How to recognise false or incomplete spiritual teachings


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.

Advaita Bodha Deepika – vital teachings for Self-Realisation that are often missing in modern non-dual and advaitic teachings

Here are some very potent nondual teachings that are well worth taking the time and making the effort to read. The teachings here tend not to be found in many other places.

Advaita Bodha Deepika was one of Ramana Maharshi’s favourite scriptures and he often recommended it for seekers to read. It comprises a structured and comprehensive explanation of the various methods of Advaita Vedanta. All chapters of this work are great, but this following chapter on ‘Sakshatkara’ or ‘Realisation’ has some key teachings that are often lost in some contemporaneous renditions of Advaita Vedanta and nondual teachings in general.

Without the  vital understanding presented in this chapter, true liberation is unlikely to result. The opposite is also true – putting the words of this chapter into practice sets one off on the direct path to liberation. Please let us make obeisance to the Lord-our-Self, and without further ado – enjoy;

The chapter starts with a recap of what has been discussed thus far in preceding chapters:

Advaita Bodha Deepika

Chapter 7 – Sakshatkara or Realisation

1. In the foregoing chapter it was said that direct knowledge must first be gained and then the latent tendencies of the mind wiped out so that Brahman may be realised. Now Realisation is dealt with. The master says: Wise son, now that you have gained direct knowledge by enquiry into the Self, you should proceed with meditation.

2. DISCIPLE: Master, now that I have gained direct knowledge by enquiry and my task is finished why should I meditate further and to what end?

3-4. MASTER: Though by reflection, direct knowledge of the Self has been gained, Brahman cannot be realised without meditation. In order to experience `I am Brahman’ you must practise meditation.

5-6.: D.: You ask me to pursue meditation for realising Brahman. I have already gained direct knowledge by enquiry into the sacred text. Why should I now practise meditation?

M.: If you mean to say that enquiry into the sacred text results in realising Brahman, who can deny it? No one. Truly this enquiry must end in the realisation of Brahman. Let us now enquire into the meaning of the text. Whose identity with whom is implied in it? It must be of the consciousness witnessing the five sheaths of the individual, the implied meaning of `thou’ with Brahman, the implied meaning of `That’; it cannot be of the Jiva, i.e., the personal soul with Brahman. By enquiry the identity of the witnessing consciousness with Brahman has certainly been found. Of what use can this identity of the witness with Brahman be to you?

7. D.: On enquiry into the meaning of the sacred text, when one has realised that the witness is Brahman and vice versa, how can you raise the question `Of what use can it be to the person?’ Its use is evident. Formerly the seeker was ignorant of the identity and now by enquiry he is aware of it.

M.: By enquiry you have certainly known that the witness is Brahman and that the unbroken, all-perfect Brahman is the witness. Still this knowledge is not the end and cannot serve your purpose. Suppose a poor beggar who was ignorant of the fact that a king residing in a fort was the emperor of the world, later knew it. How does this newly acquired knowledge improve his position? It cannot serve any useful purpose for him.

  1. D.: Before enquiry, ignorance prevails. After enquiry, knowledge is gained that the witness is Brahman. Now knowledge has taken the place of ignorance. This is the use.

M.: How does this affect the fact? Whether you have known it or not, the witness ever remains Brahman. Your knowledge of the fact has not made Brahman, the witness. Whether the poor beggar knew it or not, the king in the fort was the emperor. His knowledge did not make an emperor of the king in the fort. Now that you have known the witness to be Brahman, what has happened to you? Tell me. There can be no change in you.

  1. D.: Why not? There is a difference. The sacred text teaches `That thou art’. On enquiring into its significance I have found that the witness of the five sheaths in me is the same as Brahman. From this I have known that I am Brahman, which forms another sacred text. To me who was ignorant of the witness being the same as Brahman, this knowledge has dawned, with the result that I have realised Brahman.

M.: How can you claim to have realised Brahman? If by the text `I am Brahman’ you understand yourself to be Brahman, who is this `I’ but the Jiva, the individual soul or the ego? How can the ego be Brahman? Just as even with his knowledge of the king, the beggar cannot himself be the king, so also the changeful ego can never be identical with the changeless Brahman.

10-14. D.: Certainly so. But on enquiring `Who am I?’ it becomes plain that by non-enquiry the unchanging witness had mistaken the changing ego for himself. Now he knows `I am not the changing ego but remain its unchanging conscious witness’. Now it is but right that the witness should say, `I am Brahman’. What can be discordant in this?

M.: How can you hold that the witness says `I am Brahman?’ Does the unchanging witness or the changing ego say so? If you say that it is the witness, you are wrong. For the witness remains unchanging as the witness of the `false-I’. He is not the conceit itself. Otherwise he cannot have the quality of being the witness for he will himself be changing. Being unchanging the witness is free from the least trace of any notion such as `I’ or Brahman and cannot therefore know `I am Brahman’. There is no ground for your contention that the witness says so.

D.: Then who knows `I am Brahman’?

M.: From what has been said before, it must follow that the individual soul, the jiva, or the `false-I’ must have this knowledge.

D.: How does this follow?

M.: In order to be free from the repeated cycle of births and deaths, the ignorant man is obliged to practise the knowledge `I am Brahman’. There is no ignorance for the witness. When there is no ignorance, there can be no knowledge either. Only the ignorant must seek knowledge. Who but the `false-I’ can be the subject of ignorance or of knowledge? It is self-evident that the witnessing Self being the substratum on which knowledge or ignorance appears, must itself be free from them. On the contrary the `false-I’ is known to possess knowledge or ignorance. If you ask him `Do you know the Self witnessing you?’ And he will answer `Who is that witness? I do not know him’. Here the ignorance of the `false-I’ is obvious. On hearing the vedanta that there is an inner witness to him, indirectly he knows that the Self is his witness. Then enquiring into the Self, the veil of Ignorance that It does not shine forth, is drawn off and directly he knows the witnessing Self. Here again the knowledge of the `false-I’ is also clear. It is only the jiva and not the witness who has the knowledge or ignorance that there is, or is not, the inner witness. You must now admit that the jiva has the knowledge that `I am Brahman’. Now for the reason that the changing Jiva has become aware of the unchanging witness, he cannot be the same as the witness. Because he had seen him, the poor beggar cannot be the king. So also the changing Jiva cannot be the witness. Without being the witnessing Self, the changing entity cannot be Brahman. So this experience `I am Brahman’ is impossible.

  1. D.: How can you say that merely seeing the witness, I cannot know that I am the witness? Ignorant of his true being as the substratum or the witnessing consciousness, the Jiva moves about as the `false-I’. However on a careful enquiry into his true nature he knows the witness and identifies himself as the witness who is well-known to be the unbroken, all perfect Brahman. Thus the experience, `I am Brahman’, is real.

M.: What you say is true provided that the jiva can identify himself as the witness. The witness is undoubtedly Brahman. But how can the mere sight of the witness help the jiva merge himself into the witness? Unless the jiva remains the witness, he cannot know himself as the witness. Merely by seeing the king, a poor beggar cannot know himself to be the king. But when he becomes the king, he can know himself as the king. Similarly the jiva, remaining changeful and without becoming the unchanging witness, cannot know himself as the witness. If he cannot be the witness, how can he be the unbroken, all-perfect Brahman? He cannot be. Just as at the sight of the king in a fort, a poor beggar cannot become king and much less sovereign of the universe, so also only at the sight of the witness who is much finer than ether and free from traffic with triads, such as the knower, knowledge and the known, eternal, pure, aware, free, real, supreme and blissful, the jiva cannot become the witness, much less the unbroken, all-perfect Brahman, and cannot know `I am Brahman’.

  1. D.: If so, how is it that the two words of the same case ending (samanadhikarana) — `I’ and `Brahman’ — are placed in apposition in the sacred text `I am Brahman’? According to grammatical rules the sruti clearly proclaims the same rank to the jiva and Brahman. How is this to be explained?

17-18. M.: The common agreement between two words in apposition is of two kinds: mukhya and badha i.e., unconditional and conditional. Here the sruti does not convey the unconditional meaning.

D.: What is this unconditional meaning?

M.: The ether in a jar has the same characteristics as that in another jar, or in a room, or in the open. Therefore the one ether is the same as the other. Similarly with air, fire, water, earth, sunlight etc. Again the god in one image is the same as that in another and the witnessing consciousness in one being is the same as that in another. The sruti does not mean this kind of identity between the jiva and Brahman, but means the other, the conditional meaning.

D.: What is it?

M.: Discarding all appearances, the sameness of the substratum in all.

D.: Please explain this.

M.: `I am Brahman’ means that, after discarding the `false-I’, only the residual being or the pure consciousness that is left over can be Brahman — It is absurd to say that, without discarding but retaining the individuality, the jiva, on seeing Brahman but not becoming Brahman, can know himself as Brahman. A poor beggar must first cease to be beggar and rule over a state in order to know himself as king; a man desirous of god-hood first drowns himself in the Ganges and leaving this body, becomes himself a celestial being; by his extraordinary one-pointed devotion a devotee leaves off his body and merges into god, before he can know himself to be god. In all these cases when the beggar knows himself to be king, or the man to be celestial being, or the devotee to be god, they cannot retain their former individualities and also identify themselves as the superior beings. In the same way, the seeker of Liberation must first cease to be an individual before he can rightly say `I am Brahman’. This is the significance of the sacred text. Without completely losing one’s individuality one cannot be Brahman. Therefore to realise Brahman, the loss of the individuality is a sine qua non.

D.: The changeful individual soul cannot be Brahman. Even though he rids himself of the individuality, how can he become Brahman?

  1. M.: Just as a maggot losing its nature, becomes a wasp.A maggot is brought by a wasp and kept in its hive. From time to time the wasp visits the hive and stings the maggot so that it always remains in dread of its tormentor. The constant thought of the wasp transforms the maggot into a wasp. Similarly, constantly meditating on Brahman, the seeker loses his original nature and becomes himself Brahman. This is the realisation of Brahman.
  2. D.: This cannot illustrate the point, for the jiva is changing and falsely presented on the pure Being, Brahman, which is the Reality. When a false thing has lost its falsity, the whole entity is gone; how can it become the Reality?
  3. M.: Your doubt, how a superimposed falsity turns out to be its substratum, the Reality, is easily cleared. See how the nacre-silverceases to be silver and remains as nacre, or a rope-snake ceasing to be snake remains ever as rope. Similarly, with the jiva superimposed on the Reality, Brahman.

D.: These are illusions which are not conditioned (nirupadhika bhrama) whereas the appearance of the jiva is conditioned (sopadhika bhrama) and appears as a superimposition only on the internal faculty, the mind. So long as there is the mind, there will also be the jiva or the individual, and the mind is the result of past karma. As long as this remains unexhausted, the jiva must also be present. Just as the reflection of one’s face is contingent upon the mirror or water in front, so is individuality, on the mind, the effect of one’s past karma. How can this individuality be done away with?

M.: Undoubtedly individuality lasts as long as the mind exists. Just as the reflected image disappears with the removal of the mirror in front, so also individuality can be effaced by stilling the mind by meditation.

D.: The individuality being thus lost, the jiva becomes void. Having become void, how can he become Brahman?

M.: The jiva is only a false appearance not apart from its substratum. It is conditional on ignorance, or the mind, on whose removal the jiva is left as the substratum as in the case of a dream person.

22-23. D.: How?

M.: The waking man functions as the dreamer (taijasa) in his dreams. The dreamer is neither identical with nor separate from the waking man (visva). For the man sleeping happy on his bed has not moved out whereas as the dreamer he had wandered about in other places, busy with many things. The wanderer of the dream cannot be the man resting in his bed. Can he then be different? Not so either. For on waking from sleep, he says `In my dream I went to so many places, did so many things and was happy or otherwise’. Clearly he identifies himself with the experiencer of the dream. Moreover no other experiencer can be seen.

D.: Not different from nor identical with the waking experiencer, who is this dream-experiencer?

M.: Being a creation of the illusory power of sleep the dream experiencer is only an illusion like the snake on a rope. With the finish of the illusory power of dream, the dreamer vanishes only to wake up as the real substratum, the original individual self of the waking state. Similarly the empirical self, the jiva is neither the unchanging Brahman nor other than It. In the internal faculty, the mind, fancied by ignorance, the Self is reflected and the reflection presents itself as the empirical, changing and individual self. This is a superimposed false appearance. Since the superimposition cannot remain apart from its substratum, this empirical self cannot be other than the absolute Self.

D.: Who is this?

M.: Successively appearing in the ignorance-created mind and disappearing in deep sleep, swoon etc., this empirical self is inferred to be only a phantom. Simultaneously with the disappearance of the medium or the limiting adjunct (upadhi), the mind, the jiva becomes the substratum, the True Being or Brahman. Destroying the mind, the jiva can know himself as Brahman.

  1. D.: With the destruction of the limiting adjunct, the jiva being lost, how can he say `I am Brahman’?

M.: When the limiting ignorance of dream vanishes, the dreamer is not lost, but emerges as the waking experiencer. So also when the mind is lost, the jiva emerges as his true Being — Brahman. Therefore as soon as the mind is annihilated leaving no trace behind, the jiva will surely realise `I am the Being-Knowledge-Bliss, non-dual Brahman; Brahman is I, the Self ‘.

D.: In that case the state must be without any mode like that of deep sleep. How can there be the experience `I am Brahman’?

M.: Just as at the end of a dream, the dreamer rising up as the waking experiencer says `All along I was dreaming that I wandered in strange places, etc., but I am only lying down on the bed,’ or a madman cured of his madness remains pleased with himself, or a patient cured of his illness wonders at his past sufferings, or a poor man on becoming a king, forgets or laughs at his past penurious state, or a man on becoming a celestial being enjoys the new bliss, or a devotee on uniting with the Lord of his devotion remains blissful, so also the jiva on emerging as Brahman wonders how all along being only Brahman he was moving about as a helpless being imagining a world, god and individuals, asks himself what became of all those fancies and how he now remaining all alone as Being-Knowledge-Bliss free from any differentiation, internal or external, certainly experiences the Supreme Bliss of Brahman. Thus realisation is possible for the jiva only on the complete destruction of the mind and not otherwise.

  1. D.: Experience can be of the mind only. When it is destroyed,who can have the experience `I am Brahman’?

M.: You are right. The destruction of the mind is of two kinds: (rupa and arupa) i.e., in its form-aspect and in its formless aspect. All this while I have been speaking of destroying the former mind. Only when it ceases to be in its formless aspect, experience will be impossible, as you say.

D.: Please explain those two forms of the mind and their destruction.

M.: The latent impressions (vasanas) manifesting as modes (vrittis) constitute the form-aspect of the mind. Their effacement is the destruction of this aspect of mind. On the other hand, on the latencies perishing, the supervening state of samadhi in which there is no stupor of sleep, no vision of the world, but only the Being-Knowledge-Bliss is the formless aspect of mind. The loss of this amounts to the loss of the formless aspect of mind. Should this also be lost, there can be no experience — not even of the realisation of Supreme Bliss.

D.: When does this destruction take place?

M.: In the disembodiment of the liberated being. It cannot happen so long as he is alive in the body. The mind is lost in its form-aspect but not in its formless one of Brahman. Hence the experience of Bliss for the sage, liberated while alive.

26-27. D.: In brief what is Realisation?

M.: To destroy the mind in its form-aspect functioning as the limiting adjunct to the individual, to recover the pure mind in its formless aspect whose nature is only Being-Knowledge-Bliss and to experience `I am Brahman’ is Realisation.

D.: Is this view supported by others as well?

M.: Yes. Sri Sankaracharya has said: `Just as in the ignorant state, unmindful of the identity of the Self with Brahman, one truly believes oneself to be the body, so also after knowing to be free from the illusion of the body being the Self, and becoming unaware of the body, undoubtingly and unmistakably always to experience the Self as the Being-Knowledge-Bliss identical with Brahman is called Realisation’. `To be fixed as the Real Self is Realisation’, say the sages.

  1. D.: Who says it and where?
  2. M.: Vasishta has said in Yoga Vasishta: `Just as the mind in a stone remains quiet and without any mode, so also like the interior of the stone to remain without any mode and thought free, but not in slumber nor aware of duality, is to be fixed as the Real Self ‘.

30-31. Therefore without effacing the form-aspect of the mind and remaining fixed as the true Self, how can anyone realise `I am Brahman’? It cannot be. Briefly put, one should still the mind to destroy one’s individuality and thus remain fixed as the Real Self of Being-Knowledge-Bliss, so that in accordance with the text `I am Brahman’ one can realise Brahman. On the other hand, on the strength of the direct knowledge of Brahman to say `I am Brahman’ is as silly as a poor beggar on seeing the king declaring himself to be the king. Not to claim by words but to be fixed as the Real Self and know `I am Brahman’ is Realisation of Brahman.

  1. D.: How will the sage be, who has undoubtingly, unmistakably and steadily realised Brahman?

M.: Always remaining as the Being-Knowledge-Bliss, nondual, all perfect, all-alone, unitary Brahman, he will be unshaken even while experiencing the results of the past karma now in fruition. (prarabdha).

33-35. D.: Being only Brahman, how can he be subject to the experiences and activities resulting from past karma?

M.: For the sage undoubtingly and unmistakably fixed as the real Self, there can remain no past karma. In its absence there can be no fruition, consequently no experience nor any activity. Being only without mode Brahman, there can be no experiencer, no experiences and no objects of experience. Therefore no past karma can be said to remain for him.

D.: Why should we not say that his past karma is now working itself out?

M.: Who is the questioner? He must be a deluded being and not a sage.

D.: Why?

M.: Experience implies delusion; without the one, the other cannot be. Unless there is an object, no experience is possible. All objective knowledge is delusion. There is no duality in Brahman. Certainly all names and forms are by ignorance superimposed on Brahman. Therefore the experiencer must be ignorant only and not a sage. Having already enquired into the nature of things and known them to be illusory names and forms born of ignorance, the sage remains fixed as Brahman and knows all to be only Brahman. Who is to enjoy what? No one and nothing. Therefore there is no past karma left nor present enjoyments nor any activity for the wise one.

36-37. D.: However we do not see him free from the experience of past karma; on the other hand he goes through them like an ordinary ignorant man. How is this to be explained?

M.: In his view there is nothing like past karma, enjoyments or activities.

D.: What is his view?

M.: For him there is nothing but the pure, untainted Ether of Absolute Knowledge.

D.: But how is he seen to pass through experiences?

M.: Only the others see him so. He is not aware of it.

38-39. D.: Is this view confirmed by other authorities?

M.: In Vivekachudamani, Sri Acharya [Shankara] has said `Simultaneous with the dawn of knowledge, ignorance with all its effects flees away from the sage and so he cannot be an enjoyer. However, the ignorant wonder how the sage continues to live in the body and act like others. From the ignorant point of view, the scriptures have admitted the momentum of past karma, but not from the point of view of the sage himself ‘.

  1. D.: If truly he is no enjoyer, why should he appear to others tobe so?

M.: Owing to their ignorance, the others regard him as an enjoyer.

41-43. D.: Can this be so?

M.: Yes. To the ignorant only the non-dual, pure Ether of Absolute Knowledge manifests Itself as various beings, the world, God, different names and forms, I, you, he, it, this and that. Like the illusion of a man on a post, silver on nacre, snake on rope, utensils in clay, or ornaments in gold, different names and forms on the Ether of Knowledge delude the ignorant. The sage who, by practice of knowledge, has destroyed ignorance and gained true knowledge, will always remain only as the Ether of Absolute Knowledge, unaware of enjoyments of fruits of actions or of worldly activities. Being That, he can be aware as the Ether of Knowledge only. Nevertheless, owing to their ignorance others see him otherwise, i.e., as an embodied being acting like themselves. But he remains only pure, untainted ether, without any activity.

44-46. D.: Can it be illustrated how the sage remaining himself inactive, appears active to others?

M.: Two friends sleep side by side. One of them reposes in dreamless sleep whereas the other dreams that he is wandering about with his friend. Though in complete repose, this man appears active to the dreamer. Similarly although the sage remains inactive as the blissful Ether of Absolute Knowledge, he appears to be active to those who in ignorance remain always caught up in names and forms.

It must now be clear that the realised sage being the pure Self is not involved in action but only appears to be so.

47-48. D.: Not that there are no experiences whatever for the realised sage, but they are only illusory. For Knowledge can destroy the karma already stored and the future karma (sanchita and agamya) but not the karma which having already begun to bear fruit (prarabdha) must exhaust itself. As long as it is there, even from his own point of view, activities will persist, though illusory.

M.: This cannot be. In which state do these three kinds of karma exist — knowledge or ignorance? Owing to delusion; it must be said `they are operative only in ignorance.’ But in knowledge there being no delusion, there is no prarabdha. Always remaining undeluded as the transcendental Self, how can the delusion of the fruition of karma occur to one? Can the delusion of dream-experience return to him who has awakened from it? To the disillusioned sage there can be no experience of karma. Always he remains unaware of the world but aware of the Self as the non-dual, unbroken, unitary, solid, without any mode Ether of Absolute Knowledge, and of nothing besides.

  1. D.: The Upanishad admits past karma in the Text `As long as his past karma is not exhausted the sage cannot be disembodied, and there will be illusory activities for him’.

M.: You are not right. The activities and experiences of the fruits of action and the world seem illusory to the practiser of Knowledge and they completely vanish to the accomplished sage. The practiser practises as follows: `I am the witness; the objects and activities are seen by and known to me. I remain conscious and these are insentient. Only Brahman is real; all else is unreal.’ The practice ends with the realisation that all these are insentient consisting of names and forms and cannot exist in the past, present or future, therefore they vanish. There being nothing to witness, witnessing ends by merging into Brahman. Only the Self is now left over as Brahman. For the sage aware of the Self only, there can remain only Brahman and no thought of karma, or worldly activities.

D.: Why then does the sruti mention past karma in this connection?

M.: It does not refer to the accomplished sage.

D.: Whom does it refer to?

M.: Only to the ignorant.

D.: Why?

M.: Although from his own point of view, the sage has no enjoyment of the fruits of actions, yet the ignorant are deluded on seeing his activities. Even if told there is no enjoyment for him, the ignorant will not accept it but continue to doubt how the sage remains active. To remove such doubt, the sruti says to the ignorant that prarabdha still remains for the sage. But it does not say to the sage `You have prarabdha’. Therefore the sruti which speaks of residual prarabdha, for the sage, really does not speak of it from his point of view.

50-51. D.: Realisation can result only after complete annihilation of individuality. But who will agree to sacrifice his individuality?

M.: Being eager to cross over the ocean of the misery of repeated births and deaths and realise the pure, eternal Brahman, one will readily sacrifice one’s individuality. Just as the man desirous of becoming a celestial being, willingly consigns himself to the fire or the Ganges in order to end this human life and emerge as a god, so also the seeker of Liberation will by practice of sravana, manana, and nidhidhyasana, (i.e., hearing, reflection and meditation) sacrifice his individuality to become the Supreme Brahman.

  1. Here ends the Chapter on Realisation. Diligently studying and understanding this, the seeker will kill the mind which is the limiting adjunct that causes individuality to manifest and ever live as Brahman only.


Give up everything

Robert Adams Advaita

The following is by Robert Adams:

What happens is this. As you keep giving up all the reactions to life. As you begin to surrender everything to the one Self. The one Self which is the absolute reality, the pure awareness takes over.

And will do whatever you have to do, even better than you can do it yourself. This power that knows the way will take you over completely. And it will speak for you. Do everything for you that you have to do and yet you will feel that you are not the doer.

Yet everything will be done perfectly.

Many people are afraid to give up their senses. For they believe that they will turn into a vegetable. But this is not true. You will always function. You will always do what you came to this earth to do. And you will even do it better than you ever can imagine.

So do not concern yourself about these things. Simply go within, surrender everything to the Self.

Give up everything.

Ramana Maharshi: was the Buddha self-realised?

lying buddha.jpeg

Over the years I have heard some people say things such as ‘the Buddha was enlightened, but he was not self-realised’ or ‘the Buddha only had an insight into no-self, but he never discovered the Self’. Both of these imply somehow that the Self-Realisation of the Upanishads is somehow of higher status and fundamentally different to the Nirvana of the Buddha, and that the Buddha was not truly enlightened.

I have noticed that usually this view is put forwards either by academics who have analysed various texts but not fully embraced the traditions, or by religious teachers who teach that their way is the best or only way and tend to be attached to their methodology over and above others.

I remember that when I first came across this view I was quite shocked, as it always seemed obvious to me that both Buddhist and Vedic traditions were pointing at the same things in different ways. In fact all the great self-realised masters I had come across also said the same. Impurities naturally, and perhaps inevitably, creep into traditions as without a genuine realisation, the ego co-opts the teachings and slowly slowly dogma and beliefs form. Therefore teachings naturally reinvent themselves in each culture and age, and we can clearly see this if we study the history of the development of both Vedanta and Buddhism. In fact, there has been so much cross-fertilisation between these two traditions, with each tradition borrowing from the  others at some point, it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart!

The key thing for me is to realise that there exist various different methods by which the Supreme is approached. And, of course, some say there are no methods (you could say this is the method of directly pointing out what is already fully here). When the method has served its purpose, then why cling to the method? The main issue is for ignorance to be removed, and the various teachings serve various ways of doing this:

There is nothing to realise. There is nothing new to gain…On the other hand a man must lose his ignorance. That is all.

Ramana Maharshi, Talks 104

By the way, in the above quote, I assume that by ‘man’, he means any human. Here is what Ramana said about the Buddha and Self-Realisation:

Ramana Maharshi, according to verse 568 of the Sri Ramana Paravidyopanishad, states that the Buddha’s Nirvana is the same as the Self-Realisation that Ramana speaks of:

568. Guru [Ramana] has said that the state of nirvana that was taught by Buddha to be the state in which samsara and suffering are ended is the same as remaining in the supreme state, having discarded all the sheaths.

He reaffirms this in the following verses:

345. The sage Buddha taught this truth; also the great teacher Sankara taught the same; our own Guru [Ramana] also tells us the same; and this is also the essence of the Vedanta.

284. The Buddhas call that the state of right awareness. In it there is neither knowledge nor ignorance. That is the highest state, in which there is nothing, whether sentient or insentient, other than the Self.

So, there you have it: according to Ramana Maharshi, Nirvana = Self-Realization. What’s your view?




lying buddha.jpeg

Zen Master Hui-Hai: words are useless


I thought I’d share another one of  Hui-Hai’s insights. He’s an expert in explaining Buddhist doctrines to Buddhist seekers. Here Hui-Hai shows us the provisional utility of words, and also points out their essential voidness. There is no contradiction in this.

Questioner: What does it mean when the sutra says: “The sound of discussion has ceased, and the role of thought is done”?

Zen Master Hui-Hai: Words are used to manifest the doctrine. After understanding the doctrine, then, words are useless. The doctrine is void, voidness is the Tao, and the Tao is without words. This is the meaning of “The sound of discussion has ceased”.

Since the real meaning of the doctrine does not give rise to a single thought or perception and because no thought or perception arises, it is unborn. Furthermore, because it is unborn, then the fundamental nature of all forms is void.

Next, since the fundamental nature of all forms is void, then everything in the world is non-existent.

Finally, since all things are fundamentally non-existent, “the role of thought is done”.

Words are used to manifest the doctrine. After understanding the doctrine, then, words are useless.

Also see How spiritual teachings work

Zen Master Hui Hai: does the Absolute ever change?


It’s all too common for seekers of enlightenment to fall into conceptual traps. Rather than using beliefs to free themselves from beliefs all together, the verbal teachings are instead often clung to, like a drowning man clutching at a straw.

One concept that can be useful along the way is that of the Absolute, but like all concepts it is also a potential trap, in that we can fall into believing in the Absolute without any real experience, or worse, only a partial experience that gives us the false impression we actually know something when we in fact do not.

In this following passage we see Ch’an Master Hui Hai in dialogue with a Tripitaka master, (The Tripitaka are the traditional written scriptures of Buddhism). Deliberately Hui Hai gives the ‘wrong’ non-traditional answer initially in order to free the questioner from fixed views and show that the Teaching (Dharma) can be expressed in a myriad of ways.

At the end  of the dialogue the Tripitaka master expresses his respect and amazement at how the Southern school – the ‘Zen’ school of sudden enlightenment of which Hui Hai is part – is truly unfathomable:

Once a Tripitaka Master asked: “Does the Bhutatathata (Absolute Reality) ever change?”
The Master [Hui Hai] replied: “Yes, it does change.”
The Tripitaka Master retorted: “You, Venerable Ch’an Master, are wrong!”
The Master then asked the Tripitaka Master: “Does the Bhutatathata exist or not?”
The Tripitaka Master answered: “Yes, the Bhutatathata does exist.”
The Master replied: “So if you say it does not change, then you are just an ordinary, worldly monk. Doubtlessly, by now you must have heard that the lowest vices can be changed into the highest virtues, the three poisons into the three cumulative disciplines, the six consciousnesses into the six supernatural powers, all the defilements into Bodhi, and the most abysmal ignorance into the highest wisdom. Thus, if you say that the Bhutatathata does not change, then you, a Tripitaka Master, are really a heterodox-sect follower. [ie. a heretic]”
The Tripitaka Master responded: “If you put it that way, then I have to admit that the Bhutatathata does change.”
The Master retorted: “But if you, indeed, hold that the Bhutatathata does change, that is also a heterodox view.”
The Tripitaka Master asked: “Ch’an Master, you just said that the Bhutatathata does change, but now you say it does not change. How can that be?”
The Master responded: “If one sees his own nature clearly – which, like Mani-Jewels, can manifest itself in different colors – then he is correct in saying that the Bhutatathata both changes and does not change. In contrast, however, if one has not seen his own nature, he will, on hearing that the Bhutatathata changes, grasp at the idea of mutability. Also, oppositely, he will, on hearing that the Bhutatathata does not change, grasp at the idea of immutability.”
The Tripitaka Master concluded: “Now I really understand what is meant when it is said that the Southern Ch’an Sect is truly unfathomable!”

This last answer of Hui Hai is particularly instructive – he essentially states that the Truth expresses itself in different ways, just like jewels can be of various colours. If one has intuitively seen this Truth, then one can correctly express this truth, even with seemingly opposed verbal statements, as these statements are coming from a ‘place of Truth’. However, for one who has not seen, the verbal statements are always incorrect, even when they are ‘officially correct’, as the essential insight is not present, and the statements are not expressions of Truth but expressions of the ignorant ego-mind.

These ego/ignorance-ridden statements are not liberating – they are simply a clinging to an empty doctrine. These insight-less statements merely give strength to the false-ego that thinks it knows something, strengthening and perpetuating the ego/sense of separation of both the one speaking and anyone listening.

(Note that I use the word ego here as a synonym for ignorance, the false belief in separation or the false belief in a separate entity that authors thoughts and actions)


Is there anything I can do to become enlightened?

Q. Is there anything I can do to become enlightened?

Tom: Yes, certainly, you can:

  1. Relax – make this a deliberate practice in your life
  2. Listen – Consistently expose your mind to the teachings of a teacher you trust and resonate with. Be with a teacher if possible.
  3. Inquire – Ask questions when they feel like they need to be asked. When the mind is calm and stable, ask yourself ‘Who am I?’.
  4. Relax! (Have faith and be happy) – Don’t worry too much about things as they come and go

Best wishes!

The essence of the Diamond Sutra


The Diamond Sutra is considered to be one of the most important and venerated of Buddhist scriptures. The text itself says that it can be considered to be the ‘diamond that cuts through illusion’ and that understanding it will lead to ‘the Highest Perfect Wisdom’.

In this post I have grouped excerpts from the Diamond Sutra into themes and so hopefully the essence of the teachings are readily conveyed. Please note that The Diamond Sutra itself is not actually very long, so if you are interested, I would readily encourage you to read the original in full.

It was composed perhaps as early as the 1st century BCE in Sanskrit, and forms part of the Prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom) sutras in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. It is also given particular importance in various Zen/Ch’an schools, which are often themselves considered to be part of the Mahayana tradition.

Interestingly, a Chinese version of the scripture is one of the oldest examples of a printed book, dated from 11th May 868, about 500 years before the Gutenburg. The original can be currently seen in the British Museum and is officially ‘the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book’.

This sutra takes the form of a conversation between Buddha and one of his disciples, Subhuti. I have used the translation from Alex Johnson, primarily because it is easy to read and is without technical terms.

This teaching leads to the ‘highest perfect wisdom’

The Buddha then replied:

“…If sons and daughters of good families want to develop the highest, most fulfilled and awakened mind, if they wish to attain the Highest Perfect Wisdom and quiet their drifting minds while subduing their craving thoughts, then they should follow what I am about to say to you. Those who follow what I am about to say here will be able to subdue their discriminative thoughts and craving desires. It is possible to attain perfect tranquillity and clarity of mind by absorbing and dwelling on the teachings I am about to give.” Then the Buddha addressed the assembly.

(from Chapter 2)

The basic teaching

“…all living beings will eventually be led by me to the final Nirvana, the final ending of the cycle of birth and death. And when this unfathomable, infinite number of living beings have all been liberated, in truth not even a single being has actually been liberated.

“Why Subhuti? Because if a disciple still clings to the arbitrary illusions of form or phenomena such as an ego, a personality, a self, a separate person, or a universal self existing eternally, then that person is not an authentic disciple.”

(from Chapter 3)

Is the Buddha his body?

“Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Buddha be recognized by means of his bodily form?”

“No, Most Honored One, the Buddha cannot be recognized by means of his bodily form. Why? Because when the Buddha speaks of bodily form, it is not a real form, but only an illusion.”

(from Chapter 5)

Illusion and reality

The Buddha then spoke to Subhuti: “All that has a form is illusive and unreal. When you see that all forms are illusive and unreal, then you will begin to perceive your true Buddha nature.”

(from Chapter 5)

Will people benefit from reading or hearing this sutra?

“Without a doubt, Subhuti. Even 500 years after the Enlightenment of this Buddha there will be some who are virtuous and wise; and while practicing compassion and charity, they will believe in the words and phrases of this Sutra and will awaken their minds purely. After they come to hear these teachings, they will be inspired with belief. This is because, when some people hear these words, they will have understood intuitively that these words are the truth.

(from Chapter 6)

Who will benefit from hearing this message?

“But you must also remember, Subhuti, that such persons have long ago planted the seeds of goodness and merit that lead to this realization. They have planted the seeds of good deeds and charity not simply before one Buddhist temple, or two temples, or five, but before hundreds of thousands of Buddhas and temples. So when a person who hears the words and phrases of this Sutra is ready for it to happen, a pure faith and clarity can awaken within their minds.”

“…this person must have discarded all arbitrary notions of the existence of a personal self, of other people, or of a universal self. Otherwise their minds would still grasp after such relative conceptions. Furthermore, these people must have already discarded all arbitrary notions of the non-existence of a personal self, other people, or a universal self. Otherwise, their minds would still be grasping at such notions.”

(from Chapter 6)

If I am seeking enlightenment, what view should I take of the teaching?

“Therefore anyone who seeks total Enlightenment should discard not only all conceptions of their own selfhood, of other selves, or of a universal self, but they should also discard all notions of the non-existence of such concepts.”

(from Chapter 6)

Are these teachings true?

“When the Buddha explains these things using such concepts and ideas, people should remember the unreality of all such concepts and ideas. They should recall that in teaching spiritual truths the Buddha always uses these concepts and ideas in the way that a raft is used to cross a river. Once the river has been crossed over, the raft is of no more use, and should be discarded. These arbitrary concepts and ideas about spiritual things need to be explained to us as we seek to attain Enlightenment. However, ultimately these arbitrary conceptions can be discarded.

(from Chapter 6)

The highest, most fulfilled, most awakened and enlightened mind

Then Buddha asked Subhuti, “What do you think, Subhuti, has the Buddha arrived at the highest, most fulfilled, most awakened and enlightened mind? Does the Buddha teach any teaching?”

Subhuti replied, “As far as I have understood the Buddha’s teachings, there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest, most fulfilled, awakened or enlightened mind.

Nor is there any independently existing teaching that the Buddha teaches.

Why? Because the teachings that the Buddha has realized and spoken of cannot be conceived of as separate, independent things and therefore cannot be described. The truth in them is uncontainable and inexpressible.

(from Chapter 7)

“…And yet, even as I speak, Subhuti, I must take back my words as soon as they are uttered, for there are no Buddhas and there are no teachings.”

(from Chapter 8)

“No, Most Honored One. According to what I understand from the teachings of the Buddha, there is no attaining of anything called the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind.”

The Buddha said: “You are correct, Subhuti. In fact, there does not exist any so-called highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind that the Buddha attains…Someone would be mistaken to say that the Buddha has attained the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind because there is no such thing as a highest, most fulfilled, or awakened mind to be attained.”

(from Chapter 17)

Does a Buddha consider themselves to be enlightened?

“Tell me, Subhuti. Does a Buddha say to himself, ‘I have obtained Perfect Enlightenment.’?”

“No, Blessed One. There is no such thing as Perfect Enlightenment to obtain. If a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha were to say to himself, ‘I am enlightened’ he would be admitting there is an individual person, a separate self and personality, and would therefore not be a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha.”

(from Chapter 9)

How to practice

“A disciple should develop a mind which is in no way dependent upon sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensory sensations or any mental conceptions. A disciple should develop a mind which does not rely on anything. Therefore, Subhuti, the minds of all disciples should be purified of all thoughts that relate to seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and discriminating. They should use their minds spontaneously and naturally, without being constrained by preconceived notions arising from the senses.”

(from Chapter 10)

“Therefore, Subhuti, disciples should leave behind all distinctions of phenomena and awaken the thought of the attainment of Supreme Enlightenment. A disciple should do this by not allowing their mind to depend upon ideas evoked by the world of the senses – by not allowing their mind to depend upon ideas stirred by sounds, odours, flavors, sensory touch, or any other qualities. The disciple’s mind should be kept independent of any thoughts that might arise within it. If the disciple’s mind depends upon anything in the sensory realm it will have no solid foundation in any reality.”

(from Chapter 14)

Is there a clear teaching to be taught?

“What do you think, Subhuti? Has the Buddha taught any definite teaching in this Sutra?” “No, the Buddha has not taught any definite teaching in this Sutra.”

(from Chapter 13)

Does a Buddha have characteristics?

“Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Buddha be perceived by means of his thirty-two physical characteristics?”

“No, Most Honored One. The Buddha cannot be perceived by his thirty-two physical characteristics. Why? Because the Buddha teaches that they are not real but are merely called the thirty-two physical characteristics.”

Subhuti’s response to the teachings

At that time, after listening to this Sutra, Subhuti had understood its profound meaning and was moved to tears.

He said, “What a rare and precious thing it is that you should deliver such a deeply profound teaching.”

(from Chapter 14)

The benefits of understanding this teaching 

If there is a person who hears this Sutra, who receives and retains it with faith and understanding, then that person will be a rare one, a person of most remarkable achievement. Such a person will be able to awaken pure faith because they have ceased to cherish any arbitrary notions of their own selfhood, other selves, living beings, or a universal self.

Why? Because if they continue to hold onto arbitrary conceptions as to their own selfhood, they will be holding onto something that is non-existent. It is the same with all arbitrary conceptions of other selves, living beings, or a universal self. These are all expressions of non-existent things.

(from Chapter 14)

What is a Buddha?

“Buddhas are Buddhas because they have been able to discard all arbitrary conceptions of form and phenomena, they have transcended all perceptions, and have penetrated the illusion of all forms.”

(from Chapter 14)

Persons and form

“…Just as the Buddha declares that form is not form, so he also declares that all living beings are, in fact, not living beings.”

(from Chapter 14)

Understanding the teachings

“Subhuti, if a person is satisfied with lesser teachings than those I present here, if he or she is still caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self, then that person would not be able to listen to, receive, recite, or explain this Sutra to others.”

(from Chapter 15)

“Subhuti, you should know that the meaning of this Sutra is beyond conception and discussion. Likewise, the fruit resulting from receiving and practicing this Sutra is beyond conception and discussion.”

(from Chapter 16)

Helping others attain enlightenment

“Subhuti, a good son or daughter who wants to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind must create this resolved attitude of mind: ‘I must help to lead all beings to the shore of awakening, but, after these beings have become liberated, in truth I know that not even a single being has been liberated.’ Why is this so? If a disciple cherishes the idea of a self, a person, a living being or a universal self, then that person is not an authentic disciple. Why? Because in fact there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind.”

(from Chapter 17)

“Subhuti, do not say that the Buddha has the idea, ‘I will lead all sentient beings to Nirvana.’ Do not think that way, Subhuti. Why? In truth there is not one single being for the Buddha to lead to Enlightenment. If the Buddha were to think there was, he would be caught in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self. Subhuti, what the Buddha calls a self essentially has no self in the way that ordinary persons think there is a self. Subhuti, the Buddha does not regard anyone as an ordinary person. That is why he can speak of them as ordinary persons.”

(from Chapter 25)

Who becomes enlightened?

“Subhuti, my teachings reveal that even such a thing as is called a ‘disciple’ is non-existent. Furthermore, there is really nothing for a disciple to liberate.”

(from Chapter 17)

Who is a true disciple?

“A true disciple knows that there is no such thing as a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self. A true disciple knows that all things are devoid of selfhood, devoid of any separate individuality.”

(from Chapter 17)

What does it feel like to be enlightened?

Subhuti again asked, “Blessed One, when you attained complete Enlightenment, did you feel in your mind that nothing had been acquired?”

The Buddha replied: “That is it exactly, Subhuti. When I attained total Enlightenment, I did not feel, as the mind feels, any arbitrary conception of spiritual truth, not even the slightest. Even the words ‘total Enlightenment’ are merely words, they are used merely as a figure of speech.”

(from Chapter 22)

Total enlightenment

“Furthermore Subhuti, what I have attained in total Enlightenment is the same as what all others have attained. It is undifferentiated, regarded neither as a high state, nor a low state. It is wholly independent of any definite or arbitrary conceptions of an individual self, other selves, living beings, or a universal self.”

(from Chapter 22)

The importance of ethical behaviour

“Subhuti, when someone is selflessly charitable, they should also practice being ethical by remembering that there is no distinction between one’s self and the selfhood of others. Thus one practices charity by giving not only gifts, but through kindness and sympathy. Practice kindness and charity without attachment and you can become fully enlightened.”

“Subhuti, what I just said about kindness does not mean that when someone is being charitable they should hold onto arbitrary conceptions about kindness, for kindness is, after all, only a word and charity needs to be spontaneous and selfless, done without regard for appearances.”

(from Chapter 22)

Knowing and worshipping the Buddha

“Should anyone, looking at an image or likeness of the Buddha, claim to know the Buddha and worship him, that person would be mistaken, not knowing the true Buddha.”

(from Chapter 26)

Is everything illusory and unreal?

“Do not think that when one gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind, one needs to see all objects of mind as nonexistent, cut off from life. Please do not think in that way. One who gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind does not contend that all objects of mind are nonexistent and cut off from life. That is not what I say.”

(from Chapter 27)

The verbal teachings

“If any person were to say that the Buddha, in his teachings, has constantly referred to himself, to other selves, to living beings, or to a universal self, what do you think, would that person have understood my meaning?”

Subhuti replied, “No, blessed One. That person would not have understood the meaning of your teachings. For when you refer to those things, you are not referring to their actual existence; you only use the words as figures of speech, as symbols. Only in that sense can words be used, for (1) conceptions, (2) ideas, (3) limited truths, and (4) spiritual truths have no more reality than have matter or phenomena.”

Then the Buddha made his meaning even more emphatic by saying:

“Subhuti, when people begin their practice of seeking to attaining total Enlightenment, they ought to see, to perceive, to know, to understand, and to realize that all things and all spiritual truths are no-things; and, therefore, they ought not to conceive within their minds any arbitrary conceptions whatsoever.”

(from Chapter 31)

How to understand these teachings and explain them to others

“Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind any arbitrary conception of forms or phenomena or spiritual truths? It can only be done, Subhuti, by keeping the mind in perfect tranquillity and free from any attachment to appearances.”

(from Chapter 32)

Closing words

“So I say to you—This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:

Like a tiny drop of dew,
or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp,
an illusion,
a phantom,
or a dream.
So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”


Spiritual enlightenment: powerful teachings from Robert Adams


Robert Adams (1928-1997), who I think I can rightly call a devotee of Ramana Maharshi, taught in his later years in the USA. From what I’ve read of his teachings, they are incredibly similar to the verbal teachings of Ramana Maharshi, and also have a sense of openness, precision and clarity.

I’ve trawled through a few of his writings and put together some excerpts that I hope will be of benefit to the seeker of spiritual enlightenment. This is not meant to represent the complete scope of Robert Adam’s teachings, but just to highlight some key points that leapt out to me as I read through. I particularly concentrated on the role of thought in Robert Adam’s teachings.

I have bolded some phrases that seemed important to me and also interspersed some very brief comments in red. Again, I hope this is of benefit to you.


Firstly, some teachings about ‘no thoughts’, which will be expanded upon later on. In the initial quotes Robert says ‘no thoughts’, but in the later quotes he explains exactly what this means.

Sitting here quietly, peaceful, without thoughts then you are the unblemished Self. The ultimate reality, this is you right now. As soon as you start thinking about it, it goes away, it changes, it’s not you any longer, it’s your humanhood. So when I say to adore your Self I am referring to adoring yourself as God, as the ultimate reality which is really you. But if you think of yourself as a human being with problems who makes mistakes you cannot adore yourself at all. You condemn yourself you put yourself down.


Liberation means that you’re totally and completely free, without thoughts. There are no thoughts in the Self. If there were thoughts in the Self, it wouldn’t be the Self. For the Self is only one and all-pervading. When you become absorbed in the Self, it’s completely different than what you ever believed. It’s not explainable. But as far as you’re concerned, you become totally free, happy, peaceful. There is no longer anyone to argue with or become upset over. This is the Self.

It’s very simple, no thoughts and you’re free.

Now a bit about a method of creating a state in which there are no thoughts:

See what you’re doing now. You’re thinking. That spoils it. Learn to stay without thought. Even if for a few seconds. It’s hard isn’t it. This is the reason you have to ask yourself, “To whom do these thoughts come?” It’s only a modality to cause you to stop thinking. (slight pause)

Some of you are beginning to feel what I’m talking about. No thoughts. Nothing to remember. Nothing to do. When thoughts come to you about your affairs, about your predicament, realize that you have surrendered your affairs and your predicament to the Self and all is well.

In other words there should be no situation that appears strong enough to set you off. Feeling miserable or feeling too happy. No thing should have that power. It’s called the thoughtless state.

It’s really not that hard. Let go. Close your eyes, it’ll help. If you have to do something, observe your breath. But if you can’t, forget about your breath. After all, to whom does the breath come? To the body. Since there is no body there is no breath. Then what is? I-am. What is I-am? Silence. Open your heart, let go. There is no past, no future. No thing can ever harm you. You exist in eternity. Be still. The breath does not exist any longer. There never was a body.

There is only that. Silence.

Your job is to stop thinking. To remove the thoughts. The thoughts are your Master now. That make you feel sad or happy, good or bad. Why do you feel this way? For your thoughts since you were a little kid have been impressed by the world conditions, by your parents, by your school, by your church and they have convinced you and programmed you to believe this is good, this is bad, this is right, this is wrong. Only when you have this are you successful. If you don’t have certain things you are a failure. It is the thoughts that tell you these things. Again if there are no thoughts there is noone left to tell you anything. This is called liberation, moksha, freedom. You begin where you are now. You begin with yourself. You question yourself. You inquire, “Who am I?” You sit in the silence. If thoughts come you inquire, “To whom do they come? You become still.”

When the mind is quiet the thoughts subside. When there are no thoughts there is the self. So all these practices are really to quieten the mind, not for any other purpose. No matter what form of sadhana you’re practicing. Whether you’re a Jnana or bhakta or karmic yoga or anything else they’re really the same. All of these practices are simply to quieten the mind. To make the mind one pointed. When the mind becomes one pointed self-inquiry becomes very easy. Then the mind will disappear completely and you’ll be free.

And what about feelings?

Body sensations are the same as thoughts. As you keep inquiring, “Who am I?” And you stay in the space between the answer, between the question. Then the body thoughts become less and less and the thoughts become less and less, they’re the same thing. The feelings and the thoughts are nothing as you practice sel finquiry. You ask, “Who does this come to? It comes to me. I think this. Who am I?” And when you keep still your body sensations will slow down, as well as your thoughts. And soon there will be no body sensations, there will be no thoughts. There will be nothing. So body sensations are the same as thoughts. T139: Existence Is Not In Form! 1500 When one goes the other goes also. You cannot have body sensations without thoughts. There has to be a thought about a body sensation. So when the thoughts dissipate, the body sensations will also dissipate.

Is no-thoughts the same as self-realisation?

The no mind state is when you’ve come from practicing, to the place in the silence. Where there are no thoughts bothering you any longer. You get there through self inquiry. That is the fastest way. But that is not self-realization. Self-realization is when the mind is pulled into the spiritual heart…

…Liberation, moksha, self-realization is when the mind that’s left over in the silence is pulled completely into the spiritual heart. At that time your whole mind, the I dissolves completely and you are free.

So the no mind state is a very high state. It’s the state of bliss. But there is still somebody left to experience the bliss. When the bliss is pulled into the heart there is no one left to experience anything. Therefore you no longer say, “I’m in the no mind state.” At that time there is nothing to say. Can you understand that?

I’m scared. What will happen if I don’t think?

The thoughts and the ego are synonymous. As the thoughts slow down, the ego slows down, and begins to also disappear with the thoughts. When there are no thoughts, there’s no ego. When there’s no ego, there’s nobody left to think. Then the question you will ask is, “How do I function without thinking?” As I mentioned in the beginning, the sage’s thoughts are like a burnt rope. They appear to be real, but they’re not. In other words, your thoughts are not real. They are false. How do you function without thoughts? Very well, thank you.

Many of you still believe you have to have thoughts to function. You think you’ll become a vegetable, but you will be spontaneous without thoughts. You’ll be motivated by the Self. You will know what to do, where to go, whom to speak to, whom not to speak to, much better than you do now, much, much better. Things will happen to you spontaneously. Everything we always talk about is very paradoxical, and the paradox here is, even though you have no thoughts, you will still think about certain things. It has to be done. But there’s absolutely no thinker alive. There’s no thinker. There is no one left to think, yet you still appear to be thinking about certain things, so you can function. It’s similar to what we were discussing on Sunday. People always ask me, “What do you see? Do you see the world?” Of course I see the world. If I didn’t see the world, I wouldn’t be able to function. But I see the world as the Self. In other words, I see the world as images on reality, like in the movies, the images on the screen. I’m able to see the screen and the images at the same time. I see reality and I see the images. So it is with the thoughts, the same thing with the thoughts. You appear to be thinking, but you’re not thinking. This is a very important point to remember. You will think whatever you have to think about, but the thoughts will be dead, like the burnt rope, like the fan with the plug pulled out, but the blades are still spinning, until they stop.

But can we really stop our thoughts? It that actually possible?

Now really, no Sage on this earth or anywhere else really stops the thoughts. As long as you see a body, and you call that body the Sage, there will always be some sort of thinking in that body, some sort of thought. For instance I can be sitting here and I’ll say to myself “when I go home I’m going to eat a dish of ice-cream”. This is a thought. But what happens when I say it and what happens when you say it?

When I say it, when I think it, it is similar to a burned rope. A burned rope may appear to be strong, but when you pick it up, it turns to ashes. It’s burned. There’s nothing there. When you say it, it is like a real rope, not burned. You give it energy, you give it power. Again when the Sage thinks of something, it is like a fan that has been pulled out of the socket. It’s still turning, but there’s no power. The power is dead. The power has been cut off. In other words, the source of a Saint is dead. The source of the Sage has no power, no power whatsoever. This is why it is said, a Sage does not think. A Sage has no thoughts. What it really means is that the Sage’s thoughts are dead.

When the thoughts are dead, you live in ABSOLUTE REALITY. You live in PURE AWARENESS. When the thoughts are dead you live in SAT-CHIT-ANANDA, in NIRVANA. So what do you have to do to also cease thinking, so the thoughts can become dead? You simply do not attach yourself to the thoughts. By not attaching yourself to the thoughts, by not reacting to the thoughts, by not responding to the thoughts, they lose their power and begin to fade away. Yet do not give them any energy. Do not give them any power. Do not say to yourself, I have to stop my thoughts. Do nothing like this. Just slow down, slow down. Let the thoughts do what they may. Allow the thoughts to go their own way. Do nothing with your thoughts. Do not think about them. Do not fight them. And above all, do not try to stop them. You may think this is so difficult, but it’s not.

It’s like when you first wake up, before the thoughts come. You’re still drowsy from sleep. And when the first thoughts come to you, you hardly pay any attention to them. That’s the attitude to have.  

 A different approach to/clarification of the practice – no need to remove thoughts

It has come to my attention that many of you are trying to stop your thoughts, control your thoughts. You cannot really do this. Trying to stop your thoughts, as Ramana Maharshi says, is like a thief becoming a policeman to catch the thief. In other words, the thief that becomes the policeman will not catch the thief, because he is the thief himself.. And so it is with our minds. When we use the mind to stop the thoughts, the mind will not stop the thoughts at all, because the mind wants to go on living.

Stopping the thoughts is annihilating the mind, and the mind does not wish to be annihilated. The mind wants to live on to fill you full of nonsense, superstitions. Therefore we do not try to stop, the thoughts. What do we really do? We do absolutely nothing. There is really nothing you have to do to make the thoughts cease. Always remember when you do things according to the Sadhanas you’ve learned, the spiritual exercise you’ve practice, the meditations, the yoga. This will make you free for a couple of moments, and then the thoughts will come back to you with full force, knocking you over. You cannot stop the mind or control the mind with spiritual practice.

Again you cause the thoughts to cease by doing absolutely nothing. By being your SELF. And all the scriptures we read, unless the mind stops spinning there will be no realization, no liberation. Only when the mind stops, the thoughts cease to be, is there liberation. Yet we use the words “to stop the mind, to stop, the thoughts”. This is sort of a misnomer. For again you have to use the mind to stop the thoughts, and the mind does not want to do this. It does not wish to cease thinking.

Yet by ceasing to think, you do acquire unalloyed happiness, infinite peace, Divine Bliss. When the thoughts do stop, these verities come forward, and you become free. You do not have to watch the thoughts, analyze the thoughts, be the witness to the thoughts, or observe the thoughts in any way whatsoever. All of these symptoms simply make the mind stronger really.


Ignore the thoughts completely, totally, absolutely. Again, do not fight your thoughts. Ignoring your thoughts is not fighting your thoughts. Do not try to change your thoughts. Above all do not try to stop your thoughts.

What is the best way to deal with thoughts?

It makes no difference if the thoughts are good or bad, they’re both impostors. In reality there are no good thoughts, there are no bad thoughts. We’re not trying to replace bad thoughts for good thoughts. We’re trying to LEAVE THE THOUGHTS ALONE. Not to do a thing about them. I want to make this perfectly clear. This is the highest way to handle your thoughts.

Do not be in conflict with your thoughts and the self. When there is no conflict there are no thoughts. Thoughts only appear because there’s conflict. By conflict I mean, you’re worrying about getting rid of your thoughts, you’re doing sadhana, meditation, pranayamas, japa. All of these things cause conflict. For aren’t you saying, “I’m doing these things to become liberated. I’m doing these things to become free.”

The reason there’s a the conflict is because you’re already free and liberated. Therefore when you give yourself the information that you have to do something to become liberated, there is immediately conflict. This is the only problem you have. It is your conflict. And this conflict comes from programming when you were a child, from samskaras, from previous existence, things that you took with you, the habits that are inside of you, that you believe you are.

This is where the conflict comes from. For it tells you, “I’m just a human being, I’m just a frail body. I have to suffer sometimes, sometimes I have to be happy.” This is all a lie. There never was a you that has to suffer. There never was a you that has to be happy.

Thoughts are an optical illusion:

Do not analyze what I am saying. Do not even agree with what I’m saying. Just be open. Open your heart by remaining still, silent. Allow the thoughts to come, do try not to stop them. Do not judge your thoughts, analyze your thoughts, or try to change your thoughts, or try to remove your thoughts. This will put you back in conflict with your thoughts. Do not even observe your thoughts. Do not even be the witness to your thoughts. Why? Because in reality there are no thoughts. The thoughts that you think you’re thinking, are an optical illusion. It is false imagination. Don’t you see? Everything that you’re thinking about is false. There is no thinker and there are no thoughts. So why have you been practicing all these exercises all of your life? It’s like a person in the ocean going in search for water. Awaken. Be free. Be yourself.

I know it’s difficult for some of you to think that you have to do absolutely nothing to become free, because you’re already free.

No thoughts can liberate you

Just the idea of wanting to awaken is a mistake. Just the feeling that I want to become awake, I want to become self-realized, I want to be liberated, is a mistake, for it’s part of the thinking process, and the thinking process can never liberate you. There are no thoughts that can liberate you. There are no emotions or feelings that can liberate you, awaken you, make you free.

Question: So when you say don’t think, you don’t mean stop all your thoughts. You mean stop identifying with the thoughts that are occurring.

R: Yes. Thoughts come before the thinker comes on the picture.

Question : So is there any point where they stop, where the thoughts do stop?

R: The thoughts do stop, yes, and you just act spontaneously. But they appear like thoughts, but they are no longer thoughts. For instance if I think I’m getting up off this chair, the thought had to come to me spontaneously, but that’s the end. So I’m not really thinking about getting off the chair. I just did it.

Q: That’s like the end, the duration, is no longer present. The thought arose, died, there was no concern.

R: That’s right.

Q: There is no separation between the thought and the action.

R: Exactly. It’s all one.

Q: So really what happened is you lost all sense of division like there was separate thought entities. They come, they end, another one comes, it’s just like, right?

R: There’s no beginning and no end.

Q: So actually non-duality is the real thing, even with thoughts, and what appears to appear is the I or the one concerned with the thoughts, and that’s when duality surges up.

Does a Jnani have thoughts?

Question: Robert I have a problem with this thing about thoughts, ultimately thoughts are the manifestation of the Self. I don’t know if I’m wrong but, if that’s the case the thoughts are non-dual per se. Duality comes only when there is somebody who believes they’re the thinker. So thoughts per se like in the case of the Jnani, he has thoughts but there is nobody to think about? I mean that’s the way I see it.

R: The Self is self-contained and the Self really does not manifest thoughts to begin with. Thoughts are an illusion and like you say, the Jnani does have thoughts. But the thoughts of the Jnani can only goes this far and they stop. But they do not bring on any more karma, they do not disturb the Jnani at all. They have no value whatsoever to the Jnani. The thoughts come very lightly, very slowly, they come and they go, they come and they go. There is no permanent thought. But the thoughts do not come from the Self. The Self is the Self. They appear to come from the Self. Just like the world appears, the body appears, the thoughts appear.

Therefore when you follow the I like we said in the beginning and we realize the thoughts and the body is attached to the I, when the I goes everything else goes. Thoughts go and everything goes. So don’t try to really stop your thoughts, get rid of the I that thinks the thoughts. See the difference? Whenever I tell you stop thinking, I mean catch the I that thinks. Find the source of the I that thinks. And the thoughts will stop by themselves.

Question: Robert, in several traditions I see, I think they talk about realization it comes along with the elimination of thoughts. Is that true or is the thinker which is creating that and thoughts are still happening in the Jnani? Of course I believe that thoughts are happening in the Jnani it’s just that he doesn’t identify with them or he doesn’t think? 

R: That’s true. They like bounce off. The thoughts come and disappear at the same time. They come and they’re gone, they come and they’re gone.

Q: That’s right, you don’t dwell on them do you?

R: Exactly.

Q: But the Jnani or the realized one doesn’t see them as factual things.

R: Indeed that’s right. No the thoughts are just return to nothing. They come and they melt. Like ice. They come and they melt and they go, and they come and they melt and they go.

Q: No clinging whatsoever?

R: No clinging, no attachment.

Q: So that’s what it means, elimination of thoughts?

R: Yes, you can say that. 

Q: Because actually thoughts will always happen, within the nature of things while you are living in this world.

R: It’s not like the thoughts that the average person has. The thoughts that come to me. I realize that they’re not real. So I just look at them and they go away.

Q: So they acquire a new quality?

R: They’re a different quality of thought. But you’re right as long as there’s something present, some part of the body is still present, thoughts come, but they don’t come to me. They just pass through. Like empty mind.

Do thoughts even exist?

In reality there are no thoughts. There is no one trying to stop them. There is no liberation, there is no bondage. There is nothing. You’re using the same nothing to stop your thoughts. Do nothing. Because you are nothing. Nothing plus nothing makes nothing. Can you see why I tell you to do nothing now? Because you’re using your real nature when you do nothing. YOU are your SELF YOU are the ABSOLUTE REALITY when you are NOTHING. Consequently when you are doing something to stop your thoughts, you’re fooling yourself. Nothing will ever happen. Like I say, you will acquire a little peace, that’s it. But by slowing yourself down, saying nothing, hearing nothing, doing nothing, being nothing, your thoughts will stop completely, totally absolutely. And as I mentioned before, you will feel beautiful happiness, peace of mind, bliss, you’ll be free.

Consciousness has no thoughts. (SB: But if consciousness is all there is how can thought be outside of all there is.) Thought is not outside of all there is, thought is part of the ego, part of the non-existence. Thought does not really exist. It’s like the body that doesn’t really exist. And the world does not really exist. And the mind does not really exist. And karma does not really exist. So thought does not really exist.

Q: So the motion doesn’t really exist?

R: Motion doesn’t really exist.

Q: That is why it’s an illusion. It just appears pretty real.

R: An illusion does not really exist.

What about the doer?

Question: And the difference is between those thoughts which have a claim in it and those thoughts which do not.

R: Have a claim?

Q: Yeah, those claims that I’m doing something.

R: You have to realize, “I am not the doer.” And when those thoughts come, ask yourself, “To whom do they come?” And they’ll disappear. Is that what you mean?

Q: No, because you were talking about the thoughts of a Jnani that they had different thoughts and I would take it that those thoughts don’t have any claim of doing?

R: Oh I see what you mean, right. That’s right.

Q: And other thoughts have a claim of doing.

R: Yes.

Q: So there’s a difference between those which have a claim and those which don’t.

R: A Jnani has no attachment to his thoughts whatsoever. They mean nothing, they’re valueless.

Does the ‘illusion of life’ disappear when you are self-realised?

There’s only consciousness and whatever appears in consciousness is an image…Like still life and when you realize who you are, you realize that you are the consciousness and not the still life. And the still life becomes an illusion. But it’s still there. But you’re aware that it’s not reality. You realize that everything is non reality. But it exists as an image in the Self.

Like the images in the mirror. They appear to exist. But you can’t do anything with them, because if you try to grab them you grab the mirror not the image. Consciousness is the same way. When you try to grab anything, you find it’s illusory. It doesn’t exist. Only consciousness exists.

So you ask, what about everything in the room, it appears to be real. That’s part of the dream, it’s part of the illusion. When you have a dream, you dream that everything exists, the world exists, the universe exists, people exist and you’re going through all kinds of periods, problems and delusions, but then you wake up and it’s gone. So when you wake up you laugh, for you realize it has all been a dream and only the Self exists, and you are that.

Does consciousness even exist?

Q: But when you say that consciousness exists that’s looking at it from a relative point of view. In itself consciousness doesn’t have a feeling of I exist.

R: Of course, you’re right. But to explain it you have to use some words…There is no consciousness, there is no existence, there’s no Self. So let’s keep still then.

Final ‘thoughts’!

It is the I, or the thinker, or the knower who has to be eliminated. For in reality there is absolutely nothing to know. If you are all-pervading, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, what else do you want? You’ve got everything. You are everything.

So when you try to know something, you’re making a grave mistake. This is a very important point. Remember this. In Advaita Vedanta, the knower is the last to go. What comes after the knower? Silence! There is nothing else.

The highest path of Jnana is no thinker left to think at all. Nobody is home. There is a total blank. There is no one around to do any thinking or preparing anything or trying to solve a problem or trying to do anything. At that stage you’re totally free.

You always have to think. Why do you have to think? You think you have to think, yet there is no thinker. You think you have to know, yet there is no knower. You think you have to be. There is no being. There just is, and you are that is-ness.