Knowledge and Enlightenment

Over the past few months, we have had several posts following which there were discussions in which some participants attempted to argue that knowledge was not the direct cause of enlightenment. Alternative suggestions have been that enlightenment comes with nirvikalpa samAdhi or that one has to pursue some course of action, such as asking ‘Who am I?’.

I argued that neither of these were the case; that ONLY Self-knowledge could give enltightenment. This is primarily because ignorance is the cause of saMsAra and knowledge, not action, is opposed to ignorance. And I said that I would endeavor to find quotations from scripture or from Shankara to support this contention (since some participants were not prepared to accept arguments from such as Swami Dayananda).

Below, I have compiled a brief list of some of those quotations and hope these should be adequate to convice readers that the above is the stance of traditional Advaita and it is supported by clear, reasoned argument.

Bhagavad Gita V.15 – 16

Knowledge is enveloped by ignorance. By it (ignorance) people are deluded. But for those in whom this ignorance of the Self is destroyed by knowledge, that knowledge of theirs causes the Supreme to shine like the sun.

Shankara: Discriminative knowledge is enveloped by ignorance. Thereby the ignorant mortal creatures in samsAra are deluded and think “I act, I cause to act, I shall enjoy, I cause to enjoy,” and so on. When the unwisdom by which the mortals are enveloped and deluded is destroyed by wisdom or discriminative knowledge of the Self, then, as the sun illuminated all objects, so wisom illuminates the whole of the Knowable, the Supreme Reality.

upadesha sAhasrI (Shankara) 18.190, 192

The knowledge that one is (really) ever liberated comes from the holy texts and from no other source. And knowledge of the meaning of a text is not possible without first calling to mind the meanings of its (component) words.

 The clearest (form of) authoritative knowledge of the inmost Self arises from such texts as ‘that thou art’ just as it does from ‘thou art the tenth’.

naiShkarmya siddhi (Sureshvara) 3.67

The knowledge of the inmost Self which removes all need for further investigation arises with certainty from the texts like ‘thou art That’. It does not arise from any other means of knowledge.

brahmasUtra Shankara bhAShya 1.1.4

To know brahman is to become brahman. Mundaka Upanishad says: “He who knows brahman becomes brahman.” As brahman is an already existent entity, knowing brahman does not involve an act like a ritualistic act. When avidyA or nescience is destroyed through knowledge of the Self, brahmna manifests itself, just as a rope manifests itself when the illusion of the snake is removed. As brahman is your inner Self, you cannot attain it by any action. It is realized as one’s own Atman when the ignorance is annihilated.

Bhagavad Gita Shankara bhAShya 18.66

Vedantin: Knowledge of the Self is exclusively the cause of the highest good; for, through the removal of the idea of differences, it culminates in the result that is Liberation. The idea of distinction among action, agent and result is ever active with regard to the Self because of ignorance… The dispeller of this ignorance is this Knowledge regarding the Self – in the form ‘I am the Absolute, non-agent, free from action and result; there is none other than myself because when it (knowledge) arises it dispels the idea of difference which is the cause of engagement in action.

 The word ‘however’ above is used for ruling out the other two alternatives. This refutes the other two alternative views by showing that the highest good cannot be attained through mere actions, nor by a combination of knowledge and action. Besides, since Liberation is not a product, therefore it is illogical that it should have action as its means. Indeed an eternal entity cannot be produced by either action or knowledge.

Objection: In that case, even exclusive knowledge is purposeless.

Vedantin: No, since knowledge, being the destroyer of ignorance, culminates in Liberation which is a directly experienced result. The fact that knowledge, which removes the darkness of ignorance, culminates in Liberation as its result is directly perceived in the same way as is the result of the light of a lamp which removes ignorance in the form of snake etc, and darkness from objects such as rope etc. Indeed, the result of light amounts to the mere (awareness of the) rope, free from the wrong notion of snake etc. So is the case with Knowledge.

shvetAshvatara upaniShad 3.8

By knowing Him alone, one goes beyond death. There is no other path to proceed by.

 brahmasUtra Shankara bhAShya 2.1.3

…the knowledge of reality is only from Vedanta sentences.

brahmasUtra Shankara bhAShya 2.1.9

Even in deep sleep and meditative absorption (samAdhi) there is the natural gain of non-distinction, however at the time of waking [from deep sleep and absorption]. there is once again distinction just as before because false knowledge has not been removed.

brahmasUtra Shankara bhAShya 2.1.4

…the knowledge of Reality springs from the Upanishadic texts alone, as is stated in such passages as “One who is not versed in the Vedas cannot reflect on the great Entity” (Tait. Br. II xii 9.7). “I ask you of that infinite being known only from the Upanishads” (Brihad. Up. II ix 26).

taittirIya upaniShad Shankara bhAShya 1.11 2-4

Here, for the sake of distinguishing between knowledge and karma (i.e. scriptural rites and duties) we enter into a consideration of the question as to whether the supreme goal (emancipation) results from karmas alone, or from karmas aided by knowledge, or from karmas and knowledge in combination, or from knowledge aided by karmas, or from knowledge alone…

 …freedom is a permanent entity. That freedom is eternal is surely an admitted fact. It is a matter of common experience that anything produced by action is impermanent. Should liberation be a result of action, it will be transitory; and this is undesirable, since it contradicts the logically justifiable Vedic text: “As in this world the result acquired through action gets exhausted, in the very same way the result acquired through virtue gets exhausted in the other world” (Ch. Up. VIII.i.6).

 (Regarding emancipation generated by karma when associated with knowledge):

 No, for the defect was pointed out (by us) by stating that whatever is produced is impermanent.

Objection: On the authority of scriptural text (e.g. “ He does not return again” Ch. VIII xv 1), emancipation is eternal, though it is produced.

Answer: No, for a scriptural text is only informative. A scriptural passage supplies information of a thing existing as such; it cannot create a thing that does not exist. Anything that is eternal cannot have a beginning, nor can anything be indestructible if it has a beginning – despite a hundred texts (to the contrary).

(Regarding knowledge and karma combined):

No, because karma is known to have a different effect; for karma is seen to result in creation, improvement (purification), transformation, or acquisition. And liberation os opposed to such results as creation etc.

 It (liberation, being identical with brahman) is all-pervasive and non-different from the goers (of the spiritual paths specified in the Vedas). Brahman is omnipresent, because it is the material cause of AkAsa (space) etc, and all conscious souls are non-different from brahman. Hence liberation is not an achievable result.

 Besides, the combination of knowledge and karma is not possible, because of their mutual contradiction. For knowledge – which relates to an entity in which all distinctions of accessories, such as the agent, get merged – is antithetical to karma that has to be accomplished with accessories which are opposed to it (knowledge). Indeed the same thing cannot be visualised as being in reality both possessed of such distinctions as agentship etc, and as devoid of them. Either of the two must of necessity be false, if it is reasonable that falsehood should pertain to duality which is the object of natural ignorance, in accordance with hundreds of Vedic texts such as…

 …Besides, the denunciation of the perception of difference in the sphere of knowledge is to be met with at least a thousand places in the Vedas. Hence there is an opposition between knowledge and karma, and hence also is their combination impossible. This being so, the statement that liberation is brought about by a combination of knowledge and karma is not justifiable.

…the aim of the Vedas is to impart instruction in respect of human goals. That being so, the Vedic texts which are devoted to the communication of knowledge engage themselves in the revelation of knowledge under the belief that since a man has to be liberated from the world, ignorance, which is the cause of the world, must be eradicated through knowledge. Hence there is no contradiction.

bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad Shankara bhAShya 1.4.7

…the shruti uses the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘attainment’ as synonymous. The non-attainment of the Self is but the ignorance of it. Hence the knowledge of the Self is Its attainment.

 The attainment of the Self cannot be, as in the case of things other than It, the obtaining of something not obtained before, for here there is no difference between the person attaining and the object attained. Where the Self has to attain something other than Itself, the Self is the attainer and the non-Self is the object attained. This, not being already attained, is separated by acts such as producing, and is not to be attained by the initiation of a particular action with the help of particular auxiliaries. And the attainment of something new is transitory, being due to desire and action that are themselves the product of a false notion, like the birth of a son etc in a dream.

 But this Self is the very opposite of that. By the very fact of Its being the Self, It is not separated by acts such as producing. But although It is always attained, It is separated by ignorance only. Just as when a mother-of-pearl appears through mistake as a piece of silver, the non-apprehension of the former, although it is being perceived all the while, is merely due to the obstruction of the false impression, and its (subsequent) apprehension is but knowledge, for this is what removes the obstruction of false impression, similarly here also the non-attainment of the Self is merely due to the obstruction of ignorance. Therefore the attainment of It is simply the removal of that obstruction by knowledge; in no other sense is it consistent.

 Hence we shall explain how for the realisation of the Self every other means but knowledge is useless.

mANDUkya upaniShad gauDapAda kArikA Shankara bhAShya 3.39

Even though this is truly the essence of supreme reality and is well-known in the Upanishads and described there as asparsha yoga, as it is free from all kinds of touch in the nature of relationship with objects, still it is difficult to be realised by all Yogins – ‘all Yogins’ means yogins without the knowledge of Vedanta. This yoga can be attained only by those yogins who have made an effort to attain the knowledge that Atma alone is the truth.

muNDaka upaniShad 3.2.9

Indeed that person who knows that limitless brahman becomes brahman itself.

kena upaniShad Shankara bhAShya Introduction

‘In order to know that Reality fully, he must go, with sacrificial faggots inhand, only to a teacher who is versed in the Vedas and is established in brahman’ (Mun. Up I.ii.12). In this way alone, does a man of detachment acquire the competence to hear, meditate on, and realize the knowledge of the indwelling Self, and not otherwise.

bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad Shankara bhAShya Introduction to II.iv

Rites… constitute the domain of ignorance, because they do not lead to the attainment of Self… The son and the rest have been prescribed in the shruti as a means to the attainment of the world of men, of the manes and the gods, not as means to the attainment of the Self…

 They do not also know the contradiction, involving incongruity, between the attainment of knowledge, which obliterates all action with its factors and results, and ignorance together with all its effects… The contradiction rests on the opposite trends of the nature of rites and that of knowledge, which partake respectively of ignorance and illumination… ‘Men are bound by rites and freed by knowledge.’… Therefore the knowledge of brahman leads to the highest goal for man not with, but without the help of any auxiliary means, for otherwise there would be contradiction all round.

20 thoughts on “Knowledge and Enlightenment

  1. Great Quotes.
    Thank you very much Dennis for this excellent compilation.
    Very useful as a good source of reference-material and also for one’s ‘manana.’

    2. IMHO, the core Advaitic teaching that “Self-Knowledge,” removes ignorance was never in doubt or debated in these columns. Self-Knowledge brings in Enlightenment removing the ignorance like a veil removed in front of a (burning) lamp automatically shows the light. It is like the Sun shining as soon as the cloud in front of it moves away. Once the cloud has gone, nothing needs to be done further for the self-luminous Sun to shine.

    In contrast, some Swamis seem to suggest that additional ‘action’ in the form of SCS etc. is required before the Sunlight can appear after the cloud had moved away. Perhaps this was the point contested.

    Secondly, one another aspect I often find a problem with is in the writings of some ‘modern Acharyas.’ They seem to almost equate the learning of ordinary conceptual, time-dependent, memory based acquisitive worldly knowledge storable in one’s personal finite mind (memory is one of the faculties of the ‘mind’) to knowing the Self-Knowledge. IMHO, knowledge (like physics or carpentry or even shAstraic scholarship) is vastly different from Knowledge of the Self. The Knowledge (with upper case K) of the Self is infinite, impersonal, universal, intrinsic (not acquired), non-conceptual, ever-fresh (time-invariant) and Self-effulgent.

    I also note that, unless the author defines clearly his/her usage, the word ‘experience’ causes some confusion in the mind of the reader as to what it exactly implies.


    • Following after Ramesam, in the same way that the terms ‘experience’/’experiencer’ and ‘witness’ may cause confusion as to who is the subject, as well as the duality implied in it (what is experienced, witnessed, etc.), the term ‘knowledge’/knower’ can also be the seat of similar confusion or misunderstanding concerning it’s intended meaning in the scriptures (sastras).

      Ramesam notes that “Knowledge (with upper case K) of the Self is infinite, impersonal, universal, intrinsic (not acquired), non-conceptual, ever-fresh (time-invariant) and Self-effulgent”, all of which are good traditional pointers, but I don’t think that these descriptions completely avoid the possible lack of understanding or confusion concerning what is meant by ‘the knower’, or ‘the witness’. If what follows is straightforward advaitist docrine known by all, I apologize.

      Those descriptions do not solve completely the possible misunderstanding because, the term ‘pramatru’ (knower or cognizer), for one – from the perspective of vyavahara – appears many times in the scriptures. The problem is that, while the Self (Atman) is not a knower per se (or a witness – at times it is called in the shruti ‘the ultímate Witness!), it necessarily underlies all cognitions by a supposed cognizer as their substrate. And it is due to anubhava (Intuition) – which, being rooted in pure consciouness, is identical with it – that all acts of cognition occur (‘anubhava’ it is not to be understood as ‘intellectual’). Another difficulty is that such things as Vedanas (emotions) are also called anubhava in a secondary sense.

      ‘’Anubhava, which is Paramartha (the Absolute Reality) is Itself putting on various parts (acts) of Pramatru, Pramiti in tthe drama of vyavahara”*

      ‘The purport of Katha, 2.1.1 is: “My boy, you are not of the essential nature of a Pramatru; you are verily Paramatman who is devoid of the distinction of Pramatru, Pramana, etc.; you do not have death, you are verily of the essential nature of Immortality.”*

      *‘The Basic Tenets of Shankara Vedanta’, S. Satchidanandendra Saraswati’, translated by D.B. Gangolli.

      • Martin,

        “I don’t think that these descriptions completely avoid the possible lack of understanding or confusion concerning what is meant by ‘the knower’, or ‘the witness’. ”

        You are absolutely right. I am aware that you already know what I am going to say here. But thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify to those who may misunderstand.

        1. What I mentioned to describe “Knowledge” is not a stand-alone definition. All the terms used by me merely point out the stark contrast with reference to ‘knowledge’ with which most of us are familiar. Thus the terms used by me go only to negate any conceptual ‘model’ one may build in his/her mind on what “Knowledge” could imply.

        2. A rigorous analysis on how the Non-dual Oneness appears as the prama, pramAtR, prameya, pramANa is available in three short verses quoted by Shankara at the very end of his commentary on BS 1-1-4. I am quoting three short paras from a write up on this:

        From the first verse: “The fundamental quality or sensitivity because of which we are able to say “I am conscious and I am” is Awareness, or brahman. In the normal day to day transactional world, what we consider to be the knower, the ‘I’, is not the real brahman. It is only an ‘appearance’ or an ‘AbhAsa’, a false concept.”

        From the second verse: “If “I” as the subject am infinite, there is no scope for any other object to exist because the very presence of another thing will set limits to my infiniteness. Even so, I seem to notice an object out there placed at a distance from me. How can this be possible then? The only way it can happen is if the Infinite “I” splits itself into two – the subject part and the object part. Though in substance “I” is one and the same, the subject part ignores this fact and thinks it is “the seer” or “the knower.” Consequently it places the object part as “the seen” or “the known” outside itself. “Ignoring” the fact of oneness of both the subject and object in our perception, results in ‘ignorance.’ Because of the ignorance, we, the subject, tend to reach out to grasp the object which we perceive to be present at a place outside ourselves. It is a double whammy for us. ”

        From the third verse: “In order to have ‘knowledge’ about anything, we have to obviously ‘know’ that thing. In order to know a thing, obviously again, we need some ‘means of knowing’ it. Whenever we gain ‘knowledge,’ it is actually the result of the interplay amongst three actors. …. I, as the limited “knower (pramAta)” cannot but see a world consisting of finite things (prameya) through the sensory organs or mind (pratyksha or anumAna pramANa). … The Knowledge of who truly “I” am, i.e. the Self-Knowledge, is not like any worldly object with defined attributes and finite dimensions. Therefore, it cannot be grasped by our sensory organs. It is also not like our feelings and thoughts so that our mind can understand It. Both the pratyaksha and anumAna pramANa-s work for an embodied person only. Whether it is an object in the world or a conceptual entity, we cognize it mentally as a thought-wave having a definite name and form. But Self-Knwledge is immanent, infinite and without a second. Hence for grokking the Self-Knowledge, such a form of thought wave is not suited. ”

        [For more detailed explanation: Please see the articles, “Process Models and Practice Methods in ‘Advaita — 23 to 25” published at Advaita Academy web site.]


  2. Dennis, thanks for taking the time to pull together these quotes. Very thought-provoking. I would also echo Ramesam’s comments, and note the following verses from Brhadaranyaka Upanishad:

    2.4.5: “. . . The Self, my dear Maitreyi, should be realised – should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. By the realisation of the Self my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.

    Sankaras bhasya: “When these three are combined, then only true realisation of the unity of Brahman is accomplished, not otherwise – by hearing alone”.

    3.5.1: “. . . Knowing this very Self the Brahmanas renounce the desire for sons, for wealth and for the worlds and lead a mendicant’s life . . . Therefore the knower of Brahman, having known all about scholarship, should try to live upon that strength which comes of knowledge; having known all about this strength and scholarship he becomes meditative; having known all about meditativeness and its opposite, he becomes a knower of Brahman.”

    Bhasya: “Therefore the knower of Brahman, having known all about scholarship from the teacher and the srutis – having fully mastered it – should renounce desires. This is the culmination of that scholarship for it comes with the elimination of desires, and is contradictory to them. Since scholarship regarding the Self cannot come without the elimination of desires, therefore the renunciation of these is automatically enjoined by the knowledge of the Self . . . Strength is the total elimination of the vision of objects by Self-knowledge; hence the knower of Brahman should try to live upon that strength. . . . Having known all about this strength and scholarship, he becomes meditative, i.e. a yogin. . . .Because he has reached the goal, there he is a Brahmana, a knower of Brahman, for THEN his status as a knower of Brahman is LITERALLY TRUE.”

    Also note the following, which incidentally are in line with Ramana Maharishi’s self-investigation:

    Brahma-Sutra Bhasya 1.1.4: “Therefore texts like ‘The Atman is to be realised’ etc, though imperative in character, do not lay down any injunction, but are intended to turn the mind of the aspirant from things external, which keep one bound to this relative existence, and direct it inwards.”

    Kathy 1.2.12: The wise man comes to know god through mastering Adhyatma Yoga, and gives up joy and sorrow.
    Bhasya: Adhyatma Yoga means withdrawing the mind from objects and concentrating it on the Self.

    It is clear from the above that Sankara did not intend Knowledge to be equated to scholarship of Vedanta, but rather that it needed to be enquired into, constantly meditated upon (nididhyasana) and put into practice, in order to realise it.

    • Self-knowledge entails the realization that one does not act. There can be nothing to ‘practice’ subsequently because there is no one to ‘do’ it.

  3. One other thought on Self-knowledge – from Mandukyakarika 3.37

    “This atman is beyond all expression by words, beyond all acts of mind; it is all peace, eternal effulgence, free from activity and fear and attainable by concentrated understanding (of the jiva).”

    From Sankara’s commentary:
    “The Atman is denoted by the word Samadhi as it can be realised ONLY by the knowledge arising out of the deepest concentration (on its essence) or, the Atman is denoted by Samadhi because the Jiva CONCENTRATES HIS MIND ON ATMAN.”

    What else is Maharshi’s self investigation (‘who am I?’), other than an instruction to the jiva to turn inward to investigate the source from which it has arisen, and to abide in that source? Note that Sankara does not say concentrate your mind on learning knowledge from the scriptures; at this stage, the scriptural knowledge is taken for granted.

    • Here is what I say on K3.37 in ‘A-U-M; Awakening to Reality’:

      <<< In K3.37, Gaudapada reminds us of the 7th mantra of the Upanishad. The Self, he says, has nothing to do with speech – ‘speech’, here, represents all of the sense organs. Nor does it have anything to do with the organs of mind (thought, intellect, memory, and ego). It is tranquil, unchanging and without fear; the eternal light of consciousness. He also uses the word samAdhi to describe Atman. This refers to the fact that it is as a result of control of the mind, and concentration, that the jIva is able to realize the truth when he hears it from the teacher. It could also be said to ‘bring together’ the knower and the known. This usage is quite different from that of Yoga, in which it is used in the sense of a deep meditation in which the mind becomes very still and awareness of the outside world is attenuated. What is called savikalpa samAdhi is a state in which there is still awareness of a distinction between knower and known; that differentiation has dissolved in nirvikalpa samAdhi. Swami Dayananda says (Ref. 69) that “The difference between this samAdhi and the yoga samAdhi is in yoga there is the fear you may lose it.” >>>

      The key point to note is that the ‘mental concentration’ (or however you want to describe it) is not something you do in order to gain Self-knowledge as a direct result; it is something you do in order to prepare the mind to receive the knowledge given by the teacher.

      Asking ‘Who am I?’ of yourself is never going to provide an answer – you need to ask it of the teacher! You listen to what is said, question it if there is doubt, and reflect upon it, repeat the exercise etc until the knowledge is firm. This is what Shankara said.

  4. Dennis,

    You haven’t really read / responded to the Sankara quotes I put forward, none of which are in the sense of preparing the mind, especially the Brhadaranyaka quotes.

    You have also either misunderstood or are misrepresenting the “who am I?” enquiry. Of course, no answer comes, because you rationally discard the five sheaths, you look at what is constant in the three states, and you focus your attention on the ‘I’-thought, the ego, in all your thoughts and actions – and see how this assumption dominates your life – and see that it is an assumption. So you withdraw your attention from external bodies, and focus it inwardly – as per Katha Up’s adhyatma yoga.

    Anyway, here is Sw Satchidanndendra, from the Method of Vedanta:
    “The aim of the one practising sustained meditation (nididhyasana) is different. He tries to attain the direct vision of reality (here in this very world) by turning his mind away from all else. And there is the difference – as against upasana – that after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done. It is this sustained meditation that is referred to at Katha Upanishad as Adhyatma Yoga [see my quote above from Katha]. In the Gita it is sometimes called Dhyana Yoga. In the Mandukya karikas it is called ‘restraint of the mind’. Its nature is described there in that latter work. Everywhere its result is described in the same way as right metaphysical knowledge, and from this comes immediate liberation.”

  5. Regarding the “Who am I” process of Self-inquiry:

    I admit that my acquaintance with the approach suggested by Ramana is very little. Still I find that there are two gross misrepresentations by some teachers in certain fora about what Ramana recommended. (Venkat may correct me).

    1. It is presented by those critics as if “Who am I” is an invention of Ramana.
    “Who am I?” and “What is this world around?” are the questions with which many of our ancient and highly regarded texts begin the teaching of Advaita. For example, see aparokshAnubhUti, sanat sujAtIyam, Yogavasishta,

    2. It is often projected as if Ramana just asked to dwell on the question “Who am I?” and no more.
    He also said (which many people seem to conveniently forget to mention), that when the seeker is left with no further answers to that question, then Ramana asked the seeker to investigate who was the questioner?


  6. Aparoksha Anubhuti #12
    Koham kadhamidham, jatham ko vai katha asya vidhyathe,
    Upadhaanm kimastheeha vichara soyameedrusa. 12
    The inquiries that needs to be done are,
    Who am I? How was the word created?
    Who is its creator? and with what has it been made?

    The pet peeve of many Acharyas is: “Who am I?” is one dimensional and will not lead to liberation. One has to answer the other two. Obviously, an advanced Ramana Student is not going get to “Who am I” without reflecting about the other two first.
    But then at the same time, there are very few who really know about what Ramana really said (like Venkat) – many of them having studied one booklet on “who am I” build castles of theories and models of their own to go within one self. May be, Acharyas have formed their opinions based on dialogs with such people.
    Venkat, one of these days you should summarize ” what Ramana really said? ‘ based on some original Tamil satsangs.

  7. The discussion seems to be drifting off the point somewhat. The purpose of the post was to show that scriptures and Shankara alike point out that only knowledge can remove the ignorance which prevents realization that ‘I am brahman’; action (practice) of any kind cannot, because action is not opposed to ignorance.

    Venkat, your SatchidAnandendra quote supports this: “…after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done”. And knowledge of the sort given by the ‘tenth man’ arises immediately. Similarly, tat tvam asi gives immediate realization to the prepared mind.

    The division of the ‘knowledge acquiring process’ into shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana is somewhat arbitrary, and the question of whether shravaNa itself is the key or whether the others are necessary is something taken up by Advaitins later than Shankara (vivaraNa vs bhAmatI). But, for traditional Advaitins, nididhyAsana is quite different from upAsanA and dhyAna. The former is not a ‘meditation’ in the usual sense of the word and relates to nirguNa brahman whereas the latter two are object-related concerning saguNa brahman.

    Also ‘Self-enquiry’, as used by a traditional Advaitin, does not mean carrying out an investigation into one’s own mind/experiences by oneself. This is not going to lead anywhere because of the covering of avidyA. Rather it means going to a qualified teacher to find out what is the nature of oneself through the process of shravaNa etc.

    I am just looking into the adhyAtma yoga topic and will post again if I find anything relevant.

  8. According to Shankara, the process for gaining Self-knowledge is the three-fold one of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. vichAra or enquiry/investigation, j~nAna abhyAsa or repeated study, brahma jij~nAsA, j~nAna yoga or adhyAtma yoga – all mean the same thing. adhyAtma yoga just happens to be the phrase used in the kaTha upaniShad; it only means ‘that discipline that is concerned with realization of the Self’.

  9. Vijay, Ramesam

    As you both note, Ramana’s teaching was more wide-ranging and subtler than the caricatured understanding of who am I that is portrayed by some.

    Ulladu Narpadu contains the epitome of the philosophy he espoused and Guru Vachaka Kovai expands broadly around this. Ramana says the ego is the cause of our ignorance, and it is the primary datum that we are aware of, and therefore this is what is to be investigated and understood. He explains in a verse almost paralleling Gaudapada’s “first is projected the jiva, and then the world”:

    “If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Hence] the ego itself is everything. Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything.”

    So how is this primary datum, the ego to be understood? He uses the five sheaths and neti neti. He also emphasizes the 3 states analyses, and points out that dream and waking are essentially the same (as it has both the ego and the world appearance) and that in deep sleep we exist, but without any adjuncts, without any ego or the world. Therefore deep sleep is the most meaningful pointer to understand what we are in essence:
    “Sleep is not ignorance, it is one’s pure state; wakefulness is not knowledge, it is ignorance. There is full [pure] awareness in sleep and total ignorance in waking. Your real nature covers both and extends beyond.”

    So, he recommends developing this intellectual analysis, understanding and conviction of who am I, (or self-investigation to give its proper sense). And he has the greatest respect for the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita as transmitters of this knowledge. But just this intellectual knowledge is not sufficient to eradicate ignorance, because the ego is the one that has this knowledge and ignorance. A simple conceptual knowledge does not cause the dissolution of the ego. I suspect this is why Sankara also emphasized vairagya and renunciation as essential elements (whether you want to call it preparatory or otherwise) for this knowledge to be assimilated.

    Once you’ve done the intellectual self-investigation, then Ramana would say turn you attention away from the mind/body/world, and focus attention on the ‘I’-thought, the sense of being a separate self. Whenever thoughts / feelings / actions arise be (choicelessly) aware of the sense of ego underlying these. As an aside V.S.Iyer, who himself was taught by one of the Sankaracharyas of Sringeri, used to advice along practically similar lines:

    “Analyse yourself, ‘In this thought, am I thinking of the ego?’ Do this every minute of the day and get rid of the false notion of separateness.”

    As this inward-turned awareness develops, you get to Bhagavan’s favourite aphorism: summa iru, just be, or be still. What does this mean? It means abide in this subtle discriminatory awareness of the I-sense, without attending to any second or third person. This of course is no different from Nisargadatta’s “abide in the I am”, or indeed V.S Iyer again:

    “The real secret of jnana yoga is that it is the continuous practice of enquiry whereby you try to eliminate all those ideas and objects which constitute the field of awareness, from awareness itself. That element of awareness which is contained in all ideas is what you should seek. It is the unlimited element, not that which is limited to a particular thought or thing.”

    The Bhagavad Gita says the same in:

    “By means of an extremely courageous intellect (power of discrimination), make the mind motionless little by little; fix the mind firmly in Self (atman) and never think of any other thing.
    Towards whatever thing the unsteady mind wanders, from each thing pull it back, fix it always in the Self and make it firmly abide there.”

    And through this subtle awareness, Bhagavan says the ego will dissolve, because it has no real substance (it is just an assumption, a deep conditioning, akin to Kant’s a priori knowledge); and so ends ignorance, and Knowledge / Consciousness / Existence alone is.

    For me, this is the Ockam’s razor of philosophy: you focus on the first thing that you are aware of – yourself – and investigate its truth. Vedanta articulates the truth, and you use the scientific method to assess its veracity – by closely observing this ego, this snake, to see whether it really exists or whether with close examination yields the rope.

    Vijay, I’m afraid that I am not competent to expound on Bhagavan’s teaching, but if you are interested, I would highly recommend: Lakshmana Sarma’s commentary on Ulladu Narpadu (“Reality in Forty Verses”); Michael James’ translation of Who am I (on his website); and David Godman’s rendering of Guru Vachaka Kovai.

      • I agree – sums up Ramana’s approach very well!

        I would just like to respond again to the point you make: ” But just this intellectual knowledge is not sufficient to eradicate ignorance, because the ego is the one that has this knowledge and ignorance. A simple conceptual knowledge does not cause the dissolution of the ego.”

        Swami Dayananda says that this is the view of those who say such things as “There are two things: theory and practice. By reading how to cook, you do not know how to cook. You have to practice cooking.” But the point that such people miss is that, once knowledge dawns, there effectively ceases to be a knower/doer/enjoyer. Because the knowledge is ‘I am brahman’ and brahman does not act. Therefore, subsequent to this ‘just intellectual knowledge’, there is no longer any scope for ‘practice’.

        And this is also why (we have had this discussion before too!) there remains an effective ego post-realization. It is still there to respond when the person’s name is called, to answer when asked if tea or coffee is desired and so on. The key difference is that it is now known that this ego is merely a function of the subtle body, which will continue uintil prArabdha is exhausted and the body dies. Who I really am is brahman.

        • Dennis
          The debate as I view is between CASE A & CASE B – are they same, different or one leading to another. A new round of discussions may shed more light on this!

          CASE A (Panchadsi Chapter 7)
          In case of a Jnani who has vivek shakti (power of discrimination) to discriminate between
          the two, he uses “I” depending on the situation: When he asks his guru mundane
          questions like “Can ‘I’ go?” he is referring to chidabhasa; when he is explaining
          philosophical terms like “I am asanga” he is referring to Kutastha.

          CASE B (Brihad 4.5.15)
          To the knower of Brahman everything has become Self, then what should one see and through what……………Brihadarnyaka 4.5.15

          The debate is if CASE A is ultimate and nothing more needs be done till prarabdha is exhausted.

          OR, CASE A is only a sakshi avastha and abiding in it will lead to CASE B –Swami Tattvavidananda Saraswati of Dayanand Group states in his Book on “Advaitha Makarandah: “The knower and the known merge into witness and the witness merges into Cidakasa the space like awareness….witness is not Real but only a pointer to the real” “Abiding in I am the witness (the bridge between seeker’s ego and Brahman) will lead you to Reality” Mantra 20.

          • Vijay,

            I have just read through Swami T’s commentary on Advaita Makaranda 20 and it seems like an excellent description to me. (I can’t find the last sentence though!) If you want this to stand as an explanation, I suggest you copy out the entire commentary on this mantra – the bits you have selected do not convey the sense in my view.

            Essentially it seems you are trying to make the realized person somehow switch from empirical to absolute reality and you cannot do this; if you are talking about a person, realized or not, they are in the dualistic world. The best you can do is to acknowledge that the realized person is aware of the difference and relatively detached from the appearance.

  10. Venkat,

    Can I ask you what you think the ego is? Can you describe it in your own words without referring to what ‘others’ have said about it?

  11. Dennis
    I agree with you that it is an excellent piece. I am looking for a PDF so I can post the entire shloka for the group
    My last sentence which you did not find is more like “Thus witness is the bridge between seeker’s ego and the Brahman. Bridge serves only the purpose of crossing over. It is called uplaksana, it helps you to cross over”.
    On page 14,15 it does say ” I am is the witnessing awareness. It is the borderline between Atman the reality and unreal Atman beginning with the ego, intellect, mind, senses, organs of action, body and the world. The sun will reveal itself as you stand by the window. Similarly, when you abide as “I am” the reality will itself. The Reality is not the result of effort”.
    The real question for me personally is “Abiding as I am” IS THIS AN ACTION/EFFORT? What is abiding? – is it thinking about or remembering or being aware of it.
    Also what is beyond Turiya ?
    AM Page 49
    “You are not the person of waking state; you are Turiya, the fourth transcending the three states……………………………………….One word that totally describes turiya is “saksi”. As saksya the witnessed resolves in saksi, the Reality which is one without second remains. It can then be called turyatia. That which transcends even the fourth. It is beyond all description”.
    When does saksya resolve in saksi? Once this happens is the prarabdha over?

    These are my genuine questions.

  12. Vijay,

    On gaining Self-knowledge, it is known that I am brahman and am not a doer or enjoyer. There is nothing to be done. The body/mind continues to play out its prArabdha karma until death. (So outwardly, such a person will not appear essentially different; still doing the sort of things that were done previously etc.)

    “Abiding as ‘I am’” only makes sense (to me) in the context of pratibandhaka-s. And we have had this discussion before, so I am loathe to reintroduce it! To my mind, it means not allowing the mind to ‘carry one away’ temporarily along one of its habitual paths. If the mental preparation prior to gaining Self-knowledge was ‘advanced’, then this is unlikely to happen. If it was insufficient, one would not have taken the knowledge on board in the first place. The problems arise when the preparation was ‘medium’, so that enlightenment occured but ‘steadiness of wisdom’ (sthita prAj~na, jIvanmukti) did not follow. Then, one must repeatedly reinforce the knowledge by reading, listening, teaching etc.

    turIya is not a state; it is the reality, brahman, Consciousness. Not being a state, it is not possible or meaningful to talk of ‘beyond’ turIya. There is nothing beyond turIya because there is ONLY turIya. I would have to disagree with the notion that turIya is described by the word ‘sAkShI’. It is not a meaningful use of the word ‘witness’ if there is no ‘witnessed’. And these are dualistic terms – turIya is non-dual; there is nothing else. Peter wrote an article which addresses Ramana’s use of the turIyatIta term – see

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