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.
In me, the boundless ocean, the ark of the universe moves hither and thither, impelled by this wind of its own inherent nature. I am not impatient [affected].
In me, the limitless ocean, let the wave of the world rise or vanish of itself. I neither increase not decrease thereby.
In me, the boundless ocean, is the imagination of the universe. I am quite tranquil and formless. In this alone do I abide.
The Self is not in the object, nor is the object in the Self which is infinite and stainless. Thus It is free from attachment and desire, and tranquil. I this alone do I abide.
Oh, I am really consciousness itself. The world is like a juggler’s show. So how and where can there be any thought of rejection and acceptance in me?
Chapter VII “Nature of self-realisation”, Astavakra Samhita, Swami Nityaswarupananda
“All our thinking and activity is based on becoming, is it not? I am using that word becoming very simply, not philosophically, but in the ordinary sense of wanting to become something either in this world or in the so-called spiritual world. If we can understand this process of wanting to become something, then I think we shall have understood what sorrow is, because it is the desire to become that gives to the mind the soil in which sorrow can grow . . . We have never a moment when there is no ‘becoming’ and only ‘being’ – that ‘being’ which is nothing. But that ‘being’ which is nothing cannot possibly be understood if we do not fully grasp the significance of ‘becoming'”
“Is there not a difference between the flowering mind and the becoming mind? The becoming mind is a mind that is always growing, becoming, enlarging, gathering experience as knowledge. We know that process full well in our daily life, with all its results, with all its conflicts, its miseries and strife, but we do not know the life of flowering. And is there not a difference between the two which we have to discover – not by trying to demarcate, to separate, but to discover – in the process of our living? When we discover this, we may perhaps be able to set aside this ambition, the way of choice, and discover a flowering, which is the way of life, which may be true action.”