Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3 & 4.4

Brhadaranyaka means ‘great forest’; it is one of the longest Upanishads covering a breadth of topics, and one on which Sankara wrote the most extensive of commentaries.  As a result it is easy to get lost in this forest, to pick out specific trees within it, without seeing its broad sweep and context.

In BU4.3 and 4.4, Janaka is helped by Yajnavalkya, step by step to attain liberation.  At each significant step, Janaka offers Yajnavalkya a boon of a thousand cows as gratitude and to progress the teaching further; until at the final stage, when he is liberated, he offers his entire kingdom and himself.

Chapter 4.3

Janaka starts his questions in BU4.3, asking what is the light for a man.  Yajnavalkya takes him through a series of explanations starting with the sun and moon, and culminating with the light of the Self, which is different from that of the body and the organs.  Sankara explains that this infinite entity which is identified with the intellect is the Self – but goes on to say “the self is so-called because of our failure to discriminate its association with its limiting adjunct the intellect”.  In other words, the intellect is also part of the superimposition, the ignorance – contrary to Dennis’ assertion.  Sankara expounds:

“The intellect, being transparent and next to the self, easily catches the reflection of the intelligence of the self. Therefore even wise men happen to identify themselves with it first; next comes the Manas, which catches the reflection of the self through the intellect; then the organs, through contact with the Manas; and lastly the body, through the organs. Thus the self successively illumines with its own intelligence the entire aggregate of body and organs.” – BU Bhasya 4.3.7

Yajnavalkya goes on to discuss the three states to make the point that the Self, as the ‘mere seer’, is equally unattached to actions in the waking state as it is in the dream state.  Sankara comments that the “agency is simply due to its limiting adjuncts, the intellect, etc and is not natural to it”.  Hence “this self is itself the light and distinct from the body and organs and their stimulating causes, desire and work, on account of its non-attachment”.

In the next verse, Sankara’s comments further reinforce the point that the intellect is also part of the superimposition, the ignorance:

“These relative attributes do not belong to it per se; its relative existence is only due to its limiting adjuncts, and is superimposed by ignorance; this has been stated to be the gist of the whole passage.” – BU Bhasya 4.3.18

The Upandishad, and Sankara’s bhasya, goes on to teach that the deep sleep state is the only one in which the Self is in its natural, eternal, free condition, without any superimposition of limiting adjuncts:

“In the state of profound sleep it is perfectly serene and unattached, this non- attachment being the additional feature. If we consider all these passages together, the resulting sense is that the self is by nature eternal, free, enlightened and pure. This comprehensive view has not yet been shown; hence the next paragraph. It will be stated later on that the self becomes such only in the state of profound sleep” – BU Bhasya 4.3.18

Now the Upanishad and Sankara, move on to discuss desire – and the fact that in liberation, as in deep sleep, there can arise no desire:

“Hence the nature of ignorance proves to be this, that it represents that which is infinite as finite, presents things other than the self that are non-existent, and makes the self appear as limited. Thence arises the desire for that from which he is separated; desire prompts him to action, which produces results” – BU Bhasya 4.3.20

“Now liberation in the form of identity with all, which is the result, devoid of action with its factors and results, of knowledge, and in which there is no ignorance, desire, or work, is being directly pointed out. This has already been introduced in the passage, ‘Where falling asleep it craves no desires and sees no dreams’ (para 19). That, this identity with all which has been spoken of as ‘his highest state,’ is his form – beyond desires (Aticchanda). This word is to be turned into neuter, since it qualifies the word ‘Rupa’ (form). ‘Chanda’ means desire; hence ‘Aticchanda,’ means transcending desires.” – BU Bhasya 4.3.21

The next section of his bhasya is critical – as again Sankara identifies deep sleep as being “fully embraced by, or unified with, the Supreme Self . . . being identified with all, without the least break, not knowing anything either internal or external.”  He thus gives a pointer to what liberation is:

“You asked me why, in spite of its being the light that is Pure Intelligence, the self fails to know in the state of profound sleep. I have told you the reason – it is unity, as of a couple fully embracing each other. Incidentally it is implied that variety is the cause of particular consciousness ; and the cause of that variety is, as we have said, ignorance, which brings forward something other than the self.  Such being the case, when the Jiva is freed from ignorance, he attains but unity with all.”

“In states other than that of profound sleep, i.e. in the waking and dream states, things are separated, as it were, from the self and are desired as such. But to one who is fast asleep, they become the self, since there is no ignorance to project the idea of difference.”

– BU Bhasya 4.3.22

“It is ignorance which separates a second entity, and that is at rest in the state of profound sleep ; hence ‘one’.  This is the world of Brahman: In profound sleep the self, bereft of its limiting adjuncts, the body and organs, remains in its own supreme light of the Atman, free from all relations” – BU Bhasya 4.3.32

So ignorance for Sankara, is the superimposition of the world, the body, and the mind / intellect on Brahman (which equates to the deep sleep state).

Chapter 4.4

BU4.4 continues the dialogue, starting with the process of transmigration, and makes the point that desire is at the root of transmigratory existence.  Sankara states that it is through desirelessness, which he equates with knowledge, that one attains liberation:

“He to whom all objects of desire, being but the Self, are already attained, is alone free from desires, is without desires, and does not desire any more; hence he attains liberation.”

“Because he has no desires that cause the limitation of non-Brahmanhood, therefore ‘being but Brahman he is merged in Brahman’ in this very life, not after the body falls.”

“Therefore, as we have also said, the cessation of ignorance alone is commonly called liberation, like the disappearance of the snake, for instance, from the rope when the erroneous notion about its existence has been dispelled” 

– BU Bhasya 4.4.6

Synthesising this, Sankara is saying that the knowledge, arising from sruti teaching “Tat Tvam Asi”, when it is fully realised will lead to utter desirelessness; and some level of desirelessness will be required to comprehend the sruti teaching in the first place.  This is evident in the following:

“Liberation consisting in the identity with all, which is the thing that was sought to be explained by the example of the state of profound sleep, has been described. And the cause of liberation has been stated to be the attainment of all objects of desire through their becoming the Self. But since this state is unattainable without Self-knowledge, the cause of liberation has by implication been stated to be the knowledge of Brahman. Therefore, although desire has been said to be the root of bondage, it is ignorance that, being the opposite of what leads to liberation (knowledge), has virtually been stated to be the cause of bondage.” – BU Bhasya 4.4.7

It is in this context, that the Upanishad goes on to state:

BU 4.4.7: Regarding this there is this verse: ‘When all the desires that dwell in his heart (mind) are gone, then he, having been mortal, becomes immortal, and attains Brahman in this very body.’ Just as the lifeless slough of a snake is cast off and lies in the ant-hill, so does this body lie. Then the self becomes disembodied and immortal, (becomes) the Prajna (Supreme Self), Brahman, the Light. ‘I give you a thousand (cows), sir,’ said Janaka, Emperor of Videha.

Sankara reinforces this disembodiment, this lack of identification with the limiting adjuncts and desire for what is other, which are all the superimposition of ignorance:

“When the liberated man identified with all – who corresponds to the snake – although he resides just there like the snake, becomes disembodied, and is no more connected with the body. Because formerly he was embodied and mortal on account of his identification with the body under the influence of his desires and past work; since that has gone, he is now disembodied, and therefore immortal.” – BU Bhasya 4.4.7

Sankara then asks why is it that Janaka only offers a thousand cows, if Self-knowledge has been fully covered, and there is nothing further to be taught.  He explains:

“Besides there is something more to be explained; although liberation, which is attainable through Self-knowledge, has been explained, a part of the latter, viz. the relinquishment of desires that is called renunciation, is yet to be described . . . we have already said that renunciation is not a mere eulogy on Self-knowledge.”

So immediately following is a set of difficult sentences, which Dennis has fundamentally misunderstood (asserting that renunciation has no relationship to self-knowledge) in a way that cannot make logical sense given the above paragraph.  Sankara writes:

“The Emperor thinks that renunciation is not a direct cause of liberation like Self-knowledge; accordingly it can go on like a subsidiary act in a sacrifice. Even if renunciation were a means to liberation, it would not necessitate the request, ‘(Please instruct me) further about liberation itself,’ because it merely serves to mature Self-knowledge, which is the means of liberation.”

If one reads carefully the logical flow of the admittedly difficult commentary, it actually is understood as follows: Janaka doesn’t think renunciation is a cause of liberation, and even if he did, it would not require him to ask for more teaching, if it merely served to mature Self-knowledge. Sankara is actually hinting here at the importance of renunciation, which he elaborates on in the further instruction that follows (and many points elsewhere in BU).  

This must be the case since BU 4.3 and 4.4 have gone to great lengths to explain that desires are at the root of transmigratory existence, and utter desirelessness, as in deep sleep or like a snake’s sloughed skin, is the state of liberation.

One cannot take a quote out of its context – which unfortunately Dennis has a predilection for doing!

The further instruction from Yajnavalkya very much reinforces this relinquishment of desires:

BU4.4.12: If a man knows the Self as ‘ I am this,’ then desiring what and for whose sake will he suffer in the wake of the body?

“Since he as the Self has nothing to wish for, and there is none other than himself for whose sake he may wish it, he being the Self of all, therefore desiring what and for whose sake will he suffer in the wake of the body – deviate from his nature, or become miserable, following the misery created by his limiting adjunct, the body, i.e. imbibe the afflictions of the body? For this is possible for the man who does not see the Self and consequently desires things other than It. He struggles desiring something for himself, something else for his son, a third thing for his wife, and so on, goes the round of births and deaths, and is diseased when his body is diseased. But all this is impossible for the man who sees everything as the Self.” – BU Bhasya 4.4.12

The Upanishad then goes on to say that it is through the mind alone that IT is to be realised.  Sankara explains:

“Therefore the scriptures do not enjoin that identity with Brahman should be established, but that the false identification with things other than That should stop. When the identification with other things is gone, that identity with one’s own Self which is natural, becomes isolated; this is expressed by the statement that the Self is known. In Itself It is unknowable – not comprehended through any means.” – BU Bhasya 4.4.20

In other words sruti teaches you to stop identification with other things, and when that is gone, there is liberation and desirelessness.  Sruti gives knowledge in the sense of pointing out what you are not; you need to assimilate this, constantly apply neti neti, “attain intuitive knowledge” the Upanishad says, such that it naturally manifests as desirelessness, disembodiedness like the sloughing of the skin of a snake. 

The Upanishad then culminates in an injunction to renunciation – on which Sankara comments:

“The attainment of the world of the Self is but living in one’s own Self after the cessation of ignorance. Therefore, should a person desire that world of the Self, for him the chief and direct means of that would be the withdrawal from all activities . . . for one who has known about Brahman and desires to realise the world of the Self, the monastic life consisting in the cessation of all desires is undoubtedly enjoined . . . Therefore, desiring the world of the Self monks renounce their homes, i.e. should renounce. Thus it is an injunction.” – BU Bhasya 4.4.22

It is only after this point that Janaka gives Yajnavalkya his empire and himself. He renounces!

These two chapters of Brhadaranyaka Upanishad encapsulate all aspects of advaita adroitly – everything that is not there in deep sleep (which is Brahman) is a superimposition of ignorance, and desire perpetuates this.  Liberation thus entails gaining this understanding of neti, neti from sruti and making it intuitive, actualising it – the sign of which will be utter desirelessness.  But the Upanishad and Sankara’s commentary needs to be read in its entirety and carefully for its logical coherence, to ensure that one has properly understood it and to avoid confusion.

As Suresvara says in one of his comments on this chapter:

“Before the rise of knowledge of Atman, renunciation is a means to knowledge, and in the case of one in whom the knowledge of the Atman has arisen, only knowledge is that means to renunciation.”

37 thoughts on “Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3 & 4.4

  1. Dear Venkat,

    Thank you very much for this concise and very clear presentation of over 175 pages of material (in the translation by Swami Madhavananda) from the brihadAraNyaka Upanishad. It is a stupendous job you did.

    The internal ‘illumination’ that is available to each of us, as humans, to “know” or “understand” things is of the 5th order, each of the 4 reflectors contaminating the Purity of the original “Illumination” adding its own aberration at every level as you quoted at 4.3.7, BUB.

    Shankara highlights the same point at 18.50, BGB also. He says there: “Buddhi being as pure, etc., as the Self, it can put on the semblance of that aspect of the Self which is manifested as consciousness. Manas puts on a semblance of buddhi, the sense organs put on a semblance of Manas, and the physical body again puts on a semblance of the sense organs. Wherefore common people look upon the mere physical body as the Self.”

    To give a comparison, it will be like us looking for an object in darkness using a beam of reflected light from a mirror which uses the reflected light from a pond which in turn reflects the moon light which itself reflects the Sunlight! One can imagine the order of dilution in intensity of consciousness compared to the original source Consciousness. Some people think that we are already, as we are, the original source Consciousness, forgetting the levels of aberration and dilution! We have to surpass all those reflectors to reach the blemishless original through neti- neti.

    Unfortunately some think that sAdhana caTuShTaya sampatti or SCS, (The Fourfold Aids for seeking) works like a magic dish, the more I consume of it, the surer I attain the original Consciousness. But SCS is only like learning the three Rs. Learning the 3 R’s, one does not become a Physicist or Mathematician. The 3 R’s given an eligibility to learn higher education. Likewise, SCS gives an eligibility to learn Advaita. It cannot and does not replace the required process. One has to drop all that which one is not, in order to “realize” the Truth of the brihadAraNyaka mahAvAkya – “I am brahman” (1.4.10, BU).


  2. Sorry, guys, but I won’t be adding much to this discussion. As you say, Ramesam, Madhavananda takes 175 pages to comment on these chapters. Sureshvara takes around 1050! (That’s over one thousand!) AIHAS, I am not embarking on a discussion of saMnyAsa. Or ‘desirelessness’. Other than to repeat that knowledge alone is what is required for enlightenment.

    I appreciate, Venkat, that you have obviously spent a lot of effort compiling this. I hope that some of our readers will be sufficiently familiar with the material to be able to stimulate some discussion. But I see no future in trying to follow up most of the points over which we have differing views. Just a couple of responses.

    You said: “the intellect is also part of the superimposition, the ignorance – contrary to Dennis’ assertion.”

    I believe that what I asked was: where (other than in the mind itself) any ‘superimposition’ could take place. I don’t think any of what you have written has answered this question. Obviously, the intellect is also one of the ‘sheaths’. But it is the intellect that is the chidAbhAsa, as Shankara explains somewhere else. It is there that the ‘intellectual’ understanding of Advaita takes place. Presumably you are not suggesting that it takes place in the Atman?

    Venkat, how can one NOT take quotes out of context?? Are you suggesting that, when substantiating a point of view by a quotation. one has to quote the entire chapter so that the context is included? I understand your sentiment but the idea is ludicrous. One has to assume that the quoter has some understanding of the text in order to be able to access it and quote in the first place; and that the intention at least is to substantiate the statement. I hoped that our discussions are of the nature of vAda, rather than jalpa or vitaNDa, and that other participants would politely point out if a quotation was taken out of context rather than using it to score a point.

    Regardless of this, deep sleep is not a state of liberation. States have a beginning and an end. Therefore deep sleep IS a state; mokSha (being our eternally existent nature) is not.

    Best wishes,

  3. Dear Ramesam

    This dialogue between Yajnavalkya and Janaka clearly and systematically articulates Advaita and Sankara’s views at the highest level:

    1. Deep sleep is equivalent to Brahman, the substratum.
    2. Ignorance is the superimposition of the limiting adjuncts of mind -> body -> world on this substratum – and mistaking the mind-body as ‘I”, as separate from world (the subject-object duality)
    3. This ignorance being the cause of desires (and fears) for what is other.
    4. Knowledge being the removal of ignorance and desires, THROUGH neti, neti – the negation of the superimposed limiting adjuncts – this not being a mere intellectual understanding.
    5. The realisation of knowledge logically implying utter desirelessness and disembodiedness. Logical because if ignorance is defined as the superimposition of adjuncts, then the dispelling of ignorance, must mean their removal – or at least severe attenuation (the metaphor of a burnt rope).
    6. The manifestation of Knowledge being an effortless, ’natural’ renunciation – not that of an ochre robe – because if one truly knows / feels no further identification with the body-mind, what action is there left to do, what possessions does one hang on to; what world is there to act in?

    This I suppose is why Sankara and sruti say that self-knowledge is rare. Disidentification is not easy – as S N Sastri had pointed out, when saying that he and others on the advaita yahoo forum were not jnanis.

    The Suresvara quote reminds me of one from you, drawn from Vasistha:

    “Meditation is useless without detachment. Meditation is meaningless with detachment. Utter detachment is the most fundamental thing of all for Nirvana.”

    Substitute ‘knowledge’ for ‘meditation’, and you have it.

    best wishes,

  4. Dennis

    These two chapters from Brhadaranyaka Up, and Sankara’s own words (that you say you like to focus on), systematically contradict your positions regarding the nature of ignorance, knowledge, deep sleep and renunciation.

    Your objection about ‘when can you not take quotes out of context’ is I am afraid ludicrous – because your interpretation and use of a quote (to imply that renunciation was not a key factor of knowledge for Sankara) was diametrically opposite to what Sankara was stating – and this could only be understood / challenged through the preceding and subsequent context. As such, this is not about point scoring – you clearly demonstrated that you did NOT have “some understanding of the text in order to be able to access it and quote in the first place”. Sorry – but I was correcting your misunderstanding of Sankara’s own words.

  5. Apropos the intellect being where the intellectual understanding takes place – yes, and in understanding it, it also negates itself. That is aparokshanubhuti.

    Katha Up 2.3.10: When the five senses of knowledge come to rest together with the mind, and the intellect too does not function, that state they call the highest.

  6. Another misunderstanding on your part I’m afraid, Venkat. aparokSha has nothing to do with the intellect ‘negating itself’.

    The word parokSha literally means out of sight, invisible, hidden, secret or even unintelligible. It is used in Advaita in the sense of (merely) ‘intellectual’ knowledge, gained by reading or hearing a description; i.e. not intimately realized. aparokSha of course is the opposite of this: not invisible, perceptible; in Advaita: self-evident, immediate. This sense of ‘immediate’ is not quite the usual way in which it is used but the Oxford English Dictionary does give the Advaitic meaning: “without an intervening medium or agency; direct”. It means specifically not ‘objective’ in the sense that ‘ordinary’ knowledge is. ‘I know it’ is objective or parokSha. ‘I am’ is aparokSha – we do not need any external source to inform us of this fact.

    So we hear about Brahman from the scriptures – parokSha, objective. Then we realize ‘I am Brahman’ – aparokSha, immediate.

    Not quite sure how what I was saying was “diametrically opposite to what Shankara was stating” when I was quoting Shankara… You seem to be claiming that Shankara said what he understood by saMnyAsa and then summarized it by saying something that implied the opposite?

  7. Quoting from 1.1.4, BSB:

    “Opponent: Did we not say that a statement about Brahman
    cannot be useful like the statement about the nature of the rope, since it is a patent fact that even a man who has heard of brahman continues to have his mundane life just as before?

    Vedantin: To this the answer is being given: For one who
    has realized the state of the unity of the Self and brahman, it
    cannot be proved that his mundane life continues just as before.”


    In ‘aparokShAnubhUti,’ only the bigger, the bhUma, the Infinite remains; the other disappears into It without a trace of its form or ID (name etc.) remaining. E.g.:

    1. The lump of salt and the ocean – 2.4.12, brihat.
    2. The river and the sea – 6.5, prashna.
    3. The food entering into stomach – in everyone’s anubhava.
    4. The darkness absorbed into illumination – one can test turning on the light in a dark room and try to find the darkness.


    • I think we need some insight from Rick Reikert into the apophatic tradition and Via Negativa.

  8. Dear Venkat,

    Just a brief question about deep-sleep. If it is “equivalent to Brahman”, then it must be non-dual. If it is non-dual, it means that the body, mind, world must have been destroyed, dissolved or whatever. What then happens on awakening? Is the world newly created or what? Please explain.

    Best wishes,

  9. Hi Dennis,

    Confirming what you say, Mandukya Up 1.6:
    “This one is the Lord of all; this one is Omniscient; this one is the inner Director of all; this one is the source of all; this one is verily the place of origin and dissolution of all beings”

    Brhad 2.1.20, following a discussion on deep sleep, states:
    20. As a spider moves along the thread (it produces), and as from a fire tiny sparks fly in all directions, so from this Self emanate all organs, all worlds, all gods and all beings. Its secret name (Upanishad) is ‘ the Truth of truth.’

    Sankara’s bhasya:
    “i.e. from the real nature of the individual self before it wakes up, emanate all organs such as that of speech, all worlds such as the earth, which are the results of one’s past actions, all gods such as fire. who preside over the organs and the worlds, and all living beings,”

    Your question suggests an attachment to materialism – rather than consciousness – as primary.

    Best wishes,

  10. Hi Venkat,

    So are you creating me each morning when you wake up or vice versa? What happens if one of us visits the States or Australia? Will the other start to have a purely nocturnal existence? Will the entire creation come to an end when the ‘active one’ of us dies? Oh, I forgot, this happens every night anyway…

    I’m pretty sure it’s not me doing the creating anyway, so thanks for the life!

    Best wishes,

  11. Hi Dennis

    The thrust of all the Upanishads, perhaps most clearly expressed in Brhad and Mandukya, as well as the words of Gaudapada and Shankara, confirmed by those of jnanis like Ramanamaharishi, is just this.

    This whole article, including my comment at 20:00 on March 12, uses Sankara’s own words to set out his position. It demonstrates that you have been incorrect on Sankara’s statements on deep sleep, the nature and locus of ignorance, desirelessness and renunciation and dissolution of particular consciousness. A recent jnani – Ramanamaharishi confirms all of these points; as would a Nisargadatta.

    You don’t really subscribe to advaita, or ajata vada do you? You have rather adopted a convoluted hybrid materialistic – pseudo consciousness framework, cherry-picking quotes, typically out of context, from Sankara to justify it. And dismissing those you disagree with as not to be taken literally. The problem being that you would need to dismiss whole swathes of Upanishadic teaching and Sankara’s bhasya (as you have above) and miss the logical coherence of the ‘literal’ position he set outs therein.

    As I said previously, it is for each of us to try to best understand the upanishads and Sankara for ourselves, given the very apparent rarity of jnanis.

    best wishes,

  12. Dear Dennis,

    I don’t know the real purpose of your questions.

    It is fairly well known that you “think” you are the same “me” continuing because of the “memory” function. Divested of it, there is no basis to claim that it is the same ‘you.’

    In fact, we do have such neurological cases for whom every moment looks fresh and new. Please read;

    Secondly, 2.26, BG does give this choice of a model of the universe – created and dissolved every moment. Shankara says there: “Granting that the Self – of whom we are speaking – is, according to the popular view, again and again born whenever a body comes into existence, and again and again dead whenever the body dies, even if the Self were so, as you thinks mighty-armed, you ought not to grieve thus …”

    Further, I remember we discussed this issue around Jan. 2013 when I wrote the articles on ” Traditional Teaching and Deep Sleep.” Is it not the lack of courage on our part that we are unable to give up the continuation idea which comes to us courtesy ‘memory faculty’? And then we built a structure of ‘common consensual conventions’ around that and think that is the reality! Maybe we would have built a different social structure and conventions if memory were not to be there to give us a false sense of continuing as the same person.


  13. Dear Ramesam and Venkat,

    The ‘real purpose’ of my questions is to see how it is possible for Venkat to justify this view. Please could you answer them, Venkat, and not avoid them by trying to make out that it is I who am not following scriptures and Shankara.

    Advaita, once you understand it, is a perfectly logical and REASONABLE system, that does not ask you to believe totally ridiculous ‘explanations’ of scriptural statements, that contradict empirical knowledge, experience and common sense.

    The correct explanation of Brihad. 2.1.20 is that it is speaking of jIvAtman-paramAtman aikya and Shankara is examining and refuting all the various other views of the relationship between these. The view that it is jIvAtman that is creating the world is the view of the first pUrvapakShin, who doesn’t accept Ishvara. The second is acknowledging that the creator is Ishvara but sees it as different from jIvAtman. Later you get the views of the bhedAbheda vAdins and it gets even more complicated.

    Shankara’s position is, of course, that Ishvara and jIvAtman are identical and it is paramAtman (Ishvara) that creates the world. The ‘creator’ is samaShTi, not vyaShTi! It is paramAtman to which Shankara is referring by his expression ‘satyasya satyam’.

    Best wishes,

  14. Dennis

    All the justification has been given several times over and backed by sruti, Gaudapada, Sankara, and the likes of Ramanamaharishi. Interesting that your only resort in refutation is ‘common sense’, rather than being able to present a convincing alternative logical argument from Sankara (because there aren’t any?) as for example Brhad 4.3 & 4.4 does.

    I’m sorry that you find scriptural statements ridiculous because they contradict empirical knowledge. But isn’t that what scriptural statements are for – to point out that which is not discernible through common sense(s).

    Your empirical knowledge is rooted in an underlying attachment to materialism which forms the basis for your ‘common sense’ view.

    If consciousness is primary, then there is no world ‘out there’; and there is no jiva. So who is having this empirical experience that is the basis of duality, which you are trying to maintain. It is absolutely contrary to Gaudapada and Sankara’s bhasya to Brhad.

    We can keep going around in circles – as Shishya pointed out, this conversation has been repeating for the last decade. Though Shishya, the benefit has been that it has forced me into a more careful reading.

  15. Dear Venkat,

    You had earlier said:
    Venkat on February 22, 2021 at 09:01 said: (on Swami Vivekananda)

    Thank you Shishya. I have not read as extensively as you, but that was my impression of him. Manifesting the understanding, the insight, that ‘I’ have the same level of importance as all that I perceive.

    Venkat on March 13, 2021 at 21:47 said:

    We can keep going around in circles – as Shishya pointed out, this conversation has been repeating for the last decade. Though Shishya, the benefit has been that it has forced me into a more careful reading.
    I would say that you have gone much deeper into the subject whereas I have read more widely and idiosyncratically. For eg, a friend suggested that I read more about Ramakrishna but it didn’t catch my fancy, so I have little to say about the saint.

    I have become somewhat disenchanted with the notion of “jivanmukta”, liberation while alive, because of inconsistencies in the day to day lives of our widely accepted jivanmuktas. What a man does or says in his unguarded moments is more important to me than oracular pronouncements and sadly, much of it is – do what I say, not what I do.

    I find BG 4.8 very silly –

    BG 4.8: To protect the righteous, to annihilate the wicked, and to reestablish the principles of dharma I appear on this earth, age after age.

    On the other hand, I am a convinced hard determinist so I find solace in the thought that a man does what he does because he cannot do otherwise.

    “Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free but as causally bound as the stars in their motions.” Albert Einstein.

    When a “jivanmukta” sells cigarettes that cause cancer in smokers, or lies about his sex life, or is ….etc, etc, I conclude that it is fate in action, and attach much less importance to the idea of liberation while alive.

    If you are doomed to be a jivanmukta, you cannot avoid it.

    • The correct Einstein quote is:
      Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feel-ing, and acting are not free but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.

      From a statement to the Spinoza Society of America, September 22, 1932. Einstein Archives 33-291

    • “I have become somewhat disenchanted with the notion of “jivanmukta”, liberation while alive, because of inconsistencies in the day to day lives of our widely accepted jivanmuktas. What a man does or says in his unguarded moments is more important to me than oracular pronouncements and sadly, much of it is – do what I say, not what I do.

      When a “jivanmukta” sells cigarettes that cause cancer in smokers, or lies about his sex life, or is ….etc, etc, I conclude that it is fate in action, and attach much less importance to the idea of liberation while alive.”

      You’re not alone. For various reasons skeptical misgivings about jivanmukti have persisted throughout the history of Advaita Vedanta even to the point of some almost denying it altogether.

      Modern ideas of jivanmukti certainly include a pronounced moral dimension, owing in part to the Hindu counterattack against the 19th century Western critique of Hinduism.

      Shankara has little to say about this moral dimension. For the most part he simply assumes that conventional brahminical ethical standards apply here as elsewhere. The traditional Advaitic notion of jivanmukti is closely tied to world renunciation and liberation from all desire. Advaitic views on non-duality involve a devaluation of everyday existence and lead to a “transcendence” of Western-style ethics (witness, for example, many statements made by Ramana Maharshi). Being mindful of the welfare of others means attending to the world of duality and the “others” who abide there. But concern for others is ultimately based on a delusion and can also lead to attachment.

      In short, thinking of jivanmukti in moral terms is a recent and Western-influenced phenomenon.

      • Rick, thank you for your reply;
        “You’re not alone. For various reasons skeptical misgivings about jivanmukti have persisted throughout the history of Advaita Vedanta even to the point of some almost denying it altogether.”

        Could you give me a couple of references for this, will save me much time and effort.
        “In short, thinking of jivanmukti in moral terms is a recent and Western-influenced phenomenon.”
        But hasn’t the moral dimension always been a subset of dharma, so to speak? Or are you referring to the traditional view that the “jivanmukta” is free of “conventional morality”, even though contrary to dharma?
        I have begun to read a bit about Vijnanabhikshu and it would be great if you could give me your take on his writings.


        • Shishya,

          It has been my experience that to gain even a modicum of understanding about these sometimes complex and abstruse matters requires “much time and effort”. Perhaps more than Ramesam’s preternaturally endowed specimen of present-day humanity is often willing to put out.

          As for references, among the post-Shankara Advaitins those for whom the idea of jivanmukti was more than usually problematic include Prakashananda, who flat out denies the possibility of jivanmukti.

          The great Madhusudana Sarasvati regards jivanmukti as a desirable but inferior state of liberation. Madhusudana describes it as “mere liberation” (mukti-matra) in comparison to the “supreme liberation” (parama-mukti) attained when one breathes one’s last breath.

          Brahmananda Sarasvati argues that cessation of ignorance in that state is only true figuratively speaking. Like Madhusudana, he believes that genuine liberation (mukyo moksha) can only come at the time of death when ignorance truly ceases.

          This contrasts with what Shankara has to say (BSBh 4.4.6): “For the knower who dies there is no change of condition-no state different from that experienced while living. There is just no further embodiment.”

          Advaitins have always found that it is one thing to extol jivanmukti but quite another to work out a theoretical justification for it.

          For Shankara’s nondualistic metaphysics inaction is the logical outcome of a position that denies any value to this world. Since the enlightened still see the “illusion” after enlightenment they must act, but indifference to the welfare of the characters in the dream is the only consistent response—otherwise the enlightened would be exhibiting an unenlightened point of view or value. The enlightened cannot consistently commit a selfish act (since any sense of “I” or “mine” is out of the picture), but conversely they see no ‘others’ to be concerned about. The value of all human action is explained away.

          As for Vijnanabhikshu, I know just enough about him to know I should not offer an opinion.

          • Dear Rick,
            “It has been my experience that to gain even a modicum of understanding about these sometimes complex and abstruse matters requires “much time and effort”.
            Indeed; I hesitated a little before using that phrase but your elegant reply showed me exactly why I had that feeling.

            It is clear to me that subconsciously I have already dismissed the notion of jivanmukti as useless. So as of now, I am glad to hear of “Prakashananda, who flat out denies the possibility of jivanmukti.”

            I would not go that far, but for my purposes, it is almost a distinction without a difference notwithstanding the “bliss” of the jivanmukta.

            Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi
            Talk 607. 17th January, 1939

            There is no difference between a Jnani and an ajnani in their conduct. The difference lies only in their angles of vision. The ignorant man identifies himself with the ego and mistakes its activities for those of the Self, whereas the ego of the Jnani has been lost and he does not limit himself to this body or that, this
            event or that, and so on.

            Thanks again,

  16. Venkat,

    You cannot keep resorting to an ajAti vAda, pAramArthika stance to explain the teaching of Advaita. You know perfectly well that I accept this as the ultimate reality. The point is that ‘people’ (you know, those apparent objects with which you interact daily) live in the ‘world’ and they generally do not understand and appreciate this absolute position. Accordingly, the entire teaching of Advaita, to which Shankara himself was committed, addresses this empirical world of transactions and explains it all in a gradual process of adhyAropa-apavAda. Indeed, I would guess that some 99% of Advaita concerns the apparent, even when its sole concern is to point us to the 1% of absolute reality. It is that process that this website aims to address. Please accept that and endeavor to acknowledge it in your posts. Your present stance is both untenable and unhelpful.

    Best wishes,

  17. Dear Shishya

    Taking your hard determinism to the next logical step -> there is no ‘I’ in the machine.

    Einstein was very quotable. Interestingly in your quote, he assumes self-determinism whilst hard determinism of others. That I think is wisdom.

    BG says that ‘you are not the doer’; but until you REAL-ise it as such, until you achieve a level of disidentification, it becomes a convenient license to do anything. You behave in the world as if you had free will, on the assumption that others don’t. Eka jiva vada, no?

    • In 1948, Bertrand Russell wrote: “I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me.”

  18. Dear Dennis,

    The name you have given to the site is “Advaita Vision.”
    And the blurb below reads “Advaita for 21st Century.”

    You happily admit in your comment above that “I accept this [ajAti Vada] is the ultimate reality.” That is the real final teaching of Advaita and we know that no other philosophy in the entire world enwraps such a concept.

    But you insist on communicating Advita in the way Shankara did, over 1300 years ago, for you hold that “the entire teaching of Advaita, to which Shankara himself was committed, addresses this empirical world of transactions and explains it all in a gradual process of adhyAropa-apavAda.”

    Do you see the “glaring disconnect”?
    The 8th century of Shankara is not the 21st Century.
    The audience has vastly changed – in their attitudes, intellectual levels and in their capacity in handling new information and novel theories.

    Scientists these days talk about the increasing IQ levels by an order of 10 points by each generation. They call it “The Flynn effect.”

    Older generations were mainly concerned with the touchy-feely “concrete things” and, which had an effect on their immediate day-to-day life. They cared little for issues that did not matter for their daily living.

    “Classification, Using logic on Abstractions and taking the Hypothetical seriously,” as Prof. Flynn puts it, was an anathema to the ancients. But these have become the common things for the present day man. Even one who has a high school level education is quite familiar with these techniques.

    Hence, we can boldly say that the 21st century person whom you would like to target your teaching has no patience for the ‘gradual and progressive’ methods of superimposition-sublation and looks forward to a more direct and straight forward message. S/he is not anymore like the 8th century man that Shankara was dealing with.

    Could that be the reason for fewer visitors here unlike at the sites where the Non-dual message is delivered more “directly”?


  19. Dear Ramesam,

    I totally disagree. I believe you are vastly overestimating the ability of the modern mind. Scientific thinking certainly – I agree. But you do not need to look far to see how the intellectual ability of many has, if anything, diminished over time. News around the world makes this clear daily. Have you read ‘Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle’? In it, I compare and contrast traditional and modern teaching and there is not the shadow of a doubt, in my mind at least, which fares best.

    Certainly more people are reading about Advaita via the ‘modern approaches’ but they are also reading even more about crystals, angels, and all the other stuff than they are about Advaita, as I well know from interactions with my publisher!

    Best wishes,

  20. Dear Rick,

    “For various reasons skeptical misgivings about jivanmukti have persisted throughout the history of Advaita Vedanta even to the point of some almost denying it altogether.”

    That is a very significant observation you make.
    I am aware that it is too vast a topic. Yet I would like to request you to kindly make a detailed post on jIvanmukti and videhamukti expanding on the few short observations you made in your comment to Shishya, especially touching on the shifts in the historical perspectives on jIvanmukti.


    • Ramesam, it is indeed a vast topic, so much so that any précis that is practicable here would be of little value in explaining “the shifts in the historical perspectives on jivanmukti.” Fortunately, there are in addition to the original texts a number of scholarly studies that the earnest inquirer (and we know the importance of being earnest) would no doubt find useful.

      • Thanks very much Rick for the kind and prompt response.

        It will be great to have you tell us beginning with even those scholarly studies and we will all be ears to listen to you. In all Earnestness. And I am certain Dennis will not object if you have to do it in several parts – all of it need not be one single essay.

        Please do make a start.


  21. Hi Shishya,

    “I have become somewhat disenchanted with the notion of “jivanmukta”, liberation while alive, because of inconsistencies in the day to day lives of our widely accepted jivanmuktas.”

    Why do you like to throw the baby with the bath waters?

    These days, as you my have seen in my comment at another thread, “Jivanmukta” has almost become an ‘honorific.’ Every disciple wants to call his unworthy guru to be a Jivanmukta. Please tell me if ever you have come across anywhere someone himself / herself claiming “I am a Jivanmukta”? No true jIvanmukta whose ‘ego-sense’ is really dead would ever make such claims.

    And, if Rick says, that Prakashananda Saraswati “flat out denies the possibility of jivanmukti,” you have to take those words a bit carefully, IMHO. I say so because, as I understand, the concept of jIvanmukti does not arise in the “prakriyA” that he follows. IOW, jIvanmukti is not needed in the particular Advaita teaching model he follows. Similarly, even what Madhusudana Saraswati says has to be understood with care. Undoubtedly, he was an intellectual giant who authored the highly polemical text Advaitasiddhi. Yet I am unable to comprehend why he was such an obsequious bhakta of Krishna to the end of his life. Do you say that pure Advaitic understanding really dawned on him, without going into a long explanation of the personified god is brahman in his outlook? Why did he cling to Krishna?

    Anyways, these are some stray thoughts. I am eagerly looking forward for Rick’s more comprehensive essay on the subject.


  22. Dear Ramesam:

    I recently talked to a lively 92 year old gentleman who told me that his Guru assured him in a discussion about Patanjali’s Yogasutras that one should/could go directly from Pratyahara to Samadhi, without Dharana and Dhyana.

    In this Guru’s opinion (experience?) Dharana and Dhyana gainsay the approach of Via Negativa and simply muddy the waters, causing chittavritti instead of nirodhah.

    I think JK would have kissed this Guru on both cheeks and said to him: “Sir, they can abuse you by referring to you as a “jivanmukta”, but Ramesam would never do that.”


    • Shishya,

      Your comment is all in riddles for me. Will you say it in plain English please?

      [It was a presage. The Captcha for accessing the site when I wanted to respond to you was unusually MAJI ! 🙂 ]


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