How Vedanta teachings work | Swami Satchitanandendra Saraswati (SSS) on the method of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta to attain liberation (Moksha)

At the end of his book ‘The Salient Features of Sankara’s Vedanta’ (see link to download PDF below), Swami Satchitanandendra Saraswati (SSS) lists the key features of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta.

Among them is the notion that liberation can result from either hearing the teachings (Sravana), reflecting upon the teachings (Manana) or meditating upon the teachings (Nididhyasana), depending on the maturity and fitness of the aspirant (we can see Sri Ramana Maharshi give the same teachings here). Not realising this, SSS notes that various commentators either say that sravana alone is the only way or that nididhyasana alone is the only way.

SSS then goes on to state that the way that these methods lead to liberation is by turning the mind inwards towards the Subject-Self (Atman).

Let us see what SSS writes on page 82:

6. Sravana (study of sacred revelation), Manana (reflective thinking) and Nididhyasana (concentrated contemplation), are all means for realizing Atman. Highly developed souls, however, who can immediately grasp the true meaning of the Vedic teaching, do not stand in need of any additional effort.

Not taking this principle into account is responsible for the divergence of opinion among commentators of Sankara Bhashya about the relation of Sravana and Nididhyasana. Of these, some assert that Sravana is the principal means and the other two are only ancillary to it; while others insist that nididhyasana is the one means to direct realization and without it mere Sravana would be of no avail.

7. Sravana and the other means are enjoined only so far as they turn the seeker inwards and direct him to stay his mind on Atman, but the resultant knowledge is no object of any injunction.

Tom: We can see that the purpose of Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana are to turn the mind inwards, towards the Subject-Self (Atman), and that the resultant ‘Knowledge’ is not a result of any action or practice, but a synonym for the One Eternal Infinite Blissful Self that is ever-attained, ie. Liberation.

Please see here for Sri Ramana’s teachings on this same topic.

Also see:

What is Vedantic Meditation? How Swami Satchitanandendra Saraswati (SSS) defines Nididhyasana

Shankara teaches two methods to ‘attain liberation’ | Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS)

Ramana Maharshi: how to abide as the Self

Sravana alone can result in Self-Realisation! Sri Ramana Maharshi on Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana

The importance of spiritual practice to attain liberation | Sri Ramana Maharshi | Sri Shankara

The following is from a text written by Shankara called Vivekachudamani, as translated by Sri Ramana Maharshi. We will see the following points being made:

  1. Merely stating ‘I am Brahman’ does not in itself lead to liberation. Similarly we can infer that by mere affirmation of other similar spiritual slogans such as saying ‘I am free’ or ‘I am already the Self’ or ‘there is no ego/self’ or ‘all is already one’, etc, mere affirmation of these does not lead to liberation.
  2. In order to attain liberation, ignorance must be removed and the Self must directly be experienced.
  3. Similarly, merely by hearing the truth ‘I am Brahman’ , liberation is not (usually) attained
  4. One must first hear the truth from someone who has experienced the truth first-hand (for only they will be able to tell you the way to truth)
  5. Then one must meditate upon the truth heard and experience the truth directly though constant meditation.
  6. Unless this practice is carried out, maya (aka ignorance) will not be removed and liberation will not be attained.
  7. Every effort must be made to root out ignorance for liberation to result

‘Just as a person’s sickness is not removed without taking medicine, so too his state of bondage is not removed by scriptural texts such as “I am Brahman” without his own direct experience of the Self. One does not become a king by merely saying, “I am a king”, without destroying one’s enemies and obtaining the reality of power.

Similarly, one does not obtain liberation as Brahman Itself by merely repeating the scriptural text “I am Brahman”, without destroying the duality caused by ignorance and directly experiencing the Self.

‘A treasure trove hidden under the ground is not obtained by merely hearing about it, but only by being told by a friend who knows it, and then digging and removing the slab that hides it and taking it out from below the ground.

Similarly, one must hear about one’s true state from a Guru who knows Brahman, and then meditate upon It and experience It directly through constant meditation.

‘Without this, the true form of one’s own Self, that is hidden by maya [“that which is not”], cannot be realised through mere argumentation. Therefore, those who are wise themselves make every effort to remove the bondage of individual existence and obtain liberation, just as they would to get rid of some disease.’

Also see: Sri Ramana Maharshi: the necessity of Meditation

Guru Stuti by Shankara translated into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi | Advaita Vedanta Summarised

Have you ever wished that the entire Advaita Vedanta teachings were summarised in a very short traditional text, say eight verses long? Well here are eight verses of a work called ‘Guru Stuti’ or ‘Praise to the Guru’ written by Adi Shankara about 1400 years ago, and translated into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi. If you read it carefully you will find the essence of the entire teaching is briefly given.

Here the Tamil verses and English translation of these are presented. My commentary is in italiscised red – I have tried to keep my commentary brief and I hope it does not intrude on the beauty and terse nature of the text, enjoy!


Guru Stuti

Written by Sri Shankara, translated into Tamil By Sri Ramana Maharshi

Introduction written by Sri Ramana Maharshi

When Sankaracharya was going about the country debating with the exponents of the various schools of thought and overcoming them he once came to the town of Mahishmati in the north where Mandana Mishra the exponent of Vedic rituals lived. He overcame him in debate but his wife refused to concede victory until she was also defeated. So, Sankarachaiya argued with her and defeated her in all subjects except erotics. He then asked for a respite of one month and after shedding his body in a cave under the custody of his disciples, entered into the dead body of King Amaruka and sported among the hundred queens in the guise of their husband. When the disciples found that the period specified by their Guru had already expired they grew anxious. So some of them went to him in the disguise of minstrels and sang the following hymn to remind him.


1. Nēti-nēti yādi vākkā niḍē-dittu mūrttā p;ūrttam
Ēdumē taḷḷar killā edaissuva svarūpa māga
Vōdaruñ sādu vānōr uḷḷattil koḷḷu vārgaḷ
Ādimei aṛivā nanda avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

1. That is the Truth which the wise realize as the Self, the residuum left over on withdrawing from external objects, with or without form (ether, air, fire, water and earth), by a careful application of the scriptural injunction ‘not this, not this’ — Thou art That!

Tom: The truth, which is your very own Self, your own True Nature, is realised by those who withdraw their attention from all external objects. How to withdraw one’s attention? Through applying the teaching of ‘neti-neti’. What remains is the Self, devoid of objects and duality and suffering – You are That!

‘With or without form’ I think refers to the need to withdraw attention from both gross objects (with form, eg. tables, chairs, experiences) and subtle objects (without form, eg. thoughts, feelings, imaginings, etc), or alternatively it could mean to withdraw from all objects perceived (with form) or imaginary (without form).


2. Uttiyāṅ kutti-nālē umiye num aindu kōsam
Buddhi-yāṛ pirittup pinnarp porundi-ḍum arisi pōlum
Ettinai sattukkaḷ kaṇḍu idayattil anuba vippar
Astamil nitta siddha avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

2. That is the Truth which, after generating the fundamentals (ether, air, fire, water and earth), and entering the world, lies hidden beneath the five sheaths, and which has been threshed out by the wise with the pestle of discernment, just as the grain is recovered by threshing and winnowing the chaff — Thou art That!

Tom: The Truth, or the Self or Brahman, generates or creates the five elements (the ‘fundamentals’), and pervades its own creation whilst simultaneously underlying the creation as the substratum. The wise, with discrimination (viveka) discover the Self, the substratum, by separating it from and discarding the five sheaths that constitute the body-mind-ignorance ‘covering’.

In the preceding verse it is said one’s attention is turned away from objects by ‘neti-neti’, whereas here it is said that it is with discernment or discrimination. We should therefore see that ‘neti-neti’ and discrimination go together.


3. Poṛi-gaḷām parigaḷ tammaip pulan-gaḷil viḷaṅgun dōsha
Aṛivenuṅ kasai yaḍittē ahamugak kayiṭṭṛāl īrttav
Aṛivaṛi aṛijñar ettil aṇaitton-ḍṛāyp piṇit tiruppar
Aṛiporuṭ katīta māna avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

3. Just as wild horses are broken-in by whipping and stabling them, so also the unruly senses, straying among objects, are lashed by the whip of discrimination, showing that objects are unreal, and are tethered by the rope of pure intellect to the Self by the wise. Such is the Truth — Thou art That!

Tom: All objects, gross and subtle, are illusory, unreal! Do not attend to them! The intellect should hear this teaching and, using discrimination (viveka), transcend itself and unceasingly realise itself as Self by tethering the senses to the Self, ie placing ones attention onto the Self – you are That!


4. Pūkkaḷi ninḍṛu vēṛāyp porun-diḍuñ sūtti rampōḷ
Jākki-ra mādi yāna sar-vattum vēṛa dāna
Sāk„hiyā nōkki yādais sattukkaḷ agatta ṇaivar
Ākkamu nīkka millā avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

4. The Truth has been ascertained by the wise to be the substratum which is different from the waking, dream and deep sleep states, and from its own expanded modes, which indeed are held together by it like the flowers strung together on a garland — Thou art That!

Tom: you are That – you are the Substratum-Subject-Self that is devoid of objects and thoughts, that is without the three states of waking, dreaming and deep dreamless sleep! You are different to these superimpositions!


5. Kaṭaka maku-ḍādi yāvuṅ kana-kamē yāgumā pōḷ
Jaḍa chittā mulagam yavuñ chaṭṭṛumē binna minḍṛi
Suḍarumav vaḍivā yenḍṛu choṭṭṛi-ḍum vēdam yadai
Aḍinaḍu muḍi villāda avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

5. That is the Truth which the scriptures show to be the primal cause of all, elucidating the point clearly by such texts as ‘Purusha is all this’ and ‘like gold in ornaments of gold’ — Thou art That!

Tom: Purusha here means Self. You are That Self. This verse indicates that the Self is the primal cause of all manifestation, and that the quoted verses are to support this idea.


6. Inanilit tanuvil yānā ilaṅgu-van ēkanȾ yenḍṛu
Anisa-mum vēda vādi āyinōr muyaṛchi yōḍum
Inimai-yāi eḍuttu raippar ettat-tuvattai nanḍṛāi
Anartta-mil edārtta māna avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

6. The Truth has been forcefully proclaimed by the scriptures in such texts as ‘He who is in the sun, is in man.’ ‘He who shines in the sun, shines in the right eye’ — Thou art That!

Tom: The Self, which is the nature of Self Knowledge, is all pervading


7. Arumaṛai vākki nālē ahatti-niṛ shraddai yōḍum
Arun-tavam yāgan dānam ādinal aṛaṅga ḷālē
Arumaṛai yavargaḷ ettai aṛin-diḍa avāvu ginḍṛār
Arumaṛaip poruḷāi ninḍra avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

7. What pure brahmins seek so eagerly by the recitation of the Vedas, by religious gifts, by earnest application of their hard- earned knowledge and by renunciation, is the Truth — Thou art That!

Tom: the Self is coveted by many. It is attained by those who are pure, through renunciation, and by Knowledge – you are that Self!


8. Sānti muda lāna vuṭṭṛu santa-tan tannāṛ ṭannil
Āynde-dai aṛijñar kaṇḍav aṛivinba meyyā enḍṛu
Mīndela muḍittoḷir-var migu bavak kēda nīttē
Āzhndaṛi tatva māna avvastu vanḍṛō nīdān

8. That is the Truth which the valiant have gained by seeking, with controlled mind, with abstinence, penance, etc, and by diving into the Self. Realizing it, they are considered to be heroes with their highest purpose accomplished. That is the transcendental Sat-Chit-Ananda after gaining which there is nothing more to worry about since perfect peace reigns — Thou art That!

Tom: the valliant, meaning those who bravely turn inwards, away from gross and subtle objects, and undertake Self-Enquiry, those whose minds have become peaceful and quiet, those who Dive Inwards – they realise the Self, which is the Truth. They are the True Heroes, as compared to what society considers to be wordly heroic deeds. Once this inward path has been undertaken, and the Self is Realised, that is the end of the path – there is no more to be done! What had needed to be done has been done! That is realisation. That is liberation. That is the end of suffering. That is perfect eternal Peace. You are That!


Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Outro

On hearing these verses the Acharya bade his disciples go away and promptly came out of the body of the King and re-entered his own. He then went to the wife of Mandana Misra and, after defeating her, made her and her husband his followers. Thereafter he went on his way enlightening the whole world.


Om Tat Sat

Vivekachudamani by Sri Shankara: Resources and PDF downloads | Translation by Sri Ramana Maharshi | Advaita Vedanta | Crest Jewel of Discrimination

Here are some resources and links relating to this superb traditional Advaita Vedanta text that gives us a step-by-step method for Self-Realisation and Liberation.

Attributed to Sri Shankara, written approximately 1400 years ago, Vivekachudamani (‘The Crest Jewel of Discrimination’ or the ‘The Highest Treasure of Wisdom’) was also recommended by Sri Ramana Maharshi who said this text explains ‘…in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path‘:

Shankara’s Vivekachudamani as translated by Sri Ramana Maharshi: https://tomdas.com/2019/03/04/vivekachudamani-as-translated-by-sri-ramana-maharshi/

Sri Ramana’s introduction to Vivekachudamani where he summarises the entire path to liberation: https://tomdas.com/2019/02/25/ramana-maharshis-introduction-to-shankaras-crest-jewel-of-discrimination-vivekachudamani-and-summary-of-its-teachings/

The 10 most important verses of Vivekachudamani as selected by Sri Ramana Maharshi: https://tomdas.com/2020/05/14/the-ten-most-important-verses-of-shankaras-vivekachudamani-according-to-sri-ramana-maharshi/

Is Vivekachudamani sexist? https://youtu.be/VPZw6cgczLw

A more traditional verse by verse translation of Vivekachudamani by Swami Madhavananda: https://tomdas.com/2018/10/01/vivekachudamani-crest-jewel-of-discrimination-by-shankara/

A more accurate verse by verse translation of Vivekachudamani with word for word transliteration and translation by Achyarya Pranipata Chaitanya:

Does prarabdha karma* and suffering persist after realisation/liberation?

Questioner: I have a question, if Ajnanam (ignorance) is removed* that means the whole source of Samsara is removed. In such a case why should the Jnani (realised sage) even have Prarabdha Karma*. That also should not be present right?

Tom: In Truth, there is not even any such thing as a Jnani (meaning a person or body-mind that is ‘realised’) – there is only That Objectless Subject-Self-Brahman. So there is no karma whatsoever for ‘a Jnani’ (a Jnani here meaning the Self). The self has no duality, and no karma. Karma is born of ignorance and is maya, unreal. They are one and the same – karma and ignorance – or one comes from the other. This is also what is taught in the Upanishads (eg. Adhyatma Upanishad) and by Shankara, both in his commentaries and in texts such as Vivekachudamani.

*Removal of ignorance is the same as Self-Realisation, so say the Upanishads, so says Shankara.

**Tom: Prarabdha Karma is the portion of karma that, according to the Vedas, gives rise to the body in the present birth and will play out and determine the specifics of the present life. A simple translation could be ‘destiny’ or ‘what is destined for this life’. The idea of this question is that, for example, if you have ‘been bad’ in the past and have accumulated negative karma as a result, even though you have realised the Self, this negative karma may continue and cause suffering for you even after Self-Realisation. The Upanishads are clear that all karmas and all suffering end upon Self-Realisation, so one need not even fear the negative results of one’s past actions if one realises the Self.

Grace of God vs Sadhana (practice) for attaining moksha (liberation)

‘It is mainly through enquiry (vichara) that he who is competent achieves knowledge of the Self; circumstance, time, and the grace of the Lord are but aids to the quest.’

~ Shankara (Vivekachudamani)

Tom: Some say that grace of god is required for liberation and so slacken and shy away from their sadhana. Grace of God is certainly needed, but Grace of God is always here. Shankara reminds us that it is Sadhana ie. Self-enquiry, that is the foremost factor that leads directly to liberation

🙏

Sri Suresvara – Advaita Vedanta Summarised – |Download Naishkarmya Siddhi as PDF

From performance of the daily rituals comes merit (dharma), from merit comes destruction of sin, from this comes purity of mind, from this comes a correct evaluation of transmigratory life, from this comes indifference to it, from this comes desire for liberation, from this comes a search for the means to the latter, from this comes the renunciation of all ritualistic action and its accessories, from this comes practice of yoga, from this the focusing of the mind within, from this a knowledge of the meaning of texts like ‘That thou art’, from this the eradication of nescience [ignorance], from this establishment in the Self alone, according to the texts ‘Verily, being the Absolute (Brahman), he attains the Absolute’* and ‘Released, he is released’**.
~Suresvara (Direct disciple of Adi Shankara) from the text Naishkarmya Siddhi 1.51

*Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV.iv.6
**Katha Upanishad II.ii.1

The entire text of Sri Suresvara’s Naishkarmya Siddhi can be downloaded here as a PDF:

Tom’s comments:

I chose this verse as it forms a concise summary of the Advaita Vedanta teaching presented in the text. (There are also many other important points made in the text). We can see the progession to liberation Sri Suresvara outlines is as follows:

  1. Performance of selfless actions (daily rituals) leads to accrual of merit
  2. Merit leads to a pure peaceful (Sattvic) mind
  3. The pure mind is able to accurately reflect and understand that all objects are transient and temporary and so not lasting fulfillment or happiness can be derived from them
  4. This leads to Vairagya or dispassion for sense-pleasures
  5. Vairagya leads to desire for a lasting fulfilment that is not based on the temporary objects, ie. liberation
  6. Desire for liberation leads to a search for a method to attain it
  7. Which leads to renunciation of all action (becoming still) and focusing one’s attention on the Self within
  8. This leads to an understanding of ‘Thou Art That’ as is written in the scriptures, or that our true nature is that of Pure Objectless Consciousness, the Eternal Subject. This is the same as the removal of ignorance
  9. This is Moksha, liberation

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti Om

Both thought and trying to get rid of thought are illusory mirages of separation

Objection:
The assumption that thought is an actual thing and that thought has a source, arises only in the realm of imaginary separation. There is, by definition, no way to determining the imaginary source of an imaginary thing.

Tom:
Whilst it is true that thought is ultimately an illusion, and trying to get rid of thought is also more of the same illusion, there is a logical flaw in this objection, as follows: thoughts may be imaginary, but that does not mean their source is imaginary. Fiction or imagination can have a real source. The teaching is to locate that Source (the Self) and abide there in Pure Being, which is devoid of thought, until the tendency to imagine duality (ie. thought) ceases.

Here are two quotes to illustrate the above points, one from Sri Shankara, and one from Sri Ramana:

The binding, and the getting rid of bondage, are both mirages. The belief that bondage of the Real, is, and the belief that it has ceased, are both mere things of thought

~Sri Shankara, Vivekachudamani verses 571 and 572

All doubts will cease only when the doubter and his source have been found. There is no use removing doubts. If we clear one doubt, another doubt will arise and there will be no end of doubts.

~Sri Ramana Maharshi, Day by Day with Bhagavan

Advaita Vedanta: Is samadhi required for Self-Realisation according to Shankara and the Upanishads?

There are several views on this topic, but in this post we will see what the Advaita scriptures say and what Shankara has written on this in his commentaries.

In some texts that are attributed to Shankara, such as Vivekachudamani, the case is clearly presented – these texts clearly state that Samadhi is definitely required for Self-Realisation to occur. Whilst this is the most widely held view, and by far the dominant traditional view for at least the last one thousand years and more, and also the view of the four Shankara Mathas that have been entrusted with handing down Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta tradition to each generation, there are a minority who state that Vivekachudamani is not a genuine work of Shankara.

Therefore in this post we will look at what was written by Shankara in his commentaries, the authorship of which is not in doubt:

Please see this link here to read the discussion of this topic.

Neo-Advaita vs Traditional Advaita – what is the difference?

Q. What is the difference between neo-advaita (or ‘radical non-duality’) and traditional advaita. Or are they just pointing to the same thing in different ways?

Tom: There is an essential difference.

This essential difference is one of SADHANA, or spiritual practice, and SUFFERING.

Neo-Advaita states there is no separate person or jiva that could engage in any sadhana, and that any sadhana perpetuates the illusion of duality. Neo-Advaita also does not claim to end suffering.

(Traditional) Advaita emphasises the importance of sadhana as being absolutely necessary (for most) in order to realise the Self and go beyond and END all suffering and duality.