Sri Ramana Maharshi: the necessity of Meditation | Upasana | The Natural State | Sri Ramana Gita

The following verses are teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi taken from Sri Ramana Gita, Chapter 1 ‘The Importance of Upasana’. Let us start at verse 12:

  1. The seeker of knowledge does not achieve his end merely by a study of the scriptures. Without upasana [meditation] there cannot be attainment for him; this is definite.

Tom: But what is this Upasana? The next verse explains:

  1. Experiencing the natural state, during spiritual practice, is called upasana and when that state becomes firm and permanent that itself is called jnana [knowledge].

Tom: But what is this Natural State? Again, the next verse explains

  1. When discarding sense-objects, one abides in one’s own true nature as a flame of jnana, this state of being is termed sahaja sthiti [the natural state].

Tom: so we can see here that the teaching is to discard sense-objects, and abide in one’s own nature. This is called Jnana or Sahaja Sthiti. Remaining in this state is the principle sadhana (spiritual practice) – this is Upasana (meditation) and this leads to liberation, not just mere study of the scriptures.

You intuitively already know this in your heart | Self-Knowledge | Advaita Vedanta | Non-duality

This knowledge is already fully within you

All the Spiritual Knowledge you ever need is already within you (it actually is you). What is this Spiritual Knowledge? It is knowledge of what you truly are, namely Pure Ever-Blissful Ever-Full Eternal Formless Spirit.

You already fully know this

You already know this. You have always eternally known this. This knowledge has always been within you, intuitively, meaning non-verbally ie. NOT knowledge in the mind and NOT knowledge known by a person. It is innate inborn knowledge that cannot be lost, ever, and does not need to be gained ever.

If you look within, take the time to really feel, then perhaps you will intuit that you have always known that you are infinite, formless and divine, beyond time and space.

Intuitively you have always known that you are not merely flesh and bone, you are not this mere body and mind.

You do not need any new knowledge or understanding in the mind for this path.

So, what’s the problem?

Well, in truth there is no problem, and there never has been, and never will be (no problems are real, and time such as past and future are also not actually real)…and you already intuitively and deeply know that there is no problem…but…

…But so long as you believe the limiting ideas thrown out by the mind – and all the mind’s ideas are limiting – then you will consider yourself to be limited. You will consider yourself to have name and form, you will consider yourself to be flesh and blood, and to be subject to birth, disease, suffering and death. You will consider the world to be real and you will consider problems to be real.

In Truth you are Spirit Divine, Eternal, Lumonious, Blissfull, devoid of time, space, individuality, devoid of one iota of suffering, devoid of one iota of multiplicity or duality, ever whole, pure, pristine Beauty and Love.

This ‘knowledge’ is not in the mind – no body or mind is required for this ‘knowledge

As I said, you know this already – ‘in your heart’ – meaning intuitively this is known, ie. this is not known and can never be known with the mind or with concepts/thoughts, but it is always known in your Heart or Being.

Your True Nature always knows itself to be Divine, fully. This knowledge does not require and body or mind, both of which, together with the world, are non-existent and unreal.

In truth there is no you and me. There is only ONE, THAT. And ‘we’ are THAT ONE.

The only ‘issue’ (not that there really is any issue) is that we take on wrong concepts, believing ourselves to be a body-mind entity living in a world when actually these are all false and non-existent In Truth.

‘Ignorance’

All ‘we have to do’ to realise this is lose the wrong concepts, lose the wrong beliefs, which means to stop attending to them, to stop paying attention to the body + mind + world, especially our thoughts and concepts. All we have to do is have faith in our own innate unborn non-mental non-conceptual knowledge of what we are, and attend to and nurture that intuitive-faith-knowingness-self.

Then, as ignorance slips away, all will eventually be seen to be One and Yourself, Shining as Pure Consciousness, initially with Objects Present (Savikalpa, with forms or with objects) and then in its pure Divine Form devoid of objective phenomena (Nirvikalpa, without form or without objects).

‘Self-Knowledge’

This is Self-Knowledge devoid of a shred ignorance, this is what already IS, this is what you already are, this is what is already and eternally intuitively known ‘in the heart’, meaning never with the mind.

The Self always fully knows itself to be Divine and Full, without words, without a body and without a mind – ignorance never really ever was.

If anything is needed, all we have to do is to nurture and attend to this intuitive self-knowledge. It is the guru, it will teach us, it will reveal itself to us.

‘The Teaching’

Therefore the teaching is simply: KNOW THYSELF or BE THYSELF or ATTEND TO THYSELF or HAVE FAITH IN AND NURTURE YOUR OWN INNATE INTUITIVE KNOWING/KNOWLEDGE

Ignore body/mind/world and see/intuit only consciousness-beingness-love-bliss. Attend to your beingness-knowingness, which is Self-Knowledge. Nurture, stoke and tend to this intuitive knowing – it will grow and consume everything. This is what you truly are.

And of course, you know all of this already

Namaste

❤️🕉

Knower, knowing and known are all ego | Self-Knowledge | Jnana

True Knowledge is Being devoid of knowledge as well as ignorance of objects. Knowledge of objects is not true knowledge.

~ Forty Verses on Reality, Verse 12, written by Sri Ramana Maharishi

—–

In Self-Knowledge, neither the knower, the knowing, or the known remain. If any of these three remain, that is ego, that is duality, that is suffering.

So how can this even be called ‘knowledge’? Know that the word ‘knowledge’ is just used to signify that thoughtless non-dual intuition of Reality that is Self.

It, the Self, is indescribable, so various words and phrases, all insufficient, are used, such as ‘knowledge’, ‘know thyself’, ‘be thyself’, etc, etc. None of these are quite right, but these words and phrases can convey something nonetheless, for you ‘know’ this already. You already fully know yourself, so these words can seemingly awaken you to that which you already know.

—–

To know the Self is just to, having severed the identity with body-mind-name-form-ego, it is just to BE the Self, that which you ARE.

—–

Self-knowledge is an inherent quality of the Self. Self and Self-Knowledge are one and the same. The Self always fully knows itself. You always fully know what you are. Not that the ego or mind knows – that is maya – but the Self, that which you are, always knows itself non-conceptually, without words, without any mediation by the body or mind.

—–

This can never be known by the mind-ego. That is why even brain-damage will not remove self-realisation – because self-realisation is not related to the body-mind! Realisation ‘takes’ one ‘beyond body-mind-world! If it didn’t, it would itself be temporary, and liberation is neither temporary nor is it affected by time!

—–

The Self is Self-Knowledge. But because there is no other that the Self, it cannot be said to be knowledge really, for there is no knower/knowing/known!

❤️🙏❤️

Does prarabdha karma* and suffering persist after realisation/liberation?

Questioner: I have a question, if Ajnanam (ignorance) is removed* that means the whole source of Samsara is removed. In such a case why should the Jnani (realised sage) even have Prarabdha Karma*. That also should not be present right?

Tom: In Truth, there is not even any such thing as a Jnani (meaning a person or body-mind that is ‘realised’) – there is only That Objectless Subject-Self-Brahman. So there is no karma whatsoever for ‘a Jnani’ (a Jnani here meaning the Self). The self has no duality, and no karma. Karma is born of ignorance and is maya, unreal. They are one and the same – karma and ignorance – or one comes from the other. This is also what is taught in the Upanishads (eg. Adhyatma Upanishad) and by Shankara, both in his commentaries and in texts such as Vivekachudamani.

*Removal of ignorance is the same as Self-Realisation, so say the Upanishads, so says Shankara.

**Tom: Prarabdha Karma is the portion of karma that, according to the Vedas, gives rise to the body in the present birth and will play out and determine the specifics of the present life. A simple translation could be ‘destiny’ or ‘what is destined for this life’. The idea of this question is that, for example, if you have ‘been bad’ in the past and have accumulated negative karma as a result, even though you have realised the Self, this negative karma may continue and cause suffering for you even after Self-Realisation. The Upanishads are clear that all karmas and all suffering end upon Self-Realisation, so one need not even fear the negative results of one’s past actions if one realises the Self.

Shankara teaches two methods to ‘attain liberation’ (Self-Knowledge or Atma-Jnana) | Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS) | Advaita Vedanta

Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS) was a great Sanskrit scholar who made an extensive study of Shankara’s writings and commentaries and subsequently wrote many books on Advaita Vedanta. According to SSS, there are essentially 2 methods to ‘attain liberation’ outlined by Sri Shankara:

1. Firstly, in those who are ripe, merely hearing (sravana) a teaching equating oneself with Brahman, will result in liberation. For some who are slighlty less ripe, some repeated contemplation (manana) upon this teaching will be required too. (Tom’s addition: A ripe mind may be a mind that is rendered extremely pure and subtle by long and sustained spiritual practice, or a mind may be ripe due to other more mysterious factors including ‘God’s Grace’.)

2. Secondly, for those who are not able to ‘attain liberation’ merely by hearing +/- contemplating a teaching such as ‘you are that’, one must also undergo prolonged meditation (nididyasana) which will directly result in liberation.

We can see that Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi broadly states the same here.

SSS in his text the Theory of Vedanta writes on 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]’

You can see that SSS is stating that this Adhyatma-Yoga is not classified as ‘karma’ or action, and is also not classed as Upasana (meditation on objects), but is something else that is a direct means of knowledge or liberation.

SSS writes in ‘The Method of Vedanta’ p. 147:

‘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 [ie. all objects]. 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).’

You can see that SSS defines Upasana as meditation upon objects, and that this is considered to be action or karma (and so will not directly lead to realisation), whereas nididhyasana is a special type of meditation which involves turning away from objects, and this type of meditation is not considered to be ‘karma’ or action, but a direct means to knowledge (as karma pertains to objects only, not to the actionless subject).

Here again this is stated more clearly in the introduction to the text Adhyatma Yoga:

‘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’

Kartru Tantra Sadana means action, which being limited, will therefore not lead to something unlimited (ie. liberation or the Self). Vastu Tantra Sadhana means something that will lead directly to the Supreme Truth (Vastu), ie. that which is a means of Knowledge or Liberation.

In summary, SSS writes on p 143 of The Method of Vedanta’:

‘the highest kind of candidate is able to acquire immediate intuitive vision that his Self is the Absolute from merely hearing the relevant upanishadic texts once. These people who realize the goal by merely hearing the texts once have nothing further to do…

‘…But those who are not able to acquire intuitive knowledge of the meaning of the texts in their own direct experience have to go on hearing the texts and reflecting over them to remove the doubts that prevent their meaning being understood, and they have to continue with this until intuitive knowledge arises. For we see that those of dull understanding acquire knowledge through diligent repetition…

‘…But those who cannot acquire intuitive knowledge of reality by hearing and reflection alone have to resort to sustained meditation also. In any case, the general rule is that hearing and the rest have to be continued until there is intuitive knowledge of reality. For attainment of intuitive knowledge of reality is their purpose’

To see how SSS and Shankara define meditation or nididhyasana, see here: What is Vedantic Meditation?

There is no knowing or realising the Self | Sri Ramana Maharshi

People speak of knowing the Self, or Self-Realisation, but knowing the Self is just to Be the Self. To Be the Self is just Pure Being devoid of objective phenomena. In this there is no knowing or realising, just Being.

Here are some verses from Sr Ramana Maharshi’s Upadesa Saram (30 verses on the Essence of Spiritual Instruction):

25. Seeing oneself free of all attributes [objects]
Is to see the Lord,
For He shines ever as the pure Self.

26. To know the Self is but to be the Self,
For it is non-dual.
In such knowledge
One abides as that.

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

28. Having known one’s nature one abides
As being with no beginning and no end
In unbroken consciousness and bliss.


See here for the full 30 verses of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Upadesa Saram which summarises the entire teaching

Shankara: The Self or Brahman cannot be known!

A definition of Jnana by Shankara

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, verse 4.4.20, states the following:

20. It [Brahman] should be realised in one form only, (for) It is unknowable and eternal. The Self is taintless, beyond the (subtle) ether, birthless, infinite and constant.

Here we can see that the Upanishad is stating that Brahman is unknowable. So what of Self-Knowledge or knowledge of Brahman that is so often spoken about? Shankara explains this contradiction in his commentary on this verse:

The knowledge of Brahman too means only the cessation of the identification with extraneous things (such as the body). The relation of identity with It [Brahman] has not to be directly established, for it is already there. Everybody always has that identity with It, but it appears to be related to something else. Therefore the scriptures do not enjoin that identity with Brahman should be established, but that the false identification with things other than That should stop. When the identification with other things is gone, that identity with one’s own Self which is natural, becomes isolated; this is expressed by the statement that the Self is known. In Itself It is unknowable – not comprehended through any means. Hence both statements are consistent.

We can see that Shankara is stating that Brahman is indeed unknowable, and that Jnana, or knowledge, only signifies the cessation of identification with extraneous things, ie. loss of identification with objects, specifically the body-mind. Jnana is not of the mind and is not for the jiva or individual.

We do not need to affirm our identity as Brahman, as we already are and always have been and always will be Brahman. Any affirmation of Brahman would simply be on the level of thought or concepts, and so it would be Maya, or more ignorance. But once the false identification has been removed, then the Self naturally shines as itself, and this lack of wrong-knowledge, or lack of wrongly identifying as the body-mind, is what is called ‘Jnana’ or ‘knowledge’.

In Ulladu Narpadu verse 12, Sri Ramana Maharshi writes:

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

In Upadesa Saram verse 27, Sri Ramana Maharshi writes:

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

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

Deep Sleep and Self-Realisation | Falling asleep during Self-Enquiry

Also see:

Deep sleep is Brahman – the three states according to the Birhadaranyaka Upanishad with commentary by Shankara

Ramana Maharshi: the method of wakeful sleep (Jagrat Sushupti) to attain liberation

Tom: In the following quotes Sri Ramana Maharshi gives us a teaching on the correct relationship between Deep Sleep & Self-Realisation or Jnana:

Questioner: Sushupti [deep sleep] is often characterised as the state of ignorance.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: No, it is the pure state. There is full awareness in it [deep sleep] and total ignorance in the waking state. It is said to be ajnana [ignorance] only in relation to the false jnana prevalent in jagrat [the waking state].

Really speaking jagrat [the waking state] is ajnana [ignorance] and sushupti [the sleep state] prajnana [wisdom]. If sushupti is not the real state where does the intense peace come from to the sleeper?

It is everybody’s experience that nothing in jagrat can compare with the bliss and well-being derived from deep sleep, when the mind and the senses are absent. What does it all mean? It means that bliss comes only from inside ourselves and that it is most intense when we are free from thoughts and perceptions, which create the world and the body, that is, when we are in our pure being, which is Brahman, the Self. In other words, the being alone is bliss and the mental superimpositions are ignorance and, therefore, the cause of misery. That is why samadhi is also described as sushupti in jagrat [sleep in the waking state]; the blissful pure being which prevails in deep sleep is experienced in jagrat, when the mind and the senses are fully alert but inactive.

~ Guru Ramana, pp. 112-13

Tom: Here are some verses from Sri Ramana Maharshi taken from Guru Vachaka Kovai that make similar points, namely that deep sleep is not actually ignorance at all but actually the Self. It is only our belief that the waking state is Reality (and that we are the body-mind) that makes us feel that Deep Sleep is a state of total ignorance. It is actually Pure Knowedge:

455.

Having experienced fully the great bliss of the sublime state of sleep where no other object exists, it is sheer ignorance not to value that state and to regard it as one’s salvation, but instead to desire something else, imagining it to be one’s defence against the misery one experiences.

457.

The ignorance of forgetfulness which makes you say that the waking state is a state of illumination makes you [also] declare that sleep is a sheath [kosa] of ignorance. If the belief that the waking state is the illustrious and unique state of truth goes, then sleep will become, and shine as, pure non-duality.

461.

Only in an intellect that has developed a desire for the waking state will the eminent state of deep sleep, which is all bliss, be classified as a state of ignorance: ‘I did not know anything during sleep.’ By failing to enquire into and realise the true experience that exists and shines in the same way forever, one becomes deluded and thinks, ‘I am the one who woke up’. If that powerful sheath of the intellect, the ignorance that is experienced in the waking state, is destroyed by the sword of vichara [that leads to the knowledge] ‘I am not the one who woke up’, then the eminent state of sleep will shine, remaining as pure bliss, its ignorance destroyed.

Tom: We see the same teaching in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. The following is from talk number 314:

Again, sleep is said to be ajnana [ignorance]. That is only in relation to the wrong jnana prevalent in the wakeful state. The waking state is really ajnana [ignorance] and the sleep state is prajnana [full knowledge].

Tom: Here Bhagavan Ramana explains that the waking and dream states are mere projections of the minds habitual tendencies (vasanas), and when these are removed, only Deep Sleep remains, and this Deep Sleep is nothing but the Self (here called Turiya, the ‘forth’ state.):

460.

If the beginningless, impure vasanas that remain as the cause for waking and dream leave and perish, the state of sleep [previously perceived as] void-like and dull, and which led us into a state of ignorance and suffering, will become the transcendent state of turiya.

Tom: What about if we fall asleep during Self-Inquiry, what then? Bhagavan Ramana reassures us as follows:

462.

If the illumination that is awareness of your being exists so firmly that it remains unshaken until sleep overpowers you, then there will be no need to feel jaded and disheartened, lamenting, ‘Oh, the forgetfulness of nescient sleep has come and unsettled me!’

Tom: Note that the word nescience in the above verse is just a synonym for ignorance, the root meanings of the words being the same, ie. not-knowing. Ignorance negates the Greek word ‘gnosis’, which means knowledge, and nescience negates the Latin word ‘scientia’ which also means knowledge.

The above verses allow us to more fully understand the somewhat cryptic but important verse in the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, verse 69. It also reveals to us the depth of knowledge present in the Bhagavad Gita:

What all [ignorant] beings consider as night, is the day for the wise,

And what all [ignorant] beings see as day, is the night for the sage.

Tom: We can see that the above verse from the Bhagavad Gita is saying that most people consider deep sleep as being total darkness and ignorance, whilst the Sage considers this to be Knowledge, ie The Self. Conversely, what most people consider to be the ‘waking state’ is actually considered by the Sage to be a state of pure ignorance and delusion.

The waking state is considered by most to be a state in which we know things (other objects) and in which we ‘live our life’ as a human being – this is the meaning of ‘day’ for most people. The sage considers this ‘day time’ or ‘waking state to be pure illusion and delusion, or ‘maya’.

Because most people identify as being the body-mind in the waking state, and because most people consider the waking state to be a worthy state in which we experience ‘real life’ and gain ‘worthy life-experiences’, they therefore consider deep dreamless sleep as being a dull dark state full of ignorance. However the sage, who has lost the ego-identification as body-mind, sees Deep Dreamless Sleep only as the Pure Self in which there is only Perfect Love-Being-Bliss devoid of space, time, creation, body, mind, thoughts and concepts.

This same teaching that Bhagavan Ramana has made so clear to us above is also given in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, see here for details

Also see: Ramana Maharshi: the method of wakeful sleep (Jagrat Sushupti) to attain liberation

Let us give thanks and gratitude to Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi for his wonderfully clarifying teachings!

!Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya Om!

What exactly is Jnana (knowledge) according to Shankara and Gaudapada and the scriptures? | Advaita Vedanta | Mandukya Upanishad and Karika

It is said that the suffering can only end when the Self is realised, and that the Self can only be realised through Jnana, which means ‘knowledge’. This ‘knowledge’ is tantamount to and synonymous with liberation itself. So, what is this Jnana? Often the word is not clearly defined in vedanta scriptures so the exact meaning of the word is lost. Many people think that jnana refers to knowledge in the intellect or mind, but this is an incorrect understanding.

For those of you who are familiar with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, you will know that Sri Ramana makes the meaning clear for us: Jnana is just another word for the Self. The Self ‘knows’ itself by Its-Self. Jnana just means being the Self, devoid of objects or any arising phenomena.

However, what do the traditional scriptures say? Well, as usual, they same the same as Sri Ramana. Jnana just means Being Self, devoid of all arising phenomenal objects. In Gaudapada’s masterpiece, his commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad also known as Mandukya Karika or Gaudapada Karika, the entirety of Vedanta is unfolded and explained. We also have Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada’s writing to guide us further.

Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada

One other advantage about using Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada’ Karika is that whilst the same teachings are often given in shorter simpler texts written by Shankara (ie. the prakarana granthas or ‘instruction manuals’), some people (usually those who disagree with the teachings of these shorter texts!) debate whether or not Shankara actually wrote the shorter texts. Whilst most scholars still think that it is highly likley that Shankara did write these prakarana granthas, there is enough of a minority who disagree.

However this is not the case with Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada Karika – there is almost universal agreement that this is clearly an authentic work of Shankara’s. In the quotes below I have used the translation from Swami Gambhirananda taken from the book ‘Eight Upanishads with the commentary of Sankaracarya’, which is one of the more literal translations available. This does make it slightly harder to read at times, but it means the meaning, once deciphered, is generally clearer.

Gaudapada’s Karika is composed of four chapters. In the first two chapters Gaudapada relentlessly drives home the point that all phenomenal arisings in the waking state are utterly illusory, just like in a dream all objects in the waking state are projected imaginings, and are a product of Maya. This includes all subtle objects such as knowledge in the intellect, which is said to be more Maya. ie. knowledge in the intellect and ignorance are both ignorance and illusion. In Shankara’s commentary he agrees with this and further supplements Gaudapada’s reasoning (see chapter 2 verses 1-19 and verses 31-36 of Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s commentary for this).

In fact in verse 2.5 Gaudapada encourages the seeker to consider the waking and dream states to be a single dream state rather that two distinct states called waking and dream, with Shankara again agreeing in his commentary on this verse. This is why the Self is said to be beyond both knowledge and ignorance.

Knowledge vs experience

Note that some people contrast intellectual knowledge with experience, stating that intellectual knowledge is what is needed rather than experiences, which come and go. However, note that according to Gaudapada’s framework, intellectual knowledge is just a subtype or class of experience, as it too comes and goes and is subject to change, hence all intellectual knowledge ultimately is just maya or dream-like illusion. It should be obvious to us if we discern – what is ordinarily called knowledge, ie. knowledge in the mind or intellect, is actually just a form or type of experience!

Jnana defined

So back to Jnana. How does Gaudapada define this? How does Shankara define this? We see a definition in Chapter 3 verse 33, as follows:

33. They say that the non-conceptual knowledge (Jnanam), which is birthless, is non-different from the knowable (Brahman). The knowledge that has Brahman for its content is birthless and everlasting. The Birthless is known by the Birthless.

Shankara starts his commentary on this verse as follows:

The knowers of Brahman say that absolute Jnanam, knowledge, which is akalpakam, devoid of all imagination (non-conceptual), and is therefore ajam, birthless…

We can see that here both Gaudapada and Shankara are stating that the nature of Jnana is basically the same as the Self, as follows:

-It is non-conceptual, ie. not of the intellect or mind. The work Gaudapada uses is akalpakam, which means without kalpas or without thought/concepts/imaginings. Earlier in Gaudapada Karika Gaudapada has in several successive verses driven home the point that the entire waking state is born of imagination (kalpa), so to state that Jnana is akalpalkam means that is it without any dream or waking state objects whatsoever. Shankara in his commentary has taken this meaning of the word kalpa to mean ‘imaginings’ in this sense.

-It is birthless and everlasting; and what is birthless and everlasting apart from the Self?

-It is known by itself (the birthless is known by the birthless), ie. it is the Self that ‘knows’ the Self by Its-Self. Here I have put the word ‘know’ in quotes as it is not knowledge in the normal sense, as knowledge in the mind is necessarily conceptual, but here we are speaking of or pointing to a non-conceptual ‘knowledge’, the word ‘knowledge’ being used for want of a better word to describe something that is essentially beyond description.

Later in his commentary on the same verse Shankara writes:

By that unborn knowledge, which is the very nature of the Self, is known – It knows by Itself – the birthless reality, which is the Self. The idea being conveyed is that the Self being ever a homogenous mass of Consciousness, like the sun that is by nature a constant light, does not depend on any other knowledge (for Its revelation).

Again, we can see that idea is that the nature of Self is Knowledge/Jnana, in the same way the nature of the sun is to shine.

The word ‘homogenous’ means without any variation whatsoever, ie. without any subtle or gross objects arising in the consciousness.

No phenomenal arisings in the Self/in Jnana

Shankara continues his commentary on Gaudapada’s Karika verse 3.33, commenting that with Self-realisation all ideation has been driven out of the mind, and that there are no external objects of perception present either. The mind becomes still, and the still mind is no-mind – it is verily the Self, Jnana:

It has been said that when the mind is divested of ideation by virtue of the realisation of Truth that is Brahman, and when there is an absence of external objects (of perception), it becomes tranquil, controlled, and withdrawn, like fire that has no fuel. And it has further been said that when the mind thus ceases to be mind, duality also disappears.

Gaudapada and Shankara have already stated that Jnana is akalpakam. Shankara explains in his commentary that this word akalpakam means that it is devoid of all imagination. It should be noted that in Chapter 2 Gaudapada has said that everything that arises in both the waking and dream states is due to imagination (kalpa), eg. in verses 2.10-2.12, so it should be clear that by stating Jnana is akalpakam it means it is without any objects.

In his commentary on verse 3.33 above, Shankara is stating that realisation occurs when the phenomenal arisings, gross and subtle, have all ceased to arise, duality disappears, ie. Jnana is attained, or the Self has been realised. He is building on the previous two verses from Gaudapada, 3.31 and 3.32 which have already established this:

3.31 All this that there is – together with all that move or does not move – is perceived by the mind (and therefore all is is but the mind); for when the mind ceases to be the mind, duality is no longer perceived.

3.32 When the Truth of Atman has been realised, the mind ceases to think; then the mind attains the state of not being the mind. In the absence of things to be perceived, it becomes a non-perceiver.

You will also see that Jnana is being equated with a still mind – a mind that is no longer active – and a still mind that never moves again is no longer the mind – it is the Self. Again, for those of you who are familiar with Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, he has already made all of this clear to us. For those of you who are not convinced, we have Shankara’s commentary on these verses to make it all the clearer for us:

Shankara’s commentary on verse 3.31:

This duality as a whole, that is mano-drsyam, perceived by the mind; is nothing but the mind, which is itself imagined – this is the proposition [Tom: ie. meaning of the verse]. For duality endures so long as the mind does, and disappears with the disappearance of the mind.

For when the mind ceases to be mind when, like the illusory snake disappearing in the rope, the mind’s activity stops through the practice of discriminating insight and detachment, or when the mind gets absorbed in the state of sleep, duality is not perceived. From this non-existence is proved the unreality of duality. This is the purport. How does the mind cease to be the mind? This is being answered [in the next verse and commentary]:

We can see that Shankara is equating the mind with Maya and with ignorance , something that is commonly done in vedanta texts – eg. in Shankara’s Vivekachudamani. Shankara states that it is the mind that projects all of duality (as per Chapter’s 1 and 2 of Gaudapada’s Karika which states the same), and that duality ceases when the mind ceases. Shankara states that through discrimination (viveka) and detachment (vairagya) the mind’s activity stops, and so it is the still or unmoving mind that is the result of viveka and vairagya, which is exactly the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. When the mind is no longer active, duality is not perceived, Shankara’s states, like in deep sleep.

Shankara’s commentary on verse 3.32:

The Truth that is Self…The Truth of the Self which follows from the instruction of the scriptures and teacher, when as a consequence of that, there remains nothing to be thought of, and the mind does not think – as fire does not burn in the absence of combustible things. At that time it attains the state of ceasing to be the mind. In the absence of things to be perceived, that mind becomes free from all illusion of perceptions. This is the idea.

Again, we see that Shankara is stating that the practice of viveka and vairagya (discrimination and renunciation) leads to the mind becoming still and this gives rise to realisation of Truth that is Self. Thereafter the mind stops thinking ‘as fire does not burn in the absence of combustible things’.

He, like Ramana, states that the mind feeds on sense objects or ‘things perceived’. In the ‘absence of things to be perceived‘, the mind no longer has any food or fuel and so burns out. This gives us the imagery of the flame of mind/egotism being extinguished, ie. nirvana, which literally means extinguishment (of a flame or fire).

Deep Sleep vs Stillness of Mind (Samadhi)

We have already covered 3.33 above. The next two verses, verse 3.34 and 3.35 explain the difference between the still or controlled mind and Deep Sleep – it is important note this only has to be done as Gaudapada has explained (and Shankara has agreed) that there are no gross or subtle objects present when the mind is stilled/controlled.

The natural question is therefore what is the difference between the Still Mind and Deep Sleep? If there were objects present when the mind is still, why the need to point out the difference between the Still Mind and Deep Sleep? Or surely the response would simply be that when the mind is controlled, objects are still or can still be present. However this is not the explaination given by Gaudapada, and Shankara is even stronger in his commentary.

I will not go into these verses here, as we are straying from the essence of this post, but you are welcome to look them up yourself. Sri Ramana Maharshi has given his own explanation of the difference between the still mind and deep sleep which you can read here if you wish, and you will find that it is essentially the same explanation given by both Gaudapada and Shankara.

A Practical Method for Self-Realisation

Thereafter next few verses carry on along similar lines reiterating similar points – you can find some of them here.

Finally Gaudapada ends chapter three in a marvellous crescendo by describing a practical method to attain liberation for those who remain stuck in Maya (Shankara in his commentary states that the method is for those who remain unliberated and fearful), which you can read on this link below.

You will see that Gaudapada is stating that the means to liberation is to control, or make still, the mind. We can infer that this is also the way to Jnana. He then outlines a method on how to still the mind, pointing out what the still mind is and what it isn’t:

Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method (Mandukya Upanishad Karika)

Another definition of Jnana by Shankara

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, verse 4.4.20, states the following:

20. It [Brahman] should be realised in one form only, (for) It is unknowable and eternal. The Self is taintless, beyond the (subtle) ether, birthless, infinite and constant.

Here we can see that the Upanishad is stating that Brahman is unknowable. So what of Self-Knowledge or knowledge of Brahman that is so often spoken about? Shankara explains this contradiction in his commentary on this verse:

The knowledge of Brahman too means only the cessation of the identification with extraneous things (such as the body). The relation of identity with It [Brahman] has not to be directly established, for it is already there. Everybody always has that identity with It, but it appears to be related to something else. Therefore the scriptures do not enjoin that identity with Brahman should be established, but that the false identification with things other than That should stop. When the identification with other things is gone, that identity with one’s own Self which is natural, becomes isolated; this is expressed by the statement that the Self is known. In Itself It is unknowable – not comprehended through any means. Hence both statements are consistent.

We can see that Shankara is stating that Brahman is indeed unknowable, and that Jnana, or knowledge, only signifies the cessation of identification with extraneous things, ie. loss of identification with objects, specifically the body-mind. Jnana is not of the mind and is not for the jiva or individual.

We do not need to affirm our identity as Brahman, as we already are and always have been and always will be Brahman. Any affirmation of Brahman would simply be on the level of thought or concepts, and so it would be Maya, or more ignorance. But once the false identification has been removed, then the Self naturally shines as itself, and this lack of wrong-knowledge, or lack of wrongly identifying as the body-mind, is what is called ‘Jnana’ or ‘knowledge’.

In Ulladu Narpadu verse 12, Sri Ramana Maharshi writes:

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

In Upadesa Saram verse 27, Sri Ramana Maharshi writes:

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

In the Amritabindu Upanishad Jnana is defined as follows in verse 5:

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, the rest is all mere concoction of untruth.