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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Desire and Enlightenment

Following an extended, off-line discussion, I have added a new sub-section to Volume 1 of my next book, ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ and I am posting this below. I am currently in the process of editing the proof copy of the book and it will be published by Indica Books in Varanasi, hopefully in 2022. Details will, of course, be provided as soon as it is available. It will be printed in hardback and paperback but unfortunately not in electronic format.


It was mentioned in 2.g that desire stems from the belief that we are lacking something in our life, and that acquiring the desired object (gross or subtle) will somehow make us complete. The fact that this appears actually to happen albeit only for a short time, if we get the object, reinforces this belief. When Self-ignorance is removed, it is realized that we actually are the complete, infinite Brahman. Accordingly, it is reasonable, natural and, indeed, inevitable that desires are effectively dissolved instantly. There is nothing other than me that I lack and could want. (The proviso here is that some desires may seem not to have disappeared because the associated action was habitual. This is discussed at length in 3.s – pratibandha-s.)

As Sureshvara puts it in his Naiṣkarmya Siddhi (1.73):

“And tell me what possible cause could there be for action on the part of one who is established in the Absolute and has become everything, both individually and collectively, not seeing anything as other than himself.” (Ref. 7)

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Heart of Gaudapada

It is not just a stray chance or strange coincidence that the three articles — “Gaudapada on the Appearance of a world-Gaudapada on the Non-disappearance of the world-Gaudapada on the logical incoherence of the cessation of a non-existent world” — appeared in quick succession in these columns. I suppose the real thrust of what is being pointed to by them becomes apparent only if all the three are considered synergistically and not divorcing one from the other. After all, It is One Consciousness that produced them operating through three voice boxes! And what all the three point to is the “Heart of Gaudapada.”

I used the word Gaudapada in the title of this Post as a synecdoche. It stands for “The Teaching of Highly Revered Gaudapada Acharya,” who marks the beginning of the human-form lineage of Advaita Vedanta, as the following stotra honors the parampara (lineage).

नारायणं पद्मभुवं वसिष्ठं शक्तिं च तत्पुत्रपराशरं च ।
व्यासं शुकं गौडपदं महान्तं गोविन्दयोगीन्द्रमथास्य शिष्यम्

श्री शंकराचार्यमथास्य पद्मपादं च हस्तामलकं च शिष्यम् ।
तं तोटकं वार्तिककारमन्यानस्मद्गुरून् संततमानतोऽस्मि ॥
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Gaudapada on the Non-disappearance of the world

प्रपञ्चो यदि विद्येत निवर्तेत न संशयः ।

मायामात्रमिदं द्वैतमद्वैतं परमार्थतः ॥… १।१७

prapañco yadi vidyeta nivarteta na saṃshayaḥ |

māyāmātramidaṃ dvaitamadvaitaṃ paramārthataḥ ||… 1.17

Gaudapada: If the perceived manifold were real then certainly it would disappear. This duality (that is cognized) is mere illusion (māyā). Non-duality is (alone) the Supreme Reality.

Shankara:  If the knowledge of non-duality (turīya) be possible after the disappearance of the perceived manifold, how could non-duality be said to exist (always) while the perceptual manifold remains? This is explained thus: This would have been true if the manifold really existed. This manifold being only a false imagination, like the snake in the rope, does not really exist. There is no doubt that it would (certainly) disappear if it really existed. The snake imagined in the rope, through false conception, does not really exist and therefore does not disappear through correct understanding. Nor, similarly, does the illusion of the vision conjured up by the magician exist and then disappear as though a veil thrown over the eyes of the spectators (by the magician) were removed. Similar is this duality of the cognized universe called the Phenomenal or manifold (māyāmātraṃ dvaitaṃ) a mere illusion. Non-duality turīya like the rope and the magician (in the illustrations) is alone the Supreme Reality. Therefore the fact is that there is no such thing as the manifold about which appearance or disappearance can be predicated.

Nikhilananda: The manifold does not exist in the sense of a separate Reality. If it had any such existence then alone could it obstruct the eternally non-dual nature of the turīya by the appearance (of the manifold). If anyone says that the manifold disappears, that is only because he believes in its reality. But this is not the Truth, because the appearance of the manifold is only an illusion and not a reality.

People say that duality disappears only because they believe in its reality. But really duality does not exist, therefore it does not disappear. If anyone believes in the reality of such illusory appearance then can one believe in the reality of the disappearance.

Extracts from:

The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s Commentary, Translated by Swami Nikhilananda, Advaita Ashrama, 1932. No ISBN.

Gaudapada on the Appearance of a world

The most “radical version of Non-dual teaching” goes back to Revered Gaudapada (of 5th or 6th CE) who forms a watershed mark in the Advaita tradition. With him started the human form lineage of teacher-disciple. (Before him it was a lineage of Sages preceded by the lineage of Gods – see here).

Gaudapada says that we are prisoners of an unwavering belief in cause-effect relationships. He avers that cause-effect relationships do not exist. For example, he writes:

नास्त्यसद्धेतुकमसत्सदसद्धेतुकं तथा ।
सच्च सद्धेतुकं नास्ति सद्धेतुकमसत्कुतः ॥  — 4.40, Gaudapada kArikA on mANDUkya Upanishad.

Meaning: The unreal cannot have the unreal as its cause. Nor can the real be produced from the unreal. The real cannot be the cause of the real. And it is much more impossible for the real to be the cause of the unreal. (Translation: Swami Nikhilananda). Continue reading

Role of bhakti in jnAna mArga:

A highly respected Vedantin late Shri S. N. Sastri (see here) observed in his introduction to vivekacUDAmaNi that “There is a wrong impression among some persons, particularly Western scholars, that Sri Sankara did not attach importance to devotion to a personal God.” At the other end, we have some people who say that Shankara was a great devotee and cite the innumerable hymns in praise of various Gods and Goddesses he is supposed to have authored. Naturally, this situation raises the question on the “role” of devotion (bhakti) in Advaita Vedanta, particularly, in the Knowledge Path (jnAna mArga).

As a matter of fact, we cannot really think of exclusive compartmentalized approaches separated by rigid walls in Vedanta. The various methods (upAya-s) suggested in Advaita Vedanta are all only broad generalized schema. One cannot, therefore, take a position that bhakti is required or not required in Advaita. Many things work together in leading a seeker to arrive at the Ultimate im-mediated understanding (aparokSha anubhUti) of Non-dual Oneness. Continue reading

“All this is the Self “

There has been an interesting discussion going on at one of the Online Advaita fora on Self-inquiry. One of the discussants posted the view of the well-known 16th Century Advaitin, Swami Madhusudana Saraswati in understanding the oft-quoted statement, “All this is the Self.” Madhusudana Saraswati says in his magnum opus, Advaita siddhi as follows:

एतच्च सर्वमुक्तं विवरणे – निषप्रपञ्चास्थूलादिवाक्यानुसारेण ‘इदं सर्वं यदयमात्मे’ त्यादीनि निषेध्यसमर्पकत्वेनैकवाक्यतां प्रतिपद्यन्ते ; सुषुप्तौ निष्प्रपञ्चतायां पुरुषार्थत्वदर्शनादिति |

Meaning: All this has been said in the panchapAdikA vivaraNa – Sentences such as “All this is the Self” must be interpreted in such a way as to indicate the negation of the world’s reality, so that there is consistency of meaning with sentences that reveal the nature of brahman as one completely devoid of the world, such as “not gross”, etc; for the achievement of the fundamental aims of human existence lies in the attainment of brahman in which the world is completely absent, which is experienced in deep sleep. [English Translation by:  Sri S. Venkatraghavan. Accension by me.] Continue reading

Discussion of Advaita

I feel it would be valuable to remind ourselves of the way in which we should engage in discussions about the posts that are made to the site. For this, I have located several messages to the Advaitin List, dating back to 1994(!) from Ram Chandran and Dr. Sadanananda.

First of all, the dctionary definitions:
saMvAda – speaking together, conversation, colloquy with; assent, concurrence, agreement with

vAda – speech, proposition, discourse, argument, discussion, explanation or exposition (of scriptures etc.); dispute with the aim of reaching the right conclusion, irrespective of who ‘wins’. 

jalpa – talk, speech, discourse; disputation with ‘overbearing and disputed rejoinder’; arguing for the sake of winning, irrespective of who is right. 

vitaNDa – cavil, fallacious controversy, perverse or frivolous argument, criticism; argument purely for the sake of winning the point.  

kutarka – fallacious argument, sophistry

Now for the historical posts. Apologies for any repetition in these, which is bound to be present, since the same points are being made:

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Can brahman be a ‘percept’?

A few events seem to have conspired against the peaceful summer slumber at this site prompting me to pen a few words. Hope you will enjoy and add a few of your thoughts.

I have been struggling for a couple of months to locate the original Upanishadic quote for the phrase ‘sacchidAnanda‘ popularized by Shankara in all his bhAShya literature. I couldn’t. We all know that the phrase ‘sacchidAnanda’ does not come from any major Upanishads. So, I sent a query to our Dennis if he could help me out. Pop comes back the response in a jiffy from him giving me the mantras where this sobriquet for brahman appears. One of the Upanishads is maNDala bhrahmaNa Upanishad which, perhaps many have not heard even. I was floored! It was amazing how he could search so many of the Upanishads so fast especially when we know none of them are in the form of a searchable database. Not only that Dennis has a such a large collection of books, his Upanishadic knowledge too is so vast that one cannot but applaud and admire. Which, anyway, we often do here. Continue reading

‘Not Two’ – a Critical Review

On the face of it, this is a well-written and readable book, ideally suited for a new seeker. E.g. the sections on ‘The Illusory Nature of the Separate Self’ and ‘Knowledge Dispels Ignorance’ are excellent.

Unfortunately, should any reader accept everything that is written at its face value, they will come away with some serious confusions. In what follows, I apologize in advance for some of what may seem to be harsh criticisms, but my own perception of these points is heightened as a result of spending the last year writing my own work on ‘confusions’ of precisely this sort.

The author uses the traditional teaching method of adhyāropa-apavāda but it is not made clear when what is being said is only provisional. Also, there are very few references to the source of what is being presented. (And one of those that is provided doesn’t exist!) There are many places where the author writes ‘as Shankara said’ but scarcely a single pointer to where he said it. There are numerous places where I, as an informed reader, need those references before I will even consider what is being said to be credible!

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