Maya & Ignorance – how and why did they arise and how to remove them? | Sadhana Saram | Sri Sadhu Om

The following verses are taken from the excellent text ‘Sadhanai Saram‘ by Sri Sadhu Om. My (Tom’s) comments are written in italiscised red:

Question: How has ignorance or illusion (maya) come about?

  1. Listen now to the proper reason why, in answer to those people who asked due to bewilderment of thought, “Why has this illusion or phenomenal appearance (maya) come? How has it come?” Lord Ramana did not give a direct reply by telling why or how, but instead said, “See to whom illusion (maya) has come.”

Answer:

  1. He who says that phenomenal existence (maya) has come into being is only you, whereas enlightened Sages (Jnanis), who have attained the great experience of Self, never accept that maya has come or that it now exists. Therefore, you, who assert that maya has come and exists, alone are the one who has the duty to investigate the truth in that assertion in order to prove its validity. Investigate thus.

How to remove this ignorance?

  1. If you first attend to yourself, by investigating within yourself “To whom has this illusory appearance of the world (maya) come? To whom does it exist?” then in the mind that has merged in the state of Silence due to such Self-attention, the truth that you exist as the mere consciousness ‘I am’, devoid of any differentiation, diversity or imagination (vikalpa), will spontaneously reveal itself to you.

Maya never existed, not even as an appearance:

  1. When the truth is known that you, the person who identifies the body as ‘I’, and who raises doubts and asks questions about phenomenal existence (maya), do not exist even in the least, then you will know as a matter of direct experience that in no place, at no time and in no way did phenomenal existence (maya) ever come or exist, and that the existence of the illusory world (maya) cannot be accepted even as a false appearance.

The questioner is itself illusion (maya):

  1. He (the mind) who says that the illusion of phenomenal existence (maya) has come into existence is himself an illusion (maya). Therefore, the one path of Self-attention, which puts an end to the mind, is alone the means that the pure Jnana-Guru, Sri Ramana Bhagavan, has bestowed upon us as the apt medicine to put an end to all the arguments that arise about phenomenal existence (maya).

Instead of asking ‘why is this world as it is?’, etc, we should ask ‘Who am I?’ and discover the Truth-Self:

  1. Even though our Guru has instructed us, “See ‘Who am I’?”, people of dull intellect ask, “Why has this world and the pleasures and pains herein come into existence?” instead of investigating “Who am I?” within themselves; only for such dull-minded people who ask thus, the Guru and the scriptures say, “Ah! That is all illusion (maya).”

Concluding verse in this section:

  1. But since people of pure faith who sincerely engage in the practice of Self-attention as instructed by the Guru, drown in the true consciousness ‘I’ by turning their attention again and again towards the false self (the mind) whenever it rises, to raise any kind of further questions, this talk of maya is not intended for them.

How Vedanta teachings work | Swami Satchitanandendra Saraswati (SSS) on the method of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta to attain liberation (Moksha)

At the end of his book ‘The Salient Features of Sankara’s Vedanta’ (see link to download PDF below), Swami Satchitanandendra Saraswati (SSS) lists the key features of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta.

Among them is the notion that liberation can result from either hearing the teachings (Sravana), reflecting upon the teachings (Manana) or meditating upon the teachings (Nididhyasana), depending on the maturity and fitness of the aspirant (we can see Sri Ramana Maharshi give the same teachings here). Not realising this, SSS notes that various commentators either say that sravana alone is the only way or that nididhyasana alone is the only way.

SSS then goes on to state that the way that these methods lead to liberation is by turning the mind inwards towards the Subject-Self (Atman).

Let us see what SSS writes on page 82:

6. Sravana (study of sacred revelation), Manana (reflective thinking) and Nididhyasana (concentrated contemplation), are all means for realizing Atman. Highly developed souls, however, who can immediately grasp the true meaning of the Vedic teaching, do not stand in need of any additional effort.

Not taking this principle into account is responsible for the divergence of opinion among commentators of Sankara Bhashya about the relation of Sravana and Nididhyasana. Of these, some assert that Sravana is the principal means and the other two are only ancillary to it; while others insist that nididhyasana is the one means to direct realization and without it mere Sravana would be of no avail.

7. Sravana and the other means are enjoined only so far as they turn the seeker inwards and direct him to stay his mind on Atman, but the resultant knowledge is no object of any injunction.

Tom: We can see that the purpose of Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana are to turn the mind inwards, towards the Subject-Self (Atman), and that the resultant ‘Knowledge’ is not a result of any action or practice, but a synonym for the One Eternal Infinite Blissful Self that is ever-attained, ie. Liberation.

Please see here for Sri Ramana’s teachings on this same topic.

Also see:

What is Vedantic Meditation? How Swami Satchitanandendra Saraswati (SSS) defines Nididhyasana

Shankara teaches two methods to ‘attain liberation’ | Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS)

Ramana Maharshi: how to abide as the Self

Sravana alone can result in Self-Realisation! Sri Ramana Maharshi on Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana

Grace Alone is of Prime Importance | Sadhanai Saram | Sri Sadhu Om | Sri Ramana Maharshi

The following text is taken from the wonderful text Sadhanai Saram (The Essence of Spiritual Practice) written by Sri Sadhu Om. This text not only gives us the essence of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, but also directs us to the true Vedanta teachings. The notes are written by Sri Sadhu Om himself.

  1. The ego is only a trivial entity; besides, it is unreal (asat) and powerless (asakta). It is a mere adjunct which rises and subsides. Therefore, what foolishness it is to think, “The spiritual practice (sadhana) done by the strength of this ego will by itself bestow the goal of life; the supreme power of divine Grace is not of any consequence (and is not necessary in order for one to attain the goal)”!

Note: Not believing Grace, but thinking one’s own individual effort alone to be of very great consequence, is mere foolishness.

  1. Is not the unreal help which one unreal man renders to another unreal man, experienced by everyone in this world as real? Therefore, O Sadguru, the embodiment of Grace, the sole reality, is it impossible for You to save me by dispelling the unreal ego? What doubt or wonder is there in Your being able to help me thus

Note: A man or jiva is merely an unreal appearance, and hence whatever help he may seem to render to another man is also unreal. But when such unreal help rendered by an unreal man is experienced by everyone as real, why should we doubt the ability of the Sadguru, who alone is truly real, to render us the real help of destroying the unreal ego? Such help from the Sadguru will certainly be experienced by us as more real than the help that we feel is rendered to us by others.

  1. Unless our Lord, Sri Ramana, who is the form of God, Himself bestows His divine Grace, who can by his own effort attain that heroic state of firmly abiding as Self, having clearly known one consciousness other than the body to be the real “I”?

Online Satsang with Tom Das | Advaita with loving devotion to Sri Ramana Maharshi | Online Non-duality meetings | Advaita Vedanta

Please join us – all are welcome and no prior knowledge is required. We meet online twice every week (every Thursday and Sunday). After the meeting there is an opportunity to stay and connect with other people attending the meeting. To join or find out more please see this link.

The real meaning of Omniscience | Advaita Vedanta

See here for a PDF download of Upadesa Saram (The Essence of the Teachings written by Sri Ramana Maharshi) with brief explanatory notes: 

https://tomdas.com/2019/03/25/ramana-maharshi-upadesa-saram-the-essence-of-the-teachings/


This video was recorded live during a Satsang meeting with Tom Das and put together by volunteers.
To attend satsang, see here:

 https://tomdas.com/events

For guided meditations see the ‘guided meditation’ playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/c/TomDasNonduality/playlists

For recommended reading for liberation see here: https://tomdas.com/2020/10/19/recommended-reading-books-for-enlightenment-liberation-and-self-realisation/

To book a 1 to 1 session with Tom see here: https://tomdas.com/nondual-spiritual-counsellor

Understanding Turiya (the 4th state) and Turiyatita (the state beyond the 4th state)

Question: I get confused between the idea of Turiya, the so-called 4th state, which is the Self, and the idea of Turiyatita or beyond the 4th state. How can there be something beyond the Absolute Self, the ‘4th’?

Tom: Turiya means the Self. That is the only reality – there is no real ‘beyond turiya’ (turiyatita). First see how Turiya is defined in the Mandukya Upanishad in verse 7 here.

Then note what Bhagavan Sri Ramana says in Guru Vachaka Kovai verse 567:

567. The difference between the first three dense states and the fourth and fifth states are only for those who are not able to immerse and abide firmly in turiya, which shines piercing through the dark ignorance of sleep.

Sadhu Om’s commentary: The import of this verse is that advanced aspirants should know that all states other than turiya which are mentioned in scriptures [i.e. sleep, waking, dream and turiyatita] are unreal.

Tom: Now see further verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai which explain Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching on this subject further:

  1. In Jnanis, who have destroyed the ego, the three
    states [waking, dream and sleep], which were seen
    previously, will disappear, and the noble state of
    turiya [the ‘fourth’] will itself shine gloriously in them
    as turiyatita
    [the state transcending the ‘fourth’].

Tom’s comments: ie. the forth state (Turiya) is in fact Turiyatita – they are one and the same. This is stated more explicitly in the next 2 verses:

  1. The state of turiya, which is Self, pure sat-chit, is
    itself the non-dual turiyatita
    . Know that the three
    states are mere [false] appearances, and that Self is
    the supporting base for them [i.e. the base on which
    they appear and disappear].
  1. Is it not only if the other three states [waking, dream and sleep]
    were real that wakeful sleep [jagrat-
    sushupti], the pure Jnana, would be the fourth?
    Since those three states are [found to be] unreal in
    front of turiya, that [turiya] is the only state; know
    [therefore] that it [turiya] is itself turiyatita
    .

Using much simpler language, I also explain this type of teaching in a slightly different way that you may find helpful here in this video:

Buddhism vs Vedanta | Self vs no-self | Nirvana vs Self-Realisation | The Unborn | The Deathless

Here in this article we will explore the Buddhist teachings and contrast them to Vedanta or ‘Hindu-style’ teachings. We will look at notions of self and no-self, nirvana and self-realisation, and look at the earliest complete Buddhist teachings ie. as recorded in the Pali Suttas (Sutta is a Pali word meaning ‘thread’ and refers to a ‘string of verses’, ie. a text; Sutra is the equivalent word in Sanskrit)

Also see: Ramana Maharshi: was the Buddha self-realised?

Q. Arahant vs Bodhisattva – which is best? | Buddhism

Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi

Some people think that the teachings of the Buddha point in some fundamental way to something different to teachings of ‘Hinduism’ (Sanatana Dharma) and Vedanta. Most of these people are either only approaching the teachings in an intellectual way or are attached to a particular conceptual view; or perhaps they have not made a deep study of the teachings, or perhaps they have not developed a deeper insight into the teachings for themselves.

Let us see why this is the case, as if one reads the early recorded teachings of the Buddha for oneself, clarity on this issue arises:

The Unborn, the Unmanifest, the Uncreated, the Unconditioned

A closer reading of the Buddhist texts reveals that the Buddha did actually acknowledge in many places the existence of what in Vedanta would be called ‘The Self’ (Sanskrit: Atman) and what others may even call God. Here is just one example from the Nibbana Sutta verse 3 (Udana 8.3), which is from the Pali Canon:

There is, bhikkhus [monks], that which is unborn, that which is unmanifest [or has not come into being], that which is not fabricated/created, that which is unconditioned.

If there were not, bhikhus, that which is unborn, that which is unmanifest, that which is not fabricated/created, that which is unconditioned, there would not be escape from that which is born, from that which is manifest, from that which is fabricated/created, from that which is conditioned – that therefore would not have been clearly known/experienced/seen.

But because, bhikhus, there is indeed that which is unborn, that which is unmanifest, that which is not fabricated/created, that which is unconditioned, therefore escape from that which is born, from that which is manifest, from that which is fabricated, from that which is conditioned, is [or can be] clearly known/experienced/seen.

We can clearly see that the Buddha is categorically stating that there is something that is beyond birth and creation, beyond manifestation and that which is conditioned (ie. all objects).

He then goes on to sate that only because there is such a thing as this Unborn is it possible for liberation to occur. The Buddha even states that without the existence of ‘that which is unborn’ liberation would not be possible.

Negating vs affirming language

Note that the Buddha characteristically uses negating language – ie. NOT born, NOT manifest, NOT created, etc, rather than the combination of both negating and affirming language often used in the vedic literature.

I hope you will see that this is clearly analogous to descriptions of the Self in Vedic literature which is described as being that which is Unborn, Unmanifest, Unconditioned, etc.

Please note that the above verse and following verses are taken from the Pali canon which represents the earliest complete recorded teachings of the Buddha (rather that the writings of later schools).

Nirvana

Please also note that the word Nibbana is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word Nirvana (sometimes spelt Nirbana), which is a word that is also used in pre-Buddhist Vedic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita as a synonym for liberation. This means that the Buddha chose to use the same word for liberation that the Vedic texts also used.

‘No Self’ means no ego or no Jiva, NOT no Brahman/Unborn principle

So what does the word ‘Nirvana’ mean? It literally means extinguishment or annihilation or ‘blown out’ (like extinguishing or blowing out a flame).

Why is this word used in both ‘Hinduism’ and Buddhism (and Jainism too) as a synonym for liberation? It is because in all these traditions, it is accepted that liberation is simply destruction or extinguishment of the ego-self, which is illusory or unreal. So when ‘no-self’ is proclaimed in Buddhism, it is only the denial of the Jiva (apparently separate self) or ego-illusion.

In Vedanta this is also known as manonasa or destruction (extinguishment) of mind (manas = mind; nasa = destruction or anihiliation). We will see later that the Buddha also conceived of liberation in the same way – ie. destruction of the thinking and desiring mind.

Anatman (Anatta in pali) vs Atman

The Sanskrit word atman means self, and anatman means not-self or no-self. The Pali equivalent of anatman is anatta.

The Buddha points to various phenomenal arisings and points out that in none of these can a self be found and that all of these phenomenal arisings are anatman or ‘not-self’. An example of this is the Buddhist teaching of the five skandas, which is clearly analogous to the Vedic teaching of the five koshas. In both these teachings it is pointed out that these five skandas or five koshas are not-self, meaning no self can be found in them.

It should be clear that he Buddha is not saying there is no Unborn Principle (quite the opposite as we can see from the Nibbana Sutta verse 3 above), but that the phenomenal appearance of a separate self (Jiva in Sanskrit) or ego is illusory and that only by coming into the Unborn we can attain liberation – see the next section for more on this as well as how to do this for oneself.

The Deathless – how to attain Nirvana & Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings

Earlier we saw how the Buddha referred to what called the Unborn, the Unmanifest, the Unfabricated. Elsewhere he referred to the same Unborn as ‘the Deathless’. See here for an example of this – in this post I also go more into the actual methodology of liberation as proposed by the Buddha and show how it is essentially the same method taught by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.

The Unmanifest or Nirguna Brahman

In Vedanta teachings, two forms of Ultimate Reality or Brahman are spoken of: the manifest or saguna Brahman and the unmanifest or nirguna Brahman (sa = with; nir = without; guna = qualities).

According to Vedanta, in truth there is only one form of Brahman – the unmanifest or Nirguna Brahman, but is spoken of as being two purely for purposes of teaching. This Nirguna Brahman, which has no qualities that can be described in words and has no qualities that can be perceived by the senses, this nirguna Brahman is the only True Reality, and realisation of this Truth is tantamount to liberation.

The manifest or Saguna Brahman refers to the apparent world of phenomenal appearances and according to Vedanta these do not actually exist and are illusory. The Vedanta teachings encourage us to turn away from objective phenomena towards the Subject-Self which is then revealed to be Nirguna Brahman.

Unsurprisingly we see exactly the same teaching in the Buddhist Pali Suttas time and time again.

Extinguishing the Fire of Egotism

For example in the Fire Sermon, which was said to be the third sermon the Buddha gave, the Buddha explains that everything that we can perceive and imagine is just egotism which he likens to a flame or fire. It then makes sense that Nirvana is extinguishment of this flame or fire of egotism. He encourages us to ‘become disgusted’ with the various phenomenal arisings and turn away from them, and it is in this way liberation or nirvana, which is the end of egotism and suffering, occurs.

In Nirvana there is the cessation of all phenomenal appearances

How does the Buddha describe Nibbana? Where better to look than the Nibbana Sutta that was quoted above? Here is verse 1 (Udana 8.1):

There is, bhikkhus, that Base where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air…neither this world nor another world nor both; neither sun nor moon. Here, bhikkhus, I say there is no coming, no going, no staying, no deceasing, no uprising. Not fixed, not movable, it has no support. Just this is the end of suffering.

We can see from the last phrase ‘just this is the end of suffering’ that the Buddha is describing Nirvana (which he defines as the end of suffering, and which is generally defined as the end of suffering) or what is Vedanta would be called The Self (Atman).

In his description the Buddha is also explaining that in Nirvana ‘there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air…‘, ie. by negating the appearance of the four classical elements he is stating that in nirvana there are no phenomenal arisings whatsoever. He continues this theme by stating ‘there is neither this world, not another world…neither sun nor moon… no coming, no going…

See the PDF file here to see this same process of cessation of all phenomenal arisings being described in Vedanta.

The ‘Unmoving’, that which requires ‘no support’, the ‘Unaffected’

The Buddha then goes on to describe what in Vedanta would be called the Self – the Buddha states it is ‘…not moveable, it has no support‘. In Vedanta it would be said to be immovable or unchanging (that which moves can change, that which doesn’t move does not change) and self-shining, meaning it supports itself. In Vedanta, the word ‘ananda’ which means happiness or bliss means the cessation of suffering. Hopefully it is fairly clear that the teachings are pointing to the same basic thing!

In verse two of the same Nibbana Sutta (Udana 8.2) The Buddha speaks of ‘the Unaffected‘, which is clearly another name for the Vedic notion of Self, by which craving and all phenomenal appearance (Maya in vedanta) is ended. Every phenomenal appearance is within the realm of ‘the affected’, so what is this ‘unaffected’ but the True Self?:

It’s hard to see the Unaffected,
for the Truth isn’t easily seen.
Craving is pierced
in one who knows;
For one who sees,
there is nothing.

In liberation there are no thoughts or desires

As we have already quoted from verse 3 at the top of the post, let us proceed to verse 4. In verse 4 of the Nibbana Sutta the Buddha explains that one who has not found the ‘Unaffected’ (ie. the True Self) remains dependent (on phenomenal objects) and so ‘wavers’. This wavering refers to the movements of the mind, ie. what we would call thoughts and desires. Here is verse 4 (Udana 8.4):

One who is dependent has wavering. One who is independent has no wavering. There being no wavering, there is calm. There being calm, there is no desire. There being no desire, there is no coming or going. There being no coming or going, there is no passing away or arising. There being no passing away or arising, there is neither a here nor a there nor a between-the-two. This, just this, is the end of suffering.

See how Sri Ramana Maharshi explains this here.

Cessation of time and space in Liberation

In the above verse 4 the reference to ‘there being no passing away or arising’ not only indicates no arising phenomena in liberation, but also the cessation of time itself. Similarly the reference to ‘there is neither a here nor a there nor a between-the-two’ refers to the cessation of perception of space.

We can see that the teachings are referring to what in Vedanta is known as ‘non-duality’, or advaita, Oneness beyond the illusions of ego, separation, time and space

See this described here in Vedanta teachings.

The ‘Stainless’, the ‘Sorrowless’, the ‘Blissful’

In verse 5, the final verse of this Nibbana Sutta, the Buddha states the following, continuing the theme of the need to efface all desires, wants and cravings. Note how he refers to ‘stainless’ and ‘sorrowless’ and ‘blissful’ – could be be referring to what in Vedanta would be called the Self? I think so!:

The sorrows, lamentations,
the many kinds of suffering in the world,
exist dependent on something dear.
They don’t exist
when there’s nothing dear.
And thus blissful & sorrowless
are those for whom nothing
in the world is dear anywhere.
So one who aspires
to be stainless & sorrowless
shouldn’t make anything
in the world dear
anywhere.

See how Sri Ramana Maharshi similarly describes the way to liberation here.

Some concluding remarks

I have only touched upon one Sutta here in any detail. If you read the Pali canon for yourself you will find countless references like these, eg. to the Unborn and the Deathless, again and again. You will also see references to the need to turn away from objective phenomena towards that which is unborn. You will also see references to the cessation of all arising phenomena. Again and again these references are made.

Surely the Buddha and Vedanta teachings are pointing to the same thing in their own way?

I hope you found this post of use. I have written it rather hastily in one quick sitting so apologies for any spelling or grammatical or other errors.

Namaste and best wishes!

Q. Why does Vedanta insist on there being a Self? No-self makes more sense to me | the I AM|

Qestioner: Why do you say that non-duality means ‘there is only you’? For me it makes more sense to say ‘there is no you’?

Tom: Yes, many people say it the way you do, but there is a specific reason why it is said in the traditional scriptures that ‘only I exist ‘ or ‘only you exist’ as opposed to ‘there is no I’ or ‘there is no you’.

The ‘I’ or ‘I AM’ is being pointed out as indicating the reality.

Why is this?

It is because only when we turn towards the ‘I Am’ or the Subject can the non-dual reality be intuited. Otherwise, as you say, the knowledge remains only on the conceptual level for the ego-mind. This is more fully explained in Chapter 8 of The Path of Sri Ramana.

I also explain this more here.