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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Astavakra and indifference to ‘becoming’

Janaka said:
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

The man who flowers is the man who is, who is not becoming.

“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.”

-J Krishnamurti

That thou art

Brahman is Satyam (Reality), Jnanam (Knowledge), Anantam (Infinity).
– Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.1.3

There is no second thing separate from It which It can see.
– Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.3.23

Through the mind alone is It to be realised. There is no differentiation whatsoever in Brahman.
– Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.4.19

In me, the limitless ocean, let the wave of the world rise or vanish of itself. I neither increase nor 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.
– Astavakra Samhita, 7.2, 7.3

The only certain knowledge

“Whatever knowledge we may obtain about anything other than ourself is indirect and therefore open to doubt. The only knowledge that is direct is the knowledge or consciousness that we have of ourself as ‘I am’, and hence it alone can be certain and free of all doubt.

Before we know anything else, we first know our own existence as ‘I am’. This knowledge or consciousness of ourself is our primary and essential form of knowledge. Without knowing ‘I am’ we could not know anything else. Our consciousness ‘I am’ can stand alone without any other knowledge, as we experience daily in deep sleep, but no other knowledge can stand without this consciousness ‘I am’.

. . . . . .

Only when we attain true knowledge of our consciousness ‘I am’ will we be in a position to judge the truth and validity of all our other knowledge. Thus the belief that objective research can lead to true knowledge – a belief that is implicit in and central to the philosophy upon which all modern science is based – is philosophically unsound, and is based more upon wishful thinking than upon any deep or honest philosophical analysis.

All objective knowledge is known by us indirectly through the imperfect media of our mind and five senses, whereas consciousness is known by us directly as our own self. Therefore, if we seek true, clear and immediate knowledge, rather than attempting to elaborate our knowledge of objective phenomena by turning our attention outwards through our mind and five senses, we should attempt to refine our knowledge of consciousness by directing our attention selfwards, towards the essential consciousness that we always experience directly as ‘I am'”

From Happiness and the Art of Being, Michael James, Trafford.
ISBN: 978-1-4251-2465-6
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Belief and the ending of knowledge

From a dialogue between J Krishnamurti and Swami Venkatesananda (“The awakening of intelligence”)

K: How do I know the highest? Because the sages have said it? I don’t accept the sages. They might be caught in illusion, they might be talking nonsense or sense. I don’t know, I am not interested. I find that as long as the mind is in a state of fear, it wants to escape from it, and projects an idea of the supreme, and wants to experience that. But if it frees itself from its own agony, then it is altogether in a different state. It doesn’t even ask to experience because it is at quite a different level.


K: If Vedanta is the end of… which is by its own… the meaning of itself is the end of knowledge.

SV: Yes, it’s wonderful, I never thought of it before: the end of knowledge.

K: Freedom from knowing.

SV: Freedom from knowledge, yes. (Laughs)

K: Then why have they not kept to that?

SV: Their contention being that you have to pass through that in order to come out of it.

K: Pass through what?

K: Now wait a minute, sir. Then why must I acquire it? If Vedanta means the end of knowledge, which the word itself means that: the ending of Vedas which is knowledge, then why should I go through all the laborious process of acquiring knowledge, and then discarding it?

SV: Yes. Otherwise you wouldn’t be again in Vedanta. The end of knowledge is, having acquired this knowledge, coming to the end of it.

K: Why should I acquire it?

SV: Because otherwise it can’t be ended.

K: No, no. Why should I acquire it? Why shouldn’t I, from the very beginning, see what knowledge is and discard it?

SV: See what knowledge is.

K: And discard, discard all the… Never accumulate. Vedanta means the end of accumulating knowledge.

SV: Quite right. That’s right. That’s correct.