Ramana Maharshi summarises the entire spiritual path in his Introduction to Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination)

ramana maharshi

The earliest of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’s written works was his translation of Shankara’s Crest Jewel of Discrimination (Vivekachudamani in Sanskrit). He wrote it when he was still very young and was living in Virupaksha Care. This was also to remain the single largest work of Sri Ramana’s.

In his introduction to the Vivekachudamani, Ramana explains that Vedanta, as written in the triple cannon (Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita) points the way to attaining liberation, and that Shankara wrote commentaries on these three texts to make clear the path. However, Ramana also noted that for those who did not have the capacity for such scholarship, Shankara wrote the essence of his length commentaries and collated them together in the form of Vivekachudamani.

Below is Ramana’s introduction to the text, which gives in brief an overview of its teachings. Bold-type has been added by myself for emphasis of some key points. In another post I will post the full text of Ramana Maharshi’s translation of Vivekachudamani:

Introduction to Vivekachudamani, as written by Sri Ramana Maharshi:

Every being in the world yearns to be always happy and free from the taint of sorrow, and desires to get rid of bodily ailments, etc., which are not of its true nature. Further, everyone cherishes the greatest love for himself, and this love is not possible in the absence of happiness. In deep sleep, though devoid of everything, one has the experience of being happy. Yet, due to the ignorance of the real nature of one’s own being, which is happiness itself, people flounder in the vast ocean of material existence, forsaking the right path that leads to happiness, and act under the mistaken belief that the way to be happy consists in obtaining the pleasures of this and the other world.

Unfortunately, however, there is no such happiness which has not the taint of sorrow. It is precisely for the purpose of pointing out the straight path to true happiness that Lord Shiva, taking on the guise of Sri Shankaracharya, wrote the commentaries on the Triple Canon [Prasthana Traya] of the Vedanta, which extols the excellence of this bliss; and that he demonstrated it by his own example in life. These commentaries, however, are of little use to those ardent seekers who are intent upon realising the bliss of liberation but have not the scholarship necessary for studying them.

It is for such as these that Sri Shankara revealed the essence of the commentaries in this short treatise, The Crown Gem of Discrimination [Vivekachudamani], explaining in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek liberation, and thereby directing them to the true and direct path.

Sri Shankara begins by observing that it is hard indeed to attain human birth, and that, having attained it, one should strive to achieve the bliss of liberation, which is really only the nature of one’s being. By jnana or spiritual knowledge alone is this bliss to be realised, and jnana is achieved only through vichara or steady enquiry. In order to learn this method of enquiry, says Sri Shankara, one should seek the Grace of a Guru; and he then proceeds to describe the qualities of the Guru and his disciple and how the latter should approach and serve his master. He further emphasises thatin order to realise the bliss of liberation one’s own individual effort is an essential factor. Mere book learning never yields this bliss; it can be realised only through Self-enquiry or vichara, which consists of sravana or devoted attention to the precepts of the Guru, manana or deep contemplation and nidhidhyasana or the cultivation of equanimity in the Self.

The three bodies, are non-self and are unreal. The Self, that is the Aham or “I” is quite different from them. It is due to ignorance that the sense of Self or the “I”-notion is foisted on that which is not Self, and this indeed is bondage. Since from ignorance arises bondage, from knowledge ensues liberation. To know this from the Guru is sravana.

The process of manana, which is subtle enquiry or deep contemplation, consists in rejecting the three bodies consisting of the five sheaths [physical, vital, mental, intellectual, and blissful], as not “I” and discovering through subtle enquiry of “Who am I?” that which is different from all three and exists single and Universal in the Heart as Aham or “I”, just as a stalk of grass is delicately drawn out from its sheath. This “I” is denoted by the word tvam [in the scriptural dictum “Tat Tvam Asi”, “Thou art That”].

The world of name and form is but an adjunct of Tat or Brahman [Reality] and, having no separate reality, is rejected as reality and affirmed as nothing else but Brahman. The instruction of the disciple by the Guru in the scriptural saying [mahavakya] “Tat Tvam Asi“, which declares the identity of the Self and the Supreme, is this upadesa [spiritual guidance]. The disciple is then enjoined to remain in the beatific state of Aham-Brahman, [I – the Absolute]. Nevertheless, the old tendencies of the mind sprout up thick and strong and constitute an obstruction. These tendencies are threefold and ego is their root. The ego flourishes in the externalised and differentiating consciousness caused by the forces of projection due to rajas [restlessness], and veiling due to tamas [dullness].

To fix the mind firmly in the Heart until these forces are destroyed and to awaken with unswerving, ceaseless vigilance the true and cognate tendency which is characteristic of the Self [Atman] and is expressed by sayings: “Aham Brahmasmi” [“I am Brahman”], and “Brahmaivaham” [“Brahman alone am I”] is termed nidhidhyasana or Atmanusandhana, that is constancy in the Self. This is otherwise called bhakti [devotion], yoga and dhyana [meditation].

Atmanusandhana has been compared to churning curds in order to make butter, the mind being compared to the churn, the Heart to the curds, and the practice of concentration on the Self to the process of churning. Just as butter is made by churning the curds and fire by friction, so the natural and changeless state of Nirvikalpa samadhi is produced by unswerving vigilant concentration on the Self, ceaseless like the unbroken flow of oil. This readily and spontaneously yields that direct, immediate, unobstructed, and Universal perception of Brahman, which is at once knowledge and experience and which transcends time and space.

This perception is Self-realisation. Achieving It cuts the knot of the Heart. The false delusions of ignorance, the vicious and age-long tendencies of the mind which constitute this knot are destroyed. All doubts are dispelled and the bondage of karma is severed.

Thus in this Crown Gem of Discrimination Sri Shankara has described samadhi or spiritual trance which is the limitless bliss of liberation, beyond doubt and duality, and at the same time has indicated the means for its attainment. To attain this state of freedom from duality is the real purpose of life, and only he who has done so is a jivanmukta, liberated while yet alive, not one who has a mere theoretical understanding of what constitutes Purushartha or the desired end and aim of human endeavour.

Thus defining a jivanmukta, Sri Shankara declares him to be free from the bonds of threefold karma [sanchita, agami and prarabdha]. The disciple attains this state and then relates his personal experience. He who is liberated is indeed free to act as he pleases, and when he leaves the body, he abides in liberation and never returns to this birth, which is death.

Sri Shankara thus describes realisation, that is liberation, as twofold, jivanmukti [liberation while alive] and videhamukti [liberation after death], as explained above. Moreover, in this short treatise, written in the form of a dialogue between a Guru and his disciple, he has considered many other relevant topics.

Tom’s summary and comments:

-Bhagavan Sri Ramana has stated that the text Vivekachudamani contains all the key points required for the earnest seeker to attain liberation, and that it is the essence of Vedanta and the essence of Sri Shankara’s commentaries of the triple canon [ie. the Upanishads, Brahman Sutras and Bhagavad Gita].

-One wrongly seeks happiness outwardly, when actually one’s own nature is that of happiness. Happiness obtained through limited external objects will also be limited and also result in suffering.

-Spiritual liberation is the ending of all sorrow. It is to be obtained by Jnana, or spiritual knowledge, the path to which is outlined below:

-Jnana is to be obtained by seeking the grace of a guru .

-Jnana can only be gained through self-enquiry.

Individual effort of the part of the seeker is required during this.

Self-enquiry itself consists of sravana (listening to the teachings), manana (contemplating upon the teachings), and nididhyasana or Atmanusandhana (remaining constantly as the self/in the self).

Manana consists of realising the import of the mahavakya or great saying ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ or ‘That Thou Art’. Tat or That refers to the Absolute, or Brahman. The arising transient phenomena that come and go are realised to be dependent on Brahman, nothing other than Brahman, but not real in that the objects themselves have no permanancy. Tvam or Thou refers to the ‘I’ that remains when all that is non-self is rejected and turned away from. Asi, or art means that this ‘I’ and ‘That’ are equated as being one in essence.

-This last step of abiding as the self/ NididhyasanaAtmanusandhana is also known as Bhakti (devotion), Yoga and Dhyana (meditation).

-Self-abidance is required due to age-old habitual tendencies (vasanas) which arise and block Self-Realisation. There are three types of vasanas [tamas, rajas and sattva], the source of which is the ego.

-The ego flourishes in the world of phenomenal objects. The implication here is that turning away from the body, mind and world is necessary to lead to the end of the ego and the resultant liberation.

-Through ceaseless unswerving concentration on the self, like the unbroken flow of oil, one achieves the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, which transcends space and time. The implication here is that as it transcends space and time, it is not really a state, nor is it an object or arising phenomena, but it is spoken of as such due to the limitations of language.

Nirvikalpa samadhi and directly and spontaneously gives rise to the unobstructed knowledge or experience of Brahman. This is what is known as Jnana or spiritual knowledge and is the same as direct experience of Brahman, which in turn is the same as Self-realisation. Again the implication is that it is spoken of as ‘knowledge’, ‘experience’ and ‘realisation’, all of which are used here as synonyms, due to the limitations of language, as this cannot really be put into words.

-In self-realisation, the knot of the heart is cut. The knot of the heart consists of ignorance and the habitual tendencies of the mind [vasanas]. These both are removed though samadhi and the subsequent self-realisation. Here there is no longer any further doubt. 

-Ramana states that Samadhi is the same as liberation, and that this liberation is the true  purpose of one’s life.

Intellectual understanding alone is not enough. The implication here is not to make the mistake that many do and stop after manana or the teachings ‘Tat Tvam Asi’, but proceed to abide as the Self in order to remove ignorance and the vasanas, and not give up until Samadhi ‘arises’ and the knot of the heart is cut.

-Two forms of liberation are described by Shankara, that whilst alive (Jivanmukti) and that which occurs with death of the body (Videhamukti).

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The root cause of suffering – a radical teaching

So the volunteer who usually edits and puts together my videos is no longer able to do so. This has resulted in me surfing the internet and learning how to edit videos myself! Below is my first video, edited and put together by…well…me! It was recorded live during Thursday’s online meeting, so the picture quality is not as good as it could be. Subscribe to the YouTube channel if you want to receive more of these videos, tell me what you think and enjoy 🙂

ps. if you know anyone who would be willing to help edit videos for me please let me know, with thanks 🙏

 

 

Q. How does one meditate on Pure Being, as suggested by the scriptures?

Q. In Advaita Bodha Deepika, Chapter 3 verses 31-32 it states in the path of yoga* one should meditate on Pure Being, free from all qualities in order to attain liberation. Isn’t ‘free from all qualities’ another quality?

Tom: No. Only if you are only seeing it intellectually.

Q. I don’t know any other way to see it. If I am awake, I see only intellectually.

Tom: The words are misleading, as if you can meditate on ‘being free from qualities’. It just means to (mentally) keep quiet, allow the mind to relax and be still. You are what you are. Being simply IS.

*often when the word yoga alone is used, it is referring to Patanjali’s system of Raja Yoga, the path of meditation.

Thank you and a reminder

Thanks to all who attended Satsang with me this Thursday. It was a wonderful evening and it was wonderful to be in Presence with you.

❤️🙏❤️

A reminder: when confused or unsure in your seeking, or when too caught up in the mind and uncertain of where to turn, simply be still. All will become clear. All will be revealed unto you.

Another reminder:
The entirely of Vedanta can be summed up in the two statements: ‘I am that I am’ and ‘Be Still and know that I am God’ – so says Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi

❤️🙏❤️

 

Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi

Buddha Ramana Krishna.png

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

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

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

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

And what, monks, is Samma Samadhi?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

The Jhāna Sutta  (AN 9:36)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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