The Non-Dual Vision of Jesus Christ and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi | Non-duality | Advaita |Christianity

Here the non-dual teachings of Jesus are succinctly presented.

The following are excerpts I have put together from the introduction of the book ‘Happiness and the Art of Being’ by Michael James. I felt there were so many gems and biblical quotes packed in tightly together in just the introduction of this book – someone else perhaps would have made the introduction alone into an entire book I felt that it would be worthwhile to tease out some of the points about Jesus’s teachings and put them together into a post for the benefit of seekers. It very nicely sums up the inner teachings of Jesus in light of the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi and points to the core teachings of both.

You can read the entire book, ‘Happiness and the Art of Being’, online for free here, and I encourage you to make a donation to the author and/or buy a hard copy of the book in order to support the author.

Bold type and subheadings have been added by myself. I have also changed the paragraph structure of the text in places – I hope these aid the readability of the text and assimilation of the key points.

Namaste

Tom

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

Jesus and non-duality

The true aim of all religions

The inner aim of all religions and spiritual traditions is to free us from this illusory state in which we imagine that we are separate from God, the one unlimited and undivided reality.

Original Sin

For example, in Christianity this state in which we violate the oneness and wholeness of God by imagining ourself to be an individual separate from him is called the ‘original sin’, which is the root cause of all misery and unhappiness.

The Truth shall set you free

Because we can become free from this ‘original sin’ only by knowing the truth, Christ said,

‘[…] ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ (John 8.32).

The truth that we must know in order to be made free is the truth that we are nothing but the adjunctless pure consciousness ‘I am’ – that ‘I am’ which is the true form of God, as disclosed by him when he revealed his identity to Moses saying,

I am that I am’ (‘ehyeh asher ehyeh’ – Exodus 3.14).

Die to your (individual) self

To ‘know the truth’ does not mean to know it theoretically, but to know it as a direct and immediate experience. In order to destroy the illusion that we are a limited individual consciousness, a person separate from the perfect whole which is called God, we must experience ourself as the unlimited and undivided pure consciousness ‘I am’.

Therefore, to know the truth and thereby be made free from the illusion called ‘original sin’, we must die and be born again – we must die to the flesh and be born again as the spirit. That is why Christ said,

‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. […] Except a man be born of […] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3.3 & 3.5-6).

That is, to experience and enter into the true state of God, we must cease to exist as a separate individual, a consciousness that identifies itself with the flesh and all the limitations of the flesh, and must rediscover ourself to be the unlimited and undivided spirit, the pure, unadulterated and infinite consciousness ‘I am’, which is the absolute reality that we call ‘God’.

When we identify ourself with a body made of flesh, we become that flesh, but when we cease to identify ourself with that flesh and know ourself to be mere spirit, we are born again as our original nature, the pure spirit or consciousness ‘I am’.

The need for us to sacrifice our individuality in order to be born anew as the spirit is a recurring theme in the teachings of Jesus Christ:

‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal’ (John 12.24-25).

‘Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it’ (Luke 17.33).

‘And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it’ (Matthew 10.38-39).

‘If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Matthew 16.24-26, and also Mark 8.34-37 and Luke 9.23-25).

That is, in order to rediscover our true and eternal life as the spirit, we must lose our false and transient life as an individual. If we seek to preserve our false individuality, we shall in effect be losing our real spirit. This is the price we have to pay to live as an individual in this world. Therefore, whatever we may gain or achieve in this world, we do so at the cost of losing our real self, the state of perfection and wholeness (which in this context is what Christ means by the term our ‘own soul’). In exchange for regaining our original and perfect state of wholeness, we have only to give up our individuality and all that goes with it. Which is truly profitable, to lose the whole and gain merely a part, or to give up a mere part in exchange for the whole?

Take up thy cross

In order to give up or lose our individuality, as Christ had done, he says that we must follow him by denying ourself and taking up our cross. To deny ourself means to refrain from rising as an individual separate from God, who is the whole – the ‘fullness of being’ or totality of all that is. To take up our cross means to embrace the death or destruction of our own individuality, because in the time of Christ the cross was a powerful symbol of death, being the usual instrument of execution. Thus, though he used somewhat oblique language to express it, Christ repeatedly emphasised the truth that in order to rediscover our real life as the spirit we must sacrifice our false life as an individual.

Christ’s resurrection

This sacrifice of our individuality or identification with the flesh, and our consequent resurrection or rebirth as the spirit, was symbolised by Christ through his own crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. By dying on the cross and rising again from the dead, Christ gave us a powerful symbolic representation of the truth that in order to become free from the ‘original sin’ of identification with the flesh and thereby to enter the ‘kingdom of God’, we must die or cease to exist as a separate individual, and thereby rise again as the pure spirit, the infinite consciousness ‘I am’.

The Kingdom of God

The ‘kingdom of God’ which we can see and enter only by being born again as the spirit is not a place – something that we can find externally in the material world of time and space, or even in some celestial world called heaven.

When Christ was asked when the kingdom of God would come, he answered,

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17.20-21).

The kingdom of God cannot be found by observation, that is, by any form of objective attention – by looking externally here or there. It cannot be found in any place outside us, either here in this world or there in heaven, nor indeed is it something that will come in the future. It exists within us even now.

To see and enter into it, we must turn our attention inwards, away from the external world of time and space that we observe by means of the limited flesh-bound consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, and towards our true consciousness ‘I am’, which is the underlying base and reality of the observing consciousness ‘I am so-and-so’.

The true teaching

The exhortation ‘behold’ that Christ used in the above passage is very important. He did not merely tell us the fact that the kingdom of God is within ourself, but exhorted us to look and see that it is within ourself. That is, he did not merely tell us the truth that he saw, but told us that we should each see it for ourself.

In more modern English, we would express the passage

‘[…] neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you’

as

‘[…] and they should not say, ‘Look here or look there’, because, see, the kingdom of God is within you’.

This exhortation that Christ makes to us not to look here or there but to see that the kingdom of God is within ourself, is the essence of the spiritual practice taught by Sri Ramana and all other true sages. We should give up attending to anything outside ourself, and should instead turn our attention inwards to see the reality that exists within us.

The kingdom of God is not a place but a state – our natural state of pure self-conscious being. When we see it within ourself by turning our attention towards the innermost core of our being, we enter into it and become one with it.

This is the state of being born again as the spirit – the state of mystical union with God that all Christian contemplatives seek to attain. In this state called the ‘kingdom of God’, the pure consciousness ‘I am’, which is the spirit or true form of God, exists and shines alone in all the splendour and glory of its undivided oneness and unlimited wholeness.

The teachings of Sri Ramana

The teachings of Sri Ramana thus throw a fresh light upon the spiritual teachings contained in the Bible. In the same manner, they also throw fresh light upon the spiritual teachings of all other religions.

Though his teachings are easily recognised as a fresh and clear expression of the ancient teachings of advaita vēdānta, they in fact clarify the inner essence not only of advaita vēdānta but also of all other spiritual traditions.

The truth that he taught is not a relative truth that is limited to any particular religion or human culture, but is the absolute truth which underlies all human experience, and which is the source and foundation of the spiritual teachings of all religions. For certain cultural or other reasons, in some religions this truth is expressed less openly and clearly than in others, but it is nevertheless the truth that lies at the heart of every religion.

Though this truth is not recognised by most of the followers of the various religions, particularly by the followers of those religions in which it is hidden more obscurely, it is nevertheless expressed in some form or other in the scriptures and the philosophical and mystical writings of every religion, and it can be discerned and recognised by all who have the eyes to see it. The teachings of Sri Ramana, if understood clearly and correctly, give us the eyes or insight required to discern and recognise it wherever it is expressed, no matter how seemingly obscure may be the words that are used to express it.

Dualistic vs non-dualistic teachings

All words are open to interpretation – and misinterpretation. This is particularly true of words that speak about the spirit – the reality that lies beyond the limitations of physical matter, and that therefore cannot be perceived by the five senses, or known as an object of consciousness. All interpretations of such words fall into two distinct categories – interpretations that are strictly non-dualistic, admitting no division of the one and only reality, and interpretations that are either completely dualistic, or that at least concede that within the one reality there are divisions and distinctions that are real.

Ultimately the interpretation that we each choose to accept depends not upon the truth itself – because the nature of the truth cannot be proved objectively – but upon our own personal preferences.

Most people – whether they hold religious beliefs or cherish a more materialistic outlook on life – prefer to take a dualistic view of reality, because such a view assures them of the reality of their own individuality, and of the world they perceive through their senses, and (if they choose to believe in God) of God as a separately existing entity. Therefore the only basis for a dualistic view of reality is the attachment that people have to their own individuality, to the world that they think gives them happiness, and to their idea of a God who they believe will give them the things that will make them happy….

One truth in all religions

This non-dual reality is the one truth about which all religions speak. Though they do not always describe the non-dual nature of this truth in explicit terms, all religions do so implicitly in one way or another.

No religion has a monopoly on the truth. What is true in one religion is true in every religion. The truth can never be in any way exclusive, because if it were, it would only be a partial truth and not the whole truth – a relative truth and not the absolute truth. To be wholly and absolutely true, the truth must be all-inclusive – it must be the one whole that includes everything within itself.

The one whole truth that does include everything within itself is the infinite spirit, the single consciousness that we all know as ‘I am’. Everything that appears to exist does so only within this consciousness. Though the manifold forms in which things appear are unreal as such, the one real substance of all things is the consciousness in which they appear. Therefore the one truth about which all religions speak is the single, all-inclusive and non-dual whole, the spirit or consciousness in which all things appear and disappear.

The Universal Christ and the ‘I Am’

However, because they interpret the spiritual teachings of their religion in a dualistic manner, most of the followers of the various religions tend to believe that their own religion somehow has a monopoly or exclusive claim upon the truth, and is therefore the only means to salvation. For example, throughout the history of Christianity, most ordinary Christians have believed that true salvation can be attained only through the person of Jesus Christ, and that atheists, agnostics and the followers of other religions can be saved only by converting to Christianity. They have justified this unreasonable and arrogant belief by their dualistic interpretation of Christ’s saying,

‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14.6).

Because of their dualistic understanding of his spiritual teachings, they interpret the words ‘I am’ and ‘me’ that he used in this passage to denote only the individual person Jesus Christ, who was born at a certain time in a certain place called Bethlehem.

However, Christ did not mistake himself to be merely an individual person whose life was limited within a certain range of time and place. He knew himself to be the real and eternal spirit ‘I am’, which is unlimited by time and place. That is why he said,

‘Before Abraham was born, I am’ (John 8.58).

The person who was Jesus Christ was born long after the time of Abraham, but the spirit which is Jesus Christ exists always and everywhere, transcending the limits of time and place. Because that spirit is timeless, he did not say, ‘Before Abraham was born, I was’, but, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’.

That timeless spirit ‘I am’, which Christ thus knew to be his own real self, is the same ‘I am’ that God revealed to be his real self when he said to Moses,

‘I am that I am’ (Exodus 3.14).

Therefore, though Christ appears to us to be a separate individual person, he and his Father God are in fact one and the same reality, the spirit that exists within each one of us as our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. That is why he said,

‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10.30).

Therefore, when Christ said,

‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14.6),

by the words ‘I am’ and ‘me’ he was referring not merely to the time-bound individual called Jesus, but to the eternal spirit ‘I am’, which he knew to be his own real self. The inner meaning of his words can therefore be expressed by rephrasing them thus,

‘The spirit “I am” is the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the spirit “I am”, which is the Father or source of all things, but by this same spirit’.

True Salvation

The spirit ‘I am’ is not only the truth or reality of all things, the source from which they all originate, and the life or consciousness that animates every sentient being, but is also the only way by which we can return to our original source, which we call by various names such as ‘God’ or the ‘Father’.

Except by turning our attention within towards the spirit, the consciousness that we each experience as ‘I am’, there is no way by which we return to and become one with our source. Therefore true salvation can only be attained not merely through the person who was Jesus Christ, but through the spirit which is Jesus Christ – the eternal spirit ‘I am’ that exists within each one of us.

We can become one with Christ and God

Not only did Christ affirm his oneness with God, his Father, he also wanted us to become one with him. Before his arrest and crucifixion, Christ prayed for us,

‘Holy Father, […] that they may be one, as we [are]. […] that they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us […] that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one’ (John 17.11 & 21-23).

That is, the aim of Christ was that we should cease to mistake ourself to be an individual separate from God and should know ourself to be the one indivisible spirit, the pure fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, which is the reality of God.

Thus oneness or non-duality is the central aim of the spiritual teachings of Jesus Christ.

Differences between religions are only superficial

Every religion consists of a vital central core of non-dualistic truth, expressed either explicitly or implicitly, and a thick outer shell of dualistic beliefs, practices, doctrines and dogmas. The differences that we see between one religion and another – the differences that throughout the ages have given rise to so much conflict, intolerance and cruel persecution, and even to bloody wars and terrorism – lie only in the superficial forms of those religions, their outer shells of dualistic beliefs and practices.

All the disharmony, conflict and strife that exist between one religion and another arise only because most of the followers of those religions are too attached to a dualistic view of reality, which limits their vision and prevents them from seeing what all religions have in common, namely the one underlying truth of non-duality.

Therefore true peace and harmony would prevail among the adherents of the various religions only if they were all willing to look beyond the external forms of those religions and see the one simple and common truth of non-duality that lies at the heart of all of them.

Non-duality

If we accept and truly understand the truth of non-duality, we will have no cause to quarrel or fight with anyone. We will be happy instead to let each person believe what they want to believe, because if a person is so attached to their individuality that they are unwilling to doubt its reality, no amount of reasoning or argument will convince them of the truth of non-duality.

Therefore no one who truly understands this truth would ever try to convince the unwilling. If anyone does try to force the truth of non-duality upon someone who is unwilling to accept it, they are only displaying their own lack of correct understanding of that truth.

Non-duality is not a religion that needs evangelists to propagate it, or converts to join its ranks. It is the truth, and will remain the truth whether or not anyone chooses to accept and understand it. Therefore we can and should do no more than make this truth available to whomsoever is ready to understand it and apply it in practice.

The true blasphemy

Many religious people believe that it is blasphemy or sacrilege to say that we are one with God, because they mistake such a statement to mean that an individual is claiming himself to be God. But when we say that we are God, what we mean is not that we as a separate individual are God, which would be absurd, but that we are not an individual separate from God. By thus denying that we have any existence or reality separate from God, we are affirming that the reality we call God is one, whole and undivided.

If instead we were to claim that we are in reality separate from God, as most religious people believe us to be, that would be blasphemy or sacrilege, because it would imply that God is not the one and only reality. If we were to have any reality of our own separate from God, then he would not be the whole truth, but only a part or division of some larger truth.

If we believe that the reality that we call God is truly the infinite ‘fullness of being’, the one undivided whole, then we must accept that nothing can exist as other than or separate from him. He alone truly exists, and all else that seems to exist as separate from him is in fact nothing but an illusion or false appearance whose sole underlying reality is God.

Only in the state of perfect non-duality is the true glory, wholeness and fullness of God revealed.

So long as we experience a state of seeming duality by mistaking ourself to be an individual separate from God, we are degrading and demeaning him, denying his indivisible oneness, wholeness and infinity, and making him into something less than the only existing reality that he truly is.

The Truth is often unpalatable

Though the inner aim of all religions is to teach us the truth of non-duality, in their scriptures this truth is often expressed only in an oblique manner, and can be discerned only by people who are able to read between the lines with true insight and understanding. The reason why the truth is not expressed more openly, clearly and unambiguously in many of the scriptures of the various religions is that at any given point in time the majority of people have not yet reached a state of sufficient spiritual maturity to be able to digest and assimilate it if it is told as it is. That is why Christ said,

‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now’ (John 16.12).

However, though most of us may be unable to bear and accept the raw and naked truth of non-duality now, with the passing of time we will each eventually gain the spiritual maturity required to understand and accept the truth as it is, and not merely as we would now like it to be.

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

Whilst there are many wonderful books and texts to read, I want to focus here on books and scripture that:

  1. comprehensively deals with the path to liberation
  2. in a clear and unambiguous way that is easy to understand for the true and genuine seeker of liberation
  3. with few/minimal detours
  4. but still provides the necessary depth of teaching
  5. in order to effectively bring about Liberation

Where possible I have provided a link to Downloadable PDF versions of each of the books recommended in the sections below. I recommend you obtain a copy of all of the books recommended. Towards the end of this post I also give a suggested order in which you can read the books.

I hope you find these resources to be of value

Best Wishes & Namaste

Tom

How to read the books

The point of this list of books is not for you to simply read lots of books!

As I have only selected books which each contain the entire teaching required for liberation, a deep study of any single one of the above texts is all that is required.

The purpose of the books is to outline the essential cause of suffering and the remedy for it. The theory given in the books is then meant to be put into practice. Once the essential teaching has been understood and the desire to put the teachings earnestly into practice has arisen, there is no need to read more and more, as this can get in the way of actual practice.

However, if the teaching has not been understood or the strong desire to put the teachings into practice has not arisen, then the recommendation is to continue reading, but to read slowly. Take your time, study the teachings presented, make sure you understand them step by step but fully and deeply. Take your time to ensure you not only intellectually understand the texts but that your understanding sinks deeper into the feeling or experiential level where it can actually result in a lasting change. Staying with a single powerful quote and allowing that quote to penetrate into the depths of your being, so lasting change is created, is more useful than reading an entire volume and understanding the theory on a superficial intellectual level only.

Put the teachings into practice. If you have read the teachings several times but find you are not putting them into practice, it means that you probably haven’t grasped the depth of the teachings and perhaps you are relating to them predominantly on an intellectual level only. This may be a signal that you should slow down and take more time over each teaching point before moving on to the next teaching. Alternatively it may be a signal to speak directly to a teacher about such matters to seek clarity about the teachings.

The books

Texts by Sri Ramana Maharshi

Ramana gave many varied teachings to those who approached him. He naturally and spontaneously adapted the teachings to the level of the seeker before him, and some of these teachings therefore seem contradictory, and this can give rise to confusion about what Sri Ramana’s actual teaching was. However, in the short texts that Sri Ramana himself wrote, we see a very clear, unambiguous and consistent teaching that outlines the direct and true path to liberation.

Many state that the short text, Who am I?, written by Sri Ramana Maharshi contains all you need to attain liberation. And I would agree!

Together with two more of Sri Ramana’s writings, Upadesa Saram (The Essence of Instruction) and Ulladu Narpadu and Supplement – click on the links for downloadable PDF versions – a comprehensive set of teachings for liberation is given to us in concise form by Sri Ramana Maharshi.

The above three texts can also all be found in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, which also contains other beautiful works including Sri Ramana’s translation of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, itself another recommended text (see below).

The Path of Sri Ramana

This is the text I most commonly recommend reading and the book I recommend you read firstThe Path of Sri Ramana by Sri Sadhu Om. Sri Sadhu Om spent several years with Sri Ramana and many consider this book to be an authority on Sri Ramana’s teachings and how to put them into practice. This text explains in detail the entire path to liberation in a way that is easy to understand.

Whilst the three texts from Sri Ramana Maharshi mentioned in the section above contain all the teachings needed, I have found that many people are unable to understand or even see what these short texts are saying despite it all being laid out. This may be in part due to the concise nature of Ramana’s own words, together with some technical terms and a language barrier, but also because the ego-mind will not always allow the true teachings to be seen.

The Path of Sri Ramana explains all the teachings clearly and in detail so the true teaching cannot be missed or ignored by the ego-mind that may be trying to distort or alter the teachings in order to avoid its own demise. It also clearly explains what the path is NOT, and so keeps the seeker away from paths that seem or appear to be similar to the true path, but are actually routes to more delusion rather than Liberation.

The Path of Sri Ramana also is one of the few texts that not only explains the path of Knowledge (Jnana) but also clearly outlines the path of Love & Devotion (Bhakti) and the path of Karma (action) in a clear and logical manner.

Another text that is also of value is the wonderful Sadhanai Saram (The Essence of Sadhana or Spiritual Practice), also written by Sri Sadhu Om. This text contains many gems and the teachings are given through a series of verses grouped by topic. I recommend you read the Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 and 2 before you read Sadhanai Saram to gain the full benefit of the text.

Guru Vachaka Kovai (Garland of Guru’s Sayings)

Whilst not strictly written by Sri Ramana, the text Guru Vachaka Kovai was extensively checked and amended by Sri Ramana. It was written by one of his closest devotees, Sri Muruganar, and is widely considered to be the most authoritative collection of verbal teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. The foreword of the book published by Sri Ramana Ashram states the following about Guru Vachaka Kovai:

[Guru Vachaka Kovai] provides the most precise, systematic and authoritative exposition of Sri Bhagavan’s teaching, explaining step by step the theory, the practice and the experience of jnana, the Truth supreme which is Being as Life Eternal, Pure Awareness, Perfect Bliss. Thus, the most comprehensive collection of the Maharshi’s sayings is Guru Vachaka Kovai…

My recommendation is, after having read the introduction and introductory verses, to start with the verses towards the end of the book which deal directly with the nature of liberation and work your way towards the front of the book.

Sri Ramana Gita

I also recommend the Sri Ramana Gita

Traditional Vedanta Texts

Whilst there are many wonderful traditional scriptures that one can read, there are a few traditional texts that clearly explain the entire path unambiguously for the genuine seeker of liberation, with minimal detours as possible.

Traditionally the most important of these is Vivekachudamani written by Sri Shankacharya. This is arguably the single most important scripture in Advaita Vedanta. Whilst Vedanta is primarily based upon the Upanishads, the teachings in the Upanishads are not always clearly and systematically explained. There are also different ways of interpreting these texts, and many Traditional lineages themselves have very questionable interpretations of the texts, and this can give rise to doubts. One danger is that one may end up engaging in too much extensive scriptural study, which in itself may take decades – even then one may still have doubts!

Vivekachudamani summarises and systematises the teachings of the Upanishads and has been used as a gold-standard for Advaita Teachings since it was written approximately 1400 years ago. The repetition present in the verses, the way the same topic is often spoken of in different ways, and the way the teaching is present throughout the text (ie. the teachings are given at the beginning, middle and end of the text) means that the true meaning of the text cannot easily be distorted, altered, misunderstood or wrongly interpreted.

Whilst most scholars and traditionalists agree that Vivekachudamani was likely written by Shankara, some dispute the authorship of the text and state it was written by a later Shankaracharya in the same lineage. Regardless of who the author was, there is not a single teaching present in Vivekachudamani that cannot also be found in the Upanishads, which are the source texts for Vedanta, and of course the authors of the Upanishads also remain unknown to us. Countless sages in the last 1400 years, including Sri Ramana Maharshi, have also testified the greatness of this text, stating this text teaches the way to liberation.

Sri Ramana Maharshi also translated the entirety of Vivekachudamani into Tamil and wrote an introduction to the text in which he states that Vivekachudamani reveals the direct path to liberation. Both of these by Sri Ramana are also recommended. Many other sages over the centuries have also praised Vivekachudamani as clearly showing the true path to Liberation.

Another traditional text that shows us the complete path is Advaita Bodha Deepika. It too is a text that was recommended by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, and so I also recommend you read it. Whilst Vivekachudamani clearly explains the correct path, this text not only does this, but it also describes why other (false) paths do not work and how to avoid them. Some people find it to be more accessible as it is written in a question and answer format in prose, rather than in verse (Vivekachudamani is written in verse form).

In the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramana has translated several traditional Advaita texts himself, all of which are recommended. These include texts from both the Vedanta and Tantra traditions (the Agamas are the source texts for several Hindu Tantric schools).

There are many other wonderful traditional Advaita texts such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Avadhuta Gita, Ashtavakra Gita, Ribhu Gita, Uddhava Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, etc, and these are also well worth reading, but the last one I want to mention here is the wonderful Yoga Vasishta. This is one of the most important traditional texts in Advaita Vedanta in which the teachings are clearly and unambiguously explained in a systematic way. It is also of historical interest as it is one of the few Vedanta Scripture that clearly gives us an idea of what Vedanta was like prior to Shankara. You can read about it more in the link I have just provided above and you will also find further links to key teachings from the text which are also well-worth exploring.

Other contemporary books

You may find that some of your favourite spiritual books do not feature on this list. It may be that I simply haven’t come across that book, but it also may be that I have come across it, but have not included it here as I do not feel it fulfils the criteria I have set out at the top of this post.

As you (hopefully) become familiar with the teachings presented in the above texts – they all present the same essential teaching by the way – you may start to see how these teachings are often NOT the same as other teachings that are more widely available in today’s contemporary spiritual marketplace. Initially it may seem that all non-dual teachings are pointing to the same essence in their own way, but as you become more familiar with the teachings, you will start to see differences emerge, and these differences can make all the difference!

Here are some more contemporary books that I also recommend. Again, the same essential teaching that is given in the above texts are also given in these.

First is The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss by Michael Langford. This book’s tone may not be for everyone, but wonderful teachings are presented nonetheless. As well as outlining a path to liberation, this book also outlines various strategies the ego-mind uses to ‘prevent’ liberation from occurring. Understanding these ‘ego preservation strategies’ is very useful, especially if you can see them operating in yourself and put and end to them. Also highly recommended by the same author are the books ‘Seven Steps to Awakening’ and ‘The Importance of Practice and Effort’.

Another book I’d like to tentatively recommend is Happiness and the Art of Being by Michael James. I hesitate to and only tentatively recommend this book as it is the one book on this list I haven’t actually fully read myself – I’ve only skimmed through it and read the first few pages of the introduction – but I have been very impressed by what I have read thus far, so hence it makes this list. I feel the author has a wonderful understanding of Sri Ramana’s teachings and manages to shines a light on the true Vedanta rather than many of the ‘drier’ intellectual (ie. false) versions of Vedanta that are currently in circulation. He also studied Ramana’s teachings directly with Sri Sadhu Om, who wrote the Path of Sri Ramana (see above), and has made his own translations of Sri Ramana’s works including Guru Vachaka Kovai, so I feel fairly confident the teachings will be in line with the above teachings. There are also many gems and detailed insights in this book I have found when skimming through that I have not found elsewhere, which is another reason this book makes the cut. The author has made the book available for free online on the link above, but if you are able to, I encourage you to make a donation to help support the author.

A suggested reading order

All of the above texts contain the same essential teaching presented in slightly different ways, so if you find that you are drawn to one particular book, it is generally good to read that one first, as that is the text you will be most motivated to read. However here is my suggested reading order:

  1. The Path of Sri Ramana Part 1 & 2 by Sri Sadhu Om – these two books clearly describe the entire spiritual path and form a great foundation for beginners and advanced seekers alike. If these texts are put into practice, no further books are required.
  2. Sadhanai Saram by Sri Sadhu Om – this is sometimes referred to as ‘part 3’ of the above and consolidates the above teachings as well as giving further clarity to the path
  3. Who am I?, Upadesa Saram and Ulladu Narpadu & Supplement – all by Sri Ramana Maharshi. These short texts will be more fully appreciated and easier to understand having read the above 3 books by Sri Sadhu Om.
  4. The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss by Michael Langford
  5. Seven Steps to Awakening, compiled by Michael Langford
  6. Vivekachudamani by Shankara
  7. Advaita Bodha Deepika
  8. Guru Vachaka Kovai
  9. Sri Ramana Gita
  10. Advaita texts translated by Sri Ramana in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi
  11. Yoga Vasistha
  12. Happiness and the Art of Being

Q. I don’t really care for Sri Ramana or Vedanta, etc – I just want very clear teachings on liberation in plain language without any mystical mumbo jumbo – what books do you recommend?

In this case I recommend you read ‘The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss’ by Michael Langford. This is a wonderful and straight-forward presentation of the teachings stripped of mysticism and obscure language. However – these teachings may be too direct for some – you were warned!

Michael Langford has created another compilation called ‘Seven Steps to Awakening’ which is a collection of quotes from various sources which give a traditional and scriptural backing to the teachings given in ‘The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss’. These two books work very well together.

Q. My main interest is in Advaita Vedanta teachings – which books are best?

The best introduction to the Vedanta teachings I have come across are actually The Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 & 2. After this, I would recommend the traditional texts Advaita Bodha Deepika and then Vivekachudamani, followed by the traditional Advaita texts Sri Ramana translated that can be found in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, and then Yoga Vasistha. Lastly I would recommend you read Happiness and the Art of Being which is also a very good text on Vedanta teachings.

My main interest is in Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Teachings – what do you recommend?

I would recommend the Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 & 2, then Sadhanai Saram, followed by the suggested reading order I gave above.

Q. Why is my favourite spiritual book not on your list of books?

It may be that I haven’t read it, or it may be that it doesn’t in my view fulfil the criteria I have outlined at the top of the post.

Q. I know you have written various blog posts on Zen and Buddhism. Why do texts from these traditions not feature on your list?

Yes, I have written several posts on Zen and Buddhism – please see the hyperlinks in the question above for examples. I do think they are wonderful traditions but I haven’t found a book from those traditions that gives a complete teaching with sufficient detail that fits the criteria at the top of the post without also creating much ambiguity and confusion about the path. Many of the texts fall short in my view, which is not to say the traditions themselves fall short necessarily, although they may depending on how they are taught. I have found that the above recommended texts are much clearer and more straightforward, and therefore more effective. However I will let you decide!

Q. What about books by Nisargadatta Maharaj such as ‘I Am That?’

Whilst I Am That is a very good book that has inspired many, I have found that the teachings vary a lot depending on whom Nisargadatta Maharaj is speaking to. This is because this book, and others like it, are a record of conversations, so the teaching given varies according to the context it was given it. This means that the highest teaching is not always taught. What then often happens is that the ego-mind or the reader often finds a way to latch onto the lower teachings and use this as a means to perpetuate itself – this is often done unconsciously without the reader realising this. The terminology used such as the use of the phrase ‘I AM’ can be very confusing for some, as sometimes it refers to what Ramana would call the ‘I thought’ or ego, whereas in other parts of the book ‘I AM’ refers to the Self or the Absolute. Basically the essential teaching is not always clearly taught in my view, so hence I do not recommend it. However, if one has read the above recommended books first, then these varying teachings found in books such as ‘I Am That’ will not cause the reader confusion as the essential teaching has already been understood.

The same could be said for Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, which is also a record of conversations, so although Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi is also a wonderful book, I do not recommend it here for those who want to go directly for liberation as the essential teaching is not always clearly given. We are however very lucky that Sri Ramana wrote several short texts himself which clearly point the way to liberation without the need to wade through large collections of recorded conversations.

Best wishes and Namaste!

Tom

What does Ramana Maharshi mean by ‘I-I’?

Questioner:

Please can you explain what is meant by the last line in this quote from ‘Who am I?’ by Sri Ramana Maharshi?

‘By a steady and continuous investigation into the nature of the mind, the mind is transformed into That to which the ‘I’ refers; and that is in fact the Self.

Mind has necessarily to depend for its existence on something gross; it never subsists by itself. It is this mind that is otherwise called the subtle body, ego, jiva or soul.

That which arises in the physical body as ‘I’ is the mind. If one enquires whence the ‘I’ thought in the body arises in the first instance, it will be found that it is from hrdayam or the Heart. That is the source and stay of the mind.

Or again, even if one merely continuously repeats to oneself inwardly ‘I-I’ with the entire mind fixed thereon, that also leads one to the same source.’

Tom:

It means to turn away from objects towards the Self; the mantra ‘I-I’ just being a means to point your attention Selfwards.

‘I-I’ means ‘I am I’ or ‘I am that I am’. This is because in most Indian languages ‘I’ and ‘I am’ are essentially the same word.

In the Path of Sri Ramana Part One it states on p.114:

The consciousness ‘I am’ when felt along with an adjunct (upadhi) as ‘I am so-and-so’ becomes a thought. Of all thoughts, this thought is the first. But the consciousness which shines alone as ‘I-I’ without any adjunct is Self (atman) or the Absolute (brahman). This is not a thought. It is our ‘being’ (that is, our true existence)

and on page 133 it states:

But as we have already said, it is to be understood that the consciousness mixed with adjuncts as ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ is the ego (ahankara) or the individual soul (jiva), whereas the unalloyed consciousness devoid of adjuncts and shining alone as ‘I-I’ (or ‘I am that I am’) is Self (atman), the Absolute (brahman) or God (iswara).

We can see that I-I (and the variants of this such as ‘I am that I am’, etc) simply refer to the Self, that is consciousness without any objects, as per the quote on page 133.

What’s wrong with ‘neo- advaita’? Why is it so fiercely attacked and mocked by traditional Advaita followers?

For the most part we can define ‘neo-advaita’ (or radical non-duality) as those teachings/communications that state all is already one/whole and there is no separate individual self, and as there is no separate self, there can be no useful practice as all practices reinforce the notion of an individual self that is carrying out the practice; therefore, according to neo-advaita, there is no path to liberation, no practice that can help one attain liberation, and no separate self to be liberated, and to say the contrary is inaccurate.

This is in contrast to traditional-type Advaita teachings that for the most part acknowledge all is already one, but often state there is some kind of process or path that one can engage with and engaging with this teaching and path will in some way help ‘you attain direct realisation/liberation’ of the oneness/Self that is already present.

Which view is correct?

I think most seekers that have explored this can see the potential benefits of both approaches, but most neo-advaita types reject the practice/progress orientated paths, and vice versa.

My own view is that the neo-advaita types for the most part have only a very superficial realisation and they also do not usually point to suffering ending (unlike traditionally orientated paths), but that does not make neo-advaita entirely worthless of course, as different things resonate at different times in our journey.

I have written several posts on this which may be of interest to you, best wishes:

False enlightenment

Are spiritual teachings prescriptions or descriptions? Sudden vs. gradual teachings. Is a practice required?

Who or what does Self-Enquiry? Why still the mind? Isn’t this more mind? More beliefs? Neo-advaita | Radical non-duality vs Traditional teachings and practices

The evolution of Tony Parsons | Radical non-duality | Neo-Advaita | Advaita Vedanta

The problem with radical non-duality or neo-advaita

Ramana Maharshi on Neo-Advaita | Radical Non-duality | Are practices really required?

Neo-advaita myth: The ‘me’ is an energetic contraction

Self-Enquiry is not Neti-Neti | Atma Vichara | Ramana Maharshi

Neti-Neti (‘not this, not that’) is a traditional teaching that teaches us to negate all phenomenal objects as being not-self (anatman). This is also known as the via negativa (negative way) as it points to what we are NOT. The basic idea is that through negating or discarding what we are not, what we are, that which is Nameless and beyond concepts, is revealed.

This is in contrast to the via positiva (positive way), which points out what WE ARE and directs us to recognised THAT and abide as THAT.

Whilst many teachings contain both via negative and positiva, you will see that in Advaita Vedanta and the teachings of great sages like Sri Ramana Maharshi, the via positiva is often emphasised but the via negativa is also explained. In other teachings, such as in many Buddhist texts, the via negative is often emphasised, but the via positiva teachings are also present.

Why is this? I’ve noticed that the via-negativa teachings are more attractive to those with a more intellectual inclination – and that is because negation is an activity of the intellect or mind. It by itself can only take you so far. However it is the via positiva (only if done correctly) that leads one to transcend the mind. Let us see Bhagavan Ramana explain this:


Cease all talk of ‘I’ and search with inward diving mind whence the thought of ‘I’ springs up. This is the way of wisdom. To think, instead, ‘I am not this, but That I am,’ is helpful in the search, but it is not the search itself.

Sri Ramana Maharshi, Ulladu Narpadu (Forty Verses on Reality), Verse 29

When the Vedas have declared, ‘Thou art That’ – not to seek and find the nature of the Self and abide in It, but to think ‘I am That, not This’ is want of strength. Because, That abides forever as the Self.

Sri Ramana Maharshi, Ulladu Narpadu (Forty Verses on Reality), Verse 32


The above verses are more fully explained in the text The Path of Sri Ramana in Chapter 7. Here is an excerpt from page 126:

That is why it is impossible for the mind to negate anything by thinking ‘I am not this, I am not this’ (neti, neti).- On the other hand, if our (Self’s) attention is directed only towards ourself, our knowledge of our existence alone is nourished, and since the mind is not attended to, it is deprived of its strength…

Here on the next page, page 127, it states:

‘If we are told, ‘Abandon the east’, the practical way of doing so would be to do as if told, ‘Go to the west’! In the same manner, when we are told, ‘Discard the five sheaths, which are not Self’, the practical way of discarding the non-Self is to focus our attention on ourself. ‘What is this I?’ or ‘Who am I?’. ‘

Thinking ‘I am not this, not this’ (neti, neti) is a negative method. Knowing that this negative method is just as impractical as saying, ‘Drink the medicine without thinking of a monkey’. Sri Bhagavan has now shown us the practical way of drinking the medicine without thinking of a monkey, by giving us the clue, ‘Drink the medicine while thinking of an elephant’, that is, He has reformed the ancient negative method by giving us the positive method ‘Who am I?’…

Thus Bhagavan Ramana has declared categorically
that Self-attention alone is the correct technique of eliminating the five sheaths!


Now let us see Sri Ramana explain this to two seekers who have both read the traditional texts and have been practicing neti-neti but who have not been able to progress in their sadhana. This following is taken from the book Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 197:

Gul and Shirin Byramjee, two Parsi ladies of Ahmedabad, arrived this day. They spoke at night to Maharshi: “Bhagavan! We have been spiritually inclined from our childhood. We have read several books on philosophy, and are attracted by Vedanta. So we read the Upanishads, Yoga Vasishtha, Bhagavad Gita, etc. We try to meditate, but there is no progress in our meditation. We do not understand how to realise. Can you kindly help us towards realisation?”

Ramana Maharshi: How do you meditate?

Questioner: I begin to ask myself “Who am I?”, eliminate body as not ‘I’, the breath as not ‘I’, the mind as not ‘I’ and I am not able to proceed further.

Ramana Maharshi: Well, that is so far as the intellect goes. Your process is only intellectual. Indeed, all the scriptures mention the process only to guide the seeker to know the Truth. The Truth cannot be directly pointed out. Hence this intellectual process. You see, the one who eliminates all the ‘not I’ cannot eliminate the ‘I’. To say ‘I am not this’ or ‘I am that’ there must be the ‘I’. This ‘I’ is only the ego or the ‘I-thought’. After the rising up of this ‘I-thought’, all other thoughts arise. The ‘I-thought’ is therefore the root-thought. If the root is pulled out all others are at the same time uprooted. Therefore seek the root ‘I’, question yourself “Who am I?”; find out its source. Then all these will vanish and the pure Self will remain ever.

Questioner: How to do it?

Ramana Maharshi: The ‘I’ is always there – in deep sleep, in dream and in wakefulness. The one in sleep is the same as that who now speaks. There is always the feeling of ‘I’. Otherwise do you deny your existence? You do not. You say ‘I am’. Find out who is.

Questioner: Even so, I do not understand. ‘I’, you say, is the wrong ‘I’ now. How to eliminate this wrong ‘I’?

Ramana Maharshi: You need not eliminate the wrong ‘I’. How can ‘I’ eliminate itself? All that you need do is to find out its origin and abide there. Your efforts can extend only thus far. Then the Beyond will take care of itself. You are helpless there. No effort can reach it.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 197