Ramana Maharshi: the method of wakeful sleep (Jagrat Sushupti) to attain liberation

The the following talks, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi outlines a very simple but powerful teaching, that of wakeful-sleep or Jagrat-Sushupti (Jagrat means the waking state, Sushupti means deep dreamless sleep). This teaching in essence is no different to the other teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, and is also no different to the great Vedanta teachings, but is just another way of expressing the same principle.

The method consists of noting that in deep dreamless sleep the mind is still and there is no suffering, but there is also no awareness of this fact at the time. In the waking state we are presently aware, but thoughts and suffering also exist.

Therefore the method is that of remaining awake but with the thoughts stilled. Ramana says this is the state of Jagrat-Sushupti, which is also the state of the Jnani (the knower of truth or the enlightened sage). Ramana states this jagrat-susupti is also called Samadhi (talks 286, 313) and that it is also Mukti (liberation, talk 311) and bliss (talks 609, 372).

I will start with an excerpt from Talk 609 as this goes into the most detail, and the opening paragraphs alone contain many gems that should be carefully contemplated on. Thereafter the talks are chronological, with bold added by myself for emphasis.

Wishing you the eternal peace that is already ever-present

Tom

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From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 609:

The incentive to realise can arise only in the waking state and efforts can also be made only when one is awake. We learn that the thoughts in the waking state form the obstacle to gaining the stillness of sleep.

“Be still and know that I AM God”.

So stillness is the aim of the seeker. Even a single effort to still at least a single thought even for a trice goes a long way to reach the state of quiescence. Effort is required and it is possible in the waking state only. There is the effort here: there is awareness also; the thoughts are stilled; so there is the peace of sleep gained. That is the state of the Jnani. It is neither sleep nor waking but intermediate between the two. There is the awareness of the waking state and the stillness of sleep. It is called jagrat-sushupti.

Call it wakeful sleep or sleeping wakefulness or sleepless waking or wakeless sleep. It is not the same as sleep or waking separately. It is atijagrat (beyond wakefulness) or atisushupti (beyond sleep).

It is the state of perfect awareness and of perfect stillness combined. It lies between sleep and waking; it is also the interval between two successive thoughts. It is the source from which thoughts spring; we see that when we wake up from sleep. In other words thoughts have their origin in the stillness of sleep. The thoughts make all the difference between the stillness of sleep and the turmoil of waking.

Go to the root of the thoughts and you reach the stillness of sleep. But you reach it in the full vigour of search, that is, with perfect awareness. That is again jagrat-sushupti spoken of before. It is not dullness; but it is Bliss. It is not transitory but it is eternal. From that the thoughts proceed. What are all our experiences but thoughts? Pleasure and pain are mere thoughts. They are within ourselves. If you are free from thoughts and yet aware, you are That Perfect Being.


From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 286:

Sushupti continues in this state also. We are ever in sushupti. That should be consciously gone into and realised in this very state. There is no real going into or coming from it. Becoming aware of that is samadhi.


From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 290:

Bring sleep into the waking state (jagrat sushupti) and you will be all right.


From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 311:

The Self who was undifferentiated in sleep is differentiated in the present state, and sees the diversity. The Real Existence is the only One devoid of objective knowledge. That is absolute consciousness. That is the state of happiness, as admitted by all of us. That state must be brought about even in this waking state. It is called jagrat sushupti. That is mukti.


From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 313:

Take another example: A passenger in a cart has fallen asleep. The bulls move or stand still or are unyoked on the journey. He does not know these occurrences, but finds himself in a different place after he wakes up. He has been blissfully ignorant of the occurrences on the way, but his journey has been finished.

Similarly with the Self of the person. He is asleep in the body. His waking state is the movement of the bulls, his samadhi is their standing still (because samadhi = jagrat sushupti) i.e., to say, he is aware of but not attached to actions. So the bulls are in harness but do not move. His sleep is the unyoking of the bulls, for there is complete suspension of activities corresponding to the release of the bulls from the yoke.


From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 372:

D.: Sleep state is said to be the experience of Bliss, yet, on recollecting it the hairs do not stand on end. Why should they do so, if the samadhi state is recollected?

M.: Samadhi means sleep in waking state (jagrat sushupti). Bliss is overpowering and the experience is very clear, whereas it is different in sleep.


From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 601:

Someone: The limitation (upadhi) of being a man cannot be got rid of.

M.: How were you in deep sleep? There was no thought of being a man.

Another: So, the state of sleep must be brought about even when one is awake.

M.: Yes. It is jagrat-sushupti.

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You cannot ‘be still’/ how to be still

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‘Be still’ (ie. Nididhyasana) or natural stillness (ie. Samadhi), and the eternal peace of mind/end of suffering that seemingly emerge from that (ie. Moksha) – these are not something you do or create, or necessarily need to strive to practice. They can be a natural outcome of insight into the experiential truths of ‘no-doer’ (both in ‘yourself’ and in ‘others’) and ‘nothing else needed’ or ‘nothing to get’.

Similarly, insight is not something you have to do or achieve or create. It is a natural outcome of listening to the teachings (ie. Sravana) and contemplating them in a (relatively) clear and quiet mind (ie. Manana).

Therefore listen to the teachings, remember them, relax, and let the mind contemplate them unhurriedly. The teachings need time and space to blossom and bloom. 🌿🌼🌷

Seeking out teachings to listen to, actually listening to them and subsequently contemplating them is not something you do or chose to do or ever did. It is a natural outcome of a desire to end suffering (ie. Mumukshutva) together with having heard the notion or possibility that suffering can end (ie. Hearing about the concept of enlightenment or liberation). These factors naturally and automatically lead to seeking a teaching/teacher.

The desire to end suffering is not something you have created or ever ‘done’. It is the natural consequence of and intelligent response to suffering.

This is all spontaneous action and response. No doer entity or separate entity doing, authoring or creating anything.

Suffering is not something you chose to happen, or something you have created/caused. It is a natural consequence of living life with concepts of ignorance deeply rooted into the body-mind.

Hearing about the notion or possibility that suffering can end is not something you chose to hear. It is a consequence of God’s Grace.

Ignorance was not something you chose. It too was and is God’s Grace.

All this, one could say, is God’s Grace, unfolding beautifully. It is the way it is. What is is what is.

Jivanmukti Viveka – The path to liberation in this life by Swami Vidyaranya

Vidyaranya Swami (1296-1386), author of the wonderful Advaita Vedanta text Panchadasi and Shankaracharya (head monk) of Sringeri Math, wrote another less well known text called Jivanmukti Viveka. In it he, in some considerable detail, outlines the path to Jivanmukti, or liberation in this life.

In Chapter 2 he repeatedly makes the point that liberation or jnana cannot occur without both manonasa (destruction of the mind) and vasana kshaya (destruction of the habitual tendencies).

We shall now address ourselves to the means which lead to Jivanmukti (Liberation in this Life). These are Jnana, manonasa and vasana-kshaya.

He states that these three should be practised simultaneously. Throughout this text he quotes extensively from many authoritative texts to back up his view, this time quoting from the wonderful Yoga Vasishta:

Hence, in the Yoga Vasishta, Vasishta says, while dealing with The Body of the Jivanmukta at the end of the Chapter on Supreme Pacification: ‘Oh best of intellects vasasa-Kshaya, Jnana and Manonasa, attended to simultaneously for sufficient length of time, bear the desired fruit…

Vidyaranya then quotes again from Yoga Vasishta emphasising the need to practice these three for and extended period of time:

‘Until these three are not well attended to with sufficient and repeated trials, the Condition [Jivanmukti] can never be realised,  even at the end of a hundred years.’

Here are some more quotes from Chapter 2 of Jivanmukti Viveka:

vidyaranyajnana28knowledge29tooisimpossibleunlessthemindisentirelyatrest

vidyaranyajnananevercomesaboutwithoutvasanakshaya

vidyaranyathemindshouldbepreventedfromfunctioning

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‘This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, the rest is all mere concoction of untruth’ Vidyaranya Swami, Amritabindu Upanishad

Vidyaranya Swami (1296-1386), author of the wonderful Advaita Vedanta text Panchadasi and Shankaracharya (head monk) of Sringeri Math, wrote another less well known text called Jivanmukti Viveka. In it he, in some considerable detail, outlines the path to Jivanmukti, or liberation in this life.

In Chapter 2 Vidyaranya repeatedly makes the point that liberation or jnana cannot occur without both manonasa (destruction of the mind) and vasana kshaya (destruction of the habitual tendencies). To support this view he quotes from the Amritabindu Upanishad, verses 2-5, as follows:

Mind alone is the cause of bondage or liberation; lost in enjoyment it leads to bondage, emptied of the objective it leads to liberation.

As mind emptied of the objective leads to liberation, one desirous of liberation must always try to wipe off the objective from the plane of his mind.

The mind severed from all connection with sensual objects, and prevented from functioning out, awakes into the light of the heart, and finds the highest condition.

The mind should be prevented from functioning, until it dissolves itself in the heart. This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, the rest is all mere concoction of untruth.

Jnana refers to liberation, and dhyana means meditation, stating this instruction refers to the means (meditation) and the fruit (liberation). The last line can alternatively be rendered as ‘…all else is mere argumentation and verbiage’.

 

Ramana Maharshi summarises the entire spiritual path in his Introduction to Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination)

ramana maharshi

The earliest of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’s written works was his translation of Shankara’s Crest Jewel of Discrimination (Vivekachudamani in Sanskrit). He wrote it when he was still very young and was living in Virupaksha Care. This was also to remain the single largest work of Sri Ramana’s.

In his introduction to the Vivekachudamani, Ramana explains that Vedanta, as written in the triple cannon (Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita) points the way to attaining liberation, and that Shankara wrote commentaries on these three texts to make clear the path. However, Ramana also noted that for those who did not have the capacity for such scholarship, Shankara wrote the essence of his length commentaries and collated them together in the form of Vivekachudamani.

Below is Ramana’s introduction to the text, which gives in brief an overview of its teachings. Bold-type has been added by myself for emphasis of some key points. In another post I will post the full text of Ramana Maharshi’s translation of Vivekachudamani:

Introduction to Vivekachudamani, as written by Sri Ramana Maharshi:

Every being in the world yearns to be always happy and free from the taint of sorrow, and desires to get rid of bodily ailments, etc., which are not of its true nature. Further, everyone cherishes the greatest love for himself, and this love is not possible in the absence of happiness. In deep sleep, though devoid of everything, one has the experience of being happy. Yet, due to the ignorance of the real nature of one’s own being, which is happiness itself, people flounder in the vast ocean of material existence, forsaking the right path that leads to happiness, and act under the mistaken belief that the way to be happy consists in obtaining the pleasures of this and the other world.

Unfortunately, however, there is no such happiness which has not the taint of sorrow. It is precisely for the purpose of pointing out the straight path to true happiness that Lord Shiva, taking on the guise of Sri Shankaracharya, wrote the commentaries on the Triple Canon [Prasthana Traya] of the Vedanta, which extols the excellence of this bliss; and that he demonstrated it by his own example in life. These commentaries, however, are of little use to those ardent seekers who are intent upon realising the bliss of liberation but have not the scholarship necessary for studying them.

It is for such as these that Sri Shankara revealed the essence of the commentaries in this short treatise, The Crown Gem of Discrimination [Vivekachudamani], explaining in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path.

Sri Shankara begins by observing that it is hard indeed to attain human birth, and that, having attained it, one should strive to achieve the bliss of liberation, which is really only the nature of one’s being. By jnana or spiritual knowledge alone is this bliss to be realised, and jnana is achieved only through vichara or steady enquiry. In order to learn this method of enquiry, says Sri Shankara, one should seek the Grace of a Guru; and he then proceeds to describe the qualities of the Guru and his disciple and how the latter should approach and serve his master. He further emphasises thatin order to realise the bliss of liberation one’s own individual effort is an essential factor. Mere book learning never yields this bliss; it can be realised only through Self-enquiry or vichara, which consists of sravana or devoted attention to the precepts of the Guru, manana or deep contemplation and nidhidhyasana or the cultivation of equanimity in the Self.

The three bodies, are non-self and are unreal. The Self, that is the Aham or “I” is quite different from them. It is due to ignorance that the sense of Self or the “I”-notion is foisted on that which is not Self, and this indeed is bondage. Since from ignorance arises bondage, from knowledge ensues liberation. To know this from the Guru is sravana.

The process of manana, which is subtle enquiry or deep contemplation, consists in rejecting the three bodies consisting of the five sheaths [physical, vital, mental, intellectual, and blissful], as not “I” and discovering through subtle enquiry of “Who am I?” that which is different from all three and exists single and Universal in the Heart as Aham or “I”, just as a stalk of grass is delicately drawn out from its sheath. This “I” is denoted by the word tvam [in the scriptural dictum “Tat Tvam Asi”, “Thou art That”].

The world of name and form is but an adjunct of Tat or Brahman [Reality] and, having no separate reality, is rejected as reality and affirmed as nothing else but Brahman. The instruction of the disciple by the Guru in the scriptural saying [mahavakya] “Tat Tvam Asi“, which declares the identity of the Self and the Supreme, is this upadesa [spiritual guidance]. The disciple is then enjoined to remain in the beatific state of Aham-Brahman, [I – the Absolute]. Nevertheless, the old tendencies of the mind sprout up thick and strong and constitute an obstruction. These tendencies are threefold and ego is their root. The ego flourishes in the externalised and differentiating consciousness caused by the forces of projection due to rajas [restlessness], and veiling due to tamas [dullness].

To fix the mind firmly in the Heart until these forces are destroyed and to awaken with unswerving, ceaseless vigilance the true and cognate tendency which is characteristic of the Self [Atman] and is expressed by sayings: “Aham Brahmasmi” [“I am Brahman”], and “Brahmaivaham” [“Brahman alone am I”] is termed nidhidhyasana or Atmanusandhana, that is constancy in the Self. This is otherwise called bhakti [devotion], yoga and dhyana [meditation].

Atmanusandhana has been compared to churning curds in order to make butter, the mind being compared to the churn, the Heart to the curds, and the practice of concentration on the Self to the process of churning. Just as butter is made by churning the curds and fire by friction, so the natural and changeless state of Nirvikalpa samadhi is produced by unswerving vigilant concentration on the Self, ceaseless like the unbroken flow of oil. This readily and spontaneously yields that direct, immediate, unobstructed, and Universal perception of Brahman, which is at once knowledge and experience and which transcends time and space.

This perception is Self-realisation. Achieving It cuts the knot of the Heart. The false delusions of ignorance, the vicious and age-long tendencies of the mind which constitute this knot are destroyed. All doubts are dispelled and the bondage of karma is severed.

Thus in this Crown Gem of Discrimination Sri Shankara has described samadhi or spiritual trance which is the limitless bliss of liberation, beyond doubt and duality, and at the same time has indicated the means for its attainment. To attain this state of freedom from duality is the real purpose of life, and only he who has done so is a jivanmukta, liberated while yet alive, not one who has a mere theoretical understanding of what constitutes Purushartha or the desired end and aim of human endeavour.

Thus defining a jivanmukta, Sri Shankara declares him to be free from the bonds of threefold karma [sanchita, agami and prarabdha]. The disciple attains this state and then relates his personal experience. He who is liberated is indeed free to act as he pleases, and when he leaves the body, he abides in liberation and never returns to this birth, which is death.

Sri Shankara thus describes realisation, that is liberation, as twofold, jivanmukti [liberation while alive] and videhamukti [liberation after death], as explained above. Moreover, in this short treatise, written in the form of a dialogue between a Guru and his disciple, he has considered many other relevant topics.

Tom’s summary and comments:

-Bhagavan Sri Ramana has stated that the text Vivekachudamani contains all the key points required for the earnest seeker to attain liberation, and that it is the essence of Vedanta and the essence of Sri Shankara’s commentaries of the triple canon [ie. the Upanishads, Brahman Sutras and Bhagavad Gita].

-One wrongly seeks happiness outwardly, when actually one’s own nature is that of happiness. Happiness obtained through limited external objects will also be limited and also result in suffering.

-Spiritual liberation is the ending of all sorrow. It is to be obtained by Jnana, or spiritual knowledge, the path to which is outlined below:

-Jnana is to be obtained by seeking the grace of a guru .

-Jnana can only be gained through self-enquiry.

Individual effort of the part of the seeker is required during this.

Self-enquiry itself consists of sravana (listening to the teachings), manana (contemplating upon the teachings), and nididhyasana or Atmanusandhana (remaining constantly as the self/in the self).

Manana consists of realising the import of the mahavakya or great saying ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ or ‘That Thou Art’. Tat or That refers to the Absolute, or Brahman. The arising transient phenomena that come and go are realised to be dependent on Brahman, nothing other than Brahman, but not real in that the objects themselves have no permanancy. Tvam or Thou refers to the ‘I’ that remains when all that is non-self is rejected and turned away from. Asi, or art means that this ‘I’ and ‘That’ are equated as being one in essence.

-This last step of abiding as the self/ NididhyasanaAtmanusandhana is also known as Bhakti (devotion), Yoga and Dhyana (meditation).

-Self-abidance is required due to age-old habitual tendencies (vasanas) which arise and block Self-Realisation. There are three types of vasanas [tamas, rajas and sattva], the source of which is the ego.

-The ego flourishes in the world of phenomenal objects. The implication here is that turning away from the body, mind and world is necessary to lead to the end of the ego and the resultant liberation.

-Through ceaseless unswerving concentration on the self, like the unbroken flow of oil, one achieves the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, which transcends space and time. The implication here is that as it transcends space and time, it is not really a state, nor is it an object or arising phenomena, but it is spoken of as such due to the limitations of language.

Nirvikalpa samadhi and directly and spontaneously gives rise to the unobstructed knowledge or experience of Brahman. This is what is known as Jnana or spiritual knowledge and is the same as direct experience of Brahman, which in turn is the same as Self-realisation. Again the implication is that it is spoken of as ‘knowledge’, ‘experience’ and ‘realisation’, all of which are used here as synonyms, due to the limitations of language, as this cannot really be put into words.

-In self-realisation, the knot of the heart is cut. The knot of the heart consists of ignorance and the habitual tendencies of the mind [vasanas]. These both are removed though samadhi and the subsequent self-realisation. Here there is no longer any further doubt. 

-Ramana states that Samadhi is the same as liberation, and that this liberation is the true  purpose of one’s life.

Intellectual understanding alone is not enough. The implication here is not to make the mistake that many do and stop after manana or the teachings ‘Tat Tvam Asi’, but proceed to abide as the Self in order to remove ignorance and the vasanas, and not give up until Samadhi ‘arises’ and the knot of the heart is cut.

-Two forms of liberation are described by Shankara, that whilst alive (Jivanmukti) and that which occurs with death of the body (Videhamukti).

Q. How does one meditate on Pure Being, as suggested by the scriptures?

Q. In Advaita Bodha Deepika, Chapter 3 verses 31-32 it states in the path of yoga* one should meditate on Pure Being, free from all qualities in order to attain liberation. Isn’t ‘free from all qualities’ another quality?

Tom: No. Only if you are only seeing it intellectually.

Q. I don’t know any other way to see it. If I am awake, I see only intellectually.

Tom: The words are misleading, as if you can meditate on ‘being free from qualities’. It just means to (mentally) keep quiet, allow the mind to relax and be still. You are what you are. Being simply IS.

*often when the word yoga alone is used, it is referring to Patanjali’s system of Raja Yoga, the path of meditation.

Q. How to practice the 4 yogas?

Q. Don’t all the yogas go together? It’s not like you can either chose Bhakti (devotion) or Karma (action) yoga, but you practice them both together. Is that correct?

Tom: Well for some it starts with a single yoga, for example bhakti yoga, and then as bhakti yoga progresses, all the yogas end up coming together. This is the same for all the yogas. Usually people start off with an affinity for one of the yogas, be it, raja yoga (meditation), bhakti yoga, karma yoga or jnana (knowledge) yoga.

As the yoga progresses, the body-mind becomes purer, more integrated, and naturally develops an affinity for one of more of the other yogas. Eventually all the yogas come together, merging in stillness of mind (samadhi).

The ultimate yoga is for the ego to simply be still, dormant, and in that dormancy, through the ‘grace of God’, it can collapse, at least that’s how it appears. It can be seen there is no ego, there is no doer/author of actions.

You see, in reality all of this is false. There never was any ignorance. There is no ignorance. Ignorance is of the ego. Ignorance is the ego. Ignorance, yoga and liberation are all the ego’s projections, and the ego itself is a fiction. Who is searching, and for what?

Ramana Maharshi: How to meditate ‘nothing is as good as meditation’

Ramana smiling

The following is taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 371. My comments are interspersed in red italics, any bold text has been added by me for emphasis:

The first part of this talk is about the path of yoga:

There was a group of three middle-aged Andhras on a visit to Sri Bhagavan. One of them kneeled and asked: I am performing hatha yoga, namely basti, dhauti, neti, etc. I find a blood vessel hardened in the ankle. Is it a result of Yoga?

Ramana Maharshi: The blood-vessel would have hardened under any circumstances. It does not trouble you as much now as it would otherwise. Hatha yoga is a cleaning process. It also helps peace of mind, after leading you to pranayama.

First Bhagavan Ramana states that Hatha yoga has likely been beneficial to the questioner. Ramana has also hinted that it is a purification or ‘cleaning’ process which helps the mind to become peaceful, and is but one of several steps towards liberation. The questioner continues, asking about pranayama or the yogic practice of controlling the breath:

Questioner: May I do pranayama? Is it useful?

Ramana Maharshi: Pranayama is an aid for the control of mind. Only you should not stop with pranayama. You must proceed further to pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Full results are reaped finally.

Make no mistake, Ramana is stating that pranayama, or formal control of the breath, is a useful practice. He states it is helpful for controlling the mind, but one must not stop there but should proceed to pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (the presence of vivid awareness without thoughts or other mental impressions arising). Practitioners of yoga will recognise that this sequence represents the final four stages of yoga as prescribed by Patanjali the Yoga Sutras in which eight stages are outlined and prescribed. Ramana is essentially stating that he is in agreement here with Patanjali, emphasising this with the final part of his statement ‘full results are reaped finally’.

Now Ramana is asked about how to overcome negative mental tendencies:

Another of the group asked: How are lust, anger, acquisitiveness, confusion, pride and jealousy overcome?

Ramana Maharshi: By dhyana.

Questioner: What is dhyana?

Ramana Maharshi: Dhyana is holding on to a single thought and putting off all other thoughts.

Dhyana is a sanskrit word that is usually translated as ‘meditation’. Ramana, at least here in this passage, is clear: dhyana, or meditation, is the way. Traditionally the last three of Patanjali’s eight limbs or stages of yoga are grouped together: dharana (concentration) is when the mind is trained to become one-pointed and an object of choice is concentrated on. Dhyana (meditation) is when this concentration intensifies and remains unbroken. Lastly Samadhi is when this concentration intensifies and the object of concentration is dropped, so that all that remains is a vivid-free-spacious-awareness in which the notion of ‘I’ and ‘other’ or the subject-object duality is no longer present.

Now Ramana is asked about the technique of meditation:

Questioner: What is to be meditated upon?

Ramana Maharshi: Anything that you prefer.

Questioner: Siva, Vishnu, and Gayatri are said to be equally efficacious. Which should I meditate upon?

Ramana Maharshi: Any one you like best. They are all equal in their effect. But you should stick to one.

The key point here is that one should meditate. Specifically, this means one should, according to Sri Bhagavan Ramana, concentrate on an object of choice. What the object is matters not, just choose something that you like the most, and then stick to it (Siva, Vishnu and Gayatri are traditional objects of meditation). Ramana has already told us above that pranayama and pratyahara are useful aids to this meditation, but that we should then proceed to the real heart of yoga: meditation.

How exactly should this be done, and why/how does this work?

Questioner: How to meditate?

Ramana Maharshi: Concentrate on that one whom you like best. If a single thought prevails, all other thoughts are put off and finally eradicated. So long as diversity prevails there are bad thoughts. When the object of love prevails only good thoughts hold the field. Therefore hold on to one thought only. Dhyana is the chief practice.

Ramana is emphasising one-pointedness of mind.

A little later Sri Bhagavan continued: Dhyana means fight. As soon as you begin meditation other thoughts will crowd together, gather force and try to sink the single thought to which you try to hold. The good thought must gradually gain strength by repeated practice. After it has grown strong the other thoughts will be put to flight.

This is the battle royal always taking place in meditation. One wants to rid oneself of misery. It requires peace of mind, which means absence of perturbation owing to all kinds of thoughts. Peace of mind is brought about by dhyana alone.

Questioner: What is the need then for pranayama?

Ramana Maharshi: Pranayama is meant for one who cannot directly control the thoughts. It serves as a brake to a car. But one should not stop with it, as I said before, but must proceed to pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. After the fruition of dhyana, the mind will come under control even in the absence of pranayama. The asanas (postures) help pranayama, which helps dhyana in its turn, and peace of mind results. Here is the purpose of hatha yoga.

Here above, Bhagavan Ramana has in brief outlined both the technique of yoga and its mechanism of action. If one wants to end suffering, one needs peace of mind (bolded text above). How to achieve peace of mind? Ramana states that the only way is through dhyana, or sustained concentration (also bolded text above).

The earlier of the eight steps of yoga, such as those dealing with yogic physical exercises and postures (asana) and breath control (pranayama) are important and helpful aids to attain the higher goal of meditation. Initially these earlier stages are required, but later on they are no longer required.

So, what happens as our dhyana strengthens?

Later Sri Bhagavan continued:
When dhyana is well established it cannot be given up. It will go on automatically even when you are engaged in work, play or enjoyment. It will persist in sleep too. Dhyana must become so deep-rooted that it will be natural to one.

Many people ask how can one combine spiritual practice with daily life. Bhagavan Ramana has indirectly answered this question above: through regular formal practice of dhyana, the beneficial effects spill over into both active daily life and also even during sleep. The Dhyana must become deeply rooted in our hearts and minds.

Now the questioner, having heard both the essential method of yoga, namely dhyana, and also heard about the aids to attaining dhyana, namely asana, pranayama and pratyahara – the questioner still seems to have some doubts which are posed in the next three questions:

Questioner: What rite or action is necessary for the development of dhyana?

Ramana Maharshi: Dhyana is itself the action, the rite and the effort. It is the most intense and potent of all. No other effort is necessary.

This question is about rituals – what rituals and efforts are required. Ramana says the ritual and effort required is that of dhyana. Just get on and start. Another doubt:

Questioner: Is not japa necessary?

Ramana Maharshi: Is dhyana not vak (speech)? Why is japa necessary for it? If dhyana is gained there is no need for anything else.

Japa refers to the verbal repetition of a sound or phrase, like mantra repetition. Again, Ramana directs the questioner to just stick to dhyana.

Questioner: Is not a vow of silence helpful?

Ramana Maharshi: A vow is only a vow. It may help dhyana to some extent. But what is the good of keeping the mouth closed and letting the mind run riot. If the mind be engaged in dhyana, where is the need for speech? Nothing is as good as dhyana. Should one take to action with a vow of silence, where is the good of the vow?

Seemingly infinite in his patience, Ramana continues to direct the questioner away from potential superficialities and towards the key message: ie. the need to get on  and practice dhyana. He emphatially states ‘nothing is as good as dhyana’. May a vow of silence be helpul? Certainly. Better still is to practice meditation, dhyana.

Now the questioner turns to the path of knowledge, or jnana-marga (jnana means knowledge, marga means path). There is a mistaken view amongst some that jnana-marga does not require meditation, which is why I suspect the questioner has asked this question, even though the scriptures in jnana-marga clearly indicate the need for meditation:

Questioner: What is jnana-marga?

Ramana Maharshi: I have been saying it for so long. What is jnana? Jnana means realisation of the Truth. It is done by dhyana. Dhyana helps you to hold on to Truth to the exclusion of all thoughts.

For such a long time now Ramana, together with the vedic scriptures, has stated that dhyana is the means to jnana, or realisation of truth. If this is true, then what about all the Gods?

Questioner: Why are there so many Gods mentioned?

Ramana Maharshi: The body is only one. Still, how many functions are performed by it? The source of all the functions is only one. It is in the same way with the Gods also.

Just as a single body performs a variety of functions, so the One Being appears to expresses itself as many things and processes, including all the many gods.

Now, why does one suffer?

Questioner: Why does a man suffer misery?

Ramana Maharshi: Misery is due to multifarious thoughts. If the thoughts are unified and centred on a single item there is no misery, but happiness is the result. Then, even the thought, “I do something” is absent; nor will there be an eye on the fruit of action.

Continuing on the same theme of dhyana, ie. making the mind one-pointed and remaining there, Ramana states this is the way to end suffering. Suffering is caused by the multitude of thoughts, but a one-pointed mind leads to happiness and peace. When the mind is one-pointed to the exclusion of all other thoughts, the notion of personal doership, itself a thought/concept, is abandoned, as is the attachment to outcomes of actions (‘fruit of action’).

Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya Om

 

Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi

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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

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See if you can spot the common themes from the following 🙂


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.


From Ramana Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’:

All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.’

Also see:

Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?

The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation

Ramana Maharshi: be still

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

False enlightenment