Shravana is the first phase on the path of knowledge in the tradition. Preparation is all about becoming eligible to do shravaNa – listening to the scriptures.
This is another feature of the traditional teaching that rarely can be transferred to Western students.
Excerpts from the ‘Upanyãsa’ rendered by Brahmashi Mani Dravid Shastriji:
‘Vedanta shravanãdhikãri’, the requisites of a person that make him eligible for listening to Vedanta (…)
The term ‘Adhikãri’ refers to that person who is capable of attaining the fruit as a result of performance of some action (karma). Possession of some basic prerequisites are laid down by scriptures in order to attain the fruit of ‘Vedanta shravana’ (listening to Vedanta).
The very first requirement is that the person must have the desire to get liberated. This is called ‘mumukshutvam’. Ordinary ‘mumukshutva’ will not induce one to practice sadhana to the end, i.e. till the attainment of liberation. ‘Mumukshutva’ must be of a very high degree. This can be got only through ‘vairagya’(dispassion). This is called ‘nityãnitya vastuviveka’ i.e. discriminating objects (as permanent and impermanent). Every object in this Universe apart from Brahman, is impermanent and subject to destruction. Brahman is the only reality and it is eternal. The sadhana to be undertaken by such a ‘mumukshu’ (spiritual aspirant) who has great dispassion is to earn ‘antahkarana shuddhi’ i.e. clarity and purity of the internal organ, namely, the mind.
Mind is required to have some basic qualities like
- shama (control of the inner senses, i.e. the mind),
- dama (control of external senses, i.e. eye, tongue, sense of smell, etc.),
- titiksha (not to react violently even when subject to unjust treatment),
- uparati (to stay near [God]),
- shraddha (faith in the words of the Guru/Scripture) and
- samãdhana (placidity of mind).
These six are known as ‘Shamãdi sadhana shatsampath’.
Dispassion of such high degree is earned through ‘Ihãmutrãrtha phalabhoga viraga’ i.e. not having any aim in attaining the pleasures of either this world or the worlds hereafter ( i.e. after death).
These four, namely,
- Nityãnitya vastuviveka , (discrimination between the permanent and the impermanent)
- Ihãmutrãrtha phalabhoga viraga , (not possessing any aim in attaining pleasures of either this world or the worlds hereafter)
- Shamãdi sadhana shatsampath , (the six qualities of the mind) and
- ‘Mumukshutvam’ (deep desire to attain Liberation)
are known as ‘sadhana chatushtaya’. A person possessing these above four is the ‘adhikãri’ (qualified) for ‘Vedanta shravana’.
Indian teachers who wonder why so few Western students come to their classes simply do not understand how exclusively Indian the requirements of the traditional path are. First of all in shravana the teacher, in expanding on the text, will repeatedly refer to the Sanskrit wording. But the motivation for the seeker is the content of the scriptures, which in traditional teaching tends to get buried under a huge amount of linguistic details that are difficult to grasp even for non-beginners. Not all Indians know Sanskrit but they are familiar with many Sanskrit words and possibly even the script; so it is much easier for them to overcome this particular hurdle in shravana.
Also, India is suffused with many Vedantic concepts and there is hardly any Indian who does not know the Bhagavad Gita, the scriptural text that most of the time is the first one introduced to students of Vedanta. Accordingly, much of the content is known to Indians but not to Western students. Moreover, shravana calls for a certain amount of trust, respect or love for the scriptures – again something that you simply cannot expect from a Western seeker. He is faced with a foreign culture, which means foreign values; foreign symbols; a foreign world that he had never even conceived existed. He himself is living in a totally different world. On top of all that he is confronted with a foreign language which, although he may not need to learn, he nonetheless needs to get acquainted with.
Bhagavad Gita for Western Students
Another point worth mentioning is that, with my Western students, I cannot start with the Bhagavad Gita. This may have to do with the particular sort of students who feel attracted to me but I think that there are quite a lot of those around: free spirited, wary of rules and regulations and averse to the idea of god. They want the highest truth even though in some respects their personality is still too immature.
As mentioned in the first post of this series, most Western Advaita seekers need to be met on their intellectual level before working on their personality, given that they are not altogether immature. Most of those who turn to me have been working on their personality for years anyway so on the psychological level they have a certain amount of self-awareness.
But Westerners starting with the Geeta often have difficulty understanding its cultural context, which means that the Geeta is taken as a book with a huge amount of implicit do’s and don’ts, handed out by someone who is supposed to be god and thus, for them, the whole thing is not trustworthy. In short, study of the Geeta may well work as a complete turn-off.
On the other hand Tattva Bodha and/or Vivekachudamani are very suitable starting points. Many Western seekers are filled up to the brim with psychological and esoteric concepts taken to be spiritual. Getting acquainted with a set of categorizations that are morally relatively neutral the seeker is able to sort through the confusing jumble of ideas about life, himself and spirituality and streamline them with what he already feels to be the most important: realizing in full the non-dual nature of reality.
The two mentioned scriptures also help to open the seekers mind for Sanskrit terms: he sees their usefulness and gets used to them or even develops a certain love for the language. He/she will also develop a deeper understanding for Indian culture including bhakti and shraddha.
Photo credits: Günther Dotzler@pixelio.de
 In this respect please have a look at “Devdutts Pattanaik’s East vs. West — the myths that mystify”, just to get an idea of the difference between Western and Indian cultural myth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7QwxbImhZI