‘sAdhana in Advaita’ – 1/6:

[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 स्म यद्ब्रह्मविदो वदन्ति परा चैवापरा — 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)

10 thoughts on “‘sAdhana in Advaita’ – 1/6:

  1. I would like to see the Anglicised pronunciation of the Sanskrit. It is likely most (or, at least, many) readers will have little to no Sanskrit knowledge. However, the sound of Sanskrit can be quite beautiful to many ears and giving the reader the ability to read out the verses can also be of benefit to them. The science of pronunciation can come later.
    The recipe, cooking and satiety metaphor has some murkiness. I would have thought siddhi, being the ‘fruit’ of sadhana, was more the ‘cooked dish’ (being the product of the cooking/sadhana) than the satisfaction gained from eating it. But whatever the case, this metaphor certainly becomes less satisfying (sic) here.

    I seem to have difficulties with ‘siddhi’ anyway, not least because a common understanding of the word siddhi, in my experience, covers the occasional ‘side-effects’ of psychic and other extra-ordinary powers. I say side-effects because these are not supposed to be the aim of sadhana (as you say, “the aim of an Advaita seeker is to experience brahman”) and as to which ‘siddhis’ manifest, there doesn’t seem to be specific practices that bring about specific side-effects.

  2. Hi Sanatan,

    Nice to see you here.

    Hope you have some respite from the unrelenting Fires you people have been facing in Australia!

    Thanks for you Comments.
    You say: “I would like to see the Anglicised pronunciation of the Sanskrit.”

    These days you have many online tools available for this purpose. You just copy-paste the script, and it gives the Romanized version. Here is a link (Scroll down).

    2. The second point you make is about whether ‘siddhi’ is the dish or the satiation that one ‘experiences’ after eating it. If you see the dictionary, the word has a long list of meanings. One has to select the meaning as per the context. So ‘siddhi’ can mean the result of cooking (the dish) or the satiation obtained in experience after eating. Our concern here is the ‘intuitive experience’ of the seeker. Hence, we take the siddhi to mean what ‘final experience’ we get out of the action.

    I am not knowledgeable of the subject, but I believe that there are specific techniques available to develop a specific ‘siddhi’ — like remote viewing, instantaneous travel, communication with the dead etc.

  3. Thanks Ram,

    The one issue with ‘siddhi’ I find most troublesome is what I mentioned about the aim of an Adwaita seeker and the association of someone exhibiting siddhi(s) with Knowledge (Brahmanic Knowledge). As the piece is written this would be an acceptable conclusion to come to. Yet I know from experience that someone exhibiting several siddhis, be well accomplished in numerous Tantric and Yogic practices, have considerable knowledge about these and Advaita Vedanta, yet still be a cruel paedophile and narcissist of extreme guile.
    In short, to associate these personal attributes with the taste of the fruit of sadhana can be incredibly dangerous.

  4. Hi Sanatan,

    You raise a very interesting and highly important issue with respect to the teaching of Non-duality — the fake vs. real Gurus.

    A spiritual seeker, as you know, begins with disciplinary practices that sharpen his/her mind and develop its ability in being focused without vacillating in attention. Mind, after all, is a chip of the all-powerful Consciousness. Therefore, it’s no wonder that such a well-disciplined and controlled mind acquires special powers. An Advaitin is aware of it and is not lured by them. In fact, s/he is desireless at that stage. Hence, it can be easily concluded that a man exhibiting any such powers (siddhi-s) or using them for his aggrandizement has already deviated from the path and has become a “yogabhraShTa” (one who has fallen from the practice of yoga).

    Sage Vasishta observes as follows when asked by Rama in Ch 6: Nirvana about such siddhi-s or powers:

    Rama: “What about special accomplishments like anima, garima etc. and other Yogic Attainemnts (Siddhis)?”

    Vasishta: “There is nothing extraordinary about them. They can be attained through the practice of certain mantras or austerities. One does not need to know the essence of Truth to obtain them. You have to have a desire to get them to start with. A Knower of Truth does not have any such desire. Desirelessness is the special quality of a Jnani.”

    At another place, the Sage says:

    “Yoga is possible with concentration of the mind. In fact an individual sees a world because of his focused mind. Capacity to focus comes out of his past impressions. Hence he sees only such a world that is commensurate with his past impressions. In contrast, if a seeker practices concentration of the mind, he will attain many accomplishments (siddhis) of Yoga. Such an individual will be able to perform many actions that are otherwise impossible for an ordinary person.”

    The Patanjali’s YogasUtra-s too mention about these powers at the sUtra 4.1:

    जन्मौषधिमन्त्रतपःसमाधिजाः सिद्धयः ॥
    Meaning: Psychic and spiritual powers may be inborn, or they may be gained by the use of drugs, or by incantations, or by fervour, or by Meditation.

    But a spiritual aspirant on the Knowledge Path is cautioned not to be lured by these accomplishments.

    We have Nisargadatta Maharaj speaking about them at 3-4 places in the book “I Am That.” Here are a few of his replies.

    At the Dialog # 47:

    “Virtues and powers are mere tokens for children to play with. They are useful in the world, but do not take you out of it. To go beyond, you need alert immobility, quiet attention.”

    At the Dialog # 57:

    “Q: We are told that various Yogic powers arise spontaneously in a man who has realized his own true being. What is your experience in these matters?

    M: Man’s five-fold body (physical etc.) has potential powers beyond our wildest dreams. Not only is the entire universe reflected in man, but also the power to control the universe is waiting to be used by him. The wise man is not anxious to use such powers, except when the situation calls for them. He finds the abilities and skills of the human personality quite adequate for the business of daily living. Some of the powers can be developed by specialized training, but the man who flaunts such powers is still in bondage. The wise man counts nothing as his own. When at some time and place some miracle is attributed to some person, he will not establish any causal link between events and people, nor will he allow any conclusions to be drawn. All happened as it happened because it had to happen everything happens as it does, because the universe is as it is.”

    At the Dialog # 64:

    “Maharaj: You have met many anchorites and ascetics, but a fully realised man conscious of his divinity (swarupa) is hard to find. The saints and Yogis, by immense efforts and sacrifices, acquire many miraculous powers and can do much good in the way of helping people and inspiring faith, yet it does not make them perfect. It is not a way to reality, but merely an enrichment of the false.”

    Hence it is important not to be tempted by such tricks of the so-called spiritual masters and follow the advice given in Mundaka upanishad to find a teacher who is not only adept at the scriptural teaching but who himself is “realized.”

    But in case one mistakenly lands with a fake guru, the seeker should immediately leave him and move on.

  5. Hi Sanatan,

    Good to hear a new voice in these discussions – welcome!

    I must confess that, regarding siddhi-s, I tend to dismiss them as irrelevant to Advaita. I don’t personally believe they exist but any desire for or interest in them should certainly disappear on enlightenment.

    Regarding language, all language is dualistic. We just have to use it carefully! Most of the ‘confusion’ seems to come from teachers/writers translating Sanskrit in a way that tallies with their pre-existing beliefs! It is a bit like the self-fulfilling nature of Internet search engines!

    Best wishes,

  6. Ramesam, et al, greetings!

    I’m late to the party, so I’ll keep this brief. I’m not as knowledgeable as you guys, so what I say might sound naive. (It probably is!)

    As far as experiencing Brahman goes, here’s how I see it:

    You cannot experience Brahman,
    but everything you experience is Brahman.


  7. Hello Rick,

    Welcome Aboard the AV ship.
    It is all about sharing thoughts as co-seekers on the Advaita path.
    Looking forward to your active participation in our discussions.


    Thanks for your comment on experiencing and brahman.
    Perhaps you can even add “It is brahman who experiences brahman!”

    After all, brahman alone is the sentient entity in the town ! 🙂


  8. > Welcome Aboard the AV ship.
    > It is all about sharing thoughts as co-seekers on the Advaita path.
    > Looking forward to your active participation in our discussions.

    Thanks for the kind welcoming, Ramesam! 🙂

    > Perhaps you can even add “It is brahman who experiences brahman!”

    Sweet! 🙂 But in my understanding brahman can neither experience nor be experienced, as ‘it’ is not a subject or object. Whatcha think?

  9. Dear Rick,

    The word “experience” is quite a bit tricky!
    Often times Dennis too raises a question on what the word “experience/experiencing” connotes.
    IMHO, experience does not refer to just objective experience but it also used for intuitive experience when it becomes equivalent to “knowing.”
    You may read the sentence “It is brahman who experiences brahman!” as equivalent to “It is brahman who knows brahman!”

  10. Yes, one way of understanding the term ‘experience’ is that every event one awares, including every subtle mental event, is an experience.

    NB: I like to use ‘aware’ as a verb, because it feels more direct to me than ‘is aware of.’ Hope that’s not confusing!

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