One of the greatest teachers of the twentieth century
by Philip Renard
I am pleased to present the first of a two-part article from Philip Renard, about the Direct Path master, Atmananda Krishna Menon. See Philip’s lineage at https://www.advaita.org.uk/teachers/atmananda_parampara.htm
It is a pity that until this day the great Advaita teacher Shri Atmananda (Shri Krishna Menon, called Gurunathan by his disciples) remains a rather unknown figure to many people. With this article I hope to contribute to the recognition of the importance of him as a Source for direct understanding of ultimate Truth.
Two small books written by him, Atma-Darshan and Atma-Nirvriti, form together in fact a modern Upanishad. Upanishads are classical texts that have been added to the Vedas as concluding parts since about the eighth century BC. The term Vedānta (Veda–anta) indicates this; it means ‘the end (anta) of the Vedas’, and is a reference to the Upanishads.1 A modern Upanishad is a collection of statements so definite that the Vedanta tradition begins again, as it were. Not a commentary on something existing, but a text that has emerged from current, ‘ever fresh’ Consciousness.
Shri Atmananda was born P. Krishna Menon on December 8, 1883, in Peringara, near Tiruvalla, in Travancore (in the present-day Indian state of Kerala). He passed away on May 14, 1959 in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. In the course of his life he has been a true Teacher (a so-called Karana Guru) for many people, including a number of westerners. It is true that some western intellectuals who approached him were critical of his teachings, but a number of western seekers have come to the end of their quest at his feet. For example, the Englishman John Levy wrote:
“I sought the truth and found my Lord and he showed me my self. Seeing his form, hearing his words and feeling his touch, I found my self. (…)
Not by wisdom alone was I shown the truth but by endless love, for such is my Teacher, Shri Atmananda.” 2
This text shows the completeness that Atmananda passed on. To express this completeness he often used the well-known expression Sat-Chit-Ananda, often translated by him as Existence, Knowledge and Peace – in other words, living, thinking and feeling in their essential nature, as the aspects that make up the complete Reality.
“I am not one who exists, but Existence itself (Sat).
I am not one who knows, but Knowledge itself (Chit).
I am not in peace but Peace itself (Ananda).” 3
Everyone is used to dealing with objects. ‘Object’ is a term for anything that presents itself to the senses; but thoughts and emotions are objects as well. We have been brought up being habituated with objects; this is so self-evident that hardly anyone wonders whether something is being skipped. We constantly are fascinated by a certain story, a shape, a subject, a memory, an idea, and so on. Those are all objects. Objects of something that itself is not an object at all. This ‘something’ is not a something, but to indicate it you must of course try to find a word for it, hence ‘something’ in quotation marks. All things that we experience or know, to which we give our attention, are the object of Knowing, or Consciousness.
Atmananda in his teachings constantly pointed out the relationship between ourselves and the objects, that is, between the Knowing and the objects of Knowing. For example, he once answered the question ‘What actually happens when you see a thing?’ as follows:
“When you say you see an object, you see only the dead part of the object. The Consciousness part, which alone is live, can never be seen.” 4
The Consciousness part is that which bestowes reality to an object – hence it can be called alive. An object is only given reality and life when experiencing or knowing it.
“Therefore, the real ‘I’-Principle alone lives. The ignorant man believes that either the body or the mind lives, while in fact each of them dies at the end of every perception or thought. But the ‘I’-Principle continues unchanged through all thoughts and perceptions, lighting them up as well.” 5
The living is you. It is profound how Atmananda links your presence in the world with ‘bestowing life’, namely bestowing life and reality to the objects you are experiencing right now. He does not bow to the generally held habit of making the objective the most impressive, the grandest of what is called ‘creation.’ No, he praises the fact that you are now experiencing this creation, and you yourself are bringing it to life. If you did not experience this creation now, the whole ‘creation’ would remain an abstraction. Now you are experiencing objects, for example this article, the meaning of the previous sentence, the ‘I’ as a person who briefly appears as an apparent ‘subject’, the shape of these letters, this paper or computer screen, possibly the hand holding this paper, and so on – all objects.
But actually what is an object? Atmananda says:
“An object is there always pointing to the Consciousness (of the perceiver) as ‘You! You! You!’ – meaning thereby ‘I am here merely on account of you.’ But the moment you stand as Consciousness and turn back to the object, the object vanishes – in other words the object commits suicide.” 6
True life remains, which means Consciousness manifesting itself. Forms continue to emerge in this, but no longer as separate, self-contained realities, which could exist without Consciousness.
Everything in Atmananda’s teaching may come down to the fact that the forms that present themselves to us are a praise to the actual Experiencing of them. All those forms derive their existence from Experiencing. Form-in-itself does not actually exist. Form has a temporary existence or ‘life’ that lasts as long as form is known. The Experiencing or Knowing is never absent, and is therefore that which temporarily ‘gives life’ to the present object.
Objects are not an obstacle at all, Atmananda always emphasizes. They seem to distract us, but they only exist because of Consciousness, because of Knowing. Without being known they would not exist. Attempting to devote himself entirely to abiding in Pure Consciousness, Atmananda was once, in his years of training, distracted by the sound of a horse-and-carriage. He found it disturbing, and decided to sit somewhere else in order to devote himself more fully to recognizing Consciousness. But suddenly the thought occurred to him:
“Well, what nonsense! Is it not a means? What am I meditating upon, what am I contemplating? ‘I am pure Consciousness!’ Is it not so? And when that is so, even the noise that is heard there, does it not point to Me? (…) The noise that emanates from the horse-and-carriage helps me, points to Consciousness. (…) So then: ‘Come in, come in, come in! All disturbances: come in, come in! Quite all right! Help me, help me!’ So you see, nothing was a disturbance after that.” 7
However, Atmananda in his teaching and writing does not only use the phrasing just described, wherein the objects, thoughts, sense perceptions, etcetera are seen as pointing to Consciousness, or even ‘nothing other than Consciousness’. He often says that objects are completely different from Consciousness. This might be confusing to a reader. If you for instance read the chapters of his book Atma-Darshan one after the other, you can see that Atmananda seems in a way to dance between the two approaches, between differentiating and looking through the apparent difference. Sometimes even in the same chapter he dances to the other approach, with a logic that sometimes resembles a witticism. See, for example, how in Atma-Darshan, after emphasizing the distinction in chapters 3, 6 and 7 and the oneness in 1, 4, 5, 8 and 9, he says in verse 10 of chapter 10:
“It must be clearly understood that Consciousness is different from its object and that, while objects vary, Consciousness remains constant”;
after which he declares in verse 26 of the same chapter:
“Objects of Consciousness can never be separated from Consciousness itself. They have no independent existence. They are therefore nothing other than Consciousness.”
1. Vedas are religious hymns from India, created between 1500-500 BC. They form the basis of many of the Indian religions and philosophies. Veda also means ‘knowledge’ or ‘knowing’; then Vedanta is ‘the end of knowledge.’ Advaita Vedanta, the non-dual way of Shri Atmananda, is the way of immediate seeing, or recognizing — ‘the direct way.’ Advaita means ‘non-duality’. The term Upanishad means ‘to sit at the feet of a teacher and listen to his words.’
2. John Levy, Immediate Knowledge and Happiness; 1st ed. p. 41, 42; 2nd ed. p. 69, 70. Levy’s second book, The Nature of Man According to the Vedanta, has contributed to the fact that the approach of Atmananda has become known in the West.
3. Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Sree Atmananda [hereafter mentioned as: Discourses] no. 1083 (p. 349); the order of the three terms in the text has been changed here to arrive at the usual order. Dutch teacher Wolter Keers writes in a note about Sat-Chit-Ananda somewhere: “These three words essentially mean exactly the same thing: the deepest and uninterrupted I-experience (not to be confused with the personality, ego or I-sense), denoted in terms which respectively indicate the background of living, thinking and feeling. It is like the description of one room by three people, looking in through different windows.” Ananda is usually translated Bliss or Happiness; Atmananda often translated it Peace. On the difference between the two terms, he said: “Happiness uninterrupted is Peace. Happiness is the first ebullition or sensation of Peace” (Discourses no. 654, p. 232). In other words, he regarded peace as the most essential designation of the feeling aspect (in Discourses no. 1335, p. 446: “Something called ‘Peace’, which is the source of all happiness”). In no. 740 (p. 258) Atmananda even introduces an improved version of the ancient expression, namely Sat-Chit-Shanta (shanti means peace; and shanta something like ‘come at peace; still’).
4. Discourses no. 483 (p. 181).
5. Discourses no. 43 (p. 19). The term ‘I’-Principle was Atmananda’s way of denoting the essential nature of ‘I’ — synonymous to him with the well-known term Atma, the ‘Self.’ In chapter 2 of ‘I’ is a Door’ I pay specific attention to Atmananda’s use of the term ‘I’-Principle.
6. Discourses no. 1402 (p. 476). The ‘committing suicide’ of the object refers to dissolving into Consciousness itself, or giving way to an entirely new object. Objects are not connected to each other.
7. Atmananda Tattwa Samhita, p. 186.
Philip is the author of the book – ‘I’ is a Door. The essence of Advaita as taught by Ramana Maharshi, Atmananda & Nisargadatta Maharaj.
*** Read Part 2 ***