Question about mananā and nididhyāsana


I often apply the śravaṇa-mananā-nididhyāsana approach to the Advaitin teachings I am studying. I understand the role of śravaṇa. But I am unclear on the distinction between mananā and nididhyāsana, the boundaries between them seem hazy, overlapping.

Please help me distinguish between mananā and nididhyāsana. It would be good to take a real-world situation: Say I am studying the māhāvakya, Prajñānam brahma प्रज्ञानम् ब्रह्म “Consciousness is Brahman.” What would mananā entail, and what would nididhyāsana entail?



9 thoughts on “Question about mananā and nididhyāsana

  1. The VivaraNa understanding of this makes it very simple. You listen to the guru explain the scriptures – shravaNa. If you don’t understand something, you ask questions of the guru until you do understand – manana. And that is it, as far as getting j~nAnam is concerned. (Although, of course, you may have to go round that loop a few times!)

    After gaining j~nAnam, you probably still won’t feel much different, even though you now know that you are Brahman. So you read more, listen to more talks, maybe write books or even give talks yourself. After doing this for a while, maybe it all really sinks in and you no longer have any worries, fears, suffering, etc. This process is nididhyAsana.

    Best wishes,

    P.S. I’m sure you knew all this!

    • Thanks, Dennis.

      I’m guessing you don’t agree with:

      Manana is predominately an intellectual and mental process of deeply contemplating, reasoning and understanding the Advaitin teachings through study, analysis and removal of doubts. It operates in the realm of the mind and buddhi (intellect).

      Nididhyasana, on the other hand, is the transcendence of the mental mode and the direct experience or realization of the non-dual Self through intense, unbroken meditation. It is the abidance as Atman/Brahman, beyond the mind and its modes of thought.

      – from the new Claude 3 LLM AI

  2. Neil Dalal’s excellent monograph “Contemplation And Practice In Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta”(available free online) is an investigation of Shankara’s understanding of the nididhyasana contemplation and the ways in which he situates it within the larger system and concerns of early Advaita Vedanta. According to Dalal:

    “Manana consists of reflecting on the Upanishads through forms of logical inquiry, such as inferential reasoning, that are in keeping with the teaching of the Upanishads. It serves to negate doubts about the possibility of non-duality, particularly when there is conflict between what is determined by the Upanishads and by other means of knowledge. Analysis through manana removes doubts and strengthens the teaching of the Upanishads.”

    “Nididhyasana is a specific term interwoven with Advaita’s metaphysics and textual exegesis and has no neat and tidy English translation. It is commonly mistranslated as “meditation”, even though Shankara makes a distinction between nididhyasana and forms of meditation more common in yogic practice. The term “contemplation” is more accurate, but this term loses much in translation, often leading to false assumptions. Nididhyasana is not contemplation in the sense of ruminating over something or problem-solving through a process or mental action incorporating different thoughts, variables, emotions, or deductions. It is closer to the general sense of gazing thoughtfully at something for a long time. Nididhyasana is an advanced part of the study process. It occurs after a student understands the Upanishadic formulation of identifying oneself with non-duality, and has resolved philosophical doubts regarding this unity. It appears to be a process of intentionally remaining in an awareness of non-duality, and maintaining or repeating that knowledge to the exclusion of other thoughts and types of consciousness. This is more technically stated as continuously maintaining a flow of remembered cognitions that hold the content of the great Upanishad sentences (mahavakyani) – namely those sentences that identify one’s self with brahman.”

    “Despite the numerous studies on Advaita Vedanta there is still a surprising amount of ambiguity, and at times confusion, regarding the method and function of Advaita’s nididhyasana. This ambiguity is not limited to contemporary scholars, but was also the source of a number of intra-Advaita debates during Shankara’s time period and among post-Shankara Advaitins. One reason for this ambiguity is the difficulty Advaita faces in articulating a form of contemplation directly contributing to the rise of self-knowledge (atmavidya or brahmavidya) and liberation, while at the same time striving to exclude this contemplation from a discourse of practice.”

  3. Looks like a very worthwhile reference – thank you, Rick! (Maybe we should start calling you Rieck, to avoid confusion? Sorry!)

    I agree – one encounters frequent confusion, regarding the understanding of these terms. Although probably not written by Shankara, Vivekachudamani has very many verses on the topic of nididhyasana. I have a note pointing to verses 254 – 417, although not too certain of the accuracy, especially since the numbering differs slightly from one commentary to the next.

    Best wishes,

  4. P.S. Swami Dayananda and disciples call it ‘Vedantic Meditation’.

    • As you may know, Neil was a student of Swami Dayananda for 3 years and developed a rather close personal relationship with him. He was subsequently asked to teach by Swami D. Several years ago he co-directed the documentary-film, ‘Gurukulam’, shot at Arsha Vidya Gurkulam in Anaikatti. He’s currently an Associate Professor of South Asian Philosophy and Religious Thought at the University of Alberta.

  5. Interesting. I may watch this next weekend – available on Amazon Prime apparently for £3.49. A review concludes: “By the time the film ends, you’ll certainly have the feeling of what it must be like to experience life in this bucolic spiritual retreat. Unfortunately, you’ll also feel like you’ve been there for the full five weeks. “

    • My favorite line in the film is Swami Dayananda’s, spoken in a candid moment of self-knowledge: “People say that I’m a guru and all that…I am just a normal human being- in fact, too normal.”

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