Litmus Tests for Self-realization – 2

Abhinava Vidyateertha (standing in front of his Guru)

Part – 1

There is an embarrassing plenitude of teachers of Non-duality (of different shades) accessible both online and offline mushrooming  these days from all corners of the world. Some even  claim without any qualms that they have realized the Ultimate Truth; or leave enough of hints on their web sites to impress the reader that they are Self-realized. This is undoubtedly a happy situation that we have so many gurus in our midst but one is left a bit bewildered because of what Bhagavad-Gita tells us. In the Chapter VII, the third verse says:

 मनुष्याणां सहस्रेषु कश्चिद्यतति सिद्धये

 यततामपि सिद्धानां कश्चिन्मां वेत्ति तत्त्वतः — Verse 3, Ch VII, Bhagavad-Gita.

Among hundreds of thousands of people, one perchance strives for brahma jnAna (Self-Knowledge); even among those who strive and are perfect, only one perchance really knows me in essence.

What the Gita verse above indicates is that the complete experiential realization of the identity of the individual and brahman is a ‘rarest of the rare’ occurrences.

Further, the ancient scriptures give primacy to the prior attainment of absolute detachment (vairAgya) and declare it to be the sine qua non for Self-realization. Therefore, some of the traditional seekers opine that there is no scope for mokSha unless one takes up the sannyAsa AShrama, relinquishing all worldly interests; on the other hand, a few of the modern lot of Acharyas inform us that renouncing mentally all worldly interests is adequate to attain Self-realization.

It is, of course, true that our scriptures do not hold that “liberation” is exclusively the privilege of the renunciates. Householders and other categories are also eligible to get liberation. However, as the 35th Pontiff of Shringeri said in the 1983 book, “Jagadguru Replies” that the path for a householder is “more arduous,” thus indicating that realization is easier via sannyAsa. It may not be out of place to mention that while “It is also quite easy to fool oneself thinking that they have mentally renounced everything, there are many sannyAsi-s now-a-days who are not pure parivrAjaka-s either, being very involved in politics and such other activities.”

In view of the confusing position above, a spiritual aspirant (sAdhak) sincerely committed to the path of liberation would need clear cut and well-calibrated “litmus tests” for self-appraisal to know that s/he is not deluding himself/herself about having had the intuitive and immediated Self-realization.

Towards that end, the first part of this Series talked about using the parameters of “desire” and “sorrow” as indicators. We shall now discuss another unambiguous marker that can be used for self-appraisal of one’s own realizational experience.

We all know the sense of “fear” which is very commonly experienced.

Fear arises principally under two conditions:

(i) It is mainly felt internally as the fear of losing “my” image;

(ii) It could also be felt when there is a danger of losing “my” life due to an external source (like a wild animal).

Both types of fears are “protective” mechanisms of the sense of separation – ‘me’ as a distinct individual, existing separate from the world out there. The first one works towards the protection and preservation of my “ego” and the second one goes to secure and save my “body-organism.”

We have the shruti telling us:

द्वितीयाद्वै भयं भवति —   I–iv–2,  brihadAranyaka

Meaning: It is from a second entity that fear comes.

If the seeker really had had the immediated experiential understanding of jIva-brahmaikya, the undoubted realization of All-oneness, there is no second entity anywhere as s/he is everything that IS. So such an individual will not experience either type of fear (a sense of losing the image or the body).

The first is easily test-checked.

Watch your own ‘feeling’ and internal bodily sensations when someone praises or insults you. Do you get elated, feel happy if appreciated and crest-fallen and angry if slighted and disrespected? If so, surely there is work to do as it indicates the presence of subtle attachments to one’s ego and body lingering somewhere .

Recently, an author and a teacher on Non-duality left a social network group in a huff simply because s/he was questioned on some of his/her pet definitions. Can we say that s/he “realized” brahman?

I take it as one down and the next test on “fear from wild creatures” will surely expose the truth of more of those self-certified teachers.

I shall illustrate this most efficacious test taking the example from the real life story of a revered Saint who is credited by all as a jIvanmukta. This was an incident that happened on the late evening of 5th Dec 1935 in the life of the 35th Pontiff of Shringeri, Shri Abhinava Vidyateertha. At that time he was still a sAdhak serving his Guru the 34th Pontiff.

“He felt an urge to meditate again. …  … Awareness of the surroundings and the body ceased. Subsequently, the mental chanting of the mantra automatically came to a stop and His focus was just on the form. There were no distracting thoughts of any kind. The meditation was deep, with the form quite clear. When He regained consciousness of the body and opened His eyes, He found no trace of sunlight. The place was, however, illumined by the light of the moon. Stars were visible.

“It was only a few moments later that He realized that there was something on His neck. A big cobra had loosely coiled itself around it. Its upraised hood was near His right shoulder, facing away from Him. He had meditated on Bhujaṅga-bhUShaNa (an epithet of Śiva meaning, “He who has a snake for an  ornament”) and now a snake was on His body as an ornament.

“Taking this as a sign of the Lord’s grace, He felt very happy. He stroked the cobra gently. It seemed to like this and rested its head against His right cheek. After about five minutes, the snake slowly uncoiled itself and went away. He got up and walked down the hill, seeing His way in the light of the moon.

“At the base of the hill, He found His attendant waiting with a lamp. This was unprecedented, for, on earlier occasions, He was followed up the hill without any lamp by the attendant on duty. On His way back, in response to His question, the attendant said that after calling him, the senior Jagadguru had instructed him to wait for His Holiness, with a lamp in hand, at the base of the hill, after two and a half hours. He had been waiting only for some minutes when His Holiness came there. It was obvious to His Holiness that His Guru had accurately foreseen the time that He would be spending on the hill. He also discerned that His second session of meditation, which was totally unplanned, must have lasted for almost an hour.

While He was ready to report the events to His Guru, since, as per the normal practice, He was scheduled to have His Guru’s darśana only the next morning during the latter’s āhnika, He returned to His room. However, in a few moments, He received a message that He had been sent for by His Guru. As the senior Jagadguru was engaged in His evening āhnika, He went to His presence and stood silently after performing namaskāra. On completing a japa, the senior Jagadguru looked at Him with a smile and said, “Today, you have received the very special grace and instruction of Parameśvara. Finally, for a while, you were a bhujaṅga-bhūṣaṇa (one adorned with a serpent). Is it not?” His Holiness reverentially answered, “Yes” and added that all this was the consequence of His Guru’s blessing bestowed on Him before He had left for the hill. As His Guru had just unmistakably revealed that He was quite aware of what had transpired at the hill, He felt that it was unwarranted for Him to report the details. The senior Jagadguru said, “It is getting late for your evening bath. You can go for it now and proceed with your āhnika.” His Holiness prostrated and went straight for His bath.”

[The above story establishes the siddhi-s attained by the 34th Pontiff Shri Candrashekhara Bharati (1892-1954) who is also known as a jIvanmukta. See here.]

Can the teacher claiming Self-realization feel comfortable having a cobra around his neck out in the wilderness?

The next example is an incident that happened to the Swami Ji on the 12th Dec 1935, during his evening meditation.

“He directed His gaze to (the spot) between the brows. Then, without any premeditation, He mentally chanted not just ‘om’ but “oṁ namaḥ śivāya”, as He had done a week earlier on the day He beheld the Lord and received the advice to focus on the formless Supreme Reality. Soon, He beheld a moon-like disc of light between His brows, as had happened a week earlier. His mind became increasingly quiet. The sense of ‘I’ faded away and, effortlessly, nirvikalpa-samādhi ensued. When He opened His eyes, the sun was about to set. Two birds were seated on His shoulders.

“That Brahman is all was as clear to Him as a fruit in one’s palm. A few minutes later, even as His eyes were open, His mind automatically went into nirvikalpa-samādhi once again. He remained in that state for nearly an hour. As He regained awareness of the body and the surroundings, a big monkey bounded up to Him and positioned itself on His lap. After being cuddled for a while by Him, it left. He walked down the hill and found His attendant, who had not accompanied Him up the hill that day, waiting there with a lamp, as had happened a week earlier.

“He had now attained direct realization of Brahman and jīvanmukti (liberation even while living), characterized by firm establishment in Brahman. The Lord’s earlier words to Him, “acireṇa brahmasaṁstho bhaviṣyasi (You shall soon become established in Brahman)” had found complete fulfilment.”

The source for both the stories quoted above are from “The Multifaceted JIvanmukta – His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Abinava VidyatIrtha Mahaswamin,” 2017.

A View of the Jungle Area where the Swami Ji used to go for Meditation

4 thoughts on “Litmus Tests for Self-realization – 2

  1. Dear Ramesam

    For what must be a decade since I first came across your writing, and your subsequent kindness and generosity in conversing with me via email and this blog, pointing me in the direction of books, clarifying / challenging my understanding, I cannot measure how much I have learnt from you.

    With my sincerest appreciation and affection.


  2. Ramesam
    I missed several of your wonderful postings. Luckily, I came across this one! Like all of your pieces this one also points us in the right direction!

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