‘sAdhana in Advaita’ – 4/6:

[Part – 3]

If the world is the superstructure, like what is seen in a magic show, the Magician is the Knower, the Substratum! A seeker on the Knowledge Path pierces through the multiple layers of the superstructure to discover the base. He finds what is at the core. He knows that the ‘Universal’ has to be present wherever a ‘particular’ manifests. For example, if there is a bubble or foam or spray or a wave, he knows that water is the substance inside them all. Even an eddy can “be,” only if there is water.

The Advaitic seeker, hence, goes behind the apparent form to find the ‘Reality.’ He is aware that the world is merely an appearance of The Supreme Self and that the Universal and the particular exist woven together as the warp and the weft. Therefore, he understands that there is no occasion to be overwhelmed by the ‘appearance.’

The world appears to be scary and troublesome because we transact with the particulars. We look at the objects and relationships, imputing differences to them. Friends are different from family; spouse is different from the kids; and so on. We see the particulars as per the ideas in our mind.

The sum of all engagements and transactions among the different particulars constitutes the samsAra (the world). Freedom from samsAra does not lie in karma, ritual, worship, yoga etc. They are all more of the same – particulars. It is useless to run to forests to escape from the world; nor is it necessary to hide in seclusion. Renunciation which is no more than a change in appearance does not also offer a remedy from samsAra.

The remedy from samsAra lies in true renunciation. It has to happen in the mind. Bhagavad-Gita does not ask for physical renunciation – changing to ocher robes or shaving off the head. It repeatedly teaches:

सर्वकर्माणि मनसा संन्यस्यास्ते सुखं वशी   — 5.13

[Meaning: Renouncing all actions by thought, and Self-controlled, …]

मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि संन्यस्याध्यात्मचेतसा  — 3.30

[Meaning:  Renouncing all action in Me, with your thoughts resting in the Self …]

निश्चयेन योक्तव्यो योगोऽनिर्विण्णचेतसा   — 6.23

[Meaning:  That Yoga must be practiced with determination and without being dejected in the heart.]

चेतसा सर्वकर्माणि मयि संन्यस्य मत्परः   — 18.57

[Meaning:  Mentally resigning all deeds to Me, regarding Me as the Supreme, …]

The Gita tells us again and again that the renunciation has to be at the level of the mind and intellect (buddhi). Just changing the physical appearance or deserting the home does not lead one anywhere. Shankara called the routine renunciations as Ashrama renunciations. Renunciation at the level of the mind is called by him as the Supreme samnyAsa.

यं सर्वकर्मतत्फलपरित्यागलक्षणं परमार्थसंन्यासं संन्यासम् इति प्राहुः—  Shankara’s commentary at 6.2, BG.

[Meaning:  The paramArtha renunciation is that which consists in the abandonment of all action as well as its fruit.]

Hence the true renunciation comprises giving up that which covers the Self. How should we go about it is answered below.

We are habituated to look at all things from the stance of particulars. The mind is the seer of the particulars. The particular that is seen is the matter. As long as our thoughts are particular and specific, the world that is seen will also be particular and specific.  In order to see the world as the Self, we have to change our stance to that of Universal.

The Self appears as the world from the stance of the particular. If we change our vision to the stance of the Universal, the world will appear as the Self. We do not have to specially search for the Universal stance because wherever the particular exists, right there is the Universal.

Wherever we have pots, pans, cups, plates etc. made of clay, there necessarily is ‘clay’. But we pay attention to the form and function. We don’t see the substance clay. That is the crux of the problem. The form and function overshadow the substance. Consequently, we fail to notice the substance.

We do not require any practice or effort to see the pot or the pan or the other forms and the function that goes with each shape. The form is useful for our transaction – we can get water with the pot or heat things in the pan. The substance clay by itself cannot be put to use in the transaction. We have a vested interest in the transaction. Hence, we are unable to give up our attachment to the form. Our spouse, our kids, family, assets, properties, expertise are ‘forms’ similar to the pots and pans. We stay attached to them because of their functional value. All of this is in way of illustration. Let us extend this analysis to that which is actually being talked about.

True relinquishment is to abandon the thought associated with the form. This ‘giving up’ has to happen in the mind. It demands that we have to keep our sight focused only on the Universal (the substrate / substance) and not the form. That is the supreme practice we have to get into.  Instead of mentally abandoning what has to be abandoned, some people desert their house, family and responsibilities and take up renunciation in an Ashram.

One does not need to run away from the house or family nor should we be attached to them. What we have to drop is the ‘particular’ component in them. We should be focused only on the Universal component within them. Know the Universal component, sat and cit, in all. Realize that the Beingness appears as different forms. Then our mind begins to notice the Beingness. One can still see the particulars also once this clear understanding firms up.

If one notices only the particulars without being aware of the Universal, what appears will be the samsAra. samsAra binds us. We will be continuously seeing the forms alone and get entrapped in our dealings with them. We have to learn to notice the Universal. One need not be overanxious or overambitious to do so. It has to be cultivated slowly.

For example, we may consider the Universal to be space-like, spread all over, permeating all. With that understanding, we may practice seeing the stars, the moon, the earth, various countries on the earth as wide spread space. Each and every one of them may be seen as a form of space. We should learn to view in the same way the cities, houses, traffic and even the body. Once we see that all are space-like and are in space, we will obtain the Knowledge of the space. It is called as the “Knowledge of the Substratum.”

We know the Substratum, but we have forgotten It. Remembering It back again is called ‘pratyabhijna’ (recognition). When we start looking at things from the position of pratyabhijna, we see the expansive space being present inside as well as outside. Our thoughts will arise from the stance of the Beingness, the Knowledge of the Substratum (jnAnastithi). The life-force, the body, the mind, the senses etc. will appear to be the reflections in the ‘thoughts’ arising out of the Knowledge of the Substratum. When the particulars are viewed while holding on to the position of Beingness, the particulars will begin to fade out.

For example, the illumination from the lamp is falling on every one of us in this room. We are all effectively immersed in the light of the lamp. What is appearing to us is the light of the lamp everywhere and not the individuals. Likewise, when we look at the spouse, family, children, properties, attachments from the stance of Beingness, all these particulars fade out. We notice Beingness in everyone and everything. It is the way to end the gauNAtmA.

Knowingness illuminates the thoughts and concepts inside. Viewed from the stance of Knowingness, all the thoughts and concepts of a ‘me’ fade out. With that ends the ‘mithyAtmA.’

[mithyAtmA is the sense of ‘me-ness.’ gauNAtmA is the sense of ‘mine-ness.’ These terms predate Shankara. They appear in the shloka-s quoted by Shankara himself at the end of his commentary on 1.1.4, brahmasutrA-s.]

The name given to the ‘dissolution’ of both the mithyAtmA and gauNAtmA is “pravilApana” (melting). [Shankara uses this term, for example, at 1.3.14, kaTha when he writes: एवं पुरुषे आत्मनि सर्वं प्रविलाप्य  नामरूपकर्मत्रयं … meaning “Having thus melted (pravilApya) into the puruSha, the Atman, all the three, i.e. name, form and karma, …]

(To Continue ….  Part – 5/6)

30 thoughts on “‘sAdhana in Advaita’ – 4/6:

  1. Dear Ramesam

    Thanks for this. Along the same lines, I recollect a story about Ramanamaharishi, when someone was asking guidance on whether he should take to sannyasa. Ramana responded along the lines that renunciation was in the mind, and there was no need to leave home. But then this chap became confused, as he heard Ramana speak approvingly of another who had left home. When queried, Ramana responded that the fact that he is asking the question of whether to leave home, means that he is not ready.

    Best wishes,

  2. Venkat, what you refer to appears at the end of Talk 251. The role of prarabdha is what appeals to me most in Sri Ramana’s teaching, as also in verses BG 18.59-61.

    D.: Why did you then leave your home in your youth?
    M.: That is my prarabdha (fate). One’s course of conduct in this life is determined by one’s
    prarabdha. My prarabdha is this way. Your prarabdha is that way.
    D.: Should I not also renounce?
    M.: If that had been your prarabdha, the question would not have arisen.
    D.: I should therefore remain in the world and engage in spiritual practice. Well, can I get
    realisation in this life?
    M.: This has been already answered. You are always the Self. Earnest efforts never fail.
    Success is bound to result.


  3. Thanks Shishya for pointing out that talk. Earlier in it, he says “Samsara is only in your mind . . . Renunciation is non-identification of the Self with the non-self”, which is also the gist of Ramesam’s article.

    The other point to consider is that if one is utterly disinterested in the non-self, then renunciation (both mental and physical) seems to me to be inevitable, unless as you say prarabdha, as was the case with Janaka. Whilst Sankara did clearly mean renunciation in the mind as the highest, he also extolled a jnani’s paarivrajya sannyasa – as exemplified by Yajnavalkya’s intent on leaving his kingdom to Matireyi.

    Ramanamaharishi says as much in Guru Vachaka Kovai:

    829. Since it is impossible to know beforehand the last moment of one’s life, it is best for one who has a firm determination [to put an end to birth and death] to renounce at the very moment he gets disgust for the body and world.

    Sri Muruganar: Since vairagya, the firm determination to put an end to birth and death, is the correct sign of maturity, one should take to renunciation [sannyasa] as soon as a disgust arises in one for the body and world, no matter to which of the four ashramas [modes of life] one may belong at that time. The ascending order of ashramas is applicable only to ordinary seekers and not to those mature aspirants who have intense vairagya.

    830. Just as a fruit falls from the tree when ripe, so an aspirant will certainly renounce his family life like saltless gruel as soon as he becomes fully mature, unless his prarabdha interferes as an obstacle.

    best wishes,

  4. Dear Venkat, I agree with you…
    “The other point to consider is that if one is utterly disinterested in the non-self, then renunciation (both mental and physical) seems to me to be inevitable, unless as you say prarabdha, as was the case with Janaka.”
    I am glad you say “disinterested” (as in impartial) instead of “uninterested” because some minimal degree of engagement with the world is necessary for day to day living; inevitable is just another word for prarabdha. Dennis has belaboured this point often, particularly w.r.f to Maharishi Ramana.

  5. Here is a very interesting interview with Galen Strawson(GS) from Believer(BLVR) magazine. (note: DMR = deep moral responsibility)
    BLVR: Well, maybe there’s one more interesting question left in the debate. If living the fact can be done, with hard work, should it be done? In other words, if someone accepts the conclusion of the basic argument, that DMR is impossible, would you recommend that he try to live according to this belief?

    GS: It might take years of spiritual discipline to get to “living the fact” (though actually one can get quite a way by ordinary secular reflection). But let’s suppose you could achieve it immediately, just by pressing a button. You’re asking, Should you press that button?

    Well, it might be blissful…but I think it might take you out of the range of normal human relations. You wouldn’t mind that consequence once you were there. I’m sure you’d be absolutely clear that it was right to be where you were once you were there. But it might be frightening to contemplate trying to get there, leaving behind all this thick human comforting mess. It might seem bleak from this side, sad, ruling out truly personal relations. I’m not sure it can accommodate romantic love as we ordinarily conceive it. But it would not touch a capacity for compassion, and it would not eliminate reactive attitudes like gratitude, it would just change them deeply from within. It would turn them from moral to aesthetic attitudes. Which, in the end, is all they can properly be.

    BLVR: Really—romantic love is out? I would have thought that love of all kinds remained more or less intact. Why is it necessary to believe in DMR in order to experience romantic love?

    GS: Well, with a philosopher’s caution, I said romantic love as we ordinarily conceive it. That’s because I think the romantic love as we ordinarily conceive it requires the possibility of feeling gratitude, real, freedom-presupposing gratitude, gratitude that has not been deeply changed into a merely aesthetic feeling. That’s what I argued in the last chapter of my book Freedom and Belief, anyway. But I don’t actually think that romantic love, love for a specific individual rather than Christian love, general beneficence, requires the possibility of feeling gratitude. I think it’s the same as it was for Michel de Montaigne and his famous profound friendship with Etienne de la Boétie, who died young. When he was asked why their friendship was as it was, he simply said: “Because it was him, because it was me.” Same with love. This seems to me deep and true.

    Okay, I’ve answered your question, or I’ve tried to answer it. Now you must answer my question. Will you or won’t you press that button?

    BLVR: I think I’d definitely press it, if I had the option of coming back. The one thing I worry about (more than loss of romantic love) is loss of the ability to enjoy sports. That’s the one area of my life where I set all theory aside. When the Red Sox lose, someone’s to blame!

    GS: The way I imagine it you don’t have the option of coming back—but okay, just this once, just for you. But I won’t be expecting you back. And you and the Red Sox will be just fine

  6. Hi Shishya,

    “if someone accepts the conclusion of the basic argument, that DMR is impossible, would you recommend that he try to live according to this belief?’

    I haven’t read Galen (before this article) but isn’t he missing the point, or at best elliptically touching on it? I may not have properly understood him. But isn’t our only deep responsibility to know ourselves, and to see that the ego is not real. And if we can live according to THAT understanding, then only is life lived aesthetically and “morally”. That is actionless action, naiskama karma, wu wei.

    Prior to realisation, we can only live as if we have free will in the present, abandoning the past and future to destiny (which is I guess what Galen is saying wrt no DMR). And consequent to realisation, there is no more free will or destiny, and no time – as there is no ego.

    Is that right?

  7. Dear Venkat,

    I agree with your post above but a few comments.

    Those are the interviewers words (Tamler Sommers), not Galen Strawson’s words.

    He definitely misses the point because after deep and penetrating “acceptance” of DMR, there is nothing more to do…there is no “trying to live according to this belief” because the “acceptance” is the living…to paraphrase Maharishi Ramana: Let the body do what it may, why should you bother?

    Of course, there is the (ego) burnt rope, etc, to take care of bodily sustenance and so on.

    If I have not misunderstood, this is what you mean when you say:

    “But isn’t our only deep responsibility to know ourselves, and to see that the ego is not real.”

    That seeing is the doing, IMHO.


  8. All this is of a piece with the following paragraph from Dennis latest Part 1 on Pratibandhas…also Ramesam’s article on Karma and Advaita.

    —– Ramesam
    … But fortunately or unfortunately, that mass of brain always comes with many appendages and appurtenances. Those can never sit tight!

    Secondly, a man in the world, can’t but act, as though mounted on a machine, in spite of himself (18.61, BG). So even a jIvanmukta will continue to act – but for the benefit of the world.

    When I gain enlightenment, nothing actually changes from an empirical, physical perspective. I am still verifiably present in the world, outwardly functioning as a normal human being. I do not suddenly don a suit of armour that henceforth protects me from all of the physical and mental vicissitudes of life. Nor does the body drop dead instantly leaving me to float away to ‘attain’ or ‘merge with’ Brahman or expand to fill the universe. Nor does the world disappear. There is no outward change at all.

    The change is at the cognitive level. I now know that this entire world, including my own body-mind, is mithyA, being none other than Brahman at the substantive level. I know that ‘I’ am really Brahman, that none of these pleasures and pains of life can affect who-I-really-am. It is this knowledge that ‘protects’ me or ‘insulates’ me from them.

  9. Dear Venkat and Shishya,

    I have been following your Convo with interest.
    When Shishya referred to ‘prArabdha’ in his very first comment (Jan 18), I was tempted to intervene. But then I held back myself awaiting the article by Dennis.

    Dennis’s article is out, but he asks us not to comment till the end of the Series. So I do not like to get into a discussion here on what he wrote about ‘prArabdha,’ but can’t help mentioning that it’s a disappointment.

    Coming to Shishya’s observations, I am unable to link BG 18.59-61 to ‘prArabdha.’

    Understanding the concept of ‘prArabdha’ in Advaita is pretty tricky. Unfortunately it is used, overused and stretched so much that many followers of Advaita naively take it to be a fact of Advaita sidhAnta.

    Reference to ‘prArabdha’ implies invoking “the carryover effects of actions done in a past life.”
    Invoking “the carryover effects of actions done in a past life” in turn implies “acceptance of rebirth.”
    “Acceptance of rebirth” means acceptance of ‘birth.”
    Does that not violate the very basic contribution of Advaitic thought that “No individual is ever born and there is no reason for any one to be born (GK 3.48; 4.71)?

    Moreover, Shankara himself was very vociferous in his declaration about creation at 2.1.33, BSB: लोकवत्तु लीलाकैवल्यम् ॥
    He comments towards the end:
    न चेयं परमार्थविषया सृष्टिश्रुतिः ; अविद्याकल्पितनामरूपव्यवहारगोचरत्वात् , ब्रह्मात्मभावप्रतिपादनपरत्वाच्च — इत्येतदपि नैव विस्मर्तव्यम् ॥
    Meaning: “The Vedic statement of creation does not relate to any reality, for it must not be forgotten that such a text is valid within the range of activities concerned with name and form called up by ignorance, and it is meant for propounding the fact that everything has brahman as its Self.” [Trans: Swami Gambhirananda.]

    A jnAni or jIvanmukta is one who has “realized the Self.” [The meaning given to the two words jnAni and jIvanmukta has been discussed in these columns several times and it differs from the views expressed by Dennis.]
    We have to be careful in the application of the concept of prArabdha when we talk with reference to a jnAni.

    The concept is useful to explain the body which formerly hosted a seeker and now does not have anyone claiming ownership to it. prArabdha is not applicable to the jnAni.

    Also, a sensitive and significant point which cannot be glossed over is who sees the body. The body, which is a part of and within the ‘world’ is seen by one who sees the world. It is a moot question whether the jnAni, after realization of the Self (ब्रह्म वेद ब्रह्मैव भवति — 3.2.9, muNDaka upaniShad) sees the world or not. Only the ‘seer’ of the body needs the concept of prArabdha as an explanation.

    Shishya alluded to what I wrote at another post. When I said at the other place that “even a jIvanmukta will continue to act – but for the benefit of the world,” I admit I was a bit sloppy in my expression. I did not use the word “jIvanmukta” in too technical a sense. It was used as per common parlance so that things do not look too complicated for a general reader in a Social Network Group.

  10. Dear Ramesam, I have copied/pasted pages 17/18 from the following book:
    (Major A. W. Chadwick)

    Please read and think about it, I’ll make a further comment in a while. That Chadwick was a very decent man, IMHO.
    The first question I asked Bhagavan was why Christ
    called out from the cross. If he was a perfect Jnani then
    surely he would have been indifferent to all suffering.
    Bhagavan explained that though a Jnani has attained
    Liberation already and for him there can be no such thing
    as suffering, some may appear to feel pain, but this is only
    a reaction of the body. For the body continues to have its reactions.
    It still eats and carries out all its natural workings.
    All its suffering is apparent only to the onlooker and does
    not affect the Jnani, for he no longer identifies the Self
    with the body, he lives in a transcendent state above all

    Besides this, it is immaterial to him where and when
    he leaves the body. Some of them when passing appear to
    suffer, others may pass while in Samadhi and quite
    unconscious of the outer world, while yet others may just
    disappear from sight at the moment of death.

    This conversation is especially interesting in view of what
    happened in the case of Bhagavan himself during the last
    days. He certainly appeared to suffer terribly, at night
    when he was unaware that anybody could hear him, he
    lay on his couch, groaning and calling out. At that time
    it was indeed difficult to realize that he, as a Jnani did not
    feel pain in the same way as we do, but that he saw it as
    something apart from him, as a dream which could be
    regarded objectively. When Milarepa was dying he was
    asked if he did not feel pain, his agony was so obviously
    great. “No,” he replied, “but there is pain.” Pain was
    certainly there for the body. If one is identified with the
    body one feels it and associates oneself with it. But for the
    Jnani who sees the body always as something apart from
    himself, pain is only an experience outside his reality.
    There is pain but somehow it is not his.

  11. Dear Ramesam – Thanks for the important reminder on prarabdha. As you say, it makes no sense in the context of no jiva.

    Dear Shishya – a similar point about Ramakrishna suffering from cancer. It seems that the body of a jnani may feel pain as a sensation, but the fear (of the prolongation of pain into the future and of death) that would naturally arise in an ajnani, is absent. Because there is no one there – just a sense perception. I recall that Ramanamaharishi’s sister once asked him to cure himself of cancer; his response was along the lines that that would require a sankalpa to heal the body, which is just not possible.

  12. Dear Ramesam:

    Thanks for you observations.

    I always take the precaution of mentioning that I am a convinced hard determinist in full agreement with Einstein’s insight:

    “Human beings, in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free but as causally bound as the stars in their motions.”

    And Ramana’s advice to his mother: (as translated by BV Narashimhaswamy)
    “The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their prarabdhakarma (destiny to be worked out in this life, resulting from the balance sheet of actions in past lives). Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.”
    I am able to deal ONLY in apparent reality or at the vyavaharika level, call it mithya or what you will. I know nothing of the paramarthika level and I am unable to accept that only Brahman exists.

    So your disappointment may only increase when I tell you that it is precisely the notion of Prarabdha seen as unrestricted causality that first piqued my interest in advaita and pratityasamutpada.

    I agree whole heartedly with your observations that:
    “The concept is useful to explain the body which formerly hosted a seeker and now does not have anyone claiming ownership to it. prArabdha is not applicable to the jnAni.

    Shishya alluded to what I wrote at another post. When I said at the other place that “even a jIvanmukta will continue to act – but for the benefit of the world,” I admit I was a bit sloppy in my expression. I did not use the word “jIvanmukta” in too technical a sense. It was used as per common parlance so that things do not look too complicated for a general reader in a Social Network Group.”

    I apologize for misusing the word prarabdha because I find it works WITHOUT (in your words)
    “Reference to ‘prArabdha’ implies invoking “the carryover effects of actions done in a past life.”
    Invoking “the carryover effects of actions done in a past life” in turn implies “acceptance of rebirth.”
    “Acceptance of rebirth” means acceptance of ‘birth.”
    For me, prarabdha is simply your genetic and environmental endowment at conception and its subsequent evolution and unfoldment per the laws of nature. How you came by your particular endowment is something I leave strictly alone because in my framework it leads back to the Big Bang or to infinite regress.

    I will say a little more in due course, thanks.


  13. Hi Shishya,

    Something doesn’t seem to gel.
    If you are, as claimed by yourself, “a convinced hard determinist,” should you be wasting your time at an out and out Advaita Vedanta website making repeated interventions with quotations from JK, Ramana et al ?

    Another glaring contradiction exists in the Ramana quote you cite.
    If, as you say, “Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain,” how could you suppose that you have an ability and freedom “to remain silent,” unless that is also part of that “destiny”?

    Though it may not mean much viewed from the position that you take now, let me mention here a point made by Shankara while arguing against the contention of the Samkhyans.

    In his commentary at 2.1.22 of brahma sUtra-s, Shankara expresses that “The worldly existence, is an error arising from the non-recognition of the difference (from the Atman) of the limiting adjunct constituted by the assemblage of body and senses which are a creation of name and form called up by ignorance. It does not exist in reality. ”

    Therefore, if one sees a world, it is not because a “world” exists, but because he has “ignored” his own true infinite nature. When that happens and one sees a hallucinatory world, yes, one may then conceive of all such other equally hallucinatory terms like “prArabdha.”

    • Dear Ramesam:

      Thank you for the links..will go through them carefully and reply shortly.

      Touching indirectly on one of your queries about commenting on this board, (or any other topic, for that matter), I try to follow 2 principles:

      1) Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, re: Advaita, K, Ramana, Yogavasishta, etc, etc. all from my POV arrived at after considerable expenditure of time, effort and experience.

      2) It is far more important not to piss off Ramesam/Dennis/Venkat/Martin/etc…than some old bird called Yagnavalkya or (STRONG gasp!) or, goodness me, Shankara himself, so help me God.

      Best regards,
      Shishya (sometimes a disciple of Ramesam..heh, heh.)

  14. From a time before I realized that a name can be misleading, so the handle Shishya.

    Dear Dr. Ramesam,

    I hope you won’t mind if I congratulate you on your seamless and almost imperceptible way of begging the question….

    Look closely at (my) bolded transition in your write up below:

    The concept of a ‘me’ and a ‘mind’ as an ‘independent self’ is required in the service of the upkeep and maintenance as well as feeding of the body-organism. That sense of ‘self’ as the center of actions helps in the performance of all actions that are required for the minimum maintenance of the body for its span of life.

    Such actions that go for that specific purpose do not have ‘carry-forward’ effects as Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-Gita.

    Therefore, one need not consider those actions for philosophical discussions.

    A seeker needs to watch all other actions that go with a motivation, a purpose, a desire for self-aggrandizement or protection (from insults etc.) of the self-image. These actions go with a deep sense of ownership for things, doership for decisions taken and agency of all the actions done.


    But this is exactly what we want to know!!! Are there really two types of action and do we approach them differently?

    Or is it:

    Miraculous power and marvelous activity
    Drawing water and chopping wood.

    Must plead guilty to a weird sense of humour.

    Guru, from the Advaita Vision board

    Anonymous said…
    Dear Dr. Ramesam:

    Thanks for your response, I misunderstood what your wrote.

    I’ve read many of your wide ranging essays and just assumed you were familiar with that verse; in different forms, it is often quoted in Zen Buddhism.


    July 27, 2016 at 11:21 PM
    Ramesam Vemuri said…
    Thanks again, Shri Guru.

    Yes, I am familiar withe the Zen quote.
    But the mistake I did in my previous response was that I linked together the four sentences you put in bold face and assumed that you suggested the Zen quote as an answer to the question posed by you with regard to different types of actions.

    I am sure you are aware that the Zen Masters’ intention in that poem was more to stun the ‘analytical’ mind and stop it in its track in wonderment. By this process, they are arresting the mind in getting busy with its ‘thought processes’ and directing it to a non-ego-centered, intuitive experience of the ‘Totality’ of What-Is. Essentially, their emphasis is on the absence of an “Agency” of action, the ‘me’ as the doer.

    Looked it this way, what is pointed out by Advaita is also the same — actions ‘happening’ without the claim of ‘me’ as an Agent for ‘doing.’
    When the body feels the sensation of thirst, it is the ‘signal’ for ‘fluid imbalance’ and a command for its own ‘action organs’ to do the needful for setting it right. It is a false claim of ownership to say “I feel thirsty.”

    Similarly, when the body-organism feels a need for energy inputs, it sends the sensation of ‘hunger.’
    These are all part of the automatically happening homeostasis mechanisms.

    After all, no one says, on hearing the lub-dub-lub-dub of the heart that “I beat my heart”; nor any one says “I produce the gastric or bile juice in the GI tract.”

    So if we leave all such bodily actions to the body, we do find that there are some other type of actions where in a “Me” as the Agent for certain actions crops up innocuously. Those are the situations that need to be watched.

    I know that you are knowledgeable of all that I said above. But I have taken this opportunity to explain myself more clearly to any reader who may also wonder if there are two types of actions and how to differentiate them.

    July 28, 2016 at 7:40 AM

  15. Here then, is an example of some bath water that I have gladly discarded; it was MR’s prarabdha to say this, I tell myself and move on… talk about “applying” “advaita”….numerous attempts from different devotees to explain what he “really” meant leave me unimpressed, not that it matters to anyone else.

    A few weeks ago I saw a query, posted on the Yahoo Ramana Maharshi group site, which asked about the meaning of a Tamil verse that Bhagavan composed in the late 1930s. I contributed my own thoughts on this topic by posting a response, but the verse continued to surface in my mind from time to time, and each time it did, I realised there were extra nuances and sources I could have given. In the end I sat down and expanded my answer into this article, which I hope covers most of the possible meanings, along with some of the published comments on this verse.

    This is the translation of the verse that currently appears in Collected Works:

    Keep advaita within the Heart. Do not ever carry it into action. Even if you apply it to all the three worlds, O son, it is not to be applied to the Guru.
    (The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, tr. by Prof K. Swaminathan)

    Annamalai Swami has given an account of how this particular verse came to be written. It began with the following remarks by Bhagavan:
    Annamalai Swami outside the ashram kitchen
    Annamalai Swami outside the ashram kitchen

    ‘Advaita should not be practised in ordinary activities. It is sufficient if there is no differentiation in the mind. If one keeps cartloads of discriminating thoughts within, one should not pretend that all is one on the outside.

    ‘Westerners practise mixed marriages and eat equally with everyone. What is the use of doing only this? Only wars and battlefields have resulted. Out of all these activities, who has obtained any happiness?

    ‘This world is a huge theatre. Each person has to act whatever role is assigned to him. It is the nature of the universe to be differentiated but within each person there should be no differentiation.’
    This whole episode is on a par with MR displaying “compassion” to the hornets that stung him. Prarabdha helps here too, and I just move on, as I said above.

  16. Dear Guru Now-in-the-upAdhi-of-Shishya,

    I had a hearty laugh at the seeming variations in my posts that you could put together so that the contradictions could loudly speak for themselves in innocuous silence!

    What to do? Even Lord Krishna and the Sage Vyasa threw their hands up in the air when they were to speak about “action.” They say,

    किं कर्म किमकर्मेति कवयोऽप्यत्र मोहिताः । — 4.16, BG.
    Meaning: What is action ? What is inaction? As to this, even the wise are deluded.

    कर्मणो ह्यपि बोद्धव्यं बोद्धव्यं च विकर्मणः ।
    अकर्मणश्च बोद्धव्यं गहना कर्मणो गतिः ॥ — 4.17, BG.
    Meaning: For, thou hast to know something even of action. something to know of unlawful action, and something to know of inaction; hard to understand is the nature of action.

    Shankara writes in his commentary on this verse:
    “For there is much to be learnt about the action which is enjoined by the scripture, about the action which is unlawful, and about inaction. In fact, it is bard to understand the true nature of action, of inaction, and of unlawful action.”

    That being the situation, where does a Ramesam count to be able to express all things clearly in a few sentences?!

    All actions, interactions and transactions, by definition, can happen only in duality.
    So it strikes me as something strange if one speaks of the “theory of Advaita” and claims to go into the market with killer Apps drawn based on that theory!


    Prior to the dawn of Enlightenment, there is an “I,” an agent of the action apparently for both the body and the inner Self.

    On Enlightenment, still the body needs an “I” to express itself, for its own interactions. But that “I” does not represent the inner Self anymore. The inner Self figuratively speaking, got rid of being just “inner.” It is inner, outer and everywhere.

    The Self, may, however, continue to use that body for certain other actions to serve the Universe. An “I” may also be used by the Self when speaking through that body.

    Unless one is very clear about the context, it is easy to confuse which”I” is being referred to in what situation!

    Pretty confusing, is it not?


    • One last reply and I will then lurk for a while…comments under the article posted by Dennis.

      Enlightenment – akhaNDAkAra
      Posted on October 20, 2017 by Dennis

      Shishya on November 12, 2017 at 06:47 said:

      Dear Ramesam:

      One last comment with the handle Shishya…

      I don’t worry too much about the obligations and responsibilities you mentioned because I am firmly convinced of the Maharishi’s dictum:

      “Whatever this body is to do, and whatever experiences it is to pass through was already decided when it came into existence.” so I will enjoy/suffer my lot without, I hope, too much fuss.

      But if it is certain that what is destined to happen will happen, and what is destined not to happen will not happen, regardless of all countermeasures, how is one to reconcile oneself to the appalling suffering in the world?

      The Maharishi said that it is God’s job to look after the world, so one should not worry about the question. If that is the case, then I must declare myself a vigorous atheist because it would be too horrible to believe in a force so utterly evil.

      Does what is called self-realization really reconcile one to the condition of the world? If it does, then one is inclined to declare oneself a vigorous “atheist” in that regard too…one cannot give ANY importance to a state, knowledge, wisdom or conviction that does not touch this problem of suffering in the world.

      A man in good health and spirits can write about the monotony of a world without the opposites of joy and suffering but I think it would be perfectly alright to have only the joy and drop the suffering for everyone not just the jnani enveloped in the bliss of the Self, whatever that is.

      I am forced to conclude that the realized being must suffer very deeply indeed and sometimes wonder whether the Maharishi’s somewhat abrupt dismissal of suffering concealed a self protective (yes, self!!!) impulse for fear of being over-whelmed.

      Take the 100 years from 1850 to 1950 – Ramakrishna, Maharishi Ramana, Atmananda, J Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta, etc, etc, many others I have left out – and look at the terrible things that happened in the world during that period.
      What was the point of all that “self realization”?

      I find consolation only in Einstein’s words – Human beings, in their thinking, feeling, and acting, are not free agents but as causally bound as the stars in their motions.

      If you are doomed to become a jnani, you cannot avoid it….

      Thank you very much for your kind indulgence.

  17. Hi Shishya

    The don’t practice Advaita verse in Bhagavan’s UN was meant as a warning to ajnanis in pretending that they were Jnanis and acting as such. Lakshmana Sarma having received personal instruction on UN from Bhagavan, wrote in his commentary on this verse:

    “unless and until the sense of self in the body is liquidated, the experience of non-duality remains but a pipe-dream . . . A mere theoretical knowledge of Advaita does not destroy the ego . . . the ego will only be in command of the actions and waxing in strength will also lead to defalcations and blemishes culminating in a further flourish of dualistic impressions in the mind”

    I think this is why Bhagavan discouraged people who asked him if they should take to sannyasa and renunciation. If they were “ripe” this falling away would happen naturally; they wouldn’t need to ask.

    On the point of prarabdha, the question is whether you concur with the fundamental premise of Advaita as to the existence of a jiva that is separate and distinct from the whole, or whether this idea of a separate “me” is just a confused representation in the mind. If the “no jiva” of ajata vada makes sense, then there can no longer be destiny or free will. The movie may (or may not) continue on realisation, but there is no ‘me’ to experience it (harking back to our previous discussion of JK), and suffer / enjoy as a result of it. (I will add a separate comment about the suffering in the world).

    This then begs the question who has the thought of becoming a jnani, and practising sadhana. My best response to that is that it is a thought amongst others, that arise on the screen of consciousness. But it is a thought that has the promise of, through understanding, ending the thoughts of suffering and fear and egoism that afflict us and the world.

  18. Sishya,

    With respect to the suffering of the world, and a jnani’s seeming indifference to it.

    (1) A jnani is attempting to strike at the root of the cause of suffering: the ego. Until that is addressed our own actions in the world, however well-intended, are likely to be sub-optimal, because they arise from the ego. As JK used to say, first change yourself, and then see to the world. The greatest service you can do to the world is not to add to its woes.

    (2) The fundamental cause of dis-ease and suffering is our selfishness and greed, which is encapsulated in how our hierarchal civilisations have evolved through subjugation and exploitation, and now manifested in a seemingly neutral political economy called capitalism. But it is of course corrupt to the core. I guess any system of governance of civilisations at large scale inevitably end up in corrupt hierarchies . . . because that is the nature of the ego. Hence why any change can only really start there.

    As an aside that is why any talk of using Advaita as a life / career management is just absolute BS. And the folk who are running seminars for corporates are crooks.

    (3) Ultimately the single biggest help we can give the world is not to afflict it, to not consume so much, to not buy into its propaganda. And to be absolutely free. Perhaps that is why Sankara and Gaudapada felt that the inevitable life of a jnani would be of paarivraajya sannyasa?

    (4) Finally, the world has a way of resolving these issues – call it karma if you will. As our parasitic nature has rampaged the world, we are about to witness its response to this.

    (5) In any event the nature of life is an arc to death. That is inevitable, Does it really matter whether one dies at the age of 10 or the age of 90? Who suffers more?

    None of the above is meant to condone inaction in the face of suffering, which brings the conversation full circle to Bhagavan’s “don’t practice Advaita” advice!

  19. Dear Shishya and Venkat,

    Reg: the Suffering, Disparities and Sadistic Cruelty in the World:

    Venkat has provided a convincing and comprehensive explanation regarding the suffering we see in the world. Many thanks to him for breaking it down to identify the real reason and also suggesting the ways and means as to how not to exacerbate it.

    Still the fundamental question on “Why suffering at all?” does haunt us and makes it difficult for us to swallow the amazing and unconvincing stance of Advaita that there is no world at all and hence there can never be any scope for suffering to arise in the first instance. Such a stand contradicts right in our face what apparently is our own experience.

    So questions like what Shishya asks persist, driving a sensitive person to another extreme end like atheism, determinism and so on. Forget about the 100 years between 1850-1950, these questions had been in existence for millennia of years, for, surprise surprise, Shankara himself too raised them in the garb of an opponent to Advaita (pUrvapakShi) and answered them without mincing words.

    Shankara answered at 2.1.27, BSB the question why we see a non-existent world to exist. He said that it was like a person seeing multiple moons though there was just one moon only. It was a case of diplopia, a defect in the vision but nothing wrong with the moon. Likewise, the defect of seeing a multi-object world where none exists does not lie in brahman but in our ‘seeing.’ Out of ignorance, we identify ourselves with the finite body-mind and consider ourselves to be separate from brahman. Because of that wrong positioning of ourselves, we see a multiplicity of things instead of One brahman. We had already seen (vide my comment on Jan 20, 2020) Shankara’s explanation on there being no creation at all.

    The question on the partiality of the God in giving raise to wide ranging disparities in the world and his cruel and sadistic nature like an ignoble person making some suffer extreme misery abhorred by even a pitiless villain was raised at 2.1.34, BSB. Shankara explains that the God is not the reason for the inequalities and the suffering that appears in the world. He says that this unequal creation was brought about in conformity with the virtues and vices of the creatures that are about to be born.

    He compares God to rain. Rain causes the seeds in the soil to germinate. Whether the plant that comes out of the seed bears a sweet fruit or a bitter one does not depend on the rain. These disparities lie within the seed itself.

    So the basic point I would like to make is that it’s not that Advaita was insensitive to the existence of misery and suffering in the world nor that the revered JnAni-s were indifferent to suffering. It is our incomplete understanding only that we continue to raise these questions on Advaita.

    The teachers like Shankara tried to convey an idea of the “inexplicable and non-conceptualizable” brahman through several devices (upAya). Sometimes, as pointed out by Shishya, these upAya-s may look even contradicting one another. We should bear in mind that all those “models” and metaphors are “ekadeshIya” in the sense that they go to illustrate a narrow and specific point at hand and may not be carried over to another situation, nor should they be stretched beyond the immediate point being illustrated.

    Moreover, Advaita never claimed to be a redeemer of the world problems. It’s a doctrine, IMHO, that facilitates an inquiry into the Ultimate Reality of who we are and what the world around is.


  20. Dear Ramesam

    “The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves”.

    The resolution to the world’s problems is in direct correlation to our ability to disidentify with our-selves (my body, my family, my creed, my nation) and to see clearly through all illusions (whether formed through Maya or media / political).

    So actually, Advaita is the only redemption – personal (if one pursues it) and global (to the extent we all did). So, whilst BG is mainly concerned with personal liberation, recall:

    6.32: That yogi is considered the best who judges what is happiness and sorrow in all beings by the same standard as he would apply to himself.

    12.15: He by whom the world is not afflicted and is not afflicted by the world

    13.28: Since by seeing equally God who is present alike everywhere, he does not injure the Self by the Self, therefore he attains the supreme Goal.

    18.53: That person having discarded egotism, force, pride, anger and superfluous possessions, free from the idea of possession, and serene, is fit for becoming Brahman.

    That is why Jnanis, like Ramanamahirishi, though apparently inactive and silent, through the life they lived, have a massive and lasting impact on the world.

  21. Dear Venkat,

    I cannot disagree with what you say.
    However, my humble submission is that a ‘Happy life and a harmonious society’ could be a secondary fallout benefit of adopting the Advaitic path, but that itself cannot be the “objective” of a seeker in Advaita.

    As you yourself know very well that there may not be a “world” to be taken care of on the complete fructification of “our ability to disidentify with our-selves (my body, my family, my creed, my nation) and to see clearly through all illusions (whether formed through Maya or media / political).” The Self-realized individual would have fully transcended the mental realms of good-bad; happy-unhappy, me-they etc. polar pairs of opposites.



  22. Just to note that part 2 of my posts on pratibandha-s is on the subject of prArabdha. Coming in 3 day’s time hopefully! Sorry if I have disappointed so far, Ramesam…

  23. From the translated talk:

    > We are habituated to look at all things from the stance of particulars. The mind is the seer of the particulars. The particular that is seen is the matter. As long as our thoughts are particular and specific, the world that is seen will also be particular and specific. In order to see the world as the Self, we have to change our stance to that of Universal.

    Makes sense to me. 🙂

    But changing one’s stance runs the risk of pretending, fooling oneself. “I want to see the world as the Self because that sounds really powerful and enjoyable, so I’ll follow the speaker’s advice and train(/force) myself to view things from the point of view of the universal.”

    Alternately one might work to understand the relationship between the universal and the particular and to trust that, once understood, one’s view will be right.

  24. Thanks Rick for that observation.

    What you say is quite true. Both the activities (if I may call so) can and should proceed together, reinforcing one another. By activities, I mean the “understanding” of the theory and the praxis part of re-orientating the mind from its old habituated reaction. After all, we have rehearsed the mind for decades and decades to “see” the particulars only. So it does require certain effort and retraining.

    Further, I may also be allowed to say, I know you are not unaware, that there cannot be a “relationship between the universal and the particular” as one is Real and the other is imaginary! Shankara also points out this fact in his BSB.

  25. > After all, we have rehearsed the mind for decades and decades to “see” the particulars only. So it does require certain effort and retraining.

    Yes, that sounds right. Though one hears of those who are either spontaneously ‘transformed’ without practice, and of those who are transformed by simply seeing the light = understanding the nature of reality. I don’t know if these reports of transformation are true, but if they are, I’d guess they’d be very rare indeed!

    > Further, I may also be allowed to say, I know you are not unaware, that there cannot be a “relationship between the universal and the particular” as one is Real and the other is imaginary!

    Yes, good catch! There are no ‘relationships’ at the paramartha level. At the vyavahara level there are relationships, but I don’t know that it makes much sense to speak of the universal from vyavaharika, except perhaps as a metaphor. What do you think?

Comments are closed.