Shankara spells out the most Direct Path method of Self-realization on a here and now basis in his short treatise, aparokShAnubhUti. He explains very lucidly in simple words, through the 144 verses of this text, the means to have the direct experience of brahman. He boldly declares right up front the unreality of the three entities, jIva-jagat-Ishwara, the model commonly used in teaching Advaita. He avers that ‘action’ (karma) or worship (upAsana) cannot deliver liberation. However, he says an intense yearning for liberation (mumukshatva) has to be present in a seeker.
Shankara’s Direct Path has nothing to do with the changing or manipulating the external world or one’s own body-mind system. It is all about how the world is perceived. The three possible worldviews are:
- Perspective of the Ignorant;
- Perspective of the Seeker; and,
- Perspective of the Accomplished.
The dream metaphor explains best the three stages of Shankara’s Direct Path.
- The way of the ignorant:
This is what every one of us is quite familiar with. We spend our entire span of life and activities around the single belief that the world and the objects in it are real. We become vulnerable to and suffer the consequences of that belief. It is similar to our life in our dream.
When we are in a dream, we take whatever is seen as real. Our behavior and responses depend on what is seen. We never stop to ask during the dream whether what was seen was true or not. We see a snake or someone coming to attack us. We feel scared and run to save ourselves. Next we may see the ticket in our pocket has won a big lottery. We hear the clinking sound of the coins and the wads of crisp currency notes. We feel happy and smug as though we are on top of the world. Our happiness and sorrow vary depending on the things that happen to us in the dream.
Correspondingly, taking the objects in the world and the world in our wakeful state to be real is the ignorant phase. We are bound to experience happiness and sorrow in this phase as a result of that belief. This is the common unenlightened life almost all of us lead in the awake world.
- The way of the seeker:
After we wake up from the dream and recall it, we laugh away the experiences – the winning of lottery or the snake chasing us. Though we experience the things (during the recollection), we will not get affected because we do not take them to be real anymore. From the present state of wakefulness, the dream objects appear as phantoms. Their appearance (during the reminiscence) is an AbhAsa, mere apparition.
Correspondingly, we learn to see the awake world objects also as AbhAsa, because we understand from our dream experience that when the objects and events are seen as AbhAsa, we are not affected by them. This is the seeking phase in our awake world.
- The way of the Accomplished:
When we examine our dream more closely from the awake state we are in now, we realize it was all actually “myself” alone in the dream world and there was no one or nothing else other than ‘me.’ It is me who was the snake, the currency won in the lottery, the action of winning, the roads and the buildings, the act of running on seeing the snake, the fellow who argued with me, the argument, and so on are ALL made up of my mind only. Everything in the dream is myself. All things are one hundred percent ‘Me.’
Correpsondingly, I begin to see that all the things in the awake world are nothing but “my” own “seeing.” Shankara advises that the plasticity of the mind has to be taken advantage of to expand itself to Infinity from being the finite ‘me’ through unbroken contemplation of everything as ‘me’ in the awake worldview.
In short, the three stages are:
1. Realize that we live and suffer in the world because we take it to be “real” without verifying our belief.
2. Learn to live viewing the world as diaphanous insubstantial apparition as we do with last night’s dream.
3. Just like you can understand from awake state that the entire dream world is ‘me’ only, see the awake world also as ‘me,’
If a seeker, however, is not ready for this, Shankara gives a more detailed 15-step practice method to guide the seeker on the above lines towards the last part of the text.