Is Self-Enquiry really the only way? | Sri Ramana Maharshi

Tom: Is Self-Enquiry really the only way? Let us see! Bold type has been added by myself for emphasis, and my comments are in red as usual. The following is taken from Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, no. 159, and records a conversation that took place on 29th November 1947:

This afternoon, a devotee asked Bhagavan, “Swami, forgaining Realization, is the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ the only way?”

Bhagavan answered him: “Enquiry is not the only way. If one does spiritual practice (sadhana) with name and form, repetition of holy names (japa), or any of these methods with grim determination and perseverance, one becomes THAT. According to the capacity of each individual, one spiritual practice is said to be better than another and several shades and variations of them have been given. Some people are a long way from Tiruvannamalai, some are very near; some are in Tiruvannamalai, while some get into Bhagavan’s hall itself.

For those who come into the hall, it is enough, if they are told as they step in, ‘Here is the Maharshi’, and they realize him immediately. For others they have to be told which route to take, which trains to catch, where to change, which road to turn into. In like manner, the particular path to be taken must be prescribed according to the capacity of the practiser (sadhaka).

These spiritual practices are not for knowing one’s own Self, which is all-pervading, but only for getting rid of the objects of desire. When all these are discarded, one remains as one IS.

That which is always in existence is the Self — all things are born out of the Self. That will be known only when one realizes one’s own Self.

So long as one has not that knowledge, all that is seen in this world appears as real.

Supposing a person sleeps in this hall. In his sleep he dreams of going somewhere, loses his way, wanders from one village to another, from one hill to another, and during that time, and for days together, searches without food or water. He suffers a good deal, enquiries of several people and finally finds the correct place. He reaches it, and feeling that he is stepping into this hall, greatly relieved, he opens his eyes with a startled look. All this will have happened within a short time and it is only after he wakes up that he realizes that he had not been anywhere.

Our present life is also like that. When the eye of knowledge is opened, a person realizes that he remains ever in his own Self.”

The questioner asked further: “Is it true that all spiritual practices, as is said, merge into the path of Self-enquiry?”

It is said that only he who has the assets of the four kinds of spiritual practice is fit for Vedantic enquiry. Of the four categories of practice the first is the knowledge of the Self and the non-Self (atma and anatma). That means a knowledge that the Self is eternal (nitya) and that the world is unreal (mithya).

How to know this is the question. It is possible to know this by enquiry as to ‘Who am I?’ and what is the nature of my self! Usually this procedure is suggested at the beginning of the spiritual practice, but generally it does not carry conviction. So all sorts of other spiritual practices are resorted to and it is only ultimately, as a last resort, that the practiser takes to Self-enquiry.

The alphabet A B C D E, etc., are learnt while young. If it is stated that these letters are the fundamentals for all education and that there is no need to study for B.A. or M.A., will people listen to such advice? It is only after studying and passing these examinations that it will be realized that all that has been studied is contained in those fundamental letters A B C, etc. Are not all the scriptures contained in the elementary thing, the alphabet? That it is so, is only known after learning by heart all the scriptures.

It is the same with every one of these things. There are a number of rivers, some flow straight, some wind and twistzig-zag, but all of them ultimately become merged in the ocean. In the same way, all paths become merged in the path of Self-enquiry, just as all languages become merged in Silence (mouna).

Mouna means continuous speech; it does not mean that it is a vacuum. It is the speech of self ,identifying with the Self. It is Self-luminous. Everything is in the Self. In Tamil Nad a great person composed and sang a song the purport of which is, ‘We are like a screen, and the whole world appears like pictures on it. Silence is full and all-pervading’.

So saying, Bhagavan was once more silent.

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


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!


Om Shanti Shanti Shanti



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

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. Once these qualities or qualifications have been attained, then you can go on and partake in the main practice itself that leads to liberation (be sure to see the end of this post for details of this).

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 prolonged 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 Aparokshanubhuti, 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 Aparokshanubhuti 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 Aparokshanubhuti 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.

Sri Ramana Maharshi also summarised the entire Vedanta teaching in an introduction to his translation of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani which you can read here.

In Aparokshanubhuti

In his text Aparokshanubhuti, which literally means ‘direct experience’ (paroksha = mediated; aparoksha = unmediated; anubhuti = experience), 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.

It should be fairly clear that if you are correctly performing the third of the four qualifications (ie. the six disciplines consisting of Shama, Dama, Uparati, Titiksha, Shraddha and Samadhana) you need the first qualification (viveka), the second qualification (vairagya) as well as the fourth qualification (mumuksutva), so you can hopefully see how these are all interlinked.

The main practice

So here above are detailed the four so-called qualities or qualifications required to attain liberation. Once the qualifications have been attained, then you can go on and partake in the main essential practice itself that leads to liberation; see these links for more on this: 

Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi and Liberation

Shankara: How to Meditate for Self-Realisation

Now, once you have read the above posts, tell me what you notice about the qualifications required for liberation, and the main practice itself that leads to liberation? If you compare the two, what do you notice? Let me know your thoughts below, best wishes and namaste.

Advaita vedanta scholars and false teachers


The following taken from a traditional vedanta text called Advaita Bodha Deepika (The Lamp of Nondual Knowledge). This text was one of Ramana Maharshi’s favourites and was often recommended by him. This is taken from Chapter 3 which is entitled ‘Sadhana’, or Spiritual Practice, and the bold has been added by myself for emphasis:

Verses 50-51:

Disciple: How is it that even scholars in Vedanta have not succeeded in the pursuit of enquiry?

Master: Though they always study Vedanta and give lessons to others yet in the absence of desirelessness they do not practise what they have learnt.

D.: And what do they do otherwise?

M.: Like a parrot they reproduce the Vedantic jargon but do not put the teachings into practice.

D.: What does Vedanta teach?

M.: The Vedanta teaches a man to know that all but the non-dual Brahman is laden with misery, therefore to leave off all desires for enjoyment, to be free from love or hate, thoroughly to cut the knot of the ego appearing as `I’, you, he, this, that, mine and yours, to rid himself of the notion of `I’ and `mine’, to live unconcerned with the pairs of opposites as heat and cold, pain and pleasure, etc., to remain fixed in the perfect knowledge of the equality of all and making no distinction of any kind, never to be aware of anything but Brahman, and always to be experiencing the Bliss of the nondual Self.

Though Vedanta is read and well understood, if dispassion is not practised, the desire for pleasures will not fade away. There is no dislike for pleasing things and the desire for them cannot leave the person. Because desire is not checked, love, anger, etc., the ego or the `false-I’ in the obnoxious body, the sense of possession represented by `I’ or `mine’ of things agreeable to the body, the pairs of opposites like pleasure and pain, and false values, will not disappear.

However well read one may be, unless the teachings are put into practice, one is not really learned. Only like a parrot the man will be repeating that Brahman alone is real and all else is false.

D.: Why should he be so?

M.: The knowers say that like a dog delighting in offal, this man also delights in external pleasures. Though always busy with Vedanta, reading and teaching it, he is no better than a mean dog.


Sometimes, when the firm understanding of no-self first comes upon you, it can unleash a vast reservoir of energy, especially if this understanding has dawned in a non-traditional context ie. without preparation of the body-mind.

That energy comes into and animates the body-mind, and energises it.

Sometimes negative, destructive, addictive and hedonistic habitual tendencies (vasanas) can be enhanced due to that injection of energy. We may feel negative or even euphoric, depending on the pre-existing conditioning.

Beware of this. Here the teachings on dispassion (vairagya) become more important than the insight (into no-self) teachings which have already begun to hit home.

Remember not to get involved or get carried away by such thoughts, desires, feelings and behaviours. Do not indulge in this (ego-) energy. The old ignorant habitual tendencies are still at play even though insight (into no-self) is here, and the suffering and potential destructiveness caused by them still has not been eradicated.

Instead continue to take up and press on with your sadhana: relax, remain calm, be still, allow all to come and go, be unattached, be as you are, until all the vasanas have gone. Then the sadhana will also go.

(please note, the title of this post is meant to be ironic!)

Ramana Maharshi: Is renunciation necessary for Self-realisation?


Visitor: Is renunciation necessary for Self-realisation?

Bhagavan: Renunciation and realisation are the same. They are different aspects of the same state. Giving up the non-self is renunciation. Inhering in the Self is jnana or Self-realisation. One is the negative and the other the positive aspect of the same, single truth.

Bhakti, jnana, yoga — are different names for Self-realisation or mukti which is our real nature. These appear as the means first. They eventually are the goal.

So long as there is conscious effort required on our part to keep up bhakti, yoga, dhyana, etc., they are the means. When they go on without any effort on our part, we have attained the goal.

There is no realisation to be achieved. The real is ever as it is. What we have done is, we have realised the unreal, i.e., taken for real the unreal. We have to give up that.  That is all that is wanted.

Visitor: How has the unreal come? Can the unreal spring from the real?

Bhagavan: See if it has sprung. There is no such thing as the unreal, from another standpoint.

The Self alone exists. When you try to trace the ego, based on which alone the world and all exist, you find the ego does not exist at all and so also all this creation.

(The above excerpt is from Day by Day with Bhagavan, page 87)

Tom’s comments:

Here in the above passage we find three central facets of Bhagavan Ramana’s teachings.

1. Firstly the non-self must be given up or let go of. By non-self, it is meant everything that is perceived. This includes the entire mental realm of thoughts, feelings and imaginings as well as the so-called physical world of the body and objects – i.e all experiences. This is the way the term is used in classical advaita vedanta. By given up it is meant do not be attached, or let go of all appearances. Allow all to come and go in your being.

Initially this renunciation or letting go is something you do, a practice, or as he states above, ‘the means’. Eventually this becomes natural as the habitual tendency (vasana) to identify with the non-self is dissolved through the practice (sadhana). At this point, when the vasanas have been removed, this is realisation.

2. Secondly Bhagavan then reminds us that realisation is not something to be attained. Realisation is who we are, it is our very nature, it is always and already here, so why do we need to attain that which we already are? (We don’t!). We just have to give up the wrong ideation we have, namely the fixation on the non-self and taking ourself to be the body-mind. When we give up everything, the only thing we lose is our illusions, that which is false. That which is real, the Self, can never be lost, and it is ever-realised.

3. Thirdly, when Bhagavan is asked about how the unreal can come from the real, bhagavan states in reality the unreal never was. The self alone is. Here he briefly describes his teaching of self-enquiry, namely that when you try to find the ego, you cannot find it. He then, in very concise form, states that the appearance of the world is dependent upon the false belief in ego. When the ego cannot be found and has been seen to be non-existent, you also realise that the world too is non-existent, that the entire thing is an illusion. This too is realisation! This too is renunciation of non-self! This too is jnana, bhakti and yoga!

Of note, the first point I mentioned above dealing with removal of vasanas is the purification part of the teaching, in which we let go of non-self or ‘the world’ (including the mind and body) through spiritual sadhana (practice), at least initially. Points two and three refer to what I call the insight aspect of the teachings in which the unreal is seen to be false or non-existent. These two aspects of the teachings go together beautifully, with insight naturally leading to renunciation (letting go of non-self/abiding as self) and sadhana enhancing insight and abiding as self and removing the vasanas (habitual tendencies) towards ignorance (of self) and taking hold of non-self.


Stay uninvolved

Below is a post I wrote on Facebook for which I ended up receiving a fair bit of criticism. I also received a lot of praise too. For this post I’ve focussed on the criticism as this is where the discussion lies – at the end I have added some of the criticisms, questions and clarifications from other readers that arose from this post. What do you think?

Your job is not to get involved with life. Stay out of it. Don’t get involved with the drama. Don’t get involved with life.

Allow the body and mind to do what it needs to do to get by, survive and be healthy. Take care of your responsibilities. No need to get involved. No need to identify as the images/appearance we call the body-mind. Allow the body and mind to come and go as it pleases.

The temptress Maya will try her best to get you back and involved you in her (evil) ways. She will try to seduce you with many things. These are your tests. You success will be judged by how well you are able to stay uninvolved.

Thoughts will come your way and give you apparently convincing logical and robust reasons why you must enter life and become involved with life’s ways. Maya tries to draw you back in in many ways. She is very convincing but ultimately has no actual power unless you concede your power to her.

Through all of this, your job is to just be. Relax. No need to push anything away. Allow all to come and go in this illusory and divine play that is supposedly our life. Allow maya to fill you up and run straight through you, you remaining totally unaffected, unaffected and uninvolved.

Only if you are able to overcome Maya’s seductive ways are you considered eligible and worthy for Self-Realisation. Walk bravely and survive this test through non-involvement. Only then are you deserving of receiving That Peace beyond all conditions which is already Your True Nature. It is already All-That-Is. In reality, there is only That.

Q: What is wrong with maya?

Tom: she is perfect as she is.

Q: …Including one’s drive to engage with it fully, coming full circle…

Tom:  It depends on what you mean by engage with it fully, but the ego usually doesn’t want to hear these teachings and instead tries to cling to the life it thinks it has. In that sense, continuing to engage with life can be a great way to stay stuck in illusion and suffering. It’s why all the great traditions say look within and consider the world to be empty. They are pointing out that running after worldly things and ‘engaging with life’ will never lead to the fulfilment the heart desires.

By the way, ‘perfect as she is’ means there is no need to ‘get involved’.

Q. Won’t this lead to spiritual bypassing?

Tom: If there is no supression/repression (of emotions), and things are allowed to arise naturally and be felt, there will be no emotional bypassing. Rather, what needs to be healed will rise to the surface, what needs to come out will come out 

Q.  I absolutely agree with you… but the whole challenge is about practising the “wisdom” … I fail miserably!
Tom: You cannot fail if you sincerely try. Just relax, be happy and allow stillness to arise.

Comment: Wonderful. God’s light shines through you! Ironically, I just read this by Robert Adams:

Let the world do what it does. Do not judge it. Do not condemn it. Do not love it. Do not hate it. Observe it. Watch it. But leave it alone. As you lose attachment to this world. The attachment to what we call God grows and grows.

Find your self. Look to yourself. Dive deeper, deeper within your self. Try to understand who you are by diving deep within yourself. Do not look to the universe. Do not look to things. Look to your Self. Only you can know yourself. No one can really help you.

Q. So no social involment? So no opening of the heart, no kindness, no empathy, no compassion

…remembering what said once Ch. Namkhay Norbu : “There is no difference between a Buddha and a herd of pigs”. Very deep insight, indeed, but when he is sick he goes to see the doctor. It is not selfish, it is, of course, for the transmission of the sacred teachings. So things are important without to be important but still are important without being important. Last words of Hassan I Sabba, the chief of the assassins (Haschishins) : “Nothing is real, everything is allowed”. What about playing freesbee with the good boy? 🙂 Freedom of choice, freedom of feeling. Just a matter to do one’s own thing. There will be volumes of sharp reasonnings proving that one is right and volumes of as sharp reasonnings proving that one is wrong.

Tom: Nice one. One post cannot capture everything, of course. There are many facets to this, so it seems. Opening of the heart, kindness, empathy and compassion all arise naturally when the ego is not. They are all natural manifestations of the natural state. As you mentioned Namkhai Norbu, let me ask you: are the 6 paramitas ultimately different from rigpa/dzogchen?

Comment: Nonsense! If “there is only That,” then passionate involvement is also That. You’re advocating for a dualistic paradigm while claiming to represent nonduality. Can’t have it both ways. The only way this position does make sense is if we interpret “stay uninvolved” non-literally. That is, we interpret it to mean that we always know “there is only That” even while we’re in the midst of passionate involvement in the world.

Tom: You make a good point. Initially it starts off dualistically – eg. be still, be uninvolved, let go, etc. These are all things for a ‘separate self’ to do. And this is how the spiritual search always starts. Then it can progress to ‘know you are that stillness’ or ‘know there is only that and all this is that’. This is the insight part of the teachings. Then from that knowing, relaxation emerges and stillness deepens. This is the purification part of the teachings, something often missed out in many contemporary expositions. Then eventually all is given up and any notion of ‘you’ disappears. This is surrender and being consumed by the divine. At this point the very idea of a teaching, such as my post above, is a joke. How can this ever be taught or put into words? Yet this is how the story apparently goes: from duality to non-duality, then realising that too was illusion 

Q.  I like that way of looking at it. Thanks, Tom. I suppose the trouble with a declarative-style post on Facebook is that people at every stage in the story will see it, and it may not be appropriate for all.

Tom: Yes, I agree, thank you.

Q. Bollocks. During my professional life I got totally involved and was very happy, while I also loved my wife, played tennis and golf and downhill skiing, travelled, enjoyed my dogs.So no.

Tom: This post, like all teachings, is a finite expression at a single point in time, and although I concede it is written in directive language, it will not be right for everyone. If what you write above works/worked for you then great. I am genuinely happy you have had/are having a nice life.

Q.  I have to be passionate about feeding my children and getting them into school. It won’t just happen if I stay “uninvolved”.  (Do you have children?). But similarly, on some level, I have to be passionate about transcending duality (as much as a drowning man wants air, Nisargadatta and others have said). So this passion and need for involvement are not unnecessary. Passion itself is a divine expression, whether it be to advance a worldly aim or to advance beyond the world.

Tom: My advice is to experiment with this for yourself. It’s easy to say things like ‘we need to be involved’, and of course this is true on one level, but that is approaching the words from an analytical/thinking point of view instead of taking them as practice instructions (or a suggestion as how one can practice).

Instead try to put the words into practice and see what happens. Experiment with the above. You will (perhaps) find that outwardly most everything carries on as before. You still do the school run, you still may have political views or meet up with and interact with society and your loved ones. Or perhaps many things will drop away (this often happens).

But at the same time we start to find a peace that lies amidst everything. The school run, once so tiring and grueling, suddenly becomes much easier (I do have children btw!). It can start quite small, but suddenly life starts to get easier, things start to flow. We may not understand why, but peace starts to infiltrate our life.

As peace comes in, we relax and let go. Whilst being totally uninvolved in life, we are simultaneouly in the thick of life. The appearance of the body continues to act. It’s like magic really. I hope that makes sense.

This is not philosophy or something to think about, but a call to action: to let go of and release our sense of restricted self and let go of our negative habitual tendencies and addiction to both thought and the world. As we let go, we start to see that the belief that we are the body-mind is an illusion, our minds attain natural calm and peace dawns. Life becomes a play of the Divine and we cannot but surrender to Him (Her/It) perpetually in Gracious Stillness. Namaste 

Q. I do see what you’re saying Tom. Is it what the ancient texts call “act without being attached to the results of your actions”? Because I think that might be a clearer way of expressing it than saying “stay uninvolved” – which opens itself up to misunderstandings and unnecessary objections.

Tom: Try it and let me know if there is a difference.

Q. Thanks for the clarification. I can see how being uninvolved with thought, or uninvolved with habitual tendencies can be helpful. But not so sure about “uninvolved with life?”. There are many who are uninvolved with life who are certainly not uninvolved with duality.

Tom: Sure. As I said, the teaching is not philosophically complete, nor is it intended to be. Instead, if you resonate, try to implement the teaching as much as is practical for you and your life. I’ve just added the phrase ‘Take care of your responsibilities.’ to the 2nd paragraph following this discussion. Many thanks to you. Ironically, the teaching is born through interaction 

Comment: This idea is completely unintegrated with ordinary human life in the world….and an awakened life need not be and ultimately cannot be…especially at this point in history where so much suffering calls for the mindful response and even skillful activism of people who live in presence.  Sorry, But this is not a good post Tom. Very misguided, disappointing and even harmful.

Tom: Hi XXX, thanks for speaking your mind on this, something I welcome very much. It would be helpful to me if you could explain what exactly you found to be misguided, disappointing and harmful and why. Many thanks.

Comment:  the idea that we need not or are somehow spiritually better off to not be engaged in life and the implication that ordinary life is somehow not “really real” and so unimportant enough for us to simply ignore……is a grave though quite common, misconception about what an awakened life looks like.
It is true that living in constant anxiety about life is not helpful and calls us to a deeper discovery of the surrender that is already within us….But being truly and unconditionally PRESENT to life also means allowing a skillful response to life to arise in our hearts and to function and act through us. And in some cases, this response to life is very active and engaged.

You seemed to be saying that the best approach is to not care anything for everyday phenomenal life in the world and to remain unengaged …..At least that is what I took away from your post. And from my perspective that is really encouraging irresponsibility and a rather insensitive attitude. And I am sorry, but that is harmful Tom. 

Tom: I hear what you are saying here, and it can sound like that when thought about. However when it is practiced it can be quite different in reality. My experience is that when life is approached with this attitude, a deep letting go can take place, peace dawns, and engagement with life by the body-mind may very well happen (or may not). As the ego is effaced, clarity and love arise in its place and these acts quite naturally by themselves when required. This is not the sentimental love, but something else…The clarity that can arise through this kind of practice is really quite astounding and the ego can be revealed to be totally illusory. Such freedom here!

The non involvement I talk of is mainly on the level of the mind and doesn’t necessarily preclude a busy involved life, although it may for some. I don’t recommend reliquinshing family or responsibilities in general. I also value ethical principles such as the golden rule, sound physical and mental health and often recommend counselling and professional help where applicable – I’ve found these not only improve one’s quality of life, but greatly enhances and quickens the spiritual journey: ie. the letting go of egoic and addictive tendencies and insight into no-self comes much more easily. I hope that clarifies my position.

Comment: Thank you…..that really does clarify your position and I appreciate and agree with that completely. For some reason I did not take this away from the original post and that is why I responded as I did.

Comment: What you are saying Tom is a complete misunderstanding of Vedic Text my dear brother. Consider this text: “The Lord is the seer, and the EXTERNAL ENERGY which is seen, works as BOTH cause and effect in the cosmic manifestation. This external energy is known as maya or illusion, and through her agency only is the entire material manifestation made possible.” (Srimad Bhagavatam) Krishna also calls it “My Yoga Maya” To deem Maya evil is surely mistaken, as Maya is considered the chief power of the Lord itself! It is the dynamic aspect of God.

At the same time I resonate with what you are trying to say: Mainly, stay uninvolved with the intense impulse to manipulate, coerce, and squeeze this dynamic aspect of God into a narrow self-serving vision.

Tom: Thanks for your comment and also for your later comment trying to see where I am coming from on this – much appreciated. I don’t think what I am writing is a misunderstanding of the vedic texts, but it is only part of the deal (a very important part for most) that is being stressed here. This kind of writing emphasising tyaga and vairagya is found throughout the vedic texts dealing with self-realisation (ie. the jnana kanda) and is an essential part of their methodology. In vedanta and buddhism there are many scriptures repeatedly saying how vile the body is and how we should turn away from the world. This, much like parts of my post, is rhetoric to drive the point home. It is not to be taken as philosophical truth, rather a guide to practice, and very helpful it can be too. Yoga Vasishtha talks about this in detail, as do more recent Jnani’s such as Ramana Maharshi. Shankara states this attitude is a pre-requisite for liberation as does the Srimad Bhagavatam that you yourself quoted from. See here for an example:…/20/the-ultimate-means-to-liberation/

In fact, indifference to the world is the flipside of turning towards God, at least initially. Later on (much much later on for most), when the ego has been eschewed, all is seen to be One, but at that point there is no need for a teaching as all has been seen to be One and resolution has been ‘achieved’. But if we start saying all is one without negating the ego-world or turning towards the divine aspect, then all we have is an ego claiming all is one: suffering continues and the true depth insight never dawns. This is one reason why renunciation is so valued in all the scriptures of the great traditions of the world. My personal experience is that sharing this style of teaching allows the divine to pour in much more readily as the attachments have been wonderfully effaced. Ramana talks about this here:

I’ve always loved the gospels and I’ve been collecting some quotes of Jesus recently. I know you have affinity for the gospels too, so I hope you don’t mind if I add them here. Consider Jesus when he says the following in the Gospels – why does he say the following if all is God, if all is already One?:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 1 John 2:15-17 or

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and EVEN HIS OWN LIFE, he cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:26 or

“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:33 or

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23-24) or

“Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”James 4:4 or

“He [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.'” Matthew 16:23 or

One day Jesus invited a man to follow Him and become His disciple—but the man refused. He said he would follow Jesus later, but first he wanted to go bury his father. Jesus responded, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” Matthew 8:22.

So, if all is one, why did Jesus value renunciation to such a high degree? His renunciation is much more extreme than suggested in my post, and he embodied an extreme renunciation in his life.

If you read it, what I have written above in the OP is not much different to practice instructions such as ‘be still’, or ‘be the witness’ or ‘surrender everything to the feet of the Lord’ or ‘rest as the I AM’. Blessings to you 

Comment: Hi Tom, in your elaboration above (thanks to various comments being placed) you demonstrate in my opinion a thorough understanding of how teachings work and a willingness to apply what is necessary when it is necessary – skillful means.

Wouldn’t you agree, that one of the ‘pitfall hallmarks’ on the spiritual journey is for a traveler to become overly identified with the particular part of the process they are in and when insight in that phase happens then there is the belief or assumption ‘this is it’ and then a focus which is exclusively on that tends to happen and inevitably any sharing becomes critical of anything different thinking ‘that’s not it’.

My view is that when this happens, it’s a display that someone’s ‘current truth’ has become the teaching without the holding of a broader perspective of what a teaching really is, what teachings really are – a process, requiring different means at different times along the way. It’s blatantly obvious that many different teachings say different things, even within a single teaching there are often many seeming contradictions, and yet, in practice they often act in unison supporting each other, dovetailing into one another, and taking over where another left off. The attitude amoung teachers and teachings would be better one of universal brotherhood where the whole is seen as needed and supporting the growth of everyone including the teachers and seekers.

If criticism of a teaching is lobed, it’s often because there has been a projection by the critic whereby the teaching pointers have been interpreted to have the intention of conveying ‘a truth’. And as I see it, what you are saying in the initial post, as far as I can tell having regard for your broader teaching, is not conveyed with the belief that it is ‘truth’ but with the understanding of how teachings work and what they are. If someone says it’s invalid it’s most likely because they have made the mistake of mistaking a concept as ‘truth’ (their interpretation and mistake of what you’re saying, and in my assessment this dynamic is forced to happen when they are mistaking what they are saying as ‘truth’).

Every concept has its opposite concept.

If it’s all seen as a bunch of concepts and not ‘truth’, then who cares what other people put forward as a teaching, it’s not truth, it’s part of a very magical and mysterious transformation process in which there is undoubtable trust if one has been ushered through it, this even if occasionally we slip into forgetting this and being critical of other teachings.

This issue of mistaking concepts for truth is not an issue confined to the narrow topic of teaching but rather runs deep all the way to the core of our mistaken self identity which is why I felt compelled to comment here, as well as to support what I feel is a very good teaching coming from an impressive understanding.

Keep it up, I know how much time it takes to compile such thorough responses and it’s a testament to you given you also have a family with young kids and full time job as an MD.

Well done Tom.