Desirelessness and renunciation in Advaita Vedanta – a postscript

Therefore the knowledge of this Self by the process of ‘Not this, not this’ and the renunciation of everything are the only means of attaining immortality . . . The discussion of the knowledge of Brahman, culminating in renunciation, is finished. This much is the instruction, this is the teaching of the Vedas, this is the ultimate goal, this is the end of what a man should do to achieve his highest good.

– Sankara’s Bhasya on Brhadaranyaka Up 4.5.15


I can think of no better contemporary commentary on the essence of Sankara’s meaning than the words of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.

Continue reading

Desirelessness and Renunciation in Advaita Vedanta – part 2 of 2

Renunciation / samnyAsa – enjoined on the aspirant and inevitable for the jnani

The inevitable conclusion of the foregoing considerations, is that renunciation is a prerequisite for jnana.  In a sense, it is preparatory modelling of how a jnani-jivanmukta is: for how one thinks, affects how one acts; and how one acts, affects how one thinks.

With regard to the seekers of Liberation, renunciation of all actions has been prescribed as an accessory of Knowledge by all the Upanishads, History, Puranas and Yoga scriptures.

– Bhagavad Gita Bhasya, 3 introduction

Continue reading

Desirelessness and Renunciation in Advaita Vedanta – part 1 of 2

The purport is that It is not gained through knowledge unassociated with monasticism (samnyAsa).

– Mundaka Up Bhasya, 3.2.4



The purpose of this article is to explore the evidence – and rationale – for renunciation in Advaita, as exemplified in Sankara’s own words.  I have focused on sharing a plethora of extracts, that make the argument for themselves.  The quotes are primarily drawn from Swami Gambhirananda’s translations of Sankara’s commentaries on various scriptures – unless otherwise stated.  With thanks to Ramesam for reading and correcting an earlier draft; and to Dennis for prompting me to research this topic and synthesise my findings.

Continue reading

The demeaning of Sanatana Dharma

Over a year ago, there was a push by authorities in India to censor a book by a US professor, that they deemed did not properly appreciate, and distorted, Hinduism.  There was even a group called the Hindu Intellectual Warriors . . . the name says it all.  And rather than being condemned for their antics, they were even given succour by Vedantic ‘scholars’ including some moderators on the yahoo advaitin list.

The presumption that censorship is justified is based on assumptions which are antithetical to what Advaita means.  Firstly it presupposes that my interpretation is right, not anyone else’s.  Secondly that you are not capable of making up your own mind on such matters, and therefore need to be told what you can read.  If differentiates between those who think they know truth and those who they think don’t know the truth.  It is simply a power play.

And anyone with any sense of history knows that it inevitably presages a descent down a slippery slope.  The article today in the New York Times amply demonstrates this.

Ironic that those who, because of their insecurity, set out to defend and promote Sanatana Dharma, end up through their antics demeaning it.

Ramana, Nisargadatta, Krishnamurti, never sought to impose their views on anyone.  If people came to them they were free to smell their flower, and either linger or tear it apart.  It mattered little to them.  That is the difference between two cent scholars and jnanis.

Bhagavan’s mouna upadesa

Neo-traditional Vedantins are fond of claiming Bhagavan Ramana as their own, and acknowledge him as a great saint.  However they are conflicted because his teaching is diametrically opposite to what they say.

He says scriptures are fine, but need to be left behind, and self-abidance / enquiry should be pursued in order to permanently dissolve the ego.  This cannot be done by simply adding scriptural concepts, such as “I am Brahman”

The neo-traditionalists say scriptural knowledge is the only means to jnana, that teaching cannot be done in silence, and that “who am I”, self-enquiry can in no way be a means to jnana.  And they do not accept that the mind / ego can die.  Some also go on to say that Bhagavan’s primary teaching was not who am I, and that he has been mis-interpreted; and also that we was not interested in teaching, and that was why he remained in silence.

So lets consolidate what Bhagavan himself said about these issues.

Continue reading

The importance of being earnest

Mumuksutva, the fourth of the fourfold means of moksha, is defined as the earnest desire for liberation.  In Vivekachudamani, Sankara says of it:

30: “It is only in the case of one who is determined in his detachment and yearns for liberation that sama [calmness of mind] etc become meaningful and fruitful”

And of vairagya and sama he further says:

21: “Vairagya (detachment) is revulsion from all things seen, heard, etc from all transient objects of enjoyment, beginning with the body and up to Brahman”

22: “Detaching the mind from manifold sense-pleasures again and again, perceiving their pernicious character, resting it permanently on one’s objective is said to be sama.”

Continue reading

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?

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.

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.

Perspectives on right action

“The more intently you think of the well-being of others, the more oblivious of self you become. In this way, as gradually your heart gets purified by work, you will come to feel the truth that your own Self is pervading all beings and all things. Thus it is that doing good to others constitutes a way, a means of revealing one’s own Self or Atman.” – Vivekananda

“The goal of Vedanta is to see the other man’s sufferings as your own. Because in dream all the scenes and all the people are made of the same essence as yourself, they are as real as you are. Do not treat other people as mere ideas but your own self as real. If they are ideas, so are you. If you are real, so are they. Hence you must feel for them all just what you feel for yourself.” – V.S.Iyer

“Personality rests with the body, senses and mind. If you think you are impersonal, if you feel you are impersonal, and if you act knowing you are impersonal, you are impersonal.” – Krishna Menon

“Prarabdha (the actions the body has to perform in this life) is of three categories: ichha, anichha and parechha (personally desired, without desire and due to others’ desire). For him who has realised his Self, there is no ichha prarabdha. The two others remain. Whatever he does is for others only. If there are things to be done by him for others, he does them but the results do not affect him. Whatever be the actions that such people do, there is no punya (merit) and no papa (sin) attached to them.” – Ramana Maharshi

“The name and form of the spiritually enlightened Saint experiences the pangs and sorrows of life, but not their sting. He is neither moved nor perturbed by the pleasures and pains, nor the profits and losses of the world. He is thus in a position to direct others. His behavior is guided exclusively by the sense of justice.” – Nisargadatta