The Ultimate or Highest Truth according to the Upanishads

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

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

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

Here is the verse:

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

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

What do you think of this verse?


Q. Are we not simultaneously a person AND everything?

Q. The thing here is… we (Brahma) incarnated on this planet as 7.4 billion people and countless animals and plants and the planet itself. Brahma chose to be us, in different bodies and different personalities and different life stories and ultimately, these bodies and personal identities will end, but while we are incarnated in our current forms, are we not looking for the “middle path” as we make our way through the world? We are individually and collectively Brahma and Atman simultaneously.

I understand and fully comprehend everything that Sri Ramana Maharishi is saying [in these quotes] . But I get the sense that you are inviting people to abandon their egoic sense of self (Atman) in favor of identifying as Brahma. The middle path IMHO is when one can hold both illusions (or ultimate truths depending upon your perspective) in mind simultaneously. When you are at work and a patient or coworker says “Dr. Tom Das” you don’t ignore them or say something confusing like “I am not this body, I am not this name, I am pure conscious awareness disguised in human form” you go ahead and answer to your name. You and other people who have experienced awakening and not ended up in a no-self dissociative state continue to have an ego. It’s how you and everyone else navigates this world. I don’t find it particularly useful to deny the continued existence of this ego.

You ARE Tom Das and simultaneously, you ARE everyone and everything and everywhere and everywhen. I don’t see the Atman / Brahman as an either/or decision. It’s NOT a case of mutually exclusive choices. We can and ideally are a mixture of both. Deny the existence of Tom Das all you want but you will still answer to your name and show up and fulfill your roles in life and at work. Repeated denials that you are Tom Das seem even sillier than an actor on the stage repeatedly telling the audience “I am not really Hamlet.”

Tom: I agree it is not about abandoning one view for another – that is more duality, more ego, more ‘me’. What you have written is also not the middle way, which is about not being attached to any conceptions of self, at least according to Nagarjuna.

The teachings, as I have explained before, are pointers that tend to aim at removing ignorance, not truths.

The view you are advocating is called Vashisthadvaita in the Vedic texts in which multiplicity is acknowledged to co-exist with Brahman, whereas the views coming from myself and Ramana in the above quotes are advaita (no multiplicity) at times and ajata (no creation) at other times.  Traditionally the non-dual teachings proceed from dvaita (duality) to vashisthadvaita, to advaita to ajata, so you will find all 4 types of expressions in the scriptures and from the sages.

Traditionally the non-dual teachings proceed from dvaita (duality) to vashisthadvaita, to advaita to ajata, so you will find all 4 types of expressions in the scriptures and from the sages.

The first 2 of the views (Dvaita and Vashisthadvaita) can be understood by the mind and seem to make sense within the subject-object reality that is imagined to be real by the ‘me’ or ‘ego’. The fact that they are understandable and they do somewhat relieve suffering makes them valuable teachings to the seeker (ego), whereas Advaita and Ajata cannot be comprehended by the mind and makes no sense to the mind which only  can think in terms of subject-object.

If everyone thinks an actor is only Hamlet, and they don’t realise he is an actor playing the role, the teaching ‘I am not Hamlet’ becomes more important, which is why these teachings tend to be emphasised. You could say I appear to be Tom Das, and there is no need to deny this, but in reality there is only the Inexpressible This.


Defining duality (the dualistic paradigm)

Duality, in the context of the spiritual search, implies the existence of a separate ‘me-entity’, which we could call the seeker. And the seeker, is seeking something, a goal of some kind, which we could call Enlightenment or Liberation. So here are the two principle elements of the dualistic paradigm, a seeker and a goal to be reached.

The seeker (or subject)

The seeker can go by various names, such as the separate self, false self, ego, egotism, the ‘me’, being a ‘person’, the doer, the body-mind entity, being a mortal, and so on, but all these terms refer to the same essential seemingly separate seeker-entity.

The sought (or object/goal)

Similarly the goal being sought goes by various names such as Enlightenment, Liberation, Nirvana, God, Spirit, Brahman, Self, Awakening, and so on. Now of course the the specifics of the imagined/projected goal differs depending on one’s conditioning and experiences, but for the purposes of outlining the principles of duality in the spiritual search, we can leave it at this rather than explore all the various notions of Enlightenment.

The seeking (or path/process/method)

These two basic elements of duality, the seeker and the sought, imply a third entity, namely a path to be traversed, a method or system of spiritual enlightenment. So we now have three basic elements of the dualistic paradigm: the seeker, the method/path of seeking, and the sought.

Dyads and triads

In vedanta, the two basic elements of duality are sometimes known as dyads (ie. subject-object duality), and the three elements are called triads (ie. subject-process-object eg. knower, knowing, known). Sri Ramana Maharshi in his short text ‘Reality in Forty Verses’ (Ulladu Narpadu in Tamil) wrote in verse 9 ‘Dyads and triads depend upon one thing: the ego…’)

What about non-duality?

What about non-duality? Well non-dual expressions or teachings point out that these dyads and triads are all in fact fictions. There is no seeker or sought, or you could say there is only the seeker (eg. ‘all this is Self’, Self essentially meaning ‘me’, or ‘You are That’), or there is only the sought (eg. there is only Liberation, Liberation being the goal being sought), or you could equate the seeker with the sought (eg. I am Brahman, My nature is the Buddha nature). In all the above cases, the idea is that the dualistic paradigm, as outlined above, is a total fiction.

Deconstructing the (false) dualistic-paradigm

Now, if you look at the above paragraph, you can see several related methodologies emerging, all of which work slightly differently to produce the same end results of deconstructing the (false) dualistic conceptual paradigm:

1) Denial of the seeker/sought or subject/object duality
2) Resolving/merging all into the seeker/subject
3) Resolving/merging all into that which is sought/the goal. This is another way of stating that the goal one is seeking is already fully here and already one with everything.
4) Equating the seeker/subject with the sought/goal

In the methodological path of Vedanta, we can see all these methods in operation. Here are  some examples:

1) ‘There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practicing disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.’ We find this verse repeated in the Upanishads (Amritabindu Upanishad 10 and Atma Upanishad 2.31) and it is also repeated by Gaudapada (Mandukya Karika 2.32) and Shankara (Vivekachudamani verse 574) in their writings.

2) In Vivekachudamani, verse 356, Shankara writes: 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 self, ie. merged everything into the subject], the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.

3) ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma’ is a vedic mahavakya (great saying) taken from the Chandogya Upanishad (verse 3.14.1) which means ‘All of this is Brahman’, Brahman being the goal being sought.

4) ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ is another mahavakya, this time from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (verse 1.14.10) which means ‘I (the subject) am Brahman (the goal sought)’.

In other teachings, we see one or more of these methods of deconstruction of the dualistic paradigm, but we can also see that some teachings focus in on only one of the 4 above methods. eg. some teachings focus on stating there is no limited entity (1) or all this is already perfectly liberated and nothing needs to be done (3). You see, any single method, taken all the way to its logical end, reaches the same goal, and the teachings themselves self-deconstruct. Only the words used differ.

Self-Deconstructing teachings

Why do and must the teachings eventually self-deconstruct? Because they too are part of the dualistic paradigm, the paradigm that presupposes a seeker-seeking-sought triad or seeker-sought dyad.

Doctrines and dogma

However, if the teachings are not taken to their final end, in which they eventually self-deconstruct, then the seeker may be left with a belief such as ‘there is no seeker’. We can term these beliefs dogma or doctrines. They are concepts mimicking a genuine ‘direct realisation of non-duality’. One person  may believe ‘I am everything’ while another person believes ‘there is nobody here’. One person may believe there is no path, no seeker, no enlightenment, while another may state the only way is to merge all phenomenal objects into the Self-Subject. Now, armed with merely superficial concepts, we can argue about which of these doctrines or dogmas is true. Now we have a group of various false selves, all caught up within the (fictional) dualistic paradigm.

Such are the various traps of conceptual teachings when the teaching itself is not realised to be within the dualistic paradigm. Clinging to the words without the genuine realisation they point to means that the menu becomes more important than the meal.

A truly non-dual teaching?

So we can see that ALL teachings are dualistic, even the so-called non-teachings, and ALL teachings utilize fictions, at least initially, and your favourite non-dual teaching is no exception!

It’s just a matter of degree: some teachings are far less dualistic than others and point the way out directly and efficiently, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are better teachings, whereas others take a different route, which actually may be more helpful than the more direct teachings at certain points on the journey.

For example:

-Pointing out teachings or descriptions of what-is and teaching of any kind all imply duality. What is being pointed out (subject), and to whom (object)? Non-duality doesn’t need a teaching.
-To compare different teachings to each other is dualistic.
-To call one teaching truly non-dual and another dualistic is itself dualistic and relativistic, obviously.

Not that there is anything wrong with apparent duality!

Oneness Being

So either ALL teachings/expressions/non-teachings are dualistic….or alternatively one could say that ALL teachings are essentially non-dualistic, as non-duality is all there ‘is’!

To have it any other way would be dualistic, and duality is a fiction!

Another way of putting is that there are not really lots of different teachers and teachings at all – although that is how it may appear from within the fictional dualistic paradigm – there is only Oneness Being ❤


You are innate divine power

You are innate divine power. You are naturally free. You are self-fulfilled: You need nothing to complete You.

Nothing can harm You. You, the essence, ever remain the same, unacting, unmoving, whole, unscathed and untouched.

You, pure consciousness, are one with everything and all-pervading, yet no individual object is You, the divine essence.

Discerning self from non-self, knowing this, realised your true nature as you. Then rest here, as the unacting, all-pervading, untouchable, self-fulfilled Self.

When this knowledge is firm, letting go of all thoughts, even thoughts of ‘I am That’, etc, simply be still and abide as the Self (ie. that which is denoted by ‘You’ above).

In the above lines, the first 3 paragraphs are when the teaching is verbally explained and listened to by the seeker (Sravana, which means listening in Sanskrit). This is the first step of the teachings in which the concepts of the teachings are delivered and explained by a teacher and thereafter retained by the seeker.

In the 4th paragraph the verbal teachings are contemplated (Manana in Sanskrit) by the seeker. This is the second step of the teaching and this eventually culminates in an experiential realisation or understanding of what the teachings are pointing towards. The conceptual understanding that occurs through Sravana has now been transformed into a direct experiential understanding through examining ones direct experience in light of the conceptual teachings.

In the last paragraph the verbal teachings themselves are transcended once the ‘I am the body-mind’ concept is no longer present, and the instruction is simply to remain as That (Nididhyasana or meditation in Sanskrit).

It is this last stage that leads to lasting fulfilment and the end of suffering through (1) destruction of the habitual tendency (Vasana in Sanskrit) to identify as a limited entity (ie. ignorance or avidya in Sanskrit) ie.the body-mind) and (2) destruction of the egoic tendencies to seek pleasure and fulfilment through objects (Vishaya Vasanas in Sanskrit), including subtle objects such as experiences and knowledge /understanding /insights /intuitions, all of which are transient and so never lead to lasting satisfaction or lasting peace.

When suffering is no more, this is also known as ‘understanding’ or ‘knowledge’ or wisdom (Jnana), and it is also the culmination of devotional love (Bhakti) and the culmination of the path of meditation or yoga. It is also known as Self-realisation or liberation (Moksha).

Directly pointing out the True Self

Hi everyone

Following lots of positive feedback from both the online and in person meetings over the last 2 weeks, I will continue to go over some essential basic teachings that focus in on directly pointing out one’s True Nature in upcoming meetings, both online and in person.

As always, details of all my events are listed here:

While these pointings are simple, there is something about experiencing them in person with a real-time direct interaction that makes these teachings so especially powerful. There are many teachings you can read in books or watch online, but the pointing out the true nature teachings usually have to be done in person to really hit home. This is why with this teaching I often get comments like ‘I’ve heard the same words before but this time it really made sense!’.

For those of you who already have come this far, we will take the teachings deeper still…

So, do come along to the next meeting if you are able to. If you have never been to a meeting before, I highly encourage you to attend this week’s meeting (London) or the week after (Online). We are going to meet at the Druid’s Head this Thursday at 7pm.

Hope to see you then


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

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

In Vivekachudamani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In another text called Aparokshanunhuti, Shankara describes Vairagya as follows in verse 4: ‘The indifference with which one treats the excreta of a crow – such an indifference to all objects of enjoyment from the realm of Brahma to this world (in view of their perishable nature), is verily called pure Vairagya.’

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

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

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

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

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

25. Acceptance by firm judgement as true of what the Scriptures and the Guru instruct, is called by sages Shraddha or faith, by means of which the Reality is perceived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Aparokshanunhuti

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

4. The indifference with which one treats the excreta of a crow – such an indifference to all objects of enjoyment from the realm of Brahma to this world (in view of their  perishable nature), is verily called pure Vairagya.

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

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

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

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

9. When and how shall I, O Lord, be free from the bonds of this world (i.e., births and deaths) – such a burning desire is called Mumukshutva.

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

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

Jivanmukti Viveka – The path to liberation in this life by Swami Vidyaranya

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

In Chapter 2 he repeatedly makes the point that liberation or jnana cannot occur without both manonasa (destruction of the mind) and vasana kshaya (destruction of the habitual tendencies).

We shall now address ourselves to the means which lead to Jivanmukti (Liberation in this Life). These are Jnana, manonasa and vasana-kshaya.

He states that these three should be practised simultaneously. Throughout this text he quotes extensively from many authoritative texts to back up his view, this time quoting from the wonderful Yoga Vasishta:

Hence, in the Yoga Vasishta, Vasishta says, while dealing with The Body of the Jivanmukta at the end of the Chapter on Supreme Pacification: ‘Oh best of intellects vasasa-Kshaya, Jnana and Manonasa, attended to simultaneously for sufficient length of time, bear the desired fruit…

Vidyaranya then quotes again from Yoga Vasishta emphasising the need to practice these three for and extended period of time:

‘Until these three are not well attended to with sufficient and repeated trials, the Condition [Jivanmukti] can never be realised,  even at the end of a hundred years.’

Here are some more quotes from Chapter 2 of Jivanmukti Viveka:





Vidyaranya no mind.png

Vivekachudamani as translated by Sri Ramana Maharshi

The following text was Ramana Maharshi’s earliest written work, in which he translates the entire text of Vivekachudamani as written by Sri Shankara for the benefit of those who were not able to read Sanskrit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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