Book Review: Heart of Sri Shankara

Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji
(5 January 1880 – 5 August 1975) was the founder of the Adhyatma Prakasha Karyalaya in Holenarasipura, Hassan district, Karnataka, India. Born as Sri Yellambalase Subbarao, he worked as a school teacher in the Indian state of Karnataka. He gave many lectures and wrote many articles on the Vedanta in English, Kannada and Sanskrit.

Satchidanandendra Saraswati was a philosopher who dedicated all his life for the Vedanta sAdhana and attained brahma-j~nAna. He was known as a jIvanmukta sage. He was the best example of a Sanskrit saying, “One should spend one’s life until sleep and until death only in Vedantic contemplation”. (Wikipedia)

Heart of Shri Shankara Swami Satchidanandendra, translated by A. J. Alston. A detailed consideration of what Shri Shankara said about the nature of ignorance, and other views. A translation of a work by Shri Swami Satchidanandendra first published in 1929 under the title Refutation of Root Ignorance or The Heart of Shri Shankara. It considers the philosophical view that there is a ‘root-ignorance’ that ‘creates’ the phenomenal world and which in some sense really exists. The Swami sets out to show that this view arose among Advaitins after Shri Shankara and is contrary to his true teaching.

978-0-85424-050-0 £12.00 from Shanti Sadan in the UK, (Still £12 over 10 years after this review was written!) or available as a PDF download from

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Q.521 External Objects

Q: Do objects exist independently? For example, if one is not seeing the moon then does moon exist or not?

A: From the perspective of absolute reality (paramArtha), of course there is no problem; no question or answer! There is only Brahman; no creation and no objects. But I assume that your question relates to empirical reality (vyavahAra). Here, Advaita teaches that Ishvara governs the ‘creation’, setting and maintaining the physical laws that apply to the universe and the karmic laws that apply to the jIva-s. It is only some post-Shankara philosophers who try to make out that there is only one jIva so that, as soon as this jIva is enlightened, the apparent creation comes to an end. You can read all about the ‘world disappearing on enlightenment’ in the seemingly endless discussions we had on that topic beginning in 2020 (I think).

So, as regards your specific question, objects continue to exist when you go out of the room (for example). Otherwise, other jIva-s would not be able to enjoy them! Suppose that you go outside at night with a friend and both look at the moon. And suppose that you turn away but your friend doesn’t.  If the moon ceased to exist, so would your friend (who is also an object at the gross level).

Advaita is not subjective idealism. Objects are not ‘in the mind’ (although the names and forms that we give them ARE in the mind – hence we can see a rope as a snake). But the moon is not ‘real’ in an Advaitic sense; it is mithyA. The story of the sage and the wild elephant is relevant here. A seeker saw his guru run away when a rogue elephant charged. Afterwards he asked why his teacher had run when he would say that the elephant is mithyA. The teacher replied that the ‘running away’ was also mithyA. (At least, that is how I recall the story.)

Need and luxury

There are basic human needs for survival: food, clothing, and dwelling. A commoner would be content if these needs are reasonably fulfilled. Any other material thing is a luxury. An item is considered a luxury if a person is not emotionally affected by its absence. As time passes and technology advances resulting in the availability of more and more sensory objects, human desire increases, and the scope of needs widens. Gradually a luxury becomes a need. It is material progress and is perceived as growth and prosperity. Think about the reverse effort. Can a person who has gained more than enough material progress convert a need (other than the basic needs in a reasonable measure) into a luxury? Is it possible and can s/he be successful? The answer is yes. It would require, on his or her part, increasing control over sense organs and the mind. It is the beginning of the spiritual journey.

Two lifestyles and two sAdhanAs for moksha

There are four ashramas(stages) of human life according to Vedic tradition. They are brahmacharya (student life), grihastha(householder), vAnaprastha(gradual withdrawal from family), and sannyAsa ( renunciation). They are compatible with four purushArthas (human goals): artha(wealth), kama(desires), dharma (morality and ethics), and moksha (liberation). Moksha is the ultimate goal. It has two aspects, namely, freedom from suffering in the present life and freedom from rebirth. Two important spiritual sAdhanAs(disciplines) for moksha are karma yoga and jnAna yoga. As the name suggests, karma yoga is action-oriented and jnAna yoga is knowledge-oriented. For the purpose of simplicity, karma yoga is taken to include all action-based disciplines, e.g., rituals and upAsanA (meditation). Brahmacharya is preparatory to grihastha and vAnaprastha is preparatory to sannyAsa. Accordingly, grihastha is taken to include brahmacharya and sannyAsa includes vAnaprastha. Thus, there are broadly two lifestyles: grihastha and sannyAsa, and two sAdhanAs: karma yoga and jnAna yoga. Sri Krishna praises both karma and jnAna in Bhagavat Gita (BG)
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I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.
– Max Planck

(X): Non-dualism is not something that can be understood in any formulation of words, and at best one can approach it conceptually only perhaps by means of negation, meaning by specifying what it is not.

A1. All doctrines and teachings are necessarily couched in language, which is a system of symbols. All concepts are just pointers (e.g. ‘pointing at the moon’), including those of Nonduality (ND). So it is not only negation — I think you will agree. I also referred myself to superimposition followed by rescission as a method of gradual understanding taught in Advaita Vedanta. The final end is doing away with language once final understanding has been reached, that is, once there are no further doubts or questions.

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Book Review: Vivekachudamani – Swami Dayananda

Another review from 10+ years ago at Advaita Academy. I have amended this to bring it up to date.

Vivekachudamani (vivekachUDAmaNi), Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Gangadadharesvar Trust, 1997, No ISBN. (312 pages), $12 from Arsha Vidya Bookstore, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Institute of Vedanta & Sanskrit, P.O. Box 1059, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, 18353, USA Tel: 570.992.2339 ( The book is in English. Verses are given in Devanagari, followed by transliteration and then word by word translation. Direct Devanagari quotations from other sources are provided in footnotes.

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Q.520 Perception and the witness

Q: How can the mind perceive something which is outside of time, when the mind itself is caught in time like a prisoner? Perception in itself is a movement in time so how can mind even claim to perceive the concept of Brahman and say that Brahman is eternal?

A: The mind cannot perceive anything ‘outside of time’. As you say, perception occurs within time (and space). And, more to the point, that which you perceive is also within time and space. Thus, you can never perceive Brahman. But conceptions are not quite the same. The concept itself is in the mind, which is also limited. But what is conceived is not limited. You can conceive of a unicorn with no problem at all, even though you also know that they do not really exist. Scientists also conceived of black holes, long before any proof was found for their existence – and still no one has ‘really’ perceived such a thing.

But perhaps the simplest way of thinking about it is to consider deeply who you actually are. It is possible to eliminate body, sense organs, mind, and anything else that you can think of as ‘not I’. But it is not possible to eliminate the one who is doing this. There has to be an ‘ultimate subject’ after everything else has been eliminated. That is who you really are and that is Brahman.

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Spiritual practice- earlier the better

Mahabharata is a famous epic describing diverse aspects of human life, like family and its intrigues, kingship, loyalty, friendship, dharma, war, Vedantic teaching, etc. Bhagavat Gita is in the 12th Book named Bhisma Parva because Bhisma is the commander of the Kauravas army during this part. 18 chapters of BG are chapters 23 to 40 of Bhisma Parva.  BG is a moksha shastra and a student of Vedanta should have read and understood Bhagavat Gita fairly well.  Surprisingly, there are other portions of Mahabharata that too have Vedantic teaching.  Mokshadharma Parva as the title suggests has Vedantic messages. It is a conversation between Yudhishthira and Bhisma.

After the Mahabharata war is over, Bhisma is lying on the bed of arrows awaiting his death to come at a time chosen by him. Yudhishthira is the new king but is depressed due to the destruction caused by the war. At the behest of Sri Krishna, he visits Bhisma to get instructions on various topics. Bhisma, though lying on the bed of arrows, is willing to answer Yudhishthira’s questions. He does so mainly through stories. One such story in Mokshadharma parva relates to the teaching given by a son to his father. Continue reading

Book Review: European Masters – John David

Blueprints for Awakening: European Masters: Unique Dialogues with 14 European Masters on the Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi Who am I?

Premananda, Open Sky Press Ltd, Nov 2010, ISBN 978-0956607003. (350 pages).

Buy from Amazon US
Buy from Amazon UK

Note that, when I originally reviewed this book, it also included a free DVD of extracts from the interviews. This is no longer the case.

Premananda is the author of a number of books, including ‘Indian Masters: Blueprints for Awakening’, which I have reviewed at He spent 15 years with Osho, followed by another 5 with H. W. L. Poonja (Papaji) and much of his teaching now is influenced by Ramana Maharshi. He runs the Open Sky Satsang Community in Germany (between Cologne and Düsseldorf) and periodic meetings are organized throughout Europe.

(Extended biographical details may be found at his website –  

Note that, sometime during the elapsed time since I wrote this review (around 2011), he has reverted to his (presumed) birth name of John David. All reference to the name ‘Premananda’ appears to have been removed from his website and books (although the URL remains the same). I have left the words of the review itself, and the images, as they were in the original review.

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Q.519 How can one experience the bliss?

Q: In ‘The Book of One’, you say: “If our true nature were allowed the freedom to experience to the full, what then? The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad tells us that “All the joys of the entire cosmos put together would be only a small drop of the bliss of this Supreme Being. Whatever little satisfaction we have, whatever pleasures we have, whatever joys we are experiencing, whatever be the happiness of life – all this is but a reflection, a fractional distorted form, a drop, as it were, from this ocean of the Absolute.” (Ref. 7)

Is there a way to get a taste such an ocean of joy while not ‘realized’?

A: This is a good question and highlights the dangers of attempting to relate the more ‘rapturous’ statements of the scriptures to the mundane experiences of life! When the Upanishad talks about the ‘bliss of this Supreme Being’, it cannot mean this literally. Brahman is non-dual, part-less, changeless, does not ‘experience’ or ‘know’ etc. In fact, whenever the word ‘bliss’ (Ananda) is encountered, it is a good idea to substitute ‘eternal’ (ananta) so as not to risk such a thought process. (See discussions at the AV site on ‘satyaM j~nAnamanantaM brahma’.)

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