Why Did Sankara Speak (and Think) So Much?
- Shouldn't One Just Meditate?
by   Peter Holleran
“Believe nothing you have read or anything you have heard, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with common sense and reason.”
"If anybody could easily fulfill the injunction, "Know thyself," it would not have been considered a diviner precept."
“Wherever you find two doctrines contradicting each other, it is a certain sign and warning that
there is a logical fallacy somewhere.”
"Yoga is easier than philosophic doubt, which involves intellectual difficulty and thinking. When people say that it is said by so and so in scripture or authority, that is because they are intellectually lazy, they do not want to think, their minds want rest. Mandukya Upanishad points out that it is the man who thinks who alone can understand it. Mandukya goes to the very root of the matter. It deals with Truth."
(1) - V.S. Iyer
"When the aspirant has great devotion to the Overself but little understanding of it, Nature will halt him at a certain stage of his spiritual career and compel him to redress the balance...Just as the religious devotee will be moved sooner or later to seek personal experience if he lacks it, so the mystical votary will be moved to seek intellectual enlightenments if he too lacks it."
- Paul Brunton
According to legend, Sankara was one of those rare beings that incarnate fully developed, who, after a brief period of time refamiliarizing themselves with the physical body, begin their teaching mission afresh. He entered the local gurukula (ashram school for those in the brahmacharya stage of life) at five, and took sannyas or renunciation at the age of eight with his mother’s permission. He was a prodigy who completed the study of the four Vedas by the age of eight, all of the arts and sciences by the age of twelve, and before attaining the age of eighteen had written his famous commentaries on the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras, and the Bhagavad-Gita. According to Swami Rama, the last fifteen years of his life were 'given' to him by the sage Vyasa. From then until his death at thirty-two he traveled all over India, reviving the ancient Sanatana Dharma, including establishing Advaita-Vedanta or unqualified non-dualism as his central teaching on the nature of ultimate reality, reinstating Vedic worship of five deities: Ganapati, Siva, Narayana, Sun, and Sakti, realigning the practices of ceremonial worship to the living presence, in contrast to the empty formalism of his day. He reformed the priestly function and its decadent practices, established ten renunciate orders and four spiritual centers (maths) that are still in existence today. [It is worthy of note that Sankara did not believe that the path of liberation lay in sannyas alone, and he resisted this propensity of Buddhism; In ancient times, almost all the Rishis were married men].
Contrary to some popular opinion. Sankara did not himself produce an immense body of literature; many works attributed to him were written by followers of his. He is famous largely for his commentaries on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Brahmasutras. Like most broad-hearted ancient sages, he gave out what was of most use to the greateest number of people. Therefore, in the commentaries on the Upanishads, such as the famous Mundakya, he gave the highest nondual message of the identity of Atman and Brahman, revitalizing the philosophy and practise of Advaita, while in the commentaries on the Brahmsutras he gave a lesser teaching, positing both higher and lower Maya and and higher and lower Brahman (Isvara) to explain creation for those of lesser intellects until they were ready for the highest truth - ajata
or non-causality. This was also to an extent the method of the Buddha, as well as philosopher V.S. Iyer and his student, contemporary writer Paul Brunton. Sankara also coined much devotional poetry. In this he was somewhat like the modern sages Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon, Sri Nisargadatta, and Ramana Maharshi, who made room for both devotion and jnana (knowledge) in their teachings, helping to lift people up one rung at a time to something higher. Although known chiefly for advaita, then, Sankara built many shrines to the Divine Mother and produced a volumn of devotional poetry that comes close to exceeding that of his spiritual philosophy:
"Adore the Lord, adore the Lord, O fool! When the appointed time (for departure) comes, the repetition of grammatical rules will not, indeed, save you."
He also said:
"Among the contributary factors of liberation, devotion stands supreme, and it is the search for one's own true nature that is meant by devotion."
And from his final message to a disciple in his Vivekachudamuni ("The Crest Jewel of Discrimination"):
“Gurus and scriptures can stimulate spiritual awareness, but one crosses the ocean of ignorance only by direct illumination, through the grace of God.”
Contemporary mystic and writer R.D. Ranade, a disciple of Sri Nisargadatta's guru, reports that one of the experiences that led him to study philosophy was hearing the devotional songs of Sankara; he said that this caused him “to pause and think how a so-called Advaitic philosopher could at the same time make room for devotional songs in his spiritual philosophical teaching.
” (3) This should not cause us to wonder, however, for it is the beauty of Advaitic thought and Vedic culture in particular to permit all forms of religious expression, every stage of life and realization acknowledged, with truth being established in a living form.
The case has been made both that Sankara, the staunch advaitin, created the concept of higher and lower Brahman, and bhakti worship of a personal God, solely as a concession to the common folk; yet, on the other hand, there are those who maintain that Sankara was really a worshipper of Krishna
himself, with the impersonal Brahman and the doctrine of maya taught only to drive out the 'atheistic' Buddhists! This view holds that Sankara as a Krishna devotee really believed that the impersonal Brahman was only the outer effulgence of Bhagavan, the Supreme Person of God as the Vedas had taught
. This debate has been raging for over a thousand years. Ramanuja and Chaitanya, both sages - the latter a great siddha who won many debates with the dry Buddhists of his time [Chaitanya purportedly an inner advaitin who yet outwardly manifested madhura bhava
bhakti, and was later incarnated as Sri Ramakrishna] - refuted Sankara's mayavadin doctrine and propounded the teaching that God was not impersonal Brahman but the Supreme Person as the Vedas had proclaimed, with the soul an eternal individual. Sri Aurobindo also refuted the advaita of Sankara in The Life Divine
. However, this view of Sankara is in the minority and, in our opinion, not very likely; more probably Sankara, as mentioned - who was very careful with his choice of semantic analysis and use of words - taught at different levels of doctrine at different times as the situation warranted. He first came to the attention of Guadapada when his own guru brought him to the Himalayas to present his advaita writings to the great sage, who encouraged his further endeavors.
It is sometimes taught that Sankara, like Nagarjuna, was also a tantric adept. That these great advaitic and Buddhist non-dualists got their realization through both shiva and shakti, not just thinking or reasoning and as such were true godmen. Perhaps. Sankara wrote very famous poems like The Wave of Bliss that are central texts, for instance, in Swami Rama's lineage. David Frawley writes, in The Fifteenfold Non-dualistic Raja Yoga of Shankaracharya
"Shankara’s great poem Saundarya Lahiri or the Wave of Bliss remains the most famous work of Tantric Yoga and Shakti Sadhana reflecting all the secrets of Sri Vidya, mantra, yantra and Tantra."
This (tantra) might also be considered to be a provisional teaching for a lesser level of student than the pure nondual advaitin. However, it should also be noted, that the traditional way of the great Vedic sages was not just an abstract intellectual one of study and inquiry, but one requiring great preparation by the student, as well as spiritual transmission by the adept.
That being said, we shall proceed with what has come to be the traditional view. Advaita-Vedanta is not, as is sometimes presumed, a “world is unreal” philosophy, but, rather, a point of view that grants the world a relative reality. It does not deny the evidence of the senses in a naive and idealistic fashion:
“By these words (unreal, maya, illusion) Vedanta philosophy does not mean absolute negation, but rather that phenomenal existence is relative [Vyavaharika Satta], or reality conditioned by time and space. It does not deny the existence of matter, mind, and everything that are in the phenomenal plane.”
Brahman, however, is absolutely real, or Paramarthika Satta
The Advaitic formula, to be successively realized, is: “the world is unreal; Brahman is real; the world is Brahman.” This is the vision of non-duality. Sankara affirmed a progression of points of view depending on the stage of one’s practice. In The Wisdom of Unity
, or “Five Verses of Wisdom”), he stated
“From the standpoint of the body, O Siva, I am thy servant; from the standpoint of the soul, O Thou with three eyes, I become a part of Thine; and O Self of all, from the standpoint of the Self, I am verily Thou.
It is suggested that rather than simply being distinct 'sublations' or views to be successively passed beyond they represent a continuum of the total self of man. (Something to consider in a complete nondual view).
With the possibility of cross-pollination, not only advaita (which emphasized the siva aspect of the divine) but also tantra (which emphasized the shakti aspect), evolved into the following non-dual position:
"This Is the Other World"
"Although in many respects Tantra continued the metaphysics and
language of nondualism, it often sought to express new meanings
through them. The Tantric One (eka), for instance, is not the life-
negating Singularity of some brahmanical teachers but the all-
encompassing Whole ( purna), which is present as the body, the
mind, and the world yet transcends all of these. At its best, Tantra
is integralism. This is hinted at in the word tantra itself, which, among
other things, means "continuum. This continuum is what the enlightened adepts realize as nirvana
and what unenlightened worldlings experience as samsara. These are
not distinct, opposite realities. They are absolutely the same Being,
the same essence (samarasa). That essence merely appears different to different people because of their karmic predispositions, which are
like veils or mental filters obscuring the truth. To ordinary worldlings,
the One remains utterly hidden. To spiritual seekers, it seems a distant goal, perhaps realizable after many lifetimes. To initiates, it is a
reliable inner guide. To the Self realized sages, it is the only One that
exists, for they have *become* the Whole."
According to Paul Brunton ("PB"),
“The traditional mission of all the Sankaras has been to guard, protect, or preach the doctrines and beliefs, from the simple commandments for illiterate peasants to the higher mystical experiences of yogis and metaphysical teachings of Advaita.”
Sankara did not invent Advaita, for such teachings were existent since Upanishadic times. Great sages like Yajnavalka and Guadapada taught Advaitic non-dualism long before Sankara. What the great acharya did was to put Upanishadic Advaitism into a language of reality that was compatible with ultimate realization. This was one of his major gifts. In the short span of thirty-two years he accomplished more than seemed humanly possible. It would
certainly be impossible for one concerned solely with his own realization, akin to a Solitary Realizer in Buddhism, something that Advaita may sometimes seem to encourage but does not itself actually propose. In advaitic realization, the Self, somehow mysteriously obscured by Maya, or the veiling power, awakens to Itself
, and is said to be known, or commonly experienced, as if already, always realized or awake. The so-called empirical individual in truth does not awaken or get enlightened, but the Void-Mind or Reality, Consciousness itself, Overself or Soul, paradoxically awakens. But even this is to speak dualistically, as the Self is considered as always awake, and the jiva or individual is only an apparent or illusory modification appearing in Brahman. In any case the result is the birth of a Shankara or Shankarahita - the sage who is without (rahita
) doubt (shanka
Because Sankara taught a path of Knowing
Brahman, or the one Self, it is important to point out the major differences between so-called paths of “experience,” and the path of “Knowledge,” or jnana. Sankara and subsequent sages make the important point that the ultimate realization is not an experience
of the Self, but, rather, it is the direct Knowing that one IS the Self. Therefore, Sankara was very sparing in his use of the word “samadhi,” which has come to mean, since the time of Swami Vivekananda and his “Neo-Vedanta,” a form of superconscious trance. For Sankara and the traditional Advaitins, it is clearly pointed out that no experience or change of state yields the realization of the Self, or one’s true nature. It is rather, a simple error of knowledge, a mistaking of the real for the unreal. Since everything is already Brahman, there is no way or path of getting closer to it or experiencing it. Thus the seeker is inevitably frustrated. Enlightenment or liberation is ordinary, not extraordinary. Therefore, it is easily overlooked, particularly for the experience hungry and experience oriented paths of mysticism, as well as most forms of spirituality in modern Western culture. “Sitting in silence” and receiving a special “transmission” of energy, shaktipat, or awakening from the teacher as is touted in the modern “satsang” world was somewhat foreign to traditional Advaita, which held that the teacher with his written thoughts and spoken words held the key to cracking the identity code of the ego and opening the eyes of the ripe student, thus propelling him into realization. The thinking function is actively engaged and the intellect raised to its finest discrimination, as true realization, contrary to much opinion, is not a product of samadhi or trance but one of knowledge.
This is to be stressed again and again. It is not to say that the famous spiritual states are of no value - they are - only that they are of intermediate use as an aid to purify the mind to render it fit to reflect the Self and allow one to engage the ultimate inquiry into one’s true nature. The anti-intellectualism of the modern spiritual aspirant was not found with the ancient sages. That is only the teaching of the meditation masters who value the destruction of the mind in samadhi to be the truth. Since everything is Brahman, however, the mind and intellect are also Brahman, and are heralded by Sankara and others as a basic means for Liberation when used properly. Mere sitting in silence, while helpful and generally necessary, is not always fruitful, as modern advaitist James Schwartz points out, since “silence is compatible with both ignorance and knowledge.” Basic guidance, therefore, has always been taught to be a necessity.
Many modern sages sing praises for the words of the guru. Sri Nisargadatta states:
"Words of a realized man never miss their purpose. They wait for the right conditions to arise which may take some time, and this is natural, for there is a season for sowing and a season for harvesting. But the word of a Guru is a seed that cannot perish. Of course, the Guru must be a real one, who is beyond the body and the mind, beyond consciousness itself, beyond space and time, beyond duality and unity, beyond understanding and description. The good people, who have read a lot and have a lot to say, may teach you many useful things, but they are not the real Gurus whose words invariably come true."
"The bitter words of the Master taste sweet;
His sweet words are a boon all their own;
His words, whatever they are, bear fruit in abundance,
But the idle words of others go in vain."
- Kirpal Singh
"In spiritual circles it has become an article of faith that a the quest for spiritual knowledge is an 'intellectual' and therefore misguided pursuit. But it should be noted that anyone seeking enlightenment through the 'heart' or other paths would necessarily be motivated by the intellectual belief that he or she was limited, inadequate and incomplete i.e. unelightened. To pursue experience is natural but to pursue it at the expense of understanding is foolish because it is only misunderstandings about our true nature that make us think we are unenlightened in the first place. The Self realized beings who went before left a vast body of information to help us purge erroneous concepts that stand in the way of appreciating who we really are."
Sri Atmananda stated:
“You first listen to the Truth direct from the lips of the Guru. Your mind, turned
perfectly sattvic by the luminous presence of the Guru, has become so sensitive and
sharp that the whole thing is impressed upon it as if it were a sensitive film. You
visualize your real nature then and there. But the moment you come out, the check of the presence of the Guru being removed, other samskaras rush in and you are unable to
recapitulate what was said or heard. But later on, whenever you think of that glorious
incident, the whole picture comes back to your mind – including the form, words and
arguments of the Guru – and you are thrown afresh into the same state of visualization
you had experienced on the first day. Thus you constantly hear the same Truth from within. This is how a spiritual tattvopadesha helps you all through life, till you are established in your own real nature.”
The contention of jnanis or sages is that enlightenment itself is not the direct fruit of concentration, samadhi or meditative absorption (although that may be indeed be preparation), but rather is a discriminative knowledge or insight arising when the Self and Maya (illusion) are finally seen as non-separate, in the midst of any and all conditions and states. If the effort is only to kill the mind, they will say, how can such discrimination arise?
As one teacher points out:
"The great wisdom traditions of India, China, Japan and Tibet (as well as western mystical traditions) all put a strong emphasis on study of wisdom texts as an essential part of the spiritual curriculum. Consider how the eminent modern-era jñâni-sage Ramana Mahârshi, so famous for his wisdom-inducing silence and whose own powerful spiritual opening occurred without any significant intellectual preparation (he had read a book about the great Shaiva saints before his awakening in 1896), in the ensuing years actually spent much time listening to and promoting the reading of sacred texts, especially the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gîtâ, Yoga Vâsishtha, Tripura Rahasya, Bhâgavatam Purâna, Ashtâvakra Gîtâ, Ribhu Gîtâ, Avadhûta Gîtâ, the works of Shankara and stories of saints. Ch'an-Zen-Son Buddhist masters of the Far East likewise spent much time poring over classic texts of their own tradition, as well as the earlier Chinese and Indian classics. The Tibetan Vajrayâna masters are well known for their devotion to textual study. All this study promotes a balanced understanding of the various subtly nuanced teachings about authentic spiritual realization, the avoidance of common pitfalls, working through more insidious forms of delusion and attachment, and so forth. Such study is, of course, the prime ingredient in the classic "triple method" utilized in both the Hindu Advaita Vedânta tradition and Nâgârjuna's and Mahâyâna Buddhism wisdom path: hearing the teaching about our real Identity/Nature, pondering it ever more deeply through intensely penetrating reflection, and meditating upon this Truth (or having the Truth "meditate" you). (These are respectively, in Vedânta, shravana, manana, and nididhyâsana; and for Nâgârjuna: shruti, cintâ, and bhâvanâ.)"
(Timothy Conway, http://www.enlightened-spirituality.org
PB warns us:
"So long as a mystic is unable to function fully in his intellect, why should he expect to function clearly in what is beyond intellect?"
Anthony Damiani states clearly:
"Plotinus even delivers a warning, and he says [in The Enneads] that we must TEACH OUR SOULS....So right there he's warning us that we must have the correct doctrine, or we will misunderstand the experiences that we have...If you can ask an intelligent question, that shows that you already understand. To formulate a question precisely is already quite a feat of knowledge."
Schwartz emphasizes the importance of the right use of the mind in attaining enlightenment (realizing the paradox that it is not an individual attainment, but rather "consciousness disabusing itself of the notion that it is something other than itself"):
"If I am experiencing awareness all the time because it is me, then I have a knowledge problem, not an experience problem. If you do not realize that you have a knowledge problem, then unfortunately you will have to keep groping around in the experiential wilderness until you do realize it. "By knowledge alone is the Self realized," says Ramana Maharshi and innumerable texts of the science of self-inquiry." (12)
"Ignorance exists as beliefs and opinions in the mind. It can only be destroyed by knowledge. Knowledge only takes place in the mind because the mind is the instrument of knowledge. So the mind needs to make an investigation to get rid of its ignorance. Just because awareness is subtler than the mind does not mean that the mind cannot, with the help of scripture, investigate it. In fact, scripture is the result of the disinterested and successful investigations of untold numbers of minds over thousands of years. If you deny the existence of the mind, then how can you say that enlightenment is no mind? However, using the logic of its own experience, the mind can discover its inherent limitations and no longer support them. When ignorance is no longer supported by beliefs and opinions, it collapses under its own weight." (13)
"Self knowledge is like the knowledge of anything else, with an important difference: once the self is known it cannot be forgotten, because it is always present, unlike all other known objects."
"However, it is possible for an individual to lack confidence in the knowledge for various reasons, in which case it might be said that his or her knowledge was only intellectual. But the fact remains that all knowledge is intellectual, in so far as the intellect is the only instrument of knowledge that we have. Even those who claim that knowledge is only intellectual are guilty of the sin of intellectual knowledge, because the idea that there is another kind of knowledge is also an intellectual belief."
"A truly open mind will inquire before, during and after any and all experiences, worldly or spiritual. If it thinks a mystic experience is the last word and stops asking questions, it will fail to convert its indirect self knowledge into direct knowledge."
Adyashanti strongly advocates the same:
“In almost every person, every religion, every group, every teaching, and every teacher, there are ideas, beliefs, and assumptions, which are overtly or covertly not open to question."
"Often these unquestioned beliefs hide superstitions, which are protecting something that is untrue, contradictory, or being used as justification for teachings and behaviors that are less than enlightened."
"The challenge of enlightenment is not simply to glimpse the awakened conditioned, nor even to continually experience it. It is to be and express it as your self in the way you move in the world."
"In order to do this, you must come out of hiding behind any superstitious beliefs and find the courage to question everything. Otherwise, you will continue to hold onto superstitions that distort your perception and expression of that which is only ever AWAKE.”
"To gain the vision of non-duality, words are extremely helpful. The argument that enlightenment only happens in silence is untrue, because silence is not opposed to ignorance. If inquiry takes place in silence, it may result in enlightenment. But words are much more likely to result in enlightenment, because they can function as vehicles for knowledge. Only knowledge cancels ignorance." (16)
"The words of scripture come from awareness. Awareness knows itself and knows that some part of itself does not know. Because it is limitless, it has the power to seemingly not know itself and to evolve the teachings that can remove its seeming ignorance." (17)
He also says:
"Therefore, how are you going to see awareness? You cannot see awareness just as you cannot see your eyes, because whatever self is seeing now is awareness. The fact that you see means that you have eyes. All that can happen is that awareness recognizes itself. The right words can bring about recognition. So when we say that awareness cannot be described, it can only be the implied meaning of a word, not the direct meaning. For instance, as you read the words on this paper, it seems that you are only experiencing the words, but if you investigate the situation you will see the existence of words implies the existence of paper. The paper provides the context for the experience of the words. They are separate from the paper, but they are also not separate from the paper either, because they cannot exist without the paper. It is important to understand this point, because if awareness is not available through words, what is the point of the scriptures that make up the science of self inquiry?"
A beautifully concise rendering of the Vedantic path to happiness is given here, courtesy of the Himalayan Institute.
Continuing on the power of words given by the enlightened, in the Tripura Rahasya (or The Mystery Beyond the Trinity) we find:
"The best among sages can, without hesitation, give complete answers on matters relating to Realization and the sublimest truths. He seems to be spontaneously animated when discussing matters pertaining to jnana (knowledge) and is never tired of their exposition." (19)
Similarly, the sage Yagnavalkya of Vedic times, who taught the need to unite the Paramatma with Brahman in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, has been taken as a model of the ideal teacher since the earliest times:
"He exemplifies a major characteristic of the guru, namely, to teach fully, holding nothing back. Although different teachers use different methods, the authentic guru holds nothing in reserve; he teaches all that he knows and experiences. According to the texts, Yajnavalkya exposed principles relentlessly until understanding took place. These early teachers, though their teaching was frequently obscure and esoteric, were not part of a closed society. There was no fear of a free exchange of ideas even among the teachers themselves. Above all, they were concerned for the lineage of sacred wisdom and the necessity of its transmission." (20)
PB writes on the teacher’s use of words:
“It is certainly hard to capture this transcendental indefinable experience in prosaic pen-and-ink notes. But is it really so impossible for the initiate to break his silence and voice his knowledge in some dim finited adumbration of the Infinite? To confess that intellectually we know nothing and can know nothing about the Absolute is understandable. But to say that therefore we should leave its existence entirely out of our intellectual world-view, is not. For although the exact definition and direct explanation of words are unable to catch the whole of this subtle experience within their receiving range because they are turned into ordinary human intellectual emotional and physical experience, they may nevertheless evoke an intuitive recognition of its beauty; they may suggest to sensitive minds a hint of its worth and they may arouse the first aspiration towards its attainment for oneself.”
“Why if this state transcends thinking, whether in words or pictures, have so many mystics nevertheless written so much about it? That they have protested at the same time the impossibility of describing the highest levels of their experience does not alter this curious fact. The answer to our question is that to have kept completely silent and not to have revealed that such a unique experience is possible and that such a supreme reality is existent would have been to have left their less fortunate fellow men in utter ignorance of an immensely important truth about human life and destiny. But to have left some record behind them, even if it would only hint at what it could not adequately describe, would be to have left some light in the darkness. And even though an intellectual statement of a super-intellectual fact is only like an indirect and reflected light, nevertheless it is better than having no light at all.”
“So long as men feel the need to converse with other men on this subject, so long as masters seek to instruct disciples in it, and so long as fortunate seers recognize the duty to leave some record--even if it be an imperfect one--of their enlightenment behind them for unfortunate humanity, so long will the silence have to be broken..and the lost word uttered anew.” (21)
V.S. Iyer writes:
"Sankara was extremely precise and careful in his choice of words. He was no fool in writing...[He] stressed the great importance of freeing our use of words from all ambiguity...Sankara himself has warned us not to use ambiguous words, and to practice semantic analysis in his book, "Definition of one's own Self." (22)
Iyer further hints at the method of the guru:
"The Guru begins his work by asking the candidate what knowledge he already has. Then the sage may sometimes indirectly create a doubt in order to ascertain if a candidate is fit for higher knowledge." (23)
While a Vedic reformer, rejecting the need for rituals and sacrifices, Sankara did lay out four basic qualifications for the study of Vedanta under a competent guru. These are: first, the ability to discriminate between the permanent and impermanent (Nitya-Anitya-Vastu-Viveka), second, non-attachment to the fruits of actions in this world and the next (Iha-Amutra-Phala-Bhoga-Vairagya), third, the six virtues (control of the mind (Shama), control of the senses (Dama), satiety in the enjoyment of sense-objects (Uparati), endurance (Titiksha), faith (Shraddha), balanced concentration (Sama dhana)), and fourth, the sustained desire to achieve Moksha (Mumukshutva). It must be remembered here that acquiring this four fold wealth is not a walk in the park because it depends upon the continuity of purifying Karmas performed by the seeker in his past lives. The Bhagavad Gita says: ‘One cannot transcend Karma, without performing Karma’ (3.4) .
So great importance is placed on studying under a competent guru, a master of Self-Knowledge, whose right use of words can catalyze an awakening in the ripe student. But how to become ‘ripe’, and why is there the need for sharp thinking? Why is not a quiet mind and samadhi a sufficient means for liberation? The following quotes should help us. First, Francis Wickes issues a warning to all who would dismiss the use of the mind and the power of Reason (or Buddhi, which is higher than intellect being the faculty of the mind which discriminates truth from falsehood; "He (Atman) is seen with Buddhi," says the Katha Upanishad), and which Plato said was our only sure guide in the wilderness of ignorance, confirmatory even to our intuitions, and which Buddha advised his disciples to always use to test the veracity of any spiritual teaching:
” ‘Thinking hard’ hurts. It turns the sharp point of truth back upon the thinker. It pricks the bubble of ego complacency blown up by thinking easy. Its sharp wound forbids the forgetfulness which is the goal of evasive thinking. If one can forget the inner experience and its challenge can be evaded, the ego can remain comfortably unborn in the womb of the already known.” (24)
"Thinking is a very difficult thing. It's very hard. As a matter of fact, one man, Nikhilinanda, made the statement that man would rather die than think...The analysis of cognition is a very strict rational activity. It requires the utmost and demands the utmost. But it will give you in return a real reward. If a person says, "Well, I see the sun rise, and you can't convince me that it doesn't rise," then there's no sense arguing, talking, because he wants me to prove something, but he won't accept reason as the guide. And if you don't accept reason as the guide, then there's no sense arguing of having a discussion." (25)
Yet, we must have compassion. There is a reason a majority of mankind is averse to deep thinking. Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) wrote:
"The greater part of men are much too exhausted and enervated by their struggle with want to be able to engage in a new and severe contest with error. Satisfied if they themselves can escape from the hard labor of thought, they willingly abandon to others the guardianship of their thoughts."
Norman Angell writes:
"To have a settled opinion disturbed, pulls up your moorings; we have to start all over again. And so we hate the man who disturbs those settled opinions. If you do not believe it, watch your feelings the next time someone proves to you that the theory you have so carefully cultivated in the garden of your mind, watering and weeding it, is rubbish; note how you feel when he tramples on it ruthlessly. He has done you a service; put you on the track of truth. Are you really grateful? Or do you want to slap him?" (25a)
So in this world where love has yet to take hold, there is all the more incentive for those of us in better circumstances to pursue the bodhisattva vow, spread the teachings and help others as best we can.
If non-dual inquiry as Ramana Maharshi said, was for ‘ripe souls’, in general, then what have been the ancient means recommended for becoming such a ‘ripe’ soul (‘soul’ here meaning a projected body-mind-intellect-ego complex, or subtle body, illuminated by the emanated light of the Soul itself, capable of reflecting or giving the vision or experience of the Self), which can then be further inquired into?
Even though the virtues of compassion and unconditional love sprout effortlessly from the enlightened condition, for the aspiring student various ancillary practices to that of inquiry or the practise of knowledge have been generally recommended. To superimpose the idea 'all is non-dual Consciousness' upon the perceived world of duality is relatively fruitless before one has seen through the ego. Therefore practises, conceived out of the Intelligence of Consciousness itself, have been devised by sages towards that effect. These are not absolutely required, for their are no absolutes for practice. It is just that for many seekers, these are helpful at various stages of their development (or dismantlement!). These constitute perhaps most importantly, a burning desire for liberation. Now, some radical non-dualists might object, saying this is a desire of the ego, which doesn't exist, and is therefore a self-imposed obstacle to realization; the Ratnagotravibhaga, however, states the following:
"If the element of the Buddha did not exist [in everyone], there could be no disgust with suffering, nor could there be a wish for Nirvana, nor striving for it, nor a resolve to win it." (26)
Edward Conze further states:
"The Mahayana came to the conclusion that it is really the Buddha in us who does the seeking and that it is the Buddha-nature in us which seeks Buddhahood." (27)
Sri Nisargadatta said:
"The urge to find oneself is a sign that you are getting ready. The impulse always comes from within. Unless your time has come, you will neither have the desire nor the strength to go for self-enquiry whole-heartedly." (28)
The all-consuming desire for liberation is also to be supported, for a time at least (months, years, or lifetimes, depending on the aspirant!) by ‘Long Path’ exercises such as described by PB and others, i.e. the karma yoga attitude of selfless service (doing what needs to be done whether one wants to do it or not; or, in a higher, freer form, "when you don’t need anything from the world, or from other people, everything you do is service"), bhakti or devotion to God, Guru, or Higher Power, which help to thin down the ego-I; adherence to dharmic laws, or laws of right action, which help neutralize vasanas; cultivation of discrimination, dispassion, compassion, faith, perseverence, a balanced and concentrative mind, scriptural study to remove doubts and purify citta, preferably under the tutelage of a competent sage, and a burning desire for liberation. All of these qualifications are gone into in great detail in texts like the Bhagavad-Gita, Shiva-Samhita, Hathayoga-Pradipika, Vivekachudamani, and Vedanta-Sara. Why these have been considered necesssary is pointed out by PB:
"Ramana Maharshi was quite right. Pruning the ego of some faults will only be followed by the appearance and growth of new faults! Of what use is it so long as the ego remains alive?...But although Maharshi was right, his teaching gives only part of Truth's picture. Presented by itself, and without the other part, it is not only incomplete but may even become misleading. By itself it seems to indicate that there is no need to work on our specific weaknesses, that they can be left untouched while we concentrate on the essential thing - rooting out the ego. But where are the seekers who can straight away root it out? For the very strength of purpose and power of concentration needed for this uprooting will be sapped by their faults." (29)
Although these are not sufficient means for liberation, they play an important supporting role, a bridge between the world of experience (duality) and that of identity (non-duality). That is why sages evolved these skillful methods. Sankara was no exception. Current direct school teachings often avoid these means, saying instead simply that "there is no doer," you are already enlightened", etc., thereby sometimes not meeting their students where they are and leaving them without practical means to affect their liberation or go beyond doership, to cross the 'bridge' from relativity to the absolute, or, in other words, to discriminate between the real and the unreal. In Vedanta the student starts with the world of his common experience, which is then and only then skillfully deconstructed by his guru. The distinction between relative and absolute is respectfully maintained, until it is no longer necessary.
Or, as Damiani pointed out:
"You have to find out that you are impotent to change yourself. And you're not going to find out unless you try, and you really have to try because you can't kid the Soul. You'll never know what the limits are until you try. You have to exhaust whatever potentiality you have before you can say, "I give up." You can't say, "I give up," before you've started; that would be phony. But you're actually going to have to reach the point of satiation with frustration. I think I must have called on that higher help a thousand and one times. It doesn't hear me. It says, "Try harder." (30)
Sri Nisargadatta said:
"Unless you make tremendous efforts, you will not be convinced that effort will take you nowhere. The self is so self-confident, that unless it is totally discouraged, it will not give up. Mere verbal conviction is not enough. Hard facts alone can show the absolute nothingness of the self-image." (31)
Sri Annamalai Swami, disciple of Ramana Maharshi, stated:
"You have to make an enormous effort to realize the Self. It is very easy to stop on the way and fall back into ignorance. At any moment you can fall back. You have to make a strong determined effort to remain on the peak when you first reach it, but eventually a time will come when you are fully established in the Self. When that happens, you cannot fall. You must have a lifelong commitment to establish yourself in the self. Your determination to succeed must be strong and firm, and it should manifest as continuous, not part-time, effort. For many lifetimes you have been immersed in ignorance. You are habituated to it. All your deeply rooted beliefs, all your patterns of behavior reinforce ignorance and strengthen the hold it has over you. This ignorance is so strong, so deeply enmeshed in all your psychological structures, it takes a massive effort over a long period of time to break free from it. The habits and beliefs that sustain it have to be challenged again and again." (32)
Again, Sri Nisargadatta emphasized:
"The realized man lives on the level of the absolutes; his wisdom, love and courage are complete, there is nothing relative about him. Therefore he must prove himself by tests more stringent, undergo trials more demanding...We discover it by being earnest, by searching, inquiring, questioning daily and hourly, by giving ones life to this discovery. The very facts of repetition, of struggling on and on and of endurance and perseverance, in spite of boredom and despair and complete lack of confidence are really crucial...You must strive for liberation; the least you can do is uncover and remove the obstacles diligently. If you want peace you must strive for it. You will not get peace just by keeping quiet." (33)
But he also said that to know the truth one must have times when he is quiet and enters the silence, that one must go beyond the mind:
"Keep quiet, undisturbed, and the wisdom and power will come on their own. You need not hanker. Wait in silence of the heart and mind. It is very easy to be quiet, but willingness is rare. You people want to be supermen overnight. Stay without ambition, without the least desire, exposed, vulnerable, unprotected, uncertain and alone, completely open to and welcoming life as it happens..." (34)
He uttered this warning about "stepping into what can be described, when seen from the level of the mind, as emptiness and darkness":
"It is all-pervading, all-conquering, intense beyond words. No ordinary brain can stand it without being shattered, hence the absolute need for sadhana. Purity of body and clarity of mind, non-violence and selflessness in life are essential for survival as an intelligent and spiritual entity." (35)
Being a true sage, however, Nisargadatta eventually said everything, depending on who he was talking to. If one looks closely, one can find numerous seeming contradictions in the book I AM THAT. But these may not really be contradictions, but rather skillfull dissemination of whatever teaching was most useful for those in front of him, to 'crack their case.' Further, on the one hand, he never tired of stressing the need for earnestness, striving, and so on, but he also spoke of having a 'curiosity' about consciousness, without the necessity of strenuous effort. Of course there is paradox here. He also offered the traditional way of faith in the Guru:
"There is an alternative to sadhana, which is trust. If you cannot have the conviction born from fruitful search, then take advantage of my discovery which I am so eager to share with you. I can see that you have never been, nor are, nor will be estranged from reality, that you are the fulness of perfection here and now and that nothing can deprive you of your heritage, of what you are...Just trust me and live by trusting me. I shall not mislead you. You are the Supreme Reality beyond the world and its creator, beyond consciousness and its witness, beyond all assertions and denials. Remember it, think of it, act on it." (36)
He even went this far with some disciples:
"It is a matter of temperament. You too are right. For you singing the praises of God is enough. You need not desire realization, nor take up a sadhana. God's name is all the food you need. Live on it." (37)
"[You can have reality here and now] provided you are really fed up with everything, including your sadhanas. When you demand nothing of the world, nor of God, when you want nothing, seek nothing, expect nothing then the Supreme state will come to you uninvited and unexpected." (38)
Q: "In the beginning we may have to pray and meditate for some time before we are ready for self-enquiry."
M: "If you believe so, go on. To me, all delay is a waste of time. You can skip all the preparation and go directly for the ultimate search within. Of all the Yogas it is the simplest and the shortest.' (39)
In this day and age, as Ramana Maharshi once said, there is not likely to be even one candidate who can meet those stringent requirements. So the compasionate method of many saints and sages now is, "teachings and the grace first, preparation later"!
In Zen, nevertheless, it is traditionally recognized that a great deal of work is required. The paradoxical result of effort, however, is revealed in the following exchange. As Tsou-hsin said to his master, Houei-nan, after attaining satori:
“If the truth of Zen is what I possess now, why do you make us swallow all those old tales and exhaust us in efforts to find out the meaning of them?” To which his master replied, “ If I did not make you fight in every possible way in order to find the meaning and lead you finally to a state of non-fighting and of no-effort from which you can see with your own eyes, I am sure that you would lose every chance of discovering yourself.” (40)
Sri Nisargadatta agrees:
"You must really have had surfeit of being the person you are, now see the urgent need of being free of this unnecessary self-identification with a bundle of memories and habits. This steady resistance against the unnecessary is the secret of success." (41)
The great Tsongkhapa stated:
"If one does not think hard about the drawbacks of suffering,
one has not sufficient yearning for liberation." (42)
Nagarjuna poignantly emphasizes:
"So many tears you have shed in samsaras realms
When separated from your dearest friends,
The teardrops from your eyes
Would overflow the basins of the oceans." (43)
Nevertheless, direct paths such as the 'awareness watching awareness' method are surely short-cuts to an awakening - for those who are ready. And even if one appears to be not ready, he can still try while continuing to seek and do various sadhanas. In one variation one simply notices that everything: perceptions, sensations, thoughts, are perceived by something, i.e. awareness. They never occur outside of awareness. Therefore, awareness must already be the case no matter what happens. The task, if one looks at it that way, is to understand and increasingly identify more and more with that pure awareness, with the end result that the virtues that are, on the indirect paths, disciplinary requirements, arise of themselves out of the openness of the recognition of awareness, the absolute ground, which is not different from ones ordinary awareness. From the Tibetan Book of the Dead:
"This radiant and lucid awareness is itself referred to as ‘ordinary
consciousness’, on account of those periods when it abides in its natural state in
an ordinary way. However many pleasant-sounding names are applied to this
awareness, those who maintain that these do not refer to this present conscious awareness,
Nothing Special , but to something else, above and beyond it, resemble someone who has already found an elephant, but is out looking for its tracks (elsewhere)." (44)
Colin Drake says that everything perceived is a pointer to awareness, because it arises in that very awareness, formless awareness, aware ‘nothingness’ that we are. He writes:
"In terms of enlightenment, freedom, moksha, nirvana or liberation there
is nothing to achieve, nothing to find and nothing to desire, long for, or
acquire. All that is required is to recognize what is (already here), that
which you already are, at a deeper level than body/mind (thoughts and
sensations): awareness itself!"
"The simplest and easiest way to realize one’s essential nature is to totally relax into pure awareness, which is the deepest, most fundamental level of one’s being. At this suggestion the mind is likely to say, ‘How do I do this?’ or ‘How can I find this state of relaxation?’ or ‘How can I get there?’ This is easily solved by realizing that there is nothing to achieve, for awareness is already present; there is nothing to find, for awareness cannot be lost; and there is nothing to get, for you already have and are awareness." (45)
Drake argues, in his book, Beyond the Separate Self, that ever deepening of one’s identification with awareness will eventually result in the acquirement of the six paramitas (or perfections) and ten bhumis (stages of enlightenment) of Buddhism, culminating in full Buddhahood, including the power of aiding souls into the far corners of the universe. There is truly no end to the fruits of identification with ones ordinary awareness. [This seems a bit of a stretch.Traditionally, many auxilliary practices were necessary to support such awakening].
Even so, he concedes that this practice does require some vigilance, some 'cultivation' of watching or recognizing awareness, some direct intent and commitment. But it is the shorter way for those who are so inclined and for those who are ready for it.
It must be pointed out again, that the path of Vedanta does not initially negate the existence of the ordinary world, giving it a relative reality, and that the tendency of some contemporary non-dual teachings to insist that there is no 'doer', or 'no one to do anything', can in some cases lead to confusion and spiritual stagnancy. One antidote to this potential problem of the 'awareness' teachings, are the 'Emptiness' teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, in particular Nagarjuna, which are logical and practical in their investigations. As Greg Goode writes:
"There are three main reasons for not refuting conventional existence. One is that conventional existence, according to Middle Way Buddhism, is not the cause of suffering. Therefore, there is no necessity to refute it. Two, not refuting conventional existence allows Buddhism to be able to “speak with the world” by accepting what the world accepts. Three, not refuting conventional existence provides a way for Buddhism to present the Four Noble Truths and the eight-fold path to the end of suffering. Even though the Buddhist teachings are vast and profound teachings, they are still conventional existents. By not refuting conventional existence while indeed refuting inherent existence, Buddhism itself can tread the Middle Way between the extremes of existence. If conventional existence were refuted along with inherent existence, the Buddhist path would not be possible since nothing would be said to exist. Refuting conventional existence would err on the side of nihilism. Retaining conventional existence avoids this extreme."
"On the other hand, if inherent existence were not refuted, then too the Buddhist path would not be possible. Inherently existent things are independent of everything and therefore causeless, untouchable and eternal. If things existed inherently, they would be forever frozen in place, and no change or progress along the Buddhist path would be possible. Suffering entities would forever remain suffering entities. For Buddhism not to refute inherent existence would err on the side of eternalism. Avoiding both extremes is the Middle Way." (http://nondualityamerica.wordpress.com/emptiness-teachings/)
This is not merely an intellectual exercise, but one that requires great effort and even feeling. It is said traditionally that to be truly ready for Emptiness teachings requires that one burst into tears at the mere mention of the word 'Emptiness', or that its contemplation will make ones 'hair stand on end'. We should add, moreover, that Consciousness, being noumenal, is not refutable, unless one considers it to be a 'thing', and therefore it is not inconsistent with the teachings of Emptiness. This is why Anthony Damiani argues that one must combine the viewpoints of both Vedanta and Buddhism to get a clear picture:
"Soul in its nature or essence is of an unchanging consciousness. The ego, which is part of the World-Idea [a term used by PB. For a precise explanation of PB's terminology, which the reader will found scattered throughout this paper, please click here
] , is constantly changing from moment to moment. You've got to explain that. You've got to explain the Buddhist position and the Vedantic position. One is a psychological one and the other is more metaphysical. Understand the nature of consciousness that the ego represents - that is from moment to moment, and that would be the Buddhist position. Understand the nature of the consciousness which is always abiding, never changing, and that would be the Vedantic position. Now the two of them are together in every and any situation that you care to think about....If we say that the World-Idea - the world and all the bodies in it - is the product of this Mind which, from instant to instant, is manifesting this world, then body and the world have to be changing from moment to moment. And we're speaking about consciousness. I'm speaking about this body which is manifesting from instant to instant. I'm speaking about consciousness manifesting from instant to instant. That means that my body is this consciousness manifesting instant to instant. Inside that - and this is a colloquialism - inside that is this light of the soul which doesn't change. This is the light, so to speak, that becomes aware of change. It itself is unchanging. And I've got these two things together."
Or, as PB wrote:
"There is no real ego but only a quick succession of thoughts which constitutes the "I" process. There is no separate entity forming the personal consciousness but only a series of impressions, ideas, images revolving round a common centre. The latter is completely empty; the feeling of something being there derives from a totally different plane--that of the Overself."
That is why on inquiry of the source of the 'I-thought', or 'I AM thought', or 'I-feeling', one finds nothing, or better said, no-thing. But it is a pregnant no-thing, being Consciousness itself.
Sri Nisargadatta says:
"To know what you are, you must first investigate and know
what you are not. Discover all that you are not - body, feelings,
thoughts, time, space, this or that -nothing which you can
perceive can be you. The very act of perceiving shows that you
are not what you perceive."
One final example of this direct path of recognizing ones, eternal, but ordinary, awareness. Tarun Sardana writes:
"One is pure awareness and the mind owes its existence to this awareness. When a seeker sees the mind and thoughts arising from the mind separate from himself, he knows that he has nothing to do with the mind. The mind does not bother him any more. He does not spend his time and effort in silencing the mind. He just remains as pure awareness, watching it all happen in this awareness."
Perhaps a compromise position lies in the following recommendation found in Buddha's Brain
, by Rick Hanson:
"Being with whatever rises, working with the tendencies of mind to transform them, and taking refuge in the ground of being are the essential practices of the path of awakening. In many ways, these practices correspond, respectively, to mindfulness, virtue, and wisdom."
Continuing with our previous theme, on the path of Vedanta, it should be mentioned that, according to Swartz, perfection is not required but there is only the need to eradicate enough of the grosser (tamasic and rajasic) vasanas to give inquiry a chance, or the practises of the ‘Short (or ‘direct’) Path’ to be possible.
Schwartz further argues that the 'Neo-Advaita' approach of sitting in satsang in silence to pick up the transmission of the teacher is often insufficient, because (1) as stated, silence is compatible with both knowledge and ignorance (2) silence will not eradicate chronic thought patterns (although by calmly observing them they may eventually become 'obsolete through non-use') (3) ignorance is so deeply ingrained in most people that only if satsang is combined with prolonged and deep immersion in the teachings and scriptures of non-duality will knowledge of the Self become firm. Merely having a glimpse or experience of the Self, what Schwartz calls an 'epiphany', is not enough to eradicate the tendencies of egoity.
Sri Nisargadatta said:
"First words, then silence. One must be ripe for silence."
It is interesting that many of the current non-dual teachers who argue that there is "nothing to do" because "there is no one to do it", seem to ignore the ordeals that many of their gurus or role models went through, and some of their students also ignore that their teachers give different messages at different times, according to who they are talking to.
For instance, Adyashanti says, on the one hand, that everything is the One, and that the search is unnecessary. On the other hand, he says that what he went through for fifteen years was very, very difficult, and that a "total transformation is required". Nisargadatta, who advised some of his disciples that chanting and pujas were enough for them, and for others said that they only need inquire in order to realize the I AM, also said about realization that "no ordinary mind can stand it; that is why sadhana is required.
" Iconoclast U.G. Krishnamurti, who made fun of all other gurus and their teachings and practises, saying they were all useless, nevertheless, said,
"I discovered for myself and by myself that there is no self to realize - that’s the realization I am talking about. It comes as a shattering blow. It hits you like a thunderbolt. You have invested everything in one basket, self-realization, and, in the end, suddenly you discover that there is no self to discover, no self to realize and you say to yourself, ‘What the hell have I been doing all my life!’ That blasts you. All kinds of things happened to me - I went through that, you see. The physical pain was unbearable - that is why I say you really don’t want this. I wish I could give you a glimpse of it, a touch of it - then you wouldn’t want to touch this at all... You wouldn’t want anything to do with this. It is total surrender, throwing in the towel, throwing in the sponge - and what comes out of this is jnana ...All those to whom this kind of thing has happened have really worked very hard, touched rock bottom, staked everything. It does not come easily. It is not handed over to you on a gold platter by somebody.”
Papaji, who has spawned a host of new teachers who usually place a photo of Ramana Maharshi next to them in their satsangs, presumably to legitimize their lineage, himself did extensive sadhana, not just the "say 'Who am I?' and then keep quiet" advice that he told most of his followers (as opposed to the more rigorous form of inquiry and disciplined life that his supposed guru Ramana taught). He also said that he withheld a higher teaching because those who came to him were not ready.
PB also said one should not imagine the task is harder than it is, that one should not be mislead by doing too much reading of spiritual literature, yet most of the time he stressed that the quest required everything of a man, that the hard fact is that it is usually a work of successive lifetimes.
We will not deny the awakening of some of the newer teachers and students alike, only to stress that the teachings sometimes appear imbalanced and too simplistic, and very often not a sufficient means to guide a majority to realization. Too easily the traditional teachings are thrown out, and the mental, emotional, moral, and metaphysical preparation discarded as unnecessary to produce readiness. More than a few set up shop without the qualifications to be teachers, moreover, which is not the given occupation of all who have an awakening. Nevertheless, it is useful to listen to the arguments of the direct path teachers, as a counterbalance to the beliefs of the ego that it must do many things in order to attain enlightenment, that it is in fact a doer, which is an obstacle to realization itself. The non-dual teachings, in short, can help keep you sane in the midst of making an honest, practical assessment of ones actual condition and what one may have to go through.
Bart Marshall of TAT speaks on the paradox of non-duality and effort through reference to the teachings of Richard Rose.
There is no need to forestall the conclusion, and everyone is coming from a different place with a different background, walking a different path, but one must be sincere and honest with himself.
Nevertheless, more than a few awakened souls have told me that often the non-dualists they have met have seemed lacking in compassion, and somewhat cold and detached. That may be because the non-dualists in point were not fully "cooked," or, in all fairness, it may be due to the observer's projection, based on prior expectation of what an awakened being should look like. Nevertheless, compassion, bodhicitta, or karuna have long been considered hallmarks of enlightenment. The Dalai Lama has said:
"Compassion is the real essence of religion..I myself feel and also tell other Buddhists that the question of nirvana will come later. There is not much hurry. But if in day to day life you lead a good life, honestly with love, with compassion, with little selfishness: then automatically it will lead to nirvana." (53)
If a person on a 'direct' path, therefore, feels spiritually superior to someone on a more gradual or 'indirect' path, then he is making a big mistake. Similarly, if someone on a traditional path feels superior to one pursuing a direct path, the same applies. They are both missing the entire point of practise, which is to reveal that we are all the same. Externals may differ, but inwardly we are all one. If you feel superior, then you lack compassion. That is a word expressing the realization that regardless of evolution, appearance, talents, or intelligence, we are all equally valuable in the eyes of eternity; such is wisdom. That is recognition of the attributes of the free Soul, the notion of the Soul often bypassed in non-dual teachings: Compassion, Strength, Truth, Bliss, Beauty, Love, Wisdom, and Power. The point here is, 'judge not lest ye be judged and found wanting'.
Adyashanti issues a succinct warning:
"I have seen many spiritual people become obsessed with how unspiritual others are and assume an arrogant and superior attitude while completely missing the fact that they themselves are not nearly as spiritually enlightened as they would like to think they are. Enlightenment can be measured by how compassionately and wisely you interact with others—with all others, not just those who support you in the way that you want. How you interact with those who do not support you shows how enlightened you really are... The biggest challenge for most spiritual seekers is to surrender their self importance, and see the emptiness of their own personal story. It is your personal story that you need to awaken from in order to be free...To give up being either ignorant or enlightened is the mark of liberation and allows you to treat others as your Self. What I am describing is the birth of true Love. “ (54)
Jeff Foster brilliantly portrays this in his humorous essay The Advaita Trap
. This one should not be missed.
What it boils down to, as they say in Zen, is "cease having views.
Something to keep in mind, when one gets too serious - or not serious at all.
Proceeding with our line of thought, why thinking and the use of the intellect is important, especially for the later stages on the direct path of identity versus the paths of experience has been argued thusly:
The contention of jnanis or sages is that enlightenment itself is not the direct fruit of concentration, samadhi or meditative absorption (although that may be indeed be preparation), but rather is a discriminative knowledge or insight arising when the Self and Maya (illusion) are finally seen as non-separate, in the midst of any and all conditions and states. If the effort is only to kill the mind, they will say, how can such discrimination arise?
Sankara's method of 'neti, neti' is often misunderstood. In it the sheaths or upadhis are rejected one by one as 'not-self' in order to reach the Self. Sankara has often, in fact, been accused of being a 'crypto-Buddhist' as the dialectic of him and his predecessor Guadapa was nearly identical to that of the Madhyamika Buddhists. However, the doctrine of the five sheaths in the Tittireya Upanishad, which forms part of the material which Sankara drew from, never once mentioned negating a sheath as not real or as not-self. Rather, the method of analysis was wholistic, in which one successively realized each sheath as
the Self, incorporating each in turn within the other, until nothing was known apart from the bliss of the Self. Sankara used an epistemological
method of negation, which some have interpreted as ontological
negation, looking for an essence apart from that which was not real. But, in non-dual truth, there is no such essence, as nothing is not-real or known apart from the Self. Sankara, like many teachers in different traditions, such as Dzogchen, for instance, used a two-phased approach, in which the ultimate realization was given as a pinnacle practice after certain preliminaries had been achieved. For Sankara, first the world is seen as unreal (impermanent, or lacking inherent reality), then Brahman is known as real (unchanging), then the world is seen as Brahman. In more indirect forms of Buddhism, one analyzes the five skhandas or aggregates in order to find the self as 'empty', which in turn must then also be seen as empty (presumably by awakening to what, in vedanta, is said to be THAT which knows the emptiness, and which lesser forms of Buddhism fail to recognize), while in the more 'direct school' of Buddhism such as Dzogchen, while one still engages preliminary or ngondro practices of virtue, samatha ('calm abiding') and vipashyana (insight meditation), the important transmission of the non-dual vision is given or pointed out by the guru.
The Upanishad, in this case, essentially gave a positive method of Truth from the beginning.
For ripe souls, the ancient non-dual text, the Ashtavakra Gita, boldly states:
"You are unattached, actionless, self-effulgent, without blemish. This indeed is your bondage; that you practise meditation."
He also wrote:
"The person with a keen intellect becomes enlightened even when the instruction is imparted casually, whereas without it the immature seeker continues to remain confused even after a lifetime of seeking."
Ramesh Balsekar comments on this verse:
"This is one of the most significant verses in the entire work, and yet it has been misinterpreted hideously. In one interpretation, it has been said, "Self-knowledge instantaneously dawns upon one who has completely purified his intellect by undergoing the necessary disciplines and endowing himself with the four qualifications required..
[renunciation, discrimination, acquisition of the six virtues, and samadhi]. Such interpretation leaves the impression that it is up to the individual to make conscious efforts to build up a kind of intellect, to "purify" the intellect to be able to achieve some thing called enlightenment. Indeed what Ashtavakra says is almost the opposite. He says that a seeker could spend a lifetime of seeking trying to acquire something to enable him to acquire another thing called enlightenment, and yet remain as confused as ever. He says the desire to acquire something (even if it is some "object" called enlightenment) is itself the obstruction, and that to understand this apparently simple fact needs a keen or "pure" intellect. It needs a kind of simplicity of intellect which can accept this letting-go of wanting anything, even enlightenment!...
"It is this very fact which is emphasized by the dictum "Na ayam atma bala-heenena labyah", which means "Self-realization is not available to those who are 'weak'". And, of course, predictably, the word "weak" has been interpreted as without strength and determination to undergo a lot of disciplines and hard work. Therefore seekers undergo a lifetime of seeking and still remain confused. What "weakness" truly means is a lack of courage to give up those traditional routines which were prescribed for when one was a spiritual beginner. It is the lack of courage to accept the intuitive promptings of the basic, fundamental Truth in its totality that all there is, is Consciousness."
PB speaks of when to use, and when to drop, the intellect:
"Idea is not the ultimate reality, it is only a manifestation of something which is its ultimate reality. The latter seems to be an abstraction. Intellectually it must be so because it is beyond the power of finite, human mentality to conceive it. But it may not be beyond the power of a higher faculty lying latent within us to have the experience of this reality--at least for a time. It is not known how to verify whether this is so or not unless the intellect humbly realizes its own limitations and voluntarily abnegates itself at a certain stage. In most cases this is done prematurely, hence the self-deceptions and hallucinations which are rife in mystical circles, but in the philosophical mystic's case it would come only after the fullest use of critical thought and analytic reasoning. This is the proper moment for such a suicidal act. For in the end he will be brought to such an abrupt turn. Perhaps Jesus' statement, "Except ye become as little children ye shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven," is appropriate here, if understood as an invitation not to foolishness but to surrender of all human pride."
"Like the two sides of the same coin, so it is that a thing thought of is thought of always by comparison with something not itself, that all our thinking is therefore always and necessarily dualistic, and that it cannot hope to grasp Oneness correctly. Hence the logical completion of these thoughts demands that it must give up the struggle, commit voluntary suicide, and let Oneness itself speak to it out of the Silence. But this must not be done prematurely or the voice which shall come will be the voice of our own personal feelings, not of That out of which feeling itself arises. Thinking must first fulfil, and fulfil to the utmost, its own special office of bringing man to reflective self-awareness, before it may rightly vacate its seat. And this means that it must first put itself on the widest possible stretch of abstract consideration about its own self. That is, it must attempt a metaphysical job and then be done with it. This is what the average mystic rarely comprehends. He is rightly eager to slay his refractory thoughts, but he is wrongly eager to slay them before they have served him effectively on his quest."
He also speaks of a special use of the intellect that the student on the philosophic path employs:
"This path is a master stroke. This method of destroying the illusion of the self by means of the intellectual function which is its primary activity stands supreme and almost alone. That very function automatically ceases when directed upon itself in the way that is herein taught. And with its cessation, the self is dissolved, appropriated by the Universal."
"The most striking point in this simple technique is that he uses the very ego itself - for so long indicated by all mystics as the greatest enemy on the Path - as the means of divine attainment. These words may sound like pure paradox, but they happen to be true. The strength of his enemy is drawn upon for his help., while that which was the supreme hindrance transforms into a pathway to the goal."
"The activity of analytical thinking has been banned in most mystical schools. They regard it as an obstacle to the attainment of spiritual consciousness. And ordinarily it is indeed so. For
[generally] until the intellect can lie perfectly still, such consciousness cannot make itself apparent. The difficulty of making intellect quite passive is however an enormous one. Consequently different concentration techniques have been devised to overcome it. Nearly all of them involve the banishment of thinking and the cessation of reasoning. The philosophical school uses any or all of them where advisable
: as did Sankara, the tantric and yogi] but it also uses a technique peculiarly its own. It makes use of abstract concepts which are concerned with the nature of the mind itself and are furnished by seers who have developed a deep insight into such nature. It permits the student to work out these concepts in a rational way but leading to subtler and subtler moods until they automatically vanish and thought ceases as the transcendental state is induced to come of itself. This method is particularly suited either to those who have already got over the elementary difficulties of concentration or to those who regard reasoning power as an asset to be conserved rather than rejected. The conventional mystic, being the victim of external suggestion, will cling to the traditional view of his own school, which usually sees no good at all in reasoned thinking, and aver that spiritual attainment through such a path is psychologically impossible. Never having been instructed in it and never having tried it, he is not really in a position to judge....Such reflection will as naturally lead the student towards realization of his goal as will the companion and equally necessary activity of suppressing all ideas in mental quiet. This is because these ideas are not mere speculations but are themselves the outcome of a translation from inner experience."
Damiani describes this particular use of words by the sage as a form of 'white magic':
"The sage has the experience of the mentalness of things, that all things are Mind, and then has to find and combine the appropriate words - this is really practicing magic - to organize the different memory traces that you work with in such a way that they will evoke in you an intuition of what the sage experienced. Then if you contemplate, or let's say you reflect on that - and that means you are very enchanted by these words, they're very meaningful and you reflect on them - then they start growing in you. Because ordinarily it wouldn't be the case that the memory traces, the way they are in our being, would organize themselves in such a way as to portray inner states of being. It's very unlikely that that would ever happen. But the sage can use words in such a way that they will invoke the necessary vasanas or memory traces in you and produce an intuition. That's, of course, a species of white magic, but the sage can do it."
While the sage can sometimes communicate to a disciple directly, depending on the sensitivity of that person, Damiani reiterates that the sage also employs the same faculties all of us have, i.e., intellect and reason:
Anthony: "The intellect keeps thinking about something, trying to figure out something, spends years on it, and then all of a sudden there's an illuminating flash of light. That's the reasoning, putting together what the intellect can't understand. And, of course, the intellect will go on and say, "Well, look what I've done." But it's basically the intuition coming through the reasoning that joins together certain strains of thought that seem disconnected, and you suddenly get an understanding of what that's about."
S: "So when the sage uses words and concepts to convey meaning, it's the reasoning that's organizing those contents to reveal something, whereas the intellect can't do that."
Anthony: " Oh yes. I don't think the intellect can be as precise."
"Thought is not the devil; it can reveal the truth. Self inquiry does not ask you to kill your mind and destroy your thoughts. It gives you the right self thought, and shows you how to use it, assuming you are seeking freedom. The right thought is 'I am awareness'. The 'I am awareness' thought is as good as awareness because when you think a thought, the mind goes to the object of the thought. The object of the 'I am awareness' thought, the"I," is awareness and it has to be present or thought cannot happen. So when you think I am aware-ness it turns the mind away from other thoughts, the mind goes to awareness and awareness is revealed. Try it."
Sri Atmananda says:
"Truth is transmitted neither through language nor through samadhi [meditative
absorption]. Both of them only destroy variety and point to the Truth. Between
the two, language is preferable by far, because it retains the power of initiative
and discrimination which are lost to the one in samadhi. Discrimination alone
can lead you beyond."
He reminds us that it is a particular use of the mind that is required, and not a matter or ordinary thinking:
“IS ‘VICARA’ THINKING ABOUT THE TRUTH?
No. It is entirely different. ‘Vicara’ is a relentless enquiry into the truth of the Self and
the world, utilizing only higher reason and right discrimination. It is not thinking at
all.You come to ‘know’ the meaning and the goal of vicara only on listening to the
words of the Guru. But subsequently, you take to that very same knowing, over and
over again. That is no thinking at all. This additional effort is necessary in order to
destroy samskaras. When the possessive identification with samskaras no longer
occurs, you may be said to have transcended them. You cannot think about anything you do not know. Therefore thinking about the Truth is not possible till you visualize it for the first time.
[thus the necessity of the guru and the aforementioned spiritual "tattvopadesha"] Then you understand that Truth can never be made the object of thought, since it is in a different plane. Thus
thinking about the Truth is never possible. The expression only means knowing, over and over again, the Truth already known.”
"The higher reason comes into play when you want to know something beyond the experience of body, senses and mind. The light in the mentation knowledge is itself the witness. The higher reason is a supra-rational instrument of thought, and its function cannot rightly be called thinking."
PB speaks of the role of thinking on the path of what he has called ‘philosophy’:
"Reason is active in the developed man. He cannot stop it from demanding a cause for an effect. I took this use of the term "Reason" from Aristotle, who made it higher than ordinary intellect, as well as creative, spiritual, eternal, and undying. The faculty of discrimination which we are to use in the pursuit of truth is not the intellect but the true Reason, which itself judges the intellect and rejects or confirms what it says. The Indian sages call it Buddhi and have even assigned to Buddhiyoga a status not a bit lower than that given to the other yoga paths.”
“The topic with which all such metaphysical thinking should end after it has pondered on mentalism is that out of which the thinking principle itself arises--Mind--and it should be considered under its aspect as the one reality. When this intellectual understanding is brought within one's own experience as fact, when it is made as much one's own as a bodily pain, then it becomes direct insight. Such thinking is the most profitable and resultful in which he can engage, for it brings the student to the very portal of Mind where it stops activity by itself and where the differentiation of ideas disappears. As the mental muscles strain after this concept of the Absolute, the Ineffable and Infinite, they lose their materialist rigidity and become more sensitive to intimations from the Overself. When thinking is able to reach such a profound depth that it attains utter impersonality and calm universality, it is able to approach the fundamental principle of its own being. When hard thinking reaches a culminating point, it then voluntarily destroys itself. Such an attainment of course can take place deep within the innermost recesses of the individual`s consciousness alone.”
In spite of the last sentence, elsewhere PB says that the questor must further learn to ‘insert’ his consciousness in between two successive pulsating ‘thoughts’ of the 'World-Idea' in order to come to Mind-in-Itself, in the waking state, which would be realization of sahaj samadhi - and which, moreover, is neither inside or outside of anything and has no center or circumference. For this, it is in fact not
absolutely necessary to first achieve deep trance as the previous quote suggested. Detachment and the attitude of karma yoga, as well as surrender and devotion, which act as preparation, along with the aforementioned ‘hard thinking’ and metaphysical reasoning, can achieve the same result. Thinking doesn’t really have to 'destroy itself' as it has no inherent self-existing reality. The need to "destroy the mind" or to make it "die forever in the Heart" advocated by some of the awakened souls who were disciples of Ramana Maharshi, such as Sri Lakshmana Swamy, Sri Sadhu Om, and Sri Annamalai Swami, is not really necessary, and can lead to a partial realization, that of a pure yogi and not a sage for whom the world and thinking are not a problem. To say that the sage doesn't see the world as some of these men attest is misleading and absurd; for the sage sees the world as non-dilemma and non-separate from Brahman. His mind and senses still work.
Moreover, every single thing in existence is a pointer towards awareness. For everything perceived appears in the pure awareness which is what you are. Thus, the task need not be as difficult as one makes it to be. It is simplicity itself, but may, nevertheless, take an apparently long time to see, as the Zen Masters say, that “your rice has been cooked from the very beginning.
“My devotees see every-thing as their Guru.”
- Sai Baba of Shirdi
"To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly."
Hubert Benoit states:
“Every perception of the outer world contains a possibility of satori because it brings into existence a bridge between the self and the Not-Self, because it implies and manifests an identity of nature between the Self and the Not-Self.”
In Seeds for the Soul
, Chuck Hillig writes:
“You already are the very Beloved that you've been seeking. Although there seems to be separate personalities in the world, there's really no separate person.You already are the very Beloved that you've been seeking. There's only "One". But it's a One without a "some-one" being attached to it.
Because of this, no matter where it is that you rest your gaze, you're always looking directly into the multi-faceted "Face-of-God." And, miraculously, it's always been your very own face. Give up your idea about what you and God seem to look like. You both look exactly like "what is."
Or, as the Prajnaparamita Sutra puts it:
“The infinitely varied forms of this world, in all their relativity, far from being a hindrance
and a dangerous distraction to the spiritual path, are really a healing medicine.”
As Plotinus said, "to perceive is to contemplate."
Continuing, V.S. Iyer emphatically states:
“When I am told to go and practice Yoga and then only I shall know its truth, I reply, “How do you know that Yoga leads to truth? This at once involves epistemology of which every yogi is ignorant and which he has never taken into consideration. Yet it is the very foundation of knowledge; without knowing epistemology a man who mentions truth or knowledge simply does not know what he is talking about...Vedanta’s atitude to mystics is, “granting that, if we place ourselves in your position, if we follow up the yoga-practices you prescribe we shall have the same mystic experiences you have had, how are we to know even then that those experiences are the truth? We shall still be faced with that question even after the experience. Hence the need for inquiry, whether before or after into “What is truth?”
“When you think you are a reflection, a ray of Brahman, you thereby separate yourself from Brahman and imagine an individual soul. Give up these imaginations and you will find yourself to be what you are.”
"No name, no form can be given to Brahman. Any Yogi who says he “sees” something within as Brahman is no sage.”
“Without Reasoning, direct cognition is impossible. The Rishis too got it through Reason: we only rely upon Reasoning.”
[This point has been disputed. anadi argues that the path of advaita was not
the path of knowledge, Buddhism was. Advaita vedanta, he maintains, while it employs reason, fundamentally was the path of revelation and grace from the spiritual Master].
“When there is a desire for final truth, when doubts come to a man, it indicates that he has begun to think.”
This strong medicine, which very few are able to take.
According to the doctrine of mentalism, "I do not so much see the world because it exists; the world exists because I see it.
Or, as Sri Nisargadatta said:
"You see yourself in the world, while I see the world in myself. To you, you get born and die, while to me, the world appears and disappears."
This is a 180 degree turn from the common view. It is also a hallmark of enlightenment. It is the knowledge that Consciousness is the bedrock, the very substance of all existence. It can become such abiding knowledge only by repetitive deep thinking and reasoning over the principles of perception, cognition, and knowledge, and most effectively with the benefit of the presence of competent sages or teachers. While a taste of this truth can also be gotten from mystic experience, it can only be made incontrovertible knowledge via the direct path by also reasoning it out and then directly perceiving Reality. Or to put it another way, first resolve perceptions into ideas, then ideas into Mind or Consciousness. This was the view of PB, V.S. Iyer, and Atmananda.
Schwartz argues, in How To Attain Enlightenment
, that the paths of karma yoga or meditative experience, including samadhi as the goal, are compatible with the path of Knowledge, but mainly as preparatory ones, to thin down the ego, purify and steady the mind. It does not provide a means to directly realize the Self, which is only the direct knowing that one is the Self. Thus, the mind and intellect play an active role in the final stage of inquiry into truth. The witness-I, he argues, is the awareness of consciousness as reflected in a sattvic mind. It is an impersonal awareness, but still the 'experience'
of consciousness or the Self, which implies a subtle dualism, and not yet the knowledge
that one IS that consciousness, or the Self, and so is the world. THAT is liberation. The witness, in other words, according to Swartz, appears to be a rarified form of Savikalpa Samadhi in which, once again, one experiences the reflection of the Self in the mind. It is not Self-realization or Liberation, which is knowledge
that one is the eternal, ever-free, ordinary, actionless Self, the One-without-a-second.
Furthermore, Schwartz maintains that direct
knowledge can actually come in Savikalpa Samadhi, because you are there, ignorance is there, and the vision of the Self is there, so the akandara vritti
(the unbroken 'I-Am the Self' thought) can destroy the ignorance and set you free...if you identify with it.
This requires a calm yet highly alert mind, not a dull or unreflective one.
On the other hand, in Nivikalpa Samadhi, the knowledge which comes is indirect
because it is only after the samadhi ends that you realize that you were 'not there'. This 'not there' inferentially proves your existence as the Self, but it doesn't achieve direct knowledge that one IS that self. This was the position of Ramana Maharshi, who said that even repeated ‘experiences’ of Nirvikalpa Samadhi [in itself no mean achievement] would not give one realization or even eradicate the vasanas. [The strict non-dualist would argue that even eradicating the vasanas is not necessary, since in non-dualism even the vasanas are Brahman. Suffice it to say, this can be a problematic view to take]. After Nirvikalpa, according to Schwartz, one remains Self-ignorant and the ego reconstitutes itself. It is, however, useful for purifying the mind and eradicating vasanas. Others are not so dogmatic in their description of Nirvikalpa, saying that it does not leave one totally ignorant in all cases but can in fact give a glimpse that the essence of the individual is unlimited consciousness; but it does not usually give full realization of non-dual truth (the meaning of the term 'the Self'), however, because it doesn't include the world; consciousness still knows itself as separate from its contents. When many yogis come out of Nirvikalpa, they are afraid of the world; they cannot make sense of it, so they yearn to return to Nirvikalpa. The sage does not, for he understands Truth.
Swartz also says:
"In actuality, enlightenment is freedom from the "I" notion, not the embodied being. The embodied being is actually limitless consciousness with an in-correct understanding of its nature. For it to free itself from erroneous self notions, it should expose itself to the means of self knowledge and contemplate the teachings dispassionately. The death of the "I" notion happens as a result of self knowledge, not something you do."
"What is self knowledge with reference to the ego? It is the knowledge that the embodied being is me but I am not the embodied being. This is tantamount to ego death because it shifts the ego from the center of consciousness to the periphery where it belongs, not that consciousness has a periphery. Self knowledge is the best of both worlds, not that there are two worlds, as it allows you to live freely as embodied consciousness, without suffering the results of actions."
Sri Atmananda says the following about the limits of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, inasmuch as it involves effort or doing:
"HOW CAN WE DISTINGUISH THE SPIRITUAL FROM THE PHENOMENAL?
Answer: The real ‘I’-principle (also called Atma, Truth, real Self, Consciousness, Peace, etc.) is alone spiritual. Everything else, including even the much applauded nirvikalpa samadhi, is phenomenal. In other words, the ultimate subject alone is spiritual, and everything with the least
trace of objectivity is phenomenal."
According to this quote, then even deep sleep should be considered phenomenal! And for Atmananda, apparently it is:
"Sleep involuntarily and you will be taken to the ignorant man’s deep sleep. Sleep voluntarily and you will be taken to nirvikalpa samadhi. Sleep knowingly and you will be taken right to your real nature (your natural state) beyond all samadhi."
[Obviously, there is a world of teaching in this statement. Just how does one get ripe enough to either sleep 'voluntarily' or 'knowingly'? It seems everyone these days thinks they can read something like this and just do it! They forget not only that Atmananda was a special being but ont who had also completed his course in yoga].
This notion that Nirvikalpa or sleep is phenomenal is difficult to understand. Phenomenal means objective, and there are no objects in Nirvikalpa or deep sleep. However, they could be considered 'phenomenal' instead of 'noumenal' because of the fact that they come and go and are not permanent states. Perhaps that is what Atmananda meant.
Damiani points out another difficulty with Nirvikalpa:
"In Nirvikalpa there is no thought. There's nothing to understand. Without the fullness of the understanding that comes from penetrating into the World-Idea - in other words, the full development of the faculty of understanding which comes to a soul through the World-Idea - in the trance state one would be utterly unprepared to understand the mysterious Void...Or we can put it this way: It will take all the teaching that the World-Mind [God as manifesting the universe] can bring to bear upon the soul, in order for the soul to understand its origins, its own priors...that's what is necessary to become the sort of philosopher that not only understands the nature of the soul but also something about the prior principles that are, let's say, eternally generating it."
This is another way of expressing the limit of conventional Nirvikalpa Samadhi: it does not give jnana, or direct knowledge of the Self. Therefore the yogis are wrong who maintain that attaining this state is moksha. It is a passing state, therefore it cannot be the Reality.
"Experience of the Self,"
once again Schwartz tells us, "is not enlightenment, but it can lead to enlightenment if the intellect can assimilate the knowledge - "I am awareness" - that arises when the attention is turned within and the mind is sattvic."
This is not clear to me. Assimilating the knowledge "I am awareness" that arises when the attention is turned 'within' would certainly give knowledge of the "I AM," but then when the attention gets turned 'without' one must still assimilate that experience along with knowledge of the "I AM" to complete the non-dual realization.
Sri Nisargadatta agrees with Swartz at least on the need for a sattvic mind:
“One must know that the real exists and is of the nature of witness-consciousness. Of course it is beyond the witness, but to enter it one must first realize the state of pure witnessing. The awareness of conditions brings one to the unconditioned....The witness is the reflection of the real in all its purity. It depends on the condition of the mind. Where clarity and detachment predominate, the witness-condition comes into being.”
It must again be emphasized that the intellect must also assimilate the knowledge 'I am awareness' when the attention is turned without
as well for the greater philosophic realization of sahaj to be attained. I think Schwartz understands this but it is not clear from his choice of words.
The problem with any form of Savikalpa Samadhi, or the witness, adds Schwartz, is that if you are not very dispassionate and do not have at least a rudimentary self-knowledge you will be so overwhelmed by the vision or perception of the Self that you will not grasp its significance and will not therefore be freed.
We have quoted Swartz often in this essay, for he sheds much light on the approach of Vedanta, and differences between knowledge and experience. While we agree that Vedanta is a tried and true method for Self-Realization, we do not hold that Vedanta is the only way to such Self-knowledge, however, nor do we feel that the difference between knowledge and experience is iron-clad.
PB, for instance, prefers to retain the use of the term "experience" by saying that realization of truth is both
an experience and
an understanding. Perhaps there are those who will employ the four-fold logic and say "it is, it isn't, it's neither, and it's both." Words definitely have their limits. PB states:
"Different terms can be used to label this unique attainment. It is insight, awakening, enlightenment. It is Being, Truth, Consciousness. It is Discrimination between the Seer and the Seen. It is awareness of That Which Is. It is the Practice of the Presence of God. It is the Discovery of Timelessness. All these words tell us something but they all fall short and do not tell us enough. In fact they are only hints for farther they cannot go: it is not on their level at all since it is the Touch of the Untouchable. But never mind; just play with such ideas if you care too. Ruminate and move among them. Put your heart as well as head into the game. Who knows one day what may happen? Perhaps if you become still enough you too may know--as the Bible suggests.."
Colin Drake writes of another way of looking at it:
"Awakening is not an experience but a recognition of something that has never been lost, and the experiences that result from this realisation are ephemeral and vary greatly from person to person."
(from Beyond the Separate Self
Continuing, we also don't believe that the path of Vedanta is the only one guaranteeing sure verification of reality. Damiani argued that the arguments of Vedanta (i.e., Atman/Brahman, the Self) really should be combined with those of Buddhism (anatta or no-self) to gain a complete picture of truth. For the 'idealistic' view of Vedanta - where the Self is asserted as the transcendental Reality to be known through direct insight and reliance on revealed scriptural pronouncements, or Maha Vakyas, and the jiva is considered to be phenomenal illusion - comes to the same ultimate conclusion as the more 'realistic' Buddhist analysis where the phenomenal self is investigated and found to be impermanent, leaving Nirvana as the transcendental Reality. Thus, Brahman of Vedanta and Nirvana of Buddhism point to the same truth.
Because the anatta or 'no-self' doctrine of early Buddhism had given rise to a doctrine of nihilism, however, Sankara came along with a mission of rejuvenating the earlier Brahmanical Vedanta and purifying India of such degenerated doctrines of Buddhism. His formulation of Vedanta, like other paths, required the unerring guidance of a competent realized teacher who has embodied the teachings and
can dispassionately and impersonally transmit grace, in the appropriate time and manner, to each individual aspirant. It wasn't a do-it-yourself path. Moreover, for Sankara there was no fundamental difference between bhakti and jnana. He even described bhakti as devoted inquiry into the nature of the Self. Earlier, Nagarjuna, seminal figure in Mahayana Buddhism and "emptiness" teachings:
"distinguished the easy way of Faith
[or devotion, bhakti] from the hard way of Wisdom."
Of course, he is pointing to the path of 'Guru Yoga' as preached in Tibetan Buddhism, as well as in various other schools, including Zen itself, a subject which is beyond the scope of this paper. However, a few quotes will be offered here in favor of this perennial alternative way, which, among other things, stresses the importance of a sanctified lineage, in Buddhism stretching all the way back to the Buddha, or to the 'Adi-Buddha', Primal Buddha or Dharmakaya itself:
"No sutra, tantra [scripture] or shastra [treatise] speaks of any being ever attaining perfect Buddhahood without having followed a spiritual teacher. We can see for ourselves that nobody has ever developed all the accomplishments of the stages and paths by relying on their own efforts and abilities alone."
- Patrul Rinpoche (74)
"Practitioners! You must understand that the Buddhist Way lies beyond thinking, discrimination, viewing, contemplation, perception and intellection. If the Buddha way were contained within these mental functions, why haven't you yet awakened, since you have always been living and playing within this domain? In practising the Way, you should not use thinking or discrimination. If you look at yourself, who is always influenced by such things as thinking, this will be as clear as looking at a bright mirror. The gate through which you can enter the Way can be pointed out only by a master who has attained the Dharma. Scholars of words and letters can not reach it."
- Dogen (75)
"A guru capable of guiding thee on the path of emancipation is indispensable. Special instructions by a wise guru which will enable one to avoid misleading paths, temptations, pitfalls and dangers are indispensable."
- Gampopa (76)
"This is a vital point. if we do not meet a guru with whom we have a karmic relationship...we have missed the most beneficial thing of all.."
"The greatest of all teachers is the one with whom we are linked from former lives..For without the right conditions created by your former actions, you would never have had the good fortune of meeting an excellent teacher."
- Patrul Rinpoche (78)
"You may know the whole Tripitaka, but without devotion to your teacher that will be of no use to you."
- Geshe Kharak Gomchang (79)
"Finally comes the Guru Yoga, uniting ones mind with the mind of the teacher...here the purity of the link between teacher and disciple is of paramount importance...The devotional practice of Guru Yoga is the only way to awaken within you the realization of the uncontrived natural state. No other method will work...The Guru Yoga is the essence of all the paths...Total openness and devotion to a realized teacher is the most sure and rapid way to progress." - Patrul Rinpoche (80)
Or, from the enigmatic Kabir:
"I've burned my own house down, the torch is in my hand.
Now I'll burn down the house of anyone who wants to follow me."
For more along the lines of Vedanta, the various samadhis, and the paths of knowledge and experience, see The Primordial Ground
on this website, as well as Schwartz's website, www.shiningworld.com/Index.htm
), including especially the dialogue Dharma Combat
In an excellent article
, Michael Comans argues that while modern exponents of Advaita Vedanta - starting with the neo-vedanta of Swami Vivekananda - advocated an experiential
path to truth, emphasizing trance samadhi, in particular Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Sankara himself did not, holding that only rock-solid Knowledge that one IS the Self was liberation, conceeding only that samadhi practice had an adjunctive value for 'unripe' aspirants as an in purifying the mind to make it a fit instrument for direct enquiry into Truth. The following is a truncated portion of Cowen’s article as borrowed from the Wanderling’s website:
"The first point to be noted is that the word Samadhi does not occur in the ten major Upanishads upon which Sankara has commented. This is not a matter to be lightly passed over, for if the attainment of Samadhi is central to the experiential verification of the Vedanta, as we can gather it is, judging by the statements of some modern Vedantins such as those cited above, then one would legitimately expect the term to appear in the major Upanishads which are the very source of the Vedanta. Yet the word does not occur. The closest approximation to the word Samadhi in the early Upanisads is the past passive participle samahita in the Chandogya and Brhadaranyaka Upanishads. In both texts the word samahita is not used in the technical meaning of Samadhi ,that is, in the sense of a meditative absorption or enstasis, although the closest approximation to this sense occurs in the Brhadaranyaka. In the first reference (BU 4.2.1) , Yajnavalkya tells Janaka: "You have fully equipped your mind (samahitatma) with so many secret names [of Brahman, that is, Upanishads]." Here the word samahita should be translated as "concentrated, collected, brought together, or composed."
"In the second occurrence (BU 4.4.23), Yajnavalkya tells Janaka that a knower of Brahman becomes "calm (santa), controlled (danta), withdrawn from sense pleasures (uparati), forbearing (titiksu), and collected in mind (samahita). This reference to samahita is the closest approximation in the Upanishads to the term Samadhi, which is well known in the later yoga literature. However, the two terms are not synonyms, for in the Upanishad the word samahita means "collectedness of mind," and there is no reference to a meditation practice leading to the suspension of the faculties such as we find in the literature dealing with yoga. The five mental qualities mentioned in BU 4.4.3 later formed, with the addition of faith (sraddha), a list of six qualifications required of a Vedantic student, and they are frequently to be found at the beginning of Vedantic texts. In these texts, the past participles used in the Upanishads are regularly changed into nominal forms: santa becomes sama, danta becomes dama, and samahita becomes samadhana, but not the cognate noun Samadhi. It would thus appear that, while Vedanta authors understood samahita and samadhana as equivalent terms, they did not wish to equate them with the word Samadhi; otherwise there would have been no reason why that term could not have been used instead of samadhana. But it seems to have been deliberately avoided, except in the case of the later Vedanta work, Vedantasara, to which we shall have occasion to refer. Thus we would suggest that, in the Vedanta texts, samadhana does not have the same meaning that the word Samadhi has in yoga texts. This is borne out when we look at how Vedanta authors describe the terms samahita and samadhana. Sankara, in BU 4.2.1, glosses samahitatma as samyuktama, "well equipped or connected." In BU 4.4.23, he explains the term samahita as "becoming one-pointed (aikagrya) through dissociation from the movements of the sense-organs and the mind." The term occurs again in the Katha Upanishad 1.2.24 in the negative form asamahita, which Sankara glosses as "one whose mind is not one-pointed (anekagra), whose mind is scattered." In introductory Vedanta manuals, samadhana is also explained by the term "one-pointed" (ekagra). The word samadhana can thus be understood as having the meaning of "one-pointed" (ekagra). In the Yogasutra, "one-pointed" (ekagra) is used to define concentration (dharana), which is the sixth of the eight limbs of Yoga and a preliminary discipline to dhyana and Samadhi. We may see, then, that the Vedantic samadhana means "one-pointedness" and would be equivalent to the yoga dharana, but it is not equivalent to the yoga Samadhi."
"The word Samadhi first appears in the Hindu scriptures in the Maitrayni Upanishad (6.18, 34), a text which does not belong to the strata of the early Upanishads and which mentions five of the eight limbs of classical Yoga. The word also occurs in some of the Yoga and Sannyasa Upanishads of the Atharvaveda. Samadhi would thus seem to be a part of yogic practice which has entered into the later Upanishadic literature through such texts as the Yoga Upanishads as a result of what Mircea Eliade calls "the constant osmosis between the Upanishadic and yogic milieus."
"There is a certain ambivalence toward yoga on the part of the followers of Vedanta. It can be seen in Brahmasutra 2.1.3, "Thereby the Yoga is refuted," which offers a rejection of yoga following upon the rejection of Sankhya philosophy. The problem as Sankara sees it is that yoga practices are found in the Upanishads themselves, so the question arises as to what it is about yoga that needs to be rejected. Sankara says that the refutation of yoga has to do with its claim to be a means of liberation independent from the Vedic revelation. He says, "... the sruti rejects the view that there is another means for liberation apart from the knowledge of the oneness of the Self which is revealed in the Veda." He then makes the point that "the followers of Sankhya and Yoga are dualists, they do not see the oneness of the Self." The point that "the followers of Yoga are dualists" is an interesting one, for if the yogins are dualists even while they are exponents of asamprajnata-samadhi (nirvikalpa-samadhi), then such Samadhi does not of itself give rise to the knowledge of oneness as the modern exponents of Vedanta would have us believe. For if it did, then it would not have been possible for the yogins to be considered dualists. Clearly the modern Vedantins, in their expectation that Samadhi is the key to the liberating oneness, have revalued the word and have given it a meaning which it does not bear in the yoga texts. And, we suggest, they have given it an importance which it does not possess in the classical Vedanta, as we are able to discern it in the writings of Sankara."
"From the evidence of the above we suggest the role of Samadhi is supportive--or purifying--and is preliminary to, but not necessarily identical with, the rise of the liberating knowledge. As is well known, Sankara considers that knowledge alone, the insight concerning the truth of things, is what liberates. To this end he places great emphasis upon words, specifically the words of the Upanishads, as providing the necessary and even the sufficient means to engender this liberating knowledge. Sankara repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the role of the teacher (guru/acarya) and the sacred texts (sastra) in the matter of liberation. For example the compound sastracaryopadesa, "the instruction on the part of the teacher and the scriptures," occurs seven times in his commentary on the Gita alone, along with other variations such as vedantacaryopadesa, and it regularly occurs in his other works as well. The modern Vedantin, on the other hand, has overlooked, possibly unknowingly, the importance which sacred language and instruction held in the classical Vedanta as a means of knowledge (pramana) and has had to compensate for this by increasing the importance of yogic Samadhi which is then put forward to be the necessary and sufficient condition for liberation."
"Although the importance of concentration is evident from the early Upanisads (BU 4.4.23), a form of yoga practice leading to the absorptive state of Samadhi is only in evidence in the later texts. We have seen that Sankara does speak of a type of concentration upon the Self which is akin to yoga insofar as there is the withdrawal of the mind from sense objects, but he does not advocate more than that and he does not put forward the view that we find in classical Yoga about the necessity of total thought suppression.”
[Note: indeed, the withdrawal from the senses on the path of knowledge need only go so far as is necessary to break the identity with body-consciousness. Thereafter one must resorb the world of the senses into the mind so there is no perceived difference between inside and outside. The body and world are seen as non-different from the Self. As Sri Atmananda stated, in this second stage “one must understand the world through the mind’s intelligence.
” Or, in the words of Huang Po,
“The original Mind is to be recognized along with the working of the senses and thoughts; only it does not belong to them, nor is it independent of them.”] (81)
“We have seen that he has used the word Samadhi very sparingly, and when he has used it, it was not always in an unambiguously favorable context. It should be clear that Sankara does not set up nirvikalpa-samadhi as a spiritual goal. For if he had thought it to be an indispensable requirement for liberation, then he would have said so. But he has not said so. Contemplation on the Self is obviously a part of Sankara's teaching, but his contemplation is directed toward seeing the ever present Self as free from all conditionings rather than toward the attainment of nirvikalpa-samadhi.
[Note: this would include free of the ‘experience’ of the Self as reflected in the pure mind] This is in significant contrast to many modern Advaitins for whom all of the Vedanta amounts to "theory" which has its experimental counterpart in yoga "practice." [Important point]
In a footnote to Cowen’s article he writes:
"In an otherwise interesting and insightful article, "The Path of No-path: Sankara and Dogen on the Paradox of Practice" (Philosophy East and West 38, no. 2 [April1988]), David Loy has come to an erroneous conclusion (p.133) that "there can be no means--not even sruti--to realize Brahman.... "But if that were the case, it would not be possible to explain Sankara's concerted effort in meticulously commenting on sruti; and such a statement also overlooks the numerous references where he states that the sruti is the means of knowledge for Brahman. It is precisely because Sankara sees no other way to arrive at the knowledge of the unconditioned Absolute that he resorts to the sacred words of the Upanishads as the means to dispel the ignorance of the ever present Self.”
Further comments on Cowen’s article:
I appreciated this article very much and am in general agreement with much of it, but would like to make just a couple of points. One, while Ramakrishna did spend alot of is time in ascended or absorptive samadhis, there is a famous quote where he castigates Vivekananda for wanting to go into nirvikalpa samadhi for days on end by saying, "You fool ! There is a state much higher than that." It is thus possible that his frequent samadhis were more because of pre-existing tendencies rather than a belief in their absolute requirement. Near the end of his life Ramakrishna also said something like "I have now given away everything (ie., implying spiritual transmission) and am just a poor beggar." (However, this is paradoxical as he also lamented that "if this body could have lasted a little longer many more would find spiritual freedom"). Vivekananda, who had Nirvikalpa Samadhi several times, and who was also tutored in non-dualism (especially by the Ashtavakra Gita which Ramakrishna hid from his other devotees) near the end of his own life said, "more and more, the true greatness of life seems to be that of the worm doing its duty, silently and from moment to moment." So reference to the need for 'direct experience' by either of these two as the indication of adherence to a yogic Neo-Vedanta may not indicate a belief in the necessity of Nirvikalpa Samadhi in their cases.
An interesting comment in one of the books about Ramana Maharshi, who definitely did not teach the need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi for liberation, but rather the need for direct knowledge of the Self, has Ramana saying that Sankara died at the age of thirty-two because he worked too hard teaching and didn't spend enough time in Nirvikalpa to "re-charge" himself! So for Ramana trance states would be a refreshment rather than a requirement for liberation or enlightenment. Other accounts hold that Sankara, having defeated in debate Abhinagupta, a leading proponent of Kashmir Shavism, subsequently was made sick when the latter's followers used occult powers against him. He was taken to a cave and nursed back to health by a disciple, Padmapada, but didn't live long afterwards. If true, this was unfortunate, because in those days such debates were lively affairs, often hosted by royalty, meant to bring out the truth, and not simply acquire more followers for one position. In the Tibetan tradition, for instance:
"There are many stories about monks who attained realization in the midst of very agressive debates. At some point, they had a gap experience - something clicked and they said. "Ah!" Such philosophical debates are not a simple matter of refuting your debating partner. The point is to go beyond philosophy to gain direct insight into the nature of the mind."
Cowens does mention that for Sankara and his commentators, yoga and samadhi, while not producing enlightenment, may still have a preparatory and purificatory role for those whose minds are not ripe to make use of the more direct teaching of the Vedanta. Such was the approach of Ramana Maharshi, who allowed his devotees to follow different practises, even though his method of choice was self-enquiry. An example of a modern sage, on the other hand, who underwent many such sadhanas leading to Nirvikalpa Samadhi, but who later basically rejected them all - except devotion to Guru - to advocate predominantly the path of jnana or knowledge was Sri Atmananda. He stated:
"The samadhi experience is that ‘I was happy.’ But when you understand, from a Karana-guru, that Happiness is your real nature, you come to realize that you are yourself the goal of samadhi. With this understanding, all hankering after samadhi disappears; though samadhi might still come upon you sometimes merely as a matter of course or samskara. But you will never again be attracted by the enjoyment of happiness in samadhi."
Swami Nikhilinanda, in the preface to his translation of the Mandukya Upanishad, with Gaudapada's Karika and Sankara's commentary, similarly states:
"Samadhi is the last word of the Yoga mystics. According to Gaudapada this is an obstacle to the realization of truth. The seeking of pleasure in Samadhi shows an exhaustion of the inquiring mind. It is because the Yogis look upon mind as separate from Atman, that they seek to control it in Samadhi. But Gaudapada says that the mind is the non-dual Atman. Therefore there does not arise any question of controlling it. The mind and its activities are nothing but non-dual Brahman, ever-pure, ever-free and ever-illumined. It is only due to ignorance that one perceives the duality of the subject-object relationship in the activities of the mind. But a knower of truth perceives everywhere and in all activities only the non-dual Brahman...The Vedantic Samadhi does not signify the realization of Truth with closed eyes. It means the vision of Truth with eyes open on every object. A Vedantist thus describes the Samadhi: 'With the disappearance of the attachment of the body and with the realization of the Supreme Self, to whatever object the mind is directed, one experiences Samadhi.' "
Finally, what is the vision or essence of non-duality? First, what it is not. It is not, says Iyer, 'being wide awake while asleep', although it is 'like that'; it is not Nirvikalpa Samadhi extended into waking life full-time (although there have been sages, particularly Hindu sages, who have defined Sahaj that way; Damiani maintains, however, that Sahaja without thoughts and Nirvikalpa without thoughts are not the same, that there is a difference in understanding); it is not an exclusive state; in fact, it is not a state at all; it is not a concept of non-duality; it is not 'not duality', that is, it is not opposed to duality; it is not an ‘experience’ of the Self; it is not ‘awareness of the Self’; it is not an 'experience' of infinite bliss; it is not an empty void, for there is a knower of such a void.
The 17th century Hindu saint, Sri Samartha Ramadas, in his treatise on gnana yoga, Atmaram
, said, "The Bliss-Attainment of a yogi is Maya."
In the Buddhist text known as The Transmission of the Lamp
Shih-tou is even more emphatic in saying that one must not be attached to such experience, and suggests that one can remain for countless kalpas
(eons) in such a state without gaining direct insight into Reality:
"The Sravaka is enlightened but going astray; the ordinary man is out of the right path and yet in a way enlightened. The Sravaka fails to perceive that Mind as it is in itself knows no stages, no causation, no imagination. Disciplining himself in the cause he has attained the result and abides in the Samadhi of Emptiness itself for ever so many kalpas. However enlightened in his way, the Sravaka is not at all on the right track. From the point of view of the Bodhisattva, this is like suffering the torture of hell. The Sravaka has buried himself in Emptiness and does not know how to get out of his quiet contemplation for he has no insight into the Buddha-nature itself."
The Iso Upanishad says:
"They enter the region of the dark who are occupied solely with the finite. But they fall into a region of still greater darkness who are occupied solely with the Infinite."
Nagarjuna, the great Mahayana Buddhist, put it even more bluntly:
"Believers in emptiness
[as a state] are incurable."
Or perhaps, as Guru Nanak proclaims in the Adi Granth, the Sikh scripture:
Truth is above all, but higher still is true living."
PB says that it is not enough to be a mystic, one must develop into a philosophic sage who not only experiences Reality but knows
"When the mystic comes to the end of this phase of his career but believes he has come to the end of his career itself, he falls under an illusion from which it is hard to recover....Hence, one of the texts belonging to this teaching, the Lankavatara Sutra, says of those who have perfected themselves in yoga: "When they have reached the eighth degree they become so drunk with the bliss of inner peace that they do not grasp that they are still in the sphere of separateness and that the insight into reality is not yet perfect"....There is a fourfold evolution in humanity and it unfolds successively - physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Hence the mystic has to return to rebirth to complete his evolution despite his "union" which is consequently temporary...The attainment of this deep state of oneness in meditation by an ordinary mystic may seem to be the end of the quest. Nevertheless the cycle of reincarnation will not end for him until he has become a philosophical mystic. For even though all earthly desires have been given a quietus, there will remain a latent desire to know, to understand his own experience and the world experience. To satisfy this desire, which will slowly come to the surface under the compulsion of Nature, he will have to develop intelligence to the proper degree...For nature is shepherding the human race not only along the road of spiritual evolution but also of intellectual evolution....Giving up the world does not lead to reality, but it leads to peace of mind. Men who lack intelligence...must take to mysticism and yoga, but only the mature and developed mind can enter the quest of enquiry into truth. This means therefore that pupils are not generally initiated into this enquiry by gurus prematurely. They must first have developed their egos and their minds to a high degree, and only after that should they be taught to renounce what has been fostered with so much pain. This is evolution: although truth is ideally attainable here and now, technically it is attainable only at the end of the pageant of evolution, when the whole man has been highly developed and is ripe to receive the greatest of all gifts."
Further, on the role of the teacher, he adds:
"He will lose nothing and gain much if he tries to know scientifically why these experiences arise. And he will be a better mystic if he can relate them to the rest of life, if he can move forward to a fuller understanding of his place in the universal scheme, if he can reach an explicit and self-conscious comprehension of his own mysticism. If we grant that he can successfully attain his mystical goal without this definite knowledge, he cannot become an effective teacher and guide without it. So long as his interest is confined to himself this need not matter, but as soon as he seeks to serve mankind it does matter. For then only can he present the way and the goal in the detail and with the clarity that helps to convince others."
What then is non-duality? Others have adequately covered this topic before , but, in essence, it is: direct knowledge that one is not merely experiencing the Self but that one is
the Self, or everything that Is; Pure Consciousness, whether a world or thoughts appear or not; the seamless not-two; expressed as “the world is unreal - Brahman is real - the world is Brahman," or also “the Self is the ego, but the ego is not the Self”; where “experience is resolved into ideas, and ideas are resolved into Mind” (~Atmananda); etc., etc. Or, as PB wrote:
“The ego to which he is so attached turns out on enquiry to be none other than the presence of the World-Mind within his own heart. If identification is then shifted by constant practice from one to the other, he has achieved the purpose of life.”
Medieval sage Ibn 'al 'Arabi concurs that the experience is veritably non-dual, without a radical naughting of the individuality required:
"If you know yourself as nothing, then you truly know your Lord. Otherwise, you know him not. [But] you cannot know your Lord by making yourself nothing. Many a wise man claims that in order to know one's Lord one must denude oneself of the signs of one's existence, efface one's identity, finally rid oneself of one's self. This is a mistake. How could a thing that does not exist try to get rid of its existence? ...If you think that to know Allah depends on your ridding yourself of yourself, then you are guilty of attributing partners to Him - the only unforgivable sin - because you are claiming that there is another existence besides Him, the All-Existent: that there is a you and He."
The following by Shaikh Mawlay Al Arabi ad Darqawa confirms Ibn 'al' Arabi's insight:
"Extinction also is one of thine attributes. Thou art already extinct, my brother, before thou art extinguished and naught before thou art annihilated. Thou art an illusion in an illusion and a nothingness in a nothingness. When hadst thou Existence that thou mightest be extinguished?"
The traditional explanation for non-duality goes as follows. Since the nondual view neither embraces nor rejects, it is has everything within it. It has boundless heart, for it is 'intimate with all things', and being nondual, it is the perfection of selfless feeling with another - pure feeling. Heart reaches it maximum development through true nondual realization. anadi considers the deepest dimension of the heart to be a further enlightenment beyond that of the state of presence or non-dual consciousness, yet it is traditionally considered to be inherent in the very nature of nondual presence itself. Unfortunately, since philosophically it is typically jnani (wisdom/mind) types rather than devotional or compassionate types, who are most likely inclined to appreciate the subtle philosophical nuances of nondual understanding, this gives the whole world of the nondual path a feeling that it is more of a path for the intellectual, the jnani, or at least someone who prefers the impersonal rather than bhakti or love/service approach. These types often also give it a mental overlay, prefering indicators like pure awareness, choiceless awareness, consciousness, wisdom, discrimination, and so on. But this is not the true nature of nondualism, nor the only way to approach its realization.
It is not for the mind or jnani over the heart or bhakti. It is neither more detached or impersonal, nor more engaged or loving or personal. It transcends and actualizes all these expressions, and provides the context for them to reach their deepest potentials, for all qualities and attributes are so interdependent with each other that only by balancing each quality with the others do they all come to highest expression.
So all is contained and blossoms from nondual presence, including grace, individuality, will, surrender, and the Oversoul, since nondualism not only does not reject the relative experience and expression of these elements of the spiritual life, but rather, again, is the context of their fullest actualization. So great nondual realizers in many ways continue to express unfolding stages of potential (infinite ox-herding pictures!) that continuously allow the expression of the spirit of devotion and surrender, being inspired by a Divine Will, manifesting siddhis, or making choices; the expression of nondual identification in universal evolution continues to motivate their relative appears to participate in relativity indefinitely, actualizing a display of apparently dualistic manifestations like having a separate self, reincarnating, communing with Higher Presence, all of it now realized as the nondual display of the 'own' nature. Nothing is negated. Nothing is affirmed. It all goes on of its own, while the realizer rest in the state of presence - liberated. All of these kinds of relative phenomena continue to arise in the experience of the realizer (as long as their mental body is not still clinging to the belief that they are contrary to what a jnani is supposed to look like).
However, is it as simple as all that in a relative world? What about
love or the path of bhakti? Is that not a complete and true path itself? The Vedantist would no doubt say that bhakti is an indispensable aid to purifying the mind so that it can reflect the light of the self, paving the way for inquiry. We have, however, already pointed out that Sankara was also a great bhakta or lover of the Lord, and his philosophy of an impersonal Brahman may have only been a way to get rid of the Buddhist influence that was supplanting the Vedas. The seeming contradiction can partly be explained by saying that the more one loves something (a guru or sacred ideal), the more one will long to know
that thing, and, conversely, the more one knows a thing, the more he will want to love
that thing. Sri Atmananda (who held a great regard for Anandamayee Ma, the “bliss permeated mother”), wrote:
"The head and the heart are not water-tight compartments. They complement each
other. It may be said that ‘It is a harmonious blending of the head and the heart in the
ultimate Truth that is called realization.’ It may generally be said that one gets enlightened
through the head, and gets established in the Truth through the heart. A
thought, when it is deep, becomes feeling or in other words descends into the heart.
Deep knowledge or objectless knowledge is ‘Love’. Love always gives and never
takes. If only the giving is spontaneous and prompted by the heart alone, it is efficacious
and divine. The slightest taint of the ego in the giving pollutes it to that extent.
If you follow the path of love, until love is its own fulfilment, you reach the highest.
But an ignorant aspirant can never complete it unaided. The help of a Karana-guru
is absolutely necessary, at least towards the end."
The History of Mysticism
, by Swami Abayananda, tells us:
"When I identify with my form, I am God's servant; I worship Him as my Lord. When I identify with God, my eternal Self, there are not two, but only one; and I am He.This complementarity of identities necessitates two entirely different mental attitudes, or states of awareness: when we focus on the Self, we become aware, "I am the one infinite Existence-Consciousness-Bliss"; but when we take the attitude of love toward God, we become aware, "I am Thy creature and Thy servant, O Lord."
"And it is the paradoxical fact that both attitudes are correct and valid which accounts for the confused oscillation many dedicated truth-finders feel between the attitude of Self-knowledge (jnana) and devotion to God (bhakti). To say, "I am He," as did al-Hallaj, or Shankara, is offensive to the bhakti, for it denies the separate existence and fallibility of the individual soul; and to say, "I am the servant of God," does not satisfy the jnani, for it asserts a duality where none in fact exists."
"I am convinced that, if we are to speak truly and to live realistically, it is necessary to embrace both attitudes, and to relinquish the logic which begs for an either/or approach to identity. The greatest contemplatives who ever lived, having pondered this quandary, have come to the same conclusion, and have taken a position which defies categorization into one classification or another. For example, the Blessed Jan Ruysbroeck, a 14th century disciple of Meister Eckhart, wrote,
"Though I have said before that we are one with God, ... yet now I will say that we must eternally remain other than God, and distinct from Him. .... And we must understand and feel both within us, if all is to be right with us."
"Just as the Formless and the form cannot be separated one from the other, neither can the knower (jnani) and the devotee (bhakti) be separated; though mutually exclusive, they co-exist as complements in every awakened individual."
(Swami Abayananda, as posted on the internet)
Sri Ramakrishna said that pure love is more difficult to attain than knowledge. The Holy Mother, his spiritual consort, said, 'Liberation is always given, but God does not easily give pure love.' This reminds me of a student asking PB what it was like to be a sage. PB asked him what he thought it was. 'To love everybody' was the student's first reply. PB replied, 'I am not that advanced; I don't love everybody.' Thoughtful words to ponder.
Thus the paths of 'neti, neti,' ('not this, not this') and 'wohi, wohi,' ('this is He, this is He') lead to the same end
Another example of this union of Jnana and Bhakti is in the life of the great sage Jnaneshvara:
"It is generally believed that Jnaneshvara, also known as Jnanadeva, being a Jnani, did not suffer the pangs of separation from God which the Bhakta suffers. But there are quite a few of his early Abhangas which show that, like Tukarama and other Bhaktas, Jnaneshvara also did pine for his beloved God. He wails that in spite of being one with God, he is not able to see Him. "I pine after Thee," says he, "As a thirsty man longs for water." Then, in frustration, he says: "Let Thy will be done, for all my supplications have been useless."
After his desire has become satisfied, however, he poetically writes:
"Filled with God, within and without, as one goes to embrace Him, one becomes identified with Him. God cannot be warded off even if one so wills. Selfhood is at an end."
In his commentary on the Gita, 2.39, Sri Sankara explains Krishna's words to Arjuna thus:
"You will become free from bondage by the attainment of knowledge through God's grace".
Again, in 18.65:
"Knowing for certain that liberation is the definite result of devotion to God, one should be intent only on surrender to God".
And in shloka 10, chapter 10, he says:
"To those whose minds are united with me and worship Me with love, I grant that understanding through which they may attain Me."
A popular Hindu verse is 'I do not understand Brahman. I do not understand maya; I also do not understand human beings. I do not understand all this talk about Vedanta. I do not understand time. I do not even understand myself or whether or not I exist. I have only Krishna. I know only Him.'
So Hindu culture as well as the great Master of Advaita proclaim the equal value, efficacy, and complementary nature of surrender and understanding
. Sankara goes so far as to say that the inquiry into the truth of one's own Self is
also bhakti. This is so because the Self wants
to know Itself through each of us, even though it is only the One. It has unconditional love for all of Itself. Thus, it knows the sincerity and yearning in every heart. It is not so concerned with the form it may take. It itself creates the yearning, creates the teachings. It pulls the disciple through the gateless gate. The advantage of bhakti is that for many souls it easily overcomes the net of confusing and contrasting views, when pursued to its loving end through the power of grace. What a mystery it all is!
Today there is a proliferation of the satsang culture, where thousands pay money to sit and receive teachings and transmissions from various teachers, with many claiming one or another form of ‘awakening’. But there is a necessary two-way street. It is true, sitting in silence with the guru can be effective - if there is a transmission of Presence - but only insofar as the mind of the student is pure and a clear, discriminative understanding is there. Otherwise it may not lead one very far. Why? Because, as stated earlier, silence is not incompatible with ignorance
. It may lead to extraordinary experience, but more rarely to direct self-knowledge or self-knowing. This is where the skillful words or means of the guru comes into play, saying or doing the right thing at the right moment, withdrawing support for the illusions of those in front of him, while also
worldlessly transmitting his enlightened condition to the alert mind of the disciple.
While shaktipat or energy transmission is not the chief means of the sage, as opposed to that of a yogi or saint, Adyashanti mentions that the true teacher does have a certain kind of transmission:
"Emptiness is the true teacher's transmission. Surrender to that alone, and you will discover limitless fullness of being."
Jean Klein likewise says:
"A living guru (spiritual teacher) is, in most cases, necessary to facilitate both enlightenment and self realization. Although the karana guru (the guru whose role is to help the disciple through the last stages of realization) appears to the disciple as a seemingly separate human being, he or she is knowingly established as universal consciousness. He sees the disciple as his own Self. Consciousness in the disciple, being recognized for what it truly is, resonates with the silent presence of the guru. The mind of the disciple becomes gradually and mysteriously quiet, with or without the use of words, until the student has a glimpse of the causeless joy of his natural state. A relationship of love, freedom and friendliness that leads to the eventual spontaneous stabilization of the disciple in happiness and peace gets established."
"A true karana guru never sees himself as superior or inferior to anybody, nor does he or she take himself or anybody for a sage or an ignorant, for a spiritual teacher or a disciple. This impersonal attitude creates an unmistakable perfume of friendship and freedom that is a prerequisite for the success of the final stages of the self realization process."
[N.B. Eckhart also speaks of the fragrance that emanates from our conscious abidance in or being present with the Unmanifest. ("the fragrance of Christ within us, an aroma to both the saved and the unsaved all around us.
" (2 Cor. 2:15]
In conclusion, let us state the central argument of this paper one more time: if meditation alone, defined as the total shutting off of the mind, were all that was necessary to realize non-dual truth, there would have been no need for countless great sages to painstakingly write many sophisticated, discriminating texts, fully deploying their intellects, nor would it have been necessary for them to spend years and lifetimes relentlessly engaging their disciples in dialogue and satsang, as well as reiterating again and again that only direct Knowledge of the Self, not samadhi alone, constitutes Liberation, although the former may be partial means to an end. But in our consumer oriented, experientially inclined culture, this is often a hard sell. "Instant gratification takes too long," a line from the book, Postcards from the Edge, sums up this prevailing attitude!
“True freedom and lasting happiness are attained only through the knowledge, “I am happiness itself,” which is not possible with a dead mind.”
(94) - James Swartz
Sankara even makes the bold statement:
"No one can free someone else from bondage."
Both of these statements must surely be taken with a grain of salt. Especially when, as we have see, Sankara espoused equally the path of devotion to God as a primary means for salvation. But it is also said that the karana or Satguru (the guru who 'finishes the job') is necessary in most cases. Sri Atmananda thought so. And Brunton writes:
"It is next to impossible to ascertain Truth without the guidance of a Teacher....Even in India, the greatest mind of that land of Thinkers ever produced, the illustrious Shankara, publically acknowledged the debt he owed to his own Teacher, Govindapada."
Please, therefore, do not make the mistake from reading all this that one can merely think himself in the usual way to the divine consciousness. A special use of the mind has been implied in this essay: an acute, discriminative intelligence, combined with all of the 'Godly' virtues and attributes traditionally prescribed, along with a passion for liberation and the help of divine Grace. For gyan alone can be hard. Sant Kirpal Singh stated:
“The path of Jnana is a short-cut to yoga but it is frightfully steep, and very few can take to it. It requires a rare combination of razor-sharp intellect and intense spiritual longing, which only a few like Buddha and Sankara possess.
The path, however, would become smooth if one, by a mighty good fortune, were to meet a Master-soul. A Sant Satguru can, by his long and strong arm, draw an aspirant right out of the bottomless vortex of the life of the senses, without his having to do overmuch sadhana.”
A powerful pledge and certainly an aid to breaking exclusive
identification with the body or body-thought, which, in the path of jnana, is followed by the liberating realization that one is the Self. Even then one comes back to the field of action and must see all in and as that Self, with body, mind, and soul as one. [for related issues, see "The Primordial Ground" on this website].
According to Swami Rama, Ramana Maharshi was the reincarnation of Sri Sankara. Maybe that is where Ramana got his knowledge about the reason for Sankara's early death.
Legend also has it that Sankara was possessed with advanced yogic powers, including that of leaving his body and entering that of another (para-kaya pravesa
), in this case that of a dead king in order to learn the art of love-making to win a bet with the queen who challenged him that, wise as he was, he knew nothing about such mundane things. Needless to say, according to the story he won the bet, returning to his own apparently dead body just when it was to be consigned to the flames on a funeral pyre! [V.S. Iyer says this story is poppycock, that as a true vedantin Sankara simply knew that he was sexually inexperienced, and, in order to get that experience he took the queen up on her proposal until he was satisfied, after which he continued to teach her philosophy].
for brief biographies of Sankara.
for a brief summary of the tenets of Advaita Vedanta.
(1) V.S. Iyer, Commentaries
, Vol. 1 (edited 1999 by Mark Scorelle) Commentaries, Part1, p. 34
(1a) T.M.P. Mahadevan, The Hymns of Sankara
, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1986)
(2) The authorship of the Vivekachudamuni has been disputed, with many scholars attributing to it a later date. See Michael Comans, The Question of the Importance of Samadhi in Modern and Classical Advaita Vedanta
(3) "The Evolution of My Own Thoughts," in Contemporary Indian Philosophy
, ed., S. Radhakrishnan and J.H. Muirhead (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, Inc., second ed., 1952; third printing, 1958), p. 543
(4) Swami Prajnanananda, The Philosophical Ideas of Swami Abhedananda
(Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, 1971), p. 164
(5) T.M.P. Mahadevan, The Wisdom of Unity of Sri Sankaracarya
(6) Georg Feuerstein, Tantra - The Path of Ecstasy
(7) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
, Vol. 10, (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1987) 2.384
(8) Sri Nisargadatta, "I Am That", Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
(Durham, North Carolina: The Acorn Press, 2008), p. 421-422
(9) Nitya Tripta, ed., Notes on Spiritual DIscourses of Shree Atmananda
, Vol. II, (1953-1959) (Trivandrum, India: The Reddiar Press, 1963) Vol II 934
A warning is given, however. "Tattvopadesha" by Shri Adi Shankara, often referred to by Ramana Maharshi, states:
"Keep advaita within the Heart. Do not ever carry it into action. Even if you apply it to all the three worlds, O Son, it is not to be applied to the Guru."
(10) Paul Brunton, op. cit., quote misplaced
(11) Anthony Damiani, quote misplaced
(12) James Schwartz, How To Attain Enlightenment
(Boulder, CO: First Sentient Publications, Inc, 2009), p. 19
(13) Ibid, p. 23-24
(14) Ibid, p. 216-217
(15) Adyashanti, The Impact of Awakening
, reference misplaced
(16) Swartz, op. cit., p. 218
(18) Ibid, p. 217
(19) Tripura Rahasya, or the Mystery Beyond the Trinity
, trans. by Swami Ramananda Saraswathi (Tiruvannamalai, South India: Sri Ramanasramam, 1971), p. 187
(20) William Cenkner, A Tradition of Teachers: Sankara and the Jagadgurus Today
(Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1983), p. 11-12
(21) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 4, 2.58
(22) V.S. Iyer, op. cit., p. 196-197
(23) V.S. Iyer, reference misplaced
(24) Francis G. Wickes, The Inner World of Choice
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1986), p. 81
(25) Anthony Damiani, Looking Into Mind
(Burdett, NY: Larson Publications, 1990), p. 169
(25a) Norman Angell, The Unseen Assassins
40, in Edward Conze, Buddhist Texts Through the Ages
, p. 181
(27) Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development
, p. 149
(28) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 272
(29) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 1, 5.183
(30) Anthony Damiani, Standing In Your Own Way
(Burdett, NY: Larson Publications, 1993, p. 220; unpublished class notes)
(31) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 523
(32) Annamalai Swami, reference misplaced
(33) Ibid, p. 494, 172, 285
(34) Ibid, p. 494
(35) Ibid, p. 436
(36) Ibid, p. 424-425
(37) Ibid, p. 432
(38) Ibid, p. 195
(39) Ibid, p. 347
(40) Hubert Benoit, Zen and the Psychology of Transformation
, (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1990), p. 160
(41) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 509
(42) quoted in Pabongka Rinpoche, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand,
(Wisdom Publications, U.S.; Revised edition edition (Dec 1997), p. 476
(Pabongka Rinpoche (1878-1941) was one of the great lamas of the twentieth century. He was the root lama of both tutors of the present Dalai Lama and the teacher of many of the other Tibetan lamas who have been bringing the Dharma to the West.)
(43) Ibid, p. 483
(44) Padmasambhava, The Tibetan Book of the Dead
, translated by Gyurme Dorje, 2006, London, p. 51
(45) Colin Drake, Beyond the Separate Self
, 2010, p. 48, 71
(46) Damiani, op. cit., p. 127-129
(47) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, 8:2.29
(48) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. vi
(49) Tarun Sardana, Dissolved
(50) Rick Hanson with Richard Mendius, Buddha's Brain
, Oakland. CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2009), p. 63
(51) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 203
(52) Rodney Arms, The Mystique of Enlightenment: The unrational ideas of a man called U.G.
(Goa, India: Dinesh Vaghela, 1982
(53) Tendzin Gyatso, Kindness, Clarity, and Light
(Compiled and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins; Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications, 1984), pp. 12
(54) Adyashanti, reference misplaced
(55) Ramesh Balsekar, A Duet of One
(Redondo Beach, CA; Advaita Press, 1989), p. 96-97
(56) Paul Brunton, op. cit.,Vol. 5, Part 2, 1.66
(57) Ibid, Vol. 5, 1.135
(58) Ibid, Vol. 13, Part 2, 3.79, 3.80, 4.66
(59) Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1996), p. 43-44, 155
(60) James Schwartz, op. cit., p. 24
(61) Nitya Tripta, op. cit., 1361
(62) Shri Atmananda, reference misplaced
(63) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 7, Part 2, 1.165-167; Vol. 16, Part 4, 2.99
(64) Hubert Benoit, Zen and the Psychology of Transformation: The Supreme Doctrine
(Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1990), p. 233
(65) V.S. Iyer, op. cit., p. 28, 29, 56, 58, 59
(66) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 264
(67) James Swarz, op. cit., p. 26
(68) Nitya Trita, op. cit., 1480
(69) Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1996), p. 69
(70) Schwartz, op. cit., p. 175
(71) Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 176
(72) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol.1, 5.174
(73) Edward Conze, Buddhism, Its essence and development
, p. 144
(74) Patrul Rinpoche, Words of My Perfect Teacher
, (Shambhala, Rev Sub ed., 1998) p. 137
(75) quoted in E. Dogen, Dogen Zen
, p. 25
(76) W.Y. Evans Wentz, Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines
, (The Supreme Path, the Rosary of precious gems, p. 79-80
(77) Pabongka Rinpoche, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand
, op. cit., p. 254
(78) Patrul Rinpoche, op. cit., p. 152-153
(79) Ibid, p. 310
(80) Ibid, p. xxxvi, 312, xxxvii
(81) John Blofield, The Zen Teachings of Huang Po
(New York: Grove Press, 1959), p.
(81a) Dzogchen Ponlop, Mind Beyond Death
(Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2006), p. 111
(82) Nitya Tripta, op. cit., 928
(83) Swami Nikhilinanda, trans., The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada's Karika and Sankara's Commentary
(Kolkata, India: Advaita Ashram, 2010), p. xix-xx
(84) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 11, 2.222,238,241,250,124
(85) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 11, 2.196
(86) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, Part 1, 1.127
(87) Jerry Katz, ed., Essential Writings on Nonduality
(Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications, 2007), p. 59
(88) Martin Lings, A Moslem Saint
, p. 137
(89) Nitya Tripta, op. cit., source misplaced
(90) Ramesh Balsekar, Pointers From Nisargadatta Maharaj
(Durham, NC: The Acorn Press, 1982), p. 207
(92) Adyashanti, The Impact of Awakening
(93) copyright 2000, Francis Lucille
(94) James Schwartz, op. cit., p. 258-259
(95) reference misplaced
(96) Paul Brunton, Perspectives
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1984), p. 16
(97) Kirpal Singh, The Crown of Life: A Study in Yoga
(Tilton, NH: The Sant Bani Press, 1970), p. 106