At the end of his book ‘The Salient Features of Sankara’s Vedanta’ (see link to download PDF below), Swami Satchitanandendra Saraswati (SSS) lists the key features of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta.
Among them is the notion that liberation can result from either hearing the teachings (Sravana), reflecting upon the teachings (Manana) or meditating upon the teachings (Nididhyasana), depending on the maturity and fitness of the aspirant (we can see Sri Ramana Maharshi give the same teachings here). Not realising this, SSS notes that various commentators either say that sravana alone is the only way or that nididhyasana alone is the only way.
SSS then goes on to state that the way that these methods lead to liberation is by turning the mind inwards towards the Subject-Self (Atman).
Let us see what SSS writes on page 82:
6. Sravana (study of sacred revelation), Manana (reflective thinking) and Nididhyasana (concentrated contemplation), are all means for realizing Atman. Highly developed souls, however, who can immediately grasp the true meaning of the Vedic teaching, do not stand in need of any additional effort.
Not taking this principle into account is responsible for the divergence of opinion among commentators of Sankara Bhashya about the relation of Sravana and Nididhyasana. Of these, some assert that Sravana is the principal means and the other two are only ancillary to it; while others insist that nididhyasana is the one means to direct realization and without it mere Sravana would be of no avail.
7. Sravana and the other means are enjoined only so far as they turn the seeker inwards and direct him to stay his mind on Atman, but the resultant knowledge is no object of any injunction.
Tom: We can see that the purpose of Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana are to turn the mind inwards, towards the Subject-Self (Atman), and that the resultant ‘Knowledge’ is not a result of any action or practice, but a synonym for the One Eternal Infinite Blissful Self that is ever-attained, ie. Liberation.
Please see herefor Sri Ramana’s teachings on this same topic.
Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS) was a great Sanskrit scholar who made an extensive study of Shankara’s writings and commentaries and subsequently wrote many books on Advaita Vedanta. According to SSS, there are essentially 2 methods to ‘attain liberation’ outlined by Sri Shankara:
1. Firstly, in those who are ripe, merely hearing (sravana) a teaching equating oneself with Brahman, will result in liberation. For some who are slighlty less ripe, some repeated contemplation (manana) upon this teaching will be required too. (Tom’s addition: A ripe mind may be a mind that is rendered extremely pure and subtle by long and sustained spiritual practice, or a mind may be ripe due to other more mysterious factors including ‘God’s Grace’.)
2. Secondly, for those who are not able to ‘attain liberation’ merely by hearing +/- contemplating a teaching such as ‘you are that’, one must also undergo prolonged meditation (nididyasana) which will directly result in liberation.
We can see that Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi broadly states the same here.
SSS in his text the Theory of Vedanta writes on p. 153:
‘In addition to Karma and Upasana, there is a kind of concentrated contemplation called the Adhyatma-Yoga which leads to immediate intuition [of Brahman, ie. Self Realisation]’
You can see that SSS is stating that this Adhyatma-Yoga is not classified as ‘karma’ or action, and is also not classed as Upasana (meditation on objects), but is something else that is a direct means of knowledge or liberation.
SSS writes in ‘The Method of Vedanta’ p. 147:
‘The aim of the one practising sustained meditation (nididhyasana) is different [to Upasana, defined here as meditation on forms/objects]. He tries to attain direct vision of reality (here in this very world) by turning his mind away from all else [ie. all objects]. And there is the difference — as against upasana — that after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done. It is this sustained meditation that is referred to at Kathha Upanishad I.ii.12 by the name ‘Adhyatma Yoga’. In the Gita it is sometimes called ’Dhyana Yoga’ (e.g. XVI11.52). In the Mandukya Karikas it is called ’restraint of the mind’ (G.K.III.41, etc.). Its nature is described there in that latter work. Everywhere its result is described in the same way as right metaphysical knowledge, and from this comes immediate liberation (sadyo-mukti).’
You can see that SSS defines Upasana as meditation upon objects, and that this is considered to be action or karma (and so will not directly lead to realisation), whereas nididhyasana is a special type of meditation which involves turning away from objects, and this type of meditation is not considered to be ‘karma’ or action, but a direct means to knowledge (as karma pertains to objects only, not to the actionless subject).
Here again this is stated more clearly in the introduction to the text Adhyatma Yoga:
‘The subject dealt with here viz. Adhyatma Yoga, also known as Dhyana Yoga, Mano-nigraha Yoga, Samadhi Yoga and Nidhidhyasana, is treated these days as a Kartru Tantra Sadana. But in the Shankara Bhashya throughout, this Adhyatma Yogi or Dhyana Yoga is treated as a Vastu Tantra Sadhana’
Kartru Tantra Sadana means action, which being limited, will therefore not lead to something unlimited (ie. liberation or the Self). Vastu Tantra Sadhana means something that will lead directly to the Supreme Truth (Vastu), ie. that which is a means of Knowledge or Liberation.
In summary, SSS writes on p 143 of The Method of Vedanta’:
‘the highest kind of candidate is able to acquire immediate intuitive vision that his Self is the Absolute from merely hearing the relevant upanishadic texts once. These people who realize the goal by merely hearing the texts once have nothing further to do…
‘…But those who are not able to acquire intuitive knowledge of the meaning of the texts in their own direct experience have to go on hearing the texts and reflecting over them to remove the doubts that prevent their meaning being understood, and they have to continue with this until intuitive knowledge arises. For we see that those of dull understanding acquire knowledge through diligent repetition…
‘…But those who cannot acquire intuitive knowledge of reality by hearing and reflection alone have to resort to sustained meditation also. In any case, the general rule is that hearing and the rest have to be continued until there is intuitive knowledge of reality. For attainment of intuitive knowledge of reality is their purpose’
Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji (SSS, 1880-1975), was a vedic scholar who devoted much of his life to studying the works of Shankara (c. 7th century BCE), the great reformer of Advaita Vedanta. SSS came to the conclusion that many of the texts that are ordinarily attributed to Shankara are not genuine works of Shankara, and that the truly genuine works of Shankara are essentially the commentaries he wrote on the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Brahma sutras and a non-commentarial text called Upadesa Sahasri. Whilst this view remains a controversial minority view, and personally I am not convined by the evidence brought forth, many are increasingly subscribing to it.
However, of those who do follow SSS’s teachings, I have noticed some have not actually read his teachings thoroughly, especially on what he says about Nididhyasana, or Vedantic Meditation.
The first thing to notice is that SSS states that Nididhyasana is the same as Dhyana Yoga as described in Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita, and Mano-nigraha Yoga as described in Gaudapada’s Karika, and is also called Adhyatma Yoga:
Adhyatma Yoga by SSS p. 9:
‘This Adhyatma Yoga is called as ‘Nidhidhyasana’ and in the sixth chapter of the Gita this Nidhidhyasana is described as ‘Dhyana Yoga’. The complete sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita reveals the process of this Dhyana Yoga with its accessories. In this very Bhagavad Gita in the following contexts also this Dhyana Yoga or Adhyatma Yoga is prescribed: 13-24, 18-52. The same Adhyatma Yoga is also called as ‘Manoni-graha Yoga’ by Gaudapada in his Mandukya Karikas from 3.41 to 3.48. So in all these places the practice of Adhyatma Yoga, its accessories, the obstacles during the practice and the removal of the obstacles are described.’
The second thing to notice is that according to SSS this Nididhyasana (or Adhyatma Yoga) is a means to Self-Realisation.
The Theory of Vedanta by SSS, p. 153:
‘In addition to Karma and Upasana, there is a kind of concentrated contemplation called the Adhyatma-Yoga which leads to immediate intuition [of Brahman, ie. Self Realisation].’
This is further clarified in the introduction to the text Adhyatma Yoga. In this context the term ‘Vastu Tantra’ means Nididhysana is a means to Self-Realisation or Truth-Realisation. (‘Vastu Tantra’ means ‘a path to the truth’, which is independent of the person who is looking, so to speak, much like science – eg. the same independent scientific truth such as the speed of light or the gravitational constant can be discovered by various people from different places – this truth is independent of the person looking. Vastu Tantra means that this is the method that leads to the supreme truth, ie. liberation or Knowlege of Brahman/Atman. This is opposed to ‘Kartru Tantra’, also known as ‘Purusha Tantra’, which refers to ‘the path of an individual’ – eg. lifting weights to build up your muscles or meditating to gain specific special powers – it is a path that leads to specific results for an individual – eg. bigger muscles or specific powers – but it does not lead to discovery of an ‘objective’ non-personal universal truth). The following is from the introduction to the text Adhyatma yoga:
‘The subject dealt with here viz. Adhyatma Yoga, also known as Dhyana Yoga, Mano-nigraha Yoga, Samadhi Yoga and Nidhidhyasana, is treated these days as a Kartru Tantra Sadana. But in the Shankara Bhashya throughout, this Adhyatma Yogi or Dhyana Yoga is treated as a Vastu Tantra Sadhana.’
The third thing to notice is that the technique of Nididhyasana is to turn one’s attention away from objective phenomena and turn towards the Self until one ‘intuits’ the Self directly.
Here is a quote from The Method of Vedanta by SSS, p. 147, that summarises much of the above and also describes in brief the method of nididhyasana. Upasana is defined here as meditation upon objects, and nididhyasana is to turn away from objects (note that in some scriptures the word ‘upasana’ is used synonymously with ‘nididhyasana’ but here SSS is using the words in this particular way):
‘The aim of the one practising sustained meditation (nididhyasana) is different [to Upasana, defined here as meditation on forms/objects]. He tries to attain direct vision of reality (here in this very world) by turning his mind away from all else [ie. all objects].And there is the difference — as against upasana — that after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done. It is this sustained meditation that is referred to at Kathha Upanishad I.ii.12 by the name ‘Adhyatma Yoga’. In the Gita it is sometimes called ’Dhyana Yoga’ (e.g. XVI11.52). In the Mandukya Karikas it is called ’restraint of the mind’ (G.K.III.41, etc.). Its nature is described there in that latter work. Everywhere its result is described in the same way as right metaphysical knowledge, and from this comes immediate liberation (sadyo-mukti).’
SSS then quotes from the Katha Upanishad and Shankara’s commentary on it to make is point clear:
‘The wise man comes to know God through mastering Adhyatma Yoga, and gives up joy and sorrow. (Kathha I.ii.12)
[Tom: ie. through Adhyatma Yoga the Self is realised; SSS then goes on to quote Shankara’s commentary – the following is as quoted by SSS:]
Sankara’s Commentary: Mastering Adhyatma Yoga: Adhyatma Yoga means withdrawing the mind from objects and concentrating it on the Self. Having meditated on the deity, the Self, through attainment of Adhyatma Yoga, the wise man gives up joy and sorrow because there are no gradations of value in the Self.’
On p.149 of The Method of Vedanta by SSS, SSS quotes from Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita to explain in more detail the method of Nididhyasana – the following is quoted by SSS as a description of Nididhyasana:
‘That yoga should certainly be practised with resolute mind. Giving up without exception all desires that come from individual, will, restraining the sense-organs on every side through the mind, one should gradually withdraw from all activity, with will and intellect firmly controlled; keeping the mind fixed on the Self, one should not think of anything. Wherever the fickle mind wanders, one should bring it back and fix it on the Self alone, under firm control. Supreme joy comes to such a yogi, whose mind is at perfect peace, whose lusts have subsided, who is sinless and who has become the Absolute.’
I hope the above is useful and helpful to you
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