Pure sattva is the Self | Ramana Maharshi

Since sattva-guna [the constituent of prakriti which makes for purity, intelligence, etc.] is the nature of mind, and since the mind is pure and undefiled like ether, what is called mind is, in truth, of the nature of knowledge.

Tom: Often the Self is said to be beyond the three gunas (Tamas, Rajas and Sattva). Here Sri Ramana tells us that pure sattva, or pure mind, which is the utterly and totally peaceful mind in its natural state, is actually the Self.

When it stays in that natural [i.e. pure] state, it has not even the name “mind”. It is only the erroneous knowledge which mistakes one for another that is called mind.

Tom: This pure sattva, unlike mixed sattva, is completely devoid of any rajas and tamas, and so is beyond all the gunas.

What was originally the pure sattva mind, of the nature of pure knowledge, forgets its knowledge-nature on account of nescience, gets transformed into the world under the influence of tamo-guna [i.e. the constituent of prakriti which makes for dullness, inertness, etc.], being under the influence of rajo-guna [i.e. the constituent of prakriti which makes for activity, passions, etc.], imagines “I am the body, etc.; the world is real”, it acquires the consequent merit and demerit through attachment, aversion, etc., and, through the residual impressions [vasanas] thereof, attains birth and death.

~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Vichara Sangraham (Self Enquiry), Question 11

Does Swami Sarvapriyananda teach the same as Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna? | Swami Dayananda | Swami Satchidanendra Saraswati | Sri Ramana Maharshi | Advaita Vedanta

It’s a funny strange world, and when we explore spirituality the mind boggles with all the different teachings that are out there, available for our consumption. One of the more popular teachers of Vedanta in recent years is Swami Sarvapriyananda, a monk from the Ramakrishna Order. This Order of monks was not set up by Ramakrishna, but was set up by Swami Vivekananda, a devotee and disciple of Ramakrishna, shortly after Ramakrishna’s death.

As a teenager I found a book of Swami Vivekananda’s on my parent’s bookshelf and started to read it. It was this book that propelled me into becoming a ‘spiritual seeker’ – the book was called Raja Yoga. After reading this book I started to read all I could on the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

It is worth noting that Ramakrishna learnt and was initiated into traditional Advaita Vedanta from the monk Tota Puri, who is purported to have been part of a teaching lineage dating back to at least Adi Shankara – ie. Sri Ramakrishna was taught and initiated into Advaita Vedanta in a traditional way – this will become more relevant as you read on. Anyway, through reading so much of their material as a teenager, I became very familiar with the respective teachings of both Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna.

More recently, having come across Swami Sarvapriyananda, who is currently the head of the outpost of the Ramakrishna Mission in New York, I was surprised to see that in some quite important ways what Swami Sarvapriyananda teaches departs from what Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna taught – I hope to demonstrate this below. I will also comment on how Swami Sarvapriyananda’s teaching differs to Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, illustrating this with quotes.

As always, these articles are not written in order to put anyone down or criticise. I do understand that a range of teachings and teachers can be a part of one’s spiritual journey, and if you are finding a certain teacher or teaching to be helpful to you, who am I to say otherwise? In fact, I am happy for you! Ultimately it is all good, and if we are earnest and honest, we will find what we are looking for (ie. Liberation/Self-Realisation) – it is only a matter of time. I only offer you my point of view in case it is of assistance to you.

Both Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna emphasised the need for samadhi for liberation. In fact the frequent mention of samadhi is one of the most notable parts of the teaching that comes through when you read either of them and their respective teachings. However with Swami Sarvapriyananda, he discourages this very practice that is emphasised by his Gurus, stating that samadhi is not necessary for liberation, and that this is essentially a false path that one should not undertake.

The traditional view: samadhi is requried for liberation

This is a common trend that we are seeing more and more – the notion that samadhi is not needed for liberation. However, for at least the last 1400-1600 years, the dominant traditional view in Advaita Vedanta was that Samadhi is required for liberation, and this is what has been handed down generation to generation, century after century, for over a millenium. We have very strong evidence for this as many Advaita texts written during this time clearly state the need for samadhi to attain liberation. Prior to this time, there is very little written textual evidence that we have available to us, unless we go back much further to the Upanishads, several of which also state the need for Samadhi or equivalent. eg.

The mind severed from all connection with sensual objects, and prevented from functioning out, awakes into the light of the heart, and finds the highest condition. The mind should be prevented from functioning, until it dissolves itself in the heart. This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, the rest is all mere concoction of untruth.
~ Amritabindu Upanishad

The Self (Atman) is beyond all expression by words beyond all acts of mind; It is absolutely peaceful, it is eternal effulgence free from activity and fear and it is attainable by Samadhi
~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika 3.37

When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahma-Vidya or Self Knowledge]
~Katha Upanishad 2.3.10

In his commentary on Katha Upanishad verse 1.2.20 Sri Shankara writes:

‘…One whose intellect has been withdrawn from all objects, gross and subtle, when this takes place, this is known as ‘inactivity of the sense organs’. Though this ‘inactivity of the sense organs’ one sees that glory of the Self. ‘Sees’ means he directly realises the Self as ‘I am the Self’ as thereby becomes free from suffering’

The two main great sages of recent times, Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) and Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) both stressed the need for samadhi in order for liberation to be attained, thus continuing this traditional view.

However, more recently, mainly only in the twentieth century, a new line of thought has arisen which claims that the traditional view is incorrect, and that samadhi is not really a requisite for liberation. Moreover, they state that this view that samadhi is not required is the actual traditional view that was distorted and corrupted some c. 1400 years ago. ie. they state that the traditional view that has been ongoing for at least 1400 years, if not longer, is not the actual traditional view, and that their view is actually the traditional view that was corrupted c.1400 years ago.

It seems that is is this school of thought that Swami Sarvapriyananda loosely belongs to. The other prominent recent teacher who teaches that samadhi is not required is Swami Dayananda Swaraswati. Of note, Swami Dayananda’s guru, Swami Chinmayananda was of the view that Samadhi is required for liberation, so Swami Dayananda has effectively broken away from the teaching tradition that he was initated into. This means that he is the first Guru in a new teaching ‘tradition’, and that this new teaching ‘tradition’ claims to be a traditional teaching tradition!

So here is a summary of various more recent teachers and their views on Samadhi with respect to liberation:

Teachers who state samadhi IS required
for liberation
Teachers who state samadhi is NOT required
for liberation
Sri RamakrishnaSwami Dayananda Swaraswati (disciple of Swami Chinmayananda, left)
Sri Ramana MaharshiSwami Paramarthananda (disciple of Swami Dayananda, above)
Swami VivekanandaSwami Sarvapriyananda (of the Ramakrishna Order, see left)
Swami Sivananda
Swami Chinmayananda
(disciple of Swami Sivananda, above)
Almost all the Sages and Gurus of
Advaita Vedanta for the last 1400-1600 years (there
is very little documenation of Advaita Vedanta before
this time unless we go back to the Upanishads themselves)

We should see the irony that many of the gurus of those in the right column, are in the left column, so some of these teachers in the right column have actually left the teachings of their lineage and set up a new teaching in its place!

What is Samadhi according to Swami Vivekananda?

Well to confuse things further, there are various definitions as to what constitutes samadhi, but as this post is focussing on Swami Vivekananda and Swami Sarvapriyananda, we will see what Swami Vivekananda states about samadhi. Here are a few quotes from Swami Vivekananda which explain his view – all the following are from Swami Vivekananda:

The conclusion of the Vedanta is that when there is absolute samadhi and cessation of all modifications, there is no return from that state’

‘When the mind proceeds towards self-absorption in Brahman, it passes through all these stages one by one to reach the absolute (Nirvikalpa) state at last. In the process of entering into Samadhi, first the universe appears as one mass of ideas; then the whole thing loses itself in a profound “Om”. Then even that melts away, even that seems to be between being and non-being. That is the experience of the eternal Nada. And then the mind becomes lost in the Reality of Brahman, and then it is done! All is peace!

Concentration is Samādhi, and that is Yoga proper; that is the principal theme of this science, and it is the highest means. The preceding ones are only secondary, and we cannot attain to the highest through them. Samadhi is the means through which we can gain anything and everything, mental, moral, or spiritual.

[Tom: Here we can see in the following quote that Swami Vivekananda clearly is stating that in the path of Jnana (knowledge), not just in Yoga, the culmination is in Nirvikalpa Samadhi:]

While the aspirant in the path of Jnana, pursuing the process of Neti, Neti, “not this, not this”, such as “I am not the body, nor the mind, nor the intellect”, and so on, attains to the Nirvikalpa Samadhi when he is established in absolute consciousness.

[Tom: we can see in the next quote that Swami Vivekananda is stating how we have to turn away from objective phenomena and only be with the Pure Consciousness devoid of objects, and that state is Samadhi]

‘In order to reach the superconscious state in a scientific manner it is necessary to pass through the various steps of Raja-Yoga I have been teaching. After Pratyahara and Dharana, we come to Dhyana, meditation. When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point. This state is called Dhyana. When one has so intensified the power of Dhyana as to be able to reject the external part of perception and remain meditating only on the internal part, the meaning, that state is called Samadhi.’

‘…It is the highest and last stage of Yoga. Samadhi is perfect absorption of thought into the Supreme Spirit, when one realises, ‘I and my Father are one.”

Samadhi is the means through which we can gain anything and everything, mental, moral, or spiritual.’

Samadhi in traditional scriptures

To see what traditional scriptures state about the need for samadhi to attain realisation, see these links:

What is Samadhi according to Advaita Vedanta?

Do we need to turn away from the world of objects to realise the Self? Advaita Vedanta & Upanishads

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

Sri Ramana Maharshi – Turn Within (Guided Meditation & Quotes)

Swami Chinmayananda’s commentary on Shankara’s Vivekachudamani: Nirvkalpa samadhi is the only way

Swami Saravpriyananda on Samadhi – ‘a fatal error’

Whilst we can see how Swami Vivekananda emphasises the need for meditation in which we turn away from the world/objective phenomena, and that this culminates in Samadhi, which in turn leads to liberation, we see something different from Swami Sarvapriyananda. Here is a video of his in which he discourages this type of meditation (please go to timestamps 24:58 and 33:49) and states that this is a ‘fatal error’, or see the transcript I have written out below:

Here is what Swami Sarvapriyananda states:

[timestamp 24:58] I would like to correct possibly what might be called a fatal error – a lot of people make it – a deep misconception which even people who should know better in Vedanta, who have been studying, they make it…you see the nature of the error is this – I am warning you in advance so that we don’t fall into that….

[timestamp 33:49; Swami Sarvapriyananda now describing what he sees as being the ‘fatal error’] ‘Now you have got this idea you have to go into the fourth state [ie. Turiya or Nirvikalpa Samadhi] which is a separate state and find the real self, the Turiya, and then they will go further to link it to that state is the nirvikalpa samadhi.

It will not help to sit in class in the Vedanta society with your books open, eyes open – no, you have to close your eyes, not fall asleep, not to dream, but go into a deep meditative state called the fourth state [Tom: note this is what Swami Sarvapriyananda is saying we should NOT do!].

Some people are nodding, no! Don’t nod! This is this is wrong! What I’m saying [ie. about the need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi above] is wrong. It’s a nice selling point, it’s [ie. liberation is] available at the fourth state that you will attain through esoteric meditation practices and then you will be realized – no no no! You have forever shut the doors to enlightenment...!’

You can see that Swami Sarvapriyananda is stating that one should not turn within, or rather, that this ‘turning within’ to enter into Nirvikalpa Samadhi/Turiya is not required for liberation.

More than that, he is stating that if you take on this view, you will have ‘forever shut the doors to enlightenment’. He does not even acknolwedge that this turning inwards and attaining samadhi is another path to liberation, but categorically states this path is a false path and does not lead to liberation. This is in direct constrast with the quotes from Swami Vivekananda above which advocate the attainment of Samadhi as a valid means to liberation.

Now contrast what Swami Sarvapriyananda has said with the quotes I have given above, both in the links and from this article, or with the following from Sri Ramana Maharshi:

Ramana Maharshi: Conscious Immortality – here Sri Ramana emphasises the need for repeated meditation, entering into samadhi and the need to turn away from objective phenomena (what he calls here ‘nama-rupa’ or ‘name and form’). Here is an excerpt from the above article, the following is a quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi:

It is necessary to practise meditation frequently and regularly until the condition induced becomes habitual and permanent throughout the day. Therefore meditate…It is not by a single realisation that “I am not the body but the Atman” that the goal is reached. Do we become high in position by once seeing a king? One must constantly enter into samadhi and realise one’s Self, and completely blot out the old vasanas and the mind, before it becomes the Self’

Sri Ramana Maharshi also wrote an essay in which he outlines the entire path to liberation. In that essay he states that Nirvikalpa Samadhi leads directly to liberation, as follows:

Just as butter is made by churning the curds and fire by friction, so the natural and changeless state of Nirvikalpa samadhi is produced by unswerving vigilant concentration on the Self, ceaseless like the unbroken flow of oil. This readily and spontaneously yields that direct, immediate, unobstructed, and Universal perception of Brahman, which is at once knowledge and experience and which transcends time and space.

To further cement this point, here is a quote from Swami Chinmayananda from this link, who says the complete opposite of Swami Sarvapriyananda. Swami Chinmayananda states that Nirvikalpa Samadhi is the only way:

‘In the condition of nirvikalpa samadhi alone can this great Reality be apprehended with certainty. With cent per cent certainty you apprehend the Truth when all the waves and ripples in your mind have ended. Sankara is positive and declares, ‘Never by any other method’; bringing the mind to quietude is the only method‘.

Swami Sarvapriyananda advises against Sri Ramana’s teaching of Wakeful Sleep (Jagrat Sushupti)/Turiya

Note that when Swami Sarvapriyananda states in the video/transcript above ‘you have to close your eyes, not fall asleep, not to dream, but go into a deep meditative state called the fourth state.’ – Swami Sarvapriyananda here is describing what he sees as the error – ie. he is advising that this is not the way. This teaching he is denouncing here as being false is the teaching of wakeful sleep (Jagrat Sushupti) that Sri Ramana Maharshi often used to teach.

The idea of this teaching is that one should not fall asleep or go into dream, but one should stay conscious and awake but without any thoughts. This teaching is explained in more detail by Sri Ramana Maharshi here. It shows that Swami Sarvapriyananda is fully aware of this teaching but is advising against it, in direct contrast to Sri Ramana!

The text Guru Vachaka Kovai (Garland of Guru’s Sayings) is, according to Sri Ramana Ashram, ‘the most precise, systematic and authoritative exposition’ of Sri Ramana’s teachings. Here is verse 17 of Guru Vachaka Kovai where Sri Ramana equates wakeful sleep with Turiya, and refers to Tuirya as being a state to attain:

17. To those who look within, the highest good gained by the Master’s grace is wakeful sleep, the turiya state, the undying flame, the sweet, uncloying fruit forever fresh.

Here are some more verses on Turiya from Guru Vachaka Kovai which speak of Turiya as a state to be attained:

196. The unlimited Space of Turiyatita which shines suddenly, in all its fullness, within the Heart of a highly mature aspirant during the state of complete absorption of mind, as if a fresh and previously unknown experience, is the rarely attained and true Shiva-Loka [i.e., Kingdom of God], which shines by the Light of Self.

Here Sri Ramana states Turiya is to be attained when the mind and senses are brought under control ‘day and night’:

685. If the inner instruments of knowledge [ie. mind, intellect, chittam and ego] and the outer instruments of knowledge [ie. the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin] have been brought under control day and night [i.e. always], the supreme Reality which shines in the inexpressible state of turiya will dawn.

Here again Sri Ramana equates Turiya with waking sleep and also with Jnana:

940. Whether it is called a grand sleep devoid of waking, or a single waking untouched by in-slipping sleep, it will aptly fit the venerable Jnana-turiya.

You can see that the teachings are in direct contrast. Sri Ramana, in the verses above and in many other places, speaks of Turiya as a state to be attained through turning inwards and not attending to sense-objects. This indeed is the traditional view found in Advaita Vedanta texts for many centuries. Whereas Swami Sarvapriyananda is stating that this is a false teaching and that people who teach this ‘should know better’.

Ok, one more quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi, from a text he himself wrote called Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry), in which prolonged meditation is advocated in order to attain Turiya:

The experience of Self is possible only for the mind that has become subtle and unmoving as a result of prolonged meditation. He who is thus endowed with a mind that has become subtle, and who has the experience of the Self is called a jivan-mukta. It is the state of jivan-mukti that is referred to as the attributeless Brahman and as the Turiya.

Swami Sarvapriyananda on Self-Enquiry

You will find similar differences in the teachings given by Swami Sarvapriyananda on other areas too – eg. you can find for yourself a video where Swami Sarvapriyananda explains how to do Self-Enquiry. Then you can compare this with what Sri Ramana wrote in the text ‘Who am I?’, which is a text in which Sri Ramana instructs us on the method of Self-Enquiry, and you will see the teachings are actually very different.

For some reason I have found that many seekers I come across are often not able to discern these differences in the teachings, especially in the text ‘Who Am I?’ or think that they are pointing at the same thing in different ways, but if you listen carefully, you will see the differences. And these differences can make all the difference!

Please note that I am not trying to denigrate anyone, rather I am just attempting to make clear the path to liberation, in my view, as taught in the vedanta scriptures and by Sri Ramana Maharshi. I am simply presenting this information to you and you can make your own descision on this topic thereafter for yourself.

As many seekers do not see these differences upon reading ‘Who Am I?’, which is a very concise text with the teachings densely packed in, I recommend you read The Path of Sri Ramana – Part 1 which makes the teachings much clearer and gives much fuller explanations of the method of Self-Enquiry and how Sri Ramana maintained that it is the only way to liberation (ie. there are many ways to liberation, many paths, but they all eventually lead to Self-Enquiry). This book also makes it clear what the teachings are not, which is just as important in today’s world where lots of conflicting teachings are available for us to consume.

Here are also a couple of videos I have created to explain the teaching. The first one is a teaching from me given spontaneously during satsang. The second video contains quotes read out loud that explain the practice of Self-Enquiry clearly and concisely.

Swami Sarvapriyananda on the Four Qualifications

Similarly you will see how Swami Sarvapriyananda has to change the definitions, as found in scripture, of the four qualifiations, as the definitions found in scripture support the view that one needs to turn away from objects towards the Self and this then culminates in Nirvikalpa Samadhi/Turiya.

This is also true of all the Vedanta teachers in the right hand column of the table above – they all have to change the definitions given in the scriptures of various terms in order for their versions of the teaching to make sense. I’m sure you can find videos online of how these teachers describe the four qualifications and compare their definitions to the scriptural ones (see link above) and see how they are different. Let me know in the comments if you agree!

My view

My own personal view is that I have found Sri Ramana’s teachings to be entirely liberating and to be completely in line with the Upanishads and Advaita scriptures, but other teachings that teach something different almost invariably lead one to stay entrapped in maya.

The teaching can be very subtle, and for some reason (ok…the reason is the ego or maya!) many seekers are not able to discern a true teaching even when it is clearly taught to them. The teaching is also easily distorted by third parties, even if this isn’t their intention, as the presence of ego (ie. ignornace) is a distorting factor.

Many want liberation without having to engage with practice/sadhana/meditation. Many want liberation without having to dissolve their ego-mind in samadhi/turiya/self-abidance. And so they advocate teachings that state that you do not need to do these things. Note how these teachings remain predominantly on the level of the mind-intellect (ie. ego).

How to know if this is what you are doing? Answer: the suffering keeps on coming back. Until the true teaching is discerned, and then followed, the suffering will keep on returning and the illusion of duality/multiplicity will persist.

For some of you this may seem to be an exageration, but I try to explain in more detail why this is the case in this video here – this video explains the fundamental difference between teachings that lead to libertion and teachings that do not – let me know what you think!

I have also written an article here that also attempts to explain the difference between liberating and non-liberating teachings:

HOW TO END EGO-SUFFERING (and why other spiritual paths tend not to ultimately work)

If you are interested in learning more about these teachings there is a recommended reading list I have compiled here:

Recommended Reading: Books for Enlightenment, Liberation and Self-Realisation

Still not convinced?

I recommend you read The Path of Sri Ramana which can be downloaded for free on this link below. It is the book I most often recommend, and having read this you should at least be able to see the differences between the two main types of Vedanta being prescribed, as per the table above. You can then, having seen for yourself the difference in the teachings, decide which one is for you:

The entire path explained: the Path of Sri Ramana (Parts 1 and 2; PDF downloads)

Please remember, these articles are not written in order to put anyone down or criticise. I do understand that a range of teachings and teachers can be a part of one’s spiritual journey, and if you are finding a certain teacher or teaching to be helpful to you, who am I to say otherwise? In fact, I am happy for you! Ultimately it is all good, and if we are earnest and honest, we will find what we are looking for (ie. Liberation/Self-Realisation) – it is only a matter of time.

In the meantime I only offer you my point of view in the hope that it is helpful to you.



Ramana Maharshi: ‘Those crazy-minded people…’ | The importance of dispassion towards sense-objects

Those crazy-minded people who do not know as real anything other than the objects of the senses, and who are thereby ruined, will term the jnana that flourishes luxuriantly through dispassion towards sense-objects ‘dry Vedanta’

Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 148

Tom’s comments:

The way to the Truth Within (ie. jnana, meaning wisdom or knowledge), which, for practical purposes, is within each and everyone of us, has always meant we have to turn away from sense-objects, as well as mind-objects (ie. turn away from both gross and subtle objects).

However, for those tamasic and rajasic ones, who are attached to the sensory world of objects, they would call this type of teaching ‘dry’ or ‘life-opposing’ or ‘life denying’. However it is these so-called ‘life-affirming’ teachings that actually keep one in Maya-Samsara-Suffering, for the ‘life’ that is affirmed is simply ‘Maya’ (illusion) and continued suffering.

They who only know the sense-objects, and they who consider these as being real, they betray their underlying attachment to body-mind. How so? It is this underlying attachment to body-mind, and thinking body-mind to be real, that actually causes the world to also appear to be real, and for the sense-objects to thereafter gain so much importance.

These people are ‘crazy-minded’ and ‘thereby ruined’ according to Sri Ramana, his somewhat harsh tone driving the point home emphatically in a compassionate attempt to reveal the true path to liberation.

Let us take heed, and turn away from body-mind-world and discover the Treasure that lies deep within us. Let us reject the small, temporary life of Maya-suffering and instead let us come upon and merge into Life Eternal Within, wherein we become One with Him, Our Beloved.

The Waking State is another Dream | Shankara, Gaudapada, Upanishads | Advaita Vedanta | Sri Ramana Maharshi

Here we will see, using quotes from Gaudapada, Shankara, the Upanishads and Sri Ramana Maharshi that the same essential teaching is taught regarding the reality of the waking and dream states – namely that they are both equally unreal, that both waking and dream are dream!


Tom: Here is verse 1 from chapter 2 of Gaudapada’s Mandukya Karika (Gaudapada’s four chapter commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad), my comments are in red:

2.1. Harih Aum. The wise declare the unreality of all entities seen in dreams, because they are located within the body and the space therein is confined.

Tom: Gaudapada is essentially stating something we already know, namely that we dream of many things, but all these things we dream of are not actually real. They are all projections of the mind, which is what Gaudapa means by ‘located within the body and the space therein is confined’

2.2. The dreamer, on account of the shortness of the time involved, cannot go out of the body and see the dream objects. Nor does he, when awakened, find himself in the places seen in the dream.

Tom: Again, Gaudapada is stating what we already know about dreams. Shankara in his commentary on this verse explains this means that if we dream of going to a far away land many hundreds of miles away that would take several months to travel to, there is not enough time in dream, which only lasts a few hours, to actually travel there. Similarly, when we wake from the dream, we do not find ourself in this dream location far away.

2.3. Scripture, on rational grounds, declares the non-existence of the chariots etc. perceived in dreams. Therefore the wise say that the unreality established by reason is proclaimed by scripture.

Tom: Gaudapada in verses 2.1 and 2.2 has shown that the many things perceived in dreams are not real on the basis of our own experience. Now he is stating the same based on scripture, referring to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.10, which states, referring to a dream about chariots:

‘There are no chariots, nor animals to be yoked to them, nor roads there, but he creates the chariots, animals and roads. There are no pleasures, joys, or delights there, but he creates the pleasures, joys and delights. There are no pools, tanks, or rivers there, but he creates the pools, tanks and rivers. For he is the agent’.

The idea from Gaudapada is that if we dream of a chariot, that chariot is not real, as confirmed by scripture. Note that the teaching that is given in the next two verses is essentially the same as the teaching given in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3 (please see this link for more).

2.4. The different objects seen in the confined space of dreams are unreal on account of their being perceived. For the same reason, ie. on account of their being perceived, the objects seen in the waking state are also unreal. The same condition ie. the state of being perceived exists in both waking and dreaming. The only difference is the limitation of space associated with dream objects.

Tom: Gaudapada is now equating the dream and waking states, stating that just as dream objects are perceived but not real, the same is with the waking state objects – they are also perceived yet utterly unreal. Does this mean we are to consider the waking state as unreal as a dream? The answer is yes, let us see:

2.5. Thoughtful persons speak of the sameness of the waking and dream states on account of the similarity of the objects perceived in both states on the grounds already mentioned.

Tom: The translation used thus far is that of Swami Nikhilanananda of the Ramakrishna Order. Swami Gambhirananda, also of the Ramakrishna Order, translates the last line of verse 2.5 as the wise say that the dream and the waking states are one.


In his commentary on Gaudapada Karika verse 2.5 (above) Shankara states ‘…therefore discriminating people speak of the sameness of the states of waking and dream.

We can see that Gaudapada and Shankara are both explicitly stating that the waking state is another form of the dream state, and whilst we often distinguish between waking and sleep, they are actually both dream states, and all that is perceived within waking and dream are equally unreal.

Again, note that this teaching is also given in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3

We see the same teaching given much more concisely in Shankara’s masterpiece, Vivekachudamani:

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

Tom: We can see that Shankara is saying that the mind projects both the dream state and the waking state. Note that this is essentially equating the mind with maya. Shankara goes on to reiterate this view in subsequent verses:

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

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

Tom: Above we can see that Shankara has equated Mind with Maya. Now he will equate Mind with Ignorance. We can deduce that all three, Mind-Maya-Ignorance, are just three names for the same phenomenon:

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

Sri Ramana Maharshi

Like Shankara and Gaudapada, Sri Ramana also equates ignorance and maya, and he further says the same phenomenon is also called ego, jiva, conceit, and impurity – ie. all these various words mean the same thing, and that this ignorance is essentially the ‘I am the body idea’ – see here, taken from the text Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry) in the answer to question 3:

Sri Ramana Maharshi:…Therefore, the ‘I-consciousness’ which at first arises in respect of the body is referred to variously as self-conceit (tarbodham), egoity (ahankara), nescience (avidya), maya, impurity (mala), and individual soul (jiva).

In question 10 of the same text, Vichara Sangraham (Self Enquiry), Sri Ramana says the following:

Question: If the entire universe is of the form of mind, then does it not follow that the universe is an illusion? If that be the case, why is the creation of the universe mentioned in the Vedas?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: There is no doubt whatsoever that the universe is the merest illusion. The principal purport of the Vedas is to make known the true Brahman, after showing the apparent universe to be false. It is for this purpose that the Vedas admit thecreation of the world and not for any other reason…this world arose like a dream on account of one’s own thoughts induced by the defect of not knowing oneself as the SelfThat the world is illusory, everyone can directly know in the state of Realisation which is in the form of experience of one’s bliss-nature.

In the text Nan Yar? (Who Am I?), Sri Ramana writes:

Sri Ramana Maharshi:…The world should be considered like a dream.

Question: Is there no difference between waking and dream?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Waking is long and a dream short; other than this there is no difference. Just as waking happenings seem real while awake, so do those in a dream while dreaming.

So, what now? Now we must put the teachings into practice to realise the truth of them:

Also see:

Shankara: How to Meditate for Self-Realisation| Vivekachudamani | Nididhyasana |

Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method (Mandukya Upanishad Karika)

Is Papaji’s teaching the same as Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching?

Whilst I am very familiar with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, I am less familiar with the teachings of Papaji. However I have often been struck, whenever I come across excerpts of Papaji’s teachings, that they seem quite different to the teachings of Sri Ramana. Now, is this just because I have only seen excerpts of Papaji’s teachings and these excerpts are out of context? Or is there actually a substantive difference between what they teach? Or perhaps they are pointing to the same thing in a different way?

Before I continue, I just want to be clear that my intent here is not to condemn or criticise anyone. I fully understand that we each have our own unique path and that different teachers and teachings can be a part of that journey. My intent here is to explore the teachings, and I hope this exploration is helpful to you. If it is not, please feel free to ignore this post or give me some constructive feedback!

Well the more I have seen of Papaji’s teachings, the more it seems to me that the teachings are essentially different to that of Sri Ramana’s. Sri Ramana emphasises the need for sadhana, for turning away from the world and towards the Subject-Self, and for the necessity of Self-Enquiry, and Papaji tends to do the opposite – he seems to de-emphasise the need for sadhana, does not advocate turning away from the world and does not state that Self-Enquiry is the sole means to Liberation.

But as I am no expert on Papaji, I would welcome your thoughts. Here is an example of a teaching from Papaji, which seems quite representative of the kind of thing he would normally teach. I saw this posted on Facebook:

There is no sadhana better than just staying as Peace. If you must do any practice, then do Vicar (Self-inquiry).

Joy is also a good sadhana because it destroys mind, so always be happy. Always think of It and be happy: spend the rest of your life knowing you are Existence-Consciousness-Bliss.

Some practice is better than getting lost in samsara and is good in that it sometimes fatigues the mind, but typical sadhana is usually important only for the ego.

All sadhana is projected by ego so it is on a sandy foundation. This ego projection is samsara so search only for the seeker.“I” is ego so when this meditates there are no good results. Choice of practice depends on the choice of results.

Brahman has no attributes and is beyond mind so no practice will take you to that: It is self revealing.

Ramana says “Simply keep Quiet for it is Here and Now”This is the nearest practice because Brahman is your very nature.

~ Papaji

Notice that Papaji is stating that some sadhana is good – he says here there are two reasons sadhana is good: firstly that it is ‘better than getting lost in samsara’ and secondly that ‘it sometimes fatigues the mind’. Note that he does not state that sadhana is necessary for liberation in the way that Sri Ramana Maharshi does (see later), nor does he state that Self-Enquiry is the only essential method to liberation, which is what Sri Ramana often stated (see later for examples of this).

Papaji then goes on to state that ‘all sadhana is projected by the ego so it is on a sandy foundation’. This is sounding less like Sri Ramana or traditional Advaita Vedanta and more like what is often called neo-advaita, something that Sri Ramana criticised. Neo-advaita often propagates the notion that practice/sadhana is done by the separate ego-I and so it necessarily perpetuates the ego-I.

Note that whilst this seems logical and rational enough, it is actually a belief based on inductive logic rather than a truth. Whilst it is true that this certainly can happen – ie. sadhana can certainly lead to perpetuating the ego-I, this is not necessarily the case and there are exceptions. I explain this in these videos:

Papaji then goes on to state his essential view, that ‘no practice will take you to that [Brahman]’. He then concludes his teaching by stating ‘simply keep quiet for it is here and now’ stating this is what Sri Ramana also said.

Now it is true that Sri Ramana often said that we should ‘be still’ and that this is the practice, but what did he mean by ‘be still’? If we read and examine Sri Ramana’s written work ‘Who Am I?’, we will see what Sri Ramana means when he says ‘be still’ or ‘keep quiet’. Note that we can trust the teachings in ‘Who Am I?’ as an authentic rendition of Sri Ramana’s teachings as they were written by Sri Ramana himself. Let us see: the first time we come across the notion of quieting the mind in ‘Who Am I?’ is as follows:

‘When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition’s and of all actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear.’

Now on the face of it this is quite a strange statement for Sri Ramana to make: that the world will disappear when the mind is still. Clearly, when Sri Ramana states that the mind is to be quiet, he is perhaps using these words in a different way to how they are normally used. How can it be that when the mind becomes quiet the world disappears?

Well earlier in ‘Who Am I?’ Sri Ramana explains that it is the mind is a power that creates or projects the entire body, mind and world, so to ‘be quiet’ means not just to still the ordinary thinking mind, but to still this world-projecting power, ie. to remove all of Maya. Ramana repeats this, see here, also from ‘Who Am I?’:

Question: When will the realization of the Self be gained?

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

Question: Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: There will not be.

I have a video here which explains the importance of this teaching. It fundamentally explains why some teachings are liberating and others are not:

Again, I hope it is clear that this teaching of Sri Ramana’s, or at least the emphasis, is quite different to what Papaji is proposing. Papaji is telling us to rest in happiness and joy and ‘keep quiet’ for the Self is ‘here and now’ whereas Sri Ramana is emphasising removing the entire body-mind-world from our consciousness. We can see that Sri Ramana’s teaching is far more extreme – it is this extreme teaching that is needed to remove ignorance and realise the Self.

Papaji is stating that all sadhana is projected by the ego and will never lead us to the Self/Brahman, whereas Sri Ramana emphasises Self-Enquiry as the only sadhana that will lead us to Liberation. Again, Sri Ramana’s teaching is more narrow and prescriptive in this way, as he maintains that Self-Enquiry is the only way. Let us see what else Sri Ramana writes in ‘Who Am I?’:

Question: Are there no other means for making the mind quiescent?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Other than inquiry [Vichara; Self-Enquiry], there are no adequate means.

We can see that Sri Ramana is stating that sadhana or self-enquiry is essential to make the mind quiet, so that when Sri Ramana is asking us to ‘be still’ or ‘keep quiet’, he is actually asking us to do Self-Enquiry.

Now on the same Facebook post which posted the Papaji teachings above, I saw the following Sri Ramana Maharshi quote, which seems to state something quite different to what Papaji is saying. It states that meditation (Upanasa) is definitely required for liberation – Sri Ramana clearly states ‘this is definite’, in direct contrast to Papaji who states the opposite. This following quote is taken from Sri Ramana Gita, an early text of Sri Ramana’s teachings that was comfirmed by Sri Ramana as being an accurate representation of his teachings:

Now this above quote is taken from Chapter 1 of Sri Ramana Gita. It is worth noting that the title of this chapter is ‘The Importance of Upasana [meditation]’. The next two lines in the same chapter reads as follows:

1.14 When discarding sense-objects, one abides in one’s own true nature as a flame of Jnana, this state of being is termed sahaja sthiti [the natural state].

1.15 In the firm, natural state, through that Supreme Silence free from all vasanas, the jnani knows himself as such without any doubt.

Again, we can see the emphasis on needing to turn away from sense-objects, what Sri Ramana calls ‘removal of the world’ in Who Am I?, and on ending the vasanas, or egoic habitual tendencies to identify as a body-mind.

But how are we to practically do this? How are we to practically turn away from the world and be free from all Vasanas. Well the practical method is to do Self-Enquiry. In Chapter 3 of Sri Ramana Gita we can see the essential method Sri Ramana is advocating:

Question: what in brief is the means to know one’s own real nature? What is the effort that can bring about the sublime innervision?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: strenuously withdrawing all thoughts from sense-objects, one should remain fixed in steady, non-objective enquiry. This, in brief, is the means of knowing one’s own real nature; this effort alone brings about the sublime inner vision.

We can see that the emphasis is on continuing to perform the sadhana, as it is this sadhana that leads to the mind ‘becoming quiet’. When Sri Ramana says the mind should be quiet or that thoughts should stop, he means that the entire world projection should cease and all vasanas are to be ended. How to do this? We should ‘strenuously withdraw all thoughts from sense-objects’ and remain fixed in Self-Abidance, ie. we should do Self-Enquiry.

Ramana also states in the above quotes that ‘this effort alone’ leads to liberation, meaning that this is the only essential method which all other methods ultimately bring us to.

But how long should we continue this sadhana for? Sri Ramana tells us in Who Am I?

Question: How long should inquiry be practised?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the inquiry “Who am I?” isrequired. As thoughts arise they should be destroyed then and there in the very place of their origin, through inquiry.

So as far as I can see, Ramana is constantly emphasising sadhana and turning away from the world, and that this should be relentlessly pursued until realisation is attained, whereas Papaji de-emphasises sadhana, and in so doing de-emphasises turning away from the world.

Papaji and Sri Ramana both talk of silence, but Sri Ramana speaks of a deep silence in which there is only abidance as Self devoid of all objective phenomena, whereas Papaji’s ‘silence’ seems much more superficial stilling of the mind without removing all objective phenomena or removing the vasanas.

Papaji also de-emphases sadhana, or at least does not emphasise Self-Enquiry whereas Sri Ramana emphasises Self-Enquiry as being the sole means to liberation.

What do you think? Have I got this right? Or are there other aspects of Papaji’s teachings I am unaware of or something else I am missing? In the meantime here is a video of quotes from Sri Ramana instructing us on the essential method:

And here is a video explaining the technique of Self-Enquiry in brief:

If you want to know how to put the teachings of Sri Ramana into practice, I highly recommend you read The Path of Sri Ramana which can be downloaded for free here or see a list of books that I recommend here.

Again, as always, the intent of this article is not to criticise or denegrate anyone, but only to explore the teachings and clarify The Way. In this spirit, I hope this article is of help to you.



Is Self-Enquiry really the only way? | Sri Ramana Maharshi

Tom: Is Self-Enquiry really the only way? Let us see! Bold type has been added by myself for emphasis, and my comments are in red as usual. The following is taken from Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, no. 159, and records a conversation that took place on 29th November 1947:

This afternoon, a devotee asked Bhagavan, “Swami, forgaining Realization, is the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ the only way?”

Bhagavan answered him: “Enquiry is not the only way. If one does spiritual practice (sadhana) with name and form, repetition of holy names (japa), or any of these methods with grim determination and perseverance, one becomes THAT. According to the capacity of each individual, one spiritual practice is said to be better than another and several shades and variations of them have been given. Some people are a long way from Tiruvannamalai, some are very near; some are in Tiruvannamalai, while some get into Bhagavan’s hall itself.

For those who come into the hall, it is enough, if they are told as they step in, ‘Here is the Maharshi’, and they realize him immediately. For others they have to be told which route to take, which trains to catch, where to change, which road to turn into. In like manner, the particular path to be taken must be prescribed according to the capacity of the practiser (sadhaka).

These spiritual practices are not for knowing one’s own Self, which is all-pervading, but only for getting rid of the objects of desire. When all these are discarded, one remains as one IS.

That which is always in existence is the Self — all things are born out of the Self. That will be known only when one realizes one’s own Self.

So long as one has not that knowledge, all that is seen in this world appears as real.

Supposing a person sleeps in this hall. In his sleep he dreams of going somewhere, loses his way, wanders from one village to another, from one hill to another, and during that time, and for days together, searches without food or water. He suffers a good deal, enquiries of several people and finally finds the correct place. He reaches it, and feeling that he is stepping into this hall, greatly relieved, he opens his eyes with a startled look. All this will have happened within a short time and it is only after he wakes up that he realizes that he had not been anywhere.

Our present life is also like that. When the eye of knowledge is opened, a person realizes that he remains ever in his own Self.”

The questioner asked further: “Is it true that all spiritual practices, as is said, merge into the path of Self-enquiry?”

It is said that only he who has the assets of the four kinds of spiritual practice is fit for Vedantic enquiry. Of the four categories of practice the first is the knowledge of the Self and the non-Self (atma and anatma). That means a knowledge that the Self is eternal (nitya) and that the world is unreal (mithya).

How to know this is the question. It is possible to know this by enquiry as to ‘Who am I?’ and what is the nature of my self! Usually this procedure is suggested at the beginning of the spiritual practice, but generally it does not carry conviction. So all sorts of other spiritual practices are resorted to and it is only ultimately, as a last resort, that the practiser takes to Self-enquiry.

The alphabet A B C D E, etc., are learnt while young. If it is stated that these letters are the fundamentals for all education and that there is no need to study for B.A. or M.A., will people listen to such advice? It is only after studying and passing these examinations that it will be realized that all that has been studied is contained in those fundamental letters A B C, etc. Are not all the scriptures contained in the elementary thing, the alphabet? That it is so, is only known after learning by heart all the scriptures.

It is the same with every one of these things. There are a number of rivers, some flow straight, some wind and twistzig-zag, but all of them ultimately become merged in the ocean. In the same way, all paths become merged in the path of Self-enquiry, just as all languages become merged in Silence (mouna).

Mouna means continuous speech; it does not mean that it is a vacuum. It is the speech of self ,identifying with the Self. It is Self-luminous. Everything is in the Self. In Tamil Nad a great person composed and sang a song the purport of which is, ‘We are like a screen, and the whole world appears like pictures on it. Silence is full and all-pervading’.

So saying, Bhagavan was once more silent.

What exactly is Jnana (knowledge) according to Shankara and Gaudapada and the scriptures? | Advaita Vedanta | Mandukya Upanishad and Karika

It is said that the suffering can only end when the Self is realised, and that the Self can only be realised through Jnana, which means ‘knowledge’. This ‘knowledge’ is tantamount to and synonymous with liberation itself. So, what is this Jnana? Often the word is not clearly defined in vedanta scriptures so the exact meaning of the word is lost. Many people think that jnana refers to knowledge in the intellect or mind, but this is an incorrect understanding.

For those of you who are familiar with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, you will know that Sri Ramana makes the meaning clear for us: Jnana is just another word for the Self. The Self ‘knows’ itself by Its-Self. Jnana just means being the Self, devoid of objects or any arising phenomena.

However, what do the traditional scriptures say? Well, as usual, they same the same as Sri Ramana. Jnana just means Being Self, devoid of all arising phenomenal objects. In Gaudapada’s masterpiece, his commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad also known as Mandukya Karika or Gaudapada Karika, the entirely of Vedanta is unfolded and explained. We also have Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada’s writing to guide us further.

Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada

One other advantage about using Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada’ Karika is that whilst the same teachings are often given in shorter simpler texts written by Shankara (ie. the prakarana granthas or ‘instruction manuals’), some people (usually those who disagree with the teachings of these shorter texts!) debate whether or not Shankara actually wrote the shorter texts. Whilst most scholars still think that it is highly likley that Shankara did write these prakarana granthas, there is enough of a minority who disagree.

However this is not the case with Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada Karika – there is almost universal agreement that this is clearly an authentic work of Shankara’s. In the quotes below I have used the translation from Swami Gambhirananda taken from the book ‘Eight Upanishads with the commentary of Sankaracarya’, which is one of the more literal translations available. This does make it slightly harder to read at times, but it means the meaning, once deciphered, is generally clearer.

Gaudapada’s Karika is composed of four chapters. In the first two chapters Gaudapada relentlessly drives home the point that all phenomenal arisings in the waking state are utterly illusory, just like in a dream all objects in the waking state are projected imaginings, and are a product of Maya. This includes all subtle objects such as knowledge in the intellect, which is said to be more Maya. ie. knowledge in the intellect and ignorance are both ignorance and illusion. In Shankara’s commentary he agrees with this and further supplements Gaudapada’s reasoning (see chapter 2 verses 1-19 and verses 31-36 of Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s commentary for this).

In fact in verse 2.5 Gaudapada encourages the seeker to consider the waking and dream states to be a single dream state rather that two distinct states called waking and dream, with Shankara again agreeing in his commentary on this verse. This is why the Self is said to be beyond both knowledge and ignorance.

Knowledge vs experience

Note that some people contrast intellectual knowledge with experience, stating that intellectual knowledge is what is needed rather than experiences, which come and go. However, note that according to Gaudapada’s framework, intellectual knowledge is just a subtype or class of experience, as it too comes and goes and is subject to change, hence all intellectual knowledge ultimately is just maya or dream-like illusion. It should be obvious to us if we discern – what is ordinarily called knowledge, ie. knowledge in the mind or intellect, is actually just a form or type of experience!

Jnana defined

So back to Jnana. How does Gaudapada define this? How does Shankara define this? We see a definition in Chapter 3 verse 33, as follows:

33. They say that the non-conceptual knowledge (Jnanam), which is birthless, is non-different from the knowable (Brahman). The knowledge that has Brahman for its content is birthless and everlasting. The Birthless is known by the Birthless.

Shankara starts his commentary on this verse as follows:

The knowers of Brahman say that absolute Jnanam, knowledge, which is akalpakam, devoid of all imagination (non-conceptual), and is therefore ajam, birthless…

We can see that here both Gaudapada and Shankara are stating that the nature of Jnana is basically the same as the Self, as follows:

-It is non-conceptual, ie. not of the intellect or mind. The work Gaudapada uses is akalpakam, which means without kalpas or without thought/concepts/imaginings. Earlier in Gaudapada Karika Gaudapada has in several successive verses driven home the point that the entire waking state is born of imagination (kalpa), so to state that Jnana is akalpalkam means that is it without any dream or waking state objects whatsoever. Shankara in his commentary has taken this meaning of the word kalpa to mean ‘imaginings’ in this sense.

-It is birthless and everlasting; and what is birthless and everlasting apart from the Self?

-It is known by itself (the birthless is known by the birthless), ie. it is the Self that ‘knows’ the Self by Its-Self. Here I have put the word ‘know’ in quotes as it is not knowledge in the normal sense, as knowledge in the mind is necessarily conceptual, but here we are speaking of or pointing to a non-conceptual ‘knowledge’, the word ‘knowledge’ being used for want of a better word to describe something that is essentially beyond description.

Later in his commentary on the same verse Shankara writes:

By that unborn knowledge, which is the very nature of the Self, is known – It knows by Itself – the birthless reality, which is the Self. The idea being conveyed is that the Self being ever a homogenous mass of Consciousness, like the sun that is by nature a constant light, does not depend on any other knowledge (for Its revelation).

Again, we can see that idea is that the nature of Self is Knowledge/Jnana, in the same way the nature of the sun is to shine.

The word ‘homogenous’ means without any variation whatsoever, ie. without any subtle or gross objects arising in the consciousness.

No phenomenal arisings in the Self/in Jnana

Shankara continues his commentary on Gaudapada’s Karika verse 3.33, commenting that with Self-realisation all ideation has been driven out of the mind, and that there are no external objects of perception present either. The mind becomes still, and the still mind is no-mind – it is verily the Self, Jnana:

It has been said that when the mind is divested of ideation by virtue of the realisation of Truth that is Brahman, and when there is an absence of external objects (of perception), it becomes tranquil, controlled, and withdrawn, like fire that has no fuel. And it has further been said that when the mind thus ceases to be mind, duality also disappears.

Gaudapada and Shankara have already stated that Jnana is akalpakam. Shankara explains in his commentary that this word akalpakam means that it is devoid of all imagination. It should be noted that in Chapter 2 Gaudapada has said that everything that arises in both the waking and dream states is due to imagination (kalpa), eg. in verses 2.10-2.12, so it should be clear that by stating Jnana is akalpakam it means it is without any objects.

In his commentary on verse 3.33 above, Shankara is stating that realisation occurs when the phenomenal arisings, gross and subtle, have all ceased to arise, duality disappears, ie. Jnana is attained, or the Self has been realised. He is building on the previous two verses from Gaudapada, 3.31 and 3.32 which have already established this:

3.31 All this that there is – together with all that move or does not move – is perceived by the mind (and therefore all is is but the mind); for when the mind ceases to be the mind, duality is no longer perceived.

3.32 When the Truth of Atman has been realised, the mind ceases to think; then the mind attains the state of not being the mind. In the absence of things to be perceived, it becomes a non-perceiver.

You will also see that Jnana is being equated with a still mind – a mind that is no longer active – and a still mind that never moves again is no longer the mind – it is the Self. Again, for those of you who are familiar with Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, he has already made all of this clear to us. For those of you who are not convinced, we have Shankara’s commentary on these verses to make it all the clearer for us:

Shankara’s commentary on verse 3.31:

This duality as a whole, that is mano-drsyam, perceived by the mind; is nothing but the mind, which is itself imagined – this is the proposition [Tom: ie. meaning of the verse]. For duality endures so long as the mind does, and disappears with the disappearance of the mind.

For when the mind ceases to be mind when, like the illusory snake disappearing in the rope, the mind’s activity stops through the practice of discriminating insight and detachment, or when the mind gets absorbed in the state of sleep, duality is not perceived. From this non-existence is proved the unreality of duality. This is the purport. How does the mind cease to be the mind? This is being answered [in the next verse and commentary]:

We can see that Shankara is equating the mind with Maya and with ignorance , something that is commonly done in vedanta texts – eg. in Shankara’s Vivekachudamani. Shankara states that it is the mind that projects all of duality (as per Chapter’s 1 and 2 of Gaudapada’s Karika which states the same), and that duality ceases when the mind ceases. Shankara states that through discrimination (viveka) and detachment (vairagya) the mind’s activity stops, and so it is the still or unmoving mind that is the result of viveka and vairagya, which is exactly the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. When the mind is no longer active, duality is not perceived, Shankara’s states, like in deep sleep.

Shankara’s commentary on verse 3.32:

The Truth that is Self…The Truth of the Self which follows from the instruction of the scriptures and teacher, when as a consequence of that, there remains nothing to be thought of, and the mind does not think – as fire does not burn in the absence of combustible things. At that time it attains the state of ceasing to be the mind. In the absence of things to be perceived, that mind becomes free from all illusion of perceptions. This is the idea.

Again, we see that Shankara is stating that the practice of viveka and vairagya (discrimination and renunciation) leads to the mind becoming still and this gives rise to realisation of Truth that is Self. Thereafter the mind stops thinking ‘as fire does not burn in the absence of combustible things’.

He, like Ramana, states that the mind feeds on sense objects or ‘things perceived’. In the ‘absence of things to be perceived‘, the mind no longer has any food or fuel and so burns out. This gives us the imagery of the flame of mind/egotism being extinguished, ie. nirvana, which literally means extinguishment (of a flame or fire).

Deep Sleep vs Stillness of Mind (Samadhi)

We have already covered 3.33 above. The next two verses, verse 3.34 and 3.35 explain the difference between the still or controlled mind and Deep Sleep – it is important note this only has to be done as Gaudapada has explained (and Shankara has agreed) that there are no gross or subtle objects present when the mind is stilled/controlled.

The natural question is therefore what is the difference between the Still Mind and Deep Sleep? If there were objects present when the mind is still, why the need to point out the difference between the Still Mind and Deep Sleep? Or surely the response would simply be that when the mind is controlled, objects are still or can still be present. However this is not the explaination given by Gaudapada, and Shankara is even stronger in his commentary.

I will not go into these verses here, as we are straying from the essence of this post, but you are welcome to look them up yourself. Sri Ramana Maharshi has given his own explanation of the difference between the still mind and deep sleep which you can read here if you wish, and you will find that it is essentially the same explanation given by both Gaudapada and Shankara.

A Practical Method for Self-Realisation

Thereafter next few verses carry on along similar lines reiterating similar points – you can find some of them here.

Finally Gaudapada ends chapter three in a marvellous crescendo by describing a practical method to attain liberation for those who remain stuck in Maya (Shankara in his commentary states that the method is for those who remain unliberated and fearful), which you can read on this link below.

You will see that Gaudapada is stating that the means to liberation is to control, or make still, the mind. We can infer that this is also the way to Jnana. He then outlines a method on how to still the mind, pointing out what the still mind is and what it isn’t:

Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method (Mandukya Upanishad Karika)

Another definition of Jnana by Shankara

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, verse 4.4.20, states the following:

20. It [Brahman] should be realised in one form only, (for) It is unknowable and eternal. The Self is taintless, beyond the (subtle) ether, birthless, infinite and constant.

Here we can see that the Upanishad is stating that Brahman is unknowable. So what of Self-Knowledge or knowledge of Brahman that is so often spoken about? Shankara explains this contradiction in him commentary on this verse:

The knowledge of Brahman too means only the cessation of the identification with extraneous things (such as the body). The relation of identity with It [Brahman] has not to be directly established, for it is already there. Everybody always has that identity with It, but it appears to be related to something else. Therefore the scriptures do not enjoin that identity with Brahman should be established, but that the false identification with things other than That should stop. When the identification with other things is gone, that identity with one’s own Self which is natural, becomes isolated; this is expressed by the statement that the Self is known. In Itself It is unknowable – not comprehended through any means. Hence both statements are consistent.

We can see that Shankara is stating that Brahman is indeed unknowable, and that Jnana, or knowledge, only signifies the cessation of identification with extraneous things, ie. loss of identification with objects, specifically the body-mind. We do not need to affirm our identity as Brahman, as we already are and always have been and always will be Brahman. Any affirmation of Brahman would simply be on the level of thought or concepts, and so it would be Maya, or more ignorance. But once the false identification has been removed, then the Self naturally shines as itself, and this lack of wrong-knowledge, or lack of wrongly identifying as the body-mind, is what is called ‘Jnana’ or ‘knowledge’.

Ending the Vasanas & the four types of spiritual seeker | Sri Ramana Maharshi

From Sages we understand that the direct and immediate means of winning Deliverance is the Quest of the real Self, by turning the mind away from the world – that is, from everything that can be objectified – towards the Self in the Heart.

But we find that this is not easy, because in the mind there are attachments to objects, gross or subtle, and habits of thought, which are mostly latent, but spring into feverish activity one after another, and pull the mind back to the world.

These are mental taints, which are called vasanas, because they have been acquired by intimate contact with objects, and linger in the mind, like the smell of the contents that lingers in a pot after it is emptied. Because these ‘smells’ of things are more in some than others, there is a great difference between one disciple and another.

The Sage tells us that disciples are of four grades, comparable to gun powder, dry charcoal, ordinary fuel, and wet fuel.

The first kind of disciple needs only a word, like a spark, to consume his ignorance at once.

The second kind needs some teaching and personal effort.

The third kind needs a long course of teaching, training and practice.

The fourth kind needs to be made fit for discipleship by practices suitable to his condition.

Hence most disciples would need to persevere in the Quest for a long time, before they could become confident of winning ultimate success. Many might become discouraged at the want of success, and be inclined to give up the enterprise.

What are these disciples to do, so that they may be able to make steady progress towards the goal? The answer is, they must practice devotion to God.

The above excerpt is taken from the book Maha Yoga, Chapter 11

What are Dhyana and Samadhi (Zen/Chan Master Hui Neng, Platform Sutra) | Ramana Maharshi

The following is excerpted from The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as the Platform Sutra), Chapter 5 entitled ‘On Dhyana’. My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

Learned Audience, what are Dhyana and Samadhi? Dhyana means to be free from attachment to all outer objects, and Samadhi means to attain inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects, our inner mind will be perturbed.

Tom: we can see Hui Neng has succinctly defined both Dhyana and Samadhi. In the next line he is essentially saying that these two are one and the same, in that when there is no attachment (ie. Dhyana), there will also be peace (ie. Samadhi):

When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be in peace.

Tom: See if you can see the parallel with Sri Ramana Maharshi stating in ‘Who Am I?’:

‘Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one’s hold on the Self constitutes jnana (knowledge). But really vairagya and jnana are one and the same.’

Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in.

He who is able to keep his mind unperturbed, irrespective of circumstances, has attained Samadhi.

Tom: Sri Ramana Maharshi states in ‘Who Am I?’: ‘If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?’

In the above two lines Hui Neng hints that your True Nature, or what Hui Neng refers to as Essence of Mind, is already ‘unperturbed’, and essentially is always undisturbed and ‘pure’. Realisation of this naturally leads to Freedom:

To be free from attachment to all outer objects is Dhyana, and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to deal with Dhyana and to keep our inner mind in Samadhi, then we are said to have attained Dhyana and Samadhi. The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure.” Learned Audience, let us realize this for ourselves at all times. Let us train ourselves, practice it by ourselves, and attain Buddhahood by our own effort.

Neo-advaita and the highest ‘teachings’ of Advaita Vedanta (ajata vada) – are they the same?

In Advaita Vedanta it is said that the Ultimate Truth is that Maya never existed, and that there never was a world (Jagat), individual person (Jiva), or a God (Isvara). This is known as Ajata Vada – see here for an example of this teaching. Here in Guru Vachaka Kovai we have Sri Muruganar stating the same:

‘…I have known that in truth there is never in the least any attainment of bondage, liberation, and so on, which are fabricated when one imagines one is separate from reality’ Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 1241

Someone recently made a comment to me that this sounds remarkably like Neo-Advaita, to which my response was as follows:

They sound remarkably similar because on the verbal level both traditional and neo-Advaita talk about Ajata Vada (the view that there is no maya, no objects truly exist, and therefore no true meaning, no seeker, no teaching, no teacher, etc) as being the ultimate truth, but traditional advaita also talks about teachings from vivarta vada (world is a projected illusion) and shristi dristi vada (world is real) viewpoints and prescribes self-enquiry as a (paradoxically) valid method for this to be realised on these latter 2 levels for those who cannot fathom ajata vada. Upon this realisation it is ‘realised’ there was never a seeker and no real realisation either. Sri Ramana Maharshi explains it more fully here if you are interested.

Also see:

Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method (Mandukya Upanishad Karika)

Ramana Maharshi – three theories of reality of the world (shristi-dristi vada, dristi-shristi vada/vivarta vada, ajata vada)

The Ultimate or Highest Truth according to the Upanishads