jnAna through vicAra

  [Note:  Dennis posted at the other thread a cryptic comment that says, “… whether self-enquiry can reveal the true self. If you say it can, then what is the pramANa?”  My response to it has become too long and because I expect that there could be questions or more comments  on my comment, I have taken the liberty to make my comment into a separate Post.]

The remark that was recently posted by Dennis hinting that vicAra cannot possibly be a valid  means for Self-realization leaves one rather nonplussed. It, at one stroke, blunts the entire approach of jnAna mArga, which is a highly valued and respected method for liberation in Shankara tradition. Or in order not to make that statement invalid, one has to force oneself to assign a very narrow meaning to the word pramANa conforming to the concept that the author has in his mind rather than what is understood to be a pramANa in scriptural literature.

Shankara observes in his commentary on the mantraII-ii-1, taittirIya,  that starts with ब्रह्मविदाप्नोति परम् as follows:

पुरुषे त्वेवाविस्तरामात्मा हि प्रज्ञानेन सम्पन्नतमो विज्ञातं वदति विज्ञातं पश्यति वेद श्वस्तनं वेद लोकालोकौ मर्त्येनामतमीक्षति … “

Meaning: The puruSha is able to have intelligent perception because the Universal Consciousness has manifested in him. He has the capacity to speak, he can think of the future, distinguish between good and bad, and try to achieve immortality, although born in a world of mortals.

So man has the basic ability to choose a process for Self-realization as he has  the motivation to be free, and is endowed with necessary tools, such as a suitable body, sensory organs, life-force, mind, and intellect to pursue liberation. This is a unique gift of the nature that only a human being, unlike other creatures  in nature, is blessed with. Hence a seeker endowed with a relatively more mature and ready mind can follow a direct path of enquiry for Self-realization as Gaudapada tells us in his kArikA .

Shankara in his Commentary on Bhagavad Gita, Ch 4, verse 18 says:

हि तमः तमसो निवर्तकं भवति  

Meaning: Darkness (ignorance) cannot be removed by more darkness.

Therefore, adding loads of darkness in the form of cumbersome procedures to existing ignorance would only result in much denser darkness. Likewise, if a seeker is expected to follow  more and more involved action-centered instructions, he gets deeper and deeper into the mire of ignorance and bondage.

kena Upanishad, I-6 tells us:

यन्मनसा मनुते येनाहुर्मनो मतम्

तदेव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि नेदं यदिदमुपासते   —             

[Meaning: What none can comprehend with the mind, but by which, the Sages say, the mind is comprehended, know that alone as brahman. brahman is not this which people worship.]

So brahman is not a thing to be ‘conceptualized’ and adored, deified or reified and It cannot be approached with some processes that are circumscribed with expectations.

Ancient seers acknowledged that the true path to liberation lies through only  Knowledge-based approach.  We have from Garuda Purana (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/gpu/gpu18.htm#page_154):

ज्ञानादेव तु कैवल्यम् |        —  verse 70, Ch XVI, Garuda Purana.

(Direct Knowledge of the Truth is the cause of liberation.).

Further, it is asserted in the verses at 87-88: “There is no liberation by the study of the Vedas, nor by the reading of the Śāstras. Emancipation is by knowledge alone, not otherwise, O son of Vinatā.”

Two phrases make for bondage and liberation: “Mine” and “Not-mine.” The being saying “Mine” is bound; saying “Not-mine” is released — verses 93-94.

The muNDaka mantra II-ii-4 gives us a clue for an approach to comprehend brahman directly:

प्रणवो धनुः शरो ह्यात्मा ब्रह्म तल्लक्ष्यमुच्यते 
अप्रमत्तेन वेद्धव्यं शरवत्तन्मयो भवेत् ॥  —

Meaning: Om is the bow; the individual is the arrow; and Brahman is called its target. It is to be hit by an unerring man. One should become one with It just like an arrow.

Unlike the progressive methods where the seeker still retains a sense of “doership,” the vastutantra approach drops the ‘doership’ right at the start, thus directly accessing the vastu, brahman like an arrow hitting the target straight.

After telling us the nature of brahman in the first part, kena upaniShad opens the second part with the mantra:

यदि मन्यसे सु वेदेति दभ्रमेवापि नूनं त्वं वेत्थ ब्रह्मणो रूपं यदस्य त्वं यदस्य देवेष्वथ नु मीमांस्यमेव ते मन्ये विदितम्   — mantra 1, Part II, kena.

[Meaning:  (The Teacher says to the seeker,) “You know very little of brahman’s form, if you think ‘I know it well.’ What you know of brahman among the gods is also very little. Therefore, the nature of brahman is still to be investigated by you.]

So how does the seeker proceed heeding the advice of the teacher?
He proceeds further with “vicAra” (मीमांस्यमेव = by inquiry only).

From the subsequent mantras of the Upanishad, i.e. after further inquiry, we find that the student “knows” and understands brahman.

So it is difficult to agree when one holds that “inquiry” will not take the seeker to understand brahman.

“pramANa” is defined as the one that is the means (medium or instrument) that provides “prama” or knowledge. The Knowledge we are interested here is Self-knowledge.

Shankara very clearly emphasizes that the “vastujnAna” (Knowledge of brahman) can be obtained by “inquiry alone” in his short treatise, vivekacUDAmaNi.


vastusiddhir vicAreNa                    — verse 11, viveka cUDAmaNi

Krishna, the personification of Consciousness Itself, considered to be the jagadguru (Teacher for the entire Universe), expresses with great emphasis:

नाहं वेदैर्न तपसा  दानेन  चेज्यया 
शक्य एवंविधो द्रष्टुं दृष्टवानसि मां यथा           — verse 53, Ch 11, Bagavad-Gita.

[Meaning:  Not by Vedas, nor by austerity, nor by gifts, nor by sacrifice, can “I” be seen in this Form as thou hast seen Me.]

Explaining this Shankara writes in his Commentary (भाष्यम्):

अहं वेदैः ऋग्यजुःसामाथर्ववेदैः चतुर्भिरपि, तपसा उग्रेण चान्द्रायणादिना दानेन गोभूहिरण्यादिना, इज्यया यज्ञेन पूजया वा शक्यः एवंविधः यथादर्शितप्रकारः द्रष्टुं दृष्टावान् असि मां यथा त्वम्

na vedaih —  not through the Vedas, not even through the four Vedas-Rk, Yajus, Sama and Atharvan;

na tapas — not by austerity, not by severe austerities like the Candrayana;

na dAnen — not by gifts, by gifts of cattle, land, gold, etc.; na ca, nor even;

ijyayA — by sacrifices or worship;

sakyah aham — can I;

draShTum — be seen

evamvidhah — in this form, in the manner as was shown;

yathA – as;

dRShTavAn asi — you have seen

mAm — Me.

(Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).

Introducing the next verse Shankara asks the question, कथं पुनः शक्यः इति उच्यते — “How can You  be seen?”:

भक्त्या त्वनन्यया शक्य अहमेवंविधोऽर्जुन 
ज्ञातुं द्रष्टुं  तत्त्वेन प्रवेष्टुं  परन्तप  ५४

Meaning:  But by undistracted bhakti can- I, of this Form, be known and seen in reality, and entered into, Arjuna!

By bhakti alone, Krishna says, that He can be seen.

But how do we understand what true “bhakti” is?

Shankara does not disappoint us. He defines bhakti very unambiguously in vivekacUDAmaNi:

स्वस्वरूपानुसन्धानम् इति भक्तिः  —       verse 31

svasvarUpAnusandhAnam iti bhaktiH

bhakti is “Contemplation of one’s own Real Nature .”

Obviously, it is again unmistakably, “vicAra.”

If one is still left with a doubt, here is another famous and highly revered text of Shankara. He teaches “Knowledge Path” in this text. He says:

नोत्पद्यते विना ज्ञानं विचारेणान्यसाधनैः

यथा पदार्थभानं हि प्रकाशेन विना क्वचित्      —  11, aparokShAnubhUti.

[Knowledge is not brought about by any other means than “vicAra,”  just as an object is nowhere perceived without the help of illumination.]

If one asks the question “ how should be  the “inquiry” conducted,” he answers:

कोऽहं कथमिदं जातं को वै कर्ताऽस्य विद्यते

उपादानं किमस्तीह विचारः सोऽयमीदृशः                  —  12, aparokShAnubhUti.

[Who am I? How is this world created? Who is the creator? With what material the world is made? Thus is the way the inquiry has to go on.]

Thus it establishes that “Who Am I” inquiry is not a new method discovered by someone in the 20th century. It is an age old method in the true “sampradAya,” or at least for one who has respect for an unbroken teacher-disciple lineage right from pre-Shankara times. (The inquiry question “Who am I?” appears as the starting point in more texts (perhaps in “anu gIta” too (?)). But that makes the subject for another post.

If one were to keep his/her eyes closed to all the available evidence, or insist that it is not found in the specific text of his preference or  takes a stand that the  wording is not as per his preference, well, I can only say, Sorry.

10 thoughts on “jnAna through vicAra

  1. Ramesam writes:

    “It, at one stroke, blunts the entire approach of jnAna mArga for Self-realization, so highly valued and respected in Shankara tradition. Or in order to make the statement valid, one has force oneself to assign a very narrow meaning to the word pramANa to conform to the concept of the author rather than what is understood in scriptural literature.”

    That is the truth, amen.

    IMHO, in his attempt to be scrupulously fair (and conform to sponsorship requirements?) Dennis has generously given us a book written by three authors from the self help section of a Vedic bookstore.

    The cryptic comment uses a term – pramana – to undersand which, as Ramesam kindly puts it: “one has to force oneself to assign a very narrow meaning to the word pramANa”.

    Does the author actually want to ask: Are Maharshi Ramana’s utterances sabda (pramana) or not?

    So that is the heart of the matter…looks like Venkat had a point all along.

    I think what I have written is fair and should see the light of day.


  2. Shankara’s famous Dasha Shloki is nothing but the Atmavichara where one will eventually arrive at “I Am”
    Shankara’s Atmashatakam (in my opinion) is also Atmavichara.
    Now, we all understand at this level that “Who am I” should not be a parrot like chant – but an inquiry so intense as if your life depended on it.
    Casual Self Inquiry without mumukshatwam and Deep Atma Vichara with sole purpose of Self Knowledge should not be put in the same general basket. AtmaVichara has solid support of Shruti as demonstrated by Ramesam.
    There were many in the past and recent years who followed this path – Kabir, Nisargadatta….

    api vyápakatvád-dhitattvaparyogát
    jagat tuccham etat samastm tad-anyat
    tadeko’vashishthah shivah kevalo’ham.(9)

    Because that (the Self) is all-pervasive, the true goal, of self-established nature, and not dependent on anything else, this entire universe which is different from that is unreal. That one which remains (after the sublation of all else) – that auspicious absolute (Self) I am.
    ॥ इति श्रीमद् शंकराचार्यविरचितं दशश्लोकी समाप्तं ॥

  3. Hello everybody,

    please, can somebody help me understand what the exact issue is regarding pramANa?

    PramANa means source of knowledge, correct?
    Is it correct that the Dayananada lineage holds the view that the right source of knowledge is scripture, whereas Ramana Maharshi/Swami SSSS hold the view that the right source of knowledge is self-inquiry?

    Can somebody correct me if I got it wrong? I mean of course I got it wrong because it is much more nuanced than this, I understand. But more or less, is this what the issue is about?

  4. Georg

    The Dayananda group argue that Jnana can only be gained from scripture, taught by a suitably qualified teacher. Furrther, that self-enquiry cannot provide Jnana, because the mind cannot provide an answer to what it does not know.

    Ramana, Nisargadatta, Sankara and others (as highlighted by Ramesam, Shishya and Vijay) would say that scriptural knowledge is a pointer, but that self-enquiry / self-awareness / self-abidance / self-contemplation is what is then required to discriminate between the real and not real. [The Dayananda group would not agree that Sankara is in this second category, and would claim him for their corner.]

    For my part, I’m happy to agree to disagree about that argument. We have to all come to our own conclusions. I think Ramesam and others have provided solid reasons for believing self-enquiry is a valid means.

    The issue for me is that Dayananda, Swartz, Paramarthananda, Venugopal et al:
    (a) vociferously decry and rubbish Ramana’s teaching of self-enquiry as a means to Knowledge.
    (b) simultaneously proclaim Ramana to be a traditional acharya and go on to comment on / interpret two of his Sanskrit-translated works (Upadesa Saram and Sad Darshanam) as if they are authorities on his teaching. [And refuse to acknowledge any of his other works and trusted sources, which would provide more context around his actual teachings and views]
    (c) square the obviously hypocritical nature of this position by the linguistic subterfuge of saying that self enquiry is an erroneous view proselytised by SOME of the DEVOTEES (conveniently unspecified!) of Ramana, thereby avoiding criticising Ramana directly. This subterfuge I have seen parroted by all of them. They also assert that Ramana only got enlightened as a result of his reading of Vedantic scriptures after he arrived at Arunachala (hence keeping with their argument of sruti vicara as the only pramana); and not as a result of his intense self-contemplation of death, as he himself has described.

    So one then has to ask the question why all these acrobatics? Why not just have the intellectual honesty to dismiss Ramana and self-enquiry outright, and ignore him altogether? This would be difficult for them because
    (a) Sw Chinmayananda, who was the original teacher of Dayananda and Swartz, had huge respect and devotion for Ramana, and called him ‘the cream of the upanishads’
    (b) Ramana has attracted significant numbers of people to Advaita, especially from the rich West, who they may not wish to estrange, given a global expansion strategy! (NB Swartz even holds some of his retreats for westerners in Tiruvannamalai!)

    For me, this can only reflect on the integrity of their teaching / opinions, and therefore its value. You have to draw your own conclusions.

  5. Dear Georg Schiller, greetings !

    I am in full agreement with Venkat’s reply to you.

    But we should not miss the wood for the trees, so please read the paragraph below from Aldous Huxley’s foreword to The First and Last Freedom by J Krishnamurti’

    I am sure you will immediately see its relevance to the question under discussion.


    In recent years logicians and semanticists have carried out a very thorough analysis of the symbols, in terms of which men do their thinking. Linguistics has become a science, and one may even study a subject to which the late Benjamin Whorf gave the name of meta-linguistics. All this is greatly to the good; but it is not enough. Logic and semantics, linguistics and meta-linguistics – these are purely intellectual disciplines. They analyse the various ways, correct and incorrect, meaningful and meaningless, in which words can be related to things, processes and events. But they offer no guidance, in regard to the much more fundamental problem of the relationship of man in his psychophysical totality, on the one hand, and his two worlds, of data and of symbols, on the other.

    In every region and at every period of history, the problem has been repeatedly solved by individual men and women. Even when they spoke or wrote, these individuals created no systems – for they knew that every system is a standing temptation to take symbols too seriously, to pay more attention to words than to the realities for which the words are supposed to stand. Their aim was never to offer ready-made explanations and panaceas; it was to induce people to diagnose and cure their own ills, to get them to go to the place where man’s problem and its solution present themselves directly to experience.


  6. All teaching happens in duality, and, apart from that, ‘The Upanishads only suggest the nature of reality to the enquirer’, as D.B. Gangolli has written (‘The Scientific Approach of Shankara Vedanta’). Gangolli then continues, ‘… and the fully qualified seeker of truth at once intuits his own Self to be that Reality’. In other words, the Upanishads are a means of knowledge before the intuition ‘… in as much as they remind the enquirer that there is no distinction of the knower, means of knowledge and the known in the Absolute or Atman’ (SBh, 1.1.4).

    Thus, this author, and also SSSS, considers the Upanishads to be a Pramana, even though, in the final analysis, there is no need even of the Veda to gain the intuition referred to above, for isn’t this a universal intuition of something real though indescribable?

    Venkat: ‘The Dayananda group argues that Jnana can only be gained from scripture, taught by a suitably qualified teacher… sruti vicara as the only pramana’. While that seems to be quite reasonable and persuasive, it is denied by the two authors mentioned above.

  7. I thank you all dearly for your reply! 🙂

    I think a further clarification is needed for the issue of language. The lineage of Dayananda speaks a language of identity (i am the self/limitless bliss and always have been), and discourages a language of experience (I need to experience the bliss in order to gain it).
    E.g. For the Dayananda lineage “it is enlightenment when the experiencer realizes that he or she is what is being experienced, i.e., the self. Enlightenment is knowledge, not experience of anything.”

    Would Swami SSSS, Ramana and others agree on the quote above?

    I welcome any replies of clarification 🙂

  8. Georg,

    It seems to me that you are after certainty, who or what to believe. This itself is the problem. Certainty doesn’t come with belief. Certainty, which is a mental conception, is all about continuity, to survive. Real vicara questions what this continuity is, how it appears, abides, and comes to an end. It asks if there really is someone that continues, that lives within the confines of our mind. Vicara leads to your own death, the death of the separate one we’ve created. This is something that cannot be explained or experienced within the confines of the written word. It is a total abandonment of it. Ramana was the vivid example of this process. Those who put the model of Advaita up are the ones who continue to crave and who give the gift of continuity and self, not the end of it.

    This is probably not what you want to hear and there are many lovely sounding arguments against it because your first impulse is to grab on to something, some belief to continue with. This is why they create the fear of nihilism, nothingness. All of this is happening in your thought structure. It doesn’t exist. There simply is no one there to be a nihilist or a believer, but it is not possible to conceptualize this, yet we keep trying…………..

  9. Georg, Anon. is playing his own tune – again – and not answering your question, seems to me at least. On the other hand, I think there is a contradiction in your last Q., for, while distinguishing between language of identity and language of experience you say that ‘for the Dayananda lineage “it is enlightenment when the experiencer realizes that he or she is what is being experienced, i.e., the self… not experience of anything.”

    Is the last para. not what responds to ‘direct, immediate experience’, which is unsublatable, as against other experiences? Is that what you wanted to say?

  10. Thank you very much Mr. Anonymous!

    I totally love your reply! It basically settled my need for clarification.

    ps. There is another way I once heard: The spiritual question is then answered when the need for an answer has disappeared.

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