‘Not Two’ – a Critical Review

On the face of it, this is a well-written and readable book, ideally suited for a new seeker. E.g. the sections on ‘The Illusory Nature of the Separate Self’ and ‘Knowledge Dispels Ignorance’ are excellent.

Unfortunately, should any reader accept everything that is written at its face value, they will come away with some serious confusions. In what follows, I apologize in advance for some of what may seem to be harsh criticisms, but my own perception of these points is heightened as a result of spending the last year writing my own work on ‘confusions’ of precisely this sort.

The author uses the traditional teaching method of adhyāropa-apavāda but it is not made clear when what is being said is only provisional. Also, there are very few references to the source of what is being presented. (And one of those that is provided doesn’t exist!) There are many places where the author writes ‘as Shankara said’ but scarcely a single pointer to where he said it. There are numerous places where I, as an informed reader, need those references before I will even consider what is being said to be credible!

The author did not belong to a saṃpradāya and appears to have been self-taught. Whilst not in itself diminishing the value of his teaching, it does make it even more important to quote the source in order to provide authentic validation.

We can never appreciate/intuit the non-dual nature of reality whilst at the same time maintaining the subject-object outlook that is intrinsic to the working of senses and mind – an outlook that is inherent in the way that this book has been written.

No matter how many times it is repeated (and the author repeats it very many times), enlightenment has nothing to do with ‘experiencing’ Brahman. The truth is NOT available by ‘direct perception’ as claimed. He even says that “we can experience the Self just like we experience the objects we perceive”! And yet the title of the book is “the essence of non-duality”!

Shankara says (brahmasūtra bhāṣya 4.1.13):

“The knower of Brahman has this realization: ‘As opposed to the entity known before as possessed of agentship and experience by its very nature, I am Brahman which is by nature devoid of agentship and experiencership in all three periods of time. Even earlier I was never an agent and experiencer, nor am I so at present, nor shall I be so in future’. From such a point of view alone can liberation be justified.”

In a ‘cart before horse’ fallacy, he says that we “experience Consciousness with our mind and senses”, when it is Consciousness that enables the mind and senses to function in the first place.

The author admits that “one may doubt whether it is possible to experience Pure Consciousness” but states that “Shankara assures us that it is quite possible”. WHERE? He then explains that “When we hear such statements (as tat tvam asi), we experience a feeling of expansiveness. That feeling itself is the experience of Consciousness.” No it isn’t! Feelings relate to body and mind. 

Much later, he claims that the jivanmukta “experiences everything as undifferentiated Consciousness” and “his experience is not dualistic”. He goes on to state that this view is substantiated by Shankara, who “says that not only the scripture, even our own experience proves it”! Where does he say this?? As far as I am aware, Shankara did not even use the word ‘jīvanmukti’ anywhere in his commentaries on prasthāna traya. śataśloki is not a well-known work and its authorship is uncertain.

Rao explicitly claims that “Shankara points out that theoretical Knowledge of the Self obtained in shravaņa will only provide an intellectual understanding of the nature of the Self, but experiential Knowledge of the Self will help us grasp the Self ‘As It Is’ without an iota of doubt.” And he states that this ‘experiential knowledge’ is provided by manana. But, of course, no reference is given for these claims.

Rao’s understanding of manana and nididhyāsana is wrong. The former is not ‘contemplation’ but ‘removal of doubts’ and the latter is not ‘meditation’ as the seeker would be likely to understand it, but ‘consolidation’ of the understanding by whatever means might be appropriate. The author claims that “deep contemplation on the Self is in itself the experience of the Self.

Rao later concedes that our problem is one of Self-ignorance and, as soon as this is removed, we gain Self-knowledge, which is mokṣa. Knowledge has to come from a pramāņa and the only pramāņa for Self-knowledge is shabda which comes from hearing a guru explain the scriptures. Once any doubts have been removed by manana, what remains is doubtless knowledge. There is no reason for ‘doing’ anything subsequently in order to gain some sort of ‘experience’.

Nor can we ‘practice’ Advaita. The sādhana recommended by Shankara is to provide mental preparation prior to shravaņa-manana.

And, regarding ‘merging with Brahman’, Shankara specifically addresses the term in his bhāṣya on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.6):

(Therefore) the statement ‘He is merged in Brahman’ is but a figurative one, meaning the cessation, as a result of knowledge, of the continuous chain of bodies for one who has held an opposite view.

Another apparent misunderstanding, which leads to confusion on the part of the reader, regards the status of the world. it appears that the author mistakenly equates the word ‘mithyā’ with ‘illusory’. This is a common mistake but not one that is acceptable for a teacher and writer who does not want to pass on this confusion to his readers. He actually states that Ishvara is real while jīva and jagat are unreal or illusory. The truth is that all three are mithyA. And he claims erroneously that “the phenomenal world hides brahman from our sight”. (He does later state that the word ‘Ishvara’ is used to refer to brahman and not to a creator – but why introduce such unnecessary confusion?)

On a number of occasions, it was apparent that the author did actually have the correct understanding. E.g. in the section on ‘The Reality that is Consciousness’, he provides a correct description of the concept of mithyA. But having used apavāda to remove the prior explanation, he then reverts to using words such as ‘illusory’ for the rest of the book, thus making confusion increasingly likely. Having explained what ‘mithyA’ actually means, why not then use this word henceforth?

He claims that Advaita is a science, with the knowledge collected by sages (through a “direct experience of reality” over the ages. This is NOT according to Shankara who maintains the stance that the Veda is apauruṣeya. In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4.10), he says: “It is the eternally composed and already existent Vedas that are manifested like a man’s breath – without any thought or effort on his part. Hence, they are authority as regards their meaning, independently of any other means of knowledge.”

The author set out the book in chapters supposedly identifying the six ‘basic principles fundamental to Advaita’, “reusing the terms that Shankara himself used in his commentaries”. The last of these is ‘jīvanmukti-videhamukti’. But these are not terms that Shankara himself used and it is not really one of the ‘basic principles’ at all.

Regarding the fraught topic of the world disappearing on enlightenment, the author says:

When the individual stops perceiving names and forms, the world will stop appearing. ‘yāvattāva dabhyupgamyate’ ‘yathā dŗṣṭam gŗhyate’ – commented Shankara many times.

Not only are no references given to these ‘many times’ but the Sanskrit is not even translated, so most readers (including myself) will be none the wiser as to what the justification might be for this outrageous statement. The dream metaphor which is then given does not adequately explain anything.

And, just to confuse matters further, the author at another point makes the statement that “Even after we know that the world is only notional, we continue to experience it.” And then, just two paragraphs further on: “When ignorance disappears, all appearances (world and individual) will dissolve, without a trace, into Consciousness because they were only imagined to begin with!” One wonders if it is just the reader who is confused!

He later adds that, once the phenomenal world is ‘removed’, “there is nothing anymore that separates the individual from Consciousness. The individual will experience Self as Consciousness. There will no longer be any difference between the individual consciousness and the Absolute Consciousness.

Apart from noting that there never was any difference in reality, my response to this was ‘where will the individual physically BE if the phenomenal world has been removed’??

In the section on ‘Action and Knowledge’, he reiterates the claim about duality ‘disappearing’ and still seeing it would be due to viparyaya or misapprehension. But a few sentences later he says that we must “strive to develop an uninterrupted homogeneous vision that is not distracted by the multiplicity of the phenomenal world”. How could it distract if it has disappeared? One assumes that he meant ‘apparent’ multiplicity but this sloppiness of expression is precisely what leads to confusion.

The lack of references is frustrating and damning. The author makes statements such as “If one has true Self-Knowledge, one should be seeing the One and not the many” and attributing them to Shankara, presumably to give them authenticity. But the lack of any reference means there is a real danger that they are likely to be taken as authentic by the reader when it may simply be the author’s misunderstanding being passed on.

Even when references are given, they do not obviously support the assertions. E.g. at one point it is claimed that “because of its dualistic nature, the mind is often described as being both incapable and capable of realizing the Universal Self”. The scriptural support is then given as Kena Up. 1.6: “That which is not known by the mind but by which the mind is known, know That to be brahman.”  To my understanding, this is explicitly saying that the Self cannot be (objectively) known by the mind!

The practice of pravilāpana is referred to as being something to which Shankara refers but, again, no reference is given so that it is impossible to verify this claim. The idea of knowledge causing the world to ‘melt away’ is, however, quite unbelievable and totally inimical to reason. And Shankara does point out that what is said in scriptures cannot be held to contradict what is available to basic perception.

…the validity of the Vedas lies in revealing what is beyond direct perception… Surely, even a hundred Vedic texts cannot become valid if they assert that fire is cold or non-luminous!” (bhavadgītā bhāṣya 18.66)

An unrelated (but equally incorrect) claim is made in the chapter on ‘Action and Knowledge’, namely that “According to Shankara, the only reason why we fail to grasp the Self… is due to prārabdha karma, the results of our past actions.” And “When prārabdha karma weakens and our practice intensifies, we will attain Self-knowledge.

I really cannot imagine where this comes from. Since prārabdha karma continues after enlightenment, how could it possibly be the cause of non-enlightenment? Shankara explicitly says that prārabdha continues in, e.g. his bhāṣya-s on Chandogya Upanishad 6.14.2 and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 and Brahmasutra 4.1.15. And, in a later paragraph in the section on jīvanmukti, Rao makes it clear that he does understand how Shankara explains prārabdha.

In the chapter on ‘Liberation’, it is clear that Rao does actually understand and accept what Shankara says about it being ‘our very nature’, ‘ever-present’, ‘identity with the Absolute’, and that it is the same as Self-knowledge. So it is not at all clear why such misleading language is used throughout. He says accurately that “Self is already present and does not have to be newly acquired. The moment ignorance is removed, the Self is revealed.” But then, in the very next sentence spoils this by saying that “The moment Self is revealed, Self is experienced.” 

As the book moves into describing videhamukti, it becomes increasingly incredible, speaking of the videhamukta (who, remember now no longer has a body or mind) ‘playing a dual role’: “He can transcend the world as well as being immanent in it.” “His Self transcends all objects and experiences only itself. This is a non-dual experience of the Self.” Yet it “experiences every object and Itself. This is a dualistic experience generated by the Self of its own free will.”  !

The author claims that “I churned the vast ocean of Shankara’s knowledge, extracted the cream of his teachings, and presented them to you in this book. There is no scope for any discord whatsoever, I can say so without any hesitation.” I beg to differ! (With apologies to the translator who, I am sure, did a sterling job!)

28 thoughts on “‘Not Two’ – a Critical Review

  1. Oh Dennis, still taking quotes out of context! 🙂

    The following is not intended to be a defence of YSR, but rather some clarification of your comments.

    You quoted Shankara in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.6):

    “(Therefore) the statement ‘He is merged in Brahman’ is but a figurative one, meaning the cessation, as a result of knowledge, of the continuous chain of bodies for one who has held an opposite view.”

    This is meant in the sense that we are always Brahman, but because of ignorance, we perceive names and forms, and identify with some part of them. So Sankara is saying merged is ‘figurative’ in the sense that ignorance – the perception of differentiated names and forms – ceases. In the subsequent paragraph, he goes on to explain this:

    “liberation, consisting in identity with all, which is the thing that was sought to be explained by the example of the state of profound sleep, has been described.”

    This verse and the following verse further clarifies that this knowledge IS identification with all, disembodied, “no more connected with the body” and therefore utterly desireless. It is not mere intellectual knowledge that has been rationalised through manana / nidhidyasana, but an utter absence of that body-mind identification which is what Sanakara says is ignorance / superimposition.

    In BG 18.50, Sankara further elucidates this point:

    “Only the ERADICATION OF THE SUPERIMPOSITION of name, form, etc which are not the Self, is what has to be undertaken, but NOT the knowledge of the Self that is Consciousness. For it is the Self which is experienced as possessed of the forms of all the various objects that are superimposed through ignorance”.

    [NB: he is not saying that we, in our ignorance think we are the body-mind, and should rather think that we are Brahman. He is saying the body-mind is a superimposition as a result of ignorance, and this is what has to be removed]

    He continues to clarify this point:

    “Therefore what is to be undertaken is ONLY THE ELIMINATION OF THE SUPERIMPOSITION on Brahman through ignorance, but no effort is needed for knowing Brahman, for It is quite self-evident. It is because the intellect is distracted by particular appearances of name and from imagined through ignorance. . .
    Therefore the cessation of the perception of differences in the form of external things is alone the cause of resting in the reality of the Self . . .”

    Towards the end of this comment he says something very interesting:
    “Had knowledge been not self-evident, it could have been sought for like any object of knowledge . . effort is not needed to knowledge but only for the removal of the notion of what is not-Self”

    So by this, he is unambiguous that sruti cannot convey knowledge / jnana, but can only point to the removal of what is not-Self. And that removal has to be accomplished by the seeker him/herself. And what remains IS knowledge.

    This is further underscored in his bhasya to BG18.53 (Rick please also take note):
    BG18.53: “(That person) having discarded egotism, force, pride, desire, anger and superfluous possessions, free from the idea of possession, and serene, is fit to become Brahman”

    Sankara’s bhasya: “pride which follows elation and leads to transgression of righteousmess . . . becoming a mendicant of the Paramarthananda-hamsa class . . . becoming devoid of the idea of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, even with regard to so much as one’s body and life”

    So, Sankara is saying that that absence of ignorance, unity with all, will inevitably be manifest as losing all sense of me, mine, desires and possession. This is not some sruti knowledge that “I am That”, which one ‘knows’. It is an eradication of ignorance, of the ego, of the body-mind identification.

    In BG 18.55, he makes clear that there is no distinction between knowledge and steadfastness in knowledge, which Dennis you have used to imply a distinction between a jnani and a jivanmukta:

    “Opponent: Whenever any Knowledge of something arises in a knower, at that very moment the knower knows that object. Hence, he does not depend on steadfastness in Knowledge which consists in the repetition of the act of knowing. And therefore, it is contradictory to say one knows not through knowledge, but through steadfastness in knowledge which is a repetition of the act of knowing.

    Vedantin: There is no such fault, since the culmination of Knowledge – which (Knowledge) is associated with the causes of its unfoldment and maturity, and which has nothing to contradict it- in the conviction that one’s own Self has been realized is what is referred to by the word nistha (consummation) . . . This steadfastness in Knowledge that is such has been spoken of as the highest, the fourth kind of devotion in relation to the three other devotions viz of the afflicted, etc. (cf. 7.16). THROUGH THAT HIGHEST DEVOTION ONE REALIZES THE LORD IN TRUTH. IMMEDIATELY AFTER THAT THE IDEA OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE LORD AND THE KNOWER OF THE FIELD VANISHES TOTALLY.”

    No concept here of being a jnani but having to complete his course of sadhana to become jivanmukta. You either know – ie are fully disidentified and desireless – or do not know.

    Later in this verse he points out that:
    “And steadfastness in Knowledg consists in being totally absorbed in maintaining a current of thought with regard to the indwelling Self. And that is opposed to coexistence with duties [Venkat: ie actions]”

    Finally we come to your citation of BG18.66 bhasya, which you use to challenge the notion that knowledge causes the world to ‘melt away” – or as Sankara ACTUALLY says elsewhere, dissolve like a salt doll in water

    “…the validity of the Vedas lies in revealing what is beyond direct perception… Surely, even a hundred Vedic texts cannot become valid if they assert that fire is cold or non-luminous!”

    But in this quote Sankara is actually saying that the vedas are there to point out what is beyond direct perception – in this case the mistaken identification of the Self with the aggregate of the body-mind. Which is why he writes at the end of this bhasya, to convey something which is beyond direct perception:

    “Besides in deep sleep, absorption in Brahman, etc, where the current of the mistaken idea of Self-identity with the body etc ceases, evils like agentship, enjoyership, etc are not perceived. Therefore this delusion of mundane existence is surely due to false knowledge; but it is not a reality. Consequently, it is established that it CEASES ABSOLUTELY as a result of full enlightenment.”

    And clearly, just because an ajnani perceives the world, it is no argument to say that a jnani therefore cannot but perceive the world too. Especially given Sankara’s argument about ignorance equating to superimposition of name and form, and knowledge being its removal.

    Best wishes,
    venkat

    • Thanks for your extremely detailed comments, Venkat. I’m afraid I ran out of energy half-way through but I will try to summon the enthusisam to look at them again later. I will warn you now, however, that I have not the slightest intention of embarking on more ‘world disappearing’ discussions. This was dealt with ad nauseam last year. I finished writing that (Vol. 2 ‘Confusions’) section (to my satisfaction) and am not going to revisit it.

      Best wishes,
      Dennis

  2. Dennis,
    Thank you for your review and feedback on the book. It certainly can be improved with better explanations, choice of words, and more citations from the scripture and Shankara’s commentaries. Perhaps it warrants an update, a new Edition, to address some of your concerns. In the meanwhile, however, I would like to share my perspective on some of your observations, especially about the author and the audience that he/book is targeting.

    At the risk of being called defensive… 🙂

    First off, I don’t think it is fair to judge Shri Srinivasa Rao and his proficiency on the subject matter based on one instance, and, that too, an English translation of an original book in Telugu. To really gauge the depth of his knowledge/understanding and validate it against the scripture (pramANa), it is best to study his original works and listen to his talks, rather than judge him by my translation.

    Srinivasa Rao has been tested, verified, and recognized as an expert on Advaita Vedanta in South India and his method of transmitting that knowledge to his students has been widely acknowledged as unique and deeply resonating. Ramesam-ji, Vijay-ji, and some other experts on Advaita who have heard and studied his teaching can vouch for that, I am sure 🙂

    You wrote: “The author did not belong to a sampradaya and appears to have been self-taught.” If by “sampradaya” you mean that he did not belong to any particular order, such as RK mission, Chinmaya, Arsha vidya, etc., yes, he did not associate himself with any mission or order, nor did he want to start one of his own. IMO YSR belonged to the Advaita sampradaya, with a strong leaning towards Shankara Advaita. Since he was an expert in Sanskrit, he researched and studied the original scriptures and commentaries, and dedicated his life to the teaching and practice of Advaita Vedanta.

    Your comment that he was “self-taught” is an interesting one. Isn’t that the responsibility of every one of us to learn and firm up our knowledge through sravana, manana, and nidhidhyasana?

    I agree with your comment about YSR not having enough pointers to the sources.
    We must remember that Srinivasa Rao, in his original book, was talking to an audience comprised mostly of his students (some of who were themselves experts on the topic) who were quite familiar with the concepts, and have developed respect and trust for him and his teaching over several years. They didn’t need any further authentication to prove his credibility.

    With the English version of his book, I was targeting the average reader (not the academic/scholarly one), especially the western one, who is interested in the essence of the teaching, and does not want to be distracted too much with too many scriptural quotes. So, it was a deliberate decision on my part as the translator and a student of YSR to not try to find and document the source for every reference that YSR made to Shankara, since this book was meant to be presented as the essence of the teaching, and not to a “research” paper.

    You wrote “We can never appreciate/intuit the non-dual nature of reality whilst at the same time maintaining the subject-object outlook that is intrinsic to the working of senses and mind” – Silence is most eloquent in expressing Non-duality. But teaching and discussion happen on a relative plane and require a subject and an object provisionally to illustrate a point.

    You wrote “He claims that Advaita is a science, with the knowledge collected by sages (through a “direct experience of reality” over the ages. This is NOT according to Shankara who maintains the stance that the Veda is apauruṣeya.”

    This above comment of yours (and several others) may be correct at the face value, but one has to read/understand/interpret the text based on the larger context and purport of what is being said and the “intent” of the author (lakshyArdha), rather than the literal meaning of a sentence (vAkyArdha).

    YSR is trying to explain that Advaita is not some blind faith, not some religion, but a science (that can be verified and found true), a knowledge acquired by sages in their deepest states of consciousness. He is also not talking about the Vedas in general, which for the most part (karma/upAsana) discuss the unreal stuff that belongs to the relative plane, but about the non-dual declarations in the Upanishads about the Absolute Reality.
    Apourusheya, in my understanding, refers to something that is not a “composition” (which requires mind/intellect), but rather a “revelation”. This is the Truth that the sages envisioned (had a “darshan” of) in deep states of Consciousness. In that sense, those sages could be regarded as “scientists” who discovered the truth and expressed them in the form of the Upanishads, which were later further developed into a Science (with hetu/drishtantam/prakriya-s) by sages like Gaudapada and Shankara.

    I will stop here. There is more that I could comment on, but I will save that for later :-). Venkat-ji has already commented on some of them. Thanks Venkat-ji.
    Warm Regards
    Padma

  3. Hi Padma,

    Thanks for the feedback. I wish that others could be as gracious and reasonable in their response to criticism!

    I accept your point about judging on the basis of one (translated) book. Unfortunately this is all that I, and most potential readers, have to go on. Being realistic, it doesn’t matter if Rao was a brilliant teacher in the flesh if all that we can access is this single book.

    You are probably unaware of the discussions that we have had on-line, which led to my writing the ‘Confusions’ book. But the principle is simple. If seekers read widely, watch random videos on YouTube etc., they will gather conflicting messages and end up being confused about key topics in Advaita. The only way to ensure they are getting a consistent approach is to refer everything back to a single, proven authority and this is why I use accepted bhAShya-s and works of Shankara. Even then, unless you know Sanskrit, there is a clear danger of biased translations.

    The most reliable (but not infallible) method is to be taught in person by someone who follows the traditional approach – ‘unfolding’ the scriptures in the manner passed down for a l-o-n-g time, teacher to disciple; using the stories and metaphors in the manner that has been accepted and proven to work. This is what I understand by shravaNa. Understanding is clarified, and doubts removed, by asking questions of that same teacher. This is manana. This process is totally different from ‘self-taught’, which I understand as reading books and maybe discussing with others, but finding answers for oneself (which stand a very good chance of being wrong answers).

    Being an expert in Sanskrit is also no guarantee of coming to correct understanding. I have several examples in Vol. 1 of ‘Confusions’ where respected teachers have mistranslated a word (so as to match their present understanding) and thereby pass on a serious confusion to the reader.

    I understand your point about not providing lots of references. I do agree that the average reader finds these distracting. But the same general reader also tends to accept that the writer of such books will be accurately representing the teaching. Because it is there ‘in black and white’, it must be true. Modern academic papers reference books that have been written by other academics (or even my own books!) as evidence that what they are saying is correct. And students reading such papers accept them! It is little better than Chinese whispers.

    I suppose that I now have a serious tendency towards pedantry. If a writer makes a fundamental statement about ‘what Advaita teaches’, unless I already know that to be so, I want some clear reference to scripture or Shankara as validation. Otherwise, why should I accept it?

    My point about ”never appreciating the non-dual nature of reality whilst at the same time maintaining the subject-object outlook” was referring to the continual references to ‘experiencing Brahman’ etc. Experience necessarily requires an experiencer and an experienced; and so must be in the realm of duality.

    I actually agree with you regarding the origin of the Vedas. It seems to me the essence must stem from ‘original sages’. But we cannot escape what Shankara said on this. Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t actually matter – it is all mithyA.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  4. Hi Dennis,

    Not meaning to step on Padma’s toes, let me make two points on what you just wrote.

    Firstly:
    “This is what I understand by shravaNa. Understanding is clarified, and doubts removed, by asking questions of that same teacher. This is manana. This process is totally different from ‘self-taught’, which I understand as reading books and maybe discussing with others, but finding answers for oneself (which stand a very good chance of being wrong answers).”

    Your fundamental belief is that becoming a jnani is akin to mastering quantum mechanics. You have a text book, and a teacher that clarifies the text and provides answers to your questions. And the end result is jnana.

    That – I do not believe – is a correct interpretation of what Sankara has written about knowledge being self-evident and cannot be sought in books. The books and teacher only serve as pointer; it is up to the seeker to fundamentally assimilate this, and in so doing, shed body-mind identification. I have provided quotes above from Sankara to this effect.

    Second, you wrote:
    “I suppose that I now have a serious tendency towards pedantry. If a writer makes a fundamental statement about ‘what Advaita teaches’, unless I already know that to be so, I want some clear reference to scripture or Shankara as validation”.

    Actually you do not have a serious tendency towards pendantry. You, like all of us I suppose, pick and choose quotes, take them out of context, and make baseless assertions when a Sankara statement does not suit (e.g. he did not really mean renunciation was necessary, that was just a cultural phenomenon; or he did not really mean dissolve like a salt doll, etc etc).

    A case of pot calling kettle black!

    Best wishes,
    venkat

    PS Which sampradaya were you part of, wherein you received personal instruction?

  5. Hi Venkat,

    I have specifically stated before (not bothering to track down) that I am NOT a sampradAya teacher, indeed have not had person to person teaching from ANY teacher who could claim that. This is precisely why I endeavor to quote from reputable sources for any ‘claim’ I make.

    In a sense, learning Advaita is a bit like learning mathematics. At the absolute basic level, when a child is told that 1 + 1 =2, it doesn’t mean anything. Numbers have to be explained first. The meaning of mathematical symbols have to be explained. And there comes a time when the sudden realization dawns: “Ah! THAT is what it means!” The realization is a sort of akhaNDAkAra vRRitti, even if a much, much simpler form. When Advaita has been sufficiently explained by a qualified teacher, there comes a time when the realization dawns.

    As I said in the review: “Knowledge has to come from a pramāņa and the only pramāņa for Self-knowledge is shabda which comes from hearing a guru explain the scriptures. Once any doubts have been removed by manana, what remains is doubtless knowledge. There is no reason for ‘doing’ anything subsequently in order to gain some sort of ‘experience’.” Could you please explain how you understand otherwise.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  6. Dennis

    Your knowledge is intellectual understanding, like understanding the principles of quantum physics.

    But as Sankara says, this knowledge is self-evident, one has to remove the ignorance, which is the superimposition. This is not a call to understand that sruti says ‘I am not the body-mind’, but to analyse it constantly in everyday actions (‘maintain a steady stream of thought towards Brahman’ or as Ramanamaharshi would say look for the ‘I’-thought every moment that it arises). And in so doing to discard every sense of identification as not this, not this.

    “Only the ERADICATION OF THE SUPERIMPOSITION of name, form, etc which are not the Self, is what has to be undertaken . . . It is because the intellect is distracted by particular appearances of name and from imagined through ignorance. . .
    Therefore the cessation of the perception of differences in the form of external things is alone the cause of resting in the reality of the Self.”

    The knowledge you talk of does not have as inevitable corollaries desirelessness, loss of identity with the body, “becoming devoid of the idea of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, even with regard to so much as one’s body and life” (Sankara).

    “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”

    The knowledge you talk of is clearly a starting point for a seeker, but it is not Sankara’s jnana which is the utter loss of identification with the body-mind, hence his view that there would be no attachment to property or shelter for a jnani. This is why you are totally confused in not appreciating that renunciation is a logical inevitability in Sankara’s jnana.

    You do not seem to read Sankara systemically and holistically to see how the argument fits together as a coherent whole; but rather cherry-pick quotes that work for your / Dayananda’s schema.

    best wishes,
    venkat

  7. Venkat,

    Nothing that you say here changes the facts. The ‘realization’ comes when the truth of what is said ‘clicks’ – and that only happens when the ignorance that was there before has been removed. There are not two different events here! Please quote the reference where Shankara says knowledge is self-evident BUT we have to remove the ignorance.

    Yes, this realization does not necessarily entail the simultaneous desirelessness, loss of identity etc. Hence the 13-part series on pratibandha-s that I posted last year from the book. I gave all the relevant arguments and references there for why further efforts may be needed post-realization.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  8. Dennis there is no post-realisation effort. Desirelessness is the realisation. I have just posted an article to this effect.

    With respect to your question:
    “Please quote the reference where Shankara says knowledge is self-evident BUT we have to remove the ignorance”

    I already have above, but here it is again, from BG18.50:

    “Had knowledge been not self-evident, it could have been sought for like any object of knowledge . . effort is not needed to knowledge but only for the removal of the notion of what is not-Self”

  9. Dennis,

    From the article that I just posted:

    “when the Jiva is freed from ignorance, he attains but unity with all. Therefore, there being no such division among the factors of an action as knowledge and known, whence should particular consciousness arise, or desire manifest itself, in the natural, immutable light of the self?”

    In other words, Sankara ia asking when ignorance is removed, how can any desire manifest itself? This unambiguously does not allow for completion of sadhana post realisation. Realisation IS the removal of superimposition IS the loss of body-mind identification IS the loss of all desire.

    best wishes,
    venkat

  10. Interesting comments and observations.
    Here are a few assorted ‘thoughts’ on the topics of the discussion:

    1. Book-reviewing:
    There is an ancient popular Sanskrit verse about reviewing the book of an author who is supposed to be the parent of the work. It reads:

    कवितारससंभोगं व्याख्याता वेत्ति नो कविः |
    सुतासुरतसंभोगं जामाता वेत्ति नो पिता ||

    (kavitArasa sambhoram vyAkhAtA vetti no kaiH
    sutA surata sambhogam jAmAtA vetti no pitA
    ).

    Meaning: The experiencing the pleasure of a literary work is known (only) to the Reviewer, and not to the author; (after all), the erotic pleasure of enjoying the daughter is known only to the son-in-law and not to the father (who begot her).

    What can a parent do if the son-in-law doesn’t enjoy?! 🙂

    I take Dennis’s unhappiness with a book in a positive spirit. In fact, it’s his blessing!
    He gave a not-complimentary review of Rupert Spira’s first book, I think, around 2009.
    See where he is today. He is the uncrowned king of Non-dual teaching in the West!

    2. $ 80 for “moksha”:
    Great Advaita teachers in ancient or modern times never established organized outfits to impart the Non-dual message. Nor did they charge a student as if it’s a commodity for sale. Badarayana, Audulomi, Bhartuprapanca, Bhartruhari, Gaudapada are some the names that come to mind. J. Krishnamurti, Ramana, Nisargadatta, Atmananda, Y. Srinivasa Rao are some of the modern teachers who have not cultivated shishya-s or successors. Shankara is an exception to have established the four Amnaya maTha-s. His intention was not to monetize, but to make sure that the “Knowledge” Itself gets preserved for posterity and not lost. Shri YSR left no heir or successor for over 30 books he authored on Advaita, literally thousands of YouTube discourses etc. He was not only proficient in Telugu (his mother tongue), but also Sanskrit, Persian, English and other languages.

    But see, in contrast, what is happening today!
    Organized structures are developed by branching off from their Gurus and establishing their own mammoth international missionary-oriented institutions. The big boss is the only one entitled to titles like “pujya.” Others are only also-rans. Claiming descendance from those organizations and attributing their “knowledge” to those pujya (!) gurus, people run teaching shops – called retreats or some such holy names. There are announcements on Advaita Academy for such courses by different groups. The latest one is on “moksha.” One has to register (Limited seats only! Ha Ha) by paying in advance $ 80! Of course, one may argue many of the teachers of those organizations do not always ‘charge’ the student. But surely the organizational heads gain returns in other ‘expectations’ – name, fame, prestige and popularity in addition to a cozy life.

    See, what muNDaka (1.2.12) says who is really a worthy teacher. kaTha goes even a step further. It prohibits approaching any unworthies (1.2.8). The BG (3.29, 18.67 and 4.34) is much more cautious. Unless a student is impelled to know the Truth and by himself approaches, driven by his/her intense yearning to “know,” Non-dual Knowledge should not be revealed to all and sundry. Shankara is very categorical on this aspect when he observes at 18.67, BG: “This is the rule as to how the shAstra should be handed down.”

    3. Desirelessness is Self-knowledge:
    The mantra at 4.4.7, brihadAraNyaka is unambiguous when it says that “When all the desires that dwell in his heart (mind) are gone, then he, having been mortal, becomes immortal, and attains Brahman in this very body.”

    Shankara writes, commenting on the above mantra, “The ‘liberated man identified with all-who corresponds to the snake – although he resides just there like the snake – becomes disembodied, and is no more connected with the body. Because formerly he was embodied and mortal on account of his identification with the body under the influence of his desires and past work; since that has gone, he is now disembodied, and therefore immortal.”

    Shankara comments at 2.2.9, muNDaka that “[When the Self is realized], the knot of the heart is destroyed. The ‘knot’ of the heart is the host of tendencies and impressions of ignorance in the form of desires that hang on to the intellect (vide 2.3.14, kaTha; 4.4.7, brihat).

    BG talks of the importance of desirelessness often in its teaching. It says at, for example, 18.54, that “Becoming Brahman, of serene self, he neither grieves nor desires.” Shankara adds, “Therefore, the words ‘he neither grieves nor desires’ is tantamount to saying that such is the nature of the man who has become Brahman.’

    4. nididhyAsana is a meditation:
    There are diverse meanings and many misconceptions attached to ‘ndidhyAsana.’ Swami Gambhirananda explains in a footnote the meaning of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana in his translation of BSB 1.1.4. It is a process of, putting it in my words, a contemplative meditation so that one stays focused ceaselessly on brahman like an unbroken stream of oil (taila dhAravat).

    5. Code of conduct for a Realized individual:
    Advaita has a clearly spelt out different codes of conduct for one who is still in the stages of seeking and one who has “realized” the Self. Yogavasishta devotes a full chapter on the code of conduct for a seeker. BG spells out in two verses how one should live offering every act of his to brahman (5.8 and 5.9, BG). Gaudapada advises how a ‘realized’ man would conduct himself in his kArikA-s at 2.36 and 2.37. He uses the phrase “चलाचलनिकेतश्च” indicating that he would depend on both the body and the Supreme Self. He will maintain the body with the food and strips of cloth that chance brings to him. He should lead the life of a paramahamsa samnyAsin.

    • Dear Ramesam, I am happy you chimed in with your take on the discussion though the Sanskrit verse of incestuous theme is off-putting.

      I am astonished ( you continue to astonish me!) that you feel the following has any relevance…
      —————————–
      “I take Dennis’s unhappiness with a book in a positive spirit. In fact, it’s his blessing! He gave a not-complimentary review of Rupert Spira’s first book, I think, around 2009.
      See where he is today. He is the uncrowned king of Non-dual teaching in the West!
      —————————-
      I think Dennis writes very well on many topics and here is a snippet of his review of Spira’s book which I agree with, strongly.
      ==============================
      He (Spira) says that: The deep sleep state, which is conceived to last a certain amount of time, seems to come and go. However deep sleep itself is always present.”
      What can this possibly mean? Why the aversion to introducing turIya?

      And I have to disagree with the following statement: “Deep sleep is the experience of Consciousness knowing its own luminous Self.” Deep sleep is total ignorance (and therefore bliss!); I do not know that ‘I am brahman’ in deep sleep. Gaudapada says (I.12): prAj~na (the deep sleeper) does not know himself nor others; he does not know the reality nor the unreality (of the world); he does not know anything. turIya on the other hand is ever the illuminator of everything.
      ==================================
      As I have observed before, “enlightenment” is the easiest thing to mimic and cunning re-packaging of ancient and time worn insights is definitely lucrative.

      Shishya

  11. Dear Ramesam

    It is good to have your intervention on these topics.

    I concur with you on the ‘business’ of advaita; which in itself provides invaluable knowledge about those who would teach. I also saw this moksha course for $80 – it seems a bargain, given the usual Arsha Vidya course is 3 years. I wonder if one gets a jnana certificate for the $80?

    Unfortunately I must point out that our pensive, slow-talking Mr Spira also holds retreats – his ‘online’ retreats cost £75. A premium to Arsha Vidya, but perhaps reflecting his coronation? 🙂

    To Shishya, quoting Dennis, I must come to the defence of Spira. I suggest you reflect on the fact that Sankara speaks extensively about the deep sleep state, comparing it to that of Brahman. So to reiterate what I presume is Dennis’ question:
    “What can this possibly mean? Why the aversion to introducing turIya?”

    It really is a question that one needs to ask of Sankara, since he dwelt on it repeatedly. Only in Mandukya is turiya raised. Nisargadatta provides a clue, when he asks “What was your experience 10 days before you were born?”

    For Sankara / Ramanamaharishi, deep sleep is what we truly are – sat chit ananda, without the experience of any ‘other’. Turiya is therefore a concession to the non-real superimposition that we are, and the rotation of the three states that we experience, to say it is that which illumines all. Gaudapada is saying that ignorance is there in deep sleep, because we awake into multiplicity; but when jnana dawns, the superimposition is eradicated, then what is left but the background screen, that we call deep sleep. Hence Sankara’s ‘dissolution of particular consciousness’.

  12. Venkat,

    You are playing with words here. Self-knowledge is gained from shAstra via a guru. Being pedantic, as Shankara says, it is actually removing the ignorance. Once the ignorance has been removed, the Self ‘shines forth’.

    This is why Brihadaranyka talks about ‘neti,neti’. It is certainly true that, while we are still under the spell of desires, we are unlikley to be able to remove the ignorance. (As you say, the desires, in a sense, ARE the ignorance.) But removing desires (purifying the mind) is the purpose of sAdhana chatuShTAya sampatti, which comes BEFORE shravaNa-manana.

    Providing sufficient SCS has been done, enlightenment follows the shravaNa-manana. Any remaining ‘desires’ etc. are dealt with post-enlightenment.

    I’m not arguing about all this stuff. We have done it before and I have dealt with it in great depth, and many pages, with appropriate support from Shankara, in Vol.1 of ‘Confusions’. I am not attempting to reproduce all of that here.

    But whether you say that ‘Self-knowledge comes from shAstra-guru’ or ‘removal of Self-ignorance comes from shAStra-guru’, it amounts to the same thing. ‘Desires’ are a separate issue and they are misleading you entirely.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  13. Venkat,

    On deep-sleep, I am afraid you are talking a lot of nonsense. Unfortunately I cannot spend all day refuting all of these misconceptions. We really do need someone else to write for this site who doesn’t have all the wrong ideas shared by yourself and Ramesam!

    This is not to say I do not want you both to continue posting of course – just an expression of my frustration! 😉

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  14. No Dennis,

    The guru points out the truth and process of neti, neti. But that intellectual knowledge alone does not necessarily lead to desirelessness, disembodiedness. Hence in BG for example, it talks about maintaining a constant stream of attention on the Self, and to remove it from the not-Self.

    Ramana Maharishi says as much:

    “If you keep to the thought of the Self and intently watch for it, then even that one thought which is used as a focus in concentration will disappear and you will simply BE, ie the true Self with no “I” or ego.”

    Sri Krishna Menon likewise:

    “If Reality is conceived of as beyond all thoughts, and contemplation directed accordingly, words may help to lead one to a stage where all thoughts cease and Reality is experienced.
    As it is not an object of perception, direct contemplation of the ‘I’ is out of the question. Nonetheless, because it is experienced as one’s Being, it is possible to contemplate it indirectly.
    Can it not be contemplated as the residue left after the removal of everything objective from the apparent ‘I’. This contemplative thought itself will automatically come to a standstill in the end, and in that stillness will be shining one’s true nature.”

    And on deep sleep he said:

    “Thou art that”. “Thou”: you are first told you are not the body, senses or mind. “That”: you know you are there in deep sleep, without a body, senses or mind. That which you are in deep sleep is shown to you to be the meaning and goal of “that”. Thus you are made to visualize – not merely to understand – what you really are.

    Best wishes,
    venkat

  15. Dennis

    Then there is Nisargadatta – Sankara would not have hesitated to endorse this as the essence of neti, neti:

    “Truth can be expressed only by the denial of the false – in action. For this you must see the false as false (viveka) and reject it (vairagya). Renunciation of the false is liberating and energizing. It lays open the road to perfection.

    If you seek reality you must set yourself free of all backgrounds, of all cultures, of all patterns of thinking and feeling . . . So, first of all, abandon all self-identification, stop thinking of yourself as such-and-such, so-and-so, this or that. Abandon all self-concern, worry not about your welfare, material or spiritual. Abandon any desire, gross or subtle, stop thinking of achievement of any kind. You are complete here and now, you need absolutely nothing.”

  16. Hi Shishya,

    Nice to see your comments. Thanks.

    From being an appreciative “Guru,” you changed to being a deprecative “Shishya.” We seem to astonish each other! 🙂

    I am surprised you infer “incest” in the Sanskrit verse quoted by me.
    Where is such a relationship spoken there?

    You felt that there is no relevance to my reference to another book-review done by Dennis. I was obviously speaking to the “precursor” quality of his reviews. I have definitely not spoken of the correctness or otherwise of his view. And it is beyond anyone’s doubt that “Dennis writes very well on many topics.” I would also add that the hallmark of his writings is clarity and conciseness. But how is all that relevant here?

    The point I made offers an encouragement to a young upcoming first-time author(ess) and I am astonished that you missed it.

    Coming to the issue of “deep sleep” you raised, let me please tell you that this topic was exhaustively covered at this site years ago. There are both models of “the 3-states of consciousness + turIya” and “3-states only” available in Vedantic literature. After all, any of these “models” are explanatory artifacts, reasonable surmises that serve as tools to discover the Truth by oneself. There is no holier model nor can one swear “that is the only way the Reality is.”

    Needless for me to go into more detail here as the topic is well covered in many articles in these columns.

    Finally, I am happy to end this note with a full agreement with what you wrote in the last two lines of your comment above.

    regards,

    • Ramesam, thanks for replying.
      I was triggered by your mention of Sri Rupert Spira, and before I could put a lid on it, my response escaped.

      No deprecation at all, there is always a baby in the bath water. Besides, I am among the fortunate who have watched all 5 parts of Mithya and Brahman and reserved no less than 2GB disk space for Ramesam, Vemuri.

      Shishya.

  17. Sorry, Venkat. I don’t accept Ramana, Krishna Menon or Nisargadatta as authorities, I’m afraid. There are too many places where confusion can be caused by what is claimed by translators as what they said. It may indeed have been but is almost invariably aimed at a specific questioner within the context of their question and existing understanding.

    I already said that enlightenment does not necessarily mean desirelessness. (‘Disembodiedness’ is of course a total misunderstaning.) The ‘conquering’ of prior habits etc. comes after Self-knowledge through the process of nididhyAsana.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  18. Hi Dennis

    “I already said that enlightenment does not necessarily mean desirelessness”

    In which case we are talking about entirely different Advaitas and Sankaras.

    Best wishes,
    venkat

  19. Little did I realize that my book will be used to draw out and nurse old wounds 🙂

    In the computer industry, where I come from, every product has a Product Validation team and a User Experience team. The purpose of PV is to “break” the product. They write all kinds of scripts to see if the product breaks in extremely rare and corner cases.

    Then there is the User Experience team who test the product with real users to see if users can use the product successfully as it is designed to be used, in spite of glitches here and there.

    Both PV and UX inputs are essential to the success of the product.

    To apply that model to book-reviews, some read a book with a PV-mindset to break it, to find its flaws, whether real or perceived. I say “real or perceived” because, unlike the objective review of a piece of hardware or software, content-review is very subjective, the reader and his/her conditioning influence how he/she reads and comprehends the content.

    Dennis did an excellent PV review of the book and the rest of you gentleman challenged some of his validation scripts and conclusions. All this is good.

    Then there is the “user experience” review of a book, where a reader reads with an open mind, in anticipation of the experience the book provides – joy/sorrow/insights/Aha-moments/etc. In this type of review, the reader reads for the sheer joy of reading, synthesizing inconsistencies, not analyzing, reading between the lines, gleaning the unspoken from the spoken, always focused on the bigger picture in an effort to grasp the spirit of the author and the subject matter.

    “Experts” on the subject matter cannot provide a UX review of a book, since they are too close to the details. They can only see the trees and not the forest.

    So, I am neither surprised, disappointed, or discouraged by Dennis’ “expert” review of my book. I merely acknowledge that there are different interesting perspectives, which in the larger sense are just mind-games in mithya as Dennis himself put it. 🙂

    On a personal note…

    I am a non-dualist at heart and YSR’s depth of knowledge and spontaneous expression of that which cannot be expressed in words has been a great source of joy and inspiration to me in the last couple of decades. I wanted to bring out the great wisdom of YSR (when knowledge matures, it becomes wisdom) from the closet in which it is currently hiding for the rest of the world to enjoy.

    “Not-Two” is a humble attempt in that direction. It is a small lamp, so it does not do full justice to the splendor that is Shri Srinivasa Rao.

    But the Sun does not need a lamp to illumine it.

    I sincerely thank you gentleman for an intellectually stimulating discussion. I learned quite a bit about the hair-splitting differences and nuances in the various interpretations of the scripture.

    I hope, someday, like Shri Srinivasa Rao, I too will stop hiding behind the scripture, step out boldly, and speak spontaneously and confidently from the direct Experience of the Truth that the scripture and the great sages are pointing to.
    Best regards
    Padma

  20. Dennis, as usual, has done a very meticulous job of reviewing this book “Not Two”. I agree with some of his observations but Dennis’s following quote may create a wrong image of YSR (the author) in the minds of readers.
    “The author did not belong to a saṃpradāya and appears to have been self-taught. Whilst not in itself diminishing the value of his teaching, it does make it even more important to quote the source in order to provide authentic validation.”
    I want to clarify that those who have listened to and read YSR’s work on advaita Vedanta over past forty years will never doubt the authenticity of his quotes from Shankara and other scriptures. Each one of his lectures is full of quotes from Shankara & other scriptures that are presented spontaneously ad-lib!
    YSR has never courted publicity and never sought T.V.channels or large gatherings in open places. Thus his teachings remained confined to close circles of devoted listeners. All his teachings thus happen to be in the form of face to face interaction with a small group sitting around him.
    I have personally listened to many of his lectures in Telugu (I am not that well versed in Telugu) and still learnt a lot since most of it is in advaitic Sanskrit. Based on my experience of listening to his Vedanta lectures, I would rate him above many of the Acharyas I have studied under and listened to in numerous retreats from some of the current sampradayas.
    Scripting YSR’s pravCanas (lectures) is a very difficult task and then translating that into English is even more difficult. Padma has done a marvelous job in translating & publishing this book for the benefit of seekers.
    Please go to Advaita Website to learn more about YSR
    http://advaitavedanta.in/advaita_home_english.aspx

  21. Thanks, Vijay. Just to clarify, I wasn’t saying that I had doubts when quotes were given, only that there was a severe shortage of substantiating quotes in the book.

    Also, I expressed the view that YSR DID have correct understanding but that, despite using the adhyAropa-apavAda style, he did not always clearly replace the provisional teaching with the final teaching.

    In particular, a naive reader would be left with several serious misunderstandings on completing the book. This is not to diminish the significant achievement of the translator. It is obviously an impossible task to condense years of teaching into a single short book.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  22. To be free means freedom from the things society considers sacred. That means the competitive attitude towards life, the use of a function to achieve status, position, prestige – all that is looked upon by society as a most valuable and moral thing. One who is against it, who understands it and therefore frees themself from it, from greed, envy and all the rest of it, surely acts not in terms of reaction or resistance but in terms of what is true and right.

    – JK

    The argument that knowledge, realisation does not necessarily mean desirelessness just illustrates the utter confusion generated by Dayananda’s ambitions and his acolytes.

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