GK: III-40 and Some (Mis)Conceptions

During the mid-part of the last century when we were in our adolescence, the most common ambition of an average educated Indian was to go abroad. So we used to have a fancy to learn some foreign language. I tried Chinese but could go hardly beyond two pages of a book I bought from the Higginbotham’s.  Deutche (German) was the next attraction because that was still the Lingua franca for Science in those days. I forgot all of what I learnt but one thing that stuck to me was a charming quote which expresses the German spirit of approach in developing their expertise. It goes something like this:

“Es gibt nichts Praktischeres als eine gute Theorie.“

(My thanks to Sitara who was kind to correct my initial wrong wording and also for letting me know that it was Immanuel Kant who said it).

The quote means that “there is nothing more practical than a good theory.”

IMHO, the statement is a delight to every theoretician and undoubtedly very dear to all those oriented to jnAna mArga (Self-inquiry).

If one understands the theory correctly and clearly in its minutest detail, putting anything then to practice is just a child’s play.

I have no claims of being a jnAni or jIvanmukta.  You may dispense me away with the wave of a hand, if you like. With this caveat, I venture to submit  my understanding of GK: III-40 and some concepts that are raised in its context, at least in terms what the  Advaita  “theory” (as per my comprehension) says in relation to them.

1.  GK: III-40:

GK: III-40 is an argument in progress. It is like a developing story in a newspaper. The verse by itself is neither an injunction nor a direction and it is least bit an instruction.

It is actually an innuendo!

You can see it for yourself if you take the overall context and the sequence of the Revered Teacher’s poetic discourse.

GK III-38: Provides the pointer to Brahman Knowledge. Says It’s a freedom from all acts of the mind – i.e. being free from exercising any value judgments in terms of acceptables and rejectables.

GK III-39: Introduces a ‘name’ for this Doctrine of Knowledge Path. Gaudapada christens it as ‘asparsha yoga’ (Path of seamless Union = impartite Oneness).

And remember revered Gaudapada was enunciating this Doctrine to a crowd steeped in yogic and tantric approaches during the late 6th – early 7th century. They were the believers that something has to be ‘done’ to get a result. They heavily leaned on the side of a yogic ‘action models’ for liberation – after all, was it not Lord Krishna who  said that “loke2smindvividhA niShTha …” III-3, BG? (Shankara, as we all know, took a head on fight with this prevailing system two generations later).

Without mincing words, Gaudapda clearly says that the Path of ‘asparsha yoga’ is a hard nut to bite for the guys with the “have to do something” approach (i.e. yogis).

Out and out an upholder of the supremacy of the Knowledge Path, Gaudapada AchArya takes a further dig in III-40 at this “To Do” yogic gang.

GK III-40: The followers of yogic practices (i.e. yogis) have to struggle to discipline their minds through the technique of ‘control.’

Shankara makes it much more explicit in his commentary:

“We have already stated that no duty (effort), whatsoever, exist for a jnAni. But those other yogis who are also traversing the path (leading to Truth), but who possess inferior or middling understanding and who look upon the mind as separate  from but related to Atman, and who are ignorant of the knowledge regarding the reality of Atman – the yogis belonging to this class can experience fearlessness as a result of the discipline of the mind.” (from the translation by Swami Nikhilananda, 1949).

In the next verse, Gaudapada points out to the impossibility of an approach through mind control and hilariously ridicules it by giving a metaphor.

GK III-41:  The effort in controlling the mind is similar to the effort of trying to empty an Ocean using the acicular tip of a blade of Big cordgrass (Botanical name: Desmostachya bipinnata).

Can any one even think of emptying an ocean like that  at all?

So GK III-40 is not a conclusion. It is not any stand-alone statement to be taken to the heart, discussed and offered as a guide.

Read along with III-41, one has to infer that mental control is a wasted effort at attaining Self-Knowledge.

2.  Incidental benefits to the mind:

If one is talking of benefits, it is obvious that a distinct beneficiary exists, there is also a benefactor and the process of benefiting. Obviously the tripuTi is operational and it is a clear indicator of not having attained jnAna. The person (= separate self) is continuing at this stage when one looks for and hopes to draw benefits.

3.  Process vs. Self-Knowledge:

As per Advaitic understanding only action (karma) can yield fruits (phala). Action is always a process and all processes fall within the domain of ignorance (avidya). avidya is the state when a sense of separate self persists. Self-Knowledge is not a process that yields fruits.

4.   jnAnaphalam:

Instead of once again getting into this concept (which does not make any sense), I choose to quote here the statement made in 2008 by Shri S. N. Sastri, the redoubtable Scholar in Sanskrit and also a practitioner of truly traditional Advaita Vedanta:


VedAntins do not speak of mukti as ‘jnAnaphala’ because a phala means that it is something produced and is perishable, while mukti is not produced and is eternal.

We are all brahman but only the person who has given up completely his identification with his body is a jnAni. It is not an easy thing to become a jnAni. With respect , I must say that we have scholars in this group, but no jnAni. I am nowhere near that. As I said above, there is no jnAnaphalam separate from jnanam. When the jnAnam is not merely intellectual, and becomes aparoksha anubhUti then the person is a jnAni. Till then he is only a scholar who can give beautiful lectures and write good articles. [Please see my Post at:  Expert on Truth vs. Knower of Truth – ramesam]

mukti is not considered to be a phalam because it is not the attainment or production of anything new, but only the removal of the wrong notion that one is the BMI. Shri Shankara says in his bhAshya on br.up.4.4.20.:—- jnaanam cha tasmin paraatmabhaavanivr.ttiH eva.——————— iti ubhayam api aviruddham eva.

The knowledge of Brahman means only the cessation of identification with external things (such as the body, etc). Identity with Brahman is not something which requires to be attained, since it is always there. Everyone is in reality always identical with Brahman, but wrongly considers himself to be something different (due to ignorance). Therefore the scriptures do not enjoin that identity with Brahman should be attained, but only that the false identification with things other than Brahman should be given up.

When the identification with other things (such as the body) is eradicated, the identity with one’s own Self, which is natural, prevails. This is what is meant by the statement that the Self is realized. In itself the Self is unknowable, that is to say it cannot be made the object of any means of knowledge (pramaaNa)”.

Thus mukti is not something produced by knowledge and so it is not a phalam. Any phalam has an origin and so will have an end also. But mukti is eternal.

Shri Shankara says in his bhAshya on the brahma sUtra `athAto brahmajij~nAsA’ that only a person who has acquired sAdhanacatuShTayam is eligible to take up inquiry into brahman. Even if one takes up shravaNa, etc, before acquiring these, they will not become effective until he has acquired these four pre-requisites and has made his mind pure and free from all desire. So a person for whom akhaNDAkAra vRitti has arisen should already have acquired the sAdhanacatuShTayam. This is what I have heard from my teachers and this is the generally held view. But VidyAraNYa takes a different view in jIvanmuktiviveka, as you may know. I do not know whether Swami Paramarthananda expresses this view in the reference you have made. But there is no difference of opinion about mukti not being a phalam.

In fact Shri Shankara says that liberation is identical with the Self:–
br.up.3.3.1. bhAshya — na aapyo api aatmasvabhaavatvaat ekatvaat cha.
Liberation is not something to be attained because it is identical with the Self and (the Self) is one (without a second).  I am aware that you know all this. I am stating all this only to make this presentation complete and for the benefit of those members who are beginners and may not know these details.”

End Quote.

(Note:  Emphasis added by me at some places.

Ref: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/advaitin/conversations/messages/41302)


[P.S.: Apologies for making this as a new blog post instead of posting as a Comment at the topic titled, “Knowledge and the Fruit of Knowledge.” I hope the matter will be kept open for review instead of sticking to the “interpretation and explanation provided by Swami P” as said at the twin post of this topic at another forum.”]

10 thoughts on “GK: III-40 and Some (Mis)Conceptions

  1. Dear Ramesam,

    A superb note. If I may add to it.

    Firstly Michael Comans in his notes on Mandukya karika 3.40 translates Shankara’s commentary as follows:

    “There are those who understand that the mind and senses and so forth being merely superimposed on Brahman, do not exist in reality as something separate from their essential nature that is Brahman. For such people – for whom Brahman is there essential nature – fearlessness and the EVERLASTING PEACE known as liberation are established just of their own accord and are NOT dependent upon something else (ie control of mind)”

    Next from Brahma Sutras (Swami Vireswarananda translation):

    3.4.27: But even if it be so (i.e. even though there is no injunction to do work to attain Knowledge), one MUST possess calmness, self-control, and the like, since these are enjoined as helps to Knowledge, and therefore have NECESSARILY to be observed.

    3.4.52: With respect to Liberation, the fruit (of Knowledge) there is no rule like this, because the Sruti asserts that state to be immutable.

    Shankara: “… the question is whether Liberation can be delayed after Knowledge, and whether there are degrees of Knowledge according to the qualifications of the aspirant . . . the Sruti texts assert that the nature of final release is uniform without any variations of degree . . . Neither can there be any delay in the attainment of Liberation after Knowledge has dawned, for knowledge of brahman is itself liberation.”

    Also take Shankara’s commentary on Brihadaranayaka 4.4.22 (translated by Swami Madhavananda):
    Here (in 4.3.32) also it has been stated that all beings live on particles of this very Supreme Bliss that is accessible to the knower of Brahman. Hence the latter cannot undertake work. Because this sage, desisting from all desires, after realising Atman that has been described as ‘Not this, Not this’ as his owns Self, lives identified with That . . . therefore it is but proper that he is never overtaken by thoughts I did an evil act for this, I did a good act for this. He, this knower of Brahman is NOT TROUBLED by things done or not done.

    So these quotes and the plethora of quotes from Sruti / Shankara in the previous thread clearly establish that Knowledge is simultaneous with Liberation (= Supreme Peace). The concept that one can attain jnana but still fall short of Supreme Peace unless sufficiently advanced in SCS has no grounding in Sruti. Clearly the knowledge that is talked about by Swami P is merely intellectual, even to the point of conviction, but it hasn’t been assimilated to the point at which the identification with the ‘I’ thought has DISSOLVED, which IS the jnana that is talked about by Sruti and by Ramana, Nisargadatta and JK. And not the fool’s god that is being preached by Swami P. This trick simply gives the mind another concept (‘I have jnana – understanding that I am Brahman’) to grasp onto for its continuance, whilst it continues to afflict and be afflicted by the world.

    The next strand of argument is that we must rely on reason as well as Sruti. Well actually Brahma Sutra 2.1.10 states:
    ‘Also because reasoning has no sure basis it cannot upset the conclusions of Vedanta (which are based on Sruti).’
    So does that make Swami P, in his departure from sruti, a neo-vedantin?

    But in any event lets use some reasoning, but totally divorced from vedanta. We all know that our fundamental building blocks are chemicals . . molecules . . . atoms . . protons, neutrons and electrons . . . ultimately pure energy. Entirely interchangeable, inter-dependent, undifferentiated at the most basic level. These, for whatever reason, aggregate to form body-minds which have the illusion of separateness, from which arises misery and sorrow interspersed with brief spells of happiness. We can KNOW this intellectually. In fact scientists do know this. But they are not liberated from the illusion of separateness. There seems to be a need to push this knowledge to the point at which thought itself sees that it is limited by its conditioning and so comes to an end. This is the wisdom that is talked about by Vedanata, Ch’an and others.

    And after all what is it that is liberated? Surely it can only be the eradication of the veil of ignorance – which is more than just ‘I now have the knowledge that I am Brahman’, but is the fundamental de-conditioning and dissolution of the illusory ‘separate I thought’.

    Thanks again Ramesam for your thought-provoking post.


  2. Great post by Ramesam and an excellent follow up from Venkat – thank you!

    The only point I would comment on at the moment is Venkat’s quote on reason (“‘Also because reasoning has no sure basis it cannot upset the conclusions of Vedanta (which are based on Sruti).'”)

    No-one denies that scriptures speak of things that are not accessible to reason (such as aham brahmAsmi) but they also tell us things that are not true, such as the various explanations of how the world was created. There is much in the scriptures that is ‘figurative’ only (gauNa) and ultimately all has to be rescinded anyway. Accordingly, it is Gaudapada’s statement on this which is more apposite: “That which is supported by shruti and corroborated by reason, is alone true and not the other.” (kArikA 3.23)

    I may yet make some further comments on this topic but I do concede that the stance of Swami Dayananda and his disciples on the distintion between j~nAna and j~nAn phalam is not strictly in accord with tradition.

    Best wishes,

  3. Dear Dennis

    I guess, given that Swamis D & P’s teaching is not in accord with tradition, that makes them neo-Vedantins then. 😉

    I agree with you on the importance of reason. And it is reason that tells us that thought relating to a separate I is conditioned, of the past; and it can only be dissolution of this ignorant ‘i” thought veil, that is the Knowledge and Freedom that is talked about. So I’d argue that reason here is clearly in accord with scripture, as opposed to accepting a conceptual knowledge “I am that”

    Interestingly Swami D in his comments on Vivekachudamani translates:
    8: In this context the four means for making one qualified for the knowledge are told by those who have an ascertained vision of the sruti. In their presence firmness of knowledge takes place and in their absence, it does not take place.
    D’s comments: When these qualifications are not there sannistha (knowledge of the sad-brahma=na is free from vagueness and any count) is not accomplished . . . FOR KNOWLEDGE YOU HAVE TO BE READY, YOU HAVE TO BE AN ADHIKARI.

    Last word with Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha (35th Sankaracharya of Sringeri):
    “Jnana arises when the mind becomes pure and devoid of desires”
    “After jnana or FIRM REALISATION of the Truth is got, what does a person have to do? Nothing. He has no identification with the body and abides in bliss.”


  4. Sorry for mis-type. Should read:

    When these qualifications are not there sannistha (knowledge of the sad-brahma is free from vagueness and any doubt) is not accomplished

  5. Dear Ramesam
    You certainly removed all misconceptions about GK 3-40:
    Mental Control is wasted effort
    Self Knowledge is not a process
    Mukti is not produced by Knowledge and is not a phalam.

    But then your next quote from Sastry Garu –“ Only a person who has acquired SCS is eligible to take up inquiry into Brahman – so for person for whom akhandakara has risen should already have acquired SCS” Do you agree with this quote since this brings us back to structured formulation for Moksha placing all things at the feet of SCS”. Isn’t SCS a process?
    A step that prepares you for self inquiry that leads to removal of ignorance.

    • Thank you Vijay for your kind observations.

      With reference to the points you made regarding sAdhanacatuShTaya sampatti (SCS) and liberation in the quote from Shri SN Sastri, I may be allowed to say as follows:

      The sequence of steps, as derived by him from Shankara’s bhAShya, according to my understanding, is as follows:

      1. acquisition of SCS
      2. Attainment of a pure mind and desirelessness
      3. Taking up of Self-inquiry through
      (i) shravaNa; (ii) manana; and (iii) nididhyAsana
      4. Arising of akhaNDAkAra vRitti which is equivalent to brahma jnAna.

      As you said, yes, SCS is a process and its expected result (phalam) is pure mind and desirelessness. Such a mind is fit to take up an incisive and bias-free investigation into the Ultimate Truth. And, as you might have noticed, it occurs at the very bottom (i.e. the beginning). At the end is the complete riddance of ignorance which is equivalent to Liberation. Thus it is obvious that, as per this curriculum, if one had reached the end, s/he must have had successfully cleared the lower level steps – something like saying that if one has a PG degree, he must have had already completed graduation.

      You can also see, the final position of arising of akhaNDAkAra vRitti is not a direct function of SCS and akhaNDAkAra vRitti has no mathematically proportionate relationship with the quality of SCS. SCS and akhaNDAkAra vRitti are at different planes and have no causal relationship.

      As a PS, I would like to add this corrigendum:

      I used the terms SCS and akhaNDAkAra vRitti in the above comments only in a symbolic sense.

      As already discussed in the previous threads, akhaNDAkAra vRitti is just a bombastic mesmerizing term promoted by some teachers (mostly hailing from one region in India, if my suspicion stands up further research). It has no scriptural sanction, no reference in any of the Shankara bhAShya-s. It is thoroughly illogical. (For example, the basic model of mental vRRitti considers the mind subtle enough to be flowing out of eyes and ears to take the shape of an object ‘out there’, but incapable of flowing out of the pores of skin or tongue). The place here is too short for a full exposition, but I may submit here that I have a couple of slides on the vRRitti concept shown in the PPt titled “Object Cognition – Advaita and Neuroscience” at my Blog .

      I have also some reservations re: the suitability of the ancient curriculum with too much emphasis on SCS as given above for a mature well educated adult in the modern environment. Maybe I will get a chance to dwell on these issues separately.


  6. Thank you, Venkat for the very apt and appropriate explanatory notes and scriptural quotes. And many thanks to Dennis not only for allowing us on this space but also for his concurrence on the principal issue.

    We are confident that his new book “OM: ……” would reflect the pristine Truth in all Its glory and carry the message of the Sage, Revered Gaudapada far and wide.

    Our Best Wishes for its Success.


  7. Following Venkat’s reference to BSB 3.4.52 above, I have listened to Swami Paramarthananda’s talk on this sutra. And it is interesting to hear that he makes no reference at all to the notion that j~nAna phalam may post-date j~nAna.

    What he says, effectively, is this:
    3.4.51 tells us that inquiry (vichAra) is the cause and Self-knowledge (j~nAna) is the effect. [We could add here, perhaps, that sAdhana is the necessary pre-requisite to vichAra, as indicated by Ramesam above. This effectively makes SCS the cause and vichAra the ‘effect’.] And 3.4.51 says that there is an indefinite time delay between the two. We may do enquiry in this life and not gain j~nAna until the next.

    3.4.52 then says that j~nAna is the cause for mokSha as the effect. We can presumably substitute j~nAna phalam or jIvanmukta for mokSha here. And the time delay between the two is zero. It happens immediately because the knowledge is ‘I am brahman’ and this a binary knowledge; you either understand or you do not. And mokSha is not a condition of the mind.

    As an additional factor, I also came across another angle in Sridhar Majumdar’s commentary on BS, which is based on the interpretation by Nimbarka. His explanation is “There is no fixed time for the attainment of the goal of brahma vidyA in the shape of salvation, as shruti has ascertained that the state of salvation is attained only after the obstructions have been removed.”

    And he quotes Chandogya Upanishad 6.14.2. Here, the ‘obstructions’ are due to the playing out of prArabdha karma. Those actions already begun (in this life) have to run and produce their results, as per the arrow shot having to reach its target.

    But clearly performing further nididhyAsana is not going to affect this, unless we acknowledge that even better self-control may enable us to cope better with the results of our actions…

    Best wishes,

    • Dear Dennis,

      Because the level of discussion at this point is pretty subtle, I may be allowed to say the following with reference to your observations.

      First a caveat, though:
      I am giving expression to my views not to nitpick but with a hope that it will help in bringing about some clarity to the issues, at least in the way I understand the things.

      1. You say: “This effectively makes SCS the cause and vichAra the ‘effect’.”

      If we consider SCS to be only a pre-requisite to enable one to take up vichAra, it may not be correct to suppose that a causal relationship exists between them. A pre-requisite is merely a ‘fitness’ or eligibility condition. Moreover, the postulation of a cause-effect relation implies an expected deterministic outcome.

      2. You say: “What he [Sw P] says, effectively, is this: 3.4.51 tells us that inquiry (vichAra) is the cause and Self-knowledge (j~nAna) is the effect.”

      It looks to me that viewing vichAra as the cause and attainment of Self-knowledge (j~nAna) as the effect is also beset with the same sort of problems with regard to the outcome as I raised under # 1 . In fact, 3.4.51 rules out any definitive relationship. Whether one explains using the concept of pratibhandhaka-s or deferment to fictitious future janma-s (fictitious because as Advaitins, we have no doubt about ajAti vAda), the aphorism is clearly pointing out to the uncertainty (indeterminacy) in the outcome.
      So one cannot consider vichAra and mukti (which is simultaneous with/non-different from Self-Knowledge) in terms of cause and effect relationship.

      A quick and rough illustration could be: vichAra is like travel. Travel may have a goal. The effects of travel can be tiredness, hunger, happiness, sightseeing, friendships etc. But goal is not an effect of travel.

      3. Though I am unable to express clearly now, in the way the aphorism 3.4.51 is explained, I find some contradiction with 3.4.52. I hope to come back on this when I can articulate the issue better.

      4. S.Majumdar: “There is no fixed time for the attainment of the goal of brahma vidyA in the shape of salvation…”

      This statement reflects the correct position. After all, it is Consciousness that is casting the net (and the sea and the fish) and it is up to Consciousness when and in what way to fold up the net. The net or the fish within it or their moves have no relevance in the whole game!

      5. prArabdha is another imaginary explanation only. Why?

      Because, on the attainment of brahmajnana, brahmavit brahmaiva bhavati. brahman transcends not only space but also time. Effectively it means, time-axis does not exist when one is brahman. It is eternal “Now.” No past, present or future. But prArabdha is a function of time (an effect of past acting in the present until sometime in the future) which cannot exist in brahman. (The analogy of deep sleep can help in understanding absence of ‘time’). Therefore, by defintion, a jIvanmukta cannot have prArabdha.


  8. Very productive discussion so far. I may have to apologize for what follows, prompted by Ramesam’s remark at the beginning to the effect that ‘there is nothing more practical than a good theory’. (Attn. Sitara)

    That quot. reminded me of a German philosopher of early 20th Cent. and his philosophy of ‘As if’. To the criticism at the end of the quotation which follows it can be added that that philosophy is part of the logical positivism of the age, and is not at all metaphysical or spiritual in import or intention; it has to do with pragmatism and ‘fictionalism’. Any similarity, which is evident on first sight, to advaita, mithya, vyavaharika, (except pratibhasika), is only apparent… but curious nevertheless: “As if”… “iva”, as it were.

    ‘… philosophy of as if, the system espoused by Hans Vaihinger in his major philosophical work Die Philosophie des Als Ob (1911; The Philosophy of “As If”), which proposed that man willingly accept falsehoods or fictions in order to live peacefully in an irrational world. Vaihinger, who saw life as a maze of contradictions and philosophy as a search for means to make life livable, began by accepting Immanuel Kant’s view that knowledge is limited to phenomena and cannot reach to things-in-themselves. In order to survive, man must use his will to construct fictional explanations of phenomena “as if ” there were rational grounds … The theory is open to criticism on the grounds that it involves a covert appeal to a non-pragmatic concept of truth, and that it implies that it is itself no more than a useful fiction.’

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