‘I’ is a Door

Philip Renard appears in the ‘Teacher Lineage’ charts in Advaita Vision under Nisargadatta Maharaj but he has also been significantly influenced by both Ramana Maharshi and Atmananda Krishna Menon. In his first English language book, Philip writes about Advaita as communicated by all of these modern sages.

An extract from the book (about Atmananda) can be read here.

I have not yet read the book, which has just been published. It has a chapter devoted to each teacher, followed by a summary chapter, short biographies, extensive ‘Notes’ and bibliography.

It is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats:
Paperback: Buy from Amazon US ($14.00) Buy from Amazon UK (£11.00)
Kindle: Buy from Amazon US ($6.06) Buy from Amazon UK (£4.59)

21 thoughts on “‘I’ is a Door

  1. I read the following extract linked here and was deflated…When a feller starts talking about the “applicability” of Advaita, I give up. Just seems to me a shining example of the Guru-Shishya relationship at its most toxic, and I say that as a Shishya, no less.
    “Atmananda’s emphasis on radical non-duality does not mean that he construed that in the day to day contact between people, the ego has already totally dissolved, and that this was also the case in the contact his students had with him as their teacher. In other words, he did not have the illusion that that which he outlined to be ultimately true, was already true for his students or readers in their activities. Thus, he did not think it to be helpful at all to honour the ‘differencelessness’ or non-duality in his actual activities as teacher and police officer. He considered it a pitfall to shout all too soon that ‘everything is Consciousness’ in a worldly or relational environment, and he continued pointing out ‘difference’ as long as this was the true state of affairs to the student. Thus he considered advaita, non-duality, not applicable to the relationship between teacher and student. “Think of your Guru only in the dualistic sphere”, he said, “apply your heart wholly to it and get lost in the Guru. Then the Ultimate dances like a child before you.”16 And moreover: “Advaita is only a pointer to the Guru. You do not reach Advaita completely until you reach the egoless state. Never even think that you are one with the Guru. It will never take you to the Ultimate. On the contrary, that thought will only drown you. Advaita points only to the Ultimate.”17
    Atmananda considered a devotional attitude to be a great help. But in an instruction he made it clear that such an attitude is only appropriate towards your own Guru. “That particular Person through whom one had the proud privilege of being enlightened, that is the ONLY FORM which one may adore and do Puja to, to one’s heart’s content, as the person of one’s Guru. It is true that all is the Sat-Guru, but only when the name and form disappear and not otherwise. Therefore the true aspirant should beware of being deluded into any similar devotional advance to any other form, be it of God or of man.”18 In another statement he reveals how strict and dualistic he was in respect to the student and guru relationship: “A disciple should never bow allegiance to two Gurus at the same time”; to which he added that “accepting more than one guru at a time is even more dangerous than having none at all.”19

    • Philip (who does not wish to contribute to the discussion, owing to his inadequate command of English) points out the following quotation from later in that article:

      “If you realise that this statement is made by a truly radical non-dualistic teacher, it stimulates us to consider in all this the apparent paradox between what Atmananda teaches at the highest level of understanding and the recognition of consequences of the actions made by individuals in their day to day activities. If we are identified with the dualistic world we will experience the effects of our actions.”

      • Dennis:

        Please thank Mr. Philip Renard for his interest and assure him that I will re-read the whole thing and reply in due course.


        • I re-read the extract provided from Philip Renard’s new book and append below the paragraph at the end of which appear the lines he quoted in his earlier reply to my comment. I have tried to html bold the last sentence, don’t know if it will take…
          The following story illustrates how in his daily life Atmananda showed that each of the levels (the Absolute and the relative) requires its own approach, and that consequently, one does not apply the non-dualistic approach to the relative level of being. At the beginning of his career as a station inspector of the Police Department, Atmananda once interrogated a man he suspected of having stolen something. The man had constantly denied it.. Then Atmananda told him: “If you have really committed the theft, as I believe you have, it will be better that you confess it and admit your mistake. If, on the other hand, you want to hide the truth from me, you may be able to do so for the time being, but that Principle in you which is watching all your actions will make you suffer throughout the rest of your life for having lied once. You will never be able to hide the Truth from that Principle in you.”20 This shows the sensitivity required to live the truth, and not peremptorily claim that untruth is simply Consciousness as well. Imagine the implication of Atmananda’s statement: to lie once would end up in a lifelong suffering! If you realise that this statement is made by a truly radical non-dualistic teacher, it stimulates us to consider in all this the apparent paradox between what Atmananda teaches at the highest level of understanding and the recognition of consequences of the actions made by individuals in their day to day activities. If we are identified with the dualistic world we will experience the effects of our actions.

          I am sorry to say that I don’t quite catch the tremendous import of what Atmananda said to the alleged thief and why it is so portentous…I only conclude that vyavaharikally, Atmananda was a bad cop which I think is entirely to his credit because it shows a naivete that is childlike. But I am sure that if the story got around among the petty underworld, the adamant response of all accused would be to firmly deny any wrongdoing knowing full well that one would be admonished about life long suffering and then dismissed.

          Similarly, stories about the “compassion” of the jnani usually strike me as full of shallow bathos but that is obviously not what devotees think, and it must surely be some deficiency in my comprehension. I don’t want to single out Atmananda and piss off Mr. Renard because one can find analogous incidents in all our lives, holy and unholy. Jnani or Ajnani.
          It is simply trite to say – “If we are identified with the dualistic world we will experience the effects of our actions.” – because assuredly our body-mind or what Balsekar called the “thinking mind” and body are subject to prarabdha and we will all experience the inevitable. As Sri Ramana said with blinding insight (how did he anticipate Einstein?!!!) –

          “All the activities that the body is to do and all the experiences it is to pass through were determined when it first came into existence.”

          I’ll leave it at that for now and hope everyone will chime in to set me right….thanks!

          • Just want to say tha Ramesh Balsekar was also an idol with clay feet, In My Very Humble Opinion.

  2. Sishya,

    I know what you mean – and I have a similar allergic reaction. However, even Bhagavan, in Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham wrote:

    v39: O son, always experience non-duality in the heart, but do not at any time put non-duality in action. Even if you were to apply the practice of non duality in respect of the three worlds, never apply it to the Guru.

    I think that this is a response to the other conversation thread regarding Swartz, and his teaching that you can continue to act in the world according to your desires (within moral limits), as long as you know that you are not the doer.

    As long as there are desires, there is an ego that is acting, and one shouldn’t fall into the delusional ‘knowledge’ that “there is no doer, it is all a dream, so the body-mid can do whatever it wishes; it is simply its prarabdha”

    Laksharma Sarma’s commentary on this verse explains: “Actions, truly advaitic, are impossible in practice, and even if attempted the ego will only be in command of the actions”.

    So until the ego perishes, you have to act in the world, and such actions should strive towards nishkama karma.

    • Venkat,

      As I have before I find it very difficult to swallow any of the revered jnanis whole, so please don’t be offended by what I have to say (misguided, maybe) because I esteem Maharshi Ramana very highly indeed.

      “O son, always experience non-duality in the heart, but do not at any time put non-duality in action. Even if you were to apply the practice of non duality in respect of the three worlds, never apply it to the Guru.”

      I find this hilarious especially the reference to the 3 worlds which is an embellishment in the Indian style that is sometimes quite endearing….

      But how am I to “experience” something in my heart, and put something else into “action”? I thought the whole idea was to get the personality out of the picture and let Nature elicit the appropriate response straight from the heart (not reaction).

      Have I misunderstood “experience” and “action” or is it a vyavaharika/paramarthika issue ? (just kidding…).

      Hoping to avoid a flaming, though would appreciate being put in my place….

      Just a Shishya.

      • Venkat, I forgot to add that indulging in desires within “moral” limits, brings to mind Ambrose Bierce’s rhyme….

        “There’s no free will,” says the philosopher;
        “To hang is most unjust.”
        “There is no free will,” assents the officer;
        “We hang because we must.”

        – Ambrose Bierce

  3. It does, of course, depend upon what you understand by the term ‘ego’. When I use the term, I simply refer to the personal sense of an embodied ‘I’, and not to any ‘aggrandizing’ element. Traditionally, it must be the case that a j~nAnI still has an ego. The fact that he/she still has a body/mind means that prArabdha karma has not been exhausted. So the j~nAnI will necessarily continue to act in the world and obviously treats it as dualistic, even though knowing that this is only an appearance and that every ‘thing’ is only name and form of brahman.

    • Hi Sishya

      I think that these should be taken with poetic license of the culture, and interpreted in the direction that they point and not over-literally.

      I understand that this is a translation of verse 87, from Shankara’s Tattvopadesa – though I have not read this myself.

      As you know, it is relatively easy for one to grasp the intellectual knowledge of advaita, and to then run around, as Renard / Atmananda said, claiming the knowledge that everything is consciousness, and therefore I have jnana.

      Annamalai Swami recounts Bhagavan’s advice on this:
      “Advaita should not be practised in ordinary activities. It is sufficient if there is no differentiation in the mind. If one keeps cartloads of discriminating thoughts within, one should not pretend that all is one on the outside.”

      Maurice Frydman also records a conversation with Bhagavan on this, which began with Bhagavan saying:
      “If you saw someone molesting a woman, would you let him go, thinking ‘all is one’?”

      There is a verse in Guru Vachaka Kovai, which also sheds light on this:
      v668: If it is conceded that all the actions of the jiva are only Siva’s actions then will the jiva be different from Siva? If he exists as different from Siva, you should know that all his actions will cease to be Siva’s actions, and he will be considered to be an independent agent.

      Murugunar’s comment on this verse: This is a very subtle point. When it is conceded that all the actions of the jiva are those of Siva, then jiva and Siva are not different. At that point, the jiva having lost the feeling that he is performing actions, becomes Siva, the Free One. Surrendering in this way is not yielding to the ego, but is the complete destruction of it. However those who behave with their ego nature saying “everything is Siva’s doing” have not really surrendered.

      As you know, the paradox at the heart of advaita is that the illusory ego has to put an end to its own illusory existence. And there are many halfway houses and pitfalls on the path to this.

      Best wishes

  4. We must go to Shri Atmananda’s own words and teaching as relied to us and commented on by Greg Goode (among others: Nitya Tripta). I copy them here, hoping I’m not trespassing, and also will write to Greg Goode about this liberty I took. — From ‘After Awareness – the End of the Path’, ch.4 Greg Goode.

    ‘The Guru Doctrine Is Challenged

    In one of his works, a short commentary on Ashtavakra Samhita, Shri Atmananda comes very close to directly refuting the guru principle. As far as I know, this commentary has never been published or publicly disseminated. Instead, it has only been privately circulated among Atmananda’s students. This short work consists of a tiny introduction by Shri Atmananda followed by verses of Ashtavakra Samhita in English. After many of the verses, Atmananda inserts his own commentary.

    Shri Atmananda uses the English translation of Ashtavakra Samhita by Swami Nityaswarupananda (1899–1992) of the Sri Ramakrishna Math.40 The Swami Nityaswarupananda edition features its own substantial introduction, which may have been written by Swami Nityaswarupananda himself. Swami Nityaswarupananda’s introduction cautions the reader not to interpret Ashtavakra Samhita or Vedanta as mere intellectual philosophy. Vedanta uses philosophy, yes, but it’s able to transcend mere intellectuality by means of a “supra-rational organon called self-realization, which directly intuits the Truth.”41 This “supra-rational organon” is very similar to Atmananda’s “higher reason.”

    It’s in Shri Atmananda’s own introduction to his Ashtavakra Samhitaamhita commentary that he takes issue with the guru principle. First, he quotes from Swami Nityaswarupananda’s introduction, which assumes a version of the guru principle, saying that “the spiritual aspirant must undergo a course of Sadhana under the guidance and supervision of the Guru, who has himself gone through the grind and envisaged the Truth face to face.”42 Then Atmananda says that, although the classic view is that there’s a need to do sadhana with a guru (as Swami Nityaswarupananda asserts), in the direct path, there’s no need to work with a guru and do sadhana. All you need is higher reason. With higher reason, you transcend the normal limits of intellectual reason, because you
    directly intuit the truth. Higher reason is sufficient.

    The Presence of the Guru in Speech vs. Writing

    There’s no doubt that the Shri Atmananda of Notes asserts the
    guru principle. And there’s no doubt that the Atmananda of Atma Darshan, Atma Nirvriti, and the Ashtavakra Samhita commentary doesn’t endorse the guru principle. In fact, in these three works, he actually provides other means to self-realization that he states as sufficient. It appears that Shri Atmananda didn’t interpret the principle the same way as Nitya Tripta did. Tripta’s “Life Sketch” of Shri Atmananda at the end of Notes offers a bibliography. Discussing Atma Darshan as a book, Tripta says:

    A close study of this book, even by an ordinary aspirant,
    enables him to have an indirect knowledge of Atma, the
    Self. This indirect knowledge of the Truth in turn intensifies his earnestness and sincerity to know the Truth directly, and thus transforms him into a genuine jijnyasu or a true aspirant, thereby guaranteeing the attainment of a Karana-guru and liberation.43

    This passage makes a distinction between indirect knowledge of the self that we attain through studying Atma Darshan and direct knowledge of the self that comes through a Karana-guru. But this distinction isn’t made anywhere in Atma Darshan. Why not? If Shri Atmananda thought that the book was to be merely a springboard to a Karana-guru, he didn’t say so in the book.

    Instead, the sense we get from a close study of Atma Darshan is that the book itself is self-sufficient. Atma Darshan doesn’t teach us about the Self. It doesn’t give us indirect factual or philosophical knowledge. Rather, it invites us to do the inquiries and reminders provided by the text. These inquiries are brilliant portals to direct experience. It’s through these direct means that we’re able to know the self in a direct way. What takes place is much more than just reading. Another way to look at the guru-versus-book issue is this.

    Why can’t the Karana-guru be the book itself? Can’t the author appear in literary form?

    There’s a kind of rich rhetorical irony here. The guru principle stresses face-to-Face contact with the guru. And as we see in Notes, the principle is itself communicated face-to-face. The medium in which the guru principle is most frequently not asserted, and even perhaps denied, is writing. The irony is that each rhetorical mode tends to bring its own authority to the forefront and place the other mode in the background. We don’t find Shri Atmananda talking about the authority of writing, or writing about the authority of talking. Such ironies often emerge in communication.

    We can honor Shri Atmananda’s legacy by honoring either mode of communication. So for the seeker who reads all of Atmananda’s available texts, both possibilities are present.’

    • Martin,

      “We don’t find Shri Atmananda talking about the authority of writing, or writing about the authority of talking. Such ironies often emerge in communication”….

      This is the first time I have seen smriti and shruti described so well…why don’t you write a book yourself?…It could be about anything that interests you, family, friends, ideas, etc…hope you don’t mind the suggestion.


  5. Martin

    I hope you / Greg are right, but in his introduction to Ashtavakra, Sri Atmananda actually writes:

    “This is classical explanation, but it is not true. In the psychological path
    of Vedånta or the Direct Perception Method, no sådhana properly speaking
    is needed. You are made to perceive the Truth positively.”

    He doesn’t write the words “with a guru” following “no sadhana”. So one cannot conclude from this that Atmananda believed that no guru was needed. He was silent on this matter, as he was in atma darshan and atma nirvritti.


  6. I disagree that Atmananda was silent on the matter. Here is what he says in Note 420 of ‘Spiritual Discourses’, ‘What is the Need of a guru?’:

    The subjective experience of the real ‘I’ is exclusively the subject of Vedanta. This can be gained only by personal contact, in an attitude of complete surrender, with a Jnyanin who is established in that subjective Reality. This Jnyanin, though appearing to the ordinary man as embodied, really stands beyond the body, senses and mind – as Atma itself. But the disciple, as long as he feels himself embodied, sees the Guru only as a personality. Slowly, the disciple realizes that he is that living principle beyond the body, senses and mind. Then he finds the Guru also correspondingly exalted. At last, when the disciple, taken thus to the brink of the mind, listens to the words of the Guru explaining the nature of the positive Self, he is suddenly thrown into that supreme experience of the ultimate. It is only then that he realizes the state of the Guru to be that always, whether in apparent activity or inactivity. Thus alone can Truth be ever realized.

  7. I think that what Dennis writes above, quoting Sri Atmananda, is correct as far as it goes and as seen from the empirical realm, but from what I posted from Greg Goode (above) it is perhaps not exclusively true, even from this same plane (?). Shishya may also agree to this.

    This can be corroborated by 1) Gaudapada’s karika 1, 18 & Bhasya, 2) by R. Maharshi (below), though, evidently, both of these relate to the higher perspective (paramarthika), and 3) Shankara has the same final conclusion, though only in exceptional cases (dedicated and mature disciples).

    Ramana M. “The grace of the Guru is only this Self-awareness that is one’s own true nature. It is the being consciousness by which he is unceasingly revealing his existence. This divine upadesa is always going on naturally in everyone. As this upadesa alone is what reveals the natural attainment of the Self through one’s own experience, the mature ones need at no time seek the help of external beings for jnana upadesa. The upadesa obtained from outsiders in forms such as sounds, gestures, and thoughts are only mental concepts. Since the meaning of the word upadesa is only ‘abiding in the Self’ or ‘abiding as the Self’, and since this is one’s own real nature, so long as one is seeking the Self from outside, Self-realisation cannot be obtained.”

    • Just to clarify: I thought that the topic of the discussion was the attitude of Sri Atmananda. Hence my comment above. My own view is that, although the physical presence of a qualified guru is certainly desirable (for speed of removal of self-ignorance with minimal distractions and confusions), it is certainly not necessary.

      Actually, I realize that the above might be misintepreted to conclude that I think that enlightenment might arise spontaneously or during meditation or some such. This is most unlikely!

      What I mean is that one may gain self-knowledge through reading/discussion/reflection/ listening to recorded talks etc over many years. But it will be the reading of material written by qualified teachers, or transcriptions of these, that has the most positive effect. (Whereas reading books of neo-advaitins may have negative effect!) So the net result of this can maybe construed as that the ‘guru’ is effectively present in the authentic material. This being the case, one would conclude that my understanding is that a guru IS necessary!

  8. Shishya:
    First, to say that Dennis’ last entry (above) is magisterial – magister dixit.

    Then, two books of mine have been published, one of poetry: ‘Recuerda’ (in Spanish; some of the poems translated into English). The other, ‘Por El Camino de Santiago – Reflexiones Sobre Filosofía, Arte y Espiritualidad’. (I think translation is not needed here). Some of my articles can be found in academia.edu.

  9. Martin, wiki says:
    The Camino de Santiago, also known by the English names Way of St. James, St. James’s Way, St. James’s Path, St. James’s Trail, Route of Santiago de Compostela, and Road to Santiago, is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes, known as pilgrim ways, to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. It is also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts as well as organized tours.
    “spiritual growth” is the key, I think, though what exactly that means is unclear to me…Any bits in English from ‘Reflections On Philosophy, Art and Spirituality’ would be interesting to read and I suspect your entries in academia.edu will give me some idea, maybe your refer to it in your articles.

    You write…

    “First, to say that Dennis’ last entry (above) is magisterial – magister dixit.”
    The debate between the “leap” school and the “gradualist” school does not really interest me. I am so far away and behind any such happy culmination that there is no use thinking about it. Particularly with reference to Dennis’ statement ,
    “Actually, I realize that the above might be misinterpreted to conclude that I think that enlightenment might arise spontaneously or during meditation or some such. This is most unlikely!”
    “Enlightenment” has a strong mystical component that, I am convinced, will forever elude me as it eluded even prominent politico-spiritual diplomats like Sri Dayananda who insisted that you could soar into nirvana through keen textual analysis and correct understanding of the Vedanta….I know, I know, some will object strongly to this characterization but it is the impression I have formed.

    To quote one of my favourite philosophers…
    I believe there is no source of deception in the investigation of nature which can compare with a fixed belief that certain kinds of phenomena are impossible.
    William James

    • Apologies for using the term ‘enlightenment’. It is the term commonly used these days by Westerners at least. I have made it clear in many places that, by this term, I mean ‘Self-knowledge’ and nothing else. Certainly nothing ‘mystical’!

  10. Oops, very sorry just wanted to post an extract from Jonathan Bricklin’s article on William James…

    Jonathan Bricklin
    Consciousness Already There Waiting to be Uncovered
    William James’s Mystical Suggestion
    as Corroborated by Himself and His Contemporaries

    Abstract: ‘Is… consciousness already there waiting to be uncovered
    and is it a veridical revelation of reality?’William James asked in one
    of his last published essays, ‘A Suggestion About Mysticism’. The
    answer, he said, would not be known ‘by this generation or the next’.
    By separating what James wanted to believe about commonsense
    reality, from what his ‘dispassionate’insights and researches led him
    to believe, I show how James himself, in collaboration with a few
    friends, laid the groundwork for adopting his mystical suggestion as
    veridical. ‘Consciousness already there waiting to be uncovered’ —
    not ‘generated de novo in a vast number of places’ but existing ‘be-
    hind the scenes, coeval with the world’ — is consistent with James’s
    ‘neutral monism’, his belief that Newtonian, objective, even-flowing
    time does not exist, and his belief that parapsychological and other
    transpersonal phenomena had ‘broken down… the limits of the admit-
    ted order of things’. Specific parallels between James’s veridical reve-
    lation and the veridical revelation of his young contemporary
    Einstein, are also considered

    The essay is divided into five sections as follows:
    1) Introductory remarks about James’s view on timeflow,
    emphasizing Shadworth Hodgson’s influence.
    2) James’s mystical suggestion as a veridical revelation, with
    specific parallels with Einstein’s veridical revelation.
    3) A suggestion from the ‘Anaesthetic Revelation’, incorpo-
    rated into James’s mystical suggestion, emphasizing his
    complicated relationship with Blood’s mysticism.
    4) Psychical research related to his mystical suggestion,
    emphasizing the influence of Frederic Myers and Sir Oliver
    5) ‘The Witness’, emphasizing the variety of religious under-
    standing and experience suggested by both James’s mysti-
    cal suggestion and his radical empiricism: nondualism.

Comments are closed.