Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha was the 35th Sankaracharya of Sringeri, regarded as a jivanmukta, living in the 20th Century. The following are extracts from “Exalting Elucidations”
Suresvara, in his very first chapter of this independent work, establishes that Knowledge is the only direct means to liberation, but he also acknowledges the role of action to purify the mind. He essentially says desireless action leads to turning within and renunciation of all actions, which facilitates the assimilation of knowledge, which destroys ignorance and yields moksha.
The Upanishads say that the path of Jnana is like walking along a razor’s edge. This is perhaps most true in acquiring a proper understanding of the Bhagavad Gita, which teaches both the path of Knowledge and the path of Action, and also has chapters referring to Bhakti Yoga, Dhyana Yoga, etc. It can indeed be a razor’s edge to know which is being referred to at different points of this text. Hence it is critical to be guided by Sankara’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, and to assimilate it as a whole. In this article, I restrict myself predominantly to quotes from BG and Sankara’s bhasya thereon, in order to maintain Sankara’s consistency in exegesis, and also as BG is said to be the epitome of the Upanishads.
Chapter two of BG is said to articulate all that needs to be known, and the rest of the book is just an elaboration thereof, because Arjuna did not quite understand Krishna’s teaching. In this chapter, Krishna articulates directly ajata vada, in verses 19 to 21. Let’s consider verse 21 as it is exemplary of this, and Sankara’s bhasya is extensive, covering many salient points:
2.21: “O Partha, he who knows this One as indestructible, eternal, birthless and undecaying, how and whom does that person kill, or whom does he cause to be killed”
As Gaudapada’s Mandukyakarika 3.39 and 3.40 has been up for much discussion, I thought it worthwhile investigating further. Below are extracts from Swami Gambhirananda’s translation:
In “The Essential Adi Sankara”, D.B.Gangolli tranliterates a work by Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji. In note 207, he provides a superb commentary on Brhad Up 3.5.1, which I have set out below. He starts of saying that sravana can be sufficient for a qualified seeker. But then goes on to detail what should be done if sravana does not yield jnana nishtha. By imputation then, these practices are already inherent in the qualified seeker, who merely needs sravana but once.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.