Bhagavad Gita on ajata vada, jnana yoga and sarva karma sannyasa

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”

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Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 3.5.1 – Attaining Self-Knowledge: Panditya and Mouna

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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?