Defining duality (the dualistic paradigm)
Duality, in the context of the spiritual search, implies the existence of a separate ‘me-entity’, which we could call the seeker. And the seeker, is seeking something, a goal of some kind, which we could call Enlightenment or Liberation. So here are the two principle elements of the dualistic paradigm, a seeker and a goal to be reached.
The seeker (or subject)
The seeker can go by various names, such as the separate self, false self, ego, egotism, the ‘me’, being a ‘person’, the doer, the body-mind entity, being a mortal, and so on, but all these terms refer to the same essential seemingly separate seeker-entity.
The sought (or object/goal)
Similarly the goal being sought goes by various names such as Enlightenment, Liberation, Nirvana, God, Spirit, Brahman, Self, Awakening, and so on. Now of course the the specifics of the imagined/projected goal differs depending on one’s conditioning and experiences, but for the purposes of outlining the principles of duality in the spiritual search, we can leave it at this rather than explore all the various notions of Enlightenment.
The seeking (or path/process/method)
These two basic elements of duality, the seeker and the sought, imply a third entity, namely a path to be traversed, a method or system of spiritual enlightenment. So we now have three basic elements of the dualistic paradigm: the seeker, the method/path of seeking, and the sought.
Dyads and triads
In vedanta, the two basic elements of duality are sometimes known as dyads (ie. subject-object duality), and the three elements are called triads (ie. subject-process-object eg. knower, knowing, known). Sri Ramana Maharshi in his short text ‘Reality in Forty Verses’ (Ulladu Narpadu in Tamil) wrote in verse 9 ‘Dyads and triads depend upon one thing: the ego…’)
What about non-duality?
What about non-duality? Well non-dual expressions or teachings point out that these dyads and triads are all in fact fictions. There is no seeker or sought, or you could say there is only the seeker (eg. ‘all this is Self’, Self essentially meaning ‘me’, or ‘You are That’), or there is only the sought (eg. there is only Liberation, Liberation being the goal being sought), or you could equate the seeker with the sought (eg. I am Brahman, My nature is the Buddha nature). In all the above cases, the idea is that the dualistic paradigm, as outlined above, is a total fiction.
Deconstructing the (false) dualistic-paradigm
Now, if you look at the above paragraph, you can see several related methodologies emerging, all of which work slightly differently to produce the same end results of deconstructing the (false) dualistic conceptual paradigm:
1) Denial of the seeker/sought or subject/object duality
2) Resolving/merging all into the seeker/subject
3) Resolving/merging all into that which is sought/the goal. This is another way of stating that the goal one is seeking is already fully here and already one with everything.
4) Equating the seeker/subject with the sought/goal
In the methodological path of Vedanta, we can see all these methods in operation. Here are some examples:
1) ‘There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practicing disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.’ We find this verse repeated in the Upanishads (Amritabindu Upanishad 2.31 and Atma Upanishad 2.31) and it is also repeated by Gaudapada (Mandukya Karika 2.32) and Shankara (Vivekachudamani verse 574) in their writings.
2) In Vivekachudamani, verse 356, Shankara writes: 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 self, ie. merged everything into the subject], the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.
3) ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma’ is a vedic mahavakya (great saying) taken from the Chandogya Upanishad (verse 3.14.1) which means ‘All of this is Brahman’, Brahman being the goal being sought.
4) ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ is another mahavakya, this time from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (verse 1.14.10) which means ‘I (the subject) am Brahman (the goal sought)’.
In other teachings, we see one or more of these methods of deconstruction of the dualistic paradigm, but we can also see that some teachings focus in on only one of the 4 above methods. eg. some teachings focus on stating there is no limited entity (1) or all this is already perfectly liberated and nothing needs to be done (3). You see, any single method, taken all the way to its logical end, reaches the same goal, and the teachings themselves self-deconstruct. Only the words used differ.
Why do and must the teachings eventually self-deconstruct? Because they too are part of the dualistic paradigm, the paradigm that presupposes a seeker-seeking-sought triad or seeker-sought dyad.
Doctrines and dogma
However, if the teachings are not taken to their final end, in which they eventually self-deconstruct, then the seeker may be left with a belief such as ‘there is no seeker’. We can term these beliefs dogma or doctrines. They are concepts mimicking a genuine ‘direct realisation of non-duality’. One person may believe ‘I am everything’ while another person believes ‘there is nobody here’. One person may believe there is no path, no seeker, no enlightenment, while another may state the only way is to merge all phenomenal objects into the Self-Subject. Now, armed with merely superficial concepts, we can argue about which of these doctrines or dogmas is true. Now we have a group of various false selves, all caught up within the (fictional) dualistic paradigm.
Such are the various traps of conceptual teachings when the teaching itself is not realised to be within the dualistic paradigm. Clinging to the words without the genuine realisation they point to means that the menu becomes more important than the meal.
A truly non-dual teaching?
So we can see that ALL teachings are dualistic, even the so-called non-teachings, and ALL teachings utilize fictions, at least initially, and your favourite non-dual teaching is no exception!
It’s just a matter of degree: some teachings are far less dualistic than others and point the way out directly and efficiently, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are better teachings, whereas others take a different route, which actually may be more helpful than the more direct teachings at certain points on the journey.
-Pointing out teachings or descriptions of what-is and teaching of any kind all imply duality. What is being pointed out (subject), and to whom (object)? Non-duality doesn’t need a teaching.
-To compare different teachings to each other is dualistic.
-To call one teaching truly non-dual and another dualistic is itself dualistic and relativistic, obviously.
Not that there is anything wrong with apparent duality!
So either ALL teachings/expressions/non-teachings are dualistic….or alternatively one could say that ALL teachings are essentially non-dualistic, as non-duality is all there ‘is’!
To have it any other way would be dualistic, and duality is a fiction!
Another way of putting is that there are not really lots of different teachers and teachings at all – although that is how it may appear from within the fictional dualistic paradigm – there is only Oneness Being ❤
I received this question following this post: https://tomdas.com/2018/09/06/shankara-vasanas-and-the-nature-of-liberation/
Thank you for your wonderful posts, and teachings. I came across your work several months ago via BATGAP, and I quite enjoy them. I’ve also watched your satsangs with Roger Castillo – I’ve found both of your teachings very helpful.
I find this post very poignant for a question I have…
I have a question on desirelessness (which is a term that has been repeated in your posts, but without definition or description):
In some traditions, there is an emphasis on not being attached to any desires. In my experience, when cravings arise – it is apparent that the craving itself is the suffering. Yet it is just what is arising in the moment.
Assuming that “Truth” has been realized, both experientially as Awareness, and ‘seeing’ through that there is no ‘doer’ nor ‘self’ of any action… yet cravings still arise, and the only thing that seems sensible is a constant letting go, without feeding the desire/craving. Is there anything else that I’m missing?
Also, more importantly, how do you differentiate between the desires between, for example, being a father or husband and providing for yourself and your family, and say, the desire for worldly possessions, having physical relationship with a partner, attending to desires of others, etc.
What makes one ‘desire’ more worthwhile, wholesome, or ethical or than another? This seems dependent on cultural and social contexts.
Thank you kindly,
I’m glad you have found benefit in ‘my’ words. I have ended up writing a fairly long answer, so I have concentrated on the first part of your question. (I have partly discussed the second part of your question on desires here). In fact I have been meaning to write something on this topic for a couple of years now, but for some reason it has never happened, so thank you for your question.
There are several ways by which one can resolve one’s apparent vasanas (apparent, because they are a part of what appears).
The exact method varies from person to person, and essentially involves letting go and knowing that they do not fundamentally affect you or affect Freedom.
Another method involves entering into a deep meditative state, known as samadhi, which is an especially good way of purification.
Other methods may involve therapies, such as psychological therapies, physical techniques such as yoga, etc.
The exact method varies from person to person, depending on how strong the vasanas are, and what the energy of the vasana is.
The three energies (gunas)
There is a school of ‘Hinduism’ called Sankya, which is a yogic school, and it classifies the energies into three basic types. These are known as the three gunas. This teaching was later incorporated into other schools such as vedanta and taught in scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita. Despite its apparent overly simple nature – there are only three energies – this classification can be incredibly useful for the seeker – do not underestimate it!
This classification can be incredibly useful for the seeker – do not underestimate it!
The three energies/gunas are:
1. Tamas (dull/negative)
2. Rajas (passionate/active)
3. Sattva (peaceful/intelligent)
1. If your energy is predominantly tamasic, you will, generally, feel negative, tired, and low. Your motivation and energy levels may be low, you may be lazy and lack direction. You may find it hard to understand things clearly, be confused, and lack clear On the positive side of tamasic energy, you may find it easier to rest, relax and sleep. Tamas is the lowest of the three energies.
2. If your energy is predominantly rajasic, then you will tend to be more active, eg. constantly doing things and achieving things, be much quicker at thinking, but you may perhaps have too many thoughts. (2a) On the positive side of rajasic energy you may achieve many things and do much good in your environment, whatever that may be. You may be dynamic, social, extroverted and a ‘mover and shaker’. (2b) On the negative side of rajasic energy, there can be much anxiety and stress, your mind may become exhausted from-over thinking, and your body may be exhausted too. You may find it difficult to find peace of mind, rest, calm and contentment. Rajas is the second lowest of the three energies.
3. If your energy is predominantly sattvic, then your mind is happy and calm, not low in energy, but not phrenetic like rajas. The mind is calm and clear, and gives rise to seeing things clearly, with less bias. Both tamasic and rajasic energies distort perceptions, which in turn leads to poor judgement and greater suffering, but sattva is pure, clear, harmonious and intelligent. Sattva is the highest of the three energies.
What does this have to do with spiritual practice, you may ask? Well, knowing what energy predominates can help you understand what spiritual practice you need and vastly speed up your spiritual journey. It can also help you understand why different people are attracted to different paths at different times, and accordingly help you be more open and compassionate towards others on their path, as well as be more open and understanding towards other spiritual paths in general.
A ‘sixth sense’
When you become experienced with these energies, you start to develop a ‘sixth sense’ about people and start to be able to sense where people are spiritually and start to become more intuitive about people’s spiritual needs.
…you start to develop a ‘sixth sense’ about people and start to be able to sense where people are spiritually
For me personally, I usually can very quickly get an energetic sense where a seeker is and what they need. This allows me to guide them in a way that can bypass years of worthless seeking – that’s the hope at least. Sometimes I don’t always get it completely right, but then an open dialogue with the seekers allows this to be quickly corrected.
This same intuitive sense deepens further with a fuller realisation and allows one to sense energetically where another teaching is coming from. Sometimes teachers have all the right words and say all the correct ‘nondual concepts’, but energetically they are overly tamasic or rajasic and are suffering accordingly. Similarly, one can also come across someone who outwardly does not seem to have any understanding of non-duality, at least verbally or conceptually that is, but you can sense that ‘sweet aroma of Freedom’ and Sattva (which are not the same thing) in which they are bathing.
Of course, all this is within the dream/illusory appearance.
The basic path of purification
Whilst most people will have some of all three energies present, one tends to predominate. See if you can honestly figure out which one is you.
The path goes like this:
From tamas, to rajas, then to sattva.
What this means is that if you are tamasic, you, generally speaking, have to make yourself rajasic first, before you can become sattvic. However, if you are predominantly rajasic, you can in general go straight to sattva. This has huge implications in terms of your spiritual practice, and understanding this can dramatically speed up your journey towards peace, joy and love. Allow me to explain.
From Tamas to Rajas
If you are predominantly tamasic, then you need to generally perform practices that make you feel good. In essence, you currently feel negative/bad/sad, so the practices that tend to be right for you are the ones that will make you feel positive/good/happy. Not only this, but these will tend to be the activities that you will be naturally drawn towards anyway, unless you are very tamasic in which case you may not be drawn to anything at all. In these situations it may be good to speak to an expert or specialist who can guide you further in these matters.
If you are tamasic and you try to do peaceful/sattvic practices such as meditation, mindfulness and resting as consciousness/’just being’, then what tends to happen is that you are left alone with your negative tamasic energy and this just drags you down. You end up not feeling too good and perhaps become one of those people that ‘meditation doesn’t work for’. You may also start to blame yourself or not understand why your meditation practice is not progressing for you, when it may seem to be for others. It is because you are tamasic and you need to convert tamas to rajas first before you can drop back down into sattva.
So the key aspect of spiritual practice for those who are tamasic is to do something that makes you feel happy and well. This often means doing something energising. This part of the spiritual journey can be characterised by the slogan ‘follow your bliss’, and as long as you are acting ethically and compassionately towards others and the world, you can take this up as your maxim during this stage in the journey.
This part of the spiritual journey can be characterised by the slogan ‘follow your bliss’
This part of the journey, ie. from tamas to rajas, is also the part of the path that contains the largest variety of activities/practices. It can range from evangelical Christianity to extreme mountain biking, from dynamic dance to primal scream therapy (not that I am advocating any of these!). Often people are at some point drawn to groups in order to gain acceptance and love from others. This is to heal tamasic energy and a negative self-concept/low self-esteem. I have personally found positive affirmations such as ‘I am worthy, I love myself, I am wonderful’ etc, to be especially useful to combat a negative self-concept that is often present in tamas.
If you are tamasic and if you are interested in spirituality, you will likely be drawn to something energising and uplifting (ie. rajasic). Try to find something that your heart wants to do, rather than what your head says you should do. Try also to find the activity that is most wholesome – ie. that is most good for you, your body and for others, with least risks to your body and to others.
Rajasic practices may often be characterised by activity, energy, sound, colour, imagery, positivity, friendliness, focus on groups and building positive relationships, a focus on love, building self-esteem and building positive self-concept. Notions of a personal God and interactions with that God such as worship, prayer and devotion also have more importance in theistic rajasic practices. There may also be a role for ritual, pomp and ceremony.
You can probably think of some spiritual groups that belong to this category. This is in contrast to groups and practices that are more sattvic, which I will discuss in the next section. Here outward appearances, activity, colour and ritual, are less important and may even get in the way. Similarly there may be little focus on positivity, love, social groups and building a positive self-concept. Notions of a personal God may give rise to a non-personal God, or no concept of God at all.
From Rajas to Sattva
Once you are predominantly rajasic, or if you are already predominantly rajasic, then you will tend to naturally be drawn to either more rajasic pursuits, which means that there is still underlying tamas that needs to be ‘burnt away’ with the ‘flame of rajas’, or you will start to tire of rajas, with the anxiety, exhaustion and ultimately emptiness and dissatisfaction, and you will naturally start to seek calmer or more sattvic pursuits.
You may start to prefer country walks, meditation and mindfulness in place of late night drugs and dancing (just an example!). You may feel like you now prefer a slower hatha yoga practice rather than your usual power-yoga routine. Your inclinations towards devotional practice may start to drop off as you descend towards ‘worship through being still‘.
Whereas before you were trying to become happier and improve your self-concept, now you are more inclined to letting go of self-identity/self-concept and rather than looking for pleasure, you are more inclined towards peace, balance and harmony (ie. sattva).
The Sattvic mind
Here we are approaching the goal of spiritual practice – for the mind to become still, or sattvic. It is in a sattvic mind that the non-dual teachings are most able to hit home and deliver the realisation of freedom, which is the end of the ego-belief, together with its ego tendencies (vasanas).
Why do some people get it whilst others do not? Well, it is the grace of God, but also sattva. It is said that Sattva allows the grace of God to manifest, it is the quiet sattvic mind that is most receptive to Grace, no longer being (seemingly) covered by the dull veiling energy of tamas or being (seemingly) distorted by the passionate projecting energy of rajas.
The same goes for after awakening. It is the sattvic mind in which the egoic tendencies become fewer and fewer and suffering accordingly lessens and happiness accordingly arises within the phenomenal appearance.
The culmination of the sattvic mind is samadhi, where the mind becomes very calm and notions of self and other disappear, usually temporarily. Samashi can be meditative and episodic (eg. nirvikalpa samadhi) or it can be permanent and natural during the waking state (sahaja samadhi). Sahaja samadhi is equivalent to total liberation in which the egoic vasanas have dissolved into the Self.
Why some people may be offended by non-duality
People who are tamasic or those who are rajasic but still have outstanding tamas that needs to be burnt off – these people are often deeply affronted and perhaps even deeply offended by non-dual teachings which under-cut the importance and notions of self and free-will.
Some people are metaphorically hanging by a thread onto this life, struggling to gain some kind of control and positivity, and these teachings are just too much as they seem to be taking away their perceived method to drag themselves out of tamas toward their idealistic utopian goal of ‘rajas forever’ (everlasting socialising, excitement, pleasure, fun, worldy pursuits, the rajasic ‘Holywood’ dream).
In extreme cases, a very tamasic person or organisation may react violently to non-dual teachings for this very reason.
Their strategies to gain control, power and happiness are dependent on notions of separate-self. As non-dual teachings take away their only perceived method of escape, it is unsurprising that they find such notions offensive as it is a direct threat to their often subconscious hopes of happiness and liberation. In extreme cases, a very tamasic person or organisation may react violently to non-dual teachings for this very reason.
Pulling the rug out from under the ego
In my article Roadmap to enlightenment: a (fairly) comprehensive guide to spiritual practices I discuss the inter-relationship between insight and purification and liberation, so I won’t go into that here – please see that article for more information on this, but I would like to comment on one thing I often see in people who attend my meetings or who contact me for 1 to 1 meetings. It’s when the ego has the rug pulled out from underneath it but it still trying to regain its balance, tottering from left to right, sometimes disorientated, sometimes overwhelmed, lacking stability – in short – suffering.
This occurs when the mind is exposed to non-dual insight/knowledge teachings, ie. the radical teachings on no-self/no-person/no-free will, before the mind has achieved a degree of sattva and stability. When this happens, freedom is seen but the mind’s tendencies are now unleashed as if the ‘foot has been taken off the brake’. All the pre-existing egoic tendencies, previously held in check somewhat by notions of the ego, are now left to roam free, sometimes with riotous consequences.
Now, in a fundamental sense there is no problem in this, but from the point of view of the ego, which is still actually functioning out of habit (ie. the vasanas are still at play), this is quite troubling and can be very tumultous. It can lead to much suffering – both for the seeker and for those around them.
If the ego-mind is stable and sattvic with a health positive self-concept prior to being exposed to the radical non-dual teachings, when the teachings are seen, the sattvic qualities are naturally allowed to express themselves, namely love, peace, happiness, compassion, intelligence, clear thinking, clear seeing.
This was in essence what happened to me. I was lucky in that I had unwittingly spent many years purifying my mind through a combination of spiritual practices from a young age, readings spiritual books, being in a loving relationship and various forms of self-help to name a few factors. Awakening for me was not a difficult or tumultuous process. In retrospect I can see this was the case as my mind was already for the most part sattvic. The awakening was peaceful and gradual, permeated by love and light, so gradual I did not even realise it was happening. It was only when I started sharing this teaching with others that I realised how difficult the awakening process can sometimes be, when I saw how it affected others. Because I had read and studied traditional texts that spoke about about the energies whilst I was seeking, I was able to utilise these teachings for the benefit of those who came to me and my meetings.
If the mind is riddled with tamasic and rajasic energy, addictive vasanas and a negative self-concept, these aspects of the mind can flourish. Depending on the vasanas present, this can sometime cause much suffering. It can result in family/relationship problems, divorce, panic attacks and career and financial issues. Unconscious psychological insecurities that were not previously known can all surface at once leading to a crisis of confidence, disorientation and feeling overwhelmed. Tamasic impulses can increase, rajasic tendencies can increase, addictive tendencies can increase.
The general advice here is to not worry, remain calm and at peace, something that is easier to do if a degree of sattva has already been cultivated and most of the rajasic and tamasic energies have already been somewhat subdued. In time, these vasanas (tendencies) will naturally express themselves. If they are allowed to rise up, be experienced and felt (ie. not suppressed) without acting them out, then they will naturally purify themselves in time and the balance of sattva will naturally arise. However, if the vasanas are indulged in, then they may continue indefinitely, and the freedom-realisation may even be lost (apparently). Just knowing this information can make a huge difference (apparently).
It is for this very reason that most traditional approaches stress a period of purification prior to being introduced to the ‘higher’ non-dual teachings. Shankara often advised that seekers purify themselves with devotion to God and developing certain qualities prior to reading/listening to the higher teachings of Vedanta.
But what seeking ego wants to wait? And why should it, right! Most teachings are no longer guarded behind the secret screens of a religious patriarchy and are freely available on YouTube and Facebook, something which is largely good as far as I can see, but it is useful to be aware of the downsides and potential negative consequences.
Abuse, Crazy Wisdom and Asshole teachers
Teachings/teachers which do not stress purification prior to or after awakening tend to be the ones in which you get the abuse scandals and the crazy-wisdom teachings in the worst cases. In better cases the teacher may just be a bit of an asshole at times, which is not the worst thing in the world, and to be honest, who isn’t an asshole at times? We are all human, after all (apparently), but it is a matter of degrees. With sattva, the chances of being rude, ignorant, abrasive and uncompassionate vastly decreases, but of course can occur from time to time, usually without the teacher intending to be offensive. When tamas and rajas predominate in a teacher, the distortion will be apparent in the teaching and its energy, and the teacher will likely act out their egoic vasanas from time to time and cause suffering to themselves and others accordingly.
You can often sense the energy of a particular teaching from energy the group of long-term seekers who are keyed into that particular teaching. Some teachers attract tamasic seekers, others attract rajasic ones, and others sattvic ones. Of course it doesn’t always work exactly like this – these are just general rules.
Take in these teachings, and see if they are true for you.
These teachings are not meant to be judgemental
Please note that these teachings are not meant to be judgemental in any way. Things are the way they are, everything has its place (apparently) and appearances not-withstanding, things generally work out in the end.
The teachings are meant to give one a framework within which one can orientate oneself towards becoming happier and more at peace. We all (the body-mind, that is) have different characteristics: some are tall, others short, some are more physically-abled, others less so, some have had opportunity and wealth, others grew up in poverty amidst domination and authoritarianism. Each of these brings certain strengths and weaknesses to our character and skill set.
The same with our gunas. We are all dealt a unique ‘hand of cards’. Clearly seeing what we have been dealt with in life, acknowledging it, and then learning how we can make the most of where we are is what this teaching is all about. It is about providing tools for the ego to enable it to wade through illusion in a way that reduces unnecessary suffering and most effectively leads to realisation of what already is.
As I said, these teachings are just a guide. There are likely to be exceptions that do no follow the rules. Please let me know if they have been useful for you, or if there is anything I have glossed over or got wrong. I hope they are of benefit.
Wishing you peace, clear-seeing and love
Q. Tom, I appreciate this essay very much. I once got into quite an intense discussion with my Vēdānta teacher over this topic. We had just completed Panchadasi. The need for Silence (Samadhi) in conjunction with Self Inquiry was quite explicit in the text. And as you mention the Upanishads state the same.
I do have a question for you. In Vivekachudamani, Shankara makes contradictory statements about attainment. On one hand he extols the importance of meditation and knowledge. And then he seems to negate them. “Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realization of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.” (verse 56).
Krsna in Gita specifically says one can attain self realization by either approaches. (I understand that self realization, by some definitions is but a stage on the way to Unity.) This might be another conversation.
Is not realization of Brahman the final result of Yoga and Knowledge? If we understand Yoga to be Samadhi, which purifies deep rooted vasanas resulting in calmness. And Knowledge arrived at, on one hand, through direct experience in meditation and on the hand through scriptural study, finally resulting in discrimination between self and non self…
Then further on he extols Niddhyasana (long unbroken meditation/Nirvakalpa Samadhi) as the last step after hearing and contemplating the teachings. Patanjali defines Samadhi as Yoga. So Yoga seems to enter the picture again.
How do we reconcile these apparent contradictions?
Tom: Hi, this is a great question and thankfully is easily resolved in the context of the text Vivekachudamani.
Some modern Vedanta teachers insist that in Vedanta words are used in a very precise way, but for anyone who has read the scriptures in Sanskrit for themselves, nothing could be further from the truth. In the original Sanskrit language, the same words are used in a variety of different ways depending on the context, and it is up to the reader to discern this. eg. words such as Atman, Jnana, etc are used in a variety of ways, and traditional commentaries such as Shankara’s commentaries acknowledge this too.
It is usually quite easy to discern the meaning of the words you when you look at the context – usually this simply means to look at the verses either side of the verse in question. In most Vedanta texts, as with most texts in general, a single point is often made across a series of thematically related verses (or sentences). In Vedanta texts, the beginning and end of a section is not clearly marked, but they are easy to spot if you are looking for them:
Now with this in mind, lets look at Vivekachudamani verse 56, which you raise:
56. Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realisation of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.
Firstly, note the preceding verses that are in this section, starting at verse 51:
51. A father has got his sons and others to free him from his debts, but he has got none but himself to remove his bondage.
52. Trouble such as that caused by a load on the head can be removed by others, but none but one’s own self can put a stop to the pain which is caused by hunger and the like.
53. The patient who takes (the proper) diet and medicine is alone seen to recover completely – not through work done by others.
54. The true nature of things is to be known personally, through the eye of clear illumination, and not through a sage: what the moon exactly is, is to be known with one’s own eyes; can others make him know it?
55. Who but one’s own self can get rid of the bondage caused by the fetters of Ignorance, desire, action and the like, aye even in a hundred crore of cycles?
The theme is clearly that one has to do the work for oneself in order to attain liberation, and that no other, sage or otherwise, can do this work for you.
Now lets look at the verses that follow verse 56 in the same section:
57. The beauty of a guitar’s form and the skill of playing on its chords serve merely to please a few persons; they do not suffice to confer sovereignty.
58. Loud speech consisting of a shower of words, the skill in expounding the Scriptures, and likewise erudition – these merely bring on a little personal enjoyment to the scholar, but are no good for Liberation.
59. The study of the Scriptures is useless so long as the highest Truth is unknown, and it is equally useless when the highest Truth has already been known.
60. The Scriptures consisting of many words are a dense forest which merely causes the mind to ramble. Hence men of wisdom should earnestly set about knowing the true nature of the Self.
61. For one who has been bitten by the serpent of Ignorance, the only remedy is the knowledge of Brahman. Of what avail are the Vedas and (other) Scriptures, Mantras (sacred formulae) and medicines to such a one?
62. A disease does not leave off if one simply utter the name of the medicine, without taking it; (similarly) without direct realisation one cannot be liberated by the mere utterance of the word Brahman.
63. Without causing the objective universe to vanish and without knowing the truth of the Self, how is one to achieve Liberation by the mere utterance of the word Brahman? — It would result merely in an effort of speech.
64. Without killing one’s enemies, and possessing oneself of the splendour of the entire surrounding region, one cannot claim to be an emperor by merely saying, ‘I am an emperor’.
65. As a treasure hidden underground requires (for its extraction) competent instruction, excavation, the removal of stones and other such things lying above it and (finally) grasping, but never comes out by being (merely) called out by name, so the transparent Truth of the self, which is hidden by Maya and its effects, is to be attained through the instructions of a knower of Brahman, followed by reflection, meditation and so forth, but not through perverted arguments.
66. Therefore the wise should, as in the case of disease and the like, personally strive by all the means in their power to be free from the bondage of repeated births and deaths.
The theme here is a warning against superficial teachings and the lack of true spiritual practice. This is a warning about teachings that do not recommend meditation and deep spiritual practice and a warning against teachings of no-effort, such as what is sometimes nowaday called neo-advaita. Let us see:
Merely repeating the words (verse 58) and intellectual study of the scriptures (verses 59-61) is not enough. Just proclaiming ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am That’ (verse 62 and 64) is not enough. We have not only to read the teachings but put them into practice (‘take the medicine’ cf. verse 62).
Verse 63 lays it out more clearly – what is the practice we have to do? What is the medicine we have to not only read about but actually swallow? We have to efface the body, mind and world and enter into Samadhi (’cause the objective world to vanish’).
This is emphasised in verse 65 where Shankara once again recommends the path of sravana – hearing the teachings, manana – reflecting upon the teachings and nididhyasana – meditation as described in verse 63.
Verse 66 then encourages the seeker to make effort to strive along this path, and not to fall short, not to follow paths that are mere verbal talk without ‘causing the objective world to vanish’ (verse 63).
So in conclusion, it is clear, from the context, that Shankara is admonishing superficial teachings only, and not the true path that he subsequently goes on to explain and recommend.
Lastly, let us look to someone who always preached the true Vedantic teachings, from their heart, but also as found in the scriptures, our Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. What does he write in ‘Who am I?’, questions 4 and 5?
Question 4. 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.
Question 5. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
Ramana Maharshi: There will not be.
Here are 3 stories for you:
One morning God wakes up. She realises, non-verbally, intuitively, that she is whole-complete and lives happily ever after.
One morning God wakes up. God thinks he is small, separate and vulnerable. This leads him to fear for his survival and desire security and relief from his fear (pleasure).
He meets a friend of his called Spiritual Seeker. Spiritual Seeker tells him to visit Guru.
God visits Guru and Guru says all is well, you are already whole and complete. Separation and the ‘small me’ are illusions.
God resonates with this teaching, intuitively sees what is being pointed at is already the present-reality, and the sense of inadequacy associated with the belief in separation dissolves. God realises that the separation between God, Guru and Life are themselves illusory. There is no teacher or teaching.
He lives happily ever after
It is the same as story 2, except for the last line:
Once God’s meeting with Guru ends, due to the force of the momentum of past beliefs which have been so deeply ingrained over a lifetime, God quickly starts to re-believe that she is a separate ‘me’.
Every time she meets Guru, the ‘me’ temporarily collapses and great relief is experienced, but after sometime the false beliefs keep on rising up. The belief in the false me seems to have a mind of its own, rising up choicelessly, seemingly wreaking havoc and destruction.
Guru gives God some practices for her to do: chanting, devotion, meditation, being still, letting go, relaxing, mindfulness. Guru says pretend everything is an illusion, pretend everything is consciousness, pretend everything is God, have gratitude for everything that comes your way. Be still. Follow your heart and let your heart guide you Home, to Love and Peace.
Over time God’s mind becomes peaceful, happier and less interested in and addicted to thoughts and beliefs. The habitual tendency to believe in a ‘me’ is lessened.
Guru has also all the time has been saying all is well, you are already whole and complete. Separation and the ‘small me’ are illusions.
Now when God is away from Guru, the old beliefs in ‘me’ no longer arise. God sees that all practices are for the illusory ‘me’ and they perpetuate the illusory ‘me’, but they were still part of her apparent journey.
The sense of inadequacy associated with the belief in separation dissolves. God realises that the separation between God, Guru and Life are themselves illusory. There is no teacher or teaching.
She lives happily ever after.