The Humour of the Upanishads | Advaita Vedanta

Dry Upanishadic Humour

Section 3 of the Brihadarankaya Upanishad consists of a conversation between King Janaka and the Sage Yajnavalkya. Now for those of you who have not encountered Sage Yajnavalkya, he is quite a character at times, demonstrating the dry humour present in many of the Upanishads. Here is an example from Section 3.1 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

3.1.1:   Om. Janaka, Emperor of Videha, performed a sacrifice in which gifts were freely distributed among the priests. Brahmin scholars from the countries of Kuru and Panchala were assembled there. Emperor Tanaka of Videha wished to know which of these brahmins was the most erudite Vedic scholar.  So he confined a thousand cows in a pen and fastened on the  horns of each ten padas of gold. 

3.1.2:    He said to them: “Venerable brahmins, let him among you who is the best Vedic scholar drive these cows home.”  None of the brahmins dared. Then Yajnavalkya said to one of  his pupils: “Dear Samsrava, drive these cows home.” He drove them away. The brahmins were furious and said: “How does he dare to call  himself the best Vedic scholar among us?” Now among them there was Asvala, the hotri priest of Emperor Janaka of Videha. He asked Yajnavalkya: “Are you indeed the  best Vedic scholar among us, O Yajnavalkya?” He replied: “I bow to the best Vedic scholar, but I just wish to  have these cows.” Thereupon the Hotri Asvala determined to question him. 

Here we have a scenario in which King Janaka effectively sets up a challenge to see who the best Vedic Scholar is, with the prize being one thousand cows. However before the challenge has even begun, Sage Yajnavalkya simply asks one of his students to take the cows. When challenged by the other scholars to see if he is really the most knowledgeable in the Vedas, Yajnavalkya dryly replies that irrespective of who the best scholar is, he just wants the cows! For me this demonstrates the humour, irony and rebellious spirit that is present throughout many of the Upanishads, but this humourous aspect of the teaching is often missed when the approach becomes overly intellectual and analytical.

The Guru wants to get paid!

Anyway, back to the three states and section 4 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. In section 4.3 Yajnavalkya goes to King Janaka with the intent of not speaking, but because he had previously made a promise to King Janaka that he will answer any questions King Janaka asks, we obtain the dialogue of section 4.3 which pertains to the three states. In Shankara’s commentary on these verses he explains that the real reason Yajnavalkya visits King Janaka is to gain more wealth and cattle from the King, and throughout the following dialogue King Janaka keeps on gifting increasing numbers of cattle to Sage Yajnavalkya.

4.3.1 Yajnavalkya called on Janaka, Emperor of Videha. He said to  himself: “I will not say anything.”  But once upon a time Janaka, Emperor of Videha and  Yajnavalkya had had a talk about the Agnihotra sacrifice and  Yajnavalkya had offered him a boon. Janaka had chosen the  right to ask him any questions he wished and Yajnavalkya had  granted him the boon.  So it was the Emperor who first questioned him. 

Shankara’s commentary on the above verse reads as follows:

‘Yajnavalkya went to Janaka, Emperor of Videha. While going, he thought he would not say anything to the Emperor. The object of the visit was to get more wealth and maintain that already possessed….’

Note how this is contrary to how many nowadays state that a true teacher would not accept money or material objects for their teaching. In this, the oldest, longest and perhaps the most authoritative of Upanishads, we have the reverse situation! Again, such is the often dry humour of the Upanishads!

The above in an excerpt from a longer post which you can find here: Deep sleep is Brahman – the three states according to the Birhadaranyaka Upanishad with commentary by Shankara

Do we need to turn away from the world of objects to realise the Self? | Advaita Vedanta | Sri Ramana Maharshi | Upanishads | Shankara

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Also see:

Ramana Maharshi: how to abide as the Self

Shankara: How to Meditate for Self-Realisation

Shankara: How to realise the Self (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Commentary)

The entire path explained: the Path of Sri Ramana

Here is what the Vedanta scriptures, such as the Upanishads and the writings of Sri Shankara and Sri Gaudapada say, together with quotes from Sri Ramana Maharshi:

The Lord created the senses out-going: therefore, one sees outside and not the Self within. Some intelligent man, with his senses turned away (from their objects), desirous of immortality, sees the Self within.
~ Katha Upanishad 2.1.1

In his commentary on this above verse (Katha Upanishad 2.1.1), Shankara writes:

‘…the perceiver sees the external objects which are not-Self/not the Atman, such as sound, etc., and not the Self within. Though this is the nature of the world, some (rare) discerning man, like turning back/ reversing the current of a river, sees the Self within…The group of sense organs, beginning with the ear, should be turned away from all sense-objects. Such a one, who is purified thus, sees the indwelling self. For it is not possible for the same person to be engaged in the thought of sense-objects and to have the vision of the Self as well.

Dwelling on external objects will only increase evil propensities, so wisely recognising this fact, one should abandon external objects and and constantly attend to one’s true nature within, the Atman [the Self].
~ Shankara, Vivekachudamani

(Note, there are so many quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani which advocate turning within/away from objects that they would ovewhelm this post, but you can find some of these quotes compiled together here in a separate post.)

Turiya is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both…It is the cessation of all phenomena…This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). This is Atman and this has to be realised. ~Mandukya Upanishad

In Shankara’s commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, in his introduction to the text he writes:

Just as the normal state of a man, afflicted by disease, consists in his getting cured of the disease, similarly the normalcy of the Self, stricken with identification with misery, is regained through the cessation of the phenomenal universe of duality…since the phenomenal world of duality is a creation of ignorance, it can be eradicated through knowledge…

In his commentary on Katha Upanishad verse 1.2.20 Sri Shankara writes:

‘…One whose intellect has been withdrawn from all objects, gross and subtle, when this takes place, this is known as ‘inactivity of the sense organs’. Though this ‘inactivity of the sense organs’ one sees that glory of the Self. ‘Sees’ means he directly realises the Self as ‘I am the Self’ as thereby becomes free from suffering’

When the mind…remains unshakable and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman.
~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika

When the mind, after realizing the knowledge that Atman alone is real, becomes free from imaginations and therefore does not cognize anything, for want of objects to be cognized, it ceases to be the mind.
~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika

The mind severed from all connection with sensual objects, and prevented from functioning out, awakes into the light of the heart, and finds the highest condition. The mind should be prevented from functioning, until it dissolves itself in the heart. This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, the rest is all mere concoction of untruth.
~ Amritabindu Upanishad

As long as the objective universe is perceived one does not realise the Self.
~ Yoga Vasishta

The Self (Atman) is beyond all expression by words beyond all acts of mind; It is absolutely peaceful, it is eternal effulgence free from activity and fear and it is attainable by Samadhi
~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika 3.37

Shankara’s commentary from the above verse from Gaudapada 3.37 states:

…The Self (Atman) is denoted by the word Samadhi as it can be realised only by the knowledge arising out of the deepest concentration (on its essence), Samadhi. Or the Self (Atman) is denoted by Samadhi because it is the object of concentration, the Jiva concentrates his mind on the Self (Atman)…

In the next verse Gaudapada writes in verse 3.38 of his Mandukya Karika:

There can be no acceptance or rejection where all mentation stops. Then knowledge is established in the Self and is unborn, and it becomes homogenous

Shankara’s commentary on this verse 3.38 is as follows:

…therefore there is no rejection or acceptance in It, where thought does not exist. That is to say, how can there be rejection or acceptance where no mentation is possible in the absence of the mind? As soon as there comes the realisation of the Truth that is the Self, then, in the absence of any object, knowledge (Jnanam) is established in the Self, like the heat of fire in fire. It is then birthless (ajati) and becomes homogenous.

In his commentary on the Katha Upanishad, verse 2.1.2, Shankara writes:

The natural tendency to see external objects, which are not-Self, is the cause of ignorance, the obstacle to the realisation of the Self. The desire of external/outward enjoyments pertaining to this world and the next, which are presented by ignorance, is another obstacle. The realisation of the Self being impeded by these two, ignorance and desire, men with little intelligence pursue only external objects of desire….This being so, the intelligent, knowing the certain immortality of concentration in the inner Self

When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahma-Vidya or Self Knowledge]
~Katha Upanishad 2.3.10

Shankara’s commentary on this above verse (Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10) states the following:

‘At the time when the five senses…, together with the mind…, which is now no longer functioning and thinking, are at rest in the Self alone, after turning away from objects, and with the intellect…no longer engaging with its functioning, that they call the highest state [Brahma-Vidya or Self-Knowledge].’

That which is not seen, though within us, is called the eternal and indestructible Self.
~ Yoga Vasishta

After knowing that by which you know this world, turn the mind inward, and then you will realise the effulgence of the Self.
~ Yoga Vasishta

Strenuously withdrawing all thoughts from sense objects, one should remain fixed in steady, non-objective [ie. subjective] enquiry. This, in brief, is the means of knowing one’s own real nature; this effort alone bring about the sublime inner vision.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramana Gita

If, on the contrary, you withdraw your mind completely from the world and turn it within and abide thus, that is, if you keep awake always to the Self, which is the substratum of all experience, you will find the world, of which alone you are now aware, just as unreal as the world in which you lived in your dream.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Maharshi’s Gospel

Q. When will the realization of the Self be gained?
Sri Ramana: When the world which is what-is-seen [ie. objects] has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer.
Q. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
Sri Ramana: There will not be.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition’s and of all actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear…All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

Therefore, when the world appears, the Self does not appear; and when the Self appears the world does not appear.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

When the mind comes out of the Self, the world appears.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense organs, the gross names and forms appear; when it stays in the heart, the names and forms disappear. Not letting the mind go out, but retaining it in the Heart is what is called “inwardness” (antarmukha). Letting the mind go out of the Heart is known as “externalisation” (bahir-mukha). Thus, when the mind stays in the Heart, the ‘I’ which is the source of all thoughts will go, and the Self which ever exists will shine.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom [Jnana] means the appearance of no object.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

Q. How long should inquiry be practised?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the inquiry “Who am I?” is required
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?

Also see: Ramana Maharshi: how to abide as the Self, the world is not real, attend to yourself

Swami Chinmayananda on the Ashtavakra Gita

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Swami Chinmayananda writes in the introduction to his commentary upon the Ashtavakra Gita of how in a way it is superior to the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita (these are the Prasthana Traya or ‘Holy Trinity’ of scriptures in Advaita Vedanta) in communicating the nature of the Supreme Reality.

Note the final paragraph in which all concepts, including that of ‘Supreme Reality’ or ‘Brahman’ are also dissolved:

In communicating to the seekers the unsurpassing beauty and indefinable perfections of the Absolute, the Upanisads stammer; the Brahma sutras exhaust itself and the Bhagavat Gita hesitates with an excusable shyness. A theme, in dealing with which, even these mighty books of Hinduism are thus, at best, unsatisfactory; we must, in sheer gratitude, admire Astavakra Samhita for the brilliant success it has achieved in communicating, through words, perhaps, more clearly the nature and glory of the Supreme Reality, than by the Prasthana Traya.

The student of this Samhita is himself giving the autobio-data of the liberated in life. We have here in this book a revealing autobiography of the Saint, the Liberated-in-life in King Janaka.

Beyond all assertions and denial, beyond the concepts of bondage and liberation, lies this Realm of the Self, wherein there is neither the individual-ego(jiva), nor is there even the Supreme-Reality (Brahman)!

The above was written by Swami Chinmayananda, taken from his introduction to the Ashtavakra Gita

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?

 

DESIRE, DISPASSION, LIBERATION & THE ABSOLUTE with quotes from The Upanishads and Sri Ramana Maharshi

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One learns more and more that no number of objects we experience (this includes worldly objects, people, thoughts, feelings, experiences, praise, adoration, etc) will ever bring lasting satisfaction. These objects (which includes all experiences), each being temporary and limited, will bring only temporary and limited pleasures at best. This pleasure will inevitably end which results in stress and suffering as we try to prevent the ending of our association with the desired objects. So seeking fulfillment in objects results in the perpetuation of suffering, and this is learnt over and over again ever more deeply over the course of time.

Simultaneously, we realise that lasting fulfillment only comes from not-seeking, ie. when we are resting as our-Self in the Natural Condition. Again, this insight-realisation deepens and our conviction that this is true grows stronger over time, as we psychologically and spiritually mature.

How quickly we learn this depends on our ability to observe, listen, discern and learn the lessons life is teaching us (this is called Viveka in Sanskrit, often translated as discrimination or discernment, but also can be translated as wisdom).

This natural turning away from gross and subtle objects and dropping away of desire for them is known as dispassion or vairagya in Sanskrit, and this vairagya naturally occurs to spiritual seekers (ie. the ego) as they spiritually mature and internalise these above lessons.

When vairagya becomes fully mature there is just constant abiding as Self. Self is satisfied as Self, not needing pleasure or good feelings from ‘outside’ limited objects. The seeking mind (which is the egoic mind or the functioning of the separate ‘I’ concept), then never emerges and is eventually destroyed through sustained inactivity.

This total Vairagya is where the separate ‘I concept’ never rises and is essentially dead. This is known as destruction of the Mind (Manonasa) or extinction of the vasanas (the habitual egoic tendencies, the extinction of which is called Vasana Kshaya). It is also known as Self-Realisation (Atma Sakshatkara) or Self-Knowledge (Atma Jnana). It is not realisation or knowledge in the traditional sense, as there is not necessarily any knowledge in the mind. Rather it is the non-emergence of egotism (egotism is also known as ignorance or separation, so knowledge is simple the lack of ignorance or the lack of separation). It is also known as Silence (Mauna) or the Absolute (Brahman).

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi gives us a practical definition of Silence here when he states:

‘The Self is that where there is absolutely no “I”-thought. That is called silence [mauna]’ and again he states ‘That state in which the “I”-thought does not rise even in the least is silence [mauna].’

In the same vein Advaita Bodha Deepika states:

‘What is variously described as Knowledge [Jnana], Liberation [Moksha], etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.’

In the Amritabindu Upanishad it is written:

‘When the mind, with its attachment for sense-objects annihilated, is fully controlled within the heart and thus realises its own essence, then that is the Supreme State (Brahman is gained)’

The Advaitic giant, Sri Gaudapada, (Shankara’s guru’s guru) writes in his Mandukya Karika:

‘The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman’ (Chapter 3, verse 35)

Regarding Vairagya and Jnana, in the text ‘Who am I?’, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi writes:

‘Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one’s hold on the Self constitutes jnana (knowledge). But really vairagya and jnana are one and the same.’

Later in the same text, ‘Who am I?’, he writes:

‘It is pleasant under the shade of a tree, and scorching in the heat of the sun outside. A person toiling in the sun seeks the cool shade of the tree and is happy under it. After staying there for a while, he moves out again but, unable to bear the merciless heat of the sun, he again seeks the shade. In this way he keeps on moving from shade to sun and sun to shade.

It is an unwise person who acts thus, whereas the wise man never leaves the shade: in the same way the mind of the Enlightened Sage (Jnani) never exists apart from Brahman, the Absolute. The mind of the ignorant, on the other hand, entering into the phenomenal world, suffers pain and anguish; and then, turning for a short while towards Brahman, it experiences happiness. Such is the mind of the ignorant.’


May these teachings, through repeated hearing and contemplation, grow in your hearts and mind and give rise to stillness of mind and eventually Mauna, that is Self-Realisation itself.

May vairagya and viveka grow and blossom into timeless Jnana!

Tat Tvam Asi!

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Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

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🙏🙏🙏
❤️❤️❤️

Also see: What is the relationship between Desire and Realisation?

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!

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Shankara the scriptures will never allow duality

Shankara bondage is mere thought

Shankara bondage is a mirage

Shankara no seeker no liberation

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. Sri Ramana Maharshi also wrote a version of this verse.

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. Sri Ramana Maharshi also wrote a version of this verse himself which can be found as verse B28 in the text Guru Vachaka Kovai.

What do you think of this verse?

Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi

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In this article we will look at a Buddhist text that deals with the last step of the Noble Eightfold Path, Samma Samadhi (Right concentration). When we look at the method the Buddha actually prescribed, as written in the Pali texts, we cannot help but notice the similarity to the Yogic and Vedic teachings on meditation and to Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry. (See here for Ramana’s view of the Buddha). As always, if one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

If one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

The earliest written Buddhist teachings come to us in the form of the Pali Suttas, or the Buddhist texts written in the Pali language, and when we read them, one of the most important and most often repeated teachings we come across is the teaching on Samma Samadhi or Right concentration, the final step of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Again and again we find the Buddha exhorting his followers to practice Samma Samadhi.

In the Magga-Vibhanga Sutta (SN 45.8), the Buddha gives an overview of the Noble Eightfold Path and defines in brief what each of the eight steps entails. Here is how he defines Samma Samadhi, or Right Concentration:

And what, monks, is Samma Samadhi?

There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.

With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’

With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This, monks, is called right concentration.

Here the Buddha has introduced us to the Pali word Jhana, which is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word Dhyana. Interestingly (for me, at least), it is from the word Dhyana that the Chinese word Ch’an comes, which in Japan became known as Zen, and as Son in Korea. All these words mean essentially mean meditation.

In Yoga and Vedanta traditions, the word Dhyana refers usually to concentrative meditation in which one’s attention is made to focus on some kind of object, gross (eg. a physical object) or subtle (eg. the breath or a sound/mantra), in order to eventually turn the attention away from body mind and world. This in turn allows a different aspect of one’s consciousness to come naturally into focus, namely pure consciousness which is devoid of objects/phenomena. This is called Samadhi in yoga and vedanta. This Samadhi ‘experience’ is not a usual experience, as it is devoid of objects that can be experienced, and cannot be understood without entering into it and ‘experiencing’ it first hand. This process of turning away from body/mind/world and experiencing pure consciousness is the hallmark of the Vedic method of meditation, as described in the Vedas (Gayatri mantra), the Upanishads, the Yoga sutras, The Bhagavad Gita (See chapter 6 for the main exposition), the agamas and various subsequent Advaita Vedanta texts (ie. the Prakarana Granthas – see Panchadasi or Vivekachudamani). Here is a brief quotation from the authoritative Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10:

When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahman].

Similarly we see the same teachings from Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi, see here for an example.

Now the Buddha uses the same equivalent word as Dhyana, but in Pali: Jhana. The Jhanas are often taught as being states of concentration and absorption, and as I stated above, the Buddha repeatedly encouraged his followers to take up this practice. There are typically said to be 8 or 9 Jnanas, depending on how you want to divide them up, and when combined with the teachings on wisdom (Panna in Pali, Prajna in Sanskrit), they are said to lead to nirvana, or total and complete liberation from suffering.

Now let us look at one of the main Buddhist texts that deals with the Jhanas and how to access them, the Jhana Sutta. The Buddha states that the ending of the mental defilements (Pali: Asava) depends on the Jhanas. It should be noted that the ending of the Asava, or mental defilements, is tantamount to total liberation (nirvana), the ending of suffering (Dukkha) or what in early Buddhism is known as becoming an Arahant.

My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

The Jhāna Sutta  (AN 9:36)

First the Buddha makes it clear that liberation, or ending of the Asava, depends on attaining the Jhanas, or absorptive meditative states:

“I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana… the second jhana… the third… the fourth… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.

The Buddha then tells us how to enter the first Jhana. We should turn away from sense pleasures, from negative qualities, our thought should be one-pointed and we should remain mindful:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

The Buddha proceeds, in what could be thought to be a very Vedic way of phrasing things. Of course, it is actually also a very Buddhist way of phrasing things too, the two paths being so similar in many ways: first he identifies all phenomena that appear in our experience/awareness – these are the five Buddhist skandas (ie. form, sensation, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness), which are loosely similar to the five koshas of vedanta.

Secondly he applies the Buddhist teaching of the 3 marks of existence to them (ie. (1) they are temporary, (2) attachment to them causes suffering, and (3) they are not-self).

And thirdly, lastly, and most crucially, he advises one turns the mind away from these phenomena and ‘incline his mind to the property of deathlessness’, what in Vedic teachings would likely be termed the Self (Atman) or the Absolute (Brahman).

“He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness [ie. the five skandas], as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self [i.e the three marks of existence]. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'”

In the last sentence of the above paragraph, the Buddha uncharacteristically uses some positive terminology, ie. describing the absolute/ultimate in positive terms of what it is: he uses the words ‘This is peace, this is exquisite’, expressing the wonder and positivity of this state. Then he, more characteristically, adopts the usual negative terminology which describes the absolute in terms of what it is not: the lack of mental activity, the lack of acquisitiveness, the end of craving, lack of passion, lack of bondage or suffering. It is clear he is referring to nothing else but total and complete liberation, or nirvana.

The buddha continues, this time stating the same teaching again, but preceding it with the metaphor of an archery student. The idea is that through practice, one gets better at entering the Jhanas, just as the achery student improves through practice. The implication is that what at first seems difficult, perhaps impossible at first, such as highly developed archery skills, becomes possible and second-nature with repeated practice. Everyone can do this.

We also have to think why the Buddha chose an archer specifically to demonstrate this idea of the importance of practice. The other aspect of the archery metaphor is that the archer is one-pointed in intent, having picked a single target and focussing in on that, and over time and after correctly applying themselves, eventually is able to hit the bulls eye – they reach the goal of nirvana through having a clear aim, focus, practice and concentration:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Now we see another important phrase: ‘Staying right here’. The Buddha points out, just as in the vedic scriptures, that this state is to be abided in. Abiding in this state leads to the end of the mental defilements. In Vedic or Vedanta terms we could say that Abiding as the Self leads to the destruction of the vasanas (habitual mental tendencies):

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana] . Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.”

(Similarly with the second, third, and fourth jhana.)

So basically the Buddha is saying that either all of the mental defilements will be destroyed through this practice of the first four Jhanas, and thus lead directly to liberation, or some of the mental defilements will be destroyed, leading to becoming a one-returner, ie. someone who is to born once more in a heavenly realm where they will then attain nirvana without being reborn a second time.

The teaching then repeats for the the remainder of the Jhanas. The next three Jhanas (Jhanas 2-4) are covered using the same wording as above. The last five Jhanas, also called the formless Jhanas, have a subtly different wording, as follows:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite space,’ enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

We can see that the basic teaching is the same. The emphasis now is not on form (which is not mentioned – only the latter four of the five skandhas are now mentioned), but on ‘complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form’ and disappearance of resistance, and ignoring any thoughts or notions of multiplicity. This about a deep letting go in which effort and duality are both let go of.

The teachings continues is the same way as with the first four Jhanas above:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space [the fifth Jhana]. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana]. Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.

(Similarly with the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness [the sixth Jhana] and the dimension of nothingness [the seventh Jhana].)

For the last two of the nine Jhanas, the Buddha recommends you receive direct teachings yourself from someone who has mastered these already:

“Thus, as far as the perception-attainments go, that is as far as gnosis-penetration goes. As for these two dimensions — the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception [the eighth Jhana] & the attainment of the cessation of feeling & perception [the ninth Jhana, sometimes said to be Nirvana itself] — I tell you that they are to be rightly explained by those monks who are meditators, skilled in attaining, skilled in attaining & emerging, who have attained & emerged in dependence on them.”

Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi (stillness of mind), Manonasa (destruction of mind), and Liberation

Shankara shankaracharya

The following are quotes from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani on the Mind, samadhi (stillness of mind), manonasa (destruction of mind) and it’s relationship to moksha (liberation). There are many false teachings around, so I hope you find these teachings to be helpful and instructive.

Vivekachudamani is one of the most important in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. Attributed to Shankara, for centuries it has traditionally been used as a practice manual for seekers of spiritual liberation. Many mahatmas (great souls) have considered this text to contain all that is required to know in order to attain liberation.

Swami Chinmayananda, that great Sanskrit scholar and traditional teacher of Advaita Vedanta, said Vivekachudamani contained the distilled wisdom from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita and presents it in a systematic readable form for a seeker of liberation, in which both ‘the goal and path are exhaustively dealt with’. He wrote of Vivekachudamani that ‘no other help is needed’ other than this text on the quest to liberation.

A very young (and already enlightened) Sri Ramana Maharshi also translated the entire text into Tamil for the benefit of his companions and devotees who were unable to read Sanskrit, in what was perhaps Ramana’s first spiritual work. 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 himself wrote an introduction to his own translation and in it he said that Vivekachudamani explained ‘in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path’ and also that Vivekachudamani contained the essence of Shankara’s commentaries on the triple canon of Vedenta (Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Brahma Sutras), in an easy to read form.

Indeed, there is nothing in Vivekachudamani that cannot be found in the Vedantic triple canon.

Also see Shankara: How to Meditate for Self-Realisation

So here is some of what Shankara says about Mind and Liberation, my comments are in italicised red:


The mind is ignorance

First Shankara equates mind with ignorance, saying they are one and the same, hinting the mind must be destroyed (manonasa), a theme that is taken up again later on:

169. There is no Ignorance (Avidya) outside the mind. The mind alone is Avidya, the cause of the bondage of transmigration. When that is destroyed, all else is destroyed, and when it is manifested, everything else is manifested.

Shankara in these next two verses repeats that mind is synonymous with ignorance and the cause of bondage or suffering.

179. Man’s transmigration is due to the evil of superimposition, and the bondage of superimposition is created by the mind alone.

180. Hence sages who have fathomed its secret have designated the mind as Avidya or ignorance, by which alone the universe is moved to and fro, like masses of clouds by the wind.

The mind (ie. ignorance) creates the world

Then he states the world is but an illusion projected by the mind, like a dream:

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.

This is essentially equating the mind with maya.

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.

172. Clouds are brought in by the wind and again driven away by the same agency. Similarly, man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and Liberation too is caused by that alone.

177. The mind continually produces for the experiencer all sense-objects without exception, whether perceived as gross or fine, the differences of body, caste, order of life, and tribe, as well as the varieties of qualification, action, means and results.

Stay away from the mind

Shankara warns the seeker to stay away from the mind:

176. In the forest-tract of sense-pleasures there prowls a huge tiger called the mind. Let good people who have a longing for Liberation never go there.

Manonasa (destruction of the mind)

Shankara teaches us that the mind eventually must die, and the method of how to do this:

277. The Yogi’s mind dies, being constantly fixed on his own Self.

What happens when we do not follow this teaching?

309. Even though completely rooted out, this terrible egoism, if revolved in the mind even for a moment, returns to life and creates hundreds of mischiefs, like a cloud ushered in by the wind during the rainy season.

325. If the mind ever so slightly strays from the Ideal and becomes outgoing, then it goes down and down, just as a play-ball inadvertently dropped on the staircase bounds down from one step to another.

326. The mind that is attached to the sense-objects reflects on their qualities; from mature reflection arises desire, and after desiring a man sets about having that thing.

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

502. How can there be merits and demerits for me, who am without organs, without mind, changeless, and formless – who am the realisation of Bliss Absolute? The Shruti also mentions this in the passage “Not touched”, etc.!

Shut out the world, focus attention on Brahman

327. Hence to the discriminating knower of Brahman there is no worse death than inadvertence with regard to concentration. But the man who is concentrated attains complete success. (Therefore) carefully concentrate thy mind (on Brahman).

328. Through inadvertence a man deviates from his real nature, and the man who has thus deviated falls. The fallen man comes to ruin, and is scarcely seen to rise again.

335. When the external world is shut out, the mind is cheerful, and cheerfulness of the mind brings on the vision of the Paramatman. When It is perfectly realised, the chain of birth and death is broken. Hence the shutting out of the external world is the stepping-stone to Liberation.

339. To realise the whole universe as the Self is the means of getting rid of bondage. There is nothing higher than identifying the universe with the Self. One realises this state by excluding the objective world through steadfastness in the eternal Atman.

The need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi

Shankara, over many verses, makes it clear that the mind must be totally stilled in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, in which there is awareness present without thoughts and other objects:

341. To the Sannyasin who has gone through the act of hearing, the Shruti passage, “Calm, self-controlled.” Etc., prescribes Samadhi for realising the identity of the universe with the Self.

Shankara drums home the necessity of Samadhi over many verses, here using the phrase ‘barring those’ to clearly state that only through nirvikalpa samadhi can egotism be destroyed (and liberation attained). He makes it clear that in nirvikalpa samadhi no objects/phenomena will be present, and there will be ‘no oscilation of mind‘.

342. Even wise men cannot suddenly destroy egoism after it has once become strong, barring those who are perfectly calm through the Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Desires are verily the effect of innumerable births.

344. …But the victory is undoubtedly (complete and) free from obstacles when there is no oscillation of the mind due to the unreal sense-objects.

The term Samadhi refers to a state of mind that is stilled but also aware and not asleep:

353. When the Atman, the One without a second, is realised by means of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi, then the heart’s knot of ignorance is totally destroyed.

354. Such imaginations as “thou”, “I” or “this” take place through the defects of the Buddhi. But when the Paramatman, the Absolute, the One without a second, manifests Itself in Samadhi, all such imaginations are dissolved for the aspirant, through the realisation of the truth of Brahman.

355. The Sannyasin, calm, self-controlled, perfectly retiring from the sense-world, forbearing, and devoting himself to the practice of Samadhi, always reflects on his own self being the Self of the whole universe. Destroying completely by this means the imaginations which are due to the gloom of ignorance, he lives blissfully as Brahman, free from action and the oscillations of the mind.

Shankara again stresses the importance of Samadhi, stating those alone are free or liberated.

356.Those alone are free from the bondage of transmigration who, attaining Samadhi, have merged the objective world, the sense-organs, the mind, nay, the very ego, in the Atman, the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.

The above verse is a rendering from the Amritabindu Upanishad – see here for what the Amritabindu Upanishad states.

357. Through the diversity of the supervening conditions (Upadhis), a man is apt to think of himself as also full of diversity; but with the removal of these he is again his own Self, the immutable. Therefore the wise man should ever devote himself to the practice of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, for the dissolution of the Upadhis.

Again, Shankara uses the word only to drive home the importance of Samadhi:

360. The truth of the Paramatman is extremely subtle, and cannot be reached by the gross outgoing tendency of the mind. It is only accessible to noble souls with perfectly pure minds, by means of Samadhi brought on by an extraordinary fineness of the mental state.

361. As gold purified by thorough heating on the fire gives up its impurities and attains to its own lustre, so the mind, through meditation, gives up its impurities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and attains to the reality of Brahman.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi refers to the complete absence of ‘mind waves’ or modifications of consciousness, in which there is only pure awareness or consciousness present devoid of thoughts and perceptions. Again and again Shankara states that it is Samadhi of the Nirvikalpa variety (ie. no thoughts and no objects) that leads directly to self-realisation :

362. When the mind, thus purified by constant practice, is merged in Brahman, then Samadhi passes on from the Savikalpa to the Nirvikalpa stage, and leads directly to the realisation of the Bliss of Brahman, the One without a second.

363. By this Samadhi are destroyed all desires which are like knots, all work is at an end, and inside and out there takes place everywhere and always the spontaneous manifestation of one’s real nature.

How much clearer can Shankara make the case for the essential practice of Nirvikalpa Samadhi?

364. Reflection should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing, and meditation a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection, but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.

Shankara continues to stress the importance of the thoughtless aware state of samadhi, or, to put it more simply, being still of mind:

365. By the Nirvikalpa Samadhi the truth of Brahman is clearly and definitely realised, but not otherwise, for then the mind, being unstable by nature, is apt to be mixed up with other perceptions.

Drown or destroy the mind by turning away from the world and fixing in on Brahman

Drowning the mind implies its death, meaning the death of ignorance. As Shankara has already equated mind with ignorance, this is the same as manonasa (destruction of the mind) and the same as self-realisation:

366. Hence with the mind calm and the senses controlled always drown the mind in the Supreme Self that is within, and through the realisation of thy identity with that Reality destroy the darkness created by Nescience, which is without beginning.

375. The extremely dispassionate man alone has Samadhi, and the man of Samadhi alone gets steady realisation; the man who has realised the Truth is alone free from bondage, and the free soul only experiences eternal Bliss.

376. For the man of self-control I do not find any better instrument of happiness than dispassion, and if that is coupled with a highly pure realisation of the Self, it conduces to the suzerainty of absolute Independence; and since this is the gateway to the damsel of everlasting liberation, therefore for thy welfare, be dispassionate both internally and externally, and always fix thy mind on the eternal Self.

377. Sever thy craving for the sense-objects, which are like poison, for it is the very image of death, and giving up thy pride of caste, family and order of life, fling actions to a distance. Give up thy identification with such unreal things as the body, and fix thy mind on the Atman. For thou art really the Witness, Brahman, unshackled by the mind, the One without a second, and Supreme.

378. Fixing the mind firmly on the Ideal, Brahman, and restraining the external organs in their respective centres; with the body held steady and taking no thought for its maintenance; attaining identity with Brahman and being one with It – always drink joyfully of the Bliss of Brahman in thy own Self, without a break. What is the use of other things which are entirely hollow?

379. Giving up the thought of the non-Self which is evil and productive of misery, think of the Self, the Bliss Absolute, which conduces to Liberation.

Continuously meditate on Brahman

380. Here shines eternally the Atman, the Self-effulgent Witness of everything, which has the Buddhi for Its seat. Making this Atman which is distinct from the unreal, the goal, meditate on It as thy own Self, excluding all other thought.

381. Reflecting on this Atman continuously and without any foreign thought intervening, one must distinctly realise It to be one’s real Self.

382. Strengthening one’s identification with This, and giving up that with egoism and the rest, one must live without any concern for them, as if they were trifling things, like a cracked jar or the like.

383. Fixing the purified mind in the Self, the Witness, the Knowledge Absolute, and slowly making it still, one must then realise one’s own infinite Self.

384. One should behold the Atman, the Indivisible and Infinite, free from all limiting adjuncts such as the body, organs, Pranas, Manas and egoism, which are creations of one’s own ignorance – like the infinite sky.

398. When the mind-functions are merged in the Paramatman, the Brahman, the Absolute, none of this phenomenal world is seen.

More on Samadhi

Again, Shankara says we must end the mind (Manonasa):

407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.

408. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is something of the nature of eternal Knowledge and absolute Bliss, which has no exemplar, which transcends all limitations, is ever free and without activity, and which is like the limitless sky, indivisible and absolute.

409. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is devoid of the ideas of cause and effect, which is the Reality beyond all imaginations, homogeneous, matchless, beyond the range of proofs, established by the pronouncements of the Vedas, and ever familiar to us as the sense of the ego.

410. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is undecaying and immortal, the positive Entity which precludes all negations, which resembles the placid ocean and is without a name, in which there are neither merits nor demerits, and which is eternal, pacified and One.

411. With the mind restrained in Samadhi, behold in thy self the Atman, of infinite glory, cut off thy bondage strengthened by the impressions of previous births, and carefully attain the consummation of thy birth as a human being.

Shankara again makes it clear that when he speaks of Samadhi, he is speaking of that aware state in which there are no objects or ‘limiting adjuncts’ present:

412. Meditate on the Atman, which resides in thee, which is devoid of all limiting adjuncts, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thou shalt no more come under the round of births and deaths.

480. Concentrating the mind for some time on the Supreme Brahman, he rose, and out of supreme bliss spoke as follows.

More on Manonasa

Manonasa (destruction of the mind), a synonym for moksha, is declared by this scripture:

481. My mind has vanished, and all its activities have melted, by realising the identity of the Self and Brahman; I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

502. How can there be merits and demerits for me, who am without organs, without mind, changeless, and formless – who am the realisation of Bliss Absolute? The Shruti also mentions this in the passage “Not touched”, etc.!

Ajata (‘unborn’)

Here Shankara repeats the line found in Guadapada’s Karika, which itself is a repetition of the Upanishadic verse:

574. There is neither death nor birth, neither a bound nor a struggling soul, neither a seeker after Liberation nor a liberated one – this is the ultimate truth.

True vedanta

This is the true vedanta:

575. I have today repeatedly revealed to thee, as to one’s own son, this excellent and profound secret, which is the inmost purport of all Vedanta, the crest of the Vedas

Also see:

FALSE VEDANTA – a warning from Shankara

False enlightenment

Advaita vedanta scholars and false teachers

Shankara: characteristics of a perfected sage or Jnani

Shankara shankaracharya

Om!

Praise to Sri Shankara!

Praise to those custodians of this wonderful knowledge and teaching!

Praise to the Self,

One and supreme in all its effulgent glory!

May we all be happy and free!

May we all realise the Self!

Om!

In his text Vivekachudamani Shankara writes 18 verses describing the Jnani (literally ‘knower’ or ‘one who knows’) or perfected sage, starting at verse 535. My comments are in blue throughout.

Unattached and self-satisfied:

In these first few of these verses, the theme is a lack of attachment to the phenomenal world. Shankara uses phrases such as ‘he is neither grieved nor elated by sense objects’…’neither attached nor adverse to them [sense objects]… ‘without anxiety or humiliation’…’without fear’…’unattached to external things’…’experiences all sorts of sense objects as they come’. We can see that while the sage is (naturally) unattached, there is also no attempt to be detached either (which would actually be a form of attachment or striving).

Often detachment from sense-objects is emphasised at the level of a seeker engaging in sadhana (spiritual practice), but now there is no ignorance, there is no need to emphasise either detachment or attachment. A natural state of balance has been naturally achieved now the distorting/unbalancing effect of ignorance is no longer at play:

535. Satisfied with undiluted, constant Bliss, he is neither grieved nor elated by sense-objects, is neither attached nor averse to them, but always disports with the Self and takes pleasure therein.

536. A child plays with its toys forgetting hunger and bodily pains; exactly so does the man of realisation take pleasure in the Reality, without ideas of “I” or “mine”, and is happy.

In these above 2 verses, it is interesting to note that the flip-side of natural detachment is a natural resting in the ‘undiluted, constant Bliss’ of the Self. The Sage, completely satisfied by the self, does not notice or mind the suffering of the body. The resultant natural side effect of this is lack of both attachment and aversion to sense objects. Note that this means there is no need for supression of emotions or feelings or fear of any other phenomena.

The next 2 verses comment on the free-living aspect of the Jnani. The jnani is without self-image and finds the earth to be their home. Being without self-image, they do not necessarily dress or look a certain way (‘wears no outward mark’), and they allow what comes to come, and what goes to go. This last point is the same as stating there is no attachment or aversion to sense objects, and in verse 538 it is compared to the innocence of a child:

537. Men of realisation have their food without anxiety or humiliation by begging, and their drink from the water of rivers; they live freely and independently, and sleep without fear in cremation grounds or forests; their clothing may be the quarters themselves, which need no washing and drying, or any bark etc., the earth is their bed; they roam in the avenue of the Vedanta; while their pastime is in the Supreme Brahman.

538. The knower of the Atman, who wears no outward mark and is unattached to external things, rests on this body without identification, and experiences all sorts of sense-objects as they come, through others’ wish, like a child.

You can’t tell a jnani by clothes, behaviour, sex or age:

539. Established in the ethereal plane of Absolute Knowledge, he wanders in the world, sometimes like a madman, sometimes like a child and at other times like a ghoul, having no other clothes on his person except the quarters, or sometimes wearing clothes, or perhaps skins at other times.

The sage can enjoy sense objects, but fundamentally cares not for them:

540. The sage, living alone, enjoys the sense-objects, being the very embodiment of desirelessness – always satisfied with his own Self, and himself present at the All.

The many appearances of a Jnani:

Not caring one iota for self-image, the Jnani may appear in multiple forms, but cares not about whether they are a king or a pauper, well revered or despised:

541. Sometimes a fool, sometimes a sage, sometimes possessed of regal splendour; sometimes wandering, sometimes behaving like a motionless python, sometimes wearing a benignant expression; sometimes honoured, sometimes insulted, sometimes unknown – thus lives the man of realisation, ever happy with Supreme Bliss.

542. Though without riches, yet ever content; though helpless, yet very powerful, though not enjoying the sense-objects, yet eternally satisfied; though without an exemplar, yet looking upon all with an eye of equality.

The ‘eye of equality’ naturally arises when one does not prefer one set of sense-objects (ie. experiences) over another set. This lack of preference naturally occurs when one realises the Self and is satisfied as the Self.

The next verse juxtaposes the relative (doing, experiencing, possessing a body, limited)  with the absolute (inactive, untouched, unidentified, omnipresent), indicating that we can speak of reality using either set of langauge:

543. Though doing, yet inactive; though experiencing fruits of past actions, yet untouched by them; though possessed of a body, yet without identification with it; though limited, yet omnipresent is he.

The next verse goes one step further, showing that in truth the Jnani is nothing but the absolute in which there is not even the idea of a body, despite the appearance of one appearing:

544. Neither pleasure nor pain, nor good nor evil, ever touches this knower of Brahman, who always lives without the body-idea.

545. Pleasure or pain, or good or evil, affects only him who has connections with the gross body etc., and identifies himself with these. How can good or evil, or their effects, touch the sage who has identified himself with the Reality and thereby shattered his bondage ?

Just as the sun appears to be ‘swallowed’ and destroyed when it sets, a jnani appears to have a body and act. In reality, just as the sun is not ‘swallowed’ or destroyed at sunset, the jnani is ever-bodiless, as are all of us. It is only ignorance that makes us believe otherwise:

546. The sun which appears to be, but is not actually, swallowed by Rahu, is said to be swallowed, on account of delusion, by people, not knowing the real nature of the sun.

547. Similarly, ignorant people look upon the perfect knower of Brahman, who is wholly rid of bondages of the body etc., as possessed of the body, seeing but an appearance of it.

549. As a piece of wood is borne by the current to a high or low ground, so is his body carried on by the momentum of past actions to the varied experience of their fruits, as these present themselves in due course.

This next verse employs the beautiful imagery of comparing the Self to a pivot on a potter’s wheel. Whilst the pedal on moved, the pivot remains stationary, just as the two ends of a sea-saw move, but the pivot remains still amidst the movement. Similarly, whilst this world-appearance seems to be full of motion, the Self/Jnani is eternally still, at peace and free:

550. The man of realisation, bereft of the body-idea, moves amid sense-enjoyments like a man subject to transmigration, through desires engendered by the Prarabdha work. He himself, however, lives unmoved in the body, like a witness, free from mental oscillations, like the pivot of the potter’s wheel.

Next the imagery of a passive witness or ‘unconcerned spectator’ is utilised.  This is to convey the point that the jnani is without egoic or volitional desire (‘unconcerned’, without ‘the least regard’) but is aware (‘spectator’):

551. He neither directs the sense-organs to their objects nor detaches them from these, but stays like an unconcerned spectator. And he has not the least regard for the fruits of actions, his mind being thoroughly inebriated with drinking the undiluted elixir of the Bliss of the Atman.

The Jnani cares not about meditation or any other sadhana. The Jnani has transcended ignorance, meditation and sadhana only being required as a remedy for ignorance. When ignorance is no longer present (ie. seen to never have been real), and when the egoic tendencies (vasanas) to identify as a ‘me’ or body-mind have gone, then what need is there for meditation? Just as what need is there to prepare and implement a cure when the disease has now gone?

552. He who, giving up all considerations of the fitness or otherwise of objects of meditation, lives as the Absolute Atman, is verily Shiva Himself, and he is the best among the knowers of Brahman.

The Jnani is only ever Brahman (there is only Brahman), regardless of appearances that may suggest otherwise:

553. As an actor, when he puts on the dress of his role, or when he does not, is always a man, so the perfect knower of Brahman is always Brahman and nothing else.

For the entire text of Vivekachudamani click here.

Om!

Praise to Sri Shankara!

Praise to those custodians of this wonderful knowledge and teaching!

Praise to the Self,

One and supreme in all its effulgent glory!

May we all be happy and free!

May we all realise the Self!

Om!