[This Series of posts is based on Shri Yellamraju Srinivasa Rao (YSR)’s Audio Talk in Telugu – An Overview of The Advaita Doctrine – 4/192 .The write up here is a free translation after slight modifications and editing. The Talk was described by a seeker as “Powerful and Compelling.” I do not know if I could achieve that ‘force of persuasion and spirit’ in the translation. Yet I hope the Reader gets at least a flavor of the original if not the whole taste in this English rendition.]
Any philosophical knowledge system comprises three components – The Doctrine (siddhAnta), The Method or the Process (sAdhana) and The Results or the Fruit (siddhi). (‘siddhi‘ is attainment and need not be confused with ‘sAdhya’ which means aim or objective).
The doctrine expounds the subject matter of the teaching. The method or the process is the effort we make to experience what is taught. The result or the fruit is the fructification of our effort, which is the im-mediated direct “experiential understanding” of what was taught.
We begin the study of any subject with an intention to learn and implement, and complete the study with an experiential understanding of the subject. We hope to experience a feeling of satiation at the end of the study. The effort to implement what we learn, sAdhana, therefore, is an important part of any teaching. ‘siddhAnta’ or the teaching is like a recipe, while ‘sAdhana’ is like cooking a dish following the recipe. In fact, the Sanskrit word sAdhana also means cooking! The siddhi or the fruit is the ‘contentment’ we get after eating the dish.
Our expectations are no different in learning Advaita too. What Advaita teaches is about the world. The subject of Advaitic teaching, namely ‘brahman,’ is present everywhere in this world. We hope to be able to realize or ‘experience brahman,’ (brahmAnubhava) as a result of obtaining the Advaitic Knowledge. Advaita, as a matter of fact, unifies the Knowledge of the Self (brahman) and the knowledge of the world by integrating all our experiences into Oneness. Such a convergence is not taught by any of the dualistic philosophies. The Knowledge of the Self is said to be the Supreme vidyA, higher than even the Vedas. The muNDaka Upanishad avers:
द्वे विद्ये वेदितव्ये इति ह स्म यद्ब्रह्मविदो वदन्ति परा चैवापरा च ॥ — 1.1.4, muNDaka Upanishad.
तत्रापरा, ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोऽथर्ववेदः शिक्षा कल्पो व्याकरणं निरुक्तं छन्दो ज्योतिषमिति । अथ परा यया तदक्षरमधिगम्यते ॥ — 1.1.5, muNDaka Upanishad.
[Meaning: There are two kinds of knowledge to be acquired – the higher and the lower”; this is what, as tradition runs, the knowers of the import of the Vedas say.’ – 1.1.4
Of these, the lower comprises the Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda, Atharva-Veda, the science of pronunciation etc., the code of rituals, grammar, etymology, metre and astrology. Then there is the higher (Knowledge) by which is attained the Imperishable. – 1.1.5. Trans: Swami Gambhirananda.]
The Vaidika karmas, though they may yield the comforts of the heaven, are considered inferior to Self-knowledge because, when the ‘merit earned’ through the karma is exhausted, one is forced to be born back into the world to perform mundane actions and experience the associated unhappiness. Living under the inescapable control of the guNa-s in the world is wrought with misery. In fact, even the Trinity of Gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Ishwara) are under the sway of the three guNa-s (sattva, rajas and tamas).
One has to transcend the three guNa-s to be free of sorrow. One will then become like the Maharshi Atri (a – tri, the one who crossed the three) and won Anasuya (an–asUya means free from envy) as the wife. Envy arises in a person, if there is something not available to oneself but is being enjoyed by another. One will be able to conquer envy, if one is free of the guNa-s. S/he will be Atri-like in conquering covetousness. The absence of ‘covetousness’ is an indication of the successful assimilation of the Advaitic Knowledge by which the three guNa-s are surpassed.
The doctrine, the method, and the result are distinct and different from one another in the case of all the worldly knowledge systems, which are subject to the three guNa-s. But the three are non-different from the perspective of Non-dual Self-knowledge. Accustomed to the dualistic way of thinking, a seeker often wonders how to bring the Advaitic Knowledge into practical living experience. The Advaita theory is itself its praxis.
साविद्या या विमुक्तये | — 1.19.41, Vishnu puraNa.
[Meaning: That which liberates is the Knowledge.]
Real Knowledge (vidyA) frees us from the bondage of the world. It will not push us back into samsAra. True Knowledge teaches us about what “IS.” In contrast, nescience (avidyA) speaks about a non-existing thing as though it exists. Sacrificial rituals, religious rites, heaven, hell and so on are fallacious or apparitional (AbhAsa) entities. The Vedas talk about them because of our desire for them. People are in general interested in karmic activities. The Vedas, like a Super Market, contain many commodities catering to the diversified demands of people. For instance, if they desire heaven, the Vedas advise them to perform the JyotiShToma ritual. It is like what Krishna says:
ये यथा मां प्रपद्यन्ते तांस्तथैव भजाम्यहम् । — 4.11, Bhagavad-Gita.
[Meaning: Howsoever men approach Me, so do I reward them.]
So, one gets what one asks for. For those who are interested in action, karma is taught. For those who are interested in devotion, bhakti is taught. Control of the mind is taught to the Yogis. The doctrine, the process and the results are separate in all these teachings.
As the doctrine, the process, and the result are the same in Self-knowledge, getting a clear understanding of the doctrine is in itself the process/practice (sAdhana). If a non-dual seeker looks for a method to achieve the result, it indicates a deficiency in his/her assimilation of the doctrine. Unable to ingest this simple message, people raise many questions.
Knowledge can be grasped and experienced only by the mind. External instruments come into play when that knowledge has to be expressed or exhibited. Take, for example, music. A singer has the entire knowledge of the tunes, notes, embellishments etc. in her mind. She may use the vocal cords or musical instruments to express her knowledge to an audience outside. It is with the mind only the music is enjoyed either by the audience or the musician herself. In fact, a man is his mind. Problems arise in the mind. A solution is also found by thinking in the mind. Contentment of having solved the problem too is experienced in the mind.
We should, therefore, appreciate the fact that the Non-dual doctrine is to be understood by the mind and the process is to be implemented by the mind. The result too is experienced in the mind. Hence, Advaita philosophy is centered on the mind. Other methods that involve the motor organs like action (karma), worship, devotion, rituals and rites, yoga, pilgrimages etc. are not relevant for the actual realization of the Self, as Shankara says in vivekacUDAmaNi (verse 11). People take recourse to all such other techniques when they are unable to fully comprehend Non-duality.
We perceive the objects and the world to be external to us. They are the “knowns.” We do not consider them to be within our mind. We feel that the “knowns” surround us. We continuously make an effort to grasp them, to understand them. We call that effort practice or sAdhana. When it fructifies, we call it accomplishment (siddhi). We normally think that sAdhana and siddhi take place outside us in the external world and not within the mind itself. Science and Art too go by the same concept. We call what is outside as the matter. Mind is the instrument through which matter is known. We consider the mind to be inside. Religion also externalizes almost all its activities – be it mantras, priests, altars of fire, rituals, offertories, worship etc. We see all the external things to be different from one another. Each object is separate and distinct. That is the characteristic of the dualistic world.
As far as Advaita is concerned, the practice (sAdhana) is merely an expansion of the doctrine, provided the doctrine is unambiguously grokked. Practice is just a name we give to that ‘expansion.’ It is actually nothing other than the doctrine itself. After the doctrine is fully imbibed internally, the usually outward going mind turns inward and dissolves back into the Self. That is the experiencing of the Self. It is the result of our practice.
As already said, the aim of an Advaita seeker is to experience brahman, the Supreme Self. Let us drop the word Supreme as AtmA (one’s inner Self) is non-different from the Supreme Self. In other words, we, as the Non-dual seekers wish to attain AtmAnubhava, the experience of the AtmA, whose nature is sat and cit (Existence and Knowledge). Atma is none other than the “I.” “I” is nothing but the ‘spark’ that gives us the feeling of “I am.”
(To Continue … Part – 2/6)