FALSE VEDANTA – a warning from Shankara (Vivekachudamani)

Sri Shankara

Perhaps the most important single text that traditionally outlines the Jnana Marga (Path of Knowledge) is Shankara’s Vivekachudamani.  This text has been used for centuries as a step by step manual to take one from (apparent) ignorance to Moksha (liberation) in which there is no suffering and it has been recommended by all the great Advaita sages including Sri Ramana Maharshi.

There are many gems littered throughout the text, and here is one of them which you may have missed:

160. The stupid man thinks he is the body, the book-learned man identifies himself with the mixture of body and soul, while the sage possessed of realisation due to discrimination looks upon the eternal Atman as his Self, and thinks, “I am Brahman”.

In verse 160 Shankara tells us that the one who is book-learned in Vedanta considers himself to be a mix of ‘body and soul’. In doing so, the one with mere book-learning still retains identification with the body, and so remains in ignorance and continues to suffer. In verse 162 Shankara, as is characteristic of the writing in Vivekachudamani, repeats his point and elaborates on it to make the meaning clear and beyond doubt:

162. As long as the book-learned man does not give up his mistaken identification with the body, organs, etc., which are unreal, there is no talk of emancipation for him, even if he be ever so erudite in the Vedanta philosophy.

There are many who know the scriptures, know the teachings, but still identify with the body in some way. These verses are a warning against this view. Shankara concludes this small section as follows, dispensing his sagely advice:

163. Just as thou dost not identify thyself with the shadow-body, the image-body, the dream-body, or the body thou hast in the imaginations of thy heart, cease thou to do likewise with the living body also.
164. Identifications with the body alone is the root that produces the misery of birth etc, of people who are attached to the unreal; therefore destroy thou this with the utmost care. When this identification caused by the mind is given up, there is no more chance for rebirth [ie. liberation is attained].

So don’t take yourself to be the body, just as you do not take your shadow to be yourself, do not take your body to be your-Self. Also, do not take yourself to be both the body and something else and in doing so retain a sense of limitation. You are That alone, you are the Self.

You are That alone,

You are the Self.

Q. Is ignorance a moment to moment choice?

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Q: Would you say it’s a choice to pretend I am not Brahman ie. to believe I am the body mind?

Tom: This question is being asked from the ‘I am the body-mind’ point of view. In truth you are Brahman, you have always/will always be Brahman, there is only Brahman, there is no ignorance. The mind may ‘choose’ to identify as Brahman or as the body-mind, but you are not the mind either way.

Q: Does anything stop me from ending all egoic tendencies right now?

Tom: Egoic tendencies are based upon the ‘I am the body-mind notion’

Q. Would you say ignorance is a moment to moment choice?

Tom: Ignorance is not real, so there is no moment to moment choice – only from the point of view of the mind is there this choice – which is an illusory/ignorant point of view ie. to say ignorance is a moment to moment choice is to identify with the body-mind.


sun barbed wire

The search to end suffering, to gain spiritual knowledge, to attain true spiritual experience and to end confusion is all due to believing you are the body-mind.

The belief ‘I am the body-mind’ is the ignorance that causes all the trouble. This belief is also known as egotism, maya, illusion, duality, separation and samsara. It is a fiction.

In essence you are not the body-mind.

You are in essence That which is Infinite, Eternal, beyond words and speech and concepts.

This is known intuitively already. It is not more conceptual knowledge for the body-mind which is just more ignorance.The words are indicators and are not meant to be more beliefs for the body-mind.

You are That which was before the body-mind was born and will be when the body-mind has gone. You are That which is in deep dreamless sleep. Again this is already intuitively known without thought or words.

There is therefore nothing to seek, nothing to know, nothing to attain, no experience required.

🕉 You are That! 🕉

🕉 Tat Tvam Asi! 🕉

🕉 Be what you are! 🕉


namaskaram namaste prayer buddha

The purpose of all spiritual teachings and practices is to remove ignorance and the vasanas (egoic habitual tendencies), and so end suffering.

There is nothing to gain. No special knowledge or experience. You are already That. Just lose the ignorance.

In truth spiritual practices and teachings are more illusion. There is no teacher, there is no teaching, there is no taught. Ignorance itself is more illusion. There is no real ignorance.

However as a belief that ‘I am a body mind’ has arisen, the teacher and teaching appear to also arise. This is known as ignorance.

This is because you take yourself to be limited. You take yourself to be a body mind.

Do not take yourself to be the body-mind!

You are That!
You are That Eternal Nothingness!

Is it possible to free the mind from all fear and conditioning?

Question: The human mind has been conditioned and brainwashed for thousands of years. Is it possible to free the mind of all psychological fear, and what is the brain’s primary function besides keeping the body alive?

Tom: We could say that there is always an aspect of the mind/ consciousness/ awareness/ ourselves that is untouched by conditioning. This awareness can at times see this conditioning you speak of in action, and then immediately it is already beyond it, and action from ‘this place’ is no longer egoically conditioned, although other types of conditioning such as biological conditioning and language skills remain.

This awareness-wisdom can grow and eventually efface the egoic conditioning completely, which is when we enter into the depths of Silence that is Timeless and Non-dual.

Even though all of this is already ‘That’, it is not fully ‘realised’ and suffering continues until the egoic conditioning is no longer active.

Am I the body? Am I not the body?

This post is continued from a prior post: Integrating knowledge, spontaneous action

Q. I’ve been reading Ramana Maharshi recently and he keeps on saying ‘I’m not the body’.

Tom: Yes, that’s right.

Q: But I don’t really hear you talk about not being the body.

Tom: Yes, that’s because it’s a ‘thorn’. Remember the phrase I’ve mentioned: ‘Use a thorn to remove and thorn and throw them both away’?

Q: Yes, I’ve heard you say that. Please can you explain it again?

Tom: Sure. The first thorn represents a wrong concept that is active in your mind and causes suffering, just as a thorn in your foot causes suffering. You then take a second thorn and use it as a tool to remove the first thorn, but then you throw them both away. If you don’t throw away the second thorn, then you now have a new thorn (concept) that will cause you to suffer.

Ramana often talks about rooting out the ‘I-am-the-body’ concept, and the concept ‘I-am-not-the-body’ is just to negate the initial thorn. But then you throw it away too.

Q: So I am not the body is not true either?

Tom: Exactly. Or, lets put it like this: for a moment just forget what Ramana says, forget what I say – for all you know we could both be talking a load of rubbish! Afterall, lots of intelligent people believe strange and silly things, and we could be no different, right? So forget what we say.

So let me ask you a question: do you know for sure that you are a body?

Q: Well it often seems like I am a body…

Tom: But do you know for sure?

Q: No, not for sure.

Tom: Good. Now, do you know for sure that you are not the body?

Q: No, not for sure.

Tom: Good. That’s our basic experience. We don’t know either way. The body appears and follows us around, as it were, but we don’t know exactly what it means. Is the body me? Is it not me? The truth is I don’t know. That’s it. That’s the truth. We don’t know. Isn’t that right?

Q: But when I say to myself ‘I am not the body’, it feels so good, it just feels really nice.

Tom: Yes, of course, because you are negating the concept (I-am-the-body) that causes so much suffering. It’s a good thing to practice, it’s a great practice in fact. If it works for you I recommend you practice it.

Q: Oh, I see, so it’s a practice.

Tom: Exactly. We are not saying don’t practice. We may need the second thorn, that’s why it is there, that’s why it is taught. So use that thorn, use that tool, practice ‘I am not the body’. When it has done its work, when it has weeded out the ‘I am the body’ concept, then you won’t need it any more and you can throw it away too.

Q: OK, I got it now. Wow, there are so many thorns, aren’t there?

Tom: Yes!

Q: I often get confused about whether or not the world is a dream or illusion or not, but that’s just another thorn too, right?

Tom: Exactly. ‘The world is an illusion’ – it’s a very powerful thorn, one that benefited me a lot whilst I was seeking. But again, do you know for sure if the world is an illusion?

Q: No, not for sure…I know what you’re going to ask next…

Tom: …And do you know for sure that the world is not an illusion?

Q: No, not for sure . I knew you’d say that.

Tom: (laughing) That’s it! We don’t know either way! It’s so simple – Got it?

Q: (laughing) Got it.

Tom: so you can practice these, all these thorns. All these thorns are concepts. Use them – they are most definately useful – use them if you need them. The concepts are used to weed out the beliefs. You may need to practice them for weeks or months, but when their work is done, and the suffering has dissipated, throw them away.

Also see Ranjit Maharaj talk about this.


Practicing knowledge

This is continued from a previous post Problems with utilising conceptual tools:

Practicing knowledge

This brings us to the idea of practicing knowledge. Just to be clear, the knowledge we are talking of here is in the form of concepts, as described previously above. In this case whenever we notice ourselves suffering, we notice it is because we have identified as being the doer/body-mind. We then take up the sword of knowledge ‘I am not the body’ and use it to slay the ignorance ‘I am the body’.

Other similar ideas are concepts of identifying as being the witness or identifying as consciousness or considering the world and body-mind to be an illusion. These concepts all which work in a similar way to negate the identification as the doer/body-mind. Here’s an example from Yoga Vasisthta:

You are bound firmly on all sides by the idea, I am the body’. Cut that bond by the sword of knowledge ‘I am Consciousness’ and be happy.
Yoga Vasisthta

Whenever ignorance rises, we cut it down. When it doesn’t rise, we can leave it alone. Initially we may have to repeat the phrase ‘I am not the body’ or ‘I am Consciousness’ or ‘I am Brahman’ in our heads repeatedly, like a mantra, until it sinks in, but after sometime it is ingrained into us and we only unsheathe the sword when it is required.

To be continued in a future post: Discarding knowledge as ignorance