Q.508 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 1

Part 1 – Prerequisites for Enlightenment

Q: I’ve been on the direct path (Krishna Menon, Jean Klein, Francis Lucille, Greg Goode, Rupert Spira) for about 3 years now and the journey has been incredible. Recently, while browsing your website, I came across Shankara’s sAdhana chatuShTaya, which, if my understanding is correct, are the prerequisites for self-realization according to Shankara. But I’m confused as to how some of these are prerequisites. I feel like some of them can only be fulfilled once one has realized their true nature, not before.

I can see how viveka and mumukShutva can be considered prerequisites – that is very reasonable. However, if we take vairAgya, or uparati, I cannot fathom how an apparent, separate self can satisfy or practice these requirements. How can it be possible for an apparent, separate self to be indifferent to joy and grief, like and dislike? A separate self is, almost by definition, strongly affected by likes and dislikes, joy and grief. In order to be indifferent to pleasure and pain, joy and grief etc., I feel like one has to have at least tasted the truth a few times and be able to (through something like self-inquiry) ‘walk back’ to and ‘rest’ as one’s true self, and only then be able to successfully practice uparati.

Then why are things like vairAgya considered prerequisites for self-realization, if (in my book) self-realization is a prerequisite for being able to satisfy the vairAgya requirement? How can an apparent separate self prepare or practice something like uparati (one of the shamAdi ShaTka sampatti), without it being completely fake? In my experience, uparati is only possible (and completely effortless) once you have realized the self. So the whole things seems backwards to me.

One explanation is that here Shankara is talking about final Self-realization in which there is no falling back to the old conditioning. But that implies that it is possible to realize the self clearly but, out of conditioning, fall back to the old patterns. (I’m not sure what traditional Advaita’s stance on this is yet). I may have answered my own question but I’d love to hear what you have to say about it!

A: That is actually a very astute question.

The basic point is that enlightenment – Self-knowledge – can only come from the scriptures as explained by a qualified teacher. And you will only be able to listen and attend to such explanations for the requisite length of time, and assimilate them, if you have already acquired sufficient mind and sense control, patience, discriminative ability etc. And one of those requirements is really, really wanting to understand the nature of your self and reality (mumukShutva), and having correspondingly less desire for all the usual material and status desires of the modern world. This last requirement is vairAgya and you do need it to some degree.

Traditional teaching (as per Shankara) says that if you have all these requirements (sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti) to a high degree, then you will find it all very straightforward and easy. If you do not have them at all, then it will prove impossible. (You will not be able to listen, think it all a load of rubbish etc.) If you have them to some medium degree, then you will eventually become enlightened but you will not immediately gain the full benefits of loss of fear, total peace of mind etc. There will still be some mental ‘obstacles’ that need resolution. This is the topic of pratibandha-s and you can read all about them beginning at https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-1-of-6/ (This is a comprehensive analysis from my next book. There are actually 10 or 11 parts.)

I recently had an off-line discussion about the need to get rid of all desires before you could become enlightened and this prompted me to write another sub-section for the book. I posted this at https://www.advaita-vision.org/desire-and-enlightenment/.

The topic actually becomes confused because of the historical, cultural situation with Hinduism. The four ‘life stages’ or Ashrama-s meant that it was an accepted thing for people to become renunciants in the final stage of life, whether or not they had become j~nAnI-s. So this has resulted in some teachers claiming that one HAS to renounce everything in order to become enlightened. Or one HAS to become a saMnyAsI after gaining Self-knowledge. Etc. Reasoning shows that none of these can be so. In fact, given that j~nAnI-s still carry on living after gaining Self-knowledge (because of prArabdha karma), they must logically still have desires. It is just that they are no longer bothered whether or not those desires are satisfied.

Q: Thank you for the explanation; that clarifies a lot. Then I guess one of the main differences between the direct path and the traditional path is the means of enlightenment. In the traditional path it is by listening to a qualified teacher speak about the scriptures and by contemplating them, whereas in the direct path, you take a stand as awareness and test your beliefs and ideas against your experience. It was much more beautifully explained by Greg Goode in your book Back to the Truth but that’s the general idea.

Given the traditional advaita perspective on the method of enlightenment, I guess the sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti as prerequisites makes sense. My source of confusion was that I was looking at them as prerequisites for the direct path, which doesn’t really make sense because the direct path in essence assumes that there are no prerequisites, I think? Francis Lucille says that the most important factor is the love of the truth, which is similar to mumukShutva in a way. I guess I now see what the main issue with the direct path is. Traditional advaita is much more thorough in its explanations and seems to cover all bases. I guess my main quarrel with traditional advaita is that it just isn’t that accessible. The direct path is much more accessible and personally it has yielded a lot of results, but I just know that if I delve into the traditional path more deeply I’ll get answers to certain questions I have.

As per your recommendations in one of your books, I’ve purchased Dayananda’s 9 book Bhagavad Gita course so hopefully that’s a start.

A: You have summed it all up pretty well.

I used effectively to follow Direct Path. I went to several Francis Lucille talks/residentials (twice with Rupert Spira); I emailed a lot with Greg Goode and Ananda Wood; and I read Krishna Menon avidly. But… as I delved more and more into all of this, I realized that it suffered a major and irredeemable shortcoming: experience can never give enlightenment – only knowledge can remove ignorance. And ultimately, the source of the knowledge is the Upanishads, although such an idea is anathema to most Westerners.

Anyway, you will realize all this to be so now, if you work your way through the Swami D course. Those Direct Path guys are excellent for awakening intelligent people to the possibilities but you do need the proven, stepwise methodology to take you all the way.

Unfortunately, Back to the Truth was written quite a long time ago in terms of my own understanding. I am now intending a drastic rewrite, call it something like ‘Teachers of Advaita’, and use another publisher. Meanwhile, the first volume of my book on ‘Confusions in Advaita’ should hopefully appear towards the end of next year (published by Indica Books at Varanasi).

It is a pity that traditional teaching is not more accessible. But, of course, this very fact means that only the most serious seekers actually find their way to one. I think that even a fully qualified teacher (with titikShA) might lose patience if hoards of neo-Advaita seekers turned up to meetings!

Q: You said that experience can never give enlightenment, and only knowledge can remove ignorance. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement.

Afterwards you said that the Upanishads is the source of knowledge. Do you imply by this that there are no other valid sources of knowledge? Or maybe you mean that the Upanishads are the most trusted source of knowledge since they have stood the test of time? But still that doesn’t imply that it isn’t possible for there to be another valid source of knowledge, right? Could you please clarify?

Like you often say on your website, the Advaita Vedanta teaching method is a gradual teaching where the teaching is refined as the student progresses. I have had a very clear glimpse of the truth where I understood experientially that what I am is Awareness, and that awareness is the substance of the world, body and mind, and that there is nothing other than this awareness or outside of Awareness, and that the world has no independent reality, and that everything is merely the ‘modulation’ of Awareness.

There is no doubt in me that this is the truth, I am absolutely certain of it. However, at this very moment, it is more of a memory than my actual experience and I do not feel the inner peace. At this moment I feel separate and limited (out of habit?) and thus I can be disturbed by feelings or events in my life. If this is the case, at what stage am I in the advaita vedanta teaching? Is there a name or stage for someone who has glimpsed the truth but forgets it? What practices would you recommend for someone at this stage? Are there any specific books that talk about this?

A: There are quite a few ‘sources of knowledge’. Indian philosophies in general recognize 6. But shruti is the only source of the knowledge that ‘all there is is Brahman’ and ‘I am Brahman’. Obviously, you start off being highly skeptical of this but, as a qualified teacher gradually explains everything, you realize that this truth is not contradicted by either reason or experience. And you are encouraged to question everything you hear!

Once you realize this and are ‘absolutely certain’ of it, then you can regard yourself as being ‘enlightened’. However, it is perfectly normal for the conviction to wane and not to feel the ‘inner peace’. This is because you did not attain the full benefit of sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti. And, in order to ‘recover’ the situation, you have to practice nididhyAsana by constantly reviewing the teaching via reading, discussion, teaching others etc. Read the series on pratibandha-s to understand this aspect fully. There are 11 parts I seem to recall and they begin at https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-1-of-6/ (they went on a bit longer than I anticipated!).

Discussion will be continued…

10 thoughts on “Q.508 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 1

  1. “Experience can never give enlightenment – only knowledge can remove ignorance. And ultimately, the source of the knowledge is the Upanishads, although such an idea is anathema to most Westerners.”


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  2. (Questioner) ‘Afterwards, you said that the Upanishads are the source of knowledge. Do you imply by this that there are no other valid sources of knowledge? Or…’

    A. The answer is that intuition (intuitive knowledge) and the sastras are the only means of transcendental knowledge — ‘This alone is your Atman, who is the innermost entity of everything (Br.3.4.2)’…That Reality or innermost entity should be observed within (through introspection (intuition). Because by means of the satras alone – by means of removing or sublating all those characteristics or qualities which do not belong to Atman – the essential nature of Atman, the Ultimate Reality, becomes known (taken mostly from SSSS – Satchidanandendra Saraswati).

  3. “…intuition (intuitive knowledge) and the sastras are the only means of transcendental knowledge…”

    The idea that ‘intuition’ (some sort of cognitive je ne sais quoi?) is a separate means of knowledge about Brahman seems not to square with Shankara’s own view that the Upanishads are the only means of knowledge concerning the existence and the nature of Brahman. He says, “The knowledge of reality is only from the Upanishad sentences” and “as for the view that there must be other means of knowledge about Brahman since Brahman is an already existing entity, that is mere fanciful thinking. Like religious duty, Brahman is to be known solely from the scriptures.” (References upon request)

    Shankara does credit the sage authors of the smrtis, like Vyasa, with the ability to perceive supersensible things through intuition (arsa jnana). But to my knowledge he does not extend this ability to include us lesser mortals.

    It’s true that according to Shankara’s Advaita knowledge of Brahman occurs in the (purified) mind, but there is no indication that it occurs by means of intuition. Valid knowledge corresponds to the nature of the object one wishes to know. This happens when the thought form (antahkarana vritti) which occurs in the mind is true to the object being apprehended. In the case of atman, ignorance takes the form of erroneous thought forms and involves superimposition of attributes belonging to the body, mind, senses on the self, and vice versa. Incorrect assertions about the nature of the self must give way to valid assertions derived from the Upanishads.

    Liberation from ignorance occurs when the I-thought, through pramana-based inquiry, with the guidance of a teacher, comes to understand its nature as limitless awareness. The teaching of the Upanishads serve as the means of knowledge through which the I-notion comes to recognize itself as Brahman.

    Finally, instead of a means, Shankara sees intuition as the culmination of knowledge – ‘that knowledge which discerns Brahman and discards nescience terminates in intuition (anubhava-‘vasanam). Shankara thus distinguishes knowledge itself, which is a source or means (pramana), from its end (paryanta, avasana) avagati or anubhava, intuition.

  4. Excellent comment, Rick – I agree entirely.

    It is always useful to quote the source of references, incidentally, so that doubtful readers can check! Personally, I would like the source of your ‘arsa j~nAna’ reference – I haven’t come across this term. Monier-Williams doesn’t recognize the word ‘arsa’; and ‘arsha’ means ‘damage’ or ‘haemorrhoids’, neither of which seems approriate!

    Best wishes,

  5. Hi Dennis,

    In his Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism Swami Harshananda explains the term
    ‘Arsa-jnana’, sometimes transliterated as: Arsa-jnana, Arsa-jJAna, AArsa-jyaana:

    “Arsa-jnana literally means ‘sage-intuition’.

    Epistemology recognizes intuition as a valid source of knowledge. Though normally the mind acquires knowledge through the medium of the organs of perception, it can do so even without them, under certain conditions. Being next to the atman (the soul) and capable of reflecting its glory, mind has infinite potential for knowledge. This potential is unfolded through spiritual disciplines.

    In the case of the ṛṣis or sages, the power of the mind blossoms forth due to learning, austerity and meditation. Through such a mind they can intuit anything they wish to know. Such knowledge, as acquired through the intuition of these sages, is called ‘arsajnana.’

    It is also called ‘pratibha-jnana’ (intuitive knowledge) and is often equated with ‘yogi-pratyakṣa’ (yogic intuition). Knowledge obtained in this way is distinct and vivid, and is free from doubts or illusions. It always agrees with facts.”

    Shankara’s discussion of the smrtis et al. is found at Sutra Bashya 2.1.1-3 and 2.1.11.

  6. Thank you – I’ve now found it in Monier-Williams. I hadn’t tried all possibilities.

    The word is ArSha or ārṣa. The meaning is given as “relating or belonging to or derived from RRiShi-s or ṛṣis-s”. And of course it is significantly encountered in the ‘Arsha Vidya’ organization – silly me!

    The only place that I can find it in my electronic archives is in Vol. 2 of Radhakrishnan’s ‘Indian Philosophy’. He says:

    “The Naiyayika admits the higher validity of ārṣajñāna or the wisdom of the seers.”

    “Four kinds of valid knowledge are admitted, which are perception, (pratyakṣa), inference (laukika), remembrance (smṛti), and intuitive knowledge (ārṣajñāna)… ārṣajñāna is the insight of the seers.”

    He also says that “Śaṃkara admits ārṣajñāna, by which Indra and Vamadeva realized identity with Brahman” and he references Taitt. Up. 1.10. Here, Shankara refers to the ‘vision of the ṛṣi-s’ (āṛṣāṇi darśāni).

    But I see from there that Shankara talks more generally on the topic somewhere in Brihad. Up. 1.4, explaining how ṛṣi-s and devatā-s have got ‘extraordinary body-mind-complexes, which enable them to gain knowledge intuitively’. As regards humans, ‘in some special cases it is possible to gain brahmavidyā without the conventional guru and śāstra, if by chance the have done śravaṇa, manana in the previous janma, but due to some obstacle could not complete the process’.

    So the idea seems to be of value for explaining teachers such as Ramana. But is not of much relevance to the rest of us!

    Best wishes,

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