Knowledge and the Fruit of Knowledge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollowing on from the l-o-n-g discussion we had on this topic under the thread ‘akhaNDAkAra vRRitti – The End of Suffering‘, I have written what was intended to be the commentary on kArikA 3.40 in my next book (OM: Waking Dreams… and Reality), which covers the essence of this discussion. I have decided that I will probably simplify this considerably for the book, because it is intended to be an accessible and readable book, rather than an academic one. But, because of its relevance, I am posting the entire section, as first written, below.

You now know all about adhyAropa and apavAda and acknowledge that all of the teaching is only interim, to be used to lead us to the final understanding and then discarded. The corollary to this is that, in principle at least, any teaching could be used for this purpose. If it works, it is valid. So it is hardly surprising that there are other methodologies altogether, which can have the same ultimate purport, e.g. Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Kabbalah etc. (I don’t have any personal knowledge of these other systems but understand that their essential teaching is non-dual.)

As far as Advaita Vedanta is concerned, the finer details of the teaching differed from one teacher or branch to another, both before and after Shankara. And some modern-day proponents tend to adhere to some elements and some to others that are apparently contradictory. None of this matters in the final analysis but does tend to lead to some quite heated discussions on the Internet!

Two of the key aspects where views differ is in regard to what exactly happens in practical terms when Self-knowledge is gained, and what precisely brings it about. Thus, some believe that listening to the guru alone (shravaNa) is the trigger. Maybe we have to ask a few questions at some point – manana – but ultimately, we hear something explained and the veil is lifted, as it were. Others believe that this alone is insufficient, that we have to go away and meditate upon what has been heard – nididhyAsana – so as to assimilate it fully.

(And some think that we have to somehow ‘live’ what we have heard until an ‘enlightening’ experience occurs in a flash of ‘realization’. Hopefully, having read this book, you understand that no experience could remove the ignorance that is the cause of our not appreciating that we are already free!)

There is also another related aspect upon which views differ. Many seekers believe that Self-knowledge brings with it such things as total peace, fearlessness, permanent happiness and so on. Indeed, it is probably not unreasonable to suppose that these are their principal objectives. It is convenient to differentiate between the Self-knowledge itself – j~nAna – and what we might call the benefits of gaining that knowledge. Traditionally, these are called the ‘fruits of knowledge’ – j~nAna phalam.

Another term for someone who has gained Self-knowledge and not yet died (some others believe that true Self-knowledge only occurs with death!) is jIvanmukta. (The abstract noun for ‘liberation while living’ is jIvanmukti.) Some people use the terms j~nAnI, meaning someone who has Self-knowledge, and jIvanmukta interchangeably. And some people differentiate the two, in the sense that a j~nAnI has Self-knowledge but not j~nAna phalam, while the jIvanmukta has both.

Another diversion and further complication is now necessary. This is in respect of the mental preparation which any seeker must undergo if he or she is to be able to take on board all of this teaching. Shankara set down the various elements that are involved in his concept of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti – the ‘fourfold qualifications.’ Very briefly, these are discrimination, dispassion, desire for liberation and the ‘six-fold discipline’. This latter comprises aspects such as control of the mind and senses, patience and trust. The idea is that a mind that is unruly will be unable to listen clearly and examine the material in a neutral manner. It will not be amenable to understanding or to benefiting emotionally from such understanding.

Thus, prior to (or in parallel with) studying Advaita, one has to acquire a degree of mental equanimity by following the practices of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti.

Those who teach that the fruits of knowledge may not immediately accompany Self-knowledge itself, claim that the primary causes for the two are different. They claim that it is shravaNa which brings about Self-knowledge. In order for this to be able to happen at all, the seeker must have followed sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti to some reasonable level. If the attainment is insufficient, then no amount of study will succeed; the mind will constantly be throwing up objections or simply being distracted by other things.

And this ‘school’ teaches that the fruits of knowledge are the result of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti in combination with the knowledge, rather than a result of the knowledge itself. There is thus the possibility (which is considered to be an impossibility by some other schools!) that a seeker might become a j~nAnI but not gain the fruits of knowledge. The argument is that, if a seeker has not done sufficient sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti preparation, he cannot gain either knowledge or fruits; if he is fully qualified from sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti, then he will gain the fruits at the same time as he gains Self-knowledge. (Note that, in keeping with the traditional teaching, it is possible for someone to have gained the qualifications in a previous lifetime!)

If the seeker has a ‘middling’ mental preparation, it is possible to gain Self-knowledge but not the benefits. In this case, such a person will be a j~nAnI but not a jIvanmukta. This analysis is the scheme taught by Swami Dayananda and his disciples, and which I also accept. Swami Paramarthananda says: “We look on (mental equanimity etc) only as a secondary benefit because improving your mind is not the primary aim of Vedanta. The primary aim is telling you that you are not the mind! It is incidental that the mind gets refined, improved.” (Ref. 5)

Subsequent to gaining the knowledge, such a person will then (naturally) continue to assimilate the knowledge and is very likely to talk or write about it (as I am doing), read or listen to further teaching or themselves take up teaching. Such activities constitute what was referred to as nididhyAsana above. By such methods, the fruits of knowledge will eventually come and the j~nAnI will become a jIvanmukta.

In the scriptures, there are many explanations for how the world and jIva-s were created despite the fact that, in reality, there never was any creation. This is because of the need to lead seekers gently towards the ultimate truth rather than alienating them from the outset. And, even after realizing the truth, there still appears to be a world, in the same way that the sun still appears to rise and set.

It is entirely analogous that scriptures should tell us that mokSha brings total happiness, peace of mind and fearlessness. After all, this is a major motivation for bringing people to advaita in the first place. But what changes on realizing the truth is not the appearance but our understanding of what is real and what is mithyA. Just as we now know that the world is only empirically real and cannot harm us, so we now know that feelings of anger, fear, sadness etc are mithyA and do not really affect us. But equally, just as we still perceive duality, so we still have negative feelings unless our sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti disciplines have inured us to these.

The reason for that long diversion is that the final verses of the third chapter of the kArikA-s deals with what has been called here nididhyAsana, although Gaudapada talks about ‘control of the mind’ (manonigrAhA) in the kArikA-s. And the different commentaries give quite different interpretations of what Gaudapada is saying there.

The extremes are represented by the one that I have outlined above, and that given by Hajime Nakamura, who concludes: “In the kArikA-s it is stated that union with Brahman occurs after undergoing religious exercises with minute attention to the above details. Hence it was not thought that final release could be attained through the simple rational knowledge that Brahman is Atman.” (Ref. 36) This is nonsense. For a start, there is no such thing as ‘final release’ or ‘union’ with Brahman – I am always only Brahman; I just don’t know it to begin with. And, as already mentioned, exercises of any kind could never remove Self-ignorance.

Swami Chinmayananda (Ref. 3) provides what might be thought of as an intermediate interpretation, in that he treats what is said as the path to be followed by those (other than Advaitins) who do not follow the path of knowledge (as outlined by Gaudapada).

It is unfortunate that Gaudapada is insufficiently clear when he introduces this topic and thus opens the way for such divergent interpretations. The verse (K3.40) actually follows on from that in which asparsha yoga is mentioned and the second line of K3.39 states that it is difficult for ‘yogins’ to attain and that they are afraid of it because they see fear in what is essentially fearless. Accordingly, it makes sense that he should then go on to explain what they have to do instead; i.e. since they are afraid of Asparsha yoga, they have to resort to control of the mind.

A literal translation, not taking any context or Advaita teaching into account seems to give: Destruction of sorrow, fearlessness and knowledge/ awakening, as well as eternal peace, for all Yogis, are dependent upon control of the mind.

And this is the line taken by most commentators. Raphael, for example, says: “For all these (who do not follow Asparsha) lack of fear, destruction of unhappiness, awakening (of the Self) and eternal peace depend on mental discipline alone.” (Ref. 8)

Such an interpretation is in line with what I have said above in so far as it agrees that peace of mind etc is gained as a result of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. However, although not explicit, it also implies that knowledge alone may bring an end to fear and unhappiness. And, indeed, one could reasonably ask why it is called ‘fruit of knowledge’ if it is actually ‘fruit of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti’! I suggest that the answer to this, as I implied above, is that the fruits come with knowledge, providing that there has been adequate sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti previously. Without the knowledge, no amount of mental discipline will ever convince you that there is no creation and that everything is brahman, including yourself.

But it seems that not everyone agrees with this. According to Michael Comans: “The two sub-commentators, Anandagiri and Anubhutisvarupacharya, confirm what I said earlier when they summarize the discussion by saying that for aspirants of the highest qualification, ‘control of the mind’ (manonirodha) is the result of the immediate knowledge of the non-dual Self; whereas in the case of aspirants of low or average ability, the immediate knowledge of the Self is made to depend upon control of the mind.” (Ref. 13)

It might be thought that Shankara’s commentary would clarify but this, too, has some ambiguity, and this is made worse by the fact that available translations are not brilliant! However, that provided by Manilal Dvivedi is at least intelligible and also shows how it is possible to interpret in the way that Swami Paramarthananda does:

Those who know that the mind as well as the senses are all imaginary, like the snake seen in place of a rope, and not existing apart from Atman or by themselves; those who in fact are thus brahman, experience entire freedom from all fear, and eternal peace. In other words, they experience mokSha, and that not through anyone or by any means, but quite of itself. Whereas those yogins who, being of inferior or middling powers of vision, and being ignorant of the knowledge of the truth of Atman, believe that the mind and the rest are all independent of Atman, and only related to it, can experience the said fearlessness and peace only if they can exercise control over their mind. Not only this but complete destruction of misery also will be one of the results. The ignorant, however, can never experience this, for in their case, misery follows every act of the mind which stands only in some relation to Atman. The being awakened to real knowledge is also dependent on control of the mind; and so also is mokSha, eternal peace.” (Ref. 2)

The key sentence here is the last one, which seems to be saying that even the j~nAnI also has to have disciplined his or her mind before the fruits can be enjoyed. Here is what Shankara actually says:

kiM cha Atmaprabodho api manonigrahAyatta eva |

tathA akShaya api mokShAkhA shAntisteShaM manonigrahAyattaiva ||

Swami Dayananda translates this as follows:

Only after the mind is taken care of is prabodha (awakening, consciousness, knowledge) possible. It is not that prabodha takes place when the mind gets taken care of. prabodha and self-knowledge are not possible without mano nigrahaH (control of the mind, mental discipline). This akShayashAnti (eternal peace) is also called mokSha. It is a svarUpashAnti (essential, own nature peace) which will not come and go. That shAnti is entirely dependent upon viveka and mano nigraha.

Even this is not a clear, uncolored translation however, so I had to solicit an independent and unbiased-by-any-school-of-Advaita translation. Here is the final version:

Moreover, even Self-knowledge is also dependent upon control of the mind. And therefore that eternal peace which is called mokSha is, for them (the Yogis) also dependent upon control of the mind alone.

Although still not absolutely definite, I am happy that this vindicates Swami Paramarthananda’s interpretation which is, after all, in accord with reason as well as scriptures (this being Gaudapada’s defining characteristic, as he pointed out in kArikA 3.23 – “That which is supported by shruti and corroborated by reason, is alone true and not the other.” (Ref. 4) But we have to acknowledge that Gaudapada himself does not make such an explicit statement in the kArikA-s.