The second of a two-part article by Philip Renard, about the Direct Path master, Atmananda Krishna Menon.
*** Read Part 1 ***
And so it goes on, in a sense, throughout the book. Is this confusing? At first it may seem so, but by really reading what the teacher says, really understanding what the meaning of the distinction is, and what is true in the ultimate sense (which means not being able to separate anymore because the ‘substance’ that makes up the objects being noticed as such), you will be able to see the value of this dance. If you never have noticed consciousness itself (often rightly capitalized as ‘Consciousness’) because it is never an object, it is very useful that you are being pointed out that consciousness itself can indeed be recognized and realized. Without being pointed out, it is possible that you keep looking over consciousness itself because of your habituation to objects. Atmananda himself says the following about the apparent two approaches:
During the period of preliminary investigations in the study of Vedanta, you are asked to try to separate body and mind from the ‘I’-Principle. It is only to make you understand the relative values of the terms. Such a separation is not really possible; because, separated from the ‘I’-Principle, the other two do not exist at all. Therefore they are really nothing but the ‘I’-Principle. Vedanta asks you only to recognize this Truth.
From the position of Consciousness one can say that everything else is not. But from no position can you say that Consciousness is not. Because one has to be conscious of the Truth of that very statement before making it. Therefore Consciousness stands as the background of even that statement.
Hence even the statement that ‘Consciousness is not’ only proves that Consciousness IS. Therefore Consciousness is self-luminous and permanent.8
Training discernment is what this is all about. “While objects vary, Consciousness remains constant,” was just said in Atma-Darshan. That, in a way, is the first lesson in this enquiry: the discrimination between the changing and the unchanging. Recognize that all objects to which your attention is drawn, no matter how subtle they may be, always give way to the next object. They ‘change’ – you also can say that they dissolve to make room for the next object. You yourself make no room for anything else. You yourself turn out to be left without any change, and you notice that the previous object is no longer in your attention, and possibly that a current object seems to demand attention for a moment. This recognition of difference, this discrimination, is very important. This clearly shows that objects are in fact continuously passing through you, fleeting objects, and that something remains that is not an object at all, that is not fleeting. This simply remains the case regardless of the content of thoughts and feelings. It is not affected or weakened by that content; it just keeps on ‘illuminating it’ or ‘giving it light’. This is constant Knowing.
The fleeting as it is here called, is that which is described as ‘not real’ from Atmananda’s point of view. No matter how serious an object is to us, no matter how sensitive it is, from this point of view it is called unreal. Reality is something else.
The test of the Reality is whether it disappears or not. According to this test, the only thing that never disappears is the ‘I’-Principle or ‘Consciousness’. 9
So only the immutable is real. Everything else, anything that can be destroyed, is considered non-existent by Atmananda. Statements such as “Atma is the only Reality. Body is quite unreal” (Atma-Darshan chapter 10, verse 13) and “Therefore the world is not, has never been and is never going to be” (chapter 14, verse 4) could have an effect as if everything that the reader considers real and valuable is in one fell swoop wiped out as being ‘non-existent’. In this respect Atmananda was more radical than most teachers from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, at least from the ‘scholastic’ tradition (the non-scholastic tradition, with texts such as Yoga Vasishtha and Ashtavakra Gita, shows a radicality comparable to that of Atmananda10). Shankara, the eighth-century founder of the Advaita, was much more moderate in this respect, despite the fact that for many people he has become something of a symbol of the concept of maya – ‘illusion’. In fact, for Shankara and most of the later teachers, maya was a term for something inexplicable; it means, according to them, ‘neither being nor non-being’. Atmananda considered this maya view to be only for people who have not yet seen the real ‘I’, the real Subject. People who are established in the real ‘I’ have a ‘subjective standpoint’, by which he meant that the world is viewed exclusively from the changeless Consciousness, and that the world is recognized as Consciousness. For example, he said:
But when one comes a step down from the subjective standpoint, some sort of an explanation may be needed for the world that appears there. It is in this way that the Maya theory has come in.11
People who have difficulty with the Maya view of ‘neither being nor non-being’, and especially with the view that the world ‘does not exist at all’, would do well to realize that we can never, in fact, escape Consciousness. No matter how you look at it, Consciousness is the condition for every aspect of our existence. It is therefore understandable that Atmananda’s enquiry does not go further into the question of what the material world actually is. His enquiry is only concerned with the question of what Reality is – and liberation from the idea of ‘unreality’. With his direct approach, he helps you to see the main point about liberation, which is the fact that Consciousness is always already free – and liberation in a deeper sense does not even exist because freedom is always already the case. This directness saves you all kinds of detours, all kinds of search movements. See, for example, how right away in the first chapter of Atma-Darshan Atmananda points to the ever-present, in the form of ‘water’, to show the immediacy of liberation. In that equation he says: “Waves are nothing but water. So is the sea” and “When water is realized, wave and sea vanish. What appeared as two is thus realized as one.” So one can see clearly that every method whereby a limited ‘I’ is seeking peace (like ‘waves seeking peace in the sea’) is completely indirect.
Water can be reached straightway from wave by following the direct path. If the way through sea is taken, much more time is needed. 12
Despite his radical stance in which ‘the world is non-existent’, Atmananda for many years simply fulfilled a function in the world of law enforcement. One should therefore not consider Atmananda’s standpoint as an attempt to deny or explain away something difficult. Dealing with the world and its objects was a very natural and justified matter for him.
The Truth about this world is that the Reality, which is imperceptible to the senses, appears as this world when looked at through the senses. (…) The object of Vedanta is not to help you not to perceive the appearance, but to help you to see the essence even when perceiving the appearance through the senses. 13
How can the seeing of this essence remain? Is it a matter of once seen, always seen, or is something like a so-called sadhana still needed? In general, Atmananda emphasized that a traditional sadhana, a preparation through all kinds of abstinence and so on, is not necessary. He himself had undergone such training, in the form of bhakti and raja yoga, but he often said that this is not really useful. The only advice that does contain a valid way of training is the direction he gives to repeatedly let the Truth sink in over and over again, to make direct understanding happen again and again. In other words, even if you have once really realized that Consciousness is constantly the case and that you yourself are nothing but That, in most cases there is still a need for a gradual infusion by this immediate understanding, just until it is irrefutable.14
It feels appropriate to give a personal testimony at the end of this article. As is well known, books can in most cases only provide a stepping stone to the realization of Reality. However, the repeated reading of Atma-Darshan and Atma-Nirvriti at a certain moment at the end of 1987, helped me to such an extent that from that moment on my life took on a different center of gravity. At that moment I got to know doubtlessness. While reading a specific chapter of Atma-Nirvriti, containing the sentences “I am pure happiness. All the activities of the sense-organs and the mind aim at happiness. So all these activities are a tribute (puja) to Me”,15 the bottom fell out of my belief in being a person, out of the belief that there is someone who could be set free. I have experienced that a text can have such an effect that after reading it you are never the same as before. Real clarity was bestowed to me, irreversibly. The living instructions of my teacher Alexander Smit (who had been a pupil of Atmananda-disciple Wolter Keers) had nourished me for a year and a half, especially with regard to the approach to Atmananda. And now I experienced Reality showing itself, without any reservations. Living itself remained, as Myself, and proved to be constant, even though the objects later sometimes took the form of doubt and fear again. The tilt of the center of gravity is not a tilt in person, form or manifestation. There is no one who has Understanding. The gratitude is what remains – eternally beginner, because nothing has ever been acquired, and nothing can ever be acquired. Thank you Gurunathan!
8. Discourses no. 390 (p. 147).
9. Discourses no. 48 (p. 22); see also no. 1055 (p. 339).
10. Atmananda quoted repeatedly from both texts. One of the few texts of the scholastic tradition from which he frequently quoted is the Pañchadashi, of the fourteenth-century Bharatitirtha-Vidyaranya.
11. Discourses no. 129 (p. 59); see also no. 1392 (p. 472).
12. Atma-Darshan, chapter 1, verse 8 (and verses 4 and 7).
13. Discourses no. 1114 (pp. 365, 366). Italics mine, PhR.
14. I consider the distinction between these two forms of training important. What I call here ‘traditional sadhana’ is a preparation for something in the future, and thus it acts as a condition. However, truth is without conditions and without time. Truth is instantly noticeable, always available. It is nevertheless necessary to ‘establish’ yourself in this again and again, because most people’s inclinations are filled with fascination and imagination, which obscure the Truth. “You have only to sense the Absolute through that eye of knowledge as often as possible, until you are securely established in the Ultimate” (Discourses no. 1065, p. 341).
15. Atma-Nirvriti, chapter 19, verse 1.
Atmananda (Krishna Menon), Atmananda Tattwa Samhita. The Direct Approach to Truth as Expounded by Sri Atmananda. Chengannur:Sri Vidya Samiti, 1973. Reprint:Austin, tx: Advaita Publishers, 1991.
Krishna Menon (Atmananda), Atma-Darshan. At the Ultimate. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Vidya Samiti, 1946. Reprint: Austin, tx: Advaita Publishers, 1989.
Krishna Menon (Atmananda), Atma-Nirvriti (Freedom and Felicity in the Self). Trivandrum: Vedanta Publishers, 1952. Reprint: Austin, tx: Advaita Publishers, 1989.
Levy, John, Immediate Knowledge and Happiness. London: John Lloyd (John Watkins), 1951. Abridged second edition: London: Thorsons, 1970.
Levy, John, The Nature of Man According to the Vedanta. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956.
Nair, M. P. Bhasi, Rays of the Ultimate. Santa Cruz, ca: sat, 1990.
Renard, Philip, ‘I’ is a Door. The essence of Advaita as taught by Ramana Maharshi, Atmananda (Krishna Menon) and Nisargadatta Maharaj, Mumbai: Zen Publications, 2017.
Tripta, Nitya, Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Sree Atmananda (of Trivandrum) 1950-1959. Trivandrum: Reddiar Press, 1963. Second edition, in three volumes, edited by Ananda Wood: Salisbury (uk): Non-Duality Press & Stillness Speaks, 2009 [pagination is from the original Indian edition]. In the Notes referred to as Discourses.