The Chandogya Upanishad: Tat Tvam Asi

Upanishad vedanta satsang

Tat Tvam Asi is one of the most famous phrases from the ancient upanishadic texts. But what does it mean?

Tat = that
Tvam = thou or you
Asi = art or are
Tat Tvam Asi = That thou art, or thou art that, or you are that

‘That’ refers to the absolute. ‘You’ normally refers to the limited separate body-mind identity  known in advaita vedanta as the jiva, but in this aphorism from the Upanishads it is implicitly declared, via the word ‘asi’, that you are not the jiva but the absolute.

This phrase, Tat Tvam Asi, is repeatedly uttered by Uddalaka to his son Shvetaketu as recorded in the Chandogya Upanishad, and is considered one of the four Mahavakyas (great utterances) of the Upanishads. Below are just two of the teaching exampes it occurs in, taken from sections twelve and thirteen of the Chandogya Upanishad:

Uddalaka: “Bring me a fruit from the banyan tree.”
Shvetaketu: “Here is one, Father.”
Uddalaka: “Break it open.”
Shvetaketu: “It is broken, Father.”
Uddalaka: “What do you see there?”
Shvetaketu: “These tiny seeds.”
Uddalaka: “Now break one of them open.”
Shvetaketu: “It is broken, Father.”
Uddalaka: “What do you see there?”
Shvetaketu: “Nothing, Father.”
Uddalaka: “My son, you know there is a subtle essence which you do not perceive, but through that essence the truly immense banyan tree exists. Believe it, my son. Everything that exists has its self in that subtle essence. It is Truth. It is the Self, and you, Shvetaketu, are that.”
Shvetaketu: “Please, Father, teach me more.”
Uddalaka: “I will, my son,”


Uddalaka: “Place this salt in water, and come back to me in the morning.”
The son did as he was told.
Uddalaka (in the morning): “Bring me the salt you put in the water last night.”
Shvetaketu (after looking): “Father, I cannot find it.”
Uddalaka: “Of course not; it has dissolved. Now taste the water from the surface. How does it taste?”
Shvetaketu: “It’s salty.”
Uddalaka: “Taste the water from the middle of the bowl. How does it taste?”
Shvetaketu: “It’s salty.”
Uddalaka: “Now taste the water from the bottom. How does it taste?”
Shvetaketu: “It’s salty.”
Uddalaka: “Go, throw it away and come back to me.”
He did so, and returned.
Shvetaketu: “But, father, although I have thrown it away, the salt remains.”
Uddalaka: “Likewise, though you cannot hear or perceive or know the subtle essence, it is here. Everything that exists has its self in that subtle essence. It is Truth. It is the Self, and you, Shvetaketu, are that.”
Shvetaketu: “Please, Father, teach me more.”
Uddalaka: “I will, my son.”


Ramana Maharshi: was the Buddha self-realised?

lying buddha.jpeg

Over the years I have heard some people say things such as ‘the Buddha was enlightened, but he was not self-realised’ or ‘the Buddha only had an insight into no-self, but he never discovered the Self’. Both of these imply somehow that the Self-Realisation of the Upanishads is somehow of higher status and fundamentally different to the Nirvana of the Buddha, and that the Buddha was not truly enlightened.

I have noticed that usually this view is put forwards either by academics who have analysed various texts but not fully embraced the traditions, or by religious teachers who teach that their way is the best or only way and tend to be attached to their methodology over and above others.

I remember that when I first came across this view I was quite shocked, as it always seemed obvious to me that both Buddhist and Vedic traditions were pointing at the same things in different ways. In fact all the great self-realised masters I had come across also said the same. Impurities naturally, and perhaps inevitably, creep into traditions as without a genuine realisation, the ego co-opts the teachings and slowly slowly dogma and beliefs form. Therefore teachings naturally reinvent themselves in each culture and age, and we can clearly see this if we study the history of the development of both Vedanta and Buddhism. In fact, there has been so much cross-fertilisation between these two traditions, with each tradition borrowing from the  others at some point, it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart!

The key thing for me is to realise that there exist various different methods by which the Supreme is approached. And, of course, some say there are no methods (you could say this is the method of directly pointing out what is already fully here). When the method has served its purpose, then why cling to the method? The main issue is for ignorance to be removed, and the various teachings serve various ways of doing this:

There is nothing to realise. There is nothing new to gain…On the other hand a man must loose his ignorance. That is all.

Ramana Maharshi, Talks 104

By the way, in the above quote, I assume that by ‘man’, he means any human. Here is what Ramana said about the Buddha and Self-Realisation:

Ramana Maharshi, according to verse 568 of the Sri Ramana Paravidyopanishad, states that the Buddha’s Nirvana is the same as the Self-Realisation that Ramana speaks of:

568. Guru [Ramana] has said that the state of nirvana that was taught by Buddha to be the state in which samsara and suffering are ended is the same as remaining in the supreme state, having discarded all the sheaths.

He reaffirms this in the following verses:

345. The sage Buddha taught this truth; also the great teacher Sankara taught the same; our own Guru [Ramana] also tells us the same; and this is also the essence of the Vedanta.

284. The Buddhas call that the state of right awareness. In it there is neither knowledge nor ignorance. That is the highest state, in which there is nothing, whether sentient or insentient, other than the Self.

So, there you have it: according to Ramana Maharshi, Nirvana = Self-Realization. What’s your view?




lying buddha.jpeg

Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method (Mandukya Upanishad Karika)


Gaudapada is a giant in the history of Advaita, and he is often known as the great-grandfather of Advaita Vedanta. Here in this post I want to focus on the practical aspects of the principle text of Gaudapada, the Mandukya Karika, aimed at the seeker of liberation. What is Gaudapada urging the seeker of liberation to actually do? There are many other aspects of the karika too, such as the metaphysical and philosophical elucidations, but maybe I will save discussion of these for a future post.

Gaudapada (c. 6th century CE) was the great-guru of Shankara (788-820 CE), ie. he was Shankara’s guru’s guru. And for those of you who don’t know, Shankara is the person who made the word non-duality (Sanskrit: Advaita) famous. It was he who brought together various texts and propped them up with logic and scriptural arguments and essentially systematised and founded what is today known as Advaita Vedanta.

While we know very little about Gaudapada and his life, he is famous for writing a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad called the Mandukya Karika or Gaudapada’s Karika. Whilst Gaudapada was not a Buddhist, it is clear that he drew heavily on Buddhist teachings in the karika, often using near exact copies of some Buddhist phrases in his writings, and much of what he writes will be very familiar to those who have studied Mahayana Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism.

In my view much of the methodology for spiritual practice as well as the conceptual framework within which Gaudapda forms his views is much more similar to Buddhist thought that any Vedanta scripture that we know of that comes before Gaudapada. Conversely, we have many Buddhist scriptures that in essence give the same practical method for enlightenment as Gaudapada, the only substantive difference with Gaudapada being their philosophical way of interpreting and writing about the nature of reality. Now whilst I have been studying both Vedanta and Buddhism for over twenty years, I still do not consider myself to be an expert on the scriptures, so I welcome any corrections or alternative views you want to put my way.

As an interesting aside, the only copies of the Mandukya Upanishad we have are those which are combined with Gaudapada’s commentary. As no earlier versions without the commentary have been found, this has led some to speculate that perhaps Gaudapada himself wrote the Mandukya Upanishad. Textually and stylistically this seems unlikely, but, like with many upanishadic texts, their precise origins and authorship remains shrouded in darkness.

I thought I’d start with verse 90 of Chapter 4 of Gaudapada’s Karika, as it gives an overview of his approach:

IV 90. One should be conversant, at the very outset, with four things. These are as follows: the things to be avoided, the goal to be realized, the disciplines to be cultivated and the tendencies to be rendered ineffective. Of these four, all except the goal to be realized i.e. the Supreme Reality exist only as products of the imagination.

Gaudapada lists four things we should know from the outset as a spiritual seeker: what we are looking for, what we should do, what we should not do and what habitual tendencies we should get rid of. The supreme reality he is speaking of is none-other than Brahman. This is the goal to be realised, and all else, he states, is illusory. Essentially Gaudapada is saying there appears to be a spiritual path with a seeker and a goal and things to do and things to not do, but actually all there is is reality. The spiritual path is an illusion.

He makes this clearer in this famous oft quoted verse from Chapter 2 verse 32:

II 32. 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.

As we are stuck in illusion, what is the (illusory) way out? What is the (illusory) path we should follow? Gaudapada has already stated that the goal of the search is Brahman. Much of the Karika is devoted to philosophical explanation and reasoning about the nature of Brahman, illusion, cause and effect, duality vs. non-duality, etc, but in the following verses Gaudapada gives us a method we can use, and in doing so he also gives us an experiential definition of Brahman. The following verses are from Chapter 3:

III 40. Yogis who are ignorant of non-duality depend on the control of the mind for attaining fearlessness, the destruction of misery, Self-Knowledge and imperishable peace.

First Gaudapada makes it clear that for one who is not already self-realised or liberated  (‘ignorant of non-duality’), control of mind is the method. What are the fruits of this method? They are fearlessness, the end of suffering, knowledge of the supreme reality and unending peace. That control of mind is required was already stated in verse III.35 in which he writes ‘The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman’ – he is essentially saying that egoic vasanas (habitual tendencies) need to be removed – a point which he will reiterate later in verse III.46 below.

III 41. The mind is to be brought under control by undepressed effort; it is like emptying the ocean, drop by drop, with the help of a blade of kusa grass.

Gaudapada then says that this (illusory) path takes much effort, ie. a spiritual practice is required, and he likens this to using a blade of grass to empty the ocean drop by drop. Whilst Brahman is already fully here and now, an (apparent) path is required to remove (apparent) ignorance. As I said before, this post will not dwell too much on the philosophical aspects, but focus on practical steps for the (apparent) seeker. So how do we proceed on this path?

III 42. The mind distracted by desires and enjoyments should be brought under control by proper means; so also the mind enjoying pleasure in inactivity (laya). For the state of inactivity is as harmful as the state of desires.

Here Gaudapada states we should not be distracted by desire for sensual pleasures and warns us that dwelling in the pleasure of inactivity (laya) is also not the way, for this is actually just another sensual pleasure that fuels the egoic process further.

Already here, for those of you versed in a variety of Buddhist thought, you will see the familiarity in the methodology, in which dwelling on any sense object is pointed out as nothing other than egoic desire. But why should be turn away from these desires? Isn’t desire for pleasure natural and human?

III 43. Turn back the mind from the enjoyment of desires, remembering that they beget only misery. Do not see the created objects, remembering that all this is the unborn Atman.

We see another classic Buddhist teaching here. It is pointed out that seeking pleasure, or ‘enjoyment of desires’, just leads to further suffering. This is akin to the Buddha’s teachings on Dukkha (Pali for suffering). In fact the Sanskrit word here used is ‘Dukkham’, almost paying homage to the Buddha’s teachings. All pleasures come and go, and though they may please us for a short time, eventually they leave us. And when they do, they leave us wanting more, feeling incomplete, addicted to our desire for more and more and more. And so the seeking-suffering, the wheel of samsara, continues

The remedy suggested here is to see all this as the ‘unborn Atman’, and not to see the objects themselves at all.

What problems may we encounter on this path, and how do we remedy them?

III 44. If the mind becomes inactive, arouse it from laya; if distracted, make it tranquil. Understand the nature of the mind when it contains the seed of attachment. When the mind has attained sameness, do not disturb it again.

This verse mimics the Buddhist scriptures we see detailing various Buddhist meditation methods, in which remedies for both inactivity and distraction are advised so that the meditator can find that still point of equanimity. Again, the idea is of neither slipping into the dull state of laya with all its bliss and laziness (tamas), nor being hyper-agitated and enamoured with thoughts and the world (rajas), and this attaining peace (sattva).

Are there any further stumbling blocks on this path?

III 45. The yogi must not taste the happiness arising from samadhi; he should detach himself from it by the exercise of discrimination. If his mind, after attaining steadiness, again seeks external objects, he should make it one with Atman through great effort.

The instructions Gaudapa give us are extremely concise, and each of these terse verses could be unpacked in much greater detail. Here the seeker is warned not to become attached to happiness, which is nothing other than another subtle object. Seeking objects in order to gain fulfillment is a sure way of perpetuating the ego-illusion together with its addiction to feeling good.

The second sentence also highlights another important aspect of the teaching, namely that even after steadiness of mind is attained, there can be a lapse back in to delusion/ignorance, where the ego and it’s object-centred desires raise their head. The remedy for this is continued practice. Avoid this step at your peril.

What about when the mind no longer falls back into egoic desire or laya?

III 46. When the mind does not lapse into inactivity and is not distracted by desires, that is to say, when it remains unshakable and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman.

Here we are given a pragmatic definition of self-realisation or Brahman – ie. when ignorance no longer remains, when the mind no longer deviates and follows egoic desires, where the grasping mind has essentially died.

To put this into vedanta-speak, Gaudapada is equating realisation of Brahman with removal of the egoic vasanas, something reiterated by Shankara when he famously wrote vasana kshaya moksham, which means ‘destruction of the vasanas is Moksha (liberation)’.

So I will end this post here. The actual instructions are few, and for those with faith they can easily be followed. Be patient – remember – slow and steady wins the race. Re-read the above verses a few times so they sink in, and best wishes.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

See also:
The ‘Ultimate Means’ to Liberation
False Enlightenment

Q: How do I ‘turn within’ or ‘turn towards the Self’?

Q: How do I ‘turn within’ or ‘turn towards the Self’?

Tom: There is no turning within. Turning within is just a turn of phrase! Everywhere you turn is outside. You may think you are turning within, but wherever you focus is outside. Everything you focus on is actually a subtle object, and all objects are ‘outside’, meaning non-self. All objects are seen.

How can you turn towards the seer? The seer can never be seen. By that I mean the seer can never be seen as an object. The seer is the Subject. The Subject is you.

Self knowledge simple means knowing that you exist, knowing that you are.

Ignorance is identifying as this or as that, meaning identifying as one of the myriad objects that are seen.

So, how to turn within? Just don’t chase objects, and don’t identify as objects.

You could say ignorance has 2 steps:

Step 1: identifying as this or that. This creates a false notion of self, also known as ego or the jiva

Step 2: that ego/jiva then seeks pleasure and security in the world of objects.

In Step 1 we create the structure or form of the ego. Step 2 represents the movement or function of the ego. So we have described the ego’s form and function, its structure and movement. Step 1 is rectified by insight teachings, step 2 is resolved by purification teachings.

Most teachings attack either the ego-function or the ego-form, and ‘Turning within’ can attack either function, form or both.

So, be free and easy, be as you are


See this video for more on this:


Ramana: quoting other scriptures and the role of the Guru

Ramana Maharshi sitting

One of the many things I admire about Ramana Maharshi is that he didn’t try to re-invent the wheel. He used to frequently refer people to traditional texts if it was relevant to their path, and even translated a number scriptures into Tamil for those who were unable to read or understand classical Sanskrit.

For me this was really brought home to me when reading Ramana’s Supplement to 40 Verses on Reality. This is a collection of 40 verses that Ramana composed, except that he didn’t compose all of the verses himself. Several were taken from other scriptures, but, I assume, as they said what he wanted to convey, he just copied the verses and gave the reference of where he took them from.

Here are the first 5 verses of Ramana’s Supplement to 40 Verses on Reality. Note how he places emphasis on the role of the guru and the guru’s power to lead those around him/her into freedom through darshan:

Verse 1

In the company of sages, attachment vanishes; and with attachment, illusion. Freed from illusion, one attains stability, and thence liberation while yet alive. Seek therefore the company of sages.

from Bhajagovindam by Shankaracharya


Verse 2

Not by listening to preachers, nor by study of books, not by meritorious deeds nor by any other means can one attain that Supreme State, which is attainable only through association with the sages and the clear quest of the Self, 

from Yoga Vasishta


Verse 3

When one has learned to love the company of sages, wherefore all these rules of discipline? When a pleasant, cool southern breeze is blowing, what need is there for a fan? 

from Yoga Vasishta


Verse 4

Fever is overcome by the cool light of the moon; want, by the good wish-yielding tree; and sin by the Holy Ganges. Those three — fever and want and sin — all flee at the august sight of the peerless sage.

from Subhashita Ratna Bhandargara, chapter 3 verse 6


Verse 5.

Holy rivers, which are only water, and idols, which are made of stone and clay, are not as mighty as the sages. For while they make one pure in course of countless days, the sage’s eyes by a mere glance purify at once.

from Srimad Bhagavatam, Tenth canto, chapter 48 verse 31


❤ Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya ❤



Spiritual enlightenment: powerful teachings from Robert Adams


Robert Adams (1928-1997), who I think I can rightly call a devotee of Ramana Maharshi, taught in his later years in the USA. From what I’ve read of his teachings, they are incredibly similar to the verbal teachings of Ramana Maharshi, and also have a sense of openness, precision and clarity.

I’ve trawled through a few of his writings and put together some excerpts that I hope will be of benefit to the seeker of spiritual enlightenment. This is not meant to represent the complete scope of Robert Adam’s teachings, but just to highlight some key points that leapt out to me as I read through. I particularly concentrated on the role of thought in Robert Adam’s teachings.

I have bolded some phrases that seemed important to me and also interspersed some very brief comments in red. Again, I hope this is of benefit to you.


Firstly, some teachings about ‘no thoughts’, which will be expanded upon later on. In the initial quotes Robert says ‘no thoughts’, but in the later quotes he explains exactly what this means.

Sitting here quietly, peaceful, without thoughts then you are the unblemished Self. The ultimate reality, this is you right now. As soon as you start thinking about it, it goes away, it changes, it’s not you any longer, it’s your humanhood. So when I say to adore your Self I am referring to adoring yourself as God, as the ultimate reality which is really you. But if you think of yourself as a human being with problems who makes mistakes you cannot adore yourself at all. You condemn yourself you put yourself down.


Liberation means that you’re totally and completely free, without thoughts. There are no thoughts in the Self. If there were thoughts in the Self, it wouldn’t be the Self. For the Self is only one and all-pervading. When you become absorbed in the Self, it’s completely different than what you ever believed. It’s not explainable. But as far as you’re concerned, you become totally free, happy, peaceful. There is no longer anyone to argue with or become upset over. This is the Self.

It’s very simple, no thoughts and you’re free.

Now a bit about a method of creating a state in which there are no thoughts:

See what you’re doing now. You’re thinking. That spoils it. Learn to stay without thought. Even if for a few seconds. It’s hard isn’t it. This is the reason you have to ask yourself, “To whom do these thoughts come?” It’s only a modality to cause you to stop thinking. (slight pause)

Some of you are beginning to feel what I’m talking about. No thoughts. Nothing to remember. Nothing to do. When thoughts come to you about your affairs, about your predicament, realize that you have surrendered your affairs and your predicament to the Self and all is well.

In other words there should be no situation that appears strong enough to set you off. Feeling miserable or feeling too happy. No thing should have that power. It’s called the thoughtless state.

It’s really not that hard. Let go. Close your eyes, it’ll help. If you have to do something, observe your breath. But if you can’t, forget about your breath. After all, to whom does the breath come? To the body. Since there is no body there is no breath. Then what is? I-am. What is I-am? Silence. Open your heart, let go. There is no past, no future. No thing can ever harm you. You exist in eternity. Be still. The breath does not exist any longer. There never was a body.

There is only that. Silence.

Your job is to stop thinking. To remove the thoughts. The thoughts are your Master now. That make you feel sad or happy, good or bad. Why do you feel this way? For your thoughts since you were a little kid have been impressed by the world conditions, by your parents, by your school, by your church and they have convinced you and programmed you to believe this is good, this is bad, this is right, this is wrong. Only when you have this are you successful. If you don’t have certain things you are a failure. It is the thoughts that tell you these things. Again if there are no thoughts there is noone left to tell you anything. This is called liberation, moksha, freedom. You begin where you are now. You begin with yourself. You question yourself. You inquire, “Who am I?” You sit in the silence. If thoughts come you inquire, “To whom do they come? You become still.”

When the mind is quiet the thoughts subside. When there are no thoughts there is the self. So all these practices are really to quieten the mind, not for any other purpose. No matter what form of sadhana you’re practicing. Whether you’re a Jnana or bhakta or karmic yoga or anything else they’re really the same. All of these practices are simply to quieten the mind. To make the mind one pointed. When the mind becomes one pointed self-inquiry becomes very easy. Then the mind will disappear completely and you’ll be free.

And what about feelings?

Body sensations are the same as thoughts. As you keep inquiring, “Who am I?” And you stay in the space between the answer, between the question. Then the body thoughts become less and less and the thoughts become less and less, they’re the same thing. The feelings and the thoughts are nothing as you practice sel finquiry. You ask, “Who does this come to? It comes to me. I think this. Who am I?” And when you keep still your body sensations will slow down, as well as your thoughts. And soon there will be no body sensations, there will be no thoughts. There will be nothing. So body sensations are the same as thoughts. T139: Existence Is Not In Form! 1500 When one goes the other goes also. You cannot have body sensations without thoughts. There has to be a thought about a body sensation. So when the thoughts dissipate, the body sensations will also dissipate.

Is no-thoughts the same as self-realisation?

The no mind state is when you’ve come from practicing, to the place in the silence. Where there are no thoughts bothering you any longer. You get there through self inquiry. That is the fastest way. But that is not self-realization. Self-realization is when the mind is pulled into the spiritual heart…

…Liberation, moksha, self-realization is when the mind that’s left over in the silence is pulled completely into the spiritual heart. At that time your whole mind, the I dissolves completely and you are free.

So the no mind state is a very high state. It’s the state of bliss. But there is still somebody left to experience the bliss. When the bliss is pulled into the heart there is no one left to experience anything. Therefore you no longer say, “I’m in the no mind state.” At that time there is nothing to say. Can you understand that?

I’m scared. What will happen if I don’t think?

The thoughts and the ego are synonymous. As the thoughts slow down, the ego slows down, and begins to also disappear with the thoughts. When there are no thoughts, there’s no ego. When there’s no ego, there’s nobody left to think. Then the question you will ask is, “How do I function without thinking?” As I mentioned in the beginning, the sage’s thoughts are like a burnt rope. They appear to be real, but they’re not. In other words, your thoughts are not real. They are false. How do you function without thoughts? Very well, thank you.

Many of you still believe you have to have thoughts to function. You think you’ll become a vegetable, but you will be spontaneous without thoughts. You’ll be motivated by the Self. You will know what to do, where to go, whom to speak to, whom not to speak to, much better than you do now, much, much better. Things will happen to you spontaneously. Everything we always talk about is very paradoxical, and the paradox here is, even though you have no thoughts, you will still think about certain things. It has to be done. But there’s absolutely no thinker alive. There’s no thinker. There is no one left to think, yet you still appear to be thinking about certain things, so you can function. It’s similar to what we were discussing on Sunday. People always ask me, “What do you see? Do you see the world?” Of course I see the world. If I didn’t see the world, I wouldn’t be able to function. But I see the world as the Self. In other words, I see the world as images on reality, like in the movies, the images on the screen. I’m able to see the screen and the images at the same time. I see reality and I see the images. So it is with the thoughts, the same thing with the thoughts. You appear to be thinking, but you’re not thinking. This is a very important point to remember. You will think whatever you have to think about, but the thoughts will be dead, like the burnt rope, like the fan with the plug pulled out, but the blades are still spinning, until they stop.

But can we really stop our thoughts? It that actually possible?

Now really, no Sage on this earth or anywhere else really stops the thoughts. As long as you see a body, and you call that body the Sage, there will always be some sort of thinking in that body, some sort of thought. For instance I can be sitting here and I’ll say to myself “when I go home I’m going to eat a dish of ice-cream”. This is a thought. But what happens when I say it and what happens when you say it?

When I say it, when I think it, it is similar to a burned rope. A burned rope may appear to be strong, but when you pick it up, it turns to ashes. It’s burned. There’s nothing there. When you say it, it is like a real rope, not burned. You give it energy, you give it power. Again when the Sage thinks of something, it is like a fan that has been pulled out of the socket. It’s still turning, but there’s no power. The power is dead. The power has been cut off. In other words, the source of a Saint is dead. The source of the Sage has no power, no power whatsoever. This is why it is said, a Sage does not think. A Sage has no thoughts. What it really means is that the Sage’s thoughts are dead.

When the thoughts are dead, you live in ABSOLUTE REALITY. You live in PURE AWARENESS. When the thoughts are dead you live in SAT-CHIT-ANANDA, in NIRVANA. So what do you have to do to also cease thinking, so the thoughts can become dead? You simply do not attach yourself to the thoughts. By not attaching yourself to the thoughts, by not reacting to the thoughts, by not responding to the thoughts, they lose their power and begin to fade away. Yet do not give them any energy. Do not give them any power. Do not say to yourself, I have to stop my thoughts. Do nothing like this. Just slow down, slow down. Let the thoughts do what they may. Allow the thoughts to go their own way. Do nothing with your thoughts. Do not think about them. Do not fight them. And above all, do not try to stop them. You may think this is so difficult, but it’s not.

It’s like when you first wake up, before the thoughts come. You’re still drowsy from sleep. And when the first thoughts come to you, you hardly pay any attention to them. That’s the attitude to have.  

 A different approach to/clarification of the practice – no need to remove thoughts

It has come to my attention that many of you are trying to stop your thoughts, control your thoughts. You cannot really do this. Trying to stop your thoughts, as Ramana Maharshi says, is like a thief becoming a policeman to catch the thief. In other words, the thief that becomes the policeman will not catch the thief, because he is the thief himself.. And so it is with our minds. When we use the mind to stop the thoughts, the mind will not stop the thoughts at all, because the mind wants to go on living.

Stopping the thoughts is annihilating the mind, and the mind does not wish to be annihilated. The mind wants to live on to fill you full of nonsense, superstitions. Therefore we do not try to stop, the thoughts. What do we really do? We do absolutely nothing. There is really nothing you have to do to make the thoughts cease. Always remember when you do things according to the Sadhanas you’ve learned, the spiritual exercise you’ve practice, the meditations, the yoga. This will make you free for a couple of moments, and then the thoughts will come back to you with full force, knocking you over. You cannot stop the mind or control the mind with spiritual practice.

Again you cause the thoughts to cease by doing absolutely nothing. By being your SELF. And all the scriptures we read, unless the mind stops spinning there will be no realization, no liberation. Only when the mind stops, the thoughts cease to be, is there liberation. Yet we use the words “to stop the mind, to stop, the thoughts”. This is sort of a misnomer. For again you have to use the mind to stop the thoughts, and the mind does not want to do this. It does not wish to cease thinking.

Yet by ceasing to think, you do acquire unalloyed happiness, infinite peace, Divine Bliss. When the thoughts do stop, these verities come forward, and you become free. You do not have to watch the thoughts, analyze the thoughts, be the witness to the thoughts, or observe the thoughts in any way whatsoever. All of these symptoms simply make the mind stronger really.


Ignore the thoughts completely, totally, absolutely. Again, do not fight your thoughts. Ignoring your thoughts is not fighting your thoughts. Do not try to change your thoughts. Above all do not try to stop your thoughts.

What is the best way to deal with thoughts?

It makes no difference if the thoughts are good or bad, they’re both impostors. In reality there are no good thoughts, there are no bad thoughts. We’re not trying to replace bad thoughts for good thoughts. We’re trying to LEAVE THE THOUGHTS ALONE. Not to do a thing about them. I want to make this perfectly clear. This is the highest way to handle your thoughts.

Do not be in conflict with your thoughts and the self. When there is no conflict there are no thoughts. Thoughts only appear because there’s conflict. By conflict I mean, you’re worrying about getting rid of your thoughts, you’re doing sadhana, meditation, pranayamas, japa. All of these things cause conflict. For aren’t you saying, “I’m doing these things to become liberated. I’m doing these things to become free.”

The reason there’s a the conflict is because you’re already free and liberated. Therefore when you give yourself the information that you have to do something to become liberated, there is immediately conflict. This is the only problem you have. It is your conflict. And this conflict comes from programming when you were a child, from samskaras, from previous existence, things that you took with you, the habits that are inside of you, that you believe you are.

This is where the conflict comes from. For it tells you, “I’m just a human being, I’m just a frail body. I have to suffer sometimes, sometimes I have to be happy.” This is all a lie. There never was a you that has to suffer. There never was a you that has to be happy.

Thoughts are an optical illusion:

Do not analyze what I am saying. Do not even agree with what I’m saying. Just be open. Open your heart by remaining still, silent. Allow the thoughts to come, do try not to stop them. Do not judge your thoughts, analyze your thoughts, or try to change your thoughts, or try to remove your thoughts. This will put you back in conflict with your thoughts. Do not even observe your thoughts. Do not even be the witness to your thoughts. Why? Because in reality there are no thoughts. The thoughts that you think you’re thinking, are an optical illusion. It is false imagination. Don’t you see? Everything that you’re thinking about is false. There is no thinker and there are no thoughts. So why have you been practicing all these exercises all of your life? It’s like a person in the ocean going in search for water. Awaken. Be free. Be yourself.

I know it’s difficult for some of you to think that you have to do absolutely nothing to become free, because you’re already free.

No thoughts can liberate you

Just the idea of wanting to awaken is a mistake. Just the feeling that I want to become awake, I want to become self-realized, I want to be liberated, is a mistake, for it’s part of the thinking process, and the thinking process can never liberate you. There are no thoughts that can liberate you. There are no emotions or feelings that can liberate you, awaken you, make you free.

Question: So when you say don’t think, you don’t mean stop all your thoughts. You mean stop identifying with the thoughts that are occurring.

R: Yes. Thoughts come before the thinker comes on the picture.

Question : So is there any point where they stop, where the thoughts do stop?

R: The thoughts do stop, yes, and you just act spontaneously. But they appear like thoughts, but they are no longer thoughts. For instance if I think I’m getting up off this chair, the thought had to come to me spontaneously, but that’s the end. So I’m not really thinking about getting off the chair. I just did it.

Q: That’s like the end, the duration, is no longer present. The thought arose, died, there was no concern.

R: That’s right.

Q: There is no separation between the thought and the action.

R: Exactly. It’s all one.

Q: So really what happened is you lost all sense of division like there was separate thought entities. They come, they end, another one comes, it’s just like, right?

R: There’s no beginning and no end.

Q: So actually non-duality is the real thing, even with thoughts, and what appears to appear is the I or the one concerned with the thoughts, and that’s when duality surges up.

Does a Jnani have thoughts?

Question: Robert I have a problem with this thing about thoughts, ultimately thoughts are the manifestation of the Self. I don’t know if I’m wrong but, if that’s the case the thoughts are non-dual per se. Duality comes only when there is somebody who believes they’re the thinker. So thoughts per se like in the case of the Jnani, he has thoughts but there is nobody to think about? I mean that’s the way I see it.

R: The Self is self-contained and the Self really does not manifest thoughts to begin with. Thoughts are an illusion and like you say, the Jnani does have thoughts. But the thoughts of the Jnani can only goes this far and they stop. But they do not bring on any more karma, they do not disturb the Jnani at all. They have no value whatsoever to the Jnani. The thoughts come very lightly, very slowly, they come and they go, they come and they go. There is no permanent thought. But the thoughts do not come from the Self. The Self is the Self. They appear to come from the Self. Just like the world appears, the body appears, the thoughts appear.

Therefore when you follow the I like we said in the beginning and we realize the thoughts and the body is attached to the I, when the I goes everything else goes. Thoughts go and everything goes. So don’t try to really stop your thoughts, get rid of the I that thinks the thoughts. See the difference? Whenever I tell you stop thinking, I mean catch the I that thinks. Find the source of the I that thinks. And the thoughts will stop by themselves.

Question: Robert, in several traditions I see, I think they talk about realization it comes along with the elimination of thoughts. Is that true or is the thinker which is creating that and thoughts are still happening in the Jnani? Of course I believe that thoughts are happening in the Jnani it’s just that he doesn’t identify with them or he doesn’t think? 

R: That’s true. They like bounce off. The thoughts come and disappear at the same time. They come and they’re gone, they come and they’re gone.

Q: That’s right, you don’t dwell on them do you?

R: Exactly.

Q: But the Jnani or the realized one doesn’t see them as factual things.

R: Indeed that’s right. No the thoughts are just return to nothing. They come and they melt. Like ice. They come and they melt and they go, and they come and they melt and they go.

Q: No clinging whatsoever?

R: No clinging, no attachment.

Q: So that’s what it means, elimination of thoughts?

R: Yes, you can say that. 

Q: Because actually thoughts will always happen, within the nature of things while you are living in this world.

R: It’s not like the thoughts that the average person has. The thoughts that come to me. I realize that they’re not real. So I just look at them and they go away.

Q: So they acquire a new quality?

R: They’re a different quality of thought. But you’re right as long as there’s something present, some part of the body is still present, thoughts come, but they don’t come to me. They just pass through. Like empty mind.

Do thoughts even exist?

In reality there are no thoughts. There is no one trying to stop them. There is no liberation, there is no bondage. There is nothing. You’re using the same nothing to stop your thoughts. Do nothing. Because you are nothing. Nothing plus nothing makes nothing. Can you see why I tell you to do nothing now? Because you’re using your real nature when you do nothing. YOU are your SELF YOU are the ABSOLUTE REALITY when you are NOTHING. Consequently when you are doing something to stop your thoughts, you’re fooling yourself. Nothing will ever happen. Like I say, you will acquire a little peace, that’s it. But by slowing yourself down, saying nothing, hearing nothing, doing nothing, being nothing, your thoughts will stop completely, totally absolutely. And as I mentioned before, you will feel beautiful happiness, peace of mind, bliss, you’ll be free.

Consciousness has no thoughts. (SB: But if consciousness is all there is how can thought be outside of all there is.) Thought is not outside of all there is, thought is part of the ego, part of the non-existence. Thought does not really exist. It’s like the body that doesn’t really exist. And the world does not really exist. And the mind does not really exist. And karma does not really exist. So thought does not really exist.

Q: So the motion doesn’t really exist?

R: Motion doesn’t really exist.

Q: That is why it’s an illusion. It just appears pretty real.

R: An illusion does not really exist.

What about the doer?

Question: And the difference is between those thoughts which have a claim in it and those thoughts which do not.

R: Have a claim?

Q: Yeah, those claims that I’m doing something.

R: You have to realize, “I am not the doer.” And when those thoughts come, ask yourself, “To whom do they come?” And they’ll disappear. Is that what you mean?

Q: No, because you were talking about the thoughts of a Jnani that they had different thoughts and I would take it that those thoughts don’t have any claim of doing?

R: Oh I see what you mean, right. That’s right.

Q: And other thoughts have a claim of doing.

R: Yes.

Q: So there’s a difference between those which have a claim and those which don’t.

R: A Jnani has no attachment to his thoughts whatsoever. They mean nothing, they’re valueless.

Does the ‘illusion of life’ disappear when you are self-realised?

There’s only consciousness and whatever appears in consciousness is an image…Like still life and when you realize who you are, you realize that you are the consciousness and not the still life. And the still life becomes an illusion. But it’s still there. But you’re aware that it’s not reality. You realize that everything is non reality. But it exists as an image in the Self.

Like the images in the mirror. They appear to exist. But you can’t do anything with them, because if you try to grab them you grab the mirror not the image. Consciousness is the same way. When you try to grab anything, you find it’s illusory. It doesn’t exist. Only consciousness exists.

So you ask, what about everything in the room, it appears to be real. That’s part of the dream, it’s part of the illusion. When you have a dream, you dream that everything exists, the world exists, the universe exists, people exist and you’re going through all kinds of periods, problems and delusions, but then you wake up and it’s gone. So when you wake up you laugh, for you realize it has all been a dream and only the Self exists, and you are that.

Does consciousness even exist?

Q: But when you say that consciousness exists that’s looking at it from a relative point of view. In itself consciousness doesn’t have a feeling of I exist.

R: Of course, you’re right. But to explain it you have to use some words…There is no consciousness, there is no existence, there’s no Self. So let’s keep still then.

Final ‘thoughts’!

It is the I, or the thinker, or the knower who has to be eliminated. For in reality there is absolutely nothing to know. If you are all-pervading, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, what else do you want? You’ve got everything. You are everything.

So when you try to know something, you’re making a grave mistake. This is a very important point. Remember this. In Advaita Vedanta, the knower is the last to go. What comes after the knower? Silence! There is nothing else.

The highest path of Jnana is no thinker left to think at all. Nobody is home. There is a total blank. There is no one around to do any thinking or preparing anything or trying to solve a problem or trying to do anything. At that stage you’re totally free.

You always have to think. Why do you have to think? You think you have to think, yet there is no thinker. You think you have to know, yet there is no knower. You think you have to be. There is no being. There just is, and you are that is-ness.

If enlightenment is unconditioned and causeless, then how can a ‘spiritual practice’ lead you to it?

Q. If enlightenment is unconditioned and causeless, then how can a ‘spiritual practice’ lead you to it, as all practices are in the conditioned realm of cause and effect? I’ve heard teachers (some of whom claim not to be teachers) say that Enlightenment is uncaused: it either happens or it doesn’t, and there is nothing you can do about it because there is no you anyway. Does this sound right to you?

Tom: Hi _____, thanks for your question. It depends how you use the words. I actually think the more radical expression of non-duality that you describe is incredibly potent and hits right at the nub of the matter, but that it is not for everyone, and for many it can also be detrimental, at least initially, as it can lead to a premature hopelessness and despair. I say premature, as later on this may be exactly what is needed to stop the apparent seeker in their tracks and for realisation to beautifully dawn!

Enlightenment is a conditioned event in time

Regarding enlightenment, I would not say that enlightenment is unconditioned or causeless, in fact quite the opposite, but let me first explain what I mean by the word ‘enlightenment’ in this context. Enlightenment, as I use the word, is a phenomena or event that occurs ‘within the dream’, so to speak, in which, figuratively speaking, the dream character realises they are in a dream and that they are a dream. Note that I say figuratively speaking as I am not saying that life is actually a dream, but just using a dream as an imperfect analogy.

There is a before enlightenment and after enlightenment, so it is something that occurs in time. Sure, when enlightenment happens, it is also seen that the enlightenment was always fully present the whole entire time, even when it wasn’t realised, but that is only realised after enlightenment! For me, I don’t even know when exactly my enlightenment happened, as it was a slow burn, and I only realised what had happened sometime afterwards, but even in this example, we can see there was still a before enlightenment and after enlightenment, and in this way enlightenment could still be said to have been an event, albeit one that took place over a longer time-frame.

Prior to enlightenment, Freedom or Wholeness is not realised, even though it was always present. It is this realisation I am referring to here as ‘enlightenment’. So that’s the first thing, to realise that enlightenment is a conditioned phenomenal time-bound event in which ever-present unconditioned Freedom is recognised.

So that’s the first thing, to realise that enlightenment is a conditioned phenomenal time-bound event in which ever-present unconditioned Freedom is recognised. 

All events have (apparent) causes

Once we accept this, then we can start to look to see if there are any proximate causes of enlightenment. As all phenomena (apparently) exist in a world of cause and effect, in which there is the appearance of rule and laws, such as the law of gravity and so forth, we should be able to investigate and see if there are certain factors that can increase the chances of enlightenment happening. If we can find out what these factors are, then perhaps we can increase our own chances of enlightenment, and this is where various spiritual-type practices and activities can come into play.

Isn’t this all just reinforcing the false notion of a ‘me’?

At this point in the conversation, some people counter this by saying that there is nobody here who can do any of this, that there is no ‘I’. Enlightenment either happens or it doesn’t happen, and there is nothing you can do about it because the ‘I’ that thinks it can do something is actually an illusion.

Now this is true. These statements are directly pointing at the heart of the matter, pointing out to the apparent seeker the illusion of separation.

However, does relentlessly pointing this out actually help the apparent seeker break through the veil of illusion? Well, yes, it definitely can. Simple repetitive hammering home the essential point can eventually work, which is why at the start of this response I said that this type of teaching is incredibly potent.

However it is not the only way, and sometimes it is less effective than other ways (and of course sometimes is more effective than other ways too).

If someone asked you how to play tennis, would you say there is nothing you can do to play tennis? That playing tennis will either happen or not happen as the ‘I’ that thinks it can chose to learn to play tennis is an illusion? Or would you perhaps suggest tennis lessons or something similar, as you know that in the (apparent) world of cause and effect, tennis lessons increases the chances of being able to play tennis, even though this is not guaranteed?

Enlightenment is a phenomenon like any other – it has causes and effects

You see, once you have realised that enlightenment is an event like any other, that it occurs following an apparent set of causes and conditions, some of which can be determined and modified, then we can start to see how powerful practices can be along this path.

If we find a set of factors that increases the likelihood of enlightenment occurring, then we can start to put these factors into place, just like the person who wants to play tennis can book themselves onto tennis lessons, buy a decent tennis racket and a good pair of tennis shoes, and learn the rules of the game.

When looking at more traditional teachings, sages in centuries gone past have discovered a variety of these factors that increase the likelihood of enlightenment. I discuss some of them here.

The Grand Illusion

On one hand there is no choice, there is nobody here, and all there is is Freedom – yes – and there is nothing you can do about any of this. On the other hand, there are proximate causes to enlightenment, which, from the point of the (illusory) seeker who has not realised ‘there is nobody here’, can be utilised to their advantage in seeing this.

When it is seen, then it is also seen that all practices are also part of this Grand Illusion, often, at least initially, fuelling the ‘I’ and the suffering that goes alongside it.

See also: Can you teach enlightenment?