The Chrysalis (Part 2)

Read Part 1

The original metaphor seems to come from the Taittiriya Upanishad. (It is also outlined in the Sarva-Sara Upanishad and the Paingala Upanishad.)

 Here are some extracts from Swami Nikhilananda’s translation of the Taittiriya:

 II.1.3.  From the Atman was born AkAsha; from AkAsha, air; from air, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth; from earth, herbs; from herbs, food; from food, man. He, that man, verily consists of the essence of food. This indeed is his head, this right arm is the right wing, this left arm is the left wing, this trunk is his body, this support below the navel is his tail.

 II.2.1. Verily, different from this, which consists of the essence of food, but within it, is another self, which consists of the vital breath. By this the former is filled. This too has the shape of a man. Like the human shape of the former is the human shape of the latter. prANa, indeed, is its head; vyAna is its right wing; apAna is its left wing; AkAsha is its trunk; the earth is its tail, its support. Continue reading

The Chrysalis (Part 1)

This is the first of a 3-part blog that I originally posted to Advaita Academy, on the subject of the pa~ncha kosha prakriyA, probably better known to most as the metaphor of the ‘Five Sheaths’.

Simplistically, this is the idea that there are various levels of identification of ‘Who I really am’ with aspects of the body-mind and that these have to be recognized and dropped so that I can realize my true nature.

However, because of the way that this idea is sometimes presented, there is often a serious misunderstanding on the part of the seeker who, taking the metaphor in a more literal sense, mistakenly believes that the self is literally ‘covered over’ by these ‘layers’ and somehow has to be ‘uncovered’, like some Russian doll. This misunderstanding may be reinforced by the notion of the Self being ‘hidden in the cave of the heart’ – another potentially misleading idea that I have discussed before. Continue reading

Shankara and Mind

In his comments on the post ‘SamAdhi Again (Part 2)‘, Venkat said: “Dayananda has nothing useful to say about realisation. All of his statements are his mundane interpretations that don’t reconcile to anything that the great masters from Gaudapada and Sankara have said.”

And “Could you provide a couple of quotes from Sankara to support your Dayananda comment:
“Therefore, the knowledge is that I am thoughtfree (nirvikalpa) in spite of the experience of vikalpa . . . mithyA is not a problem – it is useful; mind is useful and that is all there is to it””

This attitude was also supported by Shishya in his comment on the same post: “I think Venkat put it very well.”

Accordingly, I have collected together a number of quotations that support the contention that only knowledge (and not action or samAdhi etc.) produces enlightenment; that ‘enlightenment’ is nothing other than Self-knowledge arising in the mind; and that the mind continues after enlightenment. These quotations demonstrate that those readers who have been criticising Swami Dayananda and his followers have been doing so unjustly.


A. Bhagavad Gita bhASya


“(Similarly) the same Self, which is in reality beyond all changes of state, is called ‘enlightened’ on account of discriminative knowledge separating the Self from the not-self, even though such knowledge is only a modification of the mind and illusory in character (and implies no real change of state).


“Moreover that monk (i.e. man of realization) is then called a man of steady wisdom; when his mind is unperturbed; when his mind is unperturbed by the sorrows that come on the physical or other planes; …and has gone beyond attachment, fear and anger.

and BG 2.55 says that a stitha praj~na is a man who drives away all desires that crop up in the mind. Continue reading

samAdhi in vivekachUDAmaNi


This is a response to Ramesam’s post ‘samAdhi Again – 1’. I have posted separately because 1) it is rather long for a comment; 2) I wanted to italicize the key phrases of quotations and 3) the authenticity of vivekachUDAmaNi merits a separate topic.

Dear Ramesam,

Congratulations on a thorough and erudite analysis – most impressive! Your Sanskrit knowledge and scriptural learning is much greater than my own, so I am reluctant to enter into any attempt to ‘argue’ in any way with what you have written. Certainly, I am aware that the word samAdhi is used with different meanings in different texts.

However, just in relation to the vivekachUDAmaNi, I have 13 versions of this and have looked at them all in reference to the section on samAdhi (verses 354 – 372 approximately – as you know, the precise numbering of verses varies between different translations) and any other references I could find. And I have not found anything to persuade me that the meaning of samAdhi does not tally with that used by Yoga philosophy, i.e. as the final stage of aShTA~Nga yoga, meaning ‘intense meditation, culminating in a state in which no duality is apprehended’.

John Grimes, in his translation, comments in verse 409 (kim api satata…): “SamAdhi or meditative enstasis is a state wherein one experiences the non-dual Bliss of the Self.” (Note that John is a Ramana adherent; he publishes an article in every issue of ‘Mountain Path’.) And he translates verse 474 (samAdhinA sAdhu vinishchalAtmanA…): “ Through one-pointed absorption in which the mind has been perfectly stilled…” Continue reading

samAdhi (part 2)

Experience versus knowledge – a brief look at samAdhi (Part 2)

(Read Part1)

Here is the 364th verse of the vivekachUDAmaNi, as translated by Swami Ranganathananda, of Ramakrishna Math: “Reflection should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing, and meditation a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection, but the nirvikalpa samAdhi is infinite in its results.” The verse is referring to shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana initially and, traditionally, this is the ‘complete set’, taking one all the way to realization and jIvanmukti.  But here, it goes on to imply that nirvikalpa samAdhi is vastly superior. As Swami Ranganathananda puts it: “Our first hand experience of the non-dual reality is infinitely greater than meditation. They can’t be compared… no wise man would give up the infinite bliss of non-dual experience and revel in unsubstantial things like reading and thinking. Reading, thinking and meditation are nothing compared to the direct experience of the reality.

But here, one has to ask the question: who is experiencing what? And, if it is an experience (i.e. in time), it has a beginning and necessarily an end also. How does this stack up with the idea that NS equates to Self-realization? Swami Satprakashananda even says later in the book that few seekers attain NS and even fewer return to ‘normal consciousness’ subsequently. “Their experience of NS is, as a rule, of short duration and hardly repeated. They leave the body in that state and attain Liberation (videha mukti). In exceptional cases the body stays alive in NS for twenty one days at the most, and then drops like a dry leaf.” Continue reading

samAdhi (part 1)

Experience versus knowledge – a brief look at samAdhi

I do not know an awful lot about neo-Vedanta. The term is generally applied to the teaching ‘introduced’ by Swami Vivekananda and carried on by the disciples of the Ramakrishna movement. There has been much written on this topic (which I have obviously not read!) and those who are interested will know that there are many contentious issues. Refer, for example to the book ‘Neo-Vedanta and Modernity’ by Bithika Mukerji, which may be read or downloaded at

However, one aspect that I am aware of is that neo-Vedanta claims that enlightenment is attained through the experience of nirvikalpa samAdhi. They also insist that Shankara himself stated this, whereas what I would call ‘traditional’ Advaitins believe that Shankara’s teaching was that it is self-ignorance that obscures our understanding of the truth and that only self-knowledge can remove it. Thus, one of the key issues around the topic of neo-Vedanta is that of experience versus knowledge. Accordingly, at the risk of inciting acrimonious discussions (!), I would like to look briefly at this assertion that samAdhi is a sine qua non for enlightenment. Continue reading

The names of Brahman

You do not have to have been studying Advaita for very long to know that the words Atman and brahman both refer to the non-dual reality (even if are not yet convinced of this reality). After all, one of the four, particularly well-known mahAvAkya-s is ‘ayam Atam brahman’ – this Atman is brahman.

In fact, we have to expand this vocabulary. Atman usually refers to jIvAtman – what is sometimes (erroneously) called the ‘embodied’ Atman or even the ‘soul’. Also frequently encountered is the term ‘paramAtman’, and this refers to Ishvara, or saguNa brahman – that aspect of brahman which ‘manifests’ as the world, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. It is to be differentiated from the ‘real’, nirguNa brahman which is indescribable, unthinkable, infinite, unlimited etc. and is the ‘Absolute’, non-dual reality. (Note that paramAtman is often translated as ‘supreme Self’, and it might be thought that this means nirguNa brahman. But, if we are in the context of doing something in the world – being the ‘inner controller’, ‘witnessing’ or ‘perceiving’ or ‘creating’ – then it has to mean Ishvara, saguNa brahman, since nirguNa brahman does not do anything.)

Once you are much more familiar with the individual scriptural texts, you will know that sometimes these words are used almost interchangeably. For example, in his bhAShya on the Brahmasutras, Shankara uses the word ‘brahman’ throughout to refer to both nirguNa (brahman) and saguNa (Ishvara) – he expects that, by the time you reach this text (having studied all the major Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita), you will know what he is talking about in each individual case! Continue reading

Q.461 A jIvanmukta’s prArabdha

Q: I have the following doubt. I look forward to your comments.

     Having completed the study of Tattva Bodha, this mumukshu has a doubt with regard to karma – sanchita, prarabdha and agami.

     The doubt exists in a narrow compass and concerns karma and the Jivan Mukta. Tattva Bodha states that on realization, sanchita and agami karmas of a gyani come to an end. But the same logic is not extended to prarabdha which it states continues even after realization and that on its exhaustion the Jivan Mukta drops the body.

     Advaita Vedanta is recognized as a logical and rational system of thought and it is therefore difficult to accept this assumption regarding prarabdha for the following reasons: Continue reading

The devil’s teaching part 2

Eka jIva vAda – the devil’s teaching (part 2 of 2)

Read Part 1

Here is how I described this teaching some years ago:

First of all, however, I will say a little about sRRiShTi dRRiShTi etc, since I have mentioned these above. I once thought that these were the principal creation theories of advaita. sRRiShTi is the Sanskrit word for creation. The mythical stories of God creating a world, for example over six days as in the Bible, are called krama sRRiShTi, meaning ‘gradual creation’ (krama means ‘ progressing step-by-step’). dRRiShTi is the Sanskrit word for ‘seeing’ or the faculty of sight. Thus, sRRiShTi dRRiShTi vAda means that a world is created and then we perceive it. dRRiShTi sRRiShTi vAda, on the other hand, supposes that perception precedes creation. This effectively boils down to a form of subjective idealism; i.e. the world only exists in our mind. This, in turn, implies that there are no other individuals than ourselves; i.e. solipsism. (The theory that there is only one person is called eka jIva vAda in Sanskrit.)  Continue reading

The devil’s teaching part 1

Eka jIva vAda – the devil’s teaching (part 1 of 2)

The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that there is only Brahman. The world with all its objects, bodies and minds, is mithyA – it is not real in itself but ‘borrows’ its existence from Brahman. Who-I-really-am is Brahman.

But all of this is already saying too much. We cannot actually say anything at all about Brahman. We ‘know’ it by ‘being’ it; that is all.

This, then, is the ‘final’ message of Advaita. Advaita is a teaching methodology that functions by removing all of the misunderstandings about the world and our ‘real Self’. It progressively removes Self-ignorance (neti, neti) until the time comes when the intellect can make the intuitive leap to a realization of that final truth which is beyond words and concepts.

The teaching utilizes various devices to enable us to remove misconceptions. These might be stories (e.g. ‘tenth man’), metaphors (e.g. gold and ring, wave and water) or more elaborate ‘prakriyA-s’ such as pa~ncha kosha or avasthA traya. The purpose of all of them is to draw attention to a particular aspect of the way in which we presently think about the world, and then to show by examination (comparison etc.) that we might be mistaken. In each case, by making us look at the situation in a different way, we advance our ‘non-dualistic outlook’.

But these new ways of thinking about the world are themselves only temporary, to help us to readjust our mental boundaries. They, too have to be discarded eventually because, as pointed out above, we can never truly ‘understand’ any of it. Once they have served their purpose, we drop them – adhyAropa-apavAda. Continue reading