FALSE VEDANTA – a warning from Vivekachudamani

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)


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’.


The Ultimate or Highest Truth according to the Upanishads

There is a famous verse in the Upanishads that explicitly and specifically proclaims to hold the highest truth.

This verse was considered important enough that it was also incorporated into Shankara’s masterpiece Vivekachudamani and also Gaudapada’s main work, his commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad (the Mandukya Karika).

In fact it is the only verse that I know of that is repeated not only in more than one Upanishad, but is also repeated by the two greatest traditional exponents of Advaita Vedanta (ie. Shankara and Gaudapada) in their subsequent works.

Here is the verse:

There is neither destruction (Nirodha) nor creation (Utpatti), none in bondage (Bandha) and none practicing disciplines (Sadhaka). There is none seeking Liberation (Mumukshu) and none liberated (Mukta). This is the ultimate or highest truth (Paramartha).’

As I said above, this verse is found repeated in the Amritabindu Upanishad in verse 10, in the Atma Upanishad in verse 2.31. It was later incorporated by both Gaudapada (Mandukya Karika 2.32) and Shankara (Vivekachudamani verse 574) in their writings.

What do you think of this verse?

Shankara: 4 things you need to do in order to attain spiritual liberation (the 4 Qualifications according to Advaita Vedanta)

There are many ways to liberation, and all true paths join together in the end. In the Advaita Vedanta framework, 4 attributes or qualities are required to be developed before one can sufficiently progress on the path of Jnana or Enquiry.

In Vivekachudamani

In Shankara’s Vivekachudamani he outlines four practices or qualifications (sadhana catustaya)  that are required in order for liberation to successfully occur. First he lists the qualifications, and then he explains each one in turn.

I’ve noticed there are a small but growing number teachers of Vedanta who claim to be traditional teachers but they change the definitions of the qualifications and so alter the meaning of the teachings to suit different ends. These teachers tend to downplay the need for prolongued meditation on the Self, whereas the actual Vedanta texts and true traditional teachers of Vedanta tend to emphasise this.

So, as always, it pays to read the source texts for yourself and learn how the teachings were originally defined if you want to understand the original intentions of the Vedanta teachings. As usual, my comments are in red:

Shankara states there are 4 things that are required to attain liberation. More than that, he states that without these 4 things, liberation will not be attained. So let us learn about these 4 qualifications and how they are defined:

18. Regarding this, sages have spoken of four means of attainment, which alone being present, the devotion to Brahman succeeds, and in the absence of which, it fails.

19. First is enumerated discrimination between the Real and the unreal; next comes aversion to the enjoyment of fruits (of one’s actions) here and hereafter; (next is) the group of six attributes, viz. calmness and the rest; and (last) is clearly the yearning for Liberation.

Traditionally the 4 Qualifications are:
(1) Viveka or discrimination
(2) Vairagya or dispassion
(3) Samadi-satka-sampatti or the six disciplines consisting of Shama, Dama, Uparati, Titiksha, Shraddha and Samadhana in which the mind is progressively withdrawn from the sense objects and focused onto the pure sense of being (‘Sat’ or ‘Pure Brahman’)
(4) Mumuksutva or the yearning for liberation.

Shankara also adds a further qualification – the most important in his view – Bhakti, or devotion, which he defines in verse 31 as seeking or turning away from what is unreal (defined in the next verse) and turning towards one’s True Nature.

20. A firm conviction of the mind to the effect that Brahman is real and the universe unreal, is designated as discrimination (Viveka) between the Real and the unreal.

This is a clear definition of viveka that forms the foundation for the rest of the qualifications. Next Shankara defines vairagya in a very absolute way, which is essentially renunciation of all worldly objects ranging from the everyday to desires to be reborn in the heavenly realm of Brahma (the creator-deity who resides in heaven).

21. Vairagya or renunciation is the desire to give up all transitory enjoyments (ranging) from those of an (animate) body to those of Brahmahood (having already known their defects) from observation, instruction and so forth.

The notion is that because all such worldly or heavenly objects are transient, they will eventually go and therefore not lead to the eternal ever-existing peace of Brahman or Moksha.

In another text called Aparokshanunhuti, Shankara describes Vairagya as follows in verse 4: ‘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 Vairagya.’

Verses 22-25 will outline the 6 disciplines of Shama, Dama, Uparati, Titiksha, Shraddha and Samadhana. We can see that the gist of the 6 disciplines is to turn away from objects and the world and turn towards the Self:

22. The resting of the mind steadfastly on its Goal (viz. Brahman) after having detached itself from manifold sense-objects by continually observing their defects, is called Shama or calmness.

In Aparokshanunhuti Shankara  in verse 6 writes: ‘Abandonment of desires at all times is called Shama‘.

23. Turning both kinds of sense-organs away from sense-objects and placing them in their respective centres, is called Dama or self-control. The best Uparati or self- withdrawal consists in the mind-function ceasing to be affected by external objects.

24. The bearing of all afflictions without caring to redress them, being free (at the same time) from anxiety or lament on their score, is called Titiksha or forbearance.

25. Acceptance by firm judgement 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.

26. Not the mere indulgence of thought (in curiosity) but the constant concentration of the intellect (or the affirming faculty) on the ever-pure Brahman, is what is called Samadhana or self-settledness.

Shama is an initial detachment from sense objects after contemplating how impermanent objects cannot give rise to (permanent) liberation. Dama is about withdrawing the sense organs from sense-objects and also reducing one’s activities in the world (‘both kinds’ refer to the sense organs and organs of action). Uparati is when the mind is no longer affected by objects at all.

We can see that Shama, Dama and Uparati represent a step-wise sequence in practicing different levels of vairagya (dispassion) which culminates in Samadhana, which is defined as constant concentration on Brahman devoid of objects as opposed to mere curiosity towards Brahman. We know that the Brahman spoken of is devoid of objects due to the above definitions of Shama, Dama and Uparati. This is further made clear by the verse quotes in Aporokshanubhuti below in which it is stated that the mind should be made to focus on ‘Sat’ (existence).

Titiksha and Shraddha are aids to this sequential process of introversion, which we could call Bhakti or svasvarupanusandhanam (see verse 31 below).

27. Mumukshutva or yearning for Freedom is the desire to free oneself, by realising one’s true nature, from all bondages from that of egoism to that of the body – bondages superimposed by Ignorance.

Shankara now talks of 3 grades of mumukshutva: low, medium and high. If the desire for liberation is low-to-medium, one is to cultivate vairagya and the 6 disciplines. Then the desire for liberation will increase:

28. Even though torpid or mediocre, this yearning for Freedom, through the grace of the Guru, may bear fruit (being developed) by means of Vairagya (renunciation), Shama (calmness), and so on.

If the desire for liberation is high, then the goal will be attained:

29. In his case, verily, whose renunciation and yearning for Freedom are intense, calmness and the other practices have (really) their meaning and bear fruit.

If the desire for liberation is low, then all this is mere superficiality and liberation will (likely) not result:

30. Where (however) this renunciation and yearning for Freedom are torpid, there calmness and the other practices are as mere appearances, like water in a desert.

Lastly Shankara extolls the magnificence of Bhakti, and defines it as ‘svasvarupanusandhanam’, which can be translated as striving to seek one’s nature or constantly turning towards one’s nature.

31. Among things conducive to Liberation, devotion (Bhakti) holds the supreme place. The seeking after one’s real nature is designated as devotion.

Interestingly Sri Ramana Maharshi was asked about the nature of svasvarupanusandhanam in Talks 642, and he stated that it referred to atma vichara or Self-enquiry itself. In Aparokshanunhuti verse 11 Shankara writes: ‘Knowledge is not brought about by any other means than Vichara [ie. enquiry], just as an object is nowhere perceived (seen) without the help of light.

In Aparokshanunhuti

In his text Aparokshanunhuti, Shankara explains the same 4 qualifications (sadhana catustaya) in a more punchy way in verses 4-11:

4. 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 Vairagya.

5. Atman (the seer) in itself is alone permanent, the seen is opposed to it (ie., transient) – such a settled conviction is truly known as discrimination.

6. Abandonment of desires at all times is called Shama and restraint of the external functions of the organs is called Dama.

7. Turning away completely from all sense-objects is the height of Uparati, and patient endurance of all sorrow or pain is known as Titiksha which is conducive to happiness.

8. Implicit faith in the words of the Vedas and the teachers (who interpret them) is known as Shraddha, and concentration of the mind on the only object Sat (i.e. Brahman) is regarded as Samadhana.

9. 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 Mumukshutva.

10. Only that person who is in possession of the said qualifications (as means to Knowledge) should constantly reflect with a view to attaining Knowledge, desiring his own good.

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

Vivekachudamani as translated by Sri Ramana Maharshi

The following text was Ramana Maharshi’s earliest written spiritual work, in which he translates the entire text of Vivekachudamani as written by Sri Shankara for the benefit of those who were not able to read Sanskrit. The fact that Ramana wrote very little yet bothered to translate this in its entirely, that this was the first scripture he chose to translate, and that this is the longest of the scriptures he ever translated (to my knowledge) perhaps gives you an indication of the significance of this text. 

Ramana has also written a beautiful introduction to the text, which you can find here, which summarises the teachings in brief and states that this text contains all the pertinent points that a seeker requires to attain liberation and also represents the essence of Shankara’s commentaries of the triple canon of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

ramana maharshi

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

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

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

Introduction to Vivekachudamani, as written by Sri Ramana Maharshi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom’s summary and comments:

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

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

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

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

-Jnana can only be gained through self-enquiry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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