Right at the end of his masterpiece entitled Vivekachudamani (which essentially means ‘The Highest or Supreme Wisdom’), Shankara makes a series of radical and emphatic non-dual declarations which he states is the highest or ultimate truth.
In his usual style, he reinforces the point he wishes to make in successive verses, building up to a crescendo which culminates in verse 574, the most famous of these verses.
There is a famous verse in the Upanishads that explicitly and specifically proclaims to hold the highest truth.
This verse was considered important enough that it was also incorporated into Shankara’s masterpiece Vivekachudamani and also Gaudapada’s main work, his commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad (the Mandukya Karika).
In fact it is the only verse that I know of that is repeated not only in more than one Upanishad, but is also repeated by the two greatest traditional exponents of Advaita Vedanta (ie. Shankara and Gaudapada) in their subsequent works.
Here is the verse:
‘There is neither destruction (Nirodha) nor creation (Utpatti), none in bondage (Bandha) and none practicing disciplines (Sadhaka). There is none seeking Liberation (Mumukshu) and none liberated (Mukta). This is the ultimate or highest truth (Paramartha).’
As I said above, this verse is found repeated in the Amritabindu Upanishad in verse 10, in the Atma Upanishad in verse 2.31. It was later incorporated by both Gaudapada (Mandukya Karika 2.32) and Shankara (Vivekachudamani verse 574) in their writings.
What do you think of this verse?
Advaita Bodha Deepika is a traditional text and a masterpiece, summarising the methods and techniques of advaita vedanta. It was a favourite text of Sri Ramana Maharshi and was often recommended by him. Here is what it says about how to attain liberation, the following is from Chapter 3:
17…Master: With complete stillness of mind, samsara will disappear root and branch. Otherwise there will be no end to samsara, even in millions of aeons (Kalpakotikala).
18. Disciple: Cannot samsara be got rid of by any means other than making the mind still?
M: Absolutely by no other means; neither the Vedas, nor the shastras nor austerities, nor karma, nor vows, nor gifts, nor recital of scriptures of mystic formulae (mantras), nor worship, nor anything else, can undo the samsara. Only stillness of mind can accomplish the end and nothing else.
19. D: The scriptures declare that only Knowledge can do it. How then do you say that stillness of the mind puts an end to samsara?
M: What is variously described as Knowledge, Liberation, etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.
D: Has any one said so before?
20 M: Sri Vasishta had said…
Beloved Ramana Maharshi says the same in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 141:
All the jnana* scriptures that teach the way to redemption proclaim in unison that restraining and stilling the mind is the best means for liberation. This is also emphasised by jnanis*. If, after a certain amount of study, one knows this to be the inner purport of the scriptures, one should then direct ones whole effort towards that [practice]. What is the use of continuously studying more and more scriptures without doing this?
*Jnana, literally meaning knowledge, refers to the teachings of spiritual liberation, whereas jnani, literally ‘knower’, refers to the spiritually liberated sage.
In Ramana’s ‘Who am I?’, the question as to the nature of Jnana arises and is simply answered:
Questioner: What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?
Ramana Maharshi: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight.
The Katha Upanishad states the same, in verse 2.3.10:
When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahman].
The Amritabindu Upanishad equates the controlled/stilled mind with Jnana (knowledge) and liberation:
2. It is indeed the mind that is the cause of men’s bondage and liberation. The mind that is attached to sense-objects leads to bondage, when unattached from sense-objects it tends to lead to liberation. So they [the sages] say.
3. Since liberation is based on the mind devoid of desire for sense objects, therefore, the mind should always be made free of such desire, by the seeker after liberation.
4. When the mind, with its attachment for sense-objects annihilated, is fully controlled within the heart and thus realises its own essence, then that is the Supreme State (Brahman is gained).
5. The mind should be controlled [made still] so that it becomes merged in the heart. This is Jnana (knowledge) and this is Dhyana (meditation). All else is argumentation and verbiage.
The Advaitic giant, Sri Gaudapada, (Shankara’s guru’s guru) writes in his Mandukya Karika:
‘The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman’ Chapter 3, verse 35
And in verse 37 of the same chapter he writes:
[Atman is] beyond all expression by words and beyond all acts of mind; It is all peace, eternal effulgence free from activity and fear and attainable by samadhi’ Chapter 3, verse 37
Shankara states the same multiple times, eg, in Vivekachudamani, and also in his many commentaries, eg. in his commentary upon the Kena Upanishad – in his introduction to the Kena Upanishad Shankara writes:
And [the Self] being eternal, it is not to be secured by any means other than the cessation of ignorance. Hence the only duty is to renounce all desires after the realisation of the unity of the indwelling Self and Brahman.
For a brief exposition on how to practically apply these teachings on liberation see here: Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method
Translation by Swami Nikhilananda
The Mandukya Upanishad is 12 verses on AUM Mantra. It is often cited as the most important of the upanishads. Gaudapada’s Karika is commentary relating to those 12 verses and is one of the most important and authoritative texts in the Advaita Vedanta tradition.
Chapter I [of Gaudapada’s Karika] – Agama Prakarana (The Chapter based on Vedic Testimony)
Mandukya Upanishad – Verses I-VI:
I: Harih Aum! AUM, the word, is all this, the whole universe. A clear explanation of it is as follows: All that is past, present and future is, indeed, AUM. And whatever else there is, beyond the threefold division of time—that also is truly AUM.
II: All this is, indeed, Brahman. This Atman is Brahman. This same Atman has four quarters.
III: The first quarter is called Vaisvanara, whose sphere of activity is the waking state, who is conscious of external objects, who has seven limbs and nineteen mouths and who is the experiencer of gross objects.
IV: The second quarter is Taijasa, whose sphere of activity is the dream state, who is conscious of internal objects, who is endowed with seven limbs and nineteen mouths and who is the experiencer of subtle objects.
V: That is the state of deep sleep wherein one asleep neither desires any object nor sees any dream. The third quarter is Prajna, whose sphere is deep sleep, in whom all experiences become unified, who is, verily, a mass of consciousness, who is full of bliss and experiences bliss and who is the door leading to the knowledge of dreaming and waking.
VI: He is the Lord of all. He is the knower of all. He is the inner controller. He is the source of all; for from him all beings originate and in him they finally disappear.
1 Visva is all—pervading, the experiencer of external objects. Taijasa is the cognizer of internal objects. Prajna is a mass of consciousness. It is one alone that is thus known in the three states.
2 Visva is the cognizer through the right eye; Taijasa is the cognizer through the mind within; Prajna is the akasa in the heart. Therefore the one Atman is perceived threefold in the same body.
3—4 Visva experiences the gross; Taijasa, the subtle; and Prajna, the blissful. Know these to be the threefold experience. The gross object satisfies Visva; the subtle, Taijasa; and the blissful, Prajna. Know these to be the threefold satisfaction.
5 The experiencer and the objects of experience associated with the three states have been described. He who knows these both does not become attached to objects though enjoying them.
6 Surely a coming into existence must be predicated of all positive entities that exist. Prana manifests all inanimate objects. The Purusha manifests the conscious beings in their manifold forms.
7 Some of those who contemplate the process of creation regard it as the manifestation of God’s powers; others imagine creation to be like dreams and illusions.
8 Those who are convinced about the reality of manifested objects ascribe the manifestation solely to God’s will, while those who speculate about time regard time as the creator of things.
9 Some say that the manifestation is or the purpose of God’s enjoyment, while others attribute it to His division. But it is the very nature of the effulgent Being. What desire is possible for Him who is the fulfillment of all desires?
Mandukya Upanishad Verse VII:
VII: Turiya is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness nor is It unconsciousness. It is unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible, uninferable, unthinkable and indescribable. The essence of the Consciousness manifesting as the self in the three states, It is the cessation of all phenomena; It is all peace, all bliss and non—dual. This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). This is Atman and this has to be realized.
Gaudapada’s Karika continued
10 Turiya, the changeless Ruler, is capable of destroying all miseries. All other entities being unreal, the non—dual Turiya alone is known as effulgent and all—pervading.
11 Visva and Taijasa are conditioned by cause and effect. Prajna is conditioned by cause alone. Neither cause nor effect exists in Turiya.
12 Prajna does not know anything of self or non—self, of truth or untruth. But Turiya is ever existent and all—seeing.
13 Non—cognition of duality is common to both Prajna and Turiya. But Prajna is associated with sleep in the form of cause and this sleep does not exist in Turiya.
14 The first two, Visva and Taijasa, are associated with dreaming and sleep respectively; Prajna, with Sleep bereft of dreams. Knowers of Brahman see neither sleep nor dreams in Turiya.
15 Dreaming is the wrong cognition and sleep the non—cognition, of Reality. When the erroneous knowledge in these two is destroyed, Turiya is realized.
16 When the jiva, asleep under the influence of beginningless maya, is awakened, it then realizes birthless, sleepless and dreamless Non—duality.
17 If the phenomenal universe were real, then certainly it would disappear. The universe of duality which is cognized is mere illusion (maya); Non—duality alone is the Supreme Reality.
18 If anyone imagines illusory ideas such as the teacher, the taught and the scriptures, then they will disappear. These ideas are for the purpose of instruction. Duality ceases to exist when Reality is known.
Mandukya Upanishad – Verses VIII-XI:
VIII: The same Atman explained before as being endowed with four quarters is now described from the standpoint of the syllable AUM. AUM, too, divided into parts, is viewed from the standpoint of letters. The quarters of Atman are the same as the letters of AUM and the letters are the same as the quarters. The letters are A, U and M.
IX: Vaisvanara Atman, whose sphere of activity is the waking state, is A, the first letter of AUM, on account of his all— pervasiveness or on account of his being the first. He who knows this obtains all desires and becomes first among the great.
X: Taijasa Atman, whose sphere of activity is the dream state, is U, the second letter of AUM, on account of his superiority or intermediateness. He who knows this attains a superior knowledge, receives equal treatment from all and finds in his family no one ignorant of Brahman.
XI: Prajna Atman, whose sphere is deep sleep, is M, the third letter of AUM, because both are the measure and also because in them all become one. He who knows this is able to measure all and also comprehends all within himself.
Gaudapada’s Karika continued
19 When it is desired to describe the identity of Visva and the letter A, the chief ground given is the fact that each is the first in its respective sphere. Another reason for this identity is the all—pervasiveness of each.
20 The clear ground for realizing Taijasa as of the same nature as the letter U is the common feature of superiority. Another plain reason for such identity is their being in the middle.
21 The indisputable reason given for the identity of Prajna and M is the common feature that both are the measure. The other reason for such identity is another common feature, namely, that both represent the state of mergence.
22 He who knows for certain the similarity of the three states and the three letters of AUM, based upon their common features, is worshipped and adored by all beings and also is a great sage.
23 Through meditation on A the seeker attains Visva; through meditation on U, Taijasa; and through meditation on M, Prajna. Meditation on the “soundless” brings no attainment.
Mandukya Upanishad – Verse XII:
XII: The Fourth (Turiya) is without parts and without relationship; It is the cessation of phenomena; It is all good and non—dual. This AUM is verily Atman. He who knows this merges his self in Atman—yea, he who knows this.
End of Mandukya Upanishad
Gaudapada’s Karika continued
24 AUM should be known quarter by quarter. There is no doubt that the quarters are the same as the letters. Having understood AUM quarter by quarter, one should not think of anything else.
25 The mind should be concentrated on AUM. AUM is the fearless Brahman. He who is always absorbed in AUM knows no fear whatever.
26 AUM is verily the Lower Brahman. It is also stated to be the Higher Brahman. AUM is beginningless and unique. There is nothing outside it. It is unrelated to any effect and is immutable.
27 AUM is, indeed, the beginning, middle and end of all things. He who has realized AUM as immutable immediately attains the Supreme Reality.
28 Know AUM to be Isvara, ever present in the hearts of all. The calm soul, contemplating AUM as all—pervading, does not grieve.
29 One who knows AUM, which is soundless and also endowed with infinite sounds, which is all good and the negation of duality, is a real sage and none other.
Chapter II [of Gaudapada’s Karika] — Vaitathya Prakarana (The Chapter on Illusion)
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.
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.
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.
4 The different objects seen in the confined space of dreams are unreal on account of their being perceived. For the same reason i.e. on account of their being perceived, the objects seen in the waking state are also unreal. The same condition i.e. the state of being perceived exists in both waking and dreaming. The only difference is the limitation of space associated with dream objects.
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.
6 If a thing is non—existent both in the beginning and in the end, it is necessarily non—existent in the present. The objects that we see are really like illusions; still they are regarded as real.
7 The utility of the objects of waking experience is contradicted in dreams; therefore they are certainly unreal. Thus both experiences, having a beginning and an end, are unreal.
8 The objects perceived by the dreamer, not usually seen in the waking state, owe their existence to the peculiar conditions under which the cognizer i.e. the mind functions for the time being, as with those residing in heaven. The dreamer, associating himself with the dream conditions, perceives those objects, even as a man, well instructed here, goes from one place to another and sees the peculiar objects belonging to those places.
9—10 In dreams, what is imagined within the mind is illusory and what is cognized outside by the mind, real; but truly, both are known to be unreal. Similarly, in the waking state, what is imagined within by the mind is illusory and what is cognized outside by the mind, real; but both should be held, on rational grounds, to be unreal.
11 If the objects perceived in both waking and dreaming are illusory, who perceives all these objects and who, again, imagines them?
12 It is the self—luminous Atman who, through the power of Its own maya, imagines in Itself by Itself all the objects that the subject experiences within and without. It alone is the cognizer of objects. This is the decision of Vedanta.
13 The Lord (Atman), with His mind turned outward, imagines in diverse forms various objects either permanent, such as the earth, or impermanent, such as lightning, which are already in His mind in the form of vasanas, or desires. Again, He turns His mind within and imagines various ideas.
14 Those that are cognized internally only as long as the thought of them lasts and those that are perceived outside and relate to two points in time, are all mere objects of the imagination. There is no ground for differentiating the one from the other.
15 Those that exist within the mind as subjective ideas and are known as unmanifested and those that are perceived to exist outside in a manifested form, both are mere objects of the imagination. Their difference lies only in the difference of the organs by means of which they are perceived.
16 First of all is imagined the jiva, the embodied individual and then are imagined the various entities, both external such as sounds, forms, etc. and internal such as the pranas, sense— organs, etc., that are perceived to exist. As is one’s knowledge so is one’s memory.
17 As a rope lying in darkness, about whose nature one remains uncertain, is imagined to be a snake or a line of water, so Atman is imagined in various ways.
18 When the real nature of the rope is ascertained, all misconceptions about it disappear and there arises the conviction that it is nothing but a rope. Even so is the true nature of Atman determined.
19 Atman is imagined as prana and other numberless ideas. All this is due to maya, belonging to the effulgent Atman, by which It appears, Itself, to be deluded.
20 Those conversant with prana describe Atman as prana; those conversant with the elements, as the elements; those conversant with the gunas, as the gunas; and those conversant with the tattvas, as the tattvas.
21 Those acquainted with the padas call It the padas; those acquainted with objects, the objects; those acquainted with the lokas, the lokas; those acquainted with the gods, the gods.
22 Those conversant with the Vedas describe Atman as the Vedas; those conversant with the sacrifices, as the sacrifices; those conversant with the enjoyer, as the enjoyer; and those conversant with the objects of enjoyment call It the objects of enjoyment.
23 The knowers of the subtle call It the subtle and the knowers of the gross, the gross. Those that are familiar with the Personal Deity call It the Personal Deity and those that are familiar with the void, the void.
24 Those that know time call Atman time and those that know space call It space. Those versed in the art of disputation call It the object of dispute; and those knowing the worlds call It the worlds.
25 The knowers of the mind call Atman the mind; the knowers of the buddhi, the buddhi. The knowers of the chitta call It the chitta; and the knowers of righteousness and unrighteousness call It righteousness and unrighteousness.
26 Some say that Atman consists of twenty—five cosmic principles; some, of twenty—six principles; some, again, of thirty—one principles; while there are yet others who describe It as consisting of an infinite number of principles.
27 Those who know how to gratify others call Atman gratification; those who are conversant with the asramas call It the asramas. The grammarians call It the masculine, feminine and neuter genders; and still others, the Higher Brahman and the Lower Brahman.
28 The knowers of creation call It creation; the knowers of dissolution, dissolution; and the knowers of preservation, preservation. In truth, all such ideas are always imagined in Atman.
29 The disciple grasps only that idea which is presented to him by his teacher. Atman assumes the form of what is taught and thus protects the disciple. Absorbed in that idea, he realizes it as Atman.
30 Atman, though non—separate from all these ideas, appears to be separate. He who truly knows this interprets, without any fear, the meaning of the Vedas.
31 As dreams, illusions and castles in the air are viewed, so is the tangible universe viewed by the wise, well versed in Vedanta.
32 There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practicing disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.
33 Atman is imagined as the unreal objects that are perceived to exist and as Non—duality as well. The objects, too, are imagined in the non—dual Atman. Therefore Non—duality is Bliss.
34 The diversity in the universe does not exist as an entity identical With Atman, nor does it exist by itself. Neither is it separate from Brahman nor is it non—separate. This is the statement of the wise.
35 The wise, who are free from attachment, fear and anger and are well versed in the Vedas, have realized Atman as devoid of all phantasms and free from the illusion of the manifold and as non—dual.
36 Therefore, knowing Atman as such, fix your attention on Non—duality. Having realized Non—duality, behave in the world like an inert object.
37 The illumined sannyasin does not praise any deity, does not salute any superior and does not perform rites to propitiate departed ancestors. Regarding both body and Atman as his abode, he remains satisfied with what comes by chance.
38 Having known the truth regarding what exists internally as also the truth regarding what exists externally, he becomes one with Reality, he exults in Reality and never deviates from Reality.
Chapter III [of Gaudapada’s Karika] – Advaita Prakarana – (The Chapter on Non—duality)
1 The jiva, betaking himself to devotional worship, abides in the manifest Brahman. He thinks that before the creation all was of the same nature as the birthless Reality. Therefore he is said to possess a narrow intellect.
2 Therefore I shall now describe Brahman, which is unborn, the same throughout and free from narrowness. From this one can understand that Brahman does not in reality pass into birth even in the slightest degree, though It appears to be manifest everywhere.
3 Atman, which is like akasa (infinite space), is said to be manifested in the form of jivas, which may be likened to the akasas enclosed in pots. The bodies, also, are said to be manifested from Atman, just as a pot and the like are created out of akasa. As regards the manifestation of Atman this is the illustration.
4 As, on the destruction of the pot etc., the akasa enclosed in them merge in the great akasa, so the jivas merge in Atman.
5 As the dust, smoke, etc. soiling the akasa enclosed in a particular pot do not soil the other akasas enclosed in other pots, so also the happiness, miseries, etc. of one jiva do not affect other jivas.
6 Though the diversity of forms, functions and names of the akasas associated with different receptacles is admitted, yet this does not imply any real differentiation in akasa itself. The same is the conclusion regarding the jivas.
7 As the akasa enclosed in a pot is neither an effect nor a part of the real akasa, so the jiva is neither an effect nor a part of atman.
8 Children regard akasa as being soiled by dirt; likewise the ignorant regard Atman as being similarly soiled.
9 Atman, in regard to Its birth and death, Its going and coming i.e. rebirth and Its dwelling in different bodies, is not unlike akasa.
10 All aggregates are produced by Atman’s maya, as in a dream. No rational argument can be given to establish their reality, whether they are of equal status or whether some are superior to others.
11 The Supreme Self is the self of the five sheaths, such as the physical and the vital, which have been described in the Taittiriya Upanishad. That the Supreme Self is like akasa has already been stated.
12 The same akasa dwells within both the earth and the stomach; likewise, the same Brahman dwells within the pairs described in the Madhu—Brahmana.
13 The identity of the jiva and Atman is praised by pointing out their non—duality; multiplicity is condemned. Therefore non— dualism alone is free from error.
14 The separateness of the jiva and Atman, which has been declared in the earlier section of the Upanishads, dealing with the creation, is figurative, because this section states only what will happen in the future. This separateness cannot be the real meaning of those passages.
15 The scriptural statements regarding the creation, using the examples of earth, iron and sparks, are for the purpose of clarifying the mind. Multiplicity does not really exist in any manner.
16 There are three stages of life, corresponding to the threefold understanding of men: inferior, mediocre and superior. Scripture, out of compassion, has taught this discipline for the benefit of the unenlightened.
17 The dualists, firmly clinging to their conclusions, contradict one another. The non—dualists find no conflict with them.
18 Since Non—duality is Ultimate Reality, duality is said to be Its effect. The dualist sees duality in both the Absolute and the relative. Therefore the non—dualist position does not conflict with the dualist position.
19 The unborn Atman becomes manifold through maya and not otherwise. For if the manifold were real, then the immortal would become mortal.
20 The disputants assert that the unborn entity (Atman) becomes born. Now can one expect that an entity that is birthless and immortal should become mortal?
21 The immortal cannot become mortal, nor can the mortal become immortal. For it is never possible for a thing to change its nature.
22 How can one who believes that an entity by nature immortal becomes mortal, maintain that the immortal, after passing through change, retains its changeless nature?
23 Corning into birth may be real or illusory; both views are equally supported by the scriptures. But that view which is supported by the scriptures and corroborated by reason is alone to be accepted and not the other.
24 From such scriptural passages as, “One does not see any multiplicity in Atman” and “Indra (the Supreme Lord), through maya, assumes diverse forms”, one knows that Atman, though ever unborn, appears to have become many only through maya.
25 Further, by the negation of the creation, coming into birth is negated. The causality of Brahman is denied by such a statement as “Who can cause It to come into birth?”
26 On account of the incomprehensible nature of Atman, the scriptural passage “Not this, not this” negates all dualistic ideas attributed to Atman. Therefore the birthless Atman alone exists.
27 What is ever existent appears to pass into birth through maya, yet from the standpoint of Reality it does not do so. But he who thinks this passing into birth is real asserts, as a matter of fact, that what is born passes into birth again.
28 The unreal cannot be born either really or through maya. For it is not possible for the son of a barren woman to be born either really or through maya.
29 As in dreams the mind acts through maya, presenting the appearance of duality, so also in the waking state the mind acts through maya, presenting the appearance of duality.
30 There is no doubt that the mind, which is in reality non—dual, appears to be dual in dreams; likewise, there is no doubt that what is non—dual, i.e. Atman, appears to be dual in the waking state.
31 All the multiple objects, comprising the movable and the immovable, are perceived by the mind alone. For duality is never perceived when the mind ceases to act.
32 When the mind, after realizing the knowledge that Atman alone is real, becomes free from imaginations and therefore does not cognize anything, for want of objects to be cognized, it ceases to be the mind.
33 Knowledge (Jnana), which is unborn and free from imagination, is described by the wise as ever inseparable from the knowable. The immutable and birthless Brahman is the goal of knowledge. The birthless is known by the birthless.
34 One should know the behavior of the mind which, being endowed with discrimination and free from illusions is under control. The condition of the mind in deep sleep is not like that but is of a different kind.
35 The mind is withdrawn in deep sleep, but it is not so when the mind is controlled. The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman, the light of whose omniscience is all—pervading.
36 Brahman is birthless, sleepless, dreamless, nameless and formless. It is ever effulgent and omniscient. No duty, in any sense, can ever be associated with It.
37 Atman is beyond all expression by words and beyond all acts of the mind. It is great peace, eternal effulgence and samadhi; It is unmoving and fearless.
38 Brahman is free from mental activity and hence from all ideas of acceptance or relinquishment. When knowledge is established in Atman it attains birthlessness and sameness.
39 This yoga, which is not in touch with anything, is hard for yogis in general to attain. They are afraid of it, because they see fear in that which is really fearlessness.
40 Yogis who are ignorant of Non—duality depend on the control of the mind for attaining fearlessness, the destruction of misery, Self—Knowledge and imperishable peace.
41 The mind is to be brought under Control by undepressed effort; it is like emptying the ocean, drop by drop, with the help of a blade of kusa grass.
42 The mind distracted by desires and enjoyments should be brought under control by proper means; so also the mind enjoying pleasure in inactivity (laya). For the state of inactivity is as harmful as the state of desires.
43 Turn back the mind from the enjoyment of desires, remembering that they beget only misery. Do not see the created objects, remembering that all this is the unborn Atman.
44 If the mind becomes inactive, arouse it from laya; if distracted, make it tranquil. Understand the nature of the mind when it contains the seed of attachment. When the mind has attained sameness, do not disturb it again.
45 The yogi must not taste the happiness arising from samadhi; he should detach himself from it by the exercise of discrimination. If his mind, after attaining steadiness, again seeks external objects, he should make it one with Atman through great effort.
46 When the mind does not lapse into inactivity and is not distracted by desires, that is to say, when it remains unshakable and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman.
47 This Supreme Bliss abides in the Self. It is peace; it is Liberation; it is birthless and cannot be described in words. It is called the omniscient Brahman, being one with the birthless Self, which is the true object of knowledge.
48 No jiva ever comes into existence. There exists no cause that can produce it. The supreme truth is that nothing ever is born.
Chapter IV [of Gaudapada’s Karika] — Alatasanti Prakarana (The Chapter on the Quenching of the Fire—brand)
1 I bow to the best among men, who, by means of knowledge, which is like akasa and which is non—different from the goal of knowledge, realized the nature of the jivas (dharmas), which, too, are like akasa.
2 I bow to the yoga known as asparsa, taught in the scriptures, which promotes the happiness and well—being of all creatures and is free from strife and contradictions.
3 Some disputants postulate that only an existing entity can again come into existence, while other disputants, proud of their intellect, postulate that only a non—existing entity can come into existence. Thus they quarrel among themselves.
4 An existing entity cannot again come into existence (birth); nor can a non—existing entity come into existence. Thus disputing among themselves, they really establish the non—dualistic view of ajati (non—creation).
5 We approve the ajati (non—creation) thus established by them. We have no quarrel with them. Now hear from us about Ultimate Reality, which is free from all disputations.
6—8 The disputants assert that the unborn entity (Atman) becomes born. How can one expect that an entity that is birthless and immortal should become mortal? The immortal cannot become mortal, nor can the mortal become immortal. For it is never possible for a thing to change its nature. How can one who believes that an entity by nature immortal becomes mortal, maintain that the immortal, after passing through change, retains its changeless nature?
9 By the prakriti, or nature, of a thing is understood that which, when acquired, becomes the essential part of the thing, that which is its characteristic quality, that which is its inalienable nature from its very birth, that which is not extraneous to it and that which never ceases to be itself.
10 All the jivas are, by their very nature, free from senility and death. But they think they are subject to senility and death and by the very power of thought they appear to deviate from their true nature.
11 The disputant according to whom the cause itself is the effect must maintain that the cause is born as the effect. If it is born, how can it be called birthless? If it is subject to modification, how then can it be said to be eternal?
12 If, as you say, the effect is non—different from the cause, then the effect too must be unborn. Further, how can the cause be eternal if it is non—different from the effect, which is born?
13 There is no illustration to support the view that the effect is born from an unborn cause. Again, if it is said that the effect is produced from a cause which itself is born, then this leads to an infinite regress.
14 How can they who assert that the effect is the cause of the cause and the cause is the cause of the effect, maintain the beginninglessness of both cause and effect?
15 Those who say that the effect is the cause of the cause and that the cause is the cause of the effect maintain, actually, that the creation takes place after the manner of the birth of father from son.
16 If causality is asserted, then the order in which cause and effect succeed each other must be stated. If it is said that they appear simultaneously, then, being like the two horns of an animal, they cannot be mutually related as cause and effect.
17 The cause that you affirm, cannot be established as the cause if it is produced from the effect. How can the cause, which itself is not established, give birth to the effect?
18 If the cause is produced from the effect and if the effect is, again, produced from the cause, which of the two is born first upon which depends the birth of the other?
19 The inability to reply to the question raised above, the ignorance about the matter and the impossibility of establishing the order of succession if the causal relation is admitted clearly lead the wise to uphold, under all conditions, the doctrine of ajati, or non—creation.
20 The illustration of the seed and the sprout is something which is yet to be proved. The illustration i.e. the middle term, which itself is not yet proved, cannot be used for establishing a proposition to be proved.
21 The ignorance regarding the antecedence and the subsequence of cause and effect clearly proves the absence of creation (ajati). If the jiva (dharma) has really been born, then why can you not point out its antecedent cause?
22 Nothing whatsoever is born, either of itself or of another entity. Nothing is ever produced, whether it be being or non—being or both being and non—being.
23 The cause cannot be produced from a beginningless effect; nor can the effect be produced from a beginningless cause. That which is without beginning is necessarily free from birth.
24 Subjective knowledge must have an object for its cause; otherwise variety becomes non—existent. Further, from the experience of pain, the existence of external objects, accepted by the dualistic scriptures, must be admitted.
25 The dualists, by force of reason, assert that there is a cause of subjective knowledge. But from the standpoint of the true nature of things we assert that the so—called cause is, after all, no cause.
26 The mind is not related to external objects or to the ideas that appear as such objects. This is so because objects are non— existent and the ideas that appear as external objects are not distinct from the mind.
27 The mind does not enter into the causal relation in any of the three periods of time. How can it ever be subject to delusion, when there is no cause for such delusion?
28 Therefore neither the mind nor the objects perceived by the mind are ever born. To see their birth is like seeing the footprints of birds in the sky.
29 The cause, Brahman, from which the birthless mind is asserted, by the dualists, to have been born is itself unborn. Because Brahman is ever unborn, therefore it is never possible for It to be other than what It is.
30 If, as the dualists contend, the world is beginningless, then it cannot be non—eternal. Moksha (Liberation) cannot have a beginning and be eternal.
31—32 If a thing is non—existent in the beginning and in the end, it is necessarily non—existent in the present. The objects that we see are really like illusions; still they are regarded as real. The utility of the objects of waking experience is contradicted in dreams; therefore they are certainly unreal. Both experiences have a beginning and an end.
33 All entities seen in dreams are unreal, because they are perceived inside the body. How is it possible for things that are perceived to exist, really to exist in Brahman, which is indivisible and homogeneous?
34 It is not reasonable to think that a dreamer actually goes out in order to experience the objects seen in the dream, because of the discrepancy of the time involved in such a journey. Nor does he, when awakened, find himself in the places seen in the dream.
35 The dreamer, after awaking, realizes the illusoriness of the conversations he had with friends etc. in the dream state. Further, he does not possess in the waking state anything he acquired while dreaming.
36 The dream body is unsubstantial because the other i.e. the physical body, different from it, is perceived. Like the dream body, all things cognized by the mind are unsubstantial.
37 Since the experience of objects in dreams is similar to the experience of objects in the waking state, waking experience is regarded as the cause of dream experience. It is only by him who admits waking experience to be the cause of dream experience that waking experience can be regarded as real.
38 All entities are said to be unborn, since birth cannot be established as a fact. It is utterly impossible for the unreal to be born of the real.
39 A man filled with the impressions of the unreal objects seen in the waking state sees those very things in dreams as well. But he does not see in the waking state the unreal objects seen in dreams.
40 The unreal cannot have another unreality for its cause, nor can the real have the unreal for its cause. The real cannot be the cause of the real. And how utterly impossible it is for the real to be the cause of the unreal!
41 As a person in the waking state through false knowledge appears to handle objects, whose nature is inscrutable, as if they were real, so also, in dreams, he perceives, through false knowledge, objects whose existence is possible in the dream state alone.
42 Wise men teach causality only for the sake of those who, afraid of non—creation, assert the reality of external objects because they perceive such objects and also because they cling to various social and religious duties.
43 Those who, because of their fear of the truth of absolute non— creation and also because of their perception of external objects, deny ajati (non—creation) are not affected by the evil consequent on the belief in creation. This evil, if there is any, is insignificant.
44 As an elephant conjured up by a magician is taken to be real because it is perceived to exist and also because it answers to the behavior of a real elephant, so also external objects are taken to be real because they are perceived to exist and because one can deal with them.
45 It is Consciousness, Vijnana, alone that appears to be born or to move or to take the form of matter. But this Consciousness is really ever unborn, immovable and free from the traits of materiality; it is all peace and non—dual.
46 Thus the mind is never subject to birth. All beings, too, are free from birth. Those who know this do not fall into false knowledge.
47 As the line made by a moving fire—brand appears to be straight, crooked, etc., so Consciousness, when set in motion, appears as the perceiver, the perceived and the like.
48 As the fire—brand, when not in motion, is free from all appearances and remains changeless, so Consciousness, when not in motion, is free from all appearances and remains Changeless.
49 When the fire—brand is set in motion, the appearances that are seen in it do not come from elsewhere. When it is still, the appearances do not leave the motionless fire—brand and go elsewhere, nor do they enter into the fire—brand itself.
50 The appearances do not emerge from the fire—brand, because their nature is not that of a substance. This applies likewise to Consciousness, because of the similarity of the appearances.
51—52 When Consciousness is associated with the idea of activity, as in the waking and dream states, the appearances that seem to arise do not come from anywhere else. When Consciousness is non—active, as in deep sleep, the appearances do not leave the non—active Consciousness and go elsewhere, nor do they merge in it. The appearances do not emerge from Consciousness, for their nature is not that of a substance. They are incomprehensible, because they are not subject to the relation of cause and effect.
53 A substance may be the cause of another substance and a non— substance, the cause of another non—substance. But the jivas cannot possibly be anything like a substance or a non— substance.
54 Thus external appearances (objects) are not caused by the mind, nor is the mind caused by them. Hence thoughtful people hold to the principle of absolute non—creation.
55 As long as a person clings to the belief in causality, he will find cause producing effect. But when this attachment to causality wears away, cause and effect become non—existent.
56 As long as a person clings to the belief in causality, samsara will continue to expand for him. But when this attachment to causality wears away, samsara becomes non—existent.
57 The entire universe is created by false knowledge; therefore nothing in it is eternal. Everything, again, as one with Ultimate Reality, is unborn; therefore there is no such thing as destruction.
58 Birth is ascribed to the jivas; but such birth is not possible from the standpoint of Reality. Their birth is like that of an illusory object. That illusion, again, does not exist.
59 The illusory sprout is born of the illusory seed. This illusory sprout is neither permanent nor destructible. The same applies to the jivas.
60 The term permanent or impermanent cannot be applied to the birthless jivas. What is indescribable in words cannot be discriminated about as permanent or impermanent.
61—62 As in dreams the mind acts through maya, presenting the appearance of duality, so also in the waking state the mind acts through maya, presenting the appearance of duality. There is no doubt that the mind, which is in reality non—dual, appears to be dual in dreams; likewise, there is no doubt that what is non—dual i.e. Atman, appears to be dual in the waking state.
63 The dreamer, wandering about in all the ten directions in his dream, sees the whole variety of jivas, born of eggs, moisture, etc.
64 These entities, which are objects of the mind of the dreamer, do not exist apart from his mind. Likewise, the mind of the dreamer is an object of perception of the dreamer alone.
65—66 The waking man, wandering about in all the ten directions in his waking state, sees the whole variety of jivas, born of eggs, moisture, etc. They are the objects of the mind of the waking man and do not exist apart from it. Likewise, the mind of the waking man is an object of his perception alone.
67 Both the mind and the jivas are objects of each other’s perception. Can the one exist independent of the other? The reply of the wise is in the negative. There is no evidence of the existence of the one without the other; they are cognized only through each other.
68—70 As the dream jiva comes into existence and disappears, so also these jivas perceived in the waking state appear and disappear. As the jiva conjured up by the magician comes into existence and disappears, so also these jivas perceived in the waking state appear and disappear. As an artificial jiva comes into existence and disappears, so also these jivas perceived in the waking state appear and disappear.
71 No jiva ever comes into existence. There exists no cause that can produce it. The supreme truth is that nothing ever is born.
72 The world of duality, which is perceived to exist and is characterized by the subject—object relationship, is verily a movement of the mind. The mind, again, from the standpoint of Reality has no contact with any object. Hence it is declared to be eternal and unattached.
73 That which exists on the strength of false knowledge based upon imagination does not really exist. Again, that which is said to exist on the strength of the views advanced by other schools of thought does not really exist.
74 Atman is called birthless (aja) from the standpoint of false knowledge based upon imagination; in reality It is not even birthless. The unborn Atman is said to be born from the standpoint of the false knowledge cherished by other schools of thought.
75 People persistently hold to the idea of unreality i.e. duality. But such duality does not exist. One who has realized the absence of duality is not born again, since there remains no longer any cause for his birth.
76 When the mind finds no cause—superior, inferior, or middling—it becomes free from birth. How can there be an effect without a cause?
77 The birthlessness of the mind, which is free from manifestation and causal relationship, is absolute and constant. For duality i.e. the perceiving mind and its objects is merely an objectification of the mind.
78 Realizing the absence of causality as ultimate truth and not finding any other reason for birth, one attains that state which is free from grief, desire and fear.
79 On account of attachment to unreal objects the mind pursues such objects. But it comes back to its pure state when it attains non—attachment, realizing their unreality.
80 The mind freed from attachment to all external objects and undistracted by fresh objects attains the state of immutability. The wise realize such a mind to be Brahman; It is undifferentiated, birthless and non—dual.
81 The birthless, dreamless and sleepless Reality reveals Itself by Itself; for this Dharma (Atman) by Its very nature is self— luminous.
82 The Lord (Atman) becomes easily hidden because of attachment to any single object and is revealed with great difficulty.
83 The ignorant, with their childish minds, verily cover Atman by predicating of It such attributes as existence, non—existence, existence and non—existence and total non—existence, deriving these characteristics from the notions of change, immovability, combination of change and immovability and absolute negation which they associate with Atman.
84 These are the four theories regarding Atman, through attachment to which It always remains hidden from one’s view. He who knows the Lord to be ever untouched by them indeed knows all.
85 What else remains to be desired by him who has attained the state of the brahmin—a state of complete omniscience and non—duality, which is without beginning, middle, or end?
86 The humility (vinaya) of the brahmins is natural. Their tranquility (sama) is also natural. Further, the control of the senses (dama) comes natural to them. He who has realized Brahman attains peace.
87 Vedanta recognizes the ordinary state of waking, in which duality, consisting of objects and the idea of coming in contact with them, is admitted. It also recognizes a purer ordinary state i.e. the dream state, in which is experienced duality consisting of objects and the idea of coming in contact with them, though such objects do not exist.
88 The wise recognize another state, in which there exist neither objects nor ideas regarding them. This state is beyond all empirical experiences. They describe the three: knowledge, the objects of knowledge i.e. the three states and the supremely knowable i.e. Ultimate Reality.
89 Having known knowledge and the threefold knowable, one after another, the knower, endowed with supreme intellect, attains in this very life and everywhere, the state of omniscience.
90 One should be conversant, at the very outset, with four things. These are as follows: the things to be avoided, the goal to be realized, the disciplines to be cultivated and the tendencies to be rendered ineffective. Of these four, all except the goal to be realized i.e. the Supreme Reality exist only as products of the imagination.
91 All Atmans (Dharmas) are to be known, by their very nature, to be beginningless and unattached like akasa. There is not the slightest variety in there in any way or at any time.
92 All jivas are, by their very nature, illumined from the very beginning. There can never be any doubt about their nature. He who, having known this, rests without seeking further knowledge is alone capable of attaining Immortality.
93 The jivas, from the very beginning and by their very nature, are all peace, unborn and completely free. They are characterized by sameness and non—separateness. The unborn Atman is always established in sameness and purity.
94 Those who always wander in the realm of separateness cannot realize the purity of Atman. Their minds are inclined to differentiation and they assert the separateness of the Atmans. Therefore they are called narrow—minded.
95 They alone in this world are endowed with the highest wisdom who are firm in their conviction of the sameness and birthlessness of Atman. The ordinary man does not understand their way.
96 Knowledge, which is the very essence of the unborn jivas, is itself called unborn and unrelated. This Knowledge is proclaimed to be unattached, since it is unrelated to any other object.
97 To those ignorant people who believe that Atman can deviate from Its true nature even in the slightest measure, Its eternally unrelated character is lost. In that case the destruction of the veil is out of the question.
98 All jivas are ever free from bondage and pure by nature. They are illumined and free from the very beginning. Yet the wise speak of the jivas as capable of knowing Ultimate Reality.
99 The Knowledge of the wise man, who is all light, is never related to any object. All the jivas, as well as Knowledge, are ever unrelated to objects. This is not the view of Buddha.
100 Having realized the Knowledge of the Supreme Reality, which is hard to grasp, profound, birthless, the same throughout, all light and free from multiplicity, we salute It as best we can.
Aum. Peace! Peace! Peace!
Final Salutation by Sri Sankaracharya [in the Mandukya Upanishad]
I salute Brahman, the destroyer of the fear of those who take refuge in It—which, though unborn, appears to be associated with birth through Its own majestic powers; which, though motionless, appears to be moving; and which, though non— dual, appears to have assumed many forms to those whose vision is deluded by the perception of diverse objects and their attributes.
I prostrate myself at the feet of the teacher of my teacher, the most adored among the adorable, who—out of sheer compassion for the beings drowned in the deep ocean of the world, infested by the terrible sharks of incessant births and deaths—rescued, for the benefit of all, this nectar, hardly attainable even by the immortals, from the inmost depths of the ocean of the Vedas by churning it with the rod of his illumined wisdom.
I make obeisance with my whole being to those holy feet—the dispellers of the fear of the chain of births and deaths—of my own great teacher, who, through the light of his illumined wisdom, destroyed the darkness of delusion enveloping my mind; who put an end, for ever, to my appearance and disappearance in this terrible ocean of innumerable births and deaths; and who enables all others, too, that take shelter at his feet, to attain unfailing knowledge of the scriptures, peace and the state of perfect non—differentiation.
Aum Tat Sat
Gaudapada is a giant in the history of Advaita, and he is often known as the great-grandfather of Advaita Vedanta. Here in this post I want to focus on the practical aspects of the principle text of Gaudapada, the Mandukya Karika (you can read the entire text here), aimed at the seeker of liberation. What is Gaudapada urging the seeker of liberation to actually do? There are many other aspects of the karika too, such as the metaphysical and philosophical elucidations, but maybe I will save discussion of these for a future post. Here I will stick to the practical method Gaudapada prescribes in order to attain liberation (Moksha).
Gaudapada (c. 6th century CE) was the great-guru of Shankara (788-820 CE), ie. he was Shankara’s guru’s guru. And for those of you who don’t know, Shankara is the person who made the word non-duality (Sanskrit: Advaita) famous. It was he who brought together various texts and propped them up with logic and scriptural arguments and essentially systematised and founded what is today known as Advaita Vedanta.
While we know very little about Gaudapada and his life, he is famous for writing a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad called the Mandukya Karika or Gaudapada’s Karika. Whilst Gaudapada was not a Buddhist, it is clear that he drew heavily on Buddhist teachings in the karika, often using near exact copies of some Buddhist phrases in his writings, and much of what he writes will be very familiar to those who have studied Mahayana Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism.
In my view much of the methodology for spiritual practice as well as the conceptual framework within which Gaudapda forms his views is much more similar to Buddhist thought that any Vedanta scripture that we know of that comes before Gaudapada. Conversely, we have many Buddhist scriptures that in essence give the same practical method for enlightenment as Gaudapada, the only substantive difference with Gaudapada being their philosophical way of interpreting and writing about the nature of reality. Now whilst I have been studying both Vedanta and Buddhism for over twenty years, I still do not consider myself to be an expert on the scriptures, so I welcome any corrections or alternative views you want to put my way.
As an interesting aside, the only copies of the Mandukya Upanishad we have are those which are combined with Gaudapada’s commentary. As no earlier versions without the commentary have been found, this has led some to speculate that perhaps Gaudapada himself wrote the Mandukya Upanishad. Textually and stylistically this seems unlikely, but, like with many upanishadic texts, their precise origins and authorship remains shrouded in darkness.
I thought I’d start with verse 90 of Chapter 4 of Gaudapada’s Karika, as it gives an overview of his approach:
IV 90. One should be conversant, at the very outset, with four things. These are as follows: the things to be avoided, the goal to be realised, the disciplines to be cultivated and the tendencies to be rendered ineffective. Of these four, all except the goal to be realised ie. the Supreme Reality, exist only as products of the imagination.
Gaudapada lists four things we should know from the outset as a spiritual seeker: what we are looking for, what we should do, what we should not do and what habitual tendencies we should get rid of. The supreme reality he is speaking of is none-other than Brahman. This is the goal to be realised, and all else, he states, is illusory. Essentially Gaudapada is saying there appears to be a spiritual path with a seeker and a goal and things to do and things to not do, but actually all there is is Reality. The spiritual path is an illusion.
He makes this clearer in this famous oft quoted verse from Chapter 2 verse 32:
II 32. There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practicing disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.
As we are stuck in illusion, what is the (illusory) way out? What is the (illusory) path we should follow? Gaudapada has already stated that the goal of the search is Brahman. Much of the Karika is devoted to philosophical explanation and reasoning about the nature of Brahman, illusion, cause and effect, duality vs. non-duality, etc, but in the following verses Gaudapada gives us a method we can use, and in doing so he also gives us an experiential definition of Brahman. The following verses are from Chapter 3 (click here for just a list of these specific verses without my commentary):
III 40. Yogis who are ignorant of non-duality depend on the control of the mind for attaining fearlessness, the destruction of misery, Self-Knowledge and imperishable peace.
First Gaudapada makes it clear that for one who is not already self-realised or liberated (‘ignorant of non-duality’), control of mind is the method. What are the fruits of this method? They are fearlessness, the end of suffering, knowledge of the supreme reality and unending peace. That control of mind is required was already stated in verse III.35 in which he writes ‘The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman’ – he is essentially saying that the mind is to be still and egoic vasanas (habitual tendencies) need to be removed – a point which he will reiterate later in verse III.46 below.
III 41. The mind is to be brought under control by undepressed effort; it is like emptying the ocean, drop by drop, with the help of a blade of kusa grass.
Gaudapada then says that this (illusory) path takes much effort, ie. a spiritual practice is required, and he likens this to using a blade of grass to empty the ocean drop by drop. Whilst Brahman is already fully here and now, an (apparent) path is required to remove (apparent) ignorance. As I said before, this post will not dwell too much on the philosophical aspects, but focus on practical steps for the (apparent) seeker. So how do we proceed on this path?
III 42. The mind distracted by desires and enjoyments should be brought under control by proper means; so also the mind enjoying pleasure in inactivity (laya). For the state of inactivity is as harmful as the state of desires.
Here Gaudapada states we should not be distracted by desire for sensual pleasures and warns us that dwelling in the pleasure of inactivity (laya) is also not the way, for this is actually just another sensual pleasure that fuels the egoic process further. ‘Inactivity’ here is a translation of the Sanskrit word ‘laya’ which means a tamasic state, not the still/silent mind that is one with Brahman. In his commentary on these verses Shankara equates laya with susupti, deep sleep; Shankara writes:
‘The word ‘laya’ in the text indicates susupti, ie. deep sleep in which state one becomes oblivious of all things…the mind should be withdrawn from the state of laya as it should be withdrawn from objects…’
Already here, for those of you versed in a variety of Buddhist thought, you will see the familiarity in the methodology, in which dwelling on any sense object is pointed out as nothing other than egoic desire. But why should we turn away from these desires? Isn’t desire for pleasure natural and human?
III 43. Turn back the mind from the enjoyment of desires, remembering that they beget only misery. Do not see the created objects, remembering that all this is the unborn Atman.
We see another classic Buddhist teaching here. It is pointed out that seeking pleasure, or ‘enjoyment of desires’, just leads to further suffering. This is akin to the Buddha’s teachings on Dukkha (Pali for suffering). In fact the Sanskrit word here used is ‘Dukkham’, almost paying homage to the Buddha’s teachings. All pleasures come and go, and though they may please us for a short time, eventually they leave us. And when they do, they leave us wanting more, feeling incomplete, addicted to our desire for more and more and more. And so the seeking-suffering, the wheel of samsara, continues
The remedy suggested here is to see all this as the ‘unborn Atman’, and not to see the objects themselves at all: ‘Do not see the created objects, remembering that all this is the unborn Atman.’
What problems may we encounter on this path, and how do we remedy them?
III 44. If the mind becomes inactive, arouse it from laya; if distracted, make it tranquil. Understand the nature of the mind when it contains the seed of attachment. When the mind has attained sameness, do not disturb it again.
This verse mimics the Buddhist scriptures we see detailing various Buddhist meditation methods, in which remedies for both inactivity and distraction are advised so that the meditator can find that still point of equanimity. Again, the idea is of neither slipping into the dull state of laya with all its bliss and laziness (tamas), nor being hyper-agitated and enamoured with thoughts and the world (rajas), and thus peace (sattva) is attained.
Are there any further stumbling blocks on this path?
III 45. The yogi must not taste the happiness arising from samadhi; he should detach himself from it by the exercise of discrimination. If his mind, after attaining steadiness, again seeks external objects, he should make it one with Atman through great effort.
The instructions Gaudapa give us are extremely concise, and each of these terse verses could be unpacked in much greater detail. Here the seeker is warned not to become attached to happiness, which is nothing other than another subtle object. Seeking objects in order to gain fulfillment is a sure way of perpetuating the ego-illusion together with its addiction to feeling good.
Shankara writes in his commentary on this verse (III.45) ‘The seeker should not taste that happiness that is experienced by the Yogis seeking Samadhi. In other words, he is not to be attached to that happiness. What then should be done by the student? He should be unattached to such happiness…he should turn away the mind from such happiness…’
The second sentence also highlights another important aspect of the teaching, namely that even after steadiness of mind is attained, there can be a lapse back in to delusion/ignorance, where the ego and it’s object-centred desires raise their head. The remedy for this is continued practice. Avoid this step at your peril.
What about when the mind no longer falls back into egoic desire or laya?
III 46. When the mind does not lapse into inactivity [laya] and is not distracted by desires, that is to say, when it remains unshakeable and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman.
Here we are given a pragmatic definition of self-realisation or Brahman – ie. when ignorance no longer remains, when the mind is still and no longer deviates and follows egoic desires, where the grasping mind has essentially died.
To put this into vedanta-speak, Gaudapada is equating realisation of Brahman with stillness of mind that is not attending to objects and removal of the egoic vasanas, something reiterated by Shankara when he famously wrote vasana kshaya moksham, which means ‘destruction of the vasanas is Moksha (liberation)’. It is also completely in line with Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, see here or here for an example.
The Sanskrit word that has been translated as ‘unshakable’ here is also the same as the Sanskrit word for silent or quiet. Shankara explains this in his commentary on the verse:
‘When the mind brought under discipline by the above-mentioned methods, does not fall into the oblivion of deep sleep, nor is distracted by external objects, that is to say, when the mind becomes silent – like the flame of a light kept in a windless place; or when the mind does not give rise to objects – when the mind is endowed with these characteristics [ie. silent and not giving rise to objects], it verily becomes one with Brahman.’
So I will end this post here. The actual instructions are few, and for those with faith they can easily be followed. Be patient – remember – slow and steady wins the race. Re-read the above verses a few times so they sink in, and best wishes.