “I” is denoted by the word tvam [in the scriptural dictum “Tat Tvam Asi”, “Thou art That”].
The world of name and form is but an adjunct of Tat or Brahman [Reality] and, having no separate reality, is rejected as reality and affirmed as nothing else but Brahman. The instruction of the disciple by the Guru in the scriptural saying [mahavakya] “Tat Tvam Asi“, which declares the identity of the Self and the Supreme, is this upadesa [spiritual guidance]. The disciple is then enjoined to remain in the beatific state of Aham-Brahman, [I – the Absolute]. Nevertheless, the old tendencies of the mind sprout up thick and strong and constitute an obstruction. These tendencies are threefold and ego is their root. The ego flourishes in the externalised and differentiating consciousness caused by the forces of projection due to rajas [restlessness], and veiling due to tamas [dullness].
To fix the mind firmly in the Heart until these forces are destroyed and to awaken with unswerving, ceaseless vigilance the true and cognate tendency which is characteristic of the Self [Atman] and is expressed by sayings: “Aham Brahmasmi” [“I am Brahman”], and “Brahmaivaham” [“Brahman alone am I”] is termed nidhidhyasana or Atmanusandhana, that is constancy in the Self. This is otherwise called bhakti [devotion], yoga and dhyana [meditation].
Atmanusandhana has been compared to churning curds in order to make butter, the mind being compared to the churn, the Heart to the curds, and the practice of concentration on the Self to the process of churning. Just as butter is made by churning the curds and fire by friction, so the natural and changeless state of Nirvikalpa samadhi is produced by unswerving vigilant concentration on the Self, ceaseless like the unbroken flow of oil. This readily and spontaneously yields that direct, immediate, unobstructed, and Universal perception of Brahman, which is at once knowledge and experience and which transcends time and space.
This perception is Self-realisation. Achieving It cuts the knot of the Heart. The false delusions of ignorance, the vicious and age-long tendencies of the mind which constitute this knot are destroyed. All doubts are dispelled and the bondage of karma is severed.
Thus in this Crown Gem of Discrimination Sri Shankara has described samadhi or spiritual trance which is the limitless bliss of liberation, beyond doubt and duality, and at the same time has indicated the means for its attainment. To attain this state of freedom from duality is the real purpose of life, and only he who has done so is a jivanmukta, liberated while yet alive, not one who has a mere theoretical understanding of what constitutes Purushartha or the desired end and aim of human endeavour.
Thus defining a jivanmukta, Sri Shankara declares him to be free from the bonds of threefold karma [sanchita, agami and prarabdha]. The disciple attains this state and then relates his personal experience. He who is liberated is indeed free to act as he pleases, and when he leaves the body, he abides in liberation and never returns to this birth, which is death.
Sri Shankara thus describes realisation, that is liberation, as twofold, jivanmukti [liberation while alive] and videhamukti [liberation after death], as explained above. Moreover, in this short treatise, written in the form of a dialogue between a Guru and his disciple, he has considered many other relevant topics.
Tom’s summary and comments:
-Bhagavan Sri Ramana has stated that the text Vivekachudamani contains all the key points required for the earnest seeker to attain liberation, and that it is the essence of Vedanta and the essence of Sri Shankara’s commentaries of the triple canon [ie. the Upanishads, Brahman Sutras and Bhagavad Gita].
-One wrongly seeks happiness outwardly, when actually one’s own nature is that of happiness. Happiness obtained through limited external objects will also be limited and also result in suffering.
-Spiritual liberation is the ending of all sorrow. It is to be obtained by Jnana, or spiritual knowledge, the path to which is outlined below:
-Jnana is to be obtained by seeking the grace of a guru .
-Jnana can only be gained through self-enquiry.
–Individual effort of the part of the seeker is required during this.
–Self-enquiry itself consists of sravana (listening to the teachings), manana (contemplating upon the teachings), and nididhyasana or Atmanusandhana (remaining constantly as the self/in the self).
–Manana consists of realising the import of the mahavakya or great saying ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ or ‘That Thou Art’. Tat or That refers to the Absolute, or Brahman. The arising transient phenomena that come and go are realised to be dependent on Brahman, nothing other than Brahman, but not real in that the objects themselves have no permanancy. Tvam or Thou refers to the ‘I’ that remains when all that is non-self is rejected and turned away from. Asi, or art means that this ‘I’ and ‘That’ are equated as being one in essence.
-This last step of abiding as the self/ Nididhyasana/ Atmanusandhana is also known as Bhakti (devotion), Yoga and Dhyana (meditation).
-Self-abidance is required due to age-old habitual tendencies (vasanas) which arise and block Self-Realisation. There are three types of vasanas [tamas, rajas and sattva], the source of which is the ego.
-The ego flourishes in the world of phenomenal objects. The implication here is that turning away from the body, mind and world is necessary to lead to the end of the ego and the resultant liberation.
-Through ceaseless unswerving concentration on the self, like the unbroken flow of oil, one achieves the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, which transcends space and time. The implication here is that as it transcends space and time, it is not really a state, nor is it an object or arising phenomena, but it is spoken of as such due to the limitations of language.
–Nirvikalpa samadhi directly and spontaneously gives rise to the unobstructed knowledge or experience of Brahman. This is what is known as Jnana or spiritual knowledge and is the same as direct experience of Brahman, which in turn is the same as Self-realisation. Again the implication is that it is spoken of as ‘knowledge’, ‘experience’ and ‘realisation’, all of which are used here as synonyms, due to the limitations of language, as this cannot really be put into words.
-In self-realisation, the knot of the heart is cut. The knot of the heart consists of ignorance and the habitual tendencies of the mind [vasanas]. These both are removed though samadhi and the subsequent self-realisation. Here there is no longer any further doubt.
-Ramana states that Samadhi is the same as liberation, and that this liberation is the true purpose of one’s life.
–Intellectual understanding alone is not enough. The implication here is not to make the mistake that many do and stop after manana or the teachings ‘Tat Tvam Asi’, but proceed to abide as the Self in order to remove ignorance and the vasanas, and not give up until Samadhi ‘arises’ and the knot of the heart is cut.
-Two forms of liberation are described by Shankara, that whilst alive (Jivanmukti) and that which occurs with death of the body (Videhamukti).
Also see: The Ten most important verses of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani according to Sri Ramana Maharshi
Shankara: how to Realise the Self (commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)