Q.508 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 1

Part 1 – Prerequisites for Enlightenment

Q: I’ve been on the direct path (Krishna Menon, Jean Klein, Francis Lucille, Greg Goode, Rupert Spira) for about 3 years now and the journey has been incredible. Recently, while browsing your website, I came across Shankara’s sAdhana chatuShTaya, which, if my understanding is correct, are the prerequisites for self-realization according to Shankara. But I’m confused as to how some of these are prerequisites. I feel like some of them can only be fulfilled once one has realized their true nature, not before.

I can see how viveka and mumukShutva can be considered prerequisites – that is very reasonable. However, if we take vairAgya, or uparati, I cannot fathom how an apparent, separate self can satisfy or practice these requirements. How can it be possible for an apparent, separate self to be indifferent to joy and grief, like and dislike? A separate self is, almost by definition, strongly affected by likes and dislikes, joy and grief. In order to be indifferent to pleasure and pain, joy and grief etc., I feel like one has to have at least tasted the truth a few times and be able to (through something like self-inquiry) ‘walk back’ to and ‘rest’ as one’s true self, and only then be able to successfully practice uparati.

Then why are things like vairAgya considered prerequisites for self-realization, if (in my book) self-realization is a prerequisite for being able to satisfy the vairAgya requirement? How can an apparent separate self prepare or practice something like uparati (one of the shamAdi ShaTka sampatti), without it being completely fake? In my experience, uparati is only possible (and completely effortless) once you have realized the self. So the whole things seems backwards to me.

One explanation is that here Shankara is talking about final Self-realization in which there is no falling back to the old conditioning. But that implies that it is possible to realize the self clearly but, out of conditioning, fall back to the old patterns. (I’m not sure what traditional Advaita’s stance on this is yet). I may have answered my own question but I’d love to hear what you have to say about it!

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Q.504 – Covid and Enlightenment

Q: According to Advaita, God is  ONE, and manifestations are  many. The term ‘God’ is also called ‘Consciousness/Awareness’. It is a fundamental principle that there is nothing beyond Consciousness; everything arising from  Consciousness is Consciousness only. Dualities such as good-bad are not found in Consciousness.

If all this is the case, can the  virus COVID-19,  which is  shaking the world,  also be termed  as ‘Consciousness’?

A: Yes indeed – the substantial reality of Covid is also Consciousness, since there is only Consciousness. It is like the metaphor – bangle, chain and ring are all only gold.

But in the empirical reality of the world, the form of Covid brings disease whereas the form of vaccination brings protection from disease. No real problem – Consciousness is not affected by any of it!

Q: Thank you very much for your reply. However I have the grievance that I, the individualized spirit, cannot stop worrying  about the distress caused  practically , even though my ego mind is convinced with the theory of Advaita.

How can I reconcile the practical difficulties which  I face  with the teaching of advaita? What  you have stated is  only based on Advaita theory. I am badly hit by the above disease. Please advise.

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Q.454 How should one live one’s life?

Q: One of the problems I encounter with Advaita is that, even though it makes sense and resonates with me, it does not help from the point of view of providing guidelines on how to live my life. If we consider Buddhism, for example, we find a clear path on how to live one’s live that goes in accordance with the deeper philosophical explanations of what reality is, etc.

This is the part in which I find myself discouraged and not knowing how to move forward. What could you tell me about this? What would you recommend that I read?

A: All of the guidance given by Advaita regarding ‘how to live’ is directed at preparing the mind so that it is optimally able to gain Self-knowledge. Once this has happened, you know that in reality there is no world, there are no persons. ‘Life’ is just the apparent movement of forms of Brahman.

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Q.491 Individuality and the world

Q: Does individuality survive enlightenment? In other words, putting aside any genetic differences, age, etc., would 50 realized people act the same in the same environment? Would they have the same preference for food, clothes, etc?

If not, why not? It seems that If the ego is completely destroyed, and a soul does not exist, and a person is in a permanent state of enlightenment, there wouldn’t be any difference between any of them. (My definition of an ego includes all past experiences.)

In addition, people often say something like, “I always wanted to do that,” or “Deep inside I always knew I would be a doctor or a scientist,” etc. What is that? Where does this “knowing” come from? Is it just an ego playing its games? 

Thank you, I appreciate your help. Your books are really great. I’ve enjoyed reading them.

A: Good questions! But, before I answer them, you have to always bear in mind that questions like these refer to the appearance, not the reality; vyavahAra, not paramArtha. In reality, no one has ever been born; there is no ‘creation’; there is only Brahman. (I’m assuming from what you say that you have read ‘A-U-M’, in which case you will be happy with this!) So the answers are academic, in line with traditional Advaita, but are all mithyA in reality.  Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 10 of 10

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Other Related Teachers

bhAskara was mentioned briefly earlier in respect of the related philosophy of bhedAbheda vAda. He was probably approximately contemporaneous with Shankara and addressed similar issues. Regarding the continuation of ‘obstacles’ post-enlightenment, he had this to say (in his commentary on the Brahmasutras 1.3.20):

“There is no escape from experiencing the whole of the portion of merit and demerit which initiated the body through which liberation is attained. And one who supports a body inevitably undergoes pleasure and pain. Therefore those who say that there can be no liberation for one who is yet alive go beyond the teaching of the Veda. They also contradict perceived experience.” (Quoted in Ref. 100)


Swami Dayananda’s influence today is considerable, so it seems perfectly admissible to include his views on the subject here. After Self-knowledge has been gained from shravaNa and any doubts have been removed by manana, it is necessary to eliminate any habitual modes of behavior that prevent enjoyment of the fruit of that knowledge (j~nAna phalam). Swami Paramarthananda, one of his direct disciples, says:

“And then comes fifth and final stage of sAdhana called nididhyAsana, which is meant to remove my habitual reaction; the removal of vAsanA, because of my regular unhealthy responses in life, I have developed a habit. And habit is developed in-time and habit can go only in-time. This deliberate invocation of the Vedanta, so that I can get rid of un-Vedantic reactions in life. Every disturbing reaction is un-Vedantic reaction. So anxiety, frustration, self-pity, sense of insecurity, fear, attachment; all of them are unhealthy vAsanA-s. This vAsanA nivRRitti or viparIta bhavana nivRRitti is the fifth and final stage called nididhyAsana.” (Ref. 208) [The first 4 stages are karma yoga, upAsanA, shravaNa and manana.] Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 9 of 10

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Ramana Maharshi

As I have pointed out earlier, most of what is referred to as Ramana’s teaching comes from recorded talks or answers that he gave to visiting seekers. Not only were those answers aimed at the level of understanding of the questioner but the transcriptions were made by others, who may not entirely have understood the answers, and they have been translated from those transcriptions by others who may also not have been especially knowledgeable. The text known as ‘Guru Vachaka Kovai (The Garland of Guru’s Sayings)’ is a collection of his teachings recorded by Muruganar, who lived with Ramana for several years. Ramana is stated to have edited and added to the work so that we can assume it does not suffer to the same degree from those shortcomings (although it has been translated from Tamil).

In this work, Ramana specifically addressed the concept of ‘obstacles’ (pratibandha-s) in Chapter 22. It does read as though it applies mainly to the seeker rather than the j~nAnI but verse 620 refers to ‘reaching the destination’, which may then be construed as the entire ‘path’ through to final liberation (videha mukti):

“619. Just as a gem taken from a mine will not have full luster if it is not polished on the grindstone, so the real tapas, the sadhana which one is doing, will not shine well if it is not provided with trials and tribulations on its way.

 620. For a big temple-chariot to go along the streets and safely reach its destination, not only the strong linchpins but also the obstructing blocks, which prevent it from dashing into anything by running to the sides of the streets, are indispensable.” (Ref. 204) Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 8 of 10

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Yogic Advaita

This is a term, which I had not encountered before, coined by Fort in Ref. 200. He uses it to refer to those teachers and texts that incorporate elements of sAMkhya and yoga philosophy into their supposedly Advaitic teaching. This applies to texts such as yogavAsiShTha and jIvanmukti viveka, as was already indicated in the discussion on vidyAraNya above. There are also 20 of the later, minor Upanishads that relate to Yoga (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_Upanishads) and there is a danger of referring to these to support ideas that are actually alien to traditional Advaita. These ideas are characterized by the notion that Self-knowledge gained through the usual route has to be supplemented by something else before liberation is achieved. Typically, this might be samAdhi or destruction of ego/mind, as discussed above (and below) but even ideas from other traditions might be incorporated. The yogavAsiShTha also has much emphasis on the ‘illusory’ nature of the world. The j~nAnI acts or does not act without any attachment, according to circumstances.

Rather than prArabdha, yogic Advaita tends to refer to vAsanA-s as being the key ‘obstruction’ to mokSha. While we have them, we are bound to the body; once they are purified, we are freed from saMsAra. When destroyed, we gain videha mukti. Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 7 of 10

Read Part 6 1/2

Apologies for the delay in continution of this series. I had to do some more background research and I have also been switching to Windows 10 and a new PC for the past 3 weeks!

Post-Shankara contributions to the concept

(I am indebted to Ref. 195 for many of the scriptural citations in this section.)

It is certainly true that there are few references to the word pratibandha in prasthAna traya and Shankara bhAShya, although a number of discussions can be interpreted as referring to the concept. One can certainly argue that the idea of jIvanmukti itself strongly implies that of pratibandha-s. Being ‘in a body’ is clearly a limitation compared to not being so constrained. Indeed, having a body to begin with is said to be the result of ignorance, so the fact that there is still one present implies that there must be some aspect of ignorance still present.

Accordingly, whether or not you accept the idea of prArabdha karma being the reason for the j~nAnI continuing to inhabit a body, it seems that ‘freedom’ cannot be total until the body drops. It is therefore reasonable to think that this body-mind might be susceptible to ‘obstructions’ of various types, while this embodiment continues. The body has needs, after all, and even though there is no longer any identification with the body post-enlightenment, the mind is still very likely to be affected. And the j~nAnI still continues to utilize the Atman-animated-buddhi, as described above.  I.e. pratibandha-s are implicit in the differentiation between jIvanmukti and videha mukti.  Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 2 of 10

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The ideas that the person ‘ends’, mind is ‘destroyed’ etc. when one gains enlightenment all contradict one of the key teachings of Vedanta – karma. Of course, if one takes the pAramArthika viewpoint, the theory of karma has to be rescinded along with everything else (according to adhyAropa – apavAda), but it plays a key role in the teaching. The ‘person’ (body and mind) is here because of past karma. And it is taught that the person’s life continues until that part of the karma that caused this embodiment is exhausted. And this applies to the j~nAnI also. This is undeniable because the person’s life does not come to an end on gaining enlightenment.

On enlightenment, the j~nAnI realizes that he was never the body-mind; that these are mithyA, just as the dream is realized to have been completely unreal after awakening. That being the case, he also knows that the idea of prArabdha too belongs to this mithyA appearance. But that does not stop the whole thing continuing to play out from the standpoint of vyavahAra. The world does not ‘disappear’ either! (Creation and all its ramifications will be discussed in Volume 2 of the ‘Confusions’ book.) The prArabdha belongs to the mithyA body-mind, not the satyam Self, and both body-mind and world continue from the empirical standpoint. It is true that the j~nAnI no longer identifies with the body-mind but the body still eats and sleeps; the mind still responds to sensory input and so on. Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 1 of 10

Here begins the promised article on pratibandha-s. It is actually one of the topics in the book that I am currently writing called ‘Confusions… for the seeker in Advaita Vedanta’. The book will be in two volumes: Vol. 1 – Knowledge, Experience and Enlightenment; and Vol. 2 – The World of Ignorance.

The first volume is specifically about aspects relating to what enlightenment is, how it is achieved, and its results; e.g. (facetiously) whether you gain it by reading books, dropping out of society or going into a permanent trance. The second volume will deal with what is actually taught by Advaita regarding the world, creation etc. and the various miscellaneous topics encountered on the way, such as ‘grace’, ‘teaching through silence’ etc. It will also cover the massive topic of ‘Ignorance’, although logically this might have been included in Volume 1.

Accordingly, if you read the posts of this topic (there will be 6 parts), you will encounter references to other sections and to sources that will only be referenced in the Bibliography. Please ignore these (apart from deciding that you must buy the book when it appears – probably second half of 2021.)

This post on pratibandha-s will cover the following sub-topics. Accordingly, please do not post comments on an early post that are likely to be addressed in a later one. Ideally, wait until all parts are posted before commenting, although I realize that some may find this difficult. 😉

      pratibandha-s – Part 1

  • prArabdha – Part 2
  • vAsanA-s
  • nididhyAsana – Part 3
  • viparIta bhAvanA
  • avidyA lesha
  • j~nAna phalam – Part 4
  • vij~nAna – Part 5
  • ‘Who am I?’ in communication
  • ‘Who am I?’ in thinking
  • The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’ – Part 6
  • No one is ever liberated
  • Post-Shankara contributions to the concept – Parts 7 to 10

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