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.

From the very beginning of ‘I am that’, on neti, neti:

“Give up all questions except one: ‘Who am I?’ After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The ‘I am’ is certain. The ‘I am this’ is not. Struggle to find out what you are in reality.

To know what you are, you must first investigate and know what you are not.

Discover all that you are not — body, feelings thoughts, time, space, this or that — nothing, concrete or abstract, which you perceive can be you. The very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive.

The clearer you understand on the level of mind you can be described in negative terms only, the quicker will you come to the end of your search and realise that you are the limitless being.”


On desirelessness and earnestness / one-pointedness:

All desires must be given up, because by desiring you take the shape of your desires. When no desires remain, you revert to your natural state.”

“The desire to find the self will be surely fulfilled, provided you want nothing else. But you must be honest with yourself and really want nothing else. If in the meantime you want many other things and are engaged in their pursuit, your main purpose may be delayed until you grow wiser and cease being torn between contradictory urges. Go within, without swerving, without ever looking outward.”


On renunciation and liberation:

“When there is total surrender, complete relinquishment of all concern with one’s past, present and future, with one’s physical and spiritual security and standing, life dawns full of love and beauty; then the guru is not important for the disciple has broken the shell of self-defence. Complete self-surrender by itself is liberation.”

“To be quiet and detached, beyond the reach of all self-concern, all selfish consideration, is an inescapable condition of liberation.  You may call it death; to me it is living at its most meaningful and intense, for I am one with life in its totality and fullness.”

“In matters of daily life, the knower of the real has no advantage; he may be at a disadvantage rather – being freed from greed and fear he does not protect himself. The very idea of profit is foreign to him; he abhors accretions; his life is constant divesting oneself, sharing, giving. Give up all and you gain all. Then life becomes what it is meant to be: pure radiation from an inexhaustible source.”

23 thoughts on “Desirelessness and renunciation in Advaita Vedanta – a postscript

  1. Nisargadatta Maharaj is an odd choice to support your overall position on Sankara and renunciation. He came from a householder lineage. And he never took the position that physical renunciation and monkhood was necessary either to obtain jnana or a necessity for someone who had obtained it.

    “How am I to practice desirelessness?
    M: No need of practice. No need of any acts of renunciation. Just turn your mind away, that is all. Desire is merely the fixation of the mind on an idea. Get it out of its groove by denying it attention.
    Q: That is all?
    M: Yes, that is all. Whatever may be the desire or fear, don’t dwell upon it. Try and see for yourself. Here and there you may forget, it does not matter. Go back to your attempts till the brushing away of every desire and fear, of every reaction becomes automatic.”

    “M: Purify yourself by a well-ordered and useful life. Watch over your thoughts, feelings, words and
    actions. This will clear your vision.
    Q: Must I not renounce every thing first, and live a homeless life?
    M: You cannot renounce. You may leave your home and give trouble to your family, but attachments are in the mind and will not leave you until you know your mind in and out. First thing first — know yourself, all else will come with it.”

    -“I am That”

  2. Not really – if you take the point about finger pointing to the moon. Everyone seems to want a literal path of instructions to follow. Sankara clearly advocated renunciation; Nisargadatta advocates utter desirelessness, not as some practice but through observation and understanding.

    The point about desirelessness and renunciation is the logical and cogent link between these and jnana. If you are earnest about jnana, then the point Nisargadatta and Sankara make is that turning away from the world is inevitable. It is not a question of a volitional act of renunciation as a trade-in to get jnana. It is about understanding and closely observing that everything you think about in the world, including the ego, and its possessions and goals, is false.

    Nisargadatta was initially a small businessman in a slum in Bombay. When he got enlightened, he left home for some period, heading to the Himalayas. He subsequently came to the conclusion that all that was not necessary. So he returned, paid little interest to the business, and gave talks for free in his small attic.

    Compare and contrast with many traditional and Neo-advaita teachers, with their teaching businesses, paid seminars, CDs, DVDs etc

    The point is “complete relinquishment of all concern with one’s past, present and future, with one’s physical and spiritual security and standing”; isn’t it self-evident that if there is no ego, then this relinquishment is inevitable?

    And an inevitable consequence of such relinquishment is that the “very idea of profit is foreign to him; he abhors accretions; his life is constant divesting oneself, sharing, giving”.

    • The point is that turning away from the world per Nisargadatta is a MENTAL thing, not a physical thing. It has nothing to do with physical sannyasa.

      Actually if you understand the finger pointing to the moon, true relinquishment has absolutely nothing to do with outer activities — either their presence or their lack thereof.

      Janaka, Prahlada, and Rama were all enlightened souls who ran kingdoms. In modern times Gandhi may well be said to be the same.

      The real “desirelessness” cannot be measured by whether one is in business or not in business, in politics or not in politics, or whether one sells things or doesn’t sell things… indeed it cannot be measured from the outer actions at all. It is purely an inner fact.

      Indeed, the real desirelessness is not a quality of mind at all. It is in fact simply the recognition of the Truth: desirelessness is all there is. It is compatible with the entire set of mental states. To believe otherwise is precisely avidya.

  3. That is clearly not what Gaudapada, Sankara and Suresvara taught – that a jnani would have no need to act – which I have set out in the two articles. Might be worth reading? Do you have any contrary statements from them?

    To repeat, Sankara said if one would act, it would only be for the sake of others, not oneself. For example, on Janaka, Sankara’s bhasya on BG3.20 states:
    “If it be that they [Janaka and others] were possessed of the fullest realization, then the meaning is that they remained established in Liberation while continuing, because of past momentum, to be associated with action itself – without renouncing it – with a veiw to preventing mankind from going astray. Again, if (it be that) Janaka and others had not attained fullest realization, then, they gradually became established in Liberation through action which is a means for the purification of the mind”

    With regard to Nisargdatta and desirelessness, then the first quote you gave subsequently continues:

    N: MERELY GIVING UP A THING TO SECURE A BETTER ONE IS NOT TRUE RELINQUISHMENT. GIVE IT UP BECAUSE YOU SEE ITS VALUELESSNESS. As you keep on giving up, you will find that you grow spontaneously in intelligence and power and inexhaustible love and joy.
    Q: Why so much insistence on relinquishing all desires and fears? Are they not natural?

    Nisargadatta puts the emphasis on desirelessness; the renunciation comes of its own, when identification with the body-mind is not there. That is no different from Sankara.

    Ramanamaharishi – who you seem to quote on your website – had this to say in Guru Vachaka Kovai:

    829: It is impossible for anyone to determine definitively his lifespan. Therefore for the jivas who are trying hard to attain the powerful state of kaivalyam, it is most beneficial TO RENOUNCE THE WORLD, WITHOUT DELAY, AT THE VERY MOMENT THE AVERSION TO THE BODY AND THE WORLD ARISES.

    830: Just as a ripened fruit separates effortlessly from the tree and falls, when a sadhaka who is aiming to merge his mind in the supreme attains maturity, he will definitely renounce family life as unsalted gruel unless his unfavourable prarabdha stands in the way.

    In one of his talks he is recorded as saying: “A sannyasi who apparently casts away his clothes and leaves his home does not do so out of aversion to his immediate relations but because of the expansion of his love to others around him. When this expansion comes, one does not feel that one is running away from home, but drops from it like ripe fruit from a tree; till then it would be folly to leave one’s home or his job”

    Basically physical renunciation without mental renunciation is meaningless; and mental renunciation without its physical manifestation could just be a case of self-deceipt.

    I’m afraid there are many pseudo-jnanis, running around saying consciousness is all there is, desirelessness is your natural state, just understand and do what you like. It is a comfortable teaching – and clearly easier to charge money for. I’m not sure that they have understood at all. But that is not our problem – it is theirs. And up to seekers to discriminate whose words they wish to trust and inquire into – Sankara or a self-proclaimed jnani.

  4. Well first off, Sankara’s position is not Nisargadatta’s position…that’s what I mentioned in my first post. Sankara may have counseled physical sannyasa, although frankly one scholar argues very much that that’s not the case — read Freedom through Renunciation by Roger Marcuelle. He takes on all the passages you’ve mentioned and many more, and says Sankara suggests sannyasa is required only for brahmins, not for others.

    Second, now you are mixing up what desirelessness means. At times you say it means physical renunciation, like Sankara suggested. Then you are saying that it means it’s ok to help others. That’s clearly a DESIRE, if anything is. The desire to maintain the body is a desire. So desirelessness cannot be interpreted literally, and it certainly cannot be interpreted from the outside.

    “Nisargadatta puts the emphasis on desirelessness; the renunciation comes of its own, when identification with the body-mind is not there. That is no different from Sankara.”

    No. You are simply making things up. Show me where Nisargadatta says desirelessness leads to the giving up of worldly duties or physical sannyasa. The renunciation N talks of is mental; Sankara at times speaks of physical renunciation. You are randomly running them together.

    Absolutely nothing in the N quotes you put in suggests a necessity for physical renunciation or giving up worldly duties. In fact he says in his final talks: “As you stabilize in the consciousness, dispassion for the body and for the expressions through the body occurs spontaneously. It is a natural renunciation, not a deliberate
    one. It DOES NOT MEAN that you should neglect your worldly duties; carry these out with full zest.”

    And then you write:

    “Basically physical renunciation without mental renunciation is meaningless; and mental renunciation without its physical manifestation could just be a case of self-deceipt.”

    No. That is ABSOLUTELY not what Ramana Maharshi held. You should not opine on his views without having properly read him.

    From Talks with Ramana Maharshi:

    “D.: How does a grihasta (householder) fare in the scheme of moksha (liberation)?
    M.: Why do you think you are a grihasta? If you go out as a sanyasi, a similar thought (that you are a sanyasi) will haunt you. Whether you continue in the household, or renounce it and go to the forest, your mind haunts you. The ego is the source of thoughts. It creates the body and the world and makes you think you are a grihasta. If you renounce the world, it will only substitute the thought sanyasi for grihasta and the environments of the forest for those of the household. But the mental obstacles are always there. They even increase in new surroundings. There is no help in the change of environment. The obstacle is the mind. It must be got over whether at home or in the forest. If you can do it in the forest, why not in the home? Therefore why change the environment? Your efforts can be made even now, in whatever environment you may be. The environment never abandons you, according to your desire. Look at me. I left home. Look at yourselves. You have come here leaving the home environment. What do you find here? Is this different from what you left?”

    “Sannyasa is mentioned for one who is fit. It consists in renunciation NOT OF MATERIAL OBJECTS but of attachment to them. Sannyasa can be practised by anyone even at home. Only one must be fit for it.”

    “D: Is it morally right for a man to renounce his household duties when he once realises that his highest duty is Atma-chintana (continuous thought on the Self)?
    M.: This desire to renounce things is the obstacle. The Self is simple renunciation. The Self has renounced all…Make no effort either to work or to renounce work. Your effort is the bondage. What is bound to happen will happen.”

    “D.: Is it then necessary to leave the home and lead a life of renunciation?
    M.: Is the home in you? Or are you in the home?
    D.: It is in my mind.
    M.: Then what becomes of you when you leave the physical environment?
    D.: Now I see. Renunciation is only action without the sense of being the karta.”

    One who purports to judge others’ jnana status by their external actions is merely parading their own ignorance.

  5. *Freedom through Renunciation by Roger Marcuelle — that should be
    Freedom Through Inner Renunciation by Roger Marcaurelle

  6. Ramana’s Guru Vachaka Kovai is a set of verses composed by Muruganar, one of his closest disciples, and meticulously checked and revised by Ramana himself. As such, alongside NanYar, Ulladu Narpadu and Upadesa Saram, it is considered to be the best, most authentic source of his teaching, and bears his imprimatur.

    Whilst “Talks” is a great book, it has not been checked in the same way by Ramanamaharishi, and does not take into account the context / capacity of the seeker, whose question Ramana was answering.

  7. Nowhere in NanYar, Ulladu Narpadu, or Upadesa Saram will you find injunctions for the necessity of physical renunciation either before or after jnana.

    And the same is also true of Guru Vachaka Kovai. The quotes you give do not say that physical renunciation is either required for jnana or necessarily follows “after jnana.”

    You mention this quote: “Just as a ripened fruit separates effortlessly from the tree and falls, when a sadhaka who is aiming to merge his mind in the supreme attains maturity, he will definitely renounce family life as unsalted gruel unless his unfavourable prarabdha stands in the way.”

    UNLESS HIS PRARABDHA stands in the way. Prarabdha is precisely what determines actions in this world! So this statement is equivalent to saying — the jnani will physically renounce, unless it is his destiny not to!

    And a little further down in GVK it is said:

    “For those who have made the rarest renunciation, that of the ego, nothing remains to be renounced.”

    “Know that, rather than one’s thinking in the heart ‘I have renounced everything’, one’s not thinking ‘I am limited to the measure of the body, and I am caught in the mean bondage of family life’, is a superior renunciation.”

  8. A couple of comments.

    Firstly you have agreed that a jnani will physically renounce, unless it is his UNFAVOURABLE destiny not to. Sankara says much the same – renounce unless it is his destiny to work for the good of others.

    In your subsequent quote, you are correctly pointing out that Ramanamaharishi advised not to think that ‘I am not the ego and I have renounced’, but rather just not to have the thought that ‘I am the ego-body-mind’ in the first place. If that thought is not present, then on whose behalf is one trying to acquire / keep possessions, pursue a career etc?

    Perhaps this comment from Nisargadatta will help elucidate this point
    “There is nothing to renounce. Enough if you stop acquiring. To give you must have, and to have you must take. Better don’t take.”

    The last quote in this article – “he abhors accretions; his life is constant divesting . . .” makes much the same point.

  9. Even Dennis must agree this is highly relevant and expresses Sankara’s teaching much better than almost anyone, including Sankara himself.
    In fact, it describes the essence of Sankara’s life.

    Commentaries on Living Series III Chapter 11 ‘Psychological Revolution’
    “This means that political action is impossible, doesn’t it?”

    Not at all. The comprehension of total action surely does not prevent political, educational or religious activity. These are not separate activities, they are all part of a unitary process which will express itself in different directions. What is important is this unitary process, and not a separate political action, however apparently beneficial.

    • Thanks Shishya.

      Going off at a tangent somewhat, the point I have been thinking on is:

      “The whole hierarchical, authoritarian attitude towards life must come to an end.”

      That perhaps is mankind’s most fundamental – and intractable – problem, which JK aptly diagnosed.

  10. “Firstly you have agreed that a jnani will physically renounce, unless it is his UNFAVOURABLE destiny not to. Sankara says much the same – renounce unless it is his destiny to work for the good of others.”

    Whether it’s unfavorable or not is irrelevant; the point is that there is no **requirement** that he does so, nor does it reflect on his jnana either way.

    Your point has been from the start that it is “self-deceit” to mentally renounce without physically renouncing. This quote clearly and unambiguously contradicts that.

    So your point is wrong.

    “If that thought is not present, then on whose behalf is one trying to acquire / keep possessions, pursue a career etc?”

    If that thought is not present, then on whose behalf is one trying to renounce and go into the forest? On whose behalf is one trying NOT to acquire possessions? On whose behalf is one trying to maintain the body by begging? On whose behalf is one trying to help others? This is the problem with following the logic of advaita without a grasp of the underlying spirit… you get logical spaghetti.

    Again, whether one has possessions or not really has absolutely nothing to do with renunciation. Mental renunciation is what matters, and that cannot be measured by external actions.

    You have failed to provide any substantiation that either Nisargadatta or Ramana Maharshi clearly state that physical renunciation is necessary either to gain jnana or afterwards. Every quote that I have provided suggests otherwise.

  11. I suggest reading what I wrote. I never stated that “Nisargadatta or Ramana Maharshi clearly state that physical renunciation is necessary either to gain jnana or afterwards”.

    I did IMPUTE that the desirelessness, the turning away from the world, that they talked about was akin to renunciation, physical as well. You can of course, interpret the implications of their words differently from me.

    Further, I actually wrote:
    “Basically physical renunciation without mental renunciation is meaningless; and mental renunciation without its physical manifestation could just be a case of self-deceipt.”
    The first part of that sentence I presume is not contentious. The second part of the sentence, please note the use of the word “could”. Again that proposition was not made in the context of ‘this is what they said’, but rather an implication that I drew.

    Everyone needs to draw their own conclusions from their reading and understanding. You’ve made your views on this clear, as have I. Let’s leave it at that.

  12. Viveka and Vairagya are the twain engines of Advaita. Viveka leads to vairagya and vairagya leads to viveka. This is the case before one has Self Knowledge and it continues to be the case even after one attains Self Knowledge (except that, in this case, viveka remains constant while vairagya deepens)

    One cannot attain Self Knowledge without vairagya. By vairagya, I mean simply, the undisputed understanding within oneself that no objects can give one permanent happiness. By objects, I mean all objects – subtle and gross. This is a mental understanding that results in pratyahara. A mind that has not attained this vairagya is constantly going to train it’s attention to objects rather than to the subject. The discrimination between the Subject and objects (viveka) proceeds only on the basis of this vairagya. In the absence of this, all knowledge will remain indirect knowledge.

    For direct knowledge, vairagya is essential; though, there is no standard outward conduct that can be prescribed. Knowers of Self have come from all the four varnas. Even after the attainment of Self Knowledge, there is a deepening of Vairagya that continues. Dennis’ series on pratibandhas, at least to me, seem to be pointing in this direction.

  13. A few observations.

    1) My ego-mind would undoubtedly prefer to believe that I can become a Jnani by mental renunciation / vairagya alone, without actually having to give up anything or live any differently. It is unequivocally an easier concept for the ego to accept.

    2) Nisargadatta and Ramana undoubtedly emphasised, in their talks, desirelessness rather than physical renunciation. This MAY have reflected the maturity of the seekers they were speaking to; it MAY have reflected the fact that physical renunciation is relatively common in India, but the mental understanding and renunciation is just not there. This is what JK railed against. So they will not TELL anyone to renounce, because the telling means they are not ready; that it is not a ripe fruit that would fall on its own (without being told).

    3) Neither Nisargadatta nor Ramanamaharishi were much bothered about developing a systematic exposition of the philosophy of Advaita. Their main emphasis was on self-enquiry, through viveka and vairagya. So for a systematic exposition, one has to rely on Sankara, Gaudapada and Suresvara.

    4) Nisargadatta and Ramana would never TELL anyone to DO anything. Their advice was to observe yourself, understand the hidden motives for your thoughts and actions, and go beyond, go deeper. The outer manifestation would take care of itself.

    5) However, in BG, Arjuna asked Krishna how a person of steady wisdom would behave. The ascetic life that Ramana lived speaks for itself. Many of the leading disciples of Ramanamaharishi were, or ended up being, renunciates: Muruganar, Sadhu Om, Annamalai Swami, Kunju Swami, Sadhu Natananda, Humphreys, Chadwick, Kanakamal, Devaraja Mudaliar, Viswanathan Swami, Lakshmana Sarma, Mugala Venkataramiah, Paul Brunton, Cohen and of course Maurice Frydman. Arthur Osborne, who had a family, lived a simple austere life with his family at Ramanashram.

    6) In the matter of self-realisation, we are alone with ourselves – and we have only ourselves to deceive. Therefore we need to apply viveka, to think for ourselves, about what our great Jnanis – jivanmuktas were pointing towards, with their whole being

  14. Hello Venkat, good to read your thoughts. Your frequent references to Krishnamurti have caught my curiosity, as I have followed Krishnamurti’s teachings in great depth.

    In fact, I gained the four qualifications required for assimilating the knowledge of Vedanta only after extensively working out with Krishnamurti’s teachings for about seventeen years (along with some Integral Theory of Ken Wilber). So, unlike the traditional Karma Yoga as a preparation for the qualifications, I went through the path of Krishnamurti.

    I got stuck at some point because of his total disregard for all metaphysics; while my mind kept asking metaphysical questions. However, after Advaita, I feel Krishnamurti and Advaita are speaking ‘many’ things in common. Krishnamurti gives a very modern and psychological rendering of many of the teachings of Advaita. He never talks of renunciation explicitly but unequivocally talks of coming out of the “stream of society”, which is vairagya. In his “choiceless awareness of ‘what is'”, there is viveka. He never talks of disciplining the mind through effort but talks about how choiceless awareness has its own discipline(wealth of six virtues). Anyone who tries out being “choicelessly aware”, without controlling, modifying and filtering thoughts will know the enormous implications it holds for tearing through the conditionings of the mind. Lastly, he talks constantly about devoting one’s life absolutely for the search of truth (mumukshutva)

    Nonetheless, there are serious differences between his views and Advaita. For instance, he considers the world real ontologically. He abhors the word ‘knowledge’ and following of any tradition. He does not accept the “Witness”. He rather seems to be talking about manonasha/vasanakshaya only. He also does not use the word Self ever and has spoken against any permanent entity. He shows some sympathy to Buddha at times. But he talks of his mind reaching the Source in his book, ‘Ending of Time’. So he is a little difficult to place in any tradition and his path/no path is certainly not the path of knowledge as developed by Gaudapada/Shankaracharya.

    All these similarities and conflicts between J K and Advaita took some time for me to sift through but ultimately I love both these teachings.

  15. Hello Venkat,

    After re-reading your comment I felt you were indicating that I was talking only about mental renunciation. Well, this is certainly not what I was meaning. Mental renunciation, if it is after viveka and not just a ‘practice’, necessarily leads to physical renunciation if that is the prarabdha karma. Renunciation without viveka does not lead to Knowledge. I am sure you have read the verses in Pachadasi which talk about this. ( I am not quoting them….would do, if you ask me to )

    Personally I am an Engineer who left my high paying corporate job to pursue self inquiry at a very young age. Thereafter, I started a social organization, ran it successfully and then ended all my work in that too, as my mind spontaneously started abiding in nidhidhyasana after Self Knolwedge. At present I just spend my time reading and writing. I am not involved in any livelihood. So I have no great a stake in speaking against physical renunciation.

    What I meant, though, was that renunciation does not necessarily need to be tied down to some particular behaviour codes like Sannyasa. Shaunaka, Janaka, Krishna etc. were jnanis. Shankaracharya too makes a point that the outward behaviours of jnanis can be different but the knowledge is the same. It all depends upon the prarabdha karma after attainment of knowledge.

  16. Hello Anurag,

    Thanks for your notes. I was not reading anything more into your initial post – just trying to explain my thinking on this. And I’m not advocating physical renunciation either – who am I to do so? Just making the observation about those we regard highly.

    On JK, his primary message was that the egocentric shell that we have built around us is (a) false and (b) the cause of all suffering – ours and that of the world. Therefore he said observe carefully our thinking, feeling, actions, and find out for ourselves that our thoughts, driven by our ego, is the problem, is false. And he goes on to say “you are the world, and the world is you”.

    Not that different from Advaita’s ‘tat twam asi’: discriminate what “twam” is, through neti, neti; and then see the core of you is ‘tat’, the infinite.

    best wishes,

  17. Hello Venkat,

    Thank you for your clarification and your thoughts on J K. No issues. I like reading your posts 🙂

    I am quite aware that your initial post is not related to J K at all and so my comments on his teachings may come as a digression. However, I am going further on the comparison between JK and Advaita because it holds a personal interest for me and I have got a fellow soul who has shown a similar inclination. Not only that, I see a thread in this discussion which relates to what Dennis is fleshing out in his posts on binding vasanas. My apologies if I am wrong in my presumptions.

    Yes, I do agree that J K expressly talks about the ego being the cause of suffering. But he does not talk about discrimination between Self and ego. His methodology is absolutely different. As I said in my earlier comment, he is talking about manonasha/vasanakshaya – ending of ego and binding vasanas. He does not talk about discriminating between Self and ego. Yes, he does say that one is the world. He proposes a rational explanation for it by saying that the thought of the individual is the thought of man. Thought is common and hence, one is the world. Experientially, he talked about ending of all psychological thought/ego (manonasha/vasanakshaya) which brings about the experience of “one is the world”. Krishnamurti very clearly stated that truth cannot exist till falsity/ego exists. He used to say that light cannot exist along with darkness. Therefore he was talking of truth in experiential terms. Now, this is a serious difference with Advaita. In Advaita truth is always existent, though it may not be known. So in Vedanta, truth is is not a condition newly created, but truth is something that one comes to know as ever existent. Moreover truth is not a matter of experience in Advaita of Shankaracharya because one is the Truth.

    Therefore Shankara is not talking of the ending of ego. He talks about discriminating between Self and ego through knowledge. After discrimination, the ‘doer/experiencer’ is “canceled”, but depending upon the vasanas, the ego may continue to exist. The existence of the ego makes no difference to the Self Knowledge (just like the newly gained knowledge of clay makes no difference to the knowledge of pot) but there will not be the experience of Ananda. As the prarabdha karma keeps exhausting after establishment in Self Knowledge, there is definitely a possibility of complete ending of all binding vasanas/ego and the rise of uninterrupted Ananda. One definitely gets a palpable sense of vasana load lightening. However, for a man of Self Knowledge, this too is an experience. One is what the vasanas are not. Strictly speaking Ananda is not an experience. Ananda is Self so Ananda is what one is – in essence – even when there is ignorance. This distinction between Knowledge and Experience is the masterstroke of Advaita. And Krishnamurti was based on Experience. This does not make his teachings less valuable but it is very helpful to know the differences for any seeker who is following Advaita. I wish someone had helped me with all this 🙂

    Warm wishes,

  18. Hi Anurag,

    I think you are over-stating the difference. JK’s emphasis is on observing your thoughts / feelings and how they arise, and then seeing that the observer is the observed, ie a thought as well. So he nudges the listener to see that the ‘I’ is no different from all ‘external’ objects. As such he is essentially teaching drik-drishya viveka.

    You are right that he does not give the mind a positive construct that it is the ‘Self’ to hold on to; but he often says that through utter negation, the positive is arrived at. Is that not the same as Sankara saying that Brahman can never be known, it can only be pointed to by neti, neti? And when all that you are not has been negated, what is left is Brahman.

    And as for Advaita, it is saying that the jiva, the ego is not real, is adhyaropa – which has to be negated. And in Brhadaranya Up Bhasya, Sankara says that on self-realisation, the particular consciousness is no more; it has become the universal consciousness. So actually Sankara is indeed talking about the ending of the ego – the superimposition. Which I think you are eluding to when you write: ‘there is definitely a possibility of complete ending of all binding vasanas/ego’.

    An apt quote from K:
    The “me” with his shallow little mind, experience and knowledge, with his heart burdened with jealousies and anxieties – how can such an entity understand that which has no beginning and no ending, that which is ecstasy?

    Best wishes,

  19. Hello Venkat,

    Yes, you are right that Krishnamurti teaches the path of negation. But the path of negation is not only found in Advaita but also found in Buddhism and Skepticism. One can ask why Krishnamurti reaches the positive Source and not Emptiness as in Buddhism. Also, please note that he does not call it as Consciousness. He has, in clear words stated that it is not the source that Advaita speaks about. In Advaita, negation is not the ultimate. The negation is based on a position of Self. The central point of Advaita is that Maya (which is to be negated through Knowledge) cannot exist without a substrate, just like in real life one cannot find any examples of illusion (mirage, snake on rope etc.) to exist without a real substrate. All negation results in reaching the positive essence/Self in Advaita. This is the central point of difference between Buddhism and Advaita.

    We have to understand what Krishnamurti means by observer is the observed and what Advaita means by Self is only real. These are two very different statements. Your example of Drik-Drishya Viveka is actually helping me prove my point. Drik-Drishya, unlike you have said, is not talking about the observer being the observed. It talks about discriminating between the Self /Witness as the ultimate subject to all other objects – body/mind/intellect/ego. Also, please note that this discrimination is a matter of Knowledge rather than Experience. Experience and the Expereincer, both collapse in the sleep state, and in Advaita they are products of ignorance, not opposed to them. Only Knowledge can end ignorance.

    Observer is the observed is a statement from J K which means something different. What he means by observer is the thinker/controller/ego. His observer here is not the Witness/Self. For him observer becoming the observed is an experience. It is not knowledge. Also observer being the observed in the sense that K is using the words is already attended to in Advaita. For Advaita is very clear that both observer (I/ego) and the observed (thoughts/feelings/sensations) are objects. Beyond this J K does not talk of an ultimate Subject as a Witness to them. He in fact has totally denied the Witness, saying that there is no permanent entity. A permanent entity according to him is the mind’s attempt to create security. (Of course, I can debate him on this) He almost always uses the word emptiness. Only in Ending of Time, he startles me by using the word Source and then startles me further by saying that it is not what the Advaitins speak about.

    The following was dictated by Krishnamurti on February 21, 1980. Here, as he frequently did, he refers to himself in the third person (as K.)”

    “K went from Brockwood to India on November 1, 1979 (actually October 31). He went after a few days in Madras staright to Rishi Valley. For a long time he has been awakening in the middle of the night with that peculiar meditation which as been pursuing him for very many years. This has been a normal thing in his life. It is not a conscious, deliberate pursuit of mediation or an unconscious desire to achieve something. It is very clearly uninvited and unsought. He has been adroitly watchful of though making a memory of these meditations. And so each meditation has a quality of something new and fresh in it. There is a sense of accumulating drive, unsought and uninvited. Sometimes it is so intense that there is pain in the head, sometimes a sense of vast emptiness with fathomless energy. Sometimes he wakes up with laughter and measureless joy. These peculiar mediations, which naturally were unpremediated, grew with intensity. Only on the days he travelled or arrived late of an evening would they stop; or when he had to wake early and travel.

    With the arrival in Rishi Valley in the middle of November 1979 the momentum increased and one night in the strange stillness of that part of the world, with the silence undisturbed by the hoot of owls, he woke up to find something totally different and new. The movement had reached the source of all energy. This must in no way be confused with, or even thought of, as god or the highest principle, the Brahman, which are projections of the human mind out of fear and longing, the unyielding desire for total security. It is none of those things. Desire cannot possibly reach it, words cannot fathom it nor can the string of thought wind itself around it. One may ask with what assurance do you state that it is the source of all energy? One can only reply with complete humility that it is so.

    All the time that K was in India until the end of January 1980 every night he would wake up with this sense of the absolute. It is not a state, a thing that is static, fixed, immovable. The whole universe is in it, measureless to man. When he returned to Ojai in February 1980, after the body had somewhat rested, there was the perception that there was nothing beyond this. This is the ultimate, the beginning and the ending and the absolute. There is only a sense of incredible vastness and immense beauty.”

    Source: Lutyens, Mary. Krishnamurti: The Years of Fulfilment, (New York.: Avon Books, 1983) pp. 237-238.

    Shankara’s point of the particular consciousness becoming the universal consciousness is not about an experience but about knowledge through identity. One does not ‘become’ the Universal Consciousness but one comes to know oneself as the Universal Consciousness and comes to know that it was always the case. One does not have to end the ego to get this knowledge. Definitely one does need to have a sattvic mind (the four qualifications) to arrive at Knowedge of Self through identity. Any teaching talking about Experience is negated in Advaita because Experience and the Experiencer are products of ignorance. The Experience and Experiencer are totally resolved in the sleep state. So Advaita sees through the impermanence of all experiences. Experience is not opposed to ignorance, being its product. Only Knowledge is opposed to Ignorance and therefore only Knowledge cancels Ignorance. Any experience of any kind has to happen in the Waking or Dream states. The Sleep state cancels all experiences.

    Once direct Knowledge of the clay/Self/Witness is attained, how does it matter whether the form/pot/ego remain or not remain. As a pot or without being a pot one is still the clay. The Self is that which Witnesses the ego in all three states as the Waker/Dreamer/Sleeper. The Witness is unaffected by all the modifications of the ego. The Witness/Self is indestructible whereas all forms are destructible.

    Finally, let’s take your quote from K in the light of Advaita.

    “The “me” with his shallow little mind, experience and knowledge, with his heart burdened with jealousies and anxieties – how can such an entity understand that which has no beginning and no ending, that which is ecstasy?”

    I have agreed that one requires the four qualifications to have direct knowledge of Self. However, is the Self not existent when the ego is there?

    Also is Self an Experience? All Experience is possible only because of duality. The Self is partless and non-dual. The ecstasy one experiences is only possible because of the Causal Body and that is why it is called the Anandamaya Kosha. And you already know that Anandamaya Kosha is not the Self.

    Warm wishes,

  20. Hi Anurag,

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. I’m conscious that Dennis wants to focus any discussion on this site on Advaita, and I fear I have strayed from that request. So probably not appropriate for us to continue our discussion on K’s teaching.

    Thanks again,


  21. Hello Venkat,

    I respect your concern. No issues 🙂

    Though I would also add that learning about the traditions of others schools and defending Advaita against them is very much a part of the tradition of Advaita. This is what was followed by Gaudapada and Shankaracharya in their dialectics. This is how one also learns and gets a firm grounding in Advaita. Dennis himself has examined different approaches other than the traditional approach in his writings…even Western philosophy. I was reading some of his posts on these yesterday.

    The problem only arises when one is misrepresenting or attacking Advaita instead of defending it through logical arguments.

    Thanks for the dialogue 🙂

    Warm wishes,

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