Q. Is ignorance a moment to moment choice?

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

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

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

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

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

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


sun barbed wire

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

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

In essence you are not the body-mind.

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

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

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

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

🕉 You are That! 🕉

🕉 Tat Tvam Asi! 🕉

🕉 Be what you are! 🕉



Q: When will the realization of the Self be gained?
Ramana Maharshi: When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer.

Q: Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
Ramana Maharshi: There will not be.

Q: When will the world which is the object seen be removed?
Ramana Maharshi: When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition’s and of all actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear.


Many people avoid these kinds of teachings which advocate turning away from the world and stilling the mind, and give various seemingly logical reasons for this philosophical stance (note that it is a philosophical stance for the most part, based on logical reasoning, belief and a certain ideology), but for most people, without prolonged stillness of mind, egotism finds a way to perpetuate itself and suffering, separation and ignorance also continue. Don’t just take my word for it. Step outside of your mind, look into your heart and know this to be true for yourself  


namaskaram namaste prayer buddha

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

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

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

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

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

Do not take yourself to be the body-mind!

You are That!
You are That Eternal Nothingness!

The path to Liberation – Sublime Teachings from the Yoga Vasistha

Behold the wondrous teachings of the Yoga Vasistha, one of the pre-eminent texts of Advaita (non-duality). Usually it is an incarnation of God that teaches mere mortals in such scriptures, but here we have a rare and sublime teaching in which a Sage is teaching God! In this case the young Lord Rama, incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is being taught the eternal teaching by the Holy Sage Vasistha.

The following teachings are taken from Chapter 3 of the Yoga Vasistha, where Sage Vasistha tells the Story of Lavana. After he has told the story to Lord Rama, he gives  the following teachings.

Note that the headings in bold are my own additions, and I have also put some text in bold type for emphasis of what I thought were some key points.

With love and well wishes


Rama Vasistha yoga

Turn away from the senses (Dispassion or Vairagya)

He who does not allow his mind to roam in objects of pleasure is able to master it. Even as one who is bound to a pillar does not move, the mind of a noble man does not move from the reality: he alone is a human being, the others are worms. He attains to the supreme being by constant meditation.

Victory over this goblin known as mind is gained when, with the aid of one’s own self-effort, one attains self-knowledge and abandons the craving for what the mind desires as pleasure. This can easily be achieved without any effort at all (even as a child’s attention can be easily diverted) by the cultivation of the proper attitude. Woe unto him who is unable to give up cravings, for this is the sole means to one’s ultimate good. By intense self-effort it is possible to gain victory over the mind; then without the least effort the individualised consciousness is absorbed in infinite consciousness, when its individuality is broken through. This is easy and is easily accomplished: they who are unable to do this are indeed vultures in human form.

Let the mind become still

Abandon your reliance on fate or gods created by dull witted people, and by self-effort and self-knowledge make the mind no-mind. Let the infinite consciousness swallow, as it were, the finite mind, and then go beyond everything. With your intelligence united with the supreme, hold on to the self, which is imperishable.

When the mind is thus conquered by remaining completely unagitated, you will consider even the conquest of the three worlds worthless. This does not involve studying the scriptures, or rising or falling – nothing but self-knowledge. Why do you consider it difficult? If this is found difficult by someone, how does he even live in this world without self-knowledge?


One who knows the deathless nature of the self is not afraid of death. Nor is he affected by separation from friends and relations. The feelings ‘This is I’ and ‘This is mine’ are the mind; when they are removed, the mind ceases to be. Then one becomes fearless. Weapons like swords generate fear; the weapon (wisdom) that destroys egotism generates fearlessness.

Mind and Liberation defined

Towards whichever object the mind flows with intensity, in that it sees the fulfilment of its craving. Of course, there is no mind without restlessness; restlessness is the very nature of the mind. It is the work of this restlessness of the mind based on the infinite consciousness that appears as this world, O Rama, that indeed is the power of the mind. But, when the mind is deprived of its restlessness, it is referred to as the dead mind; and that itself is penance (tapas) as also the verification of the scriptures and liberation.

O Rama, mind constantly swings like a pendulum between the reality and the appearance, between consciousness and inertness. When the mind contemplates the inert objects for a considerable time, it assumes the characteristics of such inertness. When the same mind is devoted to inquiry and wisdom, it shakes off all conditioning and returns to its original nature as pure consciousness.

The psychological tendency (or mental disposition or mental conditioning) is unreal, yet it does arise in the mind. The product of ignorance is real only to the ignorant person; to the wise, it is just a verbal expression (just as one speaks of the barren woman’s son). Do not remain ignorant, O Rama, but strive to be wise by renouncing mental conditioning.


You are not the doer of any action here, O Rama, so why do you assume doership? When one alone exists, who does what and how? Do not become inactive, either, for what is gained by doing nothing? What has to be done has to be done. Therefore rest in the self. Even while doing all the actions natural to you if you are unattached to those actions you are truly the non-doer; if you are doing nothing and are attached to that non-doership (then you are doing nothing) you become the doer! When all this world is like the juggler’s trick, what is to be given up and what is to be sought?

The trickery of Ignorance/Mind

The seed of this world appearance is ignorance. This ignorance or mental conditioning is acquired by man effortlessly and it seems to promote pleasure, but in truth it is the giver of grief. It creates a delusion of pleasure only by the total veiling of self-knowledge. Thus it was able to make the king Lavana experience less than an hour as if it were of several years’ duration.

This ignorance or mental conditioning has but a momentary existence, yet since it flows on, it seems to be permanent like a river. Because it is able to veil the reality, it seems to be real, but when you try to grasp it, you discover it is nothing. Yet, again, it acquires strength and firmness on account of these qualities in the world-appearance, even as a flimsy fibre when rolled into a rope acquires great strength. This conditioning seems to grow, but in fact it does not. For when you try to grasp it, it vanishes like the tip of a flame. Yet, again, even as the sky appears to be blue, this conditioning also seems to have some kind of real appearance! It is born as the second moon in diplopia, it exists like the dream-objects and it creates confusion, even as people sitting in a moving boat see the shore moving. When it is active, it creates a delusion of the long dream of world-appearance. It perverts all relationships and experiences. It is this ignorance or mental conditioning throws up an endless stream of creation and perception of duality, and of division and the consequent confusion of perception and experience.

Overcoming Ignorance

When this ignorance or mental conditioning is mastered by becoming aware of its unreality, mind ceases to be – even as when the water ceases to flow, the river dries up.

O Rama, even as darkness disappears as you turn towards light, ignorance disappears if you turn towards the light of the self. As long as there does not arise a natural yearning for self-knowledge, so long ignorance or mental conditioning throws up an endless stream of world-appearance. Even as a shadow vanishes when it turns to see the light, this ignorance perishes when it turns towards self-knowledge.

The Self

O Rama, from Brahma the creator down to the blade of grass, all this is nothing but the self; ignorance is non-existent unreality. There is no second thing here known as the mind. In that self itself, the veil (that is also of itself) floats, creating the polarisation of subject – object; and infinite consciousness itself is then known as the mind. This veil is an idea, an intention or a thought in that infinite consciousness. Mind is born of this idea or thought, and mind has to vanish with the help of an idea or thought i.e., by the coming to an end of the idea or thought.

‘All is Brahman’

The firm conviction that ‘I am not the absolute Brahman’ binds the mind; the mind is liberated by the firm conviction ‘everything is the absolute Brahman’. Ideas and thoughts are bondage, and their coming to an end is liberation. Therefore, be free of them and do whatever has to be done spontaneously. Even as thought or idea ‘sees’ blueness in the sky, the mind sees the world as real.

He who does not let his mind dwell on such thoughts and ideas, by striving to be conscious of the self, enjoys peace. That which was not in the beginning does not exist even now! That which was and therefore is now, is the absolute Brahman – contemplation of this bestows peace, for that Brahman is peace. One should not contemplate anything else at any time and in any manner anywhere. One should uproot the very hope of enjoyment with one’s utmost strength, and using one’s utmost intelligence. Hopes and attachments seem to ramify on account of mental conditioning, which is ignorance. In this empty physical body, where is it that is called ‘I’? In truth, O Rama, ‘I’, ‘mine’, etc. have no existence at all; the one self alone is the truth at all times.

Why does illusion appear so real?

Is it not a great wonder, O Rama, that people forget the truth that the absolute Brahman alone is, and are convinced of the existence of the unreal and non-existent ignorance? Rama, do not let the foolish idea of the existence of ignorance take root in you; for if the consciousness is thus polluted, it invites endless suffering. Though it is unreal, it can cause real suffering! It is on account of ignorance that illusions like a mirage exist, and that one sees various visions and hallucinations (like flying in the air and flying in space) and one experiences heaven and hell. Therefore, O Rama, give up mental conditioning which alone is responsible for the perception of duality, and remain totally unconditioned. Then, you will attain incomparable preeminence over all!

Rama asked: Holy sage! It is indeed incredible that this nonexistent nescience creates such an illusion that this non-existent world appears to be very real: pray explain to me further how this is possible…

Vasistha: O Rama, it is not really true that consciousness is in any way related to this body. The body has only been fancied by the consciousness as if in a dream. When consciousness, clothed as it were, by its own energy, limits itself and considers itself jiva, that jiva, endowed with this restless energy, is involved in this world-appearance.

The embodied being who enjoys or suffers the fruits of past actions and who dons a variety of bodies is known as egotism, mind and also jiva. Neither the body nor the enlightened being undergoes suffering: it is only the ignorant mind that suffers. It is only in a state of ignorance (like sleep) that the mind dreams of the world-appearance, not when it is awake or enlightened. Hence the embodied being that undergoes suffering here is variously known as the mind, ignorance, jiva and mental conditioning, as also the individualised consciousness.

The body is inert and hence can neither enjoy nor suffer. Nescience gives rise to heedlessness and unwisdom; hence it is nescience alone that enjoys or suffers. It is indeed the mind alone that is born, weeps, kills, goes, abuses others, etc., not the body. In all the experiences of happiness and unhappiness, as also in all the hallucinations and imaginations, it is mind that does everything and it is mind that experiences all this: mind is man.

The seven steps to perfection

Vasistha: Equipped with wisdom, he who gradually ascends the seven steps to perfection in yoga attains liberation from these.

Rama: Holy sir, what are the seven steps you have referred to?

Vasistha: O Rama, there are seven descending steps of ignorance, and there are seven ascending steps of wisdom. I shall now describe them to you. To remain established in self-knowledge is liberation; when this is disturbed, there arise egotism and bondage. The state of self-knowledge is that in which there is no mental agitation, neither distraction nor dullness of mind, neither egotism nor perception of diversity.

The delusion that veils this self-knowledge is sevenfold: seed state of wakefulness, wakefulness, great wakefulness, wakeful dream, dream, dream wakefulness and sleep. In pure consciousness, when mind and jiva exist only in name, it is the seed state of wakefulness. When notions of ‘I’ and ‘this’ arise, it is known as wakefulness. When these notions get strengthened by the memory of previous incarnations, it is great wakefulness. When the mind is fully awake to its own fancies and is filled with them, it is wakeful dream. The false notions of experiences during sleep, which yet appear to be real, are dreams. In the dream wakeful state one recalls past experiences as if they are real now. When these are abandoned in favour of total inert dullness, it is sleep. These seven have their own innumerable subdivisions.

I shall now describe to you, O Rama, the seven states or planes of wisdom. Knowing them you will not be caught in delusion. Pure wish or intention is the first, inquiry is the second, the third is when the mind becomes subtle, establishment in truth is the fourth, total freedom from attachment or bondage is the fifth, the sixth is cessation of objectivity, and the seventh is beyond all these.

Why do I continue to be a fool? I shall seek holy men and scriptures, having cultivated dispassion’ – such a wish is the first state. Thereupon one engages in the practice of inquiry (direct observation). With all these, there arises non-attachment, and the mind becomes subtle and transparent: this is the third state. When these three are practised, there arises in the seeker a natural turning away from sense-pleasures and there is natural dwelling in truth: this is the fourth state.

When all these are well practised, there is total non-attachment and at the same time a conviction in the nature of truth: this is the fifth state. Then one rejoices in one’s own self, the perception of duality and diversity both within oneself and outside oneself ceases, and the efforts that one made at the inspiration of others bear fruition in direct spiritual experience.

After this there is no other support, no division, no diversity, and self-knowledge is spontaneous, natural and therefore unbroken: this is the seventh, transcendental state. This is the state of one who is liberated while living here. Beyond this is the state of one who has transcended even the body (turiyatita).

Rama, all these great ones who ascend these seven planes of wisdom are holy men. They are liberated and they do not fall into the mire of happiness and unhappiness. They mayor may not work or be active. They rejoice in the self and do not stand in need of others to make them happy.

The highest state of consciousness can be attained by all, even by animals and by primitive men, by those who have a body and even by disembodied beings, for it involves only the rise of wisdom.

They who have reached the highest planes of consciousness are indeed great men. They are adorable; even an emperor is like a worthless blade of grass compared to them, for they are liberated here and now.

How can ignorance and egotism arise in the self?

Vasistha: The self ignorantly imagines an egotistic existence, even as if gold, forgetting its goldness, might think it is a ring and weep and wail “Alas, I have lost my goldness”.

Rama: Holy sir, how can this ignorance and egotism arise in the self?

Vasistha: Rama, one should ask questions concerning the reality only, not concerning the unreal. Neither goldless ringness nor limited egotism exists in truth. When the goldsmith sells the ring, he weighs out the gold, for it is gold. If one were to discuss the existence of the ringness in the ring, and the finite form in the infinite consciousness, then one has to compare it with the barren woman’s son. The existence of the unreal is unreal: it arises in ignorance and vanishes when inquired into. In ignorance one sees silver in the mother-of-pearl, but it cannot serve as silver even for a moment! As long as the truth that it is mother-of-pearl is not seen, the ignorance lasts. Even as one cannot extract oil from sand and even as one can obtain only gold from the ring, there are no two things here in this universe: the one infinite consciousness alone shines in all names and forms.

Egotism or ignorance/nescience does not really exist

Such indeed is the nature of this utter ignorance, this delusion and this world-process: without real existence there is this illusory notion of egotism. This egotism does not exist in the infinite self. In the infinite self there is no creator, no creation, no worlds, no heaven, no humans, no demons, no bodies, no elements, no time, no existence and no destruction, no ‘you’, no ‘I’, no self, no that, no truth, no falsehood (none of these), no notion of diversity, no contemplation and no enjoyment.

Whatever is, and is known as the universe, is that supreme peace. There is no beginning, no middle and no end: all is all at all times, beyond the comprehension of the mind and speech. There is no creation. The infinite has never abandoned its infinity. That has never become this.

It is like the ocean, but without ocean’s movement. It is self-luminous like the sun, but without activity. In ignorance, the supreme being is viewed as the object, as the world. Even as space exists in space, one with space, even so what appears to be the creation is Brahman existing in Brahman, as Brahman. The notions of far and near, of diversity, of here and there are as valid as the distance between two objects in a mirror in which a whole city is reflected.

O Rama, all this is ignorance! The notions of far and near, a moment and eternity, are all hallucinations. In ignorance the real appears to be unreal, and the unreal seems to be real. The individualised consciousness perceives what it thinks it perceives, on account of its conditioning.

On account of ignorance, when the notion of egotism arises, at that very moment the delusion of a beginning, a middle and an end also arises. One who is thus deluded thinks that he is an animal and experiences this. All this happens on account of accidental coincidence: just as a crow flies towards a coconut palm and as it alights on the tree, a fruit falls down as if the crow dislodged it – though, in fact, the crow did not! Similarly, by pure coincidence and in ignorance, the unreal seems to be real…

Nescience is not a real entity, even as oil in sand is not a real entity. Nescience and the self cannot have any relationship, for there can be relationship only between same or similar entities – this is obvious in everyone’s experience. Thus, it is only because consciousness is infinite that everything in the universe becomes knowable. It is not as if the subject illumines the object, which has no luminosity of its own, but since consciousness is all this, everything is self-luminous,without requiring a perceiving intelligence. It is by the action of consciousness becoming aware of itself that intelligence manifests itself, not when consciousness apprehends an inert object.

It is not correct to say that there is a mixture in this universe of the sentient and the inert, for they do not mix. All things are full of consciousness and when this consciousness comprehends itself there is knowledge.

Relationship between things

One may see a relationship between a tree and a rock, though they appear to be inert: such relationship exists in their fundamental constituents which have undergone a certain kind of change to become a tree and a rock. This is also seen in the sense of taste: the taste-buds in the tongue respond to the taste in the food, because of their similarity in constitution.

All relationship is therefore the realisation of the already existing unity: it is regarded as relationship only because of the previous false and deluded assumption of a division into subject and object.

In the middle between the sight and the seen, there is a relationship which is known as the seer. When the division between the seer, the sight and the seen is abolished, that is the supreme. When the mind travels from one country to another, between them is cosmic intelligence. Be that always. Even as you do not busy yourself with the affairs of a future village, do not get tangled with the moods of your mind, but be established in truth. Regard the mind as a foreigner or a piece of wood or stone. There is no mind in infinite consciousness; that which is done by this non-existent mind is also unreal. Be established in this realisation. I have investigated the truth concerning the mind for a very long time, O Rama, and have found none: only infinite consciousness exists.

The company of holy ones (Satsang)

This seemingly endless stream of ignorance can be crossed over only by the constant company of holy ones. From such company there arises wisdom concerning what is worth seeking and what is to be avoided. Then there arises the pure wish to attain liberation. This leads to serious inquiry. Then the mind becomes subtle, because this inquiry thins out the mental conditioning. As a result of the rising of pure wisdom, one’s consciousness moves in the reality. Then the mental conditioning vanishes and there is non-attachment. Bondage to actions and their fruits ceases. The vision is firmly established in truth and the apprehension of the unreal is weakened. Even while living and functioning in this world, he who has this unconditioned vision does what has to be done as if he is asleep, without thinking of the world and its pleasures. After some years of living like this, one is fully liberated and transcends all these states: he is liberated while living.

Overcoming Maya

When mental conditioning is overcome and the mind is made perfectly tranquil, the illusion that deludes the ignorant comes to an end. It is only as long as this illusion (Maya) is not clearly understood that it generates this great delusion; once it is clearly understood, it is seen as the infinite, and it becomes the source of happiness and the realisation of the absolute Brahman. It is only for the sake of scriptural instruction that one speaks of the self, Brahman, etc., but in truth one alone is. It is pure consciousness, not embodied being. It is, whether one knows or not, whether one is embodied or without a body. All the unhappiness you see in this world belongs to the body; the self which is not grasped by the senses is not touched by sorrow. In the self there is no desire: the world appears in it without any wish or intention on its part. Thus,

Sage Vasistha’s concluding remarks to Lord Rama

O Rama, through my precepts the false notion of a creation and its existence has been dispelled. Your consciousness has become pure, devoid of duality.


Ramana Maharshi: The path to Self Realisation (includes teachings on the Self, the mind, rajas and tamas, vasanas and Samadhi)


I have selected this talk (talk 141 from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi) as there are so many gems for the seeker of liberation in such a short space. I will try to unpack some of these gems for you and have provided a summary of the teachings at the end. All comments in red are my own and any bold text has been added by myself for emphasis. Ramana’s words are in black.

First Ramana states that objects are nothing but the ‘modes’ or projection of the mind, and that there is a light that illumines these objects. The light he refers to is the light of awareness or consciousness:

Ramana Maharshi: The modes of mind take shape as external objects and the light reflected on the modes illumines the objects. Now neglecting the modes of mind, look for the light illumining them. The mind becomes still and the light remains self-shining. The undulating mind (i.e., the mind associated with rajas = activity and tamas = darkness) is commonly known as the mind. Devoid of rajas and tamas, it is pure and self-shining. This is Self-Realisation. Therefore the mind is said to be the means for it.

Note how densely packed the spiritual discourse is here! First Ramana advises we ignore the objects, or ‘neglect the modes of mind’ as it is put above. Then follows a beautiful line: ‘the mind becomes still and the light remains self-shining’. Here we can see that Ramana is describing the thought-free awareness in which the mind is still but remains awake and aware. Ramana sometimes refers to this state as being called Jagrat Sushupti (click on the link to learn more about what Ramana says about this). 

Ramana then restates the above in a different way and further defines the word ‘mind’. He states the the mind associated with rajas (ie. the active, passionate and grasping mind) or with tamas (ie. the mind afflicted with fear, negativity, depression and lethargy) is what is meant by the word mind. Put more simply, the word ‘mind’ refers to the mind in movement that is either grasping (rajas) or pushing away (tamas). When rajas and tamas are no longer present, or when the mind is still and no longer grasping or pushing away, the mind becomes pure (this is usually known as sattva – for a more in-depth discussion of rajas, tamas and sattva see here). This totally pure mind is no longer the mind as previously defined, as it is now still, and this stillness in which movement of ego (rajas and tamas) no longer occurs is known as Self-Realisation.

The questioner proceeds:

D.: What is moksha (liberation)?

M.: Moksha is to know that you were not born. “Be still and know that I am God.” To be still is not to think. Know, and not think, is the word.

Ramana now indicates that our true nature is never born, unlike the numerous objects we appear to experience including the body-mind that we erroneously take ourselves to be. Ramana then reiterates the basic instruction to still the mind and explains again what this means – not to think. Ramana says ‘know, and not think’. I interpret this word ‘know’ to mean ‘be aware’, which again chimes with the beautiful line in the previous paragraph:’ the mind becomes still and the light remains self-shining’. 

Now Ramana further explains the main points of the teaching and how to attain Realisation:

Jnana, once revealed, takes time to steady itself. The Self is certainly within the direct experience of everyone, but not as one imagines it to be. It is only as it is. This Experience is samadhi. Just as fire remains without scorching against incantations or other devices but scorches otherwise, so also the Self remains veiled by vasanas [habitual egoic tendencies] and reveals itself when there are no vasanas. Owing to the fluctuation of the vasanas, jnana takes time to steady itself. Unsteady jnana is not enough to check rebirths. Jnana cannot remain unshaken side by side with vasanas. True, that in the proximity of a great master, the vasanas will cease to be active, the mind becomes still and samadhi results, similar to fire not scorching because of other devices. Thus the disciple gains true knowledge and right experience in the presence of the master. To remain unshaken in it further efforts are necessary.

Jnana, which literally means knowledge, is a synonym for Self-Realisation in which there is no suffering. Ramana states that even once we have had a glimpse of That Reality, it takes time for Jnana to stabilise or ‘steady itself’.

How can this be? Is not Reality non-dual and ever-present already? Is our True Nature not already one with the Reality and beyond the limitations of body, time and space? If so, how can it take time for Realisation to steady itself and if Reality is already whole and one without a second, and therefore ‘stable in itself’, how can we even dare speak of stabilisation of Reality or Jnana?

Ramana gives us a practical answer: it is due to the habitual egoic tendencies, or vasanas to use the Sanskrit word. Whist these are present, ‘the Self remains veiled’, and the Self only ‘reveals itself when there are no vasanas’. It is because of these habitual vasanas that take time to die down that ‘Jnana takes time to steady itself’. Ramana goes on to emphasise the point: ‘Jnana cannot remain unshaken side by side with vasanas’ he says. Shankara says the same – see here.

If we compare this section with what was said earlier about mind and rajas and tamas, we can see that stilling the mind means the mind being totally devoid of rajas and tamas. When the mind is still in this way, this is the Self. ie. from a practical point of view, when the mind is active, it is called mind, and when still, it is called Self.

This mind, or rajas and tamas, therefore can be seen to be the same as the vasanas described in this section above. In both cases, when the mind is still or with no vasanas, meaning when there is no habitual birth of the ‘I-concept’ (ego) together with  egoic desire and egoic fear, then the Self is automatically realised.

What about the role of the Guru? Ramana here states the mere proximity to the Guru can still the mind and remove the vasanas, thus revealing the Self in Samadhi, giving a true authentic experience of Self to the seeker. However for this Samadhi, which is unsteady, to become steady, Ramana states ‘further efforts are necessary’.

Ramana now tells us more about Samadhi:

He will know it to be his real Being and thus be liberated even while alive. Samadhi with closed eyes is certainly good, but one must go further until it is realised that actionlessness and action are not hostile to each other. Fear of loss of samadhi while one is active is the sign of ignorance. Samadhi must be the natural life of everyone.

Ramana states that the Samadhi in which there is awareness but no objects whatsoever is pleasing and wholesome, but if we fear the intrusion of objects, that is not really the Samadhi he speaks of. The Samadhi Ramana speaks of doesn’t mind the absence or presence of objects, and so activity in daily living is no impediment to this natural Samadhi (Sahaja Samadhi).

There is a state beyond our efforts or effortlessness. Until it is realised effort is necessary. After tasting such Bliss, even once one will repeatedly try to regain it. Having once experienced the Bliss of Peace no one would like to be out of it or engaged himself otherwise. It is as difficult for a Jnani to engage in thoughts as it is for an ajnani to be free from thought.

When fully realised, who can talk of effort or lack of effort? The Self is beyond both effort and non-effort, and is also one with effort and non-effort. However, as long as vasanas or mind is present, effort needs to be made. Once one has the taste of the bliss and peace of Samadhi, one desires it. When this desire outweighs the desire for external objects, one naturally makes effort towards Samadhi. One must repeatedly enter into this Samadhi – see here for what Ramana says about this or see here for what Shankara says about Samadhi and the mind. Eventually it becomes an effort not to be in Samadhi, Ramana stating ‘It is as difficult for a Jnani to engage in thoughts as it is for an ajnani to be free from thought.’

The common man says that he does not know himself; he thinks many thoughts and cannot remain without thinking.

Any kind of activity does not affect a Jnani; his mind remains ever in eternal Peace.

Talks 141

The True State is beyond any kind of activity and thought. It cannot be lost or gained, it can never be defiled and was and is always whole and complete. It is ever-lasting Peace, beyond birth and death. It is all there is.

A Practical Summary:

  1. Allow the mind to become still
  2. When this stillness is firm and one remains fully aware (ie. one does not fall asleep) in daily life it is called Self-Realisation.
  3. One way this can be done is by ignoring objects and when the mind becomes still all we are left with is the luminescent consciousness which is ever pure and undefined. This is our essence or true nature (Swarupa in Sanskrit).
  4. This state is known as Samadhi and is initially temporary due to latent habitual tendencies (vasanas or rajas and tamas) which habitually sprout the ‘I-concept’ along with notions of ‘the world’ and this gives rise to samsara or suffering.
  5. Proximity to a guru can bring about Samadhi and guide us home.
  6. Once Samadhi has been attained and the desire for worldly objects is outweighed, the Self will draw you in by its own blissful power and repeated Samadhi eventually results in the natural state when the vasanas/egoic mind has been obliterated. This is Sahaja Samadhi which is the same as self-realisation or Jnana or what Ramana calls here ‘eternal Peace’.


Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?


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.

Also see:

The key to nonduality and yoga

The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation

Ramana Maharshi: be still

Ramana Maharshi: a quick and simple method to self-realisation

False enlightenment

Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi (stillness of mind), Manonasa (destruction of mind), and Liberation

Shankara shankaracharya

The following are quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani on the Mind, samadhi (stillness of mind), manonasa (destruction of mind) and it’s relationship to moksha (liberation). There are many false teachings around, so I hope you find these teachings to be helpful and instructive.

Vivekachudamani is one of the most important in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. Attributed to Shankara, for centuries it has traditionally been used as a practice manual for seekers of spiritual liberation. Many mahatmas (great souls) have considered this text to contain all that is required to know in order to attain liberation.

Swami Chinmayananda, that great Sanskrit scholar and traditional teacher of Advaita Vedanta, said Vivekachudamani contained the distilled wisdom from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita and presents it in a systematic readable form for a seeker of liberation, in which both ‘the goal and path are exhaustively dealt with’. He wrote of Vivekachudamani that ‘no other help is needed’ other than this text on the quest to liberation.

A very young (and already enlightened) Sri Ramana Maharshi also translated the entire text into Tamil for the benefit of his companions and devotees who were unable to read Sanskrit, in what was perhaps Ramana’s first spiritual work. The fact that Ramana wrote very little yet bothered to translate this in its entirely, that this was the first scripture he chose to translate, and that this is the longest of the scriptures he ever translated (to my knowledge) perhaps gives you an indication of the significance of this text. Ramana himself wrote an introduction to his own translation and in it he said that Vivekachudamani explained ‘in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path’ and also that Vivekachudamani contained the essence of Shankara’s commentaries on the triple canon of Vedenta (Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Brahma Sutras), in an easy to read form.

Indeed, there is nothing in Vivekachudamani that cannot be found in the Vedantic triple canon.

So here is some of what Shankara says about Mind and Liberation, my comments are in italicised red:

The mind is ignorance

First Shankara equates mind with ignorance, saying they are one and the same, hinting the mind must be destroyed (manonasa), a theme that is taken up again later on:

169. There is no Ignorance (Avidya) outside the mind. The mind alone is Avidya, the cause of the bondage of transmigration. When that is destroyed, all else is destroyed, and when it is manifested, everything else is manifested.

Shankara in these next two verses repeats that mind is synonymous with ignorance and the cause of bondage or suffering.

179. Man’s transmigration is due to the evil of superimposition, and the bondage of superimposition is created by the mind alone.

180. Hence sages who have fathomed its secret have designated the mind as Avidya or ignorance, by which alone the universe is moved to and fro, like masses of clouds by the wind.

The mind (ie. ignorance) creates the world

Then he states the world is but an illusion projected by the mind, like a dream:

170. In dreams, when there is no actual contact with the external world, the mind alone creates the whole universe consisting of the experiencer etc. Similarly in the waking state also; there is no difference. Therefore all this (phenomenal universe) is the projection of the mind.

This is essentially equating the mind with maya.

171. In dreamless sleep, when the mind is reduced to its causal state, there exists nothing (for the person asleep), as is evident from universal experience. Hence man’s relative existence is simply the creation of his mind, and has no objective reality.

172. Clouds are brought in by the wind and again driven away by the same agency. Similarly, man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and Liberation too is caused by that alone.

177. The mind continually produces for the experiencer all sense-objects without exception, whether perceived as gross or fine, the differences of body, caste, order of life, and tribe, as well as the varieties of qualification, action, means and results.

Stay away from the mind

Shankara warns the seeker to stay away from the mind:

176. In the forest-tract of sense-pleasures there prowls a huge tiger called the mind. Let good people who have a longing for Liberation never go there.

Manonasa (destruction of the mind)

Shankara teaches us that the mind eventually must die, and the method of how to do this:

277. The Yogi’s mind dies, being constantly fixed on his own Self.

What happens when we do not follow this teaching?

309. Even though completely rooted out, this terrible egoism, if revolved in the mind even for a moment, returns to life and creates hundreds of mischiefs, like a cloud ushered in by the wind during the rainy season.

325. If the mind ever so slightly strays from the Ideal and becomes outgoing, then it goes down and down, just as a play-ball inadvertently dropped on the staircase bounds down from one step to another.

326. The mind that is attached to the sense-objects reflects on their qualities; from mature reflection arises desire, and after desiring a man sets about having that thing.

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

502. How can there be merits and demerits for me, who am without organs, without mind, changeless, and formless – who am the realisation of Bliss Absolute? The Shruti also mentions this in the passage “Not touched”, etc.!

Shut out the world, focus attention on Brahman

327. Hence to the discriminating knower of Brahman there is no worse death than inadvertence with regard to concentration. But the man who is concentrated attains complete success. (Therefore) carefully concentrate thy mind (on Brahman).

328. Through inadvertence a man deviates from his real nature, and the man who has thus deviated falls. The fallen man comes to ruin, and is scarcely seen to rise again.

335. When the external world is shut out, the mind is cheerful, and cheerfulness of the mind brings on the vision of the Paramatman. When It is perfectly realised, the chain of birth and death is broken. Hence the shutting out of the external world is the stepping-stone to Liberation.

339. To realise the whole universe as the Self is the means of getting rid of bondage. There is nothing higher than identifying the universe with the Self. One realises this state by excluding the objective world through steadfastness in the eternal Atman.

The need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi

Shankara, over many verses, makes it clear that the mind must be totally stilled in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, in which there is awareness present without thoughts and other objects:

341. To the Sannyasin who has gone through the act of hearing, the Shruti passage, “Calm, self-controlled.” Etc., prescribes Samadhi for realising the identity of the universe with the Self.

Shankara drums home the necessity of Samadhi over many verses, here using the phrase ‘barring those’ to clearly state that only through nirvikalpa samadhi can egotism be destroyed (and liberation attained). He makes it clear that in nirvikalpa samadhi no objects/phenomena will be present, and there will be ‘no oscilation of mind‘.

342. Even wise men cannot suddenly destroy egoism after it has once become strong, barring those who are perfectly calm through the Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Desires are verily the effect of innumerable births.

344. …But the victory is undoubtedly (complete and) free from obstacles when there is no oscillation of the mind due to the unreal sense-objects.

The term Samadhi refers to a state of mind that is stilled but also aware and not asleep:

353. When the Atman, the One without a second, is realised by means of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi, then the heart’s knot of ignorance is totally destroyed.

354. Such imaginations as “thou”, “I” or “this” take place through the defects of the Buddhi. But when the Paramatman, the Absolute, the One without a second, manifests Itself in Samadhi, all such imaginations are dissolved for the aspirant, through the realisation of the truth of Brahman.

355. The Sannyasin, calm, self-controlled, perfectly retiring from the sense-world, forbearing, and devoting himself to the practice of Samadhi, always reflects on his own self being the Self of the whole universe. Destroying completely by this means the imaginations which are due to the gloom of ignorance, he lives blissfully as Brahman, free from action and the oscillations of the mind.

Shankara again stresses the importance of Samadhi, stating those alone are free or liberated.

356.Those alone are free from the bondage of transmigration who, attaining Samadhi, have merged the objective world, the sense-organs, the mind, nay, the very ego, in the Atman, the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.

357. Through the diversity of the supervening conditions (Upadhis), a man is apt to think of himself as also full of diversity; but with the removal of these he is again his own Self, the immutable. Therefore the wise man should ever devote himself to the practice of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, for the dissolution of the Upadhis.

Again, Shankara uses the word only to drive home the importance of Samadhi:

360. The truth of the Paramatman is extremely subtle, and cannot be reached by the gross outgoing tendency of the mind. It is only accessible to noble souls with perfectly pure minds, by means of Samadhi brought on by an extraordinary fineness of the mental state.

361. As gold purified by thorough heating on the fire gives up its impurities and attains to its own lustre, so the mind, through meditation, gives up its impurities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and attains to the reality of Brahman.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi refers to the complete absence of ‘mind waves’ or modifications of consciousness, in which there is only pure awareness or consciousness present devoid of thoughts and perceptions. Again and again Shankara states that it is Samadhi of the Nirvikalpa variety (ie. no thoughts and no objects) that leads directly to self-realisation :

362. When the mind, thus purified by constant practice, is merged in Brahman, then Samadhi passes on from the Savikalpa to the Nirvikalpa stage, and leads directly to the realisation of the Bliss of Brahman, the One without a second.

363. By this Samadhi are destroyed all desires which are like knots, all work is at an end, and inside and out there takes place everywhere and always the spontaneous manifestation of one’s real nature.

How much clearer can Shankara make the case for the essential practice of Nirvikalpa Samadhi?

364. Reflection should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing, and meditation a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection, but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.

Shankara continues to stress the importance of the thoughtless aware state of samadhi, or, to put it more simply, being still of mind:

365. By the Nirvikalpa Samadhi the truth of Brahman is clearly and definitely realised, but not otherwise, for then the mind, being unstable by nature, is apt to be mixed up with other perceptions.

Drown or destroy the mind by turning away from the world and fixing in on Brahman

Drowning the mind implies its death, meaning the death of ignorance. As Shankara has already equated mind with ignorance, this is the same as manonasa (destruction of the mind) and the same as self-realisation:

366. Hence with the mind calm and the senses controlled always drown the mind in the Supreme Self that is within, and through the realisation of thy identity with that Reality destroy the darkness created by Nescience, which is without beginning.

375. The extremely dispassionate man alone has Samadhi, and the man of Samadhi alone gets steady realisation; the man who has realised the Truth is alone free from bondage, and the free soul only experiences eternal Bliss.

376. For the man of self-control I do not find any better instrument of happiness than dispassion, and if that is coupled with a highly pure realisation of the Self, it conduces to the suzerainty of absolute Independence; and since this is the gateway to the damsel of everlasting liberation, therefore for thy welfare, be dispassionate both internally and externally, and always fix thy mind on the eternal Self.

377. Sever thy craving for the sense-objects, which are like poison, for it is the very image of death, and giving up thy pride of caste, family and order of life, fling actions to a distance. Give up thy identification with such unreal things as the body, and fix thy mind on the Atman. For thou art really the Witness, Brahman, unshackled by the mind, the One without a second, and Supreme.

378. Fixing the mind firmly on the Ideal, Brahman, and restraining the external organs in their respective centres; with the body held steady and taking no thought for its maintenance; attaining identity with Brahman and being one with It – always drink joyfully of the Bliss of Brahman in thy own Self, without a break. What is the use of other things which are entirely hollow?

379. Giving up the thought of the non-Self which is evil and productive of misery, think of the Self, the Bliss Absolute, which conduces to Liberation.

Continuously meditate on Brahman

380. Here shines eternally the Atman, the Self-effulgent Witness of everything, which has the Buddhi for Its seat. Making this Atman which is distinct from the unreal, the goal, meditate on It as thy own Self, excluding all other thought.

381. Reflecting on this Atman continuously and without any foreign thought intervening, one must distinctly realise It to be one’s real Self.

382. Strengthening one’s identification with This, and giving up that with egoism and the rest, one must live without any concern for them, as if they were trifling things, like a cracked jar or the like.

383. Fixing the purified mind in the Self, the Witness, the Knowledge Absolute, and slowly making it still, one must then realise one’s own infinite Self.

384. One should behold the Atman, the Indivisible and Infinite, free from all limiting adjuncts such as the body, organs, Pranas, Manas and egoism, which are creations of one’s own ignorance – like the infinite sky.

398. When the mind-functions are merged in the Paramatman, the Brahman, the Absolute, none of this phenomenal world is seen.

More on Samadhi

Again, Shankara says we must end the mind (Manonasa):

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

408. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is something of the nature of eternal Knowledge and absolute Bliss, which has no exemplar, which transcends all limitations, is ever free and without activity, and which is like the limitless sky, indivisible and absolute.

409. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is devoid of the ideas of cause and effect, which is the Reality beyond all imaginations, homogeneous, matchless, beyond the range of proofs, established by the pronouncements of the Vedas, and ever familiar to us as the sense of the ego.

410. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is undecaying and immortal, the positive Entity which precludes all negations, which resembles the placid ocean and is without a name, in which there are neither merits nor demerits, and which is eternal, pacified and One.

411. With the mind restrained in Samadhi, behold in thy self the Atman, of infinite glory, cut off thy bondage strengthened by the impressions of previous births, and carefully attain the consummation of thy birth as a human being.

Shankara again makes it clear that when he speaks of Samadhi, he is speaking of that aware state in which there are no objects or ‘limiting adjuncts’ present:

412. Meditate on the Atman, which resides in thee, which is devoid of all limiting adjuncts, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thou shalt no more come under the round of births and deaths.

480. Concentrating the mind for some time on the Supreme Brahman, he rose, and out of supreme bliss spoke as follows.

More on Manonasa

Manonasa (destruction of the mind), a synonym for moksha, is declared by this scripture:

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

502. How can there be merits and demerits for me, who am without organs, without mind, changeless, and formless – who am the realisation of Bliss Absolute? The Shruti also mentions this in the passage “Not touched”, etc.!

Ajata (‘unborn’)

Here Shankara repeats the line found in Guadapada’s Karika, which itself is a repetition of the Upanishadic verse:

574. There is neither death nor birth, neither a bound nor a struggling soul, neither a seeker after Liberation nor a liberated one – this is the ultimate truth.

True vedanta

This is the true vedanta:

575. I have today repeatedly revealed to thee, as to one’s own son, this excellent and profound secret, which is the inmost purport of all Vedanta, the crest of the Vedas