At the end of his book ‘The Salient Features of Sankara’s Vedanta’ (see link to download PDF below), Swami Satchitanandendra Saraswati (SSS) lists the key features of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta.
Among them is the notion that liberation can result from either hearing the teachings (Sravana), reflecting upon the teachings (Manana) or meditating upon the teachings (Nididhyasana), depending on the maturity and fitness of the aspirant (we can see Sri Ramana Maharshi give the same teachings here). Not realising this, SSS notes that various commentators either say that sravana alone is the only way or that nididhyasana alone is the only way.
SSS then goes on to state that the way that these methods lead to liberation is by turning the mind inwards towards the Subject-Self (Atman).
Let us see what SSS writes on page 82:
6. Sravana (study of sacred revelation), Manana (reflective thinking) and Nididhyasana (concentrated contemplation), are all means for realizing Atman. Highly developed souls, however, who can immediately grasp the true meaning of the Vedic teaching, do not stand in need of any additional effort.
Not taking this principle into account is responsible for the divergence of opinion among commentators of Sankara Bhashya about the relation of Sravana and Nididhyasana. Of these, some assert that Sravana is the principal means and the other two are only ancillary to it; while others insist that nididhyasana is the one means to direct realization and without it mere Sravana would be of no avail.
7. Sravana and the other means are enjoined only so far as they turn the seeker inwards and direct him to stay his mind on Atman, but the resultant knowledge is no object of any injunction.
Tom: We can see that the purpose of Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana are to turn the mind inwards, towards the Subject-Self (Atman), and that the resultant ‘Knowledge’ is not a result of any action or practice, but a synonym for the One Eternal Infinite Blissful Self that is ever-attained, ie. Liberation.
Please see herefor Sri Ramana’s teachings on this same topic.
Tom: Traditionally Sravana refers to hearing the teaching.Manana refers to reflecting upon and thinking about the teaching which has been heard.Nididhyasana refers to prolonged meditation upon the Self, which culminates in Samadhi, which then leads to Moksha (Liberation).
The knot of the ignorance in the heart is broken completely only when one sees his Self as secondless through Nirvikalpa Samadhi
~Adhyatama Upanishad 1.17
Here is a quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk no. 249 – all writing below in black type is from Sri Ramana, with my comments being in red:
The effects of sravana may be immediate and the disciple realises the truth all at once. This can happen only for the well-advanced disciple.
[Tom: later Sri Ramana explains that this means that the advanced/ripe seeker immediately goes into Samadhi, which is the same as abiding as the Self, as soon as the teaching is heard]
Otherwise, the disciple feels that he is unable to realise the truth, even after repeatedly hearing it. What is it due to? Impurities in his mind: ignorance, doubt and wrong identity are the obstacles to be removed.
(a) To remove ignorance completely, he has to hear the truth repeatedly, until his knowledge of the subject-matter becomes perfect
(b) to remove doubts, he must reflect on what he has heard; ultimately his knowledge will be free from doubts of any kind;
(c) to remove the wrong identity of the Self with the non-self (such as the body, the senses, the mind or the intellect) his mind must become one-pointed. All these things accomplished, the obstacles are at an end and samadhi results, that is, Peace reigns.
Some say that one should never cease to engage in hearing, reflection and one-pointedness. These are not fulfilled by reading books, but only by continued practice to keep the mind withdrawn.
The aspirant may be kritopasaka or akritopasaka. The former is fit to realise the Self, even with the slightest stimulus: only some little doubt stands in his way, it is easily removed if he hears the truth once from the Master. Immediately he gains the samadhi state. [Tom: Sri Ramana is stating that by listening alone, or by some other minimal stimulus, the ripe seeker spontaneously goes into samadhi without the need for the intermediary steps of reflecting upon the teachings or meditating upon them.] It is presumed that he had already completed sravana, reflection, etc. in previous births, they are no more necessary for him.
For the other all these aids are necessary; for him doubts crop up even after repeated hearing; therefore he must not give up aids until he gains the samadhi state. Sravana removes the illusion of the Self being one with the body, etc. Reflection makes it clear that Knowledge is Self. One-pointedness reveals the Self as being Infinite and Blissful.
Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji (SSS, 1880-1975), was a vedic scholar who devoted much of his life to studying the works of Shankara (c. 7th century BCE), the great reformer of Advaita Vedanta. SSS came to the conclusion that many of the texts that are ordinarily attributed to Shankara are not genuine works of Shankara, and that the truly genuine works of Shankara are essentially the commentaries he wrote on the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Brahma sutras and a non-commentarial text called Upadesa Sahasri. Whilst this view remains a controversial minority view, and personally I am not convined by the evidence brought forth, many are increasingly subscribing to it.
However, of those who do follow SSS’s teachings, I have noticed some have not actually read his teachings thoroughly, especially on what he says about Nididhyasana, or Vedantic Meditation.
The first thing to notice is that SSS states that Nididhyasana is the same as Dhyana Yoga as described in Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita, and Mano-nigraha Yoga as described in Gaudapada’s Karika, and is also called Adhyatma Yoga:
Adhyatma Yoga by SSS p. 9:
‘This Adhyatma Yoga is called as ‘Nidhidhyasana’ and in the sixth chapter of the Gita this Nidhidhyasana is described as ‘Dhyana Yoga’. The complete sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita reveals the process of this Dhyana Yoga with its accessories. In this very Bhagavad Gita in the following contexts also this Dhyana Yoga or Adhyatma Yoga is prescribed: 13-24, 18-52. The same Adhyatma Yoga is also called as ‘Manoni-graha Yoga’ by Gaudapada in his Mandukya Karikas from 3.41 to 3.48. So in all these places the practice of Adhyatma Yoga, its accessories, the obstacles during the practice and the removal of the obstacles are described.’
The second thing to notice is that according to SSS this Nididhyasana (or Adhyatma Yoga) is a means to Self-Realisation.
The Theory of Vedanta by SSS, p. 153:
‘In addition to Karma and Upasana, there is a kind of concentrated contemplation called the Adhyatma-Yoga which leads to immediate intuition [of Brahman, ie. Self Realisation].’
This is further clarified in the introduction to the text Adhyatma Yoga. In this context the term ‘Vastu Tantra’ means Nididhysana is a means to Self-Realisation or Truth-Realisation. (‘Vastu Tantra’ means ‘a path to the truth’, which is independent of the person who is looking, so to speak, much like science – eg. the same independent scientific truth such as the speed of light or the gravitational constant can be discovered by various people from different places – this truth is independent of the person looking. Vastu Tantra means that this is the method that leads to the supreme truth, ie. liberation or Knowlege of Brahman/Atman. This is opposed to ‘Kartru Tantra’, also known as ‘Purusha Tantra’, which refers to ‘the path of an individual’ – eg. lifting weights to build up your muscles or meditating to gain specific special powers – it is a path that leads to specific results for an individual – eg. bigger muscles or specific powers – but it does not lead to discovery of an ‘objective’ non-personal universal truth). The following is from the introduction to the text Adhyatma yoga:
‘The subject dealt with here viz. Adhyatma Yoga, also known as Dhyana Yoga, Mano-nigraha Yoga, Samadhi Yoga and Nidhidhyasana, is treated these days as a Kartru Tantra Sadana. But in the Shankara Bhashya throughout, this Adhyatma Yogi or Dhyana Yoga is treated as a Vastu Tantra Sadhana.’
The third thing to notice is that the technique of Nididhyasana is to turn one’s attention away from objective phenomena and turn towards the Self until one ‘intuits’ the Self directly.
Here is a quote from The Method of Vedanta by SSS, p. 147, that summarises much of the above and also describes in brief the method of nididhyasana. Upasana is defined here as meditation upon objects, and nididhyasana is to turn away from objects (note that in some scriptures the word ‘upasana’ is used synonymously with ‘nididhyasana’ but here SSS is using the words in this particular way):
‘The aim of the one practising sustained meditation (nididhyasana) is different [to Upasana, defined here as meditation on forms/objects]. He tries to attain direct vision of reality (here in this very world) by turning his mind away from all else [ie. all objects].And there is the difference — as against upasana — that after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done. It is this sustained meditation that is referred to at Kathha Upanishad I.ii.12 by the name ‘Adhyatma Yoga’. In the Gita it is sometimes called ’Dhyana Yoga’ (e.g. XVI11.52). In the Mandukya Karikas it is called ’restraint of the mind’ (G.K.III.41, etc.). Its nature is described there in that latter work. Everywhere its result is described in the same way as right metaphysical knowledge, and from this comes immediate liberation (sadyo-mukti).’
SSS then quotes from the Katha Upanishad and Shankara’s commentary on it to make is point clear:
‘The wise man comes to know God through mastering Adhyatma Yoga, and gives up joy and sorrow. (Kathha I.ii.12)
[Tom: ie. through Adhyatma Yoga the Self is realised; SSS then goes on to quote Shankara’s commentary – the following is as quoted by SSS:]
Sankara’s Commentary: Mastering Adhyatma Yoga: Adhyatma Yoga means withdrawing the mind from objects and concentrating it on the Self. Having meditated on the deity, the Self, through attainment of Adhyatma Yoga, the wise man gives up joy and sorrow because there are no gradations of value in the Self.’
On p.149 of The Method of Vedanta by SSS, SSS quotes from Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita to explain in more detail the method of Nididhyasana – the following is quoted by SSS as a description of Nididhyasana:
‘That yoga should certainly be practised with resolute mind. Giving up without exception all desires that come from individual, will, restraining the sense-organs on every side through the mind, one should gradually withdraw from all activity, with will and intellect firmly controlled; keeping the mind fixed on the Self, one should not think of anything. Wherever the fickle mind wanders, one should bring it back and fix it on the Self alone, under firm control. Supreme joy comes to such a yogi, whose mind is at perfect peace, whose lusts have subsided, who is sinless and who has become the Absolute.’
I hope the above is useful and helpful to you
Here are some other articles that speak on this topic:
Tom: the following text is from Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 21st May 1947. In the first part Ramana will tell us the basic theory. In the second part he will tell us how to realise this truth for ourselves:
Yesterday morning at 8 o’clock, Dr. Syed who is a worker for Arya Vignana Sangha and one of the disciples of Bhagavan, came here for Bhagavan’s darshan and asked “Bhagavan says the whole world is the swarupa of Atma. If so, why do we find so many troubles in this world?”
Tom: Swarupa, literally meaning form of the self (Swa = self; rupa = form), usually is translated as ‘essential nature’ or ‘true nature’. Atma or Atman means Self. The questioner above is therefore asking about the true nature of the Self – “if all is Atma Swarupa, then why all this trouble in the world?”
With a face indicating pleasure, Bhagavan replied “That is called Maya. In Vedanta Chintamani, that Maya has been described in five ways. One by name Nijaguna Yogi wrote that book in Canarese. Vedanta has been so well dealt with in it, it can be said to be an authority on the Vedanta language.
There is a Tamil translation. The five names of Maya are, Tamas, Maya, Moham, Avidya and Anitya.
Tamas is that which hides the knowledge of life.
Maya is that which is responsible for making one who is the form of the world appear different from it.
Moha is that which makes a different one look real: sukti rajata bhranthi — creating an illusion that mother-of-pearl is made of silver.
Avidya is that which spoils Vidya (learning).
Anitya is transient, that which is different from what is permanent and real.
On account of these five Mayas troubles appear in the Atma like the cinema pictures on the screen. Only to remove this Maya it is said that the whole world is mithya (unreal).
Atman is like the screen. Just as you come to know that the pictures that are shown are dependent on the screen and do not exist otherwise, so also, until one is able to know by Self-enquiry that the world that is visible is not different from Atma, it has to be said that this is all mithya.
But once the reality is known, the whole universe will appear as Atma only. Hence the very people who said the world is unreal, have subsequently said that it is only Atma swarupa. After all, it is the outlook that is important. If the outlook changes, the troubles of the world will not worry us. Are the waves different from the ocean?
Why do the waves occur at all? If asked, what reply can we give? The troubles in the world also are like that. Waves come and go. If it is found out that they are not different from Atma this worry will not exist.”
Tom: How many times have we heard the above metaphor about the movie and the screen? But do we truly understand? Are we truly free? The questioner therefore asks the following:
That devotee said in a plaintive tone, “However often Bhagavan teaches us, we are not able to understand.”
“People say that they are not able to know the Atma that is all-pervading. What can I do? Even the smallest child says, ‘I exist. I do; and this is mine’. So, everyone understands that the thing ‘I’ is always existent. It is only when that ‘I’ is there, the feeling is there that you are the body, he is Venkanna, this is Ramanna and the like. To know that the one that is always visible is one’s own self, is it necessary to search with a candle? To say that we do not know the Atma swarupa which is not different but which is in one’s own self is like saying ‘I do not know myself ’,” said Bhagavan.
Tom: Ramana above is stating that the Self is always realised – it is the knowledge ‘I am’. Everyone knows they exist! This is self-knowledge or self-realisation! However the problem is when you identify as being the body the trouble starts. Now the questioner has figured out the path laid out before him, and Ramana confirms the way forwards in order to secure removal of this wrong identification with the body. There is no need to gain self-knowledge, just to remove wrong identification (ignorance):
“That means that those who by sravana (hearing) and manana (repeating within oneself) become enlightened and look upon the whole visible world as full of Maya, will ultimately find the real swarupa by nididhyasana [meditation],” said the devotee.
“Yes, that is it. Nidi means swarupa; nididhyasana is the act of intensely concentrating on the swarupa with the help of sravana and manana of the words of the Guru. That means to meditate on that with undeflected zeal. After meditating for a long time, he merges in it. Then it shines as itself. That is always there. There will be no troubles of this sort if one can see the thing as it is. Why so many questions to see one’s own self that is always there?” said Bhagavan.
Yesterday, two pandits came from Kumbakonam. This morning at 9 o’clock, they approached Bhagavan and said, “Swami, we take leave of you. We pray that you may be pleased to bless us that our mind may merge or dissolve itself in shanti [peace]”
Bhagavan nodded his head as usual. After they had left, he said, looking at Ramachandra Iyer,
“Shanti is the original state. If what comes from outside is rejected what remains is peace. What then is there to dissolve or merge? Only that which comes from outside has to be thrown out.
“If people whose minds are mature are simply told that the swarupa itself is shanti, they get jnana. It is only for immature minds that sravana (listening to the teachings) and manana (reflecting upon the teachings) are prescribed, but for mature minds there is no need of them. If people at a distance enquire how to go to Ramana Maharshi, we have to tell them to get into such and such a train or take such and such a path, but if they come to Tiruvannamalai, reach Ramanasramam and step into the hall, it is enough if only they are told, here is that person. There is no need for them to move any farther.”
“Sravana and manana mean only those described in Vedanta, don’t they?” asked some one. “Yes,” Bhagavan replied, “but one thing, not only are there outward sravana and manana but there are also inward sravana [listening] and manana [thinking]. They must occur to a person as a result of the maturity of his mind. Those that are able to do that antara sravana (hearing inwardly) do not have any doubts.”
Whenever any one asked what those antara sravanas are, he used to say, “Antara sravana means the knowledge of that Atma which is in the cave of the heart always illuminated with the feeling ‘aham, aham’ (‘I, I’), and to get that feeling to be in one’s heart is manana, and to remain in one’s self is nididhyasa [meditation].”
In this connection, it is worth while remembering the sloka [verse] written by Bhagavan bearing on this subject. In that sloka mention is made not only to Atma sphurana [the vibration of the Self] but also how to secure it. Securing means only remaining in one’s own self:
Brahman is glowing lustrously in the middle of the cave of the Heart in the shape of the Self, always proclaiming ‘I am, I am’. Become an Atmanishta, a Self-realised person, either by making the mind absorbed in the search of the Self or by making the mind drown itself through control of the breath.
You are innate divine power. You are naturally free. You are self-fulfilled: You need nothing to complete You.
Nothing can harm You. You, the essence, ever remain the same, unacting, unmoving, whole, unscathed and untouched.
You, pure consciousness, are one with everything and all-pervading, yet no individual object is You, the divine essence.
Discerning self from non-self, knowing this, realise your true nature as You. Then rest here, as the unacting, all-pervading, untouchable, self-fulfilled Self.
When this knowledge is firm, letting go of all thoughts, even thoughts of ‘I am That’, etc, simply be still and abide as the Self (ie. that which is denoted by ‘You’ above).
In the above lines, the first 3 paragraphs are when the teaching is verbally explained and listened to by the seeker (Sravana, which means listening in Sanskrit). This is the first step of the teachings in which the concepts of the teachings are delivered and explained by a teacher and thereafter retained by the seeker.
In the 4th paragraph the verbal teachings are contemplated (Manana in Sanskrit) by the seeker. This is the second step of the teaching and this eventually culminates in an experiential realisation or understanding of what the teachings are pointing towards. The conceptual understanding that occurs through Sravana of ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ (You are That) has now been transformed into a direct experiential understanding through examining ones direct experience in light of the conceptual teachings.
In the last paragraph the verbal teachings themselves are transcended once the ‘I am the body-mind’ concept is no longer present, and the instruction is simply to remain as That (Nididhyasana or meditation in Sanskrit).
It is this last stage that leads to lasting fulfilment and the end of suffering through (1) destruction of the habitual tendency (Vasana in Sanskrit) to identify as a limited entity (ie. ignorance or avidya in Sanskrit) ie.the body-mind) and (2) destruction of the egoic tendencies to seek pleasure and fulfilment through objects (Vishaya Vasanas in Sanskrit), including subtle objects such as experiences and knowledge /understanding /insights /intuitions, all of which are transient and so never lead to lasting satisfaction or lasting peace.
When suffering is no more, this is also known as ‘understanding’ or ‘knowledge’ or wisdom (Jnana), and it is also the culmination of devotional love (Bhakti) and the culmination of the path of meditation or yoga. It is also known as Self-realisation or liberation (Moksha).
‘Be still’ (ie. Nididhyasana) or natural stillness (ie. Samadhi), and the eternal peace of mind/end of suffering that seemingly emerge from that (ie. Moksha) – these are not something you do or create, or necessarily need to strive to practice. They can be a natural outcome of insight into the experiential truths of ‘no-doer’ (both in ‘yourself’ and in ‘others’) and ‘nothing else needed’ or ‘nothing to get’.
Similarly, insight is not something you have to do or achieve or create. It is a natural outcome of listening to the teachings (ie. Sravana) and contemplating them in a (relatively) clear and quiet mind (ie. Manana).
Therefore listen to the teachings, remember them, relax, and let the mind contemplate them unhurriedly. The teachings need time and space to blossom and bloom. 🌿🌼🌷
Seeking out teachings to listen to, actually listening to them and subsequently contemplating them is not something you do or chose to do or ever did. It is a natural outcome of a desire to end suffering (ie. Mumukshutva) together with having heard the notion or possibility that suffering can end (ie. Hearing about the concept of enlightenment or liberation). These factors naturally and automatically lead to seeking a teaching/teacher.
The desire to end suffering is not something you have created or ever ‘done’. It is the natural consequence of and intelligent response to suffering.
This is all spontaneous action and response. No doer entity or separate entity doing, authoring or creating anything.
Suffering is not something you chose to happen, or something you have created/caused. It is a natural consequence of living life with concepts of ignorance deeply rooted into the body-mind.
Hearing about the notion or possibility that suffering can end is not something you chose to hear. It is a consequence of God’s Grace.
Ignorance was not something you chose. It too was and is God’s Grace.
All this, one could say, is God’s Grace, unfolding beautifully. It is the way it is. What is is what is.
…even when the separate self has been seen to be an illusion, and the Freedom that is already here-now has been fully recognised, various habitual tendencies that were originally contingent upon the belief in separation can continue to persist. These habitual tendencies (vasanas in sanskrit) can continue to compel the apparent individual to seek fulfillment in external objects and result in continued suffering at the psychological and physical level, even though Freedom has already been realised.
There can therefore be an important process of post-realisation integration or practice in which these habitual tendencies or vasanas are rooted out and the habit of the mind to imagine itself to be a separate self is removed. Whilst much of this may happen spontaneously, it has been my experience that pointing this out to seekers even once they have realised ‘no-self’ can be of great benefit in alleviating suffering on the phenomenal level post-realisation.
In fact, it is only once the compulsive vasanas have been rooted out that love, compassion and happiness fully manifest themselves on the phenomenal level. I talk about this more here.
The above is an excerpt from a longer post that can be foundhere.