Guru Ramana Vachana Mala is a small but wonderful text that concisely and accurately summarises the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. It also clarifies areas of the teaching that may not be otherwise clear for the seeker. It also summarises the essential Vedanta teachings, as per verse 3 of the text.
The text consists of 349 selected verses compiled together by Sri K. Lakshmana Sarma (who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Who?’), who was not only intimate with Sri Ramana’s teachings, but also a scholar in Vedantic studies and also fluent in the Tamil, Sanskrit and English languages. The verses are helpfully organised by topic and about 300 of these verses are taken from the text Guru Vachaka Kovai which is widely thought of as being an authoritative text on Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings.
Whilst the verses in Guru Ramana Vachana Mala do not go into great detail on the method of Self-Enquiry compared to other recommended texts, they are very illuminating nonetheless and give great clarity on areas of the teaching that may otherwise not be clear for the seeker. I therefore highly recommend this book, but I also recommend that you read this together another of the recommended texts pertaining to Sri Ramana, such as The Path of Sri Ramana which explains the process of Self-Enquiry in greater detail.
Sri Lakshmana Sarma was in close contact with Sri Ramana Maharshi for over 20 years and was also good friends with Sri Muruganar (who wrote Guru Vachaka Kovai). He was also one of only two people who received private tuition by Sri Ramana Maharshi on the teachings (the other person was Muruganar) and he was known for constantly checking his understanding of the teachings with Sri Ramana to ensure that his understanding was accurate.
These above factors, together with the fact that this text was first published during Sri Ramana’s lifetime means we can be confident that the teachings presented here are true to Sri Ramana’s vision.
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!
Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji (SSS, 1880-1975), was a vedic scholar who devoted much of his life to studying the works of Shankara (c. 7th century BCE), the great reformer of Advaita Vedanta. SSS came to the conclusion that many of the texts that are ordinarily attributed to Shankara are not genuine works of Shankara, and that the truly genuine works of Shankara are essentially the commentaries he wrote on the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Brahma sutras and a non-commentarial text called Upadesa Sahasri. Whilst this view remains a controversial minority view, and personally I am not convined by the evidence brought forth, many are increasingly subscribing to it.
However, of those who do follow SSS’s teachings, I have noticed some have not actually read his teachings thoroughly, especially on what he says about Nididhyasana, or Vedantic Meditation.
So in this post we will look at how SSS defines Nididhyasana. I have read many of SSS’s books, and if we look at what SSS actually writes, we will see that the method he proposes is essentially the same as the method of Self-Enquiry as proposed by Sri Ramana Maharshi. Let us see:
The first thing to notice is that SSS states that Nididhyasana is the same as Dhyana Yoga as described in Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita, and Mano-nigraha Yoga as described in Gaudapada’s Karika:
Adhyatma Yoga by SSS p. 9: ‘This Adhyatma Yoga is called as ‘Nidhidhyasana’ and in the sixth chapter of the Gita this Nidhidhyasana is described as ‘Dhyana Yoga’. The complete sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita reveals the process of this Dhyana Yoga with its accessories. In this very Bhagavad Gita in the following contexts also this Dhyana Yoga or Adhyatma Yoga is prescribed: 13-24, 18-52. The same Adhyatma Yoga is also called as ‘Manoni-graha Yoga’ by Gaudapada in his Mandukya Karikas from 3.41 to 3.48. So in all these places the practice of Adhyatma Yoga, its accessories, the obstacles during the practice and the removal of the obstacles are described.’
The second thing to notice is that according to SSS this Nididhyasana is a means to Self-Realisation.
The Theory of Vedanta by SSS, p. 153: ‘In addition to Karma and Upasana, there is a kind of concentrated contemplation called the Adhyatma-Yoga which leads to immediate intuition [of Brahman, ie. Self Realisation].’
This is clarified in the introduction to the text Adhyatma Yoga (in this context the term ‘Vastu Tantra’ means Nididhysana is a means to Self-Realisation or Truth-Realisation): ‘The subject dealt with here viz. Adhyatma Yoga, also known as Dhyana Yoga, Mano-nigraha Yoga, Samadhi Yoga and Nidhidhyasana, is treated these days as a Kartru Tantra Sadana. But in the Shankara Bhashya throughout, this Adhyatma Yogi or Dhyana Yoga is treated as a Vastu Tantra Sadhana.’
The third thing to notice is that the technique of Nididhyasana is to turn one’s attention away from objective phenomena and turn towards the Self until one ‘intuits’ the Self directly.
Here is a quote from The Method of Vedanta by SSS, p. 147, that summarises much of the above and also describes in brief the method of nididhyasana:
‘The aim of the one practising sustained meditation (nididhyasana) is different [to Upasana, defined here as meditation on forms/objects]. He tries to attain direct vision of reality (here in this very world) by turning his mind away from all else. And there is the difference — as against upasana — that after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done. It is this sustained meditation that is referred to at Kathha Upanishad I.ii.12 by the name ‘Adhyatma Yoga’. In the Gita it is sometimes called ’Dhyana Yoga’ (e.g. XVI11.52). In the Mandukya Karikas it is called ’restraint of the mind’ (G.K.III.41, etc.). Its nature is described there in that latter work. Everywhere its result is described in the same way as right metaphysical knowledge, and from this comes immediate liberation (sadyo-mukti).’
SSS then quotes from the Katha Upanishad and Shankara’s commentary on it to make is point clear:
‘The wise man comes to know God through mastering Adhyatma Yoga, and gives up joy and sorrow. (Kathha I.ii.12)
[Tom: ie. through Adhyatma Yoga the Self is realised]
Sankara’s Commentary: Mastering Adhyatma Yoga: Adhyatma Yoga means withdrawing the mind from objects and concentrating it on the Self. Having meditated on the deity, the Self, through attainment of Adhyatma Yoga, the wise man gives up joy and sorrow because there are no gradations of value in the Self.’
On p.149 of The Method of Vedanta by SSS, SSS quotes from Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita to explain in more detail the method of Nididhyasana, as follows:
‘That yoga should certainly be practised with resolute mind. Giving up without exception all desires that come from individual, will, restraining the sense-organs on every side through the mind, one should gradually withdraw from all activity, with will and intellect firmly controlled; keeping the mind fixed on the Self, one should not think of anything. Wherever the fickle mind wanders, one should bring it back and fix it on the Self alone, under firm control. Supreme joy comes to such a yogi, whose mind is at perfect peace, whose lusts have subsided, who is sinless and who has become the Absolute.’
Here we will see, using quotes from Gaudapada, Shankara, the Upanishads and Sri Ramana Maharshi that the same essential teaching is taught regarding the reality of the waking and dream states – namely that they are both equally unreal, that both waking and dream are dream!
Tom: Here is verse 1 from chapter 2 of Gaudapada’s Mandukya Karika (Gaudapada’s four chapter commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad), my comments are in red:
2.1. Harih Aum. The wise declare the unreality of all entities seen in dreams, because they are located within the body and the space therein is confined.
Tom: Gaudapada is essentially stating something we already know, namely that we dream of many things, but all these things we dream of are not actually real. They are all projections of the mind, which is what Gaudapa means by ‘located within the body and the space therein is confined’
2.2. The dreamer, on account of the shortness of the time involved, cannot go out of the body and see the dream objects. Nor does he, when awakened, find himself in the places seen in the dream.
Tom: Again, Gaudapada is stating what we already know about dreams. Shankara in his commentary on this verse explains this means that if we dream of going to a far away land many hundreds of miles away that would take several months to travel to, there is not enough time in dream, which only lasts a few hours, to actually travel there. Similarly, when we wake from the dream, we do not find ourself in this dream location far away.
2.3. Scripture, on rational grounds, declares the non-existence of the chariots etc. perceived in dreams. Therefore the wise say that the unreality established by reason is proclaimed by scripture.
Tom: Gaudapada in verses 2.1 and 2.2 has shown that the many things perceived in dreams are not real on the basis of our own experience. Now he is stating the same based on scripture, referring to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.10, which states, referring to a dream about chariots:
‘There are no chariots, nor animals to be yoked to them, nor roads there, but he creates the chariots, animals and roads. There are no pleasures, joys, or delights there, but he creates the pleasures, joys and delights. There are no pools, tanks, or rivers there, but he creates the pools, tanks and rivers. For he is the agent’.
The idea from Gaudapada is that if we dream of a chariot, that chariot is not real, as confirmed by scripture. Note that the teaching that is given in the next two verses is essentially the same as the teaching given in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3(please see this link for more).
2.4. The different objects seen in the confined space of dreams are unreal on account of their being perceived. For the same reason, ie. on account of their being perceived, the objects seen in the waking state are also unreal. The same condition ie. the state of being perceived exists in both waking and dreaming. The only difference is the limitation of space associated with dream objects.
Tom: Gaudapada is now equating the dream and waking states, stating that just as dream objects are perceived but not real, the same is with the waking state objects – they are also perceived yet utterly unreal. Does this mean we are to consider the waking state as unreal as a dream? The answer is yes, let us see:
2.5. Thoughtful persons speak of the sameness of the waking and dream states on account of the similarity of the objects perceived in both states on the grounds already mentioned.
Tom: The translation used thus far is that of Swami Nikhilanananda of the Ramakrishna Order. Swami Gambhirananda, also of the Ramakrishna Order, translates the last line of verse 2.5 as ‘the wise say that the dream and the waking states are one’.
In his commentary on Gaudapada Karika verse 2.5 (above) Shankara states ‘…therefore discriminating people speak of the sameness of the states of waking and dream.’
We can see that Gaudapada and Shankara are both explicitly stating that the waking state is another form of the dream state, and whilst we often distinguish between waking and sleep, they are actually both dream states, and all that is perceived within waking and dream are equally unreal.
Again, note that this teaching is also given in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3
We see the same teaching given much more concisely in Shankara’s masterpiece, Vivekachudamani:
170. In dreams, when there is no actual contact with the external world, the mind alone creates the whole universe consisting of the experiencer etc. Similarly in the waking state also; there is no difference. Therefore all this (phenomenal universe) is the projection of the mind.
Tom: We can see that Shankara is saying that the mind projects both the dream state and the waking state. Note that this is essentially equating the mind with maya. Shankara goes on to reiterate this view in subsequent verses:
171. In dreamless sleep, when the mind is reduced to its causal state, there exists nothing (for the person asleep), as is evident from universal experience. Hence man’s relative existence is simply the creation of his mind, and has no objective reality.
177. The mind continually produces for the experiencer all sense-objects without exception, whether perceived as gross or fine, the differences of body, caste, order of life, and tribe, as well as the varieties of qualification, action, means and results.
Tom: Above we can see that Shankara has equated Mind with Maya. Now he will equate Mind with Ignorance. We can deduce that all three, Mind-Maya-Ignorance, are just three names for the same phenomenon:
180. Hence sages who have fathomed its secret have designated the mind as Avidya or ignorance, by which alone the universe is moved to and fro, like masses of clouds by the wind.
Sri Ramana Maharshi
Like Shankara and Gaudapada, Sri Ramana also equates ignorance and maya, and he further says the same phenomenon is also called ego, jiva, conceit, and impurity – ie. all these various words mean the same thing, and that this ignorance is essentially the ‘I am the body idea’ – see here, taken from the text Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry) in the answer to question 3:
Sri Ramana Maharshi:…Therefore, the ‘I-consciousness’ which at first arises in respect of the body is referred to variously as self-conceit (tarbodham), egoity (ahankara), nescience (avidya), maya, impurity (mala), and individual soul (jiva).
In question 10 of the same text, Vichara Sangraham (Self Enquiry), Sri Ramana says the following:
Question: If the entire universe is of the form of mind, then does it not follow that the universe is an illusion? If that be the case, why is the creation of the universe mentioned in the Vedas?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: There is no doubt whatsoever that the universe is the merest illusion. The principal purport of the Vedas is to make known the true Brahman, after showing the apparent universe to be false. It is for this purpose that the Vedas admit thecreation of the world and not for any other reason…this world arose like a dream on account of one’s own thoughts induced by the defect of not knowing oneself as the Self…That the world is illusory, everyone can directly know in the state of Realisation which is in the form of experience of one’s bliss-nature.
In the text Nan Yar? (Who Am I?), Sri Ramana writes:
Sri Ramana Maharshi:…The world should be considered like a dream.
Question: Is there no difference between waking and dream?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Waking is long and a dream short; other than this there is no difference. Just as waking happenings seem real while awake, so do those in a dream while dreaming.
So, what now? Now we must put the teachings into practice to realise the truth of them:
A visitor asked, “What should one, who is an absolute beginner, do in this (i.e., spiritual) line?”
Bhagavan: The very fact that you put this question shows you know what to do. It is because you feel the want of peace, that you are anxious to take some steps to secure peace. Because I have a little pain in my foot, I am applying this ointment.
Visitor: What is the method to be adopted for securing peace?
B: The conception that there is a goal and a path to it, is wrong. We are the goal or peace always. To get rid of the notion that we are not peace is all that is required.
V: All books say that the guidance of a Guru is necessary.
B: The Guru will say only what I am saying now. He will not give you anything you have not already. It is impossible for anyone to get what he has not got already. Even if he gets any such thing, it will go as it came. What comes will also go. What always is will alone remain.
The Guru cannot give you anything new, which you have not already. Removal of the notion that we have not realised the Self is all that is required. We are always the Self. Only, we don’t realise it.
The Asramam compounder asked some questions about his experiences during meditation. Bhagavan explained that the Self is the one reality that always exists and it is by its light all other things are seen. We forget it and concentrate on the appearances. The light in the hall burns, both when persons are present there and when they are absent, both when persons are enacting something as in a theatre and when nothing is being enacted. It is the light which enabled us to see the hall, the persons and the acting.
We are so engrossed with the objects or appearances revealed by the light that we pay no attention to the light. In the waking state or dream state, in which things appear, and in the sleep state, in which we see nothing, there is always the light of consciousness or Self, like the hall-lamp always burning.
The thing to do is to concentrate on the seer and not on the seen, not on the objects, but on the Light which reveals them
Day by Day with Bhaghavan, 16th September 1945, Afternoon
Question. Why do the traditional Advaita-Vedanta schools based solely on the Upanishads and Vedanta scriptures, etc, reject Ramana’s Self-Enquiry approach as a method to attain liberation?
Tom: I do not think this is true. Ramana’s teachings are the same as those found in the Upanishads and Vedanta Scriptures & Ramana teaches us the true Vedanta in my opinion.
However, there are several teachings that claim to teach Vedanta in a traditional way but do not really go beyond the mind or beyond duality, and so suffering and ignorance does not end. Their teachings distort the scriptures in my view. My advice therefore is to stick to Sri Ramana’s teachings. However, what teachings you prefer is of course for you to decide.
In this post I would like to point out some differences between the so-called ‘Direct Path’ teachings of Rupert Spira on one hand, and the traditional Advaita Vedanta Teachings and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi on the other. Whilst these teachings may all seem on the surface to be pointing to the same thing, and they may seem quite similar in many ways, they actually are quite different in many important aspects and do not lead to the same end in my view. ie. they do not both lead to liberation.
I would like to note that the purpose of this article is not to criticise anyone, but simply to point out differences that are present in the teachings and my view on these difference and the consequences thereof. I hope that this will provide benefit for those who are genuinely seeking liberation that is free from suffering.
I would also like to say that I am not some Advaita Vedanta fanatic either – I am simply interested in what actually works. I understand that everyone has their own unique journey, and their own relationship with teachers and teachings. I also acknowledge that many varied teachings and practices can be of help and assistance to us on our spiritual journey (please explore this blog for examples of this). However it is also useful to acknowledge that not all teachings are equally helpful and not all teachings point directly at liberation. Some can even steer us away, apparently at least.
Personally, I have found the traditional teachings of Advaita Vedanta, and especially Sri Ramana’s exposition of them, to give us everything we need on the path to genuine Liberation. You can find the teachings neatly summarised in this book which, in my view, explains clearly and unambiguously the true direct path in full.
Personally I find that Rupert Spira’s teachings may be useful for aspects of sravana (listening) and manana (contemplation/ thinking/ reflecting upon the teaching) phases of traditional Advaita in which the teachings are given and contemplated upon and realisation remains predominantly on the level of the mind. However in my view they do not really engage fruitfully or deeply enough with the main part of the teachings of Sri Ramana and Advaita Vedanta, which is Nididhyasana (meditation), or turning away from objects in order to abide as the self and thereby attain liberation.
Traditional Vedanta and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi teach that the purpose of Sravana and Manana are to teach the seeker how, and to convince the seeker to engage in the main practice of Nididhyasana, and this in turn leads to self-abidance (Samadhi) and it is this which results in knowlege (Jnana) or liberation (Moksha).
Shankara makes this clear in verses 364 and 365 of Vivekachudamani:
364. Reflection (Manana) should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing (Sravana), and meditation (Nididhyasana) a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection (Manana), but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.
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.
Otherwise, without abiding as the Self, the teachings remain on the level of the mind, infinite nature of the Self is not revealed, and the ‘Ananda’ or blissful aspect of the self is not realised, meaning that suffering and the sense of duality and ego are not actually removed and ignorance continues. More on this below.
Integration of teachings after realisation
In Advaita Vedanta teachings and with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, both are clear that once the Self or Pure Consciousness is fully realised through the process of turning away from objects and abiding as Self – what Rupert Spira terms the ‘inward-going’ path – ignorance is totally and completely gone, and that is the final end of duality, suffering and the spiritual path.
There is no need to integrate this thereafter according to Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana, as this would simply be more ego-ignoranceand would mean that the Self was not truly realised – ie. it would mean that duality was not really eradicated and the ego and the consequent suffering were still present, and that self-realisation had not really occurred. Once the Self is realised, the (apparent) ego-entity is no more, so there is no entity present that could ‘face outwards’ or re-integrate.
HoweverRupert Spira states what he calls the ‘inward path’ of Advaita Vedanta is only one half of the journey, and that we then have to ‘turn outwards’ and engage in what he calls some kind of ‘outward facing’ path to re-integrate this knowledge – see the quotes section below for an example of Rupert Spira saying this. This is a commonly held view among many contemporary teachers, but this view is seldom found in traditional teachings paths, and for good reason, so I hope it is useful to highlight the differences in the teachings for the seekers who are trying to wade through what’s on offer.
What about going back into the world after realisation?
If the going back into the market place/world does happen, automatically all will be seen as One, because the Self has truly been realised, meaning no ignorance/duality is left. There is no need to re-integrate. This is why the Advaita Vedanta texts emphasise self-enquiry/going within only, knowing that once that is done, that is all that needs to be done.
What about removing the vestiges of ignorance after Realisation?
Some people say that in order to root out the last remaining vestiges of ignorance, after Realisation once must turn out towards the world and re-integrate.
According to Advaita Vedanta, this simply means that ignorance is still present and so Realisation has not truly been attained. The remedy is to pursue Self-Enquiry, the ‘inward-facing’ path until ignorance has truly been rooted out, and not to cease the primary practice and ‘turn outwards towards objects’ (See the quotes section below for examples of this teaching from both Sri Ramana and Traditional Advaita Vedanta).
Once Ignorance has truly been rooted out, the Self is genuinely realised, and all is spontaneously seen as One without the need for further practice or integration or any ‘outward-facing path’.
A summary of the respective teachings
A summary of Rupert Spira’s teachings could go something like this: You are Consciousness; in essence you are not the body, mind or world but that Consciousness which is aware of them; however the body-mind and world are also simply made or fabricated from that very Consciousness that you are. That’s the entire teaching basically. Note that these are essentially the teachings that are found in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Ramana Maharshi’s Nan Yar (Who am I?), whereas the rest of Nan Yar? describes the main part of the actual teaching.
Rupert Spira teaches that meditation is a useful part of the path to calm the mind and to recognise the Consciousness that you are, but that meditation itself does not lead to realisation and this recognition of your true self as consciousness is only the first part of a much longer journey.
Traditional Advaita Vedanta and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, as found in these texts, also states you are Consciousness and that all objects are also Consciousness, but then go further. They state that in order to realise:
(1) your essential nature is consciousness
(2) the nature of consciousness, which now, through ignorance, appears to be limited, is actually infinite and limitless
(3) the entire phenomenal world, including the body and mind, is an illusion
(4) the blissful nature (Ananda aspect) of the Self, ie. in order to remove suffering
(5) and in order to remove all sense of duality and separation
…in order to genuinely realise the above for oneself one must turn away from the world and abide as the Self, the Self being what you truly are. Once the Self has been realised, there is no entity left that could then progress on another phase of the journey such as re-integrating with the objective world. Self-Realisation is total extinguishment (ie. nirvana, nirvana meaning extinguishment) of the ego and duality.
Without turning within, the limitless infinite nature of consciousness is not revealed, not truly – the so-called ‘knowledge’ of infinite consciousness remains only conceptual, intellectual, and consciousness still appears limited. Similarly, without turning within, away from phenomenal objects, the ananda or blissful aspect of the Self does not manifest, and so consciousness appears dry and without love or bliss.
In the traditional Advaita Vedanta text, Vivekachudamani, we find that only the first part of the text describes what is in essence a form of Rupert Spira’s teaching, but with a few notable and important differences, such as the Self is more often than not emphasised as being the Subject rather that both subject and object. This is because the bulk of the text is focussed on Nididhyasana (Meditation) as this is the actual means to Liberation. Thinking of the Self as being purely the Subject aids this mediation process which aims to turn one’s attention away from objects and towards the Subject and thus realise its infinite and blissful nature. Without this practice duality and suffering continue.
I highly recommend viewing this video below in which I go into further detail which perhaps makes the above clearer easier to understand:
Quotes – Traditional Advaita Vedanta
Eg. see these quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, a very important text from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, that sternly illustrates this point. (Note that there are probably some better quotes than these from the Advaita scriptures – please let me know if you know any – I have just quickly put these together):
413. After the body has once been cast off to a distance like a corpse, the sage never more attaches himself to it, though it is visible as an appearance, like the shadow of a man, owing to the experience of the effects of past deeds.
414. Realising the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss, throw far away this limitation of a body, which is inert and filthy by nature. Then remember it no more, for something that has been vomited excites but disgust when called in memory.
415. Burning all this, with its very root, in the fire of Brahman, the Eternal and Absolute Self, the truly wise man thereafter remains alone, as the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss.
416. The knower of Truth does no more care whether this body, spun out by the threads of Prarabdha work, falls or remains – like the garland on a cow – for his mind-functions are at rest in the Brahman, the Essence of Bliss.
417. Realising the Atman, the Infinite Bliss, as his very Self, with what object, or for whom, should the knower of Truth cherish the body.
485. I neither see nor hear nor know anything in this. I simply exist as the Self, the eternal Bliss, distinct from everything else.
522. From the perception of unreal things there is neither satisfaction nor a cessation of misery. Therefore, being satisfied with the realisation of the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, live happily in a state of identity with that Reality.
523. Beholding the Self alone in all circumstances, thinking of the Self, the One without a second, and enjoying the Bliss of the Self, pass thy time, O noble soul!
524. Dualistic conceptions in the Atman, the Infinite Knowledge, the Absolute, are like imagining castles in the air. Therefore, always identifying thyself with the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thereby attaining Supreme Peace, remain quiet.
547. Similarly, ignorant people look upon the perfect knower of Brahman, who is wholly rid of bondages of the body etc, as possessed of the body, seeing but an appearance of it.
548. In reality, however, he rests discarding the body, like the snake its slough; and the body is moved hither and thither by the force of the Prana, just as it listeth.
Quotes – Sri Ramana Maharshi
Sri Ramana Maharshi also states many times that all one needs to do is turn inwards, and that no outward going path is thereafter required. The following are Ramana’s teachings as recorded in Guru Vachaka Kovai, a text which is widely regarded as the most authoritative collection of Sri Ramana’s verbal teachings:
630. Having felt the sun’s fierce heat The wise one tarries in the shade, And those who know the triple fire Raging in the world will never Leave the Heart and turn again Towards the world
949. Those who with ego dead have gained Being, transcending bliss, have nothing Further to attain, no effort To be made, no deed to do, For life’s fulfilment they have reached.
950. When one abides in one’s true state As effortless Eternal Goodness One has no further work to do. All deeds accomplished, such a one Enjoys the perfect peace of bliss.
1179. Diving within enquiring “Who Am I? Who sees between the creeds Some differences?” the Self alone Abides and the poor ‘I’ fades out. In that still silence can there be A sense of difference?
1180. In that great Silence there is no Sense of difference. But is there then A feeling of non-difference? No. The non-duality extolled By Seer’s is nothing but the absence Of all sense of difference.
1223. Firm, steady abidance in The peace serene gained by the quest For Self, the Awareness, the sole ground Supporting all appearances, And consequent relinquishment Of all objects as unreal, This alone is mukti.
1224. Unless there is a final end Of so called “knowledge” of things out there, One cannot gain release from bondage To the sense-created world. This “knowledge” being destroyed by firm Abidance in the Self, then what Remains is mukti, bliss supreme
1237. While brightly shining in the hearts Of sages who have left behind All treacherous triads and now abide As That alone, advaita’s grandeur Cannot be by the mind perceived, Like this false, trivial, dualistic, Thought-created world.
1238. Siva, who is Pure Awareness Transcending thought, is only known To seers heroic who with minds Extinct abide thought-free within The heart, and not to those whose minds Are still engaged in thought.
Also Bhagavan Sri Ramana’s teachings are recorded in Sri Ramanaparavidyopanishad:
411. Whoever obtains awareness of the real Self, for him this worldly life comes to an end. The others continue to wander here as before, remaining without awareness of the real Self.
554. These men do not know the truth of the transcendental state beyond time, in which the world has not come into being. Non-duality has neither beginning nor end. Duality, with space and time, is unreal, always.
569. In that state doubts do not arise since the sage is ever firm in his awareness of the true Self. There he remains without affirmations and vacillations, immersed in the depths of peace, the mind having become extinct.
585. By the dawn of right awareness of the real Self, the ego, the root cause of the appearance of forms, has been lost. Therefore for the sage, all forms are unreal, and hence this talk of forms is foolishness.
596 Our Guru, Sri Ramana, tells us that the real siddhi [special power][to be striven for] is to be firmly established in the natural state of the real Self, which is ever-present in the Heart; nothing else.
613. The true meditation on the supreme reality [the Self] is only to remain as the Self in the thought-free state. This ‘meditation’ can neither be given up, nor taken up by the sage.
663. The sage never comes back to samsara. Samadhi is his natural state. There is no moment when he is without samadhi. Hence it is called sahaja [natural].
664. The sage, remaining uninterruptedly in his natural state of samadhi, never swerving from it as a jivan mukta, is able to be active in the world, just as the sages of old such as Sri Sankaracharya did.
As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required.
Sri Ramana more fully explains his position here (please see the post for the full context) when he states:
In reality, saying ‘We must see Brahman in everything and everywhere’ is also not quite correct. Only that stage is final, where there is no seeing, where there is no time or space. There will be no seer, seeing and an object to see. What exists then is only the infinite eye.”
Lastly I would like to direct you to a very important chapter of the traditional text Advaita Bodha Deepika, as recommended by Sri Ramana Maharshi which explains aspects of this teaching in further detail. For most, without the understanding given in this chapter, liberation will be unlikely to result. Conversely, putting these teachings into practice sets one onto the true Direct Path.
Quotes – Rupert Spira
Contrast the tone and content of the above verses with Rupert Spira who states that once Self or Pure Consciousness is realised, that is only one half of the journey, and we then have to turn outwards again and ‘re-integrate this understanding with our objective experience’. This re-integration, according to Advaita Vedanta, is simply more ignorance, more suffering, more duality, and means that the genuine realisation of Self has not really occurred at all. Here is what Rupert Spira writes in his book ‘Being Aware of Being Aware’ on pages 9-11:
The inward-facing path, or Direct Path, in which the mind turns its attention away from objective experience towards its own essence or reality, is, in my experience, best elaborated in the Vedantic tradition, which details with great precision both the philosophy and the practice of this investigation. In this way the Vedantic tradition provides direct means for accessing the essential, irreducible nature of one’s mind and the source of lasting peace and happiness…
…However, it is important to recognise that the inward-facing path explored in this book is only half the journey. Once the essential, irreducible nature of the mind has been recognised, and its inherent peace and unconditional joy accessed, it is necessary to face ‘outwards’ again towards objective experience, realigning the way we think and feel, and subsequently act, perceive and relate, with our new understanding.
The culmination of the inward-facing path is the recognition of the presence, the primacy and the nature of awareness – or, in religious language, spirit or God’s infinite being – the intuition of happiness which transcends all knowledge and experience. However, it is not yet the full experiential understanding in which awareness itself, or God’s infinite being, is known and felt to pervade and saturate all knowledge and experience, and indeed to be its sole substance and reality. It is to recognise the transcendent nature of awareness but not its immanence.
If we do not reintegrate this understanding with our objective experience, then a fragile alliance will persist between our essential, irreducible nature of pure awareness and all objects and others. This often manifests as a denial or rejection of embodied life in the world and may readily become a refuge for any lingering sense of a separate self. The process by which this reintegration or establishment takes place, although implicit in the inward-facing or Vedantic tradition, is, in my opinion, best elaborated in the Tantric tradition, and is an exploration that lies beyond the scope of this book
Can you perhaps see how the ego and duality/separation is retained in this latter exposition of Rupert Spira’s? When there is no ego, what entity is left to re-integrate? Or to put it differently, what entity is going to face outwards again once the Self has been realised?
Prior to the quote I included a link to the full text from which the quote is taken so you can see the full context. The fact that Rupert Spira writes that the ‘outward facing’ aspect of the teaching is ‘beyond the scope of this book’ also implies, to me at least, that this aspect of the path cannot easily be dealt with in a few paragraphs.
Does this even matter?
Well for many this doesn’t really matter! If you are drawn to the so-called ‘Direct Path’ as per Rupert Spira or similar teachings, the chances are that these teachings will benefit you. They are not bad teachings, per se. I just do not find them to be ultimately liberating. But that doesn’t mean they are not good or beneficial. There are many teachings that are worse and some I may even recommend you avoid, but Rupert Spira’s ‘Direct Path’ is not one of these.
However the problem with stating that ‘turning inwards’ is only one part of the journey is that seekers ‘turn back’ towards the objective world too soon, without really having realised the Self, but only having a relatively superficial knowledge of ‘sat-chit’ (Being-Knowing or Being-Consciousness) without having ‘dived deep within’ to realise the limitless Ananda that is true Moksha.
The true teaching urges you to carry on turning inwards until the Self is fully realised. Once this has occurred, there is no longer any duality, and no-entity remains which could ‘turn outwards’ again and reintegrate with the objective world.
As Sri Ramana writes in ‘Who Am I?’:
Q. How long should Inquiry [ie. turning inwards] be practised?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required.
A teaching that teaches that ‘turning within’ is only half the path is likely a teaching that doesn’t encourage one to go within far enough to genuinely realise the Self.
Please note that I am not some fundamentalist Advaita-pushing, scripture pushing-pandit here – I am merely interested in which teachings actually work, and I have found the teachings of Sri Ramana to be fully liberating, and these teachings are in line with the Advaita Vedanta scriptures from what I can see.
What about Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism?
What does this mean about the Tantric path? Well, if by tantra you mean Pratyabhijna (recognition) or the system of Kashmir Shaivism, which is what Rupert Spira is referring to when he says tantra, when you read the Pratyabhijna scriptures you find that the method is essentially the same as the Vedanta Path and the Path of Sri Ramana – ie. one must turn within until the Self is realised. That is all! No need to re-integrate back into the world or turn outwards again.
The only difference is the philosophical or conceptual framework from which this is done. In essence it is the same path. Again, what is written in the scriptures is not always the same as what is taught by the teachers. I explain more about this here, and you will also find Sri Ramana’s view on Kashmir Shaivism in that same post.
How to know your essential nature is consciousness?
There is another issue with teachings, such as Rupert Spira’s ‘direct path’, and forms of Advaita Vedanta that do not emphasise nididhyasana/ meditation and samadhi or what Sri Ramana Maharshi calls Self-Enquiry (Atma Vichara): they do not give a genuine methodology with which one can discover one’s true nature to be Consciousness.
They only posit that ‘You are Consciousness’ and give philosophical reasons why this must be so, together with a rather superficial exploration of one’s own experience. Add in some dodgy logic and, hey presto, suddenly we are to believe that not only is our true nature consciousness, but the entire world is also the nature of consciousness.
However, it should be fairly obvious that it is impossible to either prove or disprove on philosophical grounds alone that your nature is consciousness, or that the ground/nature of the entire universe is consciousness.
Similarly, it is also impossible to know your own fundamental nature to be consciousness by a simple exploration of your own experience. Whilst it may seem that, experientially, all arises in consciousness, that doesn’t mean that everything actually does arise in consciousness. One thing that both daily experience and science teaches us is that things are not always as they appear. To use a rather simplistic example, just because it appears that there are lots of little people inside a TV screen, that doesn’t mean that there actually are lots of little people inside the TV screen. Or just because it appears that the moon changes shape over a twenty-eight day cycle, it doesn’t mean that the moon is actually changing shape on a daily basis in this way. There are countless more examples like this.
Similarly, just because it appears from our subjective viewpoint that everything appears in our consciousness, and that consciousness is all there is, and that the only constant in our experience is consciousness or ‘I AM’, that doesn’t mean that is how the universe is actually structured.
So, how to know your true nature? Traditional Advaita Vedanta as recorded in scriptures such as Shankara’s Vivekachudamani and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi give us an actual method that we can follow, and by which we can discover our True Nature for ourselves. Namely, through turning within and attending to the Subject-Self, we can discover for ourself the Truth, the One Reality. We discover this by losing ourselves and becoming only That which we always were.
Note, as we have mentioned above, whilst Rupert Spira and others with similar teachings do often advocate meditation and turning inwards, it is not emphasised as the main practice whereby realisation is fully gained. Compare this with the teachings of the Upanishads, for example. We have already noted that Rupert Spira cites turning inwards as being a part of a larger schema after which one has to again turn outwards and reintegrate with the objective world. This implies, to me at least, that the extent to which turning inwards is advocated is insufficient to gain a true realisation of Self, as once the Self is truly realised – full stop. It’s all done. Nothing else needed. And no entity present that could turn back towards objects and ‘reintegrate’.
Without going through this turning within type process and continuing and persevering with it until ignorance is rooted out, true realisation does not occur, and so the teachings reside predominantly on the level of the mind/concepts/beliefs, and suffering continues.
Without Abiding as Self and discovering for oneself, Advaita becomes just a bunch of conceptual beliefs such as ‘I am consciousness’ – and ignorance, duality and suffering are not truly destroyed. We have not actually realised the infinite blissful nature of Our Self. We must go beyond the mind and gain the True Experience for ourself of Pure Being in which there is no duality, no ‘me’. Then the Self is revealed as All and One and the ego-I that was seeking is no more.
In verse 356 of Vivekachudamani, Shankara writes:
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.
With this discovery of our True Self comes the immediate ending of suffering and duality, but this discovery does not occur if we remain purely on the conceptual level with the ego-mind-duality-ignorance-suffering remaining intact.
The Amritabindu Upanishads says:
The mind severed from all connection with sensual objects, and prevented from functioning out, awakes into the light of the heart, and finds the highest condition.
The mind should be prevented from functioning, until it dissolves itself in the heart. This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, all else is mere argumentation and verbiage
It is only through Nididhyasana/meditation, that the Ananda aspect of Sat-Chit-Ananda is revealed, as opposed to the emphasis on Sat and Chit aspects only, both of which self-evident without the need for meditation – ie. we already know we exist, sat, and that we are conscious, chit, without any great spiritual practice, but the Ananda or blissful and infinite aspect of Atman-Self can only be genuinely discovered through attending to the Subject-Self. This is also the culmination of the paths of Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion) and the other Yogas too.
Understanding this we also start to understand why traditional scriptures are often worded differently and structured differently to these other contemporary teachings that ultimately teach something different. They are structured this way in order to effectively and efficiently guide us to the Truth that already IS, the Truth that we already ARE.
Of course, what you do with the above information is up to you. Have a look and see what teachings are right for you at this time in your journey. Just because teachings are not ultimately liberating, does not mean that you will not benefit from them – they may be right for you at a certain point in time – everything has its place, as it were. So I am not recommending you do not engage with the so-called ‘Direct Path’ teachings of Rupert Spira and similar teachings – if these teachings are something you are drawn to, then by all means explore them – the teachings probably have some role to play for you if you are drawn to them.
However if you ask me, as always, I recommend you follow the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi – my view is that we are so very lucky to have them – in my view they are a complete teaching that give us everything we need for liberation. You can find a complete exposition of his teachings here for free. Other teachings may seem similar to Sri Ramana’s, but as we explore further and dive deeper into the teachings, we find subtle differences, and these differences can make all the difference!
So if you are able to and are so inclined, I encourage you to take Ramana as your Guru and follow his teachings.
!Sri Ramana’s teachings show us the true Advaita Vedanta!
!Sri Ramana’s teachings are the true ‘Direct Path’!
!Sri Ramana’s teachings guide us unfailingly to Liberation!
Whilst there are many wonderful books and texts to read, I want to focus here on books and scripture that:
comprehensively deals with the path to liberation
in a clear and unambiguous way that is easy to understand for the true and genuine seeker of liberation
with few/minimal detours
but still provides the necessary depth of teaching
in order to effectively bring about Liberation
Where possible I have provided a link to Downloadable PDF versions of each of the books recommended in the sections below. I recommend you obtain a copy of all of the books recommended. Towards the end of this post I also give a suggested order in which you can read the books.
I hope you find these resources to be of value
Best Wishes & Namaste
How to read the books
The point of this list of books is not for you to simply read lots of books!
As I have only selected books which each contain the entire teaching required for liberation, a deep study of any single one of the texts is all that is required.
The purpose of the books is to outline the essential cause of suffering and the remedy for it. The theory given in the books is then meant to be put into practice. Once the essential teaching has been understood and the desire to put the teachings earnestly into practice has arisen, there is no need to read more and more, as this can get in the way of actual practice.
However, if the teaching has not been understood or the strong desire to put the teachings into practice has not arisen, then the recommendation is to continue reading, but to read slowly. Take your time, study the teachings presented, make sure you understand them step by step but fully and deeply. Take your time to ensure you not only intellectually understand the texts but that your understanding sinks deeper into the feeling or experiential level where it can actually result in a lasting change. Staying with a single powerful quote and allowing that quote to penetrate into the depths of your being, so lasting change is created, is more useful than reading an entire volume and understanding the theory on a superficial intellectual level only.
Put the teachings into practice. If you have read the teachings several times but find you are not putting them into practice, it means that you probably haven’t grasped the depth of the teachings and perhaps you are relating to them predominantly on an intellectual level only. This may be a signal that you should slow down and take more time over each teaching point before moving on to the next teaching. Alternatively it may be a signal to speak directly to a teacher about such matters to seek clarity about the teachings.
Texts by Sri Ramana Maharshi
Ramana gave many varied teachings to those who approached him. He naturally and spontaneously adapted the teachings to the level of the seeker before him, and some of these teachings therefore seem contradictory, and this can give rise to confusion about what Sri Ramana’s actual teaching was. However, in the short texts that Sri Ramana himself wrote, we see a very clear, unambiguous and consistent teaching that outlines the direct and true path to liberation.
Many state that the short text, Who am I?, written by Sri Ramana Maharshi contains all you need to attain liberation. And I would agree!
Together with two more of Sri Ramana’s writings, Upadesa Saram (The Essence of Instruction) and Ulladu Narpadu and Supplement – click on the links for downloadable PDF versions – a comprehensive set of teachings for liberation is given to us in concise form by Sri Ramana Maharshi.
The above three texts can also all be found in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, which also contains other beautiful works including Sri Ramana’s translation of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, itself another recommended text (see below).
The Path of Sri Ramana
This is the text I most commonly recommend reading and the book I recommend you read first: The Path of Sri Ramana by Sri Sadhu Om. Sri Sadhu Om spent several years with Sri Ramana and many consider this book to be an authority on Sri Ramana’s teachings and how to put them into practice. This text explains in detail the entire path to liberation in a way that is easy to understand.
Whilst the three texts from Sri Ramana Maharshi mentioned in the section above contain all the teachings needed, I have found that many people are unable to understand or even see what these short texts are saying despite it all being laid out. This may be in part due to the concise nature of Ramana’s own words, together with some technical terms and a language barrier, but also because the ego-mind will not always allow the true teachings to be seen.
The Path of Sri Ramana explains all the teachings clearly and in detail so the true teaching cannot be missed or ignored by the ego-mind that may be trying to distort or alter the teachings in order to avoid its own demise. It also clearly explains what the path is NOT, and so keeps the seeker away from paths that seem or appear to be similar to the true path, but are actually routes to more delusion rather than Liberation.
The Path of Sri Ramana also is one of the few texts that not only explains the path of Knowledge (Jnana) but also clearly outlines the path of Love & Devotion (Bhakti) and the path of Karma (action) in a clear and logical manner.
Another text that is also of value is the wonderful Sadhanai Saram (The Essence of Sadhana or Spiritual Practice), also written by Sri Sadhu Om. This text contains many gems and the teachings are given through a series of verses grouped by topic. I recommend you read the Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 and 2 before you read Sadhanai Saram to gain the full benefit of the text.
Guru Vachaka Kovai (Garland of Guru’s Sayings)
Whilst not strictly written by Sri Ramana, the text Guru Vachaka Kovai was extensively checked and amended by Sri Ramana. It was written by one of his closest devotees, Sri Muruganar, and is widely considered to be the most authoritative collection of verbal teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. The foreword of the book published by Sri Ramana Ashram states the following about Guru Vachaka Kovai:
[Guru Vachaka Kovai] provides the most precise, systematic and authoritative exposition of Sri Bhagavan’s teaching, explaining step by step the theory, the practice and the experience of jnana, the Truth supreme which is Being as Life Eternal, Pure Awareness, Perfect Bliss. Thus, the most comprehensive collection of the Maharshi’s sayings is Guru Vachaka Kovai…
My recommendation is, after having read the introduction and introductory verses, to start with the verses towards the end of the book which deal directly with the nature of liberation and work your way towards the front of the book.
There is also a small but wonderful text called Guru Ramana Vachana Mala which concisely and accurately summarises the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi as well as the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, as per verse 3 of the text.
Whilst there are many wonderful traditional scriptures that one can read, there are a few traditional texts that clearly explain the entire path unambiguously for the genuine seeker of liberation, with minimal detours as possible.
Traditionally the most important of these is Vivekachudamani written by Sri Shankacharya. This is arguably the single most important scripture in Advaita Vedanta. Whilst Vedanta is primarily based upon the Upanishads, the teachings in the Upanishads are not always clearly and systematically explained. There are also different ways of interpreting these texts, and many Traditional lineages themselves have very questionable interpretations of the texts, and this can give rise to doubts. One danger is that one may end up engaging in too much extensive scriptural study, which in itself may take decades – even then one may still have doubts!
Vivekachudamani summarises and systematises the teachings of the Upanishads and has been used as a gold-standard for Advaita Teachings since it was written approximately 1400 years ago. The repetition present in the verses, the way the same topic is often spoken of in different ways, and the way the teaching is present throughout the text (ie. the teachings are given at the beginning, middle and end of the text) means that the true meaning of the text cannot easily be distorted, altered, misunderstood or wrongly interpreted.
Whilst most scholars and traditionalists agree that Vivekachudamani was likely written by Shankara, some dispute the authorship of the text and state it was written by a later Shankaracharya in the same lineage. Regardless of who the author was, there is not a single teaching present in Vivekachudamani that cannot also be found in the Upanishads, which are the source texts for Vedanta, and of course the authors of the Upanishads also remain unknown to us. Countless sages in the last 1400 years, including Sri Ramana Maharshi, have also testified the greatness of this text, stating this text teaches the way to liberation.
Another traditional text that shows us the complete path is Advaita Bodha Deepika. It too is a text that was recommended by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, and so I also recommend you read it. Whilst Vivekachudamani clearly explains the correct path, this text not only does this, but it also describes why other (false) paths do not work and how to avoid them. Some people find it to be more accessible as it is written in a question and answer format in prose, rather than in verse (Vivekachudamani is written in verse form).
In the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramana has translated several traditional Advaita texts himself, all of which are recommended. These include texts from both the Vedanta and Tantra traditions (the Agamas are the source texts for several Hindu Tantric schools).
There are many other wonderful traditional Advaita texts such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Avadhuta Gita, Ashtavakra Gita, Ribhu Gita, Uddhava Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, etc, and these are also well worth reading, but the last one I want to mention here is the wonderful Yoga Vasishta. This is one of the most important traditional texts in Advaita Vedanta in which the teachings are clearly and unambiguously explained in a systematic way. It is also of historical interest as it is one of the few Vedanta Scripture that clearly gives us an idea of what Vedanta was like prior to Shankara. You can read about it more in the link I have just provided above and you will also find further links to key teachings from the text which are also well-worth exploring.
Other contemporary books
You may find that some of your favourite spiritual books do not feature on this list. It may be that I simply haven’t come across that book, but it also may be that I have come across it, but have not included it here as I do not feel it fulfils the criteria I have set out at the top of this post.
As you (hopefully) become familiar with the teachings presented in the above texts – they all present the same essential teaching by the way – you may start to see how these teachings are often NOT the same as other teachings that are more widely available in today’s contemporary spiritual marketplace. Initially it may seem that all non-dual teachings are pointing to the same essence in their own way, but as you become more familiar with the teachings, you will start to see differences emerge, and these differences can make all the difference!
Here are some more contemporary books that I also recommend. Again, the same essential teaching that is given in the above texts are also given in these.
First is The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss by Michael Langford. This book’s tone may not be for everyone, but wonderful teachings are presented nonetheless. As well as outlining a path to liberation, this book also outlines various strategies the ego-mind uses to ‘prevent’ liberation from occurring. Understanding these ‘ego preservation strategies’ is very useful, especially if you can see them operating in yourself and put and end to them. Also highly recommended by the same author are the books ‘Seven Steps to Awakening’ and ‘The Importance of Practice and Effort’.
Another book I’d like to tentatively recommend is Happiness and the Art of Being by Michael James. I hesitate to and only tentatively recommend this book as it is the one book on this list I haven’t actually fully read myself – I’ve only skimmed through it and read the first few pages of the introduction – but I have been very impressed by what I have read thus far, so hence it makes this list. I feel the author has a wonderful understanding of Sri Ramana’s teachings and manages to shines a light on the true Vedanta rather than many of the ‘drier’ intellectual (ie. false) versions of Vedanta that are currently in circulation. He also studied Ramana’s teachings directly with Sri Sadhu Om, who wrote the Path of Sri Ramana (see above), and has made his own translations of Sri Ramana’s works including Guru Vachaka Kovai, so I feel fairly confident the teachings will be in line with the above teachings. There are also many gems and detailed insights in this book I have found when skimming through that I have not found elsewhere, which is another reason this book makes the cut. The author has made the book available for free online on the link above, but if you are able to, I encourage you to make a donation to help support the author.
A suggested reading order
All of the above texts contain the same essential teaching presented in slightly different ways, so if you find that you are drawn to one particular book, it is generally good to read that one first, as that is the text you will be most motivated to read. However here is my suggested reading order:
The Path of Sri Ramana Part 1 & 2 by Sri Sadhu Om – these two books clearly describe the entire spiritual path and form a great foundation for beginners and advanced seekers alike. If these texts are put into practice, no further books are required.
Sadhanai Saram by Sri Sadhu Om – this is sometimes referred to as ‘part 3’ of the above and consolidates the above teachings as well as giving further clarity to the path
Who am I?, Upadesa Saram and Ulladu Narpadu & Supplement – all by Sri Ramana Maharshi. These short texts will be more fully appreciated and easier to understand having read the above 3 books by Sri Sadhu Om.
The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss by Michael Langford
Seven Steps to Awakening, compiled by Michael Langford
Vivekachudamani by Shankara
Advaita Bodha Deepika
Guru Vachaka Kovai & Guru Ramana Vachana Mala
Sri Ramana Gita
Advaita texts translated by Sri Ramana in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi
Happiness and the Art of Being
Q. I don’t really care for Sri Ramana or Vedanta, etc – I just want very clear teachings on liberation in plain language without any mystical mumbo jumbo – what books do you recommend?
In this case I recommend you read ‘The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss’ by Michael Langford. This is a wonderful and straight-forward presentation of the teachings stripped of mysticism and obscure language. However – these teachings may be too direct for some – you were warned!
Michael Langford has created another compilation called ‘Seven Steps to Awakening’ which is a collection of quotes from various sources which give a traditional and scriptural backing to the teachings given in ‘The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss’. These two books work very well together.
Q. My main interest is in Advaita Vedanta teachings – which books are best?
The best introduction to the Vedanta teachings I have come across are actually The Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 & 2. After this, I would recommend the traditional texts Advaita Bodha Deepika and then Vivekachudamani, followed by the traditional Advaita texts Sri Ramana translated that can be found in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, and then Yoga Vasistha. Lastly I would recommend you read Happiness and the Art of Being which is also a very good text on Vedanta teachings.
My main interest is in Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Teachings – what do you recommend?
I would recommend the Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 & 2, then Sadhanai Saram, followed by the suggested reading order I gave above.
Q. Why is my favourite spiritual book not on your list of books?
It may be that I haven’t read it, or it may be that it doesn’t in my view fulfil the criteria I have outlined at the top of the post.
Q. I know you have written various blog posts on Zen and Buddhism. Why do texts from these traditions not feature on your list?
Yes, I have written several posts on Zen and Buddhism – please see the hyperlinks in the question above for examples. I do think they are wonderful traditions but I haven’t found a book from those traditions that gives a complete teaching with sufficient detail that fits the criteria at the top of the post without also creating much ambiguity and confusion about the path. Many of the texts fall short in my view, which is not to say the traditions themselves fall short necessarily, although they may depending on how they are taught. I have found that the above recommended texts are much clearer and more straightforward, and therefore more effective. However I will let you decide!
Q. What about books by Nisargadatta Maharaj such as ‘I Am That?’
Whilst I Am That is a very good book that has inspired many, I have found that the teachings vary a lot depending on whom Nisargadatta Maharaj is speaking to. This is because this book, and others like it, are a record of conversations, so the teaching given varies according to the context it was given it. This means that the highest teaching is not always taught. What then often happens is that the ego-mind or the reader often finds a way to latch onto the lower teachings and use this as a means to perpetuate itself – this is often done unconsciously without the reader realising this. The terminology used such as the use of the phrase ‘I AM’ can be very confusing for some, as sometimes it refers to what Ramana would call the ‘I thought’ or ego, whereas in other parts of the book ‘I AM’ refers to the Self or the Absolute. Basically the essential teaching is not always clearly taught in my view, so hence I do not recommend it. However, if one has read the above recommended books first, then these varying teachings found in books such as ‘I Am That’ will not cause the reader confusion as the essential teaching has already been understood.
The same could be said for Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, which is also a record of conversations, so although Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi is also a wonderful book, I do not recommend it here for those who want to go directly for liberation as the essential teaching is not always clearly given. We are however very lucky that Sri Ramana wrote several short texts himselfwhich clearly point the way to liberation without the need to wade through large collections of recorded conversations.
For the most part we can define ‘neo-advaita’ (or radical non-duality) as those teachings/communications that state all is already one/whole and there is no separate individual self, and as there is no separate self, there can be no useful practice as all practices reinforce the notion of an individual self that is carrying out the practice; therefore, according to neo-advaita, there is no path to liberation, no practice that can help one attain liberation, and no separate self to be liberated, and to say the contrary is fine but inaccurate.
This is in contrast to traditional-type Advaita teachings that for the most part acknowledge all is already one, but often state there is some kind of process or path that one can engage with and engaging with this teaching and path will in some way help ‘you attain direct realisation/liberation’ of the oneness/Self that is already present. Sri Ramana Maharshi explains this more fully here.
Which view is correct?
I think most seekers that have explored this can see the potential benefits of both approaches, but most neo-advaita types reject the practice/progress orientated paths, and vice versa.
My own view is that the neo-advaita types for the most part have only a very superficial realisation and they also do not usually point to suffering ending (unlike traditionally orientated paths), but that does not make neo-advaita entirely worthless of course, as different things resonate at different times in our journey.
I have written several posts on this which may be of interest to you, best wishes: