The Ten most important verses of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani according to Sri Ramana Maharshi

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Sri Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi stated that Shankara’s text Vivekachudamani contains in detail all the points required for a seeker of liberation ‘thereby directing them to the true and direct path‘.

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.

Ramana Maharshi quoting Shankara on Bhakti (The path of love and devotion)

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!

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Sri Ramana Maharshi


(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)

How to attain Brahman according to Advaita Vedanta (Sri Gaudapada’s Mandukya Karika)

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.

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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.

I have written a short commentary on the above verses entitled Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method which further explains the above verses.

You can read the entire text of Gaudapada’s Karika here: Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika

Shankara: the world or universe is a projection of the mind

Shankara bondage is a mirage

From Shankara’s Vivekachudamani:

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.

Aparokshanubhuti by Shankara (with brief explanatory notes)

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Aparokshanubhuti 

[Aparoksha = direct; Anubhuti = experience]

By Adi Sankaracharya (788-82 CE)

Translated by Swami Vimuktananda, this version edited by Tom Das

Swami Vimuktananda: Shankara discusses the identity of the individual Self and the universal Self through the direct experience of the highest Truth.

Tom: the original text has no subheadings – I have added these. My brief comments and annotations are in square brackets. I have added bold type for emphasis of what I feel are key points. Occasionally I have removed some verses or I have changed the order of some verses where I have felt this makes sense thematically. I hope these additions are of benefit for sincere seekers of liberation.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

INITIAL VERSES

  1. I bow down to Him – to Sri Hari (the destroyer of ignorance), the Supreme Bliss, the First Teacher, Ishwara, the All-pervading One and the Cause of all Lokas (the universe).
  1. Herein is expounded (the means of attaining to) Aparokshanubhuti (Self-Realization) for the acquisition of final liberation. Only the pure in heart should constantly and with all effort meditate upon the truth herein taught.

FOUR PRELIMINARY QUALIFICATIONS 

(Sadhana Chatushtaya)

[Q. Who is ‘pure in heart’?
A: He who has the 4 qualifications listed below
Q: How to become ‘pure in heart’?
A: Devotion to God, renunciation and karma yoga as per verse 3]

  1. The four preliminary qualifications (the means to the attainment of knowledge), such as Vairagya (dispassion) and the like, are acquired by men by propitiating [gaining favour of] Hari (the Lord), through austerities and the performance of duties pertaining to their social order and stage in life.
  1. The indifference with which one treats the excreta of a crow – such an indifference to all objects of enjoyment from the realm of Brahma to this world (in view of their perishable nature), is verily called pure [1] Vairagya.
  1. Atman (the seer) in itself is alone permanent, the seen is opposed to it (ie., transient) – such a settled conviction is truly known as [2] discrimination [Viveka].

[[3] The 6 treasures]

  1. Abandonment of desires at all times is called [3i] Shama and restraint of the external functions of the organs is called [3ii] Dama.
  1. Turning away completely from all sense-objects is the height of [3iii] Uparati, and patient endurance of all sorrow or pain is known as [3iv] Titiksha which is conducive to happiness.
  1. Implicit faith in the words of the Vedas and the teachers (who interpret them) is known as (3v) Shraddha, and concentration of the mind on the only object Sat (i.e., Brahman) is regarded as [3vi] Samadhana.
  1. When and how shall I, O Lord, be free from the bonds of this world (i.e., births and deaths) – such a burning desire is called [4] Mumukshuta.
  1. Only that person who is in possession of the said qualification (as means to Knowledge) should constantly reflect with a view to attaining Knowledge, desiring his own good.

VICHARA SUMMARISED

  1. Knowledge is not brought about by any other means than Vichara [inquiry], just as an object is nowhere perceived (seen) without the help of light.

[Question]

  1. Who am I ? How is this (world) created ? Who is its creator ? Of what material is this (world) made ? This is the way of that Vichara (enquiry).

[Answer – what I am not, neti-neti, via negativa]

  1. I am neither the body, a combination of the (five) elements (of matter), nor am I an aggregate of the senses; I am something different from these. This is the way of that Vichara.

[The philosophical paradigm: all phenomena is a creation of thoughts/ignorance:]

  1. Everything is produced by ignorance, and dissolves in the wake of Knowledge. The various thoughts must be the creator. Such is this Vichara.

[All is Brahman, what I am, via positiva]

  1. The material (cause) of these two (i.e., ignorance and thought) is the One (without a second), subtle (not apprehended by the senses) and unchanging Sat (Existence), just as the earth is the material (cause) of the pot and the like. This is the way of that Vichara.

[What I am – I am Brahman]

  1. As I am also the One, the Subtle, the Knower, the Witness, the Ever-Existent, and the Unchanging, so there is no doubt that I am “That” (i.e., Brahman). Such is this enquiry.

ATMAN (The Self)

  1. Atman is verily one and without parts, whereas the body consists of many parts; and yet the people see (confound) these two as one ! What else can be called ignorance but this? [repeating refrain]
  1. Atman is all consciousness and holy, the body is all flesh and impure; and yet, etc.,
  1. Atman is the (supreme) Illuminator and purity itself; the body is said to be of the nature of darkness; and yet, etc.,
  1. Atman is eternal, since it is Existence itself; the body is transient, as it is non-existence in essence; and yet etc.,
  1. How strange is it that a person ignorantly rests contented with the idea that he is the body, while he knows it as something belonging to him (and therefore apart from him) even as a person who sees a pot (knows it as apart from him) !

I AM BRAHMAN

  1. I am verily Brahman, being equanimous, quiescent, and by nature absolute Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss. I am not the body which is non-existence itself. This is called true Knowledge by the wise. [repeating refrain]
  1. I am without any change, without any form, free from all blemish and decay. I am not, etc.,
  1. I am not subjected to any disease, I am beyond all comprehension, free from all alternatives and all-pervading. I am not, etc.,
  1. I am without any attribute or activity, I am eternal, ever free, and imperishable. I am not, etc.,
  1. I am free from all impurity, I am immovable, unlimited, holy, undecaying, and immortal. I am not, etc.,

IGNORANCE

  1. O you ignorant one ! Why do you assert the blissful, ever-existent Atman, which resides in your own body [ie. is your essence] and is (evidently) different from it, which is known as Purusha [The Person] and is established (by the Shruti as identical with Brahman), to be absolutely non-existent?

[ie. Why do you say ‘There is no Atman/Self’?]

  1. O you ignorant one ! Try to know, with the help of [1] Shruti and [2] reasoning, your own Self, Purusha, which is different from the body, (not a void but) the very form of existence, and very difficult for persons like you to realize.

[This will be explained below]

1. REASONING

  1. The Supreme (Purusha) known as “I” (ego) is but one, whereas the gross bodies are many. So how can this body be Purusha?
  1. “I” (ego) is well established as the subject of perception whereas the body is the object. This is learnt from the fact that when we speak of the body we say, “This is mine.” So how can this body be Purusha?
  1. It is a fact of direct experience that the “I” (Atman) is without any change, whereas the body is always undergoing changes. So how can this body be Purusha?
  1. Even the subtle body [ie. mind] consists of many parts and is unstable. It is also an object of perception, is changeable, limited and non-existent by nature. So how can this be the Purusha?
  1. The immutable Atman, the substratum of the ego, is thus different from these two bodies [ie. gross and subtle bodies], and is the Purusha, the Ishwara (the Lord of all), the Self of all; It is present in every form and yet transcends them all.

2. SHRUTI

[Shruti literally means ‘heard’ or ‘that which is heard’, and refers to revealed scripture, the highest form of scripture in Vedic tradition, and the examples are the Vedas and Upanishads. Traditionally Shruti is not of human origin but of Divine origin, as opposed to Smriti or ‘remembered’, which comes from the minds of human beings. This text, not being the Vedas or Upanishads would be considered to be Smriti. Most epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita are all Smriti scriptures]

  1. Wise men have ascertained the (real) nature of Purusha from that Shruti text, “(There is nothing) higher than He (Purusha),” etc. So how can this body be Purusha ?
  1. Again the Shruti has declared in the Purusha Sukta that “All this is verily the Purusha”. So how can this body be Purusha ?
  1. So also it is said in Brihadaranyaka that “The Purusha is completely unattached”. How can this body wherein inhere innumerable impurities be the Purusha ?
  1. There again it is clearly stated that “the Purusha is self-illumined”. So how can the body which is inert (insentient) and illumined by an external agent be the Purusha ?
  1. Moreover, the Karma-kanda also declares that the Atman is different from the body and permanent, as it endures even after the fall of the body and reaps the fruits of actions (done in this life).
  1. The Shruti in the form of the Brihadaranyaka has declared that this Atman, which is the Self of all, is verily Brahman.

ADVAITA

[So far we have discerned the difference between Self and Not-Self (ie. the phenomenal world including the body and mind). Now we see this too is an artificial duality and now the focus is on Advaita, or non-duality:]

  1. Thus the view that the body is the Atman has been denounced by the enunciation of the difference between the Atman and the body. Now is clearly stated the unreality of the difference between the two.
  1. No division in Consciousness is admissible at any time as it is always one and the same. Even the individuality of the Jiva must be known as false, like the delusion of a snake in a rope.
  1. As through the ignorance of the real nature of the rope the very rope appears in an instant as a snake, so also does pure Consciousness appear in the form of the phenomenal universe without undergoing any change.
  1. There exists no other material cause of this phenomenal universe except Brahman. Hence this whole universe is but Brahman and nothing else.
  1. From such declaration (of the Shruti) as “All this is Atman”, it follows that the idea of the pervaded and the pervading is illusory. This supreme truth being realized, where is the room for any distinction between the cause and the effect?

[The Mahavakya or great saying ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma’ or ‘All this is Brahman’ is taken from the Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1]

  1. Certainly the Shruti has directly denied manifoldness in Brahman. The non-dual cause being an established fact, how could the phenomenal universe be different from It ?
  1. Moreover, the Shruti has condemned (the belief in variety) in the words, “The person who”, being deceived by Maya, “sees variety in this (Brahman), goes from death to death”.
  1. Inasmuch as all beings are born of Brahman, the supreme Atman, they must be understood to be verily Brahman.
  1. The Shruti has clearly declared that Brahman alone is the substratum of all varieties of names, forms and actions.
  1. Just as a thing made of gold ever has the nature of gold, so also a being born of Brahman has always the nature of Brahman.
  1. Just as a jar is all earth, so also is the body all consciousness. The division, therefore, into the Self and non-Self is made by the ignorant to no purpose.

SUFFERING

  1. Fear is attributed to the ignorant one who rests after making even the slightest distinction between the Jivatman and the Paramatman.

[ie. duality causes fear]

  1. When duality appears through ignorance, one sees another; but when everything becomes identified with the Atman, one does not perceive another even in the least.
  1. In that state when one realizes all as identified with the Atman, there arises neither delusion nor sorrow, in consequence of the absence of duality.

[ie. lack of duailty, or nonduality, removes suffering]

THE THREE STATES

[ie. The 3 states change, they come and go, and so are without any enduring essence, as opposed to Atman]

  1. This world, though an object of our daily experience and serving all practical purposes, is, like the dream world, of the nature of non-existence, inasmuch as it is contradicted the next moment.
  1. The dream (experience) is unreal in waking, whereas the waking (experience) is absent in dream. Both, however, are non-existent in deep sleep which, again, is not experienced in either.
  1. Thus all the three states are unreal inasmuch as they are the creation of the three Gunas [ie. tamas, rajas, sattva]; but their witness (the reality behind them) is, beyond all Gunas, eternal, one, and is Consciousness itself.

ILLUSION

[The illusion of duality: the illusion of the individual person or Jiva, the illusion of the manifold universe]

  1. Just as (after the illusion has gone) one is no more deluded to see a jar in earth or silver [irridescence] in the nacre [mother of pearl], so does one no more see Jiva in Brahman when the latter is realized (as one’s own self).
  1. Just as earth is described as a jar, gold as an ear-ring, and a nacre as silver, so is Brahman described as Jiva.
  1. Just as blueness in the sky, water in the mirage, and a human figure in a post (are but illusory), so is the universe in Atman.
  1. Just as the appearance of a ghost in an empty place, of a castle in the air, and of a second moon in the sky (is illusory), so is the appearance of the universe in Brahman.
  1. Just as it is water that appears as ripples and waves, or again it is copper, that appears in the form of vessel so it is Atman that appears as the whole universe.
  1. Just as it is earth that appears under the name of a jar, or it is threads that appear under the name of a cloth, so it is Atman that appears under the name of the universe. This Atman is to be known by negating the names.

MITHYA

  1. Just as there ever exist the relation of cause and effect between earth and a jar, so does the same relation exist between Brahman and the phenomenal world; this has been established here on the strength of scriptural texts and reasoning.

METAPHORS FOR ILLUSION

(YOU ARE NOT THE BODY!)

[Note: If I think I am the body, then this is taking the Self (myself) to be the body]

  1. Just as a rope is imagined to be a snake and a nacre to be a piece of silver, so is the Atman determined to be the body by an ignorant person. [repeating refrain]
  1. Just as earth is thought of as a jar (made of it) and threads as a cloth, so is Atman, etc.,
  1. Just as gold is thought of as an ear-ring and water as waves, so is the Atman, etc.,
  1. Just as the stump of a tree is mistaken for a human figure and a mirage for water, so is the Atman, etc.,
  1. Just as a mass of wood work is thought of as a house and iron as a sword, so is the Atman, etc.,
  1. Just as one sees the illusion of a tree on account of water, so does a person on account of ignorance see Atman as the body.
  1. Just as to a person going in a boat everything appears to be in motion, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as to a person suffering from a defect (jaundice) white things appear as yellow, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as to a person with defective eyes everything appears to be defective, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as a firebrand, through mere rotation, appears circular like the sun, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as all things that are really large appear to be very small owing to great distance, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as all objects that are very small appear to be large when viewed through lenses, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as a surface of glass is mistaken for water, or vice versa, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as a person imagines a jewel in fire or vice versa, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as when clouds move, the moon appears to be in motion, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as a person through confusion loses all distinction between the different points of the compass, so does one, etc.,
  1. Just as the moon (when reflected) in water appears to one as unsteady, so does one, etc.,

THE END OF IGNORANCE

  1. Thus, through ignorance, arises in Atman the delusion of the body, which, again, through Self-realization, disappears in the supreme Atman.
  1. When the whole universe, movable and immovable, is known to be Atman, and thus the existence of everything else is negated, where is then any room to say that the body is Atman?
  1. O enlightened one, pass your time always contemplating on Atman while you are experiencing all the results of Prarabdha [Fate or destiny]; for it ill becomes you to feel distressed.

PRARABDHA KARMA 

  1. The theory one hears of from the scripture, that Prarabdha does not lose its hold upon one even after the origination of the knowledge of Atman, is now being refuted.
  1. After the origination of the knowledge of Reality, Prarabdha verily ceases to exist, inasmuch as the body and the like become non-existent; just as a dream does not exist on waking.
  1. Just as the body in a dream is superimposed (and therefore illusory), so is also this body. How could there be any birth of the superimposed (body), and in the absence of birth (of the body) where is the room for that (i.e., Prarabdha) at all ?
  1. The Vedanta texts declare ignorance to be verily the material (cause) of the phenomenal world just as earth is of a jar. That (ignorance) being destroyed, where can the universe subsist ?
  1. Just as a person out of confusion perceives only the snake leaving aside the rope, so does an ignorant person see only the phenomenal world without knowing the reality.
  1. The real nature of the rope being known, the appearance of the snake no longer persists; so the substratum being known, the phenomenal world disappears completely.
  1. The body also being within the phenomenal world (and therefore unreal), how could Prarabdha exist ? It is, therefore, for the understanding of the ignorant alone that the Shruti speaks of Prarabdha.
  1. “And all the actions [Karmas] of a man perish when he realizes that (Atman) which is both the higher and the lower”. Here the clear use of the plural by the Shruti is to negate Prarabdha as well.
  1. If the ignorant still arbitrarily maintain this, they will not only involve themselves into two absurdities but will also run the risk of forgoing the Vedantic conclusion. So one should accept those Shrutis alone from which proceeds true knowledge.

FIFTEEN STEPS TO MEDITATION & LIBERATION

  1. Now, for the attainment of the aforesaid (knowledge), I shall expound the fifteen steps by the help of which one should practice profound meditation at all times.

[The need for practice]

  1. The Atman that is absolute existence and knowledge cannot be realized without constant practice. So one seeking after knowledge should long meditate upon Brahman for the attainment of the desired goal.

102-103. The steps, in order, are described as follows: the control of the senses, the control of the mind, renunciation, silence, space, time, posture [asana], the restraining root (Mulabandha), the equipoise of the body, the firmness of vision, the control of the vital forces, the withdrawal of the mind, concentration, self-contemplation and complete absorption. 

[These above stages are similar to and include the classical 8 stages of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga. Shankara will redefine these steps in the next few verses giving them a non-dual spin]

  1. The restraint of all the senses by means of such knowledge as “All this is Brahman” is rightly called Yama, which should be practiced again and again.

[Yama or self-control is usually defined as being ethical, truthful, not stealing, etc]

  1. The continuous flow of only one kind of thought to the exclusion of all other thoughts, is called Niyama [discipline], which is verily the supreme bliss and is regularly practiced by the wise.

[The one kind of thought are those of the Mahavakyas such as ‘I am Brahman’, etc]

[Niyama, or discipline usually includes virtuous habits to externally and inwardly cleanse the body and mind respectively]

  1. The abandonment of the illusory universe by realizing it as the all-conscious Atman is the real renunciation honored by the great, since it is of the nature of immediate liberation.

[as in verse 104, the underlying method utilised is the realisation that ‘All is Brahman-Atman’. The emphasis is on a shift of perspective rather than just taking yourself to be the body-mind and renouncing objects from that ignorant perspective]

  1. The wise should always be one with that Silence wherefrom words together with the mind turn back without reaching it, but which is attainable by the Yogins.

[The Silence refers to the Self, Atman/Brahman, which is what we are. ‘Mind turns back without reaching it’ refers to Taittiriya Upanishad II.9]

108-109. Who can describe That (i.e., Brahman) whence words turn away ? (So silence is inevitable while describing Brahman). Or if the phenomenal world were to be described, even that is beyond words. This, to give an alternate definition, may also be termed silence known among the sages as congenital. The observance of silence by restraining speech, on the other hand, is ordained by the teachers of Brahman for the ignorant.

[True Silence is Self-Knowledge and not mere cessation of speech]

  1. That solitude is known as space, wherein the universe does not exist in the beginning, end or middle, but whereby it is pervaded at all times.

[True solitude is Self-Knowledge, in which there is only One without a Second, the implication is that solitude is not the mere retiring to a forest in seclusion]

  1. The non-dual (Brahman) that is bliss indivisible is denoted by the word ‘time’, since it brings into existence, in the twinkling of an eye all beings from Brahman downwards.
  1. One should known that as real posture in which the meditation on Brahman flows spontaneously and unceasingly, and not any other that destroys one’s happiness.

[Shankara’s humour that the true Yogic asana/posture are not mere contortions of body that ‘destroy one’s happiness’ but meditation upon Brahman]

  1. That which is well known as the origin of all beings and the support of the whole universe, which is immutable and in which the enlightened are completely merged … that alone is known as Siddhasana [a seated meditation pose] (eternal Brahman).
  1. That (Brahman) which is the root of all existence and on which the restraint of the mind is based is called the restraining root (Mulabandha) which should always be adopted since it is fit for Raja-yogins.
  1. Absorption in the uniform Brahman should be known as the equipoise of the limbs (Dehasamya). Otherwise mere straightening of the body like that of a dried-up tree is no equipoise.
  1. Converting the ordinary vision into one of knowledge one should view the world as Brahman itself. That is the noblest vision, and not that which is directed to the tip of the nose.
  1. Or, one should direct one’s vision to That alone where all distinction of the seer, sight, and the seen ceases and not to the tip of the nose.
  1. The restraint of all modifications of the mind by regarding all mental states like the Chitta as Brahman alone, is called Pranayama.

119-120. The negation of the phenomenal world is known as Rechaka (breathing out), the thought, “I am verily Brahman”, is called Puraka (breathing in), and the steadiness of that thought thereafter is called Kumbhaka (restraining the breath). This is the real course of Pranayama for the enlightened, whereas the ignorant only torture the nose [more humour from Shankara here].

  1. The absorption of the mind in the Supreme Consciousness by realizing Atman in all objects is known as Pratyahara (withdrawal of the mind) which should be practiced by the seekers after liberation.
  1. The steadiness of the mind through realization of Brahman wherever the mind goes, is known as the supreme Dharana (concentration).
  1. Remaining independent of everything as a result of the unassailable thought, “I am verily Brahman”, is well known by the word Dhyana (meditation), and is productive of supreme bliss.
  1. The complete forgetfulness of all thought by first making it changeless and then identifying it with Brahman is called Samadhi known also as knowledge.

[The method is to make thought changeless, which means to only have one thought such as ‘I am Brahman’ as per verses 119 and 123, and then to realise this thought as nothing else but Brahman or Atman (self), and then forget all thought. Shankara equates this Samadhi with Knowledge]

THE FRUIT OF PRACTICE

  1. The aspirant should carefully practice this (meditation) that reveals his natural bliss until, being under his full control, it arises spontaneously, in an instant when called into action.
  1. Then he, the best among Yogis having attained to perfection, becomes free from all practices. The real nature of such a man never becomes an object of the mind or speech.

OBSTACLES

127-128. While practicing Samadhi there appear unavoidably many obstacles, such as lack of inquiry, idleness, desire for sense-pleasure, sleep, dullness, distraction, tasting of joy, and the sense of blankness. One desiring the knowledge of Brahman should slowly get rid of such innumerable obstacles.

ENCOURAGEMENT AND A WARNING

  1. While thinking of an object the mind verily identifies itself with that, and while thinking of a void it really becomes blank, whereas by the thought of Brahman it attains to perfection. So one should constantly think of (Brahman to attain) perfection.
  1. Those who give up this supremely purifying thought of Brahman, live in vain and are on the same level with beasts.
  1. Blessed indeed are those virtuous persons who at first have this consciousness of Brahman and then develop it more and more. They are respected everywhere.

[Against the intellectual approach:]

  1. Only those in whom this consciousness (of Brahman) being ever present grows into maturity, attain to the state of ever-existent Brahman; and not others who merely deal with words.
  1. Also those persons who are only clever in discussing about Brahman but have no realization, and are very much attached to worldly pleasures, are born and die again and again in consequence of their ignorance.
  1. The aspirants after Brahman should not remain a single moment without the thought of Brahman, just like Brahma, Sanaka, Suka and others.

ANALYSIS OF ‘CAUSE’ AND ‘EFFECT’

  1. The nature of the cause inheres in the effect and not vice versa; so through reasoning it is found that in the absence of the effect, the cause, as such also disappears.

[Cause and effect refers to karma and the phenomenal world. When this world is removed, only Brahman remains:]

  1. Then that pure reality (Brahman) which is beyond speech alone remains. This should be understood again and again verily through the illustration of earth and the pot.

[ie. When the pot is destroyed, the earth from which it is made remains]

  1. In this way alone there arises in the pure-minded a state of awareness (of Brahman), which is afterwards merged into Brahman.
  1. One should first look for the cause by the negative method and then find it by the positive method, as ever inherent in the effect.

[Here the cause is Brahman and the effect is the world, ie. by removing all objects from perception through meditation (negative method 1) or by negating all objects of perception as being not-self (negative method 2) the Self should be discovered, but then the Self should be seen being in All Objects (positive method)]

  1. One should verily see the cause in the effect, and then dismiss the effect altogether. What then remains, the sage himself becomes.
  1. A person who meditates upon a thing with great assiduity and firm conviction, becomes that very thing. This may be understood from the illustration of the wasp and the worm.

UNITY OF FORMLESS AND FORM

  1. The wise should always think with great care of the invisible, the visible, and everything else, as his own Self which is consciousness itself.
  1. Having reduced the visible [objects of perception] to the invisible [formless Brahman], the wise should think of the universe as one with Brahman. Thus alone will he abide in eternal felicity with mind full of consciousness and bliss.
  1. Thus has been described Raja-Yoga consisting of these steps (mentioned above). With this is to be combined Hatha-Yoga for (the benefit of) those whose worldly desires are partially attenuated.

[The above described Raja Yoga is purely mental, having been stripped of the more external practices. Therefore for those whose minds have not been purified, the external and physical aspects of yoga, denoted here as Hatha Yoga, should also be performed]

  1. For those whose mind is completely purified this (Raja-Yoga) alone is productive of perfection. Purity of the mind, again, is speedily accessible to those who are devoted to the teacher and the Deity.

[Devotion to and faith in Guru and God are recommended methods of purification of mind. When the mind is sufficiently pure, then Shankara’s form of Raja Yoga on the mental levels alone leads directly to liberation]

FALSE VEDANTA – a warning from Shankara (Vivekachudamani)

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Sri Shankara

Perhaps the most important single text that traditionally outlines the Jnana Marga (Path of Knowledge) is Shankara’s Vivekachudamani.  This text has been used for centuries as a step by step manual to take one from (apparent) ignorance to Moksha (liberation) in which there is no suffering and it has been recommended by all the great Advaita sages including Sri Ramana Maharshi.

There are many gems littered throughout the text, and here is one of them which you may have missed:

160. The stupid man thinks he is the body, the book-learned man identifies himself with the mixture of body and soul, while the sage possessed of realisation due to discrimination looks upon the eternal Atman as his Self, and thinks, “I am Brahman”.

In verse 160 Shankara tells us that the one who is book-learned in Vedanta considers himself to be a mix of ‘body and soul’. In doing so, the one with mere book-learning still retains identification with the body, and so remains in ignorance and continues to suffer. In verse 162 Shankara, as is characteristic of the writing in Vivekachudamani, repeats his point and elaborates on it to make the meaning clear and beyond doubt:

162. As long as the book-learned man does not give up his mistaken identification with the body, organs, etc., which are unreal, there is no talk of emancipation for him, even if he be ever so erudite in the Vedanta philosophy.

There are many who know the scriptures, know the teachings, but still identify with the body in some way. These verses are a warning against this view. Shankara concludes this small section as follows, dispensing his sagely advice:

163. Just as thou dost not identify thyself with the shadow-body, the image-body, the dream-body, or the body thou hast in the imaginations of thy heart, cease thou to do likewise with the living body also.
164. Identifications with the body alone is the root that produces the misery of birth etc, of people who are attached to the unreal; therefore destroy thou this with the utmost care. When this identification caused by the mind is given up, there is no more chance for rebirth [ie. liberation is attained].

So don’t take yourself to be the body, just as you do not take your shadow to be yourself, do not take your body to be your-Self. Also, do not take yourself to be both the body and something else and in doing so retain a sense of limitation. You are That alone, you are the Self.

You are That alone,

You are the Self.

Shankara & Ramana Maharshi: First Know Thyself, then Be Still

Shankara bondage is a mirage

In the traditional path of Knowledge or Jnana, first we are to know our True Self (Atman) and know this to be the same as the Absolute (Brahman). Then we are to be still and renounce all desires.

This spiritual knowledge (Jnana) of ‘I am Brahman’ (Aham Brahmasmi) allows the mind to become still and desireless. Note this does not mean that the body becomes totally inert – no – rather it continues to function naturally according to its destiny (Prarabdha Karma) until the body dies.

Shankara states this multiple times, eg, in Vivekachudamani, and also in his many commentaries, eg. in his commentary upon the Kena Upanishad – in his introduction to the Kena Upanishad Shankara writes:

And [the Self] being eternal, it is not to be secured by any means other than the cessation of ignorance. Hence the only duty is to renounce all desires after the realisation of the unity of the indwelling Self and Brahman.

This is akin to Self-Surrender, as spoken by Sri Ramana Maharshi:

There is no destiny. Surrender, and all will be well. Throw all the responsibility on God. Do not bear the burden yourself. What can destiny do to you then?”
(Talks 244)

and again here:

Question: Surrender is said to be Bhakti [the path of devotional love]. But Sri Bhagavan [Ramana Maharshi] is known to favour enquiry [ie. the path of Knowledge or Jnana] for the Self. There is thus confusion in the hearer.
Ramana Maharshi: Surrender can take effect only when done with full knowledge. Such knowledge comes after enquiry. It ends in surrender.
(Talks 462)
This above post was an excerpt from The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation

What is the relationship between Desire and Realisation?

ramana escape the tricks of maya

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi states in his text ‘Who am I?’:

Question 26. What is the relation between desirelessness (nirasa) and wisdom (jnana)?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom means the appearance of no object. In other words, not seeking what is other than the Self is detachment or desirelessness; not leaving the Self is wisdom.

The above was taken from the question and answer version of ‘Who am I?’. Note that the Sanskrit word Jnana, literally meaning knowledge or wisdom, is a synonym for Self-Realisation when used in spiritual texts. In the alternate essay version of ‘Who am I?’, which is the version Ramana wrote himself, the same essential teachings are given but phrased slightly differently. Here is this particular teaching from the essay version:

Not attending to what-is-other (anya, that is, to any second or third person object) is non-attachment (vairagya) or desirelessness (nirasa); not leaving Self is knowledge (jnana). In truth, these two (desirelessness and knowledge) are one and the same.

In Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk number 502, Ramana states the following:

There is room for kama (desire) so long as there is an object apart from the subject (i.e., duality). There can be no desire if there is no object. The state of no-desire is moksha.

In Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 149, Ramana States:

149. The non-dual experience will only be attained by those who have completely given up desires. For those with desires, it is far, far away. Hence it is proper for those with desires to direct their desires towards God, who is desireless, so that through desire for God the desires that arise through the delusion that objects exist and are different from oneself will become extinct.

In verses 378-9 Ramana states:

378. Except for the one who has completely cut the tie of desires, the false appearance [that he is a suffering jiva] will not cease. Therefore, without any hesitation, one should cut even the desire for the great Divine Happiness.
379. O foolish mind who is suffering due to the desire for the petty pleasures of this world and of the next, if you remain quiet [i.e. without desire] you will certainly attain that State of Bliss which surely transcends the pleasures of these two.

As always, Ramana’s teachings are in line with the traditional Vedanta texts such as the writing of Shankara and the Upanishads. I have written some other posts that demonstrate this point, see below:

DESIRE, DISPASSION & LIBERATION with quotes from The Upanishads

Shankara: How to Meditate for Self-Realisation| Vivekachuhdamani

Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?

 

Shankara: the highest truth

Right at the end of his masterpiece entitled Vivekachudamani (which essentially means ‘The Highest or Supreme Wisdom’), Shankara makes a series of radical and emphatic non-dual declarations which he states is the highest or ultimate truth.

In his usual style, he reinforces the point he wishes to make in successive verses, building up to a crescendo which culminates in verse 574, the most famous of these verses.

This well-known verse was actually copied by Shankara from The Upanishads and is also found in the works of Sri Gaudapada, Shankara’s guru’s guru.

Om and blessings!

🕉

Shankara the scriptures will never allow duality

Shankara bondage is mere thought

Shankara bondage is a mirage

Shankara no seeker no liberation

Ramana Maharshi: The path to Self Realisation (includes teachings on the Self, the mind, rajas and tamas, vasanas and Samadhi)

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I have selected this talk (talk 141 from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi) as there are so many gems for the seeker of liberation in such a short space. I will try to unpack some of these gems for you and have provided a summary of the teachings at the end. All comments in red are my own and any bold text has been added by myself for emphasis. Ramana’s words are in black.

First Ramana states that objects are nothing but the ‘modes’ or projection of the mind, and that there is a light that illumines these objects. The light he refers to is the light of awareness or consciousness:

Ramana Maharshi: The modes of mind take shape as external objects and the light reflected on the modes illumines the objects. Now neglecting the modes of mind, look for the light illumining them. The mind becomes still and the light remains self-shining. The undulating mind (i.e., the mind associated with rajas = activity and tamas = darkness) is commonly known as the mind. Devoid of rajas and tamas, it is pure and self-shining. This is Self-Realisation. Therefore the mind is said to be the means for it.

Note how densely packed the spiritual discourse is here! First Ramana advises we ignore the objects, or ‘neglect the modes of mind’ as it is put above. Then follows a beautiful line: ‘the mind becomes still and the light remains self-shining’. Here we can see that Ramana is describing the thought-free awareness in which the mind is still but remains awake and aware. Ramana sometimes refers to this state as being called Jagrat Sushupti (click on the link to learn more about what Ramana says about this). 

Ramana then restates the above in a different way and further defines the word ‘mind’. He states the the mind associated with rajas (ie. the active, passionate and grasping mind) or with tamas (ie. the mind afflicted with fear, negativity, depression and lethargy) is what is meant by the word mind. Put more simply, the word ‘mind’ refers to the mind in movement that is either grasping (rajas) or pushing away (tamas). When rajas and tamas are no longer present, or when the mind is still and no longer grasping or pushing away, the mind becomes pure (this is usually known as sattva – for a more in-depth discussion of rajas, tamas and sattva see here). This totally pure mind is no longer the mind as previously defined, as it is now still, and this stillness in which movement of ego (rajas and tamas) no longer occurs is known as Self-Realisation.

The questioner proceeds:

D.: What is moksha (liberation)?

M.: Moksha is to know that you were not born. “Be still and know that I am God.” To be still is not to think. Know, and not think, is the word.

Ramana now indicates that our true nature is never born, unlike the numerous objects we appear to experience including the body-mind that we erroneously take ourselves to be. Ramana then reiterates the basic instruction to still the mind and explains again what this means – not to think. Ramana says ‘know, and not think’. I interpret this word ‘know’ to mean ‘be aware’, which again chimes with the beautiful line in the previous paragraph:’ the mind becomes still and the light remains self-shining’. 

Now Ramana further explains the main points of the teaching and how to attain Realisation:

Jnana, once revealed, takes time to steady itself. The Self is certainly within the direct experience of everyone, but not as one imagines it to be. It is only as it is. This Experience is samadhi. Just as fire remains without scorching against incantations or other devices but scorches otherwise, so also the Self remains veiled by vasanas [habitual egoic tendencies] and reveals itself when there are no vasanas. Owing to the fluctuation of the vasanas, jnana takes time to steady itself. Unsteady jnana is not enough to check rebirths. Jnana cannot remain unshaken side by side with vasanas. True, that in the proximity of a great master, the vasanas will cease to be active, the mind becomes still and samadhi results, similar to fire not scorching because of other devices. Thus the disciple gains true knowledge and right experience in the presence of the master. To remain unshaken in it further efforts are necessary.

Jnana, which literally means knowledge, is a synonym for Self-Realisation in which there is no suffering. Ramana states that even once we have had a glimpse of That Reality, it takes time for Jnana to stabilise or ‘steady itself’.

How can this be? Is not Reality non-dual and ever-present already? Is our True Nature not already one with the Reality and beyond the limitations of body, time and space? If so, how can it take time for Realisation to steady itself and if Reality is already whole and one without a second, and therefore ‘stable in itself’, how can we even dare speak of stabilisation of Reality or Jnana?

Ramana gives us a practical answer: it is due to the habitual egoic tendencies, or vasanas to use the Sanskrit word. Whist these are present, ‘the Self remains veiled’, and the Self only ‘reveals itself when there are no vasanas’. It is because of these habitual vasanas that take time to die down that ‘Jnana takes time to steady itself’. Ramana goes on to emphasise the point: ‘Jnana cannot remain unshaken side by side with vasanas’ he says. Shankara says the same – see here.

If we compare this section with what was said earlier about mind and rajas and tamas, we can see that stilling the mind means the mind being totally devoid of rajas and tamas. When the mind is still in this way, this is the Self. ie. from a practical point of view, when the mind is active, it is called mind, and when still, it is called Self.

This mind, or rajas and tamas, therefore can be seen to be the same as the vasanas described in this section above. In both cases, when the mind is still or with no vasanas, meaning when there is no habitual birth of the ‘I-concept’ (ego) together with  egoic desire and egoic fear, then the Self is automatically realised.

What about the role of the Guru? Ramana here states the mere proximity to the Guru can still the mind and remove the vasanas, thus revealing the Self in Samadhi, giving a true authentic experience of Self to the seeker. However for this Samadhi, which is unsteady, to become steady, Ramana states ‘further efforts are necessary’.

Ramana now tells us more about Samadhi:

He will know it to be his real Being and thus be liberated even while alive. Samadhi with closed eyes is certainly good, but one must go further until it is realised that actionlessness and action are not hostile to each other. Fear of loss of samadhi while one is active is the sign of ignorance. Samadhi must be the natural life of everyone.

Ramana states that the Samadhi in which there is awareness but no objects whatsoever is pleasing and wholesome, but if we fear the intrusion of objects, that is not really the Samadhi he speaks of. The Samadhi Ramana speaks of doesn’t mind the absence or presence of objects, and so activity in daily living is no impediment to this natural Samadhi (Sahaja Samadhi).

There is a state beyond our efforts or effortlessness. Until it is realised effort is necessary. After tasting such Bliss, even once one will repeatedly try to regain it. Having once experienced the Bliss of Peace no one would like to be out of it or engaged himself otherwise. It is as difficult for a Jnani to engage in thoughts as it is for an ajnani to be free from thought.

When fully realised, who can talk of effort or lack of effort? The Self is beyond both effort and non-effort, and is also one with effort and non-effort. However, as long as vasanas or mind is present, effort needs to be made. Once one has the taste of the bliss and peace of Samadhi, one desires it. When this desire outweighs the desire for external objects, one naturally makes effort towards Samadhi. One must repeatedly enter into this Samadhi – see here for what Ramana says about this or see here for what Shankara says about Samadhi and the mind. Eventually it becomes an effort not to be in Samadhi, Ramana stating ‘It is as difficult for a Jnani to engage in thoughts as it is for an ajnani to be free from thought.’

The common man says that he does not know himself; he thinks many thoughts and cannot remain without thinking.

Any kind of activity does not affect a Jnani; his mind remains ever in eternal Peace.

Talks 141

The True State is beyond any kind of activity and thought. It cannot be lost or gained, it can never be defiled and was and is always whole and complete. It is ever-lasting Peace, beyond birth and death. It is all there is.


A Practical Summary:

  1. Allow the mind to become still
  2. When this stillness is firm and one remains fully aware (ie. one does not fall asleep) in daily life it is called Self-Realisation.
  3. One way this can be done is by ignoring objects and when the mind becomes still all we are left with is the luminescent consciousness which is ever pure and undefined. This is our essence or true nature (Swarupa in Sanskrit).
  4. This state is known as Samadhi and is initially temporary due to latent habitual tendencies (vasanas or rajas and tamas) which habitually sprout the ‘I-concept’ along with notions of ‘the world’ and this gives rise to samsara or suffering.
  5. Proximity to a guru can bring about Samadhi and guide us home.
  6. Once Samadhi has been attained and the desire for worldly objects is outweighed, the Self will draw you in by its own blissful power and repeated Samadhi eventually results in the natural state when the vasanas/egoic mind has been obliterated. This is Sahaja Samadhi which is the same as self-realisation or Jnana or what Ramana calls here ‘eternal Peace’.