Question. Why do the traditional Advaita-Vedanta schools based solely on the Upanishads and Vedanta scriptures, etc, reject Ramana’s Self-Enquiry approach as a method to attain liberation?
Tom: I do not think this is true. Ramana’s teachings are the same as those found in the Upanishads and Vedanta Scriptures & Ramana teaches us the true Vedanta in my opinion.
However, there are several teachings that claim to teach Vedanta in a traditional way but do not really go beyond the mind or beyond duality, and so suffering and ignorance does not end. Their teachings distort the scriptures in my view. My advice therefore is to stick to Sri Ramana’s teachings. However, what teachings you prefer is of course for you to decide.
I have heard some Advaita Vedanta teachers say that there is no need for faith in Vedanta. However, what do the Advaita scriptures say?
Here we shall look at some selected quotes from Shankara and the Bhagavad Gita below which state both the importance and necessity of faith on the Path to Liberation, and explore why this is the case.
WHY IS FAITH IMPORTANT?
Why is faith important? Simply put, because without sufficient faith one will not have the dedication, love and perseverance to continue with self-enquiry (vichara), until liberation is attained. And Self-Enquiry, as taught by the Upanishads, by Shankara and by Sri Ramana Maharshi, is the only practice that ultimately leads to Moksha.
SOME TEACHERS SAY FAITH IS NOT REQUIRED
There are some teachers that say faith is not required for Vedanta as one can discover this all for oneself like a scientist can discover the various laws of nature.
Whilst this truth needs to be discovered for oneself and realised for oneself, I have noticed these teachings that push out the need for faith tend to be the teachings that predominately stay on the level of the mind. They tend to teach that prolonged meditation on the Self/Self-Enquiry is not required for liberation, and that essentially one can come to liberation through qualities such as having a keen intellect combined with exploring the nature of our present experience only.
This being the case, these teachings alone do not lead to the end of individuality, duality and suffering – ie. they do not actually lead to Moksha (liberation) at all, and the ego-separation remains.
‘FAITH PENDING RESULTS’?
Some say that Shraddha, the Sankrit word for faith, does not refer to blind faith or mere belief, but to a ‘faith pending results’, similar to the ‘faith’ required for a science student to follow a scientific experiment in order to discover the truth it yields.
Whilst there is some truth in this, it is not the whole truth, and also note that the scriptures do not define faith in this way (see the quotes section below). It is true that faith, as spoken of in the Advaita scriptures, is not the end goal in itself, meaning one doesn’t simply believe in God or in a dogma or creed of some kind and leave it at that, which would be rather superficial and on the level of the intellect predominantly. Rather faith is a ferry to take us to the shore of liberation, and this liberation is the goal, and this goal of liberation or God must be ‘experienced’ or ‘realised’ or ‘known’ for oneself, for want of a better phrase.
However, the faith spoken of in the Vedanta scriptures is much deeper than what has been described above. It is not just a mere willingness to try something until you see the results, like a scientist, or even a simple trust that the teachings will show you the way, but something that throbs in our very core, a deep conviction, in our very heart, in our Being. It is a deep resonance, a magnetic pull, intertwined with an intuitive knowing.
This faith cannot be taught, but is something that at some point in our journey springs into our very Being and takes us Home to Liberation. Perhaps it comes to us having listened to and studied the Advaita (or similar) teachings for some time, or perhaps faith dawns after having experienced the various ups and downs of life, or perhaps it comes to us unasked for, as Divine a Gift from God, a Gift of His Grace.
This true faith is inextricably linked with Bhakti, or devotional love of the Divine, which culminates in love to be with Self as Self, otherwise known as Self-Enquiry or Dhyana (meditation).
For me this Faith arose through the Presence and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, and for that I am forever grateful. His Presence and His Teachings unfailingly guide Homeward those who have come under His Spell and Grace. He is the Lord, He is the very Self, he resides within your very Heart – turn inwards and dis-cover (ie. uncover and reveal) your identity with Him.
QUOTES FROM THE VEDANTA SCRIPTURES
Let us see what kind of person, according to Vedanta, attains Jnana, or ‘divine knowledge’, otherwise known as liberation:
Bhagavan Lord Krishna states in the Gita Chapter 4, verse 39: ‘Those whose faith is deep and who have practiced controlling their mind and senses attain divine knowledge.’
But what if this faith is not present?
Lord Krishna also states in the Gita in the next verse, chapter 4, verse 40: ‘But persons who possess neither faith nor knowledge, and who are of a doubting nature, suffer a downfall. For the skeptical souls, there is no happiness either in this world or the next.’
In Chapter 5, Krishna further states in verse 17: ‘Those whose intellect is fixed in God, who are wholly absorbed in God, with firm faith in Him as the supreme goal, such persons quickly reach the state from which there is no return, their sins having been dispelled by the light of knowledge.’
What is the definition of faith?
Shankara defines faith and states it is necessary for realisation in Vivekachudamani: ‘Acceptance by firm judgment as true of what the Scriptures and the Guru instruct, is called by sages Shraddha or faith, by means of which the Reality is perceived‘
Shankara also writes in Aparokshanubhuti that Shraddha is required for liberation and defines Shraddha as follows: ‘Implicit faith in the words of the Vedas and the teachers (who interpret them) is known as Shraddha‘
Lets leave the last quote of this post to Bhagavan Sri Krishna, this time from the last verse of Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita where he states: ‘Of all yogis, those whose minds are always absorbed in me, and who engage in devotion to me with great faith, them I consider to be the highest of all.’
Here is what the Vedanta scriptures, such as the Upanishads and the writings of Sri Shankara and Sri Gaudapada say, together with quotes from Sri Ramana Maharshi:
Dwelling on external objects will only increase evil propensities, so wisely recognising this fact, one should abandon external objects and and constantly attend to one’s true nature within, the Atman [the Self]. ~ Shankara, Vivekachudamani
Turiya is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both…It is the cessation of all phenomena…This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). This is Atman and this has to be realised. ~Mandukya Upanishad
When the mind…remains unshakable and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman. ~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika
When the mind, after realizing the knowledge that Atman alone is real, becomes free from imaginations and therefore does not cognize anything, for want of objects to be cognized, it ceases to be the mind. ~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika
The mind severed from all connection with sensual objects, and prevented from functioning out, awakes into the light of the heart, and finds the highest condition. The mind should be prevented from functioning, until it dissolves itself in the heart. This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, the rest is all mere concoction of untruth. ~ Amritabindu Upanishad
The Lord created the senses out-going: therefore, one sees outside and not the Self within. Some intelligent man, with his senses turned away (from their object), desirous of immortality, sees the Self within. ~ Katha Upanishad 2.1.1
In his commentary on this above verse (Katha Upanishad 2.1.1), Shankara writes:
‘…the perceiver sees the external objects which are not-Self/not the Atman, such as sound, etc., and not the Self within. Though this is the nature of the world, some (rare) discerning man, like turning back/ reversing the current of a river, sees the Self within‘
In his commentary on the next verse of the Katha Upanishad, verse 2.1.2, Shankara writes:
‘The natural tendency to see external objects, which are not-Self, is the cause of ignorance, the obstacle to the realisation of the Self. The desire of external/outward enjoyments pertaining to this world and the next, which are presented by ignorance, is another obstacle. The realisation of the Self being impeded by these two, ignorance and desire, men with little intelligence pursue only external objects of desire….This being so, the intelligent, knowing the certain immortality of concentration in the inner Self…
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] ~Katha Upanishad 2.3.10
Shankara’s commentary on this above verse (Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10) states the following:
‘At the time when the five senses…, together with the mind…, which is now no longer functioning and thinking, are at rest in the Self alone, after turning away from objects, and with the intellect…no longer engaging with its functioning, that they call the highest state.’
That which is not seen, though within us, is called the eternal and indestructible Self. ~ Yoga Vasishta
After knowing that by which you know this world, turn the mind inward, and then you will realise the effulgence of the Self. ~ Yoga Vasishta
As long as the objective universe is perceived one does not realise the Self. ~ Yoga Vasishta
Strenuously withdrawing all thoughts from sense objects, one should remain fixed in steady, non-objective [ie. subjective] enquiry. This, in brief, is the means of knowing one’s own real nature; this effort alone bring about the sublime inner vision. ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramana Gita
If, on the contrary, you withdraw your mind completely from the world and turn it within and abide thus, that is, if you keep awake always to the Self, which is the substratum of all experience, you will find the world, of which alone you are now aware, just as unreal as the world in which you lived in your dream. ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Maharshi’s Gospel
Q. When will the realization of the Self be gained? Sri Ramana: When the world which is what-is-seen [ie. objects] has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer. Q. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there? Sri Ramana: There will not be. ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?
When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition’s and of all actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear…All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent. ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?
Therefore, when the world appears, the Self does not appear; and when the Self appears the world does not appear. ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?
When the mind comes out of the Self, the world appears. ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?
When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense organs, the gross names and forms appear; when it stays in the heart, the names and forms disappear. Not letting the mind go out, but retaining it in the Heart is what is called “inwardness” (antarmukha). Letting the mind go out of the Heart is known as “externalisation” (bahir-mukha). Thus, when the mind stays in the Heart, the ‘I’ which is the source of all thoughts will go, and the Self which ever exists will shine. ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?
Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom [Jnana] means the appearance of no object. ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?
Q. How long should inquiry be practised? Sri Ramana Maharshi: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the inquiry “Who am I?” is required ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?
In this post I would like to point out some differences between the so-called ‘Direct Path’ teachings of Rupert Spira on one hand, and the traditional Advaita Vedanta Teachings and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi on the other. Whilst these teachings may all seem on the surface to be pointing to the same thing, and they may seem quite similar in many ways, they actually are quite different in many important aspects and do not lead to the same end in my view. ie. they do not both lead to liberation.
I would like to note that the purpose of this article is not to criticise anyone, but simply to point out differences that are present in the teachings and my view on these difference and the consequences thereof. I hope that this will provide benefit for those who are genuinely seeking liberation that is free from suffering.
I would also like to say that I am not some Advaita Vedanta fanatic either – I am simply interested in what actually works. I understand that everyone has their own unique journey, and their own relationship with teachers and teachings. I also acknowledge that many varied teachings and practices can be of help and assistance to us on our spiritual journey (please explore this blog for examples of this). However it is also useful to acknowledge that not all teachings are equally helpful and not all teachings point directly at liberation. Some can even steer us away, apparently at least.
Personally, I have found the traditional teachings of Advaita Vedanta, and especially Sri Ramana’s exposition of them, to give us everything we need on the path to genuine Liberation.
Personally I find that Rupert Spira’s teachings may be useful for aspects of sravana (listening) and manana (contemplation/ thinking/ reflecting upon the teaching) phases of traditional Advaita in which the teachings are given and contemplated upon and realisation remains predominantly on the level of the mind. However in my view they do not really engage fruitfully or deeply enough with the main part of the teachings of Sri Ramana and Advaita Vedanta, which is Nididhyasana (meditation), or turning away from objects in order to abide as the self and thereby attain liberation.
Traditional Vedanta and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi teach that the purpose of Sravana and Manana are to convince the seeker to engage in the main practice of Nididhyasana, and this in turn leads to self-abidance (Samadhi) and it is this which results in liberation.
Shankara makes this clear in verses 364 and 365 of Vivekachudamani:
364. Reflection (Manana) should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing (Sravana), and meditation (Nididhyasana) a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection (Manana), but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.
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.
Otherwise, without abiding as the Self, the teachings remain on the level of the mind, infinite nature of the Self is not revealed, and the ‘Ananda’ or blissful aspect of the self is not realised, meaning that suffering and the sense of duality and ego are not actually removed and ignorance continues. More on this below.
Integration of teachings after realisation
In Advaita Vedanta teachings and with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, both are clear that once the Self or Pure Consciousness is fully realised through the process of turning away from objects and abiding as Self – what Rupert Spira terms the ‘inward-going’ path – ignorance is totally and completely gone, and that is the final end of duality, suffering and the spiritual path. There is no need to integrate this thereafter according to Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana, as this would simply be more ego-ignoranceand would mean that the Self was not truly realised – ie. it would mean that duality was not really eradicated and the ego and the consequent suffering were still present, and that self-realisation had not really occurred. Once the Self is realised, the (apparent) ego-entity is no more, so there is no entity present that could ‘face outwards’ or re-integrate.
HoweverRupert Spira states what he calls the ‘inward path’ of Advaita Vedanta is only one half of the journey, and that we then have to ‘turn outwards’ and engage in what he calls some kind of ‘outward facing’ path to re-integrate this knowledge – see the quotes section below for an example of Rupert Spira saying this. This is a commonly held view among many contemporary teachers, but this view is seldom found in traditional teachings paths, and for good reason, so I hope it is useful to highlight the differences in the teachings for the seekers who are trying to wade through what’s on offer.
What about going back into the world after realisation?
If the going back into the market place/world does happen, automatically all will be seen as One, because the Self has truly been realised, meaning no ignorance/duality is left. There is no need to re-integrate. This is why the Advaita Vedanta texts emphasise self-enquiry/going within only, knowing that once that is done, that is all that needs to be done.
What about removing the vestiges of ignorance after Realisation?
Some people say that in order to root out the last remaining vestiges of ignorance, after Realisation once must turn out towards the world and re-integrate.
According to Advaita Vedanta, this simply means that ignorance is still present and so Realisation has not truly been attained. The remedy is to pursue Self-Enquiry, the ‘inward-facing’ path until ignorance has truly been rooted out, and not to cease the primary practice and ‘turn outwards towards objects’ (See the quotes section below for examples of this teaching from both Sri Ramana and Traditional Advaita Vedanta).
Once Ignorance has truly been rooted out, the Self is genuinely realised, and all is spontaneously seen as One without the need for further practice or integration or any ‘outward-facing path’.
A summary of the respective teachings
A summary of Rupert Spira’s teachings could go something like this: You are Consciousness; in essence you are not the body, mind or world but that Consciousness which is aware of them; however the body-mind and world are also simply made or fabricated from that very Consciousness that you are. That’s the entire teaching basically. Note that these are essentially the teachings that are found in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Ramana Maharshi’s Nan Yar (Who am I?), whereas the rest of Nan Yar? describes the main part of the actual teaching.
Rupert Spira teaches that meditation is a useful part of the path to calm the mind and to recognise the Consciousness that you are, but that meditation itself does not lead to realisation and this recognition of your true self as consciousness is only the first part of a much longer journey.
Traditional Advaita Vedanta and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, as found in these texts, also states you are Consciousness and that all objects are also Consciousness, but then go further. They state that in order to realise:
(1) your essential nature is consciousness
(2) the nature of consciousness, which now, through ignorance, appears to be limited, is actually infinite and limitless
(3) the entire phenomenal world, including the body and mind, is an illusion
(4) the blissful nature (Ananda aspect) of the Self, ie. in order to remove suffering
(5) and in order to remove all sense of duality and separation
…in order to genuinely realise the above for oneself one must turn away from the world and abide as the Self. Once the Self has been realised, there is no entity left that could then progress on another phase of the journey such as re-integrating with the objective world. Self-Realisation is total extinguishment (ie. nirvana) of the ego and duality.
In the traditional Advaita Vedanta text, Vivekachudamani, we find that the first part of the text describes what is in essence a form of Rupert Spira’s teaching, but with a few notable and important differences, such as the Self is more often than not emphasised as being the Subject rather that both subject and object. This is because the bulk of the text is focussed on Nididhyasana (Meditation) as this is the actual means to Liberation. Thinking of the Self as being purely the Subject aids this mediation process which aims to turn one’s attention away from objects and towards the Subject and thus realise its infinite and blissful nature. Without this practice duality and suffering continue.
Quotes – Traditional Advaita Vedanta
Eg. see these quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, a very important text from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, that sternly illustrates this point. (Note that there are probably some better quotes than these from the Advaita scriptures – please let me know if you know any – I have just quickly put these together):
413. After the body has once been cast off to a distance like a corpse, the sage never more attaches himself to it, though it is visible as an appearance, like the shadow of a man, owing to the experience of the effects of past deeds.
414. Realising the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss, throw far away this limitation of a body, which is inert and filthy by nature. Then remember it no more, for something that has been vomited excites but disgust when called in memory.
415. Burning all this, with its very root, in the fire of Brahman, the Eternal and Absolute Self, the truly wise man thereafter remains alone, as the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss.
416. The knower of Truth does no more care whether this body, spun out by the threads of Prarabdha work, falls or remains – like the garland on a cow – for his mind-functions are at rest in the Brahman, the Essence of Bliss.
417. Realising the Atman, the Infinite Bliss, as his very Self, with what object, or for whom, should the knower of Truth cherish the body.
485. I neither see nor hear nor know anything in this. I simply exist as the Self, the eternal Bliss, distinct from everything else.
522. From the perception of unreal things there is neither satisfaction nor a cessation of misery. Therefore, being satisfied with the realisation of the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, live happily in a state of identity with that Reality.
523. Beholding the Self alone in all circumstances, thinking of the Self, the One without a second, and enjoying the Bliss of the Self, pass thy time, O noble soul!
524. Dualistic conceptions in the Atman, the Infinite Knowledge, the Absolute, are like imagining castles in the air. Therefore, always identifying thyself with the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thereby attaining Supreme Peace, remain quiet.
547. Similarly, ignorant people look upon the perfect knower of Brahman, who is wholly rid of bondages of the body etc, as possessed of the body, seeing but an appearance of it.
548. In reality, however, he rests discarding the body, like the snake its slough; and the body is moved hither and thither by the force of the Prana, just as it listeth.
Quotes – Sri Ramana Maharshi
Sri Ramana Maharshi also states many times that all one needs to do is turn inwards, and that no outward going path is thereafter required. The following are Ramana’s teachings as recorded in Guru Vachaka Kovai, a text which is widely regarded as the most authoritative collection of Sri Ramana’s verbal teachings:
630. Having felt the sun’s fierce heat The wise one tarries in the shade, And those who know the triple fire Raging in the world will never Leave the Heart and turn again Towards the world
949. Those who with ego dead have gained Being, transcending bliss, have nothing Further to attain, no effort To be made, no deed to do, For life’s fulfilment they have reached.
950. When one abides in one’s true state As effortless Eternal Goodness One has no further work to do. All deeds accomplished, such a one Enjoys the perfect peace of bliss.
1179. Diving within enquiring “Who Am I? Who sees between the creeds Some differences?” the Self alone Abides and the poor ‘I’ fades out. In that still silence can there be A sense of difference?
1180. In that great Silence there is no Sense of difference. But is there then A feeling of non-difference? No. The non-duality extolled By Seer’s is nothing but the absence Of all sense of difference.
1223. Firm, steady abidance in The peace serene gained by the quest For Self, the Awareness, the sole ground Supporting all appearances, And consequent relinquishment Of all objects as unreal, This alone is mukti.
1224. Unless there is a final end Of so called “knowledge” of things out there, One cannot gain release from bondage To the sense-created world. This “knowledge” being destroyed by firm Abidance in the Self, then what Remains is mukti, bliss supreme
1237. While brightly shining in the hearts Of sages who have left behind All treacherous triads and now abide As That alone, advaita’s grandeur Cannot be by the mind perceived, Like this false, trivial, dualistic, Thought-created world.
1238. Siva, who is Pure Awareness Transcending thought, is only known To seers heroic who with minds Extinct abide thought-free within The heart, and not to those whose minds Are still engaged in thought.
Also Bhagavan Sri Ramana’s teachings are recorded in Sri Ramanaparavidyopanishad:
411. Whoever obtains awareness of the real Self, for him this worldly life comes to an end. The others continue to wander here as before, remaining without awareness of the real Self.
554. These men do not know the truth of the transcendental state beyond time, in which the world has not come into being. Non-duality has neither beginning nor end. Duality, with space and time, is unreal, always.
569. In that state doubts do not arise since the sage is ever firm in his awareness of the true Self. There he remains without affirmations and vacillations, immersed in the depths of peace, the mind having become extinct.
585. By the dawn of right awareness of the real Self, the ego, the root cause of the appearance of forms, has been lost. Therefore for the sage, all forms are unreal, and hence this talk of forms is foolishness.
596 Our Guru, Sri Ramana, tells us that the real siddhi [special power][to be striven for] is to be firmly established in the natural state of the real Self, which is ever-present in the Heart; nothing else.
613. The true meditation on the supreme reality [the Self] is only to remain as the Self in the thought-free state. This ‘meditation’ can neither be given up, nor taken up by the sage.
663. The sage never comes back to samsara. Samadhi is his natural state. There is no moment when he is without samadhi. Hence it is called sahaja [natural].
664. The sage, remaining uninterruptedly in his natural state of samadhi, never swerving from it as a jivan mukta, is able to be active in the world, just as the sages of old such as Sri Sankaracharya did.
In ‘Who Am I?’ Ramana states:
As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required.
Sri Ramana more fully explains his position here (please see the post for the full context) when he states:
In reality, saying ‘We must see Brahman in everything and everywhere’ is also not quite correct. Only that stage is final, where there is no seeing, where there is no time or space. There will be no seer, seeing and an object to see. What exists then is only the infinite eye.”
Quotes – Rupert Spira
Contrast the tone and content of the above verses with Rupert Spira who states that once Self or Pure Consciousness is realised, that is only one half of the journey, and we then have to turn outwards again and ‘re-integrate this understanding with our objective experience’. This re-integration, according to Advaita Vedanta, is simply more ignorance, more suffering, more duality, and means that the genuine realisation of Self has not really occurred at all. Here is what Rupert Spira writes in his book ‘Being Aware of Being Aware’ on pages 9-11:
The inward-facing path, or Direct Path, in which the mind turns its attention away from objective experience towards its own essence or reality, is, in my experience, best elaborated in the Vedantic tradition, which details with great precision both the philosophy and the practice of this investigation. In this way the Vedantic tradition provides direct means for accessing the essential, irreducible nature of one’s mind and the source of lasting peace and happiness…
…However, it is important to recognise that the inward-facing path explored in this book is only half the journey. Once the essential, irreducible nature of the mind has been recognised, and its inherent peace and unconditional joy accessed, it is necessary to face ‘outwards’ again towards objective experience, realigning the way we think and feel, and subsequently act, perceive and relate, with our new understanding.
The culmination of the inward-facing path is the recognition of the presence, the primacy and the nature of awareness – or, in religious language, spirit or God’s infinite being – the intuition of happiness which transcends all knowledge and experience. However, it is not yet the full experiential understanding in which awareness itself, or God’s infinite being, is known and felt to pervade and saturate all knowledge and experience, and indeed to be its sole substance and reality. It is to recognise the transcendent nature of awareness but not its immanence.
If we do not reintegrate this understanding with our objective experience, then a fragile alliance will persist between our essential, irreducible nature of pure awareness and all objects and others. This often manifests as a denial or rejection of embodied life in the world and may readily become a refuge for any lingering sense of a separate self. The process by which this reintegration or establishment takes place, although implicit in the inward-facing or Vedantic tradition, is, in my opinion, best elaborated in the Tantric tradition, and is an exploration that lies beyond the scope of this book
Can you perhaps see how the ego and duality/separation is retained in this latter exposition of Rupert Spira’s? When there is no ego, what entity is left to re-integrate?
Prior to the quote I included a link to the full text from which the quote is taken so you can see the full context. The fact that Rupert Spira writes that the ‘outward facing’ aspect of the teaching is ‘beyond the scope of this book’ also implies, to me at least, that this aspect of the path cannot easily be dealt with in a few paragraphs.
Does this even matter?
Well for many this doesn’t really matter! If you are drawn to the ‘Direct Path’ or similar teachings, the chances are that these teachings will benefit you. They are not bad teachings, per se. I just do not find them to be ultimately liberating. But that doesn’t mean they are not good or beneficial. There are many teachings that are worse and some I may even recommend you avoid, but Rupert Spira’s ‘Direct Path’ is not one of these.
However the problem with stating that ‘turning inwards’ is only one part of the journey is that seekers ‘turn back’ towards the objective world too soon, without really having realised the Self, but only having a relatively superficial knowledge of ‘sat-chit’ (Being-Knowing or Being-Consciousness) without having realised the limitless Ananda that is true Moksha.
The true teaching urges you to carry on turning inwards until the Self is fully realised. Once this has occurred, there is no longer any duality, and no-entity remains which could ‘turn outwards’ again and reintegrate with the objective world.
As Sri Ramana writes in ‘Who Am I?’:
Q. How long should Inquiry [ie. turning inwards] be practised?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required.
A teaching that teaches that ‘turning within’ is only half the path is likely a teaching that doesn’t encourage one to go within far enough to genuinely realise the Self.
Please note that I am not some fundamentalist Advaita-pushing, scripture pushing-pandit here – I am merely interested in which teachings actually work, and I have found the teachings of Sri Ramana to be fully liberating, and these teachings are in line with the Advaita Vedanta scriptures from what I can see.
What about Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism?
What does this mean about the Tantric path? Well, if by tantra you mean Pratyabhijna (recognition) or the system of Kashmir Shaivism, which is what Rupert Spira is referring to when he says tantra, when you read the Pratyabhijna scriptures you find that the method is essentially the same – ie. one must turn within until the Self is realised. That is all! No need to re-integrate back into the world or turn outwards again.
The only difference is the philosophical or conceptual framework from which this is done. In essence it is the same path. Again, what is written in the scriptures is not always the same as what is taught by the teachers. I explain more about this here, and you will also find Sri Ramana’s view on Kashmir Shaivism in that same post.
How to know your essential nature is consciousness?
There is another issue with teachings, such as Rupert Spira’s ‘direct path’, and forms of Advaita Vedanta that do not emphasise nididhyasana/ meditation and samadhi or what Sri Ramana Maharshi calls Self-Enquiry (Atma Vichara): they do not give a genuine methodology with which one can discover one’s true nature to be Consciousness.
They only posit that ‘You are Consciousness’ and give philosophical reasons why this must be so, together with a rather superficial exploration of one’s own experience. Add in some dodgy logic and, hey presto, suddenly we are to believe that not only is our true nature consciousness, but the entire world is also the nature of consciousness.
However, it should be fairly obvious that it is impossible to either prove or disprove on philosophical grounds alone that your nature is consciousness, or that the ground/nature of the entire universe is consciousness.
Similarly, it is also impossible to know your own fundamental nature to be consciousness by a simple exploration of your own experience. Whilst it may seem that, experientially, all arises in consciousness, that doesn’t mean that everything actually does arise in consciousness. One thing that both daily experience and science teaches us is that things are not always as they appear. To use a rather simplistic example, just because it appears that there are lots of little people inside a TV screen, that doesn’t mean that there actually are lots of little people inside the TV screen. Or just because it appears that the moon changes shape over a twenty-eight day cycle, it doesn’t mean that the moon is actually changing shape on a daily basis in this way. There are countless more examples like this.
Similarly, just because it appears from our subjective viewpoint that everything appears in our consciousness, and that consciousness is all there is, and that the only constant in our experience is consciousness or ‘I AM’, that doesn’t mean that is how the universe is actually structured.
So, how to know your true nature? Traditional Advaita Vedanta as recorded in scriptures such as Shankara’s Vivekachudamani and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi give us an actual method that we can follow, and by which we can discover our True Nature for ourselves. Namely, through turning within and attending to the Subject-Self, we can discover for ourself the Truth, the One Reality. We discover this by losing ourselves and becoming only That which we always were.
Note, as we have mentioned above, whilst Rupert Spira and others with similar teachings do often advocate meditation and turning inwards, it is not emphasised as the main practice whereby realisation is fully gained. Compare this with the teachings of the Upanishads, for example. We have already noted that Rupert Spira cites turning inwards as being a part of a larger schema after which one has to again turn outwards and reintegrate with the objective world. This implies, to me at least, that the extent to which turning inwards is advocated is insufficient to gain a true realisation of Self, as once the Self is truly realised – full stop. It’s all done. Nothing else needed. And no entity present that could turn back towards objects and ‘reintegrate’.
Without going through this turning within type process and continuing and persevering with it until ignorance is rooted out, true realisation does not occur, and so the teachings reside predominantly on the level of the mind/concepts/beliefs, and suffering continues.
Without Abiding as Self and discovering for oneself, Advaita becomes just a bunch of conceptual beliefs such as ‘I am consciousness’ – and ignorance, duality and suffering are not truly destroyed. We have not actually realised the infinite blissful nature of Our Self. We must go beyond the mind and gain the True Experience for ourself of Pure Being in which there is no duality, no ‘me’. Then the Self is revealed as All and One and the ego-I that was seeking is no more.
In verse 356 of Vivekachudamani, Shankara writes:
356. Those alone are free from the bondage of transmigration who, attaining Samadhi, have merged the objective world, the sense-organs, the mind, nay, the very ego, in the Atman, the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.
With this discovery of our True Self comes the immediate ending of suffering and duality, but this discovery does not occur if we remain purely on the conceptual level with the ego-mind-duality-ignorance-suffering remaining intact.
It is only through Nididhyasana/meditation, that the Ananda aspect of Sat-Chit-Ananda is revealed, as opposed to the emphasis on Sat and Chit aspects only, both of which self-evident without the need for meditation – ie. we already know we exist, sat, and that we are conscious, chit, without any great spiritual practice, but the Ananda or blissful and infinite aspect of Atman-Self can only be genuinely discovered through attending to the Subject-Self. This is also the culmination of the paths of Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion) and the other Yogas too.
Understanding this we also start to understand why traditional scriptures are often worded differently and structured differently to these other contemporary teachings that ultimately teach something different. They are structured this way in order to effectively and efficiently guide us to the Truth that already IS, the Truth that we already ARE.
Of course, what you do with the above information is up to you. Have a look and see what teachings are right for you at this time in your journey. Just because teachings are not ultimately liberating, does not mean that you will not benefit from them – they may be right for you at a certain point in time – everything has its place, as it were. So I am not recommending you do not engage with the so-called ‘Direct Path’ teachings of Rupert Spira and similar teachings – if these teachings are something you are drawn to, then by all means explore them – the teachings probably have some role to play for you if you are drawn to them.
However if you ask me, as always, I recommend you follow the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi – my view is that we are so very lucky to have them – in my view they are a complete teaching that give us everything we need for liberation. Other teachings may seem similar to Sri Ramana’s, but as we explore further and dive deeper into the teachings, we find subtle differences, and these differences can make all the difference!
So if you are able to and are so inclined, I encourage you to take Ramana as your Guru and follow his teachings.
!Sri Ramana’s teachings show us the true Advaita Vedanta!
!Sri Ramana’s teachings are the true ‘Direct Path’!
!Sri Ramana’s teachings guide us unfailingly to Liberation!
Here in a series of verses taken from Shankara’s masterpice Vivekachudamani, the Self is described and the basic technique of meditation is given. We can see we are to meditate upon ourselves as being Brahman, which is eternal, ever-present, timeless, beyond all names and forms and devoid of names and forms. It is the Source of all. It is unmoving, like the ocean without any waves. It, being formless, cannot be known by the intellect or sense organs. It is unmoving, unchanging, causeless, non-dual, needs no other support and has no parts or components.
254. That which is beyond caste and creed, family and lineage; devoid of name and form, merit and demerit; transcending space, time and sense-object – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
255. That Supreme Brahman which is beyond the range of all speech, but accessible to the eye of pure illumination; which is pure, the Embodiment of Knowledge, the beginningless entity – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
256. That which is untouched by the sixfold wave; meditated upon by the Yogi’s heart, but not grasped by the sense-organs; which the Buddhi [intellect] cannot know; and which is unimpeachable – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
257. That which is the substratum of the universe with its various subdivisions, which are all creations of delusion; which Itself has no other support; which is distinct from the gross and subtle; which has no parts, and has verily no exemplar – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
258. That which is free from birth, growth, development, waste, disease and death; which is indestructible; which is the cause of the projection, maintenance and dissolution of the universe – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
259. That which is free from differentiation; whose essence is never non-existent; which is unmoved like the ocean without waves; the ever-free; of indivisible Form – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
260. That which, though One only, is the cause of the many; which refutes all other causes, but is Itself without cause; distinct from Maya and its effect, the universe; and independent – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
261. That which is free from duality; which is infinite and indestructible; distinct from the universe and Maya, supreme, eternal; which is undying Bliss; taintless – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
262. That Reality which (though One) appears variously owing to delusion, taking on names and forms, attributes and changes, Itself always unchanged, like gold in its modifications – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
263. That beyond which there is nothing; which shines even above Maya, which again is superior to its effect, the universe; the inmost Self of all, free from differentiation; the Real Self, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute; infinite and immutable – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
Some people, when they hear of the true teachings of Self-Enquiry, they attend to it straight away and realise the Self, the eternal happiness and bliss that is devoid of misery and suffering, the Kingdom of Heaven that is found within.
Others spend time roaming and suffering in the arid desert of other ways (or ‘non-ways’) and teachings first, teachings that pertain to gross and subtle objects (ie body, mind and world, thoughts, feelings, experiences, knowledge, etc). Only later do they realise that despite all their knowledge and insights and experiences, despite their proclamations of oneness, etc, their suffering still continues, and maybe they then find the motivation to try something else and turn within.
OBJECTION: WHY TURN WITHIN? ISN’T THAT DUALISTIC?
Q .But if all is one or non-dual, why turn within at all? Is this not creating an artificial duality between the inner and the outer, and do not all practices strengthen the ego?
A. Because only then is suffering removed and the bliss of the self realised. Without this practice of turning within, suffering continues. See this for yourself in your own experience – has your suffering ended? If not, turn within and abide as the Self. Suffering is the hallmark of ego/ignorance.
WHY IS THIS THE CASE?
Q.Why is it so?
A. Because without this specific practice, objects are continually attended to, and this nurtures the notion ‘I am a body-mind entity living in a world’. Or rather it doesn’t attack or destroy this ignorance, which is deep rooted, habitual and strong (seemingly). The habitual ignorance ‘I am the separate body-mind entity’ continues to intermittently rise and cause suffering. Out of habit, ignorance continues, and with it suffering too.
‘The ego-thief pretends to be the policeman who catches the thief’.
Without this practice of attending to the Self or pure consciousness within, ignorance and suffering both continue, in spite of superficial proclamations such as ‘all is one’ or ‘nothing needs to change’. Similarly, other practices which involve attending to gross or subtle objects also do not sever this ignorance, although they may weaken it (or strengthen it).
OBJECTION: DOES THIS PRACTICE NOT STRENGTHEN THE EGO?
A. This is the only practice that does not strengthen the ego. All practices, except Self-Enquiry or Self-Attention, need the identity ‘I am the body-mind’, ie. the ego, to practice them. In Self-Enquiry it is not accepted that you are the body-mind from the outset.
The mind, when attending to gross and subtle objects, is called the mind. When this same mind attends to the Subject, itself, it is no longer the mind but is simply Consciousness or Awareness Being Consciousness or Awareness, ie. Self Being Self. (Ramana Maharshi states In Day by Day with Bhagavan: ‘The mind turned inwards is the Self; turned outwards, it becomes the ego and all the world’. The traditional Advaita text Yoga Vasishta states: ‘Consciousness, which is undivided, imagines to itself desirable objects and runs after them. It is then known as the mind.’ )
This practice, unlike all others, is not a doing (ie. not an act by the body-mind entity), but BEING SELF.
It is only through BEING SELF and not through attending to various gross and subtle objects that the egoic vasanas/ignorance can be rooted out and suffering ended at its source. See for yourself how suffering continues otherwise, how without this practice the ego continues itself.
A TRUE TEACHING
This is why Sri Ramana Maharshi taught this teaching. This is why Shankara taught this teaching. This is why Buddha taught this teaching. This is why Krishna and Vasishta taught this teaching. This is why Shiva taught this teaching. Why else has this teaching been taught for millennia?
Hence this is the true teaching of Vedanta that has been handed down, generation to generation, for millennia, and it is the true teaching of all genuine and effective spiritual paths.
My gratitude to Sri Ramana Maharshi for revitalising this ancient teaching, purifying it of all dross and superstition and making it easily accessible for all.
DO NOT ALLOW THOUGHT/THE EGO TO PHILOSOPHISE THIS TEACHING AWAY
Discover this yourself, not with intellectualising or philosophising, but by trying and seeing for yourself. Do not reject this teaching saying – ‘all is already one’, or ‘what is needed to be yourself?’ or ‘This is It, already – what practice is required and for who?’. This is the ego’s way of avoiding its own destruction. You will know this is the case as suffering is the sign of the ego. Are you still suffering? If so, attend to the Self, the pure consciousness, the subject, within. If you do not, suffering will continue until you do.
Sri Ramana Maharshi states:
‘The seat of Realisation is within and the seeker cannot find it as an object outside him. That seat is bliss and is the core of all beings. Hence it is called the Heart. The only useful purpose of the present birth is to turn within and realise it. There is nothing else to do.’ (Talks 219)
JUST A LITTLE PRACTICE MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Whilst practice gradually increases over time an infiltrates into your entire being and all of the three states (waking, dreaming, deep sleep), even a small amount of practice, even when NOT performed with great skill, leads to immense reduction in suffering and egotism. What may take years through mental philosophising is cut through quickly with devoted practice. This will build your faith in the teachings and take you home.
So start small and allow the momentum to gradually build, like a snowflake becoming an avalanche.
Another quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi, this time from the Sri Ramana Gita, a small text that outlines the entire teaching of Ramana in concise form:
Q. What in brief is the means to know one’s own real nature? What is the effort that can bring about the sublime inner vision?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Strenuously withdrawing all thoughts from sense objects, one should remain fixed in steady, non-objective [ie. subjective] enquiry. This, in brief, is the means of knowing one’s own real nature; this effort alone bring about the sublime inner vision.
Vivekachudamani contains 580 verses. Ramana Maharshi evidently placed this text in high regard, so much so that he translated the entire text into Tamil for those who could not read or understand the original Sanskrit. He also selected what he felt were the ten most important verses, which are as follows:
The ten most Significant Verses From Sri Sankara’s Vivekachudamani
As selected by Sri Ramana Maharshi
1. Among things conducive to Liberation, devotion (Bhakti) holds the supreme place. The seeking after one’s real nature is designated as devotion. (Verse 31)
2. The Supreme Self, the eternal, indivisible, non-dual Consciousness, the Witness of buddhi and the rest, is other than the real (Sat) and the unreal (asat), and is the ultimate significance of the notion conveyed by the term ‘I’. It is the immediate Reality, the embodiment of Bliss. (Verse 351)
3. Different from matter (prakriti) and its modifications is the Supreme Self, of the nature of pure Knowledge. It is Absolute and directly manifests the entire gross and subtle universe, in waking and other states, as the substratum of the steady sense of egotism. It manifests Itself as the Witness of the intellect (buddhi). (Verse 135)
4. That which clearly manifests itself in the waking, dream and deep sleep states; that which shines inside uniformly and continuously as I-I; witnesses the ego, the intellect etc, which are of different forms and modifications; which shines as Eternal bliss (nitya ananda) and consciousness (chit), know this, within your heart, as your own Self. (Verse 217)
5. With a regulated mind and a purified intellect, directly know yourself as the essential Self, in the form ‘This I Am’. Cross the shoreless ocean of worldy existence (samsara) with its waves of births and deaths. Firmly established as Brahman, which is your own true essence, be blessed (Verse 136)
6. The self-shining witness (sakshi) of everything, this Atman shines eternally, in the sheath of the intellect (vijnanakosha). Making this Atman, which is distinct from the unreal, the aim of contemplation, meditate upon It as your own Self, eliminating all other thoughts (Verse 380)
7. Extremely subtle is the Truth of the Self Supreme, and it is not discernible to the gross vision (of the mind). It is knowable to the noble-minded of very pure intellect, through samadhi, brought about by an extraordinarily subtle mind. (Verse 360)
8. Thus purified by constant practice when the mind merges with Brahman, then Samadhi passes from the Savikalpa stage [where subject-object distinction exist] to the Nirvikalpa stage [where no subject-object duality exists], leading directly to the experience of the Bliss of Brahman, the Non-dual. (Verse 362)
9. By this [Nirvikalpa] Samadhi are destroyed all the knots of vasanas and all karma is destroyed. One‘s Real Nature (swarupa) manifests spontaneously and effortlessly, forever, everywhere and always, within and without. (Verse 363)
10. In the cave of the intellect, there is the Brahman, the Supreme non-dual Reality, distinct from [relative] truth (sat) and untruth (asat). One who dwells in this cave as Brahman has no rebirth*. (Verse 266)
*Tom: The literal rendering of this last line of verse 266 is a play on the word ‘cave’ and states ‘One who dwells in this cave as Brahman does not enter into the cave of the body’. The ‘word ‘cave’ is used in the Upanishads to describe the location of Brahman, whilst ‘cave of the body’ refers to the mother’s womb, which in turn refers to rebirth in samsara and continued suffering.
Sri Ramana Maharshi also said that the entirety of Advaita Vedanta can be found in in verse 170 of Vivekacudamani:
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.
In talk number 428 from the book Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Ramana Maharshi selects 10 verses from Sivananda Lahari, a devotional work of 100 verses written by Sri Sankara. In it, Bhakti is described, and Ramana has provided his own free translations of the meaning of the verses. So, here in the following text we have in effect a combined statement on Bhakti from both Shakara and Ramana!
!Praise and blessings to Sri Ramana and Sri Shankara!
(1) What is bhakti?
Just as the ankola fruit falling from the tree rejoins it or a piece of iron is drawn to magnet, so also thoughts, after rising up, lose themselves in their original source. This is bhakti. The original source of thoughts is the feet of the Lord, Isvara. Love of His Feet forms bhakti. (Verse 61)
(2) Fruit of bhakti:
The thick cloud of bhakti, formed in the transcendental sky of the Lord’s Feet, pours down a rain of Bliss (ananda) and fills the lake of mind to overflowing. Only then the jiva, always transmigrating to no useful end, has his real purpose fulfilled. (Verse 76)
(3) Where to place bhakti?
Devotion to gods, who have themselves their origin and end, can result in fruits similarly with origin and end. In order to be in Bliss everlasting our devotion must be directed to its source, namely the Feet of the ever blissful Lord. (Verse 83)
(4) Bhakti is a matter only for experience and not for words:
How can Logic or other polemics be of real use? Can the ghatapatas (favourite examples of the logicians, meaning the pot and the cloth) save you in a crisis? Why then waste yourself thinking of them and on discussion? Stop exercising the vocal organs and giving them pain. Think of the Feet of the Lord and drink the nectar! (Verse 6)
(5) Immortality is the fruit of Devotion:
At the sight of him who in his heart has fixed the Lord’s Feet, Death is reminded of his bygone disastrous encounter with Markandeya and flees away. All other gods worship only Siva, placing their crowned heads at His feet. Such involuntary worship is only natural to Siva. Goddess Liberation, His consort, always remains part of Him. (Verse 65)
(6) If only Devotion be there – the conditions of the jiva cannot affect him.
However different the bodies, the mind alone is lost in the Lord’s Feet. Bliss overflows! (Verse 10)
(7) Devotion always unimpaired:
Wherever or however it be, only let the mind lose itself in the Supreme. It is Yoga! It is Bliss! Or the Yogi or the Bliss incarnate! (Verse 12)
(8) Karma Yoga also is Bhakti:
To worship God with flowers and other external objects is troublesome. Only lay the single flower, the heart, at the feet of Siva and remain at Peace. Not to know this simple thing and to wander about! How foolish! What misery! (Verse 9)
(9) This Karma Yoga puts an end to one’s samsara:
Whatever the order of life (asrama) of the devotee, only once thought of, Siva relieves the devotee of his load of samsara and takes it on Himself. (Verse 11)
(10) Devotion is Jnana:
The mind losing itself in Siva’s Feet is Devotion. Ignorance lost! Knowledge! Liberation! (Verse 91)
The following summarises the spiritual method advised by Sri Gaudapada, the great-guru of the more famous Sri Shankara. It is taken from Chapter 3 of Gaudapada’s Karika (Gaudapada’s commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad), one of the earliest, most authoritative and most-influential of Advaita Vedanta Scriptures.
42. The mind distracted by desires and enjoyments should be brought under control by proper means; so also the mind enjoying pleasure in inactivity (laya). For the state of inactivity is as harmful as the state of desires.
43. Turn back the mind from the enjoyment of desires, remembering that they beget only misery. Do not see the created objects, remembering that all this is the unborn Atman.
44. If the mind becomes inactive, arouse it from laya [inactivity]; if distracted, make it tranquil. Understand the nature of the mind when it contains the seed of attachment. When the mind has attained sameness, do not disturb it again.
45. The yogi must not taste the happiness arising from samadhi; he should detach himself from it by the exercise of discrimination. If his mind, after attaining steadiness, again seeks external objects, he should make it one with Atman through great effort.
46. When the mind does not lapse into inactivity [laya] and is not distracted by desires, that is to say, when it remains unshakable and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman.
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.