Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi

Buddha Ramana Krishna.png

In this article we will look at a Buddhist text that deals with the last step of the Noble Eightfold Path, Samma Samadhi (Right concentration). When we look at the method the Buddha actually prescribed, as written in the Pali texts, we cannot help but notice the similarity to the Yogic and Vedic teachings on meditation and to Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry. As always, if one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

If one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

The earliest written Buddhist teachings come to us in the form of the Pali Suttas, or the Buddhist texts written in the Pali language, and when we read them, one of the most important and most often repeated teachings we come across is the teaching on Samma Samadhi or Right concentration, the final step of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Again and again we find the Buddha exhorting his followers to practice Samma Samadhi.

In the Magga-Vibhanga Sutta (SN 45.8), the Buddha gives an overview of the Noble Eightfold Path and defines in brief what each of the eight steps entails. Here is how he defines Samma Samadhi, or Right Concentration:

And what, monks, is Samma Samadhi?

There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.

With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’

With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This, monks, is called right concentration.

Here the Buddha has introduced us to the Pali word Jhana, which is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word Dhyana. Interestingly (for me, at least), it is from the word Dhyana that the Chinese word Ch’an comes, which in Japan became known as Zen, and as Son in Korea. All these words mean essentially mean meditation.

In Yoga and Vedanta traditions, the word Dhyana refers usually to concentrative meditation in which one’s attention is made to focus on some kind of object, gross (eg. a physical object) or subtle (eg. the breath or a sound/mantra), in order to eventually turn the attention away from body mind and world. This in turn allows a different aspect of one’s consciousness to come naturally into focus, namely pure consciousness which is devoid of objects/phenomena. This is called Samadhi in yoga and vedanta. This Samadhi ‘experience’ is not a usual experience, as it is devoid of objects that can be experienced, and cannot be understood without entering into it and ‘experiencing’ it first hand. This process of turning away from body/mind/world and experiencing pure consciousness is the hallmark of the Vedic method of meditation, as described in the Vedas (Gayatri mantra), the Upanishads, the Yoga sutras, The Bhagavad Gita (See chapter 6 for the main exposition), the agamas and various subsequent Advaita Vedanta texts (ie. the Prakarana Granthas – see Panchadasi or Vivekachudamani). Here is a brief quotation from the authoritative Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10:

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 [Brahman].

Similarly we see the same teachings from Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi, see here for an example.

Now the Buddha uses the same equivalent word as Dhyana, but in Pali: Jhana. The Jhanas are often taught as being states of concentration and absorption, and as I stated above, the Buddha repeatedly encouraged his followers to take up this practice. There are typically said to be 8 or 9 Jnanas, depending on how you want to divide them up, and when combined with the teachings on wisdom (Panna in Pali, Prajna in Sanskrit), they are said to lead to nirvana, or total and complete liberation from suffering.

Now let us look at one of the main Buddhist texts that deals with the Jhanas and how to access them, the Jhana Sutta. The Buddha states that the ending of the mental defilements (Pali: Asava) depends on the Jhanas. It should be noted that the ending of the Asava, or mental defilements, is tantamount to total liberation (nirvana), the ending of suffering (Dukkha) or what in early Buddhism is known as becoming an Arahant.

My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

The Jhāna Sutta  (AN 9:36)

First the Buddha makes it clear that liberation, or ending of the Asava, depends on attaining the Jhanas, or absorptive meditative states:

“I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana… the second jhana… the third… the fourth… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.

The Buddha then tells us how to enter the first Jhana. We should turn away from sense pleasures, from negative qualities, our thought should be one-pointed and we should remain mindful:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

The Buddha proceeds, in what could be thought to be a very Vedic way of phrasing things. Of course, it is actually also a very Buddhist way of phrasing things too, the two paths being so similar in many ways: first he identifies all phenomena that appear in our experience/awareness – these are the five Buddhist skandas (ie. form, sensation, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness), which are loosely similar to the five koshas of vedanta.

Secondly he applies the Buddhist teaching of the 3 marks of existence to them (ie. (1) they are temporary, (2) attachment to them causes suffering, and (3) they are not-self).

And thirdly, lastly, and most crucially, he advises one turns the mind away from these phenomena and ‘incline his mind to the property of deathlessness’, what in Vedic teachings would likely be termed the Self (Atman) or the Absolute (Brahman).

“He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness [ie. the five skandas], as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self [i.e the three marks of existence]. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'”

In the last sentence of the above paragraph, the Buddha uncharacteristically uses some positive terminology, ie. describing the absolute/ultimate in positive terms of what it is: he uses the words ‘This is peace, this is exquisite’, expressing the wonder and positivity of this state. Then he, more characteristically, adopts the usual negative terminology which describes the absolute in terms of what it is not: the lack of mental activity, the lack of acquisitiveness, the end of craving, lack of passion, lack of bondage or suffering. It is clear he is referring to nothing else but total and complete liberation, or nirvana.

The buddha continues, this time stating the same teaching again, but preceding it with the metaphor of an archery student. The idea is that through practice, one gets better at entering the Jhanas, just as the achery student improves through practice. The implication is that what at first seems difficult, perhaps impossible at first, such as highly developed archery skills, becomes possible and second-nature with repeated practice. Everyone can do this.

We also have to think why the Buddha chose an archer specifically to demonstrate this idea of the importance of practice. The other aspect of the archery metaphor is that the archer is one-pointed in intent, having picked a single target and focussing in on that, and over time and after correctly applying themselves, eventually is able to hit the bulls eye – they reach the goal of nirvana through having a clear aim, focus, practice and concentration:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Now we see another important phrase: ‘Staying right here’. The Buddha points out, just as in the vedic scriptures, that this state is to be abided in. Abiding in this state leads to the end of the mental defilements. In Vedic or Vedanta terms we could say that Abiding as the Self leads to the destruction of the vasanas (habitual mental tendencies):

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana] . Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.”

(Similarly with the second, third, and fourth jhana.)

So basically the Buddha is saying that either all of the mental defilements will be destroyed through this practice of the first four Jhanas, and thus lead directly to liberation, or some of the mental defilements will be destroyed, leading to becoming a one-returner, ie. someone who is to born once more in a heavenly realm where they will then attain nirvana without being reborn a second time.

The teaching then repeats for the the remainder of the Jhanas. The next three Jhanas (Jhanas 2-4) are covered using the same wording as above. The last five Jhanas, also called the formless Jhanas, have a subtly different wording, as follows:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite space,’ enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

We can see that the basic teaching is the same. The emphasis now is not on form (which is not mentioned – only the latter four of the five skandhas are now mentioned), but on ‘complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form’ and disappearance of resistance, and ignoring any thoughts or notions of multiplicity. This about a deep letting go in which effort and duality are both let go of.

The teachings continues is the same way as with the first four Jhanas above:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space [the fifth Jhana]. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana]. Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.

(Similarly with the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness [the sixth Jhana] and the dimension of nothingness [the seventh Jhana].)

For the last two of the nine Jhanas, the Buddha recommends you receive direct teachings yourself from someone who has mastered these already:

“Thus, as far as the perception-attainments go, that is as far as gnosis-penetration goes. As for these two dimensions — the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception [the eighth Jhana] & the attainment of the cessation of feeling & perception [the ninth Jhana, sometimes said to be Nirvana itself] — I tell you that they are to be rightly explained by those monks who are meditators, skilled in attaining, skilled in attaining & emerging, who have attained & emerged in dependence on them.”


The key to nonduality and yoga


From Ramana Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’:

Q. What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?

Ramana: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight


From Advaita Bodha Deepika (one of Ramana’s favourite traditional scriptures), Chapter 3:

17. Master: With complete stillness of mind, samsara will disappear root and branch. Otherwise there will be no end to samsara, even in millions of aeons (Kalpakotikala).

18. Disciple: Cannot samsara be got rid of by any means other than making the mind still?

M.: Absolutely by no other means; neither the Vedas, nor the shastras nor austerities, nor karma, nor vows, nor gifts, nor recital of scriptures of mystic formulae (mantras), nor worship, nor anything else, can undo the samsara. Only stillness of mind can accomplish the end and nothing else.

19. D.: The scriptures declare that only Knowledge can do it. How then do you say that stillness of the mind puts an end to samsara?

M.: What is variously described as Knowledge, Liberation, etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.

D.: Has any one said so before?

20-27. M.: Sri Vasishta had said…


Also from Chapter 3 of Advaita Bodha Deepika:

29-30. D.: How can the mind be made still?

M.: Only by Sankhya. Sankhya is the process of enquiry coupled with knowledge. The realised sages declare that the mind has its root in non-enquiry and perishes by an informed enquiry.

D.: Please explain this process.

M.: This consists of sravana, manana, nididhyasana and samadhi, i.e., hearing, reasoning, meditation and Blissful Peace, as mentioned in the scriptures. Only this can make the mind still.

31-32. There is also an alternative. It is said to be yoga.

D.: What is yoga?

M.: Meditation on Pure Being free from qualities.

D.: Where is this alternative mentioned and how?

M.: In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Sri Bhagavan Krishna has said: What is gained by Sankhya can also be gained by yoga. Only he who knows
that the result of the two processes is the same, can be called a realised sage.

33-34. D.: How can the two results be identical?

M.: The final limit is the same for both because both of them end in stillness of mind. This is samadhi or Blissful Peace. The fruit of samadhi is Supreme Knowledge; this remains the same by whichever process gained.

Shankara: Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realization of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.


Q. Tom, I appreciate this essay very much. I once got into quite an intense discussion with my Vēdānta teacher over this topic. We had just completed Panchadasi. The need for Silence (Samadhi) in conjunction with Self Inquiry was quite explicit in the text. And as you mention the Upanishads state the same.

I do have a question for you. In Vivekachudamani, Shankara makes contradictory statements about attainment. On one hand he extols the importance of meditation and knowledge. And then he seems to negate them. “Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realization of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.” (verse 56).

Krsna in Gita specifically says one can attain self realization by either approaches. (I understand that self realization, by some definitions is but a stage on the way to Unity.) This might be another conversation.

Is not realization of Brahman the final result of Yoga and Knowledge? If we understand Yoga to be Samadhi, which purifies deep rooted vasanas resulting in calmness. And Knowledge arrived at, on one hand, through direct experience in meditation and on the hand through scriptural study, finally resulting in discrimination between self and non self…

Then further on he extols Niddhyasana (long unbroken meditation/Nirvakalpa Samadhi) as the last step after hearing and contemplating the teachings. Patanjali defines Samadhi as Yoga. So Yoga seems to enter the picture again.

How do we reconcile these apparent contradictions?


Tom: Hi, this is a great question and thankfully is easily resolved in the context of the text Vivekachudamani.

Some modern Vedanta teachers insist that in Vedanta words are used in a very precise way, but for anyone who has read the scriptures in Sanskrit for themselves, nothing could be further from the truth. In the original Sanskrit language, the same words are used in a variety of different ways depending on the context, and it is up to the reader to discern this. eg. words such as Atman, Jnana, etc are used in a variety of ways, and traditional commentaries such as Shankara’s commentaries acknowledge this too.

It is usually quite easy to discern the meaning of the words you when you look at the context – usually this simply means to look at the verses either side of the verse in question. In most Vedanta texts, as with most texts in general, a single point is often made across a series of thematically related verses (or sentences). In Vedanta texts, the beginning and end of a section is not clearly marked, but they are easy to spot if you are looking for them:

Now with this in mind, lets look at Vivekachudamani verse 56, which you raise:

56. Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realisation of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.

Firstly, note the preceding verses that are in this section, starting at verse 51:

51. A father has got his sons and others to free him from his debts, but he has got none but himself to remove his bondage.

52. Trouble such as that caused by a load on the head can be removed by others, but none but one’s own self can put a stop to the pain which is caused by hunger and the like.

53. The patient who takes (the proper) diet and medicine is alone seen to recover completely – not through work done by others.

54. The true nature of things is to be known personally, through the eye of clear illumination, and not through a sage: what the moon exactly is, is to be known with one’s own eyes; can others make him know it?

55. Who but one’s own self can get rid of the bondage caused by the fetters of Ignorance, desire, action and the like, aye even in a hundred crore of cycles?

The theme is clearly that one has to do the work for oneself in order to attain liberation, and that no other, sage or otherwise, can do this work for you.

Now lets look at the verses that follow verse 56 in the same section:

57. The beauty of a guitar’s form and the skill of playing on its chords serve merely to please a few persons; they do not suffice to confer sovereignty.

58. Loud speech consisting of a shower of words, the skill in expounding the Scriptures, and likewise erudition – these merely bring on a little personal enjoyment to the scholar, but are no good for Liberation.

59. The study of the Scriptures is useless so long as the highest Truth is unknown, and it is equally useless when the highest Truth has already been known.

60. The Scriptures consisting of many words are a dense forest which merely causes the mind to ramble. Hence men of wisdom should earnestly set about knowing the true nature of the Self.

61. For one who has been bitten by the serpent of Ignorance, the only remedy is the knowledge of Brahman. Of what avail are the Vedas and (other) Scriptures, Mantras (sacred formulae) and medicines to such a one?

62. A disease does not leave off if one simply utter the name of the medicine, without taking it; (similarly) without direct realisation one cannot be liberated by the mere utterance of the word Brahman.

63. Without causing the objective universe to vanish and without knowing the truth of the Self, how is one to achieve Liberation by the mere utterance of the word Brahman? — It would result merely in an effort of speech.

64. Without killing one’s enemies, and possessing oneself of the splendour of the entire surrounding region, one cannot claim to be an emperor by merely saying, ‘I am an emperor’.

65. As a treasure hidden underground requires (for its extraction) competent instruction, excavation, the removal of stones and other such things lying above it and (finally) grasping, but never comes out by being (merely) called out by name, so the transparent Truth of the self, which is hidden by Maya and its effects, is to be attained through the instructions of a knower of Brahman, followed by reflection, meditation and so forth, but not through perverted arguments.

66. Therefore the wise should, as in the case of disease and the like, personally strive by all the means in their power to be free from the bondage of repeated births and deaths.

The theme here is a warning against superficial teachings and the lack of true spiritual practice. This is a warning about teachings that do not recommend meditation and deep spiritual practice and a warning against teachings of no-effort, such as what is sometimes nowaday called neo-advaita. Let us see:

Merely repeating the words (verse 58) and intellectual study of the scriptures (verses 59-61) is not enough. Just proclaiming ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am That’ (verse 62 and 64) is not enough. We have not only to read the teachings but put them into practice (‘take the medicine’ cf. verse 62).

Verse 63 lays it out more clearly – what is the practice we have to do? What is the medicine we have to not only read about but actually swallow? We have to efface the body, mind and world and enter into Samadhi (’cause the objective world to vanish’).

This is emphasised in verse 65 where Shankara once again recommends the path of sravana – hearing the teachings, manana – reflecting upon the teachings and nididhyasana – meditation as described in verse 63.

Verse 66 then encourages the seeker to make effort to strive along this path, and not to fall short, not to follow paths that are mere verbal talk without ‘causing the objective world to vanish’ (verse 63).

So in conclusion, it is clear, from the context, that Shankara is admonishing superficial teachings only, and not the true path that he subsequently goes on to explain and recommend.

Lastly, let us look to someone who always preached the true Vedantic teachings, from their heart, but also as found in the scriptures, our Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. What does he write in ‘Who am I?’, questions 4 and 5?

Question 4. When will the realization of the Self be gained?
Ramana Maharshi: When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer.

Question 5. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
Ramana Maharshi: There will not be.


The Union of Meditation and Self-Enquiry – The two paths of Vedanta – Panchadasi by Vidyaranya Swami


Traditionally there are two paths to liberation according to Advaita Vedanta (Nondual Vedanta). In Panchadasi, a traditional advaita vedanta text, Vidyaranya Swami refers to them as the path of Meditation and that of Self-Enquiry.

Panchadasi was written by Vidraranya Swami (1380-1386) over 600 years ago and contains the essence of the vedanta scriptures over 15 chapters (‘pancha’ means 5 and ‘dasi’ means 10, so together they refer to 15 chapters).

This following excerpt from chapter 1 gives an overview of the vedantic path to moksha. The next excerpt from chapter 9 shows how the 2 vedantic paths in the title are in fact the same. I have then chosen a few more excerpts from subsequent chapters aimed at encourging the seeker in their sadhana (spiritual practice) and extolling the virtues of meditation.

MY COMMENTS ARE INTERSPERSED IN RED and bold type has been also added by myself for emphasis.

Best wishes


Overview of the path – from Chapter 1:

1.40. By discrimination of the subtle body (and recognition of its variable, transient character), the sheaths of the mind, intellect, and vital airs are understood to be different from the Self, for the sheaths are conditions of the three gunas, and differ from each other (qualitatively and quantitatively).

This indicates that the mind is able to discriminate (viveka – ie. to differentiate the unchanging self from the changing gross and subtle objects experienced) between the self and the gross and subtle bodies – ie. the body and mind. However the mind cannot so easily discriminate the self from the causal body in which the latent tendencies remain dormant. For this meditation is helpful, as follows:

1.41. Avidya (manifested as the causal body of bliss sheath) is negated in the state of deep meditation (in which neither subject nor object is experienced), but the Self persists in that state; so it is the invariable factor. But the causal body is a variable factor, for though the Self persists, it does not.

This is referring to samadhi, in which the subject-object duality has been removed. Also see Chapter 9 verse 126 of Panchadasi:

‘When meditation on the attributeless Brahman is mature it leads to Samadhi. This state of intense concentration at case leads on to the Nirodha state in which the distinction between subject and object is eliminated.’

This experience in meditation allows one to realise that the causal body also is not the Self:

1.42. As the slender, internal pith of munja grass can be detached from its coarse external covering, so the Self can be distinguished through reasoning from the three bodies (or the five sheaths). Then the Self is recognised as the supreme consciousness.

1.52. The Self is untouched by doubts about the presence or absence of associates, connotations and other adventitious relationships, because they are superimposed on it phenomenally.

Like a mirror is untouched by the contents of the reflection, like the cinema screen is untouched by the scenes in the movie, the Self remains untouched and unaffected by life.

Now Vidyaranya tells us of the advaitic path, consisting of sravana, manana, nididhyasana and samadhi. Shankara does the same here.

1.53. The finding out or discovery of the true significance of the identity of the individual self and the Supreme with the aid of the great sayings (like Tat Tvam Asi) is what is  known as sravana. And to arrive at the possibility of its validity through logical  reasoning is what is called manana.

Sravana, literally meaning hearing, means to hear or listen to the teachings. To thereafter think about the teachings and their logic is called manana.

1.54. And, when by sravana and manana the mind develops a firm and undoubted conviction, and dwells constantly on the thus ascertained Self alone, it is called unbroken meditation (nididhyasana).

Sravana and manana naturally lead to unbroken meditation, or nididhyasana. This eventually leads to removal of the subject-object duality and culminates in samadhi:

1.55. When the mind gradually leaves off the ideas of the meditator and the act of meditation and is merged in the sole object of meditation. (ie. the Self), and is steady like the flame of a lamp in a breezeless spot, it is called the super-conscious state (samadhi).

1.56. Though in samadhi there is no subjective cognition of the mental function having the Self as its object, its continued existence in that state is inferred from the recollection after coming out of samadhi.

There is no experience as such in samadhi, as the mind (and memory) does not temporarily exist, so the state is not known as such at the time. The next verse tells us that it persists dependent upon ‘effort and will made prior to its achievement’ and through ‘constant efforts’:

1.57. The mind continues to be fixed in Paramatman in the state of samadhi as a result of the effort of will made prior to its achievement and helped by the merits of previous births and the strong impression created through constant efforts (at getting into samadhi).

1.58. The same idea Sri Krishna pointed out to Arjuna in various ways e.g., when he compares the steady mind to the flame of a lamp in a breezeless spot.

He is referring to Krishna’s teaching to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6 verse 19:

‘Just as a lamp in a windless place does not flicker, so the disciplined mind of a yogi remains steady in meditation on the self.’

1.59. As a result of this (nirvikalpa) samadhi millions of results of actions, accumulated in this beginningless world over past and present births, are destroyed, and pure dharma (helpful to the realisation of Truth) grows.

1.60. The experts in Yoga call this samadhi ‘a rain cloud of dharma’ because it pours forth countless showers of the bliss of dharma.

1.61. The entire network of desires is fully destroyed and the accumulated actions known as merits and demerits are fully rooted out by this samadhi.

1.62. Then the great dictum, freed from the obstacles (of doubt and ambiguity), gives rise to a direct realisation of the Truth, as a fruit in one’s palm – Truth which was earlier comprehended indirectly.

The above 4 verses indicate how powerfully purifying nirvikalpa samadhi is in rooting out the habitual tendencies to identify with the body-mind, when gives rise to direct realisation of the Truth or Liberation.

1.63. The knowledge of Brahman obtained indirectly from the Guru, teaching the meaning of the great dictum, burns up like fire all sins, committed up to that attainment of knowledge.

1.64. The direct realisation of the knowledge of the Self obtained from the Guru’s teaching of the great dictum, is like the scorching sun, that dispels the very darkness of Avidya, the root of all transmigratory existence.

1.65. Thus a man distinguishes the Self from the five sheaths, concentrates the mind on It according to the scriptural injunctions, becomes free from the bonds of repeated births and deaths and immediately attains the supreme bliss.

In summary, the path is viveka (differentiating the unchanging self from the changing objects experienced) plus unbroken meditation on the self.

We see a similar reasoning given in Chapter 9:

The unity of meditation and self-enquiry – From Chapter 9:

9.126. When meditation on the attributeless Brahman is mature it leads to Samadhi. This state of intense concentration leads on to the Nirodha state in which the distinction between subject and object is eliminated.

‘Nirodha’ is the term used in yoga to indicate what in vedanta is known as nirvikalpa samadhi. Ceaseless meditation on the Self leads to the knowledge ‘I am Brahman’:

9.127. When such complete cessation of mental activity is achieved, only the association-less entity (Atman) remains in his heart. By ceaseless meditation on It based on the great Sayings, arises the knowledge ‘I am Brahman’.

9.128. There is then a perfect realisation of Brahman as the immutable, association-less, eternal, self-revealed, secondless whole, as indicated in the scriptures.

The author backs up his above statements by showing how the same ideas are present in the Holy Upanishads which are the most important texts in Vedanta teachings and hold the highest authority:

9.129. The Amritabindu and other Upanishads recommend Yoga for the same object. It is clear therefore that meditation on the attributeless Brahman is superior to other types of worship.

A warning for those who give up their meditation:

9.130. Those who give up meditation on the attributeless Brahman and undertake pilgrimages, recitations of the holy formulas and other methods, may be compared to ‘those who drop the sweets and lick the hand’.

Here the questioner points out the 2 main vedantic paths to liberation, one being meditation or yoga, the other being self-enquiry. The following verses indicate that the higher and quicker path is self-enquiry, but both paths are actually the same in the end:

9.131. (Doubt): This applies also to those who meditate on the attributeless Brahman giving up enquiry into Its nature. (Reply): True, therefore only those who are not able to practise enquiry have been asked to meditate on the attributeless Brahman.

9.132. Those who are very fickle-minded and agitated do not have the knowledge of Brahman by the practice of enquiry. Therefore control of the mind is the chief means for them. By it their mind becomes free from distractions.

9.133. For those whose intellects are no longer distracted nor restless but are merely covered by a veil of ignorance, the analytical system called Sankhya (intellectual enquiry) is prescribed. It will quickly lead them to spiritual illumination.

The above verse indicates that for enquiry to work, the mind must already be pure and stable and with only a small amount (‘a veil’) of ignorance. If not, then a calming practice, such as meditation, karma yoga or surrender/bhakti are required.

9.134. ‘The state of spiritual balance is obtainable by both the Sankhyas (those who follow the path of enquiry) and the Yogis (those who practise meditation). He really knows the meaning of the scriptures who knows that the paths of enquiry and meditation are the same’.

The path of meditation

Continuing with Chapter 9, here follows several statements from Shruti (ie. the Upanishads), the most authoritative Vedanta texts, extolling the virtues and efficacy of the path of meditation

9.138. So the future life of a man is determined by the nature of his thoughts at the time of death. Then as a devotee of the Personal God is absorbed in Him, so a meditator on the attributeless Brahman is absorbed in It and obtains Liberation.

9.140. As by meditation on the Personal God knowledge of the nature of Ishvara arises, so by meditation on the attributeless Brahman, knowledge of Its nature arises and destroys the ignorance which is the root of rebirth.

9.141. A meditator becomes Brahman who is ‘unattached, desireless, free from body and organs and fearless’. Thus the Tapaniya Upanishad speaks of liberation as the result of meditation on the attributeless Brahman.

9.142. By the strength of meditation on the attributeless Brahman knowledge arises. So the scriptural verse, ‘Verily there is no other path to liberation (except knowledge)’ does not conflict with this.

9.143. So the Tapaniya Upanishad points out that liberation comes from desireless meditation. The Prasna Upanishad also says that by meditation with desire one enters into the region of Brahma.

9.146. Such a worshipper, by virtue of his meditation on the attributeless Brahman, enters the world of Brahma and there obtains direct knowledge of Brahman. He is not born again, he gets ultimate release at the end of the four Yugas.

9.147. In the Vedas meditation on the holy syllable Aum in most places means meditation on the attributeless Brahman, though in some places it means meditation on Brahman with attributes.

9.148. Pippalada being asked by his pupil Satyakama says that Aum means Brahman both with and without attributes.

9.149. Yama too, questioned by his pupil Nachiketas, replied that he who meditates on Aum knowing it as the attributeless Brahman obtains the fulfilment of his desires.

9.150. He who meditates properly on the attributeless Brahman gets direct knowledge of Brahman either in this life or at the time of death or in the world of Brahma.

9.151. The Atma Gita also clearly says that those who cannot practise discrimination should always meditate on the Self.

9.152. (The Self as if says): ‘Even if direct knowledge of Me does not seem to be possible, a man should still meditate on the Self. In the course of time, he doubtlessly realises the Self and is freed’.

9.153. ‘To reach treasures deeply hidden in the earth, there is nothing for it but to dig. So to have direct knowledge of Me, the Self, there is no other means than meditation on one’s Self’.

9.155. Even if there is no realisation, think ‘I am Brahman’. Through meditation a man achieves even other things (like the Deities), why not Brahman who is ever-achieved?

A stark warning not to stop meditating before the goal is reached:

9.156. If a man, who is convinced by his experience that meditation, practised day by day, destroys the idea that the not-Self is the Self, nevertheless becomes idle and neglects meditation, what difference, tell us, is there between him and a brute ?

9.157. Destroying his idea that the body is the Self, through meditation a man sees the secondless Self, becomes immortal and realises Brahman in this body itself.

9.158. The meditator who studies this Chapter called the ‘Lamp of Meditation’, is freed
from all his doubts and meditates constantly on Brahman.

From Chapter 11:

Chapter 11 further focuses upon the role of meditation as opposed to inquiry:

11.110. In the Maitrayani Upanishad of the Yajur Veda, sage Sakayanya spoke of the great bliss experienced in Samadhi to the royal sage Brihadratha while discoursing on Samadhi.

11.111. ‘As fire without fuel dies down and becomes latent in its cause, so the mind, when its modifications have been silenced, merges in its cause’.

11.112. ‘To the mind fixed on Reality, merged in its cause and impervious to the sensations arising from the sense-objects, the joys and sorrows (together with their occasions and materials) experienced as a result of the fructifying Karma seem unreal’.

11.114. ‘Through the purification of his mind a man destroys the impressions of his good and evil Karma and the purified mind abiding in Atman enjoys undiminishing bliss’.

11.115. ‘If a man were to focus his mind on Brahman, as he commonly does on the objects of senses, what bondage would he not be free from ?’

11.116. ‘Mind has been described as of two types, pure and impure. The impure is that which is tainted by desires, the pure is that which is free from desires’.

11.117. ‘The mind alone is the cause of bondage and release. Attachment to objects leads to bondage and freedom from attachment to them leads to release’.

11.118. ‘The bliss arising from absorption in the contemplation of the Self, when all sins and taints are washed off through the practice of Samadhi, cannot be described in words. One must feel it in one’s own heart’.

11.119. Though it is rare for men to keep their minds long in the state of absorption (Samadhi), still even a glimpse of it confers conviction about the bliss of Brahman.

11.121. Such a man ignores the bliss experienced in the state of mental quiescence and is ever devoted to the supreme bliss and meditates on it.

11.122. A woman devoted to a paramour, though engaged in household duties, with all the time be dwelling in mind on the pleasures with him.

11.123. Similarly the wise one who has found peace in the supreme Reality will be ever enjoying within the bliss of Brahman even when engaged in worldly matters.

11.124. Wisdom (Jnana) consists in subjugating the desires for sense-pleasure, even when the passions are strong and in engaging the mind in meditation on Brahman with the desire to enjoy the bliss.

In Ramana’ Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’, the question as to the nature of Jnana arises and is simply answered:

Questioner: What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?

Ramana Maharshi: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight.

See here for more

11.125. A man carrying a burden on his head feels relief when he removes the load; similarly a man freed from worldly entanglements feels he is in rest.

11.126. Thus relieved of burden and enjoying rest, he fixes his mind on the contemplation of the bliss of Brahman, whether in the state of detachment or experiencing pain or pleasure according to fructifying Karma.

11.130. Enjoying both the bliss of Brahman taught in the scriptures and the worldly bliss unopposed to it, the Jnani of truth knows them both in the same way as one who knows two languages.

11.131. When the Jnani experiences sufferings, he is not disturbed by them as he would have been before. Just as a man half-immersed in the cool water of the Ganges feels both the heat of the sun and the coolness of the water, so he feels the misery of the world and the bliss of Brahman at the same time.

And to finish, one of my favourite verses here:

From Chapter 13:

13.3. The world is born of bliss, it abides in bliss and is merged in bliss. How then can it be anything other than this bliss?


Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?


Advaita Bodha Deepika is a traditional text and a masterpiece, summarising the methods and techniques of advaita vedanta. It was a favourite text of Sri Ramana Maharshi and was often recommended by him. Here is what it says about how to attain liberation, the following is from Chapter 3:

17…Master: With complete stillness of mind, samsara will disappear root and branch. Otherwise there will be no end to samsara, even in millions of aeons (Kalpakotikala).

18. Disciple: Cannot samsara be got rid of by any means other than making the mind still?

M: Absolutely by no other means; neither the Vedas, nor the shastras nor austerities, nor karma, nor vows, nor gifts, nor recital of scriptures of mystic formulae (mantras), nor worship, nor anything else, can undo the samsara. Only stillness of mind can accomplish the end and nothing else.

19. D: The scriptures declare that only Knowledge can do it. How then do you say that stillness of the mind puts an end to samsara?

M: What is variously described as Knowledge, Liberation, etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.

D: Has any one said so before?

20 M: Sri Vasishta had said…


Beloved Ramana Maharshi says the same in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 141:

All the jnana* scriptures that teach the way to redemption proclaim in unison that restraining and stilling the mind is the best means for liberation. This is also emphasised by jnanis*.

If, after a certain amount of study, one knows this to be the inner purport of the scriptures, one should then direct ones whole effort towards that [practice]. What is the use of continuously studying more and more scriptures without doing this?

*Jnana, literally meaning knowledge, refers to the teachings of spiritual liberation, whereas jnani, literally ‘knower’, refers to the spiritually liberated sage.


In Ramana’s ‘Who am I?’, the question as to the nature of Jnana arises and is simply answered:

Questioner: What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?

Ramana Maharshi: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight.

The Katha Upanishad states the same, in verse 2.3.10:

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 [Brahman].

The Advaitic giant, Sri Gaudapada, writes in his Mandukya Karika:

The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman’ Chapter 3, verse 35

And in verse 37 of the same chapter he writes:

[Atman is] beyond all expression by words and beyond all acts of mind; It is all peace, eternal effulgence free from activity and fear and attainable by samadhi’ Chapter 3, verse 37

Also see:

The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation

Ramana Maharshi: be still

Ramana Maharshi: a quick and simple method to self-realisation

False enlightenment

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

Shankara shankaracharya

The following are quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani on the Mind, samadhi (stillness of mind), manonasa (destruction of mind) and it’s relationship to moksha (liberation). I hope you find these teachings to be helpful and instructive.

Vivekachudamani is one of the most important in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. Attributed to Shankara, for centuries it has traditionally been used as a practice manual for seekers of spiritual liberation. Many mahatmas (great souls) have considered this text to contain all that is required to know in order to attain liberation.

Swami Chinmayananda, that great Sanskrit scholar and teacher of Advaita Vedanta, said Vivekachudamani contained the distilled wisdom from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita and presents it in a systematic readable form for a seeker of liberation, in which both ‘the goal and path are exhaustively dealt with’. He wrote of Vivekachudamani that ‘no other help is needed’ other than this text on the quest to liberation.

A very young (and already enlightened) Sri Ramana Maharshi also translated the entire text into Tamil for the benefit of his companions and devotees who were unable to read Sanskrit, in what was perhaps Ramana’s first spiritual work. The fact that Ramana wrote very little yet bothered to translate this in its entirely, that this was the first scripture he chose to translate, and that this is the longest of the scriptures he ever translated (to my knowledge) perhaps gives you an indication of the significance of this text. Ramana himself wrote an introduction to his own translation and in it he said that Vivekachudamani explained ‘in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path’.

So here is some of what Shankara says about Mind and Liberation, my comments are in italicised red:


First Shankara equates mind with ignorance, saying they are one and the same, hinting the mind must be destroyed (manonasa), a theme that is taken up again later on:

169. There is no Ignorance (Avidya) outside the mind. The mind alone is Avidya, the cause of the bondage of transmigration. When that is destroyed, all else is destroyed, and when it is manifested, everything else is manifested.

Then he states the world is but an illusion projected by the mind, like a dream:

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.

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.

172. Clouds are brought in by the wind and again driven away by the same agency. Similarly, man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and Liberation too is caused by that alone.

Shankara warns the seeker to stay away from the mind:

176. In the forest-tract of sense-pleasures there prowls a huge tiger called the mind. Let good people who have a longing for Liberation never go there.

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.

Shankara in the next two verses repeats that mind is synonymous with ignorance and the cause of bondage or suffering.

179. Man’s transmigration is due to the evil of superimposition, and the bondage of superimposition is created by the mind alone.

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.

Shankara teaches us that the mind eventually must die, and the method of how to do this:

277. The Yogi’s mind dies, being constantly fixed on his own Self.

What happens when we do not follow this teaching?

309. Even though completely rooted out, this terrible egoism, if revolved in the mind even for a moment, returns to life and creates hundreds of mischiefs, like a cloud ushered in by the wind during the rainy season.

325. If the mind ever so slightly strays from the Ideal and becomes outgoing, then it goes down and down, just as a play-ball inadvertently dropped on the staircase bounds down from one step to another.

326. The mind that is attached to the sense-objects reflects on their qualities; from mature reflection arises desire, and after desiring a man sets about having that thing.

327. Hence to the discriminating knower of Brahman there is no worse death than inadvertence with regard to concentration. But the man who is concentrated attains complete success. (Therefore) carefully concentrate thy mind (on Brahman).

328. Through inadvertence a man deviates from his real nature, and the man who has thus deviated falls. The fallen man comes to ruin, and is scarcely seen to rise again.

335. When the external world is shut out, the mind is cheerful, and cheerfulness of the mind brings on the vision of the Paramatman. When It is perfectly realised, the chain of birth and death is broken. Hence the shutting out of the external world is the stepping-stone to Liberation.

The mind must be stilled:

344. …But the victory is undoubtedly (complete and) free from obstacles when there is no oscillation of the mind due to the unreal sense-objects.

The term Samadhi refers to a state of mind that is stilled but also aware and not asleep:

360. The truth of the Paramatman is extremely subtle, and cannot be reached by the gross outgoing tendency of the mind. It is only accessible to noble souls with perfectly pure minds, by means of Samadhi brought on by an extraordinary fineness of the mental state.

361. As gold purified by thorough heating on the fire gives up its impurities and attains to its own lustre, so the mind, through meditation, gives up its impurities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and attains to the reality of Brahman.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi refers to the complete absence of ‘mind waves’ or modifications of consciousness, in which there is only pure awareness or consciousness present devoid of thoughts and perceptions:

362. When the mind, thus purified by constant practice, is merged in Brahman, then Samadhi passes on from the Savikalpa to the Nirvikalpa stage, and leads directly to the realisation of the Bliss of Brahman, the One without a second.

363. By this Samadhi are destroyed all desires which are like knots, all work is at an end, and inside and out there takes place everywhere and always the spontaneous manifestation of one’s real nature.

364. Reflection should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing, and meditation a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection, but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.

Shankara continues to stress the importance of the thoughtless aware state of samadhi, or, to put it more simply, being still of mind:

365. By the Nirvikalpa Samadhi the truth of Brahman is clearly and definitely realised, but not otherwise, for then the mind, being unstable by nature, is apt to be mixed up with other perceptions.

Drowning the mind implies its death, meaning the death of ignorance:

366. Hence with the mind calm and the senses controlled always drown the mind in the Supreme Self that is within, and through the realisation of thy identity with that Reality destroy the darkness created by Nescience, which is without beginning.

398. When the mind-functions are merged in the Paramatman, the Brahman, the Absolute, none of this phenomenal world is seen

Again, Shankara says we must end the mind:

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

408. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is something of the nature of eternal Knowledge and absolute Bliss, which has no exemplar, which transcends all limitations, is ever free and without activity, and which is like the limitless sky, indivisible and absolute.

409. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is devoid of the ideas of cause and effect, which is the Reality beyond all imaginations, homogeneous, matchless, beyond the range of proofs, established by the pronouncements of the Vedas, and ever familiar to us as the sense of the ego.

410. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is undecaying and immortal, the positive Entity which precludes all negations, which resembles the placid ocean and is without a name, in which there are neither merits nor demerits, and which is eternal, pacified and One.

411. With the mind restrained in Samadhi, behold in thy self the Atman, of infinite glory, cut off thy bondage strengthened by the impressions of previous births, and carefully attain the consummation of thy birth as a human being.

480. Concentrating the mind for some time on the Supreme Brahman, he rose, and out of supreme bliss spoke as follows.

Manonasa, a synonym for moksha, is declared by this scripture:

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

502. How can there be merits and demerits for me, who am without organs, without mind, changeless, and formless – who am the realisation of Bliss Absolute? The Shruti also mentions this in the passage “Not touched”, etc.!

Here Shankara repeats the line found in Guadapada’s Karika, which itself is a repetition of the Upanishadic verse:

574. There is neither death nor birth, neither a bound nor a struggling soul, neither a seeker after Liberation nor a liberated one – this is the ultimate truth.

This is the true vedanta:

575. I have today repeatedly revealed to thee, as to one’s own son, this excellent and profound secret, which is the inmost purport of all Vedanta, the crest of the Vedas


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

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

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

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

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

Advaita Bodha Deepika

Chapter 7 – Sakshatkara or Realisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D.: Then who knows `I am Brahman’?

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

D.: How does this follow?

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

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

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

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

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

D.: What is this unconditional meaning?

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

D.: What is it?

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

D.: Please explain this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22-23. D.: How?

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

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

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

D.: Who is this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D.: When does this destruction take place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D.: Why?

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

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

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

D.: What is his view?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D.: Whom does it refer to?

M.: Only to the ignorant.

D.: Why?

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

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

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

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


Swami Chinmayananda and Shankara: the need for Samadhi

Below is verse 357 from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani together with Swami Chinmayananda’s brief commentary on the verse, stating the need for Samadhi, and how without this experience the whole of written and verbal vedanta is just empty talk. BMI is Swami Chinmayananada’s shorthand for Body-Mind-Intellect:

Also see:

The Union of Meditation and Self-Enquiry – The two paths of Vedanta – Panchadasi by Vidyaranya Swami

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

Ramana Maharshi: the path to self-realisation (Padamalai)

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

Q. What are the stages of awakening?

Question: So there are two stages in the path to liberation?  (1) Realizing all is one and (2) abiding as the Self until vasanas (egoic habitual tendencies) are rooted out?

Tom: The Vedanta scriptures generally describe 3 or 4 stages in the path to liberation:

1. Sravana (listening to the teachings) – this leads to a theoretical understanding

2. Manana (contemplating the teachings in a relatively quiet mind) – this leads to direct or experiential understanding in the mind/intellect. Many mistake this for full realisation as there is much freedom from suffering here, the truth of no-self is often seen, but unethical behaviour and subtle identification with the body-mind continues, as does the associated suffering. The scriptures warn about mistaking this for full realisation, but of course many never read the actual scriptures themselves.


3. Nididhyasana (meditation) – this is abiding until the vasanas are rooted out

4. Samadhi – this is the natural culmination of meditation/nididhyasana, also known as Silence/Mauna, in which the most sticky vasanas (habitual egoic tendencies) and the depths of ignorance are rooted out.

Almost everyone apparently goes through these stages and they naturally flow one to another even if you have never heard of them.

Read Vivekachudamani or Advaita Bodha Deepika for more information – it’s all in there.

Interestingly you will find the same stages in Buddhist teachings using almost exactly the same language.