Shankara at 1.4.10, brihadAraNyaka

Revered Shankara is by nature such a perfect and committed bhAShyakAra (Commentator) that he never deviates from the text on which he is commenting upon. He always stays within the bounds of the purport of the textual line that he abhors to venture out to  exploring the connected lanes and bylanes related to the topic or give vent to his own ideas based on his knowledge. However, in the entire corpus of the bhAShya literature  of his, there are a handful or about half a dozen places where he takes liberty to make certain observations of his own. Very rare precious gems, unavailable for the reader anywhere else in the whole gamut of shruti and smriti lore come out from his pen in those few occasions. One that immediately comes to mind is his expanded commentary at 13.2, BGB where he lets out the fact that the ignorance of not knowing one’s own true nature belongs to that very person who thinks he has ignorance. He raises the question and answers himself: Continue reading

Q.507 – Mumukshutva

Q: In your ‘Book of One’, in the section ‘Process of realization’ is written “And if enlightenment has still not dawned, go back to the listening stage and repeat as necessary!“.

I understand that ‘being ‘established’ as a jñāni means you know who you are but further śravaṇa- manana-nididhyāsana is required to ‘eliminate’ the rest of the ignorance. But then I read “Only when the desire for freedom has been lost can we appreciate that we are already free.“.

Isn’t śravaṇa- manana-nididhyāsana also based on the desire for freedom? Then doesn’t it have to be let go too?

A: I warn in the beginning of that section about ‘sloppy’ thinking and writing but I myself often verge on that in trying to write in a way that will be ‘readable’ and even sometimes amusing or entertaining. It is a risky business and sometimes fails!

There is also the problem that, as my own studies continue, I will find better ways of expressing things and be more accurate (or less confusing) in what I say. I am currently rewriting ‘Back to the Truth’ so that it is clear that I only really recommend traditional teaching and so that I do not include potentially misleading extracts unless I also point out why they may be misleading. The second edition of ‘Book of One’ was written around 12 years ago so maybe that is also in need of a new edition!

Anyway – to your question.

People only become seekers when they become dissatisfied with their lives and realize they want to find out how things ‘really’ are. This is the most important requirement – mumukśutva – the desire for liberation. This is the one desire that is ‘allowed’ (indeed necessary) in Advaita. The other required mental ‘skills’ you will have read about under sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti. Once you have the right mental outlook, you can begin the process of acquiring Self-knowledge. The aspect that actually gives you enlightenment is śravaṇa – hearing the explanation of the scriptures from the guru. The ‘repetition’ is that, when you hear something (or read), you may need to ask questions to clarify and remove doubts. That is manana. Then you listen some more, ask more questions etc. Eventually you hear/read the final clarification and you ‘get it’. You are now a jñānī. But habitual ways of thinking and acting still linger and you have to go over the teaching again, perhaps many times, before those habits go and you have total peace of mind, fearlessness, desirelessness etc. That final stage is nididhyāsana and ‘converts’ the jñānī to a jīvanmukta. You can read all about that stage in the posts on pratibandha-s beginning

https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-1-of-6/.

I would actually delete the paragraph regarding losing the desire for freedom. Don’t know where that came from!

Hope that dispels the confusion.

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.485 Enlightenment is Self-knowledge

Q: I read your answer to  the question “Enlightenment is not an experience” here:  https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-389-enlightenment-is-not-an-experience/

You mention, “It is not about experience at all, it is about self-knowledge – the direct knowledge that you are already that which you seek.”

Let’s say I don’t know what 2+2 equals.  Then you teach me that it equals 4.  Is that knowledge?  (intellectually knowing more stuff?) Or is knowledge (Self knowledge) something different? Continue reading

Q.484 Sense of Self

Q: About six years ago I was looking for the separate self through directly paying attention to the sense of self in my immediate experience. I did this over about a week or ten days during regular life. I followed this sense of self when it shifted say from the body to the thinking mind, to the sense of will etc. Suddenly everything dropped away and what was seen was just openness/absence of self /no me /nothing +everything.

I’m not sure how long this lasted. Then the mind came back. I felt liberated from all worry and desire for a couple of months. Then slowly old habits reestablished themselves. Since then I am at a loss what to do. 

So I have no problem accepting Advaita teachings but I could do with some further guidance. 

A: Presumably you are prepared to accept the basic premise of Advaita – that reality is non-dual. If it is true, then it must be the case that you already are the ‘Self’. So it is not really a case of ‘looking for it’ but rather realizing that you are already ‘It’. So you can ask yourself the question ‘who would be looking for what?’. The ‘sense of self’ is not the Self; it is a feeling or an idea in the mind.

If you practice meditation seriously (twice a day, 30mins at a time, for several years), you will eventually experience periods of samAdhi, which correspond to the experience you describe. But this is just an experience – as you can tell because it has a beginning and an end. Realizing the truth of Advaita, becoming ‘enlightened’, is Self-knowledge, not an experience.

Having said that, it is possible to gain Self-knowledge and yet still not have the ‘sense of bliss’, fulfillment or whatever, that you believe ought to result. This is because of ‘obstacles’ in the mind (pratibandha-s) remaining from having insufficiently ‘prepared’ the mind beforehand (sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti).

The book I am currently writing is all about the confusions that are brought about in seekers as a result of wrong understanding by many modern teachers. pratibandha-s will be one of the topics covered and, because there has been much discussion on related issues at the website recently, I will be begin posting the material for this topic within the next week. It is quite long so will be in 3 or 4 parts. I suggest you look out for it and join in any subsequent discussion if you like. [Since this Q&A, I have posted the pratibandha series, now in around 11 parts, and it begins here.]

Q. 482 What happens after videha mukti?

Q: When the jIva removes the ignorance of his real nature, and realizes Atman is his Real unchanging Self, if the body dissolves, what happens afterwards?

If there is no further birth, do we then remain as Absolute, without name and form, without knowing anything other than pure Self? Is it like space all being uniform without any form? Is there nothing that is known? Surely it doesn’t remain In an absolute ‘stateless state’ of no Knowing?

A: There have been a couple of questions around this before – see http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a44.htm#q263 for example.

Your question is based on a misunderstanding. At the empirical level, there is indeed a ‘person’ who may or may not become enlightened. If he/she does gain Self-knowledge, then clearly the outlook of the person for the remainder of his/her ‘life’ is going to be different.

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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 5 of 10

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vij~nAna

Shankara differentiates what might be called ‘ordinary’ or ‘intellectual’ knowledge (j~nAna) from ‘transformative’ knowledge (vij~nAna). The knowledge becomes transforming – i.e. making it efficacious in conveying the status of jIvanmukti – when the gaining of it has been preceded by successful sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. In his bhAShya on muNDaka upaniShad 2.2.8, he says:

“Wise, discriminatory people (dhIrA) see through vij~nAna; vij~nAna is a special (vishihtena) knowledge (j~nAna), born out of the teaching of shAstra and AchArya (shAstra AchArya upadesha janitam), and received in a specially prepared mind, born (udbhutena) out of total detachment (vairAgya), having control of inner and outer organs (shama and dama), and which is therefore capable of upAsanA to begin with and later of nididhyAsana which together are called meditation (dhyAna). Through such a vij~nAna, wise people realize that the nature of the Atman (Atmatatvam) is non-different from the nature of Brahman (brahmatatvam)…” (Ref. 10)

‘Who am I?’ in communication

Who are we speaking of when we use the words ‘I’ and ‘you’ in writing and speech?

Since we are Advaitins, there are actually three possibilities:

  1. ‘I’ could mean Atman/Brahman, if used from the ‘as if’ pAramArthika viewpoint;
  2. ‘I’ could mean the reflected Consciousness (chidAbhAsa);
  3. ‘I’ could mean the usually understood ‘named person’.

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pratibandha-s – part 4 of 10

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j~nAna phalam

Here is the sequence of events that I believe represents the traditional understanding:

  • A would-be seeker practices sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti for a length of time in order to gain the qualities of mind (and the overriding desire to attain mokSha) needed to qualify for ‘approaching a qualified teacher’.
  • The seeker gains Self-knowledge from listening to a qualified guru, i.e an enlightened shrotriya [someone with deep knowledge of the shruti, including Sanskrit], who belongs to a qualified sampradAya [teaching lineage]), as he explains the scriptures. This is the stage of shravaNa.
  • When there are no further doubts, the ‘final hearing’ triggers akhaNDAkAra vRRitti (same as brahmakAra vRRitti, but used more frequently) and the seeker thereby immediately becomes a j~nAnI.
  • Whilst there are still doubts, the seeker asks questions of the teacher to clarify and explain. This is the stage of manana. shravaNa and manana are then repeated for as long as needed.
  • The gaining of Self-knowledge simultaneously means that the seeker now knows that he or she is already free. (You can say that they are ‘simultaneously liberated’ if you really want, but this conveys the erroneous notion that they were not free before.) Note that the phalam of ‘j~nAna phalam’ cannot simply refer to mokSha (mukti) because you cannot gain as fruit something that you already have!
  • If the seeker had done sufficient sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti (SCS) previously, he or she also simultaneously gains the phalam (= become a jIvanmukta). (See Section 3o for a discussion on the topic of jIvanmukti.)
  • If their SCS was insufficient, they do not immediately gain the phalam. I.e. they have pratibandha-s and they need to do more nididhyAsana in order to remove them. Thus, they may get the phalam later in life. If they do not, they get videha mukti at death of the body-mind (when the prArabdha karma is used up). (see section 3p)

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pratibandha-s – part 3 of 10

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nididhyAsana

nididhyAsana is recommended to remove any mental impediments that remain. This may consist of any activity that serves to consolidate the knowledge and fully assimilate the teaching – e.g. reading scriptures, listening to talks from qualified teachers, writing about Advaita oneself, discussing with other seekers and so on. The logic is simple: these activities produce puNya karma which ‘cancels out’ the pratibandha-s.

The vivekachUDAmaNi (267 – ) speaks about this at length:

“Even after knowing that substance (the Atman), powerful desire, which is beginningless (in the form of ‘I am the doer and enjoyer’), which is the cause of the world, does not die. It remains there. What can be done with that? You must do away with that desire carefully, because that is freedom – the lessening of desire. That should be done even after realization.

 “The idea of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ remains in the body and in other things that are non-Self. This is called adhyAsa, and should be given up by the sage identifying himself with the Atman.

 “Knowing the real Self, which is the witness of the intellect and its actions, by this thought, ‘I am That’, conquer the false idea of ‘I am’ in the non-Self.

 “First, give up following the world, then following the body, and then following the scriptures and, in that way, do away with your ignorance of identifying the Self with the non-Self.” and so on… (Ref. 62)

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