Shankara – summary of the path to enlightenment

Towards the beginning of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, he summarises the entire vedantic path in 3 verses. The 509 verses that follow these 3 verses are mere elucidation on these 3 verses.

Verse 69 indicates the fruit of the path – the end of suffering (‘bondage of samsara’):

69. Listen attentively, O learned one, to what I am going to say. By listening to it thou shalt be instantly free from the bondage of Samsara.

The first step on the path is vairagya, or dispassion. This leads to a calm mind in which the ego is not allowed to act out:

70. The first step to Liberation is the extreme aversion to all perishable things, then follow calmness, self-control, forbearance, and the utter relinquishment of all work enjoined in the Scriptures.

Then the teachings are heard (sravana), reflected upon (manana), followed by a period of meditation on the Self (nididhyasana) for the ‘Muni’ (jewel) which is nothing other than moksha (liberation). Notice the stress on the ‘long, constant and unbroken meditation’. Then follows the nirvikalpa state (samadhi) which in turn leads to Nirvana (liberation or extinguishment of desires/egoic vasanas):

71. Then come hearing, reflection on that, and long, constant and unbroken meditation on the Truth for the Muni. After that the learned seeker attains the supreme Nirvikalpa state and realises the bliss of Nirvana even in this life.

This is the vedantic path in a nutshell. 

For the entire text of Vivekachudamani click here.

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Q. Could you name some spiritual teachers you respect? Can only a jnani tell if someone else is a true jnani?

lying buddha

 

Q. Hi Tom, who do you think is the best spiritual teacher, or could you name some teachers you respect?

A. There is only One Teacher.

——-

Q. Hi Tom, it’s been said that only a jnani* can tell if someone else is a true jnani. Is this true in your experience?

A. There are no jnanis, only jnana*

——-

*Jnani refers to an enlightened person – the word literally means ‘one who knows’. Jnana literally means knowledge, and in this context means spiritual enlightenment or liberation.

What will never let you down?

Everyone and everything will eventually let you down. Make no mistake about this – it’s just a matter of time. Be sure to understand this.

This is not pessimism but reality. You can then enter into life knowlingly. We can enter into love and engage with life out of understanding rather than ignorance.

Know that everything will eventually let you down. You cannot rely on anyone or anything to give you lasting happiness, so dont expect that from people or things. Anything else leads to suffering.

The only exception is the ever-present Self, which of course is no particular object, yet is non-separate from everything. It is all there is. It is the essence of who you are. It is you.

And luckily its nature is sat-chit-ananda.

Therefore take refuge only in the Self.

Shankara – Vasanas and the nature of liberation

Vasana destruction.jpg

 

Tom: Liberation is total destruction of habitual egoic desires or vasanas. Only then does suffering end and ethical behaviour naturally arise. Only then do the vedic teachings come to fruition.

Vasanas naturally start to fall away once the illusion of a separate limited ‘me’ is seen through, and life becomes correspondingly easier as the freedom of no-self is seen, but just that seeing alone is not the full liberation until the vasanas have completely dropped off. Until then suffering and egoic behaviour will continue despite the realisation of freedom.

Vasana after truth.jpg

Even after the ‘Truth has been realised’, remain as the Self to root out ignorance and vasanas.

Ramana Maharshi: Conscious Immortality

Conscious Immortality Ramana Maharshi

The following is taken from Chapter 14 of Conscious Immortality and is instructive about the path to complete liberation. As often is the case with Ramana’s writings, there is much packed into each phrase. My comments have been interspersed in blue italics, and I pray you find these to be of assistance. If they are not, please feel free to ignore them:

“The Self is like a powerful hidden magnet within us. It draws us gradually to itself, though we imagine we are going to it of our own accord.

We imagine that we are seeking, whereas actually we are being moved by the Self, as is everything else likewise being orchestrated by Oneness. Next the basic teaching is given in concise form:

“When we are near enough, it puts an end to our other activities, makes us still, and then swallows up our own personal current, thus killing our personality. It overwhelms the intellect and over floods the whole being.

The teaching goes like this: first we naturally drop and turn away from outer (egoic) activities as we realise that we no longer need them. Then we become still. Lastly after having been still for some time, our personhood is ‘swallowed up’ by the self. Then all that remains is fullness, the Self. That’s all there ever was.

“We think we are meditating upon it and developing towards it, whereas the truth is that we are as iron filings and it is the Atman-magnet that is pulling us towards itself. Thus the process of finding Self is a form of Divine Magnetism.

Again the notion of personal doership is being undercut here – we are all but puppets of the Lord. We take ourselves to be the orchestrator of our actions, whereas we are His instruments playing His song. So does this mean that we do not have to practice?

It is necessary to practise meditation frequently and regularly until the condition induced becomes habitual and permanent throughout the day. Therefore meditate.

You lost sight of the bliss because your meditative attitude had not become natural and because of the recurrence of vasanas. When you become habitually reflective, the enjoyment of spiritual beatitude becomes a matter of natural experience.

Ramana instructs us to practice meditation regularly, so that the meditative attitude becomes the predominant habitual way of being. How to meditate? This will be explained below:

“It is not by a single realisation that “I am not the body but the Atman” that the goal is reached. Do we become high in position by once seeing a king? One must constantly enter into samadhi and realise one’s Self, and completely blot out the old vasanas and the mind, before it becomes the Self.

Here Ramana makes a central point. It is often mistakenly thought that realising who you are is a one time affair. However here Ramana emphasises that this realisation alone is insufficient for true liberation to dawn. One must time and time again sink into Samadhi and remove the habitual tendencies (vasanas) that cause us to identify as a finite body-mind entity. This simple but essential teaching is often side-stepped by those who would like the fruits of liberation without the need to actually practice and drive out the vasanas/habitual ignorance.

The example that one cannot become a king simply by seeing a king is cited by Ramana. This example is reminiscent of that given in Chapter 7 of Advaita Bodha Deepika, one of Ramana’s favourite texts, where it is repeatedly told that mere knowledge of the king by a beggar does not transform the beggar into a king. Similarly, the jiva is not so easily transformed into the Self, so to speak, by simply knowing of the Self. So, how can the jiva be ‘transformed into the Self’? Ramana will enlighten us:

“If you keep to the thought of the Self, and be intently watching for it then even that one thought which is used as a focus in concentration will disappear and you will BE, the true Self. Meditation on Self is our natural state.

Only because we find it hard do we imagine it to be an arbitrary and extraordinary state. We are all unnatural.

The mind resting in the Self is its natural condition, but instead of that our minds are resting in outward objects. After the expulsion of name and form (nama-rupa) which compose the external world, and by dwelling on existence-knowledge-bliss (sat-chit-ananda), take care to prevent the re-entry into the mind of the expelled name and form.

Here the essence of spiritual practice is given: we are to rest as the self. How to do that? We are to not rest in outward objects, we are to pay no attention to name and form (nama-rupa) and instead dwell on awareness-consciousness-Being-Bliss.

We are to take care not to allow the mind to again shoot outwards into the world and dwell on the forms (that it itself projects).

We are to cultivate thought of this Self, and eventually this thought too will disappear and all that will be left is Self without any trace of jiva or the idea that I am a limited body-mind entity.

 

How does Namaskaram lead to moksha (liberation)?

In response to this post here about how Namaskaram can lead to moksha (liberation), I received the following question:

Q. How does namaskaram cleanse the energy? How will it lead to moksha?

Tom: regular practice of Namaskaram with heartfelt devotion and feeling purifies the mind, transforming rajas (passionate energy) and tamas (dull or negative energy) to sattva (peaceful energy).

Then it sacrifices the ego in the depth of silence so that all that remains is the pristine pure reality.

Om Tat Sat

All praise to me!

Janaka ashtavakra
King Janaka receiving teachings from Sage Ashtavakra
From Chapter 2 of the Ashtavakra Gita, spoken by King Janaka after he has realised the Self:
11. Wonderful am I! Adoration to myself who know no decay and survive even
the destruction of the world, from Brahma down to a clump of grass.
12. Wonderful am I! Adoration to myself who, though with a body, am One,
who neither go anywhere nor come from anywhere but abide pervading the
universe.
13. Wonderful am I! Adoration to myself! There is none so capable as I, who am
bearing the universe for all eternity without touching it with the body.
14. Wonderful am I! Adoration to myself who have nothing or have all that is
thought and spoken of.

False enlightenment

 

diamond

The mere understanding that ‘there is no person’ is not by itself enough. The mere understanding/seeing or knowledge ‘there is no separation’, ‘there is no doer’, ‘there is no separate self’ is by itself not enough.

For suffering to end, the self-referential habitual tendencies (vasanas) which originally arose from the belief in separation, these vasanas must also end. These vasanas are those addictive tendencies which aim to seek fulfillment in experiences and things (ie. in objects).

Seeing ‘there’s nobody here’ is seeing through the illusion of separation. However the functioning of self-referential addictive vasanas may continue due to the deeply established force of habit, and so the suffering resulting from these on the phenomenal level continues.

Once the illusion of (separate) self is seen as an illusion*, one must still remove the vasanas**. How? We are advised simply to ‘be still’.

…one must still remove the vasanas. How? We are advised simple to ‘be still’.

There is an apparent contradiction here, for if the separate self is seen through and seen to be false, then who or what is being still? Well, when the vasanas arise, it is really the sense of/belief in separate self that arises, out of habit, which means that although the individual person has intellectually been seen to be non-existent, it is actually the person who knows this. The person is the ignorance, which means that the ignorance has not been fully rooted out. ie. ignorance is still present.

So, insight (into no-self) having been attained (in the mind), now we are advised to be still in order to purify our minds of the vasanas. Shankara famously wrote: vasana kshaya moksham, which means ‘destruction of the vasanas is Moksha (liberation).’

Ask yourself:

-Can the ego make the ego still?
-Can thought still thought?
-Can we become effortless through effort?

The answer is no. Knowing this, be still.

Allow what comes to come, allow what goes to go. See there is nobody here. As the vasanas/ego/sense of ‘me’ arise, allow them to fall again.

Be still.

Note that being still is not doing something. It is not trying hard to be still – that is just more effort. Rather ‘be still’ means not adding to this, or rather to stop seeking and grasping, letting things be as they are, no longer looking for fulfillment in objects.

Being still is not doing something

The above reasoning and this last sadhana (spiritual practice) of stillness is beautifully expressed in the classic Advaita text Advaita Bodha Deepika, which was recommended by Ramana Maharshi as a manual for Advaita. The text takes the seeker through all aspects of the path. see here for a short excerpt:

The Ultimate means to liberation

Similarly in Buddhism and Zen we see the same teachings. See here for an example:

Zen: The sure way to enlightenment

*traditionally the Vedanta path is threefold. Firstly the teachings are heard (sravana), then they are comtemplated upon (manana) and their truth is realised/ignorance is removed. Then lastly the vasanas or habitual tendencies which originally arose due to ignorance are purified (nididhyasana).

**Many people stop after manana, once the truth has been understood and realised (in the intellect). The scriptures warn us that whilst this realisation can bring great peace and relief, and can be mistaken for full realisation/enlightenment, this is not the end of the journey, for the belief in a jiva/limited entity is still intact. Even without trusting the scriptures, by simply being aware of and open to what is happening, it can be seen that unless the addictive self-referential vasanas are allowed to arise in stillness, then without being taken up and acted on, allowed to then dissolve and die, the self-created suffering and self-centred (potentially destructive) behaviours on the phenomenal experiential level continue. Being still is simply a natural way of allowing the ignorance-based conditioning to naturally arise and fall away of its own accord.