Tattvabodha – Part 1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am pleased to announce that Dr. VIshnu Bapat has granted permission for us to host his unpublished commentary on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.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.

Here is the link to Part 1. This provides an introduction to the series and covers the Invocation. There is also a hyperlinked Contents List, which will be updated as each new part is published.

Upadesa Nun Malai

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi said little and wrote less. Much of what we have in English are (probably) imperfect recollections of his talks.  David Godman and Michael James have contributed excellently by translating some of Bhagavan’s original works into English – and perhaps most notably, Sri Murugunar’s collaborative effort with Bhagavan on Guru Vachaka Kovai.

An English translation, by ‘Kays’ of a Tamil “Commentary on Arunachala Stuti Panchakam and Upadesa Nun Malai” has recently been published.  This is a translation and commentary of Bhagavan’s poetic works, including Upadesa Undiyar (in Sanskrit, Upadesa Saram) and Ulladu Narpadu (Sat Darshan). The author, Kanakammal originally spent 3 years with Bhagavan before his passing, and then imbibed teaching from Sri Murugunar on Bhagavan’s works.

In her forward she writes “Though Murugunar taught exhaustively, what I could retain was much less. I had no courage to attempt to write on the Absolute Whole with this imperfect intellect of mine . . . None can say with certainty this is the really meaning for Sri Bhagavan’s compositions are an inexhaustible treasure”.  She passed away in 2010 at Sri Ramanashram.

Kays has also translated into English Lakshmana Sarma’s (“WHO”) translation and detailed commentary on Bhagavan’s Ulladu Narpadu. Bhagavan instructed him over 3 years on this verse by verse, from which Sarma translated Ulladu Narpadu into Sanskrit, which he got Bhagavan to approve, and then wrote a Tamil commentary.

Bhagavan himself said: “Everyone is saying that Lakshmana Sarma’s commentary on Ulladu Narpadu is the best. Nobody has studied Ulladu Narpadu the way Sarma has”.

Neither book is easy to find outside India.  Both are available at the Indian Sri Ramanashram website.  The first is also available here:


Aside from Michael James’ and David Godman’s translations, I suspect there is nothing as authoritative in English as these translations and commentaries on Bhagavan’s works, by two who sat at his feet.

Q. 368 – vAsanA-s

Q: Do vAsanA-s belong to the causal body or the subtle body?  

In the subtle body camp I got a response from one of Swami Dayananda’s senior students saying that the causal body is pure ignorance with no attributes and that vAsanA-s “definitely belong to the subtle body”.   In addition, from my own quick review of some of Shankara’s basic works I can find no passage that says the causal body is anything but “avidyA” and find no mention of the term “ vAsanA-s ” anywhere.

In the causal body camp I have James Schwartz and multiple pieces of Chinmayananda literature.   In fact I have seen them equate vAsanA-s to avidyA by pointing out that avidyA and vAsanA-s are both caused by the guNa-s.

Can you help with this one?   What is going on here?  Btw, as an interesting side note, in Swami Dayananda’s extensive Gita course-books the word “ vAsanA-s ” does not appear once.

Answers from Ramesam, Ted, Martin and Dennis. Continue reading

Science and Philosophy – Part III  

“The intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups…literary intellectuals at one pole – at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of incomprehension.”

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s? “- C.P. Snow (in the 1960s)

Continue reading

Brahma Sutras

Southern Aeschna(Originally posted to Advaita Academy Oct. 2010)

Most readers of this site will certainly have heard of this text- the third branch, nyAya prasthAna, of the source for the teaching of advaita. (The other two branches of the so-called prasthAna traya are the Upanishads or shruti, and smRRiti, of which the most important is the bhagavadgItA.) But few have probably read it. You may have attempted to do so but been quickly put off by its seeming complexity. This is not surprising!

The basic text was written by vyAsa and otherwise known as bAdarAyaNa. And ‘text’ is not really the right word. It is actually written in short, numbered sutras whose meaning is often obscure, to say the least. The practice of the time required that writers of such works used as few words as possible – and vyAsa must have been one of the most proficient! The reader is expected to remember what has gone before and fill in the appropriate words as necessary. He is also expected to know the Upanishads and other works off by heart so that the relevant references do not have to be spelled out. Continue reading

Waking World is also Unreal

small_A-U-MDreams are a powerful metaphor in Advaita. The Yoga Vasishtha is perhaps the best known book to utilize them extensively but probably the earliest teacher to do so was Gaudapada in his kArikA-s on the mANDUkya upaniShad.

He effectively says that the waking state is unreal, like dreams, ‘because we experience it’. This is anvAya-vyatireka logic: we experience objects in dreams, and they turn out to be unreal; therefore the objects we experience in waking are also unreal.

This does not sound very convincing and there are various arguments that we can raise to object to the analogy. Gaudapada raises them for us, in case we can’t think of them all! Here is the third argument he puts forward. It is an extract from my forthcoming book, which will be published later this year. (It missed the May schedule and will probably be late Summer now. The ISBN is 978-1-78279-996-2, so you can check Amazon for pre-ordering but I will be posting other extracts and information nearer the date.)

Third objection to world being unreal

And this leads on to the third objection namely that, whereas the dream world is subjective, the waking world has objective reality. It is experienced as external to ourselves, whereas the dream takes place in our mind (K2.9 – 10). But this notion suffers from the same confusion as before. We only recognize that the dream world is ‘in our mind’ when we are awake; at the time of the dream, it is just as much ‘external’ as is the waking world when we are awake. We might as well say that the waking world is really non-existent since it disappears when we are in the dream or deep sleep states. At the time of the dream, I experience external objects and events in just the same manner. Their illogicality or even impossibility only becomes apparent on awakening. Continue reading