Tattvabodha – Part 3

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart 3 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 3 discusses viveka (discrimination) and vairAgya (dispassion) in the ‘fourfold attainment’, sAdhana chatuShTAya sampatti. There is also a hyperlinked Contents List, which will be updated as each new part is published.

The Enlightened Person

swartz_essenceHere is an extract from the final chapter of James Swartz’s new book ‘The Essence of Enlightenment’. I haven’t read it all myself yet, but dipping into it at random shows that it is every bit as good as his ‘How to Attain Enlightenment’. It has, for me, his hallmark style of forthright, clear, informative writing, adhering to traditional teaching derived from scriptures and as interpreted by modern sampradAya-s. He has no qualms about bluntly (even brutally) exposing mistaken views but leaves the reader feeling uplifted, and with a much clearer understanding of even the most difficult topic.

chin mudrA

small_A-U-MHere is the second extract from my forthcoming book on the Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada’s kArikA-s. It explains the symbolism associated with the cover image. This explanation occurs near the end of the book, since it utilizes concepts with which the reader might be unfamiliar (until he or she has read the book). But since readers of this site should certainly be familiar with the terms, there is no harm in presenting it here!

chin mudrA

Now that we have almost concluded the unfolding of the kArikA-s, we can return to that cover image! The ‘hand-sign’ is not actually mentioned in the Mandukya Upanishad, nor by Gaudapada, though it is highly relevant. As I mentioned in the introduction, it is a gesture associated with the Sage who is said to be the first teacher of Vedanta – Dakshinamurti. As such, he was the head of the teaching sampradAya and did not himself have a teacher – i.e. he was already fully enlightened. He is also identified with the God Shiva. It is called chin mudrA or j~nAna mudrA (more usually chin), where chin means Consciousness and mudrA means sign.

It is often said that Dakshinamurti taught through silence. Of course, this would not make any sense. Silence can be interpreted in innumerable ways, few of which are likely to convey useful knowledge! But, once we have the knowledge, a symbol can convey a world of information, reminding us through memory of what we have previously learned. Witness the vast amount of knowledge which is now conveyed to you through the word OM.

The hand position shown on the cover of this book is another symbol of this sort. And it is highly relevant to the same knowledge.

Here is the symbolism:

  • The thumb represents paramAtman. There is some reasoning behind this. The scriptures speak of paramAtman as residing in the space in the heart (hRRidaya). By this, we were expected to understand ‘mind’, since it used to be thought that the mind was contained in the physical organ of the heart. Since the heart is about the size of a fist, it was reasonable to think that the space inside was about the size of a thumb.
  • The forefinger represents the individual or jIva. It could also be thought of as the ego or sense of myself. It is common in many cultures to use the forefinger to point out personal opinions and also to threaten or criticize others whose views differ from ‘mine’.
  • The second finger represents the gross body, sthUla sharIra or waker.
  • The third finger represents the subtle body, sUkShma sharIra or dreamer.
  • The fourth finger represents the causal body, kAraNa sharIra or deep-sleeper.
  • The first finger is normally held in association with the other three, indicating our identification with the body and mind.
  • All four fingers depend upon the thumb for their strength and ability to do practically anything. It is this feature which distinguishes us from other animals and gave humanity its great advantage in manipulating objects.
  • When the index finger is moved to touch the tip of the thumb, it separates from the other three, indicating realization that I am not in fact these bodies at all. In forming an unbroken circle with the thumb, it is recognizing that jIvAtman and paramAtman are one, unaffected by the three mithyA states of consciousness.

I now have a firm publication date for the book, incidentally – it is September 25th. It is now available for pre-order. It is quite expensive, but then it also quite thick (431 pages).

The paperback details are: ISBN 978-1-78279-996-2 UK: £20.99 US: $36.95
and the EBook: ISBN 978-1-78279-997-9 UK: £12.99 US: $21.99

Buy from Amazon US; Buy from Amazon UK

The first extract from the book may be read here.

Atma vicara revisited

Bhagavan Sri Ramana’s primary teaching was self-enquiry – as evidenced by his first short essay that he himself wrote entitled Nar Yar (“Who am I”). The wide-ranging nature of topics covered in this essay clearly illustrate the depth, clarity and simplicity of his teaching – and the fact that liberation required pursuing this contemplation yourself, and not simply relying on scriptural knowledge or a guru.

If you have not come across this essay written by Bhagavan (not just talks recorded by others), it is really worth reading Michael James’ translation here:

The fact that Sadananda and others in the Sw Chinmayananda school, Swami Paramarthananda and others, expound and comment on Bhagavan’s Sat Darshanam – I think speaks for itself the respect in which they hold him. Interesting they choose to comment on the sanskrit translation of this work by Vasistha Ganapati Muni, who was a learned Vedantic scholar, who tended to try to interpret Bhagavan’s teaching in way that accorded with traditional Vedanta.

Bhagavan’s own commendation was the Tamil commentary on Ulladu Narpadu by Lakshmana Sarma – who had received direct verse by verse instruction from Bhagavan. The latter is well-worth reading.

Bhagavan Sri Ramana in his Nar Yar (‘who am I?’) had this to say about atma vicara, in para 16 (which is very different from the scriptural investigation that Dennis has interpreted atma vicara to mean):

“The name ‘ātma-vicāra’ [refers] only to [the practice of] always being [abiding or remaining] keeping the mind in [or on] ātmā [self]; conversely, dhyāna [meditation] is imagining oneself to be sat-cit-ānanda brahman [the absolute reality, which is being-consciousness-bliss]. At one time it will become necessary to forget all that has been learnt.”

Compare and contrast this with the Bhagavad Gita:

2.55: O Partha, when one fully renounces all the desires that have entered the mind, and remains satisfied in the Self alone by the Self, then he is called a man of steady wisdom.

2.71: That man attains peace who, after rejecting all desires, moves about free from hankering, without the idea of (‘me’ and) ‘mine’, and devoid of pride

3.17: But that man who rejoices only in the Self and is satisfied with the Self, and is contented only in the Self-for him there is no duty to perform.

6.25: Withdraw gradually, with the the help of the resolute intellect; anchoring the mind in the Self, think of nothing whatsoever.

6.47: Among even these yogis, he who full of faith worships Me, his inner self, absorbed in Me – him I deem the most integrated.

6.26: (The yogi) should bring (this mind) under the subjugation of the Self Itself, by restraining it from all those causes whatever due to which the restless, unsteady mind wanders away.

Bhagavan Sri Ramana only recommends self-abidance, “just being”, and when egoistic thoughts arise, to enquire to whom those thoughts arise, and thereby see it is the selfish ego. He says that by this constant sadhana, this constant self-attention, the ego will vanish.

This is no different – as far as I can see – from the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Candrasekhara Bharati (“by self enquiry . . . getting direct perception of its true nature, one should disentangle the atma from samsara which is non atman which has been superimposed on it”), V.S. Iyer (drk-drsyam analyses), Nisargadatta (“abide in the ‘I am'”), or J Krishnamurti. Perhaps there is some merit in this pointer of self-enquiry which is worth investigating for ourselves?

Atma vichAra

The Self cannot be ‘known’ in any objective sense because it is the ultimate subject – there is no other subject that could know it. This is why science can never tell us anything about the Self. Science works by collecting data and analyzing it; formulating theories and then using them to predict what will happen when data are gathered in a different situation. This can never be applied to Self/brahman, because brahman has no data.

Strictly speaking, vichAra refers to investigation into ‘things’ so that Atma vichAra is effectively a contradiction in terms; the Self is not a thing. Spiritual investigation has to be done rather differently. The correct term is shAstra mImAMsA and it is really scriptural ‘investigation’ that we must conduct in order to find out about the Self. Monier-Williams translates mImAMsA as “profound thought or reflection or consideration; investigation, examination, discussion”. The philosophical branch that studies the Upanishads etc at the end of the Vedas (Vedanta) is called uttara mImAMsA. (uttara means “later, following, subsequent, concluding” but also “superior, chief, excellent, dominant”.)

We ‘discover’ the Self by removing ignorance. If someone holds up a screen in front of our face and then brings an object to show us, but keeps it behind the screen, we can say nothing at all about the object. However, as soon as the screen is taken away, the object is revealed to our senses and the perception takes place automatically. Similarly, knowledge of the Self is obscured by ignorance but as soon as that ignorance is removed, the Self is immediately self-evident; we do not have to do anything to ‘investigate’ it.

Scripture functions like a mirror. When we look into a mirror, we do not literally see our face and body, we only see an image of it. Yet this enables us directly to perform whatever actions are required on the body itself – combing the hair, shaving and so on. We do not shave the image but the actual hair on the face. Similarly, the scriptures do not directly represent the Self but the information therein, when explained by a qualified teacher, directly enables the ignorance in our mind to be removed, revealing the Self-knowledge which is as though hidden beneath.

Actions will never bring about Self-knowledge, since action is not opposed to ignorance. Nor will practices such as meditation or prayer. As Swami Paramarthananda puts it, meditation will only bring about quiet ignorance.

As Shankara puts it (if he was the author of vivekachUDAmaNi v.13): “It is through reflection over the words of a truly benevolent soul that one comes to a knowledge of reality, and not through bathing at sacred places, charity or hundreds of breathing practices”. [1] I.e. it is through shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana and not through asking ‘Who am I?’ that one gains Self-knowledge.

[1] The Crest Jewel of Wisdom; viveka-chUDAmaNi, commentary by Hari Prasad Shastri, Shanti Sadan, 1997. ISBN 0-85421-047-0.

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi and the Knowledge of Reality

Bhagavan Sri Ramana composed Ulladu Narpadu – Reality in Forty Verses – which is regarded even by ‘traditional’ advaitins as having the status of an upanishad. Lakshmana Sarma received direct instruction from Sri Ramana on this work, and thereafter wrote a detailed commentary on it, which even Bhagavan commended to others.

v.10 of UN: In the phenomenal world knowledge is never unaccompanied by ignorance; neither is ignorance ever divorced from knowledge. True knowledge is the Awareness of the original Self – as it truly is – the source of the ego-self which is the origin of all, by the start of the quest “to whom is the ignorance and knowledge of the world of objects”?

v.29: Without mouthing aloud ‘I’, but diving deep into the Heart and seeking the place from where the consciousness as ‘I’ rises, is the direct path of winning the Awareness of the real Self. But the mere contemplation “This body I am not; That Brahman AM I”, no doubt is helpful as an auxiliary tool to that direct path, but can that, by itself be the direct means, namely to the quest of the Self?

From LS’ commentary:

“Nidhidhyasana is the ceaseless contemplation of the content of that statement [‘I am indeed that Brahman’]. The akandakara vritti that blossoms out of this contemplation wipes out the nescience in all its entirety and jnana or Knowledge, it is believed, then shines in all its glory and effulgence. This type of sadhana is but a mental practice involving the triad of the meditator, the object of meditation and meditation. The intent and purpose of the quest [self-investigation / self-enquiry] is to make the mind that is awake, achieve quiescence . . . The main objective of vicara is the annihilation of the mind, which can never be accomplished by this contemplation.”

As an aside, compare and contrast with the comments of the 35th Sankaracharya of Sringeri on nirvikalpa samadhi:
The mind is so extremely pure at that time that it cannot be discerned distinctly from Brahman. The mind is then like a pure crystal. The effulgent Atman manifests in it clearly… After the realisation becomes stable, the mind is destroyed and one becomes a jivanmukta”

v.32: While the Upanishadic statements that preach the principle of Atman hail loud and clear “THAT THOU ART’, an aspirant, not getting established as ‘That’ by seeking the truth of the Self through the quest, meditating instead ‘That Brahman am I and not this body’, is due to want of strength of mind. Does not that Content Beyond reside as the Self within, ever and anon?

From LS’ commentary:

“In the stark thoughtlessness marked by the extirpation of the ego he should abide as the residual form that survives as the Self, called Brahman. Therefore the true significance of the deliberation of the principle of Atman contained in this mahavakya is to abide as the Self by the quest of the Self, and the Upanishadic utterance therefore is not an injunction to contemplate on the teaching”

What Bhagavan says – that ceaseless investigation into oneself / one’s ego is the means to ‘go beyond’ and results in ‘no-mind’ or dissolution of the ego – is not at all different from Nisargadatta, Krishnamurti and I think, Vasistha (but Ramesam is better qualified to comment on this than I). They all say you have to do this yourself; no guru or upanishad or path can do it for you; they can only point in the direction: that what you seek is what you already are, and is beyond concepts.

Therefore Knowledge / jnana is not a concept in the mind (however deep the conviction) that “I am Brahman, and not the ego”, though clearly helpful as a start.  It is the absence of any separate I-thought, such that only Pure Consciousness / Knowledge IS.


perspectivesEver since I began the site at advaita.org.uk, I have been using my own photographs (principally digitally enhanced flower photos) to illustrate the pages. Photography has been one of my main hobbies since early childhood and I have thousands archived. I recently started to build a portfolio of the best of these at 500px and I will be updating this on a regular basis, adding those that are voted for by the 500px community and removing the low-scoring ones. Please feel free to visit there to browse when you want a break from the mental struggle with Advaita! I have retained the Advaita VIsion logo and also advertize my books there! The portfolio is called Advaita Vision Perspectives. There is a new menu item at the top right to ‘Photos‘.

Should I stop enquiring???????

ripplesShould I stop enquiring???????

Vijay Pargaonkar

(मुञ्डकोपनिषत्) MundakaUpanishat 3-2-9

“Anyone who knows that supreme Brahman becomes Brahman indeed……….”


My search for Brahman started with aparokshAnubhUti (supposedly written by Shankaracharya) where it is stated that knowledge of liberation is obtained through enquiry. It then goes on to explain what constitutes enquiry:                                                               (अपरोक्षानुभूती) aparokshaAnubhUti (Shloka #11 & #12) (translation by Vimuktananda)

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

“Who am I? How is this (world) created? Who is its creator? Of what material is this (world) made? This is the way of that Vichara (Enquiry)”. Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 17


VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 17 addresses the changes in lifestyle needed to enable us to become successful seekers. These include fasting, silence, breath control, prayer, karma yoga and renunciation.

There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.

Tattvabodha – Part 2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart 2 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 2 provides an introduction to the series and begins the discussion of sAdhana chatuShTAya sampatti. There is also a hyperlinked Contents List, which will be updated as each new part is published.